My French is terrible. I did study it in third and fourth form, but all I can remember is playing Salade de fruit. I also had it in my head that it was one of those non-subjects, because nobody I knew could speak it in New Zealand and these places were far, far away to even matter. This was also the case for Japanese class. Nobody close to me had even caught a plane before – myself included. Well, the odd one or two may have traveled to Australia and that seemed pretty fancy, may as well have been New York. Most of the kids in my neighbourhood never left the suburbs, let alone have enough lunch for school. I thought about whether or not French and Japanese kids in parallel were learning Maori language as a core elective, but I already knew the answer to that. I should have paid more attention to both had I known I would find myself in these places as an adult. I had never been to France (or Europe) before. I had never experienced 34 hours traveling on two long haul flights (and train) back to back. I had then (40 hours later) never walked city to city with a 20 kilo pack, alone in winter, for 80kms in the upper Normandie countryside in the name of art. Until recently, that was all true. My French is still terrible, but I can now say I have done these things. Trying to explain this to family, friends and colleagues before leaving was difficult and I felt a general lack of support, mostly due to the safety issues involved. I told my mother that Joan of Arc led an army through Normandie without Google Maps, a cell phone or Gortex gear when she was 19. My mother, in true Lilo style said: Joan of Arc had an army and you don’t.
Garden, Singapore airport 221114
Lala’s Instructions: You don’t need sleeping pills or any other shit. Most people take their shoes off when they’re on the plane, but I keep mine on to avoid swelling. Get up every hour when you’re awake and stretch. Drink water. Drink so much water until you can’t handle it. Even if you have to piss every half hour. People forget this, get dehydrated and end up feeling like shit. Avoid alcohol. When you get to Singapore, go to the transit lounge and have a shower. Take some clean carry on clothing, you’ll feel so much better for the next leg. There’ll be a buffet at the lounge, but don’t eat too much at that point because you’ll feel sick on the next plane. Stay awake for the first half of the second flight then sleep. It’ll be morning when you get to Paris. There’ll be a driver waiting for you holding a sign with your name on it. He’ll take you to the station – you should have more than enough time after check-in to make the 10:36am train to Rouen. It’ll be midday when you arrive.
I love that girl.
I sat next a South African woman for the first flight. A nurse based in Wellington. Two daughters, one also a nurse with a four year old daughter and the other, a doctor. She was going home to Cape town to visit family and friends after 8 years. I guessed early fifties, but could be younger. I didn’t catch her name or give her mine. The whole duration, neither of us bothered to turn on our in-flight entertainment. 11 hours of sitting, thinking, small talk and for her, the odd nap. Strange how we managed to do it technology free, seeing it was there and every other person on board had their screens on. For every other flight It became a trend and I made a decision to not watch, read or do anything else but observe the activity of the plane and get lost in a string of random thoughts. It wasn’t a plan but South Africa and I stayed together at the Singapore Airport. I told her I was off to the transit lounge in T2 and invited her to have a shower. Obviously not together. She found the idea quite compelling, especially before another 14 hour flight.
Waiting for the train at Terminal Two, another young New Zealand girl interrupted, saying she was on her way to the lounge and joined us. Her next flight was headed for Mumbai. Three of us walking through T2 on a mission. Mumbai made it but unfortunately South Africa was bounced at the counter. After that we found an open rooftop that was completely full of sunflowers and shared a cigarette. It was hot and the humidity was out of control, both sweating within minutes. When we had finished, I instructed her to follow me to another desk to redeem my paper voucher to for the lounge. I suggested she use my ticket in place of me because her transit was 7 hours and mine only five. She was hesitant but accepted the offer because I almost held her hand and dragged her along, but when we reached the desk, they gave us entry for two. We looked at each other and smiled, walking away fast in case they made a mistake.
The last time I saw of her was just before our shower and we didn’t say good bye because there was no need to.
Man, Singapore airport 221114
Destruction Gully, Whatipu 1997
My father invited my brother and I to go fishing. I didn’t find the invitation particularly exciting, but we had recently reconnected after many years of him being out of the picture. I have many memories of being with my father as a small child fishing, netting, white baiting, diving, surf casting – you name it, he did it, loved it and was very good at it. First stop Mt Royal Ave in Owairaka (Mt. Albert) to pick up a fishing mate. Sitting in a white van waiting for him to appear, Cyril (rolly ciggy dangling from the lip) walks out of a house identical to all the others. Baggy grey track pants, woolly socks, holding gumboots and fishing rods in each hand – he looked like Willy Lopez from the Patrick Swayze movie Ghost. In waiting, I thought about how much I liked this street because it was so familiar to the areas I grew up in. Kids used to joke asking to use the toilet without needing directions to find it, because of the identical layouts. Bungalow and hardy plank state houses. When we arrived at our destination, I had no idea we were to trek to get to our spot. My brother Steven and I silently followed Dad and Cyril through the winding bush. It was quite steep from memory, and I do remember at the time thinking about why it was called Destruction Gully in the first place. Reaching the the bottom where the ocean met the rocks and cliff face, it became a little tricky. My father and his friend scaled ahead and got a bit further leaving my brother and I behind. I stopped when I got to an edge that required some focus to navigate, a bit where the water lapped against a mouth crashing upwards. You had to do a bit of a rock climbing stance to shimmy over to the other side so I told my little brother to wait for me to try first. In a semi-starfish position I could feel the grip in my fingers slipping. I looked over at my Steven who had his hand out to help me, his face sad, knowing I was about to fall from the cliff – I still remember that clearly and it worried me more that he felt that way. In that moment I had to make a quick decision and In my head I thought, I simply cannot fall backwards into the ocean mouth I could probably die or seriously injure myself. My feet were planted on a small rocky ledge but my hands were failing me. I decided to let go, turn around quickly scan below and jump into the least dangerous part, preferably land in water and not rock. I did this. I saw a slight water gap and when my legs fell through, they were fine but my hands face planted boulders in the water mouth. When I climbed out and up again, blood was streaming from both hands and down my arms, shards of rocks embedded. I felt like Jesus.
The idea of walking to make art is not original, it is simple. In the digital age the world moves so fast, I feel we could lose our physicality, the ability to be slow or do things without having to social media experiences for proof or validation likes. Its taken me a while to put this information on my website because of that resistance, but a friend reminded me to embrace my shadow, so here I am. I’m trying to renegotiate how to walk in both worlds confidently again without disconnecting from either. Ironically, I use this platform to share my work. Without it, people wouldn’t know.
Walking city to city is not easy. Aside from fitness, it requires a mental focus to keep you moving forward. The idea of navigating such a distance in a cold and foreign place, where language is not yours, and people you love are sleeping on the other side of the world, is far from romantic. I always knew this would be the case and I let myself get totally lost in it.
I learned many things over the course of fives days walking between cities. Two cameras, tripod, laptop, sound kit and a newly purchased android cellphone. People who know me, know that I haven’t used a cellphone for years, but as a security measure I made a promise to have one on me. Unfortunately I didn’t even know how to use it properly but managed to work the camera function and download Spotify. Trying to negotiate a new Simcard at a tabac in Rouen proved to be a bit of a mission in itself. Part two of that mission was applying credit – I had to seek the help of strangers with my awful French. There are many stories and special people attached to this trip – I don’t even know where to begin. I have written a lot about my experiences but have decided to let these sit and share them at later stages.
What I will share with you now, is a selection of cell phone images and one video taken from my walk. It doesn’t give you the full picture, but hopefully you get an idea. Devices can only do so much. I hope to produce the very best outcome possible for the future audience of the two gallery spaces in Rouen, Le Havre and beyond.
I want to acknowledge curators Caroline Vercoe (University of Auckland) and Jacqueline Charles-Rault (University of Le Havre) for inviting me to be a part of this epic Pacific art project and exhibition opening in November. I also acknowledge my contemporaries who will also share their work across Normandie.
The Normandie Research Project was funded by the Pacific Arts Committee, Creative New Zealand. Arohanui for your support.
The number of times I found myself lost in a forest, farm or unwalkable highway was not funny. I would like to confront Google maps for listing some pathways that did not exist in real life.
First photo below – I guessed was a used car dealer. I thought it was odd, automatically framing it as an English term for event. I later saw on the internet that the word Occasion in French meaning, refers to opportunity or chance. I want to use that as starting point for this project and every other because it makes absolute sense.
Le Havre, 291114