Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thank you, friends, allies...

...and sparring partners. We're back.

A few words about that, and a comment or two on the trip, but, first of all, a vast thank-you to my four colleagues for keeping the place hopping in my absence; and to all those who have posted comments here. Some excellent discussions have taken place, and I hope I can spark a few more when I recover from jet lag and the Greater Toronto Airport.

We had, it seems, a few more hurdles to jump. We did get standby seats this afternoon, and arrived in Ottawa an hour later. But there was that security incident. Allow me one last rant before moving on to better things.

Let me say, first of all, that I'm all for airport security. I mean the real stuff, not the optical illusions created for the rubes--air marshals, intel networks, data bases, explosives sniffers, and common-sense precautions, not nail-clipper bans and belt removal and bans on bottles except for duty-free ones. (The latter make just as good weapons, broken or whole, but imagine the fuss from the business community if you tried to ban duty-free booze sales.)

What I dislike--intensely--is charades, arbitrariness, cheap power-tripping, lack of training, and jobbing the whole thing out to security firms. If this thing is worth doing, it's worth doing to one standard under one set of policies. Security at airports should be an accountable public matter, carried out by well-trained government employees. Instead, it's being done by poorly-trained private security grunts who all too often make things up as they go along.

So today (for example) my stepson's salve for a skin condition attracted the notice of one over-zealous twit. This had been through security any number of times before. It's not a gel, liquid or aerosol.

I was waiting on the other side of the metal detector. The person running that end of things had told me that I had to wait until the rest of my party had been completely processed after passing through it. That meant, to begin with, that I had the boarding passes, but the twit on the other side was demanding them all over again from the others. We sorted that one out, and I passed through the detector, and went up to help my kid, who was doing all right on his own, as it happens. I explained what the salve was for, pointed out that there was no rule forbidding it, and suggested that he was being unreasonable.

He went off to get support from his higher-ups, sitting at a table some distance off. He came back with one of those looks on his face, so I went over to the table, my young'un in tow, and made the mistake of trying to reason with these guys. The head cheese (and you know the type, don't you? Two hundred pounds of smug in a cheap suit, a sawdust Caesar with the intelligence of a centipede) refused to give his name, tucking his ID under his coat; his assistant was a fellow named Shahin. I pointed out that the ointment had been no problem until a new rule had been made on the spot by their man. I suggested that they were demonstrating everything that's wrong with current airport security measures.

But, says the head cheese, if this melted it would be a liquid! "Look, it's melting now!" Shahin chimed in. I looked. It wasn't, of course. "How do you melt something on a plane?" I asked. It's not like you can bring matches or a hot-plate on board, after all. At this point Shahin said that he'd call the police if I kept up--I was, he said, being an "unruly passenger." That I wasn't a passenger at all at that point seemed to have escaped him entirely; nor, dear readers, was I being abusive or profane. He was just like those kids you see in school who hang behind the class bully when he's doing his thing, grimacing at you and saying, "Yeah!"

My stepson pulled me away, and I was escorted back out to put the salve through the luggage system. Afterwards he pointed out that candles are allowed, and you can melt them as well. "And belt-buckles," I said. A perfect end to the adventure, I thought. You simply can't make this stuff up. I felt as though I had been in a surrealist novel, but that may have been lack of sleep.

Anyhow, the trip was a success. We took Marianne not to Kapowairua but to the spot where spirits jump into the sea--Te Rerenga Wairua, Cape Reinga itself. My stepkids were present,
other family members, and the wonderful Peter Kitchen, a former successful businessman, a healer, and a person wise in the ways of māoritanga, and tikanga (doing what is right and proper). His kōrero (spoken words), karakia (prayers) and waiata (song) were immensely healing. We headed back to his place afterwards for a feast that he and his family had prepared for us.

After that, we embarked upon a whirlwind tour of the North Island of New Zealand/Aotearoa and then Australia, seeing friends and relatives and a bit of the countryside. Through a happy chain of circumstances, we got the kids connected to their own marae, Matawaia, in the midst of Ngati Hine country, and our guide had his daughter formally call us onto their own marae. More on this later, perhaps.

In Sydney I sank a few excellent beers with critical commenter Sholto Douglas. It was great fun. His fangs and brightly polished horns troubled me not a whit. Indeed, he is a personable fellow, whose company I enjoyed, and I hope we can repeat the experience one day.

I am also confirmed in my love of wombats, although every keeper we talked to had similar leg scars from their razor-sharp teeth.

And a high point for me was visiting Uluru (Ayer's Rock).

It's hard to write about. You could feel the strangeness of this vast stone in the middle of a desert, upon which the texts of 40,000 years of Aboriginal culture have been written; a palimpsest, with every feature of the stone carrying its myths and stories. It seemed alive. It is a palpably sacred place. Guidebooks tell you that the Aborigines don't like people climbing it, and then proceed to tell you how to go about it.

So much more to tell. I'll do a few pieces in the coming weeks. Again, for now, my thanks to all who participated here while we were gone.

UPDATE: (March 28)

Well, I guess this puts things in perspective...

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