Monday, May 30, 2011

Leg #2: Auckland, Part 1

After Melbourne, I was off to Auckland, New Zealand. It struck me as I exited the plane that this was the first time in a while I'd set foot on a country I'd never visited before. The last time was Japan two years ago, but even then that wasn't quite accurate, as I'd set foot on the Tokyo airport as a child.

The weather when I arrived was amazing. As I walked towards the airport exit I couldn't resist taking a picture of the scene outside of the window--the sky was amazingly large:
 And here's the sky from the airport parking lot:
I was eager to ask my driver for some tips on what to do on my one day off. However, it turned out that the driver, Gun, had just move to Auckland from Brooklyn! In fact, he had lived in Fort Greene, a neighborhood in Brooklyn adjacent to my own. He did give me a few thoughts on New Zealand, though, but mainly recommended that I try to get out of the city. Alas, I didn't have time for that.

That night I walked around the city, had dinner at a Thai place in a little food court in front of an Asian grocery store, and later spied the Sky Tower from afar:
Before my trip, my friend Rose had said, "The Biggest Loser went to Auckland, and they jumped off the Sky Tower! It looked like something you would do!" Indeed. I signed up for a combo Sky Walk and Sky Jump for the next day.

Unfortunately, the next day, Wednesday, was stormy: wind and pouring rain does not make a happy Sky Tower walk and jump--I rescheduled for that Saturday, and decided to trek over to the Auckland Domain to go to the Auckland Museum instead. First, I stopped in a little French cafe for a breakfast crepe and a flat white (coffee with milk):

my view of the rainy street
 Then I was in the Auckland Domain, which is kind of like Central Park. I loved this tree:
I passed these birds (geese?):
And here's the museum:
It was a great museum, and the perfect introduction to New Zealand, in terms of geography and natural history, background, and culture.

I also saw a Maori cultural performance:
Here's their haka performance:

The Maori dancing and language reminded me a bit of Hawaiian, which makes sense because both are originally Polynesian cultures.

That night, Creative New Zealand hosted welcome drinks for the visiting publishers and authors in their offices. I met most of my fellow participants in the publishing program, including two senior editors from NY (both in adult publishing): Tom Mayer of WW Norton and Alexis Washam from Random House and her fiance Isaac (who does some iPad and iPhone app development); Steven Maat of Bruna in the Netherlands (they were all heading to Sydney after Auckland, like me); and Hal Wake, the Director of the Vancouver International Writers' Festival. The five of us, plus one of the guest authors/poets who goes by his last name, Rives, went to dinner together at a kind of fancy food court--the kind of place where you can buy a bottle of wine, purchase some wine glasses, and drink in the center tables.

Thursday started with a small group of about 20 people including publishing folks, Creative New Zealand, the New Zealand Book Council, and NZ author Emily Perkins for an introduction of the book publishing industry in NZ. Some of the things I learned:
-NZ has a population of about 4 million people. It's very much a reading country.
-Sales of 1200 copies is considered a success. The publishing industry is all about the economy of scale.
-Few NZ authors make it into the international market, partially because NZ publishing tends to be focused on NZ-specific issues. NZ and Australia tend to have to contend with the "tyranny of distance"
-The top publishers in NZ are Random House and Penguin, followed by Harper Collins [edited to add: according to my Hachette NZ colleague,. Hachette is also up there with RH and Penguin.]
-NZ publishing is not an agenting culture--there are very few literary agents. One way NZ authors can make it internationally is to get an agent from Australia, the UK, or the US

After the morning meeting, we checked out one of the local bookstores, and then Tom, Hal, and I were hosted to lunch by Auckland University Press director Sam Elworthy. When I had been extended the invitation by the organizers, I asked if AUP had published children's and YA, and was told, "No, but you have an author in common"--when I met Sam, I asked who our author in common was. "Well, I worked for Princeton University Press for many years, and lived in New Jersey next door to Peter Brown's family!" Small world indeed. It turns out that Peter's mother would send Sam Peter's books over the years, so he'd been able to keep tabs on his career.

I now realize I was horribly neglectful in taking pictures in Auckland, but I did manage to take a picture of my dessert. I got pavlova! I had always thought of pavlova as an Australian dessert, as my Australian friend Tamara had initially introduced this wonderful combination of fruit and meringue to me, but apparently (as with many things) there's a bit of a controversy as to whether the dessert originated in NZ or Australia. And I can understand why both countries would fight for credit, because it is DEE-LI-CIOUS.
In the afternoon, publishing guests and authors were treated to a traditional Maori welcome, or Powhiri. We took a bus up to the Orekei Mirae. This land had been taken away from the Maori and then returned. It was easy to see why the land was being fought for. Here are the views:

We walked up to the meeting house and were greeted by a haka. Then we removed our shoes and entered the structure:

We had been prepped that there would be speeches, and then we would be expected to do the traditional Maori greeting, or the hongi, with our hosts. The hongi is like the Maori handshake, but it involves the two people greeting each other to press their noses and foreheads. It symbolizes trust and the sharing of the breath of life (although, thankfully, you don't actually have to exchange breaths). To be honest, this was what most of us were worried about having to do--it's such an intimate gesture to do with strangers--but in reality it was painless and lovely, even. I don't think it will catch on in the States, though.
Later that night was the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival's opening gala that I posted briefly about last week, followed by the Festival Opening Party and then drinks at the hotel bar where I met authors Garth Nix, Margo Lanagan, and Sean Williams for the first time. Garth had contributed a short story for Geektastic and we had exchanged emails but had never met. Lovely, friendly, and down-to-earth people they were all. And, as I discovered, all fans of the Sea Breeze cocktail--a lovely fruity drink with lots of vitamin C, perfect to drink while traveling, apparently. I would have a few sea breezes in the hotel lobby during my time in Auckland.

This post is getting long, so I will continue next week. In the meantime, I've now recovered from both jet lag and BEA. For some great pics and a wrap-up of the first days of BEA, check out Laini Taylor's blog here.

To be continued!


Keely said...

Oh, I miss those flat whites! Glad you had a good time and got to the Domain!

Libby Koponen said...

I loved this reminded me of what it felt like to get off the plane there -- immediately, DIFFERENT from anyplace I've ever been. It's hard to say why: how clean the air was, how blue the sky, the quality of felt really far away.

NZ is one of my all-time favorite countries and I'd go back in a heartbeat--thank you for this really interesting glimpse.

And Pavlova is one of my all-time favorite desserts!

Naomi Canale said...

That video made me want to get up and dance with them :)What a blast! Glad you had such a wonderful time! Yay!