Watch of gryphons

Gryphons of stone - winged lions with fierce heads of eagles. They witness much pain and much happiness. Monsters of antiquity - but even they can't save the earth from its end.

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Location: Whakatane, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

24 year old single guy living in Whakatane, living life while wondering about it all.

15 March 2006

Weekend in the Cultural Capital

Back when I lived in Wellington, I looked with envy at the NZ International Festival of the Arts and the shows I couldn't afford. So as my holidays coincided with the Festival this year, I decided to head down and have a cultural fix, as well as say hi to some of the family.

On Saturday afternoon I parked my car on Oriental Parade and weaved through the mass of people walking, jogging, rollerblading, cycling, chatting, sunbathing, shopping, heading in & out of cafes, to the Opera House on Manners Street. I had a front row seat for Eva - a flamenco dance performance. There was Eva as the soloist dancer, two male and three female dancers as a troupe, three male flamenco singers, two flamenco guitarists, a guy on bongoes and a drum, and another man playing the flute and soprano sax. The dancing and musicians were evocative, passionate, beautiful, creative and exciting. Many of the audience gave them a standing ovation at the end. Eva and the other dancers alternated dances, changing costumes each time. I found it interesting that though the male flamenco dancers use the same movements as the female flamenco dancers, the males dancing looked masculine, and the females looked feminine - unique to flamenco maybe?

Saturday evening I attended James MacMillan Conducts in the Michael Fowler Centre. The first half was the NZ Symphony Orchestra playing three modern orchestral pieces. The compositions were somewhat disjointed and I can't pretend I understood a lot of it. The second half was better though, as James MacMillan incorporated the NZ Youth Choir, a children's choir and four male soloists with the orchestra for the
piece. The composition was abstract and melancholy, and I enjoyed it, especially with the choirs in full blast.

Sunday afternoon/evening I went to an epic theatre performance called The Dragons' Trilogy. It was at the Queens Wharf Event Centre. The rectangle performance area was in the middle, with two bleachers on either side, and the remainder of the space was closed off with black sheets - so the actual venue was smaller and more intimate. I sat a few rows back from the front. The play went for 5 hours and 45 minutes, including two 20 minute intervals and a 30 minute interval. The play was engrossing and powerful. I was surprised to see at the end there were only 8 actors, as the actors played different characters through the performance. The acting was brilliant, the story was beautiful and sad, and it's kept me thinking even now. Most of the lines were in French, some in English, and a few in Chinese (there was some translation on a screen near the roof). It was definitely the highlight of the weekend.

I also checked out some free art exhibitions:
  • Earth From Above - large-scale landscape photos displayed along the promenades at Chaffers Park on the waterfront. Intriguing and impressive, each with a message about the state of the world's environment.
  • Cezanne to Picasso - fourteen impressionist and abstract French paintings from the 1850s to the 1950s. Interesting, but not that impressive to me, alright if you're French I suppose. I can't yet understand why people would pay millions for a Picasso.
  • Patricia Piccinini - a contemporary Australian artist who designs animals to promote the survival of some endangered species, genetically engineered animals to look after babies, baby motorcycles, and baby trucks. She uses life-size sculptures, metallic and rubber prototypes, video, and pictures for her art. It challenged ideas about genetic engineering and confused my feelings of revulsion and affection for some of her human/animal/other mixed beasts.
  • Michael Smither - The Wonder Years (1962 - 1979). This was the exhibition I was most impressed with. The paintings were done when the artist lived in New Plymouth and were grouped into family, religious and landscape paintings. The paintings were distinctive, detailed, and some had layers of meaning that made you want to keep coming back to them.
  • Te Papa also had an exhibition of artwork and artefacts through New Zealand's history to now. The change of style and emphasis was interesting but I didn't appreciate Te Papa's anti-pakeha bias analysis of the art and the artists.
Sunday morning I went to the Central Baptist Church. I really enjoyed the service. We sang a few songs I last sung almost two decades ago! I liked the artwork around the church, the tolerance extended to people's different stages of faith and expression, and the coffee before the service to keep people awake (!). The pastor preached a challenging sermon about justice and good governance for the oppressed. I thought "wow". Despite this recurrent theme through scripture, it's rare for me to hear a sermon preached on it.

I stayed with my Grandma for a day as part of her 76th birthday celebration. We went for a swim at the beach and played board games. Though age wearies us, some simple pleasures are always fun.

And now I'm back, with summer fleeting, a cold developing (that southerly Wellington wind was something else!), and another work year approaching like a freight train. I do feel a bit more "culturified" now, having learnt more about art and music, and experiencing amazing theatre and dance.

08 March 2006

P.D.A.s (public displays of affection)

I was wary of posting this. The risk with poetry is that it can cut close to the bone sometimes. I wrote this poem a few years ago, so I think there's enough distance between the writing and publishing for me to discard the personal angst and approach the poem aesthetically now.

~

You see it coming like a blossoming rose
Seeping sweet scent, baiting your nose,
as if life wasn't already short enough.

swirling down
like a cataclysmic thundercloud
the gift from heaven.

Love!
Watch it, glue your eyes
taking your friends, your good friends, to giddy heights
gasping with joy, delight in the other, in each other.

But don't watch, it is too bright
for those who have been in darkness for too long.

And as the honey moves down their arc
├Ęd throats
radiant peace envelopes their faces
tears flood my heart

Stop!
Please for once look
beyond your Christmas dinner
and see me starving, drooling on the side,
my skin wrapped ribs wracked with pain.

Through the tears, I bless
and curse
And bless with a toothless smile.

For it is the most beautiful thing to ever behold;
an awakened dream for the lucky
a drugged taunt for the damned.

Yes
take what is rightfully yours
Your love is to be experienced, drunk, osmocised, complete.

But not here
I just can't take it.

~


07 March 2006

Reflections from Motuora Island

I haven't posted for a while, though I've been on holiday! A week ago I spent five days on Motuora Island, a DOC reserve south of Kawau Island in Northland, as a DOC volunteer. I loved the experience, learning and doing conservation work, kayaking, swimming, relaxing, snorkeling, and chatting with the other volunteers. A highlight was looking for, and finding, kiwis in the wild. We stayed in a 1950s bach overlooking the pohutukawas, white beach and crystal clear water. I loved it. One lazy evening after reading Odysseus's travels in Homer's Odyssey (translated of course!), my brain got to wandering and I penned these lines - a few reflective thoughts.

~

As clouds wisp over the purple weave
When the sun lengthens the shadows
When calm descends to mark the eve
As the crisp-chopped swells turn smooth
I consider what my life is not
I rue the fortune of my lot.

As Odysseus and Calypso love each night
When the goddess holds him a captive
When lovers flirt, tease, lust and ignite
As men redeem youth in these chains
I float in freedom's ether haze
I thirst for fiefdom, love ablaze.

As religion and dogma begin to deflate
When edicts expose their hypocrisy
When philosophical walls disintegrate
As lost souls seek shelter from storms
I see my Lord on the grassy rough
I hear his voice say "I am enough."

As peace and beauty scent the breeze
When selfishness rots the flesh
When friends deodorise my disease
As flies of peers feast on the shame
I pray for innocence again for all
I long for retroaction to restore my fall.

~

15 February 2006

Attack of Mother Calamity

A blink of lightning luminates
and thunder bellows in refrain.
The skies have opened up their gates
and sheet the road with pouring rain.
windscreen wipers back forth back forth
thumping heartbeat mimics their course

Inside, the car maintains its cool
a dry eighteen point five degrees.
Serene sounds from magnetic spools
of tapes, to put my mind at ease.
roar as front wheels plough through water
spray of grey sheen from the gutter

Across dark fields the car speeds past.
The vehicle cage curtailed in flight
by shudders caught from each rain blast.
My eyes are drawn to dashboard lights.
thoughts adrift in specked array
things that I have done today ...

Boom! A hideous face glued to the window
grey mottled hair streaming 'cross pickled skin
disfigured
two angled chipped teeth encased in an oyster leer
ancient eyes
I gasp. Eyes locked to hers. Frozen scared.
An emaciated arm extends in the speeding blackness outside.
Click.
The door opens. Roar. Three white bones grip the door

frame and a naked hag hurls herself in
grabs the steering wheel, and pulls.
The car jerks violently to the left, and hurtles like a rhino
through a ramshackle 2-wire fence towards shadows
of kahikatea.
A bump
Upside down
An awful metal-tearing sound
Black.

The mud is pooling on the seat.
A sticky substance paints my face.
A searing pain rips from my feet.
Glass shards around my landing place.
headlights floating 'cross the storm haze
shrill wind, hard drops, gas scent, mind dazed

Alone and crying in my pain.
Dark sentinels of nature stand
above, with their strong limbs not fain
to heal my soul, to hold my hand.
calamity has struck me, maimed me
won't somebody see me! help me!

The timid dawn reveals the crash site.
Policemen come to clear the scene.
My suffering makes a T.V. soundbite
a curt synopsis on the screen.
viewers lounging on the sofa
tut tut, then reach for the soda

Disaster can strike suddenly
in any place, in any raiment.
Personal expediency
Oft relegates to entertainment.
empathy can soften suff'ring
action can bring down the bruising.

12 February 2006

Toro Toro

Some of you may be interested to know about the photo currently in my blog profile. It is a photo of a place called Toro Toro, in the Bolivian midlands. I spent five days trekking through there when I was 12, with my classmates from a mission school in Cochabamba. It was an amazing, character-building trek, mainly because of the bonding with my friends and the challenges and adventures we had over that time. Looking back on my photos I think I'd appreciate the location and scenery so much more if I went back as an adult. It is an ancient location, with a canyon, underground caves, large boulders, dinosaur prints on a steep rock slope, and I even found a bizarre shell like a seashell - 500 km on the leeward side of the Andes mountains. Maybe someday I'll scan these photos and post them. The only link I could find on a quick Google search was this one.

In the background of the photo are rock formations that looked to me like giant tombstones, sloped backwards with age. There are over 20 of them lining both sides of the Toro Toro valley.

I like the photo, even though I'm not the person in it, because I've tramped that same track. It is a metaphor of my life's walk through an old and intriguing world, where others have walked before me, and will walk after me. But I enjoyed the journey so much more because I walked it with friends.

07 February 2006

Track Greed

As Jesus once said, "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose his soul?"

~

The locomotion of greed
desires
a break, a chance to stomp goodwill
fuel
heartbreak with pain, guilt a distraction
coalesce
coal of conceit, more than you seem
dreams
make your reality, break other bridges
commitment
never wavering, one track mind
override
full steam ahead, bulldoze the crossings
infatuation
like jealousy, must get to greener grass
imbalance
lopsided side mirror, burn the instructions
selfish
tunnel vision, big pictures spoil focus
delusion
earthquake hits, the mountains are laid low
despair
springs death, the fool laid waste.

~

05 February 2006

Those cartoons ... ...

The twelve Mohammed cartoons published in a Danish newspaper have sure knocked about a wasp nest. I have sat and watched footage of muslims swearing death to any country that dare publish those cartoons. I have read a range of views around the fracas, and I think have come to some sort of position.

What is the key conflict here? It seems to be the right of free speech versus the demand to censor anything that may cause offense to a major religious group (Islam).

Is it newsworthy? Are the cartoons worth reprinting? Is this a topic worth discussing in the country's national newspapers? Yes. It was not news when the cartoons were first published. It became news when large crowds began protesting and burning down embassies because of it. It became bigger news when other papers, including the Dominion Post, published the cartoons and protests and trade sanction threats were sparked across the Arab world, and some western countries too.

Are the cartoons offensive? Yes. Oh sure, not to me. Most aren't even satire. Two even mock the newspaper for trying to stir up controversy. But apparently any picture of Mohammed is offensive - even more than a picture of Allah would be. So I suppose even a beautiful Rembrandt of Mohammed would be offensive to Muslims.

A sub-issue is hypocrisy. The NZ Herald chose not to publish the cartoons because "well, we could, but we don't want to offend people just because we can". That exposes double-standards. In the past the Herald has delighted publishing pictures offensive to Christians, and cartoons offensive to politicians and nation states, in part to be provocative and sell more papers. The refusal to print the cartoons (a valid news story) is a departure from form.

Are the protesting muslims being hypocritical, when their state-controlled media outlets have published cartoons decrying and mocking Israel and western nations? Well, no, because they don't believe in free speech. If they did, then it would be hypocrisy. But in their worldview, Islam is absolute. It overrides anything it may come up against. Islam is also violent, in part because it is usually linked with the powers of state like enforcement and warfare (as Christianity once was), but also because Islam/Peace is gained through the unimpeded spread of Mohammed's teachings through the world - and this end seems to justify any means.

As I believe in freedom of speech, I support my right to post these opinions, the right for newspapers to publish cartoons that are offensive to a religous group (though the question should always be asked: is this wise, sensitive or appropriate?), and the right for Muslims to protest down Queen Street against the cartoons.

So we have an immovable, inarguable, un-'reason'-able force (the teachings of Islam) ramming against a treasure of the free world: the freedom of speech. Through a wider lens, it is one culture and worldview demanding that another culture and worldview obey its rules, or suffer the consequences. There is no space for tolerance here, because to exist, tolerance must be shared. While secular nations allow tolerance, moslem nations do not if something is contrary to any part of Islam.

So as our country is not an Islamic state, New Zealand must actively reject this attack on freedom of speech, a fundamental tenet of our society. Publish and be damned.