Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's no Auckland

Today, as I walked along the waterfront, I saw a gorgeous old man dressed entirely in yellow. Carrying a yellow pack ‘n’ save bag, and eating a banana, he struck up a conversation with a passing stranger. When the stranger commented that he was ‘wearing a lot of yellow today,’ the man simply pointed to the cloudless sky, “it’s sunny,” he said, with no need for further explanation.

This man, eccentric though he was, really tugged a heart-string, and, in my opinion, really encapsulated what Wellington is all about. I am fully aware that, in writing this, I am only adding to a plethora of praises song about the world’s southern-most capital. Ask any Wellingtonian their favourite aspect of the windy city, and they are quick to rattle off a long list of positives; its compactness, its music scene, the waterfront, or, on a good day, the sunshine. Indeed, I could write all day about Wellington’s many attributes.

To me, Wellington is like the man dressed all in yellow; quirky, a little bit crazy, and inherently optimistic. From my current vantage point overlooking the lagoon, the view is testament to the incredible diversity of this city. The waterfront is a hive of activity, with a hip-hop dance crew rehearsing outside Macs brewery; a couple snapping artistically away on their SLR; two guys leaping and tumbling over walls as they practice pakour; and a constant stream of people soaking up the spring sunshine with a fervour that only Wellingtonians possess. As people sip champagne on the balcony during a black tie event at the boat club, a pair of stubbie-wearing students laze about drinking Tui directly below.

The sun is shining, but there’s a slight breeze, as though the city doesn’t want you to get quite too comfortable.  And I love that about Wellington. In the words of Patricia Grace that are boldly exposed to the roaring winds and the sea spray, “There’s always an edge here that one must walk which sharp and precarious, requiring vigilance...” Having lived in Wellington for three years now, I am constantly discovering new elements of this beautiful city. There are countless treasure troves of op-shops in Newtown to be discovered, or hidden gems of bars, such as Hooch, hiding behind inconspicuous doors on Courtenay Place. Every stroll down Cuba Street is a new experience, as it is the buskers, the fashions of passers-by, or which way you have to walk to dodge the temperamental bucket fountain that make this city truly unique.  What Raiko Shareef loves about Wellington is that, in just a few minutes radius of the city centre “you can enjoy a top-class gelato, bask in sunshine, and listen to a Japanese man in a vest play “My Heart Will Go On” out of a conch shell.”

Wellington is far from your typical idyllic coastal paradise. For much of the year it rains, and it’s always windy, and to be honest, often quite miserable. Its list of tourist attractions encompasses little more than the Cable Car and Te Papa, while the sand of its most central beach is shipped in from Nelson. Yet, as is never more evident than on a sunny day like today, Wellington’s wild weather, and unpredicatability, endows its inhabitants with an optimistic outlook and sense of pride in their city. Where else would you see people stripping off and leaping into the harbour on an early October day, with temperatures barely pushing 16 degrees?  

Nothing embodies this more than the revitalisation of previously ailing New Zealand football in the form of the Wellington Phoenix. The hope and loyalty of the fans, who themselves often battle the elements inside the ‘yellow stadium’ are largely to credit for the Phoenix’s proverbial rise from the ashes. Lauris Edmond eloquently surmised this spirit in writing; "This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb."

One of the things that strikes me most about Wellington is that it is not simply a collection of suburbs, but truly one city. It is small enough that people are not confined to their suburbs, and thus, while there are certainly upper middle-class women who live in Karori and send their daughters to Marsden, there is very little sense of Ponsonby-type ponce, or Parnell pretentiousness. I think it speaks volumes about this city that the world famous Brett McKenzie chooses to live side-by-side with the financially frugal Aro Valley student population.

I am proud to be a Wellingtonian. A good friend told me that what she loves about Wellington is that you can feel like you are walking through a sprawling British estate in the botanical gardens, yet just five hundred metres away the city is thriving with an energetic magnetism. Wellington is not comfortable. It is not perfect. It blows with a wild wind that emboldens you, and on a sunny day Wellingtonians soak up the wonders of life with reckless abandon. Wellington may have the wind, the rain and the Phoenix, but more importantly it has spirit. Perhaps though, the best thing about Wellington, is simply that "it's not Auckland.”

(I realise I am at risk of sounding like a broken record for this city, so I promise that this is my last dig about Wellington for a while!)

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