Monday, November 26, 2007

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on

Land Rover Expedition Time: Early May 1998
Photo: Inconspicuous rental car

We were back to being ordinary Mr and Mrs TH. Travelling in a "plain clothes" standard rental car meant we were completely incognito. No one noticed us, we could stop off where we liked without being mobbed by people, and we could "slob about" how we liked. While we always happy to be our sponsors’ ambassadors while in the Land Rover, it was terrific having the pressure off us.

This was going to be a real holiday. How wonderful it was to sleep in and have the day open up without responsibilities or commitments, combined with a fast car to chew up the miles.

We drove on through Connecticut and stopped in Bridgeport at the Barnum Museum.
The museum, which is a very attractive and unusual looking building, features the enormous collection of Phineas Taylor (PT) Barnum. The museum is also committed to the preservation and interpretation of Bridgeport's industrial and social history.

Photo Credit: Barnum Museum

PT Barnum didn’t actually say, "There’s a sucker born every minute". He did admit that his hoaxes or "humbugs" were "advertisements to draw the Museum. I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them."

Looking at the exhibits and reading his philosophies I can believe it. He believed that every sales transaction should be a win/win for both customer and salesperson. He is often misquoted or misunderstood by erroneous assumptions that he traded in hokum at any price. He always maintained that you could only get away with deceit if the public accepted it was false and they had the opportunity to be entertained or educated in the process. I don’t think I could 100% subscribe to that sort of blarney in a sales career, but I understood what he was saying, especially when applied to his entertainment businesses. Every salesperson and entertainer should visit this place or at least read his autobiography. ("The Life of P. T. Barnum" written by himself, or his book "The Art of Money Getting" by P.T Barnum)

Barnum didn’t get into circus life until he was in his 60’s. He launched the fabulously titled: "P. T. Barnum's Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" in the 1870’s. He was a consumate self-promoter, marketer and showman. I wondered if I should re-title our expedition and launch it immediately for some lucrative American funding.

Later again, Barnum successfully arranged and promoted the American tour of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera soprano, proving again that he was a marketing "supremo".

Much as I had to learn from PT Barnum, there was another institution I wanted to visit while in Connecticut. As a recent Masters graduate from university, I wanted to tour one of the great American East Coast university campuses and Yale was nearby.

We called in at the Yale University visitor centre on arrival at New Haven and booked ourselves onto their walking tour in the morning. We found a lovely motel nearby and I lay on the bed in the late afternoon sunshine, reading a magazine. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this - never in the last two months. Maybe not even in the last few months I had spent at home preparing for the expedition. I stretched out like a happy baby, gurgling in the sunshine.

The pleasure continued into the night when thunder awoke me. I remember thinking, "who cares, we don’t have to pack up a wet tent in the morning" and then rolling over back to sleep with a huge contented sigh.

The American equivalent of a continental breakfast at this motel was coffee and doughnuts. While this was provided free at the motel office and I enjoyed the rare chance to have a hot drink in the morning, I missed my cups of tea. So few motels in USA had tea or even coffee making facilities that I wished we had brought along our tiny, one ring burner, so we could regularly indulge in "brew ups". A few days later, I got into the ghastly habit of drinking cola in the mornings. I was bored with water and the cola ensured I took on enough liquid.

Yale was a very attractive looking university. It was built from mainly honey coloured stone, in a neo-gothic style. Some of the older buildings were constructed in the early 1700’s in more traditional red brick.

Photo Credit: Yale University

When the neo-gothic buildings were erected in the 1920’s the architect, in some sort of bizarre cultural cringe, had acid poured down the walls to artificially age them. The masonry was deliberately chipped and cracks were purposely made in the lead lights and then "fixed". All this was to emulate the truly aged buildings, such as those in Oxford or Cambridge in England. It resulted in rapid deterioration of the buildings, which had then cost millions of dollars in repairs in the 1960’s. Speaking of things that are expensive, I fell into chat with the student guide on his fees to study at Yale. He told me that he paid $US30, 000 per year for a three year bachelor degree. When I told him how much cheaper the same degree cost in New Zealand he was incredulous and very envious.

At Yale’s war memorial, I could see a similarity between its design and that of the Vietnam Memorial Monument in Washington DC. Refer to earlier blog entry:

In fact, it had been a Yale student who had won the design competition for the Vietnam Memorial. She had initially drawn up her designs for a university assignment, but had only received a B grading from her professor. Undaunted, she had entered it into the national competition for the memorial at Washington DC. This sort of thing is always subjective.

We left Yale and hit the road for Cape Cod. I saw one amusing sign, which was for recycled children’s clothes on our way – "re-run for wee ones". We whizzed through one of America’s smallest States, Rhode Island, and then drove across two amazing, soaring bridges into Massachusetts. The second one was three miles long and we disappeared into sea fog part way along it.

Cape Cod is an up-turned comma of land that juts, like an arm flexing its muscles, out into the Atlantic. On the sheltered Cape Cod Bay side is quiet tidal waters. On the other side of the "arm", is the wild Atlantic surf. The mighty surf erodes this side of the Cape by 3ft a year. The sand is deposited back onto the sheltered side.

I love the sea and, at the first tang of salt spray, I suddenly realised how much I had missed it.

I took off my shoes and socks, and shocked all but the wet-suited surfers by paddling in the icy waters. The surf reminded me of Oakura Beach, where my family used to camp every year, not far from my childhood home in New Plymouth.
How I wished I could have got my hands on a surfboard and given those breakers at Cape Cod a really good run.

At Coast Guard Beach near Eastham I was again staring longingly at the waves. If I turned, I could look back over to the quieter estuary. Strong feelings washed over me along with the urge to remain here and to write. Had I forgotten New Mexico already? (Refer earlier blog entry):

At the Visitor Centre I learned about the writer Henry Beston, who wrote the now legendary "The Outermost House." At almost the exact spot where I had been standing at Coast Guard Beach, overwhelmed with the compulsion to write, Henry had spent a whole year doing just that. Between 1926 – 1927 he lived and wrote in a little cottage, which he called "the Fo'castle", and which was perched in the dunes and not far from the high tide mark.

When he arrived at this beach, Henry's intention had been to take a two-week break to write about nature and the sea. The call of the surf lured him to stay on longer. That was something I could really relate to. I thought desperately about staying on here for a year, instead of driving around the world in a Land Rover. It was not the first time I entertained these thoughts, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Beston talks about why he stayed on longer at the beach, in his book: "The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling up from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot… The longer I stayed, the more eager was I to know this coast and to share its mysterious and elemental life."

I read this passage with great excitement, the book clutched in my hands, and with an intense desire to see Henry’s little writing house. Sadly, it had been claimed by the huge high tide during a furious storm in February 1978. I was twenty years too late. I bought the next best thing - a copy of the book, with a photo of "the Fo'castle" on the cover. I had a job to complete – the expedition. But, I promised myself that I would keeping writing and I would also return to this spot one day.

Since my visit to Cape Cod, two organisations have been formed.
The Henry Beston Society, established in 2002, which celebrates Henry’s nature writing and his life at Coast Guard Beach. They have plans to re-build a replica of The Outermost House.

photo credit: The Henry Beston Society, Inc.

The Friends of Henry Beston, established in 2004, also focus on his writings and philosophy, but particularly on his life after Coast Guard Beach, when he lived and wrote at Chimney Farm in Nobleboro, Maine.

By now, a sea mist had rolled in, but we continued further along the coast. The old Cape Cod Lighthouse had been saved from the clutches of the sea. It had recently been moved from the eroding shoreline at a cost of millions.

Lighthouses are no longer considered necessary in these modern times of radar and sonar equipped vessels. Left alone, it would have since fallen into the ocean. The local historical society campaigned for five years to save it. They raised over $US130,000 themselves and had convinced businesses, local and federal Government to provide the rest of the funding. The Lighthouse is an iconic landmark for Cape Cod. Let’s hope the Henry Beston Society can achieve the same thing.

The Lighthouse’s Visitor Centre sells a number of items to fund their on-going operational costs. I bought some of their dried cranberries to eat while watching the video of the Lighthouse’s story. Cranberries grow best in salt wind. The ones I was eating, which were delicious, had been harvested in nearby Plymouth.

For a thin curl of land, Cape Cod had a lot to see.

Marconi’s first transmission crackled across the airwaves from here and, of course, this is where the American pilgrims on the "Mayflower" actually made their first landing. While Plymouth makes the biggest claim on the official landing site, and it is agreed that the Mayflower was indeed headed there, a storm drove the ship into Provincetown Harbour. Using the Cape Cod "strong arm" simile, this harbour lies in what would be the curve of the palm and fingers.

It was getting late and we also headed towards Plymouth for the night. This town was named after the English one, just like my old home-town of New Plymouth. Plymouth (England) was where some of my forebears originated from in the 1840’s. Maybe I shared some ancestry with the citizens of Plymouth, MA? I wondered if there was a way of finding that out. I looked forward to doing an investigation and also to an early night, curled up with "The Outermost House".

On our way to Plymouth, we drove past a traffic warning sign we had never seen before: "Yield to Rotary Traffic". We wondered what on earth we were going to come across – a platoon of lawn mowers, maybe a fleet of Mazda rotary cars, or even the local chapter of the Rotary service organisation on a mission? But, it was a simple "Give Way" on a roundabout. These round traffic islands are common in New Zealand, but not so in USA. This was the first one we had encountered on the entire trip and we drove around it several times, just for fun.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The End of the Beginning

Land Rover Expedition Time: Early May 1998
Photo: Our entire expedition possessions

Sorting out belongings – what to take and what leave – was a job I hated, due to the warring factions within me. From my father I had inherited spirited "don’t worry/everything will be alright on the day" qualities, whereas from my mother I had been blessed with the opposite: "best to be safe than sorry/always be prepared". All morning conflicting messages blasted from one side of my brain to the other as I shuffled my possessions between two piles.

It was the morning after our function at the New Zealand Embassy and our last full day with J and N. We were preparing the Land Rover and us for transport to England, in a few days time.

The plan was to get the vehicles to our shipping agent, Kuehne & Nagel, in New Jersey. Then, TH and I were going to hire a car for ten days touring the New England States, and calling on friends in Canada. F1 and F2 had decided to fly on ahead to UK.

J and N were hosting a farewell party, where their neighbours and many of the people we had met over the last week could gather to wish us "Bon Voyage". They had generously invited F1 and F2, as well. But, having isolated themselves in a remote campsite in Maryland, and not being part of the previous week’s happenings, F1 and F2 decided it wasn’t worth the hour’s drive to get to where we were. They suggested they go on ahead and met us at Kuehne & Nagel on the agreed shipping date. After the embarrassment F2 caused the night before at the Embassy, I was relieved I didn’t have to see them.

Eventually, my two piles were settled. These were just personal items. One lot would be stowed inside the Land Rover, and the other was for our 10-day holiday. TH had sorted his hours earlier and had spent the rest of the time checking over the Land Rover, his camera gear, my lap top and all the required cables, plus some eating/cooking equipment.

Chores done, it was time for a relaxed and happy party with our friends and supporters. J and N were fantastic hosts and had not only organised the invitations, but contributed all the food and drink for the party.

It was time to move on again the next morning, after Jim’s visit to give us the commemorative Vietnam memorial gifts.
I gave N a big hug, snivelled (just a little) on J’s shoulder and we hit the road. We had two days and one night to travel a fairly short distance to New Jersey.

It should have been a breeze. We had a clear run through Baltimore and Philadelphia and started looking for a motel once we were on the eastern (New Jersey) side of Philadelphia, around 5:30 pm. I don’t know where we went wrong, but we couldn’t find anything other than overpriced Sheraton or Hyatt Hotels.

We stopped in desperation at a petrol station to ask about the proximity of motels. They directed us to the town of New Brunswick on Highway One. We searched desperately, ending up in Edison. All we could find there were scruffy, noisy places, within exhaust belching range of the Highway. It was now nine pm. We settled on the best looking of the bunch. The exhaust fumes mingled with the stale cigarette smell of the room. We were hungry and tired. We had packed some cereal for our last breakfast and we ate half of that, washed down with orange juice, saving the other half for the morning. All night the trucks roared past, shaking the building.

The only good thing was that we had made more progress towards the shipping yard, so it would be a shorter run on the morrow. Cold comfort, when a better night’s sleep and a good dinner, even with a longer run the next day, would have been preferred.

There was no chance of a sleep-in with the increasing racket of the traffic. We both had headaches from lack of sleep, and my legs throbbed from my restlessness during the night. We gagged down the rest of the cereal with the juice.

It was an easy drive to the New Jersey ports area of Bayonne. This was a real, run-down area, but probably not a lot different to working port areas in most countries. The directions that Kuehne and Nagel had given us were very clear to follow and soon we pulled into their yard. F1 and F2 were already there, sorting their gear out.

In New Zealand we had been allowed to drive the Land Rovers into their containers and fasten them down. Here the vessel would be roll-on and roll-off and it was not yet in port. Kuehne & Nagel would be looking after our "babies" in their locked yard until then. We checked and re-checked our gear and filled out numerous shipping forms. The K & N team helped us find a reasonably priced hotel in Jersey City and ordered a taxi for us to get there.

It was now the 4th May 1998, almost exactly two months since our departure from New Zealand on 3rd of February.
So much had happened since then and I felt like I had done a full expedition already. Our Land Rover had been our mobile home for that time. I felt a real sense of loss and dislocation as we left it behind in the shipping yard. It had been such a part of me. It was my rock and security blanket. I turned round in the back seat of the taxi for a final longing look, until we were out of sight. I wondered if I would ever see it again.
Photo: Last view of the Land Rovers

Each team of two (F1 & F2 and ourselves) were uncomfortable with the other and we said little on the way to the hotel. The bedraggled port area fell behind us. Jersey City approached, but didn’t look much better. I laughed when I saw the slogan for New Jersey – "The Garden State". I couldn’t see any gardens, anywhere. Maybe it was a garden for something else – depression? Ugliness? Graffiti?

The hotel was a high rise "blah" of a building, near the Jersey Tunnel. At least with double-glazing it was relatively quiet. We made our arrangements for the next day. We all agreed to do a tourist bus tour of Manhattan in the morning. Then, F1 and F2 would fly out to England from John F Kennedy airport. TH and I arranged for a rental car for our holiday, which we’d collect the next day from nearby Newark airport. We crashed out for an early night.

Despite the early start, the bus tour of $US38 was well worth it. I would have paid most of that to listen to the sassy New York tour guide. Once we’d collected a number tourists from various Jersey City hotels, we took the tunnel over to New York State. The tour guide hopped aboard in Manhattan. He glanced around the bus and sneered, "Good Morning to you all from The Garden State. Have you seen any gardens over there yet?"

I don’t know how to describe someone who can be so delightfully sneering, but he kept up this New York brand of banter throughout the tour. He obviously loved his city and couldn’t help showing it, despite his sophistication. He punctuated his patter with all sorts of titbits and gossip about his town. I just loved this guy.

It was a drizzly, wet and cool morning. But, we packed a lot in. We learned about the early history, and then its first billionaires – the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, the Vanderbilts, how the metro got built, and the first apartments.

We saw the spot John Lennon was killed outside of The Dakota apartments and we had a short walk in Central Park. The guide was proud of this area too and told us that, even with a name like Central Park it wasn’t just anywhere. It was uniquely associated with New York. He asked the group of twenty, and all Americans apart from us, if we could name a park anywhere else in the world that was as well known. I suggested Hyde Park. He sneered that he supposed I’d said that because I was British. I happily sneered back that I wasn’t. He snorted that he wasn’t so sure about that as I sounded English. Yeah, what did he know! However, he was already onto his next snippet of information. Despite the perceived reputation for crime, in fact Central Park has only 11 felony crimes for the 11 million visitors to the park each year.

An absolute highlight was the visit up the Empire State Building. This building is, to me, quintessential New York.
The lift went up and up for ages. On the observation deck, I looked down into the tunnels of streets. While the day was wet the view was still amazing.

There were lots and lots of yellow taxis. Apparently, only 1 in 5 people have their own personal cars and there are over 17,000 Yellow Cabs in New York City. A taxi licence, at that time, cost $US250, 000. Most drivers rented a cab for $US80.00 per day.

Back at ground level we drove on through Greenwich Village. Our tour guide pointed out a sign, which advertised ear piercing with or without pain. "With pain" was dearer.

We were allowed a quick wander into the famed St Patrick’s Cathedral and around the Rockefeller Centre area of tall art deco buildings. We had another chance to prove to our Tour Guide that we truly weren’t from Britain when he pointed out that this area had the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. TH informed him that it might be the collection of LARGEST (tall) art deco buildings, but Napier in New Zealand, had the largest COLLECTION of art deco buildings.
The tour guide looked very doubtful at this.

Photo: The National Tobacco Company Building, by architect J.A. Louis Hay, completed 1933. Napier, New Zealand

The bus dropped us back at our Jersey City hotel in the early afternoon. F1 and F2 left for JFK Airport, and we took another taxi in the opposite direction to Newark airport and the car rental centre.

It took ages to complete the paperwork - longer than it took to fill out all the forms at Kuehne & Nagel to ship the Land Rovers. It was 4 o’clock when we pointed the hired Chevrolet’s nose north on the freeway out of town. We were very tired after two busy days and early starts. So, we agreed we’d drive for an hour just to get out into the countryside. For once our plan worked.

By five pm we’d found a lovely motel at Nyack, not far from the Hudson River. We’d had a proper feed at the nearby Chinese restaurant and were back in our nice, quiet room by seven.

Over dinner I finally relaxed. The first leg of the expedition had been nothing like I had expected, mainly due to the crap team dynamics. However, we had successfully planned an expedition, got it underway, driven across America in what the locals considered "antique jeeps", had been warmly greeted and helped by wonderful people, seen fabulous scenery and we hadn’t killed each other. That was definitely worth celebrating. What’s more, I was now in a warm, comfy bed and I wouldn’t have to pack up a wet tent for at least another ten nights. Now that was certainly celebration territory, too!

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Speaking for your Country

Land Rover Expedition Time: 1st May 1998

I had a restless sleep. I was mulling over what I could say to F1 and F2. My instincts were to just tell them to p#$! off back home and that TH and I were better off without them. But, we needed that damn Series One Land Rover. I cursed the day that F1 had met F2. The expedition was blighted from that moment. Without her, it would have been just the three of us. We would have stayed together, rather than being in this sticky alternative position now. In hindsight, we should have just made the decision back in Tuba City to have just gone on without them.
Or, for the sake of nicety, we could have stayed together until we got to England and then permanently separated after the 50th Anniversary functions over there.

As TH and I would end up with all the work obtaining the visas and medical supplies in England, while managing the sponsorship relationships and doing the entire route planning, it would have been so easy to have left F1 and F2 to sort out their own arrangements. It was likely that they'd never manage this on their own, and we would sail across 'The Channel' unencumbered. But, we felt we had to have a Series One Land Rover. The whole marketing and sponsorship of the expedition was based on this one vital component.

Around three in the morning I resolved that we’d have to somehow make a go of it together, all four of us. That said, I wasn’t going to let them off too easily. They would have to comply with all sponsorship arrangements in future and call in regularly, if we ever separated.

By the time F1 phoned in the morning, I was calm but very firm – their lack of communication and consideration had disappointed more than just TH and I and had compromised the credibility of the expedition. They were to meet us early at the New Zealand Embassy for our special function and they were to wear their Land Rover sponsored clothing, which needed to be clean. I conceded on the photo shoot. F1 wasn’t to know that the Embassy staff had already been in touch with me. It was pouring with rain, and unlikely to stop. The outdoors area we had planned to have the photo, near the Embassy, was now out of the question. The Ambassador had wondered if we could postpone the shoot. Of course, I had agreed.

TH had already left to spend the day in Washington DC to have another look at the Smithsonian Museums. We’d agreed that we would meet at the Embassy ahead of time. I would wash the promotional clothes we had worn at Land Rover North America last night and bring them, cleaned and pressed, for him to change into. He went off happy that he wouldn’t have me in tow, and he could linger as long as he wanted over old planes, engines and machinery.

I was so tired and needed to catch up on some sleep. I also wanted to review the speech that I was to give that night. The Ambassador had asked me to speak for at least fifteen minutes on the expedition, our preparation, and what we hoped to achieve by the end of it. With the important trade guests invited by the Embassy, all my business experience and instincts confirmed that my presentation needed to be about the New Zealand "brand". That is, the "can do", innovative Kiwi attitude that can effortlessly deliver on whatever has been promised, while being sophisticated, yet comfortable in any culture. I needed exactly the right pitch and not come across as an obvious advertisement. To sound natural and "unscripted" takes a lot of effort and preparation. The pressure weighed heavy on me.

J and N drove me into the New Zealand Embassy, which is located on Observatory Circle (shown by the red pin).

I was keyed up like an over-wound spring. My speech was prepared, but I was apprehensive about meeting up with F1 and F2 again. Things had been pretty tense on the phone earlier in the day. I had this nagging feeling that they would somehow let the expedition, or me down.

TH had already charmed them at the Embassy, despite arriving dripping wet from his walk in the heavy rain from the train station. They had given him some of the promotional clothing from the Baltimore Trade Stand to wear, so he could get out of his wet clothes. He had that slightly hangdog expression when I walked in - the one that makes people love him and want to help. Fortunately, I had brought a complete change of clothes, a towel and a comb. He was soon looking his handsome self once more.

F1 and F2 arrived at the agreed hour. Instead of wearing her promotional Land Rover green outfit, F2 was in a purple dress. She looked tidy, but that was not the point. As soon as we were alone I hissed the question at her. Her answer was that she had thought she looked more presentable like this. Not a bad answer I suppose for someone with a complete lack of business or promotional sense. But, what annoyed me even more, F1 had not thought to question her or remind her of the direct request I had made over the telephone that morning. I sighed, maybe he just hadn’t noticed. That was his usual response to most things.

The evening had to go on, of course. And, I had to concentrate on being at my best and not waste energy on angry thoughts. Guests were arriving and TH and I had a lot of talking to do. We soon lost F1 and F2 in the crowd. In her purple dress, hopefully people wouldn’t realise F2 was part of our team.

It was such a great experience meeting up with so many Kiwis and a number of American business people. They were all charming and interested in our expedition. It was a very relaxed and easy function. Speech time soon rolled around.

The Chef de Mission (deputy ambassador) was the MC. His role was to welcome everyone, invite the Ambassador to say a few words, and then to formally introduce me. I stood at the front and concentrated on looking calm and professional. Inside, the butterflies were fluttering overtime. TH stood to one side. I made a quick eye contact with him. I love that look in his warm brown eyes that is just for me and helps me believe I can do anything.

The Chef de Mission was about to speak and I turned back to face the crowd. J and N gave me positive smiles, and the room quietened to an expectant hush. He started to say that the Embassy had some special New Zealanders tonight and, as such, he wasn’t going to speak for too long. In a brief pause, while he took his next breath, F2 suddenly called out a loud response, "Thank bloody goodness."

She had completely misjudged the deceptively relaxed nature of the occasion. I think the Ambassador and the Chef de Mission were far too professional to let too much show on their faces. But, in that tiny pause, I felt the shock wave between them and a flood of amazement around the rest of the room. Then, the Chef de Mission continued with his introduction of the Ambassador. I kept my eyes on him and I didn’t dare look at anyone else, in case I totally crumpled with embarrassment.

In his speech, the Ambassador said some wonderful things about adventurous and innovative New Zealanders. He frequently looked at TH and I, but never at F1 or F2. There was something in his eyes, when he turned to me, that told me he didn’t blame me for F2’s ghastly gaffe. It boosted my confidence once more.

I gave my best during my speech and the adrenaline took over. I hardly needed to look at my notes. I kept my gaze sweeping around different people in the room to include everyone. Well, everyone but two people, who were best forgotten.
I finished with a presentation of a gold enamelled Land Rover for the Ambassador, the extra one that "wonder woman" Meg from Land Rover Knoxville had given us, expressly for this moment.
The Ambassador and I shook hands, and posed for TH’s ready camera. The Chef de Mission invited everyone to stay on for refreshments and to talk with us.

Everyone came rushing up to TH and I. There were so many questions. It was almost overwhelming, but very exciting. Through the swirling crowd I saw F1 and F2 sitting alone. And then I saw dear, sweet N going over to talk to them, and to sit with them. He told me later that he did that to avoid further embarrassment for TH and I, rather than because he felt sorry for F1 and F2 being on their own.

The Chef de Mission approached me as the evening was coming to a close and the crowd had thinned. He asked me if I’d ever thought about making a career move into Embassy work. I knew then that the event hadn’t been stuffed up for them.

I thanked him for the offer and said that I had a job to do first – driving around the world. He said he expected me to complete my current mission, and gave me his card. He asked that, when I was getting close to arriving back home again, if I would give him a call. I promised I would. This conversation really made my night and confirmed again that the whole function had been a success.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Show Must Go On

Land Rover Expedition Time: Very late April 1998

We still hadn't heard from F1 and F2. Our 30th April function at Land Rover North America’s Head Office was fast approaching as was our New Zealand Embassy "do", scheduled for the day after.

A neighbour of J and N’s, keen to help the expedition, had kindly offered to host F1 and F2 in her home. She was excited to be part of it all, and to help us, and was so thrilled to be invited to the promotional BBQ at our Embassy. She had never attended any event at an embassy before and wanted to look her best. She asked if we would all be wearing evening dress. Of course, she was incredulous at my reply, even when I tried to explain that the event was to honour intrepid expeditioners. Fortunately, J and N reassured her that dressy casual would be smart enough.

The morning of the 30th slowly ticked by. We were edgily waiting by the phone for F1 and F2 to call in. It never rang. Around lunchtime we left to make our way to the Land Rover North America’s head office in Maryland.

Whether they were dead or alive, we’d look fools either way. TH and I wrestled with what we were going to say when the inevitable question would be asked on their whereabouts. Here we were, only two of the expected four guests-of-honour at a 50th Anniversary Event, representing New Zealand, and the vital Series One Land Rover was missing. I was a mixture of being totally pissed off and filled with dread that the worst had happened to them.

We arrived in good time. Nancy, our favourite PR person, was expecting us and immediately escorted us to meet the North American General Manager. While nervously waiting in his guest reception area, we overheard him discussing his outfit to his personal assistant. He sounded unhappy. Having decided that the 50th Anniversary event was to be "safari themed", with all the staff dressed accordingly, he was clearly not pleased how he looked. I think he had hoped for a fearless hunter/swashbuckling effect. I knew his instincts were correct as soon as I saw him. He looked a proper prat in his pith helmet and "bwana-in-the-jungle" outfit. It sure took some of my nerves away and it had certainly distracted him from the fact that there was supposed to be four of us, as well as a 1948 Land Rover. With a bit of luck he might not notice that our 18 years newer, Series 2A Land Rover, wasn’t even a Series One.

He shook our hands, warmly welcomed us and said it was an honour to host us. He then asked me if I could keep my speech to less than five minutes. My mouth opened and then shut. What speech? This was the first I had heard about it. I really had something to worry about now. I asked him how many people would be attending.

"Around 400."

"Gulp", I thought.

He was clearly busy and we said we’d be happy to just mingle with the guests until the official bit. I wanted to get away and write some speech notes. TH and I were asked to position our Land Rover in pride of place in the showroom. Most of the mechanics knew the difference between a Series One and Series 2A. However, they happily gathered around the engine bay with TH, while I furiously wrote my notes in an isolated corner. People started to congregate and eventually I had to put my PR hat on and mingle.

There were plenty of nibbles and drinks, plus some new Land Rovers to drool over. An added attraction was a zookeeper from Baltimore Zoo. In keeping with the safari theme, he had been asked to bring along some animals – a chinchilla for the kids and a real, live snake for us "bigger kids".

As New Zealand is one of the few countries without snakes, and all imports of snakes are forbidden including for zoos, I had never seen one up close before. The zoo keeper let me touch the snake as it slid along his arm. It had a dry skin; not warm, but not cold either. I had been expecting something cool and slimy.

Finally, it was time to begin the formal proceedings. Nancy stood by me for support on one side, with TH on the other. The General Manager talked about historic links with Land Rover, the spirit of adventure, and the Land Rover creed of "Go Anywhere, Do Anything". He then looked over at us and said our expedition personified these brand assets. That was my cue to come to the podium.

Once there, I looked around the huge crowd and tried to stop my knees from knocking. The people all looked so stern. They seemed nothing like a New Zealand audience, who usually appeared curious and interested. I was concerned they didn’t like me.

I took a deep breath and started. I began by saying that I had been apprehensive about coming to USA, the land of great motoring, in an old, slow, British copy of a Jeep. They looked more uncertain at this, perhaps worried that I may have been mistreated in some way. I then said I could NOT have been more wrong. I talked about the love affair that the American public had had with our "antique" Land Rover. I described how people had been so friendly and helpful. The audience all suddenly relaxed and smiled in a huge collective sigh of relief. I enjoyed giving the rest of my speech, touching on what I hoped were all the right marketing buttons for the sales team. I was given a rapturous applause at the end. Nancy gave me a big hug and said I was perfect.

The General Manager removed his pith helmet and looked more "statesman" like, as he continued his speech. He launched the new Mark 2 Land Rover Discovery, which spectacularly rolled down a ramp and onto the stage, after bursting through a large paper banner that had previously hidden it.

Speeches over, the crowd was free to top up their glasses and partake in the big spread of food. Everyone seemed to want to talk to TH and I and to look at our "primitive" Land Rover. I found out why the audience had initially appeared stern. Many told me that they had been surprised and taken aback that a woman was the spokesperson for the expedition and that I was also from a tiny country like New Zealand. Not just any woman either, but one so short she could barely see over the podium. So, it wasn’t dislike at all, but uncertainty. They needed to get used to the idea.

I reminded myself that, while it is common for women to take leadership positions in New Zealand, it wasn’t like this in other countries. I mentally thanked those suffragettes who gave us the vote in 1893, which meant attitudes changed quicker in New Zealand to enable women like me to have opportunities earlier, and not twenty years later when I would probably be too old to do this odyssey.

It was a very happy and worthwhile promotional event for us. Nancy was well pleased, as was the General Manager.

We returned to J and N’s on a high, although tinged with worry about F1 and F2. However, they had finally phoned in, around dinnertime. They had arrived in the area early afternoon and had booked themselves into a campsite in Maryland, about one hour’s drive out of Washington DC. Ironically, the campsite was not far from where we had been at Land Rover North America. When J asked them why they hadn’t called days earlier, or at any stage over the month we had been apart, F1 said they hadn’t thought it was necessary.

I was so furious. Their thoughtlessness had caused us a lot of worry and embarrassment. The whole shine had now gone from our evening at Land Rover. Not only that, F1 had told J that he didn’t want to bring his Land Rover into the New Zealand Embassy for a photo shoot the next day. He’d heard somewhere that it wasn’t safe to leave classic vehicles on the streets of DC. J dryly informed him about the usual security measures around any embassy, and that a photo shoot with the New Zealand Ambassador was one of the prime purposes of our visit to Washington DC.

J had asked F1 to ring back in the morning, as she knew that I’d want to talk to him. Talk to him? I wanted to throttle the living daylights out of both of them. The last few weeks on the road without them had been such a joy. Obviously, they hadn’t changed at all during our time apart and the last thing I wanted now was to get back together with them.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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Monday, September 24, 2007

Chance Meeting - Monumental Result

Land Rover Expedition Time: Late April 1998

I am not much into boats, but most girls like a sailor. So, when the New Zealand Embassy invited TH and I to a function at Baltimore Harbour, I jumped at the chance.

The Whitbread Around-the-World Yachts had arrived and, while there was no specific New Zealand entry into the race that year, New Zealand crewmen were serving on nearly every boat. The function was to welcome these New Zealanders and celebrate our nation’s "can do", prowess. J and N were also invited, as were F1 and F2. We responded with apologies for F1 and F2, saying they were due to arrive in the next few days. Well, we hoped they would be arriving. We still didn’t know where they were, or even if they were going to show up for our own function.

Our Embassy also kindly offered a place on their guest list for the PR representative from Land Rover North America. TH and I were invited to be her personal hosts for the night, which was a real privilege.

The evening opened with a powhiri (a formal Maori welcoming ceremony)

TH and I accompanied our Land Rover guest (Nancy) within the group of guests/visitors to be welcomed by the New Zealand Ambassador and his staff, so I could explain the ceremony to her, as it unfolded.

Many of the Embassy staff were Maori and several were in appropriate ceremonial dress. One of these, a strapping young man of great height, performed the wero (the challenge). During the wero, which is an ancient ritual, it is customary for a strong warrior to approach the visiting party in a war-like way. This includes brandishing a weapon (such as taiaha, or spear) chanting and poking out of the tongue. This is a demonstration of strength to signal that the visitors are welcome, if they come in peace. If not, the hosts are prepared to vigorously defend themselves.

At that stage, I had not seen the powhiri performed outside of New Zealand. The effect on many of the American guests, who had never seen a powhiri ever before, was fascinating. Nancy, buoyed by her own personal guides (TH and myself) either side of her, was thrilled and appreciative. The others were all interested, as expected, but many looked quite nervous. The most terrified looking of them all was the Mayor of Baltimore, who was a huge black American.

As "chief" of the guests, he had been appointed to accept the "offering". This is a vital part of the wero, where the challenging warrior lays down an item, often a piece of fern, as an offering. If the visiting chief does not want war, he will accept this offering by picking it up.

The Mayor, despite looking like he might run any moment, was well briefed. When he crouched down to accept the offering, he never took his eyes off the warrior, which was the exact protocol. However, I could see the fern frond shaking in his hands as he stood up again.

As soon as the offering was picked up, a warming song of welcome burst out from the hosts, which we (as the guests) responded to with a song of our own. The two sides then happily intermingled, there were the usual speeches and then the food was served.

Towards the end of the evening, after Nancy had left, I met a man who was the region’s department head for the American equivalent of the Ministry of Labour. When he discovered I was a tourist, he asked me to call him Jim. Then he enquired if I had visited any of Washington DC’s monuments yet. I said that we planned to do that the next day. He asked which one I would visit first. My reply was instant – The Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There are a lot of monuments, many of great significance in Washington DC.

I imagine that not many tourists would name the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as first on their list. Jim looked surprised, but pleased as well. I knew immediately that this memorial was a special place for him.

He asked me why I wanted to visit this one. I told him about our expedition’s major sponsor, the CEO of Repco New Zealand, Bob Wyeth. Bob had told me about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when he last visited Washington DC. He described the three key components of the memorial - the Wall of names, the Three Servicemen Statue and Flagpole, and the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

Bob described "The Wall" in great detail. It starts as a short panel with the name of the first soldier killed, builds up progressively to taller panels, which list the names of more and more dead soldiers. At full height, this wall is well above a tall man’s head, and it stretches out, like a black wedge in the land, for many long paces. Then, the panels get progressively shorter and end with one short panel again, inscribed with the name of the last soldier killed. In total, there are over 58,000 names! At the base of each panel, still grieving family and friends leave flowers, poems and gifts.

Back in New Zealand, big, tough Bob had tears in his eyes, when described to me something that had happened during his visit to the memorial. An elderly man had shuffled along "The Wall" and stopped just past the halfway point, where Bob was standing. He fingered a name etched on the black, marble panel. Then, the man bent down and gently placed an old-fashioned penknife, one with a bone handle, at the base of that panel.

As the man turned away he announced, to no one in particular, that he had given his son that knife for his twelfth birthday. Bob asked the old man to tell him about his son. The boy had grown to a tall 18-year old, had enlisted in the US Army and was sent to Vietnam. A short while later he was posted "missing in action". Over the years since, the old man had kept the knife to give back to him when he returned, and had never moved house, so his boy would know where to find him. But, ill health and old age had now forced him to sell or give away most of his possessions in order to move into a small room at a retirement home. The man said he’d never given up hope, until now, that some day, some how his son might return. He added sadly that, even if he did, there was no house for the boy to come home to anymore.

I had tears in my eyes, too, as I finished telling Jim this story. Jim patted me gently on the shoulder and thanked me. He then told me that he was the Chairman of the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans. He had been a helicopter pilot. TH and I talked a while longer about the memorial with Jim. He asked a lot of questions about our expedition and said he would like to know more.

It was getting late in the evening and the Embassy bus would soon be leaving to take us back to Washington DC. I suggested that he attend our Embassy event. Unfortunately, he would be away on business. With J and N’s permission, I gave him their contact details. He was due back in town on the day we planned to hit the road again. He promised he would find a way to get in touch, shook mine and TH’s hands and left. I thought I would never see him again.

But, the day before our departure a week later, Jim telephoned. He was flying back to DC the next morning and he asked if he could visit us at J and N’s home before we left.

We agreed. His plane arrived on time and he came straight from the airport. He brought three gifts with him. He presented me with a gold Vietnam Veterans Memorial commemorative coin, in a red velvet box. From our conversation at the function in Baltimore, he knew that TH was interested in military aircraft. So, he gave TH a squadron badge from his own unit. He also gave us a small package to give to Bob Wyeth, on our return to New Zealand. He told us that it was a letter and another commemorative coin. He said that, in his letter, he thanked Bob for sponsoring us as, through us, he was able to hear Bob’s memories of his visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Jim told us that he’d also written that we were worthy ambassadors for New Zealand, and our sponsors, and how proud Bob could be of having two such people representing Repco around the world.

We were quite overcome. But, it gave us a terrific boost. This was just what we needed when setting forth once more on the great adventure and after a comfortable rest stop.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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Monday, September 10, 2007

Bizarre meeting with George Washington

Land Rover Expedition Time: Late April 1998

We made history in historic Williamsburg, Virginia.

A big chunk of Williamsburg has been preserved as an historic quarter and tourism is huge business here. Everything is available and for sale – tours of historic houses, lectures, historic walks, opportunities to dress up, take photos, buy old-fashioned sweets, learn hand crafts, or take a horse and buggy ride. These buggies ply their trade amid the usual traffic. They were quite probably the only road legal vehicles we were able to overtake in our entire journey through the States. We made the most of it, and overtook several. We did a "U" turn and tried it again. Oh, the excitement.

Pleasurable as all the speeding was, (for an old Land Rover), we had to move on to be in the Washington DC area for our official expedition event at the New Zealand Embassy. The trouble was we had no idea where F1 and F2 were or whether they would show up for it.

TH and I discussed whether something terrible had happened. If there had been an accident, we felt they would have been in touch. Or, if they were incapacitated, surely the USA police would have contacted their counterparts in New Zealand and a message would have been sent to my American cousin Susan. All of our friends and families had our "in case of emergency" contact points, and one of these was Susan.

We had all agreed, when the expedition team split up, that we would keep in touch by leaving regular phone messages with Susan. While we had checked-in with Susan, F1 and F2 hadn’t. Not once in the month we had been apart. Other than a vague plan to travel further south, we had no idea where they were.

I stewed on all the possibilities and came to the conclusion that there were two likely scenarios:
1. some sort of ghastly back-woods adventure gone wrong, where they had stumbled over a cliff, but their vehicle or bodies had not yet been discovered; or a sinister variant of this (a la the film "Deliverance") where they had been murdered and were now hidden in unmarked graves, deep in the forest, or maybe in a river
2. they simply hadn’t bothered to make contact

However, they had also promised to be in Washington DC in time for our big event at the New Zealand embassy. I knew that F2 was particularly looking forward to this, so I was pretty sure she wouldn’t miss it. Even so, their lack of contact and consideration was really irritating me. We also had an invitation to attend the 50th Anniversary Land Rover commemorative event at Land Rover North America’s Head Office on 30 April. TH and I would look a bit silly without the all-important 1948 Land Rover at this event.

We were headed for Reston (Virginia), just outside of DC. We were going to stay with two New Zealand friends, J and N. I rang to confirm we would be arriving the next day. At that stage, they hadn’t heard from F1 and F2, either.

I had met J in New Zealand via my work place. She was a highly skilled, self-employed office worker, who provided her services on a temporary basis for companies with short-term staffing needs. We had got on well and had arranged to meet socially, with our husbands. Shortly after that, N scored a great career opportunity near Reston. We said our sad goodbyes, but promised to keep in touch.

And so we did, with emails every few days. J was unable to work in USA, as she didn’t have the necessary "Green Card". But, she made some good contacts via the New Zealand embassy and met up with the "at home" spouses of other immigrant workers. J was instrumental in the fact that the New Zealand Embassy was hosting a function for us.

Over a year earlier, I had emailed J about my idea for a photo opportunity with the NZ Ambassador. She gave me some excellent advice on what to say and how to say it. I was stunned and delighted to later receive a very quick reply from the Ambassador to my letter. Not only did he agree to the photo with the Land Rovers outside the NZ Embassy, but he also offered to host a promotional function for us.

On the afternoon we arrived in Reston, we had arranged to meet N in a shopping centre car park on the outskirts of town, rather than try and find our way to their place on our own. What a treat it was to see N’s beaming face as we pulled in. I gave him such a big hug. With the exception of the couple we had met at Yosemite National Park, these were the first New Zealanders we had met up with, since leaving home. N then drove on ahead in his car, so he could lead the way to his and J’s home. J and I threw our arms around each other as soon as we arrived.

We planned our next few days with care. We wanted to see the sights in Washington DC and we wanted enough time to prepare for our event at the New Zealand Embassy.

The Embassy staff advised the details as soon as I got in touch with them. They had arranged a sort of a posh BBQ as our function for the 1st May. This fitted well with the Land Rover theme and would enable us to wear our sponsors' clothing, without looking out of place. The Embassy had invited some appropriate trade contacts and a number of New Zealanders, including J and N, to help celebrate our cultural "can do" Kiwi attitude, as personified by four New Zealanders driving around the world in old Land Rovers. The head PR person from Land Rover North America would be an honoured guest. There would be formal speeches from the Ambassador and myself.

For our first social visit into Washington DC itself, we aimed straight for the Smithsonian Museum. This is actually a whole collection of museums. There were two specific things I particularly wanted to see. The Apollo 11 exhibit and the infamous statue of a bare-chested George Washington dressed up as the Greek God, Zeus.

These two goals were for two very different reasons. I was 13 years old when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. It was the most exciting thing that had happened in the world according to my limited view at that time. I had followed everything with great interest. I knew the names of all three astronauts and their history, as well as I knew that of The Beatles.

Everything about the astronauts was exciting. I wanted to BE them far more than I wanted to play a guitar. Most of all, I dreamed I would one day launch into space. I still do. I am determined to fly to the moon and I am convinced there will be public flights available in my lifetime. In the meantime, to be able to see the Apollo command module would be a real thrill.

I made straight for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum first.

My first impression on the command module was that it was so tiny. It was hard to imagine three men living in such a small space for so long.

The module was tilted so the heat shield was clearly visible. A glass panel covered it, but it was easy to see its scarred, blackened surface, seared by its fiery re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. I stood for a long time imagining what it would have been like. Those terrifying minutes, scorching through re-entry, must have felt like forever.

It was time to find the other "must see" (for me) - George Washington, aka Zeus. This really appealed to my quirky sense of humour. I have always loved studying human behaviour. Propaganda and politicians provide ample entertainment and sport in this area.

The statue was difficult to track down. (Remember, this was 1998, when the Internet was not as it is today). I just kept on asking and eventually found it at the National Museum of American History. It was placed in a busy, walk-through area. Even though it was huge, people just walked on by, barely noticing. It was displayed without adequate lighting and sort of tucked under a stairwell. Quite clever positioning, if you didn’t want to draw attention to something. This was probably due to the statue’s controversial history.

I guess it all must have started with noble thoughts on the origins of democracy and the senate – Greece. I could see how this would have been seen as the right association with the first-ever American president. To be fair to George Washington, he didn’t have a say in this toga party. He was long dead by the time certain bureaucratic "toadies" decided on this as an appropriate tribute. Well-intentioned men would have made speeches to seek support and funding. At the time, it all would have fitted with the Roman pillars and the classical Greek architecture elsewhere in Washington DC. Horatio Greenough was commissioned as the artist/carver and the resulting statue was proudly put on display in 1841.

But, culture doesn’t easily transplant to an entirely different country, and particularly not through time zones. Dismayed questions began to be asked. Is it right for the "father of the nation" to be semi-nude? Why, you could even see his nipples.

The statue got moved and was tucked into a less conspicuous place. But, of course, more questions were raised – why do we show disrespect to such an important figure in our history by hiding it away? Hah – they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t. Eventually, the statue was placed into storage with the hope that, over time, it would be forgotten. But, he was the first President after all, and the damn thing just kept on resurfacing.

And, now here it was, in one of the Smithsonian museums, with someone all the way from New Zealand asking about it.

I admired the statue for awhile, which was impressive in white marble. But, even I had to admit, it was bizarre seeing Washington like that – a warp in time, like I had entered some sort of parallel universe. I watched the people moving past. Most never noticed him. There were so many glories in the museum that they moved quickly through this thoroughfare, in order to see the next wonderful thing.

Maybe they were keen to look at the other George Washington artefacts in the museum – a lock of his hair, his battle sword and even an egg poacher he used at Mt Vernon. They didn’t know what they were missing.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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Friday, April 06, 2007

Revenge of the Last-borns

Land Rover Expedition time: late April 1998

Earlier in the expedition we’d met the tree named after General Ulysses S Grant in Sequoia National Park. I’d even had my photo taken next to it. I’m the really small figure standing in the snow on the right, looking over my shoulder for mountain lions.

Refer to blog entry:

The General’s path and ours crossed again, when we drove into Appomattox, Virginia. With a name like that we thought we’d found our way into an Asterix book. The area is famous for battles, but not Roman ones. This is where the American Civil War ended. In April 1865, 133 years earlier, the confederate Army, under Robert E Lee surrendered to the Union Commander, Ulysses S Grant at the village of Appomattox Court House.

However, we were about to do battle of another sort – in the bizarrely named Yogi Bear Jellystone Park campsite. It was a name you’d expect to stumble across near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, not Virginia. The owners were in the process of changing the name to Lake Paradise Family Campground. Paradise it was not. "Lake" could describe the tenting area. It was one of the worst campsites we had seen. The ground was very wet and shaded by trees, which were still dripping from the last rain shower. Away from the trees, the ground sloped so sharply that we knew we’d be rolling into the tent wall all night. And, wherever we pitched the tent, the toilet and shower block were a good five minutes trot away.

When I am camping, the distance to the toilet has a direct correlation to the likelihood of my needing to go there in the middle of the night. I call this "the 500 metre bladder challenge". And, I could pretty well guarantee that at around 3am, and probably in the middle of a rainstorm, my bladder would start sending insistent messages to my brain.

It was going to be impossible to camp there. At this time of the year, we were often the only "primitive" campers in these so-called family sites. A few retirees would swing into the camp, in their large, luxurious RV caravans. Once set up, these RV’s would be lit up like oases of light and warmth, while TH and I shivered in our tent.

Sick of being constantly relegated to inadequate sites, we decided to set up in the RV caravan area, which was largely empty. Most of these sites were also sloping, which wasn’t a problem for the RV’s as they have levelling feet. The only site that wasn’t sloping was by the main camp road. This wasn’t good. But, at least it was close to the ablution block.

We had just finished setting up, when the manager drove past, on her way out. She immediately halted and started shouting at us. She wasn’t very pleased that we had taken a valuable RV site. We made a point a looking around the near empty campground and asked if she was expecting 200 RV’s to arrive at any moment. She said that wasn’t the point and started ranting again. Tired of being charged good money to camp in ill-suited areas, I let her really know about it. Perhaps I’d learned certain tantrum performance tricks from F2. Or, maybe some people just need to be shown some teeth, before they take you seriously. She agreed to let us stay where we were.

It was a hollow victory as, unfortunately, it was a very noisy night. What few vehicles were in the camp seemed make at least one trip out each that night and another one early in the morning. At least in the "primitive" area, no one would have come near us. There was also a railway nearby, with trains every hour, several dogs howling and even something like a chain saw at around 11 pm.

TH always has trouble with noise when he is trying to sleep. I don’t. I might wake up, but I quickly return my slumbers. But, TH can’t get back to sleep, if awoken too often. I call this the revenge of the last-borns, over the first-borns. TH is the eldest in his family and I am the youngest of five.

First-borns get more fuss and photos when they come into this world and the undivided attention of their parents and grandparents for the first year or two. However, they often suffer for the rest of their lives with broken sleep.

It all goes back to the early days in a first-born’s life. They were so cosseted that they never developed a tolerance for noise. Their over-protective parents would tip toe around as soon as the first-born was put to bed. Later in life, first-borns can almost find it impossible to sleep when there is any noise.

In contrast, by the time the last-borns arrive, nobody cares about keeping quiet, especially if there is several other children in the house. As such, last-borns in big families, like me, can always sleep in noisy situations. I have been known to drop asleep in rock concerts. And, so, last-borns (who didn’t get so much fussing when they were born) get back at first-borns. Well, that’s the theory according to Eventful Woman, anyway.

However, TH gets his own back on me. He has a bladder bred for endurance, and never has to get up in the night.

In the morning, we were well pleased to shake the dust off our sandals and leave Appomattox to its history.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Country Road - Take me Home

The "Smokies" beckoned us back into their hazy heights. Ridge upon ridge of the Great Smoky Mountains strode into the hazy blue of the distance. Well, at least they do on a fine day! Today the rain gushed down through the trees and thumped into the ground beneath. The forest smelled so much like the bush at home – clean, fresh, wild and pure.

The Great Smoky name comes from the natural haze that often hangs over the mountains. Hydrocarbons released by trees, as well as high humidity, produce this bluish cast in the sky.

However, today’s haze was mist and cloud, rather than from trees sweating out their hydrocarbons. In quiet interludes, when the rain paused to catch its breath, the views over the mist-cloaked mountain ranges revealed a mysterious and enchanted land.
I thought of ancient maps where these sort of remote areas contained the words "Here be Dragons".

In reality, we were in the southern part of the Appalachian Mountains. We started the day in Tennessee and finished in North Carolina, as the Smoky Mountain National Park straddles the border between both states.
On the North Carolina fringes of the National Park lies the normally idyllic Maggie Valley.

The road followed a river, which was swollen almost to the point of bursting its banks. Another inch and the brown, muddy water would be pouring across the road. Large rain puddles had pooled on the non-river side of the road. We swooshed through them, the spray drumming on the underside of the Land Rover. Due to the incessant rain, we had been fighting a fogged windscreen for most of the day and, even though it was only just after 3pm, it sky was darkening. We started looking for a place to stop for the night.

Almost immediately, we spied a cosy little set of cabins for rent, which were some distance from the road and well above likely "high water". The cabins were clean, cheap and comfortable. John, the proprietor, was fascinated with everything about us - how we talked, our "antique Jeep", our expedition and, most of all, our digital camera. He invited us into his home on site for a warming bowl of chicken soup. He and TH talked technology, while I hungrily knocked back the soup. John was hoping to buy a digital camera and make a website to promote his cabins. We offered an exchange of services – TH would teach John how to use a digital camera and what to look for when buying one, if he let us use his phone lines to check our email. John readily agreed. He gave us more of his fabulous, home made chicken soup, too. It was thick, tasty and had big hunks of succulent chicken. I happily slurped it down and responded to emails, while the "boys" talked techy stuff.

Over night, the rain finally stopped. As if to show itself off in the sunshine, the Maggie Valley had donned its prettiest dress and spring bonnet.

The river had metamorphosed back into a babbling brook, happily tumbling over rocks or, in other places, slowly swirling in placid pools. Flower bulbs had pushed their stems through the rain-softened earth. The budded heads looked like folded-up sun umbrellas. Later, they unfurled into brightly coloured blooms. The fresh spring leaves on the trees gleamed lightly green.

Fine weather was what we had been waiting for. Especially today, when we had planned to tour one of American’s favourite drives - The Blue Ridge Parkway. This scenic highway traces the ridgelines of the Southern Appalachians for a whole 500 miles, from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park (Virginia) in the north. And, not one billboard in sight. President Franklin D Roosevelt began the route in 1935 to provide jobs following the Great Depression, and with the proviso that it be preserved expressly as a scenic route.

Commercial vehicles and trucks were forbidden on the Parkway. As our sponsors’ logos were splashed across each side of the Land Rover, we hoped this wouldn’t ban our trusty steed from the route. The Parkway had a speed limit of 45 m.p.h. That, and the lack of big trucks to snort up our tail, sounded so perfect.

The Parkway was nearly deserted and no one stopped us at any time.

With its long vistas over rolling mountain ranges, waterfalls, craggy rocks, millions of trees, great lung fulls of fresh air to breathe in and an absence of traffic, we felt like we had driven into a parallel universe.

The road was just one lane wide each side, giving the appearance of a country lane. This was Daniel Boone country or, as he described it, "A high, far-seeing place." If you can imagine tootling along a quiet rolling road, in a beautiful area with dramatic views, with no ugly bill boards, and lots of trees that block out suburbia, while framing only charming, historic buildings, then that was us on The Blue Ridge Parkway. A stairway to heaven.

We turned off on a side route to explore Mt Mitchell, the highest point in USA east of the Mississippi. Our Series 2A purred happily up to the highest parking area, and we puffed ourselves up the last mile to the summit at 6684 ft. The cold weather suddenly screamed in. Far from friendly and fluffy snowflakes, it was freezing sleet. I had never encountered sleet before. Imagine almost-frozen slushy rain drops and then imagine these cold dribbles slithering down your neck. Eeeeeek!

TH is made of sterner stuff and, while I skidded and squawked my way back to the warmth of the Land Rover, he returned in a leisurely lope. I got there first and heaved on the door handle. It was locked. More screeches from me, as I hopped impatiently from one foot to the other. TH grinned at my torment, jauntily waving the keys as he approached. To be fair to him, he did unlock my side first.

The howling wind rocked the Land Rover as we eased our way back down the windy road. Sleet had frozen on patches of it. We drove off the Blue Ridge Parkway at the appropriately named area of Blowing Rock, looking for shelter for the night. We found a very quiet motel with lovely hot showers.

The storm blew itself out overnight. The new day was fine and clear.

We returned to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We planned to lazily hum along it all day with one excursion off it. We were going to dive off at West Jefferson to find the Episcopal churches with frescoes.

These two small historic churches are just twelve miles apart. From the outside, they are unremarkable.
But, there are treats inside for art lovers - full wall frescoes by internationally known artist Ben Long.

The churches, Holy Trinity and St Mary’s, were build in the early 1900’s by the Episcopal missionaries to provide schooling and medical help for the locals. The new minister in 1972, Rev. Faulton Hodge, found dilapidated buildings and falling congregation numbers. A chance meeting with artist Ben Long, along with the Rev’s "go getting" attitude, changed everything.

Ben became an apprentice in Italy to learn the art of true fresco and became an international master of the technique. When he returned to North Carolina he was keen to bring the ancient technique to his home State. When he met Rev. Hodge at a dinner party, Ben offered to paint a fresco as a gift. The good reverend responded enthusiastically, "We’ll take it," followed by, "What is a fresco?"

The frescoes were mainly painted in the 1970’s, over a lengthy period. Ben often invited fellow artists to assist him. They were an alternative and artistic looking group. In the community, gossip and speculation abounded about the artists. A persistent rumour circulated that the fresco subjects would be painted in the nude, and that even the painters themselves would be naked. Services continued and, each Sunday, the pews were packed to over-flowing.

Of course, the fresco subjects and the painters were clothed. However, people became so interested in the frescoes that they found ways to help and become involved. They were proud of their churches and what was being achieved. Congregation members would vie with each other to provide meals for the artists, competing to serve the best meal. Rev. Hodge rebuilt his flock and found a sure way of keeping up their interest. In addition, he now had a great revenue generator. Entrance to the churches is free. However, willing donations from tourists and art admirers continue to fill the coffers, paying for on-going restoration work on the churches.

We saw the first set of these frescoes at St Mary’s. They were very different to the traditional, "group tableau" style.

They were the usual religious subjects, of course, but the ones in this church were all of individuals and in unusual poses – such as a pregnant Mary and the fresco of Jesus laughing.

I was very taken with a wee bumblebee that was pictured in one corner of the John the Baptist fresco. Apparently, the artist had been buzzed all day by such a bee, and he decided to immortalise it forever in the work.

The church was very well organised for tourists. We were the only visitors at that point in time. However, there was a push button device that played a recording which described the works, who painted them, the technique used, and the inspiration behind them. Directions to the second church – Holy Trinity – were prominently displayed.

The frescoes at Holy Trinity were more traditional group scenes. Again there was the recorded message providing information about the paintings. This church also had a basement crypt under the church, set out like a miniature chapel. The cremation remains, known as "cremains", were stored here. I learned another new word too - this sort of room was a columbarium.

On one wall were the usual little cubbyholes for the "cremains", which had walnut exteriors and brass plaques. The other side had been developed as a sort of cave grotto, where the cremation urns stood in their own crevices.

While the columbarium wasn’t creepy or damp, it had a melancholy, abandoned feel to it. The atmosphere was heightened by the fresco of "The Departure of Christ" by Jeffrey Mims (a student of Ben Long). The fresco depicted Christ leaving home and was redolent with all the tears and feelings of people enduring a sad farewell. It had been painted as a memorial to a child who had been killed by a truck, in the nearby town.

Perhaps some found this fresco consoling and peaceful. But, for me, it reignited the painful memories of saying goodbye when we left New Zealand. Pangs of homesickness engulfed me and tears flooded my eyes. I rushed outside to the fresh air and sunshine.

The raw emotions exposed during this Land Rover expedition were frightening. I had sailed through life in the past without such personal troubles. I used to think I was wonder woman. This was supposed to be the big adventure but I felt so weak and pathetic. What was happening to me?

I pulled myself together before TH found me and we drove back onto the fabulous Blue Ridge Parkway.

The zigzag, split log fences around some of the historic buildings and farms distracted me from my anxious thoughts. While very attractive, the fences seemed like a complete waste of timber and effort.

I would have thought the farmers in by-gone days were busy enough, without making decorative fences. TH suggested they might be stronger against wind or snow. This would fit with the local wintry weather.

We had been told, when we filled up with petrol earlier that morning, that the section of the Parkway we were now driving on had been closed for a month recently, due to ice storms. Ice storms happen in cold weather, when the ground temperature is colder than the air. As rain falls, it freezes on contact with any surface it lands on. The ice builds up and becomes too heavy for the power lines, trees and any supporting structures not robust enough to withstand the weight. The recent ice storm had cut electricity for a week and had broken many trees. No wonder the historic houses and barns we had seen were built with steep, sloping roofs. I thought of the sudden storm we had been caught in, while up Mt Mitchell, and I shivered with what might have happened if we had stayed longer out in it. I gave myself a little rewarding smile at this point – there are some advantages of being a wimp and rushing in from the cold.

We stopped to photograph the historic Mabry Mill, which operated from 1910 – 1935. There were some information boards there and we found out that the early settlers built zigzag fences because they did not have access to a lot of nails, but had plenty of trees. Well, well, well – "for the want of a nail."

In the late afternoon, we sadly took our leave from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We went straight back into faster moving traffic, snorting trucks and ugly billboards. The Parkway had been a lovely idyll and so quiet. But, we had a date in Washington DC to meet.

In consolation, we sang the John Denver song to each other:
"Country Road
Take me home
To the place
I belong
West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains
Take me home
Country Road"

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Eventful Woman meets Wonder Woman

Land Rover Expedition Time: Late April 1998

One Eventful Woman can spot another at 100 paces. We cruised into Land Rover Knoxville, Tennessee, and found the only female Land Rover sales representative across the entire country. Meg Myers was as excited to see us, as I was to discover her.

New Zealand’s more recent colonial past and the strong role of pioneering women has provided more rights for women, and at an earlier stage in history than in other Western countries. I had been surprised at some of the differences between New Zealand and USA. One of them was on the career choices selected by women. Not that Land Rover USA had banned women as sales representatives. But, it was less common in USA for women to take on what was considered to be "male territory" in a career.

Maybe it was just a natural consequence of the 27 years difference between New Zealand granting women the right to vote (in 1893, as opposed to 1920 in USA)

Meanwhile, back into the more recent 20th Century, we had more trivial things on our minds. It had taken an age to dry off the tent that morning and further rain was forecast. It looked like we’d have to pay for a motel that night. It was also late in the day and Meg was disappointed she would not have much time with us before we moved on.

We said we could possibly come back in the morning. As she was a local, we asked about nearby hostels or camping cabins. She said she could do a lot better than that. If we agreed to display our Land Rover in their dealership and be interviewed by the media, she would arrange accommodation, at Land Rover’s cost, in the hotel right across the road. We were thrilled and readily agreed.

Photo: Meg of Land Rover Knoxville in her "safari" uniform that all Land Rover sales people wore in USA

In my current luxury starved mode, The Candlewood Suites Hotel in Knoxville was a place I could be tempted to hole up in for awhile. Their marketing campaign is "One look at our spacious studio and one-bedroom suites and it’s hallelujah time. " It certainly was hallelujah for trail weary travellers like us.

The hotel was trialling a new idea for travellers in USA - hotel rooms with kitchens. Of course, New Zealand motels have had these for years, as NZ travellers often like to cook, rather than eat out every single night. In a room off the main reception area was a little shop, called The Candlewood Cupboard, which sold microwave snacks and meals at very reasonable prices. After days of campfire food, I felt like a pirate who had discovered an unexpected treasure-trove. Laden with booty I scurried back to our room. I gleefully danced into our room declaring to TH that we were rich beyond our wildest dreams. TH had more good news. While I had been rubbing my hands with delight in the Candlewood Cupboard, he had discovered more bounty in the hotel guest laundry - free washing machines and dryers.

Oh, the luxury of lolling in your own spacious room, on a real bed with real sheets, scoffing snacks and meals, watching the television, while your dirty clothes are washed and dried. I chirruped with delight when it started to rain outside, as there would not be a wet tent to dry off in the morning.

Tummies bulging, we took a rest from eating and checked out a map of the area. It didn’t take long to convince ourselves that there was so much to see and do we would have to stay another night. We enquired at the reception desk. They offered a 50% room discount on the rates for our second night. I was tempted to ask what sort of discount we would get if we stayed for the rest of the year.

However, we were due in Washington DC in a week. The New Zealand Embassy would be hosting a promotional function for us. Maybe we could just drive up there and then back to Knoxville in the next day. Ha ha.

I contacted the Embassy’s Chef de Mission in the morning to confirm arrangements. Our event was scheduled for the 1st May

By 10am we were over at the Land Rover dealer, looking spruce and professional in our freshly cleaned and pressed promotional clothes. Our Series 2A Land Rover took pride of place on their showroom floor. Unlike the two slackers lolling on their bed and scoffing food across the road in the hotel, Meg and fellow sales representative, Brent, had not been idle. They had contacted the local media and also their Land Rover Head Office in Maryland. Head Office wanted all four of our expedition team, and both Land Rovers, at their 50th Anniversary of Land Rover function on the 30th April.

The 30th April was a big date in Land Rover’s golden anniversary year. On this day in 1948, the very first Land Rover available for purchase was exhibited at a Motor Show. We knew we’d be in USA for 30th April 1998 and, in an offer made via Land Rover New Zealand, we had suggested we could display our Land Rovers in USA as part of any celebrations. We hadn’t had much response with our enquiries. I’m not sure if that’s because Land Rover New Zealand’s efforts were so feeble or whether, with the exception of Land Rover Albuquerque, Land Rover North America hadn’t responded to our earlier requests.

We had decided to call on Land Rover dealers on our way through USA, anyway. While we had been greeted with universal interest, we hadn’t yet raised excitement levels at the Head Office. Of course, that was before wonder woman Meg got onto our case. In return, I invited her and also asked her to extend the invitation to representatives from the Land Rover USA Head Office to attend our embassy function in Washington DC.

Photos and media interviews completed, we set forth to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In spring this National Park was not as drop dead gorgeous as Yosemite, but it was very beautiful.

Smoky Mountains in Spring

Smoky Mountains in Autumn

We drove into Cades Cove, which is a looped road in a lovely valley nestled in the mountains. We managed to catch a glimpse of a red wolf in one part of the woods. Look at the nice doggy!! Yeah, right!

We were told at the Visitor Centre there should be around 1000 black bears now out of hibernation in the park.

But, we didn’t see any. They were either still in their beds or raiding honey somewhere else. I was thankful we were not camping in this National Park.

In 1971 the USA First Lady, Mrs Lyndon B Johnson, nominated Cades Cove as No.1 on a list of places every American woman and her family should see. The Visitor Centre confirmed that the place is bumper-to-bumper in summer and also during the colour change month in autumn. According to visitor numbers, Cades Cove puts Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the top ten of the 54 national parks in USA. In late Spring, during our visit, the traffic was very low and we enjoyed the peace and beauty.

The weather broke into heavy rain as we headed back to our favourite hotel room. By the time we were snuggled in, with more microwave snacks, thunder and lightening was crashing in the heavens. Hallelujah - no wet tent to worry about.

With the heavy rain still pouring down in the morning, we were tempted to stay another day and just slouch in our room. That’s what even modest luxury does for you. Two days of it and I wanted to stay forever. As in the past, I turned over wicked ideas in my head of staying put, pretending to drive around the world and circulating digitally manipulated images of the Land Rover at various famous locations.

We said our goodbyes to Meg and Brent and the fabulous team at Land Rover Knoxville. They presented us with a toy Land Rover Discovery model and two Land Rover badges commemorating the 50th year. In addition, they gave us cans of drink and some snacks for the road. They were all so thoughtful, generous and kind.

We felt very rested and agreed that we should incorporate more two-day stops into the expedition.

On our way out of town we stopped at Kinko’s, a photocopying and design shop. There’s a whole chain of these stores right across America. They are really handy for photocopying, label making, badge making and anything needing quick and economically priced designs.

Meg had arranged with Kinko’s to produce a key part of the 50th Anniversary branding for our Land Rover, with a spare set for the Series I when we met up with F1 and F2 again.

When we met her, Meg had asked why we were only using part of the 50th anniversary branding. We had always suspected something was missing. What we had was a big number 5 – 0, in the Land Rover green and gold colours.

We had thought it was a little odd and somewhat incomplete. Before we left New Zealand, we had posed for photos with Land Rover New Zealand's General Manager. He had seemed happy with the signs. As the official 50th Anniversary branding was still under wraps when we left New Zealand, we had nothing to compare it with. But Meg had spotted the mistake as soon as she saw our Land Rover. For some inexplicable reason, Land Rover New Zealand had given us part of the sign.

A tag line that said "years of motoring, 1948 – 1998", should have been added immediately below the big 5 - 0. With that included, the whole statement made so much better sense. Again, it made me wonder about the marketing department of Land Rover New Zealand.

When we told Meg that the 5- 0 was all we had been given, she arranged the rest of the logo for us. Because of our tight deadlines, she arranged the stickers via Kinko’s, rather than request the signs through Head Office. These were ready for us, when we arrived at Kinko's that day.

Over the years, I have often wondered what happened to Meg. I hope she is in some top marketing or management job somewhere, as she truly deserves to be.

© Eventful Woman, 2006
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Smoky Mountains National Park