Posts Tagged ‘Nelson’

leaving Nelson

September 3, 2011

for 26th February 2011
Leaving Nelson, with sadness to be going from
New Zealand, and to have reached the outermost point of the journey.  From here, the huge returning arc will sweep me eventually back to England.  So it is a sad moment in the whole story of the trip – everything from here is a kind of ending.  Nelson airport is little, efficient and friendly.  Time for a last cappucino with G. before she rushes off to get ready for the annual ‘Opera in the Park’ event that evening.
We trail across the open tarmac to a good little plane with a familiar old-fashioned look: small portholes, two props and a loud, busy hum.  It rises up quickly over the damp golf-course, over shallows and sand flats, now populous with clustered dots of walkers at midday
on a more-or-less fine Saturday.  Rising, rising over sea, and now tiny streaks of wavelets are breaking over the submerged sandbars.  Into cloud – and now – above cloud.  Humming away its deep penetrating burr, the propeller catches sunshine, flashing black and yellow just outside my porthole.
I am sitting next to a big man in a loud Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and a straw hat.  His enormous hairy legs reach down into trainers.  Just my luck!  Will I have to have that silent battle for possession of the armrest?  The man in front has Tony Benn’s profile.
The plane is still rising – now into a clear space between two layers of cloud – patchy above, moving past like film that has been sped up; below, allowing glimpses of mountains, then sea and coastline.  Breaking waves, lurid, pale-green seas and darker, darker patches.  At first I think these are profound depths of the water, then realize that many are cloud-shadows and the true dark depths are sharply demarcated, further off where the land shelf falls away into the abyss.   In some parts suddenly, elsewhere in gradual stages, it drops: an abstract painting of lines and shading.  It looks like the ingenious blue-green linoleums G chooses with such care for her sea-seasoned home.
Time passes and I chat with the daunting Hawaiian-shirted man.  He turns out to be a gently-spoken American from the dehydrated spaces of the scorched mid-West, homeward bound from a stint as an electrician in Antarctica.  The ironies of this contrast give him quiet amusement. 

[Apologies if you tried to read the earlier version, which somehow acquired multiple repetitions.  I hope I’ve successfully cleaned it up now.]

the teacher from Christchurch

August 25, 2011

First thing in the morning – and getting ready to leave was unexpectedly coming to feel urgent.  I was catching my plane out of Nelson, and G. was driving me to the airport.  The hurry was puzzling – could the airport be so far away?  We drove the scenic route – a farewell to Nelson – up and down hills and through suburbs; past tiny old weatherboard sailors’ cottages of the late-nineteenth century.  I remembered those replicas of the Endeavour, and how we marvelled at the amount of kit that could fit into those narrow cabins.  These cottages put that into some perspective: they are not much more spacious, and whole lives were conducted in them.
We had things to see, and a stop to make – now the hasty departure made sense.  High up on the ridge, in a well-to-do leafy suburb above Nelson, G.’s friends have a must-see view over the beach and bits of the harbour.
They had a friend staying.  A friend of a friend.  An acquaintance, really.  A woman of a comfortable age, and figure – well-dressed, nicely made-up, and sensible-seeming: one of the many who had left devastated Christchurch
for a time, partly for refuge, but also because their absence was the best help they could give to the overstretched facilities.
We all chatted and smiled, drank coffee and went out onto the deck to admire the view.  Running stick figures, the few early risers, traced the sands, and a few dogs pranced along the wide acres left by the low tide.  When we asked her how she was doing her story began slowly, not yet routine.

‘We were so lucky.  We’d given them a late lunch hour so they were all still outside and we were having a staff meeting.  So – well – (and a pause) – we felt it starting and we did what you do.  We got under the big table and we were crouching there. (The penny dropped.  I could see smartly-dressed New Zealand primary school teachers – unwontedly helpless but totally practised, informed, disciplined.  Health and safety a deadly serious necessity.)  But they were all outside – and so they were safe. She didn’t have to say that the whole building had collapsed around them.
I think she planned to stop her story at that point – it felt like a climax, and a happy ending.  But we were quiet and attentive, and she went on.  ‘Then when the main shocks were over we went out into the playground.  They were crying of course and hysterical.  We got them into circles on the grass, everyone rubbing the back of the one in front – and they started to calm down a bit.  The ones who were really upset stayed close to me.
She made a little brushing gesture at her skirts, touching the memory of those little clinging sobbing children.  ‘ – and not one was hurt.  Then we took them up onto a little mound where it was safer.  As the story brought the children back to that safe place all over again, tears came to her eyes.  And again she had reached a place where the story stopped.
Did we prompt her to go on?  I don’t remember now.  Maybe I said ‘How did you get them home?’ (a stranger, I had nothing to lose and I really wanted to know).
‘Then we had to wait for parents to collect them.  Lots of cuddles and back-rubbing and singing (did she say singing?).  But with the traffic in the city centre . . .(a pause, when we saw again that live TV footage of bridges buckling, and cars tipped up, and the gridlocked streets liquefying).  Parents couldn’t get out of the city centre for hours.  In the end everyone was collected by a parent or a relative.
When did the last one go home?
‘About six thirty she said (or something like that).
She had kept those terrified children sane and comforted for over five hours, this stoic, utterly professional, cool-headed genius.  Is back-rubbing in a circle her own invention?  Is it written down in some teachers’ manual for disaster management?
On TV they were advising us all to let people talk it out, to listen as many times as needed.  I hope she has been listened to again and again – and somehow I feel confident that she has.

on, on!!

August 25, 2011

Well now – there’s been a long gap, but here I am, back at last.  I wonder whether I’ve been avoiding writing the next pieces: they involve some tricky stuff, and I want to get it right.  Talking to an earthquake survivor; leaving Nelson (and therefore New Zealand); arriving in Canberra; spending time with my one identifiable reader.  What’s more she is a wonderful blogger (Scary thought –  she’ll read about herself in my blog. Hi there Walküre!!)  But if I don’t write up all this, for good or ill, I won’t feel as if I can go on to anything else.  At least we are still in the same year – only many months late.

Enough of this wailing and gnashing of teeth.  Enough of this cowardly navel-gazing.  On, on!

WOW! . . .

May 24, 2011

. . .  stands for ‘World of Wearable Art’ – it’s a museum of clothes in which theatrical costume meets Lady Gaga.  And for some imponderable reason, all this shares space with a Museum of Classic Cars.  The style is wonderfully surreal and joky.

outside the museum

I was a bit dubious, not really being into fashion.  But the first sight of the museum was promising. The car appears to float on water –

this improbable creature reigns by the entrance

the labels are lovingly detailed

This tells us that the glamorous white beauty is an Excalibur.

Model              Four door touring sedan.
Year                 1988.
Engine             350 Chevy V8
Car stylist Brooks Stevens designed the first Excalibur as a show car for Studebaker, using an Avanti engine and a Lark chassis.  When Studebaker pulled the plug on the project, even though the car had been a huge success at the show, his sons decided to set up their own company to produce the neo-classic which was originally based on the 1930 Mercedes-Benz SSK sports car.
. . . a Chevrolet rather than a Studebaker power unit, and all production Excalibur cars have been fitted with Chevrolet Corvette engines, though the Studebaker chassis was retained until 1970.

So it seems as if it’s ‘classic’ in a fairly modern interpretation of the term.  (There’s more on the sign, if you care to enlarge it and read on.)
To my great delight, you are allowed to sit in some of the cars.  Memories of childhood: the smell of leather upholstery, the satisfying complex crunch of the doors closing – part sound, part sensation.   Like a little kid I played at driving – moving the gear stick, holding the wheel, pressing the pedals in.

There was a De Lorean (dolled up as the ‘Back to the Future’ car’), a thirties gangster car (with fake shotgun holes), a ‘before restoration’ example which made the gleaming beauties even more impressive – and too many more to name.
There was also an abandoned black backpack by the entrance door.  I thought – here I am in a temple to American wealth and consumerist display – and there’s a lonely bag just next to me.  But then again, I am in New Zealand.  All those railway station and airport announcements about ‘unattended luggage’ had their sway: I could phone the cops and have it eliminated in one of their ‘controlled explosions’.  Instead, I accosted some mild individuals, just a little way further around the room, who looked glazed.  Next I found a good-looking young man with a tripod, taking sophisticated photos of the cars – yes, it was his bag.  He was amazed to hear that he was doing sinister and scary things with it.  And slightly amused, too, to find the modern world impinging on him, borne by a grey-haired worrier-type.  “We are in Nelson,” he pointed out.  “Not many extremists here.”  I was only slightly abashed – after all, even if there is no threat, making people nervous should perhaps also be avoided.
A tantalising selection of random bits of three different vehicles, and some unreadable labels.  My childish technique of non-composition at work again, I guess.

this one is called a 'Commander' - that's a dummy standing next to it.

All this, and I was less than halfway round.  G. was waiting for me outside – how much can one really try a hosts’s patience?
The WOW! really is amazing – and more and more convincing as you work your way around through it.  The centrepiece is a video screening of the fashion parades that have displayed these pieces over the years – but they are more like athletic/gymnastic/dance shows.  Quite stunning and amazing.  Many of the costumes perform (or represent) ideas derived from myth – animal legends, bird myths, Maori and other cultures – all feature here and are interpreted in extraordinary and challenging ways.

Eos - a bird god

The displays are static – you need movement as well, really, to see how they worked when they were new and fresh.  I couldn’t resist buying a copy of the DVD for my mother, who loves art.

Ornitho-Maia (bird mother) is made of leather - one thinks of Boudicca, or maybe of Britomart again.

Amazingly, the gift shop also sells little bits of the Ornitho-Maia.  It’s like a talisman to have something tactile like that to keep – but how can they possibly do it?  Maybe the designer made a lot of spares? It’s a wonderful small gift shop: full of variety, interest and good taste.

luminous costumes, circling the dark

You are allowed to take photos of the cars but not of the costumes – but I only noticed the sign as I left (having entered in the wrong direction, and exited through the entrance door).  (I must have been fairly disorientated that day). So I had already taken lots of photos.  Anyway, I mentioned this to the lady behind the desk, and she said it was OK.  I don’t know how moral it is to put them up here – but maybe it will bring more visitors to the Museum, rather than fewer. Here are some more:  The annual fashion show of Wearable Art became so popular that it started to swamp Nelson with visitors, and had to be moved away to a larger venue – (possibly Auckland?) – but the Museum remains.

Nelson, South Island – 21st-22nd February

May 5, 2011

Nelson was like another world.  My friend in Nelson  (I’ll call her G.) has a remarkable talent for integrating her houses with their surroundings.  Any work of art requires more than just talent, and G. has studied and thought carefully about architecture, art and function as well.  Her style is about ideology almost as much as it is about taste. Books on her shelves include the inspiring How Buildings Learn by  Stewart Brand (1994).  He made a six-parter with the BBC, based on the book.  Beware, though: this clip is half an hour long:
 Just now, looking him up on Wikipedia I discover that this is same man who was responsible for the famous Whole Earth Catalog (sic) back in the seventies, well known to anyone interested in self sufficiency at the time.  At G’s, over time, one notices more and more of the details that she has wrought into her home.  The bathroom floor of this seaside house swims in the sea: a subtle linoleum (specially imported) in complex shades of dark blue-green – the colours of the deep.  It’s not Brand’s ‘low road’, but it is immensely thought-filled: effort that creates a relaxation.  The house is bedded into a hill at the back, and looks out over the broad expanse of  Tasman Bay to the mountains on the opposite shore.  Windows everywhere make it wonderfully light and construct fabulous views.

view west (?) to the mountains behind Nelson

(Unfortunately these photos below don’t show the mountains across the bay too clearly – it was a misty day.  But it’s my first ever attempt at a collage panorama! Should look good when enlarged, I hope. That’s how to see the mountains.)

 The house is reached by a steep-ish winding path, through wooden gates painted bright red – the colour of a Japanese tori-i.  They form both a boundary and a welcome, she says.  The garden, burgeoning but welcomingly slightly scruffy, mingles flowers and vegetables.  The slightly New Age garden sculpture wouldn’t be my choice, but its tone does feel appropriate to New Zealand.  Somewhere in the middle of all the moments of delighted appreciation, I realised that the house follows feng shui principles.  Maybe that was the source of its profound sense of peace and order.  It may have broken the bank to renovate this little old house with such care and attention to detail, but it was surely worth it.
And then the structures fell apart, because Tuesday was the day of the earthquake.  Christchurch heaved and tumbled while we, trivially unaware, scooted around Nelson’s art galleries and coffee shops, in and out of random showers.  At least, this was until G. (who knows everybody) ran into a friend in the street who said: “There’s been a quake in Christchurch.”  We took this calmly – a quake can mean something quite small, after all – and then she said: “It sounds serious – there’s been deaths.”  That was obviously worse, but even then we went on with our lightning-swift tour of the lovely Victorian gardens (the Queen’s Gardens), the Suter Art Gallery Museum, and its cafe.  
Only when we were back at home and turned on the TV did we understand the scale of the disaster.  I can’t begin to rival the descriptions given by others, or the footage that was shown at the time.  Camera crews were showing us events in real time.  We sat and watched the darkness of dust clouds, wrecked buildings still toppling and moving, the fires and smoke that were impossible to put out.   We watched for hours, G. weeping, while I (as always in troubled times) felt nothing.  That’s my survival mechanism, I guess: the feelings come later, once the emergency is over.  It grew dark and the news crews started repeating the most dramatic moments.  Eventually the same clips had come round once too often, and we switched off, saturated, to make contact with friends and family, and donate online to the Sally Army.  Nothing else to be done for the moment, but deal with the helpless agitation that television coverage creates.

Queen Charlotte Sound

April 25, 2011
Captain Cook is more than just a household name in New Zealand – he is admired, revered, even loved.  Everyone, it seems, knows some of his story.  His biographies are prominent on the bookshop shelves, and there’s a new one coming out later this year.  Cook has been credibly described as a genius – for his technical navigational skills his scientific acumen and his extraordinary seamanship. He was one of those enthusiastic thinkers and doers who seem to have abounded in the eighteenth century – and they appreciated him. The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) four-part documentary was being re-run while we were in Auckland, which is how I know all this.  Thank goodness!  We caught two parts of it, and it is absolutely rivetting stuff.  Though the acting is a trifle wooden, and the material on his wife tries to fill out absent detail with mawkish speculation, the information itself  is  marvellous and really well presented.  The descriptions of his closing years and death in Hawaii are moving, and very credibly analysed.  There’s a trailer for the series on youtube: 
And if you know a bit about Cook (1728-1779), you will never be short of conversation, should you meet a New Zealander.  The BBC summary of his life is good – though it minimizes what he did in New Zealand and emphasizes Australia. 
I didn’t know much of this back when I booked the ferry from Wellington to Picton (en route to Nelson) – I was just trying to travel overland (and oversea?) as much as possible, seeing lots of the country at close quarters and avoiding the un-green activity of flying. (I am guilty of far too much air travel already).  So you can imagine my delight to discover that Picton is at the southern tip of Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook’s favourite anchorage of all time.  He even travelled across half the Pacific to get there, on one occasion.  Quite why isn’t clear – people say it was such a good, safe anchorage, where he could rest and repair his ship.  But it does seem like an awfully long way to go – I can’t help wondering whether there was more to it than that.  Maybe when I get around to reading the biography I’ll find out.

entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound - that little notch between the hills

The ferry here has already crossed Cook Strait (yes, him again) between the North and South islands  and is already within the Sound.  Its route sweeps in westwards, and then turns sharply into Tory Channel.  This picture was taken looking back towards the North (or maybe more like the North East), and you can just see the curve of the wake, outlining where it has travelled. 
I was trying to check the actual compass points for you on a map when I came across this marvellous photo of Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound, taken by Phillip Capper (I found it on Flickr).

 All the world was fresh and glorious: as delightful as if it (and I) had been newly created.  It was a Monday so there were not many people out and about.  I was lucky to see one little sailing boat slipping along.  

There are seals in the Sound, but although I pointed the camera at them and it went click, they are quite invisible in the photos.


(No – this is not one of my ‘find the seal’ pictures.  I genuinely can’t see it – you just have to take my word that it was over by the little sailing boat, and visibly eating a fish.  I could almost hear the crunching.)  You could draw your own seal into the picture, if you like. 
From Picton, it was a bus trip through flat agricultural land, past the vineyards of the Marlborough region, then over a  jack-knifing mountain range and down into Nelson in the warm glow of late afternoon.   Encumbered by my embarrassingly massive suitcase, I eventually met my friend at the tourist centre.  A long day, and a tiring one.  It was wonderful to be scooped up into her four-wheel drive and transported to her charming home near Nelson.  Bertie the Jack Russell made me welcome.

Bertie Russell

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