04 December 2012 | Whangarei, N-ZED
Banking into yet another tight turn on the winding road, I glance down at the speedometer and chuckle to myself as it reads "100." Tall Norfolk pines, giant fern, various palm and assorted flowering trees whiz by as we head south along this coastal road. "Look at that bird!" exclaims Lolo, but I can't take my eyes of the road long enough to see anything but a flash. I've not seen any signs depicting large wild mammal crossings, but the Alaskan in me keeps my eyes peeled for the dark patch telltale signs of a moose about to leap. Apparently I don't have to worry about that here. We are en-route to Whangarei to check out the Irish music session at McMorrissey's. Soon the landscape opens up to wide rolling hills dotted with sheep and cattle, green as green can be. By now, I'm mostly used to driving on the wrong side of the road, but driving from the wrong side of the car is still a bit off-putting. I find myself instinctively looking to the right (out the window) for the rear view mirror, and reaching for the gear shift with my right hand only to whack the door. Lolo laughs every time I turn the windshield wipers on when attempting to signal for a turn, but I'll eventually get used to it. We stop for gas and I am somewhat floored to find gas here is about $2.20-something per liter - which works out to something like $9/gallon......yes, NINE DOLLARS A GALLON. I know I've been off the grid for a while, but wow. Good thing we bought an economy car! We can't resist passing a sign that reads "The Mad Butcher" so park the car to take a gander. I am somewhat puzzled by the labels on packages of beef reading "scotch cut", "beef schnitzel" and "mince." Also odd were the bulk packages of pre-cooked sausages stamped with "Perfect for that family barbeque." I didn't bother asking about the one labeled "pet mince" but assumed it was for rather than of-pets. Mince pies are a staple here. Lucky for me I love pie. These pies closely resemble what we Americans would call pot pies and there are a wide variety ranging from beef, lamb, and chicken to fruit mince pies -the latter of which I've taken to eating with my coffee for breakfast. They are like little tiny mince-meat pies with raisins and spices - just the thing in the morning (better watch my waistline.) We locate McMorrissey's and since we're early, head down the street to the noodle place for bite to eat. As we wait for our food, we watch a little bird repeatedly fly in the front door and back behind the counter to steal food, and then fly out the door. The staff ignores the bird, apparently having given up on shooing him away. I wonder how the bird figured out he could get away with that in the first place. After gorging ourselves, I grabbed the fiddle and we walked down to the session to sus it out. Hm.......one, two, three fiddlers - check. One two three mandolins......ok. One concertina player and a tenor banjo player, check. Two guitar players and two wind players, fine. I sat the fiddle down and ordered a pint of Guiness for $8.80. Jeeze! We won't be drinking much beer at the bars here. There were a bit too many of the standard Irish pub songs for my liking and not enough tunes, but I eventually got the fiddle out and played some planxty's, waltzes and polkas with them. After a while I asked if they played any jigs or reels and was told "we're not good enough to play those." I had hoped for a good row of tunes, but the closest we came was a half speed version of "The Flowers of Edinborough." Ah well. At their insistence, I played a set of reels including "The Concertina" (hoping to interest the concertina player), but ended up playing solo. The fellow that was leading all the songs bought me a beer and I played along with the rest of the songs for a while. The crew launched into a rousing version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"?... a first for me at a trad session. Before leaving, I asked about other sessions and learned of an upcoming folk festival in Aukland that sounds a bit more promising. Will try to make that. We're hanging aboard today as the forecast calls for 35 knots with gusts to 40. But we just ripped 200 movies - so might have to check some of them out.