Monday, June 22, 2009

Local colour

The interesting thing about a holiday is not how many tours you go on or how many cocktails you drink (although the latter can have interesting consequences) but who you meet on the way.

Vanuatu is full of colourful characters and one can spend a lot of time watching, observing and imagining lives for them. Other than the usual tourists, there are the boaties; gnarled men of fifty plus (still with long hair and weather worn bare chests) coming ashore for a bit of leg and other limb stretching, Tusker beer and Tanna coffee (the best brew mostly at Numbawan Café on the shore at Port Vila), the ex pats here for a tax and frost free living and the people from the islands around making a living of sorts in the markets, restaurants and tour operations of Port Vila.

The other interesting thing about a holiday is the small worldness of it, where whilst sipping a latte and looking out to sea a voice will come from your left ‘Fifi!’ and you turn to find an old acquaintance. Lesley Moyes in this instance. You may remember her lovely illustrations for ‘Annie & Moon’ by Miriam Smith and her gloriously detailed ‘Alphabet Apartments’ which won the Childrens Choice award in1998. She and husband Peter live in Vanuatu, (which they have done before) and were able to fill us in on all the local politics, intrigue and best restaurants. We dined finely at the new ‘La Tentation’ and Tamanu on the Beach where, if I ever win lotto, I will stay for a month.

Now I could at this point put up many photos of me drinking ‘Blue Lagoons’, eating fresh mangoes and sautéed fruit bats but in my last post I mentioned that I’d be taking my paint box with me, so these are a few of the more meaningful pictures that I will share with you.

At the market, I sat down quietly and sketched women in their ‘Mother Hubbards’; one size fits all dresses that begin to look very attractive after eating and drinking to excess for ten days. But sitting unobtrusively is impossible here as any new activity draws an interested crowd. This lady came up and sat beside me to watch as I drew- which made my task a little more complicated. The young man sitting under the tree was none the wiser as I painted him furiously before I fell into a languor myself and had a kip on the lawn along with everyone else at Port Vila during lunchtime.

We met Bob on our way to the Cultural Centre. He was very keen to sell us cheaper accommodation than we had already paid for but seeing as we were non starters, offered to shout us a coffee at his café on our way back. The museum tour by Adi, a gentle Vanuatu man, was wonderful and memorable, particularly for the traditional sand drawings he demonstrated- fluid, woven pictures from his fingertip telling tales of love, renewal and sharing as he worked. We learned about being buried alive with your husband in the old days, drumming protocol and saw colourful masks with large phallic projections ‘its all about the penis’ said Adi. We left more educated in Melanesian history and called in on Bob next door, who was a bit all about size himself. His lovely and rather much younger wife served us delicious freshly fried whole fish and rice whilst Bob gave us his take on everything. He had particular views on the local Melanesian people and I got the distinct feeling that as he ordered everyone around in Bishlama (the Vanutau pidgin) that come the revolution, his head would be the first one on a stake…

The holiday finished with more food, more coffee, more beer and it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to Wellington, because if we stayed much longer, I would have ended up eating more dainty morsels and become larger in life than I ever intended. Back to climb our 47 Hataitai steps just in the nick of time. I call this image The Ghost of Holidays Future.

On the flight back I sat next to Drew Bowdon, a friendly returned kiwi musician who I enjoyed the easy company of. He gave me a copy of his recently released CD Be Still. Very nice it is too. Check it out. You can easily imagine you are on the shores of somewhere warm with the surf roaring and good times at hand; which is my idea of the very best kind of holiday…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I was reading the interview with Kate De Goldi in the Dom Post Weekend magazine and she was saying how she spent her time deliciously reading and lazing about as a child. Then I picked up the paper this morning and there was an article about the value (or not) of having our children race about doing after school activities. I wasn’t a child who had ballet, music and sport to attend. Our mother was simply too busy and too constrained by lack of a drivers licence in our early years and no money for extras like these. But she and our father did supply us three girls with the essentials; play time, books and paper.

I recall of my childhood, endless role playing (“It’s my turn to be the Queen of the World!”) and reading (Little Women- oh how I identified with Amy, the artist sister) and above all drawing. I drew everything; pretty girls with long hair (mine was short), witches in cottages (overcoming my fear of Hansel and Gretel), mermaids (see post below), hands and feet (to get practice), horses (but hiding their tricky- to- draw- hooves in long grass), my father watching the news, our dog, sunsets with herons, Micky Mouse replicas, Holly Hobbie rip offs…and my favourite thing of all. My piggy bank- drawn here age 10. Into this cheap china receptacle, I would squirrel away 5c coins found on the footpath (and 5 cents could buy you a whole Eskimo Pie icecream back then) and save for a rainy day. Or more paints. My favourites were ‘Maries watercolours’; enticing little tubes of alizarin crimson and ultra marine.

Nothing much has changed. I’m off on holiday to somewhere warm (not rainy) with money saved in a more secure place than my old piggy bank, which sits on a shelf in my kitchen presiding over the crumbs on the bench. I have packed, along with my laptop, many books to luxuriate with, high heels and dresses to be a dancing queen in and my faithful water colour box and sketch diary. Because a holiday isn’t a holiday without them.

I’ll be back blogging on the 22nd June...with more pictures.