It’s been a while what with Covid and not much theatre to see. Out of the blue, I was contacted to write a review for the local community theatre.
David Hare is one of the leading contemporary British playwrights spanning five decades. With The Breath of Life he departs from his usual examination of political systems, the church, the law and the press, to focus down on two women in their sixties, their motivations and morality. I saw the 2002 premiere in the cavernous Theatre Royal, Haymarket with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Waiheke Theatre Companies production has the advantage of intimacy, allowing us to get up close to the internal action of the characters.
Madeline (Lucinda Peterken), an academic researching provenance of Islamic art, lives on The Isle of Wight, a cheap haven for the elderly. Frances (Linda Savage) a successful novelist and mother has travelled by ferry to meet her husband’s mistress of many years. Martin has deserted them both and moved with his predictably much younger model to Seattle and Frances is on a mission to find out Madeline’s part in their story with a notion of writing a memoir. Linda Savage presents a timorous birdlike character, initially rooted to the spot with terror in the face of the seemingly relaxed and almost casual Madeline, who has the advantage, or at least thinks she does, in knowing all about her rival. Swords are drawn and the battle commences. In the process, we learn enough about Martin to label him as a shit, but it’s the women’s secrets and fears which when revealed, hold our interest. Madeline insists that she never wanted to be defined by the man in her life, but you can tell from the performance that there are unacknowledged regrets. Some of the most interesting questions require and get no answer. I also get the feeling that Hare doesn’t always know the answers but along with Director, Teresa Sokolich, the actors have filled in the gaps with a thorough grasp of the characters and the clues within the text. Lucinda Peterken might not at first fit the stereotype of ‘mistress’ but as the play progresses it’s clear that she is perfect for the role – independent, sassy and intelligent – you can see what attracted Martin. Linda Savage by contrast gains courage for her character by dressing smartly and over doing the jewellery to demonstrate her success as a writer. She grows quietly throughout the play until she has discovered all. Act two ramps up the tension and Madeline’s passions are unleashed in a powerful scene set in the middle of a sleepless night. By morning, all seems to be resolved, but there’s one more thing to complete the jigsaw. It’s a treat to see two of Waiheke’s senior theatre practitioners playing on stage together.
I booked mostly theatre events and at the time of writing, the only cancellation due to COVID 19 has been the out-door spectacular, ‘Place des Ange’ in the Auckland Domain. The transport of their equipment had been disrupted. (by now, several shows have been cancelled because the artists were not in the country before the quarantine regulations went into force.)
I attended the free out-door opening event in Aotea Square. The highlight was Bohemian Rhapsody performed acapella by Hatea Kapa Haka in Te Reo Maori. After a bad start, they began again and were stunning. They also led the audience in the National anthem in Te Reo. Hollie Smith, iconic kiwi singer, was the headliner culminating in a Te Reo version of ‘Bathe in the River by Don McGlashan. There was a lot of ‘community singing by the audience encouraged by the energetic and engaging singer/compare. It started to rain so I took shelter under one of the sun shades near the back.
My next event was nearby in the Waitakere Rooms at the Aotea Centre. Intriguing. We, the audience, gathered for Black Ties in a large bar area before being ushered downstairs to a huge function room set out with circular tables and chairs. The action took place on a raised stage at one side of the room. Aboriginal Kane and Maori Hera are young and in love and to set things in motion (after an interruption by his adopted brother) he proposes. She’s keen, but won’t give an answer until they have met both sides of their respective families. The action quickly flicks between Melbourne and Rural New Zealand, exposing dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviour on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Everything goes hilariously wrong as prejudices are revealed and actioned. Mothers embarrass. Sylvia’s known bottom line is that only a Maori can marry her daughters, while Ruth Baker, wants her son to stay in Melbourne. At the end of Act one and against all the odds, the answer to the proposal was a yes, though we didn’t see much of the couple’s process in making this decision.
We were banished upstairs at the interval and returned to find ourselves at a wedding reception. Families/Whanau/Mobs have met and the Mothers are already at loggerheads ranging from icily polite to downright vicious. Siblings and best friends are also at war, leaving Kane’s adopted brother ducking arrows and Hera’s young sister making the wedding video, which transports crucial off-stage scenes to on-stage screens. Did I mention the band? – of course it’s a musical with wedding and love story standards. They gallantly fill in the awkward pauses in the passions and cover when too many of the characters are off-stage. Consequently, act two sags in places.
The cultural clash is palpable and the experience, chaotic, funny and dangerous – all vital ingredients for a good night at the theatre. This important piece is a result of collaboration between ILBIJEIR and Te Rehia theatres. First Nation people have a lot to give to each other and we, the colonisers have much to learn from such cultural collaborations with the brakes off.
Where Black Ties boldly takes swipes at Maori culture, The Treaty, the lack of a treaty (Australia), absent fathers, drink and loss of culture, UPU (Silo Theatre) is a cry from the Pacific. It’s an anthology of poetry and prose from the islands, starting with Matariki (Samoa) – the lining up of the stars for the Pleiades group in a powerful ensemble opening. It brings together voices from this vast area of ocean, often forgotten, to talk about sea level rises, missionaries and their legacy and colonisation. There’s a section where the speakers de-colonise with different actions, another where a Pacifica man describes the joys of sex for her, a white missionary wife. Another, eulogises the delights of Spam, brought to the Pacific by American colonisers. My favourite was the Fat Brown Woman. She has attitude, sexuality and she is not to be messed with. The women in the ensemble, all thin to average, somehow managed to swing their hips and swell their bodies to suggest fat. With such powerful words it was a pity that at times there were rushed or lost, particularly by the male actors. These are words to savour, messages from the First Nation people of the Pacific.
Biladurang (Platypus) is a one-person dance/theatre performance in a hotel suite twenty odd floors up overlooking water – in this case the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf. Joel Bray is the writer and performer, he’s blond, white, Aboriginal and gay and this is his story. There’s a warning of ‘course language, adult themes, drug references, nudity and sexual references. I hesitated to book, but the Aboriginal aspect drew me in and well, I do look to push out of my comfort zone wherever possible. That’s what theatre should do.
We gathered on the ground floor, a full house of sixteen people – mostly middle aged and, like me, older – four of us were men. Two lifts took us up and we assembled outside the room – one of us knocked on the door. Joel, dressed in a bath robe answered, embarrassed – quickly retreated to retrieve underwear from the floor and handed us all bathrobes to wear. It was intimate, but we settled in with a glass of bubbles each. Joel made a good stab at remembering our names as we entered and he played on the initial awkwardness of our situation by chatting away to make us feel comfortable. He lapsed into dance – using a wall and the floor as a springboard for his strong hands and broad feet – moving in contemporary style – narrowly missing furniture: the television, the low round table clustered with glasses and wine bottles. A sound track came from a laptop controlled with a finger in between arabesques. He recounted his teenage discovery of gay porn followed by Christian self-disgust and guilt. The self-inspection of his forty-nine-year-old body lead to memories of drug use, being fucked but never finding love in a relationship – a familiar gay theme. The performance is a careful construction of set pieces and intervening chat with audience management. Those who were placed on the bed were moved so it could become the next performance space.
Joel needed to shower and we heard the sound of water as he turned on the taps in the bathroom – returning briefly to dim the lights and point a remote at the television – we watched the next performance space. Emerging cleansed and naked but covered in foam, he opened the curtains, dressed. We look out at Auckland, the Waitemata Harbour and the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf. Four of us from Waiheke Island were there – we proudly point it out.
The water is part of the story of the Platypus the journey to being created half duck, half rat – defying classification. This is the crux of Joel’s story – white but black – not fitting in anywhere. His ancestors were ‘stolen’, became detached from their culture – half remembered by his father and reassembled by another generation. Does he know who he is?
He recalled attending an event for Aboriginal people and being asked, ‘How do you know you are Aboriginal?’ There was a pause but no answer to the question. There was a moment when he spoke for all First nation people – imagining a parallel universe where no Red Coats arrived no ships carrying settlers landed – a powerful image of a pristine forest (no global warming) where the Biladurang hunts for food in the river with her duck’s bill and lays eggs which will hatch into the next generation. There are still some in the ancestral lands of the Wiradjuri people.
I need this day off to recover from yesterday, something is hurting deep in my gluteus maximus. Walking helps and a day exploring art in the city starts with the National Gallery of Victoria. One of my American swimming friends has recommended the Keith Haring/Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition there and without knowing anything about them, I get a ticket.
At first it looks as if it’s the story of two graffiti artists in 80’s New York. Haring developed his style on blacked out advertising space awaiting the next poster. Using white chalk, he worked quickly but didn’t always avoid arrest. Basquiat was black/latino and drew, painted or spray painted on anything. The exhibition unfolds to display dramatic and moving images.
They were both gay and their deaths in the late 80’s suggests they succumbed to AIDS. They were of course part of the group around Andy Warhol. Their work becomes stronger and more political ending in really moving work around HIV and AIDS towards the end of their lives. There’s an eleven-page hand-written eulogy from Haring for his friend Basquiat, who died first. I’ll just let the images speak for themselves.
After a coffee break, I venture upstairs to the rest of the gallery to look at beautifully curated oriental and Indian art. Ceramics, carving and textiles of great quality. There’s an excellent selection of 17th, 18th and 19th Century British and European are, with most of the important painters on display. I spend a little more time on the impressionists. On the top floor there are dramatic black and white films by an Iranian artist Shirin Neshat and New Zealand’s Colin McCahon’s painting using letters and numbers have a room to themselves. Finally, there is a huge display of fashion by Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons dating from 1981. Time for Lunch.
The State Library of Victoria is reputed to have an art collection, so jumping on the ever-efficient Melbourne tram system, I am there in no time. The dome of the reading room – reminiscent of the reading room at the British Museum – has been recently restored and is worth a look. On the way down there are interesting displays on the changes in the state of Victoria over the years.
Here I happen to observe a father pointing out Ned Kelly’s death mask and explaining to his young daughter that after a hanging, a plaster mould of the head was made. The next floor down is devoted to the world of the book, beginning with books donated to the library which were not deemed suitable for the public to read.
I find the Cowan Gallery and am immediately drawn to three
painting of horrific fires in the state. They seem relevant to the recent
Outside, it is still hot and the rally in support of Julian
Assange is coming to close. The small group listening is exhorted to join in the
Tuesday: The Musee del Arte Modern looks good. It’s
somewhere in the Villa Borghese area – a green swathe that covers a large area
to the North of the city. The map I’ve borrowed from the apartment bears no
resemblance to the maps in the park and I end up on the other side and have to
ask a policeman for directions.
Lions are on guard outside this neoclassical building; ‘The
Time is Out of Joint’ is written on the steps – this seems relevant. As is
usual here, getting into the galleries is a matter of trial and error. There’s
a shortage of entry signs but plenty of ‘Uscuita’ exit signs.
There are Italian impressionists here and it’s all very
well presented. What becomes clearer as I progress, is the clever curation.
Nineteenth Century statues are placed against or looking at the art. ‘Very Bad
Things’ makes use of gallery windows to stunning effect. A whole section is
devoted to works made out of building material – cement, bricks and reinforcing
iron rods. At first, I think it is dull, but suddenly it all comes to life. The
artist has taken two dimensional designs using the trompe d’oel technique (as
seen in the Vatican ceilings) and realised them in three dimensions.
There’s a café to enjoy coffee and cake, but you have to
double back through one of the galleries to reach it.
The Piazza di Popolo with one enormous Egyptian obelisk is
worth a look – every pizza seems to have one or two, and fountains. Popolo is
wide and open with two almost identical churches at one end. Three roads divide
them off offering views of diminishing perspectives. I take the right-hand road
leading to the river and the Augustus Mausoleum. On the way I stop to stare at
the only two (large) rainbow flags I’ve seen, hanging on the gates of an art
The Augustus Mausoleum is huge – it’s closed now for
restoration but was once used for concerts. ‘On May
13th, 1936 the Augusteo, one of the most famous temples of music in Europe,
hosted its final concert: Bernardino Molinari conducted music by Rossini,
Martucci, Paganini-Molinari, Respighi, Wagner and Verdi. Later the
Mausoleum was to have become Mussolini’s tomb, but this did not happen and the
important monument was abandoned.’
Right next door is a modern building of elegant and clean
lines. It houses the Museo Dell’ara Pacis – a fantastic reconstruction of a
marble temple, buried for centuries. On the lower floor is an exhibition –
Claudio – about the life of the emperor Claudius – made famous by the BBC
series I Claudius with Dereck Jacobi. Related to Caligula (his nephew)
and succeed by Nero, Claudius created an age of relative stability between tow
maniacs. It was a time of scandal, plotting, murder and political manoeuvring –
well worth the visit.
Moving on to the Piazza Navena. There’s the excavation of
an ancient athletics track under here where you can have an underground lunch.
I’m happy to sit above ground, watch the fountains and enjoy Bruschetta
Pomodoro followed by thinly sliced beef with orange, cheese and rocket.
Wednesday: I’m fitting in the Museum of Rome in the morning
and I can use my metro card. I’ve gone to all the bother of changing lines,
during rush hour, at Termini to take one stop to Republic, only to find that
after a short walk the Museum is across the road from Termini. I’m early so
there’s time for espresso at the Museum Café which opens early to catch
The Romans went in for carved marble heads of family
members – much like a photograph album – that’s why you get so many of them.
Some are designed to fit into marble bodies or plinths and hairstyles can help
to date them. There are also some good examples of bronze statues showing various
techniques for colouration eg lips, nipples and the cuts and bruises of a
boxer. It’s all well laid out and I particularly enjoyed the frescoes and
mosaics saved from houses and lovingly restored. Down in the basement is an
extensive collection of Roman coins, if that is your thing, but there’s also
some beautiful jewellery.
Onwards to the Villa Borghese area for an early lunch of
cheap vegetarian lasagne (dull) at a working café in a side street. Today I
easily find my way to the much anticipated Gallerie Borghese. I have a two-hour
time slot from 1-3pm and it take ten minutes to exchange my voucher for a
ticket, check in my bag in the basement then make my way back outside and up
the front steps to the entrance. No photographs are permitted. It’s busy
physically and visually. The rooms are overly ornate in Rococo/Baroque style.
Panels of different coloured marble vie for attention and everything is
crowded. I start off in the Caravaggio room, but they fight to breath here.
Some, but not all, are good – nothing stood out. Marble statues and endless
renaissance depictions of the Holy Family, the Madonna and Child by unfamiliar
artists lacking in the brilliance of Raphael and Michael Angelo. There’s a
Peter Paul Rubens which shines and a few other gems which get lost in the melange
of colour. A contemporary artist is exhibited in the spaces left by paintings
on loan or being restored. His art is to make holes in a surface. Some of these
are a slash through the fabric or metal surface. At intervals throughout,
printed statements from the artist explain how holes can be art.
Having left, what I thought to be, the best until last, I’m
disappointed. Still it’s been a time of otherwise excellent experiences. I
treat myself to a beer at the other gay bar ‘My Place’ followed by dinner at
Sunday and there’s no rushing to Ostia today. I’ve sketched
out a walking tour, so we’ll see what happens. On the airport train, I met a
pleasant American Couple who live and work in the Emirates; they recommended
Ostia Antica as a day trip. I’ve been passing this place on my way to the swimming
pool every day and I’ve worked out that it’s a site of archaeological
significance. There’s enough of ancient Rome sticking out of the ground here in
the city and I’ve seen the sites at Carthage (Tunisia) and more in Morocco.
The Campidoglio is, like many buildings in Rome, sandwiched
between a church and ruins, with the Vittorione towering nearby. There’s a
magnificent square, designed by Michael Angelo with an equine statue of Marcus
Aurelius who is much loved here. The two parts of the Musei Capitolini flank
the Piazza and the third side is a civic building housing a wedding hall. It’s
early and the crowds are light here. Everyone it seems is heading for the
Getting into the museum is a test. On one side there is
only an exit; on the other, a ticket office and two doors along, the security
entrance which checks all our bag. Here, there is a magnificent collection of
sculpture – not overcrowded like the British Museum. Each piece has space to
breath and be appreciated. Some of the rooms are furnished with frescos painted
on the walls. A modern addition incorporates ruins of an ancient temple and
prides a huge space for another copy of Marcus Aurelius on horseback. – it’s
impressive. Famous works – eg the Dying Gaul – are stunning and Caravaggio’s
cheeky painting of St John the Baptist, is sexy. The model, obviously one of
his pretty boys is smuggled into respectability with a saintly label. I go
below to see the gravestones but miss the connection to the other side of the
square. I exit and briefly consider giving the other side a miss, but there’s
no problem and I’m allowed back in an take the tunnel under the square to the
other side. Just as well as there are more treasures to be seen, including the
famous view of the square from above.
I’ve passed Teatro Marcello several times on a bus; now
it’s time to photograph this very ancient Roman ruin, reclaimed in the middle
ages and converted into the Orsini palace.
The Vittoriano towers white and sharp over the whole area.
It’s a 19thc classical re-invention which seems oddly out of place.
The Victorian age was one of energetic expansion and so-called improvement, not
always achieving the desired result. I reference numerous English churches
which were vandalised in this way by the Victorians.
I notice from the other side of the road that people – not
tourists are going through a door in the Vittoriano. I like going though open
doors and especially if it’s free. This one leads to a temporary exhibition
about Italian identity – how the nation was formed. It begins with the language
– developing from a Latin base (like other European languages) with a situation
where people spoke a variety of similar languages and dialects. Television is
credited with consolidating the National dialect, though many retain their local
versions alongside. Italy had become a mixture of republics, the Papal Sates
and the vast kingdom of Naples to the South. This exhibition charts all this
through the wars, Garibaldi, Mussolini and the post war referendum offering the
choice of Monarchy or Republic. Some how
the flimsy plywood display units showing the gaps and the back of the display,
make this raw and moving. At this point I have to comment that in spite of all
the reports and predictions of a collapsing economy and infrastructure, everything
seems to run smoothly in Rome. There are beggars here – more dramatic and
dirtier than anywhere else. Some pose as semi religious-characters. They have little impact on the trains and
busses, which run on time at affordable prices. The refugees hide away in the
park that was Nero’s palace trying to keep clean washing themselves and clothes
in the ever-flowing water fountains.
Upstairs in the Vittoriano, the marble staircases seem
empty and pointless and the other areas are closed off. I wander onto the huge
balcony surrounding the building and offering great views of the city. I can
hardly see for the glare of sunshine on the marble, but have difficulty finding
a seat free of pigeon shit.
The next stop is the Pantheon – once a Roman temple – now a
church constructed inside the ruins. There’s a queue but it moves fast. The
place is crowded; buzzing with conversations which surge and die between announcements
calling for silence. A recording is employed to cut through the buzz – the
amplified voice, strangely at odds with its message. I sit down on a pew next
to a woman tourist who has fallen asleep. The husband wakes her with his cap,
brushing her eyeball with the rim as it sweeps past her. She’s not happy about
that but goes back to sleeping. Light from the open circle at the top of the
domed roof shines a shaft of light at one part of the wall. It’s dark and
Outside, as I cross the Piazza, an African notice my green
shoes and before I know it has put a friendship bracelet on my wrist – a gift.
I’ve come across this before in Myanmar. He then offers me a small wooden
carving, but want’s a contribution towards his family. No. I’m not playing that
game and as I march off, he reclaims his free bracelet. I’m after a Coffee
Granita, shavings of iced coffee layered with cream. It’s fantastic, though I
think I could have done without the whipped cream.
As I round the back of the Pantheon, to inspect the ancient
Roman brick-work there’s a Bernini carved Marble elephant with an obelisk on
his back – wonderful.
After a late afternoon nap, I return to Naumachio and try
their mixed grill. Perfect. I’ve been observing a group of women who have
clearly been here for the Games. One of them has a rainbow on her tee shirt and
the same small blue ruck sac as I, from the Gay Games in Paris. As I’m leaving,
I say hello and have a great conversation. They are badminton players from
Ireland. The evening closes with my now routine gelato from my local gelateria.
Wolfgang is punctual for the ten am opening of the
Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. We’re here to see the much praised
and must-see exhibition of ‘Camp’, programmed to coincide with World Pride.
In our search for the exhibition, we are seduced into the
Impressionist galleries. Wolfgang is thrilled and has to revise his opinion of
some painters. I’ve seen these before, but had forgotten how many impressionist
paintings have ended up in the US. It’s great to re-visit these old friends.
The word camp, is almost impossible to define and it’s not necessarily
gay. Originating in France it can be roughly be described as standing with one
hand on a hip the other arm limp wristed and striking a pose with attitude.
Christopher Isherwood identifies two versions – High camp (with elegance and
taste) and Low camp – without the taste, shocking, outrageous, vulgar. Susan Sontag
is the only one to break it down intellectually. The exhibition itself is mostly
about fashion beginning with Marie Antoinette’s big frocks. Seventeenth Century
fashion is regarded as the height of camp. Then there’s the cross dressing –
famously the brother of a king of France lived dressed as a woman for the later
part of his life and there are numerous other examples – the Molly Houses where
gay men dressed up in private and more publicly, male couples appeared in
public as women. Oscar Wilde is cited as a camp icon as is Cecil Beaton, Vivienne
Westwood, and tiffany lamps. The last room is a huge gallery of outrageous and
elegant fashion which takes the breath away. Individually each display is
I’ve bought an on-line ticket for the Guggenheim, just
along the avenue from the Met. Wolfgang wants to walk though Central Park, but
I’ve got the wrong direction in my head and we end up having to double back.
I’m hugely impressed by the way New York is embracing World
Pride. Rainbow banners are everywhere, shop displays celebrate and there are
churches flying the rainbow flag alongside the Stars and Stripes.
It’s the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit we’ve come to see –
the Guggenheim has most of his work and although I’ve seen many of them before,
there’s quite a bit of early work which is worth seeing. Mapplethorpe remains
shocking, complicated and beautiful, more old friends. There’s a diptych where
we can take a selfie and be in the mirror half of a Mapplethorpe.
I’m flagging by now and after a coffee, I have to go back
to the apartment for a sleep before dinner with the Guptas. Udayan and Kathy
live in the Battery Park area overlooking the site of the Twin Towers. They
were very much caught up in 9/11 and the aftermath. Udayan and I were pen pals
as schoolboys, whilst his older brother and wife were and are still important family
friends. We walk though the beautifully planted park to an Italian restaurant –
alfresco. The Guptas have their favourite, soft-shelled Crab while I carb up on
a delicious pork and fennel pasta dish. It’s an evening of conversation –
touching on politics and a lot about health issues. We flag towards the end and
arrange for breakfast on Monday.
He is there again on my return journey still working his
way up and down the carriage on the Hammersmith an City Line.
‘Excuse me ladies and gents sorry to bother you … sorry to interrupt your journey. I’m currently homeless, I’m eighteen and have no family. I’m trying to get some cash together for something to eat and a room in a hostel tonight. Anything would be much appreciated. Anything? Have a good evening.’
The travellers in my section of the carriage studiously concentrate
on what ever they are staring at. The advertisements for ‘Welthify’, their
reflection in the window or just thin air in front of them. One woman is
looking in her bag.
have any cash, but I might have some food here.’
I shrug as he passes. I seldom carry cash these days –
sometimes a pound coin for the locker at the swimming pool but the token on my
key ring works just as well. He is young, a few blond bristles show on his
upper lip. His face is evenly dirty – blond hair stiff with grime looks as if
it was once stylish but it’s grown out. He wears a sleeveless padded vest far
too large for him over a hoodie. Grubby blue trackie bottoms sit on top of a
still respectable looking pair of black designer trainers.
Two black travellers just past me contribute. The young woman has a handful of coins which she continues to play with. I want to help – offer him a shower and wash his clothes, but I know that’s not wise. An older gay man – could be easily misconstrued. He needs professional help.
As the tube draws near my stop, the young man appears again
waiting to get off. He digs into his trackie pockets and withdraws handfuls of
coins which he seems to be counting.
‘Ca, ca, ca
boom ca, ca, cabomm. Brrroom, cha, cha, cha. Na, nana na, nana na.’ He chants
Like me he knows which door of the train will stop by the
station exit. I follow him as he bounds up the stairs. I wonder what he will to
exit the station. Probably jump over the barrier or follow someone closely through
the gates. By the time I get up the stairs he’s on the other side and buying
something from the kiosk. A drink or sweets I imagine. I look back as I exit on
to the street. He’s rubbing a scratch – card with a coin. I wonder if that
works for him?
‘Go over and
see if there’s anything we can do,’ she said.
Pete hesitated. He was still deep in shock from the news
and couldn’t for the moment think how he could help.
seemed to understand his dilemma. ‘The offer will be enough – to show support.’
He remembered the day they had moved in. The little girl
was only a baby, the same age as their daughter. He’d said his name was
you Mo; we shorten everything here. I’m Pete – no one calls me Peter and the
wife is Sue.
Mo was an
engineer, he came to help re-build the city after the second earthquake. They’d
got on well, after a couple of cultural gaffs. Pete quickly found out that a
beer with Mo was out of the question and they wouldn’t be eating Sue’s famous
egg and bacon pie – a national dish.
Luckily, she was ace at roast lamb and the other national dish, Pavlova
was much appreciated. The gesture was returned with a middle eastern version
and recipes swapped.
knocked on the back door, he couldn’t quite believe that his friend Mo wouldn’t
be answering. It opened a few centimetres and he could see Jamal’s tear-stained
face suddenly full of fear. In that moment, Pete understood that he was a
pakeha, a white male, like the arsehole who’d shot his mate Mo and all the
others. He’d grown up here around guys like that and mostly gave them a wide berth.
He once defended his friend Hemi at primary school from one such bully making
anti Maori comments in the playground – the only time he’d ever hit anyone.
‘It’s only me … Pete … can we
Jamal relaxed and shook her
tears welling. He didn’t recall having done this as an adult. He must have
cried as a baby but grown men don’t cry. ‘This isn’t supposed to happen in New
Zealand,’ he said.
here because it was safe. Where can we go now?’ she said.
‘It is … it
was …’ Tears were streaming down his face. ‘This is not who we are.’ He was
shaking with grief and anger. ‘We’ve lost so much today.’
They are at the supermarket every time I go. Dressed almost the same, the mother wears a faded black jacket and straight skirt to the knee, stockings and comfortable shoes. She has alopecia and her remaining lank hair looks unwashed and plasters down her head. A light grey, long diaphanous scarf drapes her head but doesn’t attempt to hide her baldness. The younger woman wears navy and grey in the same style. She has already grown into her mother, without the hair loss. I always smile at them and they like that. They choose a few meagre items, discuss each one, look at the price and read the contents. Often, I see them in the entrance lobby with their full shopping bags, not sitting in the supermarket café, which they can’t afford but hunched on a ledge by the Argos catalogues – keeping warm – waiting.
Tuesday – I’ve got my sights set on Museum Hundertwasser. It’s a bit out of the way – not near a Ubann station, so there’s a bit of walking ahead. I take a seat on the train next to an abandoned newspaper. The youngish woman opposite is taking photographs of articles. She says it’s easier to read them on her phone by enlarging. We get talking – it’s easier just to say I live in London. She says she loves London and that her mother took her there. ‘London people are so friendly,’ she says, not like here. I’m surprised by this and guess that this might have been around 2012, when London suddenly became uncharacteristically friendly. I learn that her mother is dead and get a sort of life story. When she finds out that I’m heading for the Hundertwasser, she insists that I go with her as her dental appointment is near there. We catch a tram and both get out at the same stop. ‘It’s not far, you just turn left then right.’ She’s a bit late for the dentist and disappears. There are signs, but I want to go to the museum first and have to resort to my sat nav. The building is magical, but no photography is allowed. The terracotta tiled flooring undulates unevenly with a claim that the earth is like this. I’m not so sure as, being older, I’m finding keeping my balance a slight challenge. One of the first things I notice is that Hundertwasser mentions being buried in Ao Tea Roa. I’ve never seen my native land spelt in this way before and immediately want to know more. I scan his time line – he was Jewish and changed his name at some point, but there’s no explanation of how he survived the war as a child in Vienna. He went to art school, but didn’t stay. There’s a man dressed entirely in black wearing sunglasses. He has walking poles and walks around the exhibit repeatedly like an automaton. Strange – I wonder if he is part of the show. The walking poles obviously help his balance on the uneven floor.
The art is amazing and colourful. Often representational, including spirals of different colours. He seems to have travelled all over the world but after his first visit to New Zealand/Aotearoa he returned there repeatedly. He became ill and was cared for in a rural hospital and bought a property there. In the end he was buried in Aotearoa, on his property, with a tree planted over him to make use of his molecules in this new life. There’s a picture of the young tree doing well – I’m slightly disappointed that it’s not a native of Aotearoa, but a Tulip Tree or Liriodendron. Mum had one on our lawn when we were young it took twenty years to produce any flowers. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, I’m amazed to learn, designed flags. His Green Koru for New Zealand is simple and effective. Ex-prime minister John Keys could have saved a lot of time and money by just adopting it.
I’m interested to find that his flag for Israel included a blue star of David with a green crescent moon. He was also great at print making and graphics – an inspirational visit and I’m keen to get on down the road to see the Hundertwasser House – a block of apartments done in his inimitable style, not unlike Gaudi and to be found in various other world cities. It’s gloriously sunny but not over crowded with tourists.
I’m slightly disorientated by now and take a while consulting my google maps to decide which way to walk. I take a risk and find a tram gong in the right direction. It passes an underground station, so I get off and take the Ubann to re-visit Karls Kirche, which we’d passed on our walking architectural tour. The church was completed in 1737 and combines a variety of styles and epochs in world history.
There are stairs up to see the ‘treasure’ – not really worth the climb and my legs certainly didn’t need the exercise. Inside the church are several large inflated silver and transparent globes which reflect the walls and murals. It seems vast and very high. This is due to various tricks of perspective which make it appear so. Marble columns and panels are tapered towards the ceiling. There’s a huge clump of scaffolding in one corner which houses a lift and I take this up to a viewing platform to see the ceiling art-work. Looking down is scary – vertiginous. Luckily there are Perspex panels – blacked out lower down to give a better sense of safety. It’s worth the journey to see the murals and the view down to the street below.
From here, it’s only a short walk to re-visit Secession, also seen in the near-dark on our walking tour. It has been stunningly restored and it’s now possible to go in. I’m down to my last few euros and so ask to pay by card. Many places in Austria still have minimum amounts, like 15 Euros. The nice man on the desk lets me in for the group tour price leaving me 30 cents. The main exhibition space is displaying video art/installation. Very engaging and suitably in the spirit of secession.
Down a level there’s similar work – a young man walking and falling over, getting up and walking – narrowly avoiding being run over by cars, falling down again and so on. There’s someone carrying a white screen which takes up most of the video screen. You just get a hint of the landscape. Down yet another level is the Kimpt frieze. Worth the wait for that. There’s a picture of the original building, the back of which was severely bombed at the end of the war. You can see the frieze of women holding up rings and now a small part of the frieze has been re-created. There’s also a photo of the ribbon of approval the building had from the nazis during their annexation of Austria.
Time to go back to my apartment for a rest and re-group.
There’s another local pub style restaurant listed in the Gay guide. Sixta
offers traditional Austrian fare and I have soup followed by the most delicious
goulash. The clientele is not at all gay – mostly locals but I think the waiter
I’ve booked an evening of Mozart and Johann Strauss music at the Kursalon, a concert venue where Strauss himself performed. I’m early and briefly look in the park to admire a golden statue of Johann. The venue is grand and looks like a wedding cake, all lit up with fairy lights. Crowds of coaches are pulling up and loads of tourists are flooding in. I notice that its €1 for the coat check. I’m all out of cash and so decide to take my coat in with me. That’s not allowed, I have to check it in.
‘But I don’t have a euro.’ I
tell the man. ‘Can you do VISA?’ He suggests I go to a nearby ATM. ‘I’m not
going to go to an ATM and withdraw one euro. I only do cards.
‘What, you wander around with
‘Yes.’ I tell him. ‘Here, I
have forty cents.’ He tells the coat check man not to charge me for checking in
my coat. Result.
We are in a level concert hall with a dais at one end. Chandeliers drip liberally from the ceiling. I’ve gone for the cheaper seats at the back as I know that the sound should be ok. An usherette parades around the auditorium holding up a card representing no photography. She has a stern look on her face and makes sure that everyone in the hall has seen her. Finally, the musicians arrive; the leader of this nonet is an elderly violinist who seems to have a sense of humour. They start off with a polka – rousing stuff. Then we seem to be working our way through the well-known Johann Strauss waltzes and polkas. The trouble with waltzes is that they are for dancing. The first few staves are fine, then it becomes repetitive. It seems that there is only so much you can do to develop a Waltz. The solution is to bring in a couple of dancers. She’s very balletic with legs and arms going up and down, while he is no Nureyev, but good at leading a Viennese waltz. They can only dance in one plane – across the front of the dais and back – so the choreography is limited and can’t even compare with ‘Strictly’. A soprano comes on and sings an aria from a Strauss Opera – it’s a waltz. Things might look up as a baritone comes on to sing some Mozart. It’s Non Piu Andrai – an aria I used to sometimes sing at auditions. His acting isn’t very good and he doesn’t quite have the right power. We are back to the Strauss waltzes and the dancers. Suddenly there’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart – this also has memories – strange – of performing this piece as part of a clarinet quartet at a secondary school chamber music competition. At last there’s the duet from Don Giovani – La ci darem la mano. The two singers return and they are very good. The baritone has found his place as the seducer. It’s an ok experience, but not stunning, although the Blue Danube is well done. The encore is another strange memory from way-back. Brahms’ Hungarian Dance Number 5. We used to play this in the town orchestra and I could never manage the clarinet part. I remember the gusto with which our elderly rural violinists attacked this piece. Sadly, the opera was all sold out so this is second choice.
The final day is travelling home. I’m ready to do all the
airport security in reverse and you can even buy a bottle of drink to take
through wrapped up in a sealed transparent plastic bag. Something in my bag has
alerted the machine and I’m asked to open up.
‘Have you got any crystals?’
‘Yes,’ I reply. I wondered if
my swimming medals would cause a problem. Of course, they’re in my swimming bag
right at the bottom of my carry-on. I’m in plenty of time, so there is no need
to panic and I refuse to be rushed by the woman.
Later, back in London at swim training I ask my team mates if the same thing happened to them. Yes, it did. It’s hard going, the first swim in four days. I did six races, five museums and two palaces. My legs are wrecked.