Lessons from adversity – Reed Kroloff: WORD Christchurch

Reed Kroloff is an architectural writer and commentator living in Washington, DC. He has served as Director of the famed Cranbrook Academy of Art, Dean of Architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans (during and after Hurricane Katrina), and Editor in Chief of Architecture magazine.

Reed Kroloff: Lessons from adversity
Reed Kroloff: Lessons from adversity

His presentation Lessons from Adversity looked at New Orleans and Detroit, and was utterly relevant to Christchurch in terms of planning, architecture, and life. Here are some notes and tweets from this session – words literally cannot convey it, as Reed’s stunning slideshow of images, examples, and infographics were at the heart of this talk.

His messages were:

  1. Sympathy lasts for ten minutes.
  2. Governments don’t care, people care.
  3. Money is thicker than water.
  4. Planning is important.
  5. Stop planning already.
  6. Be prepared.
  7. Get a story.
  8. People are resilient.
Reed Kroloff: Lessons from adversity
Reed Kroloff: Lessons from adversity

Reed enjoyed our “jaunty” Re:START Mall, and reckons Christchurch people are a lot like New Orleans folk – practical and proud. We went away saying Yo.

Tough Stuff: WORD Christchurch

Tough stuff brought together a team who have dealt with raw and challenging subjects in different ways. Film maker Gaylene Preston produced the recently screened Christchurch earthquake TV drama Hope & Wire; Rebecca Macfie wrote on the Pike River mine explosion; and Lloyd Jones has written on tough themes. Their panel was ably chaired by Finlay Macdonald.

Tough stuff panel
Lloyd Jones, Rebecca Macfie, Gaylene Preston and Finlay Macdonald

Rebecca Macfie talked about writing Tragedy at Pike River Mine. It was tough because of the subject matter, but also for grieving families and community so much was at stake. Rebecca had to cope with earthquakes too:

Gaylene Preston spoke about her documentary War stories our mothers never told us. During filming, her mother revealed a wartime affair. At the premiere, her Mum held her hand and said “Don’t let the lights come up”. But the crowd was warm, and hugged Gaylene’s mother out of the theatre. After a panadol and a glass of champagne, her Mum was the star of the after party.

Gaylene Preston: Tough stuff
Gaylene Preston

Lloyd Jones told a couple of stories in which he used true stories and the moral dilemmas involved. “Please don’t write about my testicles” his son said after a hospital incident. Lloyd also used the story of a friend’s Auschwitz survivor mother’s robbery in an article in the Dominion Post. This was not the tough stuff of writing, conveying nothing and stillness is the hardest:

High coloured moments are easy.

Lloyd Jones: Tough Stuff
Lloyd Jones

Lloyd observed that one of the tough and key things about writing narrative is how you manage time.
Gaylene is “attracted to the gap in the story” and later she said “the best place to stand is the gap”.

The discussion moved to the Canterbury earthquakes. Lloyd said:

This was a city that forgot what it sat on. … Time suddenly had a smell.

Rebecca spoke of “a brilliant rediscovery of the power of reporting … everydayness suddenly became news”.

When Hope and Wire was first mooted, Rebecca had objected to Gaylene: “It is too soon and you didn’t live here”. Auckland’s “quake fatigue” was picked over, and the balance between being an outsider and an advocate.

The panel agreed it is important the Christchurch story is claimed nationally, or it is just a thing that belongs to Christchurch. People have an “incredibly primal need to tell their story when they have endured something”.

Crystal Mirror & Glass Co. Ltd, 1940s : Picturing Canterbury

Crystal Mirror and Glass Co. 283 Tuam Street, Christchurch. My late father Wilfred Malcolm (Mac) Stretch (b. 8.12.1910) finished his apprenticeship with the Crystal Mirror & Glass Company and left to join the P & T in 1948. I can still remember the overpowering smell of ammonia when I went to see Dad – but he was so used to it, he couldn’t smell it. The building was much later occupied by Continental Caterers. 1940-44. Kete Christchurch, PH13-RAG-C-Crystal_Mirror_Glass_6

The novel and the theremin: WORD Christchurch

Cover of The Life and loves of Lena GauntThe Sunday Fringe: WORD Christchurch  was a brilliant new aspect of the festival,  in partnership with radio station RDU98.5 and art space The Physics Room. The Novel and the Theremin was an intriguing and seductive kick 0ff. Tracy Farr’s book The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt tells the story of fictional theremin star Lena. We were lucky not only to have Tracy, but also  John Chrisstoffels – who can play that most intriguing of instruments. Lynn Freeman of Standing Room Only on Radio New Zealand was the chair.

The theremin favours those who like to solder and tinker, as you can build your own (apparently Jaycar have a kitset you can make!) Theremins can also use transistors or valves. Apparently valves are coming back into fashion for the warmth and livingness of their sound. Robert Moog came to invent the synthesiser through building theremins (and it was a Moog that John was playing for us).

John Chrisstoffels: The Novel and the Theremin
John Chrisstoffels: The Novel and the Theremin

The two talked about their various introductions to the theremin via B Grade movies, tv, and seeing Pere Ubu in concert. Apparently Hitchcock movies Spellbound, and Lost Weekend both have a bit of theremin action too. At its most classical, the theremin can sound like a violin or a female voice. This is what makes it uncanny.

Tracy read a piece from the book, where an elderly Lena goes swimming and does a theremin concert. While Lena is a fictional character, there was a real life virtuoso who played with Leon Theremin himself – her name was Clara Rockmore.

Tracy imagines Lena more Tilda Swinton-like then the lady on the front cover. In her mind, the older Lena looked like Barbara Brinsley of Dunedin (you can see her in this Ageing with attitude article).

John explained the technicalities of playing the theremin – glissando, using sightlines in relations to your fingers in the air, as well as pointing out some well-known tracks. Good vibrations was a bit of a cheat because it used a theremin with a keyboard. John thinks the theremin is a wonderful accompaniment instrument, as it’s “really expressive to play with someone else, and for playing along with records”.

Tracy noted Jon Spencer’s theremin humping antics:

This was one of my favourite sessions at WORD – two engaging speakers, a keen crowd, a  dollop of fantastic music  – and we all got to have a play on the theremin at the end. Bravo!

Tracy Farr: The Novel and the Theremin
Tracy Farr: The Novel and the Theremin

The Russian mafia state: Luke Harding – WORD Christchurch

Cover of Mafia stateThis year’s WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival featured some interesting characters, and one such character was the alleged raving Russophobe Luke Harding, a clever journalist who works as a Foreign Correspondent for that little rag The Guardian (which has won Press awards).

Luke has achieved a high degree of notoriety over the years, but one of his most recent books – Mafia State: How one reporter became an enemy of the brutal new Russia, provides an intriguing expose of life in Russia, which he claims through his own experiences as a reporter there, is pretty much a highly corrupt and illiberal country with all sorts of internal problems, and which brews away intimidatingly on the borders of all its neighbours in the region.

After taking a position in Russia as the Guardian’s new Moscow Bureau Chief, everything seemed to be going fine until one night, after arriving home from a dinner party, he discovers the window to his son’s bedroom is wide open! From then on, all sorts of untoward things start going down: phones that play back your conversions, ciggy butts in the loo (that aren’t yours), office doors unlocked, and being stalked by suspect looking men clad in leather. The book then goes on to tell of the Kremlin’s harassment and intimidation of various human rights groups, journalists and opposition groups. Worth a read, and gives you a picture of one of the primary actors (Russia) in the current Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Anyway, I was fortunate enough to have a quick yarn with Luke at WORD after he appeared at a forum with Nicky Hager, and we had a chat about Russia and its recent moves into Eastern Europe:

So, um, sorry to bother you, but I’ve got a couple of quick questions, I promise I’m not from the Kremlin” I said, which he probably believed due to the absence of a flat top hair cut, a huge muscular frame, a leather jacket and a gun jammed in the back of my pants.

Ha, it’s all good.

So, um, in light of your experiences in Russia, do you think that Russia would be far more aggressive and expansionist if it weren’t for other ‘strong powers’ (i.e the USA) in world politics who fundamentally act as deterrents?

“Without a doubt” he said, and went on to say that the Russian offensives and actions in the Ukraine and the Eastern European region “is the scariest thing I’ve seen in my lifetime … People talk about the Islamist extremist group ISIS in the Middle East, and understandably so, but these people are not ‘State Actors’, that is, despite being somewhat well resourced, and scary, they don’t posses the military might and regional coverage of Russia.Yet ISIS has been the focus of world media, and this issue is garnering more media attention than Russia’s ongoing aggression in Eastern Europe”.

So where is the EU (European Union) on all this”, I said, “in the last 20 years the EU has promoted this ‘European solidarity’, and the so called ‘shared European identity’, yet when it comes to taking action on these Russian incursions into the Ukraine, there is indecision and arguably pandering. EU soft power isn’t working”….?

“Well that’s right”, states Luke…”fundamentally they are scared due to their reliance on Russian oil and gas”… This is a typical geopolitical problem. Russia is one of the world’s largest suppliers of oil and natural gas, and Europe has stuff all, except the Nordic/Scandinavian region who have cloistered themselves within their own energy cooperative. In fact, according the European Commission 33% of the EU’s oil, and around 40% or their natural gas comes from the Kremlin (the energy sector is arguably controlled by the State in Russia).

This is just a little problematic if you want to seriously challenge Russian moves into Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular.  All this comes at the worst possible time for the EU, which was arguably founded on the basis of a post World War Two security community with a view to protect Europe from looming and ominous Soviet expansionism during the Cold War. The last thing the EU needs is price hikes in oil and gas, which causes problems for productivity and various sectors of the European economy… Five to six years after the Global Financial Crisis, Europe is still struggling economically with indicators showing that the world’s 4th largest economy, Germany, is contracting, which is a concern given that Germany is Western Europe’s current economic powerhouse, and the Mediterranean economies are still wallowing in the economic and social mire.

Russia knows this, that’s why it chose to enter the Ukraine now, with the EU stretched, and knowing that after ten years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US population probably don’t have positive feelings about entering another conflict.

Is the EU pandering to Russia? Maybe a wee bit…

Has much changed 100 years after World War One?Probably not, we still live in a geopolitical environment made up of countries who want more land and need more oil and gas to lubricate their systems of exchange.

Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech
Luke Harding, Richard King, Nicky Hager: Secrets, spies and free speech