I had planned to write a post about cancer, but that will have to wait another day. On a whim, my son asked my wife and I to have a day off work. We were entrusted into his hands and had no idea what was planned.
On a beautiful, but cold sunny day in Wellington, we drove into town. First, my son dropped off my wife at the shopping mall. We then progressed to the Wellington War Memorial. It is set in subdued, beautiful, park grounds. The building has an imposing dignity as befits its purpose. The serenity is palpable and made me silently gasp. To the front lies the tomb of the Unknown Soldier- a soldier, 'known only unto God'. I'm an atheist, and even so, I'm still moved by these words.
Inside there is an extensive, well-constructed, exhibit of the First World War. Each level represents a year. War posters festoon the walls. Huge photographs of men and war, in colour, are everywhere. Mood lighting enhances the tableau. Seeing colour photos of men long dead is uncanny and evocative. These men could have walked out of the wall and shook my hand.
The First World War is a historical event that can be contemplated in a cold intellectual light. No different from the Punic Wars fought over two thousand years ago or the Napoleonic Wars fought two hundred years ago. These wars were also fundamental in changing the course of European history and hence, world history. The difference is the photographs; they insinuate and make the past, tangible. The First World War was probably the first major war where photography was rampant. The images capture men in extremis; their faces tell all.
Exhibits of equipment, items of war and guns and tanks were scattered throughout. All, cleverly prepared and well thought out and organised. None of the static, fusty museum exhibits of old; no decrepit stuff in glass cases. All was vibrant and enhanced with surround sound. The centre piece was a huge model of a critical battle during the Gallipoli campaign. I gazed intently but could never gain perspective. The whole thing was wonderfully done and poignant. World weary bugger that I am, I confess, I shed a silent tear. My son didn't see it, or if he did, he didn't say.
Afterward, we went to Wellington's premier museum, 'Te Papa'. If you ever come to the end of the world- come to Te Papa; tis free after all. Well, not really free, as a resident Wellingtonian, I pay through the rates/nose. On reflection, leave a donation. There we queued to see the 'Gallipoli Campaign' exhibition. Wow. Fantastically recreated war scenes and larger than life and perfectly crafted mannequins towered over us mortals. The word mannequin does not do justice to the figures before our eyes. So cleverly fashioned, you can see the sweat on the faces, the protruding veins and the pores on the hand- you need to see it up close to appreciate the sculptors' skill; absolutely stunning.
We finished off with a meal and a beer. And then we picked up the missus and my son's girlfriend.