Eketahuna, Palmerston North, Masterton, Greytown, Featherston, Feilding (yes, I spelled that correctly), Levin (pronounced, my friends Mary and Peter were quick to remind me…over and over and over again…”leVINNNNN”), Pahiatua, Carterton, and probably some other places that have slipped through holes in my short term memory.
It was in Levin that we decided to splurge and stay at a B&B. I’m glad we only did that once. It was pleasant. As were the hosts. It was also very expensive, breakfast was HEAVY, and our hostess was as talkative as her husband was taciturn. BUT…their dog, Rollo, stole my heart.
The library in Levin was memorable partly because it’s a new building and a sleek contemporary design, but mostly because it was also the bus station, the post office, the information center, public performance space, public meeting space, and Department of Motor Vehicles. Smack in the middle of the central shopping district. Everybody in town has reason to visit the public library, and for many visitors it’s their first impression of the city.
Again and again, Jack and I were both impressed at the level at which most of these small towns and cities thrived — the towns that had not yet seen their factories go across the ocean and their small farmers get swallowed by factory farming. We also enjoyed going for days at a time without having to look at a single McDonald’s or Starbuck’s logo.
We took a special shine to the town of Masterton. On a weeknight, the main street was buzzing with activity — people going to movies, restaurants, music venues. It reminded me of the town my parents grew up in — Edmond, Oklahoma — about 50 years ago when my cousins and I would walk from Grandma’s to the Bronco Theater, back when Main Street didn’t have a single empty shop.
Teensy little towns we visited — Eketahuna leaps to mind — did appear to be drying up.
Still, Eketahuna (pop. 441) was a little marvel. Not only do they have they world’s coolest giant albino kiwi welcoming visitors at the edge of town, the bare bones little lunch room (Jack and I occupied THE table in this little establishment) served the world’s best curried pumpkin soup. I’m a total soup slut. Especially if it’s pretty and has a kick. This soup was. And it did. But the library! It was in a little warmed over double storefront; sunny, well-tended, and well-used. The librarian told me public school enrollment for the town and surrounding area had fallen to 96 kids, k-8th grade. Twenty-four of them attended my program that day. We never got that kind of a turnout — 25% — at my library in Virginia.
Featherstone gets the prize for Cutest Library in the Eastern and Central District.
I was starting to get kind of punchy. 24 programs in two weeks. So it was with a sense of relief that we finally headed south, out of the Eastern and Central District, into Wellington, where we were to stay for three nights with people we had never met before. BUT — she’s a storyteller, he’s a glass artist, they’re both museum docents. If that doesn’t make for plenty in common and plenty to talk about… They live on a bluff overlooking the airport on one side and Peter Jackson’s sound stage on the other, in a building that was once a soap factory (did I just make that up?) and then an auto parts warehouse, situated next to a warehouse that served as a biker club for Harley Davidson enthusiasts.
We spent an absolutely SPLENDID two days/three nights with these strangers.