What I’m reading

Photographer George D. Valentine, a consumptive Scotsman who came to New Zealand in the early 1880s for his health, spent a week on Rotomahana in 1885 and took a series of photographs of the terraces. Later, after the eruption and their destruction, he returned to photograph the sites where they had been. They are, you cannot help but suppose, pictures of heaven and hell. Of wonder and despair. This sounds like a metaphor but isn’t: a small piece of heaven had come from the earth here and now all that is to be found are the fires of hell; paradoxically, out of these fires those wonders came, and may come again.

The aftermath was much photographed and remarkably so: one of the pictures is of a man called Rewiri sitting in front of the whare where he sheltered, and survived, and was dug out from after the eruption. He’s wearing a hat with a dented crown and has his elbows on his knees, the right hand loosely clasping the left arm. European clothes, trousers, shirt, a jacket, feet incongruously bare. The hut, of traditional design, looks largely intact, with the low door gaping open upon the blackness within. Leaning against it are two battered sheets of corrugated iron and in the background unidentifiable debris piles. Rewiri looks strange. What is he sitting on? A box or kerosene tin? A block of stone? Is his face tattooed or not? You can’t really tell. His gaze doesn’t quite reach the camera, it falls away somewhere between eye and lens. He seems to smile, the but the smile is uneasy; it has a hint of the sad clown about it.

from ‘The Pink & White Terraces’ in The Place of Stones by Martin Edmond (Holloway Press, 2012)

Everest

(conversation overheard on bus)

It’s the Palagi
getting around
wanting to touch everything
in this world
Touching, touching everything
Look at that one with no legs–
walked right up that hill

from Other Animals by Therese Lloyd (Victoria University Press, 2013)

Value

Baked beans became a subject for a while. Gordon worked out that each bean had a certain value to the world, but he felt it curious that some beans were eager for their own preferment. On toast, some of those beans had a truly remarkable orange lustre, and it seemed the biggest beans exactly understood – in a way the pulpy and burst ones certainly did not – what their role might be in the perfect meal. At his student flat in the Grassmarket, the dishes were known to pile up in the general desolation of a Belfast sink, but Gordon was busy accommodating the facts of life to a nourishing vision of the future. He never got drunk because he feared more than anything a loss of control, and so, on Friday nights, as the squads of local boys went skidding up the Lothian Road fuelled by pints of lager, Gordon would be inside the Cameo watching old movies about blind pianists or soldiers mangled by war and self-consciousness. He often picked up a bag of chips amid the broad, late-night fraternity of the Grassmarket, and would cradle them up the tenement stairs to have with his beans.

from ‘Gordon’ by Andrew O’Hagan in The Book of Other People edited by Zadie Smith (Penguin, 2007)

About ashleighlou

Person, usually on bike
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