It was our third time going to Te Papa, Wellington's famous museum. We were late getting there and Nina was stressed in an understated way visible only to her parents. We were supposed to be attending a Maori kite-making session, but Letizia and I had dawdled over our morning lattes - at least that's how Nina would have it (If only her respect for time-keeping extended to things that her parents cared about - like bedtime, for example).
To their great credit, Nina and Sara can amuse themselves for many hours with nothing but scissors, stickytape and cardboard foolishly discarded from the Adult World. These are the basic elements and implements in the Junior Alchemy Set. From these, all Art springs forth. The transformation of base cardboard to precious artifact is unstoppable when catalysed with enough self-belief, perseverance and Pritt-Stick. This is the core dogma of the religion of Make and Do, to which my daughters fervently adhere. Deep indeed is their conviction in redemption through the transformative power of handicraft. The very thought of a creative opportunity lost to the whims of their parents (an unhurried breakfast, for example, or an irreverent haste in disposing of beer cartons) weighs heavily on their tender hearts.
In the name of this religion, we have left a trail of cut-out houses and paper hats across two continents and three countries. For this have our generous hosts found, after our departure, tell-tale traces of paper clippings on their carpets, leading to mutilated egg-cartons and water-bottles stuffed hastily into shallow-grave cupboards. And for this did we race to the fourth floor of Te Papa, and elbow ourselves a place at the altar of Arts and Crafts.
I never knew that the Maori made kites, but apparently it was an important part of celebrating Matariki, or Maori New Year. Not that I knew this at the time. The Te Papa staff probably explained this at the start (when we were still looking for space in the car park) but even if they had told us on our arrival I probably wouldn't have been very receptive. All I knew was that I was perspiring like a pig, breathing like an ill-hinged bellows and surrounded by a confusion of sticks, crepe-paper and strangers. And all because of Nina and Sara's fundamentalist and irrational beliefs vis-a-vis Making Things With Paper. This is not a state of mind that lends itself to making new friends.
And yet that's exactly what happened. That new friend was an Aussie woman with a broad smile, a disarming openness, and a positive attitude made of reinforced concrete. Di, and her beautiful daughter Trinity, had the misfortune to share not only the table but the only serviceable roll of stickytape with us, and it cost her dearly. Di has done her fair share of traveling, and living beyond her native borders and explained that as a result, she feels a certain solidarity with travellers. It's one thing to feel sorry for strangers (and god knows that our demeanour evoked pity), but it's another matter entirely to do what Di did next: to invite those strangers to dinner. To make such a leap of faith in your fellow man takes something special. When we got over the initial shock, we of course accepted the invitation.
Di, thanks for your kindness. If one day back in Cork I scare the bejeezus out of some unsuspecting backpackers by inviting them home for dinner, it will be entirely your fault.