Brigid says that arriving at Auckland’s airport always feels like arriving at the farm after any time spent overseas. Of course that’s rather unfair but it did make me laugh at the time, and mostly it’s defined by the cheery folks from MAF, in their overtight walkshorts, or the Waikato families waiting for cousin Reena or Aunt Mini.
And to be clear this ain’t a criticism or a snide way of saying that New Zealanders are not sophisticated or are overly parochial. It would be both untrue, and for reasons of personal safety, very unwise to suggest such a thing. But it would also be absolutely untrue to suggest that you can’t spot a New Zealander in crowd without hearing a word or an accent, regardless of how sophisticated they may or may not see themselves to be.
A few weeks back I received, via an email link, a promotional video for Auckland. It was, I’m told, made for other New Zealanders to see, to entice them to come to the big smoke, and wasn’t aimed at we expats at all, but despite that, and having not been told that, I was sent the link by an expat site that added me (without asking me, mind) to their mailing list.
I liked it, and said quite nice things about the way it made me feel. It warmed me, made me feel a bit fuzzy and, yes, homesick. Not because it was particularly good or great, although it was rather well executed – but because it looked like nowhere else on the planet. I’ve mentioned that to a few folk in NZ and mostly they’re bemused. One friend said something to the effect that ‘but Auckland has grown up a lot in the past few years’, which was much what people said to me when I came back in to NZ in the 1980s after a few years away.
We’re a defensive bunch, are we not?
You get the same sort of reaction when you dare to opine that, an hour or so a day, and only if you are on the wrong bit of road, Auckland doesn’t really have any major traffic issues. In fact, when put next to just about any city in Asia, the roads are pretty much empty day or night. But instead of being rather glad about that, such an observation is usually met with a rather clear ‘but you don’t drive over the bridge or to Manukau’.
Well yes, but I have many times and I’m still of the opinion that it’s rather light. And, just to cap the offense off, you’re all, with the odd exception, rather polite and generous drivers. I like driving in Auckland, although the roads outside the city are another matter altogether and I found my trip a couple of weeks back to the middle of the North Island a bit harrowing.
I’m rather unsure what people mean by ‘growing up’? Are we talking about the much touted Gucci store in Queen Street. If so, I gotta say I don’t think that a high-end chain store, as found in every two bit suburban mall in Asia really counts as ‘growing up’. Maybe it’s the food – yep, big range, wonderful wine at incredible prices, and lotsa places to eat, some very adventurous, but Auckland has been punching high in an epicurean sense for years (once you leave the fine dining end which struggles – as sadly do the high end attempts at Asian, like the terrible Soto). But, that’s not ‘growing up’, it’s what big cities do – they all have great food if you know where to look.
The thing is, I don’t want Auckland city to grow up, or feel the need to be grown up, whatever that is. I just want it to be Auckland. It’s wonderful: wonderful people live there, you hear wonderful things everywhere, smell wonderful smells and roll over wonderful lush hills to wonderful and quite extraordinarily vistas, wonderful things happen there every bloody minute of every day and I rather like it as it is, even with its shitty architecture and sometimes rather clumsy attempts at being Sydney or LA, and it’s garish try-hard moneyed set. It has the most beautiful harbour in the world, it really does.
I love Auckland – and I love the way that I could look at that three-minute promo thing, and, just ten seconds in, know I was looking at no other city in the world.
Sure, it’s not always particularly sophisticated, although it’s easily the most urban precinct in NZ, and our only real city; or quite as cosmopolitan as its inhabitants may think it is, but neither is it the rustic backwater that Australians – for example – or many New Zealanders offshore like to imply. It sits quite comfortably in a vague space between the two descriptions.
I guess I’m homesick.