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Wellington Wednesday: Civic Square

May 30, 2012

I read a book recently, or half a book really, about this English guy’s trip to New Zealand.  It was terrible.  That’s why I only read half of it.  It’s called ‘Going as Far as I Can’ by Duncan Fallowell.  Don’t rush out to pick it up.

According to Wikipedia, which is where I immediately go to confirm all of my opinions, the book was “controversial but widely admired”.  Dunno who admired it, but I suspect the controversy was this: his book does not radiate the appropriate praise on New Zealand.  He doesn’t like the cities, he thinks the wine scene is over-hyped and he thinks that New Zealanders themselves are chubby and have bad skin.  What is this heresy?!

First of all, everyone who’s ever seen a Tourism NZ commercial or poster know that New Zealanders aren’t chubby with bad skin, because there are no New Zealanders.  This is a magical archipelago empty of civilisation, and yet fitted with bungee jump platforms and swingbridges.  Duh.

100% built by invisible hobbits.

And I’m sorry if our wine’s not as good as the stuff they make in England–I know the Manchester Merlot is world-renowned.

I’m teasing actually.  New Zealanders (and I include myself in this particular generalisation) have notoriously thin skin when it comes to people not lavishing praise on the country.  The thing is, you get really used to people telling you how pretty and special your country is, and when someone offers an alternative opinion it’s kind of a shock.  It’s sort of like the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  But if the emperor actually had some really sweet suit on, and the kid that’s calling him naked is a jerk with no taste.  Just like that.

I can take a little criticism though (I say this as someone who has spent the last week receiving little else.  Hooray for grad school!).  The reason I didn’t finish the book was the nature of the criticism, which was less ‘I-don’t-like-New-Zealand’ and more…  I don’t know…  more ‘I’m-judging-this-country-through-the-lens-of-unabashed-cultural-imperialism’.  Yes, that one.  Mostly, he complained about how New Zealanders had the audacity to touch and alter the wonderful buildings brought to us by colonial England.  Earthquakes be damned, we should have appreciated all that swell architecture and kept everything exactly as it was.  Basically, he spent most of the book lamenting the fact that New Zealand was not a country-sized museum showcasing the highlights of the British Empire.

That, and lamenting about how hard it was to get laid.  He’s gay and made it clear that every part of New Zealand he visited was sexually repressed and generally lacking in the availability of random sexual partners. Or maybe he got some eventually?  I don’t know, since I stopped reading after he suggested that the problem with the Maori was that they wanted to hold onto their culture (HINT: if it’s not European, it’s not worth holding on to).

Anyway, if I was a gay Englishman, I think I would probably see the book the way, as a straight, female American, I see the movie Sex and the City 2: as an embarrassingly unashamed exploitation of every stereotype that exists about my demographic.

So no, I didn’t like the book.  Didn’t much like Sex in the City 2 either.

And of course he came to Wellington.  Of course, he said that Wellington was just the worst because those ungrateful New Zealanders ripped down all the beautiful old colonial buildings and replaced them with Burger Kings.

Philistines. I’m surrounded by philistines.

He also talked about Civic Square, which is this bit near the waterfront, behind the library.  I don’t want to call it a central square area, because it’s not really that important.  It’s just one of those quirky Wellington spaces that you walk through sometimes.

Mr. Fallowell calls it ‘wonky’, which I suppose is his right.  I quite like the space, but that’s my right.  Also it reminds me of downtown Christchurch, because the hanging sculpture in the middle is by the guy who did all of the sculptures in downtown Christchurch.  I think the effect in Christchurch is weirdly homogenous for public art, but I guess it does leave an impression.  I think of Christchurch every time I see something by Neil Dawson.

Also, if you look near the mid-bottom left of the photo, you see a row of planter boxes.  Those are a pop-up pick-your-own herb and vegetable garden.  Full of cherry tomatoes and fennel.  Just the kind of thing you’d expect from such an uncultured city, populated by the overweight and badly-skinned.

FACT: I made all the fat people get out of frame before I took this picture.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tay permalink
    June 4, 2012 1:28 pm

    …because the UK is renowned for its slim pretty citizens with perfect skin? And doesn’t everyone hate it when indigenous peoples want to keep caring about the things they care about. This guy sounds like such a douche!!! I hope you didn’t pay real money for this book.

    Atleast we can be comforted with the fact that it will never, ever be as popular and make as much money as Notes From a Small Island, which is full of hilarious/valid criticism of English people and England and has reinforced every stereotype I ever had about the UK. Because if a travel writer says it, it must be true.

    In other news, there is a Christchurch cider tasting planned…perhaps if you are down in Chch for real-life Masters criticism we could co-ordinate dates…

    • June 4, 2012 11:41 pm

      Fortunately, it was a library book so I didn’t feel like I’d wasted money. Just time.

      I don’t remember if I read Notes from a Small Island… I do remember thinking Bill Bryson’s take on America was hilarious though. I should probably just pick a favourite travel journalist and stick to that.

      When’s the cider tasting planned for? I got an eleventh hour extension on the thesis and now it’s not due til July. Might be tempted by a trip down, now that I’ve got so much extra time.

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