Thursday 25 November 2010

Are Comparisons Odious?

Several writers observed that they were (Christopher Marlowe, John Donne and a few others, which is very ironic or else perhaps they planned it as a practical joke?) and I’ve been trying to stop myself from comparing place A with Place B … But without any prompting from my conscious mind, my brain goes through a mental catalogue flip-flip-flip­ until it finds the stored image that most tallies with whatever it’s seeing.
Which is why I’m going to tell you that Wellington makes me think of Switzerland. Not worse, not better, just redolent of things that (before now) have said ‘Switzerland’ to me. This may have been helped along by my pilgrimage to Katherine Mansfield’s birthplace. In my head she’s stored under New Zealand – Short Stories – Garden Parties – Switzerland – Square Face. (By the way, on the off chance anyone reading this is passing the Salvos’ Shop in Richmond, Melbourne, they might find my copy of Uncommon Arrangements - an excellent group biography looking at the self-consciously modern approach to marriage taken by some literary types in the 1920s, including Mansfield and her husband John Middleton Murry.)
Wellington is charming: small (population less than 150,000), clean, ringed by green mountains and with streets that all seem to lead to the waterfront. (Arguably, that’s where the Swiss comparison breaks down, Switzerland not being known for its coastline, but I would counter that many of the big lakes in Switzerland look almost like little seas…)
There are pretty wooden Victorian villas, of which the house where Kathleen Beauchamp (aka Katherine Mansfield) was born is a good example:
I arrived here this morning and spent the day walking the city from end to end (takes about, oh, 45 minutes). Apart from a visit to the Beauchamp/Mansfield house and a pilgrimage of another sort to Te Papa (the Museum of New Zealand, guided tour to follow) I enjoyed winding along the streets, having a coffee here, a crepe there and poking into some of the interesting looking shops. If my bag weren’t so heavy, I’d be tempted to buy, but it is, so I’m not.
When I finish posting, I’m planning to take a ride on the cable car to have a drink and admire the view. Yes, the cable car. See, it’s obviously not just me who looks at Wellington and thinks Switzerland.
Edited to say:
I decided that I didn't really provide enough photographic evidence to do my theory justice. So here's another photo of Wellington, this one taken from the top of the hill:
And here is the cable car (more of funicular, really):

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