The heavy rain we were staring out last time I wrote was part of something that could have turned into a cyclone. The whole of southern New Caledonia was on orange alert on Tuesday and Wednesday, which meant we were advised to stay under shelter and batten down any available hatches, even though in the still of the night we could see stars. Cyclone Edna didn’t materialise, so we got up early this morning and cleaned our borrowed residence thoroughly, hoping that the proposed trip to the Rivière Bleue park would be on. But the park was closed anyhow, so no trip.
We went to town, bought some little gifts, visited the bookshop to buy some more, made an attempt to go to the Maritime Museum but decided we were happy just strolling by the water. We caught the bus home, then a shuttle out here to spend the night at the Tontoutel Hotel, just across the road from the Tontouta airport, ready for an early departure tomorrow. For the record, the hotel is quite pleasant, a little down at heel perhaps, like an old country hotel in New South Wales, but nowhere near as dire as some indignant TripAdviser reviews would make out. The swimming pool is dry, but the air is full of birdsong, the outdoor chairs are comfortable, the reggae from the bar is unobtrusive, passing children call out ‘Bonjour!’ What do people want?
Despite our plans and attempts to get out of Nouméa having generally come to nothing, we’ve had a good holiday here, spending time in a place where English isn’t the dominant language, where a very large minority of the people are not white, where the trees play a game of ‘Am I what you think I am?’ We’ve had time to read and chat and (me) blog and (the Art Student) paint and draw. We’ve met some lovely people and had our sense of the world expanded.
There have been small moments of drama. On our first night, at the tourist beach of Anse Vata, as we were passing the taxi-hire hut, we heard a dog yelping and a man shouting in French, then some thuds. On the other side of a bamboo fence, we saw a white man kick a dog repeatedly, hard, then pick it up by the scruff of the neck. At this stage we saw the dog – a black Labrador, yelping in great distress. That all took just a few seconds, and the man and the dog were both gone, leaving us and two Melanesian men as the stunned witnesses. We had been planning to hire a water taxi the next day to see the open-air sculpture exhibition on the nearby Ile aux Canards, but there was no way we would give our custom to that establishment, whatever crime the dog had committed. (Alas, the exhibition was over by the time we realised there was another water-taxi hire place a little to the north.) That was our only glimpse of the dark thread of violence that I suppose is inevitable in colonial/postcolonial societies. Other dogs, I should note, seemed happy and pampered, and even an alarmingly diseased looking creature we met on the road out here in la brousse seemed curious rather than frightened or aggressive.
The other small drama was much more benign. At the Baie des Citrons yesterday afternoon, some women were exclaiming and laughing loudly as we strolled past. A beautiful striped sea snake was in the grass near them, and a big, competent-looking man was making moves to deal with it. These snakes are shy, but their venom is very poisonous, so there was good reason to pay attention, though no one was really freaking out. It was a young woman who saved the day by finding a branch long enough to pick the snake up and hold it at a safe, non-striking distance. This is just what she did, before handing the branch to the man, who then flung the snake the 10 metres or so into the lagoon. We all watched in silence for a few moments until the snake, which had been limp until then, began to swim languidly away from the beach.
One final note: apart from being out of the country when Jennifer Maiden won the Victorian Premier’s Literature Prize, we’ve also been away when a Preatures video directed by our firstborn son won Rolling Stone’s 2013 music video of the year. The report on the awards is here. There are only two photos at that URL, and he who is known as the Film Director on this blog is in the lower one: he’s the chap on the end looking very happy and every inch not a rock star. We’re the absolute cliché of proud parents. You can watch the video on YouTube.