At Home and Abroad

CHRISTMAS CARDS! New selection now available on Etsy
Looking for that perfect gift? Original Watercolour garden paintings now on Etsy

DIGITAL PRINTS available on Ebay * Etsy * Trademe

SHEET MUSIC: Huete Dances vol. 3 now available

SHOP LOCAL: New Zealand Film Locations map: A3 poster * Christmas/seasonal cards * Queen Galadriel holiday card

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

In this newsletter:
 
*** Wallpaper, Computers, and Death Threats
*** News and Current Projects
*** Scandinavian Film and Television

Wallpaper, Computers, and Death Threats

The home redecoration efforts are now clearly gathering momentum. Yesterday, I spent 2 1/2 hours standing on a tall ladder, fixing up the third of my beautiful Ikea LED lighting solutions (model Häggås) on the ceiling of my office, after the light bulb in the old lamp expired, which I took to be a sign. It looks possibly even more wonderful than the one over my dinner table. If only the rest of the room didn't look as if a bomb had exploded – a state it has been in more or less since September 2011, when all my junk from Europe arrived. I still haven’t figured out where to put all that stuff. But now I have a reason to make an effort!

Earlier this month, I took the plunge and ordered the 110% perfect Swedish wallpaper for my living room. The boxes have duly arrived, so now I only need to clear up the jungle that is my living space, schedule some time for moving furniture out of the way, and go ahead and paste it on the walls. After painting the ceiling, but before ripping out the old carpet and polishing the floor. Sounds like a sweet and easy project. :cough:

I’m thinking early December, so I can celebrate Christmas in my newly redecorated living room. But I’m not entirely optimistic that I’ll actually manage. Let’s just say, the bedroom window I started repainting last autumn, is still waiting for me to locate that new hinge which I need to put in before I can open it, sand if off and paint it. I know I bought one. If I could only remember what I did with it… did I mention that the place looks as if a bomb has gone off? Perhaps it will be a sufficient achievement if I actually manage to tidy up by Christmas. :sigh:

Home re-decoration Home re-decoration Home re-decoration Home re-decoration

110% perfect living room wallpaper * plans for the dining room * messy office with new lamp

In accordance with Murphy’s Law, as soon as I had expended a stack of money for something as frivolous as wallpaper, my trusty old MacBook Pro went black and would not restart. I dropped it off at the computer service to find out if it was a fixable problem, but their verdict was, buy a new one. Fair enough, it was close to seven years old, and well used – and it had been making tired old computer noises for a good long while. Turns out the photo of it I posted on my last newsletter was the last time you have seen it alive. Rest in peace, dear machine, you have served me well.

On the upside, due to the fact that I saved myself a considerable amount of money by not having to fix the electrical wiring in my house, I found that I had sufficient cash still sitting in my savings account (even after the frivolous expense for fancy wallpaper) to buy myself a decent new machine. I’m sitting under my plum tree typing on it right now – it came in the mail a week or so ago.

Given that these days, I mainly use my laptop to do writing and web surfing on the couch or in the garden, I decided I didn’t need to go for as high end a machine as my old laptop had been – but I still want to be able to run my graphic and multimedia software, so I can use it as backup when the big computer will one day inevitably let me down. I also plan to get myself some decent audio processing software, and use the laptop as my music station. For these reasons, rather than opting for a cheaper (and lighter) MacBook Air, I decided on a MacBook Pro – but I went for the bottom of the range this time.

Apple has just been rolling out a new line of MacBooks with (supposedly) better faster hard drives – but unfortunately, they may be fast but they are tiny compared to what I have been used to the last several years. I am a hoarder of files, so I know I would find this pretty annoying. Plus, the new machines no longer have an integrated DVD drive! What were they thinking. This progress is happening way too fast for me.

On the upside, this meant that some of their previous model MacBooks were available at a discount, and they have the additional advantage of still having the bigger hard drive, and integrated DVD player. Given my "eternal student" status, I also found that I was eligible for an education discount, so I was able to buy a RAM upgrade still within my available budget – which gives it suffiicient processing umph for some serious work. So I now have a machine I am pretty happy with, without having to rob a bank.

I know I should be grieving for my old computer, and frantic about burning all that money – but hey, I’m shallow. The day the new laptop arrived, I felt like a kid at Christmas. Here it is, coming to life and saying, “Hello, World”.

Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived Hello, World: the new MacBook has arrived

First moments in the life of my new MacBook

Anita Sarkeesian describes herself as a "feminist, media critic and blogger". That makes her something of a colleague, though I can't aspire to her level of cool. Her work was brought to my attention a little while ago through a shared link on Facebook: she runs Feminist Frequency, an excellent series of videocasts on Youtube, where she analyses the deeply ingrained misogyny in games, and other manifestations of popular media and internet culture. They are highly recommended viewing.

In these videos, she comes across as intelligent, articulate, and able to keep things cool and factual even when dealing with issues that could make the most levelheaded person react emotionally. She is also distinctly easy on the eye.

Perhaps if it wasn't for that last fact – if at least she fitted with the stereotype of the plain and pimply geek girl who turns to intellectual pursuits because she can't get a man, or that of the butch feminist militant who wants to castrate every male – she wouldn't have been exposed to quite the level of hate and harassment, as she has been experiencing: hate mail, slander, and threats of murder and rape have been the background noise of her life for a good long while, as they have been for several other women in positions of prominence with regard to the games industry. Or the computer tech industry in general. Or any other male dominated field (which includes, say, politics), for that matter.

In a very courageous talk, which clearly pushes her composure to the limits, Sarkeesian has made this situation the subject of her own analysis – watch the video here.

"One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences" is what she states as the conclusion of her talk.

Those of us who aim to work in male dominated fields, those of us who have blogs, those of us who aren't shy to voice our opinions on social networks and internet forums, will know that these experiences are no exaggeration, and that being believed when talking about these things, can by no means be taken for granted.

Fortunately for me, I am not nearly famous enough for death threats (fingers crossed). But I have learned to post anonymously or choose a gender neutral user name when participating in online discussions, so as not to be immediately shouted down by some troll. I have learned not to include information that identifies my gender and age when I submit essays for MOOCs, because when I have done so, I have been graded down a couple of points by my peer assessors. I have already been trolled off two internet forums where I used to be an active and well respected member, and was told in both cases that I was imagining things, that "it was all in my head" – if I wasn't accused outright of being myself the cause for the trouble (as in, "you have no business to have an opinion").

In the case of this here blog, so far all I have to deal with is a constant stream of comment spam, which fortunately is harmless since I still haven't hooked up the comments section of this newsletter to a database. And probably never will. That way, at least I don't give any trolls an easy backdoor to the inner workings of my site.

Last week, things came to a head when Anita Sarkeesian was invited to give a talk at Utah State University, and received an email threatening that if her talk went ahead, there would be a mass shooting in the style of the "Montréal massacre", when a shooter singled out female engineering students at the École Polytechnique, and killed 14 of them. When the Utah campus police told Sarkeesian that due to current gun legislation, they would be unable to search attendees of her talk for hidden firearms, she saw herself forced to cancel her talk, in the interest of public safety.

Get this: there has been an open threat of a terrorist act, at a stated time and place, with the aim to prevent an intelligent and knowledgeable woman from exercising her constitutional right to publicly voice her opinion – and current gun legislation in Utah prevented the campus police from taking preventive measures.

This happened in the same country which insists on sending out their troops to all corners of the world in order to fight a "War on Terrorism". The same culture which has recently elevated Malala Yousafzai to the status of popular icon, complete with awarding her the Peace Nobel Prize.

And this happend in the same country which came up with the "Patriot Act" in response to another terrorist act when numerous people were killed (including, in this instance, adult males) – a piece of legislation which practically gives the government carte blanche to spy on its citizens under the flimsiest of pretexts. Such as having the wrong religion or ethnicity.

Perhaps it was time some people stopped chasing up bearded mullahs, and paid attention to what their own sons are up to instead.

Anita Sarkeesian's website Feminist Frequency * Feminist Frequency Youtube channel

New York Times: Anita Sarkeesian on "Gamer Gate" * Interview about the Utah State University incident on Democracy Now! * Rolling Stone: Interview with Anita Sarkeesian

Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu Rainy day on the road to Glendhu

Rainy day on the road to Glendhu



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Why the Hare has a split upper lip: page 5, by Astrid Nielsch Why the Hare has a split upper lip: page 12 & 13, by Astrid Nielsch Why the Hare has a split upper lip: page 24, by Astrid Nielsch

Why the Hare has a Split Upper Lip: page 5 * page 12 & 13 * page 24

News & Current Projects

Now that the Key Colours exhibition has opened in Hasselt, I can post the images I submitted for the contest. I didn't win the award (told you so) – but the exhibition will be running until 7 November at the Stadsmus in Hasselt, Belgium. Here is more information about the exhibition, and the contest winner. What I love about it is that it is very much an exhibition for the kids – and they also get to vote for their favourites. After all, these stories and illustrations are supposed to appeal to them, and not to some adult jury!

I've been trying to coax someone who lives a bit closer to Hasselt into stopping by and taking some pictures for me, but now that won't be necessary: here is a clip I found on Youtube: looks like one of my pictures made it onto Belgian TV! The clip is in Flemish, but you'll get the gist – one of the girls says she finds the picture with the hares is the most beautiful, because she likes how they are dancing in the moonshine. I may not have won the award, but actually – that vote of confidence is even better.

I still have a bit of work to do on those hares – what with sorting out a new laptop, and getting it set up and all the software up and running, I haven't been able to make quite as much progress as I'd hoped. Besides, I have been quite busy painting in the garden, catching my fruit trees and various spring vegetables: there are three new oil paintings this month, so I've made up for being a bit lazy about it in September.

I am particularly pleased with the painting of the Broad Bean: they are beautiful plans, and I have been wanting to paint them for the last couple of years. I think the painting really captures something about the way the light bounces off their leaves, and the exuberance of their fresh spring growth.

These paintings are, as always, for sale: The dimensions for the Doyenne du Comice Pear and the Apple Blossoms are 61 x 46 cm / 24 x 16 inches. They each sell for NZ$ 230 / Euro 150 / US $ 180, plus shipping. Please contact me if you wish to purchase either of those paintings.

The dimensions for the Broad Bean are 38 x 76 / 15 x 30 – I haven't decided on a price for this painting yet (I might just put it up on my own wall for a little while), but if you are interested in purchasing it, please make me an offer!

Peach blossom by Astrid Nielsch Iris, by Astrid Nielsch Rucola by Astrid Nielsch Peach blossom by Astrid Nielsch Wallflower by Astrid Nielsch

New watercolour paintings: Peach * Iris * Rucola * Peach * Wallflower

I have also continued with the series of small size watercolour paintings I started last month. They are now for sale in my Etsy store. I think they'd make a nice Christmas present for someone in the Northern hemisphere who can't wait for spring, don't you? :) Have a look here.

Also available in my Etsy store is a range of Christmas greeting cards: the new design Tree of Light, and what is left of last year's Snowflake and Farewell Song. I even have a very few of the Winter Fox left, which has been far and out the most popular piece I have done so far. It is now also available as a poster.

For those of you who are harpers, Christmas is a great time to treat yourself to some new sheet music: have a look in my shop at my editions of historical harp sources from Spain and Germany, and my collections of medieval and baroque music for the harp.

If you don't play harp, you can still listen to it: My CDs 700 Years of Pop and Travels in Middle Earth are available in my online store, as well a through my Ebay, Etsy or Trademe stores. Both CDs, as well as a selection of other tracks, are also available for download on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and CD Baby.

Tree of Light, by Astrid Nielsch Snowflake by Astrid Nielsch Farewell Song, by Astrid Nielsch Winter Fox by Astrid Nielsch

Christmas greeting cards: Tree of Light * Snowflake * Farewell Song * Winter Fox

On Amazing Stories, it has been back to Earthsea! One piece of good news this month was that Ursula K Le Guin has been awarded the 2014 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. This award to recognize a writer’s lifetime achievement is given each year by the National Book Foundation – previous recipients include Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, and Tom Wolfe. It is of course more than well deserved – and it’s great to see a distinguished writer of speculative fiction on that list.

It seemed a good opportunity to re-visit an article I have written some years ago for this newsletter, The Painting of Earthsea – part 1 and part 2 are now online. There are a few more installments planned – including one about my own series of Earthsea paintings – which will bring this blog nicely up to Christmas. Visit my author page, with a list of all my blog posts on Amazing Stories.

Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom Asni's garden in October: apple blossom

Asni's garden in October: apple blossom

Spring is now in full swing, and I am eating my own homegrown vegetables again! I've been a bit grumpy about having to *buy* the occasional vegetable, to tide me over the winter. The winter lettuces grew to reasonable size very quickly once the weather started warming up, and have now all been eaten – and so have the turnips, though I don't think I have quite figured out what to do with them yet!

Currently, there is an abundance of silver beet, and the red and white kale is coming along nicely – though I have already spotted the first of the white butterflies, so I don't know how long the glory will last. I really need to get some netting set up! There is an abundance of parsley, and fresh spring growth on the sages, marjoram and thyme. Some dill and chervil is also coming up, as well as some corn salad, which I have finally managed to germinate and plant out successfully after several failed attempts in previous years.

Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden Asni's garden in October: edible garden

Asni's garden in October: edible garden

Sadly, the spinach seeds I sowed this spring seem to have gone past their point of viability – I had a meagre three seedlings come up! – and the peas I sowed earlier in spring have fallen victim to an infestation of snails. But the broad beans look very happy where I sowed them around my newly planted pear trees, and by now the weather is warm enough to get started on the green beans. I'll also try to grow some okra again this year. Apparently the trick is to add a lot of garden lime: they need quite alkaline soil, which is probably why they starved miserably last year. I also have some borlotti and cannelini beans which I'll start nice and early this year, so they have enough time to ripen.

A couple of my chili plants have come alive through the winter, which is great news because they generally crop better the second year if they manage to survive the winter cold. My coffee plant has also made it, though it does look a bit grumpy at the moment – but there is new growth already starting up. Time to think about putting in some tomatoes and capsicums! They're already rearing their heads in my seed trays.

Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden Asni's garden in October: paintable garden

Asni's garden in October: paintable garden



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Scandinavian Film and Television

Last month, I participated in a MOOC on the topic of Scandinavian Film and Television.* The course was offered by Professor Ib Bondebjerg and his team at the University of Copenhagen, and there was a strong focus on Danish productions – in particular, several recent Danish TV series which have enjoyed considerable success abroad: Borgen, The Killing, and The Bridge (a Danish/Swedish co-production). I haven’t had a chance to watch any of these series so far, although I have certainly put them on the list, now that I am aware of them!

Personally, I am more familiar with Swedish (and some Norwegian) film productions – Ingmar Bergman, of course, and some more recent films which I managed to catch at the Wellington film festival: the lovely, quirky Norwegian movie Kitchen Stories, the Swedish As it is in Heaven (a story that touches a personal nerve, and my first encounter with actor Michael Nykvist), and this year’s Force Majeure, with its brilliant photography and looming Westworld atmosphere of things going seriously out of kilter.

The following is an essay I submitted for this course. It seems to tie in well with the topics of this newsletter, and with the Ursula Le Guin essay I posted on Amazing Stories this month, so I reproduce it here – and save myself some writing. :)

Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien

Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa

Let me say first that I don’t feel very well qualified to talk about Danish TV series in particular, since I have not had a chance to watch Borgen, The Killing, or any of the other series mentioned in the lecture.

So I would like to make some more general observations why I think these Danish TV series, as part of the wider spectrum of Scandinavian film and TV production, may have seen the international success they have.

It seems to me that the success Scandinavian productions have had recently, shows that popularity (in the sense of reaching large audiences), artistic integrity (in the sense of creating well rounded characters and unusual plot lines), and a social agenda, in the sense of addressing difficult and possibly controversial issues, are not in fact mutually exclusive.

On the contrary: I think the social agenda of these productions greatly contributes, and possibly even explains their success overseas – because it distinguishes them from the increasingly shallow and stereotype-reaffirming productions that come out of Hollywood in particular, which often reflect the shift toward right wing ideals that countries like the US have experienced since the beginning of the century.

Recent political movements, such as Occupy, are increasingly critical of this, and they regard the Scandinavian social democratic model as something to aspire to. Feminist issues have also been much more prominent in the public discussion in the last five years or so, after being something of a non-mentionable topic for much of the first decade of the century.

There seems to be a widespread perception in movie marketing departments, that for a film to reach a wide audience, “controversial subjects” are best avoided. What these movie marketing gurus seem to define as “controversial”, are things like the representation of issues affecting people of non-Caucasian descent, or the representation of women as defined by something else than their relationship to one or several men. In other words, what is being defined as “controversial” are topics and issues that might challenge the world view of a very particular group of people – white, predominantly Anglo-Saxon middle class males – who happen to constitute the vast majority of people working in those movie marketing departments. (1)

What they fail to realize, is that the majority of their potential audience does not actually fall into that group – and so by presenting stories in a way that appeals mainly to their own social group, they are actually being completely counterproductive purely in marketing terms, and without even looking at issues of wider relevance such as ethics, or artistic merit.

It is also the reason that when a film or a TV show does address itself to a different segment of the audience, these productions tend to attract not only a lot more viewers than the programmers, who were probably considering them a “niche” production, bargained for. They also tend to create a fan base who are vastly enthusiastic and loyal. Often a lot of “marketing” for these shows is word of mouth – which explains why these productions tend to have a "long tail": they often start out with a relatively small audience, but attract more and more viewers as the show goes on. They are also often shows which attain "cult status" and will be repeat-viewed by their most devoted fans for years to come. The initial snowball effect at least seems to have been true both for Borgen (2) and The Killing (3) in the UK – both series were more successful in their second season.

One thing that sets these TV shows (and other Scandinavian productions) apart from more standard Anglo-Saxon fare, is the way they portray female characters. Both Borgen and The Killing feature a strong female lead who is defined primarily by her profession, not by her social or family relationships. This is also true of the Millennium trilogy, which moreover explicitly draws on feminist theory as developed by writers like Germaine Greer. The original title of the first book of the trilogy, Män som hatar kvinnor (Men who hate women), is a direct allusion to a phrase from Greer’s The Female Eunuch.

Borgen, from what I can tell without actually watching the show, appears to focus on issues that have become prominent in public discussion since Julia Gillard’s (the former Prime Minister of Australia) speech on misogyny went viral on the internet (4): a speech in which she addresses the double standard women who aspire to leadership positions continue to face on our society, and the consequences this can have for their emotional life and their own self image.

The Killing features a female lead who is emotionally closed and defines herself exclusively through her work: a character who seems similar in some ways to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, who has struck such a nerve with audiences worldwide.

Both stories play around with gender stereotypes, and both female main characters act in ways that are more generally associated with male behaviour. At the same time, they are psychologically realistic an believable – unlike the gun slinging, provocatively dressed type of the female action hero which American movies have been trying to sell us as “strong female characters” for the last twenty years or so, but which in reality just reaffirm that women’s role in fiction is to sexually titillate a predominantly male audience. (5)

So I would argue that the recent success of Danish TV series, as well as other Scandinavian film and TV productions, is caused at least in part by their concern with social issues, which is a heritage of the Public TV philosophy that has been formative for Scandinavian film and TV.

These productions offer an alternative view of the world from most US and (to a lesser extent) UK productions, which continue to reaffirm more conservative values, particularly with regard to gender roles and stereotypes. As such, these Scandinavian shows are able to not only attract a substantial audience of people who do not find themselves and their concerns represented in productions from their own countries, but also to engender a high degree of fan loyalty, and word-of-mouth promotion.

It is also interesting to note that some of the English language remakes of Scandinavian material – I am thinking particularly of the US remake of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, but it seems to apply equally to the remake of The Killing – have a tendency to mold the story back into the old male/female stereotypes, completely ignoring the fact that it was the challenging of those stereotypes which made these books, films or TV shows a success in the first place.

Arohanui, from Asni

Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien Memories of Patrick O'Brien

Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa

* I am proud to report that I achieved a grade of 146% on this course, which is a whopping result that makes me feel really clever, but no surprise really since on one of the quizzes, I managed to score 20 out of 8 points. Needless to say, I was awarded a well deserved “pass with distinction” —— although a niggling doubt makes me wonder if if maybe they just need someone to set up their Coursera quizzes properly in Copenhagen. Might be just the job for me ... :hint, hint: ;)

Sources:

(1) One particularly crude illustration of this mindset are the guidelines of my local Community Radio Station, which actually defines “women” as a “minority” (in New Zealand, as in most other countries, women make up slightly more than 50% of the population, but “women’s issues” continue to be defined as “niche”) – I was going to post a link here but find that they have recently revamped their website and re-formulated that particular passage, good on them. Nice to have made an impact. :D

(2) Borgen viewer numbers

(3) The Killing viewer numbers:

(4) Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech on YouTube

(5) Stieg Larsson’s character Monika Figuerola is a brilliant parody of this character type.



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Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa

Afternoon walk at Glendhu, Wairarapa