The bone chilling record breaking cold that ushered in Omaha’s New Years Eve (fourteen below zero), and 2018 New Years Day (twenty below zero) caused me to retreat back into Westroads Mall, and once again become a Mall Walker. It had been over six months since I last walked the long mall corridors. In late March of 2017 when spring was dismissing winter, and the mornings were being warmed by the gentle spring heat I left Westroads for the streets of the neighbourhood; and when the November mornings first started to become dim and cold I retreated from the bleak start of winter to New Zealand and the The Land Down Under for a little over a month. When I set foot in Westroads I wondered if my old Mall Walker mates would still be walking. They weren’t really mates, I had never talked to any of them and I didn’t know any of their names; it was the unnoticed slight nod of the head, the indiscernible move of the index finger as we passed that bonded us as a band of Mall Walkers. I’m more vocal with my new Mall Walker mates. When we pass, we slow down our pace or speed it up so we can exchange banter about the weather, or the number of laps we have to go.
The other day when I stood before a Westroads urinal I was mesmerised by the grout lines between the white subway tiles that were the wall in front of me. As my eyes followed the lines my head turned toward each of the four walls; my eyes started moving from side to side, and down, and then straight ahead. I was enclosed in a container of ceramic subway tiles. I stood inside the sterile white space, and as I followed the straight lines of grout between the tiles my mind wandered; I began to understand why the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an opponent of a straight line.
Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser was an Austrian born, New Zealand citizen, artist and architect. In February 2000, seventy two year old Friedie left for the big art studio in the sky. He had spent most of his early life in Europe, but as time went by he hung out more and more in New Zealand; buying land in the North Island close to the small town of Kawakawa. Friedie assumed New Zealand citizenship in 1983. In 1998 the Kawakawa Community Board recognised that their forty year old public dunny in the town’s main street needed to be upgraded. Friedei came to the rescue by offering a design of wavy lines, irregular ceramic tiles, small sculptures, coloured glass, cobblestone flooring, grass roof, and a living tree. He thought of the toilet as a special place. A place where you meditate; somewhat similar to a church.
Our first stop in New Zealand was the vibrant hipster Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. The main street, Ponsonby Road, is lined with bars, bistros, restaurants, galleries, and coffee shops. Crossing the international date line, and flying for twelve hours had confused my circadian rhythm, so I was awake enough to start an explorative stroll of Ponsonby the second morning we were in New Zealand. The first morning was spent straggling through customs and immigration at the Auckland Airport, navigating the airport rental car services, and wandering along freeways to Ponsonby without GPS. The air was still crisp when I set out toward Ponsonby Road. The morning commute into central Auckland had not started; as soon as I turned from Ponsonby Terrace on to the main street I was met with a parade of dog walkers, and lycra wearing joggers and cyclists. As I sauntered along, dodging and weaving the colourful lycra, I had serious thoughts about buying a pair of lycra compression jogging shorts to wear to walk the neighbourhood, or the long corridors of Westroads.
I sat on a steel mesh bench at the back of a harbour ferry chatting to a couple of Kiwi pensioners as the Auckland skyline was defining itself. The pensioners lived just outside of Auckland, and because pensioners can travel for free on trains, and selected bus and ferry services, after 9am on weekdays, they were treating themselves to a day trip to Davenport. They were going to wander around the boutiques, galleries, parks, cafes of Davenport. I walked to the North Head Historic Reserve; the grassy cliff top looking out to Auckland City and the Waitemata Harbour is a welcoming resting spot.
Mission Bay is a short drive from Auckland’s Central Business District; it’s a sheltered white sand beach with grassy areas alongside a vibrant strip of cafés, restaurants, bars, and a dairy. If I had only been told a dairy is a corner shop or milk bar, I would have tried a hokey pokey the first day in New Zealand. Kiwi’s love hokey pokey; vanilla ice cream that has small lumps of honeycomb toffee folded into it. Back in the early sixities I couldn’t get enough of hokey pokey; it was Johnny Chester’s and the Thunderbirds first record and was a top 10 hit in Melbourne.
After a few days in Auckland I had conquered the AT HOP public transport fare card, learned to recognise a dairy, and decided I had no interest in doing the Harbour Bridge climb or bungee juming from the top of Sky Tower. It was time to venture North to visit; the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the birthplace of New Zealand and a museum of Māori tradition and culture, the township of Russell, New Zealand’s first sea port and first European settlement, the mythical Hokianga Harbour and Kauri Coast, or the Hundertwasser Toilet. We headed off to the Hundertwasser, Kawakawa mosaic marvel; it’s not every day that you get to visit a loo that’s a world renowned attraction. If you’re going to drive three hours to visit a public dunny, that’s crowded with camera toting sightseers and internationally recognised as a work of art, you have to make it worthwhile; you’d better be well prepared.
Well prepared means a full bladder to ensure an all powerful stream to move the trough lolly across the irregular colourful ceramics. Doctors say that if you’ve got a healthy system your bladder can comfortably hold about two cups of urine for two to five hours. It was to late now to start any bladder training; if we had planned on visiting the Hundertwasser Toilet before leaving the US I would have started some sort of training to stretch the bladder muscle. I just had to improvise and prepare the best I could. It was a little over a three hour drive straight up State Highway 1 to the Kawakawa mosaic marvel, so I figured a few glasses of kiwi fruit juice and a couple of cans of L&P before leaving Auckland should put me right; and if I throw in a few extra cans of L&P to top up the bladder about 25 miles outside of Kawakawa then my bladder should be ready for the mosaics.
Kiwi’s love their L&P; a light yellow fizzy soft drink that was traditionally made by mixing lemon juice with the special carbonated mineral water from Paeroa. Hence the name L&P. Coca Cola now makes L&P and I don’t think they use the original special mineral water; maybe that’s why I gave it the same taste rating as hokey pokey. Now I’m all for Kiwi’s claiming L&P and hokey pokey ice cream as their own, but it’s stretching it when they start claiming pavlova, Weet-Bix, lamingtons, ANZAC biscuits, meat pies, and flat white coffee; why not invent a Marmite smoothie to claim as their own. All it would take is whacking a couple of tablespoons of Marmite into a blender with a cup of milk, throwing in a heap of peeled kiwi fruit cut into chunks, a few chopped feijoas and dollop of manuka honey, and then blending until smooth.
And that would be a perfect addition to two of the smoothies at Elaine’s Kitchen; Topical Happiness is a smoothie full of those vitalising nutrients that increase happy hormones, pineapple, peach, mango, chia seeds, passionfruit and coconut, and the Choco Engerizer is full of the energizing elements, banana, maca root powder, cacao powder, peanut butter and almond milk. Elaine’s is on Kawakawa’s main street just a few shops down from the famous public thunderbox. Elaine and her mum Shelly run the restaurant, and they focus on foods and cakes that are gluten, dairy, and refined sugar free. Elaine didn’t bat an eye when we ordered a lamb salad without the lamb, and a lamb burger with the lamb; the traditional burger egg and pineapple was replaced by whipped feta and beetroot, baby spinach, sautéed onions and nana’s relish.
We chatted over a flat white and a few gluten free bliss balls and slices, made only with the good sugar, and because Elaine had at one time lived in Auckland we felt comfortable in asking if she knew how we could go by the black sand beach on the way back to Auckland; she consulted with her mum, and they gave us wonderful hand written directions. Knowing that we had at least a two hour drive to the black sand beach we bid farewell, and visited, for one last practical and philosophical cause, the Hundertwasser Toilet.
Even though three in four Kiwi’s live in the North Island it’s a sparsely populated landscape. State Highway 16 is a two lane road meandering through rolling rural countryside; without a lot of directional signage. We never did find the black sand beach. We should have trusted Elaine’s directions. After driving for some time and feeling lost in the rolling hills and lush farmlands we turned around so as to double back onto the main road leading to Auckland.
Maybe I should start collecting glass bottles, ceramic tiles, computer motherboards, vintage cutlery, Tesla coils, and old refrigerator parts to create assemblages and a bench for the backyard. It would be a space for art, humankind and nature to mingle; a self reflection garden of whimsy. Just a thought.