TT: A Fortnight’s Holiday

If  you’re looking for Wednesday Wanderings, just page back for  some thoughts on unexpected roots, then relax as Alan tells us about his exotic winter holiday.

JANE: So, Alan, last time you promised to tell about your fortnight’s winter

Winter in August

holiday on a Pacific isle.

By the way, when I was first reading British fiction, the term “fortnight” really confused me.   I could tell from context it was a measurement of time, but “fort” didn’t fit in with any usual time measurements.  It was a real revelation when I suddenly realized “Wait!  Fort!  Could that be short for ‘fourteen’”?

You folks certainly don’t make matters easy for us Americans.  I mean, you could have at least spelled it “fourtnight.”

ALAN: That’s right. It’s simply a contraction of the phrase “fourteen nights” – i.e. two weeks. A few hundred years ago we also used to talk about a “sennight” which is a contraction of “seven nights” – i.e. a week. “Sennight” has long since disappeared from the language, probably because we’ve already got a perfectly good (and much shorter) word for it (a week).

But there is no other word for a fortnight, and it is such a useful word that we’ve kept it alive. For example, both Robin and I get paid once a fortnight. If there wasn’t a word for it, we’d never receive our salary, and that would never do.

JANE: Indeed, it would not.   When you mentioned your “winter” holiday when I was sweltering in ninety-five plus degree temperatures here, I did feel a momentary shock.  Electronic communication makes it too easy to forget you’re on the other side of the world.

How cold does it get in New Zealand in the winter, anyhow?  I know that because I live in New Mexico, lots of people think “Southwest,” “hot,” “desert,” and are shocked when I tell them we have four seasons, right up to and including snow.

ALAN: Winters here tend to be rather on the chilly side. The prevailing winds blow straight off the Antarctic ice and they don’t stop until they hit New Zealand. Most winters see the South Island blanketed in snow. The North Island generally manages to avoid that (except for the ski fields on the mountain tops, of course). But this year the winter was particularly bitter and, for the first time in living memory, snow fell down to sea level in Wellington.

For a time it looked as if Robin and I were going to be cut off by the weather and wouldn’t be able to get to our Pacific island paradise for our winter break. The snow was creating havoc with the flights in and out of Wellington. But we were lucky, and we managed to escape ahead of the storm front.

JANE: And I am definitely glad you did…  Now, I’ve kept you from talking about your holiday long enough.  What did you do on your Pacific idyll?

ALAN:  The first thing we did was rejoice at the absence of snow. Then we put on shorts and tee-shirts and sun-block and sat by the swimming pool sipping beer. Occasionally we swam to cool ourselves off.

JANE: Other than avoiding the snow – of which I highly approve – that doesn’t sound worth leaving home for.   What about outside the resort?

ALAN: There was a beautiful beach lagoon just outside the hotel. There was deep blue, slightly angry water outside the reef. But inside the reef the lagoon was calm and green.  I’ve never seen a reef enclosing a lagoon before, but it was just as I’d imagined it from reading “Coral Island” when I was a child.

The sea inside the reef was full of multi-coloured fish which were obviously quite accustomed to having portly pakehas splash around them. They swam and shoaled so thickly that you almost felt you could walk on a living carpet of fish.

JANE: I’ve never seen a “wild” live reef, although our local aquarium has a nice “tame” one.  I’m always impressed when people can grow coral in captivity.  What else did you see?

ALAN: We left the coast and wandered up the road a little. A signpost pointed up a dilapidated side track. “Prison,” it said. “And Craft Centre.”

We walked past the Kikau Hut Restaurant. 200 metres further on we came across another sign. “Kikau Hut Restaurant”, it said. “200 metres back.”

We walked further along the road until we came to a dilapidated, tumbledown shack. A huge sign hung from it: “Ministry Of Infrastructure and Planning.”

I think Rarotonga must have been settled by surrealists.

JANE: Yes, Dali painting given reality…  Go on!

ALAN: We took a trip on a four wheel drive jeep into the thick, jungly interior of the island. The jeep struggled up a steep incline and stopped on a plateau. We got a perfect view of “The Needle,” a thin spire of rock that stands tall at the top of a mountain. Robin positioned me very carefully and took a photograph of me with The Needle growing out of the top of my head. It was a perfect partner to the photo she already had of me with a coconut palm growing out of my head.

JANE: Hmm…  This sounds like the start of a new trend.  Since Jim’s the one in our family who wields the camera, I believe I will strongly suggest he not join in.  I’m photo-shy enough as it is.  I love coconuts, though.  Did you eat any fresh ones?

ALAN: We did.  We even learned how to husk a coconut. “You need a special tool,” explained the teacher. “We call it a ko –  in English, that translates to a sharp stick.”

He stuck the stick in the ground, pointy side up. Then he rammed the coconut down on to it so that the point came right through the husk and out of the other side. He pulled the coconut off the stick, detaching the husk, turned it round and jammed it down again. He did that four times and then peeled the whole of the husk away from the nut. Then, with the blunt side of a machete, he cracked the nut in two. He passed around the lower half which was full of clear juice.  We all took a sip. It was warm and sweet and very refreshing. He carved the flesh from the nut and passed that round as well. I found it rather tough and chewy and a bit tasteless. Robin had two helpings.

JANE: I’m with Robin on fresh coconut, although my absolute favorite is shredded coconut dipped in dark chocolate.  This is one of the many ways Jim and I are well-suited.  He hates coconut, so I always get those pieces from a box of candy without feeling in the least guilty.  He, in turn, gets to eat the creams which, with the exception of an occasional chocolate cream, I could go to the end of my life without ever tasting again.

ALAN: Yuck! But then I never did understand chocolate. I can’t remember the last time I had any and it wouldn’t worry me if I never had any again.

Beer, on the other hand, is much more interesting. In Rarotonga I made a point of drinking the local brew (Cook Islands Lager), which was quite tasty.

JANE: You seem rather fond of beer.  As I’ve mentioned, I’m a non-drinker of such, but Jim loves a good beer and I often buy him something exotic for a gift.  I always get puzzled when confronted with ales and beers and lagers and porters and all the rest.  Do you have any advice for me about British – or even more exotic – beers?

ALAN: Oh, lots and lots! Perhaps next time?

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5 Responses to “TT: A Fortnight’s Holiday”

  1. Tori Says:

    “Fortnight” had me baffled for the longest time too.

    I want to go to that resort! I’ve been snorkling on the Great Barrier Reef, but that lagoon sounds even better!

  2. CBI Says:

    *Definitely* looking forward to the beer segment.
    Very healthy, as well. Beer = liquid bread.

  3. Paul Says:

    Not only has my vocabulary been expanded by “fortnight,” but also by “jungly.” One of those words my spellchecker doesn’t recognize but, when I saw it, I knew exactly what Alan meant by it. (Sort of like “blaster”…)

  4. Ann M Nalley Says:

    All right, another laugh out loud read. “For example, both Robin and I get paid once a fortnight. If there wasn’t a word for it, we’d never receive our salary, and that would never do.” Can we be any sillier here, please? This is great. Jane, you conduct excellent interviews! The description of husking the coconut was rather frightening. I think if I tried to do that I’d end up impaling myself upon the ko, rather than the coconut!

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