Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Good news is no news - also, probably tempting fate now

I've just written an editorial about how nobody's interested in hearing about your holiday unless it was a disaster. It's true, isn't it? How was your holiday? Lovely. And that's the end of the conversation. None of those supplementary questions I used to coach my kids to ask of their friends' parents when they were playing in their houses, in order to look intelligent/ingratiate themselves. The only people who have the slightest interest in your trip are those who have just been, or are about to go, to the same place, so it's all entirely selfish - especially the first group, who just want to be able to reassure themselves that they had the better time.

Disasters, though. I've had a few - too many, in fact, to fit into 300 words. It was quite fun to recall them. Stand by.

Dislocating my shoulder by jumping off a moving boat in the Norfolk Broads. Falling off a staircase on Waiheke, knocking myself out and breaking my wrist. Tripping and falling down a flight of stone steps at the Red Fort in Delhi, hitting my head (again - explains a lot). Falling into the Tongariro River thirty seconds after setting off on a white-water rafting expedition. Falling over twice on a glacier in Iceland and whacking the same knee each time. Missing the train in Alice Springs and, out of money, having to subsist on a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter for three days till the next one. Getting mugged in Santiago, by having my antique gold chain snatched from my neck from behind by invisible ratbags. Having a man expose himself to me on the street at night in Brisbane as I waited for a bus. Watching my camera cartwheel down a rocky hillside on the Isle of Skye. Dropping a speeding Segway wheel into a pothole in Queenstown and falling off. Being dumped by a wave on Waiheke on two separate occasions and losing my glasses in the surf. Having my husband whisked away by airport authorities and waiting alone for him for half an hour in Moscow. Having to wade thigh-deep through freezing water along the flooded Milford Track. Being followed down a tunnel to an underground market in Delhi by a one-legged, long-haired beggar who was just a creepy silhouette against the light. Having the expedition ship I was on shudder to a halt as it ran aground on a rock. Breaking an arm off my glasses by sleeping on them on a plane and having to wear them like lorgnettes for half a holiday in France. Riding a horse in a bikini (me, not the horse) in South Australia through a shoulder-high thicket of spider webs. Flushing my hire car keys down a public loo in Brisbane, leaving me stranded at night with no money or phone.
There are doubtless more, that I've blotted out of my memory. Still, that's a good enough list to enable shameless name-dropping. Which is what it's all about, really, when you're back from travelling, isn't it? And probably why nobody else (see above) is interested. So what a good thing it is that I'm a travel writer, and get to describe all my trips in great detail, and even get paid [a pittance] for it. Funny, though, isn't it, how there's a call for travel stories in newspapers and magazines, but in person no-one's bothered? Or maybe it's just me...

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Takk, Benedikt Erlingsson

Yesterday I watched 'Woman at War' - a movie made in Iceland, about Halla who is a lone eco-warrior, fighting Rio Tinto. She's resourceful, brave, careful and determined, and a perfect inspirational Waiheke heroine, fighting Big Aluminium and never giving up. 
But I, of course, watched it for the locations. As soon as I saw the trailer, I wanted to see the movie and get a taste again of the five days I spent in Iceland. getting on for a year ago now. And I wasn't disappointed: there was Reykjavik's iconic Hallgrimskirkja, the concrete church on the hill that dominates the skyline. There were the colourful corrugated-iron houses and the narrow hilly streets that I happily trailed around for hours.
There was a scene at Ć¾ingvellir (Thingvellir, to you non-linguists unfamiliar with thorn) on the path beneath the cliff, with the flag flying. I walked along there. All tourists do.
But most of the exterior action took place in the lava fields: vast expanses of mossy rocks surrounding the volcanoes, and how bleak they did look. I was there in summer, when the sun actually shone occasionally (for the first time for six weeks) and the moss was green-gold under a sometimes blue sky, the grass was lush, and everywhere were sheets of purple lupins. This movie though was filmed in autumn or maybe spring, when the sky was grey, the days short, the light muted, and there were no colours. It looked sternly inhospitable country. Still striking, though, with steaming rivers and distant mountains, glaciers, and a big, big sky.
It was so pleasing to see it all again, to hear that incomprehensible language being spoken, recognise a few words, see those tall, well-built people, and remember so clearly the triumph of actually getting to go there.
And the movie was funny, quirky, serious, sweet, clever and unusual. I recommend it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame du Monde

I happened to wake very early this morning, and reached out, of course, for my phone, to find out what had happened overnight. And learned that something awful was still happening, in fact - the fire in Notre Dame had only just taken hold, and I was getting tweets and newsflashes that updated me almost instantly with every new, and horrifying, stage of the inferno. I saw that beautiful lacy wooden spire tip, drop and disappear into the flames. I saw the roof collapse. I saw the flames leaping high from the body of the cathedral, and the smoke billowing around the bell towers. And I watched as Parisians stood across the river, and sang hymns together facing the fire still burning in their beautiful old cathedral.
Then I had to write a piece about it for Stuff, so I looked up my old notebooks, delved deep into my photo files, even looked at actual photos dating back to 1978 when I visited Paris for the first time. Enough memory came back for 600 words' worth, and I sent it off, and it was uploaded straight away, in a time-sensitive process that gave me a tiny inkling of how my life might have been as a real journalist. Except, the editor cut the first sentence that - of course - I thought introduced the main idea of the piece. Maybe, though, she just doesn't know French - or reckons the readers don't.
'Notre Dame: the name says it all' was how it should have begun. The point I was hoping to make was that a fire in a cathedral in a country on the other side of the world isn't the remote and irrelevant event that that description implies. The grand buildings of the world belong to us all, enrich us all, whether (ideally) we get to see them in person, or not. They're all ours - Notre Dame, Westminster, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Capitol, the Blue Mosque and all the very many others we are so lucky to have scattered all over the planet. Whatever our nationality, our culture, even our religion, or lack of it, these buildings are part of our heritage as members of homo sapiens (not actually so sure about the sapiens bit these days). We can all recognise the beauty and stateliness of these buildings, and the impressiveness of their design, construction and decoration. We can all take simple human pride in their existence, wherever they are. And we should all be sad when they are damaged. 
Notre Dame has not been destroyed, thank goodness. It will be back, eventually, and look just as good. It's heart-breaking to see it now, and so sad that the fire happened at all, through probably what will turn out to be sheer carelessness or stupidity. But we haven't lost it. 

This photo was something else that didn't make it into the story: too frivolous, perhaps? It makes me hope that the day is not too distant when people can play with the cathedral like this again.

Thursday, April 4, 2019


I've been revisiting Australia. Not in person, you understand, but through the media of my notebooks and photos, and, to a much lesser extent, my memory. The impetus for this was a call from one of my editors for content to fill an Aussie-special issue coming up. "I can do that!" I thought. "I've been there so often, I've used it up! I've been everywhere!"
And (referring you here to the title of this blog), that's no way an exaggeration. I've been sent there for work many times, all over the continent, from the Tiwi Islands to Tasmania, from Ningaloo to the Great Barrier Reef. So you'd think coming up with story material would be a piece of cake. But - you'll have guessed this already - it wasn't. See, the thing is, you forget, don't you? Stuff merges, or evaporates entirely, and flicking through the notes and the pics is almost a revelation: Oh, yeah, that camel ride! The beanie festival! Boab trees! All those bats!
Maybe this is why those pedestrian types keep going back to the Gold Coast every year: because the detail slips out of their memories within weeks of getting back home, and all they remember is that they had a good time. So they're like my old grandmother, who had a pile of Agatha Christies by her bed that she just read one after the other, instantly forgetting each plot so that it was fresh next time she got to it.
That's fine for them, but what about me? I've been to so many amazing places that I'll never get back to, and it's all disappearing. Yes, yes, I'm getting old, I can't even remember where I left my phone or what was on the shopping list I forgot to take to the supermarket with me; but this is serious!
Is this why people have latched onto Instagram with such fervid zeal? Is it not really so much about impressing their friends, as compiling a file of memory aids? And writing blogs, ditto? A propos of which, it's a marvel to me that Moleskine (WHY that final e? Drives me crazy!) maintains such a presence in fancy stationery shops. People may buy those elegant notebooks with great intentions, but I've never seen anyone writing in one - whereas me, with my trusty Back to School-5c-special 3B1s, I'm jotting stuff down all the time.
Because I'm doing it on the run, though, they're untidy and scribbled, and full of destination-specific abbreviations that seem so obvious to me at the time, and which are totally unintelligible when I'm trying to decipher them back home again. I'm never going to sit down with one and read it like a book. Equally, I'm not going to set my editing program to Slideshow and just lie back to watch - mainly because I take so many photos that whittling them down back home is just too daunting a job and so I lazily just file them all away, with the result that the good stuff is smothered by all the crap shots. (Speaking of which, have you ever seen a professional photographer at work and noticed HOW MANY shots they take, constantly referring to their screens to review them? Maybe they're checking their histograms, but it still looks to me as though they're winging it. Shouldn't they know what settings to use?)
And there's another downside to fading travel memories: now and then, when my brain's in neutral (so, quite often, actually) I'll get a sudden vivid impression of somewhere I've been - a town square, a castle, some lookout - and it'll drive me crazy for ages trying to remember where it was. Lisbon? Regensburg? Santiago? Honestly, the choice is so wide and the memory so tenuous, quite often I never get to the answer.
What's the solution? Don't go to so many places? Yeah, right. Only go to strikingly individual places, like Antarctica or Easter Island? Take clearer notes? Do memory-improvement exercises? Or just shrug and accept the loss and the drawing-in of the borders? Cripes. Depressing, much?


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