Softening a shattered city

I don't mean to sound like a first-year, but WOW - last semester went fast.

And the fact Christchurch is still a bombsite really makes it seem like no time at all has passed since February 24.

The bombsite situation makes me feel like a stranger in my own city. I keep driving into dead-end streets, I don't know how to get across town, I'm still not sure which shops are open and I'm consistently underestimating travel times by at least half an hour.

And I certainly hadn't been to Lyttelton for a while. A display of my ignorance was unavoidable as I drove up and down the main road several times looking for something to look at which wasn't broken.

I was showing a friend around and trying to explain why Lyttelton is one of my favourite places; trying to describe how beautiful it was.

Before it was just rubble, you see, it used to be ... oh, I can't even remember what was there before.

I find myself wanting to inform those workers who watch me U-turn again and again that I am, in fact, a Cantabrian.

"I just haven't been home for a while!" I try to explain.

My awkward relationship with the "new" Christchurch is so obvious that even the hairdresser sensed my foreignness. While shampooing my hair, she informed me that I had an unusually "stable energy". I told her I was from Dunedin.

"Aha!" - Apparently, that explains it all.

She then suggested that in the event of an earthquake, perhaps Dunedin would be even worse off than Christchurch. All those lovely buildings, she said, are so old and so fragile. Everything is so compact, she said, the city just wouldn't cope.

I assured her that, actually, it would. And, anyway, we don't have earthquakes in Dunedin - not often, anyway.

We do, however, have many similarities. Christchurch and Dunedin both have a central river, lots of pretty churches, a range of parks and gardens, a fantastic art gallery. Ah, no, we don't have a tram or a gondola - oh, but now Christchurch doesn't either - and we do have better beaches, more hills, Larnach Castle, and the only albatross colony in New Zealand.

Perhaps, therefore, this sense of Cantabrian familiarity in Dunedin is one of the reasons for the current southern migration. Or maybe it's more pragmatic than that; I mean, where else would you really want to go?

I must confess, however, that Dunedin just doesn't have the spring brilliance of Hagley Park - Dunedin's daffodil display is far, far behind.

While buildings have been falling in Christchurch, it appears the flora certainly hasn't ceased flowering.

Perhaps I'm simply unobservant of the obvious, but as I drove into our driveway I didn't notice the tarpaulins or the scaffolding unattractively fronting our house, in a manner comparable to the situation of braces on a reluctant teen or a zimmer frame at arm's reach for the elderly.

Outside my window in Dunedin I have a mere sprinkling of daffodils. My flat may still be in one piece, but its garden is embarrassingly inferior to that of my home in Christchurch.

I can imagine our house blushing and asking, "Really, you don't think I look ugly, do you?" and I can assure it that, no, I didn't notice the ugliness.

Honestly, the first thing I noticed was the host of golden daffodils. And among them, I can hear Wordsworth singing for Christchurch:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Katie Kenny studies English at the University of Otago

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