Representations of my family
A selfie of my parents
My parents had their honeymoon at Kennedy's Bay, Coromandel in 1958. My father Pius Blank emigrated to New Zealand from Switzerland in 1952. Pius was a photographer and most of our family photographs were selfies, taken with a Rolleiflex camera on a timer.
Pius was fascinated by Maori culture and photographed Maori life during the fifties and sixties. He enlarged the images to poster size and mounted them on soft board. My sister Marino and I grew up around these images, which included nudes of our mother Arapera. The third child of thirteen, Arapera was a Kaa from Ngati Porou; a writer and teacher. The nude photographs are an extraordinary statement about the woman. Raised in the tiny settlement of Rangitukia, and from a deeply religious family, she was avant-garde, very open to the new cultural influences of her foreign husband. I love this picture of my parents. It is a joyful thing.
Pius and Arapera came from devout families, Catholic and Anglican respectively. Pius was quite damaged by a Dickensian upbringing devoid of affection, punctuated by physical abuse from the nuns and priests who taught him. Arapera's faith was less troubled, her spirituality more obviously present. They were both liberals however. They wanted their children to make up their own minds about their spirituality. My sister and I didn't attend religious instruction with the other kids at our primary school in the Hokianga. Instead we were taken to the headmaster's house for a salad lunch.
Later, as teenagers, we joined the local Baptist Church and became born-again Christians. This was a troubling time for our family, the church was a wedge between us and our parents. Spirituality is an abstract concept for me now, but also very central to my sense of wellbeing. Because my childhood was essentially free of cultural and religious doctrine, my mind is also free, open to new ideas. There is nothing telling me I can't do things or behave in certain ways. I will be forever grateful to my parents for this aspect of my childhood.
Our house was on Dakota Avenue in Beach Haven on Auckland's North Shore. Little more than a seaside bach when we first moved there, it grew and grew over the years. Pius was obsessed with building, renovations and making furniture. As he became more reclusive, his creations became odder, so too the house.
Our home was lined with wood panelling, it was dark – womb-like. One of my favourite memories of my mother is from my teenage years. There has been a power cut. I come home to find Arapera sitting on a beanbag in the lounge smoking a cigarette, staring peacefully into Te Po.
Later, Pius purchased an adjoining section and after Marino and I had left home, he built a small octagonal Lockwood house for himself and Arapera. At 60, Arapera had a stroke and collapsed on the deck at the front of the house. The stroke left her severely disabled. Ten years later, she was trapped inside when the house caught fire. Even though she survived the fire, she lived for only three days afterwards.
Now that both my parents have died, we have sold the Beach Haven property. My memories and emotions are mixed. Sometimes when I think about Pius and Arapera, their lives as a totality, and the brutality of my mother's death, the pain is indescribable. Hot salty tears fill my eyes and grief manifests physically as sharp stabs to my heart.
Paris is so full of tourists, it's annoying. Apart from that it is surprisingly difficult to find any decent shops. The Champs Elysees is full of chain stores and fast-food. Save your energy for London shoppers, everything you need is at Selfridges. There's a cool food hall where you can have a coffee and check your budget.
I haven't been to Switzerland for twenty years and it feels like home, even on a whistle-stop. It is autumn, the forests are gold and lavender. When I'm out running I see squirrels. I am ecstatic with the whole experience.
Right now I am listening to Kendrick Lamar. My favourite line from his new album – 'the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice'.