The MFC packed for Handel’s Messiah

Today is Monday December 14th. Kia ora katoa.

We are rushing – walking – striding- towards Christmas, whatever Christmas means to us all in this strange year. There’s no rush. Here in New Zealand, we are truly grateful to be able to “do stuff”. But hey, there’s not much rush to “do it”. I am thankful that this usually very commercial occasion seems to me a great deal more down-market and low-key this year. Many of us are thankful just to be alive, to have a kind and gracious government, re-elected, and not to have our loved ones die from Covid 19.

Last Monday we drove back from Napier, where my daughter had her 30th birthday on the Sunday. Our brief trip to Napier was very enjoyable.  One of my sons and his family came too, and stayed not far from us. The weather was fine and warm, but not too hot. My daughter played games with her three-year old nephew. On Sunday, a group of 15 of us had lunch at a pub in Ahuriri. We had a separate room upstairs, it was decorated, and they looked after us really well. The birthday cake, a chocolate cake, was beautiful. That evening, we took our daughter to the Paradise Play at the Clive Hall, an annual event. This was very moving and enjoyable. It was nice to go again, although I missed the Christmas Market they usually have at this time of year.

On Tuesday I had an eye-brow shaping, on Wednesday I went to hymn singing (Joy to the World, In the Bleak Midwinter – it was wet and overcast, though not cold), and then went into the CBD and bought a copy of Tableland by Ray Salisbury from Unity Books. More on that in another blog.

On Thursday morning we had singing, and we sang outside the Khandallah Town Hall – not Christmas carols but songs like Hine e Hine, Chanson D’Amour, Moon River, and Waterloo. We had a lovely receptive audience who listened and clapped, including Fiona and Penny from the Community Centre Office.

On Friday we had our final art group meeting for the year. The day started out fine and warm, but it became very windy, so the plan to sketch outside was abandoned, and instead we watched  a very interesting DVD about Picasso, mainly about the influences on his work, and how some paintings built up. I especially liked a painting about bull-fighting. For many paintings my reaction was that he should have stopped, and stopped fiddling with them. Many of his figures started out as one form, and became something else altogether. This DVD featured pictures of him painting, so we could see how he built up a painting.

On Saturday I made a vegan, gluten-free Christmas cake.

One highlight of the week was attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Michael Fowler Centre.  This was wonderful, and a crowded performance, with many wheelchairs and walkers there.  It was slightly spoiled for me by two things – a lot of coughing, and the woman behind us, who, during Part One, insisted on singing along to the Choruses, just slightly behind them.  I thought about crying babies on aeroplanes, and decided this was not that annoying, and I wouldn’t let it spoil things for me.

We had been given programmes, and the musical score for the Hallelujah Chorus, and we were invited not just to stand for this, but to sing along too. This was going to be my big moment, but for the lady behind us, it was hers. She sang very loudly, in a slightly out of tune alto. I had to leave it to her.

The soprano soloist’s singing of I Know that my Redeemer Liveth was truly wonderful. The whole performance was wonderful, quite intimate, and very enjoyable. The Tudor Consort made wonderful sounds. The wonderful Gemma New, the conductor, seemed to have boundless energy and draw the best out of everyone, be they singer or player in this great work.

On Sunday we went to see the Frances Hodgkins exhibition at Victoria University’s Adam Art Gallery.  There were lots of wonderful paintings, on three levels. There were wide staircases, but a handrail on only one side; and this on different sides of the two long staircases. There was a lift, but we weren’t encouraged to use it. The university, in its wisdom, has made this place really difficult to move around. This is just so frustrating. Anyone would be badly injured by falling down the stairs, and this is the university, for goodness’ sake! It was the last day for the exhibition, and despite the access issues, it was well worth seeing. I had not known it was on here, after we missed seeing it in Auckland last year.

After this we had a very enjoyable family afternoon tea and gave the children their Christmas presents.

This coming week are my last singing sessions for 2020, and then we drive to Napier to spend Christmas with my daughter. Meanwhile, I am trying to finish a library book, Betrayal in Berlin, by Steve Vogel, which is due back.

I did finish reading Marilynne Robinson’s Jack. What a frustrating love story! Jack, a ne’er-do-well, and Della, a beautiful and talented black woman fall in love. She is a schoolteacher, her father is a bishop, and her family strongly urge her to break off the relationship. It is against the law for them to marry. Della is at risk of losing her school-teaching job if she is associated with Jack. The book is written from Jack’s perspective, and seems very effective; it rings true, although I don’t know what a guy’s perspective would be. He has no prospects, no property, no regular job, not even a place to live. It’s suggested that he earlier got a girl (“white trash”) pregnant, and his family took over raising the child, who later got ill and died. Perhaps I have some of these details wrong. The book ends with Della pregnant, and Della and Jack together. They love each other, there is much grace in this relationship, and yet what prospects can they (and their child) have, but to be outcasts in that society in which they find themselves? There are no good answers here. Perhaps the US has come some way since those post-WW2 days.

Meanwhile, in the US, despite there being so many clever people, everything seems to be in tatters. The coronavirus has killed almost 300,000 people (today’s official figure is 299,000): they have the equivalent of a 9/11 some days in terms of deaths. Thus far, the Senate has failed to vote a relief package. People, desperately hungry, are stealing food to survive. There are long lines at food banks, although one wonders how people can afford gas to run their cars. Despite the desperate poverty of the Great Depression of the 1930’s (that Great Depression, not the GFC), people are not really geared up for this kind of crisis, in a country where footpaths are rare.

Trump is still fighting the results of the presidential election, although we heard on Friday with great relief that the US Supreme Court rejected a bid from the Texas Attorney-General to overturn the election. While this was, like previous legal cases, a desperately silly attempt to change the outcome, many Republican AGs and some senators signed on to it, signing their names, not just offering verbal support.  This has been truly scary, a terrifying effort to subvert democracy and disenfranchise certain voters.

The good news is that the FDA has approved the Pfizer vaccine for use, but Trump’s White House turned down an offer for an option on extra doses. The upshot of this is that quite apart from the distribution issues, there won’t be enough of the vaccine to go around. The rest of the world just wonders, and continues to wonder. This wouldn’t matter quite so much if we didn’t have loved ones there, apart from the fact that the US has a great effect on the rest of the world. One would have thought that Biden winning the election would be enough. But, sadly, it’s not. The Electoral College is due to vote on the US president on December 14, i.e. today, when it comes around in the US. There is some complicated factor that there could be further shenanigans, but one hopes that Biden is elected by the Electoral College, and safely inaugurated as President on January 20. After that, it doesn’t matter nearly so much what happens.  At some point, we can cast a further sign of relief. Oh, and there are the Georgia run-off elections on January 5th.

It has to be truly alarming that the government of one of the biggest countries in the world, that country having a large sense of entitlement, is in such disarray, with its democratic “norms” in tatters; and what about the Black Lives Matter protests and George Floyd’s death at the hands of police?  Did this count for anything?  Why did more people vote for Trump than in 2016? Why did Republicans politicians do so well? Why do so many care about the unborn, yet advocate death for their political opponents? After birth, human life seems to have little, if any, value there.

Since many are reflecting back on 2020, and all its challenges, that changed our lives everywhere, in ways we did not anticipate…my analogy is that it’s like being at war, with fear and restrictions. In our bubble her, thankfully, we have been kept safe.

While I realise it has been very hard for many folk, and continues to be really difficult in places like the UK and the US, it has been a circuit-breaker for me personally, and I still wonder at the turnaround for me that the Covid 19 restrictions have brought about.  I try to understand others’ frustration, and there have been some frustrations for me, but, by and large, I have been fine. I could be an invalid; could stay in bed without feeling guilty; the weather was kind; most of us were well; it was great to have some things not happen; despite dire stories in the news media, the local economy seems to be booming; after all, some businesses will go to the wall, if they weren’t meant to be; and it’s a big relief to have a huge reduction in overseas travel. The lessening of advertising for cruise trips, and stories about gut health, have been greatly welcome. We have enjoyed some wonderful music and books; we have also enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) wonderful concerts at greatly reduced ticket prices, with programmes being given to us for free. One can go to these live performances with no greater fear than normal, of catching something. I doubt that really ill people would go to concerts. While we wouldn’t want to go back to our strict lockdown, here, it was amazing in August how stores reacted by putting up QR codes, and taking remedial actions to keep everyone safe. The wearing of masks on public transport was mandated, and so everyone complied. When the mandate was lifted, the masks stayed off too. Most, if not all of us here have benefitted from slowing down.  Ngā mihi.

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