Saturday, 13 April 2013

Walking in Charles Darwin's footsteps

Today I walked to and through the Waverley Flora Park at the top of the hill. As I walked along the Dr Winifred Curtis Walk, I noticed a new sign showing a photograph of Charles Darwin accompanied by diagrammatic footsteps. Of course that path could not have existed when he visited Hobart in February 1836, nevertheless I had a frisson of excitement as I wandered on and off tracks this morning wondering if he had taken in 'my' views - or was I taking in 'his' views through the trees. Were casuarinas blowing in the breeze when he was here as they did today? Did parrots and crows and magpies rush through the trees while he meandered through what was probably an all treed area compared to the partly open and partly treed variations these days. But what do I care about Charles Darwin? Why am I taking a more personal interest? Well it so happens that I had already discovered that he visited Tahiti in November 1835 (only 3 months before coming to Hobart), and since I am going to Tahiti to follow in the footsteps of Gauguin, it now seems like an interesting idea to follow in the footsteps of Darwin as well, when I get there later this year. Rather thrilling that all of this holiday planning encourages me to research various histories that I was probably taught at primary school, but have forgotten. I am including a few links to internet resources that expand on this story.

Trip dates

I leave Hobart on Saturday 28th September, spend Sunday in Auckland, then arrive in Papeete, Tahiti on Saturday night. Yes that's all correct. The distance and time zones create this effect. I leave Tahiti just after midnight on Friday 11 October and get back into Hobart on Saturday 12 October.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Why do I care about Gauguin?

Last June at The Hermitage art museum in St Petersburg Russia, I had a revelation. For certain, I had looked at a room or two of Gauguin's paintings in Moscow and been bowled over by the sheer volume of art works by single artists in each place. But it was one room in the Hermitage which stopped me in my tracks, and made me think about what I was seeing. This was the room of paintings which Paul Gauguin had produced in French Polynesia. Back last June, in my ignorance, I remembered from my art teacher days how I had him working only in Tahiti. I didn't know Gauguin spent time on the island of Tahiti before moving to the northern most group of French Polynesian islands - the Marquesas Islands. Unfortunately now, I do not know which paintings at The Hermitage are from which locations. They might all have been from Tahiti, all from the Marquesas or any mix of the two. I may find, when I reach French Polynesia, that Gauguin lived on and/or visited other islands around about. That room in St Petersburg was unusual to my eye. All the pictures which had been painted in a lush tropical environment were lacking a pulsating richness of colour which art historians have described as a key aspect of Gauguin's work. For example, "His bold, colorful and design oriented paintings ...", "Gauguin increasingly abandoned imitative art for expressiveness through colour" and "Gauguin discovered primitive art, with its flat forms and the violent colors belonging to an untamed nature." In St Petersburg, I did see bold and design-oriented paintings with flat forms. But I did not see intensely colourful or expressively colourful paintings nor did I see violent colours. I saw a strange sort of gloomy dullness. And as I sat on the window ledge at the Hermitage occasionally looking out to see if the torrential rain had stopped, I mused on why what I was looking at differed so much from what the art history books had to say (and I realised with embarrassment that I had taught countless classes of students the line the historians had taken, and I could see they were wrong and therefore I had been wrong.) Then in a flash I had an alternative way of understanding those pictures. An American woman sat down next to me and I loaded the idea to her. She, like me, found it plausible and at least worth further consideration. I have lived in and travelled through tropical Australia for many years (not to forget other tropical environments around the world). My recollections of the effect of tropical vegetation canopies is that colours are distorted beneath. Further, colours lose their clarity and brightness. I wondered whether this could explain Gauguin's use of colour and the overall effect of his pictures. I looked closely at the Hermitage pictures, and determined they were not in need of conservation cleaning. Therefore, it was not as if years of filth had clouded their purity. Rather, I felt ... and now I want to find out ... that Gauguin deliberately chose to paint his colours realistically based on what he saw out of direct sunlight. If you go to, this is the Gauguin Room at the Hermitage and as the virtual tour swivels around you can see the curtained windows. I sat on the ledge of the left one - the curtains had been raised because the day was not very bright outside. It is interesting looking at the paintings on this website because the photographed and well-lit images seem so much brighter than they did on the day when I was there. I remember, from the days when I was working at the Australian National Gallery, that works of art once reproduced as a photograph always appeared crisper, cleaner and brighter - the effect of 'professional' lighting.

And Paul Gauguin?

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist (mostly painter). He was born in June 7, 1848 in Paris and died in May 8, 1903 in Atuona (which is in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia - on the island of Hiva Oa. I will be able to go to the cemetery where he is buried and see his gravestone.) which used to be the capital of the Marquesas.

What can one do? What should one do in French Polynesia?

Hours of Googling, and thorough reading of the information presented by the Lonely Planet and the Trip Advisor websites, demonstrate there will be some challenges. Clearly the cost will be a consideration at every turn. Nothing is cheap. Not accommodation, not food, not internal travel on any island, and not travel between islands. Perhaps if my time wasn't tight, I could wait until I could bum a ride on a fisherman's boat or a lazily wandering yachtee. To fly to and from the Marquesas and between the Marquesas islands will be a constant and large money drain. And I must make the decision soon as to where I will go, so that I can book accommodation. Already I am resigned to being in accommodation that won't suit me in some ways, but I cannot fork out $1000 a night - even if those over-the water-personal-bures are so fabulous in concept, privacy and look. Unless... my lottery ticket tonight comes up trumps. What to do - well ... there are archeological sites, there are extraordinary panoramas which can be walked to or reached by 4WD along tortuous mountain tracks, volcanic amphitheatres, there are sites devoted to local and regional history, there are some local food specialities, traditional villages where traditional crafts are still practiced for everyday living, long dropping waterfalls, islands where few tourists visit, helicopter rides to the inaccessible (few roads,)the water everywhere, and the opportunity to scuba dive and snorkel, and then there are sites associated with Gauguin. And on the Marquesas Islands, I have discovered there are guides I can access - so more research required about them. And then I need to research to see if the same opportunity exists back on the island of Tahiti, and nearby Moorea. Internet access is limited. So maybe less of my story can be blogged regularly. But it seems like the story will be rich and complex.

How long are the flights?

Melbourne to Auckland is 3hrs. 30 mins. Auckland to Papeete (Tahiti) is 4 hrs. 55 mins. Papeete to Auckland is 6 hours Auckland to Melbourne is 4 hours. Are there upper prevailing wind currents that slow the planes down when travelling the earth clockwise?

Time difference between Melbourne and Tahiti

Melbourne is 20 hours ahead of Tahiti. This means that when I arrive in Papeete at 9.15pm on Saturday 28th September, it will be 5.15pm on Sunday 29th here. So when I depart Papeete at 12.20am on Friday 11 October to return to Australia, it will be 8.20pm (also on Friday) here at home. When I land in Melbourne at 10.20am on Saturday 12 October, my body will still be set at 2.20pm in French Polynesia. So I would expect to be ready for bed around 5-6pm our time on that Saturday. My flight back from Melbourne gets into Hobart about 3pm so that will make it easy to be ready for bed. Then I will have Sunday to do some more adjustment, before heading back to work on the Monday. In terms of official time zones: Papeete time zone is UTC/GMT -10 Melbourne time zone is UTC/GMT +10

Time difference between Melbourne and Auckland

Auckland is ahead of Melbourne by 2 hours. So when I arrive at 12.05am on Sunday morning it will be 10.05pm on Saturday night here.

Planning Auckland

The internet is wonderful, but research always takes so long. After many hours, finally I booked my Auckland hotel and made a mental plan for what I would do in the few hours I had there. I arrive at 12.05am and have chosen an airport hotel. Since the city is a 30-40 minute drive away, I thought that getting to bed somewhere close to 2am or later was not as good as getting to bed somewhere close to 1-1.30am. Then on Sunday morning when I wake I will take the airport bus to the city and there are lots of options for doing things for the next few hours. My plane to Tahiti takes off at 3.20pm so I have the chance to explore and walk and enjoy whatever the city can offer me then. There are main attractions like the Art Gallery and the Museum, the extensive fish market, not to mention the possibility of taking a ferry over to the northern shore to suburbs like Devonport (doesn't travel broaden the mind? I didn't know there was such a place other than in Tassie.) I did consider a city hotel from the point of view I could wake up to harbour views - but such views were way too expensive and I will be able to see them or even get out on the harbour during Sunday morning.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

The far Pacific seems like a better idea

Weeks ago, I thought to travel to South Korea and began amassing interesting facts that were most persuasive. Then Gary wondered out loud why I wasnt planning to visit North Korea. New research began. It was clear that I needed to travel via Beijing, the city with the unenviable record of the most sink holes. It was equally clear that if I travelled as an independent then I would need to cover the costs of two mandatory guides and a driver while in North Korea, and that I could only enter if I understood I could never go for a walk even around the block without a guide following. When North Korea began rattling cages, with threats to the USA and South Koreans, so that our Bob Carr officially denied North Korea the opportunity to establish an embassy in Australia, I began to wonder how smart it might be to pursue a holiday in that part of the world. Where else could I travel? With only two weeks recreation leave allocated to get somewhere, have a great time and get back home ready to work, what were the possibilities? I turned east, and forgot the East. When I discovered the eastern most part of French Polynesia was a departure point for a 2 day sea journey to Pitcairn Island (so that's where that island is...south east of French Polynesia by over a 1000 miles)the idea loomed that perhaps I could island hop (in that very large expanse of empty ocean)and reach Easter Island (a further 1000+ miles to the south east) or even aim for the Galapagos Islands (way way way way north of Easter Island). But it seemed unlikely that cargo boats and private yachts would be ready waiting for me on a tight timetable. Being free and open to the timetable of the whims of the world is just the opposite of State Public Service requirements. So, I have settled on a simple and seemingly controllable plan. Today, I have booked my flights between Hobart and Melbourne departing late in September and returning a fortnight later. And I have booked Air New Zealand to take me from Melbourne via Auckland to Papeete on the island of Tahiti. And I plan to move around a number of the major islands (although most are three hour flights from each other - and we think Australia is large!) I have purchased my travel insurance but have organised nothing else ... yet. Let the adventure begin!