There’s a cool breeze and out of the sun I am shivering. Which is why although I am sitting outside my room, or rather rooms at this very wonderful place I am staying, I am wearing my warm jacket and drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea. I am not a tea drinker. I don’t mind Lapsang, but I don’t have any. So Earl Grey it is, probably courtesy of a previous visitor.
Here is what I am looking at when I raise my eyes from the screen.
It’s pretty good, I think you’ll agree. Actually it’s better than good as I shall try to explain.
The coach from Wellington arrived in Napier more or less on time. I had been told I’d be able to get a taxi from near the bus stop. A quick look left and right revealed no taxis, but a fine row of public toilets. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I headed over to them straight away. I so wish I had photographed them. They were immaculate, and with tiles that would not be out of place in a private bathroom. U.K. councils please note; these are what public conveniences should be like. There was a supermarket near by so I decided to pop in, get some provisions and ask the staff about the taxis.
The first part went to plan, the second seemed to go better than planned when the staff offered to call the taxi company for me. It’ll be here soon, they told me.
After fifteen minutes had passed and no taxi, I was wondering how the company defined soon. The nice staff called again. It’ll be here in a couple of minutes they were told. You can probably guess I am telling this story as two minutes stretched into ten more, then twenty. After thirty minutes, they called again and this time were told the taxis were all at the airport where a number of flights had arrived and they could not say when one would be free to take my fare. I really didn’t want to trundle my bag up a steep hill in what was now night to a place I had never seen in wind and rain, but it was starting to look like that might be my best option. I’d give it a bit longer.
Are you still waiting? asked one of the assistants. I nodded. I’ll call them, he said. I don’t know what magic he worked, but I shall be for ever grateful to him as not much later a taxi duly arrived. I had been in Napier for around an hour and a half. The driver, an Iraqi who has lived in NZ for 18 years, apologised. He told me Mondays are slow for taxi drivers, so most take the day off. Those that were working were all at the airport. On our short journey he told me how much he loves London, but he supports Liverpool FC, so his dream is to visit Anfield. His mother and brothers are also in Napier, though other Iraqis he knew when he first arrived have left for Auckland or Sydney. We found the address, I paid him, he helped me out with my bag and we parted, each wishing the other the best of health and a good future.
Down the steps in the dark to the front door, and Jenni came out to meet me. We each took one handle of my bag to go down a further set of steps to my rooms. A black cat wreathed around us. A cat! I exclaimed, somewhat superfluously. That’s Aeris, she told me. Just shoo him away if you don’t likes cats. We have two. The other one is Pearl. But I do like cats, I said, and I am missing mine extremely.
As I am writing this Aeris has just appeared beside me. He is nineteen, getting thin, has cataracts and very few teeth, but is undoubtedly a still a handsome fellow.
I didn’t meet Pearl until this morning. She’s a young cat, a roll poly beauty.
Aeris impeded my unpacking by climbing into my half emptied bag, but improved my mental state by spending what was left of the evening on my knee, and then sleeping on my bed during the night. He has a wonderfully joyous purr, and although Jenni tells me he has been a great fighter, is as gentle as can be.
My knee is still a problem so I resolved to have a slow day; walk down into the town, book myself on a wine tour for tomorrow and have a look around, eat lunch out and stock up on olives and capers.
And that’s what I did. Just down from my accommodation is a flight of steps down to the sea. Although convenient, I shan’t be taking them again. They are numerous and steep, some of the steps are deep and I don’t really want to have to ask for assistance at the airport because I can’t walk. Nor do I want to have a knee replacement operation for a few years yet.
Fortunately once down in the town it’s flat. The same sparkled a glorious turquoise. The sun was strong enough to make me wear my hat, and the wind strong enough to make me hold onto my hat with one hand.
I booked my tour, ate a good lunch, wondered whether to book a place on guided tour of the Art Deco buildings for which Napier is famous or do the self guided one.
So I was in a sunny, mellow sort of mood. The museum looked interesting. Inside I opted to go the exhibition in the basement about the earthquake of 1931 that destroyed old Napier and claimed many lives. It was a sobering. There was a video where people who had survived told their stories. One man likened the experience to a war zone. Seeing the photos, hearing the testaments, I’d agree. The closest things to this I have seen have been at the IWM.
I left the museum after that, though I plan to go back later in the week. Out in the sunshine the Art Deco buildings took on new meaning; the determination of a town to rebuild, to survive and create a place of beauty from the ruins.