New Zealand Notebook 5 – Art Deco and Fruit

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In 1931, a devastating earthquake levelled the city of Napier in Hawke’s Bay on the east coast. Work took place immediately after to rebuild the place. This was done in the architectural technique popular at the time – Art Deco – a visual arts style that incorporates industrial ‘Machine Age’ imagery, vibrant colours and geometric shapes.

Napier attracts many tourists because of this distinctive setting. The businesses in town enhance the essence of their city by playing jazz and swing music and using vintage displays and fonts. I am here just before their most famous festival, the Art Deco weekend. People are already in the spirit of things, walking around in 1930’s style form fitting dresses, tilted hats or headpieces and long gloves. The men wear braces, striped neckties and wide pleated trousers. It oozes glamour and I feel like I’m in a movie set. They’ve created something unique and wonderful here out of a disastrous event.

With its Mediterranean climate, the Hawke’s Bay region is ripe with vineyards and they produce many of the world’s finest wines. It’s also New Zealand’s largest apple, pear and stone fruit producer. I notice a sign on the reception desk in the hostel:

FRUIT PICKERS NEEDED – PLUMS $25, APPLES $30, PEARS $40

I’ve worked packing fruit before in Australia and enjoyed the job so I investigate what picking would be like. It entails 9 hours or so in the sun, up trees, plucking and placing the fruit into a shoulder bag and then filling a bin. You get paid by the bin. I hear mixed reviews about the work, some say it’s okay because you meet new people and get a tan, others say it’s awful – low pay for back-breaking work. They argue that the sun is an enemy in the fields and your skin is burnt and blistered at the end of shifts.

I stay in a small place on the waterfront and enjoy breakfast coffees with my Italian and German roommates in the hostel’s sunny backyard. Then a man joins, he is local and wears a t-shirt saying Kiwi Pride. The corners of his mouth are foaming white. He tells a longwinded Irish joke riddled with stereotyping and an offensive punchline. Everyone sitting round the table wait for my reaction. I don’t bother. There’s no point. When travelling, some people deserve my energy and interest and some people don’t. The man laughs on heartily, alone.

I wander around Napier and its surroundings and catch a sun rise over the Pacific which is unimaginably beautiful. I always feel a lot more connected when I’m by nature. I find a shop with a heady incense smell. Bookcases are stacked with ethereal and spiritual literature. They sell an array of lotions, potions and have some psychics and mediums working there. I decide on a ‘Soul Energy Cleanse’ from a woman holding chain with a rock pendant. She consults with ‘the spirits’ and finds out blocks that I have and then asks for them to be cleared. She informs me of events that happened in my past life too. I can see her manipulate the direction of the chain and I’m not convinced of what’s happening, but I still enjoy the experience. Afterwards, I buy some peppermint and rosehip essential oils, for their respective digestive and skincare properties.

But back to the real world, I’ve to make a decision – fruit pick or pack here in Napier or go on to Wellington and find work there. I send some emails and speak to some of the travellers. They say despite Napier being sunny and pretty, Wellington is where it’s at. It’s teeming with art, fun and life. So I decide to go south and book into the only available affordable accommodation for the weekend.

I say bye to my new friends and pass all the 1930’s inspired people as I lug the rucksack and my other stuff to the bus stop. The bus is due at 4pm. We wait. It’s an hour late coming in. We load up and hit the road. There’s a girl who laughs every fifteen seconds or so in a loud monotonous way, a little like Woody the Woodpecker, and halfway to Wellington the bus gets a flat tyre. The driver pumps it temporarily and calls the AA when we get to Palmerston North. The journey is delayed again there for a proper tyre change.

When we arrive in Wellington, it’s night. I’m hungry, tired and grubby. I take the wrong street and walk for ten minutes in the wrong direction and have to turn back and start again. My rucksack weighs me down and the straps of the other bags cut into my arms. The hostel is understaffed so we all queue for ages and then discover their credit card machine is out of order. We have to find an ATM and get cash out. I go do this and grab some takeaway sushi for a late night snack. I pay for the room and head up. It’s after 1am at this stage and when I open the door, the lights are off. I’ve to navigate my way through the room using my phone. I bash into bags and beds to find a free bunk and climb up it. I have an unsettled sleep and get up early for a coffee and to read.

Outside the kitchen window, Wellington is clouded dirty grey and the wind whips.

Yes, it is teeming.

‘120km gales today,’ a man eating breakfast says.

I check my emails and have a reply from a farm/factory that grows and packs kiwifruit in Napier, they are cheery and invite me to come and work for them. I look out at the dismal morning again and wonder if I’ve made a terrible decision in leaving Hawke’s Bay.

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