When I think of New Zealand

The first Kiwi I ever met in the flesh I fell fast in love with.  Something about his easy laugh, his rugged jaw line and the dark tattoos on his arms were suggestive of the faraway place he came from, that place very few know anything about.  Before meeting him, I’d only heard of New Zealand in passing; a vague, remote place existing without so much as a nod from the rest of us here on Earth.
Prior to meeting my kiwi, I didn’t have much experience thinking about New Zealand and like most people, I had no reason to.  It was off my radar in the same way it is nearly left off  the maps of the world; overlooked, neglected, forgotten.  But lately I think about the Land of the Long White Cloud as it is called, and with good reason: it is where we are moving.  After a combined twenty-six years of living as expats in Italy we are making this leap, this life-changing transition.  It will be a healthy challenge for both of us.  For me it will all be new, I’ll be a New Zealand first-timer.  But for him it will be a long awaited, much anticipated return home.
It’s with a dreamy tone that people all say the same thing when I tell them I am moving to New Zealand.  “Ahh, New Zealand…  have you ever been there?”  No, never, I say.  “Oh I think you’ll really like it.”  People are so sure of themselves when they make this statement, often without really even knowing all that much about me.  They tell me tales of friends they have, people they know who’ve left their unsatisfactory lives elsewhere and made a permanent move to that Pacific Island paradise—all people who’ve never once looked back.  Once some Italians told me about their trip to New Zealand.  There they were, biking in the beautiful countryside and along the road they came upon an abandoned stand of fruit for sale.  “You just take what you want and leave your money!”  they marveled, both amused and amazed at the kiwi way, strickened with admiration and awe at how an entire nation could be at once so incredibly stupid, naive and insanely honest.  
Because everything I know about New Zealand is by word of mouth, I have very little an idea of what it is really like.  But that’s half the fun of it.  I find that when travelling somewhere new, I usually have to strain to remember my preconceived notion of the place after I arrive.  It’s as if everything I ever thought or imagined just evaporates into thin air the moment I take my first on-site breath.  Like foamy waves washing over initials inscribed in the sand, newness quickly cancels out previously concocted notions.  I know all too well that the New Zealand of my imagination will soon be bubbled over with the real thing upon my arrival.  It is because of that moment when I actually see it with my own eyes that I’ve been thinking hard in my ignorance of New Zealand.  I’m curious to find out if what I’ve heard and what I imagine will match up with reality.  And because my memory goes so easily to mush, I want to record my preconceived notions, set them in stone now, so I can refer back later. 
So, I’ve been thinking about what I want to write about when I think of New Zealand for weeks now, maybe even months.  And strangely, every time I think about what I’m going to say, every time I think about what I think about when I think about New Zealand, a song mysteriously makes its way into my brain waves in stereo: The Counting Crows, Rain King, the one that starts out, “When I think of heaven…”  But it’s a bit naive (and premature) to be likening such a land to heaven just yet.  I know from experience that no country is perfect.  Living in Italy for over ten years taught me that.  What looks great on the outside is usually just that—a façade of cyprus-lined hills kept in place by googly-eyed American tourists (like myself) in love with a romantic idea, an idea that is many times accompanied by the enticing swoon of a tall, dark and handsome gondolier .  It’s not so much that anyone’s hell-bent on keeping their nose in nostalgia rather than risk taking a peek at reality, it’s just that beauty is easier and more pleasant to perpetuate than those somewhat uglier underlying truths.  Which is why New Zealand is so fascinating.  According to my main source, Lonely Planet, when polled in 2009, 86% of New Zealanders responded they are ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ when asked how they felt about their lives as a whole.  In fact, they don’t seem to be the only ones who consider life on the long white cloud as excellent.  Lonely Planet also says that (according to Gallup) the population of NZ would soar from its current 4 million to over 11 million if they were to take in all the people who wanted to live there.  (Lucky for me I’m in good with a kiwi.)  
Mostly when I think of New Zealand, I think of space—mostly uninhabited or sparsely populated land where a lot more wooly white sheep reside than people do.  And the people, the infamously rare kiwis, I imagine them to be a lot like the first and one of the only kiwis I know: a pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps, no-nonsense, pity-partyless kind of population without much patience for laziness.  I imagine New Zealand as a place where there isn’t much time for extravagance, a place where luxury isn’t nearly as appreciated or sought-after as practicality, a place where practicality therefore becomes the luxury.  (Which suits my native Texan tastes just fine as I don’t much care for fluff either.)  I imagine hard-working, honest people with strong values.  I suspect kiwis are equipped with an ever-ready knuckle sandwich to dole out if necessary; full of the kinds of attitudes great nations are founded and built upon; a place which functions on self-reliance, resilience and the common sense that a little humor will go a long way.
I get the idea that in New Zealand, religion takes a backseat to spirituality and surrounding dramatic landscapes thunder silently, deeply within one’s chest cavity when taken in, resonating, vibrating near the soul so profoundly that you can never not be the same, not after seeing such beauty in nature.  I imagine being stunned and surprised beyond my next breath.
A deep breath.  That’s what I think of.  Air—free, fresh, cool and available.  When my mind’s eye looks out its window at the New Zealand flora, it is a lush green that thrives and chirps with wildlife unknown to most of mankind—that is to anyone beyond the four (or is it five?) million New Zealanders out there.
I imagine there will be unnameable fish platters to sample, tribal drums thumping to a never-before heard beat.  I imagine my heart will leap at the sight of my first hefty tattooed Polynesian, intimidating me into a silent slunk.  
When I get there, I look forward to hearing the waves of the Pacific crash on that specific shore, listening to all that majestic blue-green weight boom right up onto the sandy coast, littered with little more than driftwood and smooth weathered stones.  I wonder what it will be like, to stand and look out at the horizon, knowing I am so very far away on this peculiar island nation. 
What will it be like to be in a place so profuse of fruit that no one feels the need to steal?  Maybe my brain’s radio waves know something I don’t.  Maybe it really will be a bit like heaven.  Or maybe, it’ll just feel all very welcomed, a lot like home. 
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One thought on “When I think of New Zealand

  1. Beautiful Regina! Thank you sooo much for writing. I love this, "And the people, the infamously rare kiwis, I imagine them to be a lot like the first and one of the only kiwis I know: a pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps, no-nonsense, pity-partyless kind of population without much patience for laziness." What our country needs more of & reminds me of my husbands family and why I fell in love with them all! Good honest hard working people! "When I get there, I look forward to hearing the waves of the Pacific crash on that specific shore, listening to all that majestic blue-green weight boom right up onto the sandy coast, littered with little more than driftwood and smooth weathered stones. I wonder what it will be like, to stand and look out at the horizon, knowing I am so very far away on this peculiar island nation." Aww…a little slice of heaven. : )

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