This is what happens when you take too long to finish writing about your August holiday in Christchurch – a massive earthquake hits the city, bringing about damage, destruction and devastation and therefore requiring you do a rewrite. Man, what a hassle, etc.
I came to Christchurch on the TranzCoastal train, as part of my “Oh, I am so weary of flying” phase, in which I discovered that the ferry and train can be just as boring as air travel, only much much slower.
It was a stormy day in Picton, and I was forced to take refuge in the town’s cafes to fill the four-hour gap between the motel check-out and the train’s departure. So my happy memory of Picton is sitting in a cafe, drinking too many cups of tea and reading Nick Kent’s 1970s memoir of sex, drugs and rock journalism as the wind and rain battered the giant plate-glass window next to me.
Finally I was on board the train, where I spent five and a half hours in a carriage half-full with special needs adults and their tired and impatient caregivers. And the carriage’s toilet was out of order, necessitating a long wobbly walk along to the next carriage. And the only thing left to eat was a “ham” and “cheese” “croissant”, where the melted cheese gave me a first-degree burn when it dripped onto my finger.
But there were scenic delights, particularly the Lake Grassmere Saltworks. A few years ago I visited Blenheim for the day and sent my parents a postcard with an aerial photo of the saltworks, because who puts a photo of a giant pile of salt on a picture postcard?
But as the train passed through the salt fields, I was terribly impressed. Massive briny ponds! Giant piles of salt! I will ask the same question that I once asked after seeing a giant pile of salt at the Mt Maunganui salt refinery in the ’80s – how big would one chip have to be to use all that salt? Pretty big, yeah.
The sun was setting and the last hour of the journey was through a dark landscape. But soon the lights of Christchurch began to illuminate the cityscape and I felt glad, safe and comfortable.
When I finally alighted the train, I was tired and had a cold, but after a couple of days of travelling, I was just happy to be in a place of urbanness.
One month later, the earthquake woke me up as I slept in Wellington. I lay in bed, annoyed at having my sleep disrupted and wondering what the weird rattling sound was. About an hour later I dozed off again.
In the morning when I discovered there’d been a massive earthquake in Christchurch, I first wondered if my friends were OK. When it became known that there were no casualties, my thoughts then turned to the cafes. Specially, was that place where I had the really amazing scrambled eggs OK? It was, as was the place that does the really smooth lattes that taste like honey.
In August, Megan and Anna had taken me on a tour of Canterbury University. In September the uni released photos showing the shelves in the library toppled over, thousands of books strewn all over the floor. I wanted to jump on a plane and put the books back in the right order.
I’d visited the Christchurch Art Gallery a couple of times, one of my favourite places. After the earthquake, its strong, modern building was repurposed as headquarters for civil defence work. I imagined a hiviz-vest-clad worker casually resting her coffee cup on an artwork, while nervous gallery staff swooped in to cheerfully reposition it.
I’ve been to Christchurch three times in the last year. So much so that there was a rumour that I had a secret boyfriend there. Well, perhaps the city itself is my secret boyfriend. So when he gets smashed up a bit, it’s sad for me.
But, of course, I didn’t know that the seismic reset button was going to be hit just a month after I left. I didn’t quite make the most of my time there and did spend a bit of time in bed, feeling a ill from the cold, watching episodes of UK Big Brother on my iPhone.
But I’m glad I was able to have that visit. I have good memories – seeing the Pixies live, hanging out with friends, yelling at films, experiencing good art and good coffee, and putting on an extravagant beauty mask treatment one night in my hotel as I listened to Lady Gaga on my iPhone. I have a nice pre-quake memory of the city.
I shall return to Christchurch in summer to form some new memories.