Reporting From: our Editor-at-Large on finding balance far from home, in rural New Zealand
I’m reporting from Warea, population around 100. It’s somewhere probably 99.9 per cent of Frame readers have never heard of. I’d never heard of it myself until a few years ago, when my brother bought a property out of the city – even though it’s only 40 minutes’ drive from New Plymouth, the place where I grew up and where my parents still call home. It’s beautiful here – fewer than 100 metres to the ocean in one direction and a view to majestic Mount Taranaki the other. Mount Taranaki’s main claim to fame is its role as Mount Fuji in the 2003 Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai. The wider region of Taranaki served as the set, earning it the cringeworthy alias ‘Tom-inaki’ at the time. If that titbit of trivia didn’t make it clear: not that much happens around here.
I normally live in Amsterdam, but had planned a working holiday-slash-family visit before COVID-19 rapidly escalated in both the Netherlands and New Zealand. The idea of coming to a community so quiet it doesn’t even have its own corner store was mighty appealing after spending the last few months dealing with a very stressful home renovation in Amsterdam. Everyone warns you that renovations will likely run overtime and over budget. Check and check. But how could we predict that a global pandemic would be added to the list of pressure points?
We were visiting other family members in the capital city of Wellington when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a nationwide address. After 48 hours, she said, the country would move from COVID-19 Alert Level 3 to Level 4, the highest grade. With no (finished) home to return to in Amsterdam for self-isolation, my boyfriend and I had little choice but to continue our nomadic lifestyle – well, as nomadic as you can be when the country you’re visiting goes into complete lockdown. From Wellington, the plan had been to travel towards the mountain ranges in a camper van, but with all domestic travel banned and campsites quickly shutting their gates, we had to turn back and hunker down here in Warea. Suddenly the camper van – a symbol of freedom and flexibility on the road – became synonymous with restrictions.
That said, we’ve held onto the camper. It’s parked outside my brother’s house in Warea, a back-up room for private meetings and quiet time – a necessity since we’re all working from home while my two young nephews roam the house. The experience has made me ponder what makes me feel at home. How can I carve out my own metaphorical space when I don’t have a physical one? I’m also reminded at this time how flexible we as humans are. How easily we can adjust and adapt to new levels of personal space, or lack thereof.
We don’t know how long this will go on for, nor when we’ll be back in Amsterdam. But we do hope the renovations can finally conclude in our absence. I’m experiencing first-hand what many of our readers must be going through: trying to make design decisions remotely. Being a tactile person, I’m extremely glad we defined all the materials in real life before we left. What an interesting time to try out virtual reality, though, if that were an option. And if we do manage to return to a completed apartment before self-isolation ends, perhaps we’ll just have to hold an online flat warming. At least then no one will spill red wine on the new floor.