Giorgio Morandi, Bologna artist

Morandi book “One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see.” Giorgio Morandi. [1]

Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964) is one of my favourite artists. I was pleased to read that the artists he listed as his influences are also in my pantheon (Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Chardin, Cezanne and Seurat).[2] Trying to come up with something that encapsulates the work of all these artists, I thought of solidity and stillness (generalisations, of course). When we were in Bologna last September we saw many of Morandi’s works. Since late 2012 the Morandi collection that used to be in a separate museum has been temporarily located at MAMbo (the Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna or Modern Art Museum of Bologna). Continue reading


Jerusalem, Whanganui and maps

 I have just returned from a brief trip to Jerusalem (not the one in Israel! This one is a very small village next to the Whanganui River in New Zealand). I have written about it before (see this post). So here I will just add some photos.

I also stayed a night in Whanganui and bought the book called ‘Maps’ (UK Five Leaves Publications, 2011) at the local Saturday market. This is mainly a book of short essays about places. I haven’t finished it all yet, but it made me think of my trip in terms of maps. I have also written a post about maps before (see this post).

Continue reading

Bulls (the town in NZ)

A few weeks ago I went on a Friends of Te Papa bus trip to Bulls in the North Island (about 150 kilometres north of Wellington). Recent marketing makes puns with the name, for example “Bulls: a town like no udder”; Bulls: unforget-a-bull;  or the sign for the local police station “Const-a-bull”. As some of us were walking the short distance from a morning tea welcome at the local RSA club to the Bulls Museum, we passed a sign for the local physiotherapist. I thought of “bend-a-bull”; a better suggestion was “flex-a-bull”. But as they hadn’t invented any pun, they probably thought the whole idea regret-a-bull.

At Bulls Museum we were divided into two groups – one looked at the displays in the main building, while the other was given an informative talk in the ‘stables’ – a building housing various horse-drawn forms of transport and accessories (like a ladies side-saddle).


One of the interesting displays was about the four horses that were transported back to New Zealand at the end of World War One. Yes, of the thousands that went, probably only four made it back home – including ‘Bess’ who has her own monument near Bulls, which we saw from the road – a Category 1 listed historic monument: “Of the 3817 New Zealand horses that served during the war, Bess was one of a very small number of horses to return home. On her death in 1934, Powles erected the small stone memorial over her grave. A unique and important memorial, the structure is the only one in the country to commemorate the horses that served New Zealand during the First World War. It is also one of the very few to commemorate the role of horses in war in the world.” [From the Heritage NZ listing.]


From the museum we continued in our two groups to visit two historic houses – Lethenty and Beccles. Lethenty is a Category 2 listed building, built in 1915 following a fire in the earlier house.  (Its water tower is also a listed historic feature).


Beccles appears not to be listed with Heritage NZ, but the remains of a redoubt (from the 1860s wars) at the back of the property are.  At each house we had an informative talk from the owner or family member. Beccles was begun in the 1880s and later a large room was added by the then owner as a church meeting room. It has been altered over time by various owners. (You can see some more photos and information at this link.)

Beccles (1880s)



After lunch we drove along Parewanui Road to the coast. The first stop was the 1862-built Te Wheriko Church. It was moved in 1897 to its current location due to flood risk from the Rangitikei river.


On the way back to Wellington we stopped at Sanson to see the 1877-built church, designed by Wellington architect Charles Tringham, St Thomas Church, a Category 2 listed historic building.


It was a well organised and enjoy-a-bull trip!

Otorohanga: Kiwiana town

kiwiana town Otorohanga

Recently we stayed a couple of nights in Otorohanga (in the Waikato district, sort of middle-north in the North Island). As we travel about in various places (New Zealand, Australia, America come to mind) we like to see what towns and cities call themselves. I don’t mean their actual names, I mean the little epithets they give themselves (is epithet the right word?: “an adjective or phrase expressing a quality or attribute regarded as characteristic of the person or thing mentioned”). Perhaps they are just slogans thought up by someone on the local council or tourism board!

Wellington, where I live, is sometimes called Wellywood, a pastiche of Hollywood in homage to the Sir Peter Jackson-led film industry we have here. More often it’s called Windy Wellington, but that isn’t a positive image for tourism so the label “absolutely positively Wellington” was invented. You want positive? Absolutely! Actually, I see it wasn’t meant to be anything big, but caught the imagination and stuck. (click the link to see its origins.)

The silliest one I think I ever saw was “Foxton, the Fox Town”. Continue reading

Riding the rails to Whangamomona

20170227_141113Last week we did a day trip with Forgotten World Adventures using golf carts converted to run on the disused rail line from Okahukura (near Taumaranui in the North Island of New Zealand) to Whangamomona.

This rail line was closed in 2010; which seems a shame as it took more than 30 years to build in the early 20th century and includes 24 tunnels and 91 bridges. However, Ian Balme saw an opportunity and negotiated a lease with KiwiRail and started the business in 2012. There are high maintenance costs – especially clearing the line after each winter, which helps explain why the rides aren’t particularly cheap. But with lunch and morning and afternoon teas provided and a return ride, we thought it was worth it. Continue reading

Travels in Communist Europe – 1981

visa-berlinNow it is relatively common for New Zealand school children to take school trips to other countries, but when I was young it wasn’t at all common. It was too expensive – and perhaps it just wasn’t considered something worthwhile. I grew up in the North Island inland town of Masterton and had one school trip to Nelson in the South Island, and hockey team trips to New Plymouth and Napier.

My first overseas trip was when I was 18 or 19 and it was to Melbourne and parts of Victoria (Australia) with the under-23 Wellington women’s hockey team. We came last in the hockey tournament, but I enjoyed the travel. The next year a friend and I went to Tonga (briefly) and Fiji for a holiday and about 16 months later I did my ‘big OE’ (“overseas experience” – almost a rite of passage for young New Zealanders). I was in the UK and Europe for eight months, based in London when I wasn’t travelling, which I was most of the time. Continue reading

Banishing boredom in Ferrara

I have just finished reading Ali Smith’s 2014 novel How to be Both (Penguin). It is in two parts – one is narrated by a Renaissance artist, Francesco del Cossa (although Smith spells it Francescho) and one part by a contemporary teenage girl living in Cambridge, England. I read in a review that half the books were published with the artist’s part first and half with the teenager’s first (George, for Georgia, is her name). The version I read began with the artist’s story, which is the most challenging stylistically (and, at times, I found it a bit boring). I found the teenager’s story much easier to read and more interesting – I think I’d have preferred to have read a version with her story first! Of course, I’ll never know now. The artist is in our times, but it’s unclear (to me, at least) if he’s meant to be a ghost/spirit or is actually imagined by the teenager and her friend for a school project. That’s about all I want to say about the book – there are plenty of online reviews for those who want to know more. Continue reading