It's a little ironic that I've managed to get everything set to leave town just at that point when I'd got somewhere in that long and incremental struggle to "settle in". This state of being, which is not at all the same as "settling down", is partly about having friends and knowing people. But also something subtler about being comfortable in the sociogeography, about knowing where to go and what to do and how to get things done.
I had my hair cut the other day and there was some mutual sense of regret when it was established that I wouldn’t be back in the medium term. As I was going Natasha said “well, it’s been a pleasure cutting your hair over the last year and a half”. I went a little red and said something stupid like “well, thank you for working on it so assiduously”. They gave me the salon email address and told me to send photos (here’s me looking a little straggly on the Inca trail, probably not using enough product; here’s me in the Amazon, six days without a wash…)
I had to inform my ophthalmologist that I wouldn’t be able to make the six-month check up on my laser surgery. There was even a smidgen of regret when I told my dentist I couldn’t make a repeat appointment with the hygienist. I’m having to cut short my fledgling relationship with my preferred auto mechanics. A little tailor’s shop on Willis St may miss my occasional need to have pairs of pants adjusted. The library will definitely miss their regular income from my overdue books.
There’s also my salsa class, soccer team and university Spanish department to farewell before I even get on to flatmates, workmates, and those rare beasts, non context-specific friends.
The irony is that some of these people are saying things like (slightly wistfully) “oh, so we won’t have you round for much longer” and “we’ll have to go out for drinks” when for the majority of the time I’ve known them it’s seemed that going out for drinks, or even having a conversation outside the designated context, just wouldn’t be the done thing.
Why has it taken so long to get to this stage? Partly because for at least the first year I was here I was emotionally somewhere else, quite convinced that I would be out of here bien prontito. But also because it just is hard – it really takes quite a long time to settle in somewhere without the context of university or backpacking. A moderately pretty girl who isn’t cripplingly shy can probably cut the time in half or even a quarter, but for the average person I would say it takes at least a year. Is New Zealand worse than elsewhere? I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure. Wellington, for all its claims to be vibrant, cosmopolitan, transient and bohemian, is actually supercilious, cliquey, insular, and monolithically family-oriented. Though it’s better than Christchurch - I used to comment that Wellington had been voted New Zealand’s “most liveable town” but that I would replace the “most” with “only”. In truly big cities there’s a shared anonymity amongst the crowds which makes you feel less like an outsider. But I suspect it’s still just as hard, if not more so, to get to know anyone.
Now I’m leaving I’m getting these twinges of fondness, and wistfulness about things I haven’t got round to doing (like replacing my curtains, getting a decent computer, moving closer to town, going on more tramps, taking up cycling, revamping my wardrobe, doing French classes, setting up a stand-alone web site, starting another band).
This precooked nostalgia undeniably has something to do with the fact that I’m escaping. It’s always easier to feel fond about something (or someone) that you’re not bound or committed to.
I remember a character in a novel by “young adults” author S E Hinton saying something like “there are people who go; and there are people who stay”. I’ve always thought I’m one of the people who go (though I’m a Cancer; I’m supposed to be one of the people who stay). As a lazy and - I would have to admit – rather fearful person, it’s the one thing that’s always got me to beat the ennui and timidity – moving on.