Monthly Archives: July 2007

found in the translation II

OK, here it is, for all you seekers of Te Reo wildlife words…

The Māori word for tiger is taikā.

The Māori word for rhinoceros is rinorino.

Just ask, and there it is, nestled snuggly in the marginalia.

Memene (that’s Māori for smile) 🙂

arcadian architecture II

It’s hard to find good examples of arcadian architecture in New Zealand, and this always surprises me. Of all the places where I’d expect to find carefully designed building emerging from the landscape, sensitive integration with landscape, climate, and terrain I’m continually disappointed by the architectural mediocrity. At best we find designs that use vernacular themes – corrugated iron, chunky beams, and perhaps stone. And then a mad flurry of tussock or other grasses, a flax bush, a cabbage tree, or a spiky lancewood and bang, that’s it. Perhaps toss in a lichen encrusted artifact – a gate or trailer or something suggestive of rural and the job’s done.

But, no, I beg to differ. The job’s not done. Some how we still haven’t conveyed a message to architects that it’s bloody miserable and cold in winter. It’s baking in summer. When you shove a house up the landscape it looks like some sort of gesture of defiance, or like that beacon of hospitality in the hostility – a tramping hut on a isolated hillside. Our house makes a bit of an effort – one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place – the house in part arises from the berm of the toe of the hill. We couldn’t get over how cool it was in summer, and now, in winter, it’s not freezing beyond expectation.

I’d love to see a suburb with sympathetic houses, growing sensitively from the landscape, managing to clean some of the air and water, and generally looking more like a place to live in, sheltered with nature; rather than in spite it. And it’s not just simply some sort of koru integrated into the design. Whilst the spiral exists in nature, again, shoving this overlay doesn’t immediately turn the house into a ‘organic, flowing, back to nature’ anything. This isn’t about design 101, and those horrid pseudo-designs earnestly churned out in year 1.

Once we’ve shucked off this demand for mass produced, leaking building horrors, I believe it is possible New Zealand might become world leaders in arcadian architecture. We can take our straw bales, corrugated iron, stone, sculpted concrete, macrocarpa and douglas fir, and grow ourselves some elegant, sustainable, human scaled houses that work and age gracefully for their inhabitants, and with their environments. It might take a while, but I’m really looking forward to seeing and even better, living in some of them.

it’s ALIVE!

Maori Language Week is in the closing moments – it’s been a great event this year – it just keeps going from strength to strength. For readers outside of New Zealand it might seem a little strange to have a week dedicated to another language, but be assured, it’s part of the essential nature, the natural essence, of New Zealand. I think it’s just wonderful. Although I don’t speak Maori, I think that the fact that the language is not only alive, but is busy becoming a Google language option is a great thing.

One of the ways of dipping your toes in to explore Maori culture is though their stories, and you can do this online. Maori Legends for Young New Zealanders is an illustrated book, scanned and made available but the National Library of New Zealand. The book, by Katarina Mataira, contains 11 legends – and they’re just great to read and the illustrations by Clare Elizabeth Bowes are lovely as well. If you can’t find a kid to read these stories to, why not just read them to yourself.

I love the way the Children’s Library’s ‘Simple Search‘ works. In addition to the the usual search by subject or topic or author, the Children’s Library, very sensibly (and finally) sorts books by the colour of the cover. Yep, you can search by yellow. Or rainbow. At long last! I’m completely in love – what a perfect solution. Why aren’t all libraries sorted this way?

Uncia uncia

That’s latin/scientific name for snow leopard. They’re not leopards, strictly speaking. They look like leopards, sure, but they’re not. Why am I writing this? Some gentle person came in here looking for details about snow leopards. And I’m here to help.

(Thinks: surreal, surreal, surreal – the stuff people come here for – it just amazes me.)

So, what’s your story?

We were out having a bite with my buddy Trevor, and he kind of just pops this on the waitress. She’s trying to take our order and be surly at the same time. You know – the minimum wage, working weekends, student loan, dealing with aging creeps like you – kind of waitress. And Trevor fixes her with this kind cheeky bland face smiley thing and says, “So, what’s your story?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I’m Trevor Romain, I write and illustrate books for kids; and I want to know what’s YOUR story.”

The best thing about this is the smile on Trev’s face. I mean, this man has a way with people that’s second to none. But one thing’s for sure, our waitress suddenly was a lot less surly and suddenly a lot better service was happening. But that’s not really the point. The point is, Trev’s right. What is your story? People carry around great stories hidden inside, and rarely share them. Perhaps there’s no-one to share them with. And that was Trev’s gift to our waitress – he listened to her story. I don’t know if – in fact I doubt – she remembers us, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t remember him. Something to think about.

stories make the difference

My workmates (and I) have a regular daily ritual involving answering the 10 trivia questions in the DominionPost. The DomPost? It’s a newspaper. If you didn’t know that you’re in those slightly scary foreign parts…

One of the questions required, as an answer, the Maori word: mauri. It’s a word that can be translated as – the life principle, emotion, spirit – maybe the essential essence – the vibe.

I was a bit confused because I thought the word was: wairua. It’s a word that can be translated as the spirit, or as having a spiritual quality.

I talked to my Maori colleagues about what they thought was the difference – or not – between the words. I knew that most everything has mauri, but what’s the story about the wairua? Can that only be applied to animate objects? I can really feel the energy – the mauri – from a waterfall, but does that also bear wairua?

My colleagues weren’t 100% sure what the difference is between mauri and wairua. In my mind – and let’s face it, my Maori language knowledge is iti at best. I think that mauri – the vibe – can be in any object or item, alive, animate, or not. But I don’t think that necessarily makes it spiritual. A superb knife can have a vibe, but it’s a long way from being spiritual. I think the difference is in the story.

The story. A bible isn’t spiritual unless you can read it. It’s a book, at best. If you don’t know what a book is, it’s not even a book. It’s the story that makes – confers – the wairua. An alley cat definitely has mauri, I think it’d only have wairua if the cat somehow has a story.

So, what’s your story?

size matters…

Next week is Maori language week. Cool or what. Ngāti Kahungunu (a tribal group) has the distinction of creating the longest place name in the world. Are you ready?

Hah! My spell checker didn’t recognise that one. Why Microsoft, why? You have an opinion about everything else in our lives? You think I’m making it up? I think NOT!

Every iwi has their explorers and all of the names associated with their feats of discovery were long. Tamatea and his journey is encapsulated with the rough translation from wikipediaThe summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his flute to his loved one. Romantic or what?

Sweet. If you’re old enough, you might recall the 1979 UK pop hit The Lone Ranger by Quantum Jump. That was the background chant. You don’t remember? Philistine.

In the event that you want to see the general spot Tamatea got it going on, it’s around about here. Nau mai, haere mai – bring your whānau and friends – tautoko te reo Māori!

kiwi steampunk

It’s unclear what make New Zealand such fertile soil for growing steampunk. Perhaps it is a relic of our colonial past made new in a post modern way. It’s certainly difficult to travel any distance in New Zealand without seeing some evidence – some relic – from the from the Victorian times. Within 200 metres of where I’m writing there is a plaque noting the New Zealand contingent to the Boer War, and of course, houses from the Victorian and Georgian times. Our house is built on part of what was the Donald Tea Gardens. I’ve written more information about the Tea Garden.

It’s a huge relief to see the craftsmen and women at Weta have fired a shot on behalf of civilisation by becoming the authorised manufacturers of Dr. Grordborts Infallible Aether Oscillators. Huzzah!

They are a

…are a line of immensely dangerous yet simple to operate wave oscillation weapons. Meticulously built to the exacting standards and plans of Dr. Grordbort, these weapons, bespangled in fine detail and with various (most likely quite dangerous) moving parts are the perfect addition to a gentleman’s study or a deterring centerpiece for a lady’s powder room or chiffonier.

More steampunk at Brass Goggles, and the Steampunk Workshop, and kiwi steampunk composers/musicians, fiffdimension.

or, perhaps, a planarian…

I was chatting to my buddy Trevor the other day about how business metaphors are all about majestic animals – soar with the eagles, eye of the tiger, bull market, bear market, squirrel this, rhinoceros that – you know the story. I seem to remember that Ben Franklin wanted the USA national bird to be the turkey because he regarded them as fine, upstanding, and moral creatures (I’m putting words in to Ben’s mouth now); where as the bald eagle is – well, something of a bottom feeder on all counts. I wonder how far the wars of the last 100 years would’ve progressed if the national icon had been a turkey. Seems more in keeping with the Statue of Liberty as an icon of peace, prosperity, and independence. Back to Trevor – we agreed that there wasn’t much in the way of commentary or metaphors based on the real workers – the nobility of plankton, the helpfulness of yeasts etc. Who moved my cheese? doesn’t mention the work of the lacto-bacteria, no, not once. Bacteriaphiles should avoid the book from that perspective, however worthy it is from other perspectives.

Charles Schulz, via ‘Peanuts’ said, ‘Anthropomorphism is man’s worst sin.’ So, emboldened by Trevor (he doesn’t know this yet, but I’m sure he’ll be excited … fingers crossed) I urge all you alpha animals to (a) turn vegetarian (ok, optional extra), (b) stop with this racing with the rats, dancing with the wolves, swimming with the sharks (and/or dolphins), charging with the rhinos, soaring with the eagles, biting dogs with the dogs, clawing with the bears, goring with the bulls, or any one of the other crazy zoological ‘totems’; and instead search for zen and the daphnia. If you need to sound exotic, simply fix your business opponent with a beady eye, breathe deeply and then say, ‘I am trained in the Way of Odonata. Bring it on!’

This didn’t stop me trying to desperately help the Gold Compass with their viral marketing thing. I mean, virii are sort of almost bacteria. Well, they’re small anyway. I’m a sucker for a nice drawing and what the? Apparently out of the thousands of daemon animals mine is an ocelot. It must be true – how could they know – it must be fate – I always wanted a pet ocelot – or, more accurately, a margay. In between your swimming with the oh, good grief (see list above) you get to interact with my daemon and say how much the daemon is like me. Have a squiz, it makes more sense when you click on the link. But Pelagia? Thinks: sounds like a kind of shoe, or better, a brand of caviar. Best french accent: ‘Forgive me, my darling, can a press you with a little more … Pelagia?’ In fact, it’s a great brand name. Take it for a quick spin –

She looked so hot in her Pelagia as I rode up on my Pelagia. Her back to me, I could see the heels of her freshly shoplifted Pelagias were hardly scuffed. She turned, waved, finished the call and snapped her Pelagia closed, and dropped it in her shoulder Pelagia. “Probably shoplifted”, and she smiled as if to agree.

I’m happy to support Gold Compass (they depend on just me to do all their promotion for them) simply because the movie with that nice Aussie lass, Nicole. My heart goes out to her ever since I saw her in Moulin Rouge and I could see this hideous scar/deformity underneath her nose. No, not on her lip. Under her nose. Go look at the movie again. The other reason for my support is the movie looks visually grand, I would so love to be able to just up and fly (see also: Superman), and the thought of being in a world with talking polar bears? Bring it on!

And now, welcome traveler to this site – as a special get-acquainted offer, you can buy my new book, The Way of the Polar Bear, for just $US19.95. Assure yourself of a unique edge over your less zoo-enabled colleagues. At the very least, please, stop teaching those unfortunate elephants to dance. Ok? They hate it. They’d much prefer to be wild and free. You know, like those totem animals we keep reading about.

Nietzsche’s offered that man is a bridge between beast and the superman. The bridge, in this case, to my animal, was Dan Dixon at digitaldust. Thanks, Dan, sorry that I thought your animal was a raccoon. Honestly, when I arrived it was a tiger, and then it became a snow leopard… no, it was!

stuck in the boondocks?

Ok. So you’re stuck in the boondocks and yet, weirdly, you have a call, if not a burn to learn stuff. Oh, how I know the feeling. And you and I both know that Tim Berners-Lee and Noam Chomsky are not going to do a double act down the pub on Friday night. So what do you do? You’ve burned the local library out (both books), bought a beer for the one bright light in boondockville, and now… and now?

Well, good news. Now you can check out lectures by and interviews with some of the world’s leading lights, not at the local pub, to be sure, but right here at Oh yeah, Chomsky’s going to be there, as will Tim (that’d be Sir Timothy) Berners-Lee.

When you find a spark of the burn to learn, even in the boondocks, the best thing anyone can do is pour on petrol and back up apiece.