I've just returned from a week in Auckland aka New Zealand's Super City. In the travel notes below I have changed names and locations to protect the livelihoods and real estate values of those mentioned. Other identifying details may also have been changed to avoid allegations of libel or defamation.
Nelson airport. Almost successful in limiting obsessive compulsive rechecks of ticket, hand luggage, and departures board. Board plane. Turn off phone and fasten seat belt. Close ears to the flight attendant’s safety instructions. Especially the sequence which begins “in the unlikely event of an emergency”. Refuse to hear gratuitous reminders that emergencies, however unlikely, might occur whilst I am in mid-air.
2: ASPIRATIONAL READING
Flick through Air New Zealand’s in-flight magazine. Distract myself from frightening expanse of cloud and blue sky outside the portholes by counting references in magazine to wine, wristwatches, flash cars and food festivals. Discover adverts or advertorial references to 9 luxury cars including Rolls Royce Ghost and a car which can “parallel park all on its own, hands free”, 7 watches, 18 different wines and vineyards and 5 wine or food festivals.
Wonder how young woman seated next to me can possibly be content with the McDonald’s hamburger and fries she’s smuggled on board. Taps not working in plane’s toilet but luckily the economy pack of hand-wipes lolling in the hand basin promises to “Eliminate Bacterial Contamination”.
3: ADVENTURES IN REAL ESTATE
Visit friend at her jazzy apartment block, a stone’s throw from Ponsonby Road. It’s just a teensy bit leaky. The balconies are elaborately propped up. No one allowed to venture onto them until repairs completed. On plus side, brothel in the ground floor apartment has shut up shop. Friend relieved that drunk and lovelorn men are no longer disgorged from taxis outside her address at all hours of night. Friend reports that in clean-up operation, intrepid contractor discovered 21 pairs of women’s underpants and a bucket of used condoms. Local real estate values apparently unaffected.
Enter Chinese-run emporium. Suspect that Chinese characters on window spell “China Sweatshops Incorporated”. Shouldn’t enter, but can’t resist sale signs plastered everywhere. Inside shop, many assistants, all female, all shouting at each other all at once. Cacophonous result sounds like all-in-one cattle auction, vicious family row and Melbourne Cup race commentary. Frisk promising pile of bags which might be leather. Sniff bags to test if real or artful faux. Fake of course. Interrupt one shop assistant mid-tirade to enquire if they stock any large bags. “Big no good” she states categorically. “You want small”. I insist I want big. She drags a couple of largish bags from teetering pile and thrusts them at me. Do you have any with a shoulder strap I ask. “This bag no strap” she replies firmly. I find long strap folded neatly inside bag and flourish it. Assistant flaps dismissive hand “Huh! Strap no good style”.
5: WE ARE THE FUTURE
Wander an area behind Victoria Market. Groovy looking young people glimpsed through the open doors and windows of artfully renovated buildings. They’re perched on clever chairs at clever trestle tables and very clever computers. Realise that these are the people who make the world look the way it does - clothes, furniture, houses, packaging, advertising … in-flight magazines. Don’t know whether to be impressed or depressed.
6: CAFFEINE HELL
Exhausted by chronic overexposure to stylewear, eyewear, footwear, carryware, homeware etc - seek refuge in coffee shop. Turns out to be least restful place in Auckland. Possibly the entire universe. Coffee machine hissing. Grinder working at high decibels. Much dish clattering. Patrons shouting into mobile phones or at computer screens. Two trucks and 15 cars idling at traffic lights outside. Swallow coffee. Scribble note in travel journal.Bolt.
7: INTIMATIONS OF MORTALITY
Take refuge within pristine white walls and blissful silence of Ponsonby gallery. Exhibition of Karley Feaver sculptures made of taxidermied animal parts spliced together. My favourite is stuffed grey-furred baby rabbit with corpse of a bright yellow canary grafted to its back. Rabbit looks as if it has sprouted small golden angel wings. Canary looks as if it’s fast asleep nestled against rabbit’s soft fur. Extraordinarily heart-wrenching juxtaposition. Death also on display in menswear shop further up the road … clothing draped on human skeletons.
8: BEGGARING DESCRIPTION
Cheerful middle-aged woman seated on a blanket on Ponsonby Road. Has described her situation with commendable frankness on a piece of battered cardboard: “I have mental health issues. Taking medication. Need money for food”. Another beggar, a man this time. Same battered cardboard but radically different approach: his sign reads “Need money to rule the world”. Hard to know if he’s in grip of rampant megalomania or mere capitalist psychopathy.
9: THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT
On Queen St. Enter pungently scented precinct of shop called “Lush”. Hope for discreet advice on disguising the mousy hair I have developed of late... silver threads amongst the gold etc. Advice not discreet. Instead it is full of warmth and wise-cracks and offered by trio of gutsy, bright young things: Bosomy young woman with bright blue hair; a red-haired English girl with dress fashioned from Union Jack; a slim blonde in diamante headband and fringed flapper style dress. Girls know their product. Reel out of the shop a little in love with them. And carrying a pack of colouring agent perfect for “undecided” hair just like mine. Can’t wait to get back to Nelson and ditch the mouse.