27 July 2014

A week in Dalmatia: 2. Korčula

Following an exciting stay in Dubrovnik, the next stop on my eight-day Intrepid tour was the island port of Korčula, another Dalmatian maritime settlement boasting a fine location and a historic setting. But first we had a short journey north from Dubrovnik via minibus. This took us over the impressive city bridge and an hour's drive north around the winding coast to a short pause for lunch at the medieval settlement of Ston. Here we admired from a distance the spectacular mountain overlooking the town, and specifically its distinctive fortifications defending its salt pans, which were a hugely lucrative source of income. Originally more than 7km long, currently 5.5km remains of the 15th century walls. Our next pause for refreshments was in the pleasingly cool wine cellars at Matusko Wines on the outskirts of the village of Potomje, on the 65km-long Pelješac peninsula, a narrow finger of land hugging the Adriatic coast. In a very pleasant wine-tasting stop, we particularly enjoyed Matusko's Pošip whites and its prestigious Dingač reds.

Walls at Ston
Matusko Wines, Potomje
Then it was time for a ride across the narrow 2km straight from the mainland to Korčula itself. (It's pronounced 'Kor-chula', roughly). For centuries the 46km-long island of Korčula was a vibrant part of the Adriatic's trade network, and it passed between numerous different owners. Thanks to its town statute of 1214 the town holds claim to be the first place in the world to have outlawed slavery, and some believe that the famed Venetian explorer Marco Polo was born here, although there's no hard evidence to support this.

A small hired launch took us across in double-quick time, during which time we admired the exploits of two racing windsurfers, who competed to exploit the warm sea breeze. Soon the town appeared in view and we were able to appreciate its beauty from the ideal vantage: from the sea. Perched on a gentle headland rise, the walled town's historic architecture and its nautical heritage are obvious. After docking at the marina and pausing to admire the town walls and the ornamental bridge to the main town gate, which is protected by a proud square tower with crenellated battlements and decorated with a roaring Venetian lion, we entered the town itself.

Windsurfer racing off the mainland
Approaching Korčula from the sea

The gate of Korčula
Old Korčula is compact: a mere 200m from the main gate to the tower at its northern tip. No cars are allowed inside the walls, and there wouldn't be any room for them in any case. Arranged along a central north-south thoroughfare with the St Mark's cathedral square at its heart, Korčula's dwellings are arrayed along herringbone-style side alleys set out cannily to take advantage of the prevailing winds. The alleys on the west side are straight to funnel through the cooling breezes, while the ones on the east side are gently curved to mitigate the effects of the stronger easterly gusts. Around the outside of the old town walls a fine promenade hosts marinas, jetties and plenty of cafe-bars with awnings to shelter customers from the powerful Croatian sunshine.

St Mark's (detail)
The alley I was rooming in
Our first evening was spent in a pleasant restaurant, Adio Mare, near St Mark's, where we sat on the shaded terrace and enjoyed the local fare - particularly the wine. This was rounded off with more drinks in the warm night air on the promenade. It was clearly a straightforward matter to adjust to the Korčula lifestyle! A little before midnight it was finally time to retire to our accommodation for the night, an array of private suites in family homes throughout the town. My host, a Croatian grandmother, spoke only Croatian and German, but this was perfectly sufficient to explain the workings of mein zimmer. (Actually, I had checked in earlier that afternoon - I didn't wake her up at midnight!)

The next morning following breakfast from the busy local supermarket, some of us joined local boat captain Mario on his little motor-launch for a sunny expedition to nearby waters. It was a perfect plan on a day that would reach 33 degrees at its hottest. First stop was the ruins of Majsan on a nearby island, which began their life as a Roman fishing village and later in the 4th century became the site of a monastery that attracted pilgrims as late as the 16th century. Nowadays only the foundations remain to explore, with a cryptic diagram that illustrates a possible layout that's rather a challenge to visualise. Next stop was a stretch of open sea in the channel where Mario anchored the launch and donned scuba fins for a spot of foraging. Soon he emerged from the shallow waters with a selection of sea urchins to sample. I didn't take up the kind offer but most of the others gave the brown, gooey sea urchin paste a try. I did, however, sample Mario's family-made wine, which was rugged and invigorating. Our last stop on the afternoon at sea was the former monastery on the island of Badija, where we enjoyed feeding the tame deer and taking advantage of the cool, clear Adriatic waters. I also took the opportunity to collect some beach glass to add to my collection from Wellington harbour. (For Mario's contact details, see Fish & Fun Korčula). 

Ruins on Majsan
Mario on the lookout for sea urchins
Greedy deer at Badija
Later that afternoon I corrected an omission of my sightseeing in Korčula, making a point of venturing up the cathedral tower in the square to admire the view across the town's red-tiled houses and the craggy cliffs across the strait on the mainland. Then it was time to rendezvous for our big dinner of the trip at the small village of Pupnat about 20 minutes drive into the island's interior. The sleepy village boasts the services of Konoba Mate, a fine, family-run restaurant, where we enjoyed a multi-course meal on the vine-clad outdoor terrace. A fine end to our visit to Korčula! We were only there for a day and a half, but it was a very appealing locale. The next morning we would gather for the earliest of starts for the third part of our journey - to the millionaires' playground of Hvar.

View from the belltower, St Mark's, Korčula
Konoba Mate restaurant, Pupnat
Sunrise over the walls at Korčula

26 July 2014

At sunrise they leap from their cradles steep

From the Brooklyn wind turbine this morning at sunrise, as Wellington awoke to a clear, windless start to the weekend. It's since clouded over, naturally.

7.35am

7.42am (Gamma correct 0.06)

7.44am, glimpse of the Kaikouras

25 July 2014

The Major

SIR – Years ago, a colleague and I travelled throughout England on business. At noon we kept our eyes open for a good-looking pub (Letters, July 21). The routine was always the same. My colleague would say: “Morning, mine host, two pints of your best bitter, please. Has the Major been in yet?”

Only about 20 per cent of the time did the landlord reply that the pub didn’t have a Major. Four times out of five the landlord would say one of the following: “It’s a bit early for him.” “You’ve just missed him.” “He’s on holiday.” “He’s in the gents.” “He is round the back, hiding from his wife.” Or: “He is over there.”

We met many nice majors over the years.

- John Ashworth (Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire), letter to the Telegraph, 22 July 2014

23 July 2014

"She self-identifies as adorable"

An English train journey:

The young woman tells my wife she works at Butlin's, which may explain the volume at which she prefers to conduct conversation.

"You're a redcoat!" my wife shouts.

"I am a redcoat!" the young woman shouts.

"You must be busy!" my wife shouts.

"I'm one of eleven hundred staff," the young woman says.

"Eleven hundred?" I say. This strikes me as being an incredible number.

"Yup," the young woman says. "Eleven hundred in the summer."

"Wow," I say. "So what's the staff-to-guest ratio?"

"The what?" the young woman shouts. "The ratio?"

"Just roughly," I say. "I don't need an exact figure."

"Don't confuse me!" she shouts. "I'm adorable!"

The train manager announces our arrival in Taunton.

"This is my stop!" the young woman shouts. "Bye!"

We can still hear her from the other side of the carriage door, shrieking merrily at the other passengers. A few moments after the train comes to a halt, we see her walk past our window. She waves with what I imagine is characteristic enthusiasm, and we wave back. As the train starts to move, we begin to overtake her. We keep waving.

"She's adorable," my wife says.

"I know," I say. "She self-identifies as adorable."

"And also possibly a bit wasted," my wife says.

"It's good that you were able to draw her out of her shell," I say.

- Tim Dowling, 'On a train with a redcoat', Guardian, 12 July 2014

22 July 2014

In order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy

From Weird Al Yankovic's new album, this homage to / murdering of the classic 1969 Crosby Stills & Nash track, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, is jam-packed with corporate nonsense-speak, satirising the inexorable rise of meaningless obfuscatory business gabble. You can hear the original here to relish the close three-part harmonies that brought CSN their hippie fame; and read my 2010 blog when I saw them play in Hyde Park. Yankovic, of course, relies on Autotune for his harmonies, but that's hardly the point. He told the Wall Street Journal:

I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I’ve been hearing in office environments my entire life,” Yankovic says by e-mail. “I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN, whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.

21 July 2014

John A. Lee on the 1932 riots

Aftermath of the Queen St riot, 1932 (via AWMM)
In a 1966 letter to the Listener, former rebel Labour MP John A. Lee (1891-1982) discusses New Zealand's Depression-era protest riots in 1932, which had been the subject of correspondence from a critic of one of Lee's books:

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Sir - I do not know the reason for the letter of S. Mather in your issue of March 18. I never reflected on other participants. The article on Coates he does not challenge.

1. He admits I walked at the head of the procession. 2. The parade did turn into a riot at the point at which the Town Hall doors were closed. There are at least 20,000 living witnesses to that fact and every press report. 3. I was the only MP to be brought to Auckland for the meeting. I did not arrange for the meeting sequence; that was arranged by P[ost] & T[elegraph] officers. I was given the position of senior speaker, in the last half of the Town Hall meeting. I did not appropriate this position, I was given it.

But if Mr Maher thinks that J.H. McKenzie was better at drawing an audience than myself I don't mind. J.H. McKenzie was a very competent servant of the association and a person for whom I have much respect. It is about 33 years ago and the story has never been really told. Somewhere I have the riot file including press reports and advertisements for the meeting. At that moment I was drawing New Zealand's largest audiences, but no one drew that audience; it was made by circumstances.

I did draw about 20,000 to the Domain on the following Sunday. Mr Mather will remember the meeting was prohibited and a squad from the Navy plus Gatling guns was installed to keep me out. I received so many phone calls asking whether I would be there that I decided to go to prevent trouble. Then occurred one of the great scenes of my life. People in hundreds were gathered to see if we were coming in Karangahape Road. As we reached Grafton Bridge the thousands followed us until the bridge was packed from end to end. Mrs Lee, myself and Arthur Richards MP led the audience away from the guns and to an eminence behind the Museum. We sat down, sang songs and the police gave me permission to tell the audience to disperse.

I couldn't get away from riot [sic]. I talked to an immense audience on the Dunedin Oval on a Sunday and left Dunedin on Monday. Either that day or the next the unemployed lay on the tramline outside Wardell's and the Otago Daily Times blamed my inflammatory oratory. I went to Christchurch to talk to a full theatre and had to talk to as large an audience outside afterwards. There was a tramway strike and that week bricks came through windows. Again, although I had nothing to do with the disturbance, as Johnny on the spot I was blamed to some extent.

Fortunately when the Wellington riot occurred I was on the Main Trunk Express. But if Mr Mather wants to affirm that Mr McKenzie was chief speaker, although I was accorded the senior position, I wouldn't challenge him for a moment. It is a matter of opinion, and besides I thought a lot of the people who arranged the meeting and McKenzie was a good chap, and I still think so.

It is time the riots were properly documented. There are abundant photos. Here is a thesis for some University student.

- John A. Lee, Auckland, letter to the Listener, 7 April 1966

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The Auckland march on 14 April 1932 was to protest against Government plans for a ten percent wage cut for all public servants. The rioting erupted after one of the march leaders, Jim Edwards, was batoned to the ground from behind by police when he tried to speak to the crowd outside the Town Hall to encourage them to disperse. John Mulgan's 1939 novel Man Alone recorded the incident as follows:

Johnson saw a baton go up and an arm raised and the little man [Edwards] go down with a blow on the side of the head, and then at once men seemed to know where they were going. He was knocked aside … It was a wild business, like a dream in which no one seemed real any longer.

A cry of 'They've killed Jim Edwards!' went up through the crowd and things turned violent, with Te Ara recording that 'hundreds were injured in the fighting and, while the police were hemmed in near the Town Hall, looters ran through Queen Street smashing shop windows and raiding jewellery and other stores. Sailors with fixed bayonets were marched through town, but public order was only partially restored that night. There was more window smashing the following day in Karangahape Road, when mounted “specials” charged the crowds'. The following morning's Herald contains plenty of gory details of the looting and much praise for the Navy. Lee was permitted a small quote:

Speaking of the disorders that had occurred, Mr Lee said they were the result of leading probably 14,000 or 15,000 people to a hall capable of holding only 3000. It was evident, he continued, that future demonstrations against the Government's policy would have to be held in the largest available parks and reserves, where there would be room for all and all could hear. "I believe that, if we have huge and orderly demonstrations we shall be able to persuade the Government that it is hopelessly out of touch with the people," added Mr. Lee. "The country is facing an explosion. We must recognise the times we are living in, or the explosion will be on us before we are prepared for it."

In the aftermath of New Zealand's worst riot around 200 people had been injured and 40 arrests were made. Police blamed Edwards for starting the riot, and Edwards was later convicted and imprisoned for two years with hard labour. 

The 1932 Queen Street riot was the subject of a 2009 TV drama by Ian Mune, titled 'Life's a Riot', but it's not available via NZOnScreen. Queen Street was also the site of a riot in December 1984, when a police attempted to close down a free Dave Dobbyn concert in Aotea Square.

See also:
Blog: The Wintergarden, 26 April 2014