JENNI'S OFF-GRID NEWSLETTER, APRIL 50
April 29, 2020
MY NOT-ABOUT–THE-PANDEMIC NEWSLETTER.
Welcome to my first LOCKDOWN newsletter! But who wants more on this pandemic; the internet is flooded with it. So instead I am going to warble on about trivia, as always.
Seems like a century ago we went on a road trip and ended up at WOMAD (World of Music, Arts and Dance Festival) held every March in New Plymouth, where one of our sons also lives. So it is a double pleasure for us. We usually fly, but this year drove, in a very round-about way, often on unsealed backroads, thus taking, on one leg of the journey from Taupo to New Pymouth, nine hours instead of three!
For those of you who are new to my newsletter, (Welcome!) I should mention that husband John and I live off-grid on an island 100kms off the northeast coast of Aotearoa New Zealand. This means that a road trip on the mainland of NZ begins with a flight from Great Barrier Island to Auckland, then picking up a rental car. The alternative is a five-hour boat trip first. I prefer the flying way, especially as occasionally the sea trip can be rough (really rough). And it is not a fancy boat, but a car ferry with a few hard seats for humans to sit on. On a beautiful summer day it can be pleasant, but with this particular stretch of ocean one can never predict.
We drove first to Rotorua, via a very lovely lunch stop (read for lunch three-course gourmet feast) with some very lovely friends. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity; steam coming out of the ground everywhere, boiling mud pools and geysers, and the ever-present smell of rotton eggs (sulphur). One of NZ's biggest tourist destinations (not any more…). I hadn't been there for 46 years… So it was fun rediscovering it. Soaking in natural hot pools is very pleasant, although nowadays the pools tend to be made of concrete, even though the boiling water in them is bubbling out of the deep deep ground and churning down the valleys to end up in the hygienically man-made pools. In the olden days (ie: 46 years ago), the pools were just muddy holes and somehow felt much more soothing. It is still possible to bathe in actual mudpools but we didn't do this as (a) I have done it in the past when young and carefree and (b) it costs more money and (c) one gets mud in one's hair.
When we arrived at Taupo, a small pretty resort town on Lake Taupo, NZ's biggest lake; a 616 square kilometer lake formed by a supervolcanic eruption about 26,500 years ago. We found our way to the peaceful, secluded motel unit at the top of the hot pools campground, and for almost five minutes looked out over the forested valley, steam rising languidly into the warm blue evening (Taupo also has hot springs bubbling everywhere). Ah, we sighed, it was worth the extra money to book this nice motel unit away from the madding crowds. Broom, broom and they arrived; twenty leather-jacketed motorbike gang members on their road trip from Christchurch in the South island to somewhere at the top of the North Island. Twenty Harley Davisons all showing off simultaneously. Some of them (the guys, not the motorbikes) were in the unit adjoining ours with only a flimsy locked door between us. Friendly as, though! I was making our first cup of tea when they arrived. "Hey Auntie, how about a cuppa for me, " says one tattooed, possibly world-famous boxing champion, and now bare-torsoed. I feared we would not be having an early night after all, but I was wrong. We were in Taupo town having a feed when we heard them arriving for their feed— the whole of Taupo heard them—but when they arrived back at the motel later that night, after a few broom-brooms to settle their bikes down, they were as quiet as tiny kittens. John was disappointed as he had been planning on joining them when they settled in with their kegs of beer. Next morning they were off too early for us, brooming first for thirty long minutes, presumably to warm up their engines.
Then we set off on the three hour drive to New Plymouth. We began enthusiastically, via pretty much a complete circuit of Lake Taupo, looking for a view from a bridge that John recalled--but not correctly--from some past field trip. Our journey was now already on its way to becoming a nine hour drive. We stopped in a tiny settlement somewhere, still on a sealed road, but we hadn't seen another vehicle for at least two hours. As we had no map (and of course no GPS, not even a working mobile phone) we weren't quite sure if we were actually on a road that would eventually lead us to our destination. But there was a loo there (bathroom for those of you with US origins). No people, no sign of life, no shops functional or open (bizarrely there was a caravan selling Mexican take-aways, with no-one there to buy). There was one car parked outside this loo. An elderly couple (well, perhaps our age, but unlike us, they looked their age) were having their cut lunch and flask of tea right there on the loo steps. We had a chat of course. "Best loo in the country" says the woman to me. "Go on in; they even have a vase of flowers in there." And they did; a massive bouquet of beautifully arranged fresh flowers, right in the corner of the single long-drop toilet cubicle. (Perhaps it wasn't a long drop, but it felt like it should have been.) They told us they knew this area well; she had lived here as a young thing, flirting with the local farmhands. "Are you off to the Bridge to Nowhere?" she asked. "There's no road to it since the 1940s, you know." (She must have been more my mother's age than mine…and she'd already picked us for ignorant non-locals.) Of course we weren't going to that bridge; we did have a few clues (this substantial bridge indeed goes nowhere; worth a look at the website HERE!). "No" said I. "We're on our way to New Plymouth. They looked surprised (gobsmacked). "Well, only two options from here," said the man. "And both are miles and miles of twisting, narrow, unsealed, rough-as-shit roads." (That cheap rental car will never make it, he was clearly thinking, but didn't say out loud.) "Hope you've got a sick bag or two in your car if you're not so good at travel," he did say out loud. John scoffed (not right then but later, once we were in the car; he isn't overtly rude either). "How often do I have to tell you it's no use asking people directions," he said sternly to me. "They never have a clue." Five hours of unselaed winding roads later we came out on a sealed road which looked as if it might end up in New Plymouth. We diverted to the magnificant Huka Falls where countless crazy people have kayaked over the edge and some have lived, and didn't make it to WOMAD's opening concert. But never mind, we stayed until midnight once we did get there.
According to Jacinda, our Prime Minister (an extraordinary woman, in case you haven't caught up with this!), WOMAD was the last large event that would be held in NZ for the forseeable future. A week after we got back home we were in lockdown. Amazingly, there has been not a single case of Covid-19 from the thousands and thousands of people singing, dancing, eating and crowding together for the three days of WOMAD. (See Cowboy Jenni above. Note that that is not a vacant baby chair next to me, but John's seat. Also note social distancing even before it became a thing. This was taken whilst waiting for the next session on the main stage; otherwise social distancing would not be noticable.)
WOMAD was wonderful, as always. And will be again.
The Moon is Missing is traveling on its winding unsealed path to release date. Call My Name Out Loud is, according to my agent, still calling, and on a second reading with a publisher. The longer it takes, she said, the better. It is quick to get a 'No' but a 'Yes' takes much longer because it has to go through so many people. So wish for no news, always better than the other sort. Of course it could simply be that everyone at the publishing house is too busy watching news flashes about pandemics. I have decided my next novel is going to be the dancer/seadragon ( a type of seahorse) one, and not the Kenya/rhino/poaching one. Like many other writers I have chatted to lately, somehow it is harder to write in these times even though it should be easier, being in lockdown and all that.
Enjoyed being interviewed the other day by Lisa Cypers Kamin of Harvesting Happiness Talk Radio, for a future Podcast on the topic of – yes, surprise, surprise, bibliotherapy, and reading as a positive way to stop yourself going bonkers during lockdown. Not sure when (or if?) it will be online. Lisa, whose show is listened to by a lot of folk, lives in Southern California, and publishes a new interview every Wednesday. Check her website HERE; you will discover lots of helpful and interesting podcasts to make your isolation less gloomy.
All My Silent Years by Rosemary Rawlins.
This is the inspiring story of a young girl and her family caught in the Cambodia Civil War.
Loved this book. First the evocative writing, the 'voice' of it. So few writers have this ability to write in a voice that is not their own but is the voice of their protagonist who is from an entirely different place, time, and culture. Rosemary Rawlins has this ability. Next the story itself; the love, graciousness and gentleness of a family and people subjected to evil that most readers will be almost unable to imagine. This beautifully told story will help you to imagine it; it may bring nightmares, but at least we wake up knowing, that even in this current pandemic world, the horrors of Covid-19 are much less – and hopefully much shorter term-- than those of this man-made war and its atrocities.
Then there is the education, almost effortless for the reader, that this story offers. How little I knew of the Cambodia Civil War. That the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were evil, yes, but not the real facts. Through Sokha, the protagonist, I was almost there as she survived from age eleven to twenty in labor camps in Cambodia and refugee camps in Thailand-- her empty stomach, her aching muscles as she slaved in the labor camps without food and little water in the burning sun, her guilt when she stole a corn cob and put her family in danger, her disgust at the putrid taste of starvation in her mouth, her realization that she could help by learning from her uncle how to heal others, her first feelings of love, her first experience of losing love, her courage and bravery when at last her family boarded a plane for America, an unknown land of plenty with strange and sometimes unhygienic customs like sitting on a toilet seat rather than squatting.
To make this book even more poignant, we learn from the author's notes that Sokha's story, while fictional, is based on the story of her friend, and her own trip to Cambodia with her friend when she returned with her daughter to her ancestral homeland. So behind this story is a story of deep friendship between two women who between them have given readers of this remarkable historical novel a great gift. This is a surprisingly gentle novel, in spite of the horrific backdrop, so it is safe to read it in these grim times. When you have read it, share it with your world. On Amazon HERE or from your favourite bookstore when it is open again.
In closing, be kind, stay safe, stay positive, and by the next time I send a newsletter, fingers washed and crossed we will all be out the other side.