Archive for the 'Helen Rickerby' Category

Happy Easter (unless you’re a rabbit)

Chocolate Easter rabbits and eggs in a basket

Chocolate Easter rabbits and eggs in a basket

Last night I noticed that the glow of the almost full moon had been joined by the glow from the large illuminated cross attached to the Mt Victoria radio mast, so there must be a Christian festival approaching soon. Given that the supermarkets are pumping out the smell of spiced buns rather than mince pies and their shelves are bestrewn with glittery glowing eggs, chickens and bunnies, I’m picking it’s Easter.

The commemoration of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection has been observed in New Zealand since the mid-1800s. In the northern hemisphere, it had been grafted onto pre-Christian traditions of celebrating the arrival of spring (or so I was always told), which doesn’t work so well on this side of the globe. If you’re not a winter lover, then you too might feel that actually what we need is a funereal celebration to get us in the right mood for the cold and dark to come.

However, it’s always a holiday! For most people. And there are the traditional things to eat and do. Mostly eat - hot cross buns and chocolate and more chocolate and even more chocolate. The range of Easter eggs available in the shops has hugely increased over my lifetime, but one that is now missing is New Zealand-made Cadbury crème eggs. I remember when they hit the shops in the 1980s - having a dribbly, gooey, unbelievable sweet filling was so different from either the hollow or marshmallow filled ones that had been standard before that (at least in our house). Apparently (and sadly) Cadburys no longer make them in their Dunedin factory - they stopped in 2009, and the crème eggs you now see are imported from the UK. Not everyone was happy about this, with some people complaining that the British eggs weren’t as good and a couple of Facebook campaigns were started up to try and reverse the decision (without any success so far).

Other egg-related traditions - nothing like a good Easter egg treasure hunt. I remember with great fondness a family friend who probably did the best Easter egg treasure hunts ever. They roamed over acres of land, and one year I remember it involved catching the donkey to get the next clue, or possibly an egg? Thinking back, it must have been a clue, as that donkey would have eaten anything remotely egg-like put in front of it, behind it or on top of it, tinfoil or not.

So hot cross buns, eggs, hens and rabbits. The symbolism of hot cross buns seems straightforward enough, and eggs - resurrection/rebirth/birth - there’s a link there, and from there to chickens - ok the endless question of who came first the chicken or the egg, similarly there’s a logic that I can see, but rabbits?

Rabbits?!?!

According to some, rabbits are the symbolic remnants of a festival held to honour Eostre, a northern goddess whose symbol was the hare (or rabbit). Others have suggested that rabbits are seen as a sign of fertility, (hence the phrase “breeding like rabbits”) and that is why they are associated with spring and therefore Easter. However, I got frightened off looking into this further by the number of intense (and frankly scary) debates out there in webland as to whether Eostre is linked to Easter at all, whether the holiday does or doesn’t have pagan links, where rabbits come into this, and whether it matters at all.

Here in New Zealand one of the more pragmatic ways we’ve dealt with Easter and rabbits is to spend the long weekend shooting them. According to Wednesday’s Otago Daily Times this year more than 400 hunters are expected to spend 24 hours from Friday to Saturday hunting the pests. (As you can see from the entry on rabbits in New Zealand they have been a pest pretty much since they arrived in the country). The hunt has been running since 1991, is organised by the local Lions Club as a fundraiser, and tallies of dead bunnies have ranged from a record 23,949 in 1997 to the low of 3,694 in 2001.

Luckily for small children everywhere, none of those shot so far have turned out to be an oversized white rabbit with a basket of Easter eggs. Happy Easter!

Remembering Christchurch

185 Empty Chairs memorial (photograph by Andy Palmer)

185 Empty Chairs memorial (photograph by Andy Palmer)

People of Christchurch and Canterbury, we’ll be thinking of you today, two years on from the tragic earthquake of 22 February 2011.

You don’t need me to tell you that the quake, itself an aftershock of the 7.1 quake of 4 September 2010, killed 185 people and injured several thousand. Or that these quakes, and the many thousands of aftershocks, have damaged more than property. Two years on, you are still living with that every day.

We hope you will continue to tell us your stories on QuakeStories and elsewhere, where they can be recorded for future generations. And we hope you know that our hearts are with you, especially today.

Orca show

‘What the hell is that?!’ Sean said, looking from his vantage point on the couch towards the ocean.

The ocean was just across the road from the Paekakariki holiday cottage we’d booked for Wellington Anniversary weekend. I’d just come in from outside. It was getting dusky, and the breeze was getting cold, but before I closed the door on the sound of the sea I wanted to spend a bit more time on the deck, watching the waves. But somehow I’d missed it.

‘There was a giant black fin sticking out of the sea,’ he said.

We went outside and before too long we saw another fin, and then a couple more, breaking the surface of the water. Orcas! Judging by the cars that started arriving, other people had noticed them too and were phoning all their friends.

We were treated to quite a show as at least four orcas (it was hard to tell how many, as they kept disappearing and reappearing) meandered their way up the coast towards Raumati. Hopeful of another look, we followed them up the beach, but they were gone. All I had to prove we saw them was a rather bad picture I took on my phone.

Two orca fins appearing above the waves

Two orca fins appearing above the waves

A close up, in case you didn't believe me

A close up, in case you didn't believe me

It was a strange week for large sea mammals on the Kapiti Coast – a few days before a 15-metre-long sperm whale had stranded and died on Paraparaumu Beach. I’m not sure whether orcas are commonly found around this area, though according to Te Ara (which I, of course, consulted to enrich my paltry knowledge about orcas) 15 stranded at Paraparumu in 1955. Fortunately the ones I saw didn’t suffer that same fate.

When I told a friend about seeing the orcas, she was surprised as she was used to seeing them off the Hawke’s Bay coast during childhood. Apparently, again according to Te Ara, you are ‘most likely to see them are off the Bay of Plenty, East Cape and Hawke’s Bay regions in June, and again from October to December.’ But obviously that isn’t their exclusive domain. In fact three separate groups of orcas live around New Zealand: one off the North Island, one off the South Island and a third group that spends its time in both regions.

A much better photo of an orca from the Orca Research Trust

A much better photo of an orca from the Orca Research Trust

Back in the day (i.e. my childhood) orcas were always called ‘killer whales’. That’s discouraged now because not only are they not killers – well not of humans (there haven’t been any reports of orcas attacking humans), though they do kill and eat a great many other creatures – they are not even whales. They actually belong to the dolphin family. They’re the biggest dolphin though, and are of a similar size to the smaller whales. In this footage of an orca pod swimming beside a ship, it’s easy to see their dolphinishness (which should be a word, even if it isn’t) as they glide up and down through the waves.

New Zealandishness in Europe

Each time we went to a new city on my recent trip to Europe I wanted to find out what the new place was. I wanted to discover what made it different, what made it special, what the people were like, what their food was like and which kind of coffee was most to my taste. (Café crème in France, flat white in the UK – providing it was a decent one – otherwise a cappuccino, cappuccino in Italy and melange in Vienna.) Except in London, where I confess I ate mostly Mexican food – I’d always try to sample the local specialities: croque monsieur, steak frites, haggis, pizza and pasta, torte and fiaker goulash (with dumplings). It became quite clear to me that I wasn’t interested in English shops in Vienna or French food in Rome; I was looking for what made each place to be itself.

But of course when you go somewhere new, even as you are trying to understand the essence of a new place, you’re also constantly comparing it with what you know – in my case, with New Zealand – both positively and negatively. (And now that I’m back I’m comparing Wellington, both positively and negatively, with places in Europe.)

I also found that I was on the lookout for anything New Zealandish – for any impacts we’d made on the wider world – or at least the parts of Europe I was visiting.

I did find some, and photographed most of them. Many have something to do with food.

Food

Coffee. New Zealanders (and, I’m told, Australians) have been taking the flat white to the world, or the UK at least. Flat whites have gone from being available only at one of the number of cafes run by Antipodeans (there were at least two in Edinburgh, one of them called Wellington Coffee), to even being at an option at Starbucks.

Kiwifruit. While not originally from New Zealand (we imported them from China) we have developed, re-branded and exported kiwifruit. The fuzzy fruit turned up in fruit salads and fruit bowls around Europe, and in Italy I came upon this ‘kiwi’ flavoured gelato:

'Kiwi' gelato in Rome

'Kiwi' gelato in Rome

and also a menu that promised a ‘New Zealand’ sundae – presumably because of the inclusion of kiwifruit (though cream and other dairy products are pretty New Zealandish too).

The New Zealand sundae on offer in Florence

The New Zealand sundae on offer in Florence

Burgers. I suppose we do have a habit of putting peculiar things in our burgers, though I’d never thought of them as an especially New Zealandish thing. But in the UK we visited GBK, a burger franchise founded by Kiwis, who seem to take their New Zealand heritage seriously. As well as donating money to save the kiwi, which featured on their wall-menu:

Keeping it Kiwi

Keeping it Kiwi

they also have those tomato-shaped tomato-sauce bottles on their tables and have been known to sell that great kiwi confectionery: Pineapple Lumps. (Sadly they were all out when we visited, much to the disappointment of my London-dwelling NZ friend, who was hoping to buy them for her Aussie husband, who is a big fan.) GBK reminded me of nothing so much as our local Burger Wisconsin, which curiously harks to another place entirely. The exoticism of the imported and all that.

Museum stuff

Moa. I found one in the Natural History Museum in London:

A friendly moa in the Natural History Museum

A friendly moa in the Natural History Museum

Apparently (according to the sign) the neck shouldn’t be as upright as this, which I would have known had I memorised the Te Ara entry on moa.

More on the moa

More on the moa

Māori culture. In the British Museum, next to the Easter Island statue, there was a large display case about Māori culture. What I like about it is how it isn’t just displaying taonga as museum objects, it’s trying to show that the culture that made them is still living and vibrant.

Māori culture in the British Museum

Māori culture in the British Museum

Books

Literature. Hopefully more New Zealand books and authors will be seen out and about in the rest of the world in the aftermath of the recent Frankfurt Book Fair, at which New Zealand was guest of honour. But before all that I spotted this book by a New Zealander (now resident in the UK) out in the wild at Foyles bookshop in London:

Kirsty Gunn's The Big Music

Kirsty Gunn's The Big Music

Plants

The plant in the centre of this photograph isn’t actually a New Zealand plant, but when I saw it in a market in a small town in Provence I thought it might be:

Callistemon in a French market

Callistemon in a French market

Turns out it’s actually native to Australia, and we know how impolite it is to steal stuff from our neighbours. However, more knowledgeable people than myself pointed out that the Callistemon is actually surrounded by New Zealand hebes (which I should have recognised as I have many of them in my garden).

This is definitely NOT a New Zealand native, but is a very familiar import:

Gorse on Carlton Hill, Edinburgh

Gorse on Carlton Hill, Edinburgh

But even I know that some of these plants are New Zealandish:

A bit of New Zealand on the South Bank

A bit of New Zealand on the South Bank

This was the view from my hotel room in Southwark, London. There’s flax, cabbage trees, five finger (and/or seven finger) bushes and toetoe. (We also have businessmen who stand on pavements talking on cell phones, but as far as I know they are not endemic to New Zealand.)

Celebrating our Hundertwasser

This morning, New Zealand time, the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair begins with the opening ceremony. New Zealand is the guest of honour, and it’s an exciting opportunity for our culture, particularly our literary culture, to connect with the world, especially the German-speaking world.

In an earlier post Ross mentioned some of the German and German-speaking people to have been important in New Zealand’s history. Another who I think is worth a mention is Austrian-born artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

He was already extremely well-known in his native land in 1975, when he decided to share his time between Kawakawa in New Zealand and Vienna in Austria. He was a celebrated painter and designer of stamps, flags, coins and posters. But in New Zealand I think he is probably best know for his architecture. Or, more specifically, for this: the Kawakawa public toilets.

Hundertwasser's famous public toilets in Kawakawa

Hundertwasser's famous public toilets in Kawakawa

I have to confess, that is how I came to know his work. One day in 2001, on our way to Paihia, I saw the sign to Kawakawa, dredged up a dimly remembered fact and yelled, ‘Kawakawa! Isn’t that where there are some amazing toilets designed by some artist?’ We duly turned, investigated them, and stopped for lunch at a nearby cafe. They are quite impressive, and charming – things you wouldn’t often find cause to say about public toilets. (On a later visit to Kawakawa I discovered that there was controversy in the town – some locals didn’t want their home to be known as the ‘toilet town’, and rather wanted it to be the ‘train town’, as the train tracks run down the centre of the main road.)

The tiled and whimsical interior of the Kawakawa public toilets

The tiled and whimsical interior of the Kawakawa public toilets

Hundertwasser, who is known to have been somewhat of an eccentric man, changed his name from Friedrich Stowasser to Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. Hundertwasser was a ‘Germanisation’ of Stowasser – both mean ‘hundred water’, while Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt basically translates as ‘peace kingdom, rainy day, darkly multicoloured’.

He was born in 1928 in Vienna. His father died just over a year later. His mother was Jewish, and to avoid persecution during the Nazi era they pretended to be Christian, as his father had been. Hundertwasser even joined the Hitler Youth. During 1943 about 69 of his Jewish relatives were deported and killed. It has been suggested that his dislike of sharp squares, or ‘geometrisation’ has its roots in seeing soldiers marching in square formations. Curving shapes and uneven floors are certainly a significant aspect of his architecture, along with bright colours, tiles and often vegetation. His aim was to humanise architecture.

Recently, on my first ever trip to Europe (!!) (not counting the one when I was 18 months old and so don’t remember a thing), I went to Vienna. My decision to go there was guided initially by a penchant for grand buildings and a small obsession with Empress Elisabeth, but while I was there I took a tram trip out to visit the Kunst Haus Wien (‘art house Vienna’), which contains the Hundertwasser Museum, and Hundertwasser House, both of which Hundertwasser had designed.

The outside of Kunst Haus Wien, including Hundertwasser's koru flag

The outside of Kunst Haus Wien, including Hundertwasser's koru flag

On top of the Kunst Haus Wien building I was surprised to see the koru flag flying. This was Hundertwasser’s design for a New Zealand flag.

Curving floors in Kunst Haus Wien

Curving floors in Kunst Haus Wien

Hundertwasser Haus, just a short walk down the road from Kunst Haus Wien, is a council-owned apartment building he designed in the late 1970s.

Looking up at Hundertwasser House

Looking up at Hundertwasser House

Another view of Hundertwasser House - you can just make out one of the domes on the roof

Another view of Hundertwasser House - you can just make out one of the domes on the roof. Also note the trees growing from balconies and the roof

The square beside Hundertwasser House

The square beside Hundertwasser House

As you can see, it’s brightly coloured, features tiles, climbers and trees, and curving lines. Hundertwasser accepted no payment for his design, saying it was worth it to prevent something ugly from being built instead. I have to admit to not generally being a fan of modern architecture, but his work shows that modern architecture doesn’t have to be ugly. In fact, it can be beautiful.

Hundertwasser died, aged 71, in February 2000, on board the QE2, in the Pacific Ocean. He was buried on his land in New Zealand, in his ‘Garden of Happy Deeds’.