You can’t help yourself; it’s irresistible. You travel to someone new and compare your new surroundings to wherever is home. A narwhal may be almost mystical to us, but ho-hum if you’re used to seeing them everyday, and that same person who finds the narwhal common place may be amazed by a parakeet. So it is with Dunedin.
Dunedin has charm. It is a city, to be sure, with its own industry and industries. Out my window I’m afforded a wonderful view of the Cadbury chocolate factory, a one city block wide complex where I assume they make A LOT of chocolate. I did see sign offering tours, so perhaps the next rainy day I will indulge myself, hoping for free chocolates at the end of the tour. But Dunedin has a townish feel, a charm missing in many other cities. On my first evening in Dunedin, beleaguered by jet lag, I wandered the city in search of food. I had asked the twenty-ish year old man who delivered my rental car for dining (well, perhaps I mentioned drinking too) recommendations, and he strongly encouraged me to venture to one of the establishments at the Octagon. Heaps of fun there, he said. So, I meandered up that way and found a suitable looking place (what I mean by suitable is this: I saw waitresses pouring beer there, and there were other people outside eating). It was a glorious late winter evening, with temperatures about 16-17 C (that’s about 61-63 F). I sat down outside at one of the several tables on the cobblestone sidewalk, the awning overhead also supplied with radiant heaters (so the 16 C felt more like 25 C) and waited for my tall glass of Pale Ale. The Octagon is a social place. There were many high school aged kids there, dressed in their school uniforms, doing what high schoolers do well (hang out). George Street travels directly through the middle of the Octagon, and despite this road being a main thoroughfare for Dunedin, there was no traffic per se. Cars, yes, but there was never traffic. One of the doctors with whom I will work picked me up at the airport earlier that day with her husband, and they told me, on the drive back into town, that Dunedin had no traffic. I suspected they meant little traffic, because I couldn’t imagine a city without any traffic. But indeed, as I sat there now sipping my tall glass of Pale Ale, I saw no traffic. Charming. And then church bells began to chime, and I looked across the Octagon at the one hundred year old massive church spire, complete with an illuminated clock, and I thought nothing exudes charm like church bells. Perhaps listening to church bells while sipping beer, but I’m sure it was mostly the church bells. And these were the kind of church bells that got your attention, the kind which you not only hear, but you feel. We don’t get this at home, I thought to myself (talking to yourself in a new city is discouraged). And I sat there, eating my seared venison salad and sipping beer, and I watched the evening unfold into night. I pondered ordering a second beer, but thought better of it (the jet lag alone was probably two beers’ worth of disorientation). I watched uniformed school kids being just kids. I watched the pace with which people walked home from work or towards the restaurants in the Octagon, and marveled that most of them did not appear to be in a rush- there was none of that urgency which seems to saturate our lives at home. And you see, there it was, the comparison. Most of our schools don’t require children to wear uniforms, most of the time we all seem to be in a rush, and there are no churches nearby with soaring spires and illuminated clocks whose bells ring in the hour. It’s all so charming.
Tomorrow I’ll comment on another old world tradition, grocery shopping.