As planned, I walked right up to the top of the hill yesterday. That is, up the Rapaki track which is a 4.2 km long graded farm track (and another 4.2 km back down, of course). It is one of the easier tracks up to the Summit Road, which winds it way round the summit of the Crater Rim - Banks Peninsula consisting largely of two very extinct volcanoes. Lyttleton Harbour is the harbour for Christchurch and it is situated in the crater of one of the extinct volcanoes, the other is Akaroa Harbour, a pretty little town frequented mostly by tourists.
When I walk up here I think sometimes of the early English pioneer women, who climbed up the hill from Lyttelton in their long skirts, hoops and corsets to see their new home from the top - a large flat swamp. Some of them must have felt very disappointed. Especially since two Scots brothers had arrived before them and claimed the best bits of land. Nevertheless the pioneers proceeded to drain the swamp and build what is now the large (by New Zealand standards) city of Christchurch.
This is a part of Lyttelton harbour from the summit, showing the small settlement of Rapaki, which was in earlier days a Maori village. (There is still a marae there). The town of Lyttelton is out of sight, below the hill to the left.
Looking back down the side I had come from, towards the estuary. The ponds are a large wildlife reserve - ummm - sewage oxidation ponds -ummm - wildlife reserve sounds better, don't you think?
Both the road and the walkway continue round the summit. The trees are New Zealand cabbage tree (Maori name ti tree).
This was taken when I was nearly back down to the beginning of the track, showing the city of Christchurch. In the centre of the photo is a fairly prominent straight road. My house is about a block and a half to the right of that road, in the green area (close up, it doesn't look quite so green - there are plenty of houses hidden by the trees).
I decided that it was time to face facts and go on a diet. I've decided this before, but I seem to be sticking to it this time. So far I've lost nearly 5 kilograms (11 pounds), and I feel prepared to keep on with a healthier way of eating and exercising for a year if that's what it takes to get to where I want to be. I've made the same decision before, but I've deluded myself. If I "cut back", I thought, I'll lose weight. If I don't buy that chocolate bar, I can still have dessert. I can have biscuits with my morning tea, if I don't nibble while I'm getting dinner. It didn't work. If I ate one, it was too tempting to have two, and the weight loss was so slow that it bored me. The truth is less palatable but in some ways easier. It's not a matter of "cutting back" a little, big changes are needed.
Lately I've been seeing the same sort of story in relation to another area. It's a comforting story, suitable for bedtime, because it won't disturb our sleep too much. It's about global warming. If we all cut back a little, it's suggested, we can do our bit to save the planet. Plan to do all your errands in one trip and save one car journey a week. Walk a few blocks if your journey is short. Put on an extra jersey before you turn the heating up. I can't help feeling this is going to be as successful as my earlier attempts at dieting. "Cutting back" just isn't enough. After all, petrol is expensive. I do all these things anyway, to save money. Whenever we have a winter where electricity is short, because our hydro lakes are at low levels, the same tired suggestions are trotted out - keep the lids on the pots when they are boiling, insulate your hot water cylinder, turn off the lights when you leave the room - and I think "don't they know we do all that already?"
The problem is self-interest. At least when I change my diet, I know that I will see the benefit of giving up chocolate. I give up chocolate (and other sweet, fatty foods) and I get thinner - even if everyone around me is still eating these things and still overweight. But what are the big changes I can make to prevent global warming? I could give up my car completely. Using public transport would cost me an extra hour or two in travel a day, and I would save little money (I know, I've calculated it). I could give up overseas travel. Others around me flit off for a weekend in Australia here and there - shopping in Sydney, or sun on the Gold Coast. I've looked forward all my life to one big trip to the UK, and it looks as if it will finally happen. I could refuse to go, but it won't change the number of flights the airlines make, if I'm the only one who makes the decision. I could sacrifice hugely for no overall benefit. I'm only likely to make changes in one of two circumstances: firstly, if I really believe that enough other people are making the same changes, and secondly (and more importantly) if I can see a short-term benefit for myself. If petrol was expensive enough, and public transport convenient enough, I might give up my car, for instance, to save money.
But it's not, so for the moment I do little. And I try and believe those comforting bedtime stories - to believe that when I walk a few blocks, or combine several errands in one trip, I really do make enough of a difference.
1. It has been pointed out to me that the Vegemite story I reported the other day is false. Here is the website I was pointed to. After reading it, I can't say that I am completely reassured. It does say that the FDA is not targeting Vegemite, but it also says that in the US folate is only permitted to be added to breads and cereals. So whether Vegemite is technically permitted or not, depends on whether it contains a lot of folate naturally or whether it has been added to boost levels. It seems a lot of fuss over a vitamin. After all, no one can eat this spread in more than small quantities, the taste is too strong!
2. I thought it was time for a photo. Nothing too exciting, but this is the hill I have been walking up a few times a week recently.
It seems to be getting easier. Maybe it's time to move to a steeper route. Or was that just the strong wind at my back yesterday? Of course, I am one of the few walkers - lots of people bike up, or jog up. This is near the top where the path levels out before the final rise. I stop just before the final rise and go back down, but one day soon I will go right to the top and take photos of the harbour down the other side.
3. The other day in a bookshop I picked up a small booklet entitled "Premier New Zealand Bestsellers". I was interested to read the sales figures required to be listed. They alter depending on the category: fiction, poetry, non fiction or children's and teen's. Non fiction requires 10,000 for bronze, on through silver and gold up to 100,000 for platinum. Fiction requires 5000 for bronze and 50,000 for platinum whereas poetry requires sales of 1,000 copies for bronze and 5,000 for platinum. This is New Zealand, we only have 4 million people. Still, the figures intrigued me enough to look and see which poetry books had managed to sell 1000 copies. Surely there would be a reasonable number of them? After all our small poetry group put together a book with a print run of 200, which is almost sold out (though some were freebies, review copies etc).
Sadly, I found only three poetry books in the whole list. One platinum bestseller: "Playing God" by Glenn Colquhoun. Well, at least he is a "serious" poet by which I mean that he writes poetry that is taken seriously by the academic poets. He is a doctor, and this particular book contains poems that are informed by his experiences as a doctor. I, and a number of my friends, believe his poetry is overrated. Clearly others don't agree with us.
I went on to find two poetry books listed as gold bestsellers: "Big Weather" which is an anthology of poems about Wellington. There have been similar anthologies of poems for other cities in New Zealand, but they don't rate a mention. Did this one get better publicity or are Wellingtonians more enthusiastic readers of poetry? The other is "Nursery Rhymes Mother Never Read You" by Garrick Tremain. I've seen an extract or two and these are definitely on the populist side of poetry - verse perhaps, rather than poetry, but well done and a lot of fun.
Silver and bronze bestsellers? None. Unless you count a couple of anthologies in the "children's" categories.
Hey everybody! I'm doing my bit. I think I buy more poetry books than anything else. It would be good to think there is actually a market for poetry.
Other bestsellers? Movie buffs will recognise "Once Were Warriors" by Alan Duff and "The Whale Rider" by Witi Ihimaera among the platinum fiction. The other two in this category were one further book for each of these two authors. Among the children's platinum bestsellers, Hairy Maclary was heavily represented. Non-fiction? The top of the list was New Zealand's favourite cookery book, the Edmonds Cookery Book. No real surprise there. Cookery books in general were well represented. Second top best seller was "The Lord of the Rings Location Guidebook".
When I read the prompt for this week I was sitting, of course at my computer screen. Liz Elayne invited us to find inspiration in a place where we spend most of our time. I spend quite a bit of time in fromt of the computer, of course. Could I find inspiration for a poem on my screen? Well, it brings me a lot of poetry from all around the world, but I didn't think that's where my own inspiration comes from, so I went out to pull weeds in my garden. I dug and pulled and heaped the weeds on top of an old rabbit hutch until the pile was about ready to topple over. It was a grey moist day, and I found myself thinking of the blue skies of a few days earlier, with their banks of flaked fish clouds. I uncovered dark scuttly things - centipedes, beetles, spiders - which hurried away to find cover again under the leaf litter. Later, weeding in another part of the garden, I looked up to find a cat, striped dark and tawny, gazing at me. I greeted her and she streaked away. But no poems. Maybe they streaked and scuttled away with the garden creatures. Maybe another day inspiration will come.
I have been further exploring the poems of Michele Leggott, a poet I mentioned last week. So I thought I would post the poem that first interested me in her work. It is set in her kitchen, another place where I spend a lot of time (my kitchen, not hers!). It took the explanation that she has two sons for me to start unravelling the meaning of this poem.
Smile at that mountain where love was eaten on a morning when the world held still in the rain's embrace a promise of iris blue In the heart every moment a splitting of the moon in the belly picnics of sky and dancing zephyrs Be loved be happy, feed and be fattened on this - A weekend in winter lemon butter thickening over slow heat, two candy boys ecstatic on the juicer, Persian mystics on top of the fridge glinting elevation and excess Stir and shout give them (feet off the green couch right now) the works! The parrots of my soul have begun to chew sugar they turn up the deck and dance loopsville one in my arms whirled in a golden mirror
I have been exploring Michele Leggott's poetry in the spirit of last week's prompt - poetry you avoid. I think I understand the one above, somewhat, but most of the rest of it I find rather difficult. I would probably have given up, normally, but I think there is treasure in here - wonderful rich images - and so I am trying to persist. Besides, I received an alumni magazine in the mail yesterday from Auckland University where I did my master's degree, and there is an article in it on Michele (which seems like more than a coincidence). See it online here
More of her work can be found online here and here.
Years ago Australian and New Zealand vegemite lovers who took supplies of their favourite spread overseas in their luggage were sometimes stopped by suspicious customs officers. Apparently the dark brown sticky substance was mistaken for hashish (cannabis extract) - although if you are familiar with both, the smell is unmistakeably different.
Customs officers now are used to homesick Antipodeans (or those who anticipate homesickness) carrying personal supplies in their luggage. But today I saw this news story.
To sum up, the US Food and Drug Administration bans Vegemite because it contains folate. Folate is actually added to breakfast cereals in the US because it prevents neural tube defects (like spina bifida) in babies, if it is present in sufficient quantities in the diet of pregnant women. You would think, therefore, that folate is a Good Thing. However, there is a list of foods permitted to have folate added, and Vegemite is not on it. In the past, a couple of jars for personal consumption were not considered a problem. Apparently this may no longer be the case.
Haven't they got more important things to look for? Like weapons and drugs? Just as well I'm not planning a trip to the US, and I'm not that keen on Vegemite that I can't do without it.
I remember when I was about eight to ten years old, I became annoyed at something my grandmother said to me. I can't remember what it was, although I can vividly picture the location of our disagreement, on the path outside our house. I burst out with my opinion, and she looked at me, stuck for words for a brief moment, then she said "Oh, you're not a good girl, are you?", then walked off home, a block away from our house.
I remember it so vividly because it was unusual. Because of course, I normally was a good girl, that is, someone who didn't make waves, who aimed to please. And I remember it because I didn't feel in the least guilty. I felt the moral satisfaction that comes from serving a higher purpose than politeness, that is, to speak the truth. No doubt now I would find a kinder way to express myself. But once in a while we need to know how to burst out with the truth - something I am still learning, as I still prefer to fit in, to not upset people, to not disturb the peace.
There is a big difference between being a "good girl" and being a force for good in the world. "Good girls" I suspect, don't often do anything of real value. To be a good girl, you learn to be passive. But to be a force for good in the world, you have to do something with passion. Passion and passivity may come from the same Latin root word (I must look that up and check), but they are directly opposite. Good girls learn only to suppress any passion they may have. Good girls grow up to rebel against being good. But sadly, they still don't often become forces for good in the world. Good girls who kick over the traces learn to have "fun" - to enjoy sex, to party, to drink, to kick up their heels. Some of these things are worthwhile and joyful, if not overdone. But they are basically selfish - not things that make a lasting difference to the world. We need more girls (and boys) who are not taught to be good. We need to teach two things: first, follow your passion. And secondly, put yourself in someone else's shoes. It is those people who follow a passion, and who empathize with the needs of others, who really make a difference in the world.
My mother never told me to be a "good girl". Sadly, I somehow learnt that all by myself. Now, I just need to relearn what I knew in that moment in childhood: how to discern when it is better to tell the truth than to be a "good girl". And then, how to find and follow a passion.
A few years back I was visiting a craft shop, run by a cooperative of artists. I got chatting to the member on duty that day. I can't remember what led to it, but she told me how potters who buy their first kiln sometimes think that it is faulty. The kiln will reach a certain temperature and apparently stop heating up.
Clay, like water, changes state at certain temperatures. Just as ice melts, and water turns to steam, clay undergoes a change from one solid form to another. This takes energy. The kiln can't heat up further until all the clay has undergone this change of state, then the temperature will start rising again.
i couldn't help thinking that this is a perfect metaphor for personal growth. Often we try to make changes, and nothing seems to be happening. But we need to be kind to ourselves, because a great deal of change may be going on where we can't see it. All of a sudden, this process is done and then apparently magically, we are transformed. The change was happening steadily all along, we just couldn't see it.
On the other hand the changes in my garden are visible every day at the moment. A week ago our wisteria vine was like this:
Now the flowers have almost all fallen off, and it is covered with green leaves instead. On the other hand, the rhododendron is thickly covered with pink blossom. And there are ducklings on the river wherever I look:
I have been reading "Time" by Andy Goldsworthy, an artist I greatly admire. On the first page I found this:
Time and change are connected to place. Real change is best understood by staying in one place. When I travel, I see differences rather than change. I resent travelling south in early spring in case I am away from home when I see my first tree coming into leaf. If this happens, I see the leaves, but not the growth or change.
I long to travel, but in spring, like Goldsworthy, I see the value of staying in one place long enough to appreciate the changes.
We have been having trouble with our family computer network at home, and no network means no internet. I think it's finally fixed and I will be able to post this before Thursday bedtime. Still, it's only just Thursday in the US so that's OK.
Poetry Thursday this week asked us to consider "avoidance". Are there some poets we avoid, for instance, because they are too difficult? Well, I read a lot of poetry. And I know that there are some poets I skim over and then pass on to something else. But I don't take conscious note of who they are so that I can name them here. Rather, I take note of the ones I love, and read more. The others tend to sink beneath the horizon of my awareness. So it was hard for me to do the suggested assignment, to sit with a poet I avoid, try and get to know his/her poetry, and maybe write some in the same style.
I have though been reading off and on over the past couple of weeks, the poetry of Michele Leggott. One of her poems was included as an example at a workshop I went to recently, and I loved it. Only after a word or two of explanation was given though - then all the dense and tangled imagery fell into place and it made sense. Sadly, it's still the only one of her poems I feel I understand. I do intend to go back to these poems and read them some more, and try to get a feel for them. At the moment, I am restricted to enjoying individual images - fragments as short as half a line, even - without comprehending the poem.
What I tend to avoid in poetry, I think, is senselessness. Which of course is not really senselessness - it's just that the poem doesn't conform to my own sense of logic. I have sometimes been accused of explaining too much when I write. I do like a sense of mystery in a poem, but only to a degree. I have never liked to feel that I didn't understand something at all, whether it's poetry, quantum theory or anything else. I need to learn to live with, and enjoy, mystery.
Something else I tend to avoid is submitting my poems to journals. However, I sent a batch off to Turbine on Tuesday, two days before their deadline for this year's issue. A pat on the back to myself for that. I've missed out on a couple of other deadlines through procrastination.
The topic of "avoidance" reminded me of an essay I read on Poetry Daily some months back. Click here for Stephen Dunn on avoidance. A line in this essay "restraint, avoidance's mentally healthy cousin" prompted this poem:
avoidance’s mentally healthy cousin – Stephen Dunn
Restraint is the blue-eyed twin the polite, tastefully dressed one who looks around when you see fires break out and tells you “it’s not real, there’s no one running”
And don’t you just want to push her into the cupboard and slam the door, don’t you want to run into the street flinging fistfuls of yourself to the wind like the autumn trees, don’t you want to screech loud enough to shatter glass
while she sits in the cupboard pounding softly on the door
The sheets on my bed are almost worn out. It won't be long before our heels go right through. So a couple of weeks ago I treated myself to new ones. And then I went to put them on the bed, and found the fitted bottom sheet didn't fit.
Now, I have to say that I loathe and despise fitted sheets. Whoever invented them better not make it known to me, if he/she ever happens to meet me. Why? Well, for a number of reasons:
1) It makes twice as much washing. My mother always changed the sheets by washing the bottom sheet, moving the top sheet to the bottom - it's cleaner - and putting a clean top sheet on the bed. Everyone I know my age says their mothers did it that way! Well yes, I have to admit that maybe we have moved on in standards of cleanliness. The Elizabethans washed themselves about once a year, and I don't complain about the added work of having a daily shower. Still, I look at the piles of sheets in the laundry and remember the days of half as many to wash each week.
2) They are totally impossible to fold, once you get them out of the packet. So, they always come out of the linen cupboard a crumpled mess.
3) We have a water bed. (Shades of the seventies, I know, but I like it. It's warm and comfy. Actually we bought it in the eighties). Anyway, I always felt that the squishiness of the corners in a waterbed meant that a fitted sheet wouldn't stay on very well. So I never bought one for our bed before - only for the single beds. But P. said that he thought they would stay on OK. So I gave in.
4) Here's the clincher. Of course a fitted sheet has to fit. That's when I found out that not all king size beds are created equal. The sheets I bought were about six inches too narrow and about nine inches too short. Even though they were labelled "king size". Fortunately the shop was willing to take them back. (It did take P. and I about half an hour to get the unused sheet folded up and back in the packet though). Then I went looking for something else. I found three different widths of king size fitted sheet. 168 cm (5 ft 6 inches), labelled "king size", 180 cm (6 ft) labelled "king size" or "super king" depending on which shop, and 203 cm (about 6 ft 9 inches) labelled "California king". But they were all exactly the same length, which I had already established was about 9 inches too short. Back to the original plan of buying plain flat sheets. No luck there either - these days all the flat sheets are intended to go on top, so they have fancy top edges not designed for tucking in, and they are a little too short for a really generous tuck in, as well. So I came home sheetless, and rang a fabric shop - do they sell plain sheeting by the metre? Yes they do, it comes in any colour you want as long as it's white. And it comes in two widths, neither of which are anywhere near wide enough for a king size bed. I wonder how soon our feet are going to go through that thin spot? Aaargh! Any suggestions?
If I could stop time, just once, I would choose to do it next year on our planned trip to Scotland. That way, we could fit in everything I want to see and do, and still get back within the four weeks that is the most leave I am able to take from work. But of course it wouldn't work, really, as you can see in this piece of fiction (disclaimer: unedited, first draft)...
I am talking to my eccentric neighbour, who has made one of his rare excursions out of his back shed to collect his mail from the letterbox. Most days, I hear banging and whining of power tools in the shed. Delivery men bring mysterious shaped packages quite often. Once I saw the shed shimmer strangely and start to fade, then I blinked and it appeared again. I thought I was imagining things.
Today I am asking him if he can clear our letterbox of junk mail while we are away. "If only I could stop time," I say, "I'd be able to see everything I want. Four weeks just isn't enough."
A strange look appears on his face. "Maybe I can help you there. Can you keep a secret?". He invites me to his shed where he produces two strange-looking belts.
"I need someone to test these for me", he says. "You can stop time with these, but I warn you, they take a lot of power. I've only been able to store enough charge in each to do it once. When you have turned them on, you have to keep them turned on, they won't work a second time. And please keep careful records of what happened, so you can report back to me."
Naturally I am doubtful, but it won't hurt to try, will it? If nothing happens, there's no harm done. After all, I've just asked a favour of him, so we will try out his weird invention, collect our mail when we get back and tell him it didn't work.
We reach Edinburgh and check into our bed and breakfast. "Shall we try them?" Paul# asks. "No, wait till we get to the castle", I suggest. So we leave our rental car parked in the garage, and catch a bus to the castle (parking is difficult in Edinburgh, we have been told). We look at each other. "Now?" "OK". We each push the right hand button, and everything freezes. The flag fluttering in the wind is as still as if it were a photograph. I notice a small girl with an ice cream. It is falling from her cone and sits in midair between the cone and the pavement. There is a line of tourists at the ticket booth. We start to push past them. "We should pay" I say. "No, we bought Heritage passes, remember?"
Inside the castle I wonder where to go next. "Audio guides" - I point out. We try one, but of course it doesn't play. Time is frozen. Instead we take a brochure, and explore the castle. Where next? "The Museum of Scotland" says Paul. All the buses are frozen, so we walk. When we get there, there is a problem. Automatic doors. They won't open. We look around the side and back of the building. There are staff entrances, but they have electronic key pads to open them, and we don't have the combination. Then I spot an open door, with a middle-aged man halfway through it. "Excuse me" we say, squeezing past him. He rocks and almost falls over. "Sorry", says Paul, and sets him back on his feet. The museum too has audio guides. No use to us. I can't find any brochures, we will have to manage the best we can. At least there is a plan of the layout. We start on the first floor: "Prehistoric Scotland". Another automatic door, but there are people walking through and we can enter. There are traditional displays, of course, but this museum is a modern one, and there are videos, all frozen in time. We see what we can and make our way to the next section. The door to this section is closed, and we can't get through at all. We have to move on.
After we have seen what we can in the museum, I realise my feet are aching and I'm starving. We walk out into the street and look for a restaurant. At the first, there is a tempting menu on the display board. But the food is all cooked to order, and there is no-one to order from. They are all statues. Eventually we find a cafe with a selection of sandwiches and muffins. We eat, and leave money at the counter. We continue our sight seeing. But we are getting tired and it's a long walk back to the bed and breakfast.
"We can sleep anywhere we like", says Paul. "The best hotels...nobody will ever know, we can walk in and out in an instant." There is a likely looking hotel just down the street. People are queued at the desk with suitcases, they appear to be checking out.
"Excuse me," says Paul, as he takes a key from the hand of the man at the front of the queue. "Room 626" he says to me. When we find the room, the sheets are rumpled, of course, but we straighten the bed and lie down exhausted. We wake some time later - no time later, really, from a sound sleep. I am hot and sweaty, and head for the shower. I turn on the taps, but nothing happens. The water is frozen in time, too.
"I can put up with your sweat, if you can put up with mine", Paul says. "The hotel pool", I suggest. "Good idea." We swim naked, towel ourselves off and replace our somewhat crumpled clothes. "We'll need more clothes", I say. We head off and find a chain store, where we buy cheap underwear and T-shirts, leaving the money on the counter with the price tags from the clothes. We buy books from a nearby bookstore, and look at souvenirs. But the tills won't open. We can't get change, and I am running low on all but large-denomination notes. And I can't bring myself to steal. We have to economize.
Still, we manage to see a good deal of Edinburgh. What a shame that our digital cameras won't work. It may take only an instant to process a photo, but it is still time. And time has stopped. As for the research I planned to do, everything at the National Archives has been computerised. and the computers won't work, either. After three more sleeps (I would say three days, but time has stopped), we have seen all that we can see. We make the long trudge back to our bed and breakfast.
"Where next?" Paul asks.
"Dundee," I say. We pack the suitcases into our rental car, sit down and do up our seatbelts. Paul turns the key in the ignition. Nothing. We look at each other.
"The petrol won't burn, frozen in time" he says.
"Bicycles?" I suggest.
"Roller skates?" counters Paul.
We sigh. It's a long, long way to Dundee on foot. Simultaneously, our hands reach for the "off" button on our belts.
# Not his real name. This is fiction, remember?
We were also asked this week, what superpower (other than freezing time) we would choose, if we could have one. I'd like to be able to fly round the world in an instant, like Superman. Then it wouldn't matter that I can only get away for four weeks. I could flit off to Scotland (or Paris, or the Great Wall of China, or Egypt, Spain , Morocco, Peru) for a day here or there, any time I want.
When I went to the library this week I found a display of quilts on the wall. These quilts have been made by a group set up for new immigrant women. They learn sewing skills, improve their English and make friends. The quilts are made from donated fabric, but many of the women are quite particular about what colours they use, and it shows in the wonderful results.
It was difficult to get a good clear photo with the racks of books in the way. I had to stand close and photograph upwards, so the quilts came out skewed - I have straightened them as best as I could in Photoshop (no doubt an expert Photoshop user could do better).
Blogger wants me to update to the beta version - should I? I tend to operate on the assumption "if it ain't broke don't fix it". Does anyone know whether beta works any better with Safari than the old version?
One thing I've noticed lately is that I seem to have to sign in a lot more often, even though I keep ticking the "remember me" box.
This week's prompt asked us to write poetry inspired by something in a newspaper or magazine - a headline, an article, an advertisement or whatever we chose.
At a workshop a few years back we were also asked to look through magazines for inspiration, so today I am posting the poem I wrote then. The triggers for this included an article on Japanese gardens and an advertisement for health supplements which included photographs of vegetables.
At the time I wrote it my daughter had just finished two years of English teaching in Korea and was visiting Mongolia before returning to New Zealand.
These grey days, I hunger for colour. I scavenge in produce aisles, take home bags overflowing with orange-skinned mandarins, broccoli, dark as pines, purple grapes, tri-coloured capsicums.
I sip herbal tea and read your messages. Mongolia's as hot as Korea, you say, but drier. Everywhere is dusty. The vegetable soup is greasy with mutton fat, and not much fibre in it.
You will pass through Osaka on your way home, visit temples with gardens of pebbles and carefully raked sand. By the time you return the maples in our garden will be swelling with new buds.
The Japanese have a special name for it. Shinryoku - the tender new green of spring.
This week's topic at onedeepbreath is "countryside". I realised when I saw the topic that I always think of "countryside" as sheep, cows and pastures and that I find them rather boring (despite the fact that Japanese tourists in New Zealand always ooh and aah over the fluffy white sheep).
On the other hand if I take the topic to mean "outside the city" then it expands to include mountains, forests, beaches, rivers, lakes and all the vast expanse of nature. This morning Margaret, my walking buddy, and I, went to the Travis Wetlands on the fringes of the city. A swampy area has been saved from draining and development for housing and is gradually being restored to its natural state. It is a haven for birdlife. Parts of the reserve are still grazed by cattle, as some birds need shorter grasses for feeding. The area was alive and very noisy with birdlife - various species of duck, geese, pukeko (swamp hen - a New Zealand native), welcome swallows, pied stilts and others.
I was somewhat restricted for photographs by the 3x zoom on my camera and the fact that we had to keep to the walkways.
noisy traffic geese fly honking overhead come in to land
1. As an extra to the photos of the quilt exhibition I went to, I found a couple of reviews of Sue and Galina's earlier exhibition, Merging Traditions, in the magazine of an organisation called the Chrysalis Seed Trust. It can be found online here, with photos (scroll down to page 21)
2. I rang the post office about the stolen mail bag I referred to last week. Although the letter we received said that they didn't know what was in the bag, the customer service centre told me it contained "large flats" - mostly EziBuy catalogues and Avenue magazines (a local lifestyle magazine). I think the thief was probably very surprised to find his/her efforts had netted multiple copies of the same mail-order catalogue and the same magazine! You'd think they might peek, and choose a bag more likely to contain cheques and cash! I have decided that probably we are not missing anything important. I don't subscribe to the magazine, and my copy of the same mail-order catalogue arrived today.
3. I decided to try and visit all the Sunday Scribblings websites this week. I think I'll live to regret it. I've managed about twenty so far, and there are usually around seventy to ninety participants. I suppose I can always keep going for a week or two until I get to them all.
This week's assignment on Sunday Scribblings was to go out to a place where people gather, and observe someone interesting. Described the person, consider what sort of writing they could be part of.
I have to admit I am no Sherlock Holmes. I pretty much suck at being able to tell someone's whole life story from the fact they have a callous on their index finger and an inkspot on their shirt. In fact I tend not to notice details like that at all. And I am rather shy about staring too hard. You can't see much detail of a person from behind them, or taking side-on surreptitious glances. Still, I tried. Fortunately I took a peek at work on Friday to see if the topic was up yet, and it was. Normally I don't see it till Friday night since Thursday in the USA is Friday here. Since I saw it before I left work, I drove the couple of blocks to the airport carpark on my way home. An airport, after all, is a perfect place to find lots of people who are about their business which is fairly significant to them in one way or another. I stood with a group of people waiting for a flight from Auckland to disembark, and tried to decide who was interesting enough to write about.
What I found was that I can tell more about people once they actually start talking. Whether they are fat or thin, blond or dark, dressed casually or formally. they become much more interesting in relationship to each other. The girl I spotted at the last moment, wearing daffodil yellow trousers, a white camisole top and white blazer jacket, carrying a large black art folio, may have made a suitable subject if I had had more chance to watch her. But the group that interested me most was a group of three - two, initially.
What drew my attention was the end of a comment the young woman was making as I walked up: "....near the hypothalamus. Tends to cause lactation in females." And then they laughed. Hmmm....okay then. Not your usual airport conversation. The young woman was of average height, with blond hair pulled back in a pony tail. She had a face that was more oval than round, with well-defined cheekbones, and she was neither overweight nor excessively thin. She was dressed in "city casual" clothes - trousers and a hooded sweatshirt type jacket or cardigan, but not the sort of clothes you'd wear down on the farm. But then, even farmers don't wear "down on the farm" clothes to the airport. Her companion was an older man, with neat grey hair and a grey beard. He too was dressed in "smart casual" clothes. He had a burgundy coloured overnight bag and a matching wheeled suitcase. I didn't watch them too hard in case I was noticed, but I listened. Most of the rest of their conversation involved the trip from Dunedin to Christchurch - how long did it take by road, what were the options for public transport, that sort of thing. It seemed as if the young woman lives in Dunedin as she said "it took us five hours leaving in the rush hour". It seemed as if she was referring to a recent trip. She seemed quite familiar with Dunedin and the transport there.
When the flight from Auckland arrived, a young man walked towards them. He was dressed in black trousers and a short, casual zipped black jacket. He had dark hair and a rounded, crumpled looking face, slightly fleshy, although he himself seemed of normal weight. He had one shoe on, and on the other foot he had the sort of rocker that is put on over a plaster cast. He had a small black wheeled suitcase. He and the girl hugged - she kissed him on the cheek in a fairly intimate manner - and he shook hands with the older man. Then they walked off.
Here is what I think their story is: The young woman and the young man are a couple, engaged to be married perhaps. They met at high school in Christchurch, where they both came from fairly wealthy families. Perhaps they were even at boarding school, and their families were farmers. They both were horse keen riders, and that is how they met. Nowadays they don't get as much time for riding, but they still try to fit some in, and that is how the young man broke his foot - it was stomped on by a horse. The woman, of course, is a doctor. She went to medical school in Dunedin (the nearest medical school). Rather than doing her clinical training in Christchurch, she stayed in Dunedin, where she is now in her final years of clinical training or is perhaps a newly qualified doctor. The young man is a teacher. It was the last weekend of the school holidays. He had been to Auckland to visit other family members. His fiancee couldn't go with him as she had to work.
Clearly there is some sort of family event in Christchurch this weekend. Possibly a funeral, but more likely a happier occasion. Perhaps it is a reunion to celebrate 150 years since their forbears arrived in the country, or perhaps it is the 100th birthday celebrations of the girl's greatgrandmother. The older man is her uncle, also a doctor. He lives elsewhere in the country - maybe Wellington. She had clearly been delegated to meet relatives at the airport, first her uncle, and then her fiance on a later, separate flight.
What sort of story are they part of? What better than a family reunion to open a sweeping family saga, complete with flashbacks. On the other hand, maybe there will be surprising relevations that mean a dramatic change in the lives of the young couple, and it will be their story. And that's as far as I got - I haven't actually written an extract yet.
Of course I could be dead wrong (although I think I am pretty close to the mark on the medical school thing).
On Thursday between doing various errands, working on my Poetry Thursday post, and playing corporate employee at at tax seminar, I managed to fit in a visit to an exhibition by two local artists. Sue Spigel is a quiltmaker and Galina Kim is a painter in acrylics, heavily influenced by the tradition of icon painting. Recently they have been working in collaboration. Some of their works are separate works, some include panels of acrylics on canvas alongside quilted panels, and more recently Sue has been sewing the painted canvases into her quilts.
The current exhibition is called "On Pilgrimage". It results from a trip that Galina made to the Holy Land. Here are just a few of the works in the exhibition.
The quilt at the back is "Journeying Cloak for a Pilgrim" and the painting is "To St. Sabba"
The fish is painted on the fabric and black lines of machine quilting simulate a mosaic effect.
This piece is "The Burning Bush". Each of these two works have two panels of acrylic on canvas flanked by a quilted panel on each side. Sue uses a lot of printing, painting and stamping on fabric as well as some machine piecing. She has been working since the early days of quilting in New Zealand and I have seen her work grow from traditional piecing to a much more "arty" style. I didn't get many detail shots of the work, but these pieces really repay a close look. Some of the printing is of texts in different languages - Hebrew, Greek, English, Latin etc. There was a big controversy recently because she made an altar cloth for the Anglican cathedral here (a commissioned work) and it included a Sanskrit text, which some people objected to. In the end I believe a compromise was reached which allows the cloth to be used on certain occasions.
We had a letter from New Zealand Post yesterday. It says in part: "I regret to advise you of the theft of a mailbag on the 3rd of October 2006. This bag contained mail intended for delivery in your area.... Unfortunately in such situations we are unaware of the specific mail items contained in a bag. should you have been expecting a particular article ...we suggest you contact the sender..."
Of course, as my son points out, sometimes you get important mail that you didn't know you were going to get. For instance, he received a letter that he needs to produce to claim scholarship money next year. If he hadn't received the letter he wouldn't have known that he needed to have it to claim the money.
Still, I've been doing pretty well with mail in the last couple of days. I received a magazine I was expecting, and my confirmation of classes for the Quilt Symposium. Then the next day (the same day as the above letter) I received a book token in payment for a poem I had published. And then today I received a 20% discount voucher for a local fabric store - which will come in very handy, now that I know my symposium classes, for purchasing the class requirements. So I don't feel as if I am missing out on any mail - let's hope not. No lawyers searching for me to offer me a share in an inheritance from a long-lost relative, for instance. (And if there were, let's hope they'd try again if they didn't hear back!)
I was pretty happy to find that I was able to take all my first choice classes for the quilt symposium. At least, they were the ones I'd put as my first choice. My absolutely top first choice combination was impossible because they were all on the same day. and now I find they are running an extra session for one of the classes and I could do them together after all. I think I'm going to stick with what I've got, though, and not pay the extra fee to swap classes. Now, I just have to wait till January -giving me time to practise on my new machine. I put on my registration form that I didn't need to have a class on the hire machines because they are the same as the one I have. It's just that I haven't used it very much yet (I've been too busy writing poetry. I'll blame Poetry Thursday for that!)
Speaking of poetry, the latest Guardian Poetry Workshop is up. Why not give it a try? If you like the result, you can send it in - the top fifteen are published on the website each month with comments from that month's guest poet.
I've been playing at being a whiz corporate accounts person today, all dressed up in my power suit to attend a tax seminar. So I'm a little late, but I have two hours to go of Poetry Thursday here, and a lot more hours in the US. Sometimes it's useful to be in this time zone.
My poem this week is a new one written for the topic (though it's from an old germ of an idea I've had sitting round for a while) so it's very new and feels a bit rushed. Usually I take a lot longer than a couple of days to write a poem. I'm going to post it anyway and will definitely work on it some more later.
Stretch Marks You are mapped in lines on my hips. For nine months you grew. I thought that was all the stretching I had to do. You were small and close. You played beside me in the garden. On the path, a shiny trail the snails made echoed the lines on my hips. Years passed. You moved further away - to school, and further still, passport in hand. Returned, only to wander in dark lands where no one could follow. I stretch and stretch, more than I ever knew I could, wanting to hold you still, and I have stretch marks like those on the globe of my belly, shining like braided rivers that flow from the mountains over shingle beds in many channels searching for the sea.
As a bonus, here is a link to a discussion on poems about the body from the Academy of American Poets.
And here is a favourite poem from American poet Joyce Sutphen:
Coming Back to the Body
Coming back to the body, as if to a house abandoned in time of war, you find it stands as tall as you left it, the same fingers reaching back to rub the same neck.
Returning, you remember how it feels to stretch your arms to embrace another body, how the tongue clicks against the teeth, how solid voices flow into your ear.
You are relieved that what you dreamed will not come true now that you have escaped again into skin and bone. They'll never think of looking for you in the body, alive.
Wherever the body is, that's where you are now. It's the same old address you had before you went away: no miracles, no amazing improvements. You're still you.
Now that you are back, things go on the way they were meant to. No one asks the question that you couldn't answer if you wanted: Where were you hiding all those long lost years?
...about the bagpiper I encountered yesterday. Why was he up in the hills playing the pipes? I have a few suggestions and would be very glad to hear any more contributions.
1) His wife won't let him practise at home. 2) His next-door-neighbour won't let him practise at home. 3) The people in the next street won't let him practise at home. 4) He is doing scientific research into the effects of bagpipe music on sheep. 4) He is practising for an upcoming family reunion. To celebrate 150 years settlement in New Zealand his family plan to have a bagpiper lead them over a narrow mountain track to their greatgrandfather's original homestead. Therefore he has to hone his ability to play the bagpipes while walking over a narrow, hilly, stony track.
I have been checking my genealogy files that I lost a year or so ago when my hard drive died - I hadn't completely restored them It's a tedious job going through about 3000 people one at a time. So I decided it was time to take a break and head up the Port Hills for a walk this afternoon - a bit more energetic than my usual stroll round the river. I had company - not just the usual mountain bikers and joggers but this fellow:
He was on the path far below me, I zoomed in as far as I could and cropped the picture but it's still not quite clear what he was doing. It wasn't hard to hear though. He was playing the bagpipes. I hope the sheep weren't too startled!
Here's the view when I sat down and took a photograph of where I had come from:
Further up the track, two valleys join. This is the view down the other valley, the one I didn't come up. the ponds on the left side of the photo are a wildlife reserve. Or rather, they are part of the sewage treatment works! But wildlife reserve sounds so much better. I think the water is fairly clean before it finishes up in these ponds - there is no smell. The birds certainly don't seem to mind.
I can get from the bottom of the hill to the top in about fortyfive minutes. It is the rim of an extinct volcano crater. Inside the crater is the harbour on the other side. I didn't go quite all the way up today, the last bit is steep and I'm out of condition. In a few weeks, I probably will, then I'll take photos of the view from the top. I could walk to the beginning of the track in about twenty minutes, but usually I drive. I love having the hills so close to my home.
She tried hard to be like the others/she struggled to catch a ball/she never quite managed a cartwheel/after much practice she stood on her head./When she grew up she turned to science/she thought she would turn the world upside down/after a while she realised that the world had stayed in its proper place all along/and she was still standing on her head.