Having a week or so spare and the weather forecast promising, I headed off, driving to St Arnaud, then hopping on my bike to ride to Wellington – a necessary time out and a good way to get fit again. Not much traffic through the Wairau and a splendid night camping at Kowhai Point, before things got busier nearer the ferry terminal.
Hitting the city the bubble concept made sense – it never really had in a place like Blackball, distance is there anyway. In the city, despite the density of population everyone feels separate. The fragile people have been scared. Often the fear in the past has been of burglars, gangs etc, but now the virus took precedence. I popped into the local op shop to say hello to Heather who runs it, but op shops. she told me, are difficult in the current era: have to leave donations for two days then cleanse everything; the shop is small – how do we socially distance, volunteers can’t work because they’re old or otherwise vulnerable…
In town I noticed the lack of posters for events. One of the chief reasons for cities to exist has gone; the theatre, the concert, the art gallery, the museum, the sports game… The spectacle is about concentrated presence. The specialty shops felt desultory. Add people working from home and zoom meetings, what’s the point of all the infrastructure of motorway, parking buildings, office towers etc. Perhaps the move to ever larger urban conglomerates is finished? Of course there is still the university, the specialty health service; but these could be anywhere. The age of the spectacle may be over, this flying off to watch the test match, to join the cruise ship etc. Nature hovers, ready to return, either benignly or via cyclone, flood and fire.
I settled in and first impressions faded. I lunched with family on Sunday at a great venue in Cuba Street with many out and about. The food was excellent and food allergies were noted and catered for. I enjoy this branch of the family. Everyone is a bit precarious; jobs in call centre or marketing, running a small business, one unemployed temporarily, my sister in a retirement village but people regularly moving through to the rest home. The kids have their interests, surfing or motorbike racing or NZ history and their mother is strong and generous. They are surviving well enough and at this late stage of life I can belong to family without a sense of alienation.
And then an evening with Omar and Serena and their two beautiful daughters. Serena enjoyed the lack of cars during lock down, people taking over the roads. Having to distance made people in this flash suburb friendlier. As they moved aside they smiled. We talked about the role of the mad and the marginalised in a city like Wellington, providing a necessary sense of the other, a sort of touchstone.
Next morning, after an earthquake, I biked across town in a southerly, the rain covering my glasses so that I felt underwater, and the feeling of precariousness returned. Drying off at Malcolm’s the radio talked of the economy and the new National Party leadership. Nothing settles for long. It is a time of flux, of breakdown, of decay, with technology somehow providing a centre of contact, a stability.
I began packing for the return home, praying that the weather forecast was right and that the southerly would pass by morning.