The Universe Scores a Point or Several

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In this newsletter:
*** The Universe is Peeved
*** News & Current Projects
*** At the Movies: Waru

The Universe is Peeved

The other day I was coming back from some business in Masterton with a little time to spare, and decided to take a detour to look at some scenery, perhaps take some photos. There was a light spring drizzle, and the countryside at the moment is unbelievably green.

I came past a turn which I knew led up to a spot with a beautiful view, and spontaneously turned up the little back road. I'd been there a few times before, but lately I have been so bogged down with work on my house and property, that I hardly get out in the country any more.

As I drove up to the beauty spot, I noticed a little flock of birds. Some roosters who looked like they'd been dumped, a random turkey, and ... a peahen.

I forgot all about the view, and taking photos. Could this be? Got out of the car, opened the boot and desperately tried to make a hole in the new bag of chicken food I had just bought. Would she recognize me? This could not be my peahen could it? Surely she belonged to someone?

She eyed me carefully as if I might be vaguely familiar, but then this could simply have been about a human person entering her patch. My peahen used to take food from my hand. This one didn't, but she did come close, right up to my feet. She's clearly used to humans – or else she was very, very hungry.

She did recognize the bird net when I brought it along the next day, and made a wide berth whenever I tried to approach her with it. I've spoken to the people who own the property and they say the birds aren't theirs, or anyone's they know of. There can't be that many stray peahens floating around in the South Wairarapa, can there?

If I can retrieve her, she'll need to go to a home where there are other peacocks. She needs a mate. Though one has to wonder if perhaps she is happier with her five strapping, manly roosters whom she keeps firmly under her beak, than she would be as yet another trophy wife for the harem of some narcissistic cockpeacock who spends all day showing off his big tail? I'll have to re-name her Draupadi, she of the five husbands.

She went missing over a year ago. I was very upset about it at the time, and worried that she’d come to harm, what with people in the neighbourhood verbally abusing me, and threatening to shoot her, just because she was sitting there looking beautiful and unusual. I am so glad, if it is her, that she is well.

Ok Universe, you win.

Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order  Peahen: keeping the boys in order

Keeping the boys in order

Then the other thing that happened is that New Zealand has a new government.* I guess the Universe must have been really peeved that someone would accuse it of screwing up.

In the end it was up to Winston Peters, a seasoned old hand at the game of power – or old fox, if you prefer – and head of the New Zealand First party, to decide who to go into coalition with, and he decided that Jacinda Ardern would be our next prime minister. Apparently his work relationship with Bill English hasn't been that good. Or as someone put it: Bill English got more votes, but Bill English doesn't have any friends.

Winston Peters, who is Maori, is hard to pin on the political spectrum. To the liberal left, he is mostly known as the man who wants to limit immigration, especially immigration from Asian countries. This makes him the racist boo man, for people who are mainly Pakeha, educated, privileged – and who thus benefit from the racist structures in our society themselves, wether they want it or not.

Being an immigrant myself, I actually think Winston Peters has a point: I am strongly of the opinion that New Zealand needs to seriously sort out its attitudes toward migrants – and Asians – before it invites more people to come and live here. It is simply in no way acceptable to lure people to settle in New Zealand with promises of opportunities for professional development, and then completely leave them out in the cold, when they arrive here expecting to be employed in the kind of skilled jobs that earned them their residence permit in the first place. (Oh and yeah, that has happened to me).

There is a considerable overlap between people who knee jerk assume that a person with an accent can't be qualified for jobs involving any degree of skill, responsibility, power or authority, and people who criticize Winston Peters as racist. For instance, all the liberal left wing artsy people who permanently insist that we have to promote "talented young New Zealanders" and that therefore anyone who is not an Aryan certified New Zealander, has no business making culture in this country.

The record label owner who asks me why I don't contact Lufthansa, rather than Air New Zealand, to see if I can get my New Zealand made music on their on air entertainment channel. The other record label people who point out that they "only work with New Zealanders" when they hear my accent. Creative New Zealand, who tells me I can't get funding for a project because I have "no track record" – after I submitted several kilos of my international track record for Immigration, in order to qualify for their fancy "talent" work to residency visa stream. The people who choke on the very word "talent", of which, I am told, there is plenty of here in New Zealand already and they don't need any fucking German dirty whores who drink and have mental health issues everyone knows that. Ok. I am getting bitter. Let's just leave it there.

The other thing that Winston Peters has the gumption to name, is that in some Asian countries, very much including China, attitudes toward women are not compatible with the concepts that have been developed in New Zealand and other Western countries over the last 100 odd years. I don't believe it is an accident when the erosion of those hard fought for values, which we are currently observing with dismay, is spearheaded by industries like IT and the high tech part of the entertainment and media industry, where young Asian men are strongly represented. Weta Digital, I'm looking at you.

I really don't think that wholesale blaming this on the evil Asian immigrant is the appropriate solution. But it is an issue, and one that happens in a blind spot for the liberal left, because it is uncomfortable to admit that their belief in multiculturalism  – which I emphatically share – has some drawbacks, or at least might need some additional fine tuning. One might be accused of racism if one pointed this out!*

I am also not aware that "attitude toward women" figures as an evaluation criterion in the point system that New Zealand Immigration uses to determine who will be accepted and who won't. Hey Winston, here's an idea for a policy.

Having said all this, one of the first things that Jacinda Ardern announced – no doubt with her new coalition partner's blessing – is that New Zealand will double its quota for refugees. A long overdue step toward a more appropriate share in helping out with the global refugee crisis.

***

* I hope you enjoy the way the linked article from a major New Zealand news provider puts Jacinda Ardern's partner and father front and centre, and focuses extensively on photos of her with her partner's two nieces, while also not failing to mention that her sister is a proper woman and has just given birth.

More happy things More happy things More happy things

Happy things



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Still life with lilac, tea set and lemons by Astrid Nielsch Still life with lilac, tea set and lemons by Astrid Nielsch Still life with lilac, tea set and lemons by Astrid Nielsch Still life with lilac, tea set and lemons by Astrid Nielsch

New watercolour still life: Before I Go to the Valley Below

News and Current Projects

I suddenly felt like doing a watercolour still life this month. This felt so good that I then did another straight away. First time in over two years I have spontaneously painted something just because I wanted to, rather than working for a specific occasion or event.

I would like to dedicate these two pieces to the Featherston police. I don't know what I've done to impress them, but their officer put considerable time and effort into trying to get a local youth group to help out with some of the work on my property. They dithered and dathered for two months – first the weather was too bad, then they asked me which days suited, then they gave me a date on some other day two weeks later than the timeframe they'd suggested, then they changed that date to the one day of the week that never suits, then their organizer didn't get in touch about an alternative.

This is horribly unfair toward the good officer, who got the reward of all decent people, to do the work himself. I figured he'd be the one person who'd actually show up: and so he did, on the originally designate date, in his free time, with his partner in tow, just because he didn't want to let me down. Between them they cut up all my piles of hedge prunings for firewood and mulch. That's hours and hours of work I won't have to do, and something to keep me warm.

Still life with bread, glass of water, daffodils and onion pickles by Astrid Nielsch Still life with bread, glass of water, daffodils and onion pickles by Astrid Nielsch Still life with bread, glass of water, daffodils and onion pickles by Astrid Nielsch Still life with bread, glass of water, daffodils and onion pickles by Astrid Nielsch

New watercolour still life: Symposium

Just a reminder that my Martin Haycock Gothic harp is still up for grabs. It's a 25 string late medieval/renaissance style harp built by one of the pioneers of the early harp revival, back in 1985 or thereabouts. The harp has bray pins except on the two top strings, and has a fine sound, though it is a bit more solid in build than some of the more recent copies of this style of harp.

You can hear the harp on a few tracks on my CDs: "Lament for Gandalf", on the Travels in Middle-earth CD  – Suite from "musicalische Rüstkammer" and "Amoroso", on the 700 Years of Pop CD – and the Faenza codex piece "Rosetta che non cançi mai colore", on the Rent a Nightingale CD.

Asking price is NZ$ 2000 or equivalent, or best offer, plus shipping. Please email me for more details – and please pass this on.

Don't forget to check out my Trademe Store for my prints and artwork, or my online shop for CD recordings and sheet music! Vamping up the website and getting rid of all the clutter and things I no longer do, is another project that is waiting in the pipeline.

Tiny Tim in his new place Tiny Tim in his new place Tiny Tim in his new place

Tiny Tim in his new place

Tiny Tim has had to find a new home, again. The owner of the paddock where I'd put him came up to me a few weeks ago and told me to take him away: turns out he assumed that I'd lose interest, and he could turn him into sausages. Apparently this has happened with other pet sheep he has taken in. So that's why he offered so generously to look after him and shear him, and all that! Famous Kiwi helpfulness. Good thing I went to check up on the sheep nearly every day.

He wasn't exactly friendly about it either. But then he's been given all the information, and it's not my fault if he chooses to make assumptions instead. People have been making mistaken assumptions about me for the last 15 years despite of what I told them: WINZ, former employers, potential employers, neighbours, council, even my GP – and I am getting rather tired of it.

Sheep is now on a beautiful large property nearby, on the understanding that he is not to be sausages. I can check on him daily and take him for walks again. The other paddock wasn't really very nice anyway, though he misses his friends. I don't think it is a long term solution, but for now, it works.

Tiny Tim is looking at you Tiny Tim is looking at you Tiny Tim is looking at you

Tiny Tim is looking at you

If you wondered why all the photos on this newsletter are suddenly black and white, no my camera hasn't died. Some friends on Facebook were passing around a photo challenge – seven black and white pictures in seven days to illustrate your life, no people, no explanations. Perhaps you have seen it. It was good fun and I ended up with well more than the requisite seven shots, so hurrah for rehashing them on the newsletter.

Another thing that went around on Facebook this month was the #MeToo hashtag. It came in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein thing, not that Harvey Weinstein is by any stretch unusual if you know something about the famously liberal environment in the arts, entertainment and media industries. In fact the only thing unusual about him is that he actually got sacked.

We've done this before – remember #YesAllWomen on Twitter some years ago? – but while #YesAllWomen focused on generic everyday sexism, #MeToo invited people – women, by and large – to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

You'd think this would be a topic of course on this newsletter, but I find that I can't even write about it. Too sore. Too many friends sharing their stories. Nearly everyone I know in music, and many of my friends in the visual arts and other professional or academic fields. Some of them have experienced some of the worst forms of assault or relationship abuse. Some of these stories I knew something of. Others, I had no idea. Two friends and colleagues shared stories of being sexually abused as children, of not being believed when they tried to tell someone. They both are conspicuously beautiful and talented women, both now thankfully with successful and fulfilling musical careers.

There seems to be a direct relationship between how professional successful these women are, and the amount and degree of abuse we have endured. And people are still trying to tell me this is all mass hysteria, this has nothing to do with power structures in our society, and "hating men" doesn't solve anything. Nobody said anything about hating men as in all men. We were sharing stories about being subject to crimes committed by certain men. Not the same thing. If you can't make that distinction, you definitely have an issue with accepting that women are People just like You.

I unfriended someone I used to respect – a writer, a greenie, a mythology aficionado, who considers himself well on the liberal left spectrum, and thinks Bernie is the shizzles. He reacted to all of this with a degree of discomfort that can only make me wonder what kind of skeletons he may himself have in his closet. That he has difficulty with the concept that a woman might genuinely be interested in simply making conversation, with no afterthought of snatching a husband or getting down and dirty, I know from my personal interactions with this guy. He made it all about him in a way that is all too familiar from the average "Alt Right" internet troll. As if it isn't still painful and scary for us to talk publicly about these things, because too many people still consider that it somehow makes us "dirty" or "damaged", that the shame is ours. Good riddance, then.

You know what I like about our police officers? I don't have to explain that shit to them.

Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden Spots of colour in the garden

Spots of colour in the garden



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At the Movies: Waru

Courtesy of the Women's Refuge, I was invited to attend the premiere screening of Kiwi made movie Waru in Masterton the other day. Waru means eight, and points to the fact that the film consists of eight segments made by eight different directors, all of them women, all of them Maori. A section of the population that is sorely under-represented in movie making.

Waru is also the name of a baby boy who has died – been killed, that is, at the hands of his caregiver. We learn this gradually during the first segment of the film, set in a marae kitchen where Auntie Charm directs the preparations for the tangi – the grieving and burial ceremony. She is an authority figure her younger relatives look up to, and she keeps everyone and everything under control, while quietly dealing with her own grief.

The next three segments introduce us to three other women who have been touched by this tragedy, and their daily struggles. The boy's school teacher, who desperately hangs on to her composure in front of the other children. Her emotional vulnerability is taken advantage of by a male colleague, under the guise of offering support. She breaks down in tears – only to then go out again and be a role model of calm and composure for the young ones.

A young mother living on a benefit cannot take her children to school because her car has run out of petrol. Her attempts to call the school end in answering machine limbo, and so does her attempt to contact WINZ to ask for an emergency loan. There is hardly any food in the house – until a neighbour drops by with a bag of groceries, and a can of petrol from her lawnmover. A stark portrait of the hopeless, helpless poverty many single mothers in New Zealand experience – and of the importance of kindness, and watching out for your neighbours, which is sadly so unusual that the woman at first refuses it. A segment I could relate to all too well.

Another young mother comes home drunk stupid to the point that she cannot find the keys for the door. She is just about to collapse on the front porch, when she hears her baby wail and realizes that the child has been left home all on its own. It is a portrait of irresponsibility, but also of the fierce motherlove which is the only thing than can get through her fog, and get her to make a desperate effort to hang on to her consciousness until she can hold her child. In the end, she smashes the remains of her booze bottle, clearly identifying the culprit. One wonders: will it be enough to get her to address her drinking? I know a couple of young women in my immediate neighbourhood – both Maori and Pakeha – who are like that. The effort to care properly for their babies is the last thing they have left to hang on to their self esteem.

The next segment takes us back to the marae and the preparations for the tangi. I don't have the cultural frame of reference to understand fully what was going on – nor the language skills to understand the dialogue in Te Reo Maori, though these parts were subtitled in English. My companion, a Maori lady about my age who lives in the cultural context depicted in the film, was on the edge of her seat: obviously this scene had a deep significance and emotional impact for her. From what I gather, it shows an unusual deviation from the ritual of the tangi: a highly formalized confrontation between two great-grandmothers of the dead baby. One demands that the body be released to her, so he does not have to rest with the whanau of his killer. The other at first refuses, but eventually gives in.

The last three segments show women who choose to stand up to their tormentors. The first takes us out of the local context and into a TV station, where preparations are under way for a news cast dealing with the child's murder. A young female Maori anchor patiently endures an endless stream of casual racism leveled at her by her makeup person and her colleagues – even by the choice of skin tones for her makeup. When her white male co-anchor, who is clearly modelled on a real existing New Zealand media personality, tries to brush the child's death off as a "Maori problem" that is no fit subject for the national news – "let's deal with more important things, like Brexit" – she makes a stand and speaks her mind live on TV. Probably the end of her TV career, it is insinuated. The dialogue in this segment is spot on – no doubt modeled on things people have actually said in front of the filmmakers.

Back on the marae, a young, small framed, dreamy girl who is characterized as porangi – crazy – by some of the people passing her by, is subjected to an act of unwanted touching, and threat of further sexual harassment, by a large male from her whanau group. He then goes on to molest another young girl. Seeing this, the tiny young woman goes to confront him and his male pals, calling out his behaviour and telling him "enough, no more". She is supported by a group of young women who have likely also been his victims.

The last segment is another one that left me (and other non-Maori reviewers) a little bewildered, but was immediately clear to my companion, who was delighted by it. Two sisters are on a road trip – one the driving force, the other very reluctant but ultimately supportive. Their goal turns out to be a house inhabited by several slovenly, heavy drinking men. Are they the ones responsible for the death of the baby boy? It is not clear, but what seems clear is that those two sisters have every intention to bash them up. They had it coming.

My life in black and white My life in black and white My life in black and white

My life in black and white

The film has been selected for the Toronto Film Festival, and will hopefully also make the rounds of other international film festivals and arthouse cinemas. It is one of the most honest depictions of life in New Zealand I have yet seen. No doubt shot on some minimalistic budget, the cast of actors is universally strong, and the cinematography takes you right into each character's story. A film that, precisely because of its more opaque parts, lingers in the mind.

Child murder and infanticide rates, and infant mortality in general, in New Zealand are high in international comparison – so much so that the United Nations have expressed their concern. This is directly linked to the unacceptably high rates of domestic violence and child poverty in this country, as well as dismal attitudes toward women in general, and single mothers in particular.

While there are many people in New Zealand who wish to frame this as a "Maori problem", it is rather a socio-economic and cultural problem that disproportionately affects Maori people.

This information is not usually included in the picture postcard Clean Green Paradise of Social Justice "brand" image New Zealand likes to present internationally.

The film paints a subtle and very accurate picture of some of the social circumstances that lead to child neglect, child abuse and child murder – one that is no doubt based on the filmmakers' personal observation and experience. It does this while remaining deeply engaging, sometimes humourous, never judgmental, never preaching, and surprisingly, never depressing.

If we needed any more proof of the importance of diverse voices in film making – and all the other arts, for that matter – this film would be it. Watch it, if it plays in a cinema near you.

Arohanui, from Asni



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