A Little Distance

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A Little Distance

Category : Art

Well, it happened again. Insert sensationalist news headline here. Earthquakes are a-quaking. But not right under me. Not here. Not this time. We felt the biggie, sat up in bed, said ‘Is that a… oh shiiiit,” and zig-zagged to the doorway, but all the hundreds of after shocks, all hours, night and day, we don’t feel them. Not this time.

And it makes all the difference. Like when your baby starts sleeping for more than 2 hours at a time—blows  you away how much better you feel, how your brain and body remember how to function the next day. World of difference, and it comes as a surprise.

We get to feel capable. I get to feel like some kind of super hero. Like I’m something special because I can get on with life despite it all.

juggle and drop

I can handle the jandal. Helps that the jandal only gave me a gentle caress upside the head, no skin-tearing ear ringer.

Don’t get me wrong, we are weary again. Packing go-bags and filling the water drum from last time, wondering where we put the little battery-powered radio. The day after the biggie that lifted seabed up out of the water and shook the hills off their perches, and stretched the railway tracks around the coast like tinsel draped around a tree—the next day I went to do the groceries. Did a big shop too. Our supply lines are cut, right? Time to pack the cupboards with dried noodles and tinned beans, and other things we may never eat, if all goes well. But just in case there’s a shortage coming… so I’m rolling around Pak’nSave, trolley laden, and I find myself back in my old habit of stopping at the start of an aisle and casing the place, pinpointing where along the ailse I’ll find the four things I want so that I can dash and grab, bee-line and get out quick. Just in case. Spend as little time as possible caged in by towering shelves lined with glass bottles and jars and tins that’d likely brain me if they flew out, if the fault faltered again.

And we’re assured it will. So it’s not unreasonable to think this way.

Tiring, though. And old. Gets old fast now. Only a week later I did the whole shop and the thought only popped into my head once, and not until after I’d done the olive oil aisle.


Yep, I’m getting blasé already. Getting good nights’ sleeps, and nothing fell out of the cupboard when it was a seven point fiver, so…

We’re just that little bit further away. Not even 200kms but still… a little distance makes an enormous difference. The kids slept through. They don’t seem stressed. They talk about making themselves into turtles and crawling under tables like its a game.

I’ve been supervising exams these past few weeks and I’m in there for three hours with almost nothing to do, walking up and down rows of these kids. And thinking. And for some of that time I’m thinking about how they were ten or eleven when Christchurch was hit hard. Anxiety in this age group is meant to be way out of whack. Across Canterbury, mental health issues are significantly increased, post quakes. How many parents are watching their teenagers and wondering if some awful moment is a normal teenage grappling with impending adulthood or something else?

But I might get to skip that, as a parent. My kids are just young enough, just far enough out of reach. Lucky for us. But I feel for those near the action now. I remember—not perfectly, no one does maybe, but enough. In the thick of constant preparing and wondering and what-ifs, you can only really react. Even the plans you make are reactions in disguise.


It looks and feels like a plan, proactive and careful, but nope. Just a reaction. A ruse!

Time and geographical distance is what I have now, and both give me the space to think in a very different way. Not a reaction but a considered, self-aware processing.

I can choose not to check geonet constantly, not to tune in to every news broadcast and fill my head with the cycle of stories—stories of tragedy, near-misses, even the wonderful stories, the happy ones, contribute to a kind of obsession.

I can choose to get my head out of earthquakes, this time.

It didn’t seem like an option last time. Obsession was required—or seemed to be. Of course it’s easy now. Easy not to be obsessed. Easy to tell others not to become obsessed, to warn them it won’t help.

Much harder for those there.

I can step out of myself, almost, and watch my response. I can separate the visceral reactions for the ones I can control. I’ve figured out: I can’t help looking up to see if the lampshades are swinging but I can choose not to get on Facebook and feed off everyone else’s responses.

I’m far enough removed to notice how this whole thing translates so readily to art—this distance, with it’s pros and cons.

When you first create something, you are so close to it, moved by it, reactive, obsessed. Necessarily so. Attempts to be self-aware and moderate, and any pretense of getting on with normal life, is seldom successful and if it doesn’t feel just plain ridiculous it probably, at the very least, is bad for the art itself.

Distance, though, does several things. Time teaches you to see the work objectively. You can measure its impact, see its strengths, weaknesses, self-indulgence and spark of genius. Quakes can bring out the genius, the generosity, the community potential we all kept so well under wraps when life was ticking along and we didn’t need to rely on each  other. In the throes of making art, the art and the artist can be completely unpredictable, can do things no one can explain. At the time, it may seem madness. Later, though, the madness shakes out and it becomes clear which bits were brilliant and which were, perhaps a necessary part of the process but not something to hold on to and retain and revisit and celebrate.


Shake it out. Find the gold. Toss the grit.

Distance has its pitfalls too. Feeling less can suck all the heart out of art, and that’s a problem because,

“the most important element of art or architecture is human emotion.”

– Barak Obama in a speech just this week, awarding Medals of Freedom to a whole raft of people including designer and artist Maya Lin.

He’s so right. Art is important because it has an impact on people. The way it influences or moves people might vary wildly, but it is those responses that lend art enormous value.

Distance can also make you blase about the value of your creation. The rush of passion and sense of importance, the urgency and vitality that pushed you through, you can’t feel that way all day every day. It’s exhausting.


So. Very. Exhausting.

But the absence or presence or intensity of that feeling isn’t a reliable measure of the value of your work.

Distance can be a wonderful thing and I am so very aware of this—every time I see a quake tweet and didn’t feel a thing, every time I watch a light shade swing and then look over to see my kids continuing their colouring-in, blissfully unaware… hurrah for distance! But it comes with dangers too. Feeling less. Forgetting what matters. Being faithless, even: to yourself, your experience, your creation, your community.

I have no easy answer here. No cure. No fix. It’s a tension we’ll have to sit with, struggle with. Along with the survivor’s guilt and some variety of impostor’s syndrome, the best thing is first to become aware. Be patient. Be kind—to yourself and others. Be present. In fact, that’s always good advice for artists. Being present makes for excellent material. And it’ll slow you down a bit, which makes for healthier artists. Working artists. Truer art.

This post was going to end here. Feel free to stop reading, by the way, but I just thought of another application for this distance pro/con conundrum.


Honestly, feel free to stop reading.

Geography puts me, if not out of reach of a particular narcissistic megalomaniac (yes, the one who is making even the Dutch reconsider the colour orange), then at least in the far reaches of the danger zone. Socio-economic factors put me out of touch with numerous aspects of NZ’s politics. Ability, education, race, sexuality, age, body type and gender can give you proximity or distance from any given movement or issue or piece of legislation. Having diverse friends will lend you proximity to issues you would otherwise easily, unwittingly, be untouched by.

I am a white, cis, hetero, able, young, employable, educated home-owner. I could choose to feel less about so many things. I have the luxury of that choice. I could forget the importance of issues that don’t touch me, and be faithless. It’s easier for me than for most.

Distance can be nice. Easy. I get to feel capable, independent, in control. When distance is dropped in your lap, accepting it is instinctive.


Oooh, goodies. For me? Yes please.

But can I implore? Is that allowed? Please, bridge the distance. Seek to feel more—for yourself, and your humanity, and for others. Choose not to forget how important these things are to the daily lives of other people and their families. Choose to be faithful, first in thought, and then follow where that leads.

A little distance can be a good thing, a much-needed breather, but too much and we all lose out. In politics—which is far reaching. In art. In civil defense.

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Category : Art , Education

The gorgeous book was gorgeously launched! The Laboratory, Lincoln’s very own brew bar, was packed to the rafters with writerly types. Good beer, good poetry, and lots of “I can’t believe how many people are here! I thought no one liked poetry!”

The place was buzzing. A real party. With TWO mayors. (A week later, I can only remember the name one of them.)

christchurch mayor at the launch

There she is, the lovely Lianne Dalziel. She said poets can say things mayors aren’t allowed to. I like her.

So the book is ‘Leaving the Red Zone’. The editors are Jo Preston and Jim Norcliffe, veritable pillars of the writing community in these parts. I’d met Jim before but Jo was new, and a total dream of an M.C. – tearing up with all the feels one moment, making dirty jokes the next. I think we might one day be best friends, basically.

There are 148 poems in this baby, from 87 different poets, and I knew that before I got to the bar. I’d had a pretty lousy day, to be honest. It started horribly early – but on theme, if nothing else – with a couple of earthquakes. And then, from dawn to dusk, I was plagued with all those awful things our brains tell us on pivotal days.


  • I bet they took every poem. I’m not special.
  • I’m in it, therefore the standard can’t be very high.
  • I’m not a poet. I’m a novelist.
  • It’ll be a rubbish self-pub-looking pamphlet

And then I got to The Laboratory, bought a pint, found a friend, and man alive! The place was packed out. The book is gorgeous. Seriously, it’s just a nice-looking, nice-feeling book. And enormous – no pamplet. And it turns out, the editors received 10 times as many submissions as they put in the book.

me and the book

One highlight: the honorary mention of the one poem that they wanted to, but didn’t dare, publish: something about Gerry Brownlee that might have been actionable. I still wonder why that poem wasn’t read at the launch. That’d be covered by freedom of speech. Sure. Come on. Inquiring minds want to know. (Inquiring minds are never fond of Brownlee, after all.)


There it is, the first two stanzas of my baby. It’s official: I’m published.

What’s weirder is that I’m a poet.

So here’s the ugly truth: I’m kind of disappointed that for all the hours and hours, all the dollars and euros and pounds, all the tears and sleepless nights and long blocked-but-writing-anyway days, I’ve spent on my novels, it’s a poem I wrote on a train, en route to a writer’s group, and then reworked eighteen months later and submitted because why-the-hell-not? that finds an audience.

But it’s a start. A step in the right direction. And it’s a cool poem. Something to be proud of, regardless of its size.

I’ve been writing more poetry. Next stop, submissions. I’m not giving up on the novels, no way, they’ll get there. But there’s more than one way to do this thang. I guess this is the way I’m doing it.

And while I’m at it, I’m taking two online film courses: one on screenwriting and one on the whole film making process and all the dirty dirty logistics. Money. Time. Heaps of equipment I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE. OR WHAT IT’S FOR.

Meanwhile, at my theatre studies class, we’re acting. Yikes. Trying new things. Scary. Actually, the hard thing is doing this stuff without getting scared about looking like a fool. Embrace the looking-like-a-fool. And never rehearse in front of a mirror. Advice straight from Kate Winslett, right there. (Via bafta guru, a website which will make you feel so tiny and insignificant, or perhaps inspire you. Maybe.)

I feel like this post has wandered, so I’m going to grab a coffee and then do-over another poem.

leaving the red zone

‘Leaving the Red Zone’ is available at Scorpio Books or by order from Clerestory Press – clerestory@xtra.co.nz

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Christchurch. It’s an odd place. And I’m in an odd space, straddling the fence (as uncomfy as it sounds) between the arrogance of a newcomer who hasn’t yet seen the diversity and complexity of a place and so can make sweeping judgements based on a narrow view (ie. man, cantabs are a fit bunch, all biking up Hackthorne Road at half-8 every morning…) and the other side of the fence: feeling completely ill-qualified to say or even really think anything with any kind of certainty about this place.

a different perspective

Living here, on the hill, where I’ve never lived and spent very little time before, I am realising that some of my assumptions about Christchurch, in the more-than-decade I lived here before, were always a bit skewed to my neighbourhood, the demographic of the majority of my friends and acquaintances, my similarly-limited experience of the other cities I’d lived in (Auckland and Hong Kong) and the things I liked and didn’t like about those ex-homes…

a different demographic

Kids are a quick introduction to a wider demographic. Though some would say the parent-crowd is a narrow demographic, it’s still new to me.

Socialising without widely-used and widely-available public transport is different. The hours here are generally so much earlier than in France. I went to a writers group that was all over before nine and we didn’t even open all the wine. Catching-up with old friends and making new ones are both different experiences to hanging out with people you bump into every other day. Sight-seeing in a place that you feel you belong to is different from sight-seeing in a foreign land.

New Zealanders seem obsessed with their houses, their diets and which brand of yogurt or detergent is best, but actually those are probably international obsessions and I’m someone who a) doesn’t own a house, b) has had to change brands of everything (and used to teach media studies, so can preach with the best about how marketing is aiming for brand loyalty big time – YOU’RE BEING MANIPULATED), and c) my most successful diet involved generous doses of bread and cheese. I walked a lot. I still walk a lot. I have no intention of cutting bread or cheese. Or cheesy bread.

In some ways, things and people seem same-old, but at second glance not really at all. And, of course, Christchurch has changed. We were here for the earthquakes and a year of aftershocks and demolition and adjusting. But in the three years we’ve been away, the demolition has gone rip-roaring on and driving through the city I keep getting completely disoriented. Rebuilding has now (finally!) begun, in some areas anyway, and in the empty spaces, the waiting, other cool stuff, temporary or not, has sprung up: bars and cafes made of scaffolding and builder’s plastic, art installations framed by cranes and construction. And then there’s the street art. It’s not new, but I suppose I came to appreciate the street art in Paris and coming back, it’s a nice surprise.

official street art, an oxymoron?

So there’s the official kind, which is impressive and some is just plain beautiful…

elephant street art

street art in christchurch

…but street art with permission seems a little oxymoronic, don’t it?

unofficial art installation

And then there’s the unofficial kind, the twisted remains of steel reinforcement, the pillars channeling roman ruins (the poorly upkept type, sure) and the illegible paint-job behind the security fencing.

So walking through christchurch is a vastly different but not unpleasent experience. The cathedral’s a bit of a shock everytime I drive up Colombo Street and I’m suddenly there (so many of the buildings in the lead-up have gone that I don’t realise I’m close until I’m there). I’m not one for fierce attachment to buildings and that might be because I moved internationally when I was twelve, twice, and then again when I was fourteen, inter-island-ally, and so my concept of ‘home’ is indecisive, to say the least. I am very glad, however, that they are saving the Art Centre.

cranes and work

For my non-cantab readers, this was the old university buildings but has long been an arts and culture centre of the city, with weekend markets and every day artist studios, theatres, cinemas, museum space, community classes, galleries, the works. The first time I ever exhibited paintings it was on the street outside this place. I took a creative writing class here while I was working on my first ever novel. Luuk and I went on our first date to see ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead’ at the Court Theatre and then to Dux-de-Lux for their legendary seafood pizza.

Just over the road from this pile of rocks, is the YMCA, and they’ve been hosting a whole hoard of street art in an exhibition which closes, um, tomorrow…

spectre exhibition, chch ymca

Large and small, super-famous and not-so. Street art of a variety of shapes and flavours.

tilt and banksy

Tilt and Banksy co-built this half-white, half intense tags and full-colour, room. The nearest picture here reads, ‘I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit.’


canapes, can o' peas - what's the dif?

Having just spent three years wrestling with French, this one resonated.

not louis vuitton

This one just made me laugh because I had a friend in Paris who was a designer for Louis Vuitton and even he said he couldn’t say it right.

Luuk and I walked the streets after seeing the exhibition and found heaps of work on the walls of the city. ‘Tis a right mess in there, but it’s cool to see progress and there’s something therapeutic and metaphoric about finding beauty in a mess.

I’m happy to say it’s not metaphorical for my life as a whole right now. We are settling down and our place is nearly organised. The routines are starting to fall into place and it’s not hard to find beauty. Don’t look at the crumbs on the carpet or the coffee grinds on the kitchen bench, just feast your eyes on the Southern Alps, the bright, dusty plains, the immense sky, the motley autumn trees, and if you listen, you’ll hear the birds in the Kowhai outside the kitchen window.

In my next installment I might show you around the house a bit. By then I’ll finally have all the pictures up on the wall.

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What the fête is going on?

Tags :

Category : Daily Life

(and where the holly are my Christmas presents?)

We have to move. If we find a place soon we’ll be shifting flats within the same suburb and staying till July next year, as planned. Then we’ll move back to New Zealand. As planned.

If we can’t find an apartment in the next month then, come mid-February, when our lease ends, we will move back to New Zealand. Once again our plans are all up in the air.

Kind of like Luuk’s key was, in the elevator yesterday.

found key

Funny story. He must have dropped it and whoever found it decided to hang it from the dodgy wire that sticks out of the elevator light.

I saw it and thought ‘how wonderfully absurd’ and took a photo, not knowing it was Luuk’s key.

So that was the highlight of yesterday. I know, that sounds terrible, but the kids have been sick and the getting-better thing is making them grumpy little wretches. Even christmas baking was a bit of a downer because I overcooked the cookies. I should know – trust the clock, not the look.

Anyway, so moving. Maybe. Definitely, but not sure when. Or where. But it’s easy, especially this time of year, to get so wrapped up in day-to-day stuff that even an imminent (just 2 months away) and major change can fade into the background. It is probably making me look at my friends here with a bit of the expectation that I will have to say goodbye soon. And NZ being where it is, far far away, it might be years before we meet again.

One friend in particular is moving out of the city over the next two weeks (it’s a process) and we’ll probably visit them out in the wops before we jet off, but there will be no more grabbing a drink before we pick the kids up from halte garderie, no more 7-types-of-cheese-and-accompaniments picnic lunches between the kids’ morning and afternoon sessions.

In NZ christmas is always the time for finishing things, for saying goodbye to teachers or students and heading off for summer break, but it feels like that a little bit here, this year. School’s only off for 2 weeks, and halte garderie less than that. But I suppose, all my life, christmas parties were end-of-year send-offs.

pomme d'api christmas party

Elena’s christmas party was last week. They nursery she attends is so sweet. I feel very lucky in that regard and hope we can find such a good fit in NZ.

christmas party story time

The teachers read and acted out a lovely little winter story about a bunch of animals taking shelter in a giant mitten. And then the bear joins them and (spoiler alert) the mitten breaks. Elena’s teachers, most of the time, are the two on either side of the ‘stage’ and the woman with the book is the principal.

Louis’s school has christmas trees up in every room, and they took them to a movie about a snowman last week, but as far as I’m aware there’s no christmas party. Which is fine – one less thing. They’re doing lots of lovely christmas art, though, and they actually (at 4!) look at artists and copy their styles.

Louis' painting

I’m rather impressed. And he’s rather proud.

Speaking of art, I better get on and make some. I’m editing like crazy – what else is new? And I’ve only got an hour before I need to go get Elena.

PS. I ordered all my christmas presents online and they’re not here yet! So I’m going to be dragging out people’s christmases with late pressies, I suspect.

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The 100 Days Project

This year was the fourth year I’ve participated in the 100 Days Project. It is a creative exercise in which participants repeat the same artistic (little-a artistic, broad definition of art) process or task each day for 100 days. This is definitely of the quantity-over-quality-leads-to-quality school of thought.

I’ve done a variety of visual and written tasks in the past, and this year I combined the two in 100 lies we tell kids.

This year was the first year I’ve participated in the Day 100 Show. In fact, this year, there are three of these exhibitions. The Europe one was just for one day, in IJsselstein, in the Netherlands, but the Wellington show is on all week and the Auckland show is this coming weekend, so if you can get along, have a look at all the incredible collections people have put together over the past 100 days.

Day 100 show, Europe

The Day 100 Show, in Europe, at the IJsselstein Library, last Saturday.

100 lies we tell kids

My exhibit.

IJsselstein 100 day show

The ‘ninos’, the eyes, a few monkeys, and at the end the 5 year old twins’ ‘Hearts and Houses’ exhibit.

100 collages

100 collages.

100 eyes

100 eyes.

100 ninos

100 Ninos.

There were a dozen or so exhibitors and we managed to video chat, eventually, with Emma Rogan, the kiwi who started the whole project up a few years ago.

handy to have tech support on site.

In the foreground: Luuk, being tech support, and figuring out how to get around Emma’s hotel wifi restrictions… which did eventually work.

In the background: 100 octopuses!

My absolute favourite were the blind contour drawings, a style thing I’m definitely going to have to try.

blind contour drawings











This artist drew all sorts of things but the drawings themselves were all kinds of weird and wonderful.

pumpkins and giraffes



These giraffes were probably my favourite.

This the first time I’ve participated in an art exhibition and I absolutely loved it. Artistic community for the win, frankly, and going out for drinks and dinner and quadri-lingual conversation afterwards = all good. Bit tiring but GOOD.

The whole 100 days thing brings out some interesting stuff about artistic process and whatever it takes to call one’s self an artist. Some of the exhibitors displayed their work in day-by-day-order and I definitely noticed how the first half are kind of steady, good but perhaps a bit predictable, and then there’s a hitch in the middle, sometimes the quality isn’t so strong, motivation is low, perhaps a day or two get missed, but the second 50 days are really interesting. Things get a bit desperate, but creativity really comes into play. Those off-the-wall, bold ideas, which are hard to feel sure about at the time, come out, and often they’re the best bits of all. I’m very aware, as a writer, than when I’m working on a given scene I’m rarely certain of the quality of my work, and even if I’m certain, I’m not objective. I’m often wrong about the strength of my writing when I’m drafting it, but later I can see more clearly.

This project is a great way of gaining some confidence as an artist, to trust your own gut and try things, not expecting everything to work well, but knowing that good work comes out of LOTS OF WORK.

Luuk and I had the weekend on our own in the Netherlands. Mum arrived from NZ last Thursday and bravely babysat the kiddos for the weekend, despite jetlag. She’s staying for the holidays so we’ll be doing lots of Paris sights and perhaps Luuk and I will nab another couple of nights out with our handy live-in babysitter around. Louis is off school, though Elena’s nursery goes on as per usual, so Mum and I will have the kids with us most of the time – tomorrow, at the Louvre, and Thursday perhaps Montmartre.

As usual, I’m writing/editing in all the down-time – the kids are napping now, and whenever they’re busy playing I’ll snatch some words. I’m editing one project, though I got an editor’s report back on another this morning. A third is sitting in a couple of slush piles, and a fourth is probably a quarter of the way through draft 1 in my journal, perhaps ready to go for nanowrimo. Which may or may not happen, depending on my editing progress and the speed with which people get through their slush piles.

I have to say, it is rather good to have the 100 days project behind me. My photos and paintings and words from the project might, one day, boil down to make a fun coffee-table style book, but no mad rush there. It could make a good Christmas present, I suppose, but I just don’t see it happening in the next month or two. So if you want to read all the lies, have a scroll through my 100 days project page, here.

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finding pace

We’re back at it. Luuk’s at work, Elena’s at halte garderie (well, not this very minute. Right now she’s watching Monsters Inc. for the thousandth time), Louis is at school and I’m in the thick of revisions… again.

the kids and their friends

The kids are happy to be back in routine, and playing with all their buddies.

They’ve gone and changed up the school timetable, so Wednesday is now a school day – but a half day – and every other day wraps up at 4pm (used to be 4.30) which means everyone’s a bit confused… but three weeks in, it’s settling down.

I’ve found myself a french conversation group, and signed Louis up to stay after school on Thursdays so I can go. I’ve even got myself a little job – talking English with a kid for an hour a week. Yeah, it might cover the cost of printing all my drafts. But probably not.

lovely autumn

Lovely autumn

September is gorgeous in this bit of the world, if you can slow down enough to notice. They have a cheese and wine fair in Antony each year, which seems a wonderfully hedonistic way to celebrate.

cheese and wine fair

Foire au fromage et aux vins!

champagne at the antony foire au fromage et aux vins

My happy place: the champange tasting.

Last year it rained… but this year I think Luuk got a bit of sunburn. Needless to say, we are stocked up to our eyeballs. We will be eating a lot of cheese in the next few weeks. Wine, at least, lasts for a long time. But in our enthusiasm to taste it we have two bottles open right now – one has gone into a bowl with chicken (I’m gonna try coq au vin) and the other will be going into tonight’s risotto. (The chicken needs a day or two of swimming so we’ll eat it tomorrow.)

So we’re eating well. Surprised anyone?

There have been a few cool bits and bobs in the past couple of weeks:

– I met Margaret Atwood at the Festival America at Vincennes. And she signed a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale for me. I was not at all cool about it. Star struck silly, in fact.

handmaid's tale, signed by margaret atwood

– Elena is biking to school and garderie, so we’re inching toward the end of the pushchair.

elena on her bike

– There was writers’ group last week, and we tackled a whole novel. We’re all working away at novels and usually do a chapter from each, in a session. But for editing purposes, looking at a piece of work in its entirety can be hugely helpful, and it went very well.

photo (2)

 From beginning to end.

I also found it encouraging to read a complete manuscript, written by a member of our group, and next time we’re doing one of my whole manuscripts. There’s at least one other member with a finished one so perhaps we’ll tackle that (when said member gets back from hiking in Nepal…)

– There’s an election in NZ, in a couple of days in fact, and there have been lots of great conversations via social media. I’ve been particularly encouraged by how many of my former students are taking an interest and getting involved. One of my favourite units to teach was on government and democracy (link is to a great documentary) and five years later those kids are old enough to vote, and still give a damn. So, win!

– I’ve been reading ‘The Humans’ by Matt Haig – a downright brilliant book. Highly recommend. It’s not long or difficult, but wow, talk about tackling the big questions with humour and heart.

I feel like I’m forgetting something, but that might be it. Elena’s gone down for her nap so I’d better get back to my disgraced heroine and the unconventional earl she’s accidentally falling in love with. As you do.


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the nether… regions

It’s been quite a week. That seems to happen a lot.

Luuk got back from Japan, and then three days later we went to the Netherlands for the weekend. How’s that for a succinct summary?

But wait, there’s more. There were other nether-lands. The nether-regions of my adolescence reared their heads (too many metaphors? too bad) – I went to a Backstreet Boys concert. Yes, ’tis true.

And ’twas awesome. I haven’t been to nearly enough concerts in my nearly 30 years.

backstreet boys, dancingThey did their wonderful dances, all in time and basically actions to match the lyrics. Corny? Yes, a tad. But awesomely so.

If you know and love ’em, you know what I mean. You’re smiling. You’re probably doing a quick youtube search to refresh your memory… If you don’t know what I mean then don’t look it up. It’s probably important to be introduced to this stuff when you’re going through puberty – to develop a taste at an early age. Like with marmite.

Anyway, Erin and I had a wonderful time dancing and singing along, occasionally screaming, and repeatedly saying, “I can’t believe I’m actually here!” They sang many of their old hits and a few of their new releases. Catchy tunes and sentimental lyrics, but I like one of their new ones a lot. They wrote it for their kids. They’re all grown up (the boys, not their kids).

The next couple of days, wow, I felt old. Luuk was recovering from jet lag and off work, so we took it easy. Thursday, Louis’ school had a special day – all the kids were to come dressed up for the ‘bal de la mer’ – an ocean-themed dance. They did a little parade, all in their costumes, for the parents.

dress ups at school


Louis (in civvies), parading with his teacher and classmates…

Unfortunately, Louis would not wear the awesome shark costume we borrowed from his friend. He wore it before and after school, but would not let us put it on him for the actual period in which all the kids were together and dressed-up.

shark in the car!

Shark in the car!

Luuk and I took advantage of both children being at school/nursery, and went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel at the movies. We were the only people in the theatre! Middle of the afternoon, at an english language showing, and we had the place to ourselves. And then we went for coffee. We called it our anniversary.

Next day, Louis skipped school, and we all bunked off to the Netherlands. We had bought Louis a new bike and it was much cheaper to have it shipped to a dutch address, so we were headed for Luuk’s aunt and uncle’s place near Nijmegen. But we had all day to get there so we drove via Reims.

cathedral at reimsThe Reims Cathedral

We had lunch and then wandered a bit around the town, but mostly looked at the Cathedral. The stained glass is incredible! So many different styles within one structure. And I found one by a favourite artist –

chagall window, reims cathedral

A window by Chagall.

We had to get a move-on, to be in the Netherlands in time for dinner.

The drive is over 5 hours, from home to Nijmegen. The shorter route is getting old now (we’ve done it a few times) so this other way was more interesting. Parts of it have dramatic scenery, but lots of northern france/belgium have a similar look about them… from the main highways, anyway.

driving north, in france


Driving north, from Paris to the Netherlands.

We stayed with Luuk’s uncle and aunt for the weekend, which was mostly very restful. Louis loved his new bike and Elena, not quite ready for his old one, enjoyed a little ride-on toy they had on-hand. They also had a swing (they have grandchildren of their own…) and lots of toys for the kids to spread around the house…the swing!

On Saturday we visited Nijmegen, a beautiful and OLD city.

de brocante, nijmegen

De Brocanterie, in Nijmegen – a great place to hide from the rain.

Luuk’s cousin came to visit and after a fortifying afternoon tea…

elena and oom pieter

… we went for a walk on the dijk. That’s right, they live on a dike. I’d never seen one till we visited them a few years back, so I’m going to show you around…

walking on the dijk

This is the road along the top. To the right is an area which floods. You can see the river in the distance. When the river is low, cattle graze this bit.

the house by the dijk

This is the left hand side, looking down toward the houses and farms which are lower than sea-level but, thanks to the dijks, don’t flood.

We walked down to the river, which is sort of part of the Rhine.

on the river waal

It was cold, but the rain held off and we threw a few stones in the water (this is one of the kids’ favourite pass-times). Unfortunately, some of these stones were horse poop. Probably. River-water-treated-stone-like-poop. Yum.

The kids were grizzly and miserable walking back… being carried, in fact. And they’re fat hobbits – yeesh! We worked up an appetite and boy, did we fill it. We did raclette for dinner!

Sunday morning, we headed off early, so as to avoid the eight pm crawl into Paris. But we had enough time to stop and see a bit of Antwerp. We went to a (Belgian – duh) waffle house for lunch and then walked around, stretched the legs, and stumbled upon the Rubenhuis – the house of Peter Paul Rubens. He was an artist, and he designed the building himself. The signs said it was noteworthy, so we went for a nosy.

rubens' house in antwerp

View from the garden, showing one wing of the Rubenshuis.
(The other wing is quite different.)

The kids were being rat-baggy, so there was no dilly-dallying, admiring paintings for lengthy periods. But, I’d recommend the place to anyone passing through Antwerp. Lots of art, but not enough to overload, and combined with interesting stories, cool architecture, and a garden… very well-balanced.

There is also a chocolate factory/shop just across the way, so if you need to recharge…



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(city of) art and light

Photos of Paris come in all shapes and sizes. There are the classic post card pics that a thousand people are taking at any one time up at trocadero…

the grey city of light

Comme ça.

And then there are the lesser-seen sides of things. Beneath trocadero there live a lot of fish. Because… it’s the Paris Aquarium.

fish in the darkLuuk and the kids, watching the fish.

kids and luuk and fish It was pretty great for the kids but also expensive. Perhaps aquariums are always a bit that way… expensive to maintain and therefore… well, anyway. Vancouver aquarium may have spoiled me for life. No beluga whales in Paris, and the sharks were kind of puny. Cool tropical fish and lobsters, though. Many nemos and many dorys.

Anyway, more Paris:

croques and crepesWe had classic Paris street food for lunch: a croque monsieur for the kids, a crêpe for me, a panini for luuk (ham and cheese makes it Parisian, right?) and for dessert, beignets! (Mini filled donuts, but the ones in Antony are better…)

This week the Christmas lights arrived… the official town lights are UP but not ON, which is strangely depressing. But the shops put them on while they’re still putting them up.

Christmas Pig-outIn the spirit of christmas, the season of pigging out, we have this picture of a family feast and candy ornaments everywhere. The gift shop on Rue de l’Eglise has since added a Santa parachuting beneath a lit-up umbrella.

I, for one, think the dry cleaners got it about right. Christmas is pressing. ‘Tis true.

christmas if pressing

I do love the whole bi-lingual homophone word-play thing. Gives me thrills every day. I mean, EVERY day.

Yesterday Elena and I went into Paris. I’m stocking up on Parisian bits and bobs to take back to NZ for our friends/family (get your requests in now), and so we spent some time in the mall at Les Halles and then ascended to ground level for Hema (Dutch chain, loved by the French, though they cannot pronounce the name… Loved by me for their 75 cent stuffed speculaas.)

christmas window

This is a christmas window. To be fair, it might have been misunderstood without the notice.

Shopped-out, the kid and I continued on to Le Lilas for lunch with a friend of mine.

street art in le lilas

Street art, on the way to the restaurant.

We did cous cous and tajines for lunch, and Elena ate only the honey chevre entrée. Silly girl. Then onward to my friend’s workplace: a gallery of mostly documentary/art films.

The first was footage from soviet youth day in 1987 (just before the fall of the soviet union) collated with audio (which I didn’t understand). The footage was subtitled in French so I could follow much of that, at least.

elena hiding in the 80sSpot the kid among the 80s Russians…

elena and the soviets

Elena and the Soviets.

The video was mostly like an olympic-opening-ceremony style performance, with a lot of people in colour-coordinated garb, making shapes and patterns in a large stadium… but later on there were soldiers and some of the audience shots were in slow-mo. Very ominous, really.

elena on screenThe end.

Elena was pretty cool about sitting in the dark, watching the young Russians dancing, and then we wandered around the light part of the gallery and she looked at everything.

the punk'd portraits

No one else was there, so that made it simpler with Elena. Galleries with kids isn’t impossible, but generally we shepherd them about, or strap them into the pushchair. Unless there are no other customers, and then it’s gloriously free reign (so long as she doesn’t touch the hot projectors…)

elena at Khiasma, paris

Wandering the exhibition spaces.

dancing soldiers and elena

This documentary was a collection of all the (many) clips of soldiers in Iraq… dancing. Which was both hilarious and interesting – the environments they’re in, the other people around them, reacting, the oppressive boredom that is a big part of war, it seems. Fascinating. But also quite a laugh, at times. Black comedy, of sorts.

Elena kept touching the walls, trying to reach into the films. One of the perks of going to galleries with a kid: you see things, to some degree, from their perspective as well as your own.

We returned to Antony (about an hour’s travel) and spent the remainder of the afternoon at a friend’s house – she’d collected Louis from school. The wee man has done a whole week of full days now. Go Louis! I was too tired to get us up and off home so we lingered, planning on Sushi for dinner. But Luuk got home early and cooked. Risotto! Brilliant husband, that one.

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trial and error

This parenting shtick is all trial and error. You know what? This LIFE shtick is all trial and error. I mean, sure, there’s good advice (there are whole books full of it) but it’s hard to be sure the advice is good until you’ve tried it out to see if it errs.

So we stuck Louis in school for full days and it’s been a bit rough (mostly on Louis, but sure we all suffer with him). Getting better slowly, but still, we decided to pedal back to half days. Just for a month or two. Maybe, miraculously, he’ll master a nutritious and adventurous diet at home before we throw him back to the canteen sharks with their fantastic school menus.

Maybe, come January, he’ll still eat only bread and compote at lunch, but he’ll be happy after his nap and not missing his mum. For now, I’ll pick him up in the middle of the day and he’ll have lunch with Elena and me, à la Maison. Then, after we drop Elena at halte garderie he can nap away the afternoon.

Elena, meanwhile, is rocking nursery school. She is welcome to stay till 5.30, already! Happiest kid on the block. Envy of the world (or at least parents whose children suffer separation anxiety)…

So we’re changing up the routine again. I was reluctant to give up so soon. I’m of the wait-and-give-it-a-chance school of thought on most things. It can be hard to know when to stick at something a bit longer and when to jump ship, try a different tack.

Am I messing with metaphors again? Am I mixing boating metaphors? Blame the stupid late nights watching the stupid America’s Cup.

On the weekend we visited Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I thought it was a modern art museum but in another vein from the Pompidou centre. No psychedelic lights, pantyhose and perspex here.

sculpture outside musee d'orsaySculpture outside, on arrival at Musée d’Orsay.

Much as I love that ‘it’s art cause I say it is’ stuff, Musée d’Orsay is something else and gorgeous. It’s in an old railway station and the building itself is stunning. It houses the french version of the statue of liberty, as well as many other incredible sculputre, and numerous works by Monet and Manet, Degas and Van Gogh, Renoir and Cézanne, Gauguin and Rodin… you get the picture. Needless to say, I bought lots of postcards at the shop on the way out.

view inside musee d'orsay

Musée d’Orsay. Just, wow.

inside clock face, musee d'orsay Cool old railway station, and clock faces.

art fatigue seats

Seats for dealing to art fatigue… or climbing on.

Looking at all that beautiful art made me want to paint, to sculpt, to study the human form and teach my fingers to render it, to teach my eyes to see more, notice more…

Thing is, there’s only so much time in the week. Becoming a better writer is taking an awful lot of time, and I’m working at that every day.

I’m resisting restlessness this week. Maybe one day I’ll dedicate time and study to painting, to sculpture, to mosaics. But this day, I’ve got a novel to edit, to sculpt and render and shine, and just like those masterpieces in the galleries, it’s going to take time and dedication and sacrifice.

women statues outside musee d'orsayI bet these ladies had discipline.

On which note, back to work.

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Pompeii Day

Category : Art , Seeing the World

Thanks to Microsoft’s ‘Ancient Lands‘, a CD-Rom that came with our very first computer in 1995, I’ve been curious about Pompeii for a while now. When we started planning our Italy trip I put it on the must-see list. Really, it’s the primary reason with ended up in Naples at all.

Turns out there’s other stuff in and around Naples, but nonetheless, we reserved one whole day for the ancient buried city of Pompeii. In 79 AD Vesuvius erupted and buried much of the vicinity in ash and pumice, killing off the 20 thousand or so people living in Pompeii. The place was forgotten and nothing rediscovered until 159


Interestingly, it was re-buried, basically, and this happened more than once! The frescoes discovered, each time someone stumbled upon this treasure, were too risqué, apparently. Even though it’s been a tourist destination for over 250 years now, those dodgy bits were predominantly closed to the public until the 1960s! And now, of course, they’re the most popular bit of all and feature prominently in the souvenir shops.

But somehow we managed to remain ignorant of this whole story and took a route through the city accidentally avoiding the brothel remains. (I am disappointed, yes.) Still, we saw plenty! And it was all fantastically awesome and brilliantly olde. That’s right, olde with an ‘e’. It was that olde.

theatre at pompeii

Luuk and Elena in an amphitheatre (Louis and I at the top, not pictured.)

wall relief at pompeii

Incredibly detailed artwork EVERYWHERE, but these are just a few examples.

frescoes and ceilings at pompeii

This is one of the few buildings with it’s roof intact.

ruins at pompeii

Obviously, the roof here would have caved in and rotted away, though some of this may have been an open courtyard.

forum pompeii, and vesuvius

The central forum (like a town centre), surrounded by temples and churches as well as administrative/civil offices. And that’s Vesuvius in the background.

mounting the steps of the pompeii cathedral

Luuk and the kids, heading for the remains of the cathedral.

Louis at Pompeii cathedral

Louis, playing with the rocks, in the cathedral.

sorting the stuff, bodies included, at pompeii

There are several of these store-houses containing most of the bits from within the buildings.

And, yes, that is a body. These are fascinating and macabre. When the ash/pumice fell many people were trapped and completely encased. Archaeologists discovered cavities with human bones in them. Once they figured out what they were, they filled the cavities with concrete. And, now, we have loads of these forms – human-shaped slabs of concrete with the bones STILL INSIDE! Creepy, I know, but so interesting.

frescoes, at pompeii

Incredible frescoes. Just hundreds of them. The colours on some are so vibrant, and yet they’re easily more than 2000 years old.

ceilings and crowds, at pompeii

These were ancient baths, so detailed and ornate. And quite crowded.

Lots of tour groups went in around the time we arrived but they seemed to take a shorter route and soon we were walking different paths. You can go whichever way you like but the maps suggest the order to do things in depending on which entrance you start at and how much time you want to spend. We chose the 1/2 day itinerary and then diverged from that later in the day when we realised that, even with two kids and the pushchair to wrangle, we had plenty of time.

hydrating at pompeii

The roman water supply reaches this far! Hurrah!

We needed it too. Hot weather and lots of kid-carrying and push-chair-wrestling. Look a those roads. The roads might not have been so bumpy, back in the day, but the stuff that would have filled gaps between the rocks has worn away. The roads doubled as waterways/drains and the pedestrian crossings were generally three big rocks, tall enough that pedestrians didn’t have to stand in the rivers of sticky-ick. The carriage wheels would go between these crossing-rocks.

frescoed rooms at pompeii

Many of the houses are ornate like this, but lots are blocked off for refurbishment or protection.

I suppose it’s already lasted a long time but there did seem to be some neglect around the place and I only hope little is lost. It must be a huge undertaking, excavating and preserving a whole city. Still, they bring in 11 euros per person and over 2.5 million visitors a year. looking into the cool, at pompeii

A blocked off house. You can see the concreted edges of the frescoes. This is how they protect pretty much everything – by covering it with concrete. Basically.

on our way out, with the pushchair still intact

The push chair survived! Miracle. This was toward the end of our visit, passing through the necropolis on ‘Via del Tombe’, on our way to the Villa dei Misteri and out through the Porta Vesuvio. Here’s a map, if you’re curious.