Best Albums of 2012

It’s New Year’s Eve, so it’s time once again for the Craven Hermit to wax philosophical about his ten favourite new albums from 2012.

Yeasayer – Fragrant Blood

yeasayerThis Brooklynite combo returned in 2012 with a new album of genre-twisting music. It’s not quite electronic, not quite dance, not quite rock, and nearly impossible to digest in one sitting. From the stuttering rhythms and processed vocals of “Longevity” to the crystalline paranoia of “Reagan’s Skeleton”, there’s a melodic surprise around every corner. “Devil and the Deed” even sounds like Kraftwerk reinterpreted by LCD Soundsystem. My favourite track, “Henrietta”, begins as a glitchy modern R&B number before inexplicably taking a hard left turn into wistful synth pop. Fragrant Blood’s multi-textured musical collages may not grab the listener immediately, but the tunes reveal themselves with time.

Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal

ofmonstersandmenIt is truly hard to believe that My Head Is An Animal is a debut album. This recently formed Icelandic quintet bring quality songwriting and great performances to every track. The album was released in their native country last year, but it was a worldwide distribution deal with Universal that brought these troubadours to the world in 2012. Storming folk-pop numbers like “Little Talks” and “Mountain Sound” are deftly balanced by slower-burning songs like “Dirty Paws”, “King and Lionheart”, and “Your Bones”. Melodic motion seems to come to this group as naturally as breathing, and their not-so-secret weapon is the way the lead male and female vocals are perfect foils for each other. Of Monsters and Men often draw comparisons to Arcade Fire for the anthemic, life-affirming build-up and cathartic release of their songs, but the overall spirit here is more whimsical and indie-folk than Montreal’s favourite sons and daughters.

Alt-J – An Awesome Wave

alt-jThis new UK combo had an excellent year, capped off by winning the Mercury Music Prize and appearing all over the planet on Best Of 2012 lists. Their music welds the schizophrenic laptop sounds of Thom Yorke’s solo projects to a wide range of twisted pop and folk songs. “Breezeblocks” is so nerdy that you can practically hear the quadratic equations, while songs like “Matilda” and “Taro / Handmade” are undeniably pretty. By mining virtually every corner of guitar rock history for melodic inspiration, An Awesome Wave coalesces into something completely original. That said, this album isn’t for everyone. Some folks will (justifiably) be put off by Joe Newman’s occasional vocal affectations, and some songs feel a little too collegiate for their own good. But this is likely one of the bravest releases of 2012, and the band is overflowing with genre-bursting ideas.

Tame Impala – Lonerism

tameimpalaThe latest album from Australia’s Kevin Parker and friends wears its UK psychedelic and prog-rock influences on its sleeve like badges of honour. At times Lonerism sounds like the Flaming Lips revisiting Sgt. Pepper’s or Revolver. On “Music To Walk Home By”, the synths would make And Then There Were Three era Tony Banks blush. Standout track “Elephant” superimposes glam-rock stomp onto Pompeii-era Pink Floyd, then cleverly lacquers the works with modern studio accoutrements. Yet instead of sounding derivative, Lonerism achieves the rare feat of sounding like an homage to past greats. It’s perhaps the most soothing and uplifting album about heartache, isolation and misanthropy to be released this year.

Fun. – Some Nights

funIf this album hadn’t broken out into the mainstream, critics everywhere would be heralding the fearless harmonies and huge choruses of Some Nights. But with the title track and “We Are Young” making appearances in myriad pop culture media outlets (Top 40 radio, television, movies, advertising) the secret is out. The band shouldn’t have to apologize for marrying Queen’s bombastic melodies to Jeff Lynne’s precise songcraft. While predecessors like Jellyfish never quite hit critical mass in the 1990s with largely the same formula, maybe the world was finally ready for this trio’s brand of exuberance in 2012. Time will tell whether Some Nights has a limited shelf life, but it’s heaps of fun for now.

The Temper Trap – The Temper Trap

tempertrapThe second, eponymous album from Australia’s the Temper Trap can’t quite decide whether it wants to be a synth-pop record or double-down on guitar-driven Coldplay anthems. But with songs this strong, a little bit of stylistic variety actually works in the band’s favour. The pitch-perfect vocals of Dougy Mandagi gives the album continuity, allowing boisterous pop tunes like “Need Your Love” to sit comfortably along side slow-burning ballads like album-closer “Leaving Heartbreak Hotel”. “London’s Burning” aspires to be a Bloc Party style dance-punk anthem but withers in desperate need of a hookier chorus. It’s a rare misstep on an impressive sophomore effort that is otherwise solid from beginning to end.

Jack White – Blunderbuss

jackwhiteIn 2012, Jack White finally decided to release an album under his own moniker. Calling this a “solo” album seems a little disingenuous, considering that almost twenty musicians contributed to the recordings. However, White took on all the songwriting and producing duties for this project so he evidently felt it was time to slap his name on the marquee. Blunderbuss is a mesmerizing rummage sale of White’s musical touchstones. From the Stax soul grooves of “Missing Pieces” to the raw electricity of “Sixteen Saltines”, the classic rock duet “Love Interruption”, and the epic piano-driven “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, White follows his muse wherever it leads.

Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

divinefitsWe weren’t quite sure what to expect when Spoon guitarist and vocalist Britt Daniel, New Bomb Turks drummer Sam Brown, and erstwhile Handsome Furs bandleader Dan Boeckner announced that they were working on a new venture. The final result happily turned out to be greater than the sum of its parts. A Thing Called Divine Fits is sleek, modern, athletic synth-rock with an undeniable groove. Songs like “My Love is Real” and “The Salton Sea” are stripped-down masterworks of melody and rhythm. “Would That Not Be Nice” plays with new wave textures and slap-back vocals, while the visceral “Flaggin a Ride” wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Spoon’s excellent records. If this is the sound of three musicians learning to bounce ideas off each other, there’s no telling how great their next record could be.

Japandroids – Celebration Rock

japandroidsThis Canadian duo was short-listed for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, and with good reason. They are the torchbearers for restless rock & roll, driven by volume and intensity and, yes, celebratory tunes. Celebration Rock is basically a ’68 Camaro in musical form – it may not be particularly agile in the corners, and there aren’t any creature comforts, but holy hell is the straight-line acceleration ever fun. The black & white cover art neatly mirrors the duo’s all-or-nothing, foot-to-the-floor approach to anthemic songwriting and raucous rhythms. Occasionally shambolic and perpetually in motion, this is the glorious noise of youth.

2012 was an odd year in rock music. I can think of many good records that were marred by flaws that kept them out of my top ten. Truth be told, even a few of the records in my top ten have some significant shortcomings. But for me, one completely flawless album stood out as the best thing I heard in 2012:

Shearwater – Animal Joy

shearwaterAustin-based Shearwater released its first record for new label Sub Pop in February. Animal Joy builds organically on the slow-burning beauty of critically acclaimed previous releases like Palo Santo and Rook. If anything, the new record takes languid, emotional rock to even higher summits. Jonathan Meiburg’s operatic voice and Thor Harris’ stomping drums drive the melodic opening track “Animal Life”. The upbeat “Breaking the Yearlings” and “Immaculate” are based around sleek and sinewy rhythms, while “Dread Sovereign” slows things down to an earthy groove. The brooding intensity of “Insolence” recalls the widescreen grandeur of Peter Gabriel’s third and fourth solo albums. Shearwater saves the best for last, closing the album with five-minute epic “Star of the Age”. To me, the lyric is about the metaphorical hope wrapped up in looking to the stars for inspiration, even while the world around you crumbles. It’s a sentiment some of us can surely relate to as we bid farewell to 2012.

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Day 12 – On The Road Again

On the road again
Going places that I’ve never been
Seeing things that I may never see again
I can’t wait to get on the road again

Day 3 of the Rimu tour was our longest travel day. One last breakfast at Braemar and then we were on the road again. As we made our way south, the high-country scrublands slowly gave way to undulating grassy hills. We stopped for a leg-stretch in Omarama, where I bought some very nice paua shell Christmas ornaments for friends back home. From there we bounded over scenic Lindis Pass to Lake Dunstan.

A special surprise was in store for us at Cromwell, in the heart of the south island’s fruit growing region. We stopped at a shop that specialized in all manner of fruits, vegetables, and preserves that would have been the envy of anyone at the Strathcona Farmers Market back home. Even better, our guides treated us to delicious ice cream cones, hand-blended with our choice of fruit. Blackberry ice cream never tasted so good.

The bus rolled into Queenstown around 1:00 pm, and we were granted about 2.5 hours to go for an unguided walkabout. The group was scheduled to be back in Queenstown for the weekend, so most people made arrangements for upcoming activities. I hiked up to the gondola area and did some research on downhill mountain biking and the luge track. Both activities looked like a complete riot. Later, I headed back downtown and checked out a few bike hire shops and some sporting goods stores to see what was available. I also made sure to drop into the immortal Fergburger for a monstrous cheeseburger and a beer. The perpetual lineup at Fergburger usually goes right out the door, and I could certainly taste why.

We bid Queenstown a temporary goodbye, and got back on the road again. We crossed from the Otago district into Southland, and then turned west toward Fiordland. While there were still sheep and cattle grazing in roadside pastures, I noticed more and more deer farms. The domesticated deer in New Zealand are a good size, about halfway between our white-tailed deer and our elk back home. Our guide mentioned that the Southland area was where deer farming first took root in New Zealand, and the meat products continue to be an important revenue stream today.

Southland Deer Farm

Southland Deer Farm

After a very long day of traveling, we finally arrived at Lake Manapouri. Our guides needed an hour or two to pull together dinner, so I went for a nice brisk 6 km hike up and down the lakeshore. Lake Manapouri may be off the beaten path, but it sure is a relaxing place to blow off some steam.

Lake Manapouri

Lake Manapouri

Our tour company made a point of featuring local ingredients at dinnertime throughout our trip. So on this night, we feasted on succulent medium-rare venison tenderloin with a berry reduction and garlic mashed potatoes. Maybe it was the exhilaration of finally being off the bus, or the endorphin rush from my speed hike, or the hilarious table talk with Bil and Cam over dinner. Whatever the reason, the grilled Bambi at Lake Manapouri was the best Kiwi meal I’d ever had.

Song of the Day: “On The Road Again” by Willie Nelson

Day 11 – Higher Ground

Time zones and the International Date Line wreak havoc on international communications. In November when it’s noon in New Zealand, it’s 4:00 pm (the previous day) back home. After losing an entire Saturday somewhere over the Pacific on the way to Auckland, it took awhile to wrap my head around which day of the week it was. Time conversions weren’t much easier. “Do I add four hours or subtract four hours for Mountain Standard Time?”

A funny thing happened while the sixteen of us were sleeping dormitory-style at the shearer’s quarters. I had my phone plugged in to charge it overnight, but I forgot to switch off the ringer. A friend of mine from back home sent me a really sweet text to wish me a belated happy birthday. At 3:50 am! Fortunately I was half awake at the time, staring out the window at billions of stars. I scampered across the room to mute the phone before it ‘dinged’ again. I muttered a couple of apologies at breakfast, but I quietly thought the whole situation was kind of hilarious. A couple of days later, I responded to her text while watching the sun set over Lake Manapouri. That text probably made it home around 2:00 am, proving that the time zone converter in my head isn’t exactly bulletproof, either.

On a bright and sunny morning, we loaded into ‘Frank’ the bus for a scenic one-hour journey around Lake Pukaki to Mount Cook National Park. I had a nice chat with Cathy about hiking, and we compared notes about Yosemite National Park (her backyard) and the Canadian Rockies (my playground). At the foot of several glaciated peaks, our guides gave us a choice of two different day hikes. We could either take on the “relatively tough slog” up to the Sealy Tarns, or opt for the “relatively easy” hike up the Hooker Valley to a glacier. The promise of breathtaking views from Sealy Tarns sounded like my kind of gig, so I opted for the tough slog.

It took about 30 minutes to figure out that this was like no other hike I’ve ever done. Whoever laid out the trail to Sealy Tarns was either:

(a) trying to get up to the viewpoint as quickly as possible, or (more likely):
(b) a sadistic madman.

The first 1.5 km of the trail is a nicely graded climb through the forest. But then the stairs start. Oh god, the stairs! The average grade for the next hour of the hike must have been close to 30 degrees. Staircase after staircase after staircase, interspersed by short but merciful sections of something resembling a real hiking trail. If sixty minutes on a Stairmaster with the resistance cranked up to the “Quadriceps Killer” setting sounds like fun to you, then put the Sealy Tarns hike on your bucket list!

28 of the 1800+ stairs en route to Sealy Tarns

Two dozen of the 1800+ stairs en route to Sealy Tarns

The saving grace of the ‘trail’ is that your views of 3754-metre Aoraki (Mount Cook) and the adjacent peaks improve with every step. I fell into a rhythm of slogging up the stairs for about five minutes, then stopping for a 30 second rest break to check out the view. At every stop, the glaciers and moraines and lakes at the foot of Aoraki became more and more spectacular. I did my best to keep up with Cathy, but this lady speed-walks up the hilly streets of SFO for fun. Realizing that having my heart and lungs explode on Day 2 of the tour would be a terrible idea, I was content to reach the tarns a few minutes later than my new jackrabbit friend. Colin, Sally, Betsy, Bil, Cam, and our guide Natalie soon scrambled up behind us.

There is a picnic table at a gorgeous lookout point near Mount Sealy’s tiny glacial lakes. Most of us crashed at the table for a few minutes for a light lunch and a bottle of water. The picnic table has unobstructed views of the mountains, the glaciers, and the Hooker Valley outwash plain 500 metres below. It was tempting to stay at the table all day, but another challenge awaited us.

Natalie gave us the option of continuing up the mountain towards the Mueller alpine hut. Since it was early summer, she expected that snowfields would eventually block our route. But a few of us hardy (some would say ‘crazy’) souls gave it a go. Colin, Sally, Nat and I negotiated our way up a very rocky trail, marked every 200 metres or so by guideposts. About an hour of scrambling took us above the alpine scrub slope and most of the way across a boulder field. But just like the Tongariro hike, as soon as we encountered waist-deep snow on the trail we elected to turn back. The view of Aoraki and Mount Sefton from the snowline was certainly worth the extra effort, though. Higher ground, indeed.

Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki (centre-left) from the Mueller Hut hike

Mount Sefton (left) and Aoraki (centre-left) from the Mueller Hut hike

The return hike to the trailhead was almost as challenging as the ascent. In just four kilometres of trail, we shed around 850 metres of elevation. We made it back to Sealy Tarns without any major incidents, but then it was time for the god-forsaken stairs. Descending 1800 stairs in an hour isn’t much of a cardiovascular exercise, but it induces serious levels of speed wobble in your legs. I was so glad to get off the Stairway to Heaven that I elected to hike the wonderfully flat 3 km path into Mount Cook village instead of catching a ride on our bus.

Our group gradually reassembled in the village. We checked out the visitor information centre, which employed some excellent displays to tell the stories of the area’s alpine explorers. We also enjoyed a hard-earned pint (or three) at the local watering hole, comparing notes on what we had experienced on trail.

Dinner that night back at Braemar Station was a lovely baked salmon and kumara dish that paired very nicely with a Marlborough sauvignon blanc that I picked up at Lake Tekapo. We finished off the evening with more stories around the campfire, more stargazing under the cloudless sky, and the sort of slumbers that only come from being completely exhausted. And this time, I double-checked that my phone was switched off 🙂

Song of the Day: “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder

Day 10 – We End Up Together

Anticipation inspired me to jump out of bed at 6:00 am on a Monday morning for the first time in… forever! This was the day that the two-week ‘Rimu’ tour of New Zealand’s south island would begin. A new island, a new group of travellers, and a new set of experiences awaited me.

I wanted to give the resilient shop owners near the Christchurch CBD some business, so I popped into a local café for a very nice French toast breakfast. 3000 calories later, there were a couple of hours to spare for another walkabout near the reconstruction zone. Cathedral Square still seemed to be cordoned off, but I found some viewpoints of the Avon River that reminded me of punting in Cambridge, UK. While there was a bit of construction activity in the red zone, there were many abandoned buildings that looked frozen in time. Tellingly, the marquee on the boarded-up Isaac Theatre Royal still advertised a production of Spamalot. It was disappointing to see so few people and machinery in motion on a workday – a sobering first-hand lesson in what can happen to a city when stricken by a major disaster.

I checked out of my hotel and hiked up Papanui Road with my 70 pounds of luggage to the Rimu tour pickup point. By the time I arrived, there was a large congregation of people and suitcases. I was pleasantly surprised to find the same four travellers that I met on the Kauri tour, but there must have been fifteen or twenty new faces as well. My north island pal Betsy told me that there were two groups of people at the meeting point – Rimu Southbound and Rimu Northbound. In a stroke of good fortune, our north island guide pulled up in a big green bus and started getting us organized. Lina and her new assistant guide Natalie called for ten of us to load our gear into the Rimu Southbound bus. Having a familiar guide made the process a lot less stressful – I immediately knew we were in good hands for the next two weeks. It was like slipping on a nicely broken-in pair of hiking boots.

Our new bus, named ‘Frank’, was larger than the north island van. But by the time ten travellers and two guides got on board with all our gear, it already seemed kind of full. Soon after departure, Lina announced that we were about to pick up six more people at the airport. A quick scan of the bus and some basic mathematics informed me that all but two of the seats would be filled with people. Evidently we would either need to cram our daypacks into the trailer, or a few of the new people were going to get ultra-scenic seating on the roof of the bus!

We collected our last six flight-weary tourists at Christchurch airport, and embarked on our great adventure. Most of the first day was spent travelling west across the Canterbury plains towards the Southern Alps. It turned out that the first hour west of town would be the only halfway straight and flat highway we would see for the next fortnight. Our windows were illuminated by a verdant blur of vegetable fields, cattle and sheep ranches, and deer farms.

The long bus ride gave us ample opportunity to get to know each other. There were people from many walks of life, but the common denominator still seemed to be outdoors enthusiasts from North America. Almost everyone seemed fun and personable, but I was particularly happy to have the company of some people my own age. The first person that caught my attention was an enthusiastic west coast lady named Cathy. Bil and Cameron, a couple from the US southeast, likewise seemed up for adventure (despite being a little groggy from their red-eye flight). Colin and Sally, having travelled all the way from England, were a welcome exception to the North American brigade. I had a sense that this trip was going to be all kinds of fun if I could break out of my introverted shell for a while.

We stopped for a picnic lunch and a short walk at Peel Forest. The first things I noticed on the woodland trail were the ferns – they were different than their north island cousins. We also walked among some truly massive kahikatea and tōtara trees that reminded me (for their size, if not their foliage) of Stanley Park in Vancouver. One of the trees had a circumference of 9 metres and was likely a thousand years old. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

After lunch, we continued west through high-country plains and foothills to Lake Tekapo. On a nearly cloudless afternoon, we gratefully stepped off the bus for a one-hour walk along the lakeshore to town. The azure blue lake was magnificently framed by pink and lavender lupins in the foreground and the snow-capped Southern Alps in the distance. It was our first hint that the Rimu tour was going to take us to some truly spectacular places.

Lake Tekapo Shoreline

Our guides advised us that we were ‘going bush’ for the next two nights, so we should take the opportunity to stock up on supplies (aka: alcohol) while in town. Unlike the north island tour, I wasn’t the only person to walk out of the shop with an armful of libations. Milton and Shellie, a couple from Colorado, went so far as to ask Natalie about the dinner menu for the next two nights in order to buy the appropriate wines. I liked these people immediately!

The drive from Lake Tekapo to the shearer’s quarters at Braemar Station certainly felt like we were fleeing civilization. The hard-top highway gave way to gravel for the last hour of the journey. We crossed several dusty fence lines and ungulate gates, dodging the occasional logging truck or wayward cow. We finally rolled into our destination around dinnertime.

Braemar Station is a 40,000 acre sheep and cattle ranch on the eastern shore of Lake Pukaki. It is about as far out of the way as one can get in New Zealand, which suited this farm boy just fine. The sprawling ranch house, formerly the exclusive domain of traveling sheep shearers, has been modernized with a few creature comforts. The station owners now make the quarters available for hire by select groups between shearing seasons.

With the sun still blazing in the western sky, the scenery immediately stopped us in our tracks. Lake Pukaki was just as blue as Tekapo, but it felt like we had 180 degrees of snowy alpine peaks all to ourselves. It was the only place on earth that I’ve ever known to rival the majestic beauty of the Canadian Rockies. I think everyone completely forgot about our semi-private shared accommodations after seeing the breathtaking vista outside. I wouldn’t have traded my simple bunk by the window for any hotel room in the country.

Lake Pukaki from Braemar Station

Dinner was a lovely Kiwi-style steak barbeque, compete with Pavlova cake for dessert. As the sun set, with the beers and wines flowing freely, I built a campfire outside for us to enjoy. Most people were understandably worn out from all the travel and retired early, but a few eager souls put on jackets and joined me by the fire. Colin and Sally seemed particularly thrilled to get outside and socialize. I also liked these people immediately!

Before long, the fire burned down and the sky lit up with stars. With no city streetlights for hundreds of kilometres, it gets truly dark at Braemar. Colin and Danny and I had a blast watching planets and satellites and shooting stars traverse the Milky Way. I looked up the transit time for the International Space Station in my SkyView app, and we excitedly watched its bright white reflection race across the sky from west to east. It was the perfect ending to the first day of our tour.

Song of the Day: “We End Up Together” by the New Pornographers

Day 9 – Seven Worlds Collide

Paleogeographers believe that the seven continents of the world, as we now know them, were once configured differently in one massive super-continent.  Hundreds of millions of years ago, Pangaea split into two super-continents – Laurasia (in the northern hemisphere) and Gondwana (in the southern hemisphere).  The theory of continental drift posits that the Earth’s land masses and sea floors are floating like crusty plates on a mantle of molten rock.  The floating plates are constantly colliding with each other.  Sometimes the edges of two adjacent plates will bind together, build up immense frictional force, and then violently release in the form of an earthquake.

The Gondwana super-continent once consisted of what we now call Antarctica, South America, Africa, Australasia, the Arabian Peninsula, and India.  From fossil records, it is believed that New Zealand probably started to split away from Gondwana in the Mesozoic era.  The Pacific plate continues to dive under the Australian plate right underneath New Zealand to this day.  Any town or city built near the subduction zone, or indeed near a fault line (weak spot) on either plate is in peril.  The capital city of Wellington is built directly on top of several active fault lines.  Since Kiwis apparently have a twisted sense of humour, they also put their capital in the windiest location they could find.  But that’s a story for another day.  Meanwhile, Auckland is built on top of dozens of volcanoes.  Go figure.

The city of Christchurch is the largest city on the south island.  It was established in the mid-1850s on the east coast of the south island, and its layout and architecture show a strong English garden-city influence.  Despite being built on what was thought to be solid foundations, the city was forever changed by two major earthquakes and multiple aftershocks.  A magnitude 7.1 quake in September 2010 caused widespread property damage.  Just as the city was starting to recover, a more violent quake in February 2011 caused several buildings to collapse, killing 185 people.  Imagine living in a city that has registered more than 40 magnitude 5.0 or greater earthquakes in a little over two years – this is the reality that residents wake up to every day in Christchurch.  The various levels of New Zealand government are doing what they can to put the city back together, but the scope of the damage is unprecedented and reconstruction will take years, if not decades.

I flew into Christchurch on Sunday morning, and while at the airport I decided to check out the Antarctic Centre.  The museum presents an excellent overview of life at the South Pole, the history of polar exploration, the way that research bases have evolved over time, and the importance of scientific research to understanding global warming.  There is also an exhibit that showcases about twenty adorable Little Blue Penguins.

By mid-afternoon I made my way downtown and checked into my hotel.  The concierge suggested I go for a walk through Hagley Park and the botanical gardens, and then check out the central business district on my way back.  The park was verdant and relaxing, with more colours of roses than I’ve ever seen.  But walking a loop around the CBD was a real eye-opener.

Several blocks of downtown remain closed off, particularly around Cathedral Square.  Chain-link fences separate citizens from reconstruction efforts.  I saw several high-rise buildings in the process of being demolished.  Spookier still were the ubiquitous gravel lots, where buildings surely used to stand.  The biggest problem going forward might be all the buildings that didn’t fall but have had to be abandoned.  The easy solution would be to repair the buildings and go on with life as usual.  But now that fault lines have been identified near Christchurch, people are understandably reluctant to look at high-rises the same way.  I have read that the city’s master planners would like to rebuild downtown Christchurch as a walkable, livable, medium-density city with buildings no taller than seven stories.  They surely have a long, tough road in front of them.

Christchurch CBD

After the earthquakes, many people left Christchurch for other cities.  The people that stayed inspired me with their perseverance.  Despite all the challenges, not least the glacial pace at which insurance companies have been clearing claims, Cantabrians have resolved to move on with life and rebuild their hometown.  A shopping mall has been resurrected near the CBD ‘red zone’ using steel shipping containers.  In fact, shipping containers have been re-purposed all over town.  I walked past one sea-can that had been painted in bright colours, its proprietors now proudly proclaiming to be a Thai restaurant.  I wished they were open on Sunday night – instead I settled for a takeaway pizza on Victoria Street that left a bit to be desired.  In a nation where you can’t throw a brick without hitting a dairy cow, I’m at a loss to explain why they won’t put more than five skinny strands of mozzarella on a pizza.

While the CBD is a centre of cautious optimism, everyday life is bleaker in some of the Christchurch suburbs.  Soil liquefaction after the February 2011 earthquake was so severe that several neighbourhoods may never be rebuilt.  It must be heartbreaking to have to walk away from your home and start over from square one elsewhere.  I can only hope that the government and the insurance companies do as much as they can to quickly do right by their citizens.

Song of the Day: “Distant Sun” by Crowded House