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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.
/me croggles at the concepts of restaurants closing over the (AmE) holidays, the time of year when businesses of all sorts do the most business, and most particularly when the tourist trade is in town.