A weekend in Wellington

It’s a fact that while Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, Wellington is New Zealand’s coolest. It’s something to do with the geography – the compact city centre – and that it’s the capital city. Somehow this all adds up to a being lovely place to live.

So when I heard rumours of a Wellington shindig encompassing the Annual Wellingtonista Awards and the Public Address Christmas do, I quickly booked some flights to have a long weekend in the capital.

Out the window

Thursday

When the day came, I almost missed my flight after the airport bus didn’t show up, but thankfully the flight was delayed due to bad weather in Wellington. Yay for bad weather in Wellington!

As soon as I arrived at my hotel (top floor, corner, wall-to-ceiling views – hey, cool) I got ready and headed down Cuba Street to Mighty Mighty, where the bar was full of cool Wellington people.

First on the line-up was “It Doesn’t Give My Opponents Much Time Either” – a quiz about the politics and culture of the Muldoon years. While the proper teams answered on stage, I showed off my awesomeness to my tablemates by knowing that the 1480 Kroozers were skateboarders.

Next the Annual Wellingtonista Awards were presented, honouring the best of Wellington. (During my Wellington weekend, I got to experience a few of the winners and nominees, and I’m confident that the best things did win.)And then – yee-yah – Blam Blam Blam played. I reckon it was even better than their gig at the King’s Arms back in September. Even their less known songs got a good audience reaction, and there was much jumping around. “Don’t fight it Martha it’s bigger than both of us” was a full-on emotional experience, while “There is no depression in New Zealand” took on an extra special dimension being played in the nation’s capital.

Over the evening I met lots of cool people I’d only previously known online, as well as a few nervous fanboys who were lovely to meet.

Eventually Joanna, the wonderful hostess, rounded up the remainders and we headed off to the Hawthorn Lounge, a superb cocktail bar disguised as a gentlemanlady’s club. Um, I can’t remember what we drank, other than that it was good.

Finally for the evening a late-night food mission, but this is where Wellington lets itself down. There was a kebab shop on Courtenay Place. They would sell us inadequate felafels, but they didn’t want us to eat there, so we had to resort to trickery to get a table. They ended up booting us out. Man, all I wanted was a kebab.

Shoe and bag rescue 2

Friday

I decided to take it (relatively) easy on Friday. I went to Te Papa and saw the Toi Te Papa exhibition of the history of New Zealand art. I’m glad they’re taking their responsibility as the national gallery seriously now. It seemed like the one part of Te Papa that wasn’t all geared up to be fun and educational 4 kidz. It’s just a whole lot of good paintings.

I went for a walk along the waterfront (it was windy) and came across the new Meridian building, as recommended by Tom.

Later I went along to the Thistle Hall, which was having a fund-raising event, selling a number of artworks for $100 each. I found a watercolour that tickled my fancy so I bought it. (But now I feel like I need something… darker to balance things out. Hm.)

After an unpleasant experience being crammed into the hotel lift with a bunch of office workers dressed in 1920s gangster costumes, I came across Tom and Kowhai going to the Madame Fancy Pants VIP evening. MFP is a shop that sells clothing and accessories, and I bought a cool badge that says “Reading is sexy”, which, as you know, is true because you are reading this and you are sexy.

We finished the evening by having a polite, well-behaved drink at Superfino. I had a poached-pear punch, which was just right for an early summer night. Are there even bars like this in Auckland?

Poached pear punch

Saturday

I met up with Mike. I’ve known him now for 11 years. Crikey! We walked around and he showed me where Wellington’s finest graffiti and sticker art could be found. We wandered up Aro Street, then all the way down to the waterfront, where we had fried crap from Viggo Mortensen’s favourite fish and chip shop.

We were meeting Mike’s friend Shannon in Civic Square, which was also the setting for a climate change festival, so we were entertained by a hippy choir singing those sorts of songs that only hippies sing (the kind that involves self-congratulatory rhythmic clapping).

When Shannon showed up we wandered off, pausing only to put a Green Party sticker on a campervan (lolz!!! irony!!!!), then having a coffee at Fidel’s. That seems like a lot of walking, but I think it’s much easier to walk around central Wellington because it’s so flat. You can’t go far in central Auckland without hitting a steep, demanding hill.

Then I met up with Jo and Tom. We had a drink at Floriditas (srsly, Wgtn is all about the booze), then dinner at a Thai restaurant and coffee and Ernesto’s. Jo went off to see the Gossip (which, from all accounts, was brilliant), and Tom and I were joined by Stephen, and we had more good cocktails at the Hawthorn Lounge.

F heart

Sunday

I had a few hours to spare before my flight, so I visited the Wellington City Gallery, which had a Bill Hammond exhibition – his epic paintings of unusual animals – and a couple of montage films by Tracey Moffatt. I only saw one – “Love” – a montage of clips from romantic films showing the different ways women are treated in films. It’s really unnerving to hear a succession of leading men shouting “Whore!” (Hollywood is still male-centric.)

Finally I left Wellington, a hot and sunny day, and flew back to Auckland, which was being all grey and rainy and moody.

I figured out why Wellington is so good – it’s not just the geography, it’s the people.

New Caledonia

nouvelle-madamoiselleI went on holiday to New Caledonia and I took a notebook with me so I could note down all sorts of amusing anecdotes, but here I am looking at the notebook with “the sexual politics of airline flight” scrawled on it and wondering exactly what it was that I was thinking of when I wrote that. So instead I shall ignore the notebook and instead delve into the inner recesses of my mind. Please also note that I bought a duty-free Polaroid I-Zone camera.

L’Hotel

nouvelle-hotelThe hotel I stayed at was classy, in a very three-and-a-half star kind of way. It had all this Gauguin copies all over the hotel. In my room I had two paintings of topless Tahitian vahiné staring at me. I woke up one morning at about 5.00 am and the sun had started to come up. All I could see were the ladies. Terrifying.

Booze ‘n’ fags

They speak French in New Caledonia. It’s such a classy language, it makes everyone who speaks it classy. Like on the way out from the airport I spotted a billboard reading “Winfield en 25 – Valuer Imbattable”. In English, “Winfield in 25 – Unbeatable Value” is pretty boring and (if cigarette advertising was legal in New Zealand), it wouldn’t really do anything to make people want to smoke. But in French it sounds so cool, no wonder everyone smokes.

That’s one of the cool things about a country with French culture. Everyone smokes. No one asks if you want smoking or non-smoking in a restaurant, because every table is smoking. Maybe someone could organise tours for smokers to places where smoking is allowed?

Where there’s fags, there’s booze. Booze ‘n’ fags. What does the hip tourist drink in New Caledonia? Why, local brew Number One, of course. I was wondering why they don’t call it Numéro Un. Then after a bit of contemplation, I realised Numéro Un sounds like a little little sigh, while Number One is a mighty battle cry. Number One! You can buy Number One every where, but, like most cheap lager, it goes best with pizza.

Le McDonald’s

nouvelle-leronaldNew Caledonia got itself a McDonald’s a few years ago. This was quite exciting for me after seeing the famous “Royale with Cheese” scene in Pulp Fiction. I was going to mosey on in like Vincent Vega and order a Royale wit’ Cheese.

But imagine my shock and horror when I saw the menu board. It just said Big Mac, not Le Big Mac. And what was the Quarter Pounder with Cheese called in this part of the world? Simply a Royal Cheese. In the end I decided to order an M&M McFlurry, or a Meek Flaaree Aym Und Aym, as they say (they didn’t even make it properly, not utilising the mixing power of the McFlurry machine to its full extent).

Dubbed

Now, it is an undisputed fact the the coolest French actor in the entire universe is Vincent Cassel. I was thinking it would be really choice if a film he was in was screening, but as fate would have it, there wasn’t anything. So instead I went to le cinéma and saw “O Brother, Where Art Thou” the latest offering from the Coen brothers. But unlike the version that will end up being screened in Aotearoa, this version (known as “O’Brother”) was dubbed en français.

At first it was weird seeing George Clooney and company speaking French, but after a while it didn’t really matter. I was able to follow the plot without too much trouble. I probably missed some of the finer details, but good on the Coen bros for making a good film that didn’t rely on long passages of dialogue to move the plot.

But I was not to leave the theatre without glimpsing Monsieur Cassel. The last trailer shown before O’Brother was for a French flick titled “Les Rivieres Pourpres”, starring Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. Hoorah! Coming soon to the foreign section of a video store near me.

Miam Miam!

nouvelle-frootThe food was good. New Caledonia is really expensive so for breakfast most mornings I had some cereal called “Fitness and Fruits”, but a couple of times I had a traditional French breakfast of café au lait (a great wacking big bowl of milky coffee) and pain au chocolat (not unlike a chocolate Danish, but made with similar pastry to that of a croissant).

nouvelle-petitdejeunerThe best French food item, though, was the croque monsieur. Sold mainly at snack restaurants, the croque monsieur is essentially a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, but classier. All the ones I had were made with real ham, not processed meat. The cheese wasn’t processed either, it was gruyére, which just happens to be my favourite cheese. Yes, I have favourite cheese.

The French have a phrase for food like this: miam miam!

nouvelle-evianOne thing that appeared to be cheaper in New Caledonia was bottled water. Evian came in these really cool bottles with a big plastic loop on top so it’s really easy to carry when walking around. The best thing is bottled water didn’t seem to have the same wanker status that it does in New Zealand. h2eau, and all that.

Tourist Regime

You know what was the worst thing about New Caledonia? The tourists. Specifically, the Australians and New Zealanders. The baddest of the bad can be summed up by a couple who I will name Bruce and Doreen, because that’s what they seem like.

They were sitting at a table near me in a restaurant. Sitting with them was a French woman, who I shall name Madame Coco. Bruce was fat and sunburnt, Doreen was fat and sunburnt. Madame Coco was slim and tanned. Doreen was slurping down fruitie mixed drinks. Bruce was drinking beer and telling Madame Coco about the native people of New Zealand, “The Maoris, they called the white people Pakehas which means “white pig” and they called them that because they were canibals. Do you know what that means? They used to eat people. And they thought that the white people tasted like pigs.”

The meaning of Pakeha has caused much debate over the years, but the pork-related potential translation is “long pig”, not “white pig”. But then, if Bruce and Doreen wanted Madame Coco to think of them as white pigs, then so be it.

Parlez-vous?

I did a couple of years of French in high school. I was hoping to put some of it to use in New Caledonia, but given that most people who work in the tourist industry speak English and Japanese as well as French, I didn’t really get the opportunity. Once I said to a waiter, “Je ne parle pas français,” after he started speaking to me in French.

It’s cool being able to say bonjour back to people, and merci or au revoir when leaving somewhere, but anything else was too hard. I think I said merci way more than I’d normally say thanks. My written French was much better, I could pick my way through the menus and brochures I came across that weren’t subtitled. I came to the conclusion that I spoke good French, but I just didn’t have a very extensive vocabulary.

As I picked up more French words I started to get worried that I was forgetting English. That maybe there’s only enough room in my brain for one language, so the more French I learned the less English I could remember. I was trying to think of a word for sheds that you’d find on a wharf (does such a word exist?), and became convinced the the recent additions to my vocabulaire had forced out some English.

nouvelle-startruckThere were lots of amusing English translations, the kind that end up on hilarious email lists. My favourite instance of franglais was a nightclub by the name of Startruck. I don’t know who named it, or what they were thinking, but it’s a doozy.

nouvelle-mcmerci

Easter in Raglan

It was a twice-in-a-century occurrence. This year Easter Monday came the day before Anzac day, meaning a hearty five days in a row off work. Planning ahead I took annual leave on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afterwards, giving me a total of ten days in which I was free to stuff around doing nothing.

There was only one place where stuffing around could be done. Yes, it was Raglan.

Raglan, or Raggiz, is a small town located on the edge of Raglan Harbour. It is world famous for its excellent surf beaches, and a visit to Raglan was made in the excellent 1966 classic surfing film, “The Endless Summer”.

So off to Raglan I went. I set myself up in my whanau’s newly-acquired beach house. The previous owner seemed to have some sort of suburban granny flat fetish, as that is what the decor reminded me of, but after removing the net curtains (“Oh my God! There’s beautiful native bush and spectacular views of Raglan Harbour out there!”), the place began to feel more like a place where sitting around doing nothing was the thing to do.

I didn’t have my car with me, so if I wanted any supplies I had to walk into the township. It took me about 20 minutes, and along the way I was able to take in some lovely scenery, and check out all the insane people who live there.

People who live in Raglan are usually either retired or unemployed (not much difference there). Raglan attracts unemployed people from Hamilton because housing is cheaper and if you’re unemployed because you can’t make a living as an artist, there are plenty of people in similar situations. I shan’t comment further on Raglan’s artistic community, other to say that one of the leading artists is a fellow who runs an online gallery, but who thinks that animated gifs are good.

Apparently Raglan is slowly being overrun by holiday makers. Latte drinking yuppies. Wankers in Alfa Romeos. But where do you suppose they get their lattes from? Why, the local cafes and restaurants of Raglan!

Vinnie’s World of Eats is the best eating place. There are the two cafes, Tongue and Groove and Molasses, the restaurant at the Raglan Hotel, the Marlin (which serves really nice food if you don’t mind waiting an incredibly long time for it), and the Raglan Centennial Milk Bar and Cabaret. The Centennial is a sort of bar and cool bands come to Raglan and play there.

The rest of the shops down Raglan’s main street are pretty skanky. Most serve a duel purpose. Chemist/Lotto Shop, Bookshop/Skanky Gift Shop, and not to mention $5 Max Mr Max which sells a little bit of everything. The best shop is the Raglan Surf shop which sells cool surfing stuff.

On the last day of my holiday I had my car back so I drove out to Manu Bay and sat and watched some surfers surfing. Looking out to the Tasman Sea, it made me realise that in a city like Auckland that has two harbours, it’s not actually possible to see the open sea from anywhere. There’s either islands or headland in the way. But at Raglan the seemingly endless open ocean can be seen. It rules.