This morning I came across these sketches from a 2007 trip to our Christchurch centre and had to smile at things remembered. On this particular joy weekend I was entrusted with a local disciple's father's car – a gleaming new 2007 Mercedes Benz!
This thing of beauty elevated my popularity to almost celebrity status and all weekend I was lionized, the favoured one. Even a short whirl to the local deli attracted a gaggle of doting fans. Jade kept pestering me for a 'spin' – on the winding uphill roads on a day trip to Akaroa I foolishly agreed and he took the captain's seat, slipping the multiple option gear box into 'sports' mode and giving us all a gleeful look and rather worrying, anticipatory thumbs-up. Then for the next twenty miles or so, a rally style nail-biter, gravity and acceleration pressing us, I pale and mumbling about restraint, back into our seats while Jade put our high-spirited Black Beauty through her paces. Putting on my seat belt, a new experience, and secretly pleased to know that an air bag was waiting to cushion the impact if – 'when' seemed more likely – we ended our journey over an embankment. Wondering how to tell the owner-father, while in the back seat much whooping and merriment.
Driving somewhere and actually being confident of arriving without a breakdown is a new and pleasurable experience for me and I began to wonder about this new challenge to my detachment. It's easy to feel aloof to worldly things when you can't afford them and when you drive a battered old 1980s Mitsi, but when you've been handed the keys to one of the most elegant and powerful automobiles on the planet – a pinnacle of human genius and engineering - your steely asceticism can easily turn to mush. First stirrings of a new desire, a far-off car lust.
At the Hilltop Cafe above Akaroa I sipped a chocolate milkshake, happy to still be among the living, and unmaimed. Reading in the paper a funny true story about a local man being assaulted with a hedgehog, a grenade style overhead lob that implanted a number of painful quills into the victim's derriere. No word on the fate of the poor hedgehog. A couple with much travelled suitcases sat at the counter and asked the owner about rides to the far away airport – they were off to Australia. I said "Why are you going there? This is such a special place". They seemed unhappy, trapped in some compulsion of travel and perpetual motion though unready to admit that it had failed to satisfy.
On the pretext of retrieving something from the car I got the keys back off Jade and commandeered the drive back to Christchurch, squealing the tyres sometimes on the hairpins and switchbacks to avoid appearing prudish or constrained. Subdued murmurs of approval from the back seat. We hadn't bothered driving down to Akaroa township, a must-see tourist destination first colonized by the conquistadorial French, because we were too enchanted with our gleaming black Merc, our new toy. I told everyone about the hedgehog story. Someone told a story about one of our Auckland girls – our national phone company had offered a weekend promotion, call anywhere for as long as you like for only five dollars, and Jyothi had called her family and relatives in India and talked for twenty eight hours! Gasps of admiring incredulity.
Evening was falling, the last of the sun winking in the mirrored windows of farm cottages as though signalling our coming. We were driving without any real destination, unburdened by obligation or time, enjoying the open road and freedom and the sense of peace and reprieve that purposelessness often brings. I was enjoying that numinous feeling often conferred by landscape, open highways, big sky and those in-between spaces in one's life where we are no longer caught by our own story.....that rare and random stillness and quiet joy that comes when awareness is freed of mind and self, consciousness unqualified by thought. Here the memories and images of the day linger, distilled as the fragrance of living itself: the Lilliputian cottages of Akaroa clustered far below against the blue-green bay; the two travellers consumed by their own travelogue, caught in a fable and waiting wearily for a bus; the Mercedes untethered and howling up the mountain roads; advent of evening, those wind brushed skeins of high-up cirrus turning into copper tones and gold; and through the open car window, redolence of sea. Everything poignant, miraculous and charming in the funny way of things.....the gratuitous beauty of life.