Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christchurch Flattened

A Place for Shakin'
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
What they managed to escape in September is now a reality. While we were in Christchurch this summer we saw a great deal of damage and entire streets blocked off. Yet for the most part, the major landmarks were still open, under repair, or basically sound. We visited the Cathedral though we were unable to go inside. Many of the old buildings had minor damage, particular to the cornices. It was clear that there were quite a few buildings in the downtown area closed due to structural weaknesses that made them all unsound. The city still felt busy and vibrant and very much a tourist attraction with streams of visitors pouring through the parks, museums and churches.

And now it are all just flattened. Everything came down. The aerial photos look like someone detonated a large bomb in downtown Christchurch. The spire on the Cathedral is simply gone.

Earthquakes are something I grew up with. They don't frighten me nearly so much as hurricanes, tidal waves, or tornados. But on the other side, I also know how bad they can be, how they make everything feel broken. The ground is broken, buildings are broken, your sense of self is broken. After a big one, it feels like the whole world is unstable. New Zealand is such a small place, and Christchurch is one of its largest cities. It's the city where Jaime wants to go to college. It's a beautiful, vibrant community. And it is absolutely, unrepairably broken. Oh sure, they'll rebuild. But there are just a lot of folks not coming back from this one. Even when you rebuild a highway, house or building after an earthquake, it doesn't feel the same. What's broken beyond repair is the certainty that a building is a solid object on which you can count resting on ground. That sense of the very word 'ground' as something that is unchangeable and static never returns.

If you follow the news, I recommend the New Zealand Herald. Everyone else just wants to get "US tourist says... " "Australian police officer was there..." stories. The NZ Herald coverage is excellent: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/

If you want to help, both the Red Cross NZ and Salvation Army are taking donations.

If you know someone in Christchurch and are not already aware of the Google People finder: http://christchurch-2011.person-finder.appspot.com/

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Place

Happy Place
Happy Place
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The family (minus DrC plus Grandma Sue) spent a whirlwind day yesterday in the self-styled Happiest Place on Earth. Like McDonald's, Disneyland now advertises 500,000,000 served. I can not for the life of me see how this marketing assists in building their brand. It reminds me of those misplaced Microsoft ads with people who like their phones so much they run into walls being encouraged avoid this horror with the purchase of Microsoft's POS phone which you'll want to toss in your purse or under your car. I believe Aeron expressed this best, "Disneyland would be a lot more fun with half as many people and a lot less noise." I think maybe we could just remove all the fat people and that would do it. Each fat person is essentially two anyway, and currently the fat people so outnumber the folks with a BMI in double digits that you would essentially empty the park by establishing a width limit instead of a heigh limit.

Case in point. It's a Small World. Every time we go to Disneyland, my mother forces us to ride a panga through the single most insipid song on earth. It's five minutes of little creatures dancing around in ethnically insensitive costumes to a mind worm song that you can not extract from your brain pan for six months thereafter. This year we were treated to no line and a boat that leaned so seriously to the port that I spent the entire ride resisting the temptation to warn my children to grab their life jackets. Somewhere between China -- which now sports Mulan and Mushu, a travesty of Disney history which no doubt infuriates the purists -- and Australia where for some reason they do not include the 6' foot tall man-killing flightless emus, I reached beneath my seat looking for the bailer bucket. Fortunately, we survived the trip and arrived at our destination, a small dock with a concrete bridge and handrails where we extended our limbs outside our incredibly dangerous craft and into the welcoming arms of grown men dressed like Little Orphan Annie.

Of course, this is all an exercise in throwing stones into a very fragile glass house. After a year in New Zealand, I am roughly the weight of a small car. I have a carbo belly consisting of sour dough bread, lamb and apricot pies, and Steve's home brew dandelion wine that is similar in size and texture to a 3 year old's swim ring. My loving mother reminded me this morning that it was impossible to squeeze her lovely narrow ass, my beautiful 10 year old and my enormous belly into the same ore cart on a train that whisked around Thunder Mountain. To which I reply, that was the easy part. It was popping it back out again that was the challenge. My ass was suction cupped to the seat and our hips wedged so tightly we could insert neither hand, nor arm, nor foot. Would that Grandma's glasses had been similarly wedged as our one tragedy in another wise typical Disney day was to see (and I use that term euphemistically) her glasses fly off on the last turn as we entered Thunder Mountain station.

But let us return to the question of whether or not Disneyland is truly the "Happiest Place on Earth." It is possible that the magic and sparkle of Disney are still there and age, experience, and wisdom have aged me out of the ability to savor it's artifice and hermetically sealed safety. It is possible that Western consumer culture finds the endless parade of overly priced goods and rides with warning signs on every vertical surface the height of enjoyment and joy. Yet, I experienced more pure happiness walking with my mother through the Oreka Valley in the Southern Alps. I would swear that the girls laughed more on the climbing ropes at Tree Adventures or as we towed them behind the boat through the empty Bay of Concepcion.

Disney still makes me smile. The fireworks are amazing, the shows delightful, the rides make me scream and laugh, the girls still light up like little Christmas trees as we walk through the park. But it's not my Happy Place. Mera asks me this morning if Disney doesn't satisfy, where is my Happy Place? Home. Home! I'm going home to Don Quixote. Just the thought warms the cockles of my pirate heart. Yo Ho ho and a bottle of rum! Just need to swing into Disneytown first and get my Johnny Depp pirate hat.