07 June 2010


So far, Wellington is a charming city, if a bit wet and gray and cold. Benedict and Monika are living in a lovely house, that they share with Hamish and Anna (two lovely people), Henry (Benedict and Monika's baby), Min and Henry (two Burmese bred-to-snuggle cats), and Hugo (the dog). I know-- two Henries!! Good thing I call the baby Hank--

Their kitchen is one of the fanciest I've ever seen-- full stainless steel benches, a dishwasher (!), a washing machine, dryer and a laundry sink!

Check out the view from their back garden

The sitting room is beautiful and often features a shiny Hugo! I missed that dog.

There are little details about this house that I can't get over. The bathroom has heat lamps, for example, because NZ is cold (though it hasn't been too cold since I've been here), and the ceilings are made of beautiful... well, planks of wood.

And this doorknob, though confusing at first, is ingenius in its simplicity. Who needs doorknobs?

The animals are managing their new relationships fairly well, but it's not as swimming as I thought it would be by now. After six weeks, Hugo still just wants to sniff the cats' butts and the cats still are decidedly uninterested. Ben keeps the peace by keeping them all apart, but still-- the poor confused animals don't seem quite sure why they have to live together...

I've snapped some nice shots of Hugo looking, as Ben put it, "intelligent" and "pensive."

Henry the cat likes snuggling so much he got up on my shoulders, purred and let me take a photo!

But we've also been lucky-- just yesterday, Benedict and I witnessed the kind of inter-species friendliness that makes you think maybe people, too, can change. With only the protection of Benedict between him and Hugo, Henry decided to get up and cuddle! So near the dog! I felt honoured to be witness to this first truce, and I'm sure more are coming.

Enough cute animals? Ah, very well. In that case, my first day here was sunny and beautiful. We took Hugo out on a nice walk around Island Bay, which is the suburb my dear friends live in. Wellington is one of those cities that goes from city to bush in about 5 walking minutes, so you don't have to really try all that hard to get some nature.

We walked back down the hill to Ben's place, dropped Hugo off, and went downtown. At the waterfront, Ben regaled me with tales of his wild youth, wherein he once jumped off a wharf-type thing, into the freezing cold harbour. "This water's really deep," he said.


But the waterfront also has some very pretty outdoor artworks, and on this sunny day, it was a pleasant place to be.

And after a few hours in the museum, looking at Maori art, learning about New Zealand's imperial ambitions in the Pacific, feeling some beautiful Pounamu, and doing other museumy things, we got down to the real work of the day.

Because Monika is out of town for a few days, attending a non-wedding in Melbourne, and has taken Henry the baby with her, Ben was interested in a full night's uninterrupted sleep. And what better way to guarantee that than the old favourite pasttime-- getting just a little bit smarshed?

Now, let's all get everything straight. Ben full-on misses having Monika and the child around. You can tell, just from how he talks about holding the little munchkin, that he sort of can't wait for Monika and Hank to get back. Or at least, that's the sense I'm getting. But since they're not around anyway, he's indulging in a bit of adult-type activity, namely, going to three different bars in one night, having two cocktails and some beers, and trying his best for that full night's sleep.

The lovely Wellington bars were, in order, and it's a surprise I remember them, friends:

1. The Mighty Mighty. A loud, dirty, great place to hang out with the unfortunate propensity of having live music. I enjoy seeing live music as much as anyone. But only if I get to choose the band and I was intending to see a show. The problems with bars just having free live music are that 1. I often come to the bar with a friend, intending to have a nice chat over some good drink, and 2. rather than having a nice chat, I end up with every thought banged out of my head with a ridiculously loud kick drum, and 3. I never like the music, and 4. it's rarely just me that doesn't like the music, because the music is often crap and that's why the damn band is playing for free. Loudly. Often a theramin is involved. Not cool.
2. Good Luck. They were having a private function there later that night, so the place was super-empty, but it had a real set-in-the-most-awesome-wine-cellar-ever sort of vibe that still felt great. An enjoyable cocktail, I recall, but I don't know what it was. I had already had a beer at the Mighty Mighty, and as some of you know, more than a beer in one night and Nija goes just a touch wonky. Ben told me a great story about the place, though, it was started by some guy who had been a real screw-up as a kid, gone to prison and ended up really liking and feeling comfortable with the structure of it. And now he's started a whole load of awesome places, buying them cheap, fixing them up, and selling them on.
3. Motel. You had to ring a bell to be let into this bar, and it looked like a super-fancy speakeasy. Like a speakeasy in a movie, because I imagine real speakeasies were actually just someone's trashy unfinished basement with some milkcrates to sit on. Anyway, this place was classy. I had another cocktail here, but again... I don't remember what it was.

Saturday's lovely weather was short-lived, though, and on Sunday, Ben and I decided rainy-day options were in order. Ben, as a new parent, hasn't been to the cinema in months, of course, so we saw Boy, the new Taika Waititi film. It was pretty good and funny, and I thought it was heaps better than Eagle Vs. Shark. Always makes me happy when artists get better-- gives me a whole career of better stuff to look forward to. Some directors do amazing work on their first film but end up flickering out with a sigh of disappointment. Hopefully, Taika will continue on the "getting better" trajectory. I have hope.

Boy definitely had some problems-- the story has its own NZ Boo Radley, and I have to say, I'm over the "magical nutter who saves lives" business. Find a new style of hero. It's sort of a "prodigal father returns" tale, a lot like the Royal Tenenbaums-- in fact, it felt like Taika's been taking some courses in the Wes Anderson school of film. But it had a real sense of place, and a very NZ style of humour, and it was honest and sincere and very very likable. In fact, I liked it.

And Monday was Queen's Birthday Holiday here (whereas in Australia, it's on an entirely different day? How can the Queen not just have one birthday??). Everything was closed for the holiday and the weather was even crappier than Sunday, so Ben and I spent most of the day indoors, venturing out to the grocery store only to get very damp. "Yuck," Ben said, as drizzly rain slapped our faces and ran down our noses.

But they had some friends come over for dinner last night, and it was a lovely night. Hamish cooked some thick pumpkin soup and tomatoey Somali rice and tofu and leeks. Tasty stuff. I'm looking forward to showing off my cooking chops later this week.

Today, though, the weather is wild and windy and there's odd spots of angry rain. I'm rather enjoying my laziness, all alone in this pretty house, with a cup of tea and shelves full of books. Sitting next to a pretty dog and under two snoring, sleepy cats. I might venture out to the city later today, if I can just get Min to stop drooling on me. The unflued gas heater also brings a sense of adventure to the day!

My lovely hosts here have even set me up in a spare room that has a shelf with some Hank memorabilia on it-- I was honoured to see that the card Craig and I sent when Hank was only five days old has a prominent place. It's the green one with blue printing on it.

Monika gets back into town tomorrow at midnight, and I'm looking forward to seeing her and Hank. I really did miss these folks so much during the last few months in Sydney. It's nice to see they've settled in so well and happily here.

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