June 19, 2012

A visitor from Christchurch

The fog hadn't lifted by 1pm. It would stay nearly all day, closing the airport and stranding some people who are understandably desperate to leave. We wouldn't see the hills at all until later, maybe 4.30pm, and within another half an hour, it would be dark again. At 1pm, the temperature outside was only just above freezing.

From the sixth floor of the new Press House, we saw people making use of the new route through the city, the re-opened Gloucester Street. We saw people with cameras, dog walkers, tourists in their own city. For me, this route along Gloucester Street was one of several routes I took more or less daily, before the quakes closed the city, to the library, the bus stop and, further, the Christchurch Art Gallery. It's a short walk to Cambridge Terrace, just across the river.

With almost everything around it gone, Price Waterhouse Coopers building looks larger than ever, a monolith with its head in the clouds.

A couple of days after the September 4, 2010, quake I texted my brother, something like: "Weird to see the army in the city, like a scene from 28 Days Later." He wrote back: "They're probably pleased to have something to do." Twenty-eight days later? They're still here 21 months later ...

Once these buildings were just anonymous slabs; so many of them have stories now. The Price Waterhouse Coopers building is to be demolished. The Forsyth Barr building, the monolith to its left in the picture above, is to stay. On February 22 last year, the stairs collapsed ("they completely disappeared") and people were stuck up there for hours. Some abseiled down.


Everything behind wire fences in these pictures is still inside the red zone. That word "zone": sure, you think of Stalker, but you also think, or I do, of the first Planet of the Apes films. The forbidden zone, radioactive. The only trace of any new or recent life in the zone are the signs for demolition firms and contractors, promoting themselves on sites and on the sides of trucks. Words like Nikau, Simon, Naylor Love. From the sixth floor of Press House you can see the demolition trucks go back and forth inside the red zone. It's like sitting on Mt Victoria in Auckland, watching ferries cross Waitemata Harbour.

Above, the boarded-up entrance to the Central Library. Slightly further along, another contractor sign says "authorised personnel only, this is a dangerous workplace." How often is a library a dangerous workplace? Chancery Lane is just across the road from the library. The short cut back to the Square took you past the Holy Cross Chapel, hidden away. It seemed odd to me, a tiny chapel in there, in a city of large churches. Now, the only story you remember is this strange one, from the chaotic days after. 

Above, another altmusic poster from before the quakes. Below, the yellow-and-black signage on the side of the Christchurch Art Gallery is a work visible in full here. Kay Rosen's Steeple-People ... it points in the direction of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, still the most controversial threatened building in the city. Once, the symbol of a city; now, an unintended symbol of its discontent and divisiveness. In front of the work, a digger pulls at the remains of a ruined building. The sign will become more visible soon from Cambridge Terrace.