On my trip driving from Dunedin to Auckland what struck me the most was how my idea of a place, built up from random images on the news, or stories, or god knows where, is often badly out of line with the reality I find there. Or I do find it, but it's only a small part.
For example, I thought the North island would be boring farmland. Nonstop. Everywhere. Somehow from the images I'd seen and the way people always say, emphatically: "the South island is the pretty one", I just had this idea that the entire North island would be like that awful strip of farmland between Ashburton and Christchurch. I didn't think this consciously or rationally, because I *knew* there were national parks and beautiful things, but somehow in my heart I felt it.
Anyway, this got me thinking: before I go to a place, any place, I have an imaginary version of that place in my head. I like this phenomenon and don't want to change. For example, Paris Before I Went was a real life version of the tall, dark, leaning houses in the animated work of Sylvain Chomet (and it actually kind of is! in certain areas). Berlin Before I Went was stark, industrial and full of parties (same deal!). In real life, a place is too myriad, complex, alive, unpredictable and three-dimensional to fit into my little brain, so it is *always* better than how I imagine it, because real life is outside my control.
So, I was just chatting to my dear friend Brook about my upcoming visit to his home-city Manchester and I described it to him as:
"manchester is going to be so fun
such a grimy place
a smart place
in a recession"
He replied: "sure."
Brook is very under-stated, but what he probably meant was "Sure, and all these other things." He did add this:
"though officially it is up and coming. it experienced something of a Renaissance following the IRA bomb. plus a musical heritage you can shake an Australia at and still come out choking."
Did I say Brook is under-stated? I meant he is a crass, rambling maniac. In any case, he is from Manchester, he lives there currently and he will be my host come next February. He also runs a boutique Gin bar with over fifty varieties of Gin. It is like I have designed my life to be Just So.
ANYWAY (for the last time), what I wanted to say was this: I am going to attempt to draw and describe my visions of places before I go and compare the results. This is going to be hilarious, as I cannot draw, but you can hopefully use my words to fill in the blanks, as it were. I won't do this for the North Island, since it is no longer fresh, as I have now seen that it is a place which is wildly alive. That there are mighty rivers carving through valleys which are 'mossy with life' (as my love put it); places where Taniwha live under bridges and local children throw leaves over the edge to honour them.
Coming up: Manchester, Before I went there.