Christchurch, New Zealand – November 2, 2016
Everything is going to be alright…according to the sign on the Christchurch Art Gallery. The neon phrase is 46 meters (151 feet) long. One cannot miss it, particularly at night. Unveiled in 2015 as part of the Christchurch Art Gallery reopening following the 2011 earthquake it is one of a series of neon work done by Martin Creed.
I was in Christchurch as part of a team preparing for the visit of Secretary of State John Kerry. His ultimate destination was “the ice.” He was to visit some of the facilities of the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). The departure point for flights to the USAP McMurdo Station is a corner of the Christchurch International Airport. The flights are on Boeing C-17 Globemaster operated by the United States Air Force.
To make sure everything was ready for his visit, the team went to the USAP offices and clothing distribution center. Those are in buildings just across the street from the airport. The clothing distribution center is essentially a large warehouse with all sorts of winter-weather gear. The gear is checked out and fitted to those making the trip. During the fitting, the travelers are given an in-depth briefing on the dangers of the Antarctic and how to deal with emergencies.
Before going to the ice, the Secretary had several engagements in Christchurch. As soon as there was a decent weather-window, he and his entourage were off to the airport. It is about a five-hour flight. He was to spend at least one night there, depending on the weather at the Antarctic.
While he was gone, we spent time preparing for his return. In the off-hours, I wandered around the city, taking photographs.My restaurant of choice became The Rockpool. It is a sports bar/pool hall/restaurant. One day for lunch, I decided to have a Whitebait Butty sandwich. Whitebait is a small fish, about the size of a sardine. It is a favorite fish in New Zealand. I had wanted to try it, so I took the plunge.
The sandwich is made up of a whitebait fritter and two large, toasted, and buttered pieces of bread. The fritter is egg and the fish. I thought it was good enough; however, I do not know that I need to have another.
The Rockpool is where I had dinner with some of the team as we watched the results of the U. S. presidential race. At many points during the meal, there were collective groans throughout the restaurant as it became apparent that Donald Trump would win the election. The newspapers the next day demonstrated the frayed feelings of New Zealanders as it related to our new president.
Walking around town, one does not have to look hard to see the remnants of the February 22, 2011 earthquake. The scars from that 6.2 magnitude earthquake are everywhere in the central business district. One of the most notable, or at least the most visited, would have to be the Christchurch Cathedral. The western ¼ of the Cathedral is gone, lying in ruin on the ground. There are supports in place to keep other parts of the Cathedral from falling. Unfortunately, it is no longer a place of worship, but rather a home for pigeons. If anything, it presents an eerie, but a strong memorial to the 185 people who were killed that February afternoon.
The Cathedral Square area seems to be becoming more and more vibrant. There are several art installations and frequent visits from various food trucks. The Christchurch Tramway streetcars also have a stop at the square. That means people are always coming and going from the area.
About four blocks east of the damaged Cathedral, one finds the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. That is the “replacement” worship space for the Anglican parish displaced by the earthquake. Locally it is known as the “cardboard cathedral.” That is because it is made substantially of cardboard. It is most visible when one looks at the cylindrical forms used to support the roof. They are quite literally forms, used when pouring concrete in the ground for footings or foundations. It is a unique look.
Just a few blocks north of the Transitional Cathedral is the Firefighters Reserve, a memorial to firefighters worldwide. Its focal point is steel beams from the World Trade Center donated by the City of New York to the City of Christchurch. It is moving in its simplicity beside the Avon River.
On one of my walks, I visited the Canterbury Museum. In 2016, Air New Zealand celebrated its 75th anniversary. To commemorate that, the museum had a special exhibit. I thought it was fascinating. As a collector-come-hoarder (some would say) I particularly liked the numerous old advertising posters. My favorite was of the plane taking off in the evening over Wellington.
There was a darker piece of the exhibit. That was the area dedicated to the tragic November 28, 1979, Antarctic flight. On that day, an Antarctic sightseeing flight from Auckland crashed on Mount Erebus. All 257 aboard were killed.
Adjacent to the museum is the Botanical Gardens. At the entry-point, one encounters the Peacock Fountain. It is not named after the bird, but rather the man; John Thomas Peacock. Upon his death in 1905, he bequeathed a large amount of money to the Christchurch Beautifying Society. The Society used the money to install the fountain.
The 7.6 meters (25 feet) tall fountain is imposing. Erected in 1911, it was ultimately dismantled and placed in storage in 1949. Restoration efforts began in the 1980s. Very nearly half of the more than 300 pieces had to be recast. The rededication of the fountain in its current location was in 1996. It is indeed a sight worth seeing.
I found another fountain in the Gardens, the Regret Fountain. At roughly six meters (20 feet), it is not quite as tall as the Peacock Fountain, but it is impressive in its way. Sam Mahon is the fountain sculptor. The installation dates to 1997. That is a lever at the edge of the fountain beckoning people to push. When pushed, the fountain comes to life. I witnessed several people do that while I was there.
At the southeast corner of the park, at the end of a dirt path, is a Tudor-style house. It is known as the Curators House and is now a restaurant. I stopped by and noticed it was a Spanish restaurant. That immediately put it on my list for that night’s dinner.
It was about a three-block walk from my hotel to the restaurant. Once seated, I struck up a conversation with my server in Spanish. She was surprised not only by me speaking Spanish, but Spanish with a Castillan accent. That was fun to dust off my language skills.
For my starter, I had to have Patatas Bravas. Here it consisted of hand-cut potato wedges topped with spicy oven-roasted capsicum, tomato dressing, and aioli. That was one of my favorite tapas when we lived in Spain.
I followed that delicious tapa with Pescado a la Plancha (chargrilled fish). The menu described the dish as fish of the day with Canary Island style mojo verde, herbed vinaigrette, and sautéed seasonal vegetables. The fish of the day was an entire sole. It was easily the size of a dinner plate. I was not able to eat the whole serving, but what I had was so rich and delicious. I had zero room left for dessert. The walk back to the hotel helped settle my colossal meal.Later in the week, I stopped at the Christchurch Art Gallery. For such a small museum, they have an extraordinary collection. A couple of my favorites are the painting No! and the sculpture Survey #4. No! by Tony Fomison (1971) reminds me of the phrase, “talk to the hand.” Survey #4 by Peter Trevelyan (2013-2014) is impressive because the entire sculpture is made from 0.5mm mechanical pencil leads. I do not believe I could have come up with such an idea in a million years.
I also liked Portrait of O’Donnell Moffett by Rita Angus (c. 1939). I think what strikes me about that painting is the fact a copy of it appears on the wall of a building on New Regent Street. More about that soon.
On the exterior of the gallery, my two favorite pieces are Chapman’s Homer, a sculpture by Michael Parekowhai (2011). I guess that is because the bull reminds me of Spain. I also enjoyed the whimsical sculpture Quasi by Ronnie van Hout (2016). Even though it is on the roof of the gallery, at five-meters (16 feet), it is easily seen from the ground.
About a block away from the gallery is The Arts Centre. The center is an extensive collection of neo-gothic style buildings dating from the early 20th Century. The buildings were severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake and had been undergoing painstaking restoration. The buildings were originally the University of Canterbury.
Maybe it is because there are a lot of buildings that no longer exist, leaving bare walls; but there is a lot of wall art in the central business district of Christchurch. They are each colorful and eye-catching in their way. One of those is the copy of the Rita Angus work on the north end of the buildings on New Regent Street. That area of two-story buildings dates to 1932. It is a genuinely colorful area of the CBD with many boutique shops and cafes. The pastel colors of the buildings repeat every fourth building. It can be a bustling area, especially when the streetcars pass along the pedestrian-friendly street.
The Re:START mall is another unique feature of the post-earthquake CBD. Since so many of the stores in the CBD were destroyed, the Re:START mall tried to pump life back into the area with stores in shipping containers. That idea has helped keep the CBD shopping alive. It is in a beautiful setting near the Bridge of Remembrance and the Avon River terrace seating. There always seems to be an abundance of people in the area.
One evening, even though it was raining, I went out for a photo walk. It was a little uncomfortable and challenging, but I think I got some excellent photos; mainly since I was working without a tripod.