It's been five years since I've had a day off. I've had some afternoons to myself and a few more evenings - but never, not in five years, an entire child-free day. It must be starting to show. Richard finally insisted - he rolled out a map of New Zealand and told me to pick any destination for a day of complete solitude and adult-centric selfishness. All he asked was that I not do anything crazy to my hair while gone. For once, submission was sweet and natural.
This, my friends, was it. A calzone. Actually, two calzones. Massive ones. And I ate every last bite. Best meal I've had in two years - no comparison. Being a New Yorker, I used to think I had it tough in Pennsylvania when trying to find an edible pizza. But New Zealand suffers from an astonishing and absolutely tragic dearth of Italians. When I rushed to the door of the Pizzeria Napoli in Wellington yesterday and scanned the lunch menu, I saw a word that made my heart leap, then flutter, then tremble. Calzone. I hadn't seen or heard the word it in two years. I had forgotten that such a thing as calzone existed. Okay, I'm embarrassed to keep going on about it. I'll move on to other highlights now.
I explored Te Papa museum. I rode the cable cars. I was impressed with the electric busses. I saw the Beehive and the Supreme Court. I loved the architecture and the bizzarre layout of the streets and alleyways. Every time I approached the waterfront it started to drizzle, so I retreated every time. I intentionally skipped the Weta Cave of Wellywood. I only glimpsed the ferry to the South Island. I saw the art galleries and window-shopped the Bohemian wonderland of Cuba Street. As I took a photo of the beautiful old building pictured directly above, a City Maintenance worker passed by and quipped, "Yup, take a good photo now because that's going down in the next quake!"
cable car ascent to the vantage point overlooking Wellington
(bear in mind that it's mid-autumn here)
Then I tried to see the Cathedral. It was one of the things I most wanted to do while in Wellington. I had pictured myself quietly sitting in a beautiful large church, with no time restrictions and no interruptions. I had brought Magnificat, a notebook and pen. But actually getting to the Cathedral turned out to be extremely difficult because it was not marked on any maps. Everyone I asked knew only where the Anglican Cathedrals were. I did have Rich's iPhone with me - but I wouldn't have the foggiest idea how to use it to find a Cathedral. Finally, I decided to just be content with seeing the Anglican Cathedrals (which were on the maps). First I saw Old St. Paul's - the original Cathedral of Wellington. Then I walked over to the new St. Paul's. When I saw the pastor there I realized that he would definitely know where the Catholic Cathedral was. He did. It was just a few steps down the road. I ran up the stairs of Sacred Heart Cathedral only to find every last door tightly shut. It was like coming home only to discover oneself locked out. At this point I'd been walking all over Wellington for five straight hours, three months pregnant and without sitting once since my Italian feeding frenzy; I could nearly have wept. I called Maria. I mean Rich. I just wanted to check how the girls were doing on their day without me. Answer: fine. They took turns on the phone happily dobbing in their Papa for his every little transgression of the day, down to the last sweet he had given them. (Lesson: when you take a day off, take the day off.)
stained glass window in Old St. Paul's
Impressive native timber interior of Old St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral
Interior of the modern Anglican Cathedral
(...I think they should have stuck with the original!)
Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral -
the site of wailing and grinding of teeth
Final thoughts....The people in Wellington were amazing. It's truly the friendliest, most hospitable town I have ever visited in my life. Even the technology is hospitable (electronic displays inside the busses show where the bus is in real time and its upcoming stops; digital displays at bus stops alert riders how many more minutes until each number bus will arrive, etc...) But the people outdid the machines. Every time I pulled out my little street map, the nearest stranger stopped instantly and asked me very kindly what they could help me find. Every time. If I popped into a store and asked for directions, the clerk left the counter, walked out to the street with me and walked a bit of the distance while giving me directions for the remainder. My seat mates on the plane (going both ways) were Wellington natives and asked me heaps of questions about myself, the States and my experience of New Zealand with great warmth and interest throughout the entire hour's journey. On the way down, I sat next to a sweet, great-grandmother who was delighted to learn I was a Christian and gave me her number in case I wanted to pop in for coffee anytime. On the way home I sat with an immense Maori financial lawyer who asked me about everything from my opinion of the most important American president of the past 30 years to the Kardashian sisters. We both agreed that the sisters - well, reality TV in general - are not the finest of American exports to the international community.
the "beehive" capitol building
But the lady in the EGG maternity shop belongs in a "friendly" category of her own. I needed a pair of maternity jeans, so I took advantage of my child-free status to browse. I found a few possibilities and popped into a dressing room, but had to go back out into the store proper to see a mirror. Now this EGG saleslady was even friendlier than all the other friendly people I'd encountered that day. She was chatting and chatting and finally asked with a motherly smile if this was my first pregnancy. When I said it was my fifth, her jaw nearly hit the floor. But her shock was nothing compared to mine. Suddenly, her hand shot out like a cobra, grabbed the elastic waistband of my jeans and yanked it firmly down. Her other hand simultaneously hooked my shirt and pulled up. Then she pronounced, "But you have absolutely NO stretch marks! I don't believe it!" Man, I didn't believe it either! Kiwis simply don't behave like this. And I'm American. A New Yorker. I'm used to people doing some really out there stuff. But this was a first for me. Even my closest, oldest, American-est friends have never abruptly bared my belly. Nevertheless, I could hardly be offended as she instantly lavished effusive compliments and praise upon me, my figure, my youth and all the other things about which a multiparous woman feels somewhat insecure. But still, it's a memory that will linger for a bit. Perhaps even long after I've forgotten most of the other details of my visit. No, no, never mind - I'm never going to forget that calzone. EVER.
New Zealand's Supreme Court
(the "scaffolding" isn't - it's art)