Talking to other people, one of the things that is really clear is how fuzzy the memories of life pre-quake have become. I remember having lunch at the Strip occasionally, and how much fun that was. (Expensive as heck, but fun.) And it no longer exists, which is immeasurably strange. I remember going back to the Twisted Hop after the poetry readings, and sitting with a whole group of poets talking and eating and drinking and laughing and breathing poetry into the night. Ironically, the Twisted Hop was pretty much the only building to survive in Poplar Lane. You can look across Madras Street and see the fountain and the sculpture and the building, still there. Quite a bit worse for wear, but still there, when so much else is gone. And they’ve re-opened in new premises – the Woolston Hop is doing very nicely, I hear.
We had so much determination, after the shock started to fade, that the rebuild would be good and positive and bring something beautiful out of the rubble. But more and more tilt-slab and glass bunkers are going up everywhere. We should be erecting buildings that give people joy. 185 people died, and hundreds of businesses went under. We have been given the chance to rebuild our city and put up buildings that people actually want to look at. People (usually architects, owners of brand new concrete bunkers, and Victoria Matthews) keep saying “well, we can’t go back, we need to look forward and build something new.” If that counts as an argument against Neo Gothic style being re-imagined and rebuilt here, surely it is just as potent an argument against the 1970’s concrete bunker garbage. Grr!
I hadn’t meant to rant about buildings. I was going to talk instead about the insurance industry, who, despite reports to the contrary, haven’t failed at all. Managing to delay settlement of 70% of claims for two years is extremely good business practise. So well done, you malignant bloodsucking bastards. The result of the O’Loughlin court case will be very interesting.
The truth is, I think most Cantabrians are becoming too tired to keep fighting. My cynical side suggests that this is exactly what ‘they’ want (in Gerry Brownlee’s own words, “the concern about the immediate situation and lament for the past appears to be subsiding a little bit”). So many people aren’t just at the end of their ropes – they’re swinging by one or two frayed threads, way below the official rope’s end. We live in a dictatorship, with the central government having usurped most of the power of the people we actually elected to run our city, and we’re all too battered and worn down to fight back. The whole damn province is suffering from battered women’s syndrome.
And the shakes keep coming. We’d had a lovely long stretch with nothing much, but a few more decent wobbles in the last month have got me jumpy again. Not helped by the fact that one of the nasty little jolts was in a new area, closer to us here in Southbridge than to Christchurch. (And it felt different to the way the Greendale fault and Lyttleton fault quakes feel – bouncier, but not rough. ) Eleven thousand shakes, and counting. And today is the same grey overcast that it was two years ago. Ugh.
Right, enough misery. Just one last political comment, one suggestion to those of you outside Canterbury about what you personally can do to help, and one poem excerpt.
The political comment: if anyone is planning to strap Gerry ‘what crisis?’ Brownlee and Victoria ‘it’s not your cathedral’ Matthews to a wrecking ball, let me know when and where and I’ll bring the tape.
The suggestion: if you would like to do something today to help Cantabrians, then do. Buy something from a Canterbury business. The Recover Canterbury website has a list of links to help you find open businesses, so have a look, and see if there’s something that takes your fancy. Come in to town for a meal. Book tickets to a show. Buy something. Or even just phone a friend – today is going to be pretty emotional for a lot of us. So call someone. Say hi, we’re thinking of you, how are you?
And the poem: to mark the day, I thought I’d put up the section of Fare where the earthquakes insisted on coming in. (Still looking for a publisher …) Fault was showcased earlier in the week on The Tuesday Poem, for those of you who feel like having a look. Thanks to Catherine for choosing it, and to all those who commented.
Sorry to those who came here to read something … uplifting. Life in Canterbury is full of lots of joy, it still is, and tomorrow I’ll start being positive again. But today, I think, belongs to what we’ve lost.
I’ve known this city all my life – each bridge,
each cul-de-sac, each block – but now,
as though she’d summoned them, new streets appeared
and we drove on
turning left, always left, against the clock
into a city changed, and changing, in
to neighbourhoods that never were before.
through windscreen’s brimming lens of water,
through the wipers’ keening gesture. In the
sullen rain the buildings hunched their shoulders
and lay down.
I saw the church where I was married pulled
apart, its bricks and stone stacked onto pallets,
its spire a child’s toy, tumbled on the grass.
and against the sky a stairwell reached out
past its shattered building into space –
I tried to speak, to ask, to plead, but the words
twisted and set.
I drove through a broken city, and I wept.