Posts Tagged ‘history’

Why we travel

passport coverIn 1968, after nearly seven years abroad, my husband and I, along with our two young children, paid a return visit to New Zealand, our homeland. My letters to parents after that visit indicate that we felt unsettled and were exploring how we could return permanently. Unfortunately, I no longer have the letter in which my mother must have suggested we would have been better off if we hadn’t left in the first place. But I do have my answer. Reading it again, I’m struck by how relevant my defense of the value of travel still is.

6 August 1968
A big question you asked, Mum, with a number of overtones. I think you really would have preferred your family to be more like [her sister’s children], wouldn’t you? I envy them too, in a way, settling down in the neighbourhood in which they were brought up, sharing common interests and activities with their parents and their local community.

It would have been simpler to have stayed at home. But the question is, whether you want a peaceful, comfortable life, or whether you need to know yourself. It does no harm to strip away a few illusions. The most important thing about travelling is that you quickly lose the complacent assurance that your own little set of values holds good for everybody. It is only by getting away from NZ that you can begin to see the country and its people in perspective, and it is only by being a foreigner in a different community that you can learn to be objective about social attitudes and customs.

I would be very sad not to have seen the things I have seen. It is not that our perceptions are dull in New Zealand, just that in many areas they cannot be awakened. All the art appreciation we had at school was poor second-hand stuff compared to our first sight of original Rembrandts in New York. History was unreal too, until we walked through the streets of London, or found, in the crypt of a Mediaeval abbey, a Saxon chapel built of masonry filched from Roman ruins. Childhood fairy stories had little meaning until I saw castles and village greens, and crooked pink cottages with overhanging thatch and winding sprays of apple blossom and ducks on a pond.

Of course there are difficulties, one being that it is very easy to finish up with a splendid pile of memories, and no homeland. But on the other hand, I now have a better idea of what sort of person I am, and this to me is more important.

Old age has its advantages

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

I’m taking a break this week from tales of my youthful travels to share a poem I wrote as homework in a Stanford Online class: 10 Pre-Modern Women Poets, taught by Eavan Boland. This week we studied “Saturday: The Smallpox” by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Written in 1747 in the voice of Flavia, a young beauty whose face is disfigured by the disease, the poem is a sad satire on the priorities of that era’s fashionable society. Our assignment was to write a poem using the heroic couplet form in which “Saturday: The Smallpox” was written.

Lady Mary, who was herself afflicted with smallpox, was a pioneer in vaccination for this dreaded disease. I find it particularly discouraging that 267 years later, people are still arguing about the value of vaccination against measles, a disease that nearly killed my father when he was a child.

However, my poem isn’t about the ravages of disease, but rather the emphasis on fashion still rampant today. It was a lot of fun to write.

A Grandmother Responds to Flavia

Advancing age has this one recompense,
That I can clothe myself with common sense.
Invisible already to the young,
I’m from the prison of convention sprung,
At last to dress as I have lately dressed,
I don’t wear heels; I’ve never seen the point
Of teetering at risk to ankle joint.
My fingernails are bare of chip-prone paint,
My hair goes where it wills, without restraint.
When grayness first revealed itself, I bought
Some dye, but soon discovered what I thought
Was beauty was instead a bathroom mess,
Despite my brave attempts at carefulness.
For lack of make-up, blame my allergies,
My nose rubbed naked every time I sneeze.
For lack of lipstick, blame Ms Magazine,
Which in the Seventies proclaimed with spleen
That face paint was an INEQUALITY;
If men don’t have to do it, why should we?
So now my silver hair surrounds a face
Where age’s wrinkles have an honored place.
I am content with plainness; jeans and boots
Shall walk me earthward to my simple roots.

 

Hurricane at Sea

We skirted a hurricane (known as a cyclone in the South Pacific) for the first several days after my husband Tony and I left Wellington, New Zealand, bound for New York on the “Johan von Oldenbarnevelt.” For most of that time I lay on my bunk, so seasick I wished I were dead just to get the misery over with. In a letter to parents I scrawled: “Mountainous heaps of water piling up all over the place, wind changing direction all day …Steady old JVO bobbing around like a cork. Thank goodness I have got my sea legs at last – after the first few days of utter misery in a very stuffy cabin. Am still on a largely dry bread and water diet – lost a terrific lot of weight. But have been reading Women of New Zealand today and decided that my lot is not too bad after all. What those women had to put up with on their voyage out to NZ makes me feel rather ashamed of myself.”

NZ Women book coverThe book I referred to, The Women of New Zealand by Helen M. Simpson, had been a parting gift from my parents, who had come to Wellington to see us off. First published in 1940, it was a vivid description of the lives of pioneer women.

The "Kenilworth"

The Ship “Kenilworth” Outward Bound for New Zealand. An illustration in Helen M. Simpson’s The Women of New Zealand, it is a reproduction of a painting by J.C. Richmond, now in the possession of the National Art Gallery, Wellington.

An early chapter describes conditions on board the emigrant ships for the four- to six-month journey from the British Isles to New Zealand. Simpson comments: “Cramped quarters ashore are difficult enough to deal with; at sea, when with every lurch of the ship ‘all things animate and inanimate’ were hurled about, children and chairs in terrifying and noisy confusion …”

Our quarters on the JVO were certainly cramped. Our lower-deck cabin had two bunks and a tiny washbasin in a space so narrow we had to take turns getting dressed. Outside in the corridor, the airless heat was rank with smells from the nearby galley. But unlike those early emigrants, we didn’t have to cook for ourselves, or bring along our own cabin furnishings.

Sarah Jane Caundle

Great-grandma Sarah Jane Caundle, whose parents emigrated to New Zealand in 1862.

Charles Dinsdale

Granddad Charles Dinsdale, who emigrated from Yorkshire to New Zealand in the early 1900s.

I think of my own ancestors who braved the outward journey. A hundred years before Tony and I walked up the JVO’s gangplank, my newly-married great-great grandparents, Bernard and Sarah Donnelly, set out from County Leitrim in Ireland to join hundreds of other Irish immigrants on the New Zealand goldfields. My paternal grandfather, Charles Dinsdale, emigrated from Yorkshire, England in the early 1900s. By then steam had replaced sail, but he would have set out for his new life half-way across the world with the same sense of adventure.

In her book, Simpson tells of a shipboard fire, when passengers & crew took to the lifeboats. A woman passenger wrote that, when told of the fire, ‘I folded up my knitting, put on my bonnet and shawl, and went up.’ Simpson comments: “So figuratively hundreds of other women folded up their knitting, and, putting on bonnets and shawls, quietly faced these and other perils, and all the acute discomforts of the long voyage to the new land where their hopes rested. Dangers and discomforts were accepted without fuss.”

Corinthic passenger list

Passenger list for the SS “Corinthic” 1904. The 21-year-old C. Dinsdale (fifth name down) is probably my grandfather. From https://familysearch.org

Simpson’s standard of appropriate behavior is typical of the New Zealand society I grew up in, where we were expected to just deal with whatever hardships came our way. This is why I felt so chagrined for feeling sorry for myself.

JVO passenger list

Passenger list for the “Johan van Oldenbarnevelt” 1962. Our names are at the top of the page. From https://familysearch.org

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Maureen is exploring the contents of an old black filing cabinet in her attic, which contains 55 years of her writing notes and memorabilia.

Inside a 1960s newspaper office

In graduate seminar at the University of Canterbury, Professor Neville Phillips fixed me with a stern eye as he returned my latest effort. “You are getting through your history papers, Miss Dinsdale, on your writing style, not on your knowledge of history.” I flinched, and worried. Graduation was coming up, and I planned to apply for a job on The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand’s morning newspaper. Within the next week or two I needed to ask him for a letter of reference. Not only was Prof. Phillips head of the history department, he was a former newspaperman himself, and still had deep connections at The Press.

I needn’t have worried. Not only did he write me a nice reference, he also penned a personal note to the paper’s editor, Arthur Rolleston (Rollie) Cant, that opened the door to my dream job.

Press Building

Press Building, Cathedral Square, Christchurch, NZ. Photo by Michael Whitehead from
http://www.nzine.co.nz/features/150years_the_press.html

 I had known since childhood that writing was what I wanted to do. Movies about newspapers such as While the City Sleeps (1958), Deadline – U.S.A. (1952) and Ace in the Hole (1951) filled me with fantasies about the drama and excitement of the reporter’s life. Here was my chance to prove myself.

Teletype machne

Teletype machine printing a news report. Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

I loved working at The Press. A great Gothic pile on Cathedral Square, in the heart of Christchurch, the Press Building was a newspaper office out of one of those Hollywood movies: a cavernous newsroom that smelled of newsprint and dust, where telephones jangled, the chief reporter barked commands and the urgent clatter of the Teletype machine signaled a breaking story somewhere in the world.

Compositing room

Picture of Merganthaler linotype machines in a compositing room from the archives of the Nieman Foundation http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/

Sometimes I would be sent on an errand out back to the compositing room, a shadowy cave where enormous Mergenthaler Linotype machines made a deafening clatter. Deeper into the heart of the building, the throb and rumble of the great press itself, and the bustle of loading trucks in the small hours of the morning for long distance runs. When The Press celebrated its 100th anniversary in May 1961, its circulation was 62,000, with subscribers throughout the South Island.

It felt glamorous to work late into the evening, rushing back from meetings to meet the deadline for next morning’s paper. I shared dreams with the other young reporters, all of us with a few scratched notes tucked away for what each of us was sure would be the Great New Zealand Novel. We all had the sense of being part of an old tradition.

Among my notes I found this description of the office, written in 1960. Christchurch at that time was a sleepy provincial city of 193,000 people, and exciting news stories didn’t happen all that often.

Not quite the hustle and bustle

I described the office as a jumbly assortment of rooms, all dirty and uncared for, and with space saving nonexistent.

dusty files

I particularly appreciated my desk in the women’s department, by a window where I could gaze out across Cathedral Square. I’ve written about this view in an earlier post.

pleasantAlas, the old Press Building is no more, a victim of the February 22, 2011 Christchurch earthquake, four years ago today. The staff now report the news from a new modern building nearby.

 

 

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Maureen is exploring the contents of an old black filing cabinet in her attic, which contains 55 years of her writing notes and memorabilia.

 

Cooking for 120 in a remote fishing camp

Curious cove

The Curious Cove camp, now known as Kiwi Ranch. It looks much the same as when I worked there in the late 1950s.

If you take the ferry from Wellington, New Zealand across Cook Strait and through the Marlborough Sounds to Picton, at the northern end of South Island, you will sail past the entrance to Curious Cove. At the tip of that narrow inlet is the tiny fishing camp where I worked through all my college vacations. Reachable only by boat, Curious Cove was a magical little world. The job, passed down through word of mouth by University of Canterbury women students, was perfect for this impoverished student, with board and lodging provided, nothing but a tiny tuck shop to spend money in, and a nice paycheck at the end of the season. I started off as a kitchen hand and was later promoted to second cook.

The guests, about 120 at a time, would come in for a couple of weeks. We would feed them a full breakfast, then scramble to pack lunch sandwiches for those going out fishing. Those who stayed behind got freshly baked scones with their mid-morning tea, and a salad and cold cuts lunch. By late afternoon, when the launch, “Rongo” hove into view with Charlie the skipper at the helm, the kitchen crew was already at work on the evening meal.  It would be plain, traditional New Zealand fare: a roast with gravy and several vegetables, plus a dessert such as apple shortcake with custard.

Grandma’s Apple Shortcake from Taste magazine

 

Here’s a classic New Zealand apple shortcake recipe.

Film poster for “Cheaper by the Dozen”

Almost everything was made from scratch. The 1950 movie Cheaper by the Dozen, the story of time and motion study experts Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and their twelve children, was as big a hit in New Zealand as it was in the U.S. Following the Gilbreths’ methods, the Curious Cove kitchen crew, being university students, amused ourselves by figuring out more efficient ways to do things.

 

motion study clippingI wrote this little column in 1960 or ’61 as a filler for the women’s page of The Press, Christchurch’s morning newspaper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Maureen is exploring the contents of an old black filing cabinet in her attic, which contains 55 years of her writing notes and memorabilia.

 

Battle of the Rose Roots

I should have learned from experience. Years ago, I wondered why plants near a hedge in my Palo Alto garden weren’t doing so well, in spite of soil amendments, regular watering, and other tender loving care. Investigating closer, I found that below the soil surface was a dense mass of tiny white roots. The nourishment stealer was a Banksia rose that had flourished in the hedge for fifty years.

You would think I’d learn and remember. But no … As we designed a deer-fenced vegetable garden for our new home on the edge of the forest in Mendocino, we decided that a covered gate, an English lych-gate, would be a charming touch. And wouldn’t it be romantic to have a rose climbing over it? I’ve always been fond of “Mrs. Cecille Brunner” with its exquisite miniature pink buds.

“Mrs Cecille Brunner” pruned and tidy for the winter.

I planted a climbing “Mrs. B” in a half wine barrel just inside the gate, out of the deer’s reach. Years passed. At a friend’s house I admired another pink climber. She told me its name, “Seven Sisters,” and offered a cutting. The local legend, she told me, was that this rose was originally brought to the Northern California coast by a Russian princess in the early 1800s. Possibly she was the well-born wife of Ivan Kuskoff, commander of the Russian American Company fur trading post at Fort Ross, whose house is still standing, and is now a National Historic Landmark. According to the story, Madame Kuskoff gave cuttings of “Seven Sisters” to friends, who gave cuttings to friends, and so it moved up the coast. I see it everywhere in the gardens of old coast homes, and have met the woman who gave my friend her cutting.

But I digress. Needless to say, my cutting of “Seven Sisters” also found a home in a wine barrel inside my fenced garden. It became a yearly task to prune these enthusiastic climbers before they totally blocked the sun from the vegetables.

Seven Sisters tangle

“Seven Sisters” reaches for the sky.

This year “Seven Sisters” decided to bloom again just as I was getting out my pruning shears, so she’s still a wild tangle.

But tidy on top doesn’t mean disciplined underneath. This season I noticed that the vegetables in raised beds near the roses were stunted and sad. One scoop with the shovel showed the cause. Nothing for it but to dig out the entire bed.

Rose roots and shovel

Rose roots poke through the hardware cloth floor of the raised bed.

There’s a layer of hardware cloth on the bottom to keep out the gophers (that’s another story). I’m hoping a couple of layers of weed cloth will deter the rose roots, at least for a few years. My friend, a Master Gardener, laughed when I told her. “You’re the eternal optimist, aren’t you?” she said.

On the Haul Road

The Fort Bragg Haul Road this Saturday afternoon is  like a painting of a European beach promenade. Misty silhouettes in the silvery light, family groups with dogs and bicycles take the air in the short break between storms. The sea roars. A brisk wind lifts delicate plumes of spray from the waves.

The old Haul Road is a local treasure. Built in the early 1900s to haul logs to the Fort Bragg lumber mill, it is now part of the California coastal trail system. Further north, the sea has washed away much of the road, but for close to three miles, between the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge at the edge of town and the campground at MacKerricher State Park,  it is still reasonably intact.

This afternoon, after a week of rain, people walk with smiles on their faces. The reservoirs and aquifers are filling up, ending fears of drought. More rain is forecast. Today the sky is blue and the sea magnificent.

The Storms of Yesteryear

Intermission at a Sunday afternoon concert, a knot of people take the air in the porch of Preston Hall. “That’s a beautiful sight,” a woman says, pointing to the rain sweeping in across Mendocino Bay. We are all excited. The weather gurus have warned that this rain is just precursor to a series of large storms expected to hit over the next several days.

“Remember that time we we had twenty, no forty inches of rain in one storm?” someone says.

“What about the time that rogue wave went right over the lighthouse?” Point Cabrillo Light Station, a one-story structure with a turret on top that holds a magnificent first order Fresnel lens, sits on a crumbling headland about fifty feet above the water.

“Not over the light, surely?”

“Over the roof, at least.”

Much damage?”

“Oh yes.”

I mention the first time Tony and I came to Mendocino, in 1970. In Navarro River Redwoods State Park, through which you drive to reach the coast, we were fascinated to see a plaque high up the cliff on the side of the road, marking how high the waters had come in the big flood. The date was 1965, I think. The plaque is gone now, but you can still see evidence of that flood. A whitish fungus covers the trunks of the redwood trees up to the waterline. It is particularly visible at night, illuminated by car headlights, a ghostly presence in the blackness of the forest.

The Navarro River still floods in major storms. Everyone who lives here on the coast quickly learns the alternate routes to reach inland destinations. Tree limbs fall. Mud slides. Sometimes all the roads are closed. Sometimes the power goes out for days. We learn how to hunker down. And afterward, we will have more stories.

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