Steve Braunias has a great piece in his column BRAUNIASLAND in this month’s Metro, called ‘Personal Best: A happy list of the very best things about Auckland life and culture and that’. His list includes Best Tearoom (Coco’s Cafe, where the coffee pot broke and it took weeks to get a new one: ‘Sourly, I waited it out, stuffing my face with doughnuts’), Best Menswear Shop (Te Atatu Menswear, where everything is smart ‘without making you look like a dick’), Best Church (Fo Guang Shan, which ‘feels like it’s made out of $2 Shop materials’), Best Book (Civilisation by Steve Braunias: ‘My book’), Best Concert (Crosby, Stills & Nash: ‘I cried’), Best Show (The Cactus and Succulent Show: ‘I bought nine plants for $120’), Best Train (The Northern Explorer, ‘as quiet as a library’), Best Railway Station (Newmarket, ‘an expression of the meaninglessness of life’), Best Mangrove Creek (Onepoto Stream, at high tide ‘full to the brim with green, sparkling water’), and Best Road (Great South Road, which Braunias set out to walk the length of in March: ‘exhilarating, strange, ugly, depressing, beautiful’).
An extract, from Best Book:
I read that piece and I wanted to compile a list for this city, Wellington, too. My zone is small. But my loyalties are fierce.
Best Tearoom: The Library Cafe. Don’t be fooled by the name; this is a tearoom through and through. The food hasn’t changed for over ten years. I know all of it by heart. There’s a book of poems that’s titled Millionaire’s Shortbread (‘both book and cake’) after one of the popular slices in the cabinets, from when a group of poets met here weekly. When I was a first-year university student I’d come in here hefting my Riverside Chaucer and glower in a corner by the drafty doors. The staff never ask you to leave. You can stay for hours. They are kind: they won’t clear away your empty cup until you’ve left, thus maintaining the illusion that you’re legitimately there. Once I ate my own apple and drank my own bottle of water and they didn’t do a thing. Once I saw a man eating his own foil-wrapped sandwiches, for god’s sake. This place has personal history for me. It’s where I developed a crush on a lanky barista who became known to me as Nose. It was the most unpleasant, all-consuming crush I’ve ever experienced, and for about a year I visited the Library Cafe daily, trying to talk to Nose, and either failing or making a berk of myself. Of course, nothing ever happened beyond one silent, soul-crushing date, which culminated in me launching myself at Nose, who was wearing a suit, in a terrible bear hug; I can still feel his arms hanging stiffly at his sides. I was unable to return to the Library Cafe for a year or so after this. Happily, Nose eventually quit his job, so I could go back. Back to the spinach and feta muffins, back to the cheese scones shaped like bars of gold. So many hours, so many years, spent here, reading, or staring out over the heads of the library goers below, or just staring at nothing, worrying. Recently I was sitting there, staring at my laptop, when one of the baristas sidled up to me. ‘Oh, hey, so, uh, where are you from, then?’ How the tables have turned.
Best Womenswear/Menswear Shop: Ziggurat in Cuba Street. A secondhand clothing shop. A lot of the clothes here, will, in fact, make you look like a dick. I like the danger of it. Will I come out of here looking like a dick? Ziggurat stock a great number of huge, ridiculous sunglasses that provide no mercy from the sun. They stock night gowns from the 1960s, and a tangle of cheap misshapen pant-things in a basket. They stock exquisite shoes for tiny-feeted people who don’t exist anymore. All of my best cardigans have been purchased from Ziggurat, when wandering past having no thoughts of cardigans. The walls are dappled with hats. It is the only shop I’ve ever bought a non-beanie hat from. The clothes assistants are very stylish and impossibly beautiful, like vampires. I run a great gamut of emotions when I go into Ziggurat. Envy, self-loathing, joy, glee, disappointment.
Best Church: The Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, Owen Street, Newtown. (The image in the link shows it under construction; it’s now complete.) The best, but also the grimmest, weirdest church. During the week it is like an army barracks on the moon. But on weekends you will see people dressed in beautiful clothing – men in flowing lava-lavas, women in colourful puletasi, with flowers in their hair – milling around in the carpark, utterly defeating the grimness of the place.
Best Book: Magnificent Moon (VUP, $28). My book.
Best Concert: Kirin J. Callinan at the opening of Grizzly Bear. I’d never seen him before and never heard of him. He strode onto the stage, all trousers, and began writhing in front of a high-tide of guitar pedals, some of which he jabbed his finger at with what looked like disgust. In between non-songs of thundering discordance and blatt-blatt-blatt and howls of ‘THE STARS ARE ALL DIRT’, he stage-bantered in a husky Bale-as-Batman voice. ‘Come and – see me – after the show. I’ve got – peanuts.’ Halfway through his set he tore off his Christmas jumper. The timeless torso. I was still reeling at the end of Grizzly Bear’s show, which was all well and good, but it lacked the raw, fractured, primal energy of Kirin. Here he is at hipster-bar Puppies a week later, when he broke out the torso again. To be honest, this time, it was all a bit much. I was too close to the source.
Best Market: Chaffers Market (between Te Papa and Waitangi Park), Sunday mornings. I could try to describe why it’s the best. The produce, the beer, the pancakes, the tofu and noodly things, the garlic. Those things are all good. But the real reason Chaffers Market is the best market is this guy, surely one of the most persistent buskers in Wellington’s history. Here he is butchering his old favourite, ‘Tears in Heaven’.
Best Bus: The No. 2 to Miramar. When it finally arrives, you love it and hate it with all your heart. You sweep through the bus tunnel into Hataitai, seething in the darkness. Once, when the bus stopped on Pirie Street to let off passengers, a girl stepped off and a skateboarder immediately and brutally collected her. Then cruised off. The bus driver, also, cruised off, oblivious. I guess none of this is supporting my case that the No. 2 to Miramar is the best bus. In fact, this entry is a trick: get a bike, everyone.
Best Bus Stop: I may hate buses, but the best bus stop is the Hataitai Bus Stop. Once when I was here, waiting for the infernal No. 2 bus, there was a pile of 2010 and 2011 New Yorkers on the bench beside me. Someone had left them, neatly stacked and shining. Good condition. A gift. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to take them, but I didn’t feel worthy. So I left them behind. The next day, they were gone. This bus stop is a shelter, as opposed to a stop; it’s a place to hunker down away from the wind. Sometimes there are goth kids sitting on the ground outside it, in pairs, but often there’s no one else there. You can sit there alone, experiencing intense regret that you didn’t ride your bike. There is nothing to look at, really, apart from a picture that someone has spray-painted on a wall over the road: Munch’s Scream with the words ‘WHERE HAS ALL THE STREET ART GONE?’ I like the spark of happiness I get when the bus finally, finally rounds the corner and lumbers up the hill to my side, big yellow dog.
Best Bay: Balaena Bay. A small bay, a humble bay. An open palm of a bay. Penguins nest here. I have never seen any. But I live in hope of seeing one, and this hope makes the bay look even more beautiful each time I’m there. From here you look across to two other bays, Shelley and Shark. This is also the best bay because it has a toilet. If you are running past, which many people do, this toilet is perfectly timed. It also has a shower to rinse all the bugs off after you’ve been swimming. In the early morning you sometimes see wetsuited people dragging kayaks across the sand into the water to launch off from here. My fantasy is to have a boat shed here one day. You’re not allowed to live in a boat shed, apparently, but I would find a way to live in mine.
Best Road: Grafton Road. I ride along it from Hataitai village over the hill and down into Oriental Bay. It’s an undulating road that takes you up above the houses and the sea. The view is stupidly beautiful, just one endless postcard. When I arrived back from London I walked along this road every day. At first I felt I was clinging to the back of a turtle: precarious, afraid of being eaten. The steely sea way below looked like a stage backdrop. Gradually, day by day, though, Grafton Road persuaded me that I was here and that it was real. There were a lot of roadworks on Grafton Road for a while. Once I saw that a bucket of cement from the roadworks had blown away in the wind and splattered all over the roof of someone’s parked car, like a bucket of sand upended by a toddler. This was very early in the morning; the scene was yet to be discovered. I’ll admit to feeling a mean-spirited glee imagining the screaming debacle that would unfold later that morning.