Tuesday 20 May 2014

Not the only ones

We weren't the only ones having an amazing experience at Gallipoli - here is a lovely blog post by Rebecca Nelson, a New Zealand singer who travelled to Turkey with the New Zealand Defence Force Band. It was Rebecca who sang the New Zealand national anthem at the dawn service and she was also part of the group that sang at Chunuk Bair. It's lovely to read about some other people who also visited many of the same battle sites and cemeteries, bonded together as a close-knit group and felt sometimes overwhelmed by the emotional impact of such a special place.  


Sunday 11 May 2014

Home again

Today it's four weeks exactly since I set off on the way to Gallipoli. It must have been one of the most intense four weeks of my life, full of new sights, new experiences and new friends (and plenty of onboard movies!)

Now I'm sitting at my desk at home, watching the dawn service and Chunuk Bair Anzac service on Maori TV. It almost seems impossible to believe I was actually there, but it's quite true - there I am, about 40 mins in on the Chunuk Bair service (and about 20 mins before the rain arrived.)

Sir Jerry Mateparae, Governor General of NZ, gave a memorable and thoughtful address at both services. I especially like what he said at the dawn service (at about 27 mins): how this time next year, people will be focused on the events of exactly 100 years ago as the first troops landed early in the morning of 25 April 1915, and the Turkish troops up on the hills braced themselves to defend their homeland. This year, he said, we can still reflect on that, but "in the space before the centenary begins", we can also remember the peace that was there 99 years ago before war descended. That peace was something that came through the dawn service, in the sound of muted birdsong and the waves on the beach, and in the crescent moon and glittering stars above, and the line of the hills silhouetted against the blue-black sky.  

"When we remember our brave forebears, we pay them the honour they deserve. It is also a time for reflection on war and its impact, and it is a chance to enlighten new generations about the events that shaped their world, and to encourage them to strive for peace."

He closed by quoting the Ode in Maori: 
I te hekenga atu o te ra,
Tae noa ki te aranga mai i te ata,
Ka maumāhara tonu tātou ki a rātou.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.
I also appreciated the tribute he paid to the Turkish people, "our most gracious hosts".

You can read Sir Jerry's speech at the dawn service here, and his speech at Chunuk Bair here.  

Thanks to Maori TV for great coverage of the event.

Sunday 4 May 2014

Katherine Mansfield in Menton

Menton is a little town in the south of France, very close to the Italian border. Many New Zealanders would know that Katherine Mansfield spent some time there in the last few years of her life - although I didn't realise that it was such a short time (and such a short life, after all) - she arrived in January 1920, spent intervals in England in Switzerland and was dead by 1923.

KM standing in the garden at the Villa Isola Bella (1920)
She went there because she was sick with tuberculosis, then called consumption, and the only cure the doctors could offer was to escape England's damp climate and go somewhere warmer. The reason Menton became so popular and well known - for invalids, especially - was due to an English doctor. Dr James Henry Bennet was also suffering from consumption and came to Menton in 1859. He credited its sunshine and dry air for curing him, and wrote a book called Winter in the south of Europe (1861) in which he praised its beautiful gardens, full of orange and lemon trees, and its welcoming society. People flocked there and created a small English community, with an English church and English grocer; soon there were hotels, balls, and everything to attract tourists.

Many writers and artists have loved this part of the south of France, but I didn't know that W B Yeats died there. In 1938, he came with his wife to stay in a hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the next small town along the coast. He died there in January 1939 and was buried in the town's cemetery up on the hill. The war intervened so his remains couldn't be returned to Ireland until 1948, by which time it took some detective work to identify exactly where his grave was.

Katherine loved Menton, and she adored Isola Bella, a villa on the side of a steep hill, not far from the Menton Garavan railway station. She said about Menton: "I love it as I've never loved any place but my home." The villa is now privately owned, and the KM room is the basement part of it,with a small garden and a bathroom around the side. It's not far at all from where Mandy and Brian are staying - down one road, up another one and under the railway bridge.The same train line runs below Mandy and Brian's flat, which makes a nice connection between the two places.

Just as you can’t go to Gallipoli without remembering the men who were there 99 years ago, so here in Menton, you try and picture KM looking out at these views or walking these streets. At dawn when the buildings in the old town glow in the early morning light, or in the evening when the sunset colours are pretty but muted (like the pastel shades of the houses) and the air is still and clear, like Wellington on a good day, you can’t help wondering what she was thinking: did she feel far from home, or did she feel at home? Did it remind her somehow of NZ – the houses perched on cliffs, the blue sea, the sunsets, the wide sky?

Saturday 3 May 2014

(Not quite Gallipoli, but) Menton

Warm and grateful thanks to Mandy Hager (current recipient of the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship) and Brian for looking after me so well in Menton - you can read more about their experiences of settling into French life on Mandy's blog - the good parts, as well as the more challenging bits!

The airport bus from Nice gives a brilliant introduction to this part of the French Riviera; on the motorway as far as Monaco, then hugging the cliffs above the sparkling Mediterranean, winding through small towns and villages, and streets that seem even narrower than Wellington ones. 

We spent the first afternoon wandering round the old part of Menton, all cobbled courtyards, steep lanes and pastel coloured houses with shutters and rows of washing hanging from the windows.

Dark clouds started to gather as we explored the cemetery – final resting place of many who must have come, as Katherine Mansfield did, to seek a cure for consumption; some inscriptions are in English, others in Russian or other European languages, and many of those buried there were born elsewhere and died young. Other graves were family plots, some looking sadly abandoned, with weeds sprouting amidst cracked concrete. (William Webb Ellis, founder of the game of rugby, gets a statue as well as a grave.) The storm finally broke, with fat raindrops starting to fall and thunder rumbling around the hills – on and on and on – like a very atmospheric setting for a story!

Amazingly, the Italian border is only 5 minutes away from Mandy and Brian's flat – cross a small bridge, and you’re in another country.

There are several tiers of roads here: the smaller ones wind along the coast while higher up, under limestone cliffs pitted with caves, the toll motorway crosses viaducts and dives in and out of tunnels. So many tunnels – we didn't keep count, but there must have been dozens between Menton and Genova (or Genoa.) The toll road is a marvel of engineering, but it looks incongruous against the backdrop of villages, old houses, castles and church spires. We had lunch in a small town called Imperia, at a pizza place popular with the crews working on the boats in the nearby marina. Afterwards we carried on to Genova for a wander round the Old Port area, and on the way home, bought bottles of local red wine for 2 euros each.

Mandy and Brian in Genova
Ten minutes in the other direction is another country again - Monaco - where the palace is fairytale-perfect, the cars and boats are gleaming and expensive, there are defibrillators on every corner and  all the stands are being set up ready for the Grand Prix in another few weeks. 

Thursday 1 May 2014

Anzac at Gallipoli: in the news

Anzac Day at Gallipoli, as you might have read about it or seen it online:

"As we stand here in the peace and quiet of the early morning, we can cast our minds back to the morning 99 years ago, when the soft sounds of waves on the shore, and the gentle rhythmic splashing of oars of the landing boats were soon drowned out by the cacophony of gun fire, the shouts of orders and the screams of wounded men.
"Now, almost a century later, we come together to acknowledge the deeds of those who served in the Gallipoli campaign and to honour their memory and to reflect on all that they endured. There are great feats conducted here and there are those who straggled. Those who stood by their mates, and a few who let them down.
"We should not judge from the distance of history, just as we cannot imagine the suffering and horrors endured by those who served here."
(New Zealand Defence Force Major General Arthur David Gawn )