Blesséd are the Mentors

Blesséd are the mentors for they shall bring forth fruits on the Earth.

I wrote this in 2008 in memory of the late Rangipo Mete Kingi. 

I went back and read over this old article just as Easter is upon us. Easter time in Seville means orange blossom and processions narrating what are for me, eternal ideas of the cycle of life and death. Concepts that transcend any one faith perspective, or even any faith at all. Spring is such a hopeful, wonderful season. Dormant plants return to life again as they sprout fresh green growth. Days are longer and the sun warmer. 

Holy Tuesday. 6.30pm, 2008.

“No, no, no, you cannot write in the Arabian teahouse. You won’t write there. You need to stay here, but go inside out of the wind.”

It’s feeling a bit nippy; the first clouds are appearing of the rain that was predicted for tomorrow. The smell of Jasmine is hanging on the thick spring air. People are out and about.

“Why won’t I write in the teahouse?” I ask.

“It is too nice there. It will distract you.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’ll end up with my feet tucked under me on some long couch staring at that beautiful ceiling.” I concede.

“You need a tough little place to make you write. Stay here.”

I’m not used to such assertiveness, but Anne is Parisian, a writer and speaking from experience. I pass on the teahouse idea and get up to move inside the café.

“Good-bye Emma. Until next time.” We kiss each others’ cheeks; she warmly presses my arm and then moves off. It’s been good to see her. Anne is the cultural attaché for the south of Spain, based at the French Consulate here in Seville. In an hour she has encouraged me to read three books that she wants to lend me, validate my degrees to get a job in the university and take a Spanish language exam.

“I want you to take this exam, Emma. You must take it. I think you should make the most of every opportunity you have. Everyone must.”

I had laughed and called her my intellectual mentor. She had smiled.

“I think people need to be pushed. Seville can make people lazy. It’s nice here, easy. Too easy, and expectations become lowered.”

Then the mentor idea hadn’t seemed so odd. People can drift here, in a perpetual circle. I know a guy who has been basically on holiday for seven years. It’s easy to do. There are plenty of bars to get lost in and plenty of people to get lost with.

One such bar, “Dead Pepe’s”, is on my way home from work. A colleague took me there the other night. There were only old men propping up the bar when we arrived. That’s where the bar got its name, for the age of the punters. We perched at the end corner and Pepe nodded at my workmate. He was obviously in with Pepe, because the old barman touched his chest – the first couple of rounds were on the house, though there were only a few choices, gin, one brand of beer and a nasty muscatel.

My friend’s been going there for twenty years, and in that time, the bar has never been cleaned. The walls and ceiling were yellowed from a century of cigarettes. The few ornaments, photos of bullfighters and a virgin or two were hardly visible under the dust. The wooden bar however, was clean. Pepe, nearing retirement, had no cash register and no notes of who owed what. It was all in his head. (He is also known as Pepe IBM.) Magic.

The bar was full by 11pm and we had got on to the life-story stage. But, like the walls, there was a heaviness in the company, a sense of opportunities lost, or regret, of secret other-lives. I felt a drag on me as if I was being pushed down into a wormhole, being used as someone else tried to validate their life. Or perhaps it was just the nasty Muscatel.

“You’re an artist; you must feel this way, mustn’t you? You think this too.” I tucked in my nibbled edges and started to give less answers, letting him go on.

Finally we said our goodbyes with a few nods to the elderly patrons who had lasted with us, my drinking companion relieved and I …squiffy.

It is only now that I am really reflecting on how that evening made me feel, apart from fuzzy. Perhaps we need a bit of everything, but Anne’s disinterested enthusiasm to push me forward has left me energised, with a sense of clarity about who I am and what I am doing. People to look up to are important. Learn to recognise those people placed in your path and gifted with the ability to draw good things out from you. Cherish them while they are with you.

This January in Wanganui, a dear friend and mentor passed away. I read the email, isolated in a small room in an apartment in Spain: “Emma, e hoa, he aitua…a sad thing has happened.” It was as if one of the four winds, so constant, fell silent and still.


Holy week: The procession of "Jesus del Gran Poder" in front of the Fine arts Museum, early Friday Morning Seville 2008.

Holy week: The procession of “Jesus del Gran Poder” in front of the Fine arts Museum, early Friday Morning Seville 2008.

It’s now 1.45 am and even nippier. Javier, a friend Antonio and I are standing in the Gardens of Murillo. A procession of robed Nazarenos carrying candles, make their way toward us down the long wide path. In front of us there is a huge tree that looks to be centuries old. My eyes follow up its truck to the top branches where the waxing gibbous moon sits shining through thin clouds, only a few days off full. The crowd is still and hushed. The acrid smell of a rather large joint wafts past my nose. Javier and Antonio are discussing football in low tones. Then finally, through a cloud of incense, thick and pungent, appears the figure of Christ carrying his cross. He walks on a bed of red carnations on top of a float carried by nearly forty shuffling costaleros,swaying to the sombre trumpet march.

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