Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Le garde-manger: last dinner in Auckland

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

Tonight we’d planned to eat in, but the hotel restaurant was closed so we strolled up the Queen Street hill to a lovely little French bistro called Le Garde-manger.

We had delicious aperitifs to go with a delicious chicken liver paté: mine was called Pommeau de Normandie and it was made with apple juice and Calvados, and Tim’s was called Aperifigue, because it was flavoured with figs.


For main course, we had the specials: Tim had salmon and I had a confit of duck leg.  And we both had delicious wines, Tim’s a pinot-gris from Alsace, and mine was a pinot-noir from Bourgogne. Service was prompt and friendly, so it was a perfect last night in Auckland.

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Auckland Writers Festival: Andrew Sean Greer and David Chariadry

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

Sorry to bombard you with all these posts about the festival, I forgot to post them one by one!

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

Today was the last day of the Auckland Writers Festival, and just as well because having been to 15 events, I am tired out!

My last two sessions featured authors I haven’t yet read, but now surely will.  Andrew Sean Greer is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Less, which is about a mid-list author who makes a living going to writers’ festivals until he unexpectedly wins the Pulitzer prize.  Greer’s story about how he learned that he himself had won it was hilarious, especially when he suddenly received about 100 Tweets featuring bottles of champagne, balloons and applause, but he didn’t know why because the Pulitzer people announce it at an event he hadn’t attended.  I had initially thought that I wouldn’t bother with this book because I am a bit ‘over’ books about authors writing books, but I have changed my mind about this one!

The session with…

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Auckland Writers Festival: Carl Shuker in conversation with Simon Wilson

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

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Carl Shuker is the author of A Mistake, which I read and reviewed just before coming over here for the festival.  But he has also written a number of other books, some of which sound very interesting indeed.

His first published book was called The Method Actors (2005)… which

in 2006 won the Prize in Modern Letters, then the world’s richest prize for an emerging author. ‘Brash and fearless,’ wrote the New York Times, ‘The Method Actors is a self-consciously postmodern challenge to our perceived reality and its fictional depiction’. The AV Club described it as a ‘mesmerizing opus…a serious accomplishment’. (Academy of NZ Literature website)

but it was not actually his first novel.  That was the semi-autobiographical novel The Lazy Boys which was published in 2006 after The Method Actors.  The chair, Simon Wilson, made a point of noting that the first novel announced Shuker as

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Auckland Writers Festival: An Inside Peek

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

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An Inside Peek was what it said it was: a brief insight into the lives of five New Zealand authors.  Each of the five had five minutes to talk about their working day and then there was a kind of round-up by the chair, Owen Harris.

I am a bit embarrassed that I was too slow off the mark to get a screenshot of Tessa Duder’s writing place. I have the four others, but it seems all wrong that Tessa, who is an essayist, a novelist, and writer for children and young people, seems a bit sidelined in my slideshow.  Because children’s authors are the lifeblood of literacy: it is their books that bring people to love reading, and even if they don’t grow up to love books, they love the experience of being read to, and of talking about the issues raised in the books.  I used to be…

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Auckland Writers Festival: The Good Immigrant

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 19, 2019

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It was nobody’s fault, but I was a little bit disappointed that Iranian-American Porochista Khakpour wasn’t part of the panel for this session, because she (the author of The Last Illusion) was the very reason I bought a ticket for it.  Unfortunately she had to withdraw from the festival altogether because of ill-health, but there were other interesting authors to listen to, so I enjoyed the session anyway.

However, (and I’ll say this first, to get it out of the way), I don’t think the moderator Noelle McCarthy gave enough attention to Rosabel Tan, the curator and editor of a New Zealand online arts magazine, The Pantograph Punch.  The topic was immigration and belonging, which is probably just as important an issue in New Zealand as it is anywhere else, but the questions were nearly all directed to Alexander Chee (of Korean-American heritage) and Elaine Castillo (who’s of…

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Auckland Writers Festival: In conversation with Anne Michaels

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 17, 2019

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The Canadian writer Anne Michaels is renowned as a poet, novelist and essayist, best known for her award-winning debut novel Fugitive Pieces (1996, see my review here) but also for The Winter Vault (2009) and seven collections of poems.  In 2015 she was the poet laureate for Toronto, seeking as she said, language for the inexpressible, exploring the difference between silence and muteness, and she began the session by reading a couple of poems that she said were written in the wake of the loss of people she loved best.

In conversation, she chooses her words carefully.  Writing is a rigorous discipline, and she doesn’t agree with manipulating language to suit an agenda.  Certainty, she thinks, usually leads to something false.  It’s what you want to say that determines how you write it, and that’s part of the relationship between the reader and the writer. 

Mysteries like the…

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New Zealand Day 11: Auckland Art Gallery

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 17, 2019

Our first Auckland Writers Festival event wasn’t until the afternoon, so we visited the Auckland Art Gallery in the morning.

Though they’ve built some extensions to the original building, it’s not a large gallery, and its entire ‘Historic European’ collection was closed.  (I think that title means that they’ve stopped collecting European art?) From what we saw of the reproductions on postcards on sale in the shop, they have some great pieces, so we were a bit miffed at not being able to see any of it, especially when so much space was devoted to a fashion exhibition upstairs.  (It was Maori fashion, but I am not interested in fashion of any kind, whoever creates it.  I think women in particular would be much better off investing their time, money, and creative energies in something less ephemeral and bad for the planet.)  There was also a gallery called Guerrilla Girls whose poster art I just found tiresome.

So I would have been feeling cranky, except that the ‘Frances Hodgkins European Journeys’ exhibition was wonderful.  The exhibition is a generous retrospective of over 150 paintings of this modernist painter who was born in New Zealand.

Hodgkins (1869-1947) reminded me of Kathleen O’Connor, the Perth artist whose life story by Perth author Amanda Curtin I recently read.  Hodgkins was also a successful expatriate painter who travelled widely, visiting France, Morocco, Spain and England, where she spent her final years.  You can read more about her and see some of her paintings at Wikipedia, but these two portraits show a much more lively personality that that awful photo of her!

Hodgkins was brilliant at capturing the inner world of her subjects.  Here’s the slideshow:

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I also like this one by Laura Knight:

There’s a talk at the Writers Festival about Hodgkins to coincide with the publication of a book about her, but alas, it’s sold out.

#Professional Development Tip For Gallery Management: Interestingly, when I chatted with one of the gallery guides about this exhibition and mentioned the Kathleen O’Connor book about an expat artist in the same period, I asked if a book had been written about Hodgkins. The young woman didn’t know. Another gallery guide sent us on a fruitless search up flights of stairs for the European gallery, because she didn’t know it was closed. And the woman who sold us our tickets (the Museum and the Gallery charge International visitors, but locals have free entry), didn’t happen to mention that the European Gallery was closed. So I think if guides are going to wear t-shirts emblazoned with ‘ask me’ in both English and Maori, a little more training wouldn’t go astray).

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Auckland Writers Festival: Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 16, 2019

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Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold took place in the Heartland Festival room, which is a bit like the Melbourne Festival’s Melba Spiegeltent.  It’s a most congenial venue, especially if you get there early like we did and enjoy a glass of bubbly at the cabaret-style seating with a table and comfortable velvet padded seating.

The event was an opportunity for readings from some of the Māori writers who contributed to the book Pūrākau: Māori Myths Retold.  The readers were some that I knew: Tina Makereti (see my reviews of two of her novels); Paula Morris (see my review of Rangatira); and Nic Low (whose short story collection Arms Race was a giveaway for Indigenous Literature Week in 2014).  Other readers were Kelly Joseph, Regan Taylor and Whiti Hereaka, and the whole performance was accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Kingsley Melhuish who blended brass and percussion instruments with conch shells…

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Auckland Writers Festival: Orlando (Dyad Productions)

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 16, 2019

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We have just seen a magnificent stage adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.  (See my review of the book here).

The performance was a special event for the Auckland Writers Festival, and this is the blurb:

A theatrical triumph and an intriguing exposition of art and identity: personal, sexual, national. Acclaimed British theatre company Dyad Productions present their latest offering – an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 satire Orlando: A Biography – with their usual elan. The ageless, gender-fluid, immortal fictional poet Orlando, played by Rebecca Vaughan, sweeps through four centuries of English history. Vaughan’s turn is “towering” (The Scotsman), surpassing her artistry in previous Festival favourites Austen’s Women, Dalloway and Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Written and directed by Elton Townend Jones.

Supported by Platinum Patrons Julienne Brown & David McLean.

Rebecca Vaughan was superb. In a one-woman performance lasting 90 minutes, she captured the playful…

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New Zealand Day 10: Auckland War Memorial Museum

Posted by Lisa Hill on May 16, 2019

First, a little bit of catching up…

In Napier, Tim went to the aquarium while I put my feet up with a book.


So, back to Wednesday in Auckland!

After a scrumptious breakfast in the hotel (the Scenic, on Queen Street) we headed off to the wharf, not far from the Maritime Museum.  It was a beautiful morning, sun shining with a light breeze, so a trip across to Devonport on the ferry seemed like a good idea.  And even though as the day wore on there were intermittent flurries of wind and rain, for the most part the day stayed congenial. We have been very lucky.

Devonport is lovely.  I can understand why people would want to commute across the harbour to work in the CBD!  We had coffee and friands at a really nice café called Twister Tomato, and then strolled around the shops and admired their lovely houses.  Best of all we found a second-hand bookshop called Bookmarks and spent a blissful half hour browsing their extensive collections.  I bought three, and so did Tim, so we are going to have to be careful with further purchases, but backlist books of Catherine Chidgey and Kirsty Gunn are impossible to source in Australia so it would have been daft not to buy them.

Back on the mainland, we went to the Auckland War Memorial Museum.  The architecture is neo-classical with Roman columns inside and out, and entablature on the exterior features scenes of war on the frieze. Inside, it’s what I call a traditional museum, (i.e. the kind I like), with collections focussing on the natural world, NZ’s geological history, and a representative collection of classical artefacts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and China.  There were also a couple of replicas of Greek statuary including the Laocoon and the Dying Gaul, and I think this is a good idea: it’s a very long way to travel for students studying these classical civilisations to see the originals, and just as the V&A in London has replicas for its students, so the Auckland Museum enhances its collection of original artefacts with these life-sized replicas as well.

They have a very good fossil collection.  (I am fascinated by fossils, and have my own small collection at home, including a trilobite).  Here’s the slideshow, including a giant ammonite and a reconstruction of the extinct giant moa.

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They also have a good (if somewhat disconcerting) exhibition about volcanoes.  NZ doesn’t just have to worry about devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions in their cities is a possibility too.  An animation shows how volcanic eruptions from the sea reshaped these islands over millions of years: my photos don’t capture it all that well, but it’s one of the best exhibits I’ve seen on this topic.

Upstairs is dedicated to the War Memorial and associated exhibits, including a real Spitfire on display, and a poignant cabinet of POW’s handwritten stories.  New Zealanders served in many theatres of war, and so there are cards written by people captured everywhere from Germany to Crete and of course in Singapore as well.  As well as the exhibits you’d expect to see about WW1 and WW2, there was also an exhibit about women’s war service, and one about peace-keeping operations as well.


And I had my first Bookish Moment of the trip.  (The visit to Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace, you may recall, didn’t work out because the house was closed for the duration). In a delightfully idiosyncratic collection donated by a gentleman called Mackelvie, there was this: ivory mini-busts of Voltaire and Rousseau.  (The man at the front isn’t anybody, the signage just says he’s a man, so why he’s at the front in the way I do not know!)

For dinner we went to a restaurant that claimed to serve Japanese-influenced European dishes—but they don’t.  They serve Japanese dishes with the inclusion of mismatched European ingredients. such as bits of shredded raw potato, red radish instead of daikon and (a mortal sin, IMO) mustard drowning out the subtle flavour of freshwater caviar.  The dishes were the usual unpalatable raw fish in feeble sauces.  If you like Japanese cuisine, and Tim does, then it was fine, if grotesquely overpriced. If you don’t, and I really don’t, then the only ‘European’ dish in a seven-course degustation that you might like will be dessert.  And this is a shame because Tim chose this particular restaurant because he thought a fusion cuisine might suit us both.  But the irresponsible table service was something else again: the tables are very close together, so all night long anything the waitstaff said to us was drowned out by a boisterous couple next to us, made worse by the way the waitstaff kept replenishing the father’s glass with sake and beer so he became louder and louder and more and more obnoxious. Not a happy experience at all.

Photo credit:

Auckland War Memorial Museum by User:Antilived – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3493161

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