I’m up in the Queen City for the NZIA Conference, that biannual talkfest where Architects shall talk unto other Architects, and purveyors of fine Aluminium window products shall discuss your project over a glass of sponsored wine. M&Ms shall flow freely from the Resene Paint stall, as long as you shall verily promise to use some flavour other than charcoal grey on your next project. Business cards will be deposited, carefully, in large flagons in the wistful hope of scoring a free wotsit or half a crate of vintage Pinot, and will be regretted in 3 months time when the sales rep finally gets round to your name on the database. I’ll see you all, shake your hand, splash my flippers in your face, and generally enjoy the whole experience. But it may be my last time I conference like this. My urge to splurge on talktime is falling lower than my current ability to fund such things.
I’m staying in a highly salubrious part of town, in easily the worst house on the best street, and its great. The street is full of Audis and Porsches and all sorts of machines generally silver, mechanical and made in Germany. Not a Nissan to be seen. As I had booked an el-cheapo room for the days of summer conference, I was puzzled by this as I came down the road, until I saw the signs of the international traveller proudly in the front garden of easily the most decrepit house on the street. There stood a small huddle of nomadic tribesmen (and tribeswomen), tie-died T-shirts and baggy yoga pants, smoking real cigarettes. Is there any sign more European than that? I didn’t need a neon sign blinking out the words Vacancy, any more than Abel Tasman needed a sign saying Real Estate – it just screamed out to me: you’re back in the land that time forgot.
And I have (almost) forgotten what it is like to backpack your way across Europe, to share a bunk room with several other nationalities, united at night in the common language of the sleeping: the communal snore-fest. The shared bathrooms, the rickety stairs, the sound of crickets chirruping in the twilight outside the bedroom window. Fridges filled with named bags of food. The distant sound of drunken revellers echoing across the valleys, currently singing old Dave Dobbyn drinking songs – are there any other kinds of DD songs? Or is he truly the ballad-meister to sing homage to the sincerely sozzled?
Mosquitoes flying in to feast on my blood, as I look out to the moon – and to the pointed pink needle of the Skytower, that giant prick to end all pricks. Yes: Skytower. That narrows it down a bit – means I could be anywhere within a 5 kilometre radius. That’s Auckland for you. Last time I stayed in a room this decrepit I was in Croatia, somewhere on the coast near Split, and the fish-wife and I got a little one bed room overlooking the edge of the ocean, where the paint was crackling slowly off the whitewashed walls and it was truly magic. That was not long after the Yugoslavian War, so I’m not sure that they had any option to be anything other than delicately crumbling, but the sun streamed in through the green net curtain and past the open, mis-matching, badly painted and wrongly hinged French doors and onto the bed. It was gorgeous. I had sun, I had sea, I had a simple room and I had Catherine, the love of my life, the juiciest peach from the cream of the crop, in my arms. Luckily, I didn’t have Dave Dobbyn coming through the window.
I’d like to say that we made love passionately all night long, as the Balkan moon rose above us, and the dawn crested a blushing rose just as we too reached a colourful crescendo, but it is more likely that after a long day trudging around hot streets looking at early gothic Croatian churches, we went out looking for a tasty meal in a cheap restaurant, and then came back and promptly fell asleep. Shagged out, in the sadly (more true) sense of the word. No-one had yet learned of the dollars that come with American tourists and the English language, so any guides were in Serbo-Croatian only – even the language was still one back then – now it is firmly two, possibly more.
split window
But why am I reminiscing about times gone by – and a woman well and truly gone west by now – when I started off talking about the NZIA insitu conference? There will be great speakers. There will be superb nibbles, by the thousand. There will be old acquaintances and new ones, familiar faces from days of architecture schools gone by and from far off lands where I used to work. There will be product suppliers by the bucket-load, and I have brought my business cards up by the wallet-full, so the two can meet. There will be crisp black anodised aluminium door handles and charcoal rectilinear thingummies that retail for $400 a piece, but if you smile the right way at the rep you might get 20% off that sticker price.
Auckland crisp
But you know what there won’t be? There won’t be any delicately crumbling, mis-matching, badly painted and wrongly hinged French doors. There won’t be any of the romance that comes with gentle decrepitude, the patina of age and there definitely won’t be any of the unmatched nature of a cheap buy in a Balkan back-street market during war time. There won’t be Catherine, although there will be young ladies who smile alluringly over the top of a range of paints, or who purr gently at me over the barely audible hum of a heat pump. Am I getting too old and grumpy to care about the precise nature of how well aligned a weatherboard wall is, or whether the powder-coat tint of the roof flashings really needs to have the same RAL number as the paint job on the second Audi? Is it OK just to say “I don’t mind if things don’t match up perfectly?”
Are we all just getting a bit too anal? Is it time to go back to boho?

Enjoy the conference.

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