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Christchurch. Whose city is this now?

I pop back to Christchurch for a couple of days after my Arthurs Pass romp. There’s such a vacancy, a vacuum to the centre, so much lost by the earthquakes, so few people, such an expanse of gone-ness.

For those with memories of this place from more than four years ago it’s what’s not here that weighs heavily. I guess for those immersed in the whole destructive experience of the earthquakes, both large, two, and smaller, innumerable, it’s a transition, the realisation that life has changed irrevocably.

For those that drop in now and again, like me, it’s been a year since my last visit, the change is abrupt, I guess “abrupt” doesn’t require qualifiers. Despite two thirds of my life, almost, passing since I lived here for two separated years, studying, many images remain of what once used to exist, and now doesn’t, my flat in Willow Street, where I used to buy what was at the time NZ’s best bread, and where you could fill up your jar of honey from a vat, or where my cousin had his shop, or the local swimming pool. All weedy gravel there now.

This morning I had an early morning walk down the short street I lived, and loved, in my last full year here, that’s what was once Willow Street, blocked off with a chain link fence across the street on my last visit, today every house gone, gardens bulldozed mostly as well. My accommodation had long gone, first it became a carpark, then an extension to the adjacent huge motel complex, now that needing to be demolished and removed. The community garden out the back fallow, not often mown grass. The close, friendly community barely a memory, now dispersed at best.

It’s a sharp reminder, as they say, of the passage of time, of change, not the incremental type more usual in the world but the catastrophic type, like warfare, the world can never be the same.

I can see how older people regard the world and its remorseless progress, change whether good or less so, the fluidity that you take in your stride in your youth, but becomes wrenching when, perhaps, you are seeking more fixity to your memory banks.

Nowhere is this brought into focus more than in this city where the foundations have been so shaken. It’s an immense rattling of your understanding of the fundamentals of this world.

In this vacuum there’s a spontaneity of pop up gardens and coffee caravans, more usually converted shipping containers, temporality reigns, colonisation has begun sporadically but it will be decades before solidity emerges.

Christchurch is a clean slate, a tabula rasa, and this new city will have little resemblance to the old.

If you want a few more photos that distill my wanderings around Christchurch you can have a look at a look at this 28 image popup slideshow by clicking on the click thingy.

Central Christchurch September 2014
author | GJ Coop | posted | 19 September 2014
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