Posted by: adorsk | January 28, 2009

Port Stop in Lyttelton

The Thompson arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand on the morning of the 27th.

Lyttelton Port & Town

It was cold and rainy.  As I waited for the ship to clear Customs I surveyed the hills that surrounded the harbor.  They were high and shrubby.  I had to crane my neck to see the tops.  The town of Lyttelton covered the lower half of the nearest hill.  It looked like the harbor had sloshed over and left a residue of houses and streetlamps, still wet and shivering.

Here is what the port looked like in better weather:

the port at Lyttelton on a sunny day

the port at Lyttelton on a sunny day

The port was filled with logs. Did Lyttelton have plans for a cabin of gargantuan proportions? No, just commerce. A steady stream of trucks and trains brought the logs in heaps from the South island forests. Cranes loaded them onto ships bound for the Pacific rim.

loading logs in Lyttelton

loading logs in Lyttelton

After the ship cleared customs I walked into town. It was small but pleasant. It had the standard New Zealand civic institutions (fish-n-chips shop, bank, pub) but there were also some specialties: a timeball museum overlooked harbor and still dropped its ball every day at noon. A historical museum described the history of Lyttleton and maintained a tiny steam tug that puffed around the harbor. A few cafes and restaurants lined the main streets, most notably the Volcano cafe & Lava bar.

the volcano cafe (picture from the volcano cafe website, http://www.volcano.co.nz/)

the volcano cafe (picture from the volcano cafe website, http://www.volcano.co.nz/)

I went into one of the cafes to get a glass of orange juice. After a cruise nothing tastes better than fresh fruit and its immediate derivatives. I think the tongue gets bored at sea and starts to taste in black and white.  A fresh orange is like a splash of color.

If the juice was color for the mouth, then the accent of the girl behind the cafe counter was color for the ears.  I had never heard a Kiwi accent in person.  She said “Hi, what can I get for you?“, but I heard:

“Hoyyyih, whut kun oih git fur yooowih?”

It took me a second to decipher.  Eventually I would find the kiwi accent to be mostly comprehensible to my American ears.  When I compare it to American English it seems to have more of a British cadence, slower, more round-about. Sometimes it switches vowels around, so that ‘pen’ becomes ‘pin’ and vice versa. And it seems to add and extend vowel sounds. ‘You’ becomes ‘yooowih’. To me it sounds bluff and friendly, as if the entire country was at a barbeque party.   I found it endlessly fascinating.

I savored my juice and caught a bus to Christchurch. The bus ride itself was a treat. It went through a tunnel and then gradually wound its way through the striking hills of new Zealand into the city.

Christchurch

Christchurch was a charming city.  The rain was letting up and I walked around town. A small river, the Avon, meandered through the center of the city. Punting boats carried tourists under stone bridges.  Cafes and restaurants lined the banks.  I walked along the river past trees and gardens just enjoying the feel of a long walk.

Christchurch gardens

Christchurch gardens

punting on the Avon

punting on the Avon

a street along the Avon river in Christchurch

a street along the Avon river in Christchurch

The heart of the city was a few blocks from the river, a large square dominated by a cathedral.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

People milled around through market stalls and statues, they got bratwursts and chinese food from street vendors. And they watched the buskers.

The Buskers

Christchurch was hosting a buskers festival. The world’s top street performers had setup around the city and were busy swallowing swords, juggling fire, and exhibiting other eccentricities. Among the acts I saw were Vincent the percussive juggler from Montreal, Lotto the clown-magician from Japan who could transmogrify anything with a Pringles can, and an American who made sandwiches with his feet.

the International Buskers festival in Christchurch

the International Buskers festival in Christchurch

Vincent, percussive juggler

Vincent, percussive juggler

Lotto the clown with the magic Pringles can

Lotto the clown with the magic Pringles can

not a finger sandwich, but a foot sandwich

not a finger sandwich, but a foot sandwich

My favorite act was ‘The Pitts’, a pair of Australian acrobats who posed as Cessil and Sandy Pitt, a mutually antagonistic bespectacled brother and sister duo. (Sandy: “Meet my brother, Cess Pit”) They were dry, quirky, and oddly engrossing. Cessil managed to tie Sandy in a knot, knock her unconscious, and then juggle his own foot. They portrayed incompetence, but in reality were excellent acrobats and jugglers. At one point Sandy stood on Cessil’s shoulders as they prepared to juggle a hammer, a toilet brush, and a stuffed lizard. Cessil was shaking frenetically.

Sandy: “Cess! what are you doing!”
Cessil (through gritted teeth): “Trying to make it look difficult!”

Which leads me to the Busker’s formula. After seeing a succession of top-quality street acts I noticed that there seemed to be a common formula:

1. As you setup before your act, leave conspicuous equipment out for the audience to see. Large knives, axes, or fire torches are good candidates.

2. Start with a moderately good trick to warm-up the crowd and get them applauding. The applause will attract more people. Balancing on one arm at the top of a rickety tower seems to work well.

3. Once you’ve got everyone’s attention, tell them what you are going to do, including ‘The Big Trick’. Make sure that you make it sound like you might not be able to do The Big Trick. “I’m going to do some juggling on this high-wire, and if the wind isn’t too strong at the end I’m going to try to juggle flaming torches on one foot.”

4. Do a few tricks, gradually increasing the perceived difficulty. Juggle knives. Then stand on a highwire. Then juggle the knives on the highwire. This is a good time to involve the audience. Get them to help you out by tossing knives to you, or by helping you onto the wire.

5. Finally, do The Big Trick. But this is important: do it reluctantly. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this today, the wind is pretty stiff…I’ve never tried it in this kind of wind. But you’ve been a good crowd, let’s give it a shot”. Start the trick but then back off. Do this again.  Of course this is all show. You’ve practiced it thousands of times, you could do this trick with your eyes closed. But don’t let the audience know that.  Make it look difficult.  Start the trick again, but this time actually do it. The audience will go crazy.

6. Pass the hat and rake in a couple hundred.

The key is to make things look difficult even if you can do them perfectly well. The potential for failure and casualties is what seems to hook an audience. Juggling knives flawlessly is impressive but only temporarily interesting. Juggling knives while staggering around and narrowly avoiding mutilation is perpetually engrossing.

I walked around the city some more catching various acts around the town and taking in the city before I headed back to the ship. Christchurch had become one of my favorite port stops.

Back to the Ship

During the remaining days in port I got ready for the next cruise. The sky cleared and the weather was good. The science party arrived and started to setup. The crew loaded their gear, and also the stores for the ship. A brief note: learn from NASA and always check units. It turned out the orders for the food stores had been fulfilled in kilograms, not pounds. So we had about double of everything.

too many tomatoes

too many tomatoes

the oncoming science party

the oncoming science party

Finally everything was ready. The science party had their gear loaded and we were ready to go. We pulled out on another gray Lyttelton morning and went back to sea.

leaving Lyttelton

leaving Lyttelton

You can see more of my Lyttelton and New Zealand pictures here:

Lyttelton/New Zealand photos

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Responses

  1. […] Port Stop in Lyttelton Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)College Tour 2008: Days Three and FourIn the Corner of the World – Where hitchhikers are welcome […]


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