Part library, part journal, all me

Moving on

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in eqnz | 0 comments

Note: This post was written over four months – started end of November, picked up again in December and finished in February

It has been a long time since I posted to this blog – not so much for lack of an anything to say but lack of time, and more often than not, the energy to say it. Looking back I think I lost my way a bit this year (2012). I got headed off into a bit of cul de sac career wise that in retrospect was a “not quite” that the universe rescued me from. On the other hand I suspect it worked quite well as a holding pattern to get me where I am right now and also helped me clarify my goals and what was important in quite significant ways.

One of the things I didn’t have time to write about was my visits to Christchurch and how I felt about the changes there. Tonight as I sit in the dying minutes of a Canterbury summer twilight I am feeling like I have some words to describe how it feels to look out over a skyline empty of buildings.

I went to boarding school and university in Christchurch – it was the base city for our family while living in Arthur’s Pass, I was married here, my first child was born here. After the better part of thirty years away though the city had changed. During my most recent visits before the earthquakes I remember feeling somewhat disconnected – as if it was no longer the Christchurch I knew, it no longer felt like home. I know I wasn’t the only person who felt like that.

And then there were the earthquakes, the ongoing concern for family and friends, the anxious trolling of the news feeds to assess the destruction. As part of our changing pathway my husband is one of the Monday to Friday residents and we have an apartment only a block or so away from the edge of the red zone.

Part 2

I started this post when I was in Christchurch the weekend before Christmas and am finishing it having now spent two weeks here.

When I started it I was going to say (and still will) that the deconstruction of the city centre has unravelled layers of the city of memories – only a couple of buildings built since I left are still standing and they are slated for demolition in the New Year. One of them, Forsyth Barr,  was where several of my husband’s colleagues were trapped in the February 22 earthquake when the stairwells collapsed.  So the new buildings that made Christchurch different have gone, but so are the buildings that made Christchurch home.

Cities are living things that change all the time – favorite places are taken over by time. As my husband and another friend who works here point out, parts of Wellington and the Hutt they remember as children and teenagers have changed and gone. What is so difficult about central Christchurch is that EVERYTHING is gone. Westpac on Hereford St where my Dad organised my first bank account when I went to boarding school and where I got my first cheque book, the BNZ on the square where I used to visit my aunt, our favorite cafes with their memories of special treat family meetings or teen romance.

One of my deepest regrets is that my last memory of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament is Mark Moesbergen’s funeral and I had never managed in the intervening 12 years to just go and sit in the Cathedral with the late summer afternoon sun streaming in and feel the sense of safe haven wrap around me. One of my best memories of Mark was of him just sitting alongside me  at that time of day in the Cathedral while I struggled with a knotty teenage grief – thinking back that was probably one of the times I learnt about how just powerful being alongside without words can be.

The railway station is  a gapping hole, the old Lichfield’s building (then Millers, then the City Council) where my grandma used to work is boarded up and sad, the only remaining detail of Cashel Mall is Ballantynes. I have many friends still struggling with house re-builds or major repairs that seem to be continually contested. I find being able to see into the back of the Christchurch Cathedral as you walk along Gloucester St almost worse that seeing the damage to the front – it highlights how many buildings have been demolished.

Part 3 (third visit February)

I had a point when I started this which I have taken a long time to get too. Difficult as this city landscape is at the moment, fresh as the grief still feels with each new demolition, as unresolved as many issues are – underneath I can see a hopeful future. That the Christchurch to come will allow for the multiple versions of what Christchurch has been to the many generations who have lived here  before, and supports new possibilities for the generations to come. All of us have lost much of that city of memories but the foundations of that city are still there – parks and streets, and a small remanent of the past. The fact that despite the loss of landmarks and negotiating the red zone I can still find my way around without a map is a tiny indicator of that.

On Monday I had dinner at the Backbencher in Wellington which has just re-opened after two fires. They have chosen not to re-create it exactly but have maintained elements that connect it to what it was but allow for a new future. Do we like it? We are not sure. Will we keep going there? Of course – the food is still good, the location is still central to where we work, and we have years of memories attached. As a I paid the bill I commented to the friend who was with me that maybe this would be  what a built anew Christchurch will be like -the same but different, a fresh canvas that allows for new memories to overlay the shadows of the past.




Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>