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part 2

Free internet! For a little while, anyway.

Okay, so back to my weekend mountain retreat. It was exactly what I needed. After the stress of leaving Maureen's, to have two days of quiet and vigorous exercise in my favorite type of setting was like aloe to sunburned skin. And then meeting Mark – oh, what a difference. He was just so chill and friendly and easy going. He's a surfer/snowboarder/outdoors person/lifeguard/sculptor who is spending six months hitchhiking around NZ. The epitome of “go with the flow.” We connected over our shared excitement of being in the mountains, and not having to worry about translation errors or miscommunication felt so nice. We just kind of fell in together, and I went back with him to the hostel he'd been staying at. It was a bit out of the way…we got dropped off in the center of town with all of our bags, and then had to try to find the hostel. Twenty minutes later, we're both dripping sweat and panting, our already worked muscles very, very unhappy with us. And he keeps turning around to tell me that it's just around the corner, just up the next hill, he swears. Finally we arrive, and it is absolutely worth it. Incredibly cozy country setting with a hammock and a small river out back. And eight gigantic black eels with creepy blue eyes that live in the rocks at the edge of the property. The woman who runs the place, Jenni, feeds them scraps from the compost pile, and estimates that the oldest is probably about fifty years old.

One of the hostel's traditions is a nightly “Egmont Cake.” Egmont is the other name for the mountain – Taranki and Egmont (one is the Maori name, the other is the name that James Cook the British explorer gave the mountain). Every day Jenni bakes a mountain shaped chocolate cake, with white frosting like snow on the top. And if there's anyone staying in the hostel who's been up the mountain, the flag from their country goes on top too. So on this night, the Union Jack and the Stars & Stripes flew proudly from the summit of the Egmont cake. Mm mm good.

That night, we meet Pete and Jo, who are also from England, and the four of us stay up talking about our respective countries, accents, books, cars, our NZ experiences… This, again, is like water in the desert to me. It's such a relief to be able to relax, and to be reminded that most people are friendly and kind. It's interesting, though, to be an American among these three (or any educated, English speaking non-Americans), with the political situation between our countries being what it is. Mostly I agree with them, but I still feel like I have to be on the defensive at times. It's pretty good-natured discussion, however, more about slang words and traditions and the comparison of Manchester, England to Manchester, NH (apparently they're pretty similar).

Sunday – art gallery. Free admission! The key exhibit was of Len Lye's sculpture work. Jo being a fellow art lover was interested in general, like me, but Mark being a sculptor had his own personal interests. The work was phenomenal. The concept was “Individual Happiness Now,” and was connected to the time of the second world war. The three main pieces were all metal – one was a gigantic cylinder made of a thin steel band (picture a big water droplet) that moved from side to side, its shape shifting with the movement, which was kept going by the two magnets on either side of the base. There was a small round striking ball hung over the droplet, and the metal would hit it occasionally and change the motion yet again. Another was a tall steel ribbon, stood vertically on top of a revolving motor and next to another striking ball. As the steel revolved, it started to waver and shake from side to side, hitting the ball and then hurtling off on another course.

This probably all sounds pretty incoherent, but the point of it all, for me, was in the word “now.” Lye set up these figures, introduced one simple motion, and then let the work take its own path, let it create an entire chain of movement and noise and dynamic shapes. As we stood and watched these creations, it was impossible to predict the path the movement would take. The patterns that the moving metal formed were entirely random and spontaneous, created only out of the chance convergence of magnets, air, action/reaction, and space. We could only see the “now” – the shape that was being created at the precise moment. Then suddenly, there would be a new shape in front of us. We didn't see how the one shape moved into the next – it was just there.

For me, this has become a metaphor for my trip. Day to day, there is little plan, little forethought. I'm like the piece of metal – I've been thrust on this initial course of “living and working alone in NZ,” and I have no sense of the progression of events and encounters. One minute I'm in this town or that with these people, and the next, I'm on top of a mountain, and the next, I'm buying a car and going to watch Harry Potter with Joachim and Sanjana. How I've moved from one moment to the next is nearly indecipherable. It's only the now, the moment that I'm in that I can see. I'm at the whim of the air currents, the magnetism of people I meet who either attract or repel me. I bend first to one side and then the next, horizontal to vertical to diagonal, able only to ride the patterns as they come.

Spent the rest of the day with Mark, out on the New Plymouth waterfront, and spent the night playing card games with him and another girl from Japan and Jenni's seven-year-old son. Yesterday I ran into Katharin and Anne, the two girls who I traveled with from the very start, from Auckland to Whangarei. Chance and serendipity. Today I will try to arrange my affairs and my CV and will look for work and will spend time with K and A. Tonight I will probably sleep in my car to save money. Tomorrow can't be seen. Only the now.

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