Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Not cricket

This morning I heard Cathy Buckle being interviewed on the radio about the situation in Zimbabwe. It is getting worse and worse over there. It seems incredible that New Zealand will be indirectly supporting Mugabe's regime of terror and destruction by allowing the NZ cricket team to tour Zimbabwe.

I have never believed that 'sport and politics don't mix'. Outside of war, sport is the primary way that 'patriotism' is roused to ensure that citizens stay emotionally loyal to the national state which is a purely political construct. My political coming of age was the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand. I have been deeply moved whenever I have heard South African's talk about how much it meant to them that NZers protested so passionately against the tour. Whether or not NZ plays sport with nations with unacceptable regimes does make a difference, it does matter.

I emailed National Bank, who sponsor the cricket team, to tell them I will withdraw my business and investments if the bank sponsors the proposed tour to Zimbabwe.

If you are a National Bank customer and don't want your bank to be supporting the Mugabe regime (however indirectly) then you can email

Monday, June 27, 2005

Dream book shop

This post was inspired by a posting on Book Lust, one of my favourite blogs.

The other night I had a dream about peering in the windows of the most perfect desirable bookstore you could imagine. It had an old fashioned frontage with tall windows edged with leadlight. Inside the polished dark wood shelves went all the way from the floor to a really high ceiling, with those cool ladders on wheels for reaching the top shelves. Instead of a window display there were high backed wing chairs upholstered in red. One book caught my eye, facing out on a high shelf near the window... it was a super large format book of photos, hard cover, cloth bound, embossed gold title which was just the date: 1984 and the word 'Moke' who I took to be the author/photographer.

The bookstore was embedded in a long, complicated and highly significant dream which the date on the book's cover helped me to interpret after I awoke. I couldn't go into the store because a) I was on my way to the Dunedin* airport to catch a plane and b) it was closed that early in the morning, and I knew the time because the street was crowded with people hustling to get to work (unlike me, meandering to the airport with no sense of urgency).

* I lived in Dunedin 1984-1991

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Yet another rodent story

I was changing my bed, flipping the mattress when I discovered a little mouse poop on the base, right belowy where I lay my head. I think this explains the mysterious breathing that freaked me out in the middle of the night about a week ago. It was pitch dark, after what felt like hours of mysterious thumping, tapping and assorted unwelcome night noises. And then suddenly I heard this quiet breathing, and it wasn't mine. I thought maybe it was something biggish (possum) in my room or something really big (cow) outside my window but it went away before I worked up the courage/motivation to check. A little mouse visiting my pillow makes much more sense though, perhaps the one found dead in the trap the very next morning.

Dead wrong

I have finally filed every single piece of paper in this dwelling and created a system that will hopefully prevent the kind of build up that was threatening to crush me under the weight of random printouts and lost necessities. And during this long and arduous task I came across this old poem.

I won't flatter myself that either its unearthing from the deep strata of my own recorded history, nor its fragmentary nature, make it worthy of sitting so close to Sappho, but I do like it's bitter black humour.

Dead wrong

You lie
like a dead sheep
upstream in the river
of my life.

You lied.
A lie by ommission
is still a lie
and just as rotton
as a fetid corpse
in swift, clear water.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sappho's latest

In the Times Literary Supplement, Martin West has translated a new, complete Sappho poem. Gotta love old poets, and she's still going strong after 2,600 years!

"[You for] the fragrant-blossomed Muses’ lovely gifts
[be zealous,] girls, [and the] clear melodious lyre:

[but my once tender] body old age now
[has seized;] my hair’s turned [white] instead of dark;

my heart’s grown heavy, my knees will not support me,
that once on a time were fleet for the dance as fawns.

This state I oft bemoan; but what’s to do?
Not to grow old, being human, there’s no way.

Tithonus once, the tale was, rose-armed Dawn,
love-smitten, carried off to the world’s end,

handsome and young then, yet in time grey age
o’ertook him, husband of immortal wife."

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fast books

Still my funny tummy lingers on so I decided yesterday to try a 24 hour juice fast to see if that would help. While I was at it I fasted on all electronic media: no radio, no computer, no DVDs or CDs... I slept, I meditated, I channelled healing energy to my stomach, I sat by the fire (not eating makes you feel the cold more) and read two fantastic books.

Wild Card Quilt: Taking a Chance on Home by Janisse Ray is a collection of personal, ecological essays about returning to the Georgia farm where she grew up, returning to the farm with a hunger for wilderness and a longing for community. It was a struggle to find and recognise both and she writes beautifully about how rural areas have been, are being transformed... in both negative and positive ways. This genre of non-fiction used to be a favourite of mine, and I'm glad to have rediscovered it through such a skillful and honest writer.

Air (or Have Not Have) by Geoff Ryman is a speculative novel about the impact on modernisation on one of the most isolated and undeveloped communities in the world. Despite this, it is not a bit depressing but filled with hope and useful hints for how the even the most disenfranchised people can, with resourcefulness and compassion, bridge the digital divide and hold a good place in the world for themselves and their culture. This is the kind of science fiction that can be embraced by people who aren't interested in sci-fi.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

My sick day in Town

The good news is that my dear little Lola (10 yo toyota corolla) passed her WOF on first try! Hooray. While she did that I went and got an impulsive haircut cos I felt too crappy to go to yoga. Mmmmm head massage, and now my neck doesn't hurt from carrying 10 tonnes of hair around (don't worry, those of you who care, its still long, just thinned and layered). It doesn't look so crash-hot but I don't really care because it won't take two hours to dry.

Then, because I hadn't eaten for 24 hours I felt too weak to do any more errands in the rain so went to visit Ash at the soon-to-be Cafe Narnia. They've been pestering to look at my recipe books for ages so I schlepped those in and we spent many a happy hour salivating over cake concepts and discussing how to make dairy-free food that appeals to non-vegans.

After that I not only felt weak but also hungry too so off to the local sushi bar, with some trepidation, for miso soup and plain rice. Yum and that has stayed pretty stable for the last couple of hours and I'm hungry again so maybe I'm getting better. Just to be on the safe side I stocked up on library books (with lots of pictures in case I continue to not feel like reading) and DVDs so that if I do keep being sick I don't have to be bored too.

Thanks to readers who have posted wishes for my health, they are graciously appreciated.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Check out this facinating site, Post Secret. I was more amazed at the infinite creativity that the anonymity invites than the secrets themselves.

I tried to think of a secret to send to the site but I don't really have any that NOBODY knows. I do compartmentalise and select what I share where... for example, there's lots I wouldn't consider appropriate to blog about. But ultimately my best friend, Sarah, is told everything current in twice weekly mutual installments. And doing Re-evaluation Counselling for 15 years has pretty much exposed everything from my past for at least cursory examination with my counselling buddies.

I wasn't going to tell you, dear reader, but in the spirit of this posting, the truth is that today I feel crummy: queasy and out of sorts (tummy bug? food poisoning?). I can't be bothered making, or even reading books. But I don't mind being sick because I don't have an office to feel guilty about not going to, or a boss to convince I'm not faking it. I can just nap when I want. And here's the secret: when I feel sick I simultaneously want to be taken care of, and resent any gesture of tenderness that comes my way.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Geological excursion

I found a book about NZ geology in the mobile library this week. Flicking through it yesterday afternoon I recognised a photo of distinctive limestone rocks at Waro, about 25kms from here. I've glimpsed the amazing rock formations as I've driven past on SH1 (through the little settlement of Hikurangi just north of Whangarei) and always thought it would be cool to stop and check them out.

So I drove over there and parked in the reserve next to the little lake created by flooding an old limestone quarry. The most popular features of the reserve are not the rocks- which are buried in scrub, nor the lake, which is clear enough to identify all the kinds of rubbish on its floor though this doesn't seem to deter a diversity of water fowl enjoying it. Almost everyone I saw there on the drizzly grey afternoon were using the transfer station (nice asset for any public park) and the skateboard bowl (with matching grafitti to that seen on some of the nearby rocks).

The limestone is amazing, carved by rain into smooth curving channels, massive slabs balanced on narrow columns, faces the texture of fish scales. Which is appropriate as the rock was created as ooze from microscopic sea creatures accumulated under a warm shallow sea covering most of what is now Northland during the Oligocene. As continental plates collided the sea bed buckled and lifted and "great slabs of ocean-floor sediments rose up and slid on the soft ooze".

After my walk I drove up to Ngawha Springs for a soak in hot, cinnabar flavoured water: my book says that basalts deposited mercury in its sulphide form. Which sounds bad and smells bad, but oooooh it feels sooooo gooooood....

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Twelve Warning Signs of Good Health*

(If several or more appear, you may rarely need to visit a doctor.)

1. Regular flare-ups of a supportive network of friends and family.
2. Chronic positive expectations.
3. Repeated episodes of gratitude and generosity.
4. Increased appetite for physical activity.
5. Marked tendency to identify and express feelings.
6. Compulsion to contribute to society.
7. Lingering sensitivity to the feelings of others.
8. Habitual behavior related to seeking new challenges.
9. Craving for peak experiences.
10. Tendency to adapt to changing conditions.
11. Feelings of spiritual involvement.
12. Persistent sense of humor.

* Sarah Porter sent me this today, confirming that I am in excellent health at the moment! Let me know how you are doing...

Whare Tupuna

Last night, for our final class on local Maori culture we went to a Whangarei marae, Kaka Porowini, to learn about carvings and tukutuku (woven panels). We were welcomed on by two elders with a short powhiri (formal welcome) which was a delightful surprise. Inside the whare tupuna (house of ancestors) was a beautiful combination of traditional and contemporary carvings and tukutuku.

Every whare tupuna has its own distinctive character and I felt Kaka Porowini to be one of the most accessible I have been in. There was a big photograph on the back wall of the Chief Porowini who is the ancestor represented by the whare. Apparently he was the last of the 'old style' chiefs who (controversially) did much to modernise the lives of his people in an attempt to improve their chances in the increasingly Pakeha dominated society of the first half of the 20th century. The structure of the whare symbolically embodies his spirit, and represents all the ancestors who came before him.

Dozens of carvings of ancestor figures line the walls and every centimetre of vertical surface is covered in symbolic designs: painted, carved, woven, so that the building functions as a history book for those with the skill to read it. Kaka Porowini is unusual in that many of the ancestors represented are women and there is equal representation given to Christianity, traditional Maori religion and other world religions (a star of David caught my eye as soon as I entered).

My favourite ancestor carving was Hine, who was depicted giving birth to two babies simultaneously. Unusually, she is carved realistically, with a beautiful human face, not the stylised faces of most traditional Maori carvings. One baby, with a realistic face, is emerging as a cesaerean birth while another, with the traditional grotesque face of a little tiki is popping out between her legs. She has long black hair with each strand beautifully carved.

My minimal abilitiy to read Maori symbols grew slightly last night, but for me, the most significant part was towards the end, when Pae stopped talking. He told us to walk around and look closely and touch the carvings. I did so, silently greeting and introducing myself respectfully and affectionately as I traced my fingers along the smooth sinuous curves outlining their thighs and shoulders. As I did so, they began to seem more like the spirits of real people than just the art of another culture from my own. I left the marae with a sense of having completed a necessary step in establishing my home in this area, having been acknowledged and welcomed by the ancestors who lived here before me and who will be keeping an eye on me.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Book arts rant!

I am just back from a flying visit to Auckland for the opening of Bookworks at North Art Community Art Centre. I have two books in the exhibition which is on until 3 July. There are about 60 works submitted from around New Zealand (and one kiwi living in Australia), including Allie Snow 'guest artist' with a large number of books.

It was thrilling to attend (and be part of) my first real live book arts exhibition- until now I have been the only book artist in the exhibitions I've contributed to. I looked at everything three times and took notes and made sketches of some of the most interesting works. There are some wonderful pieces in the exhibition.

However, I think the show demonstrates the immaturity... of book arts as a art form and practice in this country. It is a very diverse exhibition not only in style (handbound blank books and photo albums, altered books, collage pieces and more conceptual works as well) but in quality. Original ideas about structure and content sometimes partially compensated for sloppy production. But poorly made yet conventional blank books sat uncomfortably beside some very finely executed and conceptually sophisticated works.

I spoke with the curator and she said that they were disappointed by the low number of submissions (60) and decided to accept everything, although they would have preferred to be selective from a larger pool. I was surprised that many NZ book artists I know of were not represented in the show... why didn't they submit work? Did they have some secret knowledge that it was going to be so patchy and deliberately withold their participation so as to avoid being tainted by association? And what does that achieve?

To have book arts taken seriously in New Zealand will require exhibitions of a much more consistently high standard than Bookworks is, but the patchiness is not just the curator's responsibility. If the leading book artists in New Zealand do not submit their works (yes, even to a community arts centre, even to an open call) then the curators do not have to opportunity to select for quality rather than universal representation. The NZ book artists who are recognised internationally but who decided, for whatever reason, to not submit to this exhibition do the local book arts community a disservice. My development as a book artist would be better served by a rigourously selected show- even if it excluded my work. Then at least I would have something more to aspire to, a challenge to strive towards and teachers and leaders to learn from.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Not lost

Yesterday I experienced a fortuitous combination of perfect weather, feeling boundless energy and no urgent demands on my time so I went for my longest walk yet, out beyond the back of the farm. I left just after midday to give myself plenty of time for exploring.

I walked up the valley and into the pines where I found the kiwi burrow months ago. There on the track were lots of holes swirled into the pine needles where a kiwi had probed his long beak recently. But I saw very few birds as I carried on further and higher than I had been before, even as the pines gave way to healthy native bush.

Eventually, at the top of a very steep muddy climb, I emerged onto an open hillside above a pocket of paddocks tucked inside an endless vista of trees. The view stretched for miles of hills and mountains wrinkling to the west. In the distance was a trig station on Mt Motatau and the little settlement at Pipiwai so I oriented myself on the map and decided to try to find the hitherto elusive track that would connect me back to my home valley to the east. (I have written on other occasions about my search for this track).

It was almost three by then, and the sun was casting long shadows in the kind of golden light I associate with long summer evenings. I didn't have much margin of error before dark and walked as fast as I could along a farm track winding south, and then steeply up and east which was hopeful but hard work. The track was well formed and well used and following it along the ridgeline, stunned by the immense views west and the beautiful bush edge east, I came across a picnic table. This was reassuring as my neighbours had mentioned it when describing the track they had started from the highest hill at the head of our valley. I was on the right track, and a beautiful one, but I had no idea how long it would take and if I could make it in the 2 hours before dark. As soon as I entered the bush I tackled another insanely steep climb so when the path eventually forked in a choice between flat to the east or continuing up to the south I chose flat without hesitation.

The flat track soon narrowed and dipped into a long steep downhill heading north and I started to fear having to backtrack if, as they so often do, it faded out into a dead end created for possum trapping rather than thoroughfare. Imagining spending a cold night in the bush impeded my enjoyment of the warm afternoon there, but at each of my two moments of real doubt about the track a bird appeared, first a fantail and then a woodpigeon, my only close encounters with birds that day so I took them as guides and carried on... Another steep climb, then suddenly, without warning I came out onto an open hill top and looked down the valley to my house in the distance. From that height I could see clearly the farm's tracks and streams I ramble along and beyond, further to the east than ever before. I cheered with relief at not being lost.

It was the hill I've avoided climbing because it is so steep. Not even cattle bother scrambling up there so I followed pig tracks through bracken and long grass, creeping down a near vertical slope a long way before the hill gentled out a little and then I was back on the long familiar track that would take me home. I was footsore and weary when I arrived to bring in the washing (already damp again from the evening's dew), fire wood and exciting post (a Donna Leon book won in a local competition!). I came inside and collapsed in front of the window to watch the sun set over the hills I had just descended from... what a satisfying day.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Past meets Future

I spent the afternooon with an elderly lady, Joan Alison, who has written a local history of Purua where I live. She, and her even more elderly husband (Walter, 94), have a wealth of stories, memories, documents and photos which they very generously shared with me. Walter's father was one of the original European settlers who turned the land from Kauri swamp to pasture.

I was particularly interested in a party of Belgian settlers- including an Abrahams family whom I suspect were Jews- who arrived in 1894, some lasting only 3-4 years before returning to Belgium. Imagine arriving here from intensely civilised Western Europe via a 3 month sail literally half way around the world.

Purua was only surveyed in the 1880s and intially the economy consisted of gum digging and flax harvesting. Clearing the forests and draining the swamps using horses and bullocks were the backbreaking tasks facing the Belgians, along with building slab houses to live in and planting vegetables to eat. Town was a 15 mile horseride along a rough track, with a bridgeless river crossing halfway. One or two dozen households were scattered through the area, separated by dense swampy forest and difficult tracks. The Belgians were, by the few available accounts, a close knit group. They would have been isolated by language from even their nearest neighbours but friendships with other settler's children developed and were sustained even after some returned to Belgium. There is no record of why they returned after such a short time here, but I suspect that the harsh realities of breaking in the land were at odds with the arcadian fantasy imagined from Belgium. The Belgiums that stayed (including the Abrahams) married locals and built up their farms through a period of intense change.

After my afternoon immersed in local history, I spent the evening contemplating the future at a Green Party event on the topic of peak oil. The DVD The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream was a sobering reminder that most of what we take for granted at this moment in history is premised on the extremely shakey fantasy of unlimited energy supplies. Then MP Jeanette Fitzsimmons related the American film to the situation in New Zealand and offered some hopeful ways to mitigate, or at least, slow the impact of peak oil. Peak oil is no longer considered an hysterical fringe concept but is acknowledged by the most conservative energy analysts in the world. Fossil fuels will not run out per se but sometime in the next 5 to 30 years (and unless global demand slows it's likely to be sooner than later) it will swiftly and dramatically become much more difficult, expensive and slow to extract with barrel prices doubling, and doubling again. Modern food production, commuting lifestyles, centralised production and global distribution of goods are just some of the aspects of modern life that will become unsustainably expensive.

If the worst scenarios come to pass, it will be at least as shocking and difficult an adjustment for us as coming from cosmopolitan 19th century Belgium to the wild back blocks of Purua. But this time there will be no where to run back to. We can only move forward with ingenuity and compassion, and I suspect, quite a lot to learn from earlier generations who created communities and local economies without dependance on fossil fuels.

Ruatangata West school being dragged to new site by bullock train 1905

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Slimy fire

Some highlights from the fun class on 'Meanings of Maori Placenames' last night.
Mangere= lazy
Paraparaumu= dirty oven
Waitangi= crying waters (tears shed before and after going to war)
Ahipara=slimy fire
Usually there's a story of why this name here and it's one of those casual small classes where the teacher/storyteller (Pae Ngatai Davis) is easily distracted from the curriculum. We started talking about taniwha (spirit beings) and those that live around here. He told us about the taniwha at Taihururu which means roaring tide. Everytime the taniwha, who is actually a comet, came out of his coastal cave there was a great roaring sound and then some kind of disaster. Eventually the local people got sick of these disasters and decided to stop the taniwha getting out of his cave by stringing kumara (sweet potatoes) across the entrance, which worked, and apparently you can still see the fossilised kumara on the walls at the entrance to the cave.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Maps and memory

Several of the enjoyable conversations I had at the market were about my map boxes which attracted a lot of attention. People would pick them up and start telling me their stories about the places on the maps. One woman grew up, went to school, got married, had children and visited friends and family all over the little alter(ed) map of the North Shore of Auckland, printed in 1975 when she was a young woman there. Another couple had fun recollecting travels through the south of France (thanks to my parents I have many beautiful maps of France). Several expat Australians showed me their ex-homes on 1970s maps of Sydeney and Queensland.

What places are associated with the most pleasant memories for you?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Market report

Just back from the Manaia Midwinter market... it's been a long day. For most of it I was having so much fun that I hardly noticed I wasn't making any money. There were lots of punters coming through and crowds were constantly round my table admiring my books and boxes. I had several friends stop by and made some new buddies among the other stall holders.

But, as the day wore on, we kept asking eachother... how are you doing? are you selling much? and it turns out that most artists weren't doing much better than me, little more than breaking even. We hashed over various theories about the slow sales but it seems likely that people just weren't in a spendy mood today, though the functional crafts folks offering real bargains did ok.

Even though I'm tired, and a little disappointed that I didn't come home with hundreds of dollars in my pockets, it was a nice thing to do, and I have a funny feeling that unexpected rewards will emerge in the future.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Finding a book

In the last few days I have come to an unfamiliar state of having completed all the most urgent tasks on my lists. The lists of course are endless, but I'm so used to ignoring unappealing low priority items that they just seem like padding. Being up to date left me with an uncomfortable feeling of aimlessness which could not be sated by chocolate. And I don't want to start a big, new, challenging project until after Monday's market.

Eventually, while preparing for bed last night, I recognised what was going on and started flicking through my journals looking at all the book ideas I have placed there for safekeeping while I didn't have time to start anything new. Suddenly I remembered an idea that has been stewing for a few weeks and I decided to try making it right then. Chucking more wood on the fire, I riffled through my scrap box, found the perfect paper and started making a maquette (model). Within an hour I had a rough but deeply appealing little book completed: binding some of my beloved bush papercuts (previously only available in -the difficult and expensive- Waipoua Forest bush book) into a tunnel book with topographical map-covered covers. It is small and simple and I think I can whip up a few by Monday's market. Hooray, I'm busy again!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Pot holes

How can there already be pot holes in the road to town only one week after the new seal was put down? I don't even remember there being potholes before they started tearing up and replacing patches along 10-15 km stretch which is still posted as a 30 km per hour zone.

Come to think of it, the universal disregard of that suggested speed by every driver I ever saw on the road might have something to do with the instant pothole effect.