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Sport 18: Autumn 1997

Christos Angelopoulos You Can't Have Your Coke and Eat It Too

Christos Angelopoulos You Can't Have Your Coke and Eat It Too

Strange times, it would seem. Mt Ruapehu has erupted
again, enshrouding half the North Island in smoke…
Even if my position
as New Zealand's pre-eminent surf poet

is unassailable, Ken, I never was much of a surfer. Magazines always
did it better. I was content to watch the waves unfurl,
page 168 rolling poetically past, as I lay patiently on my board, imagining

the perfect trajectory
like the prisoner in Robert Bresson's
‘A Man Escaped’, planning the perfect exit. Which
could only ever happen once. Like love, you only

get one chance (Paul Klee said: ‘everything is best said once
and in the simplest way’) with Bach's Musikalische Opfer
as backing—which proves the point. Since I was a child I have always

been drawn to chamber orchestras—I always thought: I want one.
The perfect escape—like Bach's final composition. I was only‘tubed’
once, at Whangamata, 1977. But no one was watching. The wave

I was riding, like any other wave, disappeard back
inside itself. The longest ride ever—but when it's over
(as they say) it's over. Might as well have been

sitting in a parked car. The world isn't made of
permanent materials—a passing steam train, the steam train's
steam. In the recording of these things and the reflecting

upon them, all we are really recording is our inability
to record them—like David Tremlett's paean to the North Sea
air: a row of cassette recordings of the wind lined up and mounted on

a gallery wall. Here in Wellington, we have our very own smoking
National Museum—insulation inside the walls of the new building having caught fire
last Friday, and various persons around the periphery were supposedly

cheering. While Mr Apostolakis, our smoking neighbour, walks free,
‘welcomes freedom’
as the front page says. Wasn't it one of you who said
that Australian poetry is just like surfing, only

page 169

without the wave… or maybe it was a museum of clouds?
I've discovered the perfect metaphor, Ken, but I'm not sure what
it's for: the robust cabbage tree against which early settlers would

build their huts—they would use the hollow treetrunk
as a chimney, small pots boiling on an open fire at the base of it.
The cabbage tress survived this, yielding foliage as well as

smoke and when the settlers moved on the chimneys resumed being
trees—which probably says something about adaptability: well-appointed
place somewhere between the natural and unnatural worlds…

which reminds me of a surf-movie theatre in Mount Eden,
The Crystal Palace,where we would park our volkswagens (by some
good fortune our father had a volkswagen, a variant, which gave us

a credibility far beyond our surfing ability or our vocabulary
to describe these films in which the women were invariably confined
to non-surfing roles, lying naked about beaches, the loose sand

a kind of censorship). Anyhow, Ken and Cath, I hope the reviewers
are treating you well. As Richard Mc Whannell writes
(quoting Georgia O'Keefe): ‘ Praise or blame, throw it down

the same drain.’ You'll be interested to know—Cath
especially—that 99.75% of women
get what they want, or so says Mr Apostolakis.

The pursuit of wisdom, Cath, isn't that what
it boils down to, be it surfing or the Western Canon or
the baby crashing about the home, the morning's mail

blowing across the lawn, and you can't get out there to
retrieve it? Felix finding his feet—
‘an inexperienced surfer
page 170 leaning into the curl’—
with the kind of enthusiasm we once reserved

for losing ours, teenaged and stumbling
from beach party/intent
to beach party, ‘Pet Sounds’ or a local band, Waves, echoing in our
ears, and the oracular pronouncements of Kiwi Surf magazine:

‘Go north, son! …for a late autumn bash. Where the locals are going sickon
a bunch of nice waves.’
It seems only yesterday,
my friend The Legendary Nick ‘popped the fins over a crisp close-out’,

later ‘punching his way through a crumbling Piha lip’—
now there are reports that, after some lean years, there are…
‘a bunch of hot grommets coming up throught the ranks;

each vying for lead soprano in the “Piha Boys Choir”.’
We were in trouble back then—
in all seriousness, in the light-
ness, the levity of our senses…99.75% of parenthood

is finding ways of tricking the baby into falling asleep—
then remembering as far back as the ocean that gathered up our limbs
and reconfigured them, that leapt the road…the ocean that has

preserved 99.75% of Lion Rock
and the flight paths of large, unfriendly
birds… benedixit filius tuis in te…and
has blessed your children
within you…And all the songs of our youth—the Legendary Nick
and I—they were unsung, so I will sing them now.