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March 4, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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I Was Wandering

I was wandering around Wellington on a drizzly night last October. I walked to the waterfront where the Occupy protesters had started camping that day. There, a man had two poles joined by a piece of string. He dipped the string into a bucket of detergent and proceeded to make the largest yet least round bubbles I have ever seen, like three moon hoppers melting into one. They required several people to fan them upwards towards the sky, taking great care not to pop them. But once they were in the air they wobbled their way across Civic Square reflecting every single light in the city. It was strange that something so serene could come of a place that had emerged out of discontent and anger. But that’s what made it beautiful. 

This year you may find yourself eager to move away from Wellington, or the country altogether. Milan is stunning; my flatmate said so. She’s been, or at least she knows someone who has. Maybe she just saw Roman Holiday one time. I know she’s definitely seen a picture. Either way she was busy on an Au Pair matchmaking website trying to escape Wellington a mere six months after having moved here. Wellington was meant to be the cure for 18 years of living in the Waikato. I guess Milan was meant to be the cure for 19 years of living in New Zealand.

It reminded me of a time when I was on holiday in San Francisco as a kid.  I was walking down a street having just decided that it was the most fantastic city I had ever seen.  As far as I was concerned my high school years would be spent trying to get a scholarship to a university there.  Two teenage girls were walking in front of me.  One said to the other “I’d like to go to college anywhere in the world but San Francisco.”

What becomes familiar to us becomes boring, and what is boring no longer seems beautiful.  A love affair with a city is much like a love affair with a person; make your decision solely on physical attraction and you’ll find yourself disappointed and wanting to move on.

So what would’ve happened when my flatmate got to Milan?  She would have seen the magnificent buildings first hand.  But buildings remain fixed and stagnant.  Eventually she would have been trying to get to another brighter, more colorful city, then another and another until she had seen all the categorized, photographed and archived beauty in the world.  But what truly makes cities beautiful is not made out of old bricks or new plaster, it cannot be indexed in a guide book.  A city’s beauty exists in its fleeting moments and is made out of things like detergent.

So next time you feel the urge to run away from it all I dare you to take a walk and find those moments.  Sit outside TSB Bank Arena and you will hear bagpipes play.  You might see a girl drop some bits of paper and watch a boy chase them as they’re blown away.  Talk to tourists and let backpackers into your house.  Climb Mount Victoria and enjoy the split second where you think you’ve found the roof of your flat.  Watch the man who juggles four tennis balls—five seconds at a time—on Courtenay Place. Go to galleries, cinemas, second hand book shops and cheap restaurants all teeming with hilarious people, beautiful people, and their loud conversations.  Or just stay home and next time Mrs. Doubtfire is on television watch the whole thing with ads like it’s a Colgate Saturday Feature.  It’s much better without Italian dubbing.

Wellington is like those bubbles.  It is forever morphing and trembling, and no-one knows where it will drift.  But if those people had chosen not to support the first bubble because it wasn’t perfectly round, then they would have never seen the reflected lights that made it beautiful.  And if you don’t give this city a chance because it lacks the architecture of Europe and America then you will never experience the moments that make Wellington beautiful.

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