Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dear Broken Christchurch

Sorry blog followers-- I haven't had reason to post in a long time. Life in Denver has been great-- Conan's well, I'm in month nine of a fabulous relationship, the cats are entertaining in that psychotic way that only cats can pull off, and in general life is good. I've been slated to deploy to the ice for a five-week stint, but frankly doubted that I would actually go. Population at McMurdo has been high, and only essential personnel are allowed to go. It looked so doubtful that I slacked on a lot of my pre-deployment paperwork and prep work-- I was pretty confident that I'd be bumped in favor of more essential activities. The days ticked down, and I realized that I'd better get it together! The last week in Colorado was insane, making preparations for Conan's boarding, paying bills, and all the other crazy stuff that happens when you're about to go off the map...

Mimi is watching the house, Conan is in good hands with a friend in Boulder, and (I hope) I managed to take care of all the loose ends before leavin' on the jet plane.

The trip down is always a grinding, laborious process, taking days of layovers and trying (often unsuccessfully) to sleep on planes. I don't need to go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that I ended up exhausted in Christchurch, New Zealand, with a day to kill before the night flight to the ice. Downtown Christchurch was devastated by last year's earthquakes, and I was more than a little reluctant to see the worst of the damage. Ice folks by definition spend a lot of time in "Cheech", and the city is near and dear to us. The people there are awesome-- Christchurch is one of my favorite cities anywhere. I knew it would be traumatic to see whole blocks of familiar buildings reduced to ruin, but I needed to see it.

As luck would have it, the day we had available to walk around was Sunday-- the only day when the "Red Zone" in the Central Business District was open for the general public. A fenced cordon leads all the way down to the front of the cathedral-- the heart of town. The cathedral itself is pretty much completely destroyed, but the crumbling ruins haven't been razed yet. A huge metal framework holds the front wall up, preventing it from toppling into Cathedral Square.

The damage is amazing, but it wasn't as emotionally wrenching as I expected it to be. Since the cleanup efforts have been going on for months, most of the rubble has been removed. Still, it's eerie to stand on a familiar street corner, trying to find bearings when so many of our familiar haunts are just... gone. So many buildings are gone that it is a completely different place.

The Cashel Street Mall was recently upgraded with granite paving stones, and trolley tracks running down the middle. Evidently most of the buildings along the mall were damaged beyond repair, and were razed long ago. In their place, freight containers have been stacked up, and turned into (quite stylish) replacements for the missing stores, cafes, and shops that died in the quakes. Painted in bright colors, the containers make an odd, European-looking hodgepodge of funky urban post-apocalyptic design. I like it.

The Kiwis are the most amazing people I've ever run across. They just keep their chin up, no matter what. I think a lesser folk would have curled up in a corner, crying. They talk about the devastation like it was a particularly rainy weekend. It's inspiring.

There's a Maori saying, "Kia Kaha", which roughly means, "stay strong". Kia Kaha, Christchurch.

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