Monday, June 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, um, Queen?

Today was The Queen's Birthday, a public holiday in New Zealand and not actually the birthday of the Queen of the Commonwealth at all. Queen Elizabeth II was actually born on April 21st---more than a month ago---and the public holiday honoring her (or him, in the case that there's a king at the top of the monarchy at the time) is celebrated on various days in various countries. The Queen of the Commonweath is also Queen of Antigua and Barbuda, Queen of Australia, Queen of the Bahamas, Queen of Barbados, Queen of Belize, Queen of Canada, Queen of Grenada, Queen of Jamaica, Queen of New Zealand, Queen of Papua New Guinea, Queen of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Queen of Saint Lucia, Queen of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Queen of the Solomon Islands, Queen of Tuvalu, and, of course the Queen of the United Kingdom. But no longer Queen of Hong Kong.

What the Queen's Birthday (or, officially, "The Queen's Official Birthday" which you may recall is not actually her REAL birthday) seems to be from the perspective of the uninitiated man-on-the-street a public holiday (no work or school.) We noticed TV spots for Queen's Birthday sales at retail outlets. We also seemed to see people here or there on the move with a bouquet of cut flowers. No idea. Apparently a list of honors is published in which various New Zealanders, living and dead, are honored for their accomplishments and achievements and given titles like Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and medals like The New Zealand Antarctic Medal which I assume is given to anyone who goes to Antarctica and returns alive.

It's also the first official day of ski season.

Te Papa!

We went to Te Papa. I ate a fish pie which later reasserted itself in various uncomfortable ways throughout the day.

We walked in on the New Zealand Army in the midst of an ostentatious display of Kiwi military might---the Army band was set up in a public area of the museum playing a Doobie Brothers song with a full brass ensemble. They looked snappy in their red band uniforms and did a pretty decent rendition of "Listen to the Music" before handing the microphone to a prim and reserved young woman with her hair pulled neatly into a tight bun on the back of her head whose stiff interpretation of Eva Cassidy's sultry song "Fever" was performed without any eye contact with the audience.

Black Smoker Chimney

A black smoker chimney is an extremely rare (in captivity) chunk of crusty buildup surrounding an undersea geothermal vent. Zoe has a classmate whose father is a specialist minerals geologist who was given "one of the biggest and best preserved ever recovered" after a remotely controlled submersible vehicle named ALVIN accidentally knocked one over at a depth of 2.6km (over 8530 feet below.) That's pretty deep. The water pressure down there is like 3800 pounds per square inch. That's skull-crushingly deep.

ALVIN was working off the coast of Chile at the behest of US Navy, the National Science Foundation and the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute based out of Massachusetts.

The chimney was halved with a diamond saw and half was donated to the National Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa---which is Maori for "Our Place") and the other half was retained for research.

This particular chimney is named after Zoe's classmate, and Zoe's whole class attended a special unveiling ceremony at Te Papa last week where the display was unveiled. The pedestal on which it sits is covered with fun facts about hydrothermal vents and the creatures that live in the 350 to 400 degree Celsius (!!) water that comes gushing out of them. This mineral-rich water that's superheated below the earth's crust precipitates as soon as it hits the colder ocean water causing the clouds of black "smoke" you see in pictures.

Scientists are fascinated with these for a number of biological and geologic reasons, not the least of which is the ability of organisms and bacteria to live in possibly the least hospitable conditions on the planet. Conditions like these were thought to exist ages and ages ago when life rose Frankenstein-like from the ooze.

Pied Piper of Ducks

We had a light snack at the cafeteria (Fish Pie For the Win!) and walked around in the courtyard outside the seating area. Haley demonstrated her ability to silently charm a flock of ducks into following her around.

We've noticed that Haley has an uncanny ability to somehow get animals to come to her. Joanne has it too. I call it "the Kavorka... the lure of the animal" as a tribute to a Seinfeld episode. We've noticed at zoo's---petting and proper---that the animals usually come check Haley out. Even skittish animals and cranky birds seem lulled by her presence. I offer some photographic proof of this in action.

She seems clearly pleased with it.

Rainbow Dragon

Shortly after this, we followed a rainbow-colored dragon that appeared in the crowd which led us all around the museum (at a fairly blistering pace I might add) and stopped in a story area near the cafe where a sort of art celebration and ceremony was taking place.

They packed four or five dozen out of breath people into a tiny well-lit and overly warm area to speak, sing, tell stories and suck all of the oxygen out of the air. We finally sought life-bringing oxygen out of doors after about thirty minutes of it. Be careful which dragons you follow and when, that's all I'm saying.

That was Monday. We still have yet to write about Saturday and Sunday. Sunday we met the Stephens family for brunch and a little beach time. Visits with them are nutritive on some not entirely obvious level and afterwards we always feel slightly better adjusted... like an off-level picture above the fireplace that you right and inwardly cluck your tongue and think "ah, that's much better."

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