Saturday, March 19, 2011

Earthquake Memorial

I think John Campbell had the second best quote of the day - after Prince William's "grief is the price we pay for love" (courtesy of his grandmother) - when he said something about how quiet a hundred thousand people could be.

It was a good day, with moments of touching brilliance. The USAR workers - quite rightly - stole the day. The impromptu standing ovation they got was chilling. In a good way. Many of them had come straight from the rubble in the Red Zone. Many of them went straight back there to continue their harrowing work.

They are the unwitting heroes of this tragedy that has befallen us.

All politics were put aside - except for Melissa Lee's epic fail with her stupid tweets about Phil Goff's tie, and she wasn't even there. She could wear red and black but he couldn't? (I must admit he was in the invidious position of being the only man wearing such a bright tie - and Labour red to boot).

John Campbell again. It's happening. Whether too soon or not, it's happening and it is a shame that the pettiness that plagued the preceding days, on that topic, spilled over into the actual event, and even after the fact some people are still going on about it. A hundred thousand people think it wasn't too soon. And as one girl interviewed said: Why not now? If not now, when?

When is it ever a good time to remember a hundred and eighty people (at least) who have died?

It wasn't as sad as I thought it might be. Not that I wanted sad, per se. But I would have liked to have seen a little more emotion, which, for me was probably the responsibility of the speakers.

The speeches were ordinary. I know I go on about this, but it seems the days of rousing oratory are gone. And I think it's as simple as the fact that nobody wants to say anything wrong because careers can end with one simple slip of the tongue. So every speech is carefully prepared so as to be so benign nobody could possibly get into trouble. And is, therefore, boring.

To speak from the heart is to risk saying something someone will be offended by. And with every demographic so intensely offendable, better to not even try.

So, the speeches fell horribly, uninspiringly flat.

The emotional content was left to the musicians. Heyley Westernra's Amazing Grace was...well, amazing. The lone piper was eerily subtle. Was it Malvina Major? I like opera - when it's in an opera. I'm not such a fan of opera music sung on a stage. And How Great Thou Art is not a song to be sung opera-style. She was, as always, hard to listen to. Dobbyn was great. His understated solo was hauntingly apt.

Perhaps the moment that dug deepest into the heart of every Cantabrian, however, was the opening note of Conquest of Paradise. An instantly recognisable intro, it's an attention grabber that pulls so many (I'm sure there are those who hate it) into it's evocative refrains, and was another opportunity via the video screen to applaud the tireless rescue workers and volunteers. It's not just the Crusaders song; it is the unofficial anthem of Canterbury.

Mayor Bob parker did well. I continue to have mixed feelings about him. He didn't seem to be speaking from notes. Some kudos due there? While passionate, however, I just didn't feel inspired by him.

Peter Beck and the other religious leaders, I think, felt keenly the irrelevance of their faith/s, even at such a potentially religious event. You cannot lay claim to a single God in the presence of so many different, and contradictory, beliefs about god.

It's worth considering that many of the people in Hagley Park yesterday were there, primarily, to catch a glimpse of Prince William. His fleeting visit and stilted Maori pronunciation failed to dampen many of the well-wisher's spirits.

At least, that's how it felt as I was being crushed by a wall of screaming devotees who's most exciting life-moment to date may be that they got to shake his hand. These two little girls, and so many others, and even quite a few "mature" ladies seemed overwhelmed just by his presence. To have shaken his hand was just too much.

He is quite pretty tho. And there's just enough sense about him that he's not part of one of the longest histories of land-grabbing, peasant-abusing, commoner-crushing monarchies Western civilisation has seen. I don't want to get into the politics of it here - too late - but suffice it to say I'm not a royalist. If shaking his hand can make a couple of teenage girls feel good about themselves for even just a moment, then what the hell. I'm not sure the trade-offs are worth it tho, cost to value ratio. Standing front-row on the walk-by was interesting. I had my hands full of camera so did not shake his hand. Just nodded a polite hello, and kept clicking.

I was going to ask him about MI6's possible involvement in his mother's demise, but thought better of it.

(Just kidding)

It was a lovely day. I think it was respectful to the families of the deceased; the dignitaries were not overwhelming (except Willy, but that was to be expected); the music by and large was appropriate and not too morose; the crowd was subdued and respectful. The only incident I heard about first-hand was an over-zealous, security-conscious priest - yes, a priest - swore at a fellow photog and threatened to have him excommunicated, or castrated, or something like that (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating). But you get the drift.

There was a heavy security presence, so I think that made the crowd more relaxed.

And there were several touching moments and reminders - floating in the sky above us - of why we were there.

But, in saying that, I'm not sure there was a universal sense of why we were there. Jackie wanted the names of the deceased read out, and while not all of them are yet identified and it would be horrible to miss someone, I think reading the names out would have given a sense of why we were there.

Of course, everyone had their own reasons for being there. I've said somewhere else that every single Cantabrian has been touched by these earthquakes, and everyone is at most a couple of degrees of separation from someone who died. Named or not, at the moment these people are still close to our hearts and in our minds (Jo C ... I doubt you'll read this but all BNZers, former and current, are thinking of you xx) and perhaps they were closest yesterday at 12:51 when we all stood in silence for two minutes, remembering the past, and maybe looking a little to the future.

(Just a note - the photo below was not taken during the two minutes silence. I really struggled with the idea of even going, and then with the notion of taking my cameras. I decided to and was glad that I did. I wondered if too many cameras would be disrespectful, but that was short lived. There were cameras for Africa, in addition to the huge media presence.)


Art Mama said...

Thanks for your post, Peter. Obviously I couldn't be there, but glad to hear an account from someone I know and trust - an ordinary Cantabrian, not a "media review." Keep 'em coming please. xx

Megan Phillips said...

awesome pictures :)