Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Mini Home

It occurred me to recently that I am officially a girl without a home. For the last five years when people asked me where home was, I told them whatever country I was currently living in and let them draw their own conclusions. After all, as a professional expat wife, it was my job to make my home wherever I could find it. Now that question is more difficult than ever to answer, since the point of this trip is to help me find a home within myself.

Deep down Canada has always been, and likely will always be where my heart calls home. Yet I realize that the Canada I know and love is captured forever in amber and seen through rose coloured glasses. I haven’t lived in the country of my birth for well over a decade, and if the G20 riots I watched on television are anything to go by my beloved Toronto has changed dramatically in the years since I “rode the Rocket.” Perhaps that is what I love about Auckland or as I like to call it: Mini Toronto.

The most populous city in New Zealand is, for all intents and purposes, Toronto in microcosm – or so I was told by a reliable source. The similarities go far beyond the obvious superficial ones of Sky Tower, Queen Street, and the waterfront with its plethora of restaurants and bars. From its oddly polite and law-abiding denizens to its pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and parks, Auckland is a surprising portrait of home on this island thousands of miles from the city of my youth.

My first stroll along the boutique-dotted Ponsonby Road revealed a fine collection of cafes, bars, and restaurants from one end to the other. Although Queen Street, and its parallel sister, High Street, get more attention from tourists and the guide books, Ponsonby is a great location for those days when an afternoon of lunching and boutique shopping turns into an evening of martinis and dancing.

At the top of Ponsonby Road is Karangahape Road. Known locally as K’Road, the street boasts an eclectic mix of shops, bars, clubs, adult emporiums, and cafés. Although I may have partaken of a pint or two in the bars on K’Road, my favourite stop along this local street appealed to the child in me. Named after my favourite Robert Munsch book, the fabulous second hand store The Paper Bag Princess boasts not only well-priced merchandise but even has some of Michael Martchenko’s illustrations on its walls.

A nice walk (or brief Link bus ride) across town is the shopping nirvana of Newmarket. Although not budget friendly (or maybe that’s my inability to ever shop on sale), the stores in Newmarket have everything a girl in need of retail therapy could ever want: from Macs to MAC cosmetics, the main drag Broadway is a great place to find that perfect something you never knew you needed. Sadly, other than the Cock and Bull, I found the area to be dreadfully devoid of good eats or drinks.

Luckily for me, the tourist trap that is Parnell is a quick walk up the road. If Ponsonby is where the locals hang out, then this is where they send their guests. Although I didn’t have high hopes for The Chocolate Boutique Café, which I found listed in every guidebook on the city, I soon found myself drooling and pledging my fealty to their PMS-worthy Chocolate Pot. Further down the road, I found locally sourced merino wool, jade jewelry, and every other Kiwi must-have.

This oceanside city was most familiar to this wandering Canuck perhaps because of the people. During my daily walk up Sisyphus Hill Queen Street, I strolled past people from dozens of countries, streaming out of the local Korean barbeque, Indian-owned dairies, and ubiquitous sushi shacks. The pleasant symphony of languages assaulted me as a fresh reminder that I was no longer in the homogenous societies of Oslo or Cairo.

On the weekends, teams of people can be found in one of the numerous parks throughout the greater Auckland area playing games of pick-up rugby or football (soccer). The sidewalks of Queen Street, meanwhile, are dotted throughout the week with a variety of impressive buskers. More than an array of humble musicians, any given day can find a donation hat for street artists, magicians, or even Cirque de Soleil wannabes. Men and women in tailored suits rushed between buildings in the CBD while backpackers gathered on hostel steps and in cafes to discuss the latest party or the status of their working holiday visas.

From the softly accented politeness to the falsely familiar landscape, I came to see how so many international transplants have so easily called this place home. I do not wish to romanticize Auckland, yet I find myself embracing its faults and shadows as much as I enjoy basking in each of the new delights I find around seemingly every corner of this Kiwi city. Yes, it would be easy to call this small corner on the edge of the world my new home.


Melissa said...

Sounds like a really great place! How long will you be there, do you know?

Anonymous said...

The Paper Bag Princeess? You know that I met Robert Munsch? No wonder you spent so much time in that store!!
Interesting comment re the homogeneity of Cairo and Oslo.
Auckland sounds like a definite place to visit--and soon.

Unknown said...

Home is what one makes of it, in my opinion, no matter what country you're in, albeit temporarily.

sprinkles said...

I've always wondered where you're from originally.

cheatymoon said...

Paper Bag Princess is my favorite kid author and I just read a Robert Muncsch book to my students today...

Love the tour of your new home base.