Rocks and Islands and Life’s Eternal Question

Since moving to New Zealand, I have accepted rides from strangers.  I have been kicked out of a bar (by association).  I have habitually jaywalked.

I have faced the prospect of being alone in a place so very far away from home.

I have been more straight-forward with people on difficult subjects.  I have dressed up like a zombie.  On purpose.  In public.

I have asked a total stranger for his phone number (for a friend).  I have met the total stranger with my friend at a bar (not the one I was asked to leave).

I have successfully driven on “the wrong side of the road” for over a year.

I have had fun.  I have been scared.  I have been sad.  I have been angry.

I have learned that I like Indian food, that I like eating more vegetables than meat, that I can tell the difference between a good laksa and a not-so-good laksa.  I have learned that pumpkin and kumara humus is delicious.

I have learned that some things in life are sacred.  They are, in no particular order: love, loyalty, curiosity, friends, laughter, and cornbread.  But only cornbread like my Papa used to make.  I have accepted that I will never be able to make it the same way.

I have learned that the core of me is the same, no matter where I live or what I do, but that I can change.  That I have changed.  That I am changing.  That I will continue to change.

I now wear patterns (occasionally) and layers and boots and scarves and don’t worry about standing out.

I think about all of these things as I get ready to leave for a trip home next week.

I wonder if my friends will think I’ve changed?  Will I think they’ve changed?  Will I miss Wellington?  Will I want to leave Savannah?  Will I ask for coriander and courgette instead of cilantro and zucchini?

Will I unthinkingly say, “Cheers, mate,” instead of “Thank you.”?  Actually, that’s a very unlikely scenario.

I have no idea how I will respond to any of these potential questions.  And (maybe this is the Kiwi creeping in me), aside from mentioning all of these things here, I don’t really care.

I can’t wait to see Wright Square, to have lunch at the Pink House, to eat real pulled pork with mustard sauce, coleslaw, and maybe a rib or two.

But in saying that, I know I’ll miss hearing the Tui birds sing every morning and that cheeky cat who saunters along the waterfront.  I’m going to miss Rahzoo and walking the waterfront on Sunday mornings.

In short, I’ll miss home when I’m home.

It’s a very odd feeling to have one foot in Savannah and the other in Wellington.  The halves of you are stretched between two planes of existence, and you never wholly fit into either.

Though in saying that, the constant stretch and pull of finding my center when I’m not sure where center is has provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and experience.  And I love Wellington, and New Zealand, and on most days, feel like this *is* home.

At its worst—on days when I feel isolated and sad and unsure of where I am and what I’m doing—having two homes is a displacing, discomfiting existence.

We need an anchor in life.  I disagree with Simon and Garfunkel—we are not rocks, we are not islands.  But even if you were an island, sometimes, the best of yourself fails you, and you need the warm, comforting blanket of familiarity and history.  You need the terra firma of a back garden in Brunswick,Georgia or a front porch in Savannah,Georgia.  That is your rock.  That is your island.  That is what gets you through the times when you’re experiencing a sort of emotional vertigo.

I saw a German film at the NZ International Film Festival called, At Ellen’s Age.  It was a weird, disjointed film about a middle-aged woman whose entire life turns upside down and—in an effort to discover who she is without the definitions of her job and her partner, she careens from one bizarre experience to another.  I didn’t particularly like the film, but I knew exactly where Ellen was coming from and why she did some of the things she did.  I understood the choices she made in the end.

We are all pursuing our authentic selves.  Part of human experience is stripping away the layers and definitions and wondering, “Who am I”?

I had a voice teacher who told me once that she would study voice until the day she stopped singing.  When I asked her why she would do that, why she would continue to learn about something she had obviously mastered, she replied:

“When you stop learning, you stop living.”

Well, indeed.

Here’s to a few more rides with strangers, trips to unknown, faraway places, and the knowledge—that when I need it—my rock is still there.  Waiting for me to find home.  Wherever “home” may eventually be.

Where is your home?  How have you dealt with feeling displaced, whether by geography or something else?

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The day I called the Wellington Central Library a toliet

I confess.  It’s true.  I called the Wellington Central library a toilet.

It was completely unintentional.  You see, I called it a wharapaku (pronounced FAR-eh-pah-koo), instead of a whare pukapuka (FAR-eh-poo-kah-poo-kah).  The importance of this will soon become clear.

I have always loved languages.  Over the last few years I have slowly been delving into Te Reo Maōri, which is the Maōri language.   It is an evocative, beautiful language.

But even if I didn’t love learning new languages, living in New Zealand requires a very basic understanding of many common Maōri words and phrases.  Regardless of whether you’re Maōri or Pakeha (non-Maōri European), everyone knows that you eat kai (food); that when you say Kia ora, you’re informally saying hello; and that the world needs more aroha (love).  Morena is “Good morning” and ka kite ano (pronounced kah KEE-tay AH-no), roughly translates to, “See you again.”  Iwi (pronounced EE-wee) refers to a tribal family, but it also means bones. 

Place names in New Zealand are often made up of component words and are poetic translations.  You can usually puzzle out what many words mean simply by knowing what each component means.  For instance, Aotearoa (OW-te-ah-row-ah) translates to land of the long white cloud and is the Maōri name for New Zealand. 

Another good example is Wainuiomata (pronounced Why-new-ee-oh-mah-tah).  Wainuiomata is a suburb of the HuttValley, just outside of Wellington.  Wai means water.  Nui means big.  O means of, and Mata could refer to a person’s name.  So, one possible translation is ‘the place of Mata’s big water’. 

I did a little bit of Googling to see if I was right.  According to wainuiomata.net, I was close.  It states:

The origins of the word are disputed, but one commonly accepted translation refers to the women who came over the Wainuiomata Hill to evade marauding tribes from the north, and who sat wailing by the stream after the slaughter of their menfolk. From this we have ‘faces streaming with water’ or ‘tears’ although it could equally refer to the large pools of water which lay over the swampy surface (face) of the northern end of the Valley, and which led to that area being known to the first settlers as ‘The Lowry Bay Swamp’.

 See?  Fabulous.  There are all sorts of great stories behind the origins of Te Reo Maōri words. 

Te Reo Maōri is also constantly evolving.  For instance, traditional Te Reo Maōri didn’t have a word or concept for airplane.  So the Te Reo Maōri translation for airplane is waka rereangi, which literally means canoe sailing in the sky.  (Generally speaking, waka refers to any and all forms of transport). 

As part of that evolution, you find a lot of transliterations in Te Reo as well.  The traditional word for Monday, for example, is Rāhina (RAH-hee-nah), but its transliteration is “Mane” (pronounced, MAH-neh). 

To be fair, though, knowing a little Te Reo is like knowing a little French—you generally wind up unintentionally insulting someone when trying to ask for a glass of water.  And that’s exactly what happened when I called the Wellington Library a toilet.

The word for toilet in Te Reo is wharepaku, which (as I understand it) translates roughly to small (paku) house (whare).  (Though in this sense, I think “small” is less of a description of size—which would more likely be “iti’—than a description of stature). 

The word for library whare pukapuka roughly translates to house of books. 

I realise that these are very distinct concepts and words.  However, for someone who knows so little about the language, wharepaku sort of kind of maybe sounds a bit like whare pukapuka. 

So, as T and I strolled through theWellingtonCBD one Saturday afternoon and I pointed to the grand Wellington Central Library and said, “Look, it’s the wharapaku!”, you can imagine why he choked on his soda and started laughing. 

As you can see, the Wellington Central Library is not insubstantial. And it is definitely NOT a toilet!

Te Reo Maōri is an official language of New Zealand, but there was a time when children in school were forbidden to speak it.  There was a time in the not so distant past when it seemed as if Te Reo would die an unceremonious and needless death.  Through many recent efforts and much encouragement—both private and public—there is now a slow and steady movement towards more New Zealanders having a working fluency in Te Reo. 

I tell this story (and give you this lesson) because I think it’s important to preserve indigenous culture.  A huge part of that preservation is maintaining a base of knowledge of the language.  Without the language, we are lost.  I realise it may seem odd that an American living in New Zealand is saying this.  Maybe it is odd.  I don’t know.  I guess part of it is that so much of the Native American culture is now lost, as are the people, the languages, the crafts.  The history.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so keen on this topic.  For me (and for my wounded pride) I hope that means that many, many more people will proudly (albeit mistakenly) point to the library and exclaim, “Look!  There’s the toilet!”

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirt-Like-Thing

I am not a fashionista.  My wardrobe sits comfortably in the range of “mainstream safety” with occasional forays into “mainstream quirk”.  But, above all else, I do not mix and match.  My blacks go with my blacks.  Sometimes, I add something red, just to be controversial. 

Moving to Wellington meant throwing all of that out of the window.  Suddenly, stripes and plaids mixed together; vintage looks were popular (to the point that I thought someone was a historical re-enactor.  No.  She was just on her way to work); and things I considered very racy (fishnet tights, stiletto heels), were daytime de rigour

I have become a bit more experimental with what I wear, but I wanted to take it a step further.  I wanted to find something that was uniquely New Zealand fashion that I could take home with me for my upcoming visit.  Something that would totally up my “cool” factor. 

So I decided to go to DeNada.  I love DeNada.  It’s a lovely boutique full of strange and interesting clothing options that are ridiculously expensive for what they are but intrinsically lovely all the same. 

I have to confess that, heretofore, I’d never actually purchased anything from DeNada.  There are three reasons for this.  One, the price.  Two, the fit (I’m a bit more ample than the target customer).  Three, my complete befuddlement at how some of the garments are meant to be worn.  Or even gotten into.  But I had this moment of capriciousness and decided that I wasn’t leaving until I had a new, lovely, tres chic garment.

Now, had this occurred at home, at least three of my friends would have stopped me.  Or they would have at least gone with me to make sure that I wasn’t going to be a walking fashion disaster.  SL, with her critical eye, could say—without malice—“No, that’s not you.”  She saved me from a very awkward sweater purchase once.  LA would encourage me to branch out, but would also politely tell me when something worked or didn’t.  LA convinced me to buy a pair of shoes that have since become my favourites.  TM would tell me to “work it,” and convince to buy something that showed a peek of shoulder. 

LG, CS, IN, and TP–in their own ways—will tell me when something makes the best of my assets and when it doesn’t.  And they are tough.  Really tough.  And I love it. 

I trust these women with my lives.  Therefore, it was a suicide mission to walk into DeNada without them.

An hour later, I came skipping out of DeNada with a skirt-like-thing.  I say skirt-like-thing, because it wasn’t a skirt at all.  It was this odd tube of fabric with large, pointy panels in two colours draping down my front and rear with a large slit going up the side of the leg.  According to the sales clerk, it was a skirt meant to be worn over pants.  Or another skirt.  It was not, apparently, a skirt by itself. 

That seemed edgy.  Cool. Fashion forward.  And I liked it.  I happily handed over my credit card for the skirt-like-thing. 

The infamous skirt-like-thing, on it's way back to the store

Then I got home. 

I was so excited, I rushed upstairs to put it on, telling T that I wanted to show him my new skirt-like-thing. 

But what happened next was like waking up in the middle of the night to discover you really shouldn’t have eaten that second burrito. 

The skirt-like-thing looked very, VERY different in the far more judgmental mirror of my bathroom, than in the one in the shop.  Oh no!  What had I done?  How could my skirt-like-thing have forsaken me so quickly??

Sure that I was just being overly critical, I sloped downstairs intent on getting T’s honest appraisal.

I said to him, “I want your honest appraisal of this.  You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise.” 

T winced and an expression passed across his face that reminded me of the time that he ate some bad fish. 

“I don’t like these kinds of games,” he said warily. 

“I’m serious.  You won’t hurt my feelings.  Well, I mean, don’t say I look like a two-thousand pound hippo, or something.  Be constructive.  Non-emotive.  Tell it to me straight.”

The bad fish expression passed across his face again.  He opened his mouth and then closed it.  He motioned for me to twirl.  I did.  He opened his mouth again, blinked, and closed it shut.  He asked me to twirl again.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked.  “That’s why you’re not saying anything.  Because it’s bad. I knew it was bad!”

“I didn’t say it was bad!” he rushed to say.  “I just … I mean … what is it?  Is it a skirt?  Is it missing some fabric?  I mean, it’s hard to really give you an opinion when you’re wearing it over your jeans.”

“You’re supposed to wear it over your jeans.”

T’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline, the universal symbol for, “You’re shitting me.”

“Really,” he asked. “Oh.  Okay.  Well … wait, so it is a skirt or is it … what is it?”

“It’s a skirt-like-thing.”

“Okay.”

“They said to wear it over pants.  Or another skirt.”

“Uh, huh.” 

“So what do you think,” I asked, sure he was stalling.

He did the mouth flapping thing again.  Cleared his throat.  Asked me twirl once more.  And then he stuttered, “I … well … I mean … it’s … I’m not sure … That is, I don’t know if …”

I sighed.  “It’s bad, right?”

“It just looks … complicated.”  Encouraged, he continued, “And I don’t know if that … well, I mean I love your—but I don’t think it plays to your best assets.  I mean—oh hell!  Why can’t you ask your girlfriends about this?”

I put him out of his misery and agreed that the skirt-like-thing was indeed a bit too complicated for my much more simple style and that it did, in fact, make my ass look like it was the size of an airplane hanger. 

I just know that if any of my girlfriends had been with me, they would have told me to step away from the skirt-like-thing and would have encouraged me to look at something else. 

I caution to add that it’s not as if I don’t have girlfriends here.  I do.  And they are amazing, lovely, wonderful women.  But history is important.  I have an insane amount of history with SL, LA, TP, CS,LG,IN, and TM.  I have barreled through more than one pint of ice cream with several of them—one or both of us crying our eyes out at the time.  I have rushed over to one’s house at 2 am when she needed me, and vice-versa.

We have been through the wars together.  We have talked and lived love, death, and taxes.  We have seen each other naked.  I don’t mean in the physical sense (though, yes, obviously we have had occasion to witness this).  I mean in the, “Oh, dear God, please don’t ever tell anyone that I {insert embarrassing/vulnerable moment}”.  That (among many things) keeps my defences low when I ask these women leading questions like, “Does this make me look fat?” 

We’re honest with each other and we don’t have to explain our motivations.  We know that whether it’s a skirt-like-thing, a relationship, or a work problem, we’re going to be straight with each other.  Why?  Because we love each other and we only want to see each other blossom.  Sometimes, to blossom, you have to step away from the skirt-like-thing. And sometimes, it takes someone you trust more than yourself to tell you. 

It’s like having seven sisters, really.  That’s the way I think of them.  It’s nice knowing that, even at 8,000 miles a way, I can still count on these women to keep me grounded, and to remind me that I’m loved.  And tell me if the skirt-like-thing makes me look fat. 

 

 

To Wellington, with love

I had intended to blog about a recent disastrous skirt purchase, but after walking the waterfront this morning, I decided that an open love letter to Wellington was in order. There was just something a bit magical about today, a jumble sale’s worth of mish-mashed activities and things all coming together and reminding me what I love best about Wellington and New Zealand.

My day started like most Sunday mornings.  I walk to the Sunday Market almost every week.  The Sunday Market is a farmer’s market, first and foremost, but is also a haven for foodies and those who live by the idea of local, organic ingredients.  In addition to my onions and broccolini, I can get fresh fish; ethically farmed and butchered venison and lamb; and organic, free-range eggs.  I can also enjoy an authentic quesadilla, Cantonese noodles, Roti, Brazilian barbecue, French pastries, and Maori specialities, all while listening to a variety of buskers singing the likes of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and traditional Maori songs.

Placard for a Sunday Market food stall

Brazilian barbecue, anyone?

Delicious jams and cakes for sale!

 

 

This is the view that greets me when I leave my apartment and head towards work (or in today’s case) the Sunday market. People say that you can’t beat Wellington on a good day.  It’s true.

Wellington, on a gorgeous day.

One of the best parts of my Sunday morning is spotting the markers for the Poet’s Walk.  This one perfectly describes what the day starts like in Wellington.

On the wharf, part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

Before I got to the market, though, I came across this.

Of course I had to take a quick glance.  A quick glance turned into an hour and the purchase of two signed prints and a new handmade leather journal.  But these tickled me.  “Hotties” are essential in the winter here.  I never understood the joy that is a hot water bottle nestled at your feet until recently.  And of course, a hot water bottle by itself is boring.  It definitely needs some tarting up!

"hottie" covers, handmade from felted wool.

Finally on my way to the market, I stopped at Te Papa (the national museum of New Zealand) and enjoyed the window displays.  In addition to everything else going on, Wellington is also hosting the World of Wearable Art, or WOW.  It is a celebration of art displayed on bodies instead of canvases, with endless categories.  This is a display of a dress made of ground tarps and bottle caps.  Amazing!

One of the previous WOW dresses, made from industrial materials.

Detail of the dress: painted tarp ruffles and bottle caps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally getting to the market, I elbowed my way through the throng and snapped up veggies for the week.  Avocados and peppers were on sale (usually $3 and $5 each, respectively this time of year), and I heard the voice of veggie tacos calling.

One of the veggie stalls at the Sunday Market

Care for some Japanese bok choy?

On my way back—ladden as I was with veggies, prints, a new journal, and a chocolate brioche from Simply Paris’s (a gorgeous little French patisserie just down the way from our apartment) market stall, I stumbled across another one of my favorite Poet Walk quotes.

Part of the Wellington Poet's Walk

I reflected on that as I strolled home and I thought about everything I’d see today—the ingenuity, the creativity, the community coming together, and the meld of disparate cultures and ideas, all melding together into one dazzling day—and I realized that’s what I loved best about Wellington, what I love best about New Zealand.

So, to my beautiful Wellington, thank you for always making me smile and for reminding me on a daily basis all that is truly good and wonderful in this life.

Yours,

Kiwijenn

Jack Frost, Nipping At My Nose

I do not like the cold.  This is not opinion.  This is not subjective hyperbole.  This is fact.  I am not made for the cold.  Before moving to Wellington, my only experience with truly cold temperatures was that time I was in Niagra for a day.

But since moving to Wellington, I’ve had to adjust to howling Southerlies racing off the Antarctica ice and up the coast of New Zealand before whipping through Wellington.  It’s like having your air conditioning adjusted to perma-freeze.  Or sticking your whole body in your freezer and turning the fan on high.  This is unnatural.  But so is horizontal rain (another Wellington fixture).

It wouldn’t be so bad if homes in New Zealand had central heating.  Generally speaking, they do not.  Generally speaking, they have no systematic ventilation at all.  You either open a window (sans screen) or throw on yet another wool sweater.  This is how you regulate temperature in New Zealand.

But until now, I at least had the smug confidence of being able to say, “Well, at least we’re not in Invercargill!”

You see, it snows in Invercargill.  Wellington may have a summer that lasts approximately 48 hours, but we could say with assurance that the likelihood of snow in the Wellington CBD was on par with Tiger Woods clawing his way back to the top of the leaderboard.

Apparently he’s on his way.

Over the last three days, it has, in fact, snowed in Wellington.  But mostly, it has hailed, sleeted, rained, and iced in Wellington.  I left home today in three layers of merino, plus leggings, wool knee socks, and knee-high leather boots.  Plus my woolly scarf, coat, hat, and gloves.  This was not a fashion statement, this was a necessity.

I have had to learn much about layers.  This is a foreign concept.  You see, Southerners do not *do* layers.  We strive to strike a balance between wearing as few layers as possible and maintaining a healthy sense of decorum and decency.  But here—even in the 48 hours of summer—I never the leave the house without a cardigan, scarf, and/or a hat of some sort.  On the rare occasion that I catch sight of myself in reflection in a store window, I wonder aloud, “Who is that bag lady?”

(I suspect I still have much to learn with respect to layering elegantly.)

This ‘cold’ snap is supposed to last a few more days.  And then, temperatures should return to normal.  Which means cold instead of bitterly freezing.

Maybe T is right.  Maybe he did import an exotic lizard.

The upside to this is the most cozy bed you could ever imagine (two winter-weight duvets and the most delicious electric mattress pad you could ever imagine, and woolly pajamas) and the ability to swaddle yourself in soft woollen goods to go to work.  No high heels, structured suits, or complicated skirts.  Just layer after layer of warm, cozy, goodness.

And then there’s hot chocolate while snuggling on the couch (under a blanket, of course) and watching the fluffy white stuff fall over the city.  That part is pretty cool too.

An image captured by a friend of Newlands, a northern Wellington suburb--definitely in the "hills"

Your Junk is My Precious!

I am loathe to pay full-price for anything.  There are few exceptions to this, beauty products being most notable.  Otherwise, I wait for things to go on sale.  Sales were fine, but I drew the line at buying something that was “preloved”.  Purchasing a dress someone else wore?  Surely not!

But then I moved to New Zealand where everything feels three times as expensive as at home.  And I discovered TradeMe.

TradeMe is like a combination of Ebay and Craig’s List (minus the unsavoury shenanigans).  It is a glorious cornucopia of nostalgia, free trade, real estate, and sparkly earrings. I can buy roofing nails, plants, plane tickets, and fingernail polish all on one easy to navigate website.  We found our flashy new apartment on the wharf on TradeMe.  T bought his car—Hans—on TradeMe, too.

Speaking of said flashy new apartment, the problem with moving somewhere new is making all of your stuff look like it’s been there for a hundred years (minus the dust and obvious environmental damage that would have occurred).  We didn’t have the problem of too much stuff.  No, we so clearly didn’t have enough that it was painful.  A TV, sofa and side table do not a lounge and dining room make.

We thought we’d start slowly.  We made lists.  We prioritised.  We considered where we spent most of our time at home and what we really needed.  A chair, we determined.  Let’s start with a chair!  Man cannot live by a single sofa alone.

We thought we were clever by going to a mid-range furniture store’s big sale.   We searched high and low; we bickered loudly and softly.  Finally, we found a chair we could both agree on.  Only, the chair—a single, small armchair—was $800.00.  On sale.  And it didn’t even have gold plating.  Needless to say, we did not buy the chair.

Then I remembered my trusty friend, TradeMe.  It had given me a roof over my head and provided us with transportation. Surely it could kit out our apartment too?

I gave myself a budget of $700, which had to buy the following:

  • One lounge chair
  •  One coffee table
  • One dining table and chairs, suitable for six people
  • One coat rack
  • One set of filing drawers

These were the essentials.  Could I do it?  Could I really?

Like that annoying, “Let’s Build a House in Seven Days and Still Remain Relentlessly Cheerful” TV Show, Yes. I Could.

And, I got a new handbag, a pair of sandals, and a dress to boot.  I only went over budget by $10.00.

Only $300, and that included delivery. Best bargain of the lot, I think.

The best purchase was by far the lounge chair: gorgeous brown leather from a boutique furniture shop in Paris.  We paid less than 10% of what the man paid (I sleuthed on line!) when he was writing his memoires while living in the South of France.  That was great, of course, but the story of the chair was even better.

At only $200, this got a definite, "Ooh, la la!"

Our worst purchase was the coffee table.  T had to pick it up under the cover of night and had to schlep it from the carport (where it had been left) into Hans and back home.  In the light of day, “minor scratches” were huge gouges, and “good condition” was “leans slightly to the left.”  I should mention that the coffee table man offered to take it back and refund our money, but I had already grown attached to it and felt like a protective mother.

Looks good from afar, but hardly a "bargain" at $50.

Even better still was the endless of parade of stuff that people put up for sale: There were the flame red, patent leather chairs that looked like lips; the “munted” recliner that was held together by tape; the table that had a deep gouge all the way the down the center with the mysterious explanation for how it got there.

Looking through these listings was like seeing the curtains drawn back from these people’s lives.  I’m pretty sure the guy selling the recliner really didn’t want to part with it, but “no longer fits our décor” is code for, “my partner said it’s me or the recliner and I really like her buttered potatoes.”  And the flame red leather chairs?  Either a very good salesman was involved, or some sinister, dark force.

And then there are the people who just tell you.  You don’t even get to guess.  “I’m only selling this chair as it’s too comfy.  I can’t seem to get out of it and my wife said that if I didn’t get off my arse and do the yard work she’d divorce me.  Please won’t you buy my chair?”

I’m now on the hunt for a hall table that will have places for our shoes underneath, drawers or cubbies for the endless pieces of paper that T brings home, and a shelf for all of the stuff that we seem to carry around in our pockets on a daily basis.  Oh.  And it can only be a certain width and depth.  And it needs to be dark brown or black.  If I can find it anywhere, it will be TradeMe.

Off to the hunt I go…

The hangbag is already in operation; the sandals will come home to Savannah with me!

Handmade

This past weekend, I played with wood glue, learned where the shank of a lamb comes from, what to do with a cow’s cheek, how to refashion broken pieces of jewellery, and make envelopes out of old calendars. I made soap and learned how to make fabric baskets out of scraps.

No, it wasn’t summer camp. (No glittered macaroni was harmed in the process of this weekend.) I attended Handmade2011. It was an inaugural event in Wellington, two days of recycling, upcycling, freecycling and cycling out of wholecloth your own furniture, clothing, accessories, and food.

At the end of the event, and assuming you’d taken every class offered (impossible), you could:

Have a homegrown dinner party, which included your own beer and cheese, as well as a palatable cow’s cheek, served on your homegrown greens and legumes. Then, you could eat your truly-made-from-scratch meal on your new dining room table, made of salvaged wood and pressed tin tiles. While wearing your new dress stitched together from two others you no longer wear. And accessorised by your new necklace, earrings, and charm bracelet made from those broken bits at the bottom of your great-aunt’s old jewelry box.  On the table, you’d have hand-stitched and upcycled linens.

You could then clean everything up with your homemade liquid dishwashing soap, laundry soap powder, and cake soap.

Afterward, you could send yourself a thank you note for such a lovely meal on your woodblock printed cards in envelopes made from your 2009 French Impressionist calendar. Maybe even drop off a flower arrangement snipped from your urban garden and put into a vase, which you salvaged from Trash Palace (the dump’s ultra-cool salvage shop. Think Dumpster Diving for the chic.), and tarted up with tissue paper wound around the base in a Japanese origami style.

I know a lot of people who would find the above scenario quite … quaint. However, the cool factor of recycling is quite high in Wellington. Indeed, throughout New Zealand.

Buying things second-hand does not come naturally to me. Neither does growing my own food. I have, however, come to embrace both concepts. The reality is, we are a small, remote island. Resources are limited and things are expensive. You don’t encounter the same “disposable” culture we have at home, whether it’s applied to food, clothing, or home goods. You can’t. And so you learn. While it wouldn’t have occurred to me to go to Good Will at home for anything other than a costume, here, I find dresses, skirts, and tops for work. I darned a fitted sheet the other day, simply because I couldn’t stomach buying new sheets when just the bottom needed a few stitches to get us through the winter.

But the idea of handcraft has always come easily to me.  Ask any of my friends who have been subjected to my brief forays into beading, card making, and my misguided belief in the versatility of popsicle sticks.

Maybe it’s my intrinsic belief that things made of my own hand mean more.  Are worth more.   Maybe it was growing up in the South, where you made pies for your neighbors and pickled anything that moved.  It’s a bit nostalgic, really.  A throw-back to a time when life seemed less complicated.  Is it any wonder that we yearn for that now in the “modern world”?

But mostly, it was nice to find another point of shared bliss between “home” and home.  It was like the embroidery thread of shared beliefs darted from one end of the world to the other, binding  my two homes together more closely, one elegant (or not so) stitch at a time.

 

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