Thursday, December 7, 2017

News from the South Pacific

Apart from Donald J. Trump's daily diet of the latest shamefully comic political misstep there is nothing that competes with the entertainment value of a newsy letter from old friends.  Naturally these emissions no longer arrive bound in embossed envelopes written on letterhead vellum and scratched in an adventurous turquoise ink by a Mont Blanc Meisterstuck Diplomat. There are however redeeming features of the email communications such as links to referenced sites as well as passable photographs. In this particular instance the drumbeat was from two birds who like us are committee members but who have literally flown the mountaintop of one of Canada's elite residential resorts north of Montréal to roost in the far-flung outreaches of New Zealand in the South Pacific.

Our friends distinquish themselves as having been senior mandarins in the Canadian government; and one of them in addition is a celebrated lawyer and published author associated with the sometimes sensational evolution of aboriginal constitutional rights, the serendipity of which is not lost on his ultimate alliance with the outpost of human habitation across the Tasman Sea known for its own wildly popular Māori culture.

There is a worldwide inclination to look down one's nose upon the South Pacific from, say, the height of culture that is touted by Americans at least as New York City or as the denizens there prefer simply to call it, "The City". This prejudice arises in no small part from the British habit of having deported its criminal population to nearby Australia. Though sometime between 1250 and 1300 CE the Polynesians settled in the islands that later were named New Zealand, the country likely became contaminated with a similar outlawed overtone by having been a colony within the British Empire at least until it became a Dominion in 1907.  Given the romanticism associated with the South Pacific generally it is easy to overlook that New Zealand ranks highly in international comparisons of national performance such as health, education, economic freedom and quality of life.  Long gone is New Zealand's primary agrarian association with sheep.

Nonetheless there persists an element of arrogance when reading reports from "down under" about visits to museums, art galleries, theatre and fine restaurants.  Not the least of the reasons is paradoxically the theme of vulgarity which insinuated the most recent epistle from our friends. Tucked among the details of a restaurant was an unexpected allusion to what are often considered the spurned cuts of meat generically called the "offals"; namely, tripe, brains, kidneys and bone marrow. The offals have historically been associated with waste material and decomposing animal flesh, sometimes considered infective not fit for pigs. The fortuitousness of this detail is that when I first met my partner 22 years ago he introduced me in New York City after a performance at the Gershwin Theatre to Osso Buco - another technically peasant dish - which has since become one of my favourites. As well my own mother famously made a chicken liver dinner nonpareil which to this day makes my mouth water just to think of it!

The photos sent by our friends included one of an elderly retired diplomat now living in a luxurious seaside residence. One has to wonder about the fortunes amassed by a former emissary to London, Rome, Paris, New York and Milan now hiding out in the South Pacific. From the photograph I saw she clearly had usurped the social throne and my lawyer friend was seemingly never more deferential.  I should add that following a mere glance at the diplomat I was mysteriously overwhelmed by the desire to play softball. This seemed to coincide nicely with her bequest to my friends of an Emile Henry cooking plate for tarte tatin having as it does its derivation in the 1880s from the Hotel Tatin run by two sisters, Stéphanie and Caroline Tatin.

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