Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Zealand, Part III: Christchurch Rising


We split our New Zealand adventure into two parts, visiting friends on the North Island (see earlier blog posts) before leaving for Australia. So, on our return from Sydney, we flew to Christchurch on the South Island.

We had not seen Christchurch on our earlier visits, which we somewhat regretted. But we felt privileged to witness Christchurch now, when it is recovering from the earthquake it experienced on February 22, 2011.* Five years later, the entire city is a construction zone. Because housing came first, the city is only now rebuilding the downtown. 



In the interim, Christchurch has shown great innovation and spirit. For example, the city created a mall out of shipping containers (The Re-Start Mall), which is really quite attractive. In addition to the retail spaces and banks, cafes and food stalls create a pleasant ambiance.





We had a couple of tasty meals there, where the buildings of the new mall rise higher every day behind the temporary structures.





The creativity shown in recovering from the quake is just amazing!
Consider the Cardboard Cathedral. (Not it's official name.) It was designed Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, who drew on his experience in creating post-tsunami architecture following the Japanese tsunami in 2004. This transitional Anglican cathedral is constructed with cardboard, glass, and shipping containers. It is quite beautiful.





Light glows softly in the cathedral. The laminated wood chairs harmonize well with the tones of the reinforced cardboard roof.

We were fortunate to have a kind lady, a volunteer who attends services there, show us around.


Nearby is the site where the Canterbury Television (CTV) building stood. It collapsed in the quake, and 115 of the 185 people who were killed in that event died there, many of them foreign students who were attending an English language school on the fourth level.

Slightly down the street and across from the CTV site are 185 empty chairs, a memorial to those who died. Appropriate chairs were chosen to represent each person who was lost, including the heart-breaking tiny chairs and baby carrier.


A poem at the site left me in tears, for I felt the poet understands what it is to grieve, and how, when grief is fresh, there is no consolation. And yet we go on.

****
A Blessing for the Brokenhearted

(Which is prefaced with a quote by Henry David Thoreau:
“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it

as it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still

as if trusts
that its own stubborn
and persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.

 ****

 Later, we saw the former cathedral that was badly damaged in an aftershock. A controversy erupted between those who wanted it rebuilt and the Anglican Church who wanted to tear it down and build a new one. After extensive litigation, the church won the right to demolish the old building, but, perhaps out of sensitivity (or a lack of construction funds) that has not yet happened.




There are parts of the city that have rebounded. A streetcar offers lifts around town. In addition there are artworks and murals throughout the city. As our walking tour guide told us, "The city encouraged almost anything that would raise spirits after the earthquake."







Another spot that lightens the heart is the city's botanical gardens. Founded in 1863, they provide a cool, green oasis to retreat to. Best of all, they are free!










I am sorry we didn't get to Christchurch on our earlier trips, but if we go back to New Zealand, I would like to go again. This city, touched by a great disaster is rising like a Phoenix from the ashes, and if they can keep their creativity and community commitment, the future looks very bright.



*The Canterbury Earthquake followed an earlier quake of magnitude 7.3 that did not do as much damage as the 6.3 magnitude quake of 2011, which was shallower and had an epicenter closer to the city.

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