I like all of it; brightness of summer mornings, big open skies, lazy afternoons, scented summer nights … and of course long days of holidays when each and every hour belongs to me to do (or not) with it as I please. For a limited number of days at least.
In New Zealand summer arrives in December and that means that most of us combine end of the year festivities with annual holidays, aka – BBB (Beach, Batch, Barbeque)!
While there is certainly no shortage of beautiful beaches in New Zealand either by the lakes, rivers, or sea, batches and barbeques have undergone some transformations over the years and are now somewhat fleshier with price-tags to match. Still, as most Kiwis know – no price tag should be allowed to stand in a way of proper Kiwiana summer and to that end camping grounds (either organized or freedom ones) remain popular and well-attended as I observed on my recent trip to South Island.
Even though I spent my early years and couple of more recent ones on the North Island, South Island remains very special to me. Not only because I lived there for more than ten years, but also because my daughter still lives there as a student at Otago University in Dunedin.
And so it is no wonder I could hardly wait to finish work on Christmas Eve and board the plane to take me from Wellington to Dunedin. Seeing my daughter and my two dear friends waiting for me at the air port in Dunedin was truly wonderful! We had a lovely Christmas in Dunedin, city with strong Scottish heritage, breathtakingly beautiful peninsula and home to New Zealand’s oldest University. While once the centre of gold-rush economy, nowadays the city is dominated by its University and income its generate.
After Christmas we travelled further South to visit picturesque little township of Roxburgh nestled in truly amazing region of Central Otago, famous for its landscapes, bike-treks, stone fruit orchards and mighty Clutha River on which one of the earliest hydroelectric dens was built. Our friends who own and operate local hotel – Goldfields, extended to us their warm hospitality including trip to nearby rodeo in Millers Flat and ever popular Pinders Pond so named after the original owners of the land.
It was a hot and dusty day almost custom made for the local cowboys and cowgirls to show off their skills some of which were rather impressive! Not to mention unmistakably masculine odour; smell of horses, human sweat, dust, tobacco and leather. I can almost hear my grandfather next to me. And in some of those tall, green-blue eye boys with broad shoulders and large, working hands – I can almost see him.
After few more days basking in the company of my daughter (yes by that time she had rather enough of her mother constantly trying to hug her, like hugs and kisses can be bottled up and taken with me -:)) I left for Christchurch, city I once lived for a long time, including horrible times of earthquakes and where I have some of my dearest friends.
Before the earthquakes, city was known as a ‘Garden City’ for its beautiful gardens and overall very English atmosphere including punting on Avon River. Nowadays city is still very much under construction, but large and significant developments can be observed everywhere.
To say that I had a lovely time with my friends in Canterbury would not do the justice, perhaps ‘wild times’ would be better description!
The last leg of my journey took me from Christchurch to Picton via magnificent Coastal Pacific Scenic Route, courtesy of Kiwi Railway. The train journey took five hours and that means five hours of watching truly wonderful scenery of bushy hills and rugged Pacific coastline. The train’s open carriage provides opportunity to really enjoy the views as you travel very close to Pacific Ocean.
Once in Picton it is only a short walk to board the ferry across the Cook Strait. At the peril of sounding like a promotional tourist brochure, I must say that sailing across the Cook Strait is absolutely amazing. While I have crossed it before, every time is different; the beauty of Marlborough Sounds, wind that always blows across the Strait, (known as ‘Roaring Forties’) smell of sea and then approach to Wellington’s harbour after three hours journey.
Disembarking from the ferry, I thought how wonderful it all was and how fleeting.
Familiar streets of the city came into view and I knew that another year is now ahead of me … year, I decided is to be of solitude and writing. But of that – another time.
Big, warm, playful droplets washing over your eyelids, disappearing inside crevices of your smile which you cannot keep still just like you cannot keep still your limbs almost dancing with joy from promise of a long, golden summer.
Cicadas serenading relentlessly inside the overgrown bushes of your garden. Nights of velvet and honey.
The best nights to read Pablo Neruda and drink overly sweet wines until orangy dawn spread sleep over casually thrown words.
Slowly some afternoons grow too immense; overripe and heavy. Dull from heat.
Young girl of early summer dancing her shiny, new shoes through long, fragrant evenings and bright sparkly mornings, with each step closer to the matronly lady in a maroon coloured taffeta dress.
It was one such afternoon when I walked with crowds gathered at one of our local festivals. For a small capital, Wellington offers surprisingly diverse assortment of events. That is especially true for Newtown’s festival, a suburb I once lived in before discovery of ‘Writer’s Den’ which is nestled nearby Botanic Garden and moved into space fit for one only.
It is said that in Newtown you walk with the World; from Africa to Europe to Middle East to Asia, they are all represented on the streets of Newtown. The festival is held every year to celebrate this fantastic medley of cousins, languages, and music. Ethiopian ‘Doro Wot’ next to Hungarian ‘Chimney Cakes’. Chinese Dragon Dancers next to Balkan Brass Bend.
And it was to the beat of those Balkan Gypsy drums that I come undone. They still send shivers down my spine even though some time has passed since I heard them for the first time on a cold, wintry night in one of those establishments frequented only by certain type of drunk and lonely.
The beat was as surprising as haunting … long, slow cry of trumpet pierced by clear longing voice. Singing the words and melodies I recognized. They ambushed me unprepared on the dusty village road from times now long referred to only as ‘my life before.’ ‘Before’ remaining undefined.
Later I learned that ‘Niko Ne Zna, Renegade Brass Bandits’ are New Zealand Balkan Gypsy Brass Band, formed in Wellington some six or so years ago! The wonders and surprises of little capital!
But that late-summer afternoon in Newtown my feet started to move to the beat of gypsy drums and there was nothing I could do to keep them still or in shoes … so I danced barefooted on the street, for all I am worth! Eyes closed so to see one long silvery river slicing through the ancient lands of Balkan where dogs of rage and dogs of sorrows never sleep.
Later they put one of their CD’s into my hand and told me I won the street dancing competition. I out- danced all others.
Only I did not. I only out-danced the young girl who once danced barefooted on the roads long abandoned. Her long, black hair flying behind her like a flag. Flag of a barefooted gypsy countess.
On my way back to ‘Writer’s Den’ I took the usual path, the one I love best as it leads through the old Jewish cemetery which stops the city and then winds up through the Botanic Garden.
At the beginning of summer I found small opening in the Garden’s long wooden fence and call it my ‘Secret Entrance.’ I fancy it as my own.
Somebody placed old-fashioned lamps behind my favourite bench.
I sat there for a while.
Shadows grew longer.
Then wind picked up from the ocean. There was chill and mist in it.