Two weeks in Auckland town..thoughts from an expat….
1. "I find it hard to say, because when I was there it seemed to be shut."
That’s how Sir Clement Freud saw Auckland rather famously some thirty years back. In the interim Aucklanders love to feel their city has grown up somewhat. And indeed it has in many ways. There is nothing as breathtaking as sitting in a café in one of the city’s many beach side cafes looking out on the world’s most glorious harbour (Sydney eat yer heart out..you don’t even come close) on a sunny day. Although that breath may be somewhat tempered by a) the inflated price one is charged for the privilege; and, b) the fact that the food served is more likely than not, shocking in places that have such views, or sit in other exulted inner city eating suburbs. To be honest, in my experience, good food is increasingly very hard to find in Auckland (four thumbnail sized, very chewy prawn cakes at Magnum for $10 anyone?) however the quality of the wine on offer rather tends to dull that disappointment, albeit once again at a silly price. And yet with all that, when Auckland does do eating well, it does it exceptionally well. Like Il Buco’s pizza in Ponsonby Road, or the lovely Richmond Road Café. Or the wealth of hole in wall places a long way from the harbour or Ponsonby that get my preferred custom.
Or the music and parties like Turnaround.
Yep, much has changed but in 2008 sad to say there is a lot that hasn’t. Auckland is still closed. One tends to forget when you’ve been away for a while how much New Zealand is still at the end of the world..indeed, at the end of the known universe. That’s nailed home by the rotating DHL world map in Kuala Lumpur’s Airport which omits New Zealand. Or by the glaring absence of the swathes of luxury brand stores, the Amanis and the Guccis and the like, which fill the malls around the world, for better or worse. Or their mid priced equivalents like Top Shop. None have bothered. NZ gets Postie Plus instead. Or perhaps it’s because Auckland is still, three decades on, more or less, shut. I went shopping a couple of days after I arrived..looking for less tropical wear than I’d bought, and it took a moment or two before it hit me..everything was shuttered up. It was 6.30 on a Wednesday evening..a glorious one at that..and everything in Auckland was shut for the day. I’d forgotten, I really had, that in this wee country at the bottom of the world, everything shuts at 5.30 on the dot. So much so that I was told it was closing time and I had to leave a few days later as I browsed for a magazine. Sorry….
In any city of a similar size, or aspiringly cosmopolitan as AK, anywhere else on this earth, a shopping precinct like Newmarket or Ponsonby or Parnell would be happily open to 9 or 10, seven days a week. But not in Auckland….nope, as you finish work, we close! And then we have the multimillion dollar upgrade to Queen Street, which despite the whinging, is a clear and much needed improvement. But what the hell is the point if the place is closed. Queen Street should be open until 9 every night. The tourists must walk up and down there in absolute bemusement. Unless you want a plastic tiki, its shut.
2. Someone needs to tell the good men folk of inner city Auckland that facial hair, aside from a well groomed goatee, is never ever cool. The whole ‘mo-vember’ thing was a worthy thing but that’s all it was. Can we please say goodbye to the upper lip fuzz now. Mos are not and never have been attractive.
3. I’m continually amazed at how few Aucklanders, and I guess it’s even more pronounced once you leave the travelling big smoke (s) as their idea of OE is usually getting drunk in Earls Court and a bus trip around Europe, have any real knowledge of the world past Sydney or the Gold Coast, and even less of Asia. Seriously when the worldly TV channel owner asked me if life was good in Thailand….ahh, I live in Bali…isn’t that in Thailand?....are you over the tsunami yet..and so on, I’d had enough. And such was repeated over and over again over the past two weeks.
4. Both Brigid and I reeled from the dramas. How can such a little town have so many personal dramas, and, to be frank, totally messed up people..people who should, and have known better. It’s terrifying. At every turn you find people, often old friends, at each other, and others staggering from drama to drama, or worse, completely fried. And, overwhelmingly fucked up or recovering from being fucked up from excessive drug use (both legal and illegal…it’s not just the scourge of meth, the booze imbibed daily is both shocking and appalling and we both found ourselves slipping into it again). Once again, you have a false sense of nostalgia, soon shattered, and you forget, you really do, when you are away. The consumption gives the world a dark grey sheen that many seem to live under. Maybe its my age.
I leave Auckland this time really quite scared for a lot of people I care a lot for.
And just to, perhaps, lighten things a little again....found in KL