Friday, November 23, 2012

New stereo

Recently i executed Poor Judgement and bought a stereo for my car.

In my younger days it was a source of pride among the men that their car stereos were more expensive than their cars. It showed the world they were hard core musos. These were guys who despised all material possessions except stereos and surfboards, which were somehow in a different category and not material at all.

On a morning after a night shift i got suddenly tired of having only a radio and said radio being able to get only one station. i had also been sadly acknowledging that due to my place of work changing post EQ i was driving the damn car more than i really wanted to. So i took it into a nearby car stereo place and spent $200 more than i expected on a new stereo. It took me about two weeks to learn how to use it. For a while every time i wanted to change something i had to pull over to the side of the road and take my glasses off and peer at the console. i have also learned a surprising lesson: yes, you can have too much sub woofer. But the coolest thing is i can plug in my iPhone.

Here is my playlist for driving to work. i seem to have come over all Scandinavian.

Nekromantix: Nice Day for a Resurrection, and Gargoyles over Copenhagen, from their album Return of the Loving Dead. Nekromatix are a Danish psychobilly band. Nice Day sounds like Billy Idol would if he had horns. And teeth. And.... other things...and all of their music is fun and fast.

Tenpole Tudor: Swords of a Thousand Men. Terribly English punk band.

Vaartina: Seleniko, the whole album. i have always liked this Finnish folk band, their music has the most complicated rhythms and the women have names like Sari and Mari and Dari. The lyrics for the songs are about such things as not liking the boys in your village and thinking that the boys in the next village might be better looking. And they have a heartbreakingly lovely Karelian wedding song. Traditionally in Karelia the men go out and kill a boar for the wedding feast, and this is the song the women sing on their return. They really know how to get married in Karelia. i have been married twice and still no boars.

Caninus: Now the Animals Have a Voice. Pitbull grindcore. Seriously. This is deathgrind music with the pitbulls growling and barking for lyrics. It's kinda amusing. But for added poignancy, Basil, one of its two canine members, died of a brain tumour and that was the end of the band. It reminds me somewhat of minimalist composer Rautavaara's very beautiful Cantus Arcticus, scored for orchestra and birdsong. But not very much.

Turbonegro: especially Fuck the World, Drenched in Blood (DIB) and their new one You Give me Worms. You have to understand about Turbonegro that they are Not To Be Taken Seriously. i first discovered Trubonegro reading about them in the Guardian, so they must be cutlurally all right. Their fans call themselves Turbojugend. They are from Norway, and are a very bad ass punk/death metal band with more than a touch of glam, i'm afraid. They kinda started off as a punk parody and grew from there. Spinal Tap they ain't. i first heard them when i was sick in bed and i lay there with the flu and laughed and laughed.

Refused: Liberation Frequency. Very left wing Swedish punk hardcore band now defunct.

Motorhead: Get Back in Line. For all us grunts.

Brian Eno: Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Good for sitting in traffic.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Sport of Kings

Since this week in Christchurch there has been horse racing* and a visit from royalty it might be timely to write about dumping.

Dumping is of course the sport of kings, or used to be. Back in the day, i knew people who were proud to have furnished their whole houses from the dump. It went with the hippy chic we adopted. We would engage in dumping at times. Dumps then were great sprawling stinking affairs that emitted clouds of dust and shrieking gulls. Back then you could wander in them like you were some sort of post industrial waste wraith, a piece of randomised ephemera made of flapping rags and swirls of dust, blowing and dissolving in the fetid wind....etc etc. You could come across half a teddy bear, or a perfect row of skinned ferrets, or a lacquered box with a map in it. You could enter for free and wander at will and take whatever treasures you found.

Recently we had an attack of entropy and i came home from work to discover half the lounge furniture broken beyond repair. Neither i nor my husband the Archduke Piccolo are keen on throwing things out. For most of our marriage our lounge suite was propped up on concrete blocks because the legs had broken. This furniture however was beyond propping up. So off we went to engage in the sport of kings.

Or so we thought.

Now the city refuse services have become further sterling examples of the Franz Kafka School of Management. Obviously they are run by the same outfit that manages the health system. We turned up in our Nissan Sentra hatchback feeling rather small among the trucks. We then began a Byzantine process of finding out what items could be dropped off at the post where they on-sell things, and what could be salvaged and what needed to be actually thrown out.This mostly involved driving around and around and shouting at each other. Finally we backed up in front of a big concrete pit and hurled our stuff into it. A machine came along and began to snuffle at it, a bit like the vacuum cleaner in the Teletubbies. We found our way out by a further Byzantine process that mostly involved driving around and around and shouting at each other, and discovered that they seem to have forgotten to charge us our $8. Perhaps it was because we were so pathetic.

It was all a bit anticlimactic. And clean. There was hardly any rubbish in sight, and no chance to pick over anything unless you offered to interact with the people in the trucks next to us, and that would have been plain weird. We were cogs in a wheel. Gizmos on a conveyor belt. Passive victims of Fordist 'efficiency' and the dehumanising fetishism of corporate greed.

Oh well, after that sobering thought, off to buy more furniture!**

*Actually the horse racing is incidental. Cup week in Christchurch is mostly women in big hats and very high heels getting drunk and falling over. Generally however people are only appalled if they're also fat. Slim women are mercifully free from tastelessness.#

# Oh, all right. Miaow.

**Actually, no, we have discovered that without the furniture we have more space for - the Archduke Piccolo's wargaming!

Friday, November 9, 2012

No heroism required

This post is in part a review of Rebecca Solnit's book  'A paradise built in hell: the extraordinary communities that arise in disaster'.

Rebecca Solnit is one of my favourites. Art historian, feminist, activist, environmentalist, she does a good line in looking at things differently. After Hurricane Katrina i was reading her articles on the weblog TomDispatches, about the aftermath of the hurricane and the way ordinary citizens and the authorities handled it. Of course now we have had our own disaster here in Christchurch, and i was keen to buy the new book.

Her main idea is that after a disaster people come together in new ways, even if only temporarily, and care for each other. How well the citizenry does however can depend on how those in power see them. If the authorites fear the citizens and want to protect property rather than lives, things are likely to be more chaotic and less humane. Her first chapter is about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. While ordinary people formed tent cities and communal kitchens, the authorities took the view that social order was bound to break down unless they took a firm upper hand. And so they burned the city, burned down the very properties they claimed to be protecting, and deprived people of the means of saving themselves.

The popular view of how people behave in and after a disaster would state that people panic, sink down to the worst of themselves, and become selfish. This view sees the populace as needing strong leadership and sanctions to stop law and order breaking down. This view is often held by those in power, and this is why they send in the National Guard. Or the Army, in our case in Christchurch. It is also the thinking behind vigilantism and the fear of looting.

Alongside this view, a sociology of disaster has developed, based on researching lived experience. In fact, people mostly don't panic. They move fast for sure, but they don't necessarily panic. And by and large they don't loot. They may take what they need to set up communal shelter and feed themselves, but actual looting of material goods not related to survival is not common. Moreover, people don't turn into selfish survivalists. They help each other, go to courageous lengths for each other, cross social and racial divides for each other, unless the authorities get in the way.

Solnit thinks that we are prevented from seeing clearly the ordinary best experiences of people because of the popular culture desire for heroes. Heroes come from outside, they usually work alone, they are self reliant and extraordinary. It is easy to see firefighters, for example, as heroes. We overlook people who are just as useful, but don't fit the hero mould. We expect to be saved when really we all got together and saved ourselves.

Reading her book drew out memories of how it felt after the big earthquake here. i was moved reading it. i thought to learn about our other great earthquake, of 1848, which nearly destroyed the fledgeling city of Wellington.

Wellington at the time had about 3000 people and almost all of them survived, but most of the city fell down and the people were thoroughly spooked, most of them being fairly new immigrants. The aftershocks continued for months, and coincided with strange lights in the sky which people thought were volcanic eruptions. In fact it was the Aurora Australis.

The people of Wellington sought meaning in these catastrophic events, as we do,  and the most common official one was that the earthquake was the will of God. In fact it was often called the Visitation. Churches were full for months afterwards. It was most gratifying. While no one suggested the earthquake was any sort of punishment for wickedness, and it was attributed to natural causes, it was also seen as a timely reminder for us all to remember our sins and turn back to God. Certainly there was no perceptible break down of society. People just got a bit more churchy for a while.*

i remembered how small scale communities did form after our EQ. We met some of our neighbours properly for the first time. We gradually emptied our freezer onto the barbecue and people came round and ate with us. My neighbour commented on how close we had become, and how when it was all over we would probably go back to how it was before. She was right. We still see each other but we are no longer best buds.

There were indeed acts of generosity and unity all over the place. A man who worked delivering goods in the hospital bought chocolates and delivered them wherever he went, to all the wards and offices. After a week of this the management noticed and chipped in money for him to continue. One red zone couple made a list of everyone in the stricken area, their health and welfare needs, and took it to Civil Defence. Their house became the distribution centre for relief. They looked after over 100 people. A bakery owner just gave away everything to passersby, including my daughter. (No looting there!) A couple whose fruit and vegetable shop was destroyed gave away their stock, and when they were finally able to rebuild, they found their generosity rewarded. Here is Max the grocer:

'One thing the earthquakes have done is make people stop and realise you need community, you don't live on your own. A lot of people had no time, were too busy to know their neighbour. All of a sudden, they've realised you need your neighbour. That's one of the positives of the earthquakes and you need to look for positives.'#

No heroism required.No uniforms, no leadership, no noise. Just purposefulness, unity, compassion, and generosity - the virtues of every day, writ a little larger. For a while, some of us were better people.

*i remember some of the less temperate comments at the time of the Christchurch EQ, that it was indeed punishment for immorality in society. The mainstream churches were not at all keen on this. Their spokespeople made public statements against those comments.They maintained that God loves us and had nothing to do with the EQ.  i also remember some comments that the EQ was a sign that God hates the mainstream churches and there was some evidence for this - most of the large churches were very badly damaged including both cathedrals. However, i have observed something more specific - it was the brick or stone churches that were damaged. Clearly God hates bricks. And i have some exegetical backup for this. The first mention of bricks in the Bible comes from Genesis, and relates to the time of the building of the tower of Babel. Thus it is clear that bricks are associated with social chaos and division and lack of communication. Accursed be the bricklayers, those sinners in the service of the fiend that is the demonic brick!

# Quoted

Friday, November 2, 2012

But we were taking the train

On the West Coast, the rain held steady. The road was closed over Porters Pass, but we were taking the train.

The river valley made way for broom-clad hillsides, and more rain. Then Otira, a tiny settlement that gets about two hours of sun a day in winter and has denizens rather than residents. (i love Otira!) Then the tunnel, 8 kms i think, and steep as, up and up - and out - and into the snow. It was a foot deep. It looked snug and settled. Colour washed out with it. And there we were at Arthurs Pass, to unload the second engine that had pushed us so gallantly up the hill and through the tunnel, and to play in the snow.

Only the children played, really. They ventured as far as they could and squealed and wallowed. The adults photographed themselves.

A thin, older man posed with his Indian wife. He held her under one arm and in the other hand he held a lump of snow her had formed into an oblong shape the size of a concrete block.He grinned straight at the camera, snaggle toothed, his beanie astride his big ears. She cuddled into the crook of his arm and smiled. Her Indian friend took the photo.

One woman modelled for her man to photograph her. She held little snowballs and gazed at them wide eyed. She tossed snow into the air and flung her arms wide with childlike delight. She flicked her long brown hair. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks shone in the cold. When she came back into the carriage she brought out her tablet, and uploaded the photos immediately. Now they have gone all around the world. And i noticed that she was actually quite middle aged, quite plump, unremarkable in a crowd, as most of us are.

How did we learn to be so self aware? None of the adults played in the snow. They had a being-photographed-playing-in-the-snow experience. The snow was the vehicle for the photographs. It could have been any vehicle. And the woman with her modelling moves - how did she learn that this is how one should be photographed, as if for a fashion shoot?

Family snapshot photography has always been thoroughly stereotypical. That is part of its charm. Its artistic and sociological lessons for the viewer are usually incidental. It is an innocent art. Those involved have always known that this is for the future, that soon this moment will be a memory and that this is the memory we want preserved, that when we look at photos we are looking at younger versions of ourselves, and so by their very static nature we are reminded of the passage of time. i think even with our current instant technology the same applies today. Perhaps we just want more choice about how we present ourselves to the future, and we are more informed about the conventions of looking good. Perhaps it is a less innocent art now, but it still has its charm. Seeing ordinary people turning themselves briefly into models of glamour or goofiness is indeed charming.

Us, we photographed the snow.