Sunday 30 May 2021

Morality, eh

You forget about Canada's dark side, eh? Their national image is so friendly and polite and sensible... so it was a proper shock to learn about all this ghastly stuff back in 2013 when we had an unscheduled day in Kamloops because of a freight derailment interrupting the Rocky Mountaineer schedule. Flown in to the town for a hastily-arranged famil, we were shown around by Tara, who took us first to the Wildlife Park, where I was delighted to get up close to lots of their iconic wildlife.

Afterwards, she drove us through the Badlands to show us something even badder, and totally unexpected: the Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park. We heard the bleak story of how so many thousands of young native people - "Indians" - were uplifted to be "civilised, Christianised and assimilated" and, inevitably, exploited and abused. It's a horrific story, but what makes it so much worse is that it's so familiar. 

I'm relieved to report that nothing along quite those lines happened to Maori here (apart from, er, the Land Wars, the near extinction of their language, the horror of Parihaka, and the fact that even today Maori dominate poverty, poor health and imprisonment statistics), but we only have to cross the Tasman to hear pretty much identical stories about the Aboriginal people. In so many of the countries I've been to, through the Pacific, Indonesia, Africa, the US, indigenous people have been subjugated by colonisers with boundless, and entirely misplaced, confidence in their own superiority. It's hideous.

Though, of course without wishing at all to diminish the awful treatment received by those so-called inferior peoples around the world, I'm wondering now if my pleasure in getting so close to all those poor, incarcerated wild animals was equally wrong.

Friday 28 May 2021

Happy just to have been in the running. Honest.

Heading into the city for an evening meeting earlier this week, I was a) surprised to see these huge and eye-wateringly expensive container cranes actually in use for once and then b) inevitably reminded, because of the hint of sunset in the clouds behind them, of the start of the best day I've ever had in London.

It was August 2019 and I'd got up early for our arrival on Silversea's Silver Wind into the heart of the city, through Tower Bridge to moor alongside the Belfast. It turned out I'd actually got up an hour too early, by mistake, so I was on deck to see dawn behind the cranes as we passed Tilbury docks - which was total compensation, it was a beautiful sight.

Of course, most things, however prosaic, look dramatic in that light, but as it happened, the entire day that followed was 100% gorgeous and everything looked at its best. That made everyone else be in their best moods too, so it wasn't just the surroundings, but also the overall ambiance that was brilliant. I loved it all. So I'm not letting it get me down that this evening it's the Voyager Media Awards and my entries for the Travel section, which included a description of this cruise (as well as an actual piece of proper reporting) didn't even earn me a finalist place. (This time.)

But at least the Firstborn is in with a chance. Good luck!

Tuesday 25 May 2021


While I would, naturally, have preferred a better - in fact, any other - angle, it was still a bit of a thrill to see myself on the front page of the NZ Herald* last week. The initial pleased Oh! was, though, immediately erased by a puzzled Huh? For two reasons: my story inside the Travel section was about Waiheke walks, while the photo was of me doing a Segway tour of Devonport back in January to write about for the SST; and I had no recollection of that photo being taken, let alone submitted to the Herald.

The Segway lady had no clue either, so I asked the Herald's Travel editor, who told me, with some surprise since she hadn't (I'm happy to say, given the afore-mentioned angle) recognised me, that it was a stock image randomly taken by one of their staff photographers. Who just happened to be up on North Head at the same time as me. Once she'd said that, I did in fact remember seeing a young man mooching about up there with a big camera as I was gliding around.

So, there's a coincidence for you - and, unlike most of the so-called coincidences I've claimed in this blog, it is an actual, real coincidence and not what is officially termed Frequency Illusion (or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon**). It's cognitive bias - where if, for example, you've just discovered you're pregnant, you suddenly see pregnant women everywhere. They were always there, but it's only now you're one of them that your brain is selectively registering them all. 

The more you travel, the more you notice those places you've visited cropping up in the news, on TV, in conversation and so on - so, being fortunately in that category, that's why I'm always tripping over references to countries, towns, even buildings, that I've been to. It's fun. Even if, sigh, these days it's a bit sad too.

* I would like to disassociate myself completely from that grammatical error in the tagline on the banner.

** While not disputing the phenomenon, I have to note that, having read all the way through the Wikipedia article, I personally cannot find a single link between me and anything to do with Baader-Meinhof. Which is a good thing, of course.

Thursday 13 May 2021

Goghing... gone

Naturally, going to the Van Gogh Live show that came to Auckland recently was always going to remind me of Arles. The show is a multi-screen projection of a good selection of his paintings, from early to last, with a bit of modest animation in some of them. The screens are all around the arena, at different angles and heights, and there are several paintings projected at once, so you have to keep looking around - including on the floor (though clearly not everyone felt that responsibility).

Each set has an accompanying quote from his letters or diary, in a handwriting font that takes a bit of effort to read, and the pace is brisk enough that it's far from a relaxing experience. It's good, though, and his paintings, especially the starry night ones, really benefit from the large-scale, super-bright treatment. It's fairly short, so I watched it twice. Overall, though, the story is sad. Poor man. He sold only one painting in his (self-shortened) lifetime. 

Regular 😀 readers will recall that I went to Arles back in - sigh - 2012, beginning a river cruise there with Uniworld along the Rhone, which finished in Lyon. Arles is where Van Gogh spent his most productive, if dramatic, years, and on a tour around that lovely, and appealingly lived-in, town, we visited a number of the scenes that he painted, most memorably the yellow Café la Nuit. 

Incidentally, the self-portrait with the bandaged ear confuses a lot of people: it was the left ear that he sliced at (possibly off) with the knife, but the picture shows his right ear bandaged, because he was painting his actual mirror image. 

Anyway, it was several days later, when fishing the next clean coffee mug out of the drawer, that I saw it was decorated with one of his swirly cypress paintings. I'd forgotten all about it - and also, where I'd bought it. So that occupied me on and off for a few more days, until the mug reappeared in the morning coffee cycle. I suddenly remembered then that I'd bought it at the National Gallery in London, where I'd gone on a Silversea cruise in - sigh - 2019. 

Shamefully, despite having lived in England for years and going to London many times, it was my first visit to the gallery - it was always one of those 'next time' things. If nothing else, recent events should have taught us not to put stuff off, don't you think? Just made that one in time.

That was a chastening lesson, but I was still quietly triumphant about having remembered where I'd bought the mug. Turns out, though, that all I had to do was turn it over.


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