July 2009


There’s something about the more subtle bits of art around Wellington that I really love. Although I’ll whinge about the uglier pieces, there are a few overlooked installations that really tickle me. So, I popped out on a Winter’s day a took a few snaps of this one.

It’s called Silent People and is a cunning blend of organic and inorganic material that has always struck a cord. In particular I love the way the piles of river stones are blended into the one space, in much the same manner as humans and their environment. Or at least that is the comment I read. While we see ourselves as distinct from our surrounds, we are intimately tied in form and structure to them.

Even when that environ is something crazy like Dr Seuss trees.

As kooky as they are, Cabbage Trees are something I strongly associated with New Zealand. I remember seeing a related species in the desert in the US and being *shocked* that they grew anywhere else.

Finally, being a play on inorganic vs. non, I’ve always enjoyed the irony of the stones themselves supporting life that couldn’t exist elsewhere in the scrubbed environment of the Civic Square. Most places you’ll find that moss has been carefully removed. But here, it’s allowed to become the toupee to this particular chap, fed on pigeon crap and sheltered from strong sunlight by the trees and the library building that sits to the Northwest.

I think this about says it all, really.

Too much caramel, and the dish I used was too deep. Lesson learned.

I think I was introduced to The Cure via The Kiss in ’86? Although the album is lost in the mists of time, it was a big hit at our place. I bought a fair few more Cure albums, but the one that I mostly strongly associated with was this one:

Those haunting eyes on Fat Robbie… so, you know, “haunted”.

Anyhow, I took to listening to this tape in 1988 while on student exhange. My friends there were all New Wavers, and an album like this just made me fit right in.

Sad really.

Oh, favourite song? Fascination Street.

In the photo I can’t be more than a few weeks old. I have the pinched, compressed face of a newborn and I’m loosely swaddled. Holding me is my uncle Allan, and he’s perhaps 21 years old, holding me up close to have a look. The photo is a washy, bright hueds of 70s paper and I can clearly see the daubed paint between his eyes, the soft tones of his robes. His head is shaved, which in itself stands in stark contrast to the wild hair characteristic of the age, and he has the slightly goofy grin I have always associated with him.

After leaving New Zealand permanently Allan has somehow found first to Sydney and a job as a postman, a tale for another day, before making his way to India.  I think that like so many young people of the generation he went seeking the alternative to the conventional, tinned, artificial, medicated and sterile lifestyle of the post-War consensus. And, like so many young people of his generation, and to a degree mine, he finds himself in what was then the faded glory of the British Raj, seeking ashram and enlightenment. And there, it seems, he discovers Krishna consciousness.

While today the Hare Krishna movement has a particular association in the popular mind, in 1971 it had barely started, and Allan found the in founder of the movement, Sri Prabhupada, the guru he has been looking for. Tying himself closely to his variety of Hinduism, Allan took the name Achurya Das and became a disciple of the movement, as he continues to be today. Although, naturally, today he is the guru.

This strong tendency towards non-Christan religion among my uncles was a profound influence on me, and though I can critically say that it was in all likelihood a product of their rebellion against my grandmother’s selfish Catholicism, and the treatment they were meted at the hands of the Catholic school to which they were sent, it was also a constituent part of their own counter-culture rebellion. In point of fact, “alternative” religion blossomed in this generation, and permanently reinforced what had previously been the token agnosticism of Western political culture. No more the lip-service paid to separation of Church and State. With there now being no one true religion in the West, how was one to dominate?

Of course, in 1970s the zeitgeist was consuming the cultures of other lands as fast as it could embrace them, and Allan, again like so many young people, brought his religion back to the West, finding his way to again to Sydney in the mission to bring Krishna consciousness to the lives of other members of the British diaspora. And inadvertently, to care for my mother and I.

F,FLP

I’m sitting at a table in Papamoa, which was then some way distant from the Mount and a hamlet all its own, and looking at a poster on the wall of a cheap flat. We’re visiting my uncle David and his partner, and the poster I strongly characterise with the 70s. It is a scene of a great ice field, with a white pegasus partially collapsing under the strength of tendrils breaking through the ice and dragging it down. They are few, but wrap themselves around its legs, and up onto its rider, who is a winged man reaching one arm to the sky, hopelessly, his head thrown back from his bare chest so that you cannot see his face, his curling locks falling onto his back and shoulder. He longs to escape, but cannot.

It is the most gay poster I remember, and has always made me think of Led Zeppelin.

Strangely, in one of those oddities of inheritance, my uncles older than my mother most physically resemble my grandfather, while those younger resemble my grandmother. David is a couple of years younger than my mother, and is of an age that places him at the boundary of the Baby Boomers and the Tweeners, a generation between the Boomers and GenX. Too young to have participated in the New Zealand summer of love, he nonetheless embraced the ethos of the age whole-heartedly, it deeply influencing his perspective on life to this day.

When reading Baby Boomers, I always find myself pegging them (firstly) against the split I’ve always seen between my mother (and her older brothers), who was old enough to escape into the dangers of the world, and those Tweeners who where too young and have always existed on the cusp of the social revolution. On its coat-tails if you will. The second split is between those who pretended to understand the revolution (or who outright did not, ‘the squares’), and those who helped maintain it.

David left home and somehow found himself in Tauranga training and working in Nursing, a clear exhibition of a deep caring streak in all my mothers siblings. I often wonder whether, had things been different for her, my mother herself would have taken up a similar vocation. And it was there that she joined him after escaping the East Coast in 1973.

He tells a tale of being appalled when an ancient car trundles down his street, lurches through his driveway, and promptly dies on his front lawn. Out of the car piles my mother, a close friend (male), and two children, come to stay. In yet another coincidence this same scene is repeated 25 years later when my younger brother hauls himself out of the Queensland Desert and to David’s home in Brisbane, sans children.

But there she was, in need of help, and what was he to do? My mother, famously reliant on help and the kindness of strangers, has lived in and around Tauranga ever since, while David eventually wrapped up his growing family and departed for Australia “to escape Muldoon” in the early 80s. Although, it is also true that my grandparents moved to Tauranga to be near the grandchildren not long after my mother arrived.

And so it was that I grew up in Mount Maunganui, in a nuclear family peripatetic within the boundaries of this one region.

F,FLP

I wasn’t sure about this bit of science fiction when I first started it, having read a tweet that it “was weird”, but once I was a few pages in and starting to get Marusek’s style it became a good fun read.

Counting Heads is set on a future Earth, one that is strangely – utopian, distopian, post-apocalyptic, and about to colonise space all in the same breath. And what I found interesting is that Marusek introduces all these elements breathlessly, while also writing in undertones of social hierarchy and exploitation (affluent immortals and ‘the rest’ of humanity? how will different social cultures c0-exist in a highly technology-dependent world?), a subtle treatise on the prejudice and the nature of humanity (are clones like everyone else? ), the ultimate surveillance society, and the rights of AI.

Add to this mix a ubiquitous nanotechnology, unseen but remarked upon dangers, and unseen political manipulation driving the action? A relatively rich novel. I’m already looking foward to the next book in the series.

There is a flower called, I believe, the Black-Eyed Susan. It is a vine, and the flowers themselves are orange with an ultraviolet black circle in the centre. It has perhaps five or six large petals surrounding this centre, which falls away into the trumpet of the flower, as opposed to the stamen being extruded like a dome into the sun like Sunflower or Daisy. It is this flower, along with Jasmine, that I now most associate with my childhood.

I first remember it from a trip to Katikati, a small town in the Western Bay of Plenty. My grandmother, as obsessed with birds and gardening as she was (despite spending a suspiciously small amout of time doing the latter), had decided to take my brothers and I to “the Bird Gardens”, a tourist attraction just off the main highway and out among the kiwifruit orchards. Trips like these, for example to Rotorua to see The Trout, were a way for my grandparents to spend time with us and were something my brothers and I loved. It broadened our horizons a little, and was akin to an actual holiday, with actual treats.

The Black-Eyed Susan I’ve always associated in my mind with brown trellis for some reason. I’ve always pictured it winding its way between the diamonds of heavily-painted wood, beneath bright, crystal blue skies, the orange of the petals radiant and punctuating the red hues of the frame. I remember it in contrast to the dappled light of Willows along a walkway by a stream, and exotic finches flitting to and fro, and peacocks strutting about.

So why the Black-Eyed Susan? An uncle and his family were caring for us while my mother was away, and I had recently developed a paralysing stutter. Merely attempting to utter a word beginning with “T”, or worse, “Th” was agony, my throat locked in spasm or mouth a gaping rictus, the embarrassment of being unable to do something as simple as speak flushing my cheeks. I still stammer on occasion to this day when stressed in a particular way, and I still flush unexpectedly if thought to be caught in a lie (it is always the perception of being thought a liar that does it, even when telling God’s Own Truth).

I remember the trip out to the Bird Gardens, and my grandmother encouraging me through the stutter, chirping away to me that singing was the best way to free up my words. If I could sing something out, then the words would come, and I, all sweetness and light, would get over it. This, along with constant admonition to hold my shoulders back, was some of the more useless advice of my childhood.

Truth be told, the centre black of the Susan is the true significance of the sorry tale of my paralysis. The central trumpet of the flower captured me, representing as it did something all consuming within an otherwise happy, starkly-contrasting thing. This is because, like the Black-Eyed Susan I too had an dark centre, a cancer spreading from the inside.

So to conquer the embarrassment, to share it a little, I too pushed out darkness, and, in my indomitable, lilting, pre-pubescent way, began to swear like a sailor.

It worked a treat, though endeared me to no one, especially not  the old ladies serving Devonshire Teas.

F,FLP

My uncles were for most part conspicuous by their absence across the better part of my childhood. It was as though they waxed and waned in our lives, joining us in the Mount and departing in good order once the illusion of Nirvana was either bestowed, or departed.

Allan I remember larger than life. He is sitting on the floor of the living room of the state house in which I had been living, and is like a younger, more vital version of my grandfather. He has the same breezy nature and easy good humour. He speaks of places far beyond the limited imaginations of the people I’m surrounded by at school and in our neighbourhood, but in a way intended to always carry hidden meaning. Some of his stories take me years to understand. He is a big man, over six feet and thick about the belly and shoulders. His laugh is a booming bray, his accident weirdly American, and his glance is a contemplative, cautious optimism. He is irreverent towards all this convention that passes as wisdom in my home town, as though he sees it all as an shallow veil behind which the small people smother themselves for security.

And so there he is. Sitting on one hip, his arm propped beneath him, his legs drawn into two V, barefoot, and smiling at my brothers an I. We’re eating pizzas, then an expensive and slightly exotic dish, and the boxes are arrayed in front of us like offerings. He tells us stories of his home, Manilla, and the war to remove the dictator Marcos.

My brothers and I adore him, his family, and the sanity their being with us brings.

He has come back to New Zealand, and is in one of his many attempts to help my mother break her dependence on welfare. Spending his own money, he teaches he to make screen-printed t-shirts, and we throw ourselves into turning our state house into a production line. We are ordering blank t-shirts, phot0-emulsion chemicals, and inks. We build a workspace in the carport and are prepared to work all hours to make ourselves rich. Screen-printing was, you know, HUGE, and we’re ready to ride the wave all the way to rich-town.

But in time he has to leave, because, as always, he remains a wanderer. It is more than simply a habit, it is a way of life. He has travelled the world since he climbed that rope to escape up and out of New Zealand those many years before, and so he disappears again, an opportunity calling him away, and a glimmer of optimism about our future granting him some confidence.

My mother tries to make the business work, but in time the chemicals and dyes are stacked in the shed, and the trestle-tables we built are turned to another use. In time my mother explains it as the problem with Allan, he who can’t stick at anything long enough to make it work, and she returns to the place I remember her most from my early years; sitting behind a sewing machine and a pile of ash, her years of potential spent in undercharging rich people to serve them, to tuck and tidy clothes we can’t afford.

F,FLP

It was such a beautiful mid-winter’s day today I had to get out and document it.

Me, like most Wellingtonians has been exasperated by the awful, near-continuous runs of rainy day lately. So to see people able to actually bare some skin (though in moderation), was blissful. These photos were taken from the City-to-Sea bridge, from where you can get a fairly good view of Te Papa.

What I like about Te Papa fromthis angle is that it looks a lot like a grey ship in profile. The bow arches up, and the stern is stepped. The central part of the building looks like this cargo ship has beached itself, and decamped onto the shoreline bulging with goods.

Which, in a way, is what our ancestors did.

Here’s another photo, in which you can see one of the many pieces of poetry littering the waterfront.

Of course, there is a reason this is so good.

Because that horrible piece of crap the Hikitea isn’t obscuring the view. I’m sure it has fans, but frankly, the waterfront is far nicer without it. Sure. “Historic”. “A wonderful piece of engineering”.

But can’t we park it somewhere else?

Like maybe Petone?

If you’re not a regular reader of Bat, Bean, Bean, then let me commend the blog to you.

And this is especially the case in regard the last post.

Would that we call could write as well as Giovanni Tiso, immigrant and speaker of English as a second language.

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