Bury my meal at wounded gonad

December 27, 2008

While the Great White North was living up to its name in late December, and the country-wide blanket of snow was forcing our Canadian family and friends to cancel planned gatherings (including my parents’ annual Christmas Eve celebration, which has, in anyone’s memory, never been interrupted by the weather in five decades), Viking Woman and I were experiencing another summer Christmas here in New Zealand.

I’m not going to gloat (OK, just a quick one: neener-neener-neener), because I actually prefer winter Yules. I like a bit of a nip in the air, enough so I can see my breath but not cold enough to freeze my brass balls. I like a bit of snow about, enough to dust the fields and trees while leaving the roads clear and passable.

Viking Woman, on the other hand, dislikes the cold enough to make one question the legitimacy of her birth certificate. But it’s written on birch bark using a porcupine quill dipped in maple syrup, so I guess she is a Canuck of the True North Strong and Free variety.

That said, she likes her Dec. 25 to be more about sunscreen than frostbite, thank you very much.

A good friend from Gisborne lured us north from our Napier lair with the promise of a traditional Maori meal. Yes, there would be several children underfoot, but the alternative — sitting in our house, staring at each other over empty stockings we could not afford to fill this year — soon had us on the road for the three-hour drive.

The food was as advertised: unique, savory and plentiful.

Unique: All Polynesian cultures have their version of the underground oven. In Hawaii, it’s an imu. In the Cook Islands, an umu. In New Zealand, the Maori called them a hangi. Without going into too much detail (that is, after all, why God invented Wikipedia), the process involves a pit, a fire, hot stones, a large wire basket, several varieties of raw meat, and assorted vegetables enclosed in cotton bags.

Savory: Our particular meal featured chicken, lamb, pork and wild pork. The bags contained stuffing, kumara, potatoes and pumpkin. The act of heating stones with a wood fire imparted a wondrous smoky flavour to everything.

Plentiful: There was food for Africa (as we like to say here), as about 30 people ate themselves full and there were still plenty of leftovers. And that’s not counting dessert, highlighted by two large bowls of trifle and a pavlova, a traditional Kiwi dessert built around meringue and one of Viking Woman’s all-time favourites. 

Probably because something as light and insubstantial as meringue can’t possibly be fattening, right?. But don’t they say the same thing about beer? Just asking.

Our friend’s family was large and welcoming, which is a good thing because Viking Woman and I were two of only five Pakeha (white folk) in the yard. I shook plenty of hands and kissed plenty of cheeks and patted children of assorted sizes and ages on the head as they made beelines for the bowls of lollies.

A lot of faces, a lot of names, and a lot of exchanges of “Merry Christmas” which, I’m sorry, just sounded somehow unreal when we were eating outside in 22-degree C sunshine.

The kids were cute, as all kids tend to be until about, oh, 12. Most of them ate me under the table, which is not an easy thing to do. Well after the meal was finished, I happened upon one girl happily using a large wooden spoon to finish off a bowl of chip dip. Ah, to be young again and unconcerned with one’s calorie intake.

To keep some of the children occupied, several soccer balls were produced. In the course of taking photos, I was somehow drafted onto one of the teams. I mostly hung back to mind the “net” but did make the odd offensive foray. There is, I believe, photographic evidence of my goal-scoring prowess. Or at least someone wearing my clothes — with their shirt pulled over their head — is shown in the process of “airplaning” around the yard after blasting the ball past a cluster of 10-year-olds.

I know what you’re saying: “No one likes a poor winner, John.” To which my reply is: “Hey, a goal is a goal.” And, “Bite me.”

I was finally forced out of the game by what is euphemistically described as a “lower body” injury. This occurred during one particularly heated battle for the ball. The young man I was marking decided he’d had enough of my stifling checking style and retaliated with a short, yet powerful, rabbit punch to my gonads.

He may have actually scored after that — I have no idea. I was too busy rolling on the grass, grimacing and moaning and attempting to be brave through the waves of pain and the tears. And, yes, that did leave a bruise.

And so, in several ways actually, it was a Christmas to remember. A Christmas filled with typical Kiwi images — a man wearing flip-flops and socks; children blowing bubbles made from dish detergent; people smoking roll-your-owns and drinking cans of Woodstock Bourbon and Cola — and one more reason why we’ve so willingly embraced living in New Zealand.

Yet another reason was made evident the next morning when the farmer who lived across the road from the place we were house-sitting dropped by with his adult son and their combined herd of 15 dogs. That is a lot of hounds, let me tell you, but Viking Woman was in her glory, kneeling amidst all those slobbering beasts, each looking for a personal bum scratch.

Viking Woman told me later all she wanted for Christmas now was a puppy. Crap! I sure hope I kept the receipt for that Billy Ray Cyrus cassette.

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