Paul Holmes on New Zealand

Paul Holmes is an award-winning Herald columnist

Paul Holmes: Our unique weekend of pain and joy

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We'll remember 9/11, but we've also got the rugby and a brilliant city.

It's hard to get the head around this weekend. On the one hand we commemorate the most riveting, baffling and terrifying morning most of us have seen in our lifetimes, the attack on New York City 10 years ago.

At the same time this great fiesta of rugby, the World Cup, starts. After last night, there will be some gruesome hangovers in Auckland.

Auckland has become amazing, a brilliant city. Last weekend, my daughter rang me and invited me out for a Father's Day lunch. We never really did Father's Day in our house. My Dad always reckoned it was a Frank Woolworth promotion and meant nothing. But it was sweet to be called by my girl and invited out.

We went to the Britomart area, the transformation of which is something to behold. We found a mall I never knew existed. There are bars and restaurants and cafes and little lanes containing the promise of all kinds of fun and excitement.

Even a couple of years back when I took a small apartment on Princes Wharf, a little studio with a pull-down bed that looked back towards the city, I could see that despite what everyone said about the messy, unplanned Auckland waterfront, it worked.

Somehow it works. It's not just the Viaduct now - it's much broader. There is a whole new spirit in downtown Auckland. The whole area is grand now.

It has been one heck of a week, really. Monday night we launched my book Daughters of Erebus. It is the story of how the wife and daughters of Captain Jim Collins survived not only the crash of the DC10 in Antarctica but also the diabolical fraud of the findings of the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Ron Chippindale, into why the aircraft crashed. It was a full house, at Tribeca restaurant in Parnell. It was a night for the good people, I told the guests.

Maria Collins and her four girls were there. This book has been a hard and painful journey for them. Also there was Margarita Mahon, the wife of the brilliant judge who recognised the Chippindale claims for what they were, as was Margarita's and Peter's artist son, Sam Mahon.

Sam wanted to know who taught me English. I said, Mrs McDonald. No, he said, who taught you to write? I replied that I was deeply honoured if he thought I could.

Sam Mahon is a superb writer. His memoir of his father, My Father's Shadow, is one of the loveliest books about New Zealand I have ever read.

It was an emotional evening. I've lived with Erebus for two years now. Not even fractionally as long as those who lost loved ones, of course, but it seems a long time.

Now my wife tells me that I must let it go a bit. All right, I replied, I know you're right. And I'm letting it go. That doesn't mean I don't continue to care about what happened but the book and all the research and the hard thinking that went on were almost completely consuming.

She is right. It's time to let go a bit. The work will not be done, however, until the two Erebus pilots are exonerated.

So I picked up Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night, which I never did read, though there was a time I devoured him. I'd forgotten how challenging his writing is and how beautifully, how spell-bindingly, he could write. He will help on the journey out of the tunnel.

Fitzgerald already has me thinking about our public transport as we enter the World Cup weeks. In the book, Rosemary Hoyt, a beautiful young actress who has had some recent success in a film, is holidaying with her mother on the French Riviera.

She takes a train. I don't know where. That's the thing about Fitzgerald's characters. You never quite know what they're doing.

"Unlike American trains that were absorbed in an intense destiny of their own, and scornful of people on another world less swift and breathless, this train was part of the country through which it passed."

It's true. American trains have might and power and freedom about them. I thought of Arlo Guthrie's City of New Orleans. I couldn't understand when that record came out how you could have a hit song about a train.

It all got me to thinking about our own little putt-putt trains I see ambling along the Auckland tracks at 20km/h, truly part of the country through which they pass. I suppose they'll do.

And so it is 10 years almost to the day since 9/11. What a ferocious day. Who could believe the sight of those two great buildings crumbling and the terror and disbelief on the faces of those who fled?

And we all thought straight away, if they're jumping from the 76th floor, how bad is it inside?

I met one of the survivors once, a blind man who with his guide dog made it down more than 70 floors to safety. His escape was a miracle.

Something he said told me all about the gulf between the United States and the Middle East.

He said: "They thought the Twin Towers were the epitome of American capitalism. For us, it was just the place we went to work."

- NZ Herald

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