Tag Archives: New Caledonia

Chokoes

When we were in New Caledonia recently, a generous hostess who was an excellent cook sang the praises of a fruit that we eventually figured out was the humble choko. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten the French, and my translating app is no help. We were delighted to tell her we knew a lot about chokoes, that once they had festooned many outside lavatories in suburban Sydney and elsewhere, but now suburban choko vines were largely a thing of the past.

Imagine my pleasure when I was walking the dog in an unfamiliar lane and saw this:

choko vine

Hundreds of them, ripe for the picking. I sent a photo to my New Caledonian friend. The next day in the supermarket a couple of hundred yards from the vine, I saw this:chokos2

It makes you wonder how much else is there for the taking all around us that someone has convinced us to pay good money for.

Blogging from New Caledonia 3

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.

Blogging from New Caledonia 2

Today we were meant to be going on a tour of the Parc Provinciale de la Rivière Bleue, which was declared a World Heritage Site just two days ago. As most of our attempts to organise ourselves onto tours have been thwarted, we were both looking forward to the day, despite or perhaps partly because of advice to wear dark clothes because the day involved contact with a lot of dirt.

But it was not to be. The rain came bucketing down in the night and was still bucketing when we were due to be setting off. The Man at Caledonia Tours (MCT, who incidentally speaks excellent English and has a sense of humour that communicates across the language divide) didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but the tour may yet happen before we leave for home on Friday.

In a lull in the downpour this morning, I went for a stroll around the neighbourhood, enjoying the vegetation that is so reminiscent of Queensland, stickybeaking at the houses, trying to remember which way to look when crossing the streets, and getting a stupid amount of enjoyment from the street names: Verlaine ran into Rimbaud; Baudelaire isn’t far from Jules Verne; Mallarmé, where we’re staying, crosses du Bellay and Heredia; and so on. My enjoyment was all the greater because when I had phoned to organise the tour that hasn’t happened, MCT asked where we were so he could pick us up, but said street names were no use because no one in New Caledonia knows them. As it was useless to invoke Symbolist and Renaissance poets, I had to give him the Majestic corner shop and the statue of the petite vierge (Our Lady of the Pacific) to steer by.

Luckily, Sunday was a spectacularly beautiful day. Just as well, because we’d paid a spectacularly large sum to go on a day cruise to the Ilôt Amédée ‘Where the weather is always nicer’, and where the first iron lighthouse to be constructed in France now stands. The weather was indeed very nice, the lighthouse was remarkable (though we didn’t climb it), the all-you-can-eat lunch was delicious. We cringed just a little at the traditional Polynesian dance performance. We saw turtles, a striped snake, large number of charming sea-birds about half the size of seagulls (so much more interesting than the unhappy caged birds at the Parc Forestier). We swam, lay about, people-watched, read our books. The Art Student drew and did watercolours. We met some people who were even nicer than the weather, and who invited us to dinner chez eux last night.

Although our hosts were European – a young Frenchwoman who has been here for two or three years and her Belgian mother and aunt over for a six-month visit – they had explored the local cuisine and treated us to nuts from the Solomon Islands, poingo bananas, and other delicacies, and were able to satisfy our curiosity about much of what we’d seen and heard, and about the political landscape as a vote on independence approaches over the next couple of years. It was fun navigating the language divide, though bilingual skills were much stronger on their side. They confirmed my impression that people here generally tutoient each other – that is, they use the tu form of address that was reserved for children, social inferiors and people you want to insult in the French I learned at school. ‘They’re not being insulting,’ our host said. ‘It’s kind of nice. But I don’t do it.’ They gave us some plump mangoes and drove us the significant distance home. It was such a pleasure to receive such warm hospitality – it’s not as if we’d been finding New Caledonia unwelcoming up to that point, but we now feel that we have been very cordially welcomed.

Now we’re cooped up, staring out at the rain, wondering if it will be possible to go out to dinner, and hoping that tomorrow we’ll visit the Blue River and perhaps see New Caledonia’s distinctive native bird, the kagu, in the wild.

Blogging from New Caledonia 1a

This is really just footnotes to yesterday’s sonnet. If you’re looking for excellent writing about Nouméa from the perspective of a USer who lives here and engages intelligently with the place and people, I recommend Julie Harris’s blog, New Caledonia Today. If you just want just one post, try this one, which shines an interesting and uncomfortable light on relations between Kanaks and European New Caledonians.

But back to my footnoting, largely by way of pics.

The corner of our street – where Mallarmé’s languid faun is about as appropriate as the Lindsay satyr in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens:

Mallarmé

Our nearest bus stop, named with similar incongruity for renaissance man Joachim du Bellay:

du Bellay

The tricouleur, not as ubiquitous as the Stars and Stripes in the US, but enough to let you know you’re in France. And some people find it galling to have the Union Jack in the corner of their flag!

tricouleur

It’s not quite true that the tricouleur is the only flag here. Nouméa has its own city flag, of course, but there is also the Kanak national flag. The link above to the New Caledonia Today blog gives an idea of just how contentious this flag is. Here’s the only one we saw, planted on a rock in the bush across the road from a rather grand statue of Notre Dame du Pacifique. There’s supposed to be a referendum on independence some time this year. Interesting times ahead.

kanak flag

The writing on this bin says, ‘Le tri, c’est pour toi aussi’ – ‘Tri is for you too.’ It’s tri meaning sorting as in triage rather than three as in tricouleur, but the coincidence was too good to pass up.

tri

The women of colour, in both senses, are everywhere:

20140131-184410.jpgPhoto by Penny Ryan

20140131-184736.jpgPhoto by Penny Ryan

You can read about the separatist hostage-taking and subsequent deaths in the late 1980s here.

Blogging from New Caledonia

I’m writing this in a house in Portes de Fer, a suburb of Nouméa whose name translates as ‘iron gates’. We’re here for 10 days, on a holiday that was handed to us rather than planned for. A couple of months ago we received an email via homeexchange.com asking if we’d like to swap homes with a New Caledonian family. The dates fitted both our schedules, the cost of travel wasn’t prohibitive, and we knew almost nothin about New Caledonia. So we wrote back accepting, and here we are.

That’s my excuse for not being among the first to report that Jennifer Maiden’s Liquid Nitrogen won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, which the press release evidently described as the richest literary prize in Australia. JM commented that in the absence of superannuation it was a very welcome contribution to her finances. Just in case there’s anyone out there relying on my fannish notes to find out such news, I’m telling you now, a couple of days late. John Kinsella has a nice piece on the award in Crikey. Other Australian news, including Tony Abbott’s continuing war with the real world, does reach us, but I’m confident no one depends on this blog for that.

Inspired by the streets around here, which like those in Byron Bay are named after poets, I’m indulging my sonnet fixation:

First Impressions of Noumea, January 2014
With no rough strife at Portes de Fer
we’re lazing in rue Mallarmé,
a stroll uphill from Baudelaire
or down to bus stop du Bellay.
In town we hear no hostile gun
on Austerlitz, la Marne, Verdun.
These tricouleurs the only flags
though tri means sorting garbage bags
and colours won’t be kept to three:
dark skin, bright clothes and humble stance,
the Kanaks say, ‘We’re not in France!’
Some took up arms for Kanaky,
and died, but now if art’s a word
these words of colour will be heard.