Saturday, June 23, 2012

Matariki - haere, haere, haere

I knew, of course, that 21 June was Matariki, the Maori New Year, and that it's linked to the appearance of the cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters; you can see them when (says Te Ara) "the sun, drifting north on the shortest day in winter, reaches the north-eastern end of the horizon. The sun then turns around and begins its journey south."
           What I didn't know until today is that as well as being about new beginnings, planting and fertility, Matariki is the time to remember those who have died in the past year. Here's what Te Ara, the online encyclopaedia of New Zealand, says about it:

"In times of old, the sighting of Matariki was greeted with expressions of grief for those who had died since its last appearance. Some said the stars housed the souls of those departed. Rangihuna Pire, in his 70s, remembered how as a child he was taken by his grandparents to watch for Matariki in mid-winter at Kaūpokonui, South Taranaki:
The old people might wait up several nights before the stars rose. They would make a small hāngī. When they saw the stars, they would weep and tell Matariki the names of those who had gone since the stars set, then the oven would be uncovered so the scent of the food would rise and strengthen the stars, for they were weak and cold."
As it happens, even before I found out about this, I did think of Harvey at Matariki, both last year and this year. He set great store by the shortest day and the longest day, as the turning points of the year and the seasons. On 21 June 2010, he wrote:
        "The shortest day - always one of my favourites. Reversing tracks, the sun turns north again and slowly our hemisphere will warm up again. A relatively mild morning, cloudless. By midday it had clouded over and the threatened rain seemed increasingly closer. Part of the penalty of living in a temperate climate. My decision to dwell in Wellington determines the climate and the weather in which I exist. I have no choice on that matter."
          And of course he had no choice about its being the last time he would see the shortest day. The weather is worse this year, the rain pounding away yet again at the roof and the sodden garden. But the evenings will slowly get lighter now. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Getting by

Saturday night, when it seems that almost nothing ever happens unless I arrange it. And sometimes I do - but not tonight. Partly because I know I'll be busy tomorrow, so I didn't organise anything else - and partly because it was obviously going to be a freezing cold wet wintry night, so staying warm at home seemed like a good idea.
            And on the whole, it was. I wrote up my food blog, had a good curry dinner, washed my hair, and watched rather a lot of mildly amusing TV.
             I do tend to watch considerably more TV, or DVDs, than I used to. They provide faces and voices and distraction, especially over dinner. I listen to the radio a lot more, too, while I'm having breakfast, ironing, washing up, cooking. And I leave more lights on - I can't bear moving around a dark house.
              I seem to be managing pretty well at the moment, at least as long as I keep busy at the mundane level of everyday life - working, feeding myself and other people, reading, talking on the phone, seeing friends, going shopping, playing house. I take my time doing all these things, and time passes.

Mary Cassatt, Reading Le Figaro, 1878

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Buoyed up

So the first thing that buoyed me up this week, in the never exactly calm sea of my life,  was having one of my very oldest (that is, most longstanding!) friends to stay for a night. We braved the worst weather to hit Wellington so far this winter to go into town and hear a mutual friend speaking at the All Woman exhibition at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery. I'd been meaning to see it since it opened, and it was brilliant.
           I'll have to go again, and if you possibly can, you should go too - it's on until 8 July. Stunningly original, striking images of New Zealand women, each with a brief description and their own statement, by Wellington-based photographer Bev Short, who spent more than two years travelling the country and "capturing images of women who inspire her".  So that was the second thing that kept me afloat. 

       Of course, it did make me feel I was a terribly feeble creature, compared with these amazing women - but then I feel that on a regular basis anyway, just from considering what the women I know have managed to accomplish and overcome. 
       Ah well, onward and upward, per angusta ad augusta, as my old school motto used to say, through difficulties to triumph - or as we irreverently translated it, through tights to heights. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A new cushion

Urged on by a friend, today I went to a class at Handmade 2012. I didn't quite see the point of making a pincushion out of a bottle top - still, chacune (I didn't see any men there) à son goût, and there were several other things I would have liked to try. But at $45 each, the classes weren't cheap, so I settled for A Cushy Job, which promised to teach me how to make a cushion properly, using an invisible zip. I've been making cushions (sporadically) for years, but I've never learnt how to do it properly - instead I've resorted to just sewing them up by hand on one side, knowing that if I ever needed to get the cover off, I'd have to unpick it. And I already had some fabric - I'd bought it well over a year ago to cover a giant cushion (for lying back on the sofa while watching TV), but had never got round to using it.
           I had a great time. Before the class started I had a lovely conversation with the young man (well, he looked young to me, though he had an eight-year-old daughter) in charge of the sewing machines - he told me he owns and uses five of them at home, from basic to very, very advanced. The machines were Brothers, reminding me strongly of my mother, who loved her Brother - she would have been thrilled to see how easy they are to use now.
           Our teacher, Jenny Deonarain, knew her stuff and was good at explaining it to us. Best of all, she gave us a neat little booklet of step-by-step instructions and photos, so we could do it all again when we got home. I didn't manage to finish sewing up the sides of my giant cushion in class, but I got the zip in - not perfectly invisible, but pretty good all the same. I'll put up a photo when I've finished it.
            The whole thing reminded me how much I enjoy learning to do something new, especially something like this that involves messing happily around with cloth and thread (a complete change from what I usually spend my time doing, which is working with words in some way). I must do more of it.