Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘Family

Huddled together

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Huddled together to keep warm.

It was a time of hope, when no matter how bad it was, the future was all ahead. And that was so so very long ago. There’s not much future left. Everyone survived. Some did well, some not so much. Huddling together just isn’t done anymore.


Written by Titirangi Storyteller

26/01/2013 at 12:45 am

Mother & Daughter

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Having a play with wedding photos. Sheesh! Nothing like your own child’s wedding photos to conjure your most sentimental, tender self. 25 years of being your baby and then there’s no denying they’re all grown up. And that means you, well, you are super grown-up… super-duper grown-up. More grown up than you ever thought you would be or could be, maybe than you should be. And somehow, somehow… it seems like I am less me and more a part of something larger, I am a comment, a bit of a statement, maybe a whole paragraph in the scheme of things if I’m lucky. Will I take this photo again in another 25 years or so – with another silk flower nestled in the front there? I wonder.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

06/07/2012 at 1:05 am

A Delicate Moment

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I love Vanuatu – 83 islands in the South Pacific, a tropical blend of Melanesian, Europeans and Asian cultures. I’ve visited twice and would do so again in a heartbeat. The people are friendly and generous and open and you feel very much that you are in a different world that runs at an entirely different pace.

Pentecost Island, where this shot was taken is north of the capital, Pt Vila. It’s most famous for ‘land diving,’ the original bungy jump which you can see if you visit between March and June, when the vines are at the proper elasticity. This was when we went, and despite the pouring rain, we trekked across the island in ankle deep mud to where a 30 metre platform had been constructed of bamboo. After much waiting and crowd pumping and cheerleading about a dozen men and a couple of boys who could not have been more then 9 or 10 made the jump. Very impressive, though I felt sorry for the young ones, as they clearly were not feeling particularly courageous, though they came through unscathed.

Afterward, we wandered around and explored the little village. And we came upon this scene. Two of the men who had jumped, still in their traditional penis sheaths, standing in the rain and mud with umbrellas posing for photos. You will note the cardboard box out front – it’s strictly pay per click!

And like the lady in Cartegena, it left me feeling slightly fretful… especially here… amazing how quickly one can go from ‘travel photographer’ to a “rich” white woman taking pictures of a couple of naked natives… there is no contact, no intimacy, no insight into their culture. I could not understand a word of what was said, but I had the idea the man on the left wanted to call it a day, take his snake and go home, but his wife made it clear that there was some foreign cash to be collected even if it was raining…I paid my tribute and clicked away.

I almost deleted this photo when I first looked at it… so staged, the umbrella, the pose, the wife – it just wasn’t a ‘good’ travel photo, which would, of course, involve me capturing some moment of whimsy between the two men with no contemporary artefacts cluttering up the ‘native’ scenery. I felt embarrassed about it in a way I could not quite define. But then I decided that it was in actuality, a very honest photo – the fidgeting, distracted men, the umbrellas and rain and less than happy wife on the side… It’s how they cope with and take advantage of a boatload of “rich” visitors who want to experience something ‘authentic’ but safe and take lots of photos. (Compared to them virtually everyone who visits is wealthy, though of course by our standards, they/we are merely middle class. And for that matter, a mix of colours and cultures – but all western…)

And if I want real intimacy and connection with the locals – show up on a non-show day, just me and the husband…

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

18/04/2011 at 10:51 pm

Museum of the Occupation – Tallinn

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280908Mus-Occupn16I have many stories to tell about visiting Estonia and while some include unexpected tears, most are very beautiful. This one is not. Visiting the Museum of the Occupation in Tallinn was chilling.

Not sure what took me so long to get to Tallinn. I had wanted to visit ever since I was a little girl and my grandmother told me stories about Estonia. She made it sound so magical, so different from the world I knew in the Bronx – and having finally made it there, I can declare unequivocally that Tallinn and the Bronx are as opposite as north and south 280908Mus-Occupn02or cold and hot. The Bronx of my childhood was war-torn and terror ridden. The Tallinn I finally got to see was possibly even more idyllic than grandma had described.

The museum is set in a mostly residential neighbourhood near the old city – a modest glass building, reflecting its surrounds, with a very small sign indicating what it houses. Once inside I was immediately struck by the suitcases – hastily packed by people who knew they would probably never return, packed with the items they treasured most for a journey with no return ticket.

I stood there quietly, wondering if one of them had been my grandfather’s. Elmar Hiiesalu had hastily packed just such a bag when he was forced into the Soviet army, when the Russians finally overcame the Nazis.

280908Mus-Occupn01This archway threw me – I  couldn’t bring myself to walk underneath it. The power of the imagery was unexpectedly overwhelming. I walked around it instead.

Most of the exhibits were devoted to Estonia’s endless struggle to be  free. It has been alternately occupied by Danes, Germans, Russians and Swedes for most of the last millenia – the fate of a tiny country – with less than a million people. Ironically, the culture survived largely because the Estonian people were forced into serfdom and so preserved their language and customs.

City Museum - WWII - 12But in 1918, when Russia was busying herself with the Revolution – Estonia, along with neighbouring states, Latvia and Lithuania, declared itself a free, sovereign nation. Here is a photo of President Konstantin Pots at the 20th anniversary of the republic in 1938. Pots was my grandfather’s boss – he was his personal secretary. Grandpa didn’t make it into this photo, no doubt tending to some important detail.  Many of my relatives were involved in government work, including the then mayor of Tallinn. If they weren’t forced into the army or sent to Siberia, they went to prison. You went to prison for being the wife of a politician.

Which brings me to the truly chilling part of the visit. The doors. Click the thumbnails for a larger look.



These came from various prisons around Estonia where political prisoners were held, including members of my family. Something so very gruesome about these cheerfully painted doors – you would never find them on a movie set – only in real life. Just being near them, I could hear and feel the misery and sorrow they contained – I had the sensation of wanting to wash them.

280908Mus-Occupn10Things got a wee bit surreal, and slightly humourous when I asked where I might find the loo. Downstairs.

Yes, that is Lenin and Stalin, flanking the entrance to the toilets – women on the right, men on the left. A couple of spare prison doors behind them. If you look at the full-size photo, you will note the statues are damaged – this is from when they were toppled when Estonia declared its freedom again in 1991.

280908Mus-Occupn11 Various other disgraced Communists  – Russian and Estonian, were strewn about the basement floor, along with toppled monuments and Soviet era iconography. The hatred the Estonian people felt for their occupiers is palpable nearly twenty years after they were removed from power.

To be honest, the emotions were so raw, it was truly painful being there. After an hour and a bit, we really couldn’t take any more and decided to walk up to the upper city. This monument made me smile…

Free - again...

Free - again...

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

27/06/2010 at 11:04 pm

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