Embracing the snow

The ceremonial South Pole
The real South Pole

Like the snow we’ve had recently? What about really embracing the snowby spending winter in Antarctica? A friend of mine stayed at the South Pole last year. I’m not sure how much of Antarctica she saw, but she had a great time.

She was supposed to be there working in the medical clinic, but she didn’t seem to mind that her first job was washing all the bed linen from the summer visitors who just left, or that there was only enough water for a two showers a week.
She happily took on the regular duties of  checking the machinery that kept the place going and greasing the telescope in sub-zero temperatures using a paint brush.

She had a great time meeting scientists from all over the world and the experience was a pretty special and unique one. She sent back some fantastic photos. Did you know there are two South Poles? There’s the ceremonial one, nicely striped in red and white, and the true one, which marks the geographically correct place which has to be shifted each year.

Sadly it’s not an experience all of us can share. For one thing you have to fill out about 60 pages of psychological tests before they let you go and for another, there is only room for about 40 people. The closest we can come are  documentaries and films by those who have been there and books like South of Sixty : Life on an Antarctic Base, or even by looking at the photos in books like The Frozen World.

The recollections of Henry Sunderland’s adventures  in the seventies on our website are pretty interesting, and Steve Braunias has a more recent take in Smoking in Antarctica.

Who knows, reading about it might even make you feel that it is really quite warm outside.

Lighting the literary fire: Remembering Michael King

coverThe Press Christchurch Writers Festival just keeps on keeping on. Two festivals couldn’t proceed due to earthquakes, their Kidsfest events had to be cancelled on Tuesday due to snow, but the first of the literary events they are determined to bring to Christchurch went ahead successfully last night.

Lloyd Jones and Rachael King were in conversation about The Silence Beyond: Selected Writings of Michael King, the collection Rachael has assembled of her father’s essays, talks and eulogies.

It’s always good to get the chance to hear writers talk about their own work, but the novelty of  listening to two wonderful writers talk about someone else made for a fantastic evening. It’s a shame there weren’t more people there to enjoy it.

The man who emerged from their reminiscences and from the the excerpts they read from The Silence Beyond was not at all how I imagined him. Surely “one of New Zealand’s greatest modern thinkers” would be super serious, even a bit dour.

King may have been serious about his work, but he wasn’t one of those people who seeks to present himself in the best possible light – writing about a drunken student escapade involving a late-night visit to Charles Brasch  and several very amusing cases of mistaken identity proves that.  The readings and the reminiscences really made me want to read every word in The Silence Beyond, which is always a good sign. Too often I’ve been to literary events where the authors actually put me off reading their books.

My favourite question of the night was: what book did Rachael think Michael would be proudest of? The answer was Moriori.

Do you have a favourite Michael King book?

Chasing beauty

coverVisiting London in May I made a pilgrimage to the Victoria and Albert Museum and was lucky enough to experience one of the most amazing exhibitions I have ever seen. The  Cult of Beauty: the Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900, brought together works made by artists, architects and designers who were trying to create art that existed only to be beautiful.

The collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures I’d only ever expected to see in books or on their covers (The beguiling of Merlin – fondly remembered from the first edition of Possession and infinitely more fitting than Gwyneth Paltrow) was overwhelming enough, but the things were even better.  Somehow clothes, objects and jewellery exert a powerful fascination, perhaps because they are less likely to survive actually being used.

Too stingy and too over-packed to buy the book of the exhibition and schlep it back, I was very excited to see it arrive in the library, but smugness at my frugality fights with the desire to own it as a reminder of a long day just gazing at ‘art for art’s sake’.

Not just a great reflection of the exhibition, which it is, this book is a work of art and a thing of beauty in its own right.

Do you have a favourite exhibition that you’ve seen recently?