South Island Cathedrals

24 Feb

This is main square in Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island.


That’s how it looked in September of 1998, when my children, then 5 and 7, chased seagulls and ate ice cream cones in the shadow of the Christchurch Cathedral.

One afternoon, we came downtown with a bag of cut-out squares and triangles and circles. And against their will, my children gave in to my hopeful lesson in architecture and geometry.

Lots of red and gray construction paper blew away with the wind, but we built a cathedral.


And, now, on Thomas Stasyk’s blog, I read about the earthquake that rocked Christchurch earlier this week, leaving the cathedral in a rubble, as if we had forgotten to paste geometric shapes securely to the page.

While we were in Zealand, we took a trip up the coast to Kaikoura for the world’s best whale-watching expedition ever. Whales: even mightier than a cathedral.

Here is that day, exuberantly memorialized by my son.


Let me get back to Thomas Stasyk’s post “Something to Think About” for a moment.

Tom refers to a theory linking beached whales with earthquakes. Evidently, there were large whale beachings in New Zealand in early February, with more than 80 whales stranded on shore.

Why would we think we can master Nature?

29 Responses to “South Island Cathedrals”

  1. Artswebshow February 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Oh my god, for me, it is painful to see a piece of beautiful architecture somebody dedicated a large portion of their life to build.
    Something that beautiful should not have to be destroyed like that.
    I hope they will be able to restore it and i hope it didn’t take anyone down with it either

    • jenny February 25, 2011 at 8:36 am #

      There are casualties, as I have heard. It’s awful, huh?

  2. david osman February 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    who is that mystery indian scientist who tom refers to ?
    i wonder why his name is not mentioned? is he undegroung theorist?

    • jenny February 25, 2011 at 8:35 am #

      His name is Arunachalam Kumar. There’s a kind of intuitive sense to the idea, but, actually, I’m bowled over by a natural order that permits whales on a mass scale to throw themselves on the beach, whether or not there is a connection to earthquakes.

  3. Philippe February 25, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    New Zealand is so small that its losses in human lives from this earthquake may end up being their equivalent of what five or six 9/11s would be for the US.

    It’s also very sad about the dead whales. They, like most non-humans, can sense things that we humans can’t, partly because our potential to sense them has been suppressed, or propagandised out, by our contemporary culture and belief-systems.

    • jenny February 25, 2011 at 8:39 am #


      New Zealand is very small and very remote. For us, anyway.

      I have the (totally unjustified) feeling that it is a safe place, far away from the world’s troubles, even the natural ones. When disaster strikes there, it throws my whole world view.

      • Philippe February 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

        @Jenny – I remember a news story from 1982, at the time of the Falklands war. There was a British couple living on that island, who had decided to move there from Britain because they considered that the Falklands was the safest place in the world to live. It would be out of the way of nuclear fall-out in the case of a World War 3, and the air there was unpolluted, and all of that.

        To be in the middle of a shooting war, as they were in the time of the Falklands war, was something they hadn’t factored-in when deciding on a safe place to live.

        Regarding New Zealand, some of the homes from which the owners have fled, have been looted. Our Edenic idea of New Zealand from all those pictures of sheep grazing in meadows, is therefore not quite accurate.

      • jenny February 26, 2011 at 7:08 am #

        Great story about the Falklands! I hadn’t heard that.

        “To be in the middle of a shooting war…was something they hadn’t factored in…”

        In other words, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  4. dafna February 25, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    hi jenny,

    the contrasting images are lovely and sad.

    i’m lost, which “we” thinks they can master nature? surely such a fool would perish from their ignorance.

    • jenny February 26, 2011 at 7:06 am #

      Who thinks we can master nature? I think we believe we were admonished to do something like that in the first chapter of Genesis.

      (I should have pinged Philippe–or perhaps some even higher power–on this post as well.)

  5. sledpress February 26, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    I agree partly with Philippe that we are restricted by what we think we can or should do, but I suspect also that we simply haven’t learned to integrate all the activity of the neocortex with our innate animal ability to pick up things like fluctuations in the electromagnetic field, one of the major ways animals respond to the environment. We all have it, though. A distinct fraction of my clients react to the weather.

    Interestingly, I’ve heard it argued that the architecture of cathedrals has an antenna-like capacity for focusing certain ranges of EM. I wonder if the building, at least, knew what was about to hit it.

    • Man of Roma February 26, 2011 at 10:02 am #

      Sled, you are definitely a witch …

      • jenny February 27, 2011 at 7:35 am #

        a good witch

      • sledpress February 27, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

        I don’t look anything like Glinda though.

      • Man of Roma February 28, 2011 at 1:36 am #

        I meant just a woman with magic powers. Is a ‘sorceress’ more appropriate?
        Sled, you resemble Glinda more than you think. I’d add you are more interesting, Glinda being a bit boring (at least to me).

      • sledpress March 1, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

        Paracelsus said that he “learned from the sorceresses all that he knew.” And I was a big fan of Paracelsus when I was a tiny sprout. I’ll go with that.

  6. Man of Roma February 26, 2011 at 10:27 am #


    Great post and pictures. It all would be a wonderful mental trip to New Zealand weren’t for the triste vicenda the pics are describing.

    Earth quakes are horrible et pas du tout rigolo. We had one close to Rome (Abruzzo) a couple of years ago (?) and the after shocks were particularly stressing since lasted weeks; though fortunately Rome is not a very seismic place (but half of the Colosseum’s external wall fell because of an earthquake: 1350? I forgot)

    Phil is right. Anything can happen to anyone anywhere. Tzunamis are another example. So it is advisable not to think about anything and try to live serenely, which is easy to say, much less to practice, I being the first not good at it.

    And dogs and cats as my experience goes can feel earthquakes long before us.

    I read *here* in the Pet Wiki: “During the tsumani of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, the news reported that elephants and other animals headed for higher ground before the tsunami hit.

    So animals can sense disasters.

    • jenny February 27, 2011 at 7:37 am #

      “…it is advisable not to think about anything…”

      A little red wine helps with that.

  7. Cyberquill February 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    Why would we think we can master Nature?

    Who exactly falls into that category? If I use an umbrella when it rains, do I come off as someone who thinks he can “master nature”? If I wear a coat in January to keep myself from getting frost bite, am I on a quixotic quest to “master nature”? If engineers and architects work on developing structures less prone to crumbling when an earthquake hits, are they naively attempting to “master nature”?

    Without mastering nature to a quite remarkable extent, we’d all be dead. You wouldn’t survive a winter in Illinois for more than 24 hours without successfully protecting yourself from (i.e., mastering) nature.

    Can we master nature completely? Well, I’ve never met anyone who thought such a thing can be attained rather than approximated to varying degrees.

    Bottom line, I’m not understanding your question.

    • jenny February 27, 2011 at 7:38 am #

      I’m just expressing my anxiety about how powerless we are.

      Doesn’t mean I don’t wear boots in the winter.

      • Cyberquill March 1, 2011 at 6:15 am #

        I’m not quite following your logic. Wearing boots and coats in winter and living in heated homes protects us from death by nature. How is that “powerless”? You appear to be defining powerlessness as a less than 100% success rate under all circumstances.

      • jenny March 1, 2011 at 7:05 am #

        I very rarely truck in logic.

        But, you knew that. No previously unknown fault(line) here.

      • Cyberquill March 2, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

        I happen to own a book called “Logic for Lawyers” by one Ruggero J. Aldisert. Wanna borrow it?

  8. Philippe February 27, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    Jenny – “……Who thinks we can master nature?………”

    How about: who thinks we can exploit nature as much as we want, without nature fighting back?

    Protecting ourselves against nature by building dwellings, wearing clothes and all of that, is one thing. Raping nature and despoliating it, as do Big Oil, Big Mining, and Big Lumber, is something else.

    Mother Earth, by sending forth earthquakes and tsunamis, is merely saying, “enough is enough.”

    • Cyberquill February 27, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      Mother Earth has been sending forth earthquakes and tsunamis since long before the first human showed up. In doing so, what might Mother Nature have been saying prior to the advent of Big Oil, Big Mining, and Big Lumber? And who was She talking to back then? The trilobites and the dinosaurs?

  9. dafna February 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    hmmm, always interesting to which part of the post people react.

    CQ and I, rarely respond to the same exact excerpt.
    jenny you have created a connection, perhaps arbitrary, but still…

    • jenny February 28, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      I’m always happy to serve as matchmaker.

  10. Thomas Stazyk February 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

    Thanks, Jenny. I can’t get used to the juxtaposition of the before and after pictures! Philippe is correct about how things scale down here–someone calculated that because of the size of the country, there are only 2 degrees of separation between New Zealanders, so everyone knows someone who was there, etc.

    • jenny February 28, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      I’m sure you’ve seen WHALERIDER. Good time to watch it again. Such a beautiful movie.

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