We spent last weekend in Christchurch, the city that suffered irreparable damage and huge loss of life on the 22nd of February 2011.
Although I spent a week down there for work in October last year, I never ventured into the city. We listened to the stories and imagined the devastation.
This time we did wander round the inner streets looking over the cordons at the ruins of what had once been a beautiful city. A magnificent Cathedral as its centrepiece, and lovely old buildings gracing the wide streets. No longer.
“There’s the Crowne Plaza,” my partner said, the Crowne Plaza having once been a grand and imposing hotel.
“Where?” I responded.
“There, right in front of you.”
I looked at the pile of rubble, it didn’t seem significant enough to have been such a massive hotel. A hotel in which I had sat many times enjoying a cappucino in the Piano Bar with my beloved friends Doreen and David. Every time they walked into their favourite coffee spot, the pianist would see them from the corner of his eye, stop whatever it was he was playing and play their song – Somewhere my love from Dr Zhivago …
I’d read some time ago, in an article by Jane Bowron, that a friend of hers said the Crowne Plaza resembled the ruins in Sarajevo. I guess he wasn’t far wrong.
The first of my tears started to flow. They continued as I saw what remained of the Cathedral, and then High Street and Cashel Street. Gone were the city scapes of well-known buildings – replaced by cranes, bent iron sculptures, empty window frames and fluttering building paper.
Amidst the devastation are bright spots of colour …
The first photo was taken at one end Cashel Street – a street with the exit blocked by wire fencing and warnings.
This photo was taken on the same stretch of road – where optimism reigns. Brightly coloured containers line both sides, housing bustling boutique shops. The footpath features floral sculptures – yes, the deer above is fake – and big tubs are filled flowers and native greenery.
We had a cup of tea in Ballantynes. Ballantynes is a department store which suffered the worst fire in New Zealand’s history in 1947; 41 lives were lost. Ballantynes suffered again last year – thankfully it escaped serious damage and is in the process of renovating. It is already a beautiful store … no doubt it will be more so when renovations are complete.
A bright future…
It was hard looking at the ruins of a city. I felt like a voyeur … looking on from the comfort of my warm and dry home in Wellington. I felt like I shouldn’t be taking photos – that’s why I didn’t even take one of the Cathedral. It felt like I was claiming their loss as mine. But the quake in Christchurch hasn’t changed my life…only made me more aware how everything can change in the batting of an eyelid…
Then on Tuesday night we had a quake. Just as I was about to climb into bed the house started shaking. I watched 110-year old door frames as they rocked from side to side. The quake lasted seven seconds, it seemed longer. My heart raced and continued to throughout the night. No damage, just a few fallen photo frames.
The batting of an eyelid …