Day 814: Christchurch, New Zealand

Research station life took some getting used to.  Unlike an ordinary job where one went home at the end of the day, here, there was other place to go.  In the common room there was conversation, games, and a large collection of CDs and DVDs or one could go to one’s bedroom and read, but there were few other options. Laetitia had one advantage, though.  As a veteran time traveler, she could lead a Mind’s Eye Limerick Tour when she had free time.  In the past she would have viewed these as work, but now they were a pleasant diversion.  Her roommate was watching a movie in the common room.  Laetitia sat on her bunk, closed her eyes and shortly thereafter was in the kitchen of the Emerald Victorian brewing a pot of Sumatran dark roast.  A short time later, she was in the library preparing for today’s tour of Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Canterbury Association founded Christchurch on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand in the mid-nineteenth century. The mission of this London group was to set up colonies in what was once the domain of the Maoris.  An influential member of the Association, John Godley, who attended Christ Church College at Oxford, suggested the name.  Earthquakes hit the city hard in 2010 and 2011 but significant progress has been made in rebuilding.  Lonely Planet listed it as one of the top ten cities to visit in 2013.

Leading a tour that included the International Antarctic Centre was now a bit of a busman’s holiday for Laetitia but Christchurch’s important role in both past and present Antarctic exploration made it a mandatory visit.  In the evening, she planned to take her group to Tekapo Lake to share her Southern Lights experience with her group.  It is one of the South Island’s better sites for viewing Aurora Australis, but in the interim she took her group “punting” on Christchurch’s river, the Avon.  British settlers, nostalgic for a bit of home, no doubt started this tradition.  The punt, an open flat-bottomed boat with square end ends that is propelled through shallow water with a pole, is a favorite recreational conveyance for England’s university students.  English four-letter words often have alternate meanings and “punt” is no exception.  It has more than thirty.  In American football it means to kick the ball as far into the opposition’s territory as possible, a move usually done as a last resort when a team is unable to retain possession of the ball by achieving a first down.  Following from that are its uses to describe any desperate act that has a small chance of succeeding and as an expression for something done to buy time.  Some of these additional meanings include:  to skip class, to avoid work, to bet, to pass a smoking device without taking a hit, an Irish pound note, and several sexual slang meanings.  It rhymes with some interesting words including one that was simply an anatomical term in Chaucer’s time and over the centuries evolved into a term of vulgarity.  Laetitia decided to use the word “punt” as the subject of her limerick.

In the land of Australis Aurora
Limerick lovers can’t help but adore a
Fine Brit word like “punt”
To use it’s no stunt
For of meanings it has a plethora.

Day 813: First Day in Antarctica

It was Laetitia’s first day at the research station, a busy time with introductions to her roommate and other staff members, getting outfitted with gear, being briefed on her duties and moving into her bunkroom.  The day was exhausting but it had two highlights.  The first was a splendid view that evening of Aurora Australis, the Southern Lights.  The other was an afternoon visit to a colony of Emperor Penguins near the research station.  The Emperor is the tallest of the seventeen penguin species reaching four feet in height and weighing up to nearly 100 pounds.  They were featured in the film, March of the Penguins.  Unlike most animals that head north to warmer climates during the frigid Antarctic winters, they spend wintertime huddling together on the open ice where courtship and breeding take place.  After a two-month gestation period, each female usually lays a single large egg.   She then leaves it with her mate and makes the long trek (sometimes 50 miles) to the open water to feed on fish, krill, and squid.  While she is gone, the male balances the egg on his feet and keeps it warm covered with a flap of feathered skin called a brood pouch.  The female returns with her belly full of food to regurgitate for the chick when it hatches and the male heads off to open water to end his long fast.  The mother feeds the newly hatched chick and keeps it warm under her brood pouch until summer when the pack ice breaks up and open water is next to the breeding site.  At that time, the young penguins have usually grown enough to be able to fish on their own.  Laetitia made the Emperor Penguin the subject of the day’s limericks.

Though their winters on Antarctic ice
Can hardly be thought of as nice
There’s no room in England
For the Emperor Penguin
And so they must needs pay the price.

On Antarctic nights Emperors pair
Neath the southern stars in frigid air
In the midst of the crowd
Who knows if they’re loud
But their neighbors most likely don’t care.

Day 812: New Adventure

This was the last day in the immediate future Laetitia would begin by walking down Raglan Road toward the Emerald Victorian.  Tomorrow, she would start her new adventure in Antarctica.  Last night there was a family party at Uncle Milt’s in celebration of her new life event.  She and her cousins, Alicia, Bryn, and Luciano, performed Reginald, the Fortunate Rake and Celeste’s Song. These were based on conversations that she had with both of them on Grande Cayman Island (Days 365 and 366).   Celeste’s Song is also connected to Laetitia’s visit with her group to the Bordello Museum in Wallace, Idaho (Day 177).  She borrowed the tune for Celeste’s Song from A Bird In a Gilded Cage, a sentimental ballad written by Arthur J. Lamb and Harry Von Tilzer in 1900.  She liked the old tune and decided to use it for a second set of lyrics that she called Bird in a Guilty Cage.  They performed that as well.

Bird in a Guilty Cage was based on Uncle Ralph’s story about his father (her great grandfather), who loved to sing – mostly fragments of old familiar tunes.  He could rarely remember all the words so he filled in the memory gaps with silly nonsense.  His version of A Bird in a Gilded Cage went, “She’s only a bird in a guilty cage, and her ears they are green and black.”  A short time ago, Laetitia wrote Celeste’s song using the same tune, so she made up a song about a female harlequin, a clown often depicted in a multicolored costume with face makeup that might include green and black ears.  In Laetitia’s version performed at the party, the lady was hauled in by the police and ended up in jail (guilty cage).  She also used the theme in a limerick.

Arrangements had been made with the powers that be at Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours for her temporary sojourn in Antarctica.  Since she was a veteran mind traveler, she could and would return to the Emerald Victorian to lead a tour about once per week when she had time off from her duties at the research station.  She would also join her cousins from time to time at Uncle Milt’s parties.

As a party song, it’s all the rage
‘Bout the “bird in a guilty cage,”
A maltreated belle
Who’s now mad as Hell
At her beau who brought on this outrage.

Day 811: Vermouth and Lost Youth

On this day, when she walked into the Emerald Victorian, Laetitia was a woman on a mission.  She needed to make a quick decision about the job offer she’d received at the research station in Antarctica.  She sat in a comfortable chair with a steaming cup of coffee at hand and thought over the ramifications of her decisions.  Since she was a veteran mind traveler she could still lead tours and attend Uncle Milt’s parties.  She made her decision and sent an email to the powers that be at Mind’s Eye Limerick Tours, wherever that is, telling them of the job offer and asking for a leave of absence.  She told them that she could continue to lead tours whenever she had a few hours of down time and that she would contact Sophie and several of her other cousins to see if they would be willing to fill in from time to time.  Realistically, though, she thought that tour numbers would likely drop from daily to once or twice per week.

Normally, she would now begin to think about what to post for the day’s limerick, but today, she didn’t need to.  The previous evening, Laetitia and her grandmother had dinner at one of Hibernia’s Indian restaurants.  On the way there she told her grandmother about the job offer.  Her grandmother seemed unsurprised by the offer and said, “I suspect it’s time for a break; I think the change will do you good.”

Cookie, a college acquaintance of her grandmother’s who was in town visiting relatives, joined them as did several others from grandmother’s local circle of female contemporaries referred to collectively as “The Girls.”  In her youth Cookie parlayed her good looks and athletic prowess into a career as a dancer and showgirl in New York, both on and off Broadway.  She never married and over the years enjoyed the largess of numerous boy friends: some wealthy, some shady, most flashy men about town.  She believed she was alluring enough that most of the men were true to her while these affairs were ongoing, even though some of her beaus were in occupations that were not quite respectable and probably illegal.

The conversation over dinner began cheerfully enough but as the evening wore on and more martinis were imbibed, turned maudlin as “The Girls” gave their personal accounts of losing the battle against aging.  Cookie talked about buying a Nook® because the print was too small in regular books and lamented that she was no longer was able to attract men of quality.  Her current beau is stingy and she thinks he’s unfaithful.  He often leaves her sitting at home while he has evening “business engagements.”  She suspects he’s actually cruising bars trolling for women. Laetitia found such conversations dreary but there was one upside.  She arrived at the Emerald Victorian this morning with a limerick ready to post.

A faded Broadway queen called Cookie
Once the darling of playboy and bookie
Now reads from a Nook®
Instead of a book
While her beau’s likely looking for nookie.