Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “New Zealand”

25 April

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 24th April 2016

I thought I knew all about Gallipoli, and in the opening moments of this beautifully animated documentary it felt like we might be about to cover old – albeit eternally relevant – ground.

But as the stories unfold – tales in the first-person voice of those soldiers and nurses who experienced the horror and devastation first hand – you realise there is so much more to hear, learn and appreciate about that fateful military campaign one hundred and one years ago.

Local director Leanne Pooley (whose Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls documentary was a highlight of 2009) has crafted an innovative new telling of the timeless story, animating words taken directly from memoirs, diaries and letters of the men and women who sacrificed months (and in some cases, their lives) spent in squalor on those distant shores in Turkey. We get to know real personalities by their back-home professions, and this makes the contemporaneous description all the more compelling. “It was a cruel sport,” says the lad from Wellington College Rifle Club whose contribution to the effort was as a sniper; “a life for a life.” Another evokes sharing a cigarette with one of the enemy during the ceasefire that was negotiated so that fallen comrades could be cleared from the battlefield. And how many of us knew that nurses would stand on the decks of the hospital ships, watching the battles take place on shore?

 With the centenary of the first Anzac Day looming, 25 April makes a timely companion piece to the Weta Workshop-created exhibition “Gallipoli: The Scale of our War” at the museum of Te Papa, and a re-watch of Peter Weir’s 1981 movie (Mel Gibson looks unbelievably young in it, but the film has not dated so much as to make you immune to its impact).

Where 25 April goes further is in illustrating the type of reflections on war that generally live in the private conscious of those who were involved. Enhanced by powerful imagery through clever illustration, these personal stories make for fascinating, affecting and necessary viewing.

Orphans & Kingdoms

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 10th April 2016

Orphans & Kingdoms is a terribly impressive first feature film by a local director which speaks volumes about the power of collaboration between talented, hard-working industry people and the inspiration of a damn good story.

Superficially, it’s a plot in which three Maori siblings break into a flash Waiheke Island home with the intention of living in luxury while they avoid an inevitable court order which would see them scattered to the far corners of the child welfare system. When the house’s owner returns unexpectedly, tensions rise and trouble ensues.

But thanks to writer-director Paolo Rotondo’s intelligent, compassionate take on the cliché, Orphans & Kingdoms addresses a topic that is a very current concern on New Zealand’s political and social landscape, but is all too often brushed under the Statistics Carpet. As the four characters knock up against each other’s assumptions and prejudices, they learn lessons that every Kiwi ought to be learning about those who constitute our wider society, and not just our cosy “community”. The young thieves say karakia before they wolf down a much-needed meal; the privileged Pakeha has money but no happiness.

Aesthetically, Rotondo and his crew have crafted a beautiful film, exploiting the eye-popping production design inherent in the Waiheke wealth (which hammers home the disgraceful chasm between the Needs and the Don’t Needs to great effect) through fabulous photography and an enchanting soundtrack. The fast pacing and variety in the camerawork keeps this chamber piece lively, relying on the strong central performances and a mostly bang-on script to deliver devastating revelations and credible reactions. Special mention goes to young Calae Hignett-Morgan (who debuted in The Dark Horse) for inhabiting the vicious, wounded kid whose internal conflict goes furthest towards illumination what’s really at the heart of the issue.

With genuine pathos and stacks of heart, Orphans & Kingdoms holds a mirror up to the ills of our society (quite literally: Rotondo used incidents from actual news stories to piece together his narrative), and while some of these problems may not come as a surprise, the characters’ handling of their lot is refreshingly illuminating.

Fantail

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 8th June 2014

Given the challenges inherent in limited funding routes and a tiny market, it is no mean feat to produce your first movie in this country – let alone one with a strong local voice and engaging performances which neither takes the mickey out of our special brand of parochialism nor plunges us into Sam Neill’s famously identified “cinema of unease”.

Kudos therefore goes to writer and lead actress Sophie Henderson and director Curtis Vowell for producing a feature debut that is as charming as its eponymous bird, as resonant as any contemporary Noo Zild story and manages to be both gripping and chortle-out-loud.

Young Tania works nights at the local Horizon petrol station (loosely set in South Auckland) where she listlessly stacks products into enticing fluoro pyramids while dealing with the perils of the late-night, fuel-buying customer. Tania’s aspirations for the future extend to saving up to take her darling younger brother to Australia to see their dad. But her present doesn’t look very promising.

It’s a slightly audacious move for a young Pakeha woman to speak with a Maori accent in any onscreen context in this country, but it’s a mark of Henderson’s sure-handed writing and wonderful characterisation that her Tania is entirely credible as a girl caught between two cultures, holding a deep sense of belonging to one. Tania’s lilt endears us to her immediately, and is then played to great comic effect when her store supervisor chides her for talking like that – “Horizon would appreciate it if you’d stop using the voice”. The fact he is himself Maori but doesn’t subscribe to any notions of tangatawhenua underscores the irony.

Despite its virtually singular setting and a cast of no more than four main characters, Fantail tells a terrifically engaging story which touches on themes of familial longing, identity, loyalty and freedom. Crucially, every actor puts in an understated yet beguiling performance – well, apart from the hilarious Jarod Rawiri who isn’t actually subtle at all but enlivens an awkward nocturnal courtship with self-deprecating goofiness. As Dean the supervisor he takes his own advice to the extreme, telling Tania she needs to work on her “positive non-verbal communication” before going all out in his efforts to show off his physical prowess.

The well-crafted story trips along at quite a pace, proffering surprises as well as flashes of nastiness. Thankfully, this delightful girl is with us all the way.

A luxury cruise from heaven (Crystal Symphony article)

This article first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times’ Escape Section, 19th May 2013

I’ve dressed up for this. Not being a Frequent Floater (a cruise term), boarding this massive white ship moored in Auckland’s harbour is enormously exciting.

I’m glad I made the effort, because as we step on board, completely unable to appear nonchalant, they take our photo. Proof of my evident delight now sits framed on my desk.

Our fellow travellers on the Crystal Symphony have not taken such pains, but I soon realise this is because most are old hands at this floating hotel business. Still far off Zimmer-frame age, our companions seem mostly of the East Coast of the United States variety, liberal and well heeled.

Over the next five days, we discuss US presidents and New Zealand’s history while lunching al fresco. My heart swells with pride every time someone raves about our country and we take great pleasure offering advice about what our guests should see when they hop off the ship for excursions around Tauranga, Napier and Wellington.

For a five-day cruise, my suitcase is ridiculously large. I have packed six evening dresses – one for each day plus one more for good luck. But that’s not a problem. My suitcase is taken from me when I board and delivered to my cabin soon after by one of the countless crew who are here to ensure we need not lift a finger for the duration.

The word cabin doesn’t really do it justice. It is a penthouse suite, with a veranda, spacious twin beds, a sofa and armchairs, a widescreen television set and a walk-in wardrobe. The bathroom, with twin basins and every kind of Aveda toiletry, is poshness personified, and the lighting is just right, ensuring you look ravishing at all times.

So overawed are we by the opulence that it is several minutes before we notice the welcoming bottle of top-drawer champagne on ice. But before we can think about when to open it, our staff arrive for introductions.

First of all, our maids. This makes one feel terribly Downton Abbey and it does not sit well with one’s socialist principles, last seen somewhere in my flat as I locked the front door behind me.

After checking we have everything we need, Yelena and Joanna vow to return while we are at dinner to turn down our beds.

Before the champagne makes its way from bottle to flute, our butler arrives for his orientation. Sebastian is an avuncular fellow from Alicante in Spain who also speaks heavily accented French and Italian. He is quite literally at our beck and call. This also does not sit well with one’s socialist principles, but when we finally settle on the veranda with champagne glasses in hand and a platter of chocolate-dipped strawberries, we decide what we really need is a cheese platter, and so I call him up. A short while later he arrives with five different cheeses and an assortment of crackers.

This cruise is all inclusive, which means you do not need to think about anything once you are ensconced in cruise life on the Crystal Symphony. Every meal, wherever you choose to eat it, and every drink, from single-malt whisky in the saloon bar to ginger ale by the pool, is included in the price of the trip. I cannot get over how relaxing this is. While it doubtless encourages a degree of gluttony, it is wonderful not to have to worry about scrimping or going over budget.

On the first night, we dine at Silk Road, one of the ship’s two specialty restaurants. From the world-renowned chain created by the legendary Nobu Matsuhisa, we are served some of the best sashimi, sushi, tempura, seafood, fish, steak and other Japanese fare I’ve ever tasted.

Later, at the Avenue Saloon – think Casablanca with fewer palm fronds and more oak panelling – a pianist tinkles the ivories and makes amusing small talk with the punters. He is even gracious enough to allow someone who wouldn’t get through the door of X-Factor to sing a little number. The elderly Americans clap and are sweetly encouraging of my efforts. I could get used to this, and start to idly wonder how to get a job on board.

At Luxe nightclub – all cream leather and pinky-mauve lighting – we have the undivided attention of the DJ and the dancefloor. As we discover, he will rock out some Rick Astley, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Black Eyed Peas if you ask nicely.

After a night on the tiles, a nourishing breakfast is in order. You cannot beat Bistro cafe, a charming French-inspired delicatessen which serves amazing fresh bagels, salmon, cream cheese, jams, muesli, yoghurt and pastries. It is another fine day, so we do a couple of circumnavigations of the Promenade Deck on 5. It is 440 metres around, so it would take 11.4 laps to complete a 5km run, which my friend vows to do. Sadly, I “completely forgot” to bring my running shoes. Nevermind.

On exploring the ship, I am delighted to find the Hollywood Theatre, which screens a different movie each evening, though you can just stay in your cabin and watch it simultaneously on the widescreen TV.

Further entertainment during the cruise includes a performance by one of Australia’s top pianists, a magician, the daily cocktail lounge accompaniment of In-Transit, knocking out The Girl From Ipanema and other cruise hits, and the Route 66 musical show, which showcases a lot of high kicking and excellent singers.

There is also a casino, some posh shops, a modest but slightly heated pool and a fitness centre. Mostly, this vessel seems devoted to ensuring we are well fed and watered, and it is done with aplomb.

All this and we’ve yet to leave Auckland.

You may be thinking “Five nights, Auckland to Wellington? It doesn’t take that long!” Two of those five are spent in Auckland before we head into the open sea and then back towards New Zealand. I know we go at least as far as the border of American Samoa, however, since my phone beeps about 10pm to welcome me to the US.

That evening we dine in the main Crystal Dining Room. Guests are split into early (6.15pm) and late sittings (8.30pm). Several options come under appetiser, entree and main, including low-this-and-that dishes which all look delicious. I opt for chicken broth with a large cheese tortellini, then an exquisite piece of herb-encrusted lemon sole on a dollop of prawn and sweetcorn risotto, with two mange tout and a blanched, skinned cherry tomato. This is accompanied by a fine pinot grigio. Heavenly.

Sailing towards Tauranga the next day, the ship becomes a hive of activity. Everything opens on an At Sea day. The casino is heaving with people bashing away at pokie machines, while other passengers prepare to attend talks on Better Fitness, Knowing your Colours, “What’s So Great About Australia” or somesuchlike (the Crystal Symphony continues on to Sydney after I disembark) and so on.

I already know I am a Summer colour person, so I attend a lecture by a retired US Air Force general about North American Aerospace Defense Command and other agencies tasked with homeland security, as well as actions overseas. The audience seems to be largely ex-US military, so I decide not to ask him whether he thinks the TV series Homeland is accurate.

Each evening we receive a cruise newsletter for the next day, telling us about the shore excursions, listing the many dining options available throughout the day and prescribing the appropriate attire for the following evening. This is usually “Resort Casual”, which suggests women may wear sundresses or pant suits and men can get by with slacks and no jacket, but no-one may wear shorts or baseball caps after 6pm.

We will have one semi-formal, optional black-tie night during our stint on board, but it is great fun to make an effort every night.

So that evening, suitably attired, I leave my companions to pre-dinner drinks and go to experience the magic of Bernard Walz, reputably one of Australia’s best, most awarded, entertaining pianists. He plays a spot of jazz, some movie soundtracks and a classical montage, rounding off with an orchestral version of Bohemian Rhapsody. I sip my champagne and have a wonderful time.

This good mood may explain why, at the ship’s other specialty restaurant, Prego, I order my meals in Italian. My friend orders hers in an Italian accent.

The attentive staff serve us delicious beef carpaccio, mushroom soup in a mini wholemeal loaf, veal scallopine and lasagne. When we deliberate over desserts, they bring us several to share. The souffle al limoncello melts in the mouth.

As with all the meals we have had, the food is sensational and the staff uncompromising in both their attentions and their light-hearted manner. Somehow, it assuages one’s Downton guilt to know the crew are happy in their work. The personal touch is everywhere.

Having eaten and drunk as well as I have anywhere in the world, I can happily say the seafaring life is for me.

The Galley Tour

Having gorged ourselves silly for a few days, we are fortunate enough to receive a galley tour. WHAT an eye-opener.

In the same way I’d joked about there being men in the annals of the ship, shovelling coal into furnaces while we are at sea, I fully expected the ship’s kitchen to be like something out of a Gordon Ramsay TV programme. After all, they cater for as many as 922 guests (though presently our ship is carrying about 700) plus the 500-odd staff. Instead, it is an oasis of well-planned, logistically-perfect calm, and we are honoured by an hour of the Executive Chef’s time as he shows us around and answers our enthralled questions.

One thing that has been apparent all along is how happy all the crew seem – and genuinely so, not the tight smiles of retailers in posh department stores. Chef Markus cheerfully explains how he works 3 months (solid, 7 days a week) on, and then has 3 paid months off, living at home in Fiji. Sometimes his wife (and other staff spouses) will live on board, free, for a couple of months. Chef runs a tight ship down in the galley, and his sous-chefs and food preppers are largely Filipino, Indian and Pakistani. They are all trained to top-class service in a cook school in Manila. Everyone is paid good money and treated very well.

While Prego and the Nobu restaurant have their own kitchens (which gives you a feel for the size of the ship!), there is one Head Pastry Chef, and he and his team of 7 produce all the cakes, pastries and and desserts for every cafe and restaurant on board. Work continues 24/7 in the galley, with people chopping veges and making soups into the wee hours. Bread is baked on board three times a day (the bagels are far and away the best I’ve had anywhere in the world). The ship carries 40,000 bottles of wine.

Shockingly, we are told that the dairy and produce for this NZ/Australia itinerary was bought or shipped in from American and Australia, because New Zealand’s exorbitant prices make it prohibitive. The cruise ship industry being the size it is, it is hard to believe New Zealand isn’t missing a significant opportunity here.

Shopping

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 26 May 2013

It’s 1981, yet another Kiwi period piece, with the Kapiti coast photographed in grainy video to evoke a more innocent, carefree era, artfully decorated with Stubbies shorts and frightful wallpaper.

Co-writer/directors Louis Sutherland and Mark Albiston, bolstered by the critical and audience acclaim for their award-winning short The Six Dollar Fifty Man, show the same knack for coaxing extraordinary performances out of young actors in this, their first feature.

Willie is an honest lad with a good heart who regards his little brother Solomon as his best mate. They live with their volatile dad who alternates between loving them deeply and reminding them that, because they’re half-Samoan, life is always going to be tough. Archive radio and TV bulletins underscore the political issues of the day as the boys ride their bikes along the waterfront and muck about at school.

When a foreign geezer of dubious intent appears in town, Willie gets in with his gang of transient ne’er-do-wells and is soon faced with a dilemma. Does he make a break for excitement with people he can scarcely trust, or stick to small town life to fend for his beloved brother?

There are familiar tropes from previous Kiwi films, notably the insistence on a trip down memory lane (seen recently in Two Little Boys and Boy) to the halcyon days of Michael Jackson and legwarmers – perhaps inevitable from our current generation of up and coming filmmakers. Shopping also shows what we delicately call “the darker side of family life” as the boys’ father overflows with frustrations that manifest in lessons taught through physical punishment.

But Once Were Warriors this isn’t. And, remarkably, it even manages to pitch the nostalgia just right – it’s not trying to be funny or kitsch (despite the expert period detail), just an authentic portrayal of the travails of childhood. As a result we are fully immersed in Willie and Solomon’s world without being distracted by the spot-on production design.

The whole film is superb to look at, with incredible photography that resists being flashy for flashy’s sake (of course – we’re New Zealanders, after all). Better yet, it’s not even just the scenery that wows us, but the truly wonderful central performances from a charismatic Kevin Paulo and plucky Julian Dennison, both of whom appear in their first acting roles and carry the story with aplomb. When Paulo’s Willie is wrongly accused and disbelieved, it feels understandable that he might decide “If people are going to think badly of you, you might as well just behave that way” – right?

Sutherland and Albiston have written from the heart and directed with a talented eye to create a worthy new entrant in our local cinematic history book.

Maori Boy Genius

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 5 May 2013

Every now and then I see a documentary whose message seems so important I feel I want the world to see it. Or in this case, at least, everyone in New Zealand. Because Pietra Brettkelly’s latest subject – the story of a young Maori lad from a country town who makes his way to study at Yale university – is as eye-opening as it is delightful.

Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti is the oldest of six children blessed with devoted, supportive parents who always knew their son would be special. But what is really special about Ngaa Rauuira is that he just seems like an incredibly gracious, mature and good hearted teenager – if a little more intellectually able than most 16-year olds. The pile of books by his bed says it all – of The Politics of Aristotle he enthuses “That’s pretty mean!”.

Having gained a university diploma at 13 but then been forced back into high school because of restrictions in the education system, Ngaa Rauuira applies for summer school at one of the great American universities and heads off to fill his brain with philosophy and politics of the highest order.

Your heart swells with pride that any of our number should go to Yale, but most especially a driven 16-year old from a modest family, whose straightforward belief in their son and commitment to Maori culture and traditions form a beautiful backdrop to the tale. But Ngaa Rauuira’s humility underpins it all – he rejects the “genius” label, putting his aptitude down to good memory retention that comes from Maori being borne of an oral tradition with no written language. It’s a fascinating point, but there is no doubting this kid has something else going for him.

The Red House

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 17th March 2013

New Zealand filmmaker and choreographer Alyx Duncan has produced a magnificent first feature which has all the hallmarks of a personal story lovingly crafted by someone with a real flair for the visual.

Taking the interesting (and potentially risky) decision to direct her non-acting parents in the lead roles, she introduces us to a couple whose love transcends language barriers and embraces cultural differences. It is impressively affecting in its purity and simplicity.

Jia and Lee live in a red house in the bush on an island. Eschewing recognisable New Zealand landmarks and scenes with quirky characters in the local dairy, the focus is on the couple’s daily interactions. It is a tribute to the director and her cinematographers that every scene is exquisitely shot, and that even in moments when little happens, it is completely enthralling (the de-cobwebbing of a window frame turns into a mini nature documentary).

When Jia returns to China to look after her ailing parents, Lee is left to sort out their house and its twenty years of shared history. Meanwhie, Jia faces her homeland for the first time in decades, negotiating the changes and similarities. Through the director’s restraint and perfectly-pitched instinct – nothing is unduly spelt out in this peaceful film, we simply watch and learn – we consider notions of identity, home and connection.

If initially you’re wondering “is this drama or documentary?” since the film’s style merges both, ultimately it’s so enveloping that you don’t care. However, as it turns out, the casting is inspired. The film is not so much about what happens as to whom.  When the “action” is therefore Jia taking out the rubbish and scrubbing a tiled floor, what a blessing then that we can’t take our eyes off this effortlessly understated woman. It is Lee’s devotion to Jia that infuses the story, but it is Jia whom I could watch for hours.

Life on the ocean waves

Today we are all at sea.

We left Tauranga at 6am, my having assured the Banker that the start-up roar of the engines would be sufficient to wake us, so we could watch Mount Maunganui grow ever smaller as we set out for a whole day (and night) on the ocean. What a lovely start to the day to wake pre-dawn and attend from our verandah. Alas, instead we woke at half past to a gentle purr and found we had long since left the coast. Nothing else for it, then, but to go back to sleep for an hour or so before choosing which of the day’s many shipboard activities to enjoy.

Everything opens on an At Sea day. Suddenly the casino is heaving with surprisingly shabbily-dressed people bashing away at those dreadful pokie machines and winning what looks like a thousand dollars a pop (can this really be so??). You also see all the other passengers who are normally away on shore excursions, queueing up for talks on better fitness, knowing your Colours, What’s So Great About Australia, and so on.

We had breakfast up on the Lido deck, and already the sea was relatively rocky (I am sure proper seafarers would scoff at what is probably only a few knots, but it’s a few knots more than being moored in Auckland so it makes quite a difference). At ten o’clock I went back to the Galaxy Lounge where last night the Aussie pianist regaled us with tales of growing up an over-talented musical prodigy, to listen to a lecture given by retired General Gene Renuart of the US Air Force. 39 years in the force, as fighter pilot and all sorts, he did a Powerpoint presentation about NORAD and other agencies tasked with homeland security as well as actions overseas. It was a curious affair. The audience included a large proportion of ex-military (all US) and the content was very US-centric, which is understandable and I dare say acceptable on a cruise which population is mostly from North America. Gen. Renuart wasn’t massively controversial, but I decided not to ask him what he thought about Homeland as a TV show (in terms of its accuracy, its enormous popularity, etc) and left the Q&A time to other retired military men who wanted to know the General’s thoughts on what sort of threat North Korea and Turkey (!) currently present to the US.

A spot of sushi for lunch, a nap in the rolling waves, then up again for another piece of educational entertainment and my first jaunt to the Galaxy Theatre to sit in comfy leather armchairs and watch a fascinating documentary about Ethel (widow of Bobby) Kennedy, mother of 11 children and powerhouse behind one of the most famous and influential American politicians. It was very moving, very interesting, and indeed very educational. I needed a coffee and scones after that (back to the wonderful Bistro cafe) and then the Banker and I did our 1km around the deck, feeling very much like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney in “We’re a Couple of Swells” as we were thrown gently from one side of the deck to the other. Bracing indeed.

Tonight is the Optional Black Tie dinner in the main Crystal Dining Room, so we are rocking out the flash gear (minus headdress) and may attend the after dinner show entitled Route 66 (a tribute to rock ‘n’ roll), except that it’s also Karaoke Night in Luxe nightclub, and one may be tempted. Tomorrow we dock in Napier early morning, and I will gird my loins to actually leave the ship for a few hours.

Making oneself at home on the Crystal Symphony

A brief round-up of yesterday and last night.

After a day at the Mount, a day on which the Banker disembarked into the sunshine to walk around said mountain but I opted to stay on board all day, getting my “exercise” from two laps of the pool in the afternoon sun and 1km around the Promenade deck, we prepared for dinner at the Italian restaurant, Prego.

Each evening we receive a cruise newsletter for the next day, telling us where we are going and when, listing at great length the many dining options for throughout the day (starting with the “Early Risers” (bully for them) coffee and pastries available from 5am, and culminating in bar snacks in the Avenue Saloon at midnight), and prescribing the appropriate attire for the following evening. Mostly this is Resort Casual which suggests ladies may wear sundresses or pant suits (my skin crawls at the term) and men can get by with slacks and no jacket, but absolutely no one may wear shorts or baseball caps after 6pm. Except in their cabin.

We will have one semi-formal, optional black-tie night during our stint on board, but pleasingly our journalistic party seems to relish making some sort of effort every night, so I would non-boastingly classify us more as Elegant Casual.

A friend had made me a Carmen Mirandaesque headdress, replete with brightly coloured fabric roses and chrysanthenums and a tiny butterfly (also not-real), and since I’m not averse to a bit of attention-seeking, I donned this modern update on the fascinator with white dress and colourful shoes. While the others met for pre-dinner drinks at the saloon bar, I took off to experience the magic of Bernard Walz, reputably one of Australia’s best, most awarded, entertaining pianists. He did a spot of jazz (RIP Brubeck), Morricone’s theme tune from the movie Love Affair,  and a montage of Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Rounding off with a classical version of Bohemian Rhapsody, he suggested to the audience of old people and me that if we knew bits of the song, we should sing along. Quietly. I know every word, so sang along under my breath, loving every minute.

Then to the bar to meet my pals, who had told the other pianist (from Night One) that I was “cheating on him” by watching the Aussie. He obviously didn’t bear a grudge as he invited me to do another number with him after our dinner.

Prego was superb. Fantastically attentive staff (from Portugal, Hungary and other non-Italian-speaking countries, who nonetheless spoke bits of Italian) served us delicious beef carpaccio, mushroom soup made of five types and served in a mini wholemeal loaf, and (for me) veal scallopine at limone, and many of the others lasagne. I ordered my meals in Italian; the Banker ordered hers in an Italian accent. When we deliberated over which dessert to order, they brought us several, so I had souffle al limoncello (my favourite liqueur) as well as an affogato (my favourite dessert of any kind). We drank sangiovese and a lovely Italian white I’d not heard of before which is, apparently, very hard to come by.

As with all the meals we’ve had on this ship, the food was sensational, and the staff uncompromising in both their attentions and the light-hearted manner in which they recommend dishes and joke with us.

As soon as dinner was over, feeling distinctly second-windish thanks to the espresso in my dessert, we made our way back to the Avenue Saloon where Mark (pianist no. 1) was conducting a game of “Name That Song” with a packed audience. We budged in by a friendly Jewish couple from Fortworth, Texas, and sang along to the show tunes as Mark read out the answers. Once over, most of the older people went to bed, so I did my rendition of Big Spender to the small but loyal crowd of my fellow media team and two sets of other punters who had stuck around thinking, perhaps because of the headdress, that I must be a paid-up part of the entertainment crew. They were most encouraging, and before long we were all up doing songs and having a great time. Bernard even stuck his head in and was cajoled into doing Bohemian Rhapsody so we could sing our lungs out properly. Who needs karaoke when you’ve got (two) real guy(s)?

To bed, into a deep sleep, and then a proper day at sea began.

Eating, drinking and being merry

Some of you may be wondering what one eats on a trip like this. (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned the champagne already?)

After the Nobu experience on night one, we did bagels and coffee for breakfast, then had a light but nutritious lunch of self-composed salad (every ingredient under the sun) though other guests were seen queueing for soup, a carvery and curry with rice. Trickily, and to what end I know not, they lay out the dessert bar at the beginning of your obligatory recce – perhaps so you know how much room to leave for that miniature creme brulee, that tiny lime jelly, the mini chocolate roulade. We ate overlooking Auckland’s Hilton hotel, cleverly designed to look like a ship itself. I forewent the champagne, making friends instead with ginger ale.

Then at 3.30 we did high tea (see previous post), purposely not going overboard (pun acknowledged) so we would have room for whatever amuse-bouche Sebastian would bring us at 6pm, as the ship left port (in lieu of prawn cocktail, we opted for guacamole and corn chips).

Dinner was in the main Crystal Dining room, where guests are split into early (6.15) and late sittings (we young folk were automatically given the 8.30 slot). You are given several (maybe four?) options under Appetiser, Entree, Main, including low-this-and-that alternatives which all look delicious. I went for a chicken broth with one large cheese tortellini (delish) to get me started, then straight into an exquisite piece of herb-encrusted lemon sole on a dollop of prawn and sweetcorn risotto, with two mange tout (perhaps more aptly therefore “mange deux”) and a blanched, skinned cherry tomato. Heavenly. This was accompanied by a glass of pinot grigio (going easy after the Night Before). The Banker said her steak was so succulent you hardly needed to touch it with a knife before it melted on consumption. She drank a syrah/grenache blend.

At this point I should probably admit that I was raised on large portion sizes and to finish everything on the plate. My fish and risotto looked a little, well, modest when it was served, and as I thoroughly enjoyed every morsel for a moment there I wondered whether it would be the done thing to order another. Thank heavens I didn’t say this out loud, because given pause I rapidly realised I was indeed sated, and ready for just the tiniest wee sweet something to round things off.

The dessert menu is considerably longer. Overwhelmed by the promise of chocolate mousse roulades and blueberry crumbles and sugar-free banana loaf, I went for two scoops of ice cream (so that’s what cookie dough is all about), and a greedy attempt at an Austrian dessert wine “just because you can”.

Tonight we are booked into the other specialty restaurant, Prego. I love Italian more than anything, my favourite restaurant at home being called Prego, so once I have taken in the pre-dinner performance of Australia’s most talented pianist, I will be very ready to see how my shipboard equivalent compares. Oh, wait – that’s after Sebastian brings us our cheese plate to accompany the bottle of bubbles cooling in our fridge.

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