Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Heavy on my heart

After getting out of bed and putting my hot chocolate on to heat I switched on my TV on Tuesday morning to listen to French news while I got myself ready to work. The day before there had been a short story about pilot whales stranding off Stewart Island. Any sort of coverage of NZ is rare in France. It usually involves rugby when it happens. I was rather taken aback to hear another story on NZ. This one sent me scrambling to my laptop awash with horror and anxiety. An even more devastating earthquake had hit Christchurch less than six months from the first and this time devastation was on a horrendous scale.People were crushed under buildings and inside buses, iconic buildings that had survived the earlier earthquake succumbed.

Christchurch will never be the same. So much history has been lost. To me and many others, Christchurch, New Zealand's second-largest city, was the most beautiful. It had preserved much of its colonial British past. It was well designed and justifiably called the Garden City. Yesterday I was shocked and numb. Today I was devastated and so very sad for what has been lost. Yes, people have lost their lives too and that's dreadful; it will be unbearable for their friends and families. I am hoping none of the people I know there are dead.

I have tried to discover if my mother is Ok but I can't get through. In desperation I posted her name and phone number on Facebook in case someone out there could get through but the lines are either down or not working through lack of electricity. She's old and lives alone but my brother is in Christchurch and my mother is part of a church group so I'm hoping it's just a communication problem.

I thought of my oldest friend Lorraine. We met at high school when I was 15. We played violin in the school orchestra, her a year ahead of me. We hung out at the cinema, sewed ballgowns together, attended music camp together. Social media is a wonderful tool during emergencies. It connects people who might not normally connect and it facilitates community spirit. Lorraine's daughter is on Facebook so I could ask her if her Mum was OK. Lorraine and her husband are OK, with just some broken windows. I don't know if my second-oldest friend is well.

Chrissie and I met at Teachers College when I was 18. She was my bridesmaid for my first marriage back in 1976. Distance and circumstances have separated us since but when we have managed to meet it's always felt natural, like old times. I do hope she and her husband have minimal side-effects. Lorraine and Chrissie are in a photo from my wedding, somewhere. Photos are especially precious now.

Photos. Looking at the before and after photos of specific buildings today had me bawling my eyes out. I know them. Most of them have some significance for me. I lived in Christchurch for more than 30 years, all up and I associate them with events, people, experiences in my life which I would forget if it were not for their existence to remind me.

I can't bear the fact that some really special historic buildings so precious to such a new country are likely to disappear and be replaced by something not at all representative of a British History. Could they bring some masons in and recreate those beautiful monuments to Christchurch's past?

People die, disappear, leave, but special buildings are supposed to remain as markers, memory-joggers, part of our collective identity, aren't they? And if they are gone-what do we do about their function? I grieve. To think that young children will never see Christchurch in the special character it had for me and all those who went before is very sad. When the past is obliterated how can they understand Christchurch's story?

I'm feeling a big loss because I thought Christchurch, as it was, would always be there, with small modifications as time went by. Now all I have are a few photographs. I have so few 'things', there are so few reminders of my own story for me. I forget whole chunks of my life- what's left to remind me?

I've popped some of my personal photos on here to share Christchurch with you. Christchurch-a little touch of England, a city that cared about its heritage buildings (unlike Auckland). An aesthetically designed and maintained city, one that wasn't actually all flat because it had hillside suburbs, beach suburbs, estuary suburbs, urban areas, farms and idyllic rivers. 'Punters' in Christchurch are not those who gamble away money, they are the guys who punt you down the Avon River so you can take a leisurely, romantic trip through the city, looking at the beautiful architecture, the gardens, the ducks and daffodils, the parks; imagining a bygone era.

Christchurch and its environs-gateway to the Antarctic, the Port Hills, Banks Peninsula, the French settlement at Akaroa, Sumner, sitting between miles of sandy beaches and the mighty Southern Alps, Hagley Park and the Canterbury Museum, my old University (now the Arts Centre), the Provincial Council Building, the Town Hall built for the Commonwealth Games, the trams, the statues and the Anglican Cathedral (yes OK the Catholic Basilica too). The buildings where I met this person, divorced that one, had a romantic date here, held a wedding there. So much more too.

Some things will survive, a lot won't. I'm sorry to see this in my lifetime and sorry that many people have had their lifetimes cut short. Hugs to Christchurch- what will you become? I hope it won't all come down to money. A city needs to be an emotional entity too.


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