(First published in The Dominion Post, August 14.)TAKING advantage of a friend’s offer of her apartment while she was overseas, my wife and I spent three nights in Wellington last week.
I spent a cumulative 25 years of my life in the capital but when I go there now, having lived in the Wairarapa since 2003, I almost feel like a tourist.The city is changing, and I don’t just mean the streets and buildings. We wandered along Oriental Parade with our daughter and grandsons on a Sunday afternoon and although it seemed all of Wellington had turned out to enjoy the unseasonably balmy weather, I didn’t see a single familiar face.
That wouldn’t have happened 20, even 10 years ago. Wellington has always felt to me like a big village, but the city’s population is turning over.At my wife’s suggestion, I took my mountain bike and spent a contented couple of hours re-acquainting myself with the maze of tracks on Mt Victoria. It reminded me what a fantastic asset the city has in the Town Belt.
Years ago I railed against the eco-Nazis who ordered the felling of the mature pines along the spine of Mt Vic above Alexandra Rd; not being native, they had to go. But I’m pleased to report that the natives planted in their place are flourishing and within a few years the worst of the scar should be healed.The removal of the pines continues. I spent several minutes admiring the coolness and skill of an arborist perched about 15 metres above the ground, his chainsaw suspended from his waist as he supervised the removal of the massive crown of a tree that he had just lopped off. Working in a tight, confined space, a crane lowered the unwieldy load to the ground as delicately as a nurse might place a newborn baby in the arms of its mother.
We appreciated the benefits of the inner-city lifestyle and the proximity to shops and restaurants. We enjoyed our first-ever meal at the venerable Monsoon Poon – my daughter couldn’t believe we’d never been there before – but were less impressed by another celebrated eatery much favoured by the chattering classes. It was over-rated and over-priced, just as when we last ate there a decade ago. (A friendly waitress though – from Ohio.)As pleasant as it all was, I was happy, as always, to point the car back over the Rimutaka Hill. There is a steadily growing colony of Wellington refugees in the Wairarapa, of which I’m happy to be one.
* * *
AS ALWAYS, the Olympic Games was a mixture of the uplifting and the irritating.The buildup was tainted by repugnant bullying on the part of corporate sponsors determined to protect their interests against even the most harmless incursions. Corporate strong-arming, backed by obsequious governments, now seems an inevitable part of all major sporting events. But that unpleasantness was largely forgotten once the Games started.
Our competitors generally distinguished themselves with their grace and dignity, in defeat as well as in victory. We met a charismatic new star in the person of cyclist Simon van Velthooven and were reminded what a gentleman Mark Todd is, although under that laidback exterior he must be ferociously competitive.Nick Willis and Valerie Adams carried the huge burden of a nation’s hopes, magnified by unrealistic media expectations, and earned our admiration for the way they handled their (and our) disappointment.
Others, including rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, did their best to perpetuate the traditional image of New Zealanders as bashful champions, almost apologetic at having drawn attention to themselves by winning.No disgrace, then, on the part of the competitors. But the same can’t be said for some of the media coverage, which brought out our least attractive national traits.
New Zealand’s first gold medal was the cue for an avalanche of triumphalism and hyperbole on TVNZ, with laughable references to a “gold rush”. On such occasions the nationalistic chest-thumping of some in the media stands in striking contrast to the modesty of our athletes.Similarly, the petty (and, as it turned out, premature) gloating over our medal count against that of Australia exposed one of the less desirable traits in the national psyche, laying bare our inferiority complex and touchiness toward our big neighbour.
* * *
THE SO-CALLED war on terror isn’t just being lost in godforsaken Afghanistan. We’ve capitulated closer to home too.English playwright Richard Bean, interviewed by Kim Hill on Saturday, told how he had been commissioned to write a new version of the classical Greek play Lysistrata, in which the women of Greece withheld sex from their husbands to dissuade them from war.
Bean decided to put an Islamic spin on the drama. In his adaptation, the women of Greece were replaced by the 12 virgins of paradise who reward Islamic martyrs. The theatre company that commissioned his play loved it, but was too terrified of reprisals to stage it.Mad mullahs 1; freedom of speech 0.