Sunday, 29 April 2012

things closed, things open


Mum and Dad's suitcases are packed and stand solidly at the end of the bed while they sleep. My smaller suitcase is full and a pile of things to take on the plane in a carry-on bag sits in a pile alongside. We're all moving out tomorrow morning: them, to San Fran and eventually Wellington... me, to Minneapolis. Our amazing month together has finally drawn to a close. When they got here the end of April seemed years away, and now it has arrived with a screech and a bump right outside the front door. This time together is almost over.


A box holding quite a few copies of my book arrived at home in NZ today. Megan and Matiu had picked it up for me from  the courier there, and this morning while Mum, Dad and I skyped with Megan and Matiu I asked about the box and whether it had arrived okay. Matiu leapt up and went to the front door, swaying slightly as he re-entered the lounge and came back onscreen, holding a huge (well, beside him) and heavy (this would have been true for anyone, I suspect!) box. In front of the camera he excitedly opened the bax, and I asked 'Matiu do you know what it is?' and he replied 'it's your book Auntie' and then asked his Mum 'is it a chapter book?' When we told him it was, he got even more excited and announced that his mother should read a chapter of the book aloud over skype. The books finally made it through the packaging, and he held up one of the books, and turned to the computer (to me) and asked 'can I have one of these?' Of course I told him he could, and - and this made me teary, I'll admit - he picked up one of the copies and then held onto it tightly for the rest of our conversation. Megan agreed to read the beginning of a chapter, and read the first paragraph of the acknolwedgements page. Matiu heard his own name, and afterwards looked through that page to find his name written there in black and white. His face shifted when he found it: he was stoked, surprised, thrilled, excited. Me? I was crying. I mean, this is what this is all about.

Closed, open. Closed, open.

Life is about things opening and closing, going in and out. Its unceasing. Continuous. In out, in out, in out. In my part of the world, we'd call it a tide.  

Saturday, 28 April 2012

quick thoughts about a film

Don McCullin is an astounding, foundational and inspiring photographer who focussed for many years on way and warzones, bringing to our atention the images which demonstrate the stakes of political decisions: this is what policies look like 'on the ground.' Harrowing, controvesial, humanitarian. His work is interested in the dignity and perspective of the people he represents, and the result is that his work is amazing, compelling, tricky, beautiful, haunting...

Dad and I went to see a film about this man tonite as part of the 'Hot Docs' documentary film festival held here in May each year. As a bonus, the filmmaker and one of the key interviewees from the film and Don himself attended the film screening, and they addressed us and answered questions so we could get something further of their perspective... amazing! Only in Toronto!

I've got many thoughts about the film, but am too tired to write about them all tonite. For now, though, I would say that I loved the film, and the questions of ethics, practice, violence and creativity that it raused. Good choice Dad! ;)

Friday, 27 April 2012

nearing the ending of things...

I'm in Penetanguishene, two hours north of Toronto, where Daniel and Kent hosted me not long after I first arrived in Canada. Mum, Dad and I drove up here this morning and we've had a lovely afternoon of being toured around the local area and then an evening of talking heaps and eating good food.

Mum and Dad are leaving Canada on Sunday... Daniel and Kent are leaving for Vancouver in May... I'm leaving Toronto in June and leaving Aotearoa in July...

So many departures and endings; so many conversations about preparation, timeframes, plans, packing, new possibilities, downsizing, hopes, fears, memories... so much coming, going and journeying. So many new turns in the roads of so many relationships.

Sometimes it feels like the endings and beginnings of things are at either end of long stretches of 'life,' connecting each stretch to the other and marking the passage of time during the journey from beginnings to endings and vice versa.

Tonite, I find myself thinking that endings and beginnings are journeys too: journeys for which we prepare, journeys that involve a balance of risk and confidence, journeys that shape us. 

Thursday, 26 April 2012


There was drama in Toronto tonite: drama as in theatre.

This afternoon, Mum and I went and had our harcut at a small salon around the corner from my place, and the hairdresser (who was hilarious - didn't stop talking the entire time and yes I know what that sounds like coming from  me - hehe) was rushing off to watcher her 12 year old daughter who was in a school play this evening. She was so clearly proud of her daughter, gently complaining of the drama of it all in order to have a chance to talk about her.

Then this evening, Mum and I went to a play at the Factory Theatre - it was called Oil and Water and was absolutely amazing. The play centred on the story of an African American man from Georgia who was in the navy during WWII and washed ashore covered in oil when the ship he was in capsized off the coast of Newfoundland in Canada. The story was woven alongside a later moment in the same man's life when his daughter was going through the torturous process of 'integrating' a school in Boston: white students and adults tormented the black kids who went to the school, and she became fearful of what was going to happen. Meanwhile, all through the play, a key character was his great-grandmother who was enslaved and who spoke to him through direct interations and through suggestion. Also throughout the play, the actors sang amazing amazing a capella music - really quite incredible - and somehow they did it in a way that added to the play rather than just sounding like something they could have played on CD instead. The play was ultimately about race, and the thickness of the membrane between two kinds of difference, and the opportunity people have to think about the racial dynamics of 'home' when far, far away.

It was such a pleasure to go to the play with Mum - she and Dad are both going on a 'hot date' of some sort with me this week... Mum loves plays, and Dad loves movies... so on Friday Dad and I are going to check out a film in the 'Hot Docs' documentary film festival held in Toronto each year.

Another kind of drama today, of a slightly quieter kind... my book arrived! It's real. Really real. I mean, I knew it was real... but now it's real.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Au e Ihu, tirohia

First ANZAC Day without Grandad. Now he is by his brother, Hamuera Paora Te Punga, who was buried in Italy in 1944.

This morning Megan and Matiu were watching the ANZAC ceremonies at dawn and a kotuku flew onto the property and landed on their roof.

He kotuku rerenga tahi.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


back home in toronto. absolutely exhausted, but sitting here on the couch with a new cornell tshirt i'm wearing for pjs, and turquoise toenails from a pedicure with mum and alyss in philly... plus, great memories in my head.... i find that i am grateful. for all of it!

Monday, 23 April 2012

bye bye miss american pie...

Tomorrow we'll cross back into Canada, leaving America behind us. Sitting here tonite, in the kitchen of my auntie and uncle in Philadelphia, I find myself reflecting on the journey over the past several days with Mum and Dad.

In many ways, it has been a journey around a diverse and complicated place... at the level of human lives and various environmental and urban ecosystems, this trip has covered a vast range. We have stopped at Buffalo, NY; Chardon, OH; Sturgis, MI; South Chicago, IL; Chicago, IL; Grant Park, IL; Columbus, OH; Nelsonville, OH; Charleston, WV; Charlotte, NC; Lexington, VA; Washington DC; Gettysburg, PA; Phildelphia, PA; and (tomorrow) Ithaca, NY. An independent bookstore in Charleston, a diner in Gettysburg, a home beside a pond in Charlotte, a Chinese takeaway shop in Maryland, a Bakery in Chicago, a cafe in Virginia, the original home of buffalo wings in, yes, Buffalo.

In many ways, it has been a journey around family: graveyards, sites of significant occasions, cousins we had never met before, relatives we know and see when we visit each other in various countries. We've seen photos, churches, letters, and tombstones. We've shared stories, gossip, hopes, tears and many, many laughs.

In many ways, it has been a journey around a nation: a complex, tricky, compelling nation. We've tracked our way through various states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, West Virigina, Virginia, North Carolina, DC, Maryland) and have noted the names of an even wider range of states (and Provinces, at times) on car license plates. We've been at key sites of the American Revolution and the Civil War; we have seen the White House and its kitchen gardens, as well as trailer parks and Walmarts; we have been to Museums that describe what feel like completely different countries. We've struggled with the massive chasm between the values of humanity and equality the Revolution and Civil War and the reality of various communities in the US. Today, Alyssa and I went with Mum and Dad to see the 'Liberty Bell' in Philadelphia, and I couldn't help but think about the large crack in the bell which had been there from its first inception, and the kind of metaphor a cracked Liberty Bell might be.

Alyssa and me at the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia.

In many ways, it has been a journey in my relationship with my parents: 'putting memories in the memory bank,' as I am too keenly aware than my decision to move to Hawai'i means I will be visiting them, rather than living with or alongside or near them, for a few years to come. I discovered new things about my parents: Mum loves popcorn! Dad is interested in the Civil War! I also affirmed, confirmed and extended things I already knew about them. They are wonderful and amazing and very fun. I will never forget driving through rural Indiana with them, listening to a radio station dedicated to crooning 50s music...

In many ways, it has been a journey of journeys: an SUV, maps, printed out and handwritten mapquest directions, drive thrus and service centres, filling up with more gas, reading the north/south/east/west orientation as well as temperature of the car, phonecalls & stops to seek directions, sleeping in the backseat, chatting in the front seat, bottles of water and paper cups of coffee.

In many ways, it has been a journey of America. As I've had the chance to get to know myself and my parents better, I've had a chance to get to know this place better too. For the first time, I've been travelling around the US with a sense of being an immigrant: from my arrival in late July this year, this will be where I live, who I am, what I know... For better, for worse, for histories, for family, for Liberty and for its flaws.

I'll see you soon, America.  

Sunday, 22 April 2012


A Chinese fortune cookie in Philadelphia after takeaways shared with my dear friend Alyssa:
"Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation."

Today on the way from Washington DC and Phildelphia we went to Gettysburg. Now, I love history but I haven't really engaged as much as a can (or perhaps should) with various aspects of American history. I admit, the main reason I remember the opening of Abraham Lincoln's speech is because Arnold Schwarzenegger's class performed it in Kindergarten Cop. Having seen the Lincoln Memorial in DC yesterday, and having seen a photo shortly after of the spot outside the Memorial where MLK shared his 'I have a dream' speech, I found myself reflecting on discontent.

And yet, I am also cynical about Gettysburg. I am cynical about war, cynical about the narrative that the civil war is about America being a country which is concerned about the lives of Black people, and cynical about the massive chasm between the story told at Gettysburg and the story told at the National Museum of the American Indian in DC - not because of the stories thmselves as much as the extent to which they don't reference each other. Stories of Indigneiety and colonialism and survivance are in one world, and stories of enslavement and race and abolition are in the other.

Discontent, however, as a starting point for "progress" is perhaps shared between these varying histories. As my fortune cookie says, it is the first step - perhaps not the heart or mind of 'progress' but certinaly the 'first step.' Discontent is about action; about taking a step rather than simply haing another thought. It's about doing.

After spending time thinking about Black and Indigenous histories in this continent, I find myself  wanting to find a way to make all the stories fit: respectfully, meaningfully, appropriatelty.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Tears and tacos in the capital.

Another day, another town. Last nite we arrived in Washington DC: my first time here. I had something work-related to finish last nite, so when Mum, Dad and I set off for the 'Mall' in the centre of town this morning I was feeling a little underslept (two and a half hours sleep was okay back when I was an undergrad... but now...) and underprepared. However, the capital put on a stunning sunny day for us and the sunshine hitting the eyeballs seemed to help because once we emerged from the 'Smithsonian' metro station I was feeling spritely and excited.

There's so much to say about the day - it was great - but I will spare the details and focus on two moments: tears, and tacos.

Because we were on the 'Mall' before 9am and the museums didn't open for at least another hour, we took the opportunity to walk around the major sites up and down the area. First stop was at the far end, Lincoln Memorial, which I am embarassed to say I cannot help but link to Bart Simpson's visit to the statuesque president in an episode I watched many years ago. Sure, I have another associations too... but the Bart Simpson one just can't be exiled! (The fact that we got to Bart Simpson's Abe Lincoln by walking past what is filed in my head as 'the Forrest Gump fountain,' despite being more of a pool than a fountain, and you can see what kind of day I've had! Glorious - and exhausting!)

Well, it turns out that clustered around the Lincoln Memorial are the war memorials: WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Now, I am a cynic when it comes to war, and to US foreign policy, and to American versions of its involvement in various conflicts, and in several other things that should have left me embarassingly blase about these things. Sure, I respect they represent people who have passed away and sure, I understand that individual decisions to participate in war are not able to be understood in isolation or closely fixed to some kind of assumed moral weakness.

And, whether it was because of the lack of sleep or hitherto-lack of coffee, or whether it was because of the memorials themselves being actually or even especially moving, I found myself shedding tears - crying - as I moved around the area.

Actually, I found the close proximity of this trip to Washington to our reconnection with our cousins in North Carolina to be a little startling: the stakes of histories and connection and staying in touch and never coming back feel heightened. I also found myself thinking a lot about Uncle Paul and Grandad and their years of miliary service with the Maori battalion during WWII; no doubt I was thinking about them because of our big talks abot them all earlier this week, but I also found that my sense of 'America' has thickened and become a little more supple while driving through the towns and cities over the past week and a half. The names on these memorials - these statues - could be a young man or woman from Nelsonville, Chicago, Chardon, Grant Park, Charlotte, or Lexington. They could have been - but for an accident of birth brought about by the marriage of one particular man and one particular woman - the names of my own grandparents, parents, home.

That was the tears. The tacos were, well,  another story indeed: the national Museum of the American Indian is amazing and huge! However, we were armed with advice to eat in the cafe there and so sought it out once we'd taken photos outside the White House and discussed the meaning of the flags at the base of the Washington Monument. In we went, with trays and hunger, and out we came, into a lovely spacious dining room, with Buffalo meat Indian tacos. YUM!

So much more to write... but for now, sleep. Po marie.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

paint or point

My cousin Paula says that there are people who paint and people who point: people who communicate by taking their time filling in details and creating a gigantic picture; and people who get straight to the point.

Although I can tend to be a bit of a painter, I'm sleepy right now, and processing the past two days still, so tonite's post is going to get to the point.

Two evenings ago, Mum and Dad and I pulled into the driveway of Paula and Charlie. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Paula has the same great-grandparents as Mum. We had never met.

The first evening, Paula's three brothers and cousin Diane also joined us for dinner, and Diane (who is from Phoenix) has been staying the entire time and today the four of us who are related (Paula, Diane, Mum and me) sat around looking at photos, sharing stories, laughing, crying, photocopying letters, and eating together. We've seen new photos of Hamuera and Lydia, and when I return to Aotearoa I will be bringing home letters written by Aunty Martha and Uncle Paul as children, and letters by many more relatives as adults.

This legacy of writing is amazing. The hours and hours represented by the letters and other documents astounding in these email times, and a deep but simple faith in international postal services was central to the ability of two branches of the Gose family to connect over the course of decades despite being located in two very different parts of the world. Correspondence - at least, that we read today written between various members of the Gose and Te Punga families - is a way of sharing news, celebrating, mourning, expressing gratitude, apologising, reciting history, connecting, making introductions, explaining, seeking favours, and reflecting on matters of faith. A deep commitment to family relationships and a spiritual life underpin most of these letters, as is a deep commitment to - and careful mabilisation of - language. God, family and literacy are key.

Over last nite and today we gently pulled on the ties that bind us through our shared ancestry and happily found that the ties, which had been carefully woven through the sharing of letters and cards over the past 100 years, were supple.

Actually, even as I wrote this blog tonite, yawning and stretching all the way but unable to stop writing, I found that it's impossible to be a pointer when it comes to family... I can't help but paint. And write. And paint.

Monday, 16 April 2012


Mum and Dad had one wish each in Chicago: Mum wanted to go on an riverboat architecture tour, and Dad wanted to go to the Art Institute.

Today we did both of those, and then finished off with a snacky dinnerish munchy situation at an amazing cafe/restaurant on Michigan Avenue. Afterwards, I came back to the hotel to do a bit of work while Mum and Dad strolled about for a bit more before heading home.

I don't have a lot to write, because my head is full and my eyes are sleepy. I spent time (too much time! I missed most of the gallery!) with the Impressionists and Medieval Europeans at the Art Institute today... I found myself thinking about the way I gravitate towards the paintings in which the meaning - or meanings - were layered: symbol, suggestion, light, dark, juxtaposition. And then on the architecture tour the tourguide emphasised and demonstrated the connections between buildings, history, aesthetics, efficiency, law, mobility and perspective. More layers; more layering.

We've seen some amazing sights, had some thoughts, enjoyed some good kai, and are now getting our beauty sleep before the next stop in our trip...

Thank you Chicago, you've been amazing.

A tale of three cities

A long drive: from Chardon to Chicago; from one world through another, passing along several other worlds along the way...

It was a bit of a pilgrimage, really, as we worked our way west on the I-90 interstate from just north of Des's place in Ohio to here in Chicago. This is family country - I'm back in Hamuera land, which I last visited in November last year - and we stopped to see some places along the way. Once we arrived in Chicago tonite, we reflected on just how different these places were from each other. And yet, each of them means a lot to us.

I'll talk about these three sites by sharing three photos of Mum and me today.

(Dad's not in the photos because he was taking them. Legend.)

Sturgis, Michigan

Sturgis is the town right in the bottom of Michigan (like, maybe 5 minutes nirth of the Michigan-Indiana border) where Mum's grandmother Lydia was born. Her father was a German Lutheran pastor, and he was serving in Sturgis when she was born in 1883.  She was baptised soon after in Trinity Lutheran Church in the same town, and although the building has been replaced since then this photo is of Mum and me at the same spot. Amazing!

Sturgis is one of those towns that started as a small town and oozed ever since. A strip of old shops and a post office is surrounded by homes, hospital, churches and schools, and beyond them the town dribbles out in a thin spread of gas stations, Walmarts, fast food places, car repairs, newer housing and supermarkets. It's kind of like an egg in a pan, a firm rotund yellow yolk at the centre and slippery white all around which is substantial too, but in a different way.

Actually, in this photo Mum is relieved as well as happy - because as we left Des's place in Chardon this morning I told her I had a surprise for her (I didn't tell her about Sturgis, or why we were gong there) on the way to Chicago - and Mum's not good with suspense!! So, this photo is taken after a few hours of her trying her best to trick me into revealing where we were going - hehe. She agreed after that it was, indeed, a good surprise.

South Chicago, Illinois

South Chicago isn't Chicago. It's another world. Here, Mum and I are on the steps of Immanuel Lutheran Church. In 1907, when the church was built, the community around the building included a large number of German speakers who wanted a place to worship, spend time being themselves, and provide a school for their kids. Most of the people in the neighbourhood are now Black and Latin@: store signs are as likely to be in Spanish as in English and the church is now under the ownership and care of a Black Hebrew community who uses the building as their temple. My, how things change. And yet, how they stay the same. The name embedded in the steeple is 'Erste Immanuel' - 'First Immanuel' by another name - and while it would be absolutely innapropriate to sidestep the issues of class, racism and poverty in 1908 or 2012 South Chicago, this is a place for people who are on the margins but, because it's far enough away from certain kinds of centres, there is room for people to be themselves.

Why were we at the foot of the ex-church/ now-temple? Well, the last Te Punga to grace the steps of this building was Hamuera, first when he was ordained here as a Minister and then a couple of months later when he married Lydia. Yes, Lydia who has been a little chicken licken in Sturgis grew up and, after nursing and then burying her father, came and worked as a teacher in the little school attached to Immanuel.

While we looked at the building and Dad took a couple of photos, I saw a man down the side of the church who was checking us out too. Who were these people from another place? ("I thought you was from the city" he admitted after we had been chatting for a while.) I called out to him, and asked what the church is used for now and he ambled over to the wire fence between us, and stood awhile, talking about his faith and the Hebrew language which means a lot to him and his people. When it seemed appropriate, and after Mum and Dad had come over to see who I was talking to, we told him  about why we'd come to see this church which, really, is looking a little the worse for wear and seems an unlikely tourist destination.

The four of us probably spent twenty minutes standing there, talking about the church and our various connections to it. His job is to look after the maintenance and renovation of the building and he talked about it as if it was a dear friend. He marvelled at the thickness of the wood, the bricks which aren't made like that anymore, the stained glass windows, the mechanics of squeezing into a crawlspace in the roof and winding down the lights to the floor when a bulb needs changing. We told him about how far we'd come  to see the church, why Hamuera and Lydia mattered so much, and how amazing it would have been for Lydia to leave this place and go to New Zealand with a short little Maori guy she'd met through their mutual connection with Immanuel.

As we talked, he emphasised the careful planning and commitment that had been put into the foundations and structure of the building. "This has been here for a hundred years," he said, "and it's so strong it'll be here for a hundred more."

Chicago, Illinois.

After Sturgis and South Chicago we arrived in the bright lights of this big city. 'The Windy City' they call her, and that appeals to people from Wellington. We walked, had beer and snacks at outside tables at a bar, and milled around the busy streets with all the other people who were enjoying the chance to stroll in weather than let you roam without a heavy coat and mittens. Sunday will be the Art Institute and an architectural tour on the river, and then more walking and enjoying the buzz of it all. I love this town, and now Mum and Dad do too.

Sturgis, South Chicago, Chicago. Three worlds, three towns, one day.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

a red ribbon for chardon

In late February this year, the only high school in this small town in Ohio was the site of a shooting. A young man opened fire in the school cafeteria: three students were killed, two seriously wounded, and one (the guy with the gun) will be tried as an adult for his crime.

All around Chardon, people have wrapped red ribbon and bows around the trees outside their homes. Flowers, ribbons and signs around the band rotunda in the centre of the town square make a place of reflection, mourning and memory.

This is a town in shock, grief and pain - and while we have had a wonderful and warm time here in Chardon, the effect of that morning not yet two months ago leaves a quiet frost around the edges of the frame.

So, a moment's silence for Chardon tonite: for its victims, its families, its people. All of its people. A red ribbon for all of them.

Friday, 13 April 2012


Seasons have been the talk of the town: a warm winter, early spring, late snow, a wet summer, not enough cold, floods, droughts, fires... these are the things that people talk about in my life at the moment.

I'm back in Chardon, Ohio, staying with my friend Des and her lovely family. This is the third time  I've been in the house, and the third season I've seen here.

I first came here in the 'Fall' (which I will probably always call autumn, no matter how long I spend in this part of the world) when the leaves were gorgeous and bright. Pumpkins and squash decorated the house and the table, and we enjoyed the evening for its warmth, knowing as we all did that these long dusky nights would soon be over for another year. I arrived with Nadine on our way to a conference in Columbus and we shared dinner together before heading on up the interstate.

I then came during winter, when the ground was covered in thick snow and Matiu made a snowman as tall as himself. Megan, Des and I spent hours and hours talking and laughing, and occasionally crying (happy tears! happy tears!) and Matiu played with Sam and Jordan and, when he came home, Kevin. We drove through acres and acres of ice and snow, sledded, saw deer and their gentle tracks, and enjoyed the warmth inside even more when we came in from the cold outside.

And tonite I've arrived with Mum and Dad in Spring: flowers, buds, blossoms arriving; a later end of the day; a quick trip out to the car at 1am that doesn't require thick mittens and heavy boots. This morning we noticed the tree in my backyard in Toronto is finally starting to sprout tiny bright green bundles of leaves, earlier today we saw Niagara Falls surrounded by yellow tulips and daffodils, and now this. Now here.

Cycles, seasons, the endless turns that give our lives shape. The lines we draw in the sand. The ways we remember who we are. The process of rejuvenation always held within a larger pattern of beginnings and endings at every moment. Te tau okioki: a season.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Today, as my Dad would say, I woke up in French and am going to bed in English. On Thursday I'll go to bed in American.

Another lovely train trip today, after a very enjoyable and at times hilarious (as in, startling at the time but will become funnier as time goes on and the stories are embellished) morning and early afternoon in Montreal. Ply any one of us with a beer, wine or questions and we'll tell you stories that will have you gasping - or at least will leave you asking more questions.

It was a great trip, our trip to Quebec, but we're home now - in Toronto. Back on Spadina. Streetcars rattling past the window.

The great April journey with Mum and Dad picks up pace again in two days, but for now we're home. Home.

You know, home: where the coffee plunger is.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

feet... and wings

We walked a huge amount today... all around Old Quebec again, to see several new streets and crisscross others that became familiar over the course of three days. Our feet ached by the end of the day, and we sought places to sit and have coffee or a break so we could rest them.

Mum packed a plastic basin for this trip, and each morning and evening she has made me soak my feet for a while and then she has rubbed cream into them and put tight-fitting socks on to keep the cream from  rubbing off. This is her magic trick for healing my cracked heels which, I have realised, I get when I transition too quickly between various seasons and weaterh systems: the price I pay for the mobility I enjoy.

She does something similar, although not the same, for Dad who has a blister on a toe which she plies with ointment and plasters morning and night.  

It's humbling, and deeply comforting, to have your mother rub cream into your feet when you're an adult. It's topsy-turvey of course - I should be serving her! - and it's also strangely backward: I feel like I'm eight years old again. And yet, it's so kind of her and so lovely to spend the time together and to have the chance to reflect on her generosity, her theories about the world (about cracked heels, but other things too), and her love.

Today, Mum got wings. No, she didn't fly away - but she looks like she could! She bought an amazing coat handmade in Quebec, which is wool and trimmed with suede, and which has painted stylised wings on the backs of the sleeves and a stylised tail on the back. Now, I know how awful and kitsch/ horrendous/ bizarre that sounds, but I assure you she doesn't look like big bird! No, it's much more subtle than that - it's classy, stylee, unique. As soon as she put on the coat she started smiling, and after deciding to buy it, returning to the shop and walking out the door with her new purchase, Mum has been walking several feet off the ground :)

I, on the other hand, got new shoes: spunky turquoise, black and white shoes which are slip-ons and intended for warmer weather than what we're having now. I wore them with socks and jeans today although they will look their best with short, skirts and capris. The last time I blogged about new shoes (at least from memory this is true!) was back in the heady early days of sabbatical, when I was in Sydney and bought some sneakers and heels. I'm meeting myself halfway with these shoes - they're smart/casual, comfortable without being sneakers and stylish without being heels - but I'm a different girl now than I was back in July 2011. 

Late this afternoon, three people got into a train in Quebec city: a man with a blister on one of his feet, a girl with cracked heels and new shoes, and a woman with wings. If you'd seen them, you would have noticed how pleased they were to sit down after a busy day of walking. If you'd followed them all evening, you'd have watched them get off the train in Montreal, taxi to a hotel, go out for pizza, return to the hotel, and go to bed. Tomorrow morning they'll be ready to walk and fly their way through another day.

Bon soir!

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Hanging with Mum and Dad in Quebec City

It turns out that Mum took French for a bit in high school, and I did French (for reading) to satisfy one of the language requirements for my PhD, but we're all hilariously hopeless when it comes to the real thing.

Mum, Dad and I flew to Quebec City today... after an early lunch and a streecar/ walk to Toronto's Island airport, we boarded a small plane and made our way north-east to this city with a strange, compelling and tricky history.

Here I am by the Place Royale, just by the Old Port right next to the still-standing Old City which is now a world heritage site.

On the one hand I find myself excited to be here, and I've had a really lovely day and evening hanging with Mum and Dad, and on the other I know what this place really is: a line in the sand for European colonialism in this part of the world. The oldest city in North America? It's a sticky claim to make - not only because Mexico is part of North America and Tenochtitlan was a huge metropolis - but also because it conveniently and quietly pushes the long, complex and vibrant histories already in this area to one side. A claim about architecture and demography (but really about race) which neatly side-sweeps the table clean, scattering people and places over the edge and out of view.

Mum and I found ourselves struggling to see the 'old town' as real - it felt like it was a toy town, unreal because it was so clearly out of place. Funny, aye, that its Europeanness made it feel like it was plonked on here - 'we're only a few hours from Toronto, and this is like olden days Europe' we marvelled - but marvelled isn't quite the word. It felt a bit strange, this out-of-place-ness, and words from various people echoed in my ears: 'you'll love it, it's just like Europe.' 'It's the closest thing to Europe.' etc... I talked to Mum and Dad about this feeling, the sense that it was so strange that a town which has been here for 500 years should feel so out of place (and, in its out-of-placeness, somehow fleeting or false) and yet at home we see European buildings from the nineteenth century - a hair's breadth older than a century - and these feel so 'classic New Zealand,' so at home, so local. How can this be?

Well, it's complicated. Of course. It always is. Quebec City is lovely and beautiful and fun (when taken with half a grain of salt - yes, it's quite touristy - but hey we're tourists and no amount of self-righteous disavowal will change that) but it's also a key site in the history of genocide in this continent. Colonialism is colonialism, even when it arrives in pretty buildings and dear little bakeries and lovely gelato shops and crepes with maple butter. Yes, even then!

We also talked about the ways that being in a Francophone place meant the international references were a bit different to the usual suspects of the Anglophone world (yep, Mum and Dad are the reason I think the way I do about lots of things - they're always up for a good critical chat about colonialism/ etc): African, Vietnamese, North African, Caribbean influences are all around, as is the influence of a place rather closer to home:


Here we stand, Mum and me, two Polynesians outside a Polynesian-themed cafe. I have no idea if the people running this place are themselves Tahitian (it was closed when we walked past) - but in some ways this is secondary to the point that French colonialism is a different net than English colonialism: slightly different patterns of knotting, slightly different size, and different fish. Oh, but still colonliasm. Or, as Dad 'titled' this photo when he emailed it to me from his iPhone, 'Another colonial reminder.'

A lot to think about, a lot to ponder, a lot to reflect upon.

Bon soir! 

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Good Friday in Toronto

Another day, and yet not like any other day:

* Went to church this morning with Mum

* Had 'family lunch' with Dad, Mum, Nadine and a delicious pork roast

* Went to see an amazing Quebecois film called 'Monsieur Lazhar' about an Algerian refugee applicant who applies to teach at a school in which a teacher has committed suicide and left the 11 and 12 year old students traumatised by the events

* Sorted through winter/ summer clothes in an initial preparation for deciding what to send to Hawai'i and what to give away here

Such insistent, strong, gentle links between pasts and futures: such a luxury and opportunity to take the time to reflect while in this 'in-between' space and time...

Friday, 6 April 2012


Such a big day! More walking... some shopping... some great kai... Kansington Market... the Art Gallery of Ontario... the Bata Shoe Museum... and finally a trip to the local shop to get supplies for tomorrow so we can cope with the shops being shut for Good Friday.

Yesterday Mum and Dad found an amazing bookshop which is Caribbean-owned and specialises in Black/ Caribbean/ African/ 'ethnic' and 'social justice' books. We went back today and found some beautiful books to bring home: one called Multiplication is for White People which is about strategies to shift the racism inherent in educational systems which mean poorer non-white children and young people are still more likely to be underserved by educ; one about Zora Neale Hurston (the amazing earlier 20th century African American woman writer who Alice Walker worked hard to bring into the collective memory and collective bookshelf; another one about teaching and social justice; some awesome kids books for Matiu; and the second of bell hooks's two books that focus specifically on teaching. Her book Teaching to Trangress is one of my favourite and most important books (the phrase 'education as the practice of freedom is so deeply and vastly inspiring and humbling), and Teaching Community - A Pedagogy of Hope, which I have heard about and looked for and am very pleased to have now acquired, looks like it will be just as fantastic.

This evening Mum got me to soak my feet, which are sore and starting to crack and blister, in hot soapy water. She got a towel to wipe them, and we joked a bit about the symbolism of the washing of feet in the Easter season.

Easter is ultimately about sacrifice and community; it's about the collective - here and now, but also across time and place. We skyped with whanau today (Megan and Matiu are with Amy and Vaega in Hamilton with some of V's whanau), and I thought about Grandad seeing as this is my first Easter since his passing. I cannot help but recall the years of Easters spent with whanau, in which the rhythm of the weekend involved time at church, time together, time eating hot cross buns and, eventually, Easter eggs. But the eggs are not until Sunday, and there is a lot to happen between now and then.

Tonight is Maundy Thursday. Tomorrow is Good Friday: an opportunity to reflect, mourn, remember and - yes - hope.  

Thursday, 5 April 2012


People of books. Students, scholars, researchers, critics, teachers, activists, writers, performance poets... these are the people I spent time with and heard from today. They're writing, reading, researching, enjoying, discussing, writing about, analysing, archiving, translating, drawing on, editing and teaching books, in a million different ways.

People of the Book. We stood in a room full of Muslim prayer mats: Jewish and Christian visitors to the Textile Museum here in Toronto. We talked about family links, customary practices, things we knew and things we hadn't noticed before... we ate together, walked home, wished each other Happy Easter and Happy Passover, went our separate ways.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


"We sweat and cry salt water so we know that the ocean is really in our blood."
- Teresia Teaiwa, Banaban/ African American poet & scholar

A long streetcar ride today: Mum, Dad and I went out to Toronto's 'beaches' area to enjoy burgers for lunch on a park bench looking across sand, water and a flat horizon. This could be a scene from home. Well, visually it could be, anyway. Olfactorily - 'smell-ly' - it couldn't be: Lake Ontario is massive and amazing and lovely but doesn't smell like the sea.

I love it here, but it's not home. Like people from large flat spaces who move to islands and get island fever, I get continent fever when I'm landlocked for too long. Tonite I took Anne and Michelle's girl Shonagh to watch 'The Hunger Games' in which a post-American America is obsessed with a televised show in which 24 children and young people are forced to kill each other until there's only one survivor. The kids are put in an 'arena' within which cameras are everywhere and they are manipulated by the rulers of the game (and the country) throughout. Every once in a while, the constructed nature of the arena is emphasised: a grid is visible where sky used to be; an interlocking pattern which reminds everyone they are ultimately constrained by their environment. It's how some people feel on islands - the borders between land and sea feel like confinement or even incarceration - but it's how I feel some days on a continent. I love it here - I do! - and I can appreciate this is where things make sense for some people, just as I can appreciate that beaches don't have to smell like salt in order to beaches even though saltless air quietly interrupts me when I smell it beside a giant stretch of water.

I love it here, but it's not home. This afternoon, before going to the movies and after going to the beach, I sat in my office in Aboriginal Studies and worked on some papers. Outside my room, students were practicing Anishinaabemowin, one of the Indigenous languages of this area, as one by one they went in for their oral tests throughout the afternoon. Meanwhile I was playing some waiata from home - not just from Aotearoa but from Taranaki - on my computer while I worked. This isn't home, but I'm here at the moment and this place has been good to me. The two languages (Anishimaabemowin and Maori) gently flowed along, edging into one another and diverging at various moments, quietly drawing lines in the sand about language, replenishment, survival.

Salt: preserve, flavour, heal, fix. Salt: ocean, sweat, tears. Salt: of earth.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

A city

Mum, Dad and I had a day of checking out a few important Toronto sites today: the Eaton Centre (a big indoor mall); IKEA (our favourite furniture and meatball shop); and, finally, after a glass of wine and rested feet, Winners (a big discount clothing chain) and Whole Foods (a yuppie munchy crunchy organicky supermarket). Yes, a city in four stores.

For us, all of these stores were bigger and deeper than mere consumerist debris - the reasons to go to them were more about memories and human relationships than about stuff - all of the shops have been places where I have, in the months leading up to their trip here, imagined returning with my parents; imagined their responses to this place, these places. Have been very excited about the idea of them being here with me, have looked forward to hearing what they think about it all.

(And yet: tonite on the table in my lounge sits a rather large pile of newly-acquired things.)

When we took the subway to the Eaton Centre this morning, and emerged into the gentle sunlight while we passed between the train and shops for long enough for Mum and Dad to get a sense of where we were, Mum turned to me and said, "It's amazing that a city can work for so many people..." and inwardly, of course, I agreed. Yes, it is amazing! So many people - so diverse, with completely different lives and priorities and networks and schedules - who manage to live alongside one another, quietly and unconsciously intersecting with one another only in the baldest of city contexts: a streetcar, a road, a school, a footpath, a store, an event, an emergency. It's amazing, I was thinking, how all of these people manage to make it thir home, to make it work for them, to find opportunities to grow and excuses to stay stagnant. And it is amazing - I still believe that - but Mum wasn't finished.

"...and not work for so many others."

Monday, 2 April 2012


Following up on the theme of 'strands' from yesterday's blog, today I had the opportunity to see more threads of my life connect and interlock. Mum and Dad met Anne, Michelle and their kids - so strange they had never met before! (Well, Mum and Dad met Michelle very briefly in Wellington last year, but so briefly...)

While we got ready this morning, Mum asked what else we would do today. I said that brunch at the Lyden-Elleray's tends to be a wonderful all day affair, and I was right! After a delicious brunch (enjoyed at a table decorated by the whole faily, including Ngaire's fabulous nametags for our places at the table), we kept talking... and talking... and talking. It was a lovely morning, and afternoong, and early evening. As we talked, we knitted. Well - Michelle, Anne and I knitted. Mum sewed. Dad - well, Dad enjoyed the conversation and took photos on his iphone on occasion. (An iphone as craft - something to think about!?)

There we sat, working on our various projects. There went our conversation, like my needles and wool: in, around, under, off. In, around, under, off.

The cliche of this metaphor of knitting is astounding, and I won't spell it out for fear of being so cheesy that the depth and gentleness of the day is lost. It's a cliche that fits, though... one that nicely sums up the real thing that was happening today: the knitting, pearling, knitting, pearling, stiching, sewing, making, finishing, knitting, pearling, knitting... of so many, many strands.  

Sunday, 1 April 2012

photoshop life

"I mean, how often do the various parts of your life get to come together like this, in the same room?" - so said my friend Sarah tonite, at her place, where she hosted a bunch of us for a delicious dinner attended by her father, auntie, uncle and a family friend, as well as me, Bridget, Nadine and Ash, as well as my Mum and Dad!

Mum and Dad arrived in Toronto last nite (well, technically it was 3am this morning - because their flight from Vancouver was delayed by 6 hours!)... We've been having a ball, making plans for trips and things to do in this lovely city, and catching up on various family gossip and updates.

This afternoon we went for a walk around the place, and on the way we took this photo:

Here they are, Mum and Dad, standing in the street in Toronto! I mean, how strange! Two very different parts of my life, in the same photo? Surely this photo is doctored! Surely it's... photoshopped?

Actually, the wierdest thing about having them here is how wierd it *doesn't* feel! I mean, it's very exciting of course - and there 's so much I'm excited about showing them etc - but it also kind of makes sense.

Hmmm. I seem to live a photoshop life, in which people and places don't always stay in consistent relationship with one another: where people move, and places change, and people from 'there' come 'here' and vice versa. I suppose the strange thing is that it seems so strange and yet also so normal: I wonder if the algorithm in my head that calculates the links between people and place has become timid, no longer able to be certain about what's to be expected and what's an exception.

This doesn't mean I'm taking things for granted, and it doesn't mean it has been anything but a very exciting day! But, I guess on some emotional level I'm getting ready for living outside Aotearoa again: a blurring of the concepts of home (Aotearoa) and home (elsewhere). A deliberate ease with the idea that my life is made up of mobile, flexible, grounded, supple, interconnecting strands.