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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fine China

I’ve liked fine china for as long as I can remember.  Like many aspects of my life, I blame this on/give credit to my dad.  Henry G. Bangert Jr. worked in retailing for most of his professional life.  For much of the 1960s, he was a china buyer for a department store, McKelveys’ when we lived in Youngstown, Ohio.  It became Higbee's and is now part of the Dillards's for people like myself who remember when Macy's was Shillito's.  Whenever we were somewhere where it appeared fine china was in use, my dad would turn over the coffee cup or dinner plate to see by whom the piece of porcelain was made by.  Usually that move was preceded by who he thought the maker of the said piece of china was, and many more times than not, he was correct.  It’s a habit that I carried with me well into adulthood, but something that had faded until we were preparing dinner at a house we rented in Lake Tekapo in the Canterbury region of New Zealand.  

After our stunning trip to Milford Sound and enjoyable stay in Wanaka, we took the two-hour drive south to Queenstown, planning on spending two nights there.  Queenstown is the heart of the southern part of the South Island, the supposed birthplace of the bungy jump.   Finding a place to stay without a reservation was a bit of a challenge, and we settled on a hotel within walking distance to the cafes and shops on the picturesque waterfront.  

While we really connected with Wanaka and felt at home there, that feeling never emerged in Queenstown.  As the barber who gave Ben and me haircuts told us, Queenstown is not the true New Zealand.  It has a strong influx of foreigners and transients, and our barber described it as being “over-the-top.”  The walkway on the waterfront features street performers and the one we encountered was one of the few people we’ve come across in NZ with an American accent.  His show was a bit cheesy, but enjoyable at the same time, and gave us some local flavor. 

We got more local flavor at a restaurant at the far of the waterfront that featured a menu that met all our needs.  That can be a challenge sometimes, mostly thanks to our daughter.  Marley’s food groups are pizza, spaghetti, salami, grilled cheese, French fries, bruschetta and pizza.  Sometimes bacon, and pancakes for breakfast.  Those are called pikelets here in New Zealand. She loves prepping for meals and we talk of someday opening Raoul and Rosa’s Rock-n-Roll Rainforest Café.  Back home in Cincinnati sometimes on the weekends we will pretend we are doing that as I make breakfast for Annie and the kids and she will take orders and deliver the food and drinks ordered off the menus she has made up.

Our latest location for Raoul and Rosa’s Rock-n-Roll Rainforest Café was in Lake Tekapo.  It’s a small town at the southern end of the lake, which is a brilliant blue, getting that color from something called rock flour.  Glaciers create the rock flour by grinding granite into tiny particles and carry them into some lakes and rivers in the area.  The town itself didn’t have much to offer, and the house we rented had some great interior space and a decent kitchen, so we hit the Four Square market and loaded up on the makings of a nice home-cooked meal. 

Marley set the table in the style that we have in mind for our Rainforest Café.  Nothing matches, so she found four different plates and cups, and made sure none of the silverware was the same.  One of the four plates she got out was a piece of fine china made by Burlington. 

The design reminded me of my favorite brand, Noritake.  I’ve always admired the designs of the Japanese company.  They are very intricate and subtle, with some of their styles very much in the Art Deco mode.   Noritake is one of the few things that are consistent in both my marriages.  My Dad was my best man in both, and my brothers-in-law and cousin were in both of them, and Noritake was the fine china of choice in marriages one and two.  The first time around, it was a pattern called Etienne.  Very nice lines, subtle tones, nothing flashy.  After my mulligan marriage, Annie and I chose Cabot by Noritake as our pattern.  A little more bold, a little more modern.  Kind of like her.  Anyway, the fine china helped make for a fine dinner, after which we played a board game we found in the house.  It’s a version of what we know as Chutes and Ladders, only this one was Snakes and Ladders.  

The board featured squares with names of desirable things, such as Courage, and Strength and Love.  It also had squares to avoid:  Pain, Regret and Illness.  Not exactly Candyland, which I must admit I liked.  I was 5, okay?

As our time in New Zealand comes closer to ending, we’re trying to strike a balance of living as a family and still seeing some of the amazing things the country has to offer.  Fortunately, although it doesn’t seem like it at the time, bad weather has caused us to lay low for a few hours now and then.  We haven’t been able to do and see all the things we’ve tried to, but we’re nailing the important stuff:  getting closer as a family and truly enjoying each other's company.  I see that trend continuing as we transition from New Zealand to Australia.

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