Friday, May 18, 2007

Auckland: urban Sails

This city is large. I've been learning to navigate it in my Toyota Carat on the Wrong Side. It's the world's 4th largest city - in area. It only has 1.7 million people. If you'd like a definition of sprawl, this is it. But it's of a distinctly different flavor, don't worry. No preplanned neighborhoods, a modicum of 'shoppingcenters' 'minimalls' etc. There is considerable elevation contrast, due to the fact that the entire metropolitain area is built upon the Auckland volcanic field. Imagine Flagstaff flooded and covered with quaint houses and a Seattle-like waterfront (complete with Space Needle). And trees.

The Candlers arrived, and we took a look at that waterfront. Apart from the world championship racing yachts, 200-year old schooners, James Bond style badguy boats, swanky catamarans, charming 2-person sloop rigs, giant 10-story shipping cranes, endless eateries, huge buildings, glorious houses, massive trees, lovely parks and volcanic pavement, there isn't really anything interesting around.

We visited the fish market where you can find anything you want, and quite a great deal more that you don't. Famous NZ green mussels to smoked stingray. Octopus by the pound, giant lonely ichthyan ovaries stuffed full of roe - all part of your standard shopping basket here. The sea is so very present here. But unlike the southeastern Atlantic coast, there isn't a briny breeze, there's no salt spray, no sticky seagully ocean feel. The Pacific makes itself known in subtle ways. Stinking two-foot long lobsters for example.

We ate 'tea' at a place called The Sushi Train. That's it, you've got the right picture I think. You sit down, and a conveyor belt of sushi is in front of you, constantly presenting you with a never-ending array of maritime treats. The plates are color coded. Eat all you like, they'll count up the plates when you're through. An excellent arrangement. The table favorite was probably Volcano Roll - a prodigious nest of shredded crab atop some nice rolls garnished by a spectacular arrangement of roe in very lava-like colors. To enhance the scortching provocation, the Sensei of the poissonerie applied butane torch flames right before our eyes.

They call this the City of Sails. They mean it. The only other thing they have more of are volcanoes, asian cars and random syllables like 'eh'. To live here and give some sort of meaning to your existence, it would seem requisite to own at least a token sailboat. Auckland is more like an archipelago than anything else. There's only one bridge.

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