20 October 2015

An hour upon the stage


An old friend and I were drinking flat whites at Café Cuba on a Friday, late in the afternoon but before the influx of the after-work crowd. Even then the place had the trendy café buzz I dislike, but I liked it anyway, partly because the coffee surprised me by being excellent, which made me feel disloyal to my favourite café (closed by then), but mostly because I hadn't seen her for a long time. Besides, perched at a high window table where we looked out to the street instead of back into the ant-nest of the interior, we weren't tempted to make snide sotto voce remarks about the fashionistas and cafelatti and could concentrate on our own conversation.

We talked, inevitably, about travelling we'd done, and about styles of travelling. I said how I liked to do nothing in particular: wander around looking and falling into conversations; mostly not bothering to visit the famous sights; writing a lot, mostly just for the sake of it; going back to the same places to eat, so the staff eventually just grinned and checked I wanted dahl and rice and naan or whatever, as usual. She said she thought I'd turned into her, meaning I'd become the person she'd been, and I thought I heard a little melancholy and a trace of envy, as if she mourned the person she once was. Maybe she felt a little trapped by her success.

I might have felt similarly trapped if I'd been able to claim anything more than trivial success. I can't, though, except for the success of having escaped entrapment by success or being aware of the evil of that entrapment. Others would call that irresponsibility or a refusal to face up to reality, but those accusations smack of envy — and not the gentle, appealing sort of envy I thought I heard in my friend's voice.

'I work hard,' they say (not out loud but clearly enough), 'and you should too,' the subtext of the unsaid jibe being, 'I'm not happy and it's not fair that you're happy.'

Fortunately, none of those people are my friends.

...

'We should have a glass of wine,' she said. I resisted at first, pointing out that I had to drive myself home, but she pressed a little harder and I thought one glass would be O.K. We peered at the bottles in the chiller and she suggested the Palliser Estate Riesling. When I agreed she got up and bought a glass for each of us. I saw her wince as she put her purse back in her handbag.

While she'd been at the counter I'd glanced around. I wasn't the oldest person in the café but almost everyone who wasn't me looked younger and more competent. All of them, meaning more than a few, were leaning over their phones, poking fingers at screens I'd need glasses to read, and I thought how the first i-phone had begun shaking up the world just eight years ago. Android phones didn't arrive until a year later and only started taking off — I mean trending — five years ago. A lifetime ago, in other words, and if five years is a lifetime, what should all the years of my life be called?

My friend returned and some of her youngness and competence transferred to me, and I relaxed. The excellent wine helped, too, and I might even have become garrulous but she didn't mind.

We talked, also inevitably, about photography. Before I could tell her I was thinking of ordering the Olympus 40–150 mm f2.8 PRO lens with the MC-14 1.4x dedicated teleconverter, a lens she'd owned for some time and, like all owners of that lens, loved, she told me she'd just ordered the Olympus 7–18 mm f2.8 PRO. I felt a twinge of envy.

Digital photography, unlike smartphones, doesn't have a clear birthday. (The first digital camera, on the other hand, arrived in December 1975. The engineer credited with its creation worked for Kodak — a company eventually killed by the digital photography revolution. Irony doesn't come much more ironic.) I believe a few cousins of flat-earthers still deny the existence of digital photography in a form superior to analogue photography — like Holden drivers, they count beliefs and loyalty far more important than facts — but more than a few photographers accept that digital photography truly arrived around the time Canon released the EOS 10D in 2003, or at least when Canon superceded the 10D with the 20D in August 2004.

I still have my 20D. It looked and felt like a monster when I bought it but eventually I grew accustomed to the bulk and heft. Now, on the rare occasions when I pick it up after using my EM-1, the 20D feels like a monster again.

A woman held a phone out at arm's length and leaned against her companion, who leaned against her, and they laughed. I could just hear the fake shutter sound.


...

Outside the library, a guy with a shiny black BMX helmet cruised up alongside me on a mountain bike with skinny tyres. He wore dark wrap-arounds, baggy shorts, and unlaced high-top boots that looked like they’d been rescued from a skip.  Varicose veins knobbled his hairless pale calves. He stopped the bike and took his sunglasses off.

‘Howya goin’, Pete,’ he said.

‘Good. How are ya, Fred?’

‘Yeah, good. Got plenty of books to take home?’

‘Nah. Been doing some writing.’

‘Yeah? Good on ya, mate. What’s it for?’

I asked if he knew my blog.

He grimaced and said, ‘No. I can’t use a computer.’

All I could think of to say was ‘Bummer.’ I wondered if he was badly dyslexic or had some other kind of disability — the sort of thing that years ago we’d have called a handicap. Now you're not allowed to say that, even if it is a handicap. Sometimes you’re not even allowed to say disability; you have to refer to the person as ‘differently abled’. That sounds absurd to me but I’ll happily use whatever terminology makes the differently abled person most comfortable.

I didn’t know why Fred couldn’t use a computer and didn’t want to risk embarrassing both of us by asking. I changed the subject.

‘How’s your ankle?’

He’d smashed it up a while ago. O.K., he said, but he couldn’t go tramping on it. It had metal pins and screws and a bit of arthritis in it. At least he could bike though. He loved biking and was grateful for that and also for still being alive. I hadn’t realised the accident had been that bad.

I thought of another friend, ten years younger than me, who had arthritis in her foot. Like Fred, she couldn’t go tramping now. I heard doors slamming — behind Fred, behind my friend with the arthritic foot, behind me. Then I realised that all doors behind us have already slammed shut. None ever remain open; you can't return through a door to your past. What I'd heard — metaphorically if not actually —had been doors closing in front of us.

What doors had started swinging shut in front of me?

...

I woke in the middle of the night and realised the radio was still playing, with Kim Hill interviewing the Welsh duo who were touring New Zealand with their play Hiraeth. From time to time she'd play a song they'd nominated. I dozed and listened and dozed and almost woke, never rising fully from the half-dreamt world, and then I became aware I was listening to music that had begun to draw me up into full consciousness. A powerful orchestral backing dominating the strange vocals; a structure that tricked the listener into believing the track was finishing before suddenly resuming with a wave of sound.

In the morning I checked the playlist on the programme's web page and learned I'd been listening to Hoppípolla, by the band Sigur rós. No wonder I hadn't been able to discern the lyrics — they'd been in Icelandic. Some had even been in a kind of language the band had constructed; the name for that language loosely translates as 'Hopelandic'. It has no consistent syntax.

I found a video of the song and, while I listened, glanced at the YouTube suggestions. One, with an arresting photograph of a girl drew my attention because the girl resembled a younger version of another friend. The piece was a simple but beautiful piano composition, Nuvole Bianche, by the Italian composer Ludovici Einaudi.

I listened, and thought about other piano music and blues and jazz, and about jazz pianists; about Keith Jarrett and Mike Nock and the Australian trio The Necks. I started listening to my favourite Necks track, Open, but had to shut it down because I needed to leave for town. I thought about my grandmother, who had been an accomplished pianist; as a child she'd been considered a virtuoso but, coming from a poor family, she would never become the concert pianist she might otherwise have been. Towards the end of her life a stroke slammed the door on the one thing for which she was most highly regarded. I don't remember how long she lived after the stroke, but I wonder whether she thought she had anything much to live for after that.

She lived on the other side of Christchurch and fought with my grandfather and taught piano. Keyboards in the modern sense hadn't been invented, but she played the organ wonderfully, too, and I have no doubt she'd have been brilliant at anything else with a keyboard — harpsichord, spinet, clavichord, etc. — although maybe not the piano accordion or harmonium. I daren't think what she'd have said about those.

I, too, grew up in a family that scraped by only because of my mother's good and careful management. A piano was out of the question, so my brothers and sister and I never had the opportunity to learn the piano from our grandmother. I'd often wondered what I might have been able to accomplish if I'd learned to play the piano as a kid, and, with the self-confidence of one who knows nothing about the thing they think they'd be great at, I'd more than once thought I could have made a name for myself as a jazz pianist.

Recently, though, I heard a young friend and her mum discussing the technicalities of a keyboard piece she'd been working on. Timing and keys and flats and sharps and signatures and stuff I'd never heard about. I had only the vaguest notion of what they were discussing; they might as well have been speaking Hopelandic. My conviction that I could have been a great jazz pianist vanished at exactly that moment.

...

Another Friday had ambushed me but late in the day I'd escaped to the City Library, where I'd hidden myself at a desk behind the shelves of film stars and fashion advice and guns and warfare. I was trying to finish an article I'd been writing for too long. Downstairs, someone began playing the beat-up old piano, and at first I took no notice, other than thinking vaguely that whoever was playing sounded confident. Then I started listening harder. This was no plinker practising scales or grinding through Remembrance (which my grandmother and mother both detested, as do I). I packed the laptop away and headed downstairs.

A young man in a faded dark tank top sat at the piano, playing furiously, utterly absorbed in his music. All he had were his hands and the keys and what was in his head. No sheet music. The notes poured from his fingers. The music and the scene were elemental.

I looked down from the ramp and listened for a while then hurried back to the car to pick up the camera bag. The young guy was still playing. I took a seat near another man who was smiling and nodding in time with the music. He looked at me and grinned, and I said something about the music and he agreed and shrugged, spreading his hands to show he had no idea who the musician was but thought him brilliant. The young guy kept playing his extraordinary music.

He wasn't perfect. Occasionally he stumbled as if, momentarily, his hands had decided to go somewhere different from the path his mind was creating, but those slight imperfections made the music even more perfect, in the way the slight imperfections in something handmade make that thing immensely more beautiful than a machine-made perfect product.

I didn't want to interrupt him to ask about photographing. The other man extended a large hand, which I shook. His tattooed biceps looked as if they were about to split the sleeve of his T-shirt.

'I'm Dion,' he said.

I'd been scribbling a few notes about the music in the little cahier I carry everywhere for every kind of purpose.

'Are you an author?' he said.

I replied that I did a lot of writing, but this didn't satisfy Dion.

'Are you an author?' he said again.

I hesitated, then replied again that I did a lot of writing.

'I'm an author,' he said, and explained that his book would be published shortly before Christmas.

'I'm a life coach,' he added. He pointed to some lettering tattoed on his wrist: T.A.N.O.M.

'This stands for "There Are No Ordinary Moments",' he said.

I wondered whether my life was about to be coached, but he must have guessed I was beyond help, so we talked briefly about the music. We agreed that this was no ordinary moment.

The P.A. announced that the library would be closing in fifteen minutes. I took the camera out and walked over and waited until the player noticed me. I gestured with the camera and he smiled and kept playing. I tried different angles and compositions and camera settings but the light was difficult and I couldn't find a way to convey what the moment meant.

When he stopped playing, Dion started clapping and I joined in. The piano player's name was Reuben. I asked him whether everything had been improvised.

'Most of it,' he said, pointing out it was loosely based on something by someone I'd never heard of.

He said that when I'd asked about photographing he'd wondered whether he'd look weird because he'd just had work done on a root canal. He pointed to his right cheek, which was noticeably swollen. I'd been photographing from his left, so the swelling wouldn't show. I didn't ask him whether he'd come to lose the pain by losing himself in his music.

Reuben was in his mid twenties. I asked him how long ago he'd started learning the piano. He thought for a moment, then said, 'About eleven years.'

I added eleven years to my age and for a moment wondered whether I still had time.

...

Drizzly rain arrived just after dawn, then stopped. The pink and white flowers of the magnolia in the deer paddock looked even more spectacular than usual against the dark dull grey of the overcast sky. I drove into town on a wet road, thinking about the past and the future; of metaphors of doors closing; of smashed ankles and arthritis and friends with new knees and hips, the originals worn out by too much tramping and mountaineering. All my joints still work well — no arthritis, no bone-on-bone grating, no need for ceramic and alloy. So far, that is. I should be grateful, but I couldn't help thinking that maybe my good fortune merely reflected the fact that I hadn't done as much tramping and mountaineering as I'd have liked. Some people wear out; others ossify.

I bypassed the market and drove straight to Tomato, where I ordered a large flat white. At the corner window table I uncapped the pen and began to write.

Yes: as you get older, doors close. Eventually you realise you've missed your chance to make a name for yourself as a mountaineer or an All Black or a jazz pianist. What makes that so sad, though, is that you've become O.K. with that knowledge. You've become happy enough doing comfortable climbs that won't kill you. You're happy enough watching test matches and can even accept occasional All Black defeats. You're glad you discovered The Necks and Keith Jarrett and have become resigned to knowing you'll never play like them or with them. You no longer burn. To salve this malaise of resignation, you seek the consolation of landscapes, and light, and light on landscapes.

A slamming door can snuff out a flame. For you, though it's the vacuum created by the dying flame that pulls the door closed.

But while those doors swing shut, what you've learned opens others; the urgency of increasing age unlocks doors you wouldn't otherwise have bothered opening. You write more, and you think harder about what to do with that writing. You say yes, sure, why not, more easily.

...

The café started to fill. Couples, small groups, a fair few people on their own. The other loners read newspapers. Almost everyone ate eggs on toast and drank coffee. Most wore unremarkable attire but one regular customer, a short man whose every movement seemed carefully deliberated, wore a slightly-too-small trilby, a straggly goatee, an unbuttoned waistcoat over a white skivvy, and enormously baggy basketball shorts. His shins appeared briefly below the shorts before disappearing again into black ankle socks and well-worn, once-white New Balance trainers. He looked comfortable, unconcerned about what others might think of his attire, and he made the place look interesting. After ordering a small coffee he sat at a tiny table and studied a newspaper through reading glasses, turning the pages slowly and occasionally sipping his coffee.

I was wearing my camo bush shirt. The friend I'd met on Friday once said I was the only person she knew who carried fountain pens in a bush shirt pocket. I liked that, in the way I like things that aren't supposed to go together, like waistcoats and basketball shorts.

...

Along the Pohangina Road the light was fading fast but the drab landscape lacked the colours to make the Purkinje Shift noticeable. The grey trunks of old macrocarpas shone dull and sinewed under the dark bulk of their foliage, and the car floated along the road as if it knew its way home and just wanted to get there and park up for the night. I, on the other hand, wanted to keep going forever.

...

A few days later I stepped outside into the evening and stood near the back door, looking at the light after the sun had gone down. The wind had died down, too, and the gales that had blown the sky to bits, leaving churned-up drifts and ragged scraps of cloud in the worn-out sky, had diminished to intermittent breezy gusts. The evening appeared at any moment about to turn to dusk; a huge, dark, ominous bank of cloud sheeted rain down in the west, and in the east the southern Ruahine lay beneath more black cloud. I looked at the old fuel tank perched on its rickety stand, its dull silver paint flaking to reveal the orange primer beneath. I saw its patches of rust and its pentimento of a forgotten oil company’s logo; I noticed the dark brown corrugated iron shed behind the tank, the dull shimmer of the poplars by Te Awa o te Atua Stream and beyond them the pale off-white of the clay cliff above the old quarry. I saw the cropped paddocks, and the silver birch and bead tree just coming into leaf, and I thought that if I didn’t know any better I might think I was back in Patagonia. It was something about the light and the remains of the wind and the almost-broken rural paraphernalia, and I wondered how two places that looked almost identical despite being thousands of kilometres and an ocean apart could feel so different.

That was it — this identical scene in Patagonia would feel utterly different. The fact that it looked identical and would therefore remind me so strongly of here, where I stood watching the light of dusk, would only accentuate the difference. Perhaps, I thought, here I’ve had time to become part of the place, but there on the pampas or the broken farms elsewhere in southern Patagonia I’d be a newcomer. The land would not yet have assimilated me. I wondered whether I’d ever have the courage to return there, not because the travelling would be hard (it wouldn’t) but because the memories would be too much to bear.

Time can turn a journey into an elegy.

But time can create memories out of imagination — what you remember vividly might never have happened. The more elegiac the memory of the journey, the less you should trust it.

And time always turns a person into someone else. Maybe I wasn't turning into my friend's former self, but as I stood in the fading light, haunted by memories and imagination, I shivered, although the wind wasn't cold, and I wondered whether, like my friend, I was beginning to mourn the person I once was.


Notes: 
1. Some names have been changed.
2. The title refers to Macbeth's famous soliloquy.
3. 'I'd been trying to finish an article ...' — this one, in fact. The one you're reading. I'm still not sure it's finished.
4. Because I've mentioned a couple of George Street cafés, I feel I should also mention Café Jacko, where the staff go out of their way to make green tea (real tea, not bags) according to my recommendations.

Photos: 
1, 2. Reuben playing at the Palmerston North City Library
3. Sculpture (?) outside Moxies, another George Street café.
4. The magnolia not far from my back door a few weeks ago.


Photos and original text © 2015 Pete McGregor

21 comments:

Zhoen said...

Watching my little garden die off, then revive differently, I saw myself there. My childhood dreams, my hopes and regrets (usually of education and experiences missed due to poverty) of young adulthood. Mistakes and windows of ability lost, knowing as I get older most are gone forever. But others come unbidden, gifts I would never have appreciated before. Perhaps in spring, some will revive, others will not, someday I may be compost for other growth.

I got an ipad mini, large enough to see, small enough to hold, with a pretty nice digital camera built in.

Your writing is so evocative, so fluent, so sure. Beautiful.

gz said...

I like that the sound of doors shutting is really others opening.
Keep on being yourself

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

This resonates on a number of levels. I'm not sure what to pick as a beginning ... Witnessing the trajectories of the different generations in my family and my husband's I do feel the sense of doors opening and closing. But, oh geez, almost a decade ago (!) when my husband's family celebrated our 25th anniversary with a dinner and insisted we tell stories, I came away pleasantly surprised that I recognized my Now Self in that much younger woman. As gz says, keep on being yourself, a fine gift to both yourself and the world. Thanks, Pete. The magnolia is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post again, Pete.
I wouldn't worry about doors closing if I were you. You still have plenty left open, and most people wouldn't even see these ones or even have the chance to go through them. You chose a beautiful and enriching path. And I'm glad you share your experience.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora e hoa...as always a thought inducing and pleasurable slow read. Also very synchronistic to my current position here in the states. Being with Charlie especially invokes a recognition of new and old, doors opening and closing as I show places and people from what my life was, to what it now is. I'm pleased to find a few of those old doors have been open a crack wide enough to let me slip through for a bit. Still smiling at running into you on the No. 1 track. Hope to see you soon Pete.
Robb

pohanginapete said...

Thank you, Zhoen. Gardens make great metaphors. RR has a wonderful garden, appreciated by all manner of living things, so, not surprisingly, it's a great place for writing.
  &nbspThose ipad minis are excellent. My first close encounter with one was several years ago; it was my sister's, and I immediately wanted one.

gz, I'll try, but I keep turning into someone else ;-)

Barbara, interesting you should mention stories, because I'm increasingly recognising the importance of telling stories (and I don't mean that in the sense of making stuff up—I find fiction, and even embellishment, doesn't come naturally to me). The magnolia, by the way, looks utterly different now, with no trace of a flower left and the tree dense with leaves.

Thank you, Anon., and you're welcome. I'm glad to have readers like you—people who understand and appreciate what I share.

Kia ora Robb. I've been thinking of you and Charlie over there, in such a different environment. No doubt Charlie will look back on this time in much the same way and appreciate this time with his dad, all those years ago. Poignant, but uplifting, too—this is part of the essential nature of life. Take care over there, e hoa, and see you soon.

Lisa Emerson said...

I keep re-reading this, and every time I notice something different. So much resonates with my life right now - the feeling of doors closing and others, maybe, opening - but not knowing what's behind those doors and what they may ask of me. Perhaps it is an age thing. And I found myself thinking of Marvell as I read: "But at my back I always hear/ Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near." In the end, though, what I'm sitting with today is the idea of "hopelandic" - which sounds to me like the language of possibility, which must be a part of those opening doors. There is still "world enough and time."

robin andrea said...

I am so deeply happy that I stopped by here and found this post. It reminds me of what good writing is all about. The sounds of doors opening and closing, and our lives moving through them. And the piano, the dream of playing a piano. I had that dream, still do and yet know that I never will. When I was in my 20s I played Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert album so often, my neighbors thought I had a piano. Yes, in my dreams. My step-daughter got a piano a few months ago. Last week we went to visit and babysit our 18 month old grandson. He was crying when he woke up and found his momma not home. So Roger held him, and I sat at the keyboard and plunked out Kumbaya, of all things. Like a dream.

Wonderful evocative writing, Pete. Thank you thank you.

pohanginapete said...

Lisa, I have no doubt the doors in front of you open onto wonderful places. Like you, I love the sound of 'hopelandic'. Possibility, of course, is something I'm powerfully drawn to — much more so than certainty, which too often fills me with horror. I'm so pleased, too, that you keep finding new things in the post (and thank you for re-reading it!).

Robin, thank you :-) Like most Jarrett enthusiasts, I suspect, I found out about him when someone gifted me a CD of the Koln Concert, many years ago. Now I'm more likely to return to La Scala and the Vienna Concert, though. And I love that story of your time with your grandson. :-)

Lydia said...

I have such special memories of the morning when I first heard Keith Jarrett's The Koln Concert, the prelude to a life-changing day.....

There Are No Ordinary Moments, and the ones I just spent reading this post, dear Pete, were extraordinary (photos also). And, if Dion asked me if you are an author I would tell him yes, one of the best.

I loved this.

pohanginapete said...

Lydia, thank you. Sometimes I lose my feel for what I've written, so comments like yours keep me encouraged. I appreciate them very much :-)

Avus said...

A lovely posting, Pete. Diary, philosophy and philanthropy (it its literal sense of "people love". You really notice things and can express it all so well.

pohanginapete said...

Avus, thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you found so much in the post :-) The older I get, the more I enjoy my 'noticing time'. I'm lucky to have so much of it.

Roderick Robinson said...

We visited NZ three times; nothing daring; driving round staying at farmstays; old fart travel if you like. I've been trying to work out how close we ever got to the Pohangina Valley but NZ names don't stick with me. Napier yes, New Plymouth yes, Raetihi yes, we passed through Levin. And then there was that drive south on the western coast where we turned left from the main road, aiming for Eastbourne but avoiding Wellington. The scariest road ever in NZ, a sort of shelf cut into a jungly rock face, one car's width and an endless series of hairpin bends with no protection on the right-hand side whatsoever. Did Lower Hutt figure?

Another place, name forgotten, offering trout fishing and white-water travel in an inflatable, my host guiding the way using oars and having to work very hard. We fell out, he and I, (socially not from the inflatable) and his wife had to act as peacemaker. An excess of nationalism on both sides. Hey, it's just come back to me; I have a ball-point souvenir: Tarata Fishaway, Rangitikei River, 26 km from Taihape. Is that anywhere near?

Avus recommended you and we might have one thing in common: rock-climbing unless your interest in mountains only takes in ascents that don't require rope. I attended the Outward Bound Mountain School in my extreme youth when my power-to-weight ratio favoured such activity but now, sixty years later, I am reduced to writing about things instead of doing them. Four novels, about fifty short stories and - though never in my life would I have expected to admit this - poetry which I prefer to call verse.

I like your style but gee, aren't you profligate? Enough stuff in this current post to do a baker's dozen of mine. As a retired journalist I deliberately imposed a 300-word limit, working on the principle that less is more; I make an exception with the short stories, most of which I post. About 1100 posts so far.

Having read through An Hour Upon The Stage I return to re-nibble. Another thing we appear to share: you name the wine you drink and so do I. I am a pinot noir enthusiast but NZ was only just getting into its PN stride when we were there. Now I find myself having to pay £25 - £30 a bottle for the good stuff from Marlborough but that's OK, you have the edge over those guys at the other side of the Tasman.

Photography. These days I'm reduced to a Canon Sure Shot but when I was working I used to tote round a Pentax which now hangs on the wall in the dining room, unused because its diet is film. I like its engineering, nevertheless.

Music. Yes, but rather hatefully called classical, a label I've always regarded as elitist. For a time I ran my blog, Tone Deaf, under the blogonym Lorenzo da Ponte, trying to cover the musical waterfront from pop/rock (with help from the younger members of my family) to 21st century opera. No one responded because I was trying to write about music without any understanding of music's techno-language. Also trying to push the word "posh" as a replacement for "classical". So I went back to mainstream blogging but bought an electric keyboard on which I pick out simple tunes with one finger and transpose them into different keys. It's a rest from wordsmithing.

Good moments: you, the camera, the piano and (especially) the detail about root-canal. Abrupt changes of direction can now and then grab lapels. As with fountain-pens in bush-shirt pockets. Plus being in Patagonia where, if I remember correctly, one finds The Towers of Paine.

Perhaps you get some kind of idea. I'll return unless you tell me to defecate (note the gentility) in my hat.

pohanginapete said...

Roderick: crikey, what a comment! Please feel free to return. A few responses:
New Zealand has some scary roads, but few as nerve-wracking as those in places like Nepal or India's Garhwal Himalaya. Generally, our roads are safe enough if you stay on them ;-)

The Pohangina Valley's about an hour and a half south of Taihape, not far from Palmerston North, a small city that's the butt of all sorts of jokes but actually has a lot going for it. One thing it doesn't have, however, is handy rock-climbing, but a few hours driving north will get you to world-class climbing on the ignimbrite cliffs around Lake Taupo, while a couple of hours driving south offers excellent bouldering near Wellington. I seem to have drifted away from the climbing, but miss it. Maybe I'll try drifting back.

Profligate?! This from someone who posts a comment of more than 600 words? Seriously, I enjoy reading that takes longer than the usual one-minute-if-that. Maybe I have a leaning towards an essay style (in the original sense) rather than a journalist's style? To be honest, I write the way I like to write, and I'm lucky to know people who like that.

I'm happy enough with 'classical' as a label, although I'm averse to all labels. 'Posh' sounds even more elitist, so I'm puzzled why you're promoting that. Incidentally, I read somewhere recently that 'Posh' comes from 'Port Out Starboard Home' — a reference to people who sailed from Britain to India on the poor side of the ship and returned on the wealthy side.

I've always had a fondness for Pentax cameras. My first camera, other than the Super Ikonta I borrowed from my dad, was a Spotmatic F — a classic (but neither classical nor posh). And you're right: the Towers of Paine are in Chilean Patagonia. Here's a photograph (I nearly froze to death getting it).

As I said, do feel free to return :-)

Roderick Robinson said...

Was I profligate with 600 words? That was on November 20 last year, eight weeks ago. A weekly rate of 70 words; virtually a whisper. While your original post was a couple of weeks back on that. Communication has dropped to the level enjoyed by North and South Korea, if one discounts experimental rocket launches.

I might say I need proof you're still with us, that you have not succumbed to the terminal disease of those who go up into high places, known colloquially as an excess of gravity. Show me some sign of life (other than an emoticon) - Hey, it could describe a walk to your front gate and back - otherwise consider re-titling your blog Krakatoa.

Or is there an obvious reason for your taciturnity? Jan/Feb is, if I remember, the height of the tourist season in NZ. Perhaps you're fed up with seeing Brits driving past your front gate (the seasonal rate now up to three an hour) in cars lent out speculatively by that hilarious Rent-a-Wreck outfit in Auckland. We went there and paid the price: a burst tyre in the boondocks followed by sixty or seventy miles at almost 0 mph, sustained at one corner of the car by an emergency get-you-home (but only just!) wheel whose diameter was only 75% of the other three.

As to rough roads you have the advantage of me with your experiences in the crinkly bit of the Indian sub-continent but I have also driven on the back-roads in the West Virginia Panhandle, I have seen rural squalour in the Land of the Free. And, come to think of it, a road (Hah-hah, more a dotted line on a badly printed map) which, in l965, theoretically led to the Plitvice Lakes in the former Yugoslavia. Which we turned back from, never saw. Timid Brits indeed.

pohanginapete said...

Roderick, what can I say? I put my hand up in shame and admit my guilt. I could manufacture excuses, some plausible, but my Kantian predilections won't allow me to do that. Have you caused me enough embarrassment to get off my bum and post something (or, more accurately, to sit on it and write something publishable)? I guess we'll find out soon.

At least I take some comfort from assuming you appreciated my last post enough to want more, although I'm not sure you'll admit that—rather like a certain irascible character in one of the best of Tove Jansson's Moominvalley books (I won't say which, but you should consider that a compliment, which has probably just ruined it for you. Oh well.)

Roderick Robinson said...

Aha, a resonance. Those books! And I'm back in Philadelphia listening to my wife reading them aloud to our two young daughters. I should have paid more attention. Even so I need no more. All is admitted. Sleep on, upside-down giant.

butuki said...

What a read! Had me stopping alone the road over and over and forgetting to come back for a while. So it has taken me quite some time to finally write a comment. There has been a lot to make me think of the passage of time and the ending of my life. what I've accomplished, and what I've let slide, and I wonder if I can say that I will reach the end with a sense of satisfaction. I was once an incorrigible dreamer, burning with raw adoration for the living world, to the point where I couldn't separate the human world from the natural world, but seemed to live in a world that was doing everything to delineate the two. Now I don't know anymore... what was aI dreaming about, and was I deluded then, or am I deluded now? I regret deeply that I will have lived most of my life apart from natural things, and that I don't even know the names and behavior of creatures that were once a daily part of all our lives. To play the piano with all one's heart just for the sheer joy of it... I long to go back to that state. The state nof being that the people of Moominvalley feel is the way of it all. To sit by a fire and have hours of talks with Too-Ticki and Snufkin, and know intrinsically what they mean. ThT's the way I want my life to end.

butuki said...

Sorry for all the typos... was writing the comment on my iPhone while half falling asleep on the long commute on the train home...

pohanginapete said...

Miguel, don't worry about the typos — they're nothing, and it's great to hear your thoughts. Like you, I'd love to sit and yarn with Too-Ticki and Snufkin (although I imagine the conversation with Snufkin would be sparse, or at least the communication would be to a large extent non-verbal ;-)

I've been astonishingly lucky in terms of how much of my life I've lived close to natural things, though, and I can imagine how you must feel that separation. I'd like to go all buddhist and say I'm confident I'd be able to adapt and accept simply what is, but if I'm honest, I don't know I'd cope well with that — with being apart from the natural world (I almost wrote 'the real world'). New Zealand offers so much in that respect, and the travelling I've been lucky enough to do reinforces my appreciation of where I've spent (and spend) most of my life. How much longer it stays like that, though, is questionable, as are many other good aspects of life here.

But I'm about to start on a rant, so I'll leave it at that and finish by saying the kinds of deeply thoughtful and appreciative comments I get on posts like this encourage me hugely. It's a huge relief to know people like you and my other blog friends here seem to understand what I struggle to say.