On Returning to Dunedin

A couple of random thoughts

1) The dog days of summer inspire a vague melancholy in me that I never quite understood. But yesterday, my hairdresser said by way of apology for being late and introduction to his other client, “Susan’s having an ‘I don’t like Dunedin day.'” The weather, the emptiness of the town were getting her down. “Yes,” I said, “when you’re in Dunedin, summer is something that happens somewhere else.” And it’s true, people lying on sunny beaches, going home salty and sandy after a swim, hanging out at the bach, fishing pristine waters, or lounging by the lake, are not doing those things around Dunedin. Summer starts three hours from here, in Central Otago or in Canterbury. Most everyone travels the necessary three hours and those who don’t are left in a summer limbo – the town shuts down and most of the fun and sun seems to be elsewhere. Dunedin has its hot moments of course. The summer before I left for Canada was amazing. I went from 30+ degrees in Dunedin to particularly big snow year in Vancouver and was years recovering from the shock! And even this summer began well, although the new year has not been so kind. But on the whole, summer here is a wistful kind of experience.

2) Petra and I paid a brief visit to the Dunedin Art Gallery this afternoon. It’s currently showing an exhibition called Beloved, which is a display of treasures from the gallery’s permanent collection. We walked in the door to see a Goldie, Francis Hodgkins’ wonderful self-portrait, and a painting of Eros and Psyche.

Eros by Solomon J Solomon

All of them familiar and well-loved by me, and by generations of Dunedinites. I was thrown back into gallery visits past, to my university years, to the time when the gallery was in a low-slung rectangle of a building down by the soccer fields and cricket pitches of the University Oval. I whiled away many a rainy winter Sunday meandering round the old gallery so that the items on regular display became part of my Dunedin landscape. The new gallery is a beautiful, light-filled space, much bigger and more functional than the old gallery, but it doesn’t yet have the layers of associations for me that the old gallery had.

So two very different forms of nostalgia in the last couple of days. Repatriating after a long absence does all kinds of odd and interesting things to one’s internal time/space continuum.

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