Monday, April 8, 2013

From ‘A Land of Two Halves. An accidental tour of New Zealand’ by Joe Bennett

….New Zealand appears to be a land of contradictions. It has a masculine image but it was the first place in the world to give women the vote. It sits in the South Pacific but until recently it traded almost exclusively with Great Britain. It sent soldiers to Vietnam but it has banned American warships. It promotes itself as a virgin paradise, but it has destroyed 90 per cent of its native bush. It’s a rural country but most of its people live in cities.

……the shot of the waterfall in the bush or the sun rising, and the uplifting spiritual apophthegm. God always gets the credit for the good bits. I have yet to see a poster of a pox-raddled beggar’s corpse in Delhi, labeled ‘I am the way the truth and the life’. God’s gone down the same route as nature. Just as nature has turned from implacable enemy into colourful David Attenborough entertainment, and an ingredient in shampoo, health food and happiness, so the fierce father of the Old Testament has turned into a celestial Care-Bear. It’s a form of cuddlification, like making a musical about Jack the Ripper.

Over the course of the Gallipolli campaign, 8450 New Zealand soldiers disembarked, 7473 of them were either killed or wounded.

…..population of the country had reached four million……Auckland houses over a quarter of the country’s people. The North Island, including Auckland, houses three quarters. The South Island, which is roughly the size of England, is home to just over one million people.

…..internet café in Owaka …..Several hundred emails await my attention. Most want me to enlarge my penis, though there are also several inviting me to study other penises at work. All the rest are concerned with money or drugs. Collectively they offer me an inspiring view of the human condition.

A woman in lycra strides ferociously past, driven by an angry devotion to health.

Its an Old English pub which, of course, is neither old nor English but it does employ a barmaid so cheerless, discourteous, inattentive, inefficient and unremittingly idle that there is almost no point in asking her where she’s from. But I do.

‘Barnstaple,’ she says, and manages to turn its three syllables into ‘fuck off’. It evokes a feeling in me that approaches nostalgia.

….Wanaka ….To get some idea of the place, take the English Lake District, heighten the mountains, file their edges, fold them more tightly, cover most of them with snow, iron that snow, enlarge the lakes, intensify the brightness of the light by a factor of ten, banish all drizzle and shoot fourteen out of every fifteen people.

My driver lives and works in Wanaka ……’….Great place to live though, I mean,’ and he gestures out the window at the mountains, ‘look at it.’ ………

…. ‘Look,’ and here he pauses to search for a way to say something that is clearly there in his head, but wordless. ‘Look, sometimes I come home from work and I’ve had a shitty day and I’ve got a head buzzing with shitty little worries and I go outside and I look at the mountains. And I think, shit, those fuckers have been there one fuck of a long time. And then I feel better.’

It’s pure Wordsworth. Wordsworth might have put it more decorously, but he could hardly have put it more honestly……

‘Nice place, New Zealand, but some of the towns, well, you’d find more life in a cemetery.’

…the assorted songs of the bellbird, none of which sounds remotely like a bell, are all of such ineffable purity and unlike any bird song I have heard anywhere else in the world ….some travel writers have been known to go just a little over the top

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….even though there are more bookshops per capita in New Zealand than in most European countries, publishing here remains a precarious business, largely because there are so few actual capita. The only sure way to make money is to publish biographies of All Blacks or books like Your Guide to Ultimate Incredible Outdoor Experiences.

On 31 August 1865, E. Mallard, Charles Brookes and Charles Cuiped were charged with being ‘in a state of vinous elevation, totally inconsistent with their own wellbeing and the public peace’. Good to know that the law was as pompous then as now.

Their monstrous backpacks have littler backpacks attached to them like suckling young.

The North Island ….has a different history, a different geography, and a different climate. Seventy per cent of all New Zealanders live there, and ninety per cent of Maori. Crudely put, the North Island thinks of the South Island as scenery dotted with yokels. The South Island thinks of the North Island as Auckland. And it thinks of Auckland as hell.

The evening takes off its tie and rolls up its sleeves.

I wake at five in the position that corpses adopt for detectives to draw chalk lines around them.

We start with formalities couched in maiden-aunt English. Then Peter drops in a ‘bullshit’. I don’t react, deploy a ‘bastard’ of my own. Soon Peter unleashes a ‘fuck’ and it’s implicitly, semi-consciously, agreed that there are no linguistic taboos. I like that process of feeling out the territory. It’s a type of courtesy.

Trout were introduced to New Zealand in the nineteenth century by groups known as Acclimitisation Societies who imported wildlife from Europe for reasons of sport or nostalgia or food. What they achieved was catastrophe. The rabbits, for example, bred like rabbits. Instead of the farmers eating the rabbits, the rabbits ate the farms. So in came the stoats and weasels to control the rabbits. They cheerfully tucked into the rabbits, until they discovered the native birds. They proved particularly fond of kiwi chicks. Just about the only exception to this catalogue of disaster was the trout.

…..the panoramic view of the volcanoes, the lake, and the little township parked decoratively at its northern end ….. Each home is designed to exploit the view, and each does its bit to spoil it.

Rugby Union springs from the great British public schools, where it combined with cricket, the Church of England and militarism to form a four-pronged defence against masturbation.

The haka belongs. It is unique to this country, and its ferocity and masculinity and bellicosity are entirely apt to the circumstances. It fires the blood.

….The haka that the All Blacks perform was supposedly composed by the warlike chief Te Tauparaha when he was hiding from pursuers in a kumara pit. The early settlers feared and hated Te Tauparaha, but his haka is loved. In translation it goes:

It is death. It is death.

It is life. It is life.

This is the hairy person

Who caused the sun to shine.

Abreast. Keep Abreast.

The rank. Hold fast.

Into the sun that shines.

They are wise to perform it in Maori.

Though Auckland houses more than a quarter of the country’s population, that’s not much over a million people, a number dwarfed by the world’s major cities. And yet Auckland occupies an acreage larger than either Paris or London.

Hamilton ….city …. Its civic motto is Hamilton. More than you’d expect which is less a motto than an admission of defeat.

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