What A Difference A Day Makes (Or A Week In This Case)

The life of an artist is a series of ups and downs, a roller coaster ride between heights of glory, unconditional adoration and roaring applauses, followed by dizzying descents into the pits of brutal rejection, venomous envy and absolute indifference. Encouraged by last weeks intimate performance amongst our friends we descended onto the township of Whangarei with high hopes of being able to charm today’s youth with our latest artistic creation.

The Old Stone Butter Factory looks every bit the place to be in Whangarei. Yet another slab of industrial space is reclaimed for cultural purposes. You enter from the narrow Butter Factory Lane into a patio with wooden tables and chairs and from there your gaze is drawn along a weathered mesh of creepers up along a dirt-grey brick wall before being peeled away by the wandering cumulus clouds of the turquois sky directly overhead. Back down at the level of us common earthlings a grand opening in that same brick wall is framed with deep red curtains drawn to a waste line on either side. Your curiosity pulls you into a warmly lit interior, where a central bar with heavily bearded baristas awaits your orders of delicious treats and dizzying perfumes of coffee and ales. More tables of refreshingly uncoordinated design and style lure for your comfort zone and from a high stone wall to your right ancient tools of the dairy trade gaze warily down on the busy flow of youthful patrons.

‘We cannot live without consumption!’ comes back as an angry answer from behind the limelight as I announce the name we had given our performance. Jess and Dan, the owners of the place had been helpful all the way in setting things up for us here. Since we had first met them through a good friend of ours back in March it had all gone smoothly. We had arrived at the Butter Factory in the morning and found our flyer posted on all the doors of the venue, were given generous access to the upstairs area for a solid rehearsal, and the sound system had been installed early in the afternoon while an impromptu dressing room was installed for us in the future launderette just behind the restrooms. But once they had left, tired as they said from a long and hard day of work, the place turned into a kindergarten.

I don’t want to pick a fight, much less so at the very beginning of the show. Charm goes a long way, I innocently think, and do my best at it. ‘White Sandy Beach’, our first song, was meant to go in that direction by design and it goes through reasonably well. There is some strange howling during the sweeter parts of the lyrics, but the applause sounds honest and solid once we are through. The honey has been administered; it is now time to refocus on the problems.

To set the stage for the next song, ‘Vístete de Rosa’, I take some time to describe the life of an immigrant, more precisely what tends to happen to the identity of the many involuntary immigrants, those who are driven to wander not by their own will, but by the pressures of the economy of exploitation. The atmosphere turns to ice and as I start singing in Spanish we have clearly abused the Kiwi’s patience.

It is a downhill slide from here. The fourth song ends in an eerie silence, out of which a chatter emerges, the chatter of one of those many crowds of absolute indifference only the human being is capable of. I listen into this silence for a bit to see if I can find something to hold onto and pull us forward. I could be dying up here and every single person would look the other way, goes through my head. And in a sense we are! At least our spirits are deflating rapidly. How can you gift somebody with something they don’t want?

There is one more straw in the cup. Our trilingual interpretation of my countryman Mani Matter’s sociopolitical synthesis ‘Dene Wo’s Guet Geit’ seems sufficiently funny to cut through a skeptic mass of envy. At least that was our theory when we designed the program a while back, and now that theory has to stand up to its trial by fire.

I always wanted the guitar strumming for this song to sound a bit like the portrayal of Johnny Cash’s band in the opening of the movie ‘Walk The Line’, where Joaquin Phoenix plays the absent-minded Cash backstage running his thumb over the sharp teeth on the blade of a table saw, while the band raps a mantric guitar riff hyping the foot stomping audience up and beyond the boiling point. Unfortunately my limited technique on the instrument doesn’t quite get it there, and contrary to the well-orchestrated actors on the silver screen, our audience is absolutely non-cooperative. I had pleaded for their attention before starting the song, assured them that we loved them in spite of their uncultured demeanor, but to no avail. This is a horde of unreachable disdain and the notes of my song hit a wall of glass. A teenage girl stumbles through the tables staring at her smart phone, desperately thumbing around on it. The funky gadget frees itself from the imposed embrace of the youthful technophile’s pink fingers and crashes onto the pavement, bouncing twice and then slithering under a table. But a quick and agile chase brings it back into the domain of the rightful owner. The table on the left, where a bald white guy is taking advantage of the short attention span with which today’s youth garners affection, decides to produce its own music with a chorus of babbles that smothers all distinguishable personal responsibilities. While just beyond stage right from some long extinguished ashes rises a drunken phoenix to spread her wings of brown skined despair. She stumbles towards the stage and decides it is totally polite and absolutely appropriate to interfere with Beatriz’ props in a way that must make sense only to her own blurry vision. When the stubborn and desperate want attention there is nothing on Earth to calm their drive to grab any and all opportunities. Up she comes the short flight of stairs that lead her up to our stage, the last sanctuary that has so far been our sole bastion against the madness. Throbbing movements start to convulse inside her body and you can’t be sure if she is mocking something within or without.

That’s it for us, the last slither of a spell has been broken. We haven’t made our way even half way through our program, but decide to call it off. Once the song is at its bitter end we say a hasty goodbye and make our way to the dressing room. On the way there we pass the tall gent we had seen arriving shortly after we got there in the late morning. He had gone straight to the bar and asked for a glass of red. Curious to unravel the mysterious happenings in this place I probe him with a question: Is this all an outrageous act of miscommunication? Quite obviously he must have downed a number of other glasses of red and slung a slurry response my way: ‘Communication is a broad, a broad…’ The sentence is never finished. He fumbles in the pockets of his designer grade pants and flicks a copper coin into the little jar we had optimistically brought to the stage to collect the monetary reward for our artistic endeavors. In his gesture engrained lives the depreciation of the human touch.

We pack up our stuff back in the dressing room, stunned if not a bit bewildered. We had been warned about the Kiwi’s lack of cultural sensitivity and education by many other performers, who had tried their luck here down under, but had never encountered it so right under our skin. One tries always to be overly hesitant when it comes to believing the manifold stories of mankind’s uglier sides. Only once it has hit you in the face can you accept these kinds of things as facts. Now we know! New Zealand does have a tendency to be a cultural education project of the complicated kind! The cute red-haired waitress at the bar says it has happened before, but that nothing can be done. The patrons can only be refused service if they are really drunk, she shrugs. Nothing can be done?! Yes, it looks like I’ve heard that one right! And for tonight the artistic purpose of our efforts stands defeated: We really cannot live without consumption! But we quite clearly are struggling to live within!

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4 Responses to “What A Difference A Day Makes (Or A Week In This Case)”

  1. Rory Says:

    I am sorry for your experience. However I am glad that you were able to create a work of art from it. Bravo.

    I think Kiwis are always looking for something more. We are not a content people. We have come to this country looking for more. We did not come looking for culture. We have enough space that we don’t need to open ourselves up to other ways of thinking. We just want to be happy.

    You would possibly get a different response in Auckland or Wellington but yes, culture is lacking in the provinces.

  2. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    It was not an easy experience but we are strong and will survive and learn to be attentive from each moment when live puts you down.

  3. Craig Anderson Says:

    Hi Beatriz,

    That sounds rough. As a member of a choir I’ve had the same response… (and choirs are probably considered pretty mainstream here in kiwiland). Lets just say provincial kiwis are a breed that takes some getting used to… culture outside of cities is still very much rugby, pub afterward and if there is music it will be from a covers band in the corner. Anything else is high-brow!
    I’d like to think your audience was shocked and stunned to the point of paralysis such as one would be if a alien spacecraft landed in your front yard!
    I’m sure your performance was just too far beyond their comprehension!

    Craig

  4. nephi Says:

    lost souls trying to find sense or refuge in a bottle, a Dak, a ping or what ever turns them on. Life therefore becomes a stage of smoke screens drug induced blurs of staggering from one drama to another with no relevance or connection to what they are truely seeking, peace and love. I have found it fruitless to reach those who are beyond the healing touch of the refined spirit. By all indications I would suggest that their behaviour was not a reflection on the part of yours Beat, and Beatriz performance or gift, simply a reflection of where they are as individuals who have become slaves to their own vices. Its a poverty of spirit.
    nephi

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