Last night, out with friends, I remembered something I haven't thought of in years. It came back to mind like a dream, although I know it is something that really happened. Summer of 1980/81, in Auckland, not long before I came over here for the first time. I'd been crewing on a feature film that was made by a group of Americans, South Africans, Australians and, in the lower echelons of the hierarchy, New Zealanders. Started out as Third Assistant to the Director, ended up in the Art Department. One of the crew, a fellow by the name of Jonno, perhaps a props buyer or something similar, called me up one day after the shoot was over and asked if I'd like to go with him up north to the Hokianga to pick up - what? Feel like saying it was a piano but likely some other piece of more utilitarian furniture. I didn't know Jonno very well and I've never seen him again. He was tanned and easy, with a wide white smile and an insouciant air. Some kind of truck. We drove up to Helensville, skirted the Kaipara, went through Dargaville and the Waipoua forest, then crossed at Rawene by ferry to Kohukohu? Or did we drive around the top of the harbour? The place where we were going was on the north side, we went out along a bad road until we found the turn off then took a long twisting track down through thick bush to the water's edge. The house was a grand old two storey mansion built above a quiet bay. It was empty and deserted. Dust along the wooden floors. The furniture all gone. Whatever we had come for wasn't there anymore. Its history was fragmentary, perhaps fictional. The owner and builder had made a lot of money, in timber or kauri gum or land sales - or all three. He had gone to Europe to look for a wife and in Paris wooed and won a Frenchwoman, said to have been a dancer. This was probably between the wars but may have been earlier. He had built this house for her and they had lived there together in loneliness and strife. The track down was new, in the old days the only way in and out was by boat to and from the cove below. What had she done? There were no children. There was perhaps no love either. Had she left, or died? Had he blown his brains out with a shotgun at the boat landing? Or was the denouement more prosaic but no less heartbreaking? It was one of the most desolate and beautiful places I have been. Afterwards, empty, we bumped back up the track to the road and, with white dust pluming from our wheels, went back the way we had come. I recall trying to write something, a film script, about this place but nothing came of it, I was many years away from being able to make sense of an event this resonant, this compelling, in words. It seemed that a forlorn music rose from among the dust along the splintery wooden floors. Made of ennui, of longing, of misplaced hopes and impossible dreams. Perhaps she went back to Paris and resumed whatever life she had before or could find again in Europe after the rain. Et la maison? Is it still there? The memory I have of it is so delusive I do not think I could ever find that place again; and, if I did, that it would not in the least resemble what I have made of it. New Zealand is a young country, full of premature disappointments such as this one is or might have been; but the north is old, sandy and old and more like an island of the Pacific than anywhere else in Aotearoa. It whispers to you, sotto voce, and the stories it tells are never more than fragmentary, always just below sense, replete with meaning that you cannot quite retrieve. I hear it now, subliminally talking: C'est aussi simple qu'une phrase musicale.

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