30 November 2013

Parnell Rose Festival

A couple of weekends ago I spent several sweet hours at the annual Parnell Rose Festival, enjoying the kaleidoscopic floral display and the ambrosial perfume, a variety of entertainments and an assortment of stalls offering interesting retail therapy.

The festival is held at the Dove-Meyer Robinson Park in Auckland’s inner-city suburb of Parnell, though most people know the park by its former name, the Parnell Rose Gardens. The tree-studded area is a combination of the estates of two early Auckland residents, one belonged to Sir John Logan Campbell and the other, Birtley, was the property of Charles Henry Street. Now, the area is an oasis of green for all Aucklanders to enjoy.

The roses are many-splendored things, as you can see from the photos here. There are more than 5000 bushes, of both modern and heritage varieties, growing in these gardens, and the scent as you walk around the beds is simply divine. I’ve walked this way several times in recent weeks, and this is a popular stop for city tour buses, so it’s not uncommon suddenly to find yourself surrounded by foreign tourists.

The Parnell Rose Festival is held every November – prime flowering time - and this year included talks by gardening experts and rose-pruning demonstrations, performances by maypole dancers and traditional dancers of several ethnic origins, an art exhibition, and various things to keep the children amused, from bouncy castles and story-telling to wandering fairies and pixies.

The blooming roses are not to be missed so mark it in your diaries for 2014! Roses have been appreciated by some highly eloquent writers over the centuries – here are some of their words to accompany my photographs.

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today. Dale Carnegie

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses. George Herbert

It was roses, roses, all the way. Robert Browning

You are responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose. Antoine de Saint-Exupery

But he who dares not grasp the thorn / Should never crave the rose. Anne Brontë

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. Abraham Lincoln

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, / Old Time is still a-flying: / And this same flower that smiles to-day, /
To-morrow will be dying. Robert Herrick

24 November 2013

Auckland’s Santa Parade

This afternoon was the 79th Farmers Santa Parade here in Auckland.

In the past, this has been something I’ve avoided because of the crazy crowds and screaming kids. But, as I age and move ever closer to my own, second childhood, I find myself placing greater value on the simple things in life. So, watching a lively parade with colourful floats and marching bands, brilliant character balloons and an appearance by the jolly fat man in the red suit was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Here are some of the highlights …

An effective way to collect for charity - you wouldn't dare say no to a storm trooper!

A huge hit with the crowd but not exactly a happy looking superman

Batman was too big to fit down the street face on

15 November 2013

Julian Eltinge: America’s first drag superstar

When my mother was a young girl, she befriended an elderly single woman who lived nearby. I don’t know much about their friendship but I do know that when the older woman, Miss Dawson, died, she left my mother the most marvellous collection of photos. And several years before my mother passed away, she gave the collection to me.

There are perhaps a hundred photos, of the men and women who were the stars of the silver screen in the days of silent movies. Miss Dawson must have spent much time and not a little money sending letters to America and England, telling these stars of her admiration and asking for their autographed photos. Many of the photographs are signed, though a lot of these signatures have been printed on the images, but many more are authentic, with personal messages addressed to Miss Dawson.

The photos date from the 1910s and 1920s. Some of the stars I’ve never heard of but others – like Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Lillian Gish – are famous names. I will share many of these in future blogs but, in this first posting, I want to show you some of the more unusual images, of America’s first drag superstar. The text that follows is from Wikipedia.

Julian Eltinge (14 May 1881 – 7 March 1941), born William Julian Dalton, was an American stage and screen actor and female impersonator. After appearing in the Boston Cadets Revue at the age of ten in feminine garb, Eltinge garnered notice from other producers and made his first appearance on Broadway in 1904. As his star began to rise, he appeared in vaudeville and toured Europe and the United States, even giving a command performance before King Edward VII.

Eltinge appeared in a series of musical comedies written specifically for his talents starting in 1910 with The Fascinating Widow, returning to vaudeville in 1918. His popularity soon earned him the moniker "Mr Lillian Russell" after the equally popular beauty and musical comedy star.

Hollywood beckoned Eltinge and in 1917 he appeared in his first feature film, The Countess Charming. This would lead to other films including the 1918 The Isle of Love with Rudolph Valentino and Virginia Rappe. By the time Eltinge arrived in Hollywood, he was considered one of the highest paid actors on the American stage; but with the arrival of the Great Depression and the death of vaudeville, Eltinge’s star began to fade. 

He continued his show in nightclubs but found little success. He died in 1941 following a show at a New York nightclub. He leaves a legacy as one of the greatest female impersonators of the 20th century.

01 November 2013

Tall Ships Festival

From 25 to 28 October 2013 – a holiday weekend in New Zealand, Auckland ‘City of Sails’ played host to a Tall Ships Festival. Seven ships and more than 500 sailors, fresh from similar festivals in Melbourne and Sydney, raced across the Tasman for this magnificent three-day festival. Thousands enjoyed the spectacle of their arrival and departure, got the chance to step aboard and explore many of the ships, and take part in the various maritime activities that took place around the waterfront.

As well as New Zealand’s own three-masted barquentine Spirit of New Zealand, Australia’s Young Endeavour was part of the fleet. Both are training ships, teaching young people to sail these magnificent vessels but also imparting skills in teamwork, communication and leadership. The Young Endeavour's crew hung out in the masts for their arrival into Auckland, as you can see from the image at right.

Sailors from the NZ Navy helped nudge the Lord Nelson in to her mooring
The 55-metre British Lord Nelson is also available for voyages by young, and old – at a price, of course – and is the only tall ship in the world purpose-built to be sailed by physically disabled as well as able-bodied people – she is a wheelchair-friendly tall ship, with a ‘speaking’ compass so the blind can operate the helm and power-assisted hydraulic steering for crew with limited strength.

The Picton Castle leads Europa into port
Though she began life as a Welsh fishing trawler, served as a Royal Navy minesweeper in World War II and is now registered in the Cook Islands, the179-foot barque Picton Castle is actually Canadian-owned – her northern-hemisphere home port is in Nova Scotia. She has been completely refitted as a steel-hulled Cape Horner and offers deep-ocean sail training and maritime education, taking crew aged from 18 to over 60.

Three Dutch ships took part in Auckland’s Tall Ships Festival. The three-masted bark Europa began life in Germany, where she served as a lightship on the river Elbe before being completely rebuilt in the Netherlands during the 1980s. Her 14 paid and 48 paying crew roam the world’s oceans, join in tall ship races and festivals, and even include the Antartic in their itinerary.

The three-masted topsail schooner Oosterschelde, the Netherland’s largest restored sailing ship, was first launched in 1918 but underwent a complete restoration between 1988 and 1992. She is rather splendid and actually quite spacious inside, as you can see from the virtual tours on her website.

The Tecla previously fished the North Sea for herring and transported grain, stone and turf in Denmark’s coastal waters before moving to Holland in the 1970s, when she was refitted as a charter sailing vessel. She also circumnavigates the world annually, providing a range of voyages for those adventurous enough to criss-cross the oceans in a sailing ship.

The Tecla tied up at Princes Wharf

As well as the Spirit of New Zealand, two other New Zealand ships joined in the Tall Ships festivities in Auckland. The R. Tucker Thompson is usually based in Northland, where she conducts youth development voyages during the winter months and offers Bay of Islands’ visitors day sails in the summertime. Modelled on a North American Halibut schooner, she is a gaff-rigged square-topsail ship and is a relative youngster, having only been launched in 1985.

And last but certainly not least the Breeze, a 60-foot brigantine, is a locally built replica that is now a permanent attraction at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland. Her similarity to the trading ships that plied the New Zealand coastal and trans-Tasman shipping routes during the 19th and 20th centuries means she is often commissioned for use in historical movies and television shows.

The R. Tucker Thompson (left) and the Breeze (right)
These impressive ships frequently evoke nostalgic thoughts of former days, of times when the means of transportation was something to be enjoyed for itself rather than simply being a way to move quickly from A to B. In reality, ships like these used to be cramped, wet and cold, lacked privacy and were subject to violent motion such that, for folks like me who are subject to seasickness, the mere idea of even a one-day voyage makes me feel queasy. 

Still, if you are not motion-challenged and focus instead on the positives, there is something wonderfully romantic about the craftsmanship that has gone into these ships’ creation, the highly polished wood and the intricacy of the rigging, the fascinating knotted ropes, the power contained in the turn of the wheel, the teamwork and cooperation required of the crew, the sounds of creaking timber and cracking sails, the roar of the wind and surge of the waves, the challenge of man and man-made vessel against the raw power of Nature …

* If you want to see more photos, there's an album here

Sails up, ready to depart