This Is Not My Beautiful House

This morning as we drove out of Hanmer Springs the sky was stunning. The flat Hanmer basin is ringed at the horizon by the mountains of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Some were already snow covered. The lenticular clouds and clear blue sky between capping the mountains was incredibly beautiful.


Two hours later we were in Christchurch. Christchurch is an attractive city, especially by New Zealand standards, but the density, traffic (light compared to California), and hip city denizens just don’t float my boat anymore. Still, we had some very special times here exactly one year ago for my 40th birthday festivities and that good feeling persists to some extent. After some serious parking hassles, we did an internet check at my sentimental favorite internet café The Matrix, open 24 hours and still the cheapest fastest internet café I’ve experienced in NZ. Next was lunch at the Honey Pot. The food is still good, though prices have gone up. Through all this my feeling of dread steadily increased. Looking through a free weekly covering the NZ music scene had me asking myself, “Do I really care about getting anything Burning Man going in Christchurch?” I just want to get away from all this: concerns about who is going to be where when and how I can leap the hurdles to enjoyment that civilization places in my way. The check in at the property management company was relatively easy, though disappointing in that they did not completely attend to my careful instructions. They handed over the keys to the property without even asking for ID and then we made the short drive to =our house= at 36 Clyde Road.


We have, and Kathy has especially, for some time been very much looking forward to being in our own place. WWOOFing was great, travelling was great, but being on our own schedule, working on our own things, finally settling down at the place we’ve been thinking of as home since we left San Francisco, figured large in our thoughts. Still I was concerned that being back in the middle of a city was no longer what I was really looking for. At 375,000 or so, Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest city, and by far the largest on the South Island. After we left Grant’s Happy Acre and drove over the Takaka hill into Motueka (pop. 6,610) I was already feeling like it was too big.


We hit rush hour on the way to the house. Rush hour here really does only last an hour, but it’s still a colossal pain in the ass and not the way I want to be living my new life. Our house is quite invisible from the street, but it was a bit of a struggle to find it on our first visit in a year. As we left the car Kathy was quite dismayed by the sour look on my face. But it was justified. We walked in to a place that was exactly what I had bought in December of 2004: a huge beige 70’s building notable for its flexibility. 5 bedrooms, living room, dining room, office, library, kitchen, 2 outbuildings, big quarter acre flat yard in an upper class neighborhood with wonderful schools. Of course we expected that when we walked in the door we would be seeing a refrigerator and a (clothes) washing machine. Their absence is somewhat disturbing as those are really the two things we have most felt the intermittent lack of during our travels. I thought I bought the property with these items. Did the tenants take them, or was I mistaken, or did someone nick them along the way? Sure, I’ll call the property manager and ask about it, but do any of us really think that’s going to do me any good?


I bought it because it was likely to hold its value in a real estate downturn. I bought it because I really had no idea what I was going to be up to and I thought it had a lot of flexibility. It had development potential (knock down, sell or salvage building, and erect 2-7 new units). It was big enough that you could run a business out of it. It was big enough to house most if not all of the elf tribe. It had plenty of room for our stuff. I bought it because having a place to move to when we decided (Kathy bless her soul over the phone) to move to New Zealand was what we needed psychologically. These things are all valid, but it just isn’t the place that I want to live in now. Much closer was the (probably overpriced) 70 acre country property on the Coromandel penninsula that, had we had our money from the sale of our apartment on 23rd St ready would have been in our hands in a heartbeat, container redirected to the port of Auckland. I love you Christchurch but what have you done for me lately?


I’ve had a few realizations in the last few weeks about things I’ve done around this whole move that now seem sub-optimal. There are a number of things that I think I held on to relating to my San Francisco life that are now biting me in the ass. I really did love my life there and I was afraid to let it all go. So I didn’t. Now it’s all just a horrible drag on me.


My storage unit full of burning man stuff has gone critical. The jackasses that nominally ran the operation have shut it all down with just 30 days notice. If a good friend didn’t also have a storage unit there I wouldn’t even have known! I am left with the choice of abandoning all that stuff I collected and all the stuff that Kathy and I shoved in there at the last minute in preparation for our return to San Francisco in July, or blowing more money and depending heavily on the extreme kindness of a couple of really good friends to go sort through all the garbage, source another storage unit, and move hopefully the right third of the big piles of junk over to the new space. I feel like the Dalai Lama bereaving the loss of his feudalistic country to the Communists: “I was going to make it all better, really I was, I just needed a little more time!”


I don’t regret the trip to Iceland for Daniel’s 40th, but the add-on subsequent trip to Paris seems a little superfluous. Do I really need to go to Burning Man this year? Well, maybe not. It seemed like we were already having a big playa-style adventure here in the midst of our extraordinary albeit that’s-as-regular-as-it-gets-for-a-good-long-while life. Of course the sale of our apartment in San Francisco is a cumbersome mess we’d rather not have to deal with, though in our defense it does not seem like it could have been taken care of before we left.


Now that we are here in suburban Christchurch, though, much of this begins to sound quite attractive. Here I am back again in the kind of life that most people lead, parking, traffic, shopping; sound of cars lulling them to sleep. Our trip to the Warehouse, New Zealand’s closest thing to Costco, for pots pans plates silverware dish towels etc. to tide us over before our container makes its overdue arrival at the end of this month could not have been any more soul sapping, except perhaps for wandering around this house which, though relatively tidy is in need of all sorts of loving care items like light fixture repair, wallpaper fix-ups, why doesn’t the garbage disposal work (I certainly paid enough to repair it a few months ago) the aforementioned refrigerator and clotheswasher and how the hell do we get the hot water to come on, anyway? Loving care would require some love, and I have none for this place. As an idea it did a great job. As a reality it’s an unwanted job.


This is not my beautiful house. My beautiful house has yet to be built. Before this happens I must first find the community in which to buy the land, must buy the land on which to build it, and then live on that land for a time in a preexisting suboptimal house or even my geodesic dome, and get to know that land well enough to properly place my beautiful house. I must design it and shepherd its construction. This is not even that project. This is a place to put my stuff and plug in my computer, receive my snail mail, take my phone calls, do my taxes and pay my mortgage. This is the life I left behind, trading the generally peaceful friendliness of New Zealand for the specifically brilliant friends I have in San Francisco. If this was the end of the trade would I make it? At this moment I would have to say No, though perhaps I am being too harsh, having already tasted a superior and achievable existence. Still, it is quite galling to scramble to make a place for myself here in suburban Christchurch where I don’t really want a place at all.


Golden Bay and Hamner Springs were quite nice, by the way. Golden Bay was the first remote country community that we came out of with Kathy saying, “I could live there.” I will probably write about our adventure there at a later date. For now I am trying to wash the taste of ashes from my mouth. Time for another beer.