Faith & Framing in America

This is an approximately 8-minute read about my introduction to the beautiful art of timber framing. In my last post, I was just getting ready to join a workshop in Upstate New York, and here are some of my impressions and thoughts from that…

Show Me The Way!

It was a hot day for hitching in Saratoga County, and my tool-pack was getting heavier for every car that passed me by and disappeared in the heat shimmer. The humidity was oppressive and the tarmac stuck to my steel-toes, but I was, nonetheless, in high spirits as I held out my thumb, and prayed for someone to pick me up and take me to Christ the King.

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The boring machine that I am using here, was made in the 40’s. Apart from being quite efficient, it also allowed me to listen to the birds rather than the whir and screech from power tools.

I had seen the light, so to speak, only a few weeks earlier – in the Kootenay Rockies, BC – when a dedicated brother had recommended me to take up this journey. But it wasn’t so much Jesus that I was in search of, as it was the secrets of his worldly profession. You see, Jesus was a carpenter too, and I was about to discover a way of wood-working, that has been practiced since long before he was born and our calendar begun: I was about to take my first steps into the world of timber framing. More

Ireland Revisited

I recently spent 3 fabulous weeks in Ireland with some good friends – new and old. (If you are just here to see some sweet pictures from my latest trip, then scroll down to the gallery part). It was probably my 7th trip there in the decade that has passed since my first impromptu immigration to Ireland. This near-mythical island fascinates me with its resilient culture, at home and abroad. Between 9 and 10 million people have emigrated from Ireland since the 1700’s, and today the Irish People and their descendants count more than 80 million humans. This post is an introduction into the migration-happy Ireland that i have come to know and love.

Fáilte go hÉirinn – Welcome to Ireland!

 

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Also known as “The Emerald Isle”, Ireland is indeed a very green place. Lots of old castles and rugged cliffs too. Just like the brochures really, except they don’t always mention the incessant rain…

Early Irish Impressions

When I was 20 years old, I was living in England’s “San Francisco” – the lively seaside town of Brighton – where young back packers and middle-aged party-addicts spontaneously get stuck until they run out of money or mental health.

I ran out of both after about a year of odd-jobs and shoestring-debauchery – but what a year it was! This was my first bit of proper impromptu migration, traveling alone and with nothing but opportunity and adventure ahead of me. Here I made friends from around the world, and one such friend was the Irishman Joe (Great Mystery rest his soul). More

Pray, Eat, Sleep – It’s Sunday!

In Tonga Sundays are holy by law. The three main activities are lotu (church), kai (eat) and mohe (sleep). Although I have a strong bias against the Christian church (thank you fanatic Inner Mission preacher from my childhood), I found that there was little else to do on my first Sunday in Tonga, so I decided to give it a go.

The choices were so many that it made me dizzy, but in the end I went with my French room-mate Thibaut’s idea of going to the official state church – the Free Church of Tonga – where the King was supposed to be.

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A main road in the capital on a Sunday afternoon… F… all happening here.

Where Is The King And Who Paid What?

Like a true Tongan, though, the King doesn’t always do what is culturally expected from him. With that many cultural rules you really can’t blame them. Instead, the King mostly frequents the Methodist church which is conveniently located near the Royal Palace. But the Prime Minister was there and I know that, because he picked up Thibaut as he hitch-hiked into town after the service!

And what a service it was; the singing was incredible. Not only was there a super professional large choir and brass-band, the whole congregation sang with full voices in perfect pitch. As I found out later, this church is the most conservative in all of Tonga and this was reflected in the fact that every single person was wearing black.

Thankfully I always travel with a dark suit (you’d be surprised how handy that is when you’re boarding a flight with a guitar that was supposed to have been checked in) and so I managed to blend in somewhat. Thibaut and myself were the only whites there, but as Thibaut had donned a shiningly white shirt I felt like he got most of the looks, so I felt safe enough to sneak an audio-recording of the fantastic harmonies into my little recorder. More

Tonga & The Tropical Trouble

If I say ‘tropical island kingdom in the Pacific’, would you think of political riots, racial tension, corrupt authorities, roadside pollution, feudal rule, poverty, alcoholism and natural disasters? I’m guessing no.

Nonetheless, this is also part of the otherwise picture-perfect postcard that you get here in Tonga. It would be easy to write yet another envy-inducing traveller’s blog about how cute all the traditional costumes are, how friendly the people are, how white the sandy beaches are and how fresh the cheap coconuts taste.

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Even though the World Cup is on these days, local rugby matches draw more attention than any soccer game will ever do.

 

Of course, all of that is true and the weather is great too, but you know me; I can’t help but digging up the dirt and the quirk. So here we are – welcome to an alternative peak into the Kingdom of Tonga.

A Cash-Conscious Church

Tonga is the only Polynesian island nation that has never lost its sovereignty to a foreign power. In other words; they were never colonized. For that reason, it is probably also the best living example of uninterrupted Polynesian culture with all the feudalism and taboo that this entails.

That is not to say that new ideas and cultural traits haven’t been introduced. Take Christianity for instance. In the 1800’s Tonga started receiving missionaries of all sorts of Christian denominations; Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Catholics, Wesleyans, Lutherans, you name it. In modern day Tonga this translates into a 99% Christian population.

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Even the smurfs have their own church in Tonga!

 

Yet, the Tongans didn’t so much get converted as they converted the church practices into a distinctively Tongan version. One example of that is the widespread practice of drinking the anaesthetic juice made from the roots of the Kava plant. In the Free Church of Tonga, the preacher and the congregation thus get moderately stoned together right before and immediately after church services.

Another uniquely Tongan church practice is the in-your-face money collection, which happens during service and ends with a public counting of the loot and a subsequent public reading from a list of givers and their contributions. Talk about peer-pressure.

 

Traditional Pressures

Where Westerners often feel pressure and expectation in their work-environments, Tongans feel their societal obligations most strongly within their families and churches. Tongans will apparently often take out expensive loans just to afford an ‘appropriate’ donation to the church and when a family member dies, the family absolutely must perform certain rites that are often cripplingly expensive.

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Love & Loathing In Alice Springs

I had wanted her for years. I kept meeting her former lovers, still spellbound from her presence, and I knew that she was truly hot. She has golden red features and is passionately worshipped by black and white alike. So spirited is she, that yet no one has known her depth. So honestly, beautifully brutal and indifferent is she, that both women and men draw their last breath with her. And yet, I had to embrace her – I had to be inside her, if only just once: I had to go to Alice…

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What was I getting into this time?

ALICE WAS A GUY

There is no denying it; Alice Springs is a female town. And let’s be honest about it; as far as towns go, she ain’t too pretty. We love her and she will suck you in with her incredible charm, but her looks, well, they will just have to grow on you.

Her straight and barren streets get you lost in a grid of buttoned-up suburban houses and except for the feeble curves of the dry Todd riverbed, Alice is very straight and fairly boring to behold. But houses and streets and cars and shops, are only Alice’s latest layers. Before she got her name from a telegraphist’s wife, her name was actually Stuart.

That’s almost a hundred years ago now. She weren’t too pretty then, either. That was her pioneer macho phase, where suddenly thousands of desperate white men with guns and cattle and pieces of paper, decided to scratch out a living in the desert (and maybe a bit of gold).

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A landscape from just outside Alice Springs.

NO PROPERTY – NO PROBLEM

They needed a place for transport and trade, and as fate would have it, they put up a telegraph station for their “singing line”, right in the middle of a songline junction. Black fellas’ pathways have always crossed on this sacred site. White fella only slapped a bit of tarmac on them and proceeded to squat the place and call it theirs.

Trying to be a town in a desert is a pretty terrible idea. Maybe that’s why the original locals, the Arrernte people, never built a town in their tens of thousands of years of belonging to this place. They call Alice Springs for “Mparntwe” – ‘Meeting Place’ – and they don’t claim to own her, they only look after her.

On Arrernte land there are 8 different “skin-names”. Each skin is a tribe and a story about the country it belongs to. Each tribe has a right to travel, but it’s also the caretaker of it’s neighbours’ land, by way of their complex kinship structure. You are, so to speak, related to the land. No property – no problem. Different story now.

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FRESH WOUNDS

The last Aboriginal family in Australia to be exposed to the wicked ways of the white man, came out of the Gibson Desert near Alice Springs only 30 years ago, in 1984. I presume they had been hiding from the slaughtering of their people and protecting their culture. When they finally came out, they encountered a world where blacks and whites live in the same place, yet in different realities.

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Leaving New Zealand aka Paradise On Earth

Last week I left the End of the World (aka Paradise on Earth) with a little lump in my throat. After riding a magnificent ½ year long wave of  luck and friendships, bureaucratic regulations finally put an end to my legal stay in New Zealand and so here I am in Sydney, contemplating my next move.

It’s going to be very difficult to match anything like what I experienced in New Zealand. In fact, I am even finding it hard to stop thinking about all the beauty and the good times I saw across “the ditch” – the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand.

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On the edge at the end of the world.

What makes New Zealand so special? The innocent and incredibly ingenious people? The absolutely STUNNING countryside? The friendly presence of freshwater everywhere – and ditto absence of poisonous critters? The crisp, clean mountain air? The unique mix of Maori and European culture?

It is, of course, all of that in a perfect blend. Yet I think the main reason behind the country’s magnificence, is its isolation.  Since New Zealand broke free from ancient Gondwanaland, there has always been a couple of thousand kilometers to the nearest mainland – Australia.

Almost everywhere you go in New Zealand there is a creek, a lake, a waterfall; the sensation, sound and life of water is never far away.

Almost everywhere you go in New Zealand there is a creek, a lake, a waterfall; the sensation, sound and life of water is never far away.

As the last large land mass to be populated, New Zealand just hasn’t had that much exposure to the destructive human civilization – or mammals in general for that matter. There are no overgrown temples in the rain forest, no millennia-old trade-routes cutting north to south, just bush and mountains and beaches, and lots and lots and lots of it.

It is such a new place for us humans,that we are still exploring it. Here is space to live. About a thousand years ago, the Polynesians who first arrived in their Waka’s from the pacific islands, must have marveled at the size of these new islands. Today, immigrants marvel at the low population density.

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Even the parliament building (the so-called “beehive”) has a backdrop of wild bush!

There is a promise in the air of unpolluted nature, sustainable lifestyles and egalitarian politics. Following the global trend, all of that is rapidly being undermined by corporate governments. But when the shit hits the fan New Zealand – with its low population and relative isolation – strikes me as the perfect hide-out for survivalists and doomsday opportunists.

Leaving this land of lushness and opportunity was a strange affair; part of me was sad to say goodbye to all the amazing new friends. I also haven’t seen more than a fraction of what I wanted. But another part of me was thrilled to be going back to places with more people and more of a cultural flow.

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No matter where you are coming from, New Zealand is just far away. Nearest neighbours are Australia and even more remote Antarctica.

But perhaps this could be a place for me to settle down one fine day, just like my 67-year-old Danish friend Walter who moved here 15 years ago after more than 30 years on the road. I like the way he put it: “Once you have seen all the gurus and all the holy places and the monuments and you have found your spirituality inside you, New Zealand is where you go. Here is only the spacious, gentle land as a beautiful blank canvas, quietly supporting you and accepting who you are”.

Waitangi Day – Day Of The Wailing Waters

Just the other day it was Waitangi Day here in New Zealand and I bet you have no idea what that really means. And if I tell you that Waitangi means ‘waters of sorrowful cries’ in Maori, you’re probably still none the wiser. For most New Zealanders, Waitangi Day is just another welcome day off, yet for those in the know, this is a day that marks either a celebration or a lamentation of historic proportions.

It is often said that out of all the European colonies, New Zealand treated their indigenous Maori population best. Many Kiwis will happily reiterate this statement, often pointing the finger at their barbaric neighbours in Australia who still hold one of the worst track records in terms of racism and inequality. Compared to the Aussies, New Zealand is a veritable role model and a text-book example of how to establish a colony while still respecting the native population. This is certainly a convenient truth for the less than 170-year-old New Zealand government, largely consisting of European descendants…

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One of the ways this popular belief is upheld is by marking February the 6th every year. A public holiday in New Zealand, this day commemorates the signing of a treaty – the Waitangi Treaty – between some 45 Maori chiefs and the Queen of England, who thus annexed their land and made it part of the British Empire.

While the Waitangi Treaty has had obvious benefits for the Maori – such as being recognized as humans rather than animals like colonial powers did in South America, Africa, Australia etc. – the treaty was by no means a just affair, nor is it even, to this day, part of the domestic law of New Zealand.

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A Burner Is Born!

A first-time Burning Man participant shares the magic of New Zealand’s regional Kiwiburn. Meet the Festival Community at the frontiers of culture and see why burners never look back… A 15-minute engaging read, written to the soundtrack of Black Napkins, Happy & Solsbury Hill.

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This guy is what it’s all about. Photo: Randy Brophy

A Passionate Preface

I have lost my virginity to a burning sensation. My mind, body and soul has been cleansed by a week of thorough debauchery so spiritually charged that my life feels many times enhanced. Henceforth I shall identify as a “burner” with the explicit aim of setting large men on fire all around the world. Have I joined a cult? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

They say that burners leave a burn with instant withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t agree more. I am literally dancing down the street looking by-passers in the eyes with a big smile for a gift and a heart so open you could pass a galaxy through it. Is this an addiction? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

Burn those old patterns away, burn away the barriers in my brain and burn up my life in a singularly meaningful, intentional and inspirational blaze of creativity and love. In other words; if you ever doubted that I had gone stark raving mad in the elusive eyes of society; doubt no more, because; I just want to burn!

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Okay, here’s your “naked” shot, now go perv somewhere else 😉

I honestly thought I knew what it would be like to go to a burn. Silly me. I have lived in communities for the past decade, steadily putting on festivals and parties and however many crazy concerts and ceremonies. In my life I have travelled and lived on 5 continents and randomly connected with thousands of beautiful strangers. But I have never seen anything burn so pure as the burning man at Kiwiburn.

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The History Of New Zealand’s Discovery (According To Me)

This post is an attempt to sum up parts of New Zealand’s earliest history, so if you’re not into history and just want to know what I am up to, then you’re better off doing those dishes you postponed when you sat down quickly check your email and then ended up surfing the net for 3 hours.

New Zealand is indeed a new place. Not just as a nation, the actual land mass is still emerging from the sea at a rate fast enough to produce regular earthquakes. Mountains grow about 1 meter a year (but only a centimeter remains after the rest has crumbled away again). The soil is slipping and sliding everywhere as any motorist who has ever driven on New Zealand’s winding, crumbling roads will know. But long before New Zealand became what we know today as Australia’s innocent younger sister (sorry Kiwis but it’s true) and the last outpost of Western Civilization, the land had an altogether different culture; it was the land of the Maori – the normal people.

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A brand new road at the site of a big slip. Patience headlines the Kiwi road-worker job description with fresh landslides covering yesterdays work and floods washing away the precious tarmac (and some people) every year.

You see, the Polynesian descendants who first settled down in this wondrous place never even thought of themselves as one people until the Europeans started showing up. Until then, the first waves of canoeing explorers who landed on these pristine beaches had formed individual tribes and chiefdoms and fought each other over land and resources as humans have a tendency to do.

Then, when suddenly, gigantic “canoes” with massive sails blew in with their pale looking crew wearing pointy hats and crazy rags, the locals realized that they had a lot more in common with each other than they had with these strangers, and just like that they decided to call themselves Maori which means “regular” or “normal” people. The stranger, in turn, were from then on called Pakeha which means “stranger”. Pakeha is still in common use today and is mostly thought of as a neutral term or simply a necessary word for distinguishing newer settlers from Maori.

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It was in war canoes – Waka’s – like this, that the first Maori settlers are thought to have arrived from Polynesia.

It also wasn’t until the arrival of Europeans that the Maoris agreed on a common name for New Zealand, namely Aotearoa. Until then been considered to be hundreds of tribal chiefdoms (Iwi’s) rather than one united country and the name Aotearoa only applied top the North Island which had been discovered first. According to Maori legend, it was the great Polynesian navigator Kupe, who first set foot on this island when he chanced upon it during a long and epic chase after a giant octopus called Muturangi.

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