Thursday, January 1, 2015

Christchurch: Rebuilding, Aesthetics, and Landscape

His friends were playing golf. Then the ground started to move like water and it was like waves approaching. There is no escaping the earthquake the nearly destroyed Christchurch. The cathedral itself still sits half-demolished. There are vacant lots. There are buildings with warnings. There is construction. I had formed a perspective on Christchurch when a cab driver told us the story of his friends running for their lives. A hopeful perspective. An energized perspective. An idea, that maybe other cities can learn from Christchurch and apply its lessons without first going through a catastrophe. And though I'm still hopeful for Christchurch, though I still believe in the energy of construction I felt there, and the opportunity to rebuild a modern city to meet the needs of modern society, the story reminded me that I did not carry the trauma of the earthquake itself with me as I spent time in Christchurch, and that everything that felt like construction to me, was reconstruction to everyone else. The result of this experiential distance, is that I was experiencing something aesthetically, the people of Christchurch lived emotionally.

With the exception of Cathedral Square, the Re-Start Mall is the most overt continuing interaction between the Christchurch and the earthquake. The Re-Start Mall is just like any other mall, except that, in order to get things up and running again as quickly as possible after so many buildings were destroyed, the stores are all how housed in converted shipping containers. To me, it was a really cool place, (though, like everything else in Christchurch, it closed surprisingly early) demonstrating an innovative and relatively green solution to a problem. We got some coffee and books (see the Vacation Reading post) and I was really tempted by a food truck selling “American Style Hot Dogs.” (Which might have planted the seed for Rissa's “Let's make a food truck that sells American style chili” plan to facilitate moving to New Zealand.)

As usual, when it's Riss and I running the show, Christchurch was good food, good beer, a museum and a botantical garden, with some pictures of the public art used to reclaim, at least in part, the destroyed and emptied spaces of Christchurch. We found a cool little whiskey bar and had a grand plan for closing out one of our nights at a bar that specialized in local craft beers and was about 50 feet from our hotel, but those plans were dashed upon the jagged rocks of Everything-in-Christchurch-Closes-Early. And then there was Hamner Springs.

Hamner Springs is a hot/mineral spa and pool complex a couple hour outside of Christchurch. On the surface, it isn't the kind of activity Riss and I tend to do. Spas involve a fair of amount of lying around and Riss and I tend to avoid lying around on vacation. But, we figured, we were on our honeymoon and if there were ever a time when we could fit a spa day into our packed schedule it would be on our honeymoon. And the day fell just about halfway into our vacation so it seemed to be a perfect time to lie around a bit. And you know what, it was. If the weather hadn't been a bit overcast and if Riss and I had thought to bring magazines (or some other reading material we wouldn't fear dropping into a hot spring) with us, it might have been a highlight of the trip. And the hot springs were rather nice. My favorite pool was the mid-temperature-sulfur pool. (The “fart pool” as Riss with her sophisticated brand of humor called it.) We even each got some alone time as the other received a spa treatment. (I spent my alone time with an absolutely gigantic beer tasting flight (which I warned Riss about), a dish that was not chili fries but was called so (which I did not warn Riss about), and about an hour of writerly anxiety. We had a good time, but Hamner Springs was nothing compared to the drive between Christchurch and Hamner Springs.

Being a LOTR movie fan I have long been acquainted with the idea that New Zealand should have gotten a nod for best supporting actor. So I should have been ready for the landscape of New Zealand. I was not. The words and the pictures will not do justice to the beauty of the drive from Christchurch to Hamner Springs and back. The best I can do is present the pictures and tell you that trying to contain the visual beauty with my eyes made my brain hurt. The colors. The textures. The expanses. With all due respect to 89 in Vermont, I don't know if any drive will ever compare.

Other Christchurch notables before I move on: Dux Dine served perhaps the best vegetarian dish we had on our trip, which was really nice, because the dinner there was gifted to us by vegetarian friends. We saw indoor cricket for the first time, which is weird. At an Irish Bar called The Craic that featured a lot of video gambling, which is weirder, and which we have commemorative baseball caps from, which is weirdest. There was a building with beautiful murals on it surrounded by about two blocks of vacant lots and it was a strip club. I took the best picture of Rissa ever.

Botanical Garden

Street Art

Hamner Springs

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