Oamaru Victorian Heritage Weekend: Oamaru Itself

More photos from Oamaru Victorian Heritage weekend – this time, focusing on Oamaru itself. With the delicious food, the quirky establishments reusing abandoned buildings, and the grand event, Oamaru feels like it has been taken over by a tribe of artistic best friends who turned it into the New Zealand medium-small town of their dreams.


Here I am getting my 1893 on at the walk-in vintage radio museum. My costume is thrifted, except for the Chinese silver belt buckle and the hat made by my friend Khaybee.


The $5 cheese tasting plate at Whitestone Cheese, with glimpses of their brick-sized cheese scones.


Blue cod with bacon, the fish of the day, and St. Germain cocktails with elderflowers at the fabled Fleur’s in Moeraki.


Not only did we not have a lot of time to visit the Moeraki boulders, but they were clogged with other tourists on a fine spring Saturday. I would have liked to spend more time contemplating them, in fine rain, with just my immediate companions on the beach. Here, some of the boulders have eroded, while one of the remaining naturally spherical stones stands alone.


Pennyfarthings and cyclists at the parade.


A glimpse of the opulence inside the Grainstore Gallery.

What a prodigious engine! One of the interactive steamworks outside Steampunk HQ.

What a prodigious engine! One of the interactive steamworks outside Steampunk HQ.


Inside the strange post-industrial art installation called Steampunk HQ. Machines wheeze, images flicker, and steam alternates with stone-chilled air.


Our travel companions were beseeched to join in the costume parade on Sunday, held indoors at the Scottish Hall. Khaybee has resumed her handmade late Edwardian hat, adorned with roses, birds, and feathers.

All this machinery was irresistible to the adventurous!

All this machinery was irresistible to the adventurous!

I haven’t even noted the Explorers’ Club – a useful base for the weekend – the two historical dances, the bookbinders and artists, the stone-carving competition, or the steam engines and vintage vehicles and hot air balloons. Thrifting at the op shops might have been rewarding, too. If you’re snapping away with your camera, drop some coins into the donation boxes that are at many venues.

And do make your lodging reservations (and reservations at Fleur’s) in advance, especially for event weekends like the upcoming paired Oamaru on Fire/Steampunk Weekend next May/June. The only negative thing I noted about Oamaru: I had terrible, terrible hayfever the whole November weekend. Peonies and roses were in bloom in the town, and the pasture in the surrounding countryside was in its full glory. Bring all your medications. I should have avoided dairy, but between the cheese and the incredible ice cream handmade at Deja Moo, well…

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Oamaru Victorian Heritage Weekend: Oh, The Costumes

Two weeks ago, I was at the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebration weekend. Oamaru says it’s New Zealand’s only Victorian town. Looking through my photos, I’m reeling at the amount of fantastic Victorian costuming on the streets. With no further ado: many costumed photos.


I believe these elegant costumes and costumers came down from Auckland. Downcast eyes = so period.


A fortuitous sunbeam…


This lady caused a photography traffic jam when she posed for me!


A delightful family watching the parade.


The friends who encouraged me to come to Oamaru said that all levels of costuming were welcomed. Three historically accurate costumes.


Belles and beaus on parade on Saturday.


March of the suffragettes! New Zealand gained women’s suffrage in 1893. Note the purple, green, and white outfits – the colors of the suffragette movement.


A close up on some of the suffragettes, with bonus pennyfarthings.


The steampunk contingent! -salutes-


A happy, happy crowd, in the midst of the Victorian district.

People on the street were extremely gracious about posing, even about being moved into the shade for better shots – thank you, everyone! There was a Costume Parade in the Scottish Hall on Sunday, for some prizegiving and for serious costume review. Unfortunately, while the costumed gentlemen and ladies were happy as posing flaneurs on the street, they got hasty on stage, so I didn’t get the greatest photos.

Tomorrow I’ll do a general travel post about the festivities and the Oamaru area. And you’ll get to see my costume.

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Travel: Philadelphia Freedom

“All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” said W.C. Fields before his death. And I’ve been thrilled to be back in the city I lived around or in for ten years. Seriously, I am so happy to be here. Some things haven’t changed, like the picture below, and some things have.
Phil-QuinceI used to live in the house immediately on the right.
Phil-LoveThe famous “LOVE” statue on a perfect spring afternoon.

Phil-Quest“Quest’ at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts.


Flag and bunting emporium in Old City. Philadelphia has gotten a LOT more into the patriotism thing than it used to be. When I lived here in the 1990s, a lot of the historical atrractions were run down after a then-stylish update in 1976. Now, a massive new visitor’s center welcomes tourists and entertains them with storytellers and costumed historians. The line for the Liberty Bell snakes around a city block. New museums and a Philadelphia son et lumiere show have opened up. There was a Tea Party protest going on in front of a government agency.

Also, while visiting my mom in CT, I watched a lot of those new restaurant-voyeurism TV shows, which all seemed to focus on meatloaf. Evidently these shows found rich subject matter in Philadelphia – I went to Reading Terminal Market and my co-diners were Instagramming their food. It’s like everyone else realized how great Philadelphia is, and the result is some Philadisneying. Hm. I always praise Philadelphia to people outside the U.S. as a fantastic, affordable, walkable place to visit and get a sense of The Real America, much more than New York, which is its own beast. Based on the accents in the crowd, non-U.S. visitors have discovered Philly, too.

Away from the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross, there’s a vibrant liberal city with a strong queer presence. Medicine and science have been an integral part of the city’s  intellectual life forever, leading to institutes like the Philosophical Society and the Mutter Museum. It’s crowded – but not too crowded. Perhaps it’s because the crowds are thinner that I’m finding Philadelphians even more stylish than New Yorkers. Neon green, hardly seen in New York, is out in force here. The City of Brotherly Love is not as cheap as it once was, but I still recommend it to New Zealand travelers, especially as a stop between New York and Washington D.C.

Next post I’m going to discuss the beauties of Philadelphia shopping. Hold on to your tricorn hats and wallets.

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Travel: New York, Briefly

Going to America, New York feels…somewhat mandatory. At least, it is if your father and brother live there. I stayed for four days and spent most of the time catching up with people. “New York is one of the most uncomfortable environments there is,” says my Brooklyn-based brother. “You can get away with anything as long as you don’t get in anyone else’s way.” It was frantic and crowded and sweaty and dirty and exciting and full of wonderful, high-energy people.

Lovely Lolitas in NYCIn Bryant Park, meeting up with a friend, we ran into a fashion shoot and a separate Lolita meetup. By the carousel, of course!

Their "Ho Ho" cakeBryant Park cafe cake. Very dark and rich.


I stayed very close to here for three nights. Had some fabulous food in neighboring Koreatown.

Mi abuela Isabel NemirovskyRediscovered at my dad’s place, this photo of my Argentinian grandmother, aged 22 here.

Mister Showbiz courtesy of Juleskill via Creative CommonsIt’s not a New York trip without a dose of burlesque or cabaret. And I got mine from Mister Showbiz himself, Murray Hill! I saw him perform on May 18th, at Galapagos Art Space, with my “show date” being Judith of Unseen Censer. Such a pleasure to see the emceeing master at work. The show was flawless, too – unlike my excited, shaky photography. So this far better image is via Creative Commons, so you too can feel the love.

A word about New York shopping. It’s easy to get overloaded, jaded, bewildered, and overspent very quickly. If you have a strong interest in music, or crafts, or graphic novels, or some other highly specific hobby or subculture, you may get more pleasure out of spending money on the specialized items for these that you can find in NYC than on the chimera of “New York style.” But many visitors to New York are convinced the chimera is out there…

I find my best New York fashion return-on-investment comes from cosmetics. It is worth it to pick your favorite cosmetic counter and get some refreshing tutorials along with your purchases. My favorite is the boutique brand Paula Dorf, and their Henri Bendel counter is staffed by makeup sorcerers.  I went to them and said, “My eyebrows – can you help?” They did.

Clothes were more hit and miss – I’m not the only one to find this season of clothing rather meh. Macy’s on Herald Square was vast and confusing. I preferred the cleaner, more tranquil, and better curated Lord and Taylor at 38th Street – their sale racks had some bargains that matched items I was seeking.

New Yorkers look like everyone and wear everything – the full cross-section of humanity, not the tooth-bleached actors in Manolos we get in the media. That said, this spring, the New York fashionistas got a memo that said “Wear a very, very simple black dress. And beige shoes, and a bag of an entirely different color. Top it off with a clunker of a necklace or a bracelet, but NOT both.”

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Loving A Designer, Loving A City

Betsey Johnson, a designer who once stood for femme 80s/90s quirk, files  for bankruptcy! Like a bite of some oversweet rose-scented madeline, this has propelled me a la recherche au temps perdu.  Johnson herself is 70 this year and, admittedly, the brand has stopped being as revolutionary as it once was. But in the 80s and 90s, she was one of the femmiest femmes out there designing, and I could regularly be found up to my elbows in the sale basket at the the Philly Betsey Johnson boutique. I even got married in a Betsey Johnson dress of deep red velvet.

Loving a designer is an ambivalent experience. Aspirational, expensive, worrisome. Will they go away? Will their construction go down the tubes? Will you grow apart? The best that can come of it is confidence in the present day and memories later on. The blogger Gala Darling did a lovely post with glimpses of Betsey’s mercilessly feminine apartment and links to more about her.

Alas, poor Betsey. I knew her, Horatio

Some recent Betsey Johnson rufflage.

Pinpointing that former boutique, and looking at some older Betsey Johnson clothes – in retrospect, much plainer than I remembered -  unleashed a wave of nostalgia for my Philadelphia years. Did I love the clothes, or where I was when I was wearing them? I was young and clumsy and dorky when I rifled through the sale baskets at 18th and Walnut. I didn’t make a lot of money, but  in 1994 Philly, you didn’t have to. Chasing temps perdu online, I found out that the tiny building where I had my first-ever apartment, on Quince Street in Philadelphia, is for sale. I already knew that one of the three miniscule apartments in the building (the one directly below mine – I was on the middle floor) got profiled on Apartment Therapy. I left a long and delirious comment.

To blow my mind further, somebody recently did a video praising Quince Street as a favourite place in the city. I could walk back down the uneven cobblestones of Quince Street today, shaded by slow-growing gingko and pear trees, and it still looks exactly the same as it did in 1994.


If you’ve never loved a city – I feel sorry for you – it’s like never having loved a person, or an animal. What is it like to love a city passionately? I felt like I knew everyone, or a subsection of everyone – a delicious fallacy. I checked out the alleyways and the scary-looking restaurants and bars, carrying away new places to go as urbanite trophies. On my rambles, I learned to love vintage: quirky unchanged lunch counters, stoop sales with Art Deco fragments and old magazines, closing-down stocking wholesalers selling me 1950s boxes of seamed nylon stockings for $3 apiece (“Nobody wants them anymore” they said). I huffed the smell of the sidewalks in the rain. I had my heart broken in that real-estate way, with an apartment broken into at one time, a bad encounter that shadowed the street where I lived another. Still, when I was coming back, I’d see the skyline and smile, involuntarily.  And then one day I was done, we were over. Even the sidewalks stopped having their gravitational pull. I realized that I’d lived in that town and its environs for ten years and spent a sum total of eight weeks away. The rest of the world beckoned.

In the present day, I love Wellington, too, though not with that first-urban-love intensity. (Also, I live in the ‘burbs, and Wellington is ruthless towards its surrounds.) As a sign of my being at home in downtown Wellington, I felt a twinge when the Calendar Girls strip palace took over from the former Garden Club. The Garden Club was one of those large, indifferent, but available-for-burlesque venues. Its backstage stairs were horrible to high-heeled performers, its barnlike size didn’t encourage after-partying, and the seating was plentiful but good views weren’t. Nobody liked it much, until it wasn’t ours anymore. At least it’s ending on an interesting story. I think that in the age of Internet porn, there is something to be said for human beings leaving the house to look at and speak to actual women instead of airbrushed pixels. Those “dirty” urban zones were part of what gave Philly its rough-edged flavor. Will Calendar Girls be successful in this city and era, or, two years from now, will we be pouting at a glossy, dull fusion restaurant and saying “That used to be a strip club! Remember the time we…?”