Rebecca Barry

Rebecca Barry is a Herald columnist

Rebecca Barry: 40 years on, time for some moon gazing

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The full moon was so impressive the other night I thought it was a special effect. We'd just arrived in the carpark at Cirque du Soleil.

Hanging low over the Grand Chapiteau was a large, gold sphere, the July Buck moon. It was so striking that I stupidly said: "Oh, how did they do that?"

You're allowed to blame the moon for loony outbursts - all that gravitational pull on the brain's water supply. I then went back to the car to return the carrot cake I'd accidentally brought with me.

In one week it will be 40 years since humans first set foot on the moon, an achievement so grand it turned those space-faring mortals into everlasting heroes, and Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, into an alcoholic. One giant leap for mankind, one giant anticlimax for man.

But not for all the moonwalkers. Apollo 14's Edgar Mitchell found his little space trip so profound it did as much for his spirituality as it did for astronomy. In his work as founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences he has extensively studied the frontiers of consciousness, the universe within our minds. Which is possibly where the US Government put all those secret aliens he also believes in.

Still, the news that 25 per cent of people surveyed by E&T magazine don't believe in the moon landings is astounding. Google "Apollo" and you're just as likely to get conspiracy websites as commemorative ones. Why do we have so much trouble believing humans rocketed out of the atmosphere 384,403km from the Earth, hopped out into the lunar wilderness wearing big white overalls and bounced around on its surface? It's sad that so many people don't believe humans are capable of such big things.

Even for those who do, our love affair with the moon has waned. It's in third place behind Earth and Sun, which isn't fair considering it's responsible for idiotic behaviour.

"It's not you, it's your metabolism." Um no, it's the moon.

Greed didn't cause the recession. The moon did. I'm not guilty of murder. I'm guilty of moonslaughter.

Western culture doesn't have much time for the moon. The only time we really notice it is when we can't see it, during an eclipse. To the ancient Babylonians, the moon was of more importance than the Sun, a sign of fertility and creativity.

Matariki, the Maori New Year, celebrates the coinciding emergence of the Seven Sisters constellation and the next new moon, an optimal time for harvest.

Whether we commemorate this event with a public holiday has as much to do with our own appreciation for this mysterious land mass as it does with the cultural significance of the occasion (and the employment ramifications).

Those who meditate during a full moon say they're freed of the obstruction the Earth creates when it blocks the Sun's light to the moon, a metaphor for our material lives obstructing our spiritual lives.

Although the moonwalkers didn't really find a hell of a lot up there bar "magnificent desolation", according to Aldrin, I was beginning to think the arts had abandoned the moon as a source of inspiration. It feels like moons ago Pink Floyd came out with Dark Side of the Moon, that seminal record that encapsulated Syd Barrett's deteriorating sanity. "The lunatic is on the grass/ in the hall/ in my head," etc. Cat Stevens, Thin Lizzy, REM - they all immortalised our relationship with the moon, as did Ella Fitzgerald and Elvis singing the classic Blue Moon.

Comedian Andy Kaufman was likened to the Man on the Moon. I spent good chunks of the 80s believing cows were capable of jumping over the moon, and watched TV shows Button Moon and Punky Brewster starring Soleil Moon Frye. There was a pop star whose name escapes me who could slide backwards across the stage like Marcel Marceau. Moonwalking, the impossible made possible.

Gladly, while browsing through the overwhelming choices at this year's International Film Festival my eye stumbled on Moon, a film by Duncan Jones. Sam Rockwell plays an astronaut living alone on the Moon as he harvests energy to send back to Earth. The trailer on YouTube looks better than your average sci-fi film, relying on imagination rather than special effects.

And that's exactly what seems to be missing in our daily interactions with the Moon. Physically, it has the power to cause floods. Emotionally, although not scientifically proven, it has the power to cause weird moods. Menstrual cycles, the tides, all of the natural ebbs and flows of the earth have a relationship with the Moon.

Yet no one waxes lyrical about your lovely holiday Moon tan. There are no Moon salutations in yoga. Moonlighting is best kept a secret. If you bay at the Moon long enough, you just get angry and hairy.

The poor old Moon seems to represent the worst in us, compared with 40 years ago, when it represented the height of human potential. The Moon is always watching, even when it's squinting around the belly of the Earth or obscured by clouds. It does make you think we should all invest in a little Moon gazing. It might do us good to marvel at what we're capable of and what we're yet to discover.

- NZ Herald

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