Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, NZ
The cathedral here offers a lookout from the top of the steeple for those willing to pay for the right to climb 134 steps. The cathedral’s vaulted ceiling is as impressive as any and is visible at ground level so that’s where we started the day.

Cathedral square is a pleasant place. The tourist trams drive through every few minutes and people have little shops under umbrellas. Most of them are only vendors but one woman offered her own little paintings as well as hats and scarves from the wool she spun and knitted. Jay will have such a hat to wear next winter if our luggage makes it home.

There was also a man who did some carving and also designed work to be done by his “friends.” One carving he had was a tiny, intricate NZ lizard that is not a lizard. It certainly looks like a lizard but the description in museums makes it clear it is not a lizard though the commentary does not advance to the next step to tell what it is. Rick bought the not-lizard carved into a seed.

Nearby Neil Dawson’s sculpture, chalice, towers above the square. It sort of looks like a flower vase and then rather like a lacy ice cream cone. The form is natural aluminum color on the outside and blue inside but the open work allows both colors to show. It was dedicated just before 9-11-01 and has since become a magnet for protestors. People climb the sculpture and present their grievances or hold rallies at the base.

No protestors were on hand for us though an aging hippie juggled while another sang and played guitar and a third begged for money to go home. There was a unicycle lying sadly on the sidewalk but nobody put foot to pedal.

We also missed the wizard, a local guy who welded two VW front ends together to create his car which he parks while he rants and raves on a variety of topics.

We did see Victoria Square near city hall. There was a lovely bridge and a huge round flower garden that functioned as a clock. With flowers rather than numbers, the huge hands were meant to rotate and give the time but right now it’s only correct twice a day.

Johnson’s grocery is packed to the gills with tea and biscuits. They had a big sale on a new shipment of tinned haggis which we resisted choosing instead cashews to break the bite of afternoon hunger. The owner apologized to us, as did most people, for the cold weather. It was only a chilly 70 degrees here. What would they think of Wellsville in winter?

Queen Victoria not only had a park but also a clock dedicated on her 50th anniversary of the throne. It was pretty but not as pretty as the peacock fountain in super-huge Haley Park.

This was a hoot – Christ College. It was clear we were near when the trickle of boys wearing gray knee socks and shorts with white shirts and black and white ties turned from occasional to swarm. It’s a college –not a university - so boys go from out of elementary school at about age 11 or 12 and stay through high school. It’s completely grand.

The grass is like a golf green and the buildings like palaces. We could only go as far as the bollards. Don’t begin to think that I know a bollard from a not-lizard but the sign limiting our passage was near some sort of short polls so we guessed those were bollards. The boys were so totally proper that none of them could possibly be the source of the common graffiti around NZ.

A gentleman at the museum guessed that tuition would be about $20,000 a year for borders. He said that a lot of the farmers sent their sons to school there to continue the family tradition at Christ College.

Rutherford’s Den was another marvelous, free exhibit. There’s this building – part castle/part Hogwarts – constructed in 1874 as a high school. In a forward thinking mood, it was made to accommodate not just boys but girls. After 99 years the school moved to a new campus and the old school became shops and studios and restaurants but the rooms used by Ernest Rutherford to experiment and to lecture are now a museum about this man who appears on the NZ $100 bill.

The lecture hall is just as it was in his day and it is possible to sit there and listen to recordings of his teachings about the atom. He developed many theories about atoms including that they were mostly empty space. He helped develop the Geiger counter and to calculate the half life of radioactive substances. He also taught science to young people in that very room.

When a great scientist dies any number of things might happen to offer tribute. Somehow his neighbor thought that she’d just take a couple of his diplomas and make them into lampshades. The museum was able to recover the lampshades but as diplomas they are a bit of a mess.

There was a long list of stuff we saw and did there but this is already longer than you likely hoped.

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