23rd July, 2016
This is an experiment, this idea of writing a journal as I travel to London to attend my daughter’s graduation and then continue on with my holiday from London to The Netherlands, to Yverdon-les-Bains in Switzerland where my husband’s twin brother and his family live, and finally there will be two nights and one day in beautiful Rome before flying home.
I haven’t written a journal in awhile and I have missed the regular practice and the space it offers to tune in and find out what is really going on in my head. All year I have been busy teaching, mentoring, presenting, interviewing and researching my new book ‘The Writing Life’ based on the oral histories of twelve elder New Zealand authors, all of which I find stimulating and engrossing, but there hasn’t been a minute to do the writing that I love — writing in the moment about what engages and delights me and also because I don’t think it’s possible when you attend to your inner world, to avoid writing about the things that perplex and haunt as well.
Day of Departure
23rd July, 2016
When I was showering this morning with the warm water pouring down my back I was suddenly taken with the notion of doing one last round of exercises in the pool before I go. The water temperature at the moment is between 13 and 14 degrees, like ice, and I had been forced to avoid my daily exercises not wanting to catch a chill before the trip. Now the departure is close I’m going to risk a quick session, so I can say goodbye to the water and goodbye to the garden.
So I swirled a towel around me, left my shower cap on, to avoid losing heat through my head, and rushed down the stairs, passing my husband on the way. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked. ‘Going into the pool,’ I said as I reached for my blue fins and yellow bells and began strapping the fins to my calves. His eyebrows lifted, that's all. Reaching the pool I stopped. The cherry tree has suddenly lost all its leaves opening up gaps and holes in the green curtain that gathers protectively around the pool. I looked up the hill to the neighbour’s house. He is a writer, too, for the New Zealand Geographic and has published deep and thoughtful books on nature and the environment. Was he in his kitchen? Could he see me through the holes? I climbed quickly down the wide steps into the pool and dropped my towel at the very last minute.
24th July, 2016
As we were walking towards the departure gate I spotted a screen saying ‘NZ2 London,’ and my heart leapt. The day has arrived. After months of waiting and a mad flurry at the very end packing up and securing the house, giving the two cats a firm loving stroke, on the way out, ‘I’ll be back before you know it.’ They were eating their biscuits and didn’t even look up. ‘Stay safe, please.’ And after several anxious pangs in the car on the way to the airport, wondering what have I left behind, what have I not done, we are finally on our way to London, the city where both our children were born, in two separate sojourns, nearly seven years apart, when my husband was a surgeon in training.
LA to London
24th July, 2016
We’re on the final leg of the journey now and my mood has dropped. I’m losing things. Leaving behind important items necessary for a smoother flight.
Before we left Auckland we bought the Flight Drink made by 1 Above that eases the symptoms of jet lag. My husband swears by it. And so I bought my own beautiful glossy blue bottle with its quirky shape, for grasping and a packet of 50 tablets for dissolving in water so I could drink my way to London and arrive there feeling reasonable. But I have managed to leave the box behind in the other plane. Fortunately my husband has another one and has given me four tablets to last me to London. He was very good about it. But worse, I have realised that my plastic bag of pain drugs has been mislaid.
London - Day One
26th July, 2016
First Day in London.
The thing about writing a journal and posting it, on the hop, as the journey unfolds is that there is no time to pause and consider whether the material is okay, whether it has received a proper proof read and the content is appropriate and the family are okay with it. It’s up and on the web, in an instant, with the click on the mouse.
The problem is that for a journal to be fresh and have a ring of authenticity it needs to be a spontaneous outpouring written without censorship. When life writers consider the ethical dimension of writing the personal, and raise their concerns about the balance of needing to tell the story honestly while shielding family and friends from unnecessary exposure and potential hurt, I say ‘Write what you need to write. Do it quickly, put your whole self into it and later there will be ample time to reflect, or to consult with loved ones and consider their responses. Sometime it is possible to negotiate the material. But that is for later in the production process. For now you need to protect your creative impulse and allow yourself to write your heart out.’
The London Wetlands — Day Two
27th July, 2016
Second day in London
Today, our second day in London, our daughter had planned a visit to the London Wetlands in Barnes. What better way to adjust to a sprawling, hectic metropolis in the midst of the full-blown symptoms of jet lag than to start with a full immersion in Nature. I’m sure the human brain was not designed to accommodate such an abrupt shift from one hemisphere to another, from the shortest day in winter to the longest day in summer, or thereabouts, in the space of 24 hours. The effect is of being turned upside down.
Highgate Cemetery London - Day Four
29th July, 2016
We had visited Highgate Cemetery years ago when my daughter was a developing embryo in my womb but only viewed the east side, where the huge head of Karl Marx, philosopher, economist and revolutionary socialist, with its sculpted wavy curls and chunky beard rests without a neck on a square plinth that is dedicated to the great thinker.
The sculptor said he wanted to evoke ‘the dynamic force of his intellect‘ and his sense of energy and dedication to his purpose. And you do get the feeling from the sculpture that he was a considerable man. But we had never visited the locked up west side, across the road, the older, more derelict, more dreamy of the two sites. You have to take a seventy-minute tour to gain access to the enchantment.
Graduation London - Day Five
31st July, 2016
My daughter, Cleo’s, graduation ceremony was held at the Royal Festival Hall, Southbank on Wednesday 27 July.
The University of Roehampton is one of the 'modern' London universities, only 175 years old and was first established as a women’s teachers’ training college in 1874. The theme of higher education for women was very much the theme and colour of the day, with a very writerly and beautifully enunciated opening speech, a pleasure to listen to, by the chancellor, Jacqueline Wilson, who is a well-regarded author of youth fiction.
1st August, 2016
I was disappointed with the exhibition of the work of American painter Georgia O’Keefe. My daughter enjoyed it but I felt the Painting selection didn't represent her well.
I had been building up to the exhibition, feeling ecstatic about its timing coinciding with our visit but there were very few flower paintings — there was a Calla Lily in a vase, three different renditions, her famous double poppy painting, fiery reds, oranges and black which was satisfying, and her famous first painting of the white convolvulus which she said she painted to monumentalise the flower and make people look more closely at their form.
1st August, 2016
Always when travelling overseas there are decisions to be made about what to see and what to do and sometimes a compromise has to be reached.
Because it takes so long to get to Europe and involves considerable cost, not to mention the stamina required to get out, everyday, and see things this places pressure on the decision-making process. Time is precious. We may not be back this way again. What can I cope with never ever seeing? Then once you're on the journey it is impossible to avoid the inevitable hiccoughs and disappointments.
Leaving – Impressions — Day nine
4th August, 2016
We are waiting in the queue on the runway at Heathrow, for our turn to make our way into the sky. I have mixed feelings about leaving.
There is a sense of anticipation and curiosity about the next destination and also a feeling of relief because the exhaustion is mounting and the UK is now one country that can be ticked off, but there is regret about leaving the place where my daughter, Cleo, now lives, although she will re-join us in Amsterdam in two days, with her husband, for the next stage of the journey.
The Netherlands — Day twelve
7th August, 2016
I stayed up very late on Thursday, actually until the beginning of Friday morning writing in a blue tower in the hotel in Amsterdam, finishing my London impressions. By some miracle the bedroom on the third floor of the hotel, had a writing desk, and lamp, in a bow window, that was shaped like a turret.
There were six panes of glass on three sides with views down to the canal running silently beneath and across the water, to the black and white buildings, the stone towers and copper domes on the far side. While Julian lay sleeping in the room behind me, the blue velvet curtains at my back closed, I worked on with the window open listening to the sounds of the night — bicycle bells, a car revving, people’s voices muffled… I was very tired and having difficulty deciding what to include, what to skim over and what to cut from the London entry but the nightlife unfolding in the blue light spurred me on.
Piet Oudolf’s garden — Day thirteen
9th August, 2016
It is over and I could weep.
I have admired the work of Piet Oudolf from a distance for a long time and dreamt of visiting his own garden near Hummelo in the Netherlands, but had thought it impossible. Some years ago I was stopped in my tracks by a neuropathic pain in my sciatic nerve that was made worse by an accident and then worse again following surgery.
10th August, 2016
There is, at last, more time to write as I am on a plane again, this time departing from Schipol Airport, Amsterdam and flying to Geneva to see family in Yverdon. The thing I enjoy about flying in Europe is the complete absence of safety videos with an All Blacks theme. I dislike them. I find them corny and pointless. The only segment of an Air New Zealand instructional film that appeals to me is the footage of the kiwi surfer Ricardo Christie. I like his blue eyes and his shoulder length, wavy, blonde hair and the way he smiles broadly, as the four wheel drive he is steering bounces over a dirt track by the sea.
Switzerland — Day Fifteen
19th August, 2016
It was a swift trip by car, from Geneva to Yverdon, to the home of my husband’s twin brother, Jason and his German wife Marita and their two children, Lionel and Claire. It had rained on and off in London and Amsterdam where the temperatures hovered around the low twenties but emerging from the airport terminal today, we stepped into a wave of high heat and a bright blue, sun-soaked atmosphere. Summertime in Switzerland.
21st August, 2016
The Paul Klee museum, Zentrum Paul Klee, is situated in a field on the edge of the city of Bern. You hardly know it’s there because it is embedded in a meadow. The roofline is a series of three giant wave-like forms that emerge, rolling, from the ground so it seems a part of nature. It’s not until you reach the entrance that the building makes its presence felt.
The story of the realisation of this great museum and art centre is inspiring. It was designed by the Italian architect and engineer Renzo Piano, who was also one of the joint architects involved in the design of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (1971) and completed in 2005, just one year ahead of a deadline set by Livia Klee-Meyer the wife of Paul Klee’s only son Felix, and Alexander Klee, the artist’s grandson. When they offered their collection of 690 art works to the city of Bern, in 1998, it was on the condition that a purpose built gallery and study centre, for the arts, must be built to house the collection by 2006.
Bern — Day Sixteen
23rd August, 2016
I’m not managing to find time to write in my journal. The schedule my sister-in-law has conceived for us is full and brilliant, one with all the colour and light and shade of an Edouard Manet panting of Dejeuner sur l’herbe. And this is as it should be on a holiday.
The problem for my journalling is that there is no time for reflection and writing. The days are long, the evenings of food consumption stretch out and I wouldn’t miss Marita’s fresh plum and apricot and almond tart, or her white nectarine and redcurrant crumble, both served up with mascarpone and runny cream, for anything — but by the time I arrive back at the hotel I’m too tired to apply myself to anything much and end up writing scrappy notes, and attacking journal entries in retrospect, which is the nature of this work, of course.
Lausanne – Day Seventeen
25th August, 2015
It was Richard Wagner’s house that we visited long ago in Switzerland, not Liszt’s home, and it was situated at Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, not on the outskirts of Bern, as I’d first thought. This is where having a long-time relationship with someone is a very good thing, especially for a writer engaged in a memoir project, because the shared history is of great assistance when you are trying to surmount the memory blanks and even more importantly when you wish to verify the dimly-remembered fragments that seem more like dream than reality. There is such a sense of relief when you find that you’re not imagining things.
29th August, 2016
There is time for writing in the moment, on the pulse, at last. I’m aboard a boat that is ferrying me over le lac Léman from Cully to Chillon, to see a medieval castle perched on a rocky island. It was Marita’s idea to go here. The last time they visited the chateau their son Lionel, now almost sixteen, was a small boy wearing a Halloween suit. They remember him leaping through the dungeon in his ghost outfit, attracting smiles from the other visitors.
I’m feeling very excited about this outing. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a medieval castle and fortress and this particular chateau is extra special. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage listed building that was constructed in three stages over 700 years. Sometimes on the Arts Channel back home I catch a clip about a UNESCO world heritage site, with aerial shots taken from a balloon and I look on in awe. Now I’m going to see one for myself, a treasured building that dates from 1150 and was the work of the French House of Savoy and also it has a link to the poet Lord Byron who wrote a famous poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ about the prison that is situated in the dank, dark depths of the castle complex on the actual rock of the island.
Leaving Switzerland — Day Twenty
2nd September, 2016
Leaving family is hard. It just is. There is no salve that can diminish the nasty pain of saying goodbye. You can suggest, as I did, that we will return in two years time but that doesn’t stop the wrench on the heartstrings, the feeling of despair deep in the solar plexus that rips and twists and asks why must families live so far apart on separate sides of the world? Why? Why did we have to go global?
I don't feel ready to acknowledge that this grand/small European tour is drawing to a close. My mind is in revolt. But wait a moment the plane, en-route to Rome, is flying over the Swiss Alps and there is snow on the mountain tops like folded egg white beaten into peaks just before you put the meringue mixture into the oven.
Rome - Day Twenty One
4th September, 2016
Everybody rushes here. When we got off the plane last night, people were pouring through the airport. They were eating too, delicious food, in restaurants that lined the walk to the baggage carousels and they were promenading past the shops and talking on their phones, and a child was picking out the tune, in a very laboured manner, of ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ on a grand piano, and this seemed to be tolerated and welcomed, by the Italians who love and value their piccolo bambini.
The men at our hotel are smooth-tongued and very courteous and have names like Alessio and Mario and Francisco. When I thanked Francisco for showing, on a map, the exact location of the Maxxii, Zaha Hadid’s 21st century of museum of art, he said, ‘Oh, all the pleasure is from you, Dr Shepard.’
5th September, 2016
I don’t want the good times to end. So I will put them on hold and continue the feeling of still being on holiday by writing about the last hours in Rome. Our friends met us at our hotel and we walked through the balmy night air, down the narrow streets of cobblestone to a restaurant where we sat outside at a long table and caught up on several years of living and working and also on their children, who accompanied us.
The eldest has grown into a young man who is an intriguing mixture of both his mother and his father, with all their enthusiasms for living and an aptitude for study. My kiwi friends work for the World Food Fund and last night I listened with interest to the stories of despatching and conveying food and people into Syria and getting supplies and aid to people in the most vulnerable parts of Africa and my friend Julie’s involvement designing policies that will empower people on the ground, on their own terms in their everyday lives. We learned about the struggle of achieving goals with never enough funding to cover the needs, too.
9th September, 2016
I paused before writing the final entry because I didn’t adjust well to returning home. The jet lag was much rougher at this end of the journey and for days I felt sick and giddy and out of sorts and was resisting facing into the unpleasant reality that the party was over and now it was time to return gracefully to the routine of everyday life and work. Also I’d had a media holiday and it had been blissful not having to worry about the fact that we’re going to hell in a handcart.
I’d enjoyed the break from brash politics and excessive sports coverage. When I first switched on the television and saw the news I felt like an alien listening in. It was the same with the television commercials, the Harvey Norman ads, why are they so loud? Why is everything so thunderous, so piercing? I thought wow we’re a fierce little nation. So I fled to my radio NZ app, to listen to the good journalism, Te Radar and Irene Pink and Kathryn Ryan, Mediawatch and the book and film reviews and they helped me settle in again.