Saturday, August 25, 2012

Red and bleak

On Tuesday, 22 February, 2011, the Jubilee Clock stopped at 12.51, the moment when Christchurch history split in two. They'd recently restored the clock and tower, erected for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and the gold is still shiny and the stained glass is pretty with the sun shining through it. It was designed by Benjamin Mountfort, who was behind most of the city's best-loved Gothic Revival buildings, including the Museum, what's now the Arts Centre, and of course the Cathedral. The Museum was earthquake-strengthened a while back and came through the shakes pretty well, but most of his other work now looks very sad.

I did three tours today: the first, on an agreeably comfortable bicycle, was through Hagley Park to Dean's Bush and Mona Vale - such a cushy ride, I'd forgotten how easy it is to cycle around a completely flat city, which is also now so bike-friendly. The Saturday market outside the closed Deans homestead is really good, and more popular with the locals than it's ever been because, I was told, "it's outside". On a lovely sunny morning, it was a perfect re-introduction to the city's loveliest features, which are still there and still beautiful.

Then, on the new Red Bus Red Zone tour, the mood was completely changed by the safety warnings at the start ("You might not survive") and the close-up looks at the shattered centre, after passing through checkpoints manned by soldiers. The CBD is probably less dramatic than in the early days when the streets were still lined with rubble, but even now when most of that's been cleared, it's shocking to see the empty spaces. There are facades propped up with shipping containers with nothing behind, cleared spaces swirling with dust, abandoned buildings with USAR codes spray-painted on the doors reporting when they'd been searched for survivors, and lots of piles of shattered brick and concrete where diggers are busy with scoops.

We weren't able to get out of the bus, but when I came back on my very enjoyable Segway tour, though we couldn't get into the Red Zone, we could go right along the fences outside it and get close to the Cathedral. The tower is nearly all gone now, just a stump left - the cross from the top of the spire is in the Museum, where you can actually touch it, which is kind of odd - and the rose window has disappeared, battered into smithereens in the June 13 quake by the metal supports put there to protect it after February. The Cathedral's future is still in doubt, because the (Canadian) bishop thinks it's too expensive to save and has instead committed $4 million to a temporary cardboard substitute; but there's a strong movement pressing for its restoration. I hope they succeed. It was so sad to see it like this:
instead of like this:

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