Happy Easter Καλό Πάσχα Kaló Páscha

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For over thirty years now, whenever we are at home over the Easter holidays, I have been making mulled wine and hot cross buns for friends on Good Friday.  The weather has never failed us, or so we say. And yesterday was no exception.  Wellington, renowned for it’s wind and rain turned on a spectacular day as we swatted the wasps, and sipped our wine in the sunshine (23 degrees in fact).  There’s nothing like good friends, warm wine and alas, this year my buns were little rocks, but no-one minded. After all these years, I tried a new recipe and it failed me.

      It’s lovely to have reached the age and stage of life, where it’s no longer a disaster when the baking goes awry. Years gone by, realising the failure in the lack of elasticity in the dough, I would have abandoned the batch and started from scratch. But I’m older now and there’s less energy for perfection. My friends didn’t mind… we began at 11.00 am and ended at 4.00 pm…

      It feels like a good time to pull out an old poem and re-post it along with a picture of successful hot cross buns from a season past.  Maria who is in this poem, was with us yesterday, as we shared our own and the Greek Easter, which this year, coincided.

    I’m currently reading, to review, a beautiful collection of short stories by Vincent O’Sullivan ‘The Families’ which is perfect reading for a holiday weekend, touching as it does, on all of varying aspects of life, love, friendships and how we negotiate these, our lovers, spouses, children, our hopes and disappointments.  Good Friday has less and less religious significance for me (as it once did in my childhood, the grim re-enactments of the stations of the cross) and more and more it is about old friends and family, the nuances we negotiate, the sometimes tragedies that we learn to let go of.

 

 

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Mulling it over

Cinnamon, cardamom, almonds

and wasps, plump imported raisins,

currants;    Uncle’s aluminium pan.

The sunlight is thinner and Maria

who is Greek is fasting; orange peel

floats in the dark pool of wine.

I add sugar and schnapps, watch

the liquid almost boil and ladle it

into warm mugs.  We breathe in

the alcohol, swat at the wasps

remember last Easter and the one

before.  We marvel at the yeasty buns

suck the sticky glaze from our fingers

and lift the pale crosses to our lips

knowing that Pilate will wash his hands,

Veronica will wash his face, a

soldier will lance his side, and that

he will chat to a couple of thieves

just before he dies.   But, it is

the triumph of the empty tomb

we most admire as we raise our

hot mugs of wine in relief, glad.

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Old friends and Cape Foulwind

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Old friends and Cape Foulwind

When you’re from Wellington, travelling to Cape Foulwind holds no concern. After all, it’s the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand, renowned for its weather. You share a bad reputation, it endears you to each other. But, we arrived at our accommodation, the dramatically appointed “Steeples” Cottage, on a calm sunny day. Our splendid front lawn runs right out to the cliff edges overlooking the sea. There’s a garden seat of driftwood under a wind-shaped macrocarpa. There’s also a darling garden of chaotic colour, old-fashioned flowers in full bloom, which belies the wind-shaped trees. And a fence and a child-proof gate at the perimeter, as our hosts have local grandchildren.

View from the cottage

Our modern and well-equipped cottage is named Steeples, because of the superb view from the cottage of the limestone steeple-shaped rocks jutting out of the sea in front of us. The hosts feted us with freshly collected mussels, the fattest, sweetest, we have ever eaten. And then we head to the local pub, just along the road and everyone there appears to be related in some way, either by marriage or birth. We’re served freshly rarely cooked and tender venison morsels, as almost tapas with our beer. Where else? Our fish, when we order it, is grilled Turbot, shaken in flour and crisped just a little with oil and lemon pepper.

Cape FoulwindSand in my shoes

We’re running away. It’s what you do when life serves up parcels of grief. How lucky are we? We could have stayed home and wallowed, but we chose to travel instead. The spirit cannot help but be revived in this rugged landscape. I’d spent five days in Kaikoura with my sister on the trail of family secrets, stunned yet again by the jewel-like aqua of the East Coast sea. It was the first time probably in perhaps 50 years, that we had spent this much time together. We ate scallops as fat as your fist (almost) but missed out on the crayfish as it was the end of the season and the last of the crays were especially expensive. We met a first cousin for the first time. This adds to our collection, having recently found two aunts and an uncle we never knew about and who didn’t know about us either. We talked as sisters do, about our one successful family holiday in Kaikoura, where we hid in the hawthorn hedge and threw plums at passersby. We found the old house, almost unchanged on the corner, parked our car and sat and reminisced.

Kaikoura

Kaikoura

Then, my sister returned to Thames and John joined me. We visited old friends in Nelson, and Lake Brunner, saw the night sky in Tekapo and visited Christchurch. There’s something grounding about old friendships. People who know your story and whose story you know. Friends who forgive you your faults as you forgive them, and the comfort of familiarity. As for Christchurch, I was blown away on the sunny Friday by the sense of renewal and spirit of optimism down by the container shops, and then Saturday dawned grey, cold and sad and I saw the central city spaces in a new and sadder light.

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The beautiful church at Lake Tekapo

The beautiful church at Lake Tekapo

View from inside the church at Lake Tekapo

View from inside the church at Lake Tekapo

Cape Foulwind
The cliffs at Cape Foulwind

The cliffs at Cape Foulwind

John takes a great photo. So, I’ve decided to share some of his best with you on my blog. While I was travelling, I was reading a very good novel by Coral Atkinson, soon to be launched called ‘Passing Through’ which I am going to review for Beattie’s blog. There’s nothing like a good book to keep you company on a road trip. I also read the short stories of George Saunders, ‘The Tenth of December’ – a much heralded American short-story writer – it took me a while to ‘get’ the voices in his stories, but once I did, I was hooked. ‘The Semplica-Girl Diaries’ both startled, surprised and wowed me. And on my bedside is a new collection from Vincent O’Sullivan that I’ve already dipped into – delicious.