Churistchurch rolled out the white carpet for us this evening. A low-lying fog blanketed the city and the snow-capped peaks on the horizon were prettiness itself as we came in to land over a sunsetted sea.
I remembered again the first time I flew into Christchurch, the time before I was here on Feb. 22 when the town crumbled around me. She was an orderly, well-kempt place then that reminded me of a gentle country place. The Canterbury Plains, stretching out to the mountains, were broken by tall, straight-backed windbreaks that seemed to be trying to tame the winds themselves. The Central Business District back then did nothing to deter from that general impression of a good-mannered and well-presented place, a place that made you tighten your tie and straighten your posture - just to make a good impression.
A lot has happened since then, of course. But today - from above - I got the sense of an elderly grand dame getting up after a fall, dusting herself off and straightening her hair. The bellboy at my hotel was quick to point out that the construction cranes were carrying out a long-planned expansion - and were not doing earthquake reconstrution. The new airport - also long-ago planned - is all shiny and impressive. The All Blacks, playing Ireland, had just brought international rugby back to the city for the first time in two years. (As an example of the sense of order demanded by Cantabrians, the lead story of The Press today bemoaned the drunken "shenanigans" of AB fans at the game: 5 people had been arrested and 11 thrown out. Shit, worse stuff happens at our family picnics, far less at an internatioanal ball game.)
Yes, it was a much more upbeat arrival than I've had during my several trips down here after the earthquake. It's been a long, hard slog in between, of course.
I realize that's just the way it seems on the outside. Once you get to talking to the locals, progress is something that's snorted at, not embraced. Every house, it seems, has been damaged and precious few have been fixed. People are living in garages or tents and it's cold now and things aren't getting close to normal anywhere near soon enough. Bureaucracy has ground everything to a halt and there are plenty of pissed off people who are mad at everything with nothing better to do than bitch about it. And I get that.
But, more slowly than surely, things are happening. And the city is getting its vibe back. Christchurch is still that unique and wonderful place I first fell in love with so long ago. When it's done, it's going to be something entirely different, entirely new and equally unique. And that's because of the folks that live here: the stoic, gallow's-humored, vivacious residents who have put up with so much disaster and come through with their humor intact.
Christchurch ain't going anywhere. And it may just be coming back.