Recovery Mode

NOW AVAILABLE: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Snowflake Christmas/seasonal card * Queen Galadriel holiday card * Middle Earth New Zealand 2013 photo calendar

TREAT YOURSELF TO SOME MUSIC: Harp sheet music store * Travels in Middle Earth CD
Asni the Harper digital downloads: CD Baby ** Amazon MP3 * iTunes

Also available: Music CDs * Sheet music * Greeting cards * New Zealand photography

In this newsletter:
*** Recovery Mode
*** News and Current Projects
*** Cool Things Friends Used to Do: Asita Hamidi in Memoriam
*** Kupe's Sail

Recovery Mode

Ends of months are always a busy time here at Asni's – not least because it is time to write, decorate and send out this newsletter, and make sure all the projects I want to include in it are, in fact, finished. This end of month has been a particular bustle of various and varied projects. I am quickly catching up on being busy, after being mostly prone on my back for most of last month!

First of all, I spontaneously signed myself up for a Certificate in Horticulture at the Open Polytechnic, at the beginning of the month. I found their brochure in the course of some archeological excavation among the stack of papers on my desk, and confirmed that the course offers not only a fairly thorough grounding in gardening knowledge and technique, but is also a nationally recognized professional qualification. Seeing that I am beginning to think that what I really need is to find a day job, I figured it might be handy, seeing that this is a type of job which is actually available here where I live! ANYTHING that keeps me out of cleaning, caregiving, or looking after small children, I say. The course is offered as flexible distance study, and there is no course fee. And then I found out that my tutor actually lives in Featherston, and grows herbs! What's not to love.

It is something I have been looking into doing ever since I acquired a large backyard with the potential of being turned into a small orchard, and of supplying most of what I need in the way of vegetables. For all my gardening enthusiasm, I quickly realized that "put plant in the ground and see if it grows" is not a particularly promising approach in the long run, and I know zilch about proper feeding, irrigation, soil properties, and keeping the bugs away. City girl that I am, I never had a proper garden before!

So far, I am absolutely loving it. It plugs into a lifelong enthusiasm I have had for the natural sciences, which I never really had much chance to follow up on since I left high school. And obviously, I can't be happy if I'm not studying something! It is a bit of a time investment, of course – time that needs to come off other projects I might be working on – but in a way, I feel I have come full circle. I always expected to go on to study a scientific subject when I was in school, and studying horticulture (or forestry) – in the hopes of getting lots of fresh air in my future job, rather than winding up in a big city office all day – were actually options I considered, if somewhat wistfully: at the time, they really seemed a bit "out there", for a city girl like me.

Secondly, I have gone back into the recording studio! Troy Kelly, the lovely sound engineer who recorded and mixed my Travels in Middle Earth CD five years ago, has been offering a special on his studio time, and I eagerly grabbed it up: as you might remember, I have been toying around with doing vocals a bit lately, and it seemed a great opportunity to find out what the old voice would sound like when professionally recorded. It's been a bit hard to tell if the roughness I was experiencing in my home recordings was mostly due to poor recording quality, or mostly due to untrained voice quality! A bit of both, as it turned out: I recorded two tracks, but judged that only one of them is reasonably presentable. I have submitted it on CD Baby and have just got confirmation that the song has been approved, so it should be available in a short while if it isn't already. You can find it here.

Coming home from the session – four hours of highly focused work doing something I am, on the one hand, extensively trained in (musicianship), but on the other hand, have never done before (singing into a microphone) – I found an email in my inbox from the translation agency I signed up with nearly a year ago. I'm not sure if I have mentioned that here in my newsletter: a friend recommended me to them, and they sent me some tests which confirmed that by now, my written English is actually better than my German. They took me on for German to English translations (on a casual, when-work-is-available basis), but not the other way round.

The text in question was a substantial 2500 words, and the deadline was the next day 2 pm ––– hey ho, I thought, I guess I won't be chilling with a DVD tonight, then. Instead, I pulled the old all-nighter. It made me about as much money as I used to earn in my old part-time caregiving job in an average week. And I am sure it was more than the weekly benefit rate! It was only the third text they'd sent me since I signed up: I had to turn down their first job because it was highly specialized vocabulary, then didn't hear from then for several months, and the next job they sent, their email got stuck in cyberspace and I never got it until after they'd given the job to someone else. I was tempted, for a moment there, to tell them it was too short notice. But I am glad I didn't. A chance to create a good impression, and it really wouldn't hurt to get a few more jobs from them – though next time, hopefully, with a slightly more relaxed deadline!

Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu Winter trees, Glendhu

Winter trees, Glendhu



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Elegant pine tree by Astrid Nielsch Fat pine tree by Astrid Nielsch Row of pine trees by Astrid Nielsch by Astrid Nielsch Cape Palliser rocks by Astrid Nielsch by Astrid Nielsch

Monthly sketching: Pine trees and rocks

News & Current Projects

I haven't got a whole lot to show this month in terms of new artwork. The work on the set of new oil paintings for the group show at Matchbox art gallery in September is progressing really well: I have stuck to a schedule of spending at least an hour in the studio each day throughout most of the month, and the results are very satisfactory indeed. But nothing quite ready to show yet. Besides, I want people to come to my show! So I might not post the new images online until after that. Well, except for a few teasers, perhaps! The show now has a title: Metropolis.

I have been out and about sketching again: some pine trees, which will be needed for my children's book to be, and a couple of new rock sketches. I do enjoy sketching rocks, but I always wonder if anyone besides me can discern what they are supposed to represent? Rocks are not very well defined shapes, for the most part. At least, those scraggly weathered volcanic rocks we have on the New Zealand coast, aren't! These ones are from Cape Palliser – and at this time of year, they are full of sunbathing seals, and their babies. They watched me do the sketch. I'm not sure what their opinion was on the issue.

No new paintings them – but hey, I've recorded a new song! It's an American folk ballad, made famous by Joan Baez a little while ago: Silver Dagger is the first song on her first album, the self-titled Joan Baez, released in 1960. There also is a recording of a live performance with Bob Dylan accompanying her on the harmonica, which is available on Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series.

I've uploaded my version on CD Baby, and it is about to be approved at the time of this writing, so it should be available by the time you read this. If not, check back in a short while! You can find the new track here. It will eventually also make its way onto iTunes and Amazon Mp3, plus a few other download and streaming outlets, but this may take a few days (or weeks).

And oh yeah, just to prevent severe disappointment: I did mention, didn't I, that I sound nothing like Joan Baez? More like Bob Dylan imitating Joan Baez, if he had had a laptop computer back in the day. Well – that goes for voice quality, not for songwriting skills! :)

I was sincerely hoping to have my brand new online illustration portfolio completed and online by the end of the month, but there is yet a bit of fiddling to do. I have registered a new domain name, to celebrate my stepping up into the sphere of "professional artist": Starsongstudio.com. Of course I will retain the asni.net, domain, too! But a bit of website reshuffling will be in order. There is a rough and ready version up for the moment, and I will keep updating it throughout next month. After I've finished my annual tax return, which is due at the end of the week.

Deadlines, deadlines. They are also the topic of my latest blog post on Amazing Stories: because I almost missed mine. The fortnight before, I was looking at worlds underground: caves full of treasure and monsters, futuristic survival stations and ancient civilisations. It might be because I've been studying the properties of soils this month – I was feeling all earthy when I wrote that.

ARTWORK OF THE MONTH: this month, I have selected three short standing poses, which I am offering on Ebay. They are slices of A2 sheets containing other poses, so they will be cut to size, and it might be more practical to mount them this time. Last month's set of sketches is still available for a few more days, so if you want to grab one of those up, be quick! They've attracted a good amount of views, but so far no one has jumped into the water and bid on them. Someone's put them on their watchlist though, so I might yet get lucky on that first set. Find my Ebay listings here.

And yes, the Martin Haycock Gothic harp is still up for sale. The harp is suitable for medieval and renaissance repertory, or anything else anyone may want to play on it, which requires a range of 3 1/2 octaves, G - c'''. It has a hole and pin to accommodate a d''' string, but is missing the peg, though this could be replaced by a friendly harp builder near you. The harp has bray pins throughout (except the two top strings), though they work well only on the lower strings. It is a medium-sized Gothic, which sits on your calves, or a stool, and it has a nice rounded soundboard, easy on the hands and wrists.

Asking price: € 1990 / US$ 2550 / NZ$ 3000, or best offer. Can be shipped from New Zealand by regular mail, shipping costs not included. Email me if you are interested – and make sure to pass this on to all your harp playing friends!

As always, various classy items are available in my online shop: have a browse! Harp music CDs can be bought here, or downloaded from CD Baby, iTunes, or Amazon. There is also my collection of harp sheet music books , and the New Zealand film locations map, which is proving quite popular!

Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees Asni's collection of trees

Asni's collection of trees

Not much happening in the garden at this time of year: apart from reading up on the properties of soils, I have gradually started a bit of a winter cleanup, and there is some pruning to do as well. I need to resist the temptation to plant the whole area up with trees: last time I dropped in at the garden center, I walked out with a little pomegranate tree which now sits in the ground next to my blueberries. They needed a bit of wind shelter and shade, I felt, and besides, pomegranates are seriously handsome trees: apart from eating the food from my garden, I also fully intend to paint it!

I've got a few more trees on my wish list: an apricot is a must, and I think I will get one next month, once I have made up my mind about what variety to get. I am wondering if I should plant another almond tree next to the one I just put in: It would be nice to have a soft shelled variety as well as the hard shelled Monavale I bought, and they are supposed to fruit better when they have a pollinator. There is enough space... I just wonder if it will soon all look a bit too cluttered.

Further down on the wish list are a sour cherry, and a sloe: They can grow by the pond which I have started digging last winter, and really need to complete before the spring. And then there is the jabuticaba tree I just spotted online ... temptations, temptations.

Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden Food and things in the garden

Food and things in the garden



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Asita Hamidi and her band Bazaar Asita Hamidi and her band Bazaar Asita Hamidi and her band Bazaar

Asita Hamidi and her band Bazaar

Cool Things Friends Used To Do: Asita Hamidi in Memoriam

One of the emails I received back after I sent out my newsletter last month, was a request to unsubscribe an email address: Asita Hamidi, fellow harper, fellow experimenter, and fellow weaver of seemingly incongruent sounds from all corners of the earth, has left us for good. It was her husband and musical partner Björn Meyer who wrote to me, saying that he was going to cancel her email address and there was no point in continuing to send the newsletter. She was only a few years older than I am, but she got sick and did not recover: she passed away six months ago, at the end of last year.

I met Asita and Björn some years ago when I was at the Edinburgh harp festival. We were all put up at the same bed & breakfast, so I got to chat with them a bit. I wouldn't pretend that I knew Asita well, but it seemed to me that she was driven by some of the same musical impulses: passionate about ancient cultural traditions, but not restricted by any striving for "authenticity". Passionate also about breaking down cultural barriers, crossing borders, and embracing everyone regardless of where they are from. Always looking for the common denominator in seemingly incompatible musical traditions, combining and transforming them into something new. They were awfully nice people, both of them, I do remember that. It fills me with great sadness to hear of her death.

Asita's music, however, is still around. Here is a video of her last project, Garden of Silence. Her CDs continue to be available through her website. And for those of you living in Switzerland – there will be a memorial concert on Sunday, 14 July as part of the open air festival in Kiental, featuring the remaining members of her band Bazaar, and other musicians she has worked with.

Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu Sunset at Glendhu

Sunset at Glendhu



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Kupe's Sail

The health is greatly improved since last month: I am now most definitely back on my feet, and lost a bit of weight, too, which contributes to my feeling a lot better than I have in a little while. I still need to work on getting my fitness back, after being flat on my back for nearly two months: biking or hiking still tires me a lot more than usual. But it is a great excuse to get out of the house, and out and about!

I've been exploring the Wairarapa coast line quite a bit lately. I've been out to Cape Palliser a few times: this stretch of coast used to strike me as very grim and desolate, which is why so far I've more or less avoided it. But it does have a stark beauty, and on a sunny afternoon in early winter it is quite a good spot to hang out: it is the only stretch of coast around here facing west, until one goes on past the cape (the southernmost point of the North Island), and its lighthouse, which by the by, has recently been voted one of the coolest lighthouses in the world by Lonely Planet. Personally, I think the one at Castle Point is cooler, by hey.

What I did not realize until very recently, is that the Cape Palliser area was the first place in New Zealand to be settled by humans. In Maori, the cape is called Matakitaki a Kupe (Kupe's lookout), and there is a very distinctive rock formation which is known as "Kupe's sail". It does look like a huge Polynesian sail tilted sideways. Kupe is the man who is credited with discovering New Zealand, along with his wife Kuramarotini, who named the island Aotearoa. Their first landfall, according to Maori tradition, was actually at Castle Point, but their first resting place and settlement was at Cape Palliser.

Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe

Matakitaki a Kupe: traces of an old settlement

The area is full of old pa sites – hill forts used for defence. They are a reasonably common sight, but walking up the coast from Cape Palliser toward White Rock, to my surprise and delight I came across what are clearly the remnants of an old kainga – a village people actually lived in.

I have seen places like that in the forests around my old place in Bavaria, the borderland between Germany and the Czech Republic, where many a village and small town has been razed to the ground, leaving only foundation walls of houses – and traces of old gardens and orchards. They really are the biggest giveaway that humans once settled there. Those villages had been abandoned in the 1950's, but the Maori settlement I found is a whole lot older: radio carbon tests date it back to the 1200's. Kupe is said to have arrived two centuries earlier, around 925 A. D. – or 1000 A.D. – depending on whom one asks!

Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe

Matakitaki a Kupe: mountain, river and karaka tree

The first thing one notices is the change in vegetation: coming around a bend in the coastline, there is an area of tumbled rock interspersed with cabbage trees (a tree introduced to New Zealand by the Polynesian settlers, and not one that is usually found along the coast) and flax (used for basket weaving and clothing). There are a couple of karaka trees, always a dead giveaway as they were grown for their fruit. There may be other crop plants too, such as the rengarenga lily this article refers to. They have been propagating themselves, and are still there after the humans who first planted them have long left.

Traces of old buildings are still clearly discernible, but the most prominent feature is a long, sturdy stone wall, of the kind which one might find in places like Yorkshire, and presumably for much the same reason: to offer protection from the wind. Building with stone seems to have gone out of fashion with Maori people later on: the reason there are so few clear traces of settlements, is that the villages were usually entirely built with wood or other perishable materials.

The area is of great significance to Maori people because of its historical associations. But even without knowing about those, it struck me that the place has a very tapu feel about it. It reminded me of Te Rerenga Wairua – the northernmost tip of the north island – in that way, which is rather fitting, as this place is close to the southernmost point. The long stone wall points toward the mountains, to a cleft where a river runs out (which incidentally provides a convenient, if presumably rather chilly, natural swimming pool). A distinctively shaped mountain looms over it all, and to the right, there is a patch of manuka forest which looks just like the entry to Mirkwood. Speaking about Middle-earth associations: The Putangirua Pinnacles, which stood in for the entry to the Paths of the Dead in the Lord of the Rings movies, are just a shortish drive back up the coast, but I would imagine the Dimholt to look a lot more like this place. Wouldn't wonder if that old stone wall pointed straight to an entry to the Underworld.

Arohanui, from Asni



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Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe Matakitaki a Kupe

Matakitaki a Kupe: giveaway vegetation