After a surreal 35-hour journey from Amsterdam, Romkje and I were entering New Zealand this time last week as I write these words. This is day eight of our 14-day isolation period.
Our journey led us through the ‘ghost-towns’ of Schiphol, Singapore and Auckland airports and onto planes where flight crew outnumbered passengers. Empty seats aplenty offered room for stretched-out sleeping. Mandatory facemasks were the trip’s main inconvenience.
Rows of closed tourist shops at the Auckland International Airport reminded us that New Zealand’s all-important tourism was totally crippled for now. Only returning Kiwi citizens and their families are permitted into this ‘corona-free paradise’.
We had heard we could be sent anywhere in the country for isolation. But the driver of the bus we boarded outside the terminal announced we had ‘dodged the bullet’. While earlier arrivals were being taken to faraway destinations, we were simply driving around the carpark to the Novotel Airport Hotel. Very good news – most of our family live within 20 minutes’ drive.
Minutes later we settled into our home for the next fortnight with a seventh-floor view looking west over the Manukau Harbour where we have enjoyed some beautiful sunsets. From our corridor we could glimpse the volcanic icons of Auckland City and harbour: One Tree Hill (of U2 fame) and Rangitoto Island, backdrop to the America’s Cup sailing events due to start last week.
Auckland is built on an isthmus between the Manukau and Waitemata harbours, pocked by some 50 volcanoes, Rangitoto erupting 750 years ago when Amsterdam was a small fishing village. I wistfully gazed towards the island realising that some of the world’s most exciting yacht-racing would be taking place in the coming months on that harbour where fifty years ago I used to race on keel boats. Who could have imagined racing at 100 km per hour on foil boats then? Or that this little nation would dominate the world’s most prestigious yachting event?
Not that the America’s Cup had even crossed my mind when we planned this trip, postponed from August to visit my 97-year old mother. A heavenly wink, perhaps? News of the worsening pandemic situation in Europe seemed to confirm ‘providential’ timing of our departure from a continent returning to lockdown.
Creating a daily routine seemed a wise next step, beginning with daily bible readings and prayer together, followed by readings from Richard Rohr’s meditations on contemplation, ‘Just this’, appropriate for two weeks of enforced isolation.
Contrary to what we had heard about other facilities, our location allowed us unlimited outdoor exercise within double-fenced premises from 7am to 7pm, watched over by Air Force, Army and security personnel. Exercise periods have enabled us to connect with family through the fence (yes, I photoshopped the photo).
Meals are delivered three times daily in paper bags to the door according to our choice of menu, and a special Christmas ‘high tea lunch’, including champagne ham and bottles of bubbly, is promised on the 25th. Carol services will be held in the hotel forecourt over the next three evenings. Staff are mostly friendly and helpful, leaving notes with laundry reminding us that ‘life is beautiful; there is always something to look forward to’; and ‘if kindness is sown, then kindness you shall receive’.
‘Whats-app’ calls to family could also never have been imagined back in 1974 when I first left this airport for ‘a year or so overseas’, and when family kept in touch through blue aerogrammes which took a week to arrive. Now we can connect regularly with our offspring back in the Netherlands, who had thoughtfully prepared cards in a box for us to draw daily with instructions to, for example:
- read the other a poem or book passage
- call friends we hadn’t spoken to for a long time
- do an online Zumba for beginners lesson together (look it up)
- write a letter to a (grand)child
- make a haiku for each other (look that up too).
We haven’t even mentioned the books we are reading, the Inspector Morse dvd’s we found in the free-to-take library in the hotel foyer, Romkje’s (rare) knitting, watching BBC news on tv, and Dutch news online.
Nor my writing projects: a photo guide book and a study manual for the online Celtic Heritage Tour we offer our masters programme students, but open to all interested, February 1-5. Since landing last Monday, I have already ‘travelled’ through Ireland, Scotland and England to make the photo guidebook, following the transforming sweep of the Christmas story and its consequences introduced by Celtic missionaries. If you are in lockdown, why not join us for just €75? Write for details.
Despite the following signature line, the next weekly word will be January 25. Merry Christmas!
Till next week,