Christchurch Cathedral, 1900 – courtesy of Christchurch Libraries Archives

Strange as this may sound – my most memorable journeys are not just about exotic cultures, beautiful landscapes, amazing animals, fine food and wine.   Contrast is important to get the true nature of a place and its people – life is all about the ups and the downs.

We were given a very personal view of Christchurch, the oldest city of New Zealand as our guide Tia lived there until a catastrophic event:  at 12.51 p.m. on February 22, 2011,  a 6.3  magnitude earthquake hit, causing severe damage and killing 185 people and injuring several thousand more.  Although it not as powerful as a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that hit the city of Sept 4, 2010, this earthquake occurred on a shallow fault line very near the city and so the shaking that occurred was very destructive.  This is what the above cathedral looked like when we visited:

Here is a before and after shot showing the liquefaction of an entire town:

Tia was not majorly hurt and in fact managed to extricate a fellow worker from mounds of rubble and half carry the badly injured woman to a hospital.  Her home, however was destroyed and badly shaken Tia and her husband decided to removed themselves to a safer parcel of land right off the shore.

To memorialize the 185 souls that were lost, a local artist, Peter Majendie selected an empty lot,  symbolically about 185 square meters and created a display that had me shaking and crying in emotion – 185 empty chairs, painted white:

What pierced my heart was the variety of chairs – rocking chairs, dining room chairs, garden loungers, beanbags, armchairs, stools, wheelchairs, baby hi-chairs, bassinets, children’s chairs – each made to fit the personality of the life lost.

The artist originally intended the memorial to be temporary – but the outpouring of sentiment by the residents of Christchurch have made it clear that this should be permanent.

As the city rebuilds and by the way fortifies its buildings to help withstand a future quake, other artists are creating pieces to beautify the area as it is under construction.  A freelance artist, Jacob Yikes specializes in graffiti art, ;large murals and illustrative art (and incidentally a friend of Tia’s). His work is astounding – bizarre, unique, witty, dark and altogether mesmerizing – here are some of his commissions:

Christchurch has a long way to go, but its townspeople have courage and enthusiasm and love that will surely see the way to a fortified and beautiful city.

We met one other artist  in Christchurch in a very special visit to his workshop where he creates  precious works of art jewelry using New Zealand greenstone, which the Maori call “pounamu.”

Coming up next week.


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