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NZ #2: Wellington (not written in Wellington)
So, I’ve been in Wellington for, oh, 17 hours, 11 of them in a small hotel room. I’ll be back for more tomorrow, but the report so far:
Wellington as seen driving in from the airport is implausibly scenic for a capital city. Suburban houses perched among hills and forests, moving in and out of view like a Magic Eye picture; the suburban houses in odd pastel colours, subtle greens and yellows.
Cuba St is as self-consciously bohemian as I’d been told. Its buildings are agreeably—and purposefully—ramshackle; its erstwhile banks converted to restaurants. The street was named so long before 1960; there’s a Panama St to match further north; but the hip cafés have profited from the name, and there’s a Fidel’s and an Ernesto’s Café with prominent Socialist Realist iconography. One does not have to be a devotee of Reaganomics to see a problem with the cuteification of totalitarianism; then again, Ernesto Guevara had already turned into a T-shirt long before Ernesto’s Café set up shop.
Coffee in Wellington is fetishised, the way it would be in a city that has emerged from culinary monoculture recently, and has something to prove. They do well to take pride in their coffee here though: it is fierce and raspy.
Cuba St is diverse enough in its culinary offerings to confirm it has something to prove. If I hadn’t dined at Cuisine nouveau nouveauzélandaise (Logan–Brown, around the corner from where I was staying), the taquería was next on the list, or the Malay noodle place. Not much past the taquería could be on the list, as it turns out: it’s the wrong time of year for restaurants to be open.
Wellington is a compact place: the city proper is 2km end to end. Cuba St, and its purposeful ramshackleness, is over very quickly. I got as far as Lambton Quay, and its closed department stores. (It’s that time of year, and Wellington doesn’t strike me as a 24/7 kind of place anyway.) I didn’t see the government buildings; Thursday I guess.
But I did get to Civic Square. A bit small for a national capital, and I’m not sure I approve of the polka dots on the Wellington City Gallery building. (“Ooh, I’ll postmodernly improve on an Art Deco building by piddling on it with paint, aren’t I clever.”) But it is (otherwise) a dignified setting for the National Library; and the National Library of New Zealand does enough wonders online to merit the dignity.
There is something non-Australian about the Cuba St streetscape (duh), but I couldn’t place what constitutes it yet. The streetscape doesn’t have rotated vowels, so it isn’t the accent. More Polynesian and less East Asian faces on the street, but I don’t think that was it either. I’ll see if I can work it out in Auckland.