Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year's Happy

The best part of the year happened for us this last month, when our grandson Roi Oliver Douglas was born in Kyoto, Japan.


A new year provides a marker, a milestone reached and the beginnings of the next stage. Measures, markers; the tick of the clock.
Back in the eighties when our sons were small, we always had a large vegetable garden on the go, but we let it lapse when rampant consumerism caught us up in its swirl.

Today we bought a compost bin. I love that it looks like a dalek.

Some resolutions ...
A job change for me.
More picnics ... more photos ...

Writing-wise, I aim to focus on my third poetry collection.
Plus the novel that won't let me forget that it now exists - however embryonic. It keeps growing attachments and limbs; hey! It's organic. But it needs lengths of time I haven't available at the moment. (So make that another reso. To manufacture massive amounts of time to concentrate on writing a novel).

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Fancy Flights and Rainbow Fins

From the deck here at my in-law's home in Queenstown, we can see what's going on around the lake. Like the boat that tows people attached to a parachute out to the middle of the lake, air filling the smiley-face 'chute as they travel and causing them to float up quite high, until the boat stops and they gently float back down on to the water for what I imagine to be a rather wet and chilly re-entry.

Of course flight is no clumsy novelty for this tui and what's more doesn't cost him a penny. The consummate free-loader, here he is helping himself to a feed of honey water.

The seven male 'cuzzies' (cousins) here at Granny and Grandad's for Christmas, went on a Boxing Day, overnight fishing trip on the lake, arriving home twelve hours later with 14 trout - a mixture of brown and rainbow.

Some of which were cooked for tonight's tea (smoked over hickory chips on the barbecue).

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Merry

It seems strange not having a photo to add to this post, but I'm unable to access my photo file at the moment. We have woken to a grey kind of Christmas morning here in Queenstown, where the extended family have gathered from all corners. There will be twenty-one for dinner.
As it's my in-laws, I am an outlaw! but after thirty three years I am starting to get used to their different and funny ways (compared to my own family's twisted ways!)
We are about to have the sherry and a piece of Christmas cake and then open the pressies under the tree. Better go, I think I can hear a van heralding our son and d-i-l's arrival.

Sunday, 20 December 2009


This beautiful amaryllis was given to us by Robert's parents when just a bulb and some leaves. After bringing it home, it only took a week to flower and provide a slash of crimson in our sun-room.

Christmas is slowly drawing near ... I finally brought our potted Christmas spruce tree in from the cold.

'And I was bought and sold
And all I ever wanted
Was just to come in from the cold.'
(Joni Mitchell)

It may be summer here in the Antipodes, but so far (this far south anyway) summer has yet to dig in.

Speaking of digging, an old tractor tyre that used to be a sandpit in the days when I did Home-based Childcare, has taken on another role - as a handy lettuce-and-spinach-grower.

A little like this happy, old kettle that has been reincarnated as a pot-planter surrounded by the ice-plants that remind me of summer days at my Nana's place, with its warm, wooden verandah at the back of the house.

Hopefully our slow-to-warm-up summer season will take note of all this transformation.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Has the Weather Really Changed All That Much? According to Early '80s Entries, Apparently Not.

On this day (Dec. 4th.) in 1978 we were in Scotland and it was Monday. In my Five-Year Diary (one entry per page per year for five years) I wrote: 'Tricks of light today with a huge black cloud hanging over Aviemore and where the sun could get through or under, pools of light have lit upon a hill or part of the village. On our way back from the shops the light was golden and quite beautiful.'
Then down the page to 1979: (Tuesday) when we were back working in Dunedin, New Zealand, living in a flat in Duncan Street: 'Fine day today with a bit of wind. On Sunday we had terrible strong winds and the pot plants on the verandah blew over. Tonight we went for a run ... full moon above the town ... '
Then in 1980: (Thursday) when we had moved to Manor Park, Lower Hutt, Wellington and had just had our first baby son: 'Gusty weather. Had a long sleep this afternoon and felt better for it. Robert's very tired these days! He always goes and gets Steven when he wakes up through the night, and that's a great help. We're gradually learning all about what being a parent means'.
1981: (Friday) when Steven was just over a year old: 'A nice day outside, but I was stuck inside with a dreadful tummy bug. Stevie was excellent and played around in the bedroom, hardly grizzling at all. Robert arrived home at last!'
1982: (Saturday) when I wonder why I thought American basketballers wouldn't be nice? 'A lovely sunny day. Robert was playing basketball for St. Pats on an outside court. A lot of Americans there but they're nice!! It was nice in the sun. We all got sunburnt.'
And note the comment re all of us (that would include the babies) getting sunburnt - a major disaster these days! but back in 1982, just an indication of how hot it was.
However, by 1988 in another diary I note that my attitudes had changed - along with society's no doubt - when we were back in Dunedin and with three sons: Monday, December 5th: 'Today dawns bright, still and sunny. Perfect for the school picnic at Brighton beach. The water was so gentle and light, I could easily have gone for a swim. But there was seaweed and seagull feathers to find! I got sunburnt but the boys didn't as I'd covered them well.'
In 1989 I read an entry about how I was no longer going for walks (or jogs) on my own after an English tourist was murdered on Mount Maunganui ... A fear of walking alone in lonely spots that is still with me. New Zealand had lost its innocence; no longer was it safe for women to go jogging or walking alone, especially in isolated places.
I stopped writing in diaries in the early 1990s. Looking (and reading) back, the days when the children were little seem to be the happiest and most fulfilling times. As they got older and more independent and I began to forge a career for myself in Early Childhood, things began to become a lot harder. More angst-ridden. More complicated.
I still look back on those early days (when I was in my early thirties) as my best years, the happiest years.
Not that the present time is horrible. I have the time and space now to write, which I didn't have back then. I can sit back and chill with a glass of wine. Like I'm doing now, in a silent house and only the cat wanting to talk. (He's a tabby and tabbies are known for their cat-chat.) Robert will be back soon from having a 'few hits' out on the golf course. Just like back in 1979 and 1980, it is a day of gusty winds so it will no doubt be a battle for him out on the links course he frequents. And when he gets back we'll have a light tea and the night will quietly unfold and dissolve. Not a bad life. I should write an entry in the diary. Oh, that's right. No need. Now there's blogging.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

cutting the lawns zig-zag

This cute little fellow was in Steve's in-law's garden in Japan ... just sitting there, being green.

Like the froggie above, I'm just not in the mood to hop to it. Not Christmas shopping, or baking, or trimming trees, wrapping presents, or writing lists. I'm not in the Christmas mood at all. Yet. I need some drizzly weather and the smell of tar-seal roads steaming in the rain. I need to hear the Jim Reeve's version of 'Little Drummer Boy' playing in a crowded mall, the panicked, crush of last-minute Christmas shoppers dashing out of the rain into shops, the mid-shopping cup of coffee to collect my thoughts, cross items off my list ... I need the smell of Christmas lilies, pine, candles, mowed grass ... I need the weirdness of windows and Christmas cards decorated with snowy scenes, robins and sleighs in the middle of our summer, to impact. As it will. I hope. From past experience it usually finally hits me around the 20th. (People try to enforce the mood far too early these days.)
Back when I was a child, Christmas was heralded mid-December by the appearance of crepe paper Christmas decorations pinned to the kitchen's low, pinex ceiling. Streamers flowing out from the light bulb in the middle like ribbons from a maypole, with novelty concertina-ed paper decorations pinned in the spaces between - my favourite was the rooster with a gaudy tail.
Another sign that Christmas was imminent was the wooden crate of fizzy drink bottles in the wash-house. (Us kids all 'baggsing'* the Ice Cream Soda). And Mum panicking over getting all of us kids bathed, the goose plucked, gutted and stuffed and the lawns cut. One Christmas Mum enlisted the help of older cousin Neil to cut the lawns. He got the hand-mower with its wooden handle, ridged wheels, swirly blades all lined up and ready to go. Mum showed him where to put the 3-in-1 oil so the blades and wheels would turn smoothly.
"How do you want me to cut the lawns?" he asked, checking to see if there was a preferred method - up and down rows? Or maybe a square pattern, starting from the outer edge and gradually working in to the last tiny square in the centre?
"I don't care," Mum said, "You can cut them zig-zag if you like, just as long as they're cut."
I was most disappointed when he chose to cut the lawn in a conventional up and down manner. I was sure he'd leap at the chance to cut them zig-zag; I knew that's what I would have done.

*baggsing - baggsing something meant that you had first dibs. (I'm not sure if this is a kiwi expression, a Southland expression or one just made up by us kids ... We would 'bags' the pudding dish, bags sitting in the front seat of the car etc. As there were seven of us, it was a matter of survival).

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

twin peeks

I have no idea why, but I have a mad urge to have two blogs on the spin at the moment. My other one is here if you want to check it out. I think what I'm aiming to do with the new / different one is to have a simplified site (no sidebars, links, gadgets or photos) in which to chronicle any writing progress and processes. Feel free to visit if you wish; no worries if you don't.

What I Didn't Know I Had Forgotten

A photo from my father's album - his first rabbit? At a guess, I would say the photo was probably taken around 1935 - 36 when he was about fifteen years old.

At nine years old I graduated from writing with a Black Beauty pencil, to a fountain pen. I was the proud owner of a marbled-blue, Osmiroid fountain pen with a rubber, inner tube that constantly needed to be tanked up. Along with the hit of raw ink (pungent yet not unpleasant) I remember the fountain pen’s hand-warmed plastic, the taste of its chewed end and the ease of its nifty, lever-operated filler. Sometime in the late 1960s schools admitted defeat, allowing blue ballpoints to be used for general writing (rather than allowing just the use of red ballpoints for ruling margins) and thus fountain pens became redundant.

My father used to keep a diary, writing in small, navy-blue diaries with a thin, capped pencil tucked into the spine. My mother still has all the diaries, except for ‘1963’ which I’ve manged to get my hot little hands on. The entries tell of domestic details and hard yakka: Monday, 10th of June, 1963: ‘Carted two loads spuds sold a porker to Snow Egerton £8 fed pigs cows Fine can of milk from Milton Herrick’.

The pencilled words are smudgy, faint and uneven, almost to the point of being child-like. The word order is endearingly wonky; after reading a few entries, it dawned on me that the word ‘Fine’ interspersed at random in different entries isn’t an adjective, but a reference to the weather that day. Without my father making the effort to each night write down the day’s work done, we would have no record of it. The work is recorded in endless, pencilled, farming verbs: drafting, tailing, lambing, feeding out, clod-crushing, dagging, topping, crutching, sub-soiling, harrowed, weaned, killed, culled … again nothing spectacular, but they are one of the few records we have of his life.

For years I kept diaries too, full of the mundane. One of the entries in 1984 describes the explorations and discoveries our four-year old son was making as he negotiated the labyrinth of language and imagination: ‘Tarati’ is a regular visitor to our home. An imaginary friend whose mother lives in Queenstown. Sometimes she has green hair and a yellow dress.”

Whenever I read these entries, clear associations flood in. I play with time. I recover the past and bookmark it in order to keep its place in the present.

Writing on a laptop is not as earthy as pen and paper. It doesn’t show the sweat. No holes are rubbed in the paper. Sometimes I have a yen to write with a fountain pen again. One with an old-fashioned nib shaped like a digging tool; not unlike the chisel plough my father mentions in his diary. A pen that I need blotting paper for and an ink-well to fill ‘er up. But even if I did act on this I can’t see myself ever surrendering what has become the norm for me, writing on the laptop. Seeing the letters already formed for your fingertips to pick and choose, is more remote than forging the letters for yourself from lead and ink; in fact it feels like cheating; and compared to this clean, calculated method, manually creating the letters yourself with a pen or pencil is honest spadework. However, achieving effortless crisp and professional writing on the screen, becomes addictive.

Writing stored online, or in a computer’s hard drive, isn’t as easy to take a hold of as writing that’s kept between the pages of a book. At present I am using my old diaries as a research tool in order to re-discover something of the mood of the 1980s and ‘90s when I was deeply into parenting. The diaries, tactile and sturdy in my hand, help me to remember what I didn’t know I’d forgotten. When I read Dad’s diary, the feel of its hard-backed cover tucked in my palm, is part of the pleasure. I read it to recover a father taken away too young, too early. Part of that recovery is to see in the entries, his handwriting with all its imperfection; words scratched out, clumsy arrows to the bottom of the page where he has added something he forgot, the mis-spellings, the lack of punctuation. Such revelations would be impossible in any online written piece, historical or otherwise.

Whether I write in ink, pencil or by tapping on a keyboard, like my father there is also something in me that drives me to chronicle my life; to break twigs and leave some sort of a trail. I’ll let my father have the last word: Tuesday, 12th February, 1963:‘Weaned Goargina, Bobtail, Black Slit Ear Got mower ready for Hay went up Stan Shaws to cut Hay too many thistles cut some up top Hoggett Block Fine’.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

End Result, New Begins

I'm back to report I didn't make the word total of 50,000 for the NaNoWriMo. However I came close enough to 40,000 words to feel a sense of achievement. I now have the gist of the novel nailed down. The characters are real (and talking to me). I know where to start and where to finish and generally what will be in the middle. All I need is the time to write the thing. Two-hour blocks aint gonna do it. Even dedicated-writing-day blocks (unless they are endlessly end to end! And wouldn't that be nice?) The novel will be shelved and I will sneak back to sporadic poetry. For now. With a sense of relief.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Good News!

The Environment Court has declined consent for a windfarm in Central Otago's Lammermoor Range, Meridian Energy says.

Resource consent for Project Hayes, a $2 billion, 176-turbine windfarm, was granted to the power company in 2006 and 2007, but was subsequently appealed to the Environment Court.

A hearing began in May 2008 and concluded in February this year.

In a statement today, Meridian spokesman Alan Seay said the court had rejected consent.

The company was disappointed by the decision and it would be assessing the decision in detail to consider its potential responses.

The 630MW windfarm was planned to be big enough to power every home in the South Island. The first stage would produce about 150MW, with Meridian building more turbines as demand increased.

However, the project was opposed by local residents, who wanted to protect the tussock-clad ranges from 160m-high turbines and 12m-wide access roads.

Several high-profile New Zealanders, including All Black Anton Oliver, artist Grahame Sydney and poet Brian Turner, also spoke out against the proposed windfarm.

The only thing that can get me to break my No-vember rule ... is really good news. And the really good news is that the Environmental Court (NZ) has ruled AGAINST the Meridian Wind-Power Project Hayes going ahead.
This is a HUGE victory for the little people of Central Otago and surrounds. We aren't against wind-farm energy, but reason that pristine, attractive land needn't be spoilt for it to happen.
Kudos to poets Richard Reeve, Cilla McQueen, David Karena-Holmes and Brian Turner, artists Grahame Sydney and Marilyn Webb, rugby player Anton Oliver and many, many more who spoke up against this potential travesty.
(Now we hope for similar news re TrustPower's proposed Mahinerangi Project, an equally brutal proposal for Otago's landscape.)

Here is a poem I wrote in protest to these proposed wind farms. It was published in the 'Landfall' and is also in my second collection, 'made for weather'.

nothing to do with you

For a cup of coffee,
you would strike the heart

with an axe, mine stone
for its marrow.

what rolls on into sky. Screw

metal poles into quiet land,
warp and crush

its offer
of light and air.


For northern power,
on land nothing

to do with you,
you would trammel

quilted, southern ground, leave
a trail of stains,

thrust twisted crosses
into its soft belly.

Rocks the wind or sun
cannot move, sleep on.

they carry soft gold

we can hear for miles.

From somewhere,
a farmer

calls his dogs. Somewhere,
the blaring throats

of young bulls
we cannot see.

Under our feet the gravel
coughs. Fallen apples

form a wild carpet
below a crooked tree.

The mist freezes
where it wafts, solid

lace. Cold, bloodless
and beautiful. Still for days

on end, the sun a smear
across the sky’s white mouth.

Bulrushes stuck fast
in frozen ponds.

Willows and poplars
as wan as horse-hair.

In summer, the grasshopper
screams. In summer

the road floats
grey. Purple lupins

and orange poppies
dribble paint.

When we stop the car
we hear overhead

a pair of paradise ducks,
their alternating cries

the unfenced sound
of a mountain tarn.

Seized by the autumn sun,
valleys do not resist

the line and fall
of riverbeds and trees.

“We call this
our golden season.”

She speaks among art-deco

“Here, we don’t get that fog
they get down river.”

And as the railway station’s
useless clouded window

veils the sky‘s
cruel blue,

she talks of a small town now gone,
and the shop she ran for years.

On land nothing
to do with you, somewhere

the sound of a tiny bird.
Somewhere, lovely light,

the sound of nothing, of no-one,
of the air.


Kay McKenzie Cooke

And another poem, below, published in the Otago Daily Times as one of the 'Monday's Poem' choices.

imagined reply

If you say but
they are beautiful
too, he will tell you, yes,
in isolation,
somewhere not pristine,
there is an eeriness,
an artful symmetry like a star
or the centre of an orange.
But here, where wind forms
waves over tussock, how
it chills him, the thought
of these seedless lilies
they say will pit
his falcon-feathered hills.
These aberrations
that stalk and mar
his valleys and till their wind
for power. These bastards,
these pale mills, for as long
as it takes to halt
their wrongly-placed
sway over land
not meant for such rude
points he will tilt at them.
Even cancer cells, he says,
can look beautiful.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Sunday, 1 November 2009

No - vember.

I am going to participate in NaNoWriMo (which is National - altho' it's actually international - Novel Writing Month), so will be taking a rest from blogging and reading blogs for the next month (although I may be sneak in for a catch-up read occasionally.) I am not going to write a novel in a month - it will be more like a rough draft and a whole lot of rubbish! (50,000 words worth.)
I will be on Twitter though, so watch the sidebar for any updates there. In fact, why not join in? Discussions and comments range from the sublime to the welcome relief of the ridiculous. I'm finding it a lot of fun. And then there's Facebook ... I'll see some of you there too.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Dragonflies Don't Require Maps

One of the things we saw in Japan was a swarm of dragonflies - something I've never seen before. Dragonflies are cool, and not just because of their name either. I think it could be their style-y flying - that capacity to stop, start, zoom; the way their chassis catch rainbow tints in sunlight. (Try and replicate that, humans!)

Going to the launch of the ‘Voyagers’ poetry anthology at Circadian Rhythm in Dunedin last week was a fitting way to smooth my way back into being back in NZ; back in Dunedin; back home. The anthology contains science fiction poems written by New Zealand poets. When I asked one poet there if he was in the anthology, he said, “I don’t write science fiction poems.”(He might be surprised!) I didn’t think I did either, but I did try to write one especially for the event, which had an open mike component.
Tim Jones (one of the two editors for the anthology - Mark Pirie being the other) did an excellent job of mc for the reading. Several poets with poems in the book read their poem (sometimes choosing other poems by other writers in the book as well) following that up with more poetry of their own. David Reiter, the book’s Australian publisher, was also there. It’s his second visit to Dunedin (and he must be a good guy, cos he likes the place.) Over the course of the night, he read some poems from the anthology as well as some of his own, and other poetry he’s published from both Australians and NZ’ers. As I am writing this report a week later, I will no doubt have forgotten some of the readers - but from what I can recall, we had readings from: Sue Wootton (who not only read her own poetry, but Katherine Liddy’s ‘Crab Nebula’ from the anthology) David Karena Holmes, Jenny Powell, Cy Mathews, Larry Matthews, David Eggleton, James Dignan, Ian Goldsmith; plus others ... (and apologies to the ‘others’ whose names I don’t recall.)
The excellent ‘Voyagers’ anthology is available to buy. (Please go here to Tim’s blog 'Books in the Trees' to find out where, and also for farther ‘Voyagers’ news.)
My poem kind of wrote itself after sitting in my head gathering steam for about three days. I knew it was going to feature an escalator in Japan, because it was while riding one there that I got a weird feeling of being on the Blade Runner film set. (What did it was the fact that the escalator started speaking in a semi-monotone, telling us to ride it safely, and to keep our hands on the rail etc. ... ) Steve said he seemed to recall from his Film and Media papers at Otago Uni. being told that part of the mood of that film was modelled on modern Japan, and in the film some of the background speech is a kind of Pidgin Japanese. The poem revealed that voyages disrupt and unsettle - maybe it’s a theme of mine at the moment - but are necessary for change, awakenings and re-establishment of place.
The whole process of writing this poem coincided with an interesting piece of prose I came across at the time. Written by the American poet Linda Gregg, it’s about how poetry is ‘found’ (the essay is called ‘The Art of Finding’, and if you are into writing poetry it’s definitely worth looking at - go here.)
Lately my life seems to consist of highways and byways (and runways ...) including on the internet where I am led by links to interesting sites and then from there to others. So much so, I become disoriented, ‘caught up’, forgetting where I started from (and afraid that it might be a metaphor for my life right now.) Where the heck this is all going to lead me, this interest in science fiction that ‘Voyagers’ has fuelled (and it has to be said, Twitter also has a lot to answer for as well) and the itchy feet syndrome I am experiencing at present, I have no idea - but I am looking forward to the trip. I think.

between sons

With our first-born son
caught up in Kyoto
a flowing elevator
pours us through to another level,
tells us to travel safe
in a voice like light

from a blue sun
in one of the Jack Vance books
in the boot of John and Katherine’s car,
there as excess baggage
because even sci. fi. books
cannot alter their weight at an airport,

after all this is the real world
where another son who travels
to Chile
arrives before he left
and on Skype when we ask
our middle son

how he is he replies okay
but still in Dunedin.
Meanwhile, back in Japan
we’re asked to please
remove our shoes
in order

to toe our unshod way
along ancient wood
on feet no longer planted
but wavering,
like the floating feet
of astronauts.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Friday, 16 October 2009

the crow / the grey warbler / one whole week

This is Steve's hood and where we waited for the bus to go into the city of Kyoto and beyond!

Our wonderful guide for the day we went to see another impressive temple in Kyoto, was Kaori, who read a poem at Steve and Eriko's wedding. She showed us a Shoren-in temple that in the end has to be my favourite (I kept being asked; What is your favourite temple? ) Well ... this one was. Definitely. It seemed a quieter temple than the others we've seen, with its aged wooden walls, homely, peaceful atmosphere and harmony oozing from every grain.

It brought the outdoors into the inside. It housed colourful, decorative screens. And the fact that in one room, over fifty ancient poets' portraits were featured, won it over for me.

At the entrance it has a tree that dates back to the twelfth century which I could've spent all day gazing and wondering at. A great old fellow that Steve bowed to on our way out which seemed a fitting tribute to such an aged one.

And we happened to be there for a Bhuddist ceremony .... that involved fire. Awesome.

That night E wanted to show us her 'home town' - Osaka - so we caught the train and had a look-see at her city, starting with a noodle curry meal at kinryu noodle house.

Osaka is very different to Kyoto. Exciting, vibrant and edgy, it contrasts with Kyoto which guards its history and traditional edge. In Kyoto, no building is allowed to be over a certain height - so the hills that ring the city are always visible and the sky apparent. Osaka is different, but nonetheless has its own strong character. We really enjoyed our brief look-see at its life and energy, bright lights and attitude. (For example in Kyoto, people make way for others, in Osaka you're more likely to be bumped out of the way on a busy intersection.) Steve says most of the Japanese comedians come from Osaka. Interesting ... I think that shows that it kowtows to no-one.
It also has its own dialect and terms of speech. I guess if one was looking for an equivalent, it might be London and the Cockneys, or maybe NY?

The family in the subway, heading back from Osaka.

The day before we had James as our guide. James is from Amberley, North Canterbury, but now a long-term resident of Japan. He is a lovely guy and the perfect guide with that low-key kiwi humour to add laughter to an enjoyable walk through the very long fushimi shrine's torii tunnel ( we only got to the halfway point, and that took half an hour).

Near where James lives is tofukuji temple with a stone garden as well as a moss garden.

The first bird I heard in Japan was the crow, the first bird upon arriving back home (nearly a whole week ago now) was the falling-scale sound of our local, little grey warbler. Between them, one whole world.
It has taken me a long time (I’m not there yet, but neither am I rushing it) to stop missing Japan. Having our son and his wife and daughter (and another little baby on the way) of course adds to the feeling of being torn away too soon.
Japan has left a mighty impression on us, for reasons too many to outline here. In fact the frustration of having to pin it all down with clumsy words, has put me off writing this post. Then I decided that all I could do really was a small detail - as in a corner of the whole canvas. (Mike sometimes does this for his Cartoon Moon flickr page - details from the whole canvas. It’s effective too, as I hope are my few reports on what was for me personally an epic voyage.)
Here are just a few memories, filed under 5 memories for each sense:
Sounds: Crows; people calling, "arigato gozimas" - from cheerful shop assistants to bored bus drivers (and everyone in between), cheeping bird-sound over the subway sound systems, chanting monks walking past S&E’s home one morning, the sound of straw brooms sweeping paths.
Sights: dark-suited salary men on trains, paper lanterns, people riding bikes (bikes of all shapes, sizes, models, colours ...) with one hand on the handlebar and the other holding an umbrella, packed-in-tight shoe-box houses, cheesy billboards.
Tastes: Tofu, salted beans, fried chicken gristle, raw tuna, fried stingray fin ... so much variety in the food, so much choice - so sugar-free.
Smells: Incense, cooking from narrow, cobbled alley-ways, tatami mats, ancient wood, warm rice fields.
Touch: Warm toilet seats! ridged bamboo trunks, the bark of a tree dating back to the twelfth century, tatami mats under your feet, the peculiar comfort of a springless futon.
And so much more. Sensory overload!
Steve (who has experienced a few of these switch-from-Japan-to-NZ and vice versa now) suggests my sense of displacement since arriving back home is due to 'the sudden sensory shift. Sometimes takes a while to adjust.' He suggests, ' a bracing walk along St. Kilda beach into a stiff southerly should do it!' He's probably right, but I can't quite make myself take that walk. Not just yet.
Japan and its sensory overloads will continue to remain with us. We will be going back. There are just too many things now on our ‘Next Time’ list for us not to (including, of course, the new grandchild, due soon.)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

All Agog and Well~Fed

Another catch~up after a relatively packed few days when we visited Hiroshima on our own and then on to Okayama prefecture to visit with S's in~laws (two of the sweetest people imaginable.) We are at the tail~end of our amazing trip to Japan to catch up with our son in Kyoto, a fact that leaves us with some sadness. Our wonder at Japan, its customs and sights, continues ~ in fact, gathers momentum as we wander ...

Miyajima Island near Hiroshima is reached via a short ferry trip. We visited in the rain and despite the discomfort of less than adequate footwear (squelchy sneakers and sopping socks) only added to the moody atmosphere of hills, trees, beach and deer ~ not unlike Halfmoon Bay in Stewart Island, NZ ~ if you added to Halfmoon Bay, ancient history, a shrine or two and some un~hunted deer wandering the shopping lanes! as if out for a spot of shopping and a bit of a chat over coffee. That was a wander in the rain on Friday under umbrellas our jeans wet to the knees.

This was the day before, when we visited the Peace Park at Hiroshima. This photo shows thousands of tiny, paper, origami cranes people add to the various monuments as a pledge for peace in the world and the halting of nuclear armament. Hiroshima, the site of an A~bomb attack, is an affecting place with its focus on world peace and graphic, historical evidence of the devastating effects of nuclear war.

We spent a deeply moving time visiting the Museum there, receiving a glimpse of the devastation and horror caused when ordinary citizens going about their daily lives on a summer morning, are suddenly hit with an atomic bomb. (We are also both reading the novel 'Black Rain', which is an effective and enlightening account of that day in August, 1945.)
Despite the bad taste left in your mouth, there is a pervading sense of a non-judgmental hope for world peace, and the brave ability of humankind to rally and recover from such a cataclysmic event.
Both nights we were there, we ate a traditional meal (we are in love with Japanese food!) and on both occasions (both in sharp contrast to each other in their approach and production ~ I might have time to describe these meals in detail at a later date) experienced the warm hospitality and overwhelming kindness and generosity of Japanese people to two receptive, even if at times slightly confused, kiwis.

From there we travelled to the countryside in Okayama Prefecture, to re~unite with S & family at the in~laws.

G is a gardener of some expertise. After retiring, he and N have gone back to G's family land. Note the stone lantern.

Just visible in the upper left corner is the old family home, now falling into disrepair (after all it's over a hundred years old now.) G uses the roof tiles for garden borders.

Mushroom house where very large black mushrooms prosper.

The garden is totally organic. No pesticides were used in the production of this eggplant.

E's pet turtle, now over twenty years old and looked after by her parents. Some parents are left with the cat ... or the dog ... in this case, it's the turtle ~ Okame (which means Mr Turtle in Japanese.) He has free reign of the house and wanders about inside ~ you have to make sure you aren't stepping on him! One of my lasting memories of this trip will have to be waking up to the 'clunk, clunk' sound (identical to a woman in high heels) of Okame's shell on the wooden kitchen floor as he makes his slow and deliberate early morning perambulations.

As well, we visited Christchurch's sister city Kurashiki, which like the Canterbury city, also has a river and willows; but of course a lot more ancient history. The river, willows and bridge are very 'willow~pattern plate'.
I was a little tearful leaving G and N as they are special people to me; we leave S&E&A in their care really so they stand in for us in a lot of ways in the parenting an grand-parenting roles.
I can't leave my report of the visit without mentioning the overwhelming hospitality and meals we had while there. The breakfasts were amazing ~ toast and tea do not come anywhere near to comparing. There was not only the usual (for me) toast and tea, but meat, bread rolls, cakes, boiled eggs, grapes, kiwi fruit (home~grown) tomatoes, beans, peppers, egg rolls with tuna and salmon ... I can't begin to name all that was on the table ... Wow!! Dinner the first night was sushi (hand~rolled yourself) with an array of ingredients to add to the seaweed roll, and sukiyaki the second night with another impressive to the point of overwhelming assortment of ingredients to pluck out from a central pot. Both are extremely friendly and pleasantly lingering ways to eat. We were certainly being thoroughly spoilt.

Before returning to Kyoto, R and I took a little side~trip to reunite with M who stayed with us after S&E's NZ wedding in January this year. She showed us around the castle in her hometown ~ Himeji. She had a friend with her who was fluent in English and who knew a great deal about the castle and its history, so we felt very privileged to once again have our own personal guide. The castle is an impressive piece of architecture dating back to the 17th century (altho' originally built in 12th century and some of the writings and illustrations, weaponry and other historical remnants on show inside date back to that time.)

The day was finished off with a wander around a Japanese garden ~ very peaceful and reflective.
And then it as a train trip back to Kyoto. Only three days left now!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

'Lost in Kyoto'

According to our son Mike, there is a song called 'Lost in Kyoto' ... we have been lost a couple of times but have always been helped out by a local more than willing to oblige us and point us in the right direction. Most Japanese (in Kyoto anyway) seem to know English ~ even if it's just a smidgen. We try and speak what little Japanese we know when we can.
So we have been literally lost in Kyoto, but figuratively not so much, feeling 'at home' here from the start. Having family here adds a certain element of familiarity. However yesterday's news of a tsunami hitting Samoa and the loss of life there, with threats of high waves on NZ's coastline made home seemed very far away, and I did feel a little homesick for familiar faces and locales.

Some dancers I went to see with K, whom we got to know when she came over to NZ for S&E's wedding. She was able to translate for me the information about the beautiful costume's ornamental details and history. It was great having my own personal translator!

A tree covered with paper fortunes. This is one of the many temples (Bhuddist) and shrines (Shinto) we have kindly been taken to visit in Kyoto ~ 'temple city'.

Our friend adds her fortune to the tree.

This is a prayer request that had been hung on another notice board ~ we thought it was rather cute. And it was in English too, which helps!

Outside the temple I have dubbed 'the temple on the hill.' Great views over South Kyoto. When we were there with Steve, there were hordes of school students on a school visit, which I guess could have been annoying but I actualy found their excitement and energy only added to the enjoyment of the visit. They sure were noisy! But it was a happy noise.

In this photo you can see how crowded it was. Steve took this ~ we are there somewhere in the front right by the rail. You can see my red top.

Steve also took us around his old hood in the Gijo district. He has written an interesting blog about it as among other things, it is where the Japanese mafia hang out. I am standing in front of the many 'tea houses' (which is a euphemism.)

This is called Kyoto Kitchen by the tourists and is a long, long line of stalls full of food.

I wonder what they sell here?

This guy bakes biscuits as you watch, using a toaster / hot plate apparatus to bake them on.

Any account of Japan wouldn't be complete without mentioning the funny and quirky (to Westerners) things you see here.

... like branch proppers ...

... mannequins to show how smart your trousers can look while deep bowing! ...

... fair enough too I say! ...

... Steve said that paper v scissors settles many scores with his students and is accepted without question as a way of settling dilemmas or conflict ...

And everywhere you go there is always a 'Pig and Whistle' somewhere for ex~pats to meet up and have a beer and play darts.

One of many delicious Japanese meals we have enjoyed. This is at a vegan restaurant. We are being very spoilt. When we don't eat out, we get to eat E's fabulous cooking (and Steve's a pretty good cook too ~ must be in the surname!)

We are off to Hiroshima today ~ a trip on our own. A litle nerve wracking to go without our guides and interpreters.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...