Monday, December 5, 2011

advent and adventures

You'll have to excuse me - I love Christmas - but no matter your feelings about the whole thing, you have to admit that here at the end of the world we are lucky to have a celebration that kicks off weeks of glorious summer: cicadas, melting iceblocks, sticky tar on your bare feet, sand everywhere, salty hair and salty lips, food cooked over hot flame, fish, fruit, new potatoes, children's voices playing as the sun sets, nighttime swims, music festivals, the pop of beer caps and voices in gardens.

But it's been a long year. We really need that seemingly endless summer to start right about now. The kids - all the kids, but I guess I'm speaking about mine in particular - are tired. That long third term means that the whirlwind of end-of-year stuff is squished into 7 weeks - prizegivings, assemblies, end-of-year masses, concerts, performances, picnics and discos.

Last night F (9) and Z (7) were required in the city from 7-8pm to rehearse for GLOW - a carol concert they have sung in for the last 2 years. Whatever your views on carols, shining children's faces singing sweetly is a good thing. Grumpy and underwhelmed by my recently purchased Christmas tree, I decided we would take the family, post-rehearsal, to the Telecom Christmas Tree on Te Wero Island.

Best decision ever. Well, apart from choosing this chap. It was a glorious evening, cooling from a hot day, with a purple and orange sky. We wandered past diners and drinkers at the Viaduct to the quieter Te Wero, last visisted as location of Waka Maori, and sat beneath the tree.

The kids spoke to Santa, several times each. Even B (14) had things to tell him. They leapt on beanbags and disrupted the peace and watched the boats and told tall tales and laughed and laughed and laughed. B busted out her funny voices and had her siblings speechless with laughter.

We were still laughing, celebratory ice creams all consumed, at half past nine when we arrived home to bundle kids into bed and collapse on the couch. A weight lifted by a stroll through our gorgeous city, and by laughter.

Tonight, they're due in the city at 7 pm once more, but this time we'll leave them with their choir companions and musicians while we sneak off to the opening of the Stoneleigh Summer Series - music, wine and great food near the water, a wonderful wander into that waiting time before Christmas, and the holiday that follows.

Best of the season to you and yours.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What to do this weekend

I loved Auckland (New Zealand, in fact)during the months of September and October. A sense of burgeoning, tentative city-hood was almost tangible: Wynyard Quarter opened, and we were there, three kids in tow, to walk the windy bridge and wander over to the Viaduct past art and playgrounds and super yachts. The Art Gallery re-opened, and we were there, with those ubiquitous three kids delighted at the gorgeous kinetic sculpture in the foyer, intrigued by the New Zealand contemporary art that leads the viewer into a upwards spiral towards our treasures, excited to spot the little details and motifs in the building itself (tiny carved ammonites are scattered throughout the stone at different levels, a budding archeologist’s dream). We grown-ups felt like we were seeing old friends again after too many years’ absence.

Flags began to be scattered over my city. The first ones to make their mark were red and white or red and blue, as Tongan and Samoan New Zealanders embraced a chance to be both not either, to be a hyphenated multi-faceted nationality. I love flags. It’s not a patriotism thing – it’s
aesthetic. Flapping bright colours, each colour or motif a symbol: perfect for someone who likes to read too much into things. We joined in, bought flags, and decorated.

Then the roads closed and that certain sporting event opened. Outside the Ferry Building on Quay St at 5 o’clock on opening night, straining to see the waka arrive on the big screen was, well,
slightly cramped. But we were glad to be there, in the middle of things, as the city, nation, shared with the world our manaakitanga. We ducked home in time to feed those three kids & watch the opening ceremony, nip up the road for the fireworks and then back into the living room for the first game.

Those first few weeks were the best. While the ‘minnows’ played and my kids crossed their fingers that they would get points on the board or that the bigger teams wouldn’t beat them by too much. There were characters in each team – we particularly liked the beards in the Canadian
and French teams – and we loved seeing them tear up as they sang their national anthems. Watching two Pacific teams do opposing haka seemed the pinnacle of what was great about that time – uniquely Pacific, tangata whenua hosting with manaakitanga, a Kiwi sense of sticking up for the little guy, of fair play.

We kept going back to Queens Wharf, relishing the chance to walk on wide boulevards with no cars, as Aucklanders and visitors rode bikes and wore their nations’ colours and talked rugby. Waka Māori opened, and we took an Australian guest – a cousin’s daughter, so in the New
Zealand vernacular, a cuzzie – to visit. Eating sausage & bread & sauce under the shadow of the waka felt right.

I was sad as the little teams left, their dreams of upset glory over. The discourse became more focused on winning, instead of the game itself, which was the winner on the day during the pool
play. But we walked the fan trail on grand final night, kids kitted out in black with All Blacks tattoos, and then raced home to eat slow-roasted lamb and watch the game.

We crammed onto Queen St in the bright sunshine the following day to watch the triumph of the All Blacks. Standing in platforms with a seven-year old on your shoulders for an hour is not
recommended. But the smiles on the kids’ faces were worth it, though poor Felix was slightly sad that he couldn’t get his ball signed. (I had to hold that damn ball for him while he cheered on dad’s shoulders.)

And then it was over.

Cars drive on Quay St again and the flags have disappeared from cars and the malls put their Christmas decorations up before the end of October and we’re all being urged to buy stuff we don’t need or vote for someone we don’t really know.

I’d like to try to hold on to what we had, at that moment before pool play was over, when we were a vibrant Pacific city, girded with gaudy colours, taking in guests and strangers, feeding each other, walking our city through art and spectacle, Occupy Aotea Square next to an army band. That’s the city I live in. That’s my Auckland, my New Zealand.

So Saturday, we’ll walk, with those poor three kids who get dragged everywhere, up to the church on the corner to cast our votes. We won’t tweet about it, just in case the Electoral Commission is
listening. Then we’ll wander somewhere, to one of the jewels of Tāmaki Makaurau – maybe a beach - and head home to make turkey in honour of a rugby minnow that is a big fish on the rest of the world stage. Then we’ll watch to see what kind of country the rest of New Zealand want to live in.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Taonga Tapu: my subjective postion

This is, I guess,a continuation of my previous post - because what will follow is me stating my subject position and contextualising why I think, feel and respond to the Te Papa story in the way I do.

I'm a historian. A writer. I am do this because the past, and objects from the past, have, and always have had, meaning to me that I cannot rationalise or easily explain. Example: age ten, giggling and excited, I enter Notre Dame. Tourists throng on the cobbles. I look up and see the Rose Window. I am silent. Filled with an unknown feeling of terror, awe, pleasure and sadness. People made this. It had immutable meanings to them. Their effort, their mahi (work), their lives - seem to speak to me out of the past.

Example: Age 23, at a Passover seder, I meet a survivor. I shake his hand and the numbers on his arm fill me with tears, coldness, horror. That tattoo is the signifier, to me, of extreme evil. He wears it as an old friend, something he carries to ensure that the past cannot be forgotten.

Example: It is November, any year since I became an adult. I take out my folder of recipes and begin to make courimbiades, the Greek shortbread that my mother made every year. She is dead. She died eight years ago. I can feel her next to me, with me, as I watch my children shape the biscuits and insert the cloves.

Example: I am in the Auckland War Memorial Museum storage area, locating objects for inclusion in a book I am editing. We want to re-photograph many of the taonga, since the images from the previous edition of the book are very old. I don't wear gloves; neither does the curator. We touch the ancient bone, pounamu, wood with our bare hands so that our wairua can speak to the wairua of the object; the mana of the person who made it. I go into the area reserved for korowai; the curator asks me if I would like to try on a beautiful cloak made by Dame Rangimarie Hetet. Wearing it, I feel open, like a conduit, a doorway to the past.

I'll stop. You get the picture. For me, the past is palpable. And sacred. Things people have made, loved, touched, preserved, discarded - these things are powerful and carry within them the wairua of those who have interacted with them over time.

So - Te Papa. A few facts first: the taonga under contention are items that will never be displayed. The Museum holds them as kaitiaki; they are to be accessed only by the whanau and hapu that gifted them. There will never be a need to exclude members of the public, in a public exhibition context, from viewing them. There is little public understanding of this aspect of a musuem's role - preservation without public display.

The edict restricting access was advice; perhaps badly worded. However, those invited are all museum workers, aware of the context for the advice.

I am a feminist; how could I not be. I abhor cultural relativism. The edict, with the implications that women employees may have to pass on personal information to employers or co-workers, makes me uncomfortable.

But I'm also highly aware that objects do have power; and that we ignore this at our peril. I don't go into the Holocaust Gallery at the Auckland Musuem, despite this being my area of research. The objects there displayed have too much power for me to cope with interacting with them regularly. I go in once a year, on Yom HaShoah; I take my children; I explain.

So the brouhaha has me conflicted; however, I know that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Horatio. So I happily embrace the conflict. Objects have power; the past never leaves us; men and women are equal in their abilities and rights; peoples have differing ways of respecting and understanding the past; New Zealand re-negotiates our understandings of the past continuously.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

scratching the surface

It seems that I had, once again, forgotten that, when writing for a job, it is very hard to make the time to write in order to live, if you (and Henry Fielding) will excuse the mixed allusions. That's all I'm going to say about that.

I'm also going to - largely - ignore this week's controversy about someone I've long loathed - and instead, attempt to use the flurry of discussion about what consitutes racism in New Zealand as an entry into some stuff I've been thinking about. Unfortunately, it's not very trivial.

Henry's initial apology threw the conversation, for me, into another discourse entirely - with his self-deprecating reference to being "half a gippo", Henry, inadvertantly I might add, inserted this media fracas within the context of ancient and modern trauma. The persecution and maltreatment of the Roma people in Europe is well-documented - and still going on - and yet here in Aotearoa/New Zealand we have little understanding or knowledge of that past.

Which brings me to my point, I guess. Henry's classification of the New Zealand-born of Indian (by way of Fiji) descent Sir Anand Satyanand as failing to look like a 'real' New Zealander is, I consider, born out of the same stance that sees thousands clamouring to call themselves 'New Zealanders' on their census forms, or those who reject the unique nomenclature of Pakeha. It's a stance that refuses to recognise the diversity and depth of places we came from - sometimes centuries ago. This attitude sees the Prime Minister very rarely described as the son of a Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, and the son of an English migrant; his past is glossed over, and we have presented to us the self-made man - from state house to Parnell mansion in a lifetime.

That's not John Key's fault - this absence of back story is becoming increasingly common. Where once we had Michael King outlining his personal subject position each time he wrote - be it an article or a book - we now have Paul Moon slamming He Whakaputanga in the Herald without more than a Professor of History byline. I like the backstory, the subject position, the acknowledgement that we all write, or think, or feel, with some influence from the past - whether we have constructed ourselves anew in opposition to it or embrace the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

So I'm just wondering if we reclaimed this practise - an acknowledgement of whakapapa - we'd be less likely to think that saying so-and-so doesn't look like a 'real' New Zealander is not racism. We'd recognise that for what it is - the dismissal of a person's contribution based on an attribute about themselves that they cannot change and for which they are not responsible. We'd start judging those in the public sphere - be that the media or government - on character; that aspect of self for which we are responsible.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Today, Wednesday 3 March 2010, is new beginning. Yesterday I quit my job. (obviously I have to work out notice yadda yadda yadda so I'm actually still at my desk) But today signifies the start of the next four or so years of my life: researching and writing my PhD.

At the moment the proposed topic is kind of large and shapeless and a bit like something a nun would wear on her day off (except slightly more chic, I hope) . . . . I'm interested in the trickster/klutz/minstrel persona of the (apparently) unreliable narrator; and how that might link to the buried or voiceless authors within 'historical' narratives of slavery and capture. There's a whole bunch of texts that I might look at: Schwarz-Bart's The Last of the Just; Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse; Twilight (yes, really); Jim Henson's The Story Teller.

But the die is cast: I have entered my wee proposal, amoeba-like as it is, into the online portal, and now await word from the English Department. I think they'll have me. After that, I have to meet with potential supervisors, and well, start actually thinking and reading and writing. I can't wait!

In case you are worried re funds for the purchase of shoes that make me happy - I am now on contract in another part of the University, doing research and research project management - something MUCH MORE like what I love doing. Not so many hours - so I will blog. And rant. And procrastinate. And try to finish the Nanowrimo novel. And spend more time with people I love. And cook. And procrastinate some more.

I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

what happened to the last two weeks?

In an amazing display of un-timeliness, those that I work for remembered that I'm good at writing, and asked me to do rather A LOT of it. In the last two weeks, I have written two fifteen page development plans for thematic research initiatives, two submissions to Government, about four fake Evidence Portfolios, and a plethora of smaller stuff . . . .

Thus, I'm a TAD behind on ye olde Nanowrimo - but I am not disheartened. I've written another 2000 words today on *the book* and will just keep on at it throughout the summer. Come February, I will be revising the first draft. That's a promise.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

losing my momentum . . . and finding it again

I've been a bit quiet - perhaps because my momentum got lost in a plethora of actual work, and, I have to admit, a fabulous busy weekend with parties and friends . . . . ooops.

However, thanks to Andrea's mean words, I am now reinvigorated, and have written my first 250 words of the day - I am planning several blocks like that interspersed with writing a "roadmap" (it's a metaphor, I think). Fortunately, mine is not on nanotechnology: it is on indigenous knowledges, peoples and identities, which is actually probably harder to "map" than nanotech.

My hiatus has also been caused by the nature of what I'm writing. I got stuck in a literary bog of hopelessness and despair as I tried to write the first person account of the Armenian genocide. I've taken heart from the fact that many of you don't write sequentially and have decided to set this section aside for a while, to be returned to in short bursts rather than total immersion, as I was getting too sad, too overcome by the horror of history, and the shortness of human memory.

Here are the things that saved me from the bog:

Thank you Martin Luther King Jr, for this quote that reminds me that there is hope in Lucine's story. It bends towards justice. I love this concept, which contains within it an image of a plant seeking light.

Then there is this: Chagall's double portrait with a glass of wine, in which the artist and his beloved reinact the joyous Jewish marriage ceremony, both Paris and the shtetl in the background. My book must do this too - show the Adana and London, the past and the future, the dead and the living.

This picture, and those words, have seen me through writing 40,000 words about slavery; they've been beside me as I wrote 20,000 words about the expulsion of Jews from Spain and Portugal; they've helped me write a conference paper on Chaim Potok's responses to the Holocaust. They'll do me right now.