I found myself in a hotel in Rotorua one night last winter. There are few better places to be. I love to open the windows as I motor into town and breathe deeply of the sulphur. At that moment I know I'm just minutes away from soaking my weary bones in a hot pool. You think that's no big deal? Maybe you didn't have to wait until you were 21 years old to acquire a pair of contact lenses and discover that your enjoyment of many of life's purest pleasures is amplified when you don't have to contend with your spectacles fogging up.
Yes, including that one.
So after the soak in the generously appointed hot pools at the Millennium hotel, I carted my substantial appetite across the lobby to their generously appointed dining room. To digress for a moment, if you happened to be reading the Herald's travel section today you would have found two interesting pieces.
One, by Jim Eagles, describes a clever little website that enables you to avoid the unspeakable discomfort of having a large and sweaty body wedged into the seat next to yours on a ten hour flight. The website will help you locate a suitable companion traveller on your scheduled flight. Seeking traveller of average health, average build. Prefer perfunctory conversations, expect cooperation re ingress and egress from aisle, open to possibility of 'mile-high' encounter if hot. No time-wasters.
The other piece, by this site's own award-winning travel writer takes us to Savannah, Georgia where Graham describes a restaurant of a type which I humbly suggest is a great idea just waiting to happen here in this land of hospitable farming types. Go read it and see if you don't agree.
Anyway, alongside these two fine pieces of writing were a couple of items which carried the ominous footnote: editorial supplied. Just in case you might miss the clue that you were entering the dreaded zone of the advertorial, it was also set in a different face.
In the bleaker of them, you found the work of some poor bastard who had been ordered to prepare a puff piece for one of the big Rotorua hotels. Inevitably we were informed that the hotel was iconic, or something of that sort. I'm quoting from memory because I really don't care to go back and read it again. I feel too much empathy for the writer.
There followed a full and frank description of the hotel's long-term business strategy that might at some colossal stretch have had some interest to the audience in the business section, but surely not the reader who might be thinking of booking a weekend in Geyserland.
These are the most miserable and wretched of things to write. The client can be quite incapable of comprehending that the names of the senior managers and the quantum of capital they have invested making the curtains match the carpets might reflect well on their business acumen, but will have absolutely no relevance to the business of getting punters into rooms. The guy who just flew in from LA and is getting on really well with the hotty who ended up in the seat next to him, could not care less about your strategic plan. He wants to know how far it is from the room to the hot pool, and how fast you can deliver a chilled bottle of champagne.
So there I am at the door of the restaurant in the Millenium and I see there is a special menu for Matariki. Enjoy the Maori New Year with a special menu, the poster invites the guest. Don't mind if I do, I say, and in the following hour I eat and drink my way through one of the best meals of my long and relatively bacchanalian life. Maori bread, naturally; ingenious combinations of horopito, pork, venison, berries and all manner of other items from the bush, all matched with very nice wines. I retired alone, but deeply contented.
Another winter, another New Year. Last night Karren and I were at the annual Matariki dinner which Tohu Wines stage at the Waipapa Marae at Auckland University.
It was beautifully done. Each and every event organiser in Auckland who makes it their tacky business to stuff a room full of banners, bodypainted models and ice sculptures megaphoning the name of the hosts and/or their brand should go and talk to Tohu Wines to learn how to do it with grace and understatement. In the course of the evening you heard about the wine, you heard about the food and how it's prepared, and in the process you were impressed by the knowledge and the dedication of people who never once proclaimed themselves to be passionate about what they did, even though they demonstrably were, in a way that a hundred other people who make that claim will never be.
A couple of years ago I wrote that our friend Adrian was going to prepare some muttonbird for us. That hasn't happened yet, but last night the Tiiti risottos gave me my first taste and I liked it. It was a smart idea; a risotto gives you just a subtle sense of the flavour, and subtlety is probably a prudent place to begin with your muttonbird. There were horopito smoked mussels; there was a mussel and watercress omelette that you and I would fight over if there were only one between us. There was a kawakawa meringue, a pikopiko pesto, organic venison. The food was marvellous and the wines were even better, but I'm a drunk, so I would say that.
Anyway it's the Maori New Year, and what's a new year without resolutions and a retrospective of the last 12 months? Every man and his dog does it in December. As a hip Public Address reader, you get to do it in June. We could go through all the categories and make a meal of it, but in the end it's the big award everyone cares about, so let's copy Time magazine and just choose the New Zealand person of the year. Anyone can win this - good or evil. Time gave it to Hitler, for instance, so the bar really goes all the way down.
Let's have your nominations. Tell us the name of the person who has had the most influence on our little country in the past twelve months. Send me your names, and we should have a New Zealander of the year by the end of next week.
Anticipating a question from a reader in Thorndon: yes David, you can nominate yourself.
I'll suggest one to get the ball rolling. I nominate the hapless burger-fuelled pilot Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali. Try as he might, he just didn't manage to blend into the landscape. I suspect his big mistake was attaching these joke balloons to his ute.
I grew up round there and I can tell you this for nothing: you don't have to do anything very much to stand out in Feilding.