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Thursday, February 26, 2009

I'm in love... with a city

Lloyd Dobler: "I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, then how come you're here at, like, a Gas 'n Sip on a Saturday night, completely alone, drinking beers, with no women anywhere?"

(A long pause.)

Joe: "By choice, man!"

Denny: "That's right, man, it's a conscious choice!"

Mark: "Yeah, we're choosin' it!"

So went the replies of his mates to the inimitable Lloyd Dobler's probing question in the movie Say Anything.*

You (or Lloyd) might ask me something similar, such as, "If you like New Zealand so much and came over here partly for all the tramping, then why is it you're spending over half of your two week vacation here in Wellington, completely alone, with no tramps in sight?"

To which I would also reply, "By choice, man!"

Yeah, I'm choosin' it.

OK, so I cannot completely ascribe my motives to a deep sense of attachment to this wonderful place, this city that just kicks so much ass. Part of the reason I am here for much of my time off is financial. In the 'This Just In' department, economic times are tough, especially here in Kiwi-land where the New Zealand dollar has fallen right down to half the US dollar's value - with continued tumbling still very likely.

Yeah I could have easily whacked some expenses onto the credit card and spent 5-7 days tramping along one of New Zealand's many gorgeous tracks. But, come to that, I did actively choose to spend most of my time round these parts. I have become the worst kind of 'homer' since moving here - but with good reasons!

The walks along Wellington's harbour and the accompanying views really just cannot be beaten. They provide me with much more than just visual splendor: I derive a genuine sense of calm just being down amongst it all. This feeling comes in spite of the fact that I have usually downed anywhere from 1-3 mochas before I hit the waterfront for an extended stroll.

I just love this city. I really would rather be here than anywhere else right now - vacation be damned!

OK. So if you waved a bunch of money at me and gave me an all-expenses-paid trip to Vegas or Orlando, I'd jump at it. After all, I can still spend my one weekday off here in town, not to mention the weekends I'm not working.

But even thinking about planning such a trip away from Welly would incite a real sort of, I don't know, anxiety in me. It's this mixture of irrational emotions that I feel. Like, I'm selfish with any and all free time I have in regards to town - if I have time off, almost invariably I'm going to want to spend it there. I also am, on an unconscious and illogical level, a bit paranoid that if I leave I somehow may not come back. These sensations are exaggerated exponentially if the concept involves travelling overseas.

See what I mean? Irrational. I am completely in the tank for Wellington. I feel really good about this city, almost protective of it.

Wellington has been very kind to me. It's given me a good and steady job in this country, allowing me to stay on in New Zealand - and in its best city (in my opinion) at that.

Aside from my employment and the waterfront along the harbour, I love lots of other things about this city. Just knowing that, on the other side of the CBD, there awaits a collection of meandering, beautiful bays along the Cook Strait is something I find immeasurably comforting. Even adjacent to downtown is a nice long stretch of sandy beach. You might even get to see the occasional dolphin at play out in the harbour as he travels through the bay on some kind of underwater OE**.

The seemingly endless collection of cafes, restaurants, hidden eccentric clubs like the Watusi and pubs galore make the prospect of spending time in town bristle with opportunity. It's a big city, yes, but it has a small-town feel to it. Just as the porridge that Goldilocks eventually ate was just right - not too hot, not too cold - Wellington is similarly 'just right'.

OK so I just compared my favourite place to live in the whole wide world to a bowl of oats and warm milk, but work with me here, people!

The arts are avidly supported here, and while not all entertainment is first-rate, at least there is a lot of it and at all levels: from free street performers to finely-produced operas. There is even a collection of Monet's impressionist art visiting Te Papa at the moment, and never you mind that the roof was leaking right near the artworks! None of it got wet, so no harm no foul.

Most of all, though, I've finally been able to get involved with acting again, now that I have joined the Wellington Improvisation Troupe. And to continue with my questionable analogy above, if Wellington is the porridge, then all of these great fun things to see and do around here are the brown sugar and cinnamon that make it taste so great.

Yeah, let me tack this boat a little better.

I'll illustrate this city's charms further with an anecdote. One day I was walking up Victoria Street by the excellent Lido Cafe, approaching the intersection with Manners Mall. The sidewalk was crowded at that point as it was lunchtime. A small work van was parked half on the sidewalk and half on the road. Ostensibly the guy was in the middle of some kind of job in the area, but as it was lunchtime he was holed up inside the van and having his lunch.

But he was also blasting his stereo at what must have been full volume, for even with the windows on the van rolled up, all who walked within 30 metres of the van could hear Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" blasting through.

He must have been really keen for this song - and it is suitably inspiring - so perhaps he was getting psyched up for the second half of his workday.

But it got several of the rest of us caught up in its positive energy as well. Initially, as I was walking by the van, I couldn't help but bob my head in time with the plodding bass line of the song. I had to fight the urge to start shadow-boxing right there in the street. Nobody else seemed to be reacting to the music in a way other than sort of darting their eyes around and smirking nervously at everyone else as if to say, "Hah, this guy has his music up loud, aye?"

But then two girls walking in front of me were overcome by the music as well and, right along with the chorus, began to pump their fists in the air and wail "It's the... EYE OF THE TIGER! It's the thrill of the fight... Rising up to the challenge of our rival!" and so on, but by that time we had all walked past the van and so the sound waves began to diminish.

The two girls had noticed I was also bobbing my head in sync with the beat, and after they sang the lyrics we all shared a laugh. Then, just like that, this spontaneous moment of karaoke theatre was over and we all kept walking our separate paths.

But to this day, every time I approach that corner of Manners Mall, this song springs unbidden into my mind and I start looking around for work vans with stereos blasting loudly.

Of course it was a moment that shall never be repeated, and is one of many that make me see again and again the happy side of this city. I know that kind of thing could maybe have occurred anywhere, but I like to think it's the mindset and general vibe of Wellington that allows such moments to happen.

On that note, I'm off to watch a novel play involving a few W.I.T. friends of mine. It's called The Frogs Under The Waterfront and is a modern adaptation of an ancient Greek comedy called - wait for it - The Frogs, and it was originally written by Aristophanes.

I'm pretty sure there's no Survivor soundtrack, but I do know the experience will add to my ever-growing stockpile of fond adventures in this city!
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* All quotes here used without permission from this excellent film. I suggest you go and rent it right now!

** Overseas Experience. It's a Kiwi thing, and a pretty cool tradition too.

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