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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Christchurch: The silent city

Christchurch: The silent city

Thu, 03 Mar 2011 3:12p.m.
By Ally Mullord

The weirdest thing about going into central Christchurch at night is the darkness. The streetlights are on but everything else is absent - traffic lights, car headlights, houses and offices being cleaned, it's all darkness. It took me ages to work out what was so eerie about the city at night, and it was that there WAS no city at night.

The weirdest thing about coming out of central Christchurch in the morning is the almost complete silence - no morning traffic jam, no hissing bus brakes, no pedestrians, just silent cordons. Albeit with extremely loud hi-vis vests.

But before I start getting sentimental about strip club neons I should probably clarify that I was inside the cordons for a legitimate reason, working for the Council inputting quake data. (I wanted to help in a way that didn't involve shoveling any more silt.)

Here is how it works: the building inspectors go around the city, inspecting buildings. (That is why they are called that.)

The inspectors award either a green sticker (no restriction on use or occupancy), a yellow sticker (restricted use) or a red sticker (no use at all), which makes it possible to identify priorities and the level of repair needed and all that sort of thing. The paperwork the building inspectors fill out when they're standing outside 36a Mustache Lane is brought back to the Quake Headquarters (probably not its real name) at the Art Gallery and entered into databases... and that is how I came to spend my night typing up building assessments and staring at a large and bizarre horse sculpture which had been shunted into a gallery corner.

Someone said, "Thank goodness the Ron Mueck has left! Imagine being stuck in here with the giant baby!"

Indeed.

Apart from the weird art, the Art Gallery is unnerving to be in because in most places in the city you have a hint that there's an aftershock coming, either through an audible approaching rumble or a sort of warm-up shudder. (Just like right before you vomit.) In the gallery, though, either the building's construction or our spot on the first floor means that you go straight from typing and swigging coffee to jumping around shouting expletives. The 2am sausage sizzle was awesome though. To whoever's supplying the sausages and the Powerade - thank you!

More awesome than the sausage sizzle- and I know that's a big call - was the cheerfulness and chattiness and normalness of everyone we saw, from the police and army officers on the cordon to the other people in my team, several of whom lost the plot completely at about 3.30am and fell into fits of helpless giggles over poorly worded buiding reports. (Who knew a diaphragm was something to be found in a building? Certainly not me.)

If the combination of humour, resilience, kindness and hard work that was inside the cordon yesterday is out there in the rest of Christchurch too then we've stopped cowering before the earthquake and started giving it the finger.

Sorry to involve rude hand gestures but well, up yours, earthquake.

(Also speaking of fingers - and I probably shouldn't reveal this quake-related transgression here but I thought you might like to know - before we left for the night, I totally poked the horse sculpture with my finger. You hardly ever get the chance to do that.)

Unrelated: over the last few days I've heard a ridiculous number of claims from people who claim to have built the best backyard toilet in Christchurch. Anyone for a competition?

Comments:

Tom Ingham
06 Mar 2011 2:01p.m.
Dear Earthquake, I know that words cannot express Our devastation, our brokenness, Bricks, like hearts, beyond repair Bodies, sirens, death, and despair; You've shaken us all recently Though you are impartial to what we've seen, I've seen my people shattered with grief I've heard their mournful wails and screams, I've seen the heroes, unselfish and brave Defy you for the ones they save; And though you've bruised my daughters and sons And though you've knocked my skeleton, Though you've bled my streets to flood The red and black is in my blood, The red and black that's in my heart, The red and black in all of us; You've tried your best, but you have failed Resilience will now prevail, Although we stand proud, but hurt We will rebound, From Christchurch. Dedicated to EVERYONE suffering, mourning, helping, and touched because of the Christchurch earthquake. (T.I. 1/3/11)

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