Tag Archives: christmas

home

I’m home. But the rain is pounding on the roof. The dehumidifier runs constantly, trying somehow to keep the muggy damp out, the smell that creeps into our neatly folded clothes and our pillowcases. The moths flap feebly against the windows, hungry for the shelter hidden indoors. This is summer, the wettest I have ever seen it.

Our arrival home happened in a haze of teary embraces and shocked faces, so surprised were our families at having us home. I hid in my mothers’ garden on a Friday afternoon in mid December. I felt like a fugitive as I crouched there, breathing in the sweet sun warmed air, listening to the rustle of plants around us as they lifted to the sun. It was so strange to think that just a day before we had been in Paris, wrapped in scarves and gloves and jackets, drinking chocolat chaud under the Eiffel Tower.

My sister and her husband went in first, the only accomplices to our plan. And when I lifted the rusty latch on the wooden gate I heard the moment my mother saw me through the window, and the shout of disbelief that rose from my stepfather.

I had planned to say something witty as I walked towards them, but my voice disappeared as soon as I saw their faces, and I just laughed through the tears, feeling overly dramatic and so happy to see my family again.

A bottle of bubbles was produced from somewhere, and then it took a while before the shaky hugs and breathless laughter died down. It took a few weeks longer before I stopped exclaiming at how friendly everyone was, in shops, restaurants, on the street, in lines. And I think it will take even longer before I get used to the green again. Everything is green. Luscious and bright, the fields, the hills, even the sides of the road, everything is a vibrant, waving green. I keep proclaiming to my sisters that they should open their eyes, that everything here is beautiful. They think that maybe travelling made me a little crazy.

The week of Christmas came and went. I surprised my father and stepmother too, and was greeted with a shout of ‘What are you doing here!?’. On Christmas day the sun shone hot but unsure behind the thin clouds. Inside the lounge was a symphony of red, green and white; mountains of ripped wrapping paper. Flies wafted in and out of the open doors with the summer air, while outside freshly mown green grass baked brown under the heat.

Everyone laughed and called to each other, hysterical stress threatening to break through the high voices of the chefs, already stretched to breaking point. Someone’s grandmother sat under the verandah at the head of the table, pulling a cardigan closer around her shoulders, complaining to anyone who would listen about the cool breeze. The table groaned under joints of meat, lamb, turkey, chicken, a glazed ham, all brought from somewhere. Outside our puppy Sasha wolfed a kidney within seconds, a glorious castoff from the meal.

I didn’t know any of those people. There was another family there and their jokes were strange and sharp in our midst. They had different cheekbones, different hair, unfamiliar glasses. They had two dogs – stringy whippets – and soon our puppy was locked away in her kennel, dark eyes pleading as she watched the foreign animals range across her land, their sharp noses sniffing out her hidden bones. I furtively let her out again.

The meal took place in a flurry of photos and embarrassing jokes, bright sunlight and shutters clicking, while hundreds of different sauces were passed and drizzled and spilled on the white tablecloth. I smiled secretly at my sisters, and we giggled silently at the effort of it all, rendered blasé and amused by the many flutes of bubbles on the table.

Then the rain came. It came on Boxing Day, and it has been raining since. The grass is unbelievably long, shooting towards the sky, spurred on by the fleeting pockets of sunlight between the torrential rain. On New Years Eve we lit fireworks through the drizzle, and they sputtered and fizzed, exploding light against the blue dark. I imagined all those people at the many summer festivals around the country, dancing in plastic ponchos and knee high mud, undeterred by the rain that ran down their smiling faces.

We had a hangi in early January, smoky and delicious, everything infused with that unmistakable earthy flavour. We caught fresh kingfish out at sea up in Mangawhai, and ate it at home an hour later, first as sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi, then as fresh steaks, while the rest was smoked with manuka woodchips. We went wake boarding on Lake Whakamaru last week, and the water was warm and green against the cool air, like carving on glass when you were out from the wake. I smiled the entire time I was up, until I face planted into the smooth water. Summer has begun.

I am writing again now, and the tap of the keys feels good under my fingertips. There is still so much to write about my travels, so many cities and landscapes that we flew through on trains and in metros. There are so many photos to sort, and a million memories to write about, to record. They will keep the itchy feet at bay for a while.

The sun is out again now, and in the burst of happy sunlight I hear a Tui sing quickly, as though to capture the moment. It may be raining, but it is warm. The clouds will move come these next few weeks, and we will all be drenched in blinding summer sun. Our dub and reggae bands will tour the old iconic pubs of the country, and my short shorts will come back out of storage again. We will play backyard cricket and drink Steinlager Pure and eat freshly caught crayfish.

I love New Zealand summer. It’s good to be home.

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memory keeper

When I was little I had so many books to read. Every Christmas and birthday I would receive at least four new books. It was an easy present to get me; I was always the nerd, the girl with her head in a book, the one who walked down the stairs reading.

I remember how I used to pick a book off my shelf, so full of hand me downs and borrowed books long left behind. I would turn them over in my hands, the cover art and font evoking vague memories – a funny scene, what cookies I ate while I first read it, where I was. I would choose a book to read with no less thought than choosing a movie, ignorant of the fact that whichever book I chose would influence my life for the next week. I still do that now; choose a book to read at a whim. Psychologists tell us that when we make a decision fast, we tend to regret it less and be happier with our choice than if we had agonized over it. If only I could do the same with ice cream flavours.

I love the way that the covers still evoke such memories. Even now, every time I see the metallic silver gleam of the Artemis Fowl books, I still think of lying on the bed in my tiny upstairs room, the afternoon sun streaming through the small window and eating an entire packet of Girl Guide’s. My favourite book when I was 13, Firebringer, always transports me to the grassy area around Room 9 from my intermediate school. I still have no idea why, but it happens every time. Tomorrow When The War Began, always of the shady clearing sheltering the shallow stream down at the back of our farm.

I love sand in books. It reminds me of where I was, the hot sun beating on my back while my head is in another world, where not only plot and characters, but also physics and even generally unquestioned laws of the universe are dictated by the author. I suspect The Help will always remind me of the sombrillas, the white sand and azure water of Formentor, Spain, despite the fact that it is a American book set in the hot dust of Mississippi cotton fields, written from the perspective of the black maids working in white-owned southern plantation houses.

But this doesn’t just happen through books. It happens through everything around us, every sense that we have, every pore of our body – just like skin remembers touch, we remember situations and imprint them onto substances.

L’Oreal Happyderm, a girly foaming pink cleanser, will always and forever remind me of living with my mother, when I was 18 and had just discovered the mysterious world of make up. Every day when I wasn’t commuting to the big smoke, I was excitedly driving the three minutes down the road to Raglan’s only miniscule pharmacy, to browse the L’Oreal, Mabelline and Rimmel stands hungrily, roving back and forth between them, torn between the two products in my hands. I remember the excitement that swelled in my stomach during that short drive, so huge I had to grin, knowing that I could buy another lip gloss, or bronzer, or foundation, to add to my small but growing collection. I remember the exact shape and colour of my first foundation, slightly orangey but so, so glamorous to my young inexperienced hands. And so began my obsession with cosmetics. I should have known then that it was the start of something special.

The Body Shop’s seaweed cleanser takes me back to my second year flat in the freezing, burnt-coffee aroma of North Dunedin, each and every time I smooth it on. I happily remember the stress, the inconvenience of having to return to my awkward, abandoned Castle street room, always clean and tidy but ultimately unloved, rejected and cold. I hated being there, but I looked forward eagerly to returning to Oli’s warm flat, always full of people and heat pumped air, a bag of clean clothes and toiletries in tow.

I wonder how I can remember this time happily all because of a cleanser, and recently I found out why. Nostalgia is always positive. It is a happy emotion, no matter what the context. Maybe that’s why we all love those old L&P ads so much.

These memories follow me around throughout my life, almost as though I had bottled them myself, to take from place to place as a sentimental keepsake.

Strawberries are another one that gets me every time. One taste, one smell, reminds me unconditionally of Christmas in Raglan. I imagine chopping them in half, the knife slicing through the seedy red flesh to meet my thumb, the fizz and bubbling of the champagne as the fruit hits the bottom of the glass. They remind me perfectly of a New Zealand Christmas with the family, happily raising our glasses, smiling faces freshly made up and shining with love, wine, and Mum’s inevitable camera flashes.