Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Notes during a plague


In 1984 cops blocked traffic in central Auckland so Bruno Lawrence could wander through The Quiet Earth. Deserted by the rest of humanity, trashing churches & shops, Lawrence was a Nietzschean hero, lonely & exultant. Today Auckland is quiet again. Where are you, Bruno?


Locked down Auckland has lost its vulgarity, & become almost bucolic. The city's roads have the melancholy silence, the sense of impotent expectation, of Mahurangi estuary at low tide. Parked cars are like dinghies, waiting on the cracked mud-tar for a flow that never comes.


A silence has invaded Auckland. It is not the cold, clean silence of mountains, not the windy silence of a bleak beach. It is the silence of Ohura, Tokomaru, Benneydale: of towns half-abandoned, of ruined abbatoirs & shops with whitewashed windows. It is the sound of the future.


Each evening the sky builds slopes of snow, sandy atolls, lights them pink or violet, adds flocks of ducks & gulls, lets its screen slowly blacken. Aucklanders' eyes have always been elsewhere - on lines of traffic, on tables of drinks. Now, at last, the sky has the audience it deserves.


About 1750 northern invaders cornered Kiwi Tamaki's Waiohua army at Titirangi beach. So many men died that the shellfish beds were poisoned. The beach was declared tapu, abandoned for years. Yesterday I found it empty again. A squall from the Manukau stank of seaweed.


Nabokov celebrated the empty highways of late night America, comparing them to glossy black dance floors. With cars mostly banished, we can appreciate the loveliness of NZ's streets. The lights of locked shops throw psychedelic patterns on Auckland's deserted dance floors.


Covid-19 has cleansed the skies. Grounded airbuses & boeings sit in hangars or on runways, as grand & pathetic as fossilised dinosaurs in museum pavilions. Only the odd cropduster or chopper still flies. A woman who grew up in the far north long ago told me that she was able to stand under the sky & hear the sighing, whistling sound made by souls on their way to Cape Reinga, to Hawai'iki. Perhaps that sound can be heard again, now that the loud machines of the living have been banished from the air.


Even when there was no traffic in sight, Chris Marker still waited out the red signal at crossing lights. He said he wanted to honour the passing ghosts of broken cars. Now I look at Auckland's empty roads & imagine the totalled Fords & Datsuns of my childhood, speeding invisibly.


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Blogger Richard said...

These are good Scott. I happened on a couple of movies by Chris Marker. Both were good. One 'La Jettee' was v. good, but 'Sans Soleil' seemed to me one of the great things. Like a visual-audio poem.

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