Monday, November 30, 2009

St Andrew's Day

I wouldn't have known this, except that at lunchtime in South Dunedin I stumbled upon a fervent St Andrew's Day celebration, complete with kilts and bagpipes.

Many of my genes are from Scotland and my family kept many of their traditions alive. Hearing the bagpipes always makes me weep both for the belonging and for the loss and just because I love the sound.

From "In Bulgaria, St Andrew’s Day is known as Edrei (Bear’s Day). The story goes that St Andrew complained to God that he had no feast day, so God told him that any man who did not celebrate St Andrew’s Day would have to carry his own horse! In olden times housewives would throw boiled corn onto the fire to stop the bears ruining their crops. One legend records that an evil stepmother was punished by having her daughter turned into a bear."

Friday, November 27, 2009

28 November 1979 - In Memoriam

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre -
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

~ TS Eliot
(from The Four Quartets)

We have godwits

The first thing I do here every morning is throw open the curtains and look out to see what the weather is like, where is the tide at, and are there any birds?

This morning we had godwits again, lined up quite close to the house, looking for all the world as though they were staring back at me. Perhaps some of them are as interested in the monkeys as we are in them.

Recently I bought a new pair of binoculars and so had a great squiz at this small group preening themselves with their fine long bills.

But I really need a camera with a telephoto lens!

Christmas wish list!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hands up if you noticed

The Kiwi blogosphere's own Rachael King and Vanda Symon both have brand new genre novels out in time for Christmas.

No need to go offshore for your summer reading, with such good stuff so close at hand.

Personally I'd love to see both these remarkably talented, intelligent, fluent and well-read women applying their considerable writing ability to literary fiction rather than popular fiction, but that doesn't stop me enjoying their work as it is!

Cargo Cult

The waiting was over last night for devotees of Dunedin crime writer Vanda Symon. She launched her latest Sam Shephard novel Containment at the University Book Shop (or UBS as we all lovingly refer to it). There was a good gathering and the usual yummy catering the UBS is known for, with the addition of an extra-special treat - Toffee Pops! The bowl of toffee pops pictured above was replenished a few times but totally empty by the end of the evening.

There were quite a few blogs and web sites among the crowd, metonymically speaking, and it's always fun and strangely amusing to meet up in the flesh - there's something almost trangressional about the pleasure of fellow bloggers having materialised in the same location in space and time. And it's always exciting to meet someone whose blog you read and enjoy. When I introduced one fellow blogger to another one, using their real names not their blog names, the first exclaimed "Oh - but aren't you Art and My Life?!" Teehee, yes.

Optical Allusions

I just had my two-yearly eye check, during which the optometrist observed that I was shortsighted, that I was one-eyed, and that I had a blindspot. But I already knew that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Poetry PR

Last Monday: a crowd gathers by a blank black billboard, sheltering out of the brisk wind that is whistling up a Dunedin alleyway.

Former NZ Poet Laureate Michele Leggott made a flying visit to Dunedin to 'officiate' at the launch of the latest set of Phantom Poetry Posters

Poems were performed and posters were pasted up.

Current Robert Burns Fellow Michael Harlow hams it up for the paparazzi

Escaping out of the howling gale, the poets and friends repair to Circadian Rhythm for more impromptu poetry

Poem by Sandra Bell on a Phantom Poster, Door of Circadian Rhythm Cafe, Dunedin, November 2009

There was some good coverage in the media for this street poetry campaign - the Otago Daily Times gave the event space on their front page, and local rag D-Scene ran some photos of the performers and crowd in their social pages.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Loving Spoonbills

When I moved to this bay about six weeks ago, my neighbour told me "the spoonbills will arrive in a couple of weeks". And so they did. They've been here for a while, but one morning last week when I was out at the mail box by the water, a large impossibly bright white bird flew down from somewhere, and finding the tide still too high, made a lazy circle around me, just above the front lawn, and then came to rest nearby on a pile of rocks on the small beach below the sea wall. It was the closest encounter I'd ever had with a spoonbill and it was just the beginning of a superb day in birdland. That was the day the godwits arrived. I hadn't even been promised godwits, I didn't know they fed here sometimes. They've achieved the status of mythical being for me and to have a whole flock of them just out in the bay made everything OK, along the lines of "yet see the red-gold cirrus" (James K. Baxter) or "Not every man has bavarian gentians in his house" (D.H. Lawrence).

Yet see the royal spoonbills...

Not every one has bar-tailed godwits out their kitchen window...

All shall be well

And all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

~ Julian of Norwich, The Revelations of Divine Love

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

(from 'Little Gidding', Four Quartets ~ T.S. Eliot)

I remember being shocked when I first read the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, to find that she had been the first to say "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well". I knew and loved Eliot's Four Quartets, in fact at times its rhythms (and rhetoric) have offered me great personal comfort, as well as aesthetic pleasure, but I had never been a student of English Literature or 'studied' him, so at the time I wasn't aware of the degree to which he had famously 'borrowed' from cultural treasures to create some of his great works.

It didn't take long before I 'forgave' him for being a magpie, and returned to my awe and admiration.

This ancient memory from my long-ago youth has been jogged by a terrific blog post from Reading the Maps on the subject of Witi Ihimaera and TS Eliot. Maps makes an attempt to re-frame the whole 'plagiarism' argument and I applaud that.

Nice to be sent back to TS Eliot too this week as we all approach the 30th anniversary of the Erebus disaster. I didn't lose any loved one in the Air NZ crash but bizarrely on the same day it happened my unborn baby died. Reading the Four Quartets was one of my greatest comforts through that time of grieving.

Just recently I was back in that part of the country and found my son's grave, unmarked because the local authorities do not permit any monuments on multiple graves. It's a mass grave with more than twenty stillborn babies having been buried in that plot over the years. We certainly were not told that would be the case when we committed our son's tiny white coffin to the earth. Poignantly there are decades of weather-worn little toys left on the spot by the other families, some of whom, I suppose, are told the same thing I have been, that we are not permitted to mark the place with any individual permanent plaque. Not that one really needs concrete or granite when your baby's name is engraved on your heart.

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Witty Repartee

Professor Witi Ihimaera's new novel has created such a stir in academic and publishing circles, that it's rumoured his name has been put forward for Australia's notorious Ern Malley Fellowship, the nomination for which is available only to those authors who have attracted massive public controversy and who have polarised opinion, and who have even had their "case" discussed on talkback radio.

Some of the discussions on bulletin boards etc have got a bit feral actually, and all I can say is, may the saints preserve all of us from falling foul of the feeding frenzy when the masses get their knickers in a twist...

If you will kindly forgive my mixed metaphor, which I freely admit is a crime all too common.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Speaking Frankly

Anna Kavan's New Zealand: A Pacific Interlude in a Turbulent Life edited by Jennifer Sturm (Vintage, Random House 2009)

It was wonderful to see that smile again. It was wonderful to see an American smile going out towards everything, accepting everything in the world, instead of shutting everything out.

('Another ending' ~ Anna Kavan)
Now here is an excellent book, published this year by Random House New Zealand, and I think it has not been reviewed widely enough, considering how much it has to offer.

The NZ Listener did have a review, and the New Zealand Herald too. The reviewer for the Herald was Peter Wells who has also recommended it on his blog, here and here, and I even saw a note for the Kavan book in Metro magazine.

One of the disappointing aspects of the reviews I have seen, has been the repeated predictable inclusion of the label "bottle blonde" for Anna Kavan, and the frequent retelling of Denis Glover's titillating depiction (courtesy of Frank Sargeson) of Kavan as "one of those blondes who get around the world with their knees behind her ears". But I can hardly complain can I, when I too have found it necessary to repeat these distasteful and belittling descriptions? The misogyny Kavan encountered from the likes of Glover and Sargeson is an important part of the story Sturm presents here, and it's still relevant today, especially for those of us who believe that the negative effect of the misogyny of the "Sargeson Mafia" on the reputations and careers of New Zealand women writers, has not yet been fully recognised. Sturm's book goes some way towards redressing this lack, but there's so much more to this work than that.

There are several reasons to read this book - first of all for the interesting essay(s) by Sturm concerning Kavan's life and work and her visit to NZ, and then of course, for the Kavan prose itself, with its quite lovely meditations on life and travel. The book also includes the text of the controversial 'critique' Kavan later published about NZ society. And what a ripping yarn that is!

I particularly enjoyed Sturm's careful unpicking of earlier Kavan 'scholarship': exposing the ridiculous results of sloppy research combined with the far-too prevalent assumption that an author's fiction writing can be used as biographical source material.

I've read parts of this book several times already, and I even made lots of notes hoping to 'review' it for the Tabby, but I have been just too run off my feet to do it justice, real life being a little possessive lately of my time and energies, so here's a simple exhortation: Read this book, especially if you're interested in NZ literary or social history, and doubly so if you're interested in the role of gender politics in NZ literary history.

Or even if you just like to read really good prose.

One of my favourite aspects of the book was that I could revel in Kavan's openness to the New Zealand environment, her acute descriptions of the plants, birds, sea, weather...
"The fact is, that I can't do anything but look at things, which of course is another name for dreaming. It's the looking that matters more than what's looked at."
And she saw the people with an equally observant eye. Anyone who has felt on the outer here in NZ, who has been suffocated by the narrowness and lack of imagination of the provincial mindset, or patronised by the blokiness and conservatism even of our supposedly 'high culture' circles, will enjoy her sideways glances at the self-appointed arbiters of all that is good and true.

This is a peculiar sort of volume that doesn't seem to know whether it's just another dry academic publication (it certainly would hold its own in that company), or whether it should be appealing to the general reader (and I think it should!).

The Kavan pieces can be read as useful social documentary, but also for their literary merit (even though the editing choices sometimes make reading for pleasure a bit of a challenge). At her best, she's scintillating.

My only problem with this edition is that the design is as bitsy and various as the content. It may have seemed like a good idea to have different fonts - one for the Kavan stories, and another (sans serif) font for the accompanying explanatory material and appendices - but I found it quite irritating. Also the decision to use italic font for deleted passages, probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but is I think unkind to the reader. Just my personal taste and opinion of course. But the TINY font size for Kavan's offending Horizon article in the Appendix! Aaaargh! Surely this piece deserved to be treated as more than a footnote, given its notoriety, and its readability. I also noticed a few eyebrow-raising proofreading errors including the misspelling of the name of Random House editor Harriet Allan!

This is a work that would have benefited from a larger format and more generously sized photographs, and a more pleasing design. These are minor quibbles though, in this time of recession and cost-saving. This is a refreshing, fascinating book. The packaging seems to indicate it will have curiosity value only for a niche market, but I feel it deserves a wider audience than that.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Shipping News

The cruise ship season has begun in Dunedin. Thanks to my friend Mary, I now have a detailed list of the cruise ships that are scheduled to visit Port Chalmers this summer. We can both look out of our windows on different sides of the harbour and watch as the big ships sail by. Some of them look like apartment buildings and house as many people.

There is much excitement among the retailers of Dunedin at the prospect of each brief influx of thousands of (assumedly) rich tourists.

If the weather conditions are right, we can hear the officious shipboard loudspeaker broadcasting the day's instructions, from our front yard. We could certainly hear the farewell blasts of the ship's horn yesterday, as the Sun Princess steamed out of port.

Photo: The Sun Princess chugs past Aramoana Spit on the way towards the narrow entrance to Otago Harbour. 18.11.2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lucky for some

I love Friday the thirteenth, but not because I'm anti-superstition. I do understand intellectually that superstition is a primitive impulse but I do seem to be subject to a wide range of superstitious beliefs - or at least practices - despite that. I've always thought of the 13th as a lucky day. I quite often choose to fly on a Friday the 13th because one can get good seats and you know everyone is being extra careful.

When I was younger - as a teenager, a pipe-smoking overcoat-wearing rebel - I would of course deliberately walk under ladders. But the truth is, you have to kind of believe in it to laugh in the face of it, don't you? It would have been best to just not care about the huge weight of trivial caution and counsel that one inherits as part of being a human social being. Of course it takes one a while to be able to tell the difference between sage advice and irrational nonsense, or to make your choice anyway, about which of the advice and nonsense to carry round as your own personal baggage.

I seem to be able to pick up new superstitions or cultural habits quite easily. After living in Korea, I won't blow my nose in public anymore and I get a bit creeped by the number 4 (tall buildings there often don't have a fourth floor). Ever since I lived in Whanganui, I haven't washed teatowels with the rest of the laundry and I won't allow combs or brushes to be put on tables. From my Scottish forebears I've inherited a particular horror of "new shoes on the table".
Superstition and culture are quite closely intertwined aren't they. My parents celebrated every 13th as though it was their own personal anniversary of the day they met, and later chose to marry. So naturally I was raised to like the number 13. Still do, even though today hasn't been crash-hot so far, given there's a blocked drain, a close to overflowing septic tank and an absentee landlord. Grrr.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Off the Map

But not for much longer.

The little holiday cottage I have recently moved to is located in an area that is literally "off the map": it does not feature on any road maps I have looked at. (It's probably on marine charts, given that we're at the very edge of the water!)

It certainly wasn't on Google, or anywhere else on the net for that matter, as far as I could tell.

But Google are on to it. Last week I saw the Google Camera Car driving around a small settlement perilously close to my own previously relatively unmapped vicinity.

Today I saw the car again, parked in the city, and managed to catch a snap. Gotcha!

UPDATE: Google are well on their way to their goal of World Domination. My house is on the Google satellite map now, the roof shining in the sun (I swear I couldn't find it on Google maps six weeks ago when I first moved there), and as we know, street view can't be far away!

He Can Run, But He Can't Hide

Rodney Hide, the so-called 'perk-buster'
is busted!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Swings and roundabouts

The storm factory also has a sunset warehouse.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Sparrow Gus

At "Cape Cod" we don't just delight in the herons, spoonbills, spur-winged plovers, gannets, shags, albatrosses, mollymawks, gulls, terns, ducks, geese and swans.

We have sparrows too. And sparrows are just as good as anyone else. So there.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Another song of freedom

"All I ever had:

~ Bob Marley

(Funeral for a friend... too sad. This was one of her favourite songs.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Things That Matter

Life is mostly froth and bubble,

Two things stand like stone,

Kindness in another's trouble,

Courage in your own.

~ Adam Lindsay Gordon