Published: February 23rd 2011February 23rd 2011
Today was a resting-day, between two excursions. Tomorrow I go to Cape Reinga, an all-day venture.
I decided to go find a local landmark, The Old Stone Church. I never got there, but I had an exciting day anyhow.
I had noticed a large ship in the harbor at breakfast, but it wasn't until I got into town that I realized that it was a cruise ship. Throngs of people were milling about near the visitors' center. Volunteers were directing traffic, grouping the tourists into cohorts so that the zebra crossing at the visitors' center would not become an impassable barrier for motor vehicles.
In a grassy field across from the visitors' center, artisans had set up tents in hopes of sales to the visitors. Most of the items were either too expensive, too bulky or not to my taste, but I bought a small greenstone pendant.
At one tent, a man was selling polished abalone -- paua, they call it here -- but all his smaller pieces said "Paihia," and I still don't really like Paihia enough to want to remember it.
While I was browsing among the tents, I noticed that the building behind them was Paihia's library. Once I'd finished shopping -- or so I thought -- I went over to it, found it was open, and entered.
It reminded me a lot of my home town's library. It had been a private home once, and the rooms of the lower floor were devoted to books, and, oddly, games; it seems to be customary here in New Zealand for communities to maintain "toy libraries" on the same principle as regular libraries, sometimes in connection with the regular libraries; sometimes not.
To my surprise, I saw that the upper floor had been turned into an art gallery featuring local artists. I went up to look at it, and found the gallery well worth my while. I liked most of the paintings, especially those of an artist who had painted various scenes of the Russell waterfront.
The paintings were for sale, but I assumed they'd be outside my price range, so I just admired them. I finished going through the gallery (or so I thought) and found there was a local-history room upstairs as well, donated by the Rotary Club. It was a rather well-done display of photographs and sketches of Paihia, from the earliest days to the present, with a bit of commentary about each decade. I was interested to note that the Top of the Tide Motel, two houses down from Cap'n Bob's, has been around since the 1940's and was one of the first motels in town.
I came out of the local-history room and found that there was one more room of the gallery beyond it. That one, or rather the end of the hall outside it, contained two smaller paintings by the artist I'd liked so much. They were priced at $50.
One of those two paintings had everything: a pohutukawa tree (the pohutukawa was the first New Zealand plant I ever learned about; it was mentioned in a Christmas carol a Kiwi GirlsOwn mailing list member shared with the group many years ago), one of those odd pine trees with the upward-pointing branches, and of course mountains and sea and sailboats. I longed for it. I assumed it was drawn from Russell, as all of that artist's other work seemed to have been done there, but when I asked the local artist who was keeping an eye on her fellows' work, she thought it had been drawn from Paihia. This was a disappointment, but I hoped that perhaps she was mistaken.
I knew I couldn't just spend $50 without thinking about it on this trip, even if that was only $35 U.S.. I went back to the hostel and spent two hours hiding from the sun and thinking. By 2 p.m. I'd decided that I definitely wanted it, and that it *was* small and light enough to take home in my suitcase. I should really have stayed inside another two hours; I was starting to burn, but I didn't know how late the library would be open.
I got there -- to find that the gallery was closed. I almost left at once, but at the door I hesitated and came back to ask the librarian what the gallery's hours were. It turned out that the answer was "whenever a local artist can babysit the collection," but that the librarian had just gotten permission to open the collection to viewers even though no one was there, probably in consideration of the presence of the cruise ship.
So I went upstairs, looked at the picture some more, decided that I definitely wanted it, and asked the librarian if I could pay her. Fortunately I could, and she even bubble-wrapped it for me.
Later on, as I went outside for my evening walk, I found the exact bench from which the artist had painted it. So it was
drawn from Paihia after all. Well, at least it looks towards Russell.