Wednesday, November 26, 2014

New Zealand trip diary - day 10

Last night we walked about ten or fifteen minutes to Victoria Street, an area where lots of new bars and restaurants have been opening, and went into Mockingbird, which follows a Mexican tapas kind of concept. It was very enjoyable food and people-watching, and we stayed a pretty long time (whereas at home restaurants usually have a defined closing time, most places here seem to advertise their closing time only as “..till late”: in our experience though “late” often ends up being relatively early, and we’ve frequently seen people turned away as the wheels of closing time start to grind, but maybe that speaks to the places we're drawn to). We walked back afterwards, struck again by the vast barren spaces, by the almost total absence of people and cars. Within a block of the hotel there used to be a Starbucks and a book store – you can still see the signs behind the boards; don’t know what else was there, but presumably it would have been a street in fairly constant motion. Not now...
A poster announces that Kenny Rogers will soon be here performing his “Last ever New Zealand concerts” – so to repurpose the remark I made earlier about Onehunga, is that a promise or a threat? Actually, Auckland seems like a very long time ago – we’re at the point of the trip, especially after yesterday, where our memories are happily full, and to add any more might carry the risk of being counter-productive. This is not in any way to suggest we’re not excited about what’s left. We left the hotel this morning at around 9.30 am and had breakfast nearby (I had mushrooms on toast, which it seems to me would be a wildly popular breakfast item if it occurred to more people). Then we continued exploring Christchurch, taking in some different angles on the core, different street art installations, artists using flags or weaves or sculpture to express an element of what was lost. We wanted to know the location of the Court theatre, which used to be downtown but has for now had to move to a warehouse about forty minutes’ walk from where we are. Of course, the forty minutes is only if you know the way – we had to double back twice, eventually finding it semi-hidden behind unprepossessing chain restaurants and the like.

From there we strolled through a couple of neighborhoods, first Riccarton and then Merrivale, going through Hagley Park in between – I would have been ready to wager that Hagley Park might be the biggest in the world, but it’s a mere 164 hectares; New York’s Central Park for comparison is 341 hectares. Hagley Park might seem bigger because it’s acre after acre of basically the same thing (wonderful flat green grass). This coming Saturday by the way sees the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park event, which the website says is “one of the happiest and most magical, musical extravaganzas on the Kiwi Christmas calendar!” (my initial web searches for this event kept taking me back to the blurb for 2010, another apparent Internet ghost). Anyway, these neighborhoods are all somewhat different in theory – this one’s a bit funkier, that one a bit more high-end, and so forth – but they all seemed much the same to us. It didn’t really matter – we enjoyed the walk. I wore my shorts for the first time on the trip today, although I could have worn them several times before if I’d had more foresight, or if we’d spent our days in more stable conditions (it often gets rapidly colder on the top of mountains, or on the decks of boats).

The earthquake isn’t as evident beyond the core (and of course you can’t always distinguish between what’s disaster clean-up and what’s just a construction zone, or a particularly poorly maintained residence) but it seems that churches in particular continue to be affected. I guess that’s not surprising given their age, and the economic difficulty of raising the money to repair them, particularly to the standards of the new building code (we passed a construction site promising condominiums built to 180% of the new building code, which to someone with no knowledge of the issue sounds like something that shouldn’t really be possible). As I wrote yesterday, Christchurch continues to be a challenge to our sense of normalcy. In the photo below for instance, the historic building may look pretty much like any other, until you notice there are no faces on the clocks. Time and time again, it feels as if it ought to be possible to revive such buildings virtually at will, by applying the construction equivalent of deeply exhaling into their lungs and pounding on their hearts, which of course only tells you again how little I know about the building code. And, in contrast to Hagley Park, downtown must surely have had more trees and other vegetation before the disaster; now it has entire blocks with little or none, which I suspect you register subliminally even if, overshadowed by everything else, you don’t notice explicitly.

We looked in a few stores for souvenirs, since we haven’t bought anything, but nothing grabbed us. We came back to the hotel mid-afternoon.  An example of the Novotel’s lack of classiness – whenever you use 300MB of data (which doesn’t seem to take long – we’ve passed it twice already, just through the usual browsing and maintaining this blog…oh, and periodically watching Ozu on the webcam, which I guess sucks up the megabytes, just like dogs take and take in general) you get disconnected with a warning about how they don’t consider this to be “Fair Play,” but then they let you reconnect regardless, once you enter your room number again. Maybe Internet access is a finite commodity in Christchurch for some reason, but if so they should be up-front about it, or charge a fee or something, rather than subjecting you to a series of vaguely wagging fingers. That aside, the connection actually seems faster than the one we had in Auckland (but not as good as Queenstown). But maybe they’re right, we should just force ourselves to stay off there (Ally is much better at this than I am; she’s making great progress on an actual old-fashioned book, Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies). I mean, Ozu aside, there’s only really the two things to monitor online – the disgrace of the Coz, or that of Canadian radio star Jian Gomeshi. Just like when we left home!

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