(1976) long white clouds

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it is my first trip to the “land of the long white cloud” and if i can help it, it will not be my last.

there is a “Language, Education and Diversity” conference that i, and some of my colleagues, am presenting at in auckland. so, the plan is to attend and then head out of the city to have a look around, and perhaps get some sort of a sense of the place. my mother is joining me on this jaunt across (what do they call it?) the pond? the creek?…. the ditch?. you see, until now i have constructed in my mind an imagining about new zealand, some sort of vague (or perhaps not so vague!) idea that meshes together a number of different stereotypical elements: rugby, Maori culture, bungee jumping, hobbits, wine, skiing, ferns, and kiwis. the fact that hobbits are on the list is a clear indication that the time has come to  create something “real”, you know, based in experience, to tether my imaginings to… (said with the greatest of respect to people who believe that hobbits really exist, of course…!).

at the risk of making the most boring and predictable observation EVER, let me begin by saying that the places that i visit outside of the cities/towns are absolutely STUNNING. once out of auckland, there are picture perfect postcard landscapes that gently slide into view around every corner. in fact, after a few days, the beauty actually becomes slightly tedious! that is not to say that auckland is not a nice city, but it IS a city, and as such, indistinguishable in many ways from so many cities, especially in australia. having said that, there is an old town quality that i feel just under the surface of auckland’s skin, and it is something like how i imagined brisbane to be in the early eighties. up on the surface, auckland’s current incarnation also bustles with its’ pockets of trendy restaurants and a steady pulse of business people, backpacker adventure seekers and international students, all flowing in quite a relaxed manner along the capillaries of its’ downtown streets. but hidden beneath  is the colonial, and deeper still, lies a heart that pulses with the trees, the ocean, and the people who lived here before the pakeha arrived.

the beauty is astounding, and i can’t even say if it is just the aesthetic that strikes me, because it seems that there is something intangible, magical, at play. this sensation reminds me of how i feel when i go to byron bay, which to me is a place where the whole is more spectacular than the sum of its’ parts, simply because there is some kind of energy at play, wouldn’t you agree? i speak of the force that brings together unique intersections of lines and colour. everything in the landscape here appears to have been placed just so, reminding me of a somewhat quirky tuscan countryside, hand sculpted by a divine artist with a meticulous, abundant, and humorous eye….. and best of all is the gentle nature rhythm that carries me along the same lines as the birdsong i hear, and the ways the clouds arrange in the sky. human rhythm comes through the radio (constantly) in the form of early 90’s australian pop rock. for an australian, it feels inescapably retro. my mind follows this line further back than the 90’s, all the way back to the 1970’s, to country queensland, a time in my life where i had more time to watch the fluffy white clouds roll past…………..in this place, people wear “jandals”, there ARE heaps of sheep, woolies is something called “countdown” and it’s open 24 hours a day…. there is delicious sauvignon blanc to be drunk, and “fush and chups” to be eaten, and lots of wandering down half-empty town streets…in this parallel universe i feel strangely comfortable, at home.

to place the journey in a more linear context, hours are spent walking the streets of auckland, then there is a drive down to rotorua, then back up to the coast, and all the way along the coromandel coast, eventually winding back to auckland.

i suppose i should say something about the conference i go to. in case you haven’t noticed, it is way in the background of my recollections. it is not really why i am here. i stand, i talk, i listen. i drink cups of coffee, and bottles of water. there are mental sparks that go off. i meet some interesting people from the north of finland. there are attempts at networking, but i am simply dying to get out of the city so i can dive into the rhythm. the conference has its’ desired effect though, for two days it pulls me back to the land of language and linguistics and my thesis. synapses fire as i listen to elana shohamy give a chaotic but effective paper about linguistic landscapes, she is talking about the tattoos on humans in public spaces, and the politics behind the texts we see when we walk around out there. her paper brushes gently against new materialisms, and i see little spaces opening up, pinpricks of light. just when i thought i wouldn’t feel that way about linguistics again……….!

and of course, walking as much as we do gives me the chance to connect once again with the interior camino. it has been an interestingly rocky ride, this landing back in australia after being away so long. oh, there are some people i really miss. in particular, i miss peter, his beautiful soul. i remember my experiences with delfin and sebastian in ecuador. i remember cesar. the lighthouse. i feel like an oyster with a sneaky grain of sand stuck in its’ flesh ~the pearl is forming, but the price i pay for this beauty also brings with it some degree of irritation. the clouds come and go during the eight days i am in new zealand, as always, bringing me the necessary medicine. i am irritated because i am still midair, yet i know that there is no other side, that it is always like this, sin un objectivo final (with no ultimate objective)…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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