Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand 2016 Day 6. Windy Wellington

We woke to the roaring sound of a gale pounding against the house! “Not to worry”, said KC, “it is just a bit of wind. Quite normal for a summer day in Wellington.” The family was off early, because KC had to take Alvi to the ophthalmologist, and Tim had to prepare for the field work he is starting in a couple of days, so Anna and I had the time to wash clothes and have breakfast before heading for downtown. Our goal was to visit the First World War Museum, and then the Te Papa New Zealand Museum.

The WW I Museum is a present from the Kiwi director of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Peter Jackson, so it is done with all the mastercraft of a movie set. You enter through the winding streets of a French town, where between the boulangerie and the charcuterie you learn about the events that led to WW I. One interesting factoid is associated to the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian archduke in Serbia that triggered the war:  It turns out that the assassin and his band of 5 bad guys botched the attempt, and the bomb they had thrown bounced off the car and injured some minor characters. The assassin, badly shaken, went into a pub to steady his nerves. In the meantime, the archduke was taken to a safe place, but figured that the least he could do was to pay a visit to the people who had been injured. So he gets in his car, and follows an escort car to the hospital. But then the escort car takes a wrong turn and finds itself in a dead end alley, with the car of the archduke and his wife stopping behind them. At this moment the original assassin was stepping out of the pub, which happened to be in that very ally, and he sees the archduke right in front of him; so he pulls out his gun and neatly shoots both the archduke and his wife, thus triggering a bloody conflict in which nearly a million soldiers from both sides perished.

The flow of the museum takes you through the trenches, the battlefields, the big guns, and even a full size tank rolling over a German trench. It is magnificently done, with plenty of side displays and a good collection of little known facts about the war.

Finally, the exhibition ends with a big display about the battles of Gallipoli, in Turkey, where the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) was given the task to occupy the peninsula of Gallipoli to control the shipping lane of the Dardanelles. The Kiwis and Aussies are very proud of the impenetrable front they presented to the Ottoman Empire from April to December 1915, scrabbling to the steep sides of a valley while the Turkish soldiers attacked time and time again. Unfortunately the slaughter was for naught, and after 8 months of hard fighting the ANZAC forces had to beat a retreat and abandon the ground so ferociously held. 87,000 Ottoman soldiers died in the conflict, as well as 44,000 Allied soldiers, including 6,000 Aussies and 3,000 Kiwis.

Thoroughly depressed as to the brutality of WW I, Anna and I faced the roaring gale once again, and worked our way to the Te Papa museum, of which the Wellingtonians are rightfully proud. Like the other museums of the city it is free (but parking anywhere near the museum is NZ$4 per hour), and truly enormous. Six exhibition floors offer to the attention of the interested visitor all aspects of New Zealand’s history. The displays are a bit labyrinthic, but you get lots of cool information about the geologic history of New Zealand, its animals and flora, the Maori culture, and the growth of the modern country through colonization and immigration. There were also special exhibitions about cinematography and animation, and about Gallipoli, but you had to pay for those so I didn’t see them.

After a delicious dinner of artichoke and mushroom home-made pizzas we sat down to see a Kiwi movie, “Boy”. It was funny but at the same time heart-wrenching. It is the story of a Maori boy and his brother, who live with their grandma and four other little cousins. Suddenly grandma has to go to Wellington to a funeral and leaves the whole gaggle of kids in the care of 12-year old Boy. Boy is a dreamer, who expects his hero of a father to come back some day. Well, dad comes back but is a gang banger and drunk, who drags his son into all sorts of mischief and trouble. It is a poignant story because it seems the Maoris are a long way toward getting out of the lowest economic rung of the country, suffer chronic alcoholism and gang-related violence, and very often neglect or mistreat their children. Similar fates to those of the first inhabitants in other countries colonized by the Europeans!

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