Visiting the Art Deco capital of New Zealand

I achieved two bucket list items this weekend – visiting Napier and seeing one of my favourite bands live. 

I’ve wanted to visit Napier for the longest time, but have just never managed to get there – so many places, so little time! Years ago, I read about Napier’s distinctive Art Deco buildings and wanted to go see their magnificence in person. After the Canterbury earthquakes, my interest was renewed – how does a city that’s been flattened by an earthquake look after it rebuilds? 

The majority of Napier city buildings were destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent fire in 1931. The rebuild started almost immediately, and took place at the height of the Art Deco period. And 85 years later, it still contains 140 of the original 165 buildings built during this period. That’s a remarkable achievement in itself – the city has ensured that the buildings have been carefully preserved – they are so colourful and interesting! 

We took a great walking tour of the city – we purchased a pamphlet from the Art Deco centre and meandered our way around, reading about the buildings’ history as we walked. It was a very well-done tour that would benefit from becoming more digital – an audio tour, or even QR codes on buildings would be fun. 

One aspect of the building decoration that I found really interesting is the prevalence of Egyptian motifs. In the pamphelt, this is explained by the fact that Tutankhamen’s tomb had been discovered in 1922, and interest in ancient Egypt was high.  If you look at some of the patterns on buildings, you can certainly see the influence. 

I thoroughly enjoyed Napier – it absolutely lived up to my expectations. 

Rise Up

Bruce Springsteen was in town last night. I was disappointed that I didn’t get to go, but it was great to see all the photos and videos from friends.

One video in particular caught me out – on the way to the gym, walking past the 185 Chairs and the former CTV site, I was moved to tears watching a video from the concert last night – Bruce singing a special tribute version of My City of Ruins.

 

He wrote the song about New York City after 9/11, but its equally fitting for Christchurch on 22/02.

There’s a blood red circle
On the cold dark ground
And the rain is falling down
The church door’s thrown open
I can hear the organ’s song
But the congregation’s gone
My city of ruins
My city of ruins
Now the sweet bells of mercy
Drift through the evening trees
Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves
The boarded up windows
The empty streets
While my brother’s down on his knees
My city of ruins
My city of ruins
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Now there’s tears on the pillow
Darlin’ where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins
My city’s in ruins
Now with these hands
With these hands
With these hands
With these hands, I pray Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for the strength Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for the faith, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for your love, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for your love, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for your faith, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
I pray for the strength, Lord
With these hands
With these hands
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up
Come on, rise up

A thing that actually represents another thing

You know how sometimes when you are mad or sad about something that isn’t that big of a deal, it’s actually about some other deep-seated unresolved issue? Like how I irrationally dislike someone and then realise it’s because they sound like / look like / act like my mother. Well, I just had this realisation about a jacket.

It was a really nice summer jacket. I got it from Farmers, it wasn’t expensive or cheap – just right. And I got it just before I left New Zealand on my big overseas adventure / voyage of discovery. So the jacket is imbued with meaning (though I never really thought about it like that until now). It was my freedom jacket. And it was a good jacket – it fitted me really well, it was super comfy, and suitable for many occasions.

So what happened to this amazing jacket, you ask yourself? I left it in the building in High Street on February 22nd, 2011. I had the presence of mind to grab my phone on the way out of the building, but nothing else. My poor little jacket was hanging on the back of my chair. I’ve been missing it every since. There have been other jackets, but none have been just right (too rustly, too short, long, tight, loose, wrong colour etc. etc.). I think right back in the recesses of my mind, the loss of my jacket is connected to everything else I lost that day.

So spring rolled around again this year and I started to really pine for my lost jacket. I went looking for one just like it – and I can’t find it. I even looked for a pattern with the idea that I could get a new one made. I’ve kind of found one similar on Etsy, and I’ve been debating with myself about getting it for a couple of months. Which is what led me to the realisation that the jacket has meaning beyond a piece of clothing.

Buying a new jacket is moving on, closure. It’s a good thing, but it’s also saying goodbye. Deep.

A new jacket for a new life
A new jacket for a new life
me, my jacket and the Corvette
Me, my jacket and the Corvette
Me, my jacket and my BFF have fun in NYC
Me, my jacket and my BFF have fun in NYC
Me and my jacket have fun on a rooftop carpark in old Christchurch
Me and my jacket have fun on a rooftop carpark in old Christchurch
Me and my jacket visit Apple world headquarters in Cupertino, California.
Me and my jacket visit Apple world headquarters in Cupertino, California.
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My new jacket?

Ode to books

I drove passed the Central Library yesterday. It brought tears to my eyes – it was in a state of semi-demolishment.

I spent many, many happy hours amongst the books in that library. Sitting on the comfy chairs on the second floor, feet up on the heating vents. Gossiping with my friends when we were supposed to be ‘studying’. Hours and hours in the New Zealand Room looking at microfiche and microfilm. And the card indexes! Even when they introduced computers, I liked flicking through those.

History, travel, social sciences were my favourite sections. I was quite fond of magazines too – I could never afford to buy Macworld, so I would read them months out of date.

I signed both my children up for library cards there, and we’d visit in the weekend – sometimes stopping for a treat at the French Bakery across the road.

I eventually outgrew Central when I went to Canterbury University – now that’s a library!

But the Central Library holds a special place in my heart. I’m really going to miss it.

 

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The one where 20 seconds changed everything

It’s hard to know where to start this one, I have so much in my brain! Lots of people have been sharing their reflections two years on from February 22nd 2011. It’s been really good to read and listen, and consider my own thoughts and feelings now that some time has passed.

On reflection, I think I was pretty deeply traumatised for the first six months after the earthquake. I had all the classic signs – inability to concentrate, feeling restless or anxious, easily stressed, trouble sleeping, random crying. I’m glad that part has passed – as I knew it would.

But it’s been hard to move on. After a traumatic event – like when someone dies suddenly – there is a period of shock, and then grieving and a sense of loss, and then eventually a letting go. I wish I could. Sometimes people express surprise to me that it’s still at the top of my mind – something I still talk about a lot (are you sick of hearing about it? If you’re not from round here, probably).

If you were in Christchurch every day, you would understand why most of us haven’t been able to put it behind us. I’ve moved from shock, to grieving, a sense of loss, to road cones and destruction and waiting for insurance companies and EQC and being told that it’s a long road ahead. My every day starts with remembering what we’ve been through and where we are up to – I back down my driveway and have to think about what to do next – I never quite know where the roads will be closed, detouring, causing banked-up traffic. It reminds me everyday what I went through.

Sometimes people ask why don’t I just leave this dangerous, depressing place. Think about it. Would you leave your home, your job, your children, your grandchildren, your friends and extended family if you were in my shoes? That seems like the opposite of a good idea. They are what hold me together. I would be less frustrated by road cones somewhere else, but I’d be leaving my entire life behind. So for now, this is where I stay (sometimes I feel a little trapped, but it passes).

And because I’m not one to wallow in the boo-hoos, there are some great things happening too. Reality has changed, and to be honest most of it sucks, but here and there are bright little sparks of awesomeness that make it a bit better. Our wrecked city is actually looking pretty cool in places. It’s like someone bombed it and then left children to rebuild. There are strange and colourful gap fillers popping up all over the place. I love them so much – going to the city it makes me so happy to see a pavilion made from wooden pallets, a mall made from containers, a library in a fridge, a cathedral made from cardboard for goodness sake! We had the city pulled out from under us, and people have been so creative about poking bits of it back in. I hope it stays, and grows.

I sat in Latimer Square today (it was a triage zone for the city on the day) with hundreds of others today and thought about all this. People talking about their thoughts and feelings. What are my thoughts and feelings? My thought is “the recovery is taking forever, I want to move on”, and my feelings are “grief and loss and sadness and happiness”.

Those 20 seconds on February 22nd 2011 changed everything. We can’t go back and the way forward will be slow. That’s reality for me.

Living in the Green Zone

So I’m less angry now. Actually, now I think about it, not really angry at all. I’m in ‘pick up and get on with it’ mode again. Feeling a little more battered than before, but A-okay, all things considered.

The big news of the week was the government releasing information on the suburbs it has deemed potentially unrepairable (I’ll blog more about the ins-and-outs of this later). Our suburb was on that list. Not a great feeling. More detailed information was scheduled to be released on Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday morning, Stephen and I sat at the breakfast table looking on google maps at the list of suburbs in question. Which would be in the red? The most badly damaged areas were around the Avon river and Horseshoe Lake. Our lovely little suburb of Dallington sits in between these. Would they just wipe out the lot? It made me nervous. Even the usually cool, calm and collected Stephen admits to a little anxiety.

I had trouble concentrating at work that morning. It felt like a big part of our future would be decided by the announcement that afternoon. Either our house and land would be considered repairable, or it would be not. And to be honest, either option didn’t sound great.

So on Thursday afternoon we found out that we are ‘Green’. The street we live in is fine. The land is not so badly damaged by the repeated shakes since September 4th that it can’t be lived on. I was so relieved. We put so much effort and energy (and money!) into buying our house. We wanted to make ourselves a home there. A base for us and the rest of our Frompson crew to be safe and comfortable for a long time to come. To lose that, after everything else, would be so hard. But now we don’t have to worry about it.

The Red Zone, Christchurch
The Red Zone, and us

And then the reality and enormity of what was going to happen started to sink in as I drove to collect Bronwen from school on Thursday afternoon.

We are surrounded by the red zone. The houses between where we live and where Bronwen goes to school (and where Stephen grew up) will eventually be gone. Over the past couple of years we’ve driven, walked, skated and run through that area. It feels like our place.

The next few weeks and months will be interesting as it all shakes down. People will accept the offer the government has made to buy their land, and they’ll leave. The government has said they will demolish houses as people go. Within two years, the 5000+ houses will be gone, and we will live surrounded by a green belt. It’s hard to imagine.

Okay, now I’m angry

Before Monday, I was rallying. I was starting to get my mojo back, feeling much better about things. My strategy was to focus on small things that were happening so that I could see things moving forward. This helped to ease the general feeling of hopelessness that would creep in some days. So I noted the smoothed roads in my suburb, the fact that we finally had flush toilets, that we’d be moving into a new office soon.

Then Monday happened, a 5.7 and a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. More liquefaction, more flooding, more broken streets. Making a dash across town to gather my family at home. No power, water. And no flush toilet. It breaks my heart.

My first thought, when I stopped long enough to think about it, was that I’m angry. Thoroughly pissed off. Again?! We have to do all of this AGAIN?! Before Monday I was getting a level of acceptance of how my life has changed, now I’m just mad. At what? I don’t know. And that just makes it harder. Not nature. Not god. This is just a random event. There is nothing to get mad at. But I am anyway.

I know that underneath my anger is fear. The more of these destructive earthquakes we have, the less secure I feel. I lay in bed the other morning, woken by a strong jolt, thinking … “is there going to be another? Will this be ‘the one’? …”

Those thoughts don’t last long. I can’t live with them in my head for long. But I resent that they are there at all. I should be able to trust the ground underneath my feet. I should be able to take for granted my power, running water, flush toilets. I shouldn’t have to listen to children developing a new vocabulary that includes ‘liquefaction’, ‘magnitude’ and ‘munted’.

I know I’ll pick up and move on, but right now I’m just angry.

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It’s been ages

I haven’t blogged in a month, and it’s been such a busy month too. Nothing in particular has been going on, just work, family, house and social life. But I had the feeling of life passing me by without my having paused for reflection in a while, so it was time for some writing.

Life is slowly getting back to normal. In Christchurch we call it the ‘new normal’. It isn’t really normal at all. We have no city, literally. The city centre has been a no-go zone for three months now, and will continue to be so for at least the rest of this year. I miss it.

But I feel like I’m adjusting. Doing normal things again – going skating, to the movies, work, out for coffee. It’s lovely. The road outside our house has been fixed – no more bumps. That feels like a big step forward. Now all we need is a flush toilet and it really will feel normal.

The best news is that we have a new work location to move into. It’s not quite ready yet – needs fibre cables for high speed internet laid, and some renovation. But by the end of the month, we should be able to move in to a new place where we can all have a desk and a chair, and all be together again. I’m really looking forward to that!

The one where we move in

It’s been a long road, but here we are, finally in our lovely little nana house. We wanted this house as soon as we saw it. It has so much potential. It’s been well cared for, but needs an update – paint, carpets, light fittings, drapes, gardens. We have so many plans for the place I can hardly contain my excitement. I want to do everything right now, but I also want to take our time and savour the transformation at the same time.

The house isn’t without issues. There are cracks in the exterior brickwork that will require fairly major repair. The en suite bathroom has a broken waste-water pipe, making it unusable. There is a large crack in the concrete floor running the width of the house across the two main bedrooms. There are numerous hairline cracks in the concrete floor all over the house. There is no carpet, due to flooding from the broken waste pipe. And let’s not even talk about the fact that we found out today that our sewer system is not working, so we can’t flush. We’ve been given a chemical toilet, and there are portaloos in the street.

But these are all solvable problems, given enough time and energy and money – things we have in abundance. I feel very lucky to have my own little nest to share with my beloved Frompsons.

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Each day a new beginning

Every morning before I leave the house, I take a few minutes to read something from my little green bedside book. It contains words of wisdom and thoughts for the day. Each day I read, and then I contemplate. It sets me up, helps me to stay focused and calm.

This morning I picked up my little book for the first time in over a month. The page marker was stuck on February 22nd. The mediation for that day was about toleration, patience and love. Just the usual. I haven’t been able to pick the book up since that day. The first few days after the quake I was just too busy and shellshocked – out of my normal routine. Then I was too mad. I didn’t want to meditate. Then I started to miss it.

So today I picked up my little green book again and opened it to March 28th. I read this:

“Is there ever any particular spot where one can put one’s finger and say ‘it all began on that day, at such a time and such a place, with such an incident?’ … We can reflect on a particular experience and tag it a turning point…”

It made me cry, which I’ve mostly managed to avoid the last couple of weeks. February 22 was a defining moment in our lives. My little world has changed so much since then. For weeks after, nothing seemed familiar. It is very disorienting. After more than a month, my world is coming back into alignment. It’s all still new, but it’s starting to feel right again. Just in small bursts so far, but life is slowly getting back to some kind of normal.

And like everyone else in Christchurch, I just keep moving forward, making the most of what I have. I can’t put it behind me yet because I’m still living in it, but I can think about what I can learn from it, what I can gain. The reading finished in this way:

“…it’s the many parts of our lives, past and present, that guarantee us the turning points that nudge us further up the mountain. We will see the summit and we will understand how, each time we stumbled, new strength was gained.”

It comforted me to think about it in this way.