Remembering

I was going to do a brief precis of the weekend we just spent in New York doing Tourist Stuff (very brief precis: sore feet, reasonable minimum of tacky souvenirs, a million photographs, success!) and then I remembered that February 22 is today in New Zealand, and that didn’t seem like such a great blogging idea anymore.

It has been eighteen months – give or take a few days – since I left Christchurch, and it’s likely to be close on two years by the time I see the city again. That’s not actually a very long time, in the scheme of things. It feels like forever, because, of course, I cannot actually return to, in Emma Hart’s turn of phrase, Christchurch-that-was. In a million photos, I have seen it come crumbling down. Some days, from all the way on the other side of the world, it’s hard to tell what’s left. If there’s been a collection, somewhere, of pictures of the things that are still there, I haven’t seen it. I hope there is. It’d be a good thing to have.

It’s easy, here, to not think about Christchurch and what happened, what’s still happening; the majority of people I interact with only vaguely remember there was an earthquake, let alone that there was more than one. They have no reason to remember, of course. One or two unfortunate individuals have unwittingly reduced me to helpless fury (“oh, wasn’t there an earthquake or something?”.) Some have remembered to ask about how it’s going back there – in particular a Chilean colleague, who’s coming from the same place. (When’s the last time you thought about earthquake recovery in Chile?) Life goes on. I could have spent today without ever seeing a mention of Christchurch, if I’d wanted – without even deliberately avoiding anything.

The earthquake happened late enough, East Coast time – nine minutes to 7pm – that by the next morning it seemed like no-one else had heard about it. It hadn’t been on the nightly news or very prominent on the morning shows. By some stroke of coincidence, I was the first and only person in the lab I was then working in for some hours; so I sat at my desk, and refreshed the news pages and Twitter endlessly, and cried. Then people started coming in, and I worked on not crying, because – as I have discovered over and over again this year – there is no more awkward conversation to begin than one that opens with “Did you hear about the massive, deadly natural disaster that just happened in the city I came here from?”. Unless it’s the one that begins “Please politely ignore me crying at my desk about the photos of the ruins of the city I came here from, really, we’ll all be happier if you do.”

I don’t think I will ever fully get what it has meant to all of my friends and family in Christchurch, this last year; the sheer, slow scope of it all, the long tail of the sudden events. But I remember. Every time I look at a map, or the stupid tourist teatowel I bought to give to someone over here and ended up pinning on my wall, the one with the Cathedral on it; every time I think about visiting home. Every time I eat some food I had and remember a shop that’s been torn down, every time I look at old photos. Every damn time. Some days it makes me angry; fried rice should not be imbued with nostalgia. But it is.

I’ll go back, and I’ll see the damage; hopefully sometime this year. I’m pretty sure I still won’t get it, quite.

But I’ll remember Christchurch-that-was, the city I accidentally spent six years in, became an adult in, got married in; I’ll remember it all, the lovely masonry and the old spaces made new, the dull hot nor-westers, the cycle tracks along the railway lines and rivers, the icy July mornings when the gutters freeze, the tall crumbling cliffs down at Sumner, the long straight streets below the Port Hills, all the bits that are gone and that remain, and I’ll look forward to seeing it become something new, something good.

I love you, Christchurch.

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