10th February 2008
Four prehistoric gweilos in Kiwiland
I'm regretfully back from New-Zealand now. I went there to shoot a commercial for the KBC Investment Bank that will soon be screened on TV. I acted as a caveman. Everything was so well organised and the hired team of New-Zealanders was so efficient that we managed to shoot everything in just one day. In the end, I found New-Zealand so beautiful and Kiwi people so cool that, along with another actress, I decided to extend my stay a little and to accept the invitation of John, one member of the local crew who naturally became a friend. People seem very happy over there, very smiling and welcoming. Life seems so simple and healthy. I loved that trip.
They needed four actors for this commercial, two men and two ladies: Chris, a British actor, Ira, an actress from Poland, Sophie, a French ballet dancer and me. We met at the Central Airport Station in Hong Kong from where we had to fly to Auckland by New-Zealand Airline. I got there first and soon Sophie joined me. We had a good laugh because she was carrying, or rather draging, a huge orange suitcase while I was just having a small backpack at my shoulder. Then we laughed again when Chris arrived with a bag almost the same size as mine and another time when Ira joined us with a suitcase almost as large as Sophie's... girls girls... why do they need so much stuff ? After all, we were going to wear cavemen furs supplied by the film company !
Ira tried to desert us claiming she needed to fly business class, but the plane was full and she ended up sitting next to me. Our conversation was interesting since she comes from an ex "eastern" country and having left Europe before the fall of the Berlin wall, I don't know much about that region. Then I read a book about an Italian guy who rode his bike from Shanghai to Italy. I definitely want to do something similar before I'm too old.
In Auckland, we took a smaller plane to a city called Christchurch on the Southern island of New-Zealand. The Nothern island counts about three millions people and the south counts only one. 90 minutes later, we changed plane for a propeller one and another 90 minutes later we arrived in Queenstown. I thought that this very last landing would see the end of Ira's stomach's resistance as she was holding the paperbag right in her face but no, she made it.
She had to recuperate a little in the airport arrival hall but eventually, we made it to the SUV that was waiting for us. Jeremaia, the driver, seemed a very nice and friendly guy. The sky was very blue, the temperature was around 28 degrees and life as well as the landscape were beautiful. Jeremiah drove us to a very nice hotel on the shores of a lake surrounded by desert mountains. My room was huge and my terrace gave upon the lake. Louis, the director of the commercial, and May, the producer, had once again made sure we would feel confortable. I really like working with them, it has always been funny, special and well done but this time was even better.
After putting my bag down, I almost immediately went to Louis's room for a quick repetition and a make-up trial. We met the make-up artists, Katherine, Sarah, Jessica and they started to work on our faces. We wore masks but they needed to blend with the rest of our face and to be air-brushed to a natural (dirty) skin colour. It took a while but the result was amazing. Some of these girls had worked for "The Lord of the Ring" movies, I could have bet on it.
After a shower, we all went out for dinner in a restaurant next to the lake. While we were eating very tender steaks and enjoying a very good local Pinot Noir, three paragliders passed very high above our heads towards the lake. As they reached it, one guy fell from each paragliders and opened his own parachute at the last second to land safely on the beach. It wasn't a payshow. Just some guys having fun.
As soon as the sun goes down, the temperature lowers very quickly. After all, we weren't very far from the South Pole. Sometimes, the clouds are like giant brushes of white paint. I didn't see any penguins. Apparently there aren't many wild animals in New-Zealand but I saw horses, deers, some cows and of course loads of sheeps.
By 11p.m the city seemed to have let place to the cold and we just went back to our hotel. Unfortunately Ira felt ill that night and May had to take her to the hospital. Nothing was wrong with her however and by six o'clock, they were back at the hotel. Anxiety can produce weird symptoms sometimes. I didn't feel any however, everything was smooth and my bed was huge !
The next morning I was up early and I was on my balcony, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking my cigarette when I suddenly realised that I hadn't seen a single person smoking in New-Zealand so far. I looked at the trees that seemed so rich and healthy and I listened to the wind that made the leaves come to life and for the first time I began to feel that my cigarette was a nuisance. It wasted the pure air I was breathing. I immediately went back in my room to finish it despite of the interdiction on the sign, near the TV.
Soon, we left Queenstown and John drove us to our new hotel in Alexandra. John is a sporty 40 years old guy who's been traveling quite a lot, accompanying people in dream trips around the world. He guides them, organizes everything for them. This year, he'll be going to Alaska, next year he'll climb the Himalayas. He's very cool and the local dub-reggae music of The Black Seeds he played in his car was perfectly matching the landscape I was watching by the windows of his Toyota Landecruiser. A total no-stress, or rather "no worries" atmosphere. Thanks to him, everything went like a dream. I just sat my ass in the back and he took care of showing us around. We wanted to check out the leathers ? No problem mate ! We stopped in a small cowboy city called Arrowtown and found cool stuff there in seconds. The lady who packed my vintage "Red Baron" soft leather helmet with oppussum fur inside was French and she told me that she had left Paris two years ago to follow her gold digger boyfriend to Kiwiland ! Pretty romantic really ! Yup, those rivers near Arrowtown are still hiding gold !
Then we had to cross a "Trembling Bridge" (that's its name) to reach a restaurant where we sat outdoor, enjoying the bright sun. We had to leave soon with our meals however because our presence was requested at the hotel for the essayage of our costumes.
We soon arrived in Alexandra, the closest spot to our shooting location. The town was pretty small, one main road basically, but I had such a good time there...
Our hotel rooms were in fact small appartments with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, sofas, TV, everything. I shared mine with Chris on the ground floor, right in front the make-up room opposite the carpark. The girls shared theirs on the first floor. Louis, May and the rest of the crew also shared rooms on the first floor. We soon all gathered upstairs where we met Francesca, our garde-robe specialist, and we began trying our costumes. Later we went to the make-up room to do a test of make-up on our arms and legs, feet and hands.
After a good shower to get rid of most of the make-up, John suggested that we'd have a swim in a river nearby so we all piled up in his car and soon we were taking our clothes off on the rocky shore of a rather deep river. Good thing I had thought of taking a swimsuit with me. Ira just enjoyed the late afternoon sun and Chris took the opportunity to rush to an internet cafe. John was in the river in no time ! I was still doubtfully testing the water temperature with my toes when Sophie jumped in too. Oh well, let's do it then ! Argh ! It just straight blocked me from breathing so cold it felt. I stood up right away but after a couple of seconds, I could swim and float. It felt great.
In the evening, we all went to the end of the town to have dinner outdoor in a nice restaurant where we tried the local brew before having a delicious seafood soup and a great plate of lamb. The two Chinese photographers who traveled along to take the still pictures of the commercial came to have a chat with us. By 22:30, everybody was back at the hotel, the city was closing down. Anyway, according to the schedule I was to get up at 3:30am to begin my make-up.
The night was short but I was excited as soon as I got up. Chris got up too, made some coffee and the day began. After so many weeks of preparation here in Hong Kong, the long trip, the different tests, finally this was the big day ! Francesca arrived in our room where she had stored our costumes the day before. I put mine on and I left for the make-up room where Katherine was waiting for me. Sophie and Chris soon joined in and were in the good hands of Jessica and Sarah. It took about four hours to get us all ready. My mask made my eyes look deep and terrible. My nose was quite bigger than the real one but I'm not sure if that was really necessary. I had deep winkles on my forehead, yes, even deeper than the real ones, the skin looked quite tanned and spotted. My moustache and beard were mixed with matching longer threads of hair and a wig made my hair look longer without, unfortunately, hiding any of my very real and regrettable boldness. My arms and legs were apparently covered with mud and ashes, my toe and fingernails were almost black of dirt, my costume made of rotten skin and half ripped off fur didn't hide my hairy legs, it was perfect. All I had to do is act like it !
Apparently, Ira had felt ill again in the morning and would join us later on, so Sophie, Chris and me, all dressed up as cavemen jumped in John's car and we started our journey uphill. Soon the road let place to a track and very soon after that the track gets very narrow and bad. Meanwhile, outside the window, the view gets narrower and narrower due to the thick fog and the wind. I knew it would be cold. Louis loves to freeze me ! We drove for about an hour and half and finally reached the top. It looked as if we had landed on the moon or something. It was totally deserted, or should I say rather desolated. The rare patches of vegetation resumed in a bit of grass high by about an inch. But the curious, out-of-this-world things were those huge monolith of rocks, like cubes, planted here and there in the landscape. They looked like they'd just fallen from space. Totally unreal.
We were going to shoot our scene near one of them. The temperature outside the car was around 2 degrees and our spot was wiped by the wind. I could see that very clearly because it was making the thick fog move so fast... When the moment came, Sophie and me covered ourselves with blankets and made a rush for it. We hid behind the big rock. The floor had been arranged by outdoor decorators and was full of bones and skulls. The whole scene was quite gloomy and cold. Perfect ! We took several shots, Sophie and me, before we needed to go back to the car to warm ourselves up a little. Then we went back and finished our part which is very simple: She's eating the mare off a bone while I'm grooming her hair. Suddenly she smells something. There's another guy, better built than me, eating a big piece of meat nearby. So she let me and the bone down to go and try to seduce him. I watch her go with sadness and disappointment and I cry... my masculine ego got so hurt by that painful experience but hopefully noone will ever recognize me here in Hong Kong...
And then I was free to stay warmly inside John's car ! Sophie still had another scene to shoot with the better guy, Chris that is. And then, fair enough, Chris dumps her for a better girl who happened to be Ira. But that scene came last. By the time Ira finished her scene with Chris, the sky had cleared up and the sun was shining on that desolated hill. Next to us I spotted another hill still covered with snow. When Ira was done, Sarah suggested to drive both of us back down in her car to start cleaning up our heavy make-up. The way down was amazing since the view was now clear. My eyes had rarely been able to cover so much distance. It felt good to see that far. Not a single industrial smoke anywhere. First the landscape is arrid and dry but then the grass gets gradually taller and the brushing wind makes it look like a long soft fur. The rocks are still looking weird. There are valleys and cliffs everywhere, small rivers and lakes shine at the right places, everything looks as if carefully drawn by some inspired landscape designer. The air is sharp and pure. I really should give up cigarettes...
Ira was fine now. The job was done and she had done hers as well as all of us. She was happy and filmed our trip back to Alexandra. Sarah parked in our hotel and I left Ira enjoy her good care first. Actually, I had a little plan...
I was a little frustrated because my acting part had been so short and somehow the time and effort it had taken to get me ready seemed a little disproportionate compare to the amount of time I had been using it. Somehow, I felt the need to do something more to make it worth. So I went out of the hotel, next to the road and I waited for the first car to come. Then I started acting like a caveman again, gesticulating at the drivers. It was such a good fun. Most people were having a good laugh and their kids just couldn't believe what they were seeing. Some drivers looked at me with a more concerned look but one of them actually passed four times in front of me, each time smiling up to his ears. I could feel I had made a fan !
I just couldn't stop. Ira eventually came out to film what I was doing and so did Sarah before going back to work. I just carried on on my own. Well, at least until the police arrived....
A police car, with two cops inside, came from the opposite lane, made a sharp u-turn and parked on the grass next to me. The two policemen jumped out. My hands joined as if I was going to thank the sky for their arrival. I wasn't yet decided if I should act some more or stop it before it went too far. The guy on my right couldn't refrain from grinning but the one on my left tried not to look amused. He said:
-"May I know what you think you're doing ? You wanna get arrested ?"
Not wanting to experience the comfort and hospitality of Alexandra's cells and deciding that Louis probably had better things to do than bail me out of jail, I said:
-"I'm just making a joke and try to amuse people a bit. The kids loved it ! I've just been shooting a commercial up in the mountains all day, dressed as a caveman and I'm just having a bit of fun while waiting for my make-up to be taken off."
They seemed interested that a commercial for Hong Kong had been shot around their city.
-"Where do you come from" the cop asked
-"Hong Kong" I said. And then I could read his incredulity in his eyes so I added:
-"But I'm originated from France." I always think my accent makes my nationality obvious.
However that seemed to make things a little more complicated. The cop on my right was still smiling but the other one asked:
-"Do you have any I.D ?"
-"Er... no... I ain't got no pockets, see..."
-"Where do you live ?"
-"In room No.2 over there, I can get you my passport if you like ?"
-"Ok, let's go"
Unfortunately, someone had locked my room and I didn't have the key so I led my two policemen to the make-up room, where, a bit embarrassed I must say, I asked Sarah if she'd seen my keys. Ira and her were a bit surprised to see me with two cops. But then the two policemen saw Ira who was still wearing her mask and seing that there was a whole tribe of us, they bursted into laughter and told me to forget about my passport.
Finally we all took pictures together and they left.
Ira said that she was impressed with my stunt but Sarah was a little less enthousiastic I think...
At last my mask went off and I could go to the shower were I used two bars of soap and two packs of shampoo but still couldn't get rid af all that crap on my skin in one go. Never mind, I'm French...
When everyone was clean and rested, we all shared a beer in the hotel carpark and took a picture all together before heading to that restaurant at the end of the town. It was time to say good-bye to Francesca and the outdoor decorators. Then we had yet another excellent dinner and this time, we finished by a few shots of tequila to celebrate the end of the shooting !
That's when Sophie very rightfully lamented:
-"It's just too bad that we have to leave this country so fast !"
Right away John offered us to stay for while. He was inviting us to his place, no worries, he was sharing his house with two mates already anyway, he had spare matresses, just say.
Chris was a little bit blue because he couldn't possibly stay any longer due to his girlfriend arriving in Hong Kong the next day to see him and Ira had to fly to London straight away for another shooting but I didn't mind actually... ok, I was supposed to pick up my new bike the next day but a bike isn't like a girlfriend, it can wait and still treat you good. Alright then, I'll stay too. May immediately made calls to delay our flights and that was it. That's what I call an efficient sense of hospitality !
The next morning, after a good night sleep, John took the four of us in his car to Cromwell, a little town which oldest district lays underwater. A dam had been built and the houses had to be deserted. A bunch of probably lost seaguls were flying above our table as we had an healthy breakfast. Then we drove in the middle of a serie of valleys and hills to a green wineyard where we found an aroma room. A serie of little flacons containing different odours allowed the visitor to test his smelling skills. I was surprised and upset by the immense stupidity of my nose. Being so big and yet unable to detect anything apart of the smell of leather ! Even the odour of banana left it puzzled ! Smoking destroy my sense of smell, I should give up cigarettes !
After challenging our noses, we passed to another room to test our sense of taste. We sat at a table with six glasses of wine standing in front of us, each of them containing a few sips of different local productions. A video explained us where they came from and we were invited to taste each of them. The Pinot Noir is definitely the best one but I think a bit of aging would enhance its excellent character.
Then John drove us about 20 kilometers away from Queenstown to a place called Kawarau Bridge. Like the "Trembling" one, this bridge is suspended and made of wood. It jumps between two cliffs over a river 43 meters below. It's also the first site of bungee jumping ever used.
"Can we jump ?" I asked, fully excited.
"Of course" said John. "About half a million people have jumped from that bridge and noone got hurt."
I'm right into it just watching the videos on the flat screens here and there. John explains that I can request to be totally immersed, or just the chest or just the head or nothing at all. I chose to have my head immersed. That should give me the same kick as the bath in the river the other day and it's a convenient way to wash my hair ! John tells me that the best feeling to get out of it is by jumping head first as far as possible, as if I was diving at the swimming pool, it should allow more swinging. Ok, I'll do that then !
I register for a jump and pay the fee. It includes pictures and a DVD of my exploit ! And a T-shirt on top of that ! Let's go, let's go !
Chris and Sophie are not keen of trying but they will film it with their camcorders. Ira registers for a jump too. John accompanies us to the bridge. I go first. I sit on the floor next to the jumping platform in the middle of the bridge and my ankles are being wrapped tightly with a simple bathroom towel. The cable is then attached as tightly around the towel. To double my security, an harnass is attached to my waist, a guy explains me again how to take off and that's it, I'm ready for the big jump ! The guy tells me to smile at a camera. I wave at Chris and Sophie who are filming from the plateform on the left and I see tourists gathering to film my jump too. I stand right on the edge of the plateform and the guy behind me starts his countdown.
5 4 3 2 1 Go !
I push on my legs and dive, head first, my arms extended with my hands in front. Am I going to fly !? Oh no, very soon my entire body shift and I fall down head first. Worst, my body shifts even more and I would have landed on my back if it hadn't been for the cable attached to my ankles which prevented me from making an half loop. My head enters the cold water. Then almost immediately I feel pulled out of the water and rushed back into the air and then I was falling again. That's when I got that incredible flying feeling. I bounced once more into the air before falling one last time almost at the right spot for me to grab a long stick that was handed to me by a helper in his boat on the river. I was slowly let down and into the boat and we floated back to the shore.
Only my hair were wet. My wallet was still in my back jean's pocket and I was overwhelmed ! I just wanted to do it again straight away ! I didn't want it to stop !
I climbed the stairs that lead back to the plateform where Chris and Sophie had filmed my fall and people started gathering around me asking how it felt. What could I say ! It's like falling, it's like flying, it's like something you never felt before but should ! It's awesome ! I love it !
Meanwhile Ira was getting ready for her jump. And she did it with brio ! What a rush we had got. Thank you John ! I can't wait to try the Macau jump: 233m !!!
And then it was painful time, John drove us to the airport and Chris and Ira left. We had exchanged our addresses and telephone numbers and we would keep in touch but it would have been so cool if we could have stayed all together. Sophie and me were the lucky ones. We followed John to a local supermarket to get ready for the evening. There was going to be a party at his place tonight and a memorable one ! Set with beer, wine and plenty of food, we drove to John's house. It's located in a very new sort of village. All the houses around his are only a few months old as well. There's so much space in them and around them, it made me wonder why I live in Hong Kong where I can never quite stretch my legs enough !
Very soon, the house filled up with John's friends while our glasses were being filled up with all sorts of delicious but alcoholic things. We met Dan and Travis who share the house with John. Then Sam and Rachel arrived in their van. We ate and drank and started it all over again for the largest part of the night. Time to time I was going out to smoke a cigarette in the garden and suddenly I just had to call Sophie.
-"Look at that !" I told her, "look at all those stars !" I rarely see them in Hong Kong, let alone that shiny !"
Dan came out to explain that what we saw was the Milky Way and he taught us how to recognise the chariot and the cross and therefore where's North. I'll never get lost again, except in Hong Kong I guess, where I can't see the stars...
I'm not too sure how the night ended up but the last thing I remember is 4:00a.m displayed on the wall clock.
The next morning, everyone woke up at 9:00a.m ! These people are really healthy ! We jumped in John's car and he drove us to a little lake lost in the green fields. Everybody then proceeded to bathe except me. Instead I went to pick flat stones for everybody to share. Why ? Well Sophie had taught us a trick on how to break stones with our bare hands and we needed material to practice... well ok... the truth is I felt far too weak from the night before to jump in cold water !
In the afternoon, we all went to Queenstown. It was the national day and noone was working. We ended up in a park where reggae music was being played and we did like everyone else, we layed on the grass and enjoyed the sun and the pleasure of being alive.
The next day, when it was time to leave, we sadly said bye to Rachel and Sam. John took Sophie and me to the airport. It felt heavy to leave. We had shared such good feelings together. We splitted with the promise to meet soon again in Hong Kong and we took our plane straight to Auckland. After a last bit of shopping in the airport, we took the final flight back to Hong Kong. Sophie and me weren't sitting next to each others. After reading a few chapters of my book, I found three vacant sits to lay down and sleep. I woke up just in time for breakfast and, at 6:00am, our plane landed in a cold Hong Kong, quiet and sleepy in this early morning of Chinese New Year. It's the Year of the Rat, that's my sign and so far I must say, it looks like a really really promising year !