Monthly Archives: June 2010

A talisman from Braki

From the foundations of Braki

Just what is so special about a stone? This stone…it doesn’t look any different from any other stone. To look at it, you can’t tell its provenance.

It is not technically a talisman – an artefact having magical powers – but for me it has significance.

I took this stone, and four others just like it, from a place in our family’s story.

In 2007, I visited friends in Warsaw. One of my dreams in visiting Warsaw was that I would find the farm that was taken from my paternal grandparents when the Germans invaded Poland. A farm that was occupied by them during the war and used as a military base. I’d seen photographs taken in 1967 of the derelict exterior.

I knew, from the stories my father had told me, that it wasn’t far from Warsaw.

I went to Warsaw armed with a map that I’d printed off Google Earth. I’d searched the name of the town that I’d heard in discussions on family, and the name of his farm – I thought. Every time I put this information in the search field, I got the same result – and the directions for travel by road.

So, on the day of the journey – one of the two days we spent in  Warsaw – this was all the information we had to go on. The story of finding the farm (all 1,000 acres of it) is a long, incredible and very emotional story. That’s another blog for another time.

Eventually a very kind local farmer Jan, led us to piece of earth on which the homestead had stood until the early 1980s when it was demolished. It had once been a gracious four stories (including basement) – with parquet floors throughout. Jan took me to a spot  where he said there’d been a wide stone stairway leading up to the front entrance to the house. There at my feet was a pile of rubble – the remains. The stones resting on the top were loose, so I took some.

As I picked each one up, insects disturbed by the sudden light scuttled away.

Tears fell.

For me, this stone is a reminder of the horrors that visited our family and of the strength shown by my father, uncle and cousin – and all their friends.

Whenever I find the going tough or feel sorry for myself for any reason, I caress this stone in my palm.

Nothing could ever be as bad at the horrors they endured. They witnessed the shooting of their father at point blank range. They were herded to life in the Warsaw Ghetto – and then watched as family, friends and community perished. My father endured six years of deprivation in a prisoner of war camp.

They survived – they made homes for themselves in a country at the opposite end of the world, a country with a different language, where they had no money, no possessions, no history. They established families and businesses. And for the most part, they kept the details of their horrors to themselves.

We have so much to learn from from those who went before.

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The mystery of the woman in white

From whence cometh this woman in white?

The woman in white – sleek and elegant.

I photographed her on the streets of Dunedin while on my way to my son Adam’s graduation ceremony. She was doing the same. I’d noticed her about half an hour earlier and thought at the time that she’d be an excellent model for my project on head-turning street fashion. But before I’d summoned the courage to ask her to pose, she’d gone.

Then I chanced upon her again – with several other elegantly dressed people – and raced over to seize the opportunity. I brought out my photographer’s patter and a huge smile:

“You look absolutely stunning. Would you mind me taking a photo of you for a project I’m doing?”

There was no hesitation – and I took several shots. Then she rejoined her friends and disappeared among the throng of students, academics, parents and friends.

At my catch up session with Fleur I brought out the print I’d had made of the woman and showed her. At the time, I didn’t really like it – because I have to admit, I didn’t like what she stood for. Fleur saw differently…and encouraged me to take it along to class on the following Saturday.

My fellow photographers has an almost instant aversion to it. I withdrew it from my shortlist.

However overnight the image of the woman in white wouldn’t leave me. She I kept wondering whether I’d discounted her too soon and that maybe Fleur was right. My friend Marica called and told me that although she hadn’t immediately taken to the photo, it kept bothering her. Maybe I should reinstate it into my selection of favourites.

You see, she is immaculately groomed and she’s standing in very stark surroundings with the only other feature being the bright blue money machine. What could that possibly stand for?

So there she is. The woman in white is hanging (in full) in our exhibition. Everything is perfectly coordinated from head to toe – beautifully tailored in glamourous winter white. We look at her and wonder at her origin.Certainly NOT Wellington where black is de rigeur.

Our immediate thought was Remuera, and we  jokingly referring to her as the ‘Remuera socialite’. I decided that her look was far too conservative for the fashionistas in Remmers and that she is more likely to hail from Christchurch. Women from Christchurch are far more likely to dress this impeccably for a graduation ceremony. You just never know who might see you!

Today there’s been another revelation – the plot thickens. We may have a lead…

Another of my friends thinks my model might actually live in Dunedin. She has a friend from there staying with her at present and told her about the photo. Instant recognition! My woman in white could be one of a trio of women noted for their uncompromising glamour – who shop in the upmarket Plume and regularly step out in absolute style.

I’ve sent my photo off for confirmation.

Lessons we’ve learned- Grief 101

Forever soaring

This is my brother Rick. (Please excuse the quality of the image – it was taken 34 years ago and has been transferred from slide, hence the grainy texture.)

You could say he died doing what he loved best…the reality is that his last few seconds before hitting the ground were terrifying. Who knows the thoughts that fled through his mind?

This week I was privileged to meet up with one of Rick’s friends. The friend who was with him when he died, the friend who took this photograph, the friend who filmed his death. This picture wasn’t taken that day.

His friend Chris has a spent the last 34 years beating himself up. Why? Because at the time he was young and unable to deal with the grief and the trauma of the event, unable to face our family.

As I listened to him recounting the events of  14 August 1976 I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming sadness for the then 25 year old Chris, who simply didn’t have the support to deal with the death of his best friend. We’ve come such a long way since then…when my son, some years ago, lost one of his friends in a car accident, the friends gathered for days. They huddled together, they told stories, they remembered their mate, they wept, they drank – they were in total grief immersion. It was so open and so healthy. We were there to hug them long and hard and let them cry.

I recently was reading an article about Helen Brown in Next magazine. Helen’s nine-year-old son Sam was killed tragically 27 years ago. She gives the impression of never having been afraid to express her grief. Nearly every article I read about her mentions Sam, and she has recently published a book, Cleo: how an uppity cat helped heal a family which tells of the profound healing effect of the family cat. I really want to read her book – I like that fact that Sam is still so much a part of the family’s life.

Back in 1976 things were different. Grief was solitary. My friends, my parent’s friends – well, they didn’t mention Rick’s name for fear of upsetting us. I wouldn’t say his death was swept under the carpet – but it wasn’t talked about openly either. And I must confess that within the confines of our family – I probably felt the same anxiety about mentioning his name. Instead we all bottled our grief – we let it consume us. We did the crying in the privacy of our rooms, in the dark of night.

I still remember a friend, three weeks after Rick’s death, telling me that I should have got over it by then! I was shocked at that statement then, I’m even more shocked by it now…I guess that’s why the comment has stayed with me all these years.

I really don’t want to be maudlin – I am just so glad that as a society we’ve acknowledged grief, that our young ones are given the freedom to express their grief and that we are better able to help our friends and loved ones deal with theirs.

If it’s winter it must be tamarillo time

The good side to winter - tamarillos-in-waiting!

Apart from snow, winter woollies, hot water bottles and glowing fires – there’s not a lot else to recommend  winter. Except for tamarillos that is….

Wonderfully dark and glossy bulbous treats…smooth to the touch and tart to the bite.

Years ago – pre-diabetes that is – I used to cut them in half, dipping the flesh in sugar before scooping the flesh straight into my mouth. Gritty sweetness – delicious ….

Then as the guilt about eating sugar crystals became too great, I’d just spoon out the flesh and mix it with plain acidopholus yoghurt. More delicious….

Then after reading a Ruth Pretty recipe in the Dominion Post several years aog, I decided to try poaching tamarillos. Amazing … for the first 24 hours after poaching the fruits retain their golden colour and the syrup is slightly pink. After a couple of days the golden globes take on the beautiful deep red of the seeds as does the syrup. Served with yoghurt and cereal for breakfast or ice-cream (or yoghurt) for dinner – they are simply stunning.

They are so gorgeous that there’s even a design shop named in their honour – Tamarillo Gallery

When is someone going to open a Feijoa Gallery? Has to happen soon…

Bring your Wellingtons to Wellington

A mini-break during the deluge.

Why on earth hasn’t Kerry and her creative team thought of it before?

It seems so obvious after having only had one fine day since May 22nd.

Ta daaa….Bring your Wellingtons to Wellington.

What could be more appealing?  We even have an appropriate sculpture…Umbrella on Cuba!

Don't get fooled into thinking this is to shield you from the harsh sun.

Written in the stars

Who knows what's out there....

At work, reading aloud the horoscopes in our daily paper often gives us fuel for a really good laugh. But on a more serious note….

Years ago, prompted by a colleague, I visited an astrologer. Garth Carpenter. At the time he was a much-published columnist with the Evening Post and other national dailies. I went along to my reading feeling ever so sceptical but open to change. My colleague had had her stars read with Garth Carpenter and her experience, awful as it was,  had piqued my interest.

When I made my appointment, the only question asked of me was my date and time of birth.

Two weeks later I went along for my reading.

It was quite unnerving. After about listening to my reading for about 45 minutes, Garth asked me to estimate his accuracy up to that point. He said that my answer would determine whether his prediction for my life over the next two years was on track. I remember saying that he was 99.9 percent correct – and I’m not talking generalisations here. Some of what he mentioned were deeply personal things known to no-one but myself. The only fact he has got wrong (hence the 99.9 percent) was the month I was intending to travel.

He even predicted the tragic deaths of my uncle and my brother – in close succession.

He told me that my horoscope was one of the best he’d read.

I left his office with a 42-page typed report.

I was reminded of my visit yesterday by a call from my brother. He’s been going through very tough times over the past couple of years and had recently sought the help of an astrologer. His experience was remarkably similar – not in the things he heard, but in the accuracy of his reading.

As he got up to leave the room he was asked if our mother’s name was Margaret. It was. He was told that her spirit had been in the room and that she wanted him to know she’s watching over him.

It’s been on my mind all day.

A funny thing happened on the way to work

Kermit shoes

A funny thing happened on my way to work today.

After having an early morning coffee at Nikau Gallery Cafe. Nikau is always the venue of choice on ‘rates’ day because it’s close to the City Council offices…and a good way of making sure the bill gets paid!

I decided to walk through the BNZ Centre on my way to work. It’s always incredibly empty before 8.30am – very few of the shops are open.

I’ve been a customer of Hurry Up Shoe Repairs for years. They used to have a shop on Victoria St and moved to BNZ Centre several years ago. It could well be one of Wellington’s longest running small businesses – having been in business now for about 70 years.

As I walked past the corner window I saw a pair of lime green suede shoes hanging there and thought to myself “Oh my gosh, somebody else has my kermit shoes and they’re already in for repair – they were so expensive. Soles are looking a bit worn too!”

Then as a rounded the corner I sudden remembered that several weeks ago the heel piece had been wrenched off on Lambton Quay’s brick paving. And as is my habit, I took them in to my friendly shoe repairer the very next day. And there they had hung since…hanging in the front window…forgotten.

My excuse is of course that wearing suede shoes would not be a great decision with all the torrential rain we’ve had recently. Out of sight, out of mind.

After relating this story to colleagues I was told that one of our team had taken a bus home in the pouring rain last Friday evening and upon reaching his destination, remembered that he’d taken his car in to work in the morning.

And later on in the day, I did go and rescue my shoes from the front window. I’m not so bad after all!!!