I loved Auckland (New Zealand, in fact)during the months of September and October. A sense of burgeoning, tentative city-hood was almost tangible: Wynyard Quarter opened, and we were there, three kids in tow, to walk the windy bridge and wander over to the Viaduct past art and playgrounds and super yachts. The Art Gallery re-opened, and we were there, with those ubiquitous three kids delighted at the gorgeous kinetic sculpture in the foyer, intrigued by the New Zealand contemporary art that leads the viewer into a upwards spiral towards our treasures, excited to spot the little details and motifs in the building itself (tiny carved ammonites are scattered throughout the stone at different levels, a budding archeologist’s dream). We grown-ups felt like we were seeing old friends again after too many years’ absence.
Flags began to be scattered over my city. The first ones to make their mark were red and white or red and blue, as Tongan and Samoan New Zealanders embraced a chance to be both not either, to be a hyphenated multi-faceted nationality. I love flags. It’s not a patriotism thing – it’s
aesthetic. Flapping bright colours, each colour or motif a symbol: perfect for someone who likes to read too much into things. We joined in, bought flags, and decorated.
Then the roads closed and that certain sporting event opened. Outside the Ferry Building on Quay St at 5 o’clock on opening night, straining to see the waka arrive on the big screen was, well,
slightly cramped. But we were glad to be there, in the middle of things, as the city, nation, shared with the world our manaakitanga. We ducked home in time to feed those three kids & watch the opening ceremony, nip up the road for the fireworks and then back into the living room for the first game.
Those first few weeks were the best. While the ‘minnows’ played and my kids crossed their fingers that they would get points on the board or that the bigger teams wouldn’t beat them by too much. There were characters in each team – we particularly liked the beards in the Canadian
and French teams – and we loved seeing them tear up as they sang their national anthems. Watching two Pacific teams do opposing haka seemed the pinnacle of what was great about that time – uniquely Pacific, tangata whenua hosting with manaakitanga, a Kiwi sense of sticking up for the little guy, of fair play.
We kept going back to Queens Wharf, relishing the chance to walk on wide boulevards with no cars, as Aucklanders and visitors rode bikes and wore their nations’ colours and talked rugby. Waka Māori opened, and we took an Australian guest – a cousin’s daughter, so in the New
Zealand vernacular, a cuzzie – to visit. Eating sausage & bread & sauce under the shadow of the waka felt right.
I was sad as the little teams left, their dreams of upset glory over. The discourse became more focused on winning, instead of the game itself, which was the winner on the day during the pool
play. But we walked the fan trail on grand final night, kids kitted out in black with All Blacks tattoos, and then raced home to eat slow-roasted lamb and watch the game.
We crammed onto Queen St in the bright sunshine the following day to watch the triumph of the All Blacks. Standing in platforms with a seven-year old on your shoulders for an hour is not
recommended. But the smiles on the kids’ faces were worth it, though poor Felix was slightly sad that he couldn’t get his ball signed. (I had to hold that damn ball for him while he cheered on dad’s shoulders.)
And then it was over.
Cars drive on Quay St again and the flags have disappeared from cars and the malls put their Christmas decorations up before the end of October and we’re all being urged to buy stuff we don’t need or vote for someone we don’t really know.
I’d like to try to hold on to what we had, at that moment before pool play was over, when we were a vibrant Pacific city, girded with gaudy colours, taking in guests and strangers, feeding each other, walking our city through art and spectacle, Occupy Aotea Square next to an army band. That’s the city I live in. That’s my Auckland, my New Zealand.
So Saturday, we’ll walk, with those poor three kids who get dragged everywhere, up to the church on the corner to cast our votes. We won’t tweet about it, just in case the Electoral Commission is
listening. Then we’ll wander somewhere, to one of the jewels of Tāmaki Makaurau – maybe a beach - and head home to make turkey in honour of a rugby minnow that is a big fish on the rest of the world stage. Then we’ll watch to see what kind of country the rest of New Zealand want to live in.