Category Archives: Arts

Under a crescent moon

I am in Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, after an evening flight from Kuala Lumpur.

The Etihad flight was excellent. We crossed India at night, an endless patchwork of lit villages, towns, cities, thousand upon thousand, but the roads between almost invisible and probably not lit. Finally we passed by Goa, and out to sea, with ships twinkling in the dark ocean on their way south to the Malabar coast and places beyond; and west to Arabia, where a bright yellow crescent moon hung low in the night sky.

I could see the Milky Way from my window seat; meteors cascaded off the earth’s atmosphere.

Arriving in the UAE mostly confirms preconceptions: clearly immense wealth, very long roads and many roads apparently going nowhere and all lit by street lamps, as if laid out for housing, which does not actually exist.  It is now 12 midnight but hotter than I expected – and the heat is muggy and clingy, not the dry intensity I anticipated as we disembarked down steps outside onto waiting buses.  By day it reaches the high 40s; now, it is 32C. The airport tarmac is vast – how much of the world we have paved over. And there is the sand – a great deal of sand!

Women are in full black chador with a slit for their eyes – but some not, also. Of course this is the airport, with people from all over the world, and not the UAE themselves. The airport is beautiful, in Islamic design, and here in the waiting lounge for my onward flight, large comfortable seats rest my rather travel-weary bones. Arabic music plays and the shops display gourmet delicacies based on dates and pistachios and nuts.  Bags of dates of varieties with names like Lulu and Fard.  There are workers here from Africa and places in the Indian subcontinent.  I would not like to be one of those who has to work outside by day.

I have travelled to this point via Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, with a day in each city.  Melbourne was spring-like, bright, and relaxed.  I quite enjoyed the Museum of Modern art exhibition at the NGV.  It contains 300 items of modern art on loan from New York to the NGV.


Visitors to the MOMA exhibition at the NGV have added their names and birth dates at the level of their height around the complete circumference of this room. It now numbers over 300,000 names, and mine was added to the black slash round the centre.



I was surprised at the crowds of people in the exhibition.  I also enjoyed the Japonisme exhibition at the NGV; drawing on the museum’s vast collections, it showcased items from various countries that had been inspired by Japanese design and art.


Final coffee and treat from Brunetti’s, in Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The usual Melbourne experiences that can be had in a day, and then on to Melbourne airport for an overnight Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, which takes about 8 hours.  It is rather gruelling and not that comfortable, but it was one of my better Air Asia flights, and quite fine.  It was exciting to be back in Malaysia again, the first taste of really exotic parts on this trip, with its sights, sounds and smells that are both familiar and exhilirating.  I checked into the hotel airport and had a sleep and shower for a few hours before heading in by bus to Sentral, where I visited the excellent Ilham Gallery, which currently shows an exhibition of works by Lattiff Mohidin, which I was keen to see.

Ilham gallery

Lattiff Mohidin exhibition at the Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur

There are archival items too displayed in vitrines, which I found fascinating.  It is a beautiful gallery with exquisite attention to detail and scholarship.  They hold talks, and workshops and public forums, most of them free to the public.  It provides a very good service for KL.

I walked in comfortable heat to KLCC past a mosque where prayer was in full flight, and past vast acres of new building development.  There seems to be a new tower being built that will soar above the KLCC twin towers.  Lunch was fishball soup at Ipoh Noodles on the 3rd floor – I love what those Chinese ladies turn out.  Then up a floor to Kinokuniya, but found the vast array of books on display just too overwhelming and mind and eyes were swimming with too much sensation.  It really is an extraordinarily good bookshop, and one could go quite mad and fill one’s suitcase to bursting point with delicious tomes.

Time to head back to KLIA2, my hotel for a final shower, to collect my things, to take the express train across to KLIA, and pass, very quickly indeed, through various checkpoints to arrive at gate C12 for the flight to Abu Dhabi.  Too easy – all of that took only about 30 minutes, and the immigration officials looked so bored they were clearly nearly insane, and the security persons looking at scanners equally so, in fact they did not appear to be looking at the screens at all.  There are many small and monumentally boring jobs in Malaysia: guarding things, gallery attendants, security, informasi points – I feel sorry for those doing these jobs, which are not well paid.  While waiting for the express train KLIA2-KLIA, the young porter on the platform starting chatting, and asked me about my trip, where I am from, etc – I felt guilty knowing that he will never be able to join me in such explorations.

One last non-fun fact: I read yesterday that my Air Asia Melbourne-KL flight burns through 55 tonnes of jet fuel – that’s just one flight, on one route, on one day.  We simply cannot go on like this, but so much of the world is built around jet travel.  Where would the UAE, bizarrely stranded in the desert like this, be without huge international connections, and the wealth to soar out of it and be elsewhere, at least for a while?

I do plant lots of trees, and will step it up when I return.

I learnt a new word tonight: chukrun: thank you, in Arabic.

Manufacturing reality in 21st century New Zealand

Peter Wells’ report of his encounter with the NZ Herald journalist makes very interesting reading: he writes that Andrew Stone of the Herald built his own “story”, ruthlessly discarding facts; Wells says “the case for Kereopa’s ‘innocence’, as outlined in the Herald, was a muddled mixture of conjecture and post hoc conclusions”.

This is troubling enough and should caution us against everything we read.  The NZ Herald reported complete lies about Labour and Dong Hua Liu, and have only just published a very small apology.  And there will be much else besides where we don’t know what to believe, or disbelieve.  But such stories manufacture understanding, and in turn become what everyone accepts as the “truth”.  We see this to startling effect in the way that the John Key machine is successfully able to manufacture widespread consent for what are actually their unpopular policies.

Also troubling in the Wells story is that the Office of Treaty Settlements rang up Wells and asked him to stop blogging on the pardon as it was “controversial”.  What happened to freedom of speech, a diversity of views, the right to say what one thinks, within the laws of defamation?

It is also troubling that Stone, the journalist, had  “swallowed hook line and sinker the ahistorical Treaty and iwi presentation of Kereopa Te Rau’s case”.  Wells means the OTS which has manufactured a presentation of events over Volkner’s murder which do not accord with the facts as Wells has researched and written them.

It seems there are two versions of truth in New Zealand in relation to our past: that of the impartial researcher – and Wells is certainly that, with a large measure of empathy for the Maori perspective – and that of the Treaty settlements industry, which blithely disregards facts in order to arrive at a conclusion.  Of course the iwi seek as much as they can and will present the history to suit their cause.
But as Peter says – and as accounts at the time testify – Kereopa was largely complicit in Volkner’s murder, short of actually hauling up the rope that hanged him.  There is now another version of history which is not substantiated by the facts, and that is the version arrived at by the OTS, and now – in spite of hearing what Peter said and reading his book – presented to the 500,000 readers of the NZ Herald as a justifed exoneration of Kereopa for a deed he did in fact commit.  And is most likely swallowed, hook, line and sinker, by the readership.

All very troubling.  Yes, we are gullible.

A evening with Ai WeiWei

Just got back from seeing the movie:Ai Weiwei Never Sorry

which was shown as part of the Blowfest at Massey University here in Wellington.

A powerful story about an extraordinary, courageous man fighting, through his artistic creativity, for freedom and human rights in China.

We were taken through harrowing images of the victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which killed over 5,000 school students because of shoddy school construction: “tofu buildngs”, as they call them. Attempts to make this known and to protest the building construction methods were met with violent repression and arrests by the police and authorities. Ai Weiwei has represented the names of all the children killed in the quake in an art installation for which he has become famous – and people from all over the world collaborated in reciting the name of each of the children for an Internet installation.
Probably his most internationally famous installation was 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern in 2010.

After one hour a Skype connection with Ai Weiwei was attempted from the Pit at Massey where the film was being shown, but the link appeared to have been interfered with by Chinese authorities and the voice in both directions was scrambled. Communication was by typing only. Ai Weiwei was able to take pictures and to see us, and he has tweeted some of the photos of students asking him questions:

Tonight’s event was a rare and moving occasion, and being in live communication with the artist was given added poignancy with the attempts by his oppressors to shut down the whole occasion. Weiwei’s responses to the NZ student’s questions were noticeably guarded and careful. One man asked him about his obvious love of China, despite all that is done to him, and he replied; “In our lives, love is often unspeakable or at least hard for me to explain. I happen to be a Chinese, and since I have a lot of unfinished business here, despite the hardships and difficulties, most of the time I enjoy my time in China. The best art brings us joy and surprise”.

Here are two of our images of the evening:

That has made all the difference….

I’ve always puzzled over the last line in the last stanza of Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”:. “and that has made all the difference” seemed to me a clumsy, banal ending. But I’ve just heard Frost himself reading the poem, on this wonderful website:

I think the mystery is solved. Hear the way he rolls the word “all”, very long, to overcome this difficulty. He reads quickly, running the verses together until we reach the ending, with its final punch.

Frost has been criticised for “setting traditional meters against the natural rhythms of speech”, as a biographer has noted, but when read aloud in a rolling New England accent, the poem makes sense, indeed he wrote it with this voice in mind.

What does he mean, it has made all the difference?
The road he has taken was less travelled, less worn and trodden, but by walking that route, he had “worn them really about the same”.
What difference has been claimed by travelling a route that he admits ends in much the same way as the other that he might have taken? Only at first does it appear to be more appealing to the adventurous spirit through being less trodden. Yet as we set out, we see that we cannot really make a new path. We can only walk those that have been worked out for us by the tread of many feet that precede us. The illusion of freedom and path-making is only apparent half way down…”I doubted if I should ever come back”, he realises, knowing now it is too late to turn back and take the other path, only to find that it would be much the same…

So is this a pessimistic take on humanity’s predicament?
Can we ever truly take a path which is less, or even not, taken? I believe, sadly, that this is what the poem conveys, that there is behind everything a helplessness, and that knowledge is not gained simply by the act of choosing a path less taken. All roads lead to one ultimate destination – and it is that realisation that comes to him when he states “and that has made all the difference”. The two roads in a wood become a metaphor for the human condition – there is the illusion of choice, of freedom, but as we make our choices and set off on one course, it becomes apparent that all these roads have the same, cruel, destination: our demise.

This is not how (I believe) the poem is often understood. We like to use this poem to illustrate moments or lives that appeared unconventional, or where important decisions were made that set our lives on an unusual course, or to inspire people to greater things. Frost himself says: “Poetry begins in trivial metaphors, pretty metaphors, ‘grace’ metaphors, and goes on to the profoundest thinking that we have. Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another’ (his book, “Education by poetry”).

The signifance of “the difference” is ironic: there is no difference. There is no right path – there is this one, or the other one. There is ultimately no difference at the end of the road.

In the footsteps (again) of William Colenso

We spent the last three days exploring in the Wairarapa.  On Saturday, New Year’s day, I collected Hong Joo from his work at 2pm and we drove over the Rimutaka Hill to Featherston, where we took a look at the Buck’s Road campsite and the Tauherenikau River, still running high from a deluge of rain in the morning which had fallen in the Rimutakas.  Only that morning, the road had been marginal due to the high winds and rain and there were warnings about the rain in the southern Wairarapa, but all was clearing by the time we arrived.  We walked through beautiful bush down to the river, but a planned swim was definitely not a good idea – it was cold!

We called in to see Margaret and Roger Cobb in Featherston and many other members of the family – Jeanette and her family, Suzanne and Josephine and their husbands – were all there, just departing as we arrived.  We chatted for a while and made for Greytown where I had booked a campsite in the lovely council-owned camp ground.  We chose one of the few remaining sites in the trees, surrounded by families, and lots of children, but it was a good campground with excellent facilities.  I enjoyed our night there.  We polished off the remains of the New Year’s bubbles before getting a good night’s sleep – it had been a long day for Hong Joo, up at 4am for work that morning.



Craft Day at Pataka/Moriori Exhibition

Hong Joo and I went to the Craft Fair at Pataka Museum this morning.  A wonderful selection of crafts by (mostly) women from the Wellington region.  A great place to look for Christmas presents.

We did just that, and bought a scarf from Mu Hte, one of the Kayan ladies living in Wellington.  You can read about the Kayan women here.  Mu Hte has a full set of neck rings, and is very gifted at traditional Kayan weaving.  Such beautiful colours and simple, but attractive, designs.  We bought a scarf for my sister in law for Christmas.

In the museum we looked over the exhibition about the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands. A most interesting installation with moving and absorbing stories well told.

Pieces of Glass

I saw the fascinating film about Philip Glass on Saturday:

“GLASS: a portrait of Philip in twelve parts.”

A really well made documentary, containing very frank and revealing interviews both with Glass and his wife, friends, brother and sister.  What an extraordinary man.  He laughs at himself often and is quite unaffected, yet has so many dimensions to his life, so many interests, so many extraodinary intersections with other musicians, movie makers, a Buddhist monk, his meditation and relaxation and exercise sessions.

As well as an extraordinary apartment in New York, where his work room is crammed with the original scores on which he worked, he and wife Holly have  a beautiful farm house on the coast of Nova Scotia to which they retreat often.  Taking their young children (he has grown up children by an earlier marriage) and musician friends: pianists, conductors, friends and friends’ spouses and their children…all in the amazing and wild setting of the Nova Scotia coast, rather reminiscent of the wild west coast of New Zealand.

He is a quite modest guy who happens to lead an extraordinary life, completely consumed by his music and his projects, he never really takes a day off, which would make him perhaps hard to live with but fascinating and exhilirating at the same time.  His current wife Holly is clearly a strong and even intense person in her own right, but she too found herself overwhelmed by the Glass persona at times, the intensity of it all.