Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #7 - May 2007
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the seventh Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!


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Alright, there is no use even pretending that this is a VERY belated April newsletter – the truth is, I have spent all this time looking hard for the right words to announce the eventual death and demise of my plans to travel to Europe and perform at the opening of John Howe's exhibition in Switzerland. But really, there are none – so I will just leave it at that.

The response to my attempts to find a last minute sponsor or additional paid work in Europe has been verging towards zero – many heartfelt thanks to the two people who did reply with ideas or suggestions, some of which I followed up, but there really wasn't much one could have done at such a very late stage. Still, I suppose it was worth the attempt – but sometimes the miracle you need just does not happen.


Seeing that my plans for the next couple of months have all come to nothing, there is not much in that category at the moment. My next "Music History in Six Easy Steps" course is due to start in August. Some of the places are already gone so please make sure you sign up in good time. Course dates are 9 August to 13 September, Thursday evenings from 7.30 to 9.30 pm – and please feel free to pass on the information to anyone else who might be interested!

There will also be a repeat of the "Learn to Read and Write Music" course, which will be running from 8 August to 12 September, Wednesday evenings from 7.30 to 9.30 pm. Previous participants said lots of good things about this one, so make sure you spread the word! – Both courses will take place at Wellington High School, registrations can be made through the Adult Community Education centre, ph: (04) 385 89 19, Fax (04) 802 76 76, or email:

In other news, I have foolhardily gone ahead and signed up for a stall at the new Aro Street Arts and Crafts market, to be held the first Saturday of each month from 8 to 12 noon (or maybe a bit later) at the Aro St Community Center in Wellington – the next one will be on Saturday, 2 June. I'll be selling cds and sheet music, as well as photo prints and some artwork, and I might even bring along my little harp – so come and check it out! It promises to be quite the event.

I have also updated my shop – as per popular request, there are now photo prints for sale – have a look! The galleries will be expanded by and by but you may click on any of the photos in this newsletter to buy a print of it.

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Edoras Bag End


April has seen me travelling across the length and width of both the South and the North Islands yet again. This time my (brilliant) excuse was that my parents were here for a visit and I wanted to show them as many as possible of the reasons why I have decided to settle so far from home… I think I have almost managed to convince them that it might after all be a good thing. And of course I have taken several thousand photos…

New Zealand landscape, I think, affects people like good music. They mellow out, somehow. On occasion, it positively induces high spirits. And it certainly calms the mind. The South Island in particular, with its majestic mountainscapes, untouched virgin forests, clear rivers and mysterious lakes. We ended up following the same old trail that I took on my very first visit down south, a week or so after arriving in New Zealand. First to Mt Somers in Central Canterbury, and Mt Potts station where once the film set for Edoras stood.

Edoras - Mt Summer, central Canterbury

Then back to the main road, past Tara and Twizel to Arrowtown and Queenstown. From there, we took the small windy road to the western tip of Lake Wakatipu, to Glenorchy and Paradise. As we arrived in Glenorchy in the late afternoon, it was pouring with rain – but I had set my heart on taking the small unsealed road out to Paradise and the forest of Lorien that evening, so after some deliberation we drove on – to be rewarded with an evening rending of the clouds, rainbows and all included.

road to Paradise

As we approached our goal, a man stopped us on this road to nowhere and informed us that we had to wait for five minutes since they were busy shooting a movie… I suspected we had strayed into a time warp, weren't we like, seven years late? But it turned out that the movie to be shot there was not just any odd movie – we had inadvertently come across a shoot for Prince Caspian, of the Narnia series … so despite the rain in Paradise, that really made my day.

Paradise in the rain

Glenorchy,early morning

The next day I got out of my tent early and wandered around taking pictures of the sunrise. Later we drove on to the Mavora Lakes – it was my third time there and it oddly felt like coming home. Besides, despite all effort of the weather to put us off on our drive down there, once we arrived at South Mavora lake the sun was shining – and continued to do so throughout an entirely gorgeous blue day of rest, all next day.

magical Mavora

Then the road took us back past Queenstown and down the pass road to Haast – a roadstop in the middle of nowhere, entirely geared to catering for tourists in their motorhomes. From there we followed the usual trail up the West Coast past the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers – and back across Lewis Pass, with a stop for the night (and the best part of the next day) at Maruia, with its enchanted forest.

West Coast

Fox Glacier

Maruia plains, Lewis Pass road

After exchanging our rented motor home for a much smaller car we made it back to Picton and the Interisland Ferry – though spending the night in Kaikoura was definitely not a highlight of our trip. After catching up with a few things in Wellington – and spending another day in the studio working on my cd – we were ready to head up north. We spent a night in Ohakune at the feet of Mt Ruapehu – and had some of the best kiwi style food I ever had at Altitude585. Well, it has to be mentioned... - The next morning we witnessed the season's first snow when we took the drive up the Ohakune Mountain Road.

snow on the central island volcanoes

Our final destination was lovely Matamata, where we spend a restful four days near my favourite hot spring (no I won't tell you which one that is, it's my best-kept secret). I took my mum on the Hobbiton tour, and brought my sketchpad along in the hope of being able to squeeze in a quick sketch – which I did, but there really was not enough time for the result to be at all satisfying. So I plucked up my courage and asked the guide if it would be possible to spend some time on the set sketching… and was rewarded with a whole day in The Shire. Apart from being a real treat which almost made up for the disappointment of not going to be able to go to Switzerland, it resulted in the pencil sketch of Bag End above.

Hobbiton - Matamata

When I was little, my mother taught us the trees. We used to collect autumn leaves and glue them on paper, or paint them, and then give those precious artworks as a birthday gift to my father, whose birthday is in October. And this way, we learned to tell an oak leaf from a maple leaf and an elder from an ash quite early in life.

When I first came to New Zealand, it contributed greatly to my sense of disorientation that I could not name a single of the native trees. I felt like a toddler again, having to start all over learning their names. Now that I can tell a Rimu from a Kauri, a Southern Beech from a Pohutukawa, it’s much easier to feel at home. Besides, I fell in love with these trees even before I could name them. I would not ever want to live in a place again where there are no southern beech trees, no tree ferns and no gentle Rimu. New Zealand's vegetation is unique, because it has developed in such geographical isolation for such a long time. There is a beauty and a sense of primordial wildness to our native forests – the largely untouched landscapes of Fjordland or the West Coast, of central Taranaki or the Ureweras, and the Kauri forests in Northland and on the Coromandel peninsula. New Zealanders cherish that, for good reason, and there is a drive to re-establish native vegetation wherever possible. I feel a sense of homecoming in Mavora, a place I simply fell in love with when I first came to this country.

Mavora - again

But it is a different sort of at-home-ness than what I feel each time I return to the “Shire”, the landscape of the Central Waikato round Matamata. That landscape takes me unawares and speaks most easily to my heart. It is mostly, perhaps, the fault of the trees that I should react so strongly. The native forest has all but disappeared. There is farmland, pastures and fields were European crops are grown. European-style hedges line the fields, and European trees line the roads - enormous trees, oaks that look far more impressive than they should at the tender age of 150 years at most – chestnut and ash and maple and birch.

These trees have been planted with love, no doubt – the love of homesick British people who wanted to make their new home look as much as the old one as they possibly could. An understandable impulse – and yet, such a monument to colonialism. Such an appropriation of the land and the landscape, shaping it with familiar trees, familiar hedges, familiar crops, making it look like the familiar landscapes of northern Europe and thereby claiming it as their own.

enchanted forest, Maruia

And then there is the very peculiar emotional bond which results from the fact that this is the landscape which Peter Jackson choose to represent Tolkien's Shire. The main reason for his choice, of course, is the very fact that it looks so English – while still retaining an underlying strangeness and a sense of being unspoilt, of being fresh and new the way Europe might have been thousands of years ago, before all that history happened. Tolkien’s Shire is the English countryside mythologized, and by extension the Northern European landscape that I, too, grew up in.

Or did I? In fact, I grew up in a big city – West Berlin, not just any big city, but a city which at the time was under siege, and enclosed by that most drastic physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall. Weekends in the countryside hardly ever happened in my childhood – though I was lucky enough to be able to spend much time outdoors in the inner city greenbelt. My sense of a home landscape is a strange conglomerate of weekends spent boating on the river Havel, trips to Bavaria where my parents once thought to build a weekend house, then years later bought a flat – and holidays spent in Scandinavia and France - or Ontario, Canada, which of course is not Europe at all.

It is also formed to a not inconsiderable extend by the books I read – particularly those by Astrid Lindgren, which are probably the reason that I feel much more Scandinavian than my stray genes justify, and why, on those rare occasions when I do get a bout of homesickness, I miss Sweden almost more than Germany. But those are landscapes I not only read about, those were landscapes I knew – knew their smell, their feel, their trees and streets and houses and rain and dust and temperature. I never felt the Indian jungle was part of my inner home landscape, much as I obsessively read and re-read Kipling’s Jungle Books. Although admittedly, those books may have contributed to my love of strange exotic forests…

But few books reach the level to which Tolkien makes us feel we have lived in the landscapes he describes. For all its obvious English-ness, his description of The Shire is open enough to accommodate many people’s childhood paradise. The movies add another layer – by giving this imaginary landscape an actual location. It’s got to be one of the most magical experiences one can have, to be able to literally walk into a beloved story, here in New Zealand on a sheep farm near Matamata. Call it Central Waikato or call it The Shire, I feel more at home there than I ever felt in that grey ugly city I grew up in.

That's my bit of philosophy for today - arohanui, from Asni

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last updated: 27 May, 2007