Day fourteen of lockdown, two weeks in and two weeks to go. Maybe. I’m afraid to pin too much hope on a possible easing of level 4 down to 3 in case it doesn’t happen. I made the mistake this morning of reading too many news items on the Radio New Zealand website and quickly became dispirited by the complexity of the situation. A change in the weather has added to my sense of melancholia. Gone are the mellow days of early autumn. Overnight the temperatures have dropped and all day, it has seemed, a battle has been waging between sun and cloud with the dreary gray blanket winning out. Looking over the rooftops to the view of the sea, in the lower portion of the v, the island in the far distance is a palimpsest only, a suggestion on a page, a ghost, that I know is there but refuses to reveal its mysterious self to my eye.
I haven’t explained my situation here, or my nomadic journey to reach this place. Earlier in February, for various reasons I had to leave my last residence. I didn’t have anywhere to go but that day I was visiting the home of a writer who had attended three of my writing courses. When I explained my predicament, she pulled aside a sliding door and ushered me down the curving staircase. ‘I haven’t shown you this before, have I,’ she said. It was a granny flat. It had a bedroom with windows looking north and east with a glimpse of Rangitoto. The living room had the other view of the sea framed by trees and the islands I write of. The kitchen is an ingenious cupboard designed by IKEA. ‘You need a stable base,’ my good friend said,. ‘You must stay,’.
And that is how I came to be living here and how I reached a decision after two and a half years of angst about where to put down roots. It was cemented on that very day when my friend opened the garden gate and showed me through the hedge to the other side, where, miraculously, a beautiful park opened out with views across the harbour to the city floating on the water and another view up the slopes of beautiful Takarunga. I had only happy memories of this place. In the autumn of 2012, I’d written my heart out on the Michael King Writers’ Residency in the Signalman’s Cottage further round the volcanic cone. I perceived instantly that well away from my life on the other side of the harbour I could breathe freely here. I could reframe my life in this other place and be near to my daughter and her family further up the coast.
Two days before lockdown I bought myself an induction hot plate and that has allowed me to be independent from my hosts. As a precaution we have sectioned off the upstairs from the downstairs. Sometimes though, they open the sliding door and place a plate of food on the top step. The first time they did this I called up the stairs, ‘I feel like Anne Frank down here, writing my diary.’ It was a spontaneous comment. Of course my situation is a million miles away from hers, trapped in hiding, with her Jewish family in a house behind her father‘s office, in Amsterdam. They were there for two years from July 1942 until August 1944, when, on a tip off from an anonymous source, the Gestapo discovered the family and arrested them. Anne and her sister Margot were sent first to Auschwitz and then to Bergen-Belsen where they died.
In was during her time in hiding that Anne wrote her famous diary. She wrote to express her pent up feelings, her fear and her boredom. She also said she wrote so she wouldn’t suffocate living in such a confined space - there were eight individuals in hiding together. Not once during those two years would she venture out and feel the warmth of the sun on her face, or the wind in her hair. In one of her last diary entries on July 15, 1944, a month before her arrest, she wrote this, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
She was just fifteen years old and she voiced these brilliant and perceptive and poignant thoughts,
“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more."