Thursday, June 30, 2011
You might think this is just an excuse for a sheep picture.
On behalf of Scotland I’d like to apologize to New Zealand for bringing gorse here and ask, “What the hell were they thinking?”
I can't find any actual citation that early Scots settlers brought Ulex Europaeus to Aotearoa. But let's put it this way: there is an underlying, and rather accusatory, assumption that the Scots were to blame.
If you've seen both countries, it is not hard to imagine that some of those early Scots, pining for the Auld Country from here at the end of the world, decided that a bit of the flowering yellow shrubbery would be just the trick.
Little did they know ... or perhaps they did and just didn't care. The bloody stuff is indestructible and spreads like the proverbial wildfire. It is thick, armed with vicious thorns, and can grow to 21 feet. (Actually, that sounds more like the Godzilla of Weeds.) It's perfect for the many flightless birds, including the Kiwi. Nothing of any size or vile intention can get through this stuff. But it pretty much makes any land useless for farmers.
Gorse now covers five percent of New Zealand. It's pretty enough from afar, but once you get close it's frightful.
I was talking to a friend last night about invasive plants in general and gorse in particular. Turns out he knew a bloke who'd based his post-graduate work on studying gorse and its negative impact on New Zealand. He had to do his field work in a motorcycle helmet and leather overalls. He was still cut to shreds. He grew so tired of the constant pain that he quit his studies.
When I say the stuff is indestructible like a cockroach, it might actually be worse. I know I run the risk of offending the members of the Gorsebush Lovers of Caledonia with such frank talk. But gorse actually seems to enjoy most traditional efforts to destroy it. They cause it to regenerate. And when I tell you that gorse seeds can lie dormant on the ground for 50 years, germinating quickly after the adults have been removed, you'll see what I mean. Now if that ain't a Frankenseed, I don't know what is.
Millions of dollars are spent each year trying to obliterate gorse. But my friend, who knows about such things - and yet is still my friend - says that, basically, once gorse has taken root the best a farmer can do is give up the ground and fight the fight elsewhere.
As Wikipedia says, "Unfortunately, most methods of removing adult gorse plants, such as burning or bull dozing them, create the ideal conditions for the gorse seeds to germinate."
One small grace, gorse forms about 300,000 kilometers of hedges and windbreaks in Canterbury. It's not much but, other than my apology, it's all I've got.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I love Kiwi foresight. The Rugby World Cup is coming. So they know a bunch of drunken English fans won't be far behind. I know, I know: cheap shot, stereotypical nonsense. OK, so let's pretend I'm talking about drunken Russian fans, because Russian rugby fans are so renowned. Anyway, that's not the point. Which is this: how brilliant is it to have an "Exit" sign on the roof in a bar? I have never seen anything like it, and I have been to a few bars in my time.
It's so wonderfully, perfectly logical. You go where the people are. And, if it's late at night and you're having a kip on the floor of your favorite local, how helpful is it to just be able to open an eye and know precisely which way home is? I love it and declare it another Kiwi masterpiece.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
When I was growing up in Scotland, meat pies were the food source of last resort. You only ever ate them at football matches. And then only if there was a cup of semi-toxic Bovril nearby with which to wash it down. This rancid gruel, in turn, had to be chased down by a can or two of Tennent’s Lager. You could never grimace. The lads would eat you alive if you winced. It was a sign of weakness.
Even then those bad boy pies could leave a foul aftertaste in your mouth for days.
Still, eating one was a sort of perverse badge of honor, a rite of passage. You ordered it at the counter as you would order a "Double Scotch, no ice." With attitude.
My, how far the pie has progressed. In New Zealand, it’s moved upmarket. Not to the penthouse, for sure, but certainly to a place with a view. Yes, the humble pie has gone a little bit gourmet – which would have been an oxymoron in my day.
Back then the pies were so hard, it is amazing they were allowed at the stadiums. I’m surprised fans didn’t use them as weapons against opposing fans – and no comments here about Scotsmen being too cheap to throw away food. Angry fans, had they been so inclined, could also have smashed pies against a wall, bottle-like, to be left with a sharp shard with which to shiv someone. (Shoot, that’s a difficult sentence to read out loud. While we're in parenthesis, I'd also like to apologize for the miserable quality of these pictures. But it's a little difficult going up to a counter and taking pictures; people think you're a health inspector and give you foul looks.)
Anyway, back to pies in New Zealand. I have it on good authority that nearly 200,000 pies are consumed here every day. It doesn't sound like much, but it means about 5 percent of the population consume a pie every day. In fact I don't believe that and will randomly - now that I'm not a journalist anymore - declare that more people than that eat pies every day in New Zealand.
Pies don't just come in the meat or mince variety any more. No, now they've got Thai Chicken, Butter Chicken, Chicken Alfredo and a slew of other gourmet pies. True, they still have the more pragmatic ones like Steak and Cheese and Peppersteak, and have added a bunch of breakfast pies too. Pies are sold everywhere: coffee shops, gas stations, convenience stores (dairies) and the ubiquitous bakeries.
Yes, the humble pie, which has been around since the 12th century in old Blightey, has come quite a long way. Back then these pies were apparently made using chicken with the legs left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles.
Now, if we'd had those at the football grounds they would definitely have been used as weapons.
Monday, June 27, 2011
Nemo the Emperor Penguin - who I'm sure I'm going to have to start calling Happy Feet, everyone else's appelation for him - had a third round of surgery today. All is said to be well for the big guy who is so far from home. Doctors cleaned his stomach out of a bunch of sand and gravel - which he's been eating thinking it was snow.
Meanwhile, a businessman by the name of Gareth Gareth Morgan has offered a seat to the penguin on a Russian icebreaker in February. So, Nemo's just got to hang on for a bit longer, get a clean bill of health - no new diseases to introduce to Antarctica - and all should be well for our little adventurer. I'll keep you updated.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Less than a week after trying to knock Morgan into a hypothermic state, Wellington was trying to get herself back into our good graces - and largely succeeding.
An afternoon with the bohemian quirkiness of Cuba Street, ice cream on Oriental Parade, and fond gazings at her sun-kissed bays will do that. The happy, smiley side of our schizophrenic host was back.
It's hard to believe it's the same place in the same season, far less the same week. Last weekend's fierce storm was a thing of the past and in its place a caressing gentleness that seemed to ask forgiveness. Cuba Street is a people gallery - Maori with full-facial Moko, hipsters, students, families, dopies and drunks all sharing space on a glorious sunshine day. The buskers were out in full force, providing an electric soundtrack accompanied by the whirr of skateboarders and the still-happy laughter of drinkers and families. The Fringe Bar, which can get wild of a night, had cleared out its seats for a jumble sale. A great idea if ever I've seen one. If you have the primetime space, why not make use of it?
She even threw a little frivolity at us, in the form of a cloud shaped like an airplane coming in for a landing above Wellington International Airport. I do confess it began to make up a little bit for the hard feelings left by last weekend's seeming act of betrayal of Morgan. He'd trained hard for four months - in good times and bad - for the Wellington Marathon. When his big day came she tried everything to make him fail. She didn't succeed, of course, but it sill warranted a wtf look. It seemed sort of personal. Today, with the kayakers, the paua divers and sailors at play, Wellington felt like an old friend again.
Even if we will never look at her the same way. We've seen her dark side, after all.
The Emperor Penguin on Kapiti Coast - my Nemo, "Happy Feet" to the rest of the World - has finally had to be taken to see vets at the Wellington Zoo. Used to scooping up snow, he's learned that that can cause problems if done with sand.
Intially confident that he'd be OK, experts are now giving Nemo only a 50 percent chance of survival. Anyway, here's the full story from the Dominion Post.
Friday, June 24, 2011
A vast swath of land in Christchurch has just been declared unsalvageable. Literally, it's been written off. More than 5,100 homes will be acquired by the government, bulldozed and the land on which they stand returned to a natural state. An exodus-like move of people will follow – either to new lands opened to construction, or to other parts of town. Or away from Christchurch. (According to the latest statistics, thousands are heading to Australia.)
In an incredibly unique plan, the government basically announced that it would “cover” homeowners against any shortfalls between what they receive from their insurance companies and what they owe the bank.
Then, the plan goes, homeowners will be able to buy or build a new place; the mayor said 11,000 sections of new land were ready or nearly ready to be built upon. The areas they leave behind – too badly damaged by the quakes, in too much danger from new ones – would be leveled within two years. While dreamers imagine greenways, parks and general loveliness, initially these areas will be urban wastelands, home to the ghosts of happy pasts and uncertain futures.
This is an unprecedented response, massive in scope, a bold stroke for a new future – untested and untried and unimagined as it is – for Christchurch.
And it was only the first stage of the response. More than 10,000 homeowners were told yesterday they'd be staying in the limbo they’ve inhabited since Feb. 22 for at least another three months. More assessments are needed, more agonies of not knowing. Thereafter the government will announce whether they can stay or have to go. Not much of an incentive for fixing up the old place in the meantime, is it?
The residential red zone announced yesterday is roughly ten times the size of Hagley Park, which sits majestically at the heart of old Christchurch. I don’t know if what is envisioned can or will work. It is certainly extraordinary and breathtaking.
Once-thriving neighborhoods with what I call geo-psychic histories – the spirits of the place – will be gone, consigned to the corners of people’s minds, as new neighborhoods with new stores and schools spring up. What usually takes place gradually and over generations will happen en masse and in a short period of time.
I don't know whether all this is good or bad. It is yet to be seen. I do know that, for at least 5,100 homeowners, there is something to focus on. The goalposts, though they may be far off, are visible.
A friend of mine was in town from Christchurch last night. I asked him if he was going to go out on the town, live it up. He looked at me wryly. "No, mate. I'm going to the hotel and getting in bed. All I want is a good night's sleep." Sleeping through the night. Heaven.
As a wonderful postscript, Adulcia from Christchurch has written a great post about why she has decided to stay.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
While the grass is certainly greener on the Kapiti Coast than in Antarctica, it might not necessarily be greener.
An intrepid Emperor Penguin, a dreamer obviously, has taken a 7,000 kilometer spin around the block we call the world and ended up on the North Island of New Zealand.
Apparently he’s only the second Emperor Penguin in recorded history to make the trip – but the first one, according to The Dominion Post, was “ship-assisted.” A stowaway, in other words. A lowlife.
Amy and I looked at the paper today and both had the same thought: "I'd love to go see that spunky bugger." Well, she was able to. All I can do is show you her pictures.
He showed up on the New Zealand beach yesterday, much to the amazement of the locals who quickly called wildlife experts. How many Orcas, Great White Sharks and other maritime unpleasantries did he have to dodge?
The experts were at a loss to explain the epic journey but, reading between the lines, they're a little worried about his prospects. Amy said he was just lying there. Obviously exhausted. To Americans, it's bizarre that he's just being left there. He'd have been off to Marineland with a line of souvenir stuffed animals already in production. The Kiwis who came out to see him gave him his space and weren't poking or prodding him.(There definitely should have been cones around him, though.) But, still, you'd think the marine biologists would at least want to feed him, make sure he wasn't dehydrated.
Not to mention study why he might have made the voyage in the first place? From their comments in the paper they seem to be hoping that he's going to regroup - he's bloody boiling up here, apparently - and head home. But is that really likely?
Let's just assume that he's going to be taken care of by people who know more about this sort of thing that just "throw him a fish."
The natural question is, what's he doing up here? In the movie of the same name, Nemo was dared by his friends to swim beyond the reef. He did, and nothing good came of that. So, while Amy dubbed the Emperor who, incidentally, weighs about 22 pounds, Wally, I think he's more of a Nemo. He obviously thought there had to be more to life than the eternal ice and made a break for it.
Amy, incidentally, also pointed out that it was just like a man not to stop and ask for directions.
It reminds me of the joke about the young polar bear who went to his mother to ask her if she was certain that he was a pureblood polar bear. She assured him he was, but said that if he didn't believe her to go and ask his father. He did. He received the same answer. He pushed, asking his father if he was sure. A hundred percent pure? No brown bear or Koala in his family tree? His father harrumphed that there had been no such thing, but asked, "Why are you so fixated on this, son?"
"Because I'm bloody freezing, dad."
Maybe, despite global warming, Nemo was just cold. Whatever the reason, I hope he makes it - through the "balmy" New Zealand winter and back to his people.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
While I can think of a few folks who'd like to live in a country called Liquorland, I'm not sure how many undecideds might be swayed into an impulse buy from a store so named.
From our very first weekend in New Zealand, we've been struck by the simple forcefulness - read dull and uncreative - names of booze shops.
For no apparent reason other than he thought it funny, Ewan, then 10, immediately began doing a drunken rendition of "Liquorland" when he first caught sight of the sign. He still bursts into slurred and disturbing speech every time we drive past a store of this franchise.
I actually quite like Liquor King, because it sounds like a verb. "What were you doing last night, mate?"
"Oh, not much, just out on the town lickorking." If that doesn't elicit a knowing nudge-nudge-wink-wink then I'm giving up powerful coinage forever.
"How was the party?"
"It was a great lickorking."
You'd think in such a competitive business someone would spring for some dollars to hire a marketing company to come up with something better than this stuff. I didn't have to hunt high and low for these. This is pretty much the market.
I suppose it gets to the point. Last thing you want to be doing when you want some "liquor" is to have to guess what a store sells. And it's certainly better than the forced cuteness of beauty salon names in the States, which sometimes make me gag. (You can insert your own awful favorites here, if you want, like the "Mane Event" or ... oh, never mind. Just gagged again.)
But it's a little blunt. You don't even have an excuse going into this store. "Oh, I was just in there for some soda and bitters." No, just liquor. Nothing else.
Better than "Brown Paper Bag Provided." But only just. It's kind of implied.
At least "Liquor Plus" gives you some cover, some semblance of legitimacy. Except it probably sells liquor plus tobacco.
And that's all I've got to say about that. Perhaps I should title this post, "Just Crap." Or "Crap Plus." Simple. Effective. True. But it's the best I could do sober.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
The headline says it all - and says nothing. And, if the above picture doesn't tell the story, then perhaps the one below does:
Wellington threw everything it had at Morgan - but couldn't stop him. Two weeks of sickness tried its best, but didn't stop him. At 14, Morgan is a Marathon Man. He said that after the first mile he didn't think he'd be able to finish. Everything hurt. He was coughing. And then the foul wind roared in, bringing horizontal rain. It was the cruelest thing to do. When I saw him at the half-way point, I was worried for him. There was such a long way to go. But then he said, "I'll see you at the finish line." By God, he's going to do it, I thought.
My heart, briefly buoyed, sank when I drove past Evans Bay. This was the devil wind's playground. Whitecaps roared to shore and the sadistic wind whistled with glee. The long stretch of Evans Bay is Morgan's nemesis. He hates it, and when I saw it today, so angry and violent, I simply thought it would finish him.
It would have finished me. It's not as if running 26.2 miles isn't insult enough to the body. Now you gotta be cold too? Now you gotta have a wind that is like a physical counterpunch try to drive you backwards when all you want to do is creep towards the finish line one step at a time?
As I waited atop the ramp outside Westpac stadium, the rain running down the back of my neck and into my shoes and the wind driving me into the fence, I kept checking my phone. I was expecting the call any minute, "Dad, I can't do it. Can you come and pick me up?" There would have been no shame in it. Hell, I was half tempted to go and get him, make it easy for him, let him get warm. The minutes ticked away, and I began to seriously worry. Then some woman standing beside me told her friends how she'd had to tend to a runner who'd collapsed on the course. In agonizing detail she told of how he had passed out. How hurt he was.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. "Was it a young guy?" I asked.
"No, mate. An old guy." The sweetest words.
Still, the seed had been planted. Good God, could the wind not let up for one minute?
The clock kept going, mercilessly.
But then, off in the distance, that unmistakeable, loping stride. God, he was still running. I yelled so loudly the woman beside me jumped out of her skin. But Morgan heard and raised his hand wearily. I hollered like an Appalachian drunk on moonshine. He picked up his pace a little, but the wind was so strong and the ramp back up to the stadium so steep.
I ran beside him as he headed for the finish line. Then some annoying woman began to sprint to try to catch him - hey, leave it out on the course, lady. Morgan heard her and - good for him - was having none of it.
Yes, he finished with a sprint. He held her off. And now he can really start dreaming of South America.
Five U.S. Marines did the marathon too. As I was heading back to get the car, one of them said, "How old's your son again?" When I told him, he said, "Damn. That's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, sir. Tell your son congratulations from all the Marines."
Now if that ain't a fine compliment, I don't know what is. Not that it matters, but he did it in 4 hours and 33 minutes.
(Morgan has now written his blog about his Wellington Marathon. You can read it here.)
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Wet and muddy were the prevailing conditions of the day as Morgan's Rugby team took on a squad from up the road. I must say it was the first time I've been surrounded by a group of folks speaking Polynesian. It's a beautiful language. While we didn't get a haka, we did get a nice song. It was a rough and tough game and both teams gave their all, with the opposition winning 27-24 on almost the last kick of the game. I had a few flashbacks to my own schoolboy days: the smell of sodden grass, the squelch of mud under foot and obnoxious parents shouting helpful things like, "low and hard, boys." It was a real New Zealand day for me. Wild weather, rolling hills with the ocean drawing a flat line across the horizon, Polynesian culture all around, and Rugby.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Shrek, New Zealand's most famous sheep - and the World No. 2 - has earned himself his place in Te Papa, the country's national museum.
I told you all about Shrek and his tremendous "going rogue/going Afro" fame recently. That boy, for he was not really a sheep, his owner said, worked his way onto the country's stage and into its heart. It is only fitting that he be honored at Te Papa, Maori for "our place."
Don't get me wrong, I'm an admirer of Shrek. The only reason I refer to him as the World No. 2 is because, having been born in Scotland, I must obviously give a nod to Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned.
Credit where credit is due. Any sheep named after Dolly Parton's biggest assets deserves never to be forgotten. (Dolly was derived from a cell from one of her three mothers' mammory glands. Hence the name.)
Clearly it does no good for the stereotype of either country for me to begin a sheep-bragging contest. (Note please, for the record, that I said bragging.) A Kiwi friend of mine told me that, upon entering a tavern in Australia, he was asked where he was from. Upon proudly delivering his answer, he was greeted by a chorus of "sheep shagger."
During my travels to England in my formative years I heard a lot worse. I have no idea why. Billy Connolly was always such a good ambassador for Scotland:
I know I'm walking on very thin ice here and so will not fall through into the treacherous waters of telling my sheep jokes. I think I can retreat from this post with some dignity intact if I quit now.
All I wanted to say was, "Congrats, Shrek, but don't forget Dolly." If Shrek and Dolly got together in heaven, would that automatically be a threesome? Oh, oh. It doesn't count if I made it up. Stopping now.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
After September's earthquake Christ Church Cathedral stood as a symbol of proud resilience, largely undamaged by the 7.2 assault.
After the February 22 hammer blow that leveled its spire, civic organizers vowed to rebuild the cathedral, promising that it would be the spirit of Christchurch's rebirth.
But Monday's two massive hits - combined with the Chinese water torture of the hundreds of other aftershocks - have seemingly done the unthinkable: forced the cathedral's clergy to acknowledge that the cathedral may have to be deconsecrated and completely demolished - to be rebuilt elsewhere. Further west, perhaps at the heart of the new Christchurch whose center looks likely to shift outwards. Monday's assault destroyed the beautiful Rose Window and much of the west wall on an already deeply wounded edifice.
Stupendous - for the residents of the Garden City and for the millions of visitors for whom the cathedral was, simply put, Christchurch. It was the icon, the heart, the soul of the city. If all the millions of words and photographs about Christchurch's struggles haven't captured the grinding, unceasing nature of its current troubles, this surely must.
Christ Church Cathedral, two days before the Feb. 22 earthquake.
The cathedral, consecrated in 1881, may have to come down and be rebuilt elsewhere.
"If the city moves west, then the cathedral needs to be at the heart of the city," Dean Peter Beck told the Christchurch Press. "The Cathedral in the Square has been in the heart of our city almost from the beginning, but wherever the heart of the city is, that is where we will be."
Bishop Victoria Matthews, in the same article, said she had "every expectation" of rebuilding in Cathedral Square but "would be a fool if [she] didn't think of every possible outcome."
No decision has yet been made, but even the talking about it feels like something major, something fateful. And yet the determination to rebuild - wherever, whenever and however, remains their North Star.
Christ Church Cathedral is, of course, not the only church facing troubles. Dozens have been mortally damaged in the series of quakes.
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, which I saw erupt into a cloud of dust on February 22, is also hanging in the balance. The fate of its dome, further damaged on Monday, will be decided in the next day or so.
The cathedral, much to the surprise of engineers, survived Monday's aftershocks, but what happens to it in the future - like so much of Christchurch - is up in the air.
The tale of these two buildings is the most heartbreaking of tales in a city of broken hearts.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
What would you do if you knew that there was a one-in-three chance that an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 would hit you in a year?
What would you do if you lived in the foothills and cliffs towered above you?
What would you do if your kids' school bus had to drive through a tunnel on the way to and from school?
What would you do if you worked on the 10th floor of a building?
What if, what if, what if?
Well, after Monday's two large aftershocks, this is precisely what residents of Christchurch are faced with. New calculations by GNS Science show that from today until June 15 next year there is a 30 percent chance of a quake of between magnitude 6.0 and 6.9 striking Canterbury.
That calculation - those weighing of the odds - became considerably harder after Monday's bone rattlers. After September's earthquake, a 7.1, it was one thing. By Feb. 22 people started asking questions: was this earthquake a once-in-a-lifetime thing, or was this going to be a way of life, a hard, traumatic, sleep-deprived way of life?
What must the people of Christchurch think now? Three times they've tidied up the liquefaction and picked up their smashed or damaged possessions from around the house - if they're lucky and survived February.
There have been more than 100 aftershocks since Monday, and now you're told there's a one-in-three chance that you're going to get hit by another big one. I don't know. I just don't know.
If you see - no, if you hear - the kids in the second segment of the video below, you have to ask yourself what is happening to the children of Christchurch. What kind of scars are they living with?
The people I've heard from since Monday seem to be evenly divided. Half can't take it anymore. Half are digging in their heels and saying "hell no we won't go." They talk of the deepening sense of community, the hundreds of acts of kindness, of their deep connections to their home, of the love they feel all around them. Those leaving, are jangled and frayed. They want to worry about normal things again, about mortgages and wages. They don't want to think anymore about what they'll do if the building they're in starts shaking. They don't want to worry about sinkholes or about boulders the size of dumptrucks falling on them.
And who, really, can blame them? The few of us from Wellington who were down in Christchurch on February 22 - who've been able to psychologically rebuild away from Canterbury - have all had certain stress relapses since Monday; some worse than others.
And we've been gone for four months.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Monday's quakes tilted the Grand Chancellor even further.
Monday's now-upgraded quakes have doomed thousands of homes and 75 previously undamaged downtown buildings to oblivion. While boosters tried to keep people strong with talk of rebuilding, many spirits were broken Monday.
I've heard of quite a few people who are heading for the exits. It's hard to blame them, there have been hundreds of quakes to rattle the nerves and undo any little bits of progress.
Monday's two bigger earthquakes were upgraded to a 5.7 and a 6.3, the same size as the devastating February 22 event. But experts said the dominant energy in Monday's was horizontal as opposed to vertical. Frankly, I have no idea what that means, nor do I suppose it matters a damn to Cantabrians yet again forced to tidy up their homes and possessions.
The official organization created to supervise the reconstruction of Christchurch -which, incidentally, began its life on Monday - will be looking at what land will have to be abandoned for good. The Feb. 22 quake dropped some land too far to allow for the homes on it to be rebuilt. The prime minister today said those decisions are close at hand.
Christ Church Cathedral - the spiritual and sentimental heart of the city - sustained more damage and will now have to be taken down completely before it can be rebuilt, Mayor Bob Parker said today. Some other significant buildings were now said to be on a lean. While June 14 was "not as bad" as Feb. 22 by all accounts, it still seems to have been a mean son of a bitch.
And, perhaps most soul-destroying of all, the foul liquefaction was back, creeping into people's homes like some maloderous monster from a B-movie.
Four Paws writes that there were 57 quakes during the previous 24 hours - and 6,800 quakes in the Christchurch area this year.
To be blunt, that's bloody brutal. Trying to go about a normal day-to-day - taking the kids to school, watching rugby games - seems to be like whistling through the graveyard at night. I know I couldn't do it, not day after day; not watching the buildings above me as I walked along the pavement; not wondering if the next one would hit while I was in an elevator; not looking over my mental shoulder every day or seizing up every time there was a loud noise or a sudden movement.
I deeply admire the folks of Christchurch who love their city, their home, so much that they are willing to fight every day to stay there. I wish them well and I hope that what Prime Minister Key said today, that the June 14 quakes would not slow the pace of reconstruction, is true.
I wish it. I hope it. I even pray for it. I'm just not sure I believe it. It seems with each aftershock to become more of a Sisyphean task.
Reports from friends and on the news seem to indicate that more Cantabrians will be heading elsewhere, getting out. Mayor Parker said he understood, that for those who came to that decision it was the right one. I don't know how many will leave, how many will just get on with the task at hand. I do know that they can't deal with much more bad news. They've had enough to go around. They need a little peace. Literally, they need a little stability.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Dust rises near Christchurch after rockfalls caused by forceful aftershocks in this Christchurch Press photo.
I just can't comprehend how the poor people of Christchurch are handling this. It's been going on since September and then on Monday another series of aftershocks - the strongest came in at 6.0 - flattened more buildings, flooded streets and brought the return of the dreaded, vile liquefaction.
Luckily - incredibly - no one was killed, though a few people had to be pulled out of buildings that had collapsed around them.
If the steady stream of Twitter and facebook updates and the few reports from friends are anything to go by, many, many Cantabrians have had it. Just had it. What is the frigging point? went the refrain. Two steps forward, one step back sounds quaint enough. But when you're talking about repairs - hard fought repairs - to your building being undone in the blink of an eye, you only focus on the one step back.
The aftershocks have kept coming since the devastating February 22 earthquake, where 182 people died and which itself was an aftershock to the damaging magnitude 7.1 earthquake of last September. The February 22 quake measured magnitude 6.3 and left 100,000 homes damaged - 10,000 beyond repair. The city centre, the heart of the business district was reduced to rubble, with 900 buildings - many of them glorious old brick heritage structures - expected to be demolished.
Now, with winter upon them, more than 50,000 people are without electricity and have toxic swamps for their gardens.
As you know, Amy and I were in Christchurch for the Feb. 22 quake. The glorious old Christ Church Cathedral, whose spire Amy saw crumbling back then, has suffered more damage.
This Twitter shot shows a house destroyed by a cliff collapse.
Prime Minister John Key has vowed that this will not stop his government's determination to rebuild the Garden City. How many people will still be there, though, is the question? My blooger friend Adulcia - who recently wondered how it was possible to be homesick for a city she still lived in - put it simply, but powerfully: "You'd think we'd be getting used to this, but we're not."
How could she or anyone else? There is no normality anymore. So what's to get used to? It just seems hollow to say, yet again, hang in there.
We're thinking of you, Christchurch. We wish there was something we could do.
Two massive aftershocks - one of them 6.0 - have brought more buildings down and panic to the besieged residents of the devastated city. My heart bleeds for them. Please say prayers. Amy, the boys and I were in Wellington and are fine. Updates will follow.
Eel. The word itself - far less the animal - is shudder-inducing. Repugnant, even. And yet the eel has had a long and storied place in Maori culture.
Why, you might ask, do I bring this up? Well, I was recently told a rather disturbing story that caused me to look into all things eely.
We were talking to someone who had a property by a stream which is home to many ducks. One day he noticed a gimpy duck that seemed to have lost one of its legs.
"Oh, yes," he was told by a neighbor, "the eels in the stream sometimes chew off ducks' legs."
Like I said, shudder-inducing. The darker side of me gets a horribly comedic image in my head of a duck gently swimming along, then heading to shore for a little bite to eat - only to notice, as he topples over, that, in fact, all along he had been the snack.
I'll quickly move along before the bunny huggers amongst you - and you know who you are - become annoyed.
There are 166 words in Maori describing eels and various eely conditions. For many years the eel was a source of food and income - but also of reverence - for whole communities. Maoris hung talismans beside rivers to protect eel numbers. European newcomers liked to go eeling as a pleasant outdoor diversion but, when trout were introduced into rivers, the eel became animalis non grata, to coin a phrase in bad Latin.
Their numbers have steadily declined for many reasons, not least of which is the damming of rivers that prevents their spawning migrations to the sea.
European settlers have been aware of eels almost since the beginning of their time here - as well as the mythical qualities ascribed to them by the Maori. James Prosek notes that Captain Cook, during his 1777 voyage, "wrote the following about statements by a local Maori: 'We had another piece of intelligence from him, more correctly given, though not confirmed by our own observations, that there are snakes and lizards there of an enormous size. He said, they sometimes seize and devour men.' "
There are two indigenous eel species in New Zealand – the shortfin eel and the longfin eels. The long-fin eel, which can live up to 100 years, can be found only in New Zealand. The shortfin eel is limited more to coastal areas.
In Maori myth, the taniwha, about which I wrote earlier this week, very often takes on the form of an eel. Prosek's article talks about the sacredness of the taniwha. He quotes a local Maori wise person: “If you harm a taniwha,” Stella said, “if you spear or capture an eel that is a taniwha, it will cry like a baby or bark like a dog, or change colors. Something about it will seem strange. It will indicate that it is not like the others. If you kill a taniwha eel, you have a makutu, a curse, put on you. You start going crazy, like you’re possessed. Then you’ve broken tapu — something sacred or off limits.”
Beware the danger that lurks beneath, duckies.
The decline of the eel population and the accompanying loss of a way of life for so many is certainly something to be mourned - even if it is eels we are talking about. Some elders (as opposed to elvers) still talk fondly of the days when they built sacred ponds for the eels and fed them and tended to them. Those days are gone now, but the images of the eel are still everywhere, note top photo. At the risk of being profane, I still can't get that picture of the legless ducks out of my head. Life really is a bitch.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
There is something wonderfully poignant about ex-pat rituals - pride laced with a little nostalgia for the homeland.
The early Scottish settlers had a profound impact on New Zealand. I have written about their long and proud history in New Zealand before. There is always a note of stoic defiance when it comes to an evening celebrating the roots of the long dead ancestors from a land far away.
It was an evening of double pride for me. Having been born in Scotland, I am now an American citizen, with an American wife and two very American boys. While Amy has always embraced my Scottish heritage, the boys, stunned by Scotland's ineptitude in any sporting arena, have found little to cheer about for the Auld Country. Last night's ceilidh - a traditional Gaelic social gathering - was an occasion for them to see - perhaps even understand a little - where their old man came from. Watching them dance "Strip the Willow" and "The Dashing White Sergeant" and then breaking into group dances, which as they always have, resembled a scrum more than a graceful display of twinkling toes was wonderful. Yes, there was a little swelling of the throat.
I remember dozens of evenings like that when, as a young and awkward teen-ager, the traditional dances made it so easy to interact with young lassies without the dangers of having to actually speak. Many of the dances have long lines of men and women lined up across from each other. You then sort of fling each other about and bounce from one girl to another. It sort of rains women - or men if you're on the other side of the line - and you can have a good giggle without worrying about saying something clumsy or socially dooming.
Outside the hall, with the strains of bagpipe music drifting menacingly up the street, it was a right Scottish night. The freshness of the day's rain had long since gone and the whole town smelled damp. Cars whispered through the street-light illuminated puddles. A rugby team was returning from a post-game pub crawl singing, for some odd reason, "Somewhere over the Rainbow." (Sorry, boys, but that would never happen in Scotland.)
Not the best quality, but this young lad did an outstanding job with his address to the haggis and, as you can see, there's a guy with no shirt on.
The evening - a fund raiser for the boys' school pipe band - had a few Kiwi quirks. I have no idea why, when the Haggis was marched in, one of the attendants was shirtless and lifting weights. Perhaps it's something I missed those many years ago. He also had a large Claymore.
And the band, wonderful as it was, had no accordion. This is definitely a good thing. It took me years to develop an "appreciation" for that aspect of Scottish music. I was always jealous of the traditional Irish music; it was so mournful and elegiac. Its Scottish counterpart always sounded, well, falsely jolly and upbeat; something you'd hear in old folks' homes.
I'm not sure how much money was raised. The organizers seemed almost embarrassed - or perhaps the Scottish sense of pessimism persists out here - about their auction. There was no program for it and, by the time we left at 11 p.m., there wasn't a hint that it was even imminent. Maybe that's smart, realizing that the only way to get money out of Scots is if they are a little snockered.
And, despite what all of you have heard, the haggis was good. Perhaps that's what nostalgia can do for you.