Chez Cecile

Press reporter Cecile Meier shares impressions of her new life in Christchurch, far away from home in France, as she struggles to master the quirks of New Zealand English and culture.

Chez Cecile: Cats versus flats

05:00am 27 Feb 2015


A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the perks of apartment central-city living. I forgot to mention a major drawback: I can't have a cat.

It's proven that having a pet makes you a better person. Cat owners are 86 per cent more likely to find enlightenment through petting and 77 per cent less likely to lash out at their colleagues at work thanks to cats' calming properties. They also stand a small but tangible chance of capturing some manic cat behaviour on video and getting rich.

Besides, I've been struggling to feel at home in Christchurch since we came back from our wedding, and getting a kitten might help me feel settled.

In European cities, having a cat, or even a dog, in an apartment is quite common. In New Zealand, not so much. But, still, I briefly hoped I would be able to get a cat in our first-floor one-bedroom flat. We would put a cat door leading to our big terrace. We would let him out in the morning to roam free on Phillipstown's factory rooftops behind us. We would take good care of him. It would be a rescue kitten. I had it all sorted.

My husband Nick, however, was not convinced.

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This ghost town could be great

05:00am 13 Feb 2015


I live in a ghost town. Or, since Christchurch's CBD's population fell from 8000 to just 5000 after the quakes, perhaps I should call it a ''ghosting'' town.

On weekends I drift from street to street in search of company, but all I see are empty car parks, dusty building sites and quiet streets. The few people who do venture into town cluster in a few select spots - New Regent St, the Re:Start and Victoria St at night.

On weekdays there's a little more spirit but it might not be growing fast enough for the early settlers. St Asaph St Kitchen, which had great nachos, has closed and I suspect many other businesses are struggling.

Living in the CBD has lots of perks - you barely need to use your car so you save on petrol, you are close to everything so you don't need to plan for everything in advance and if you don't have a backyard you save time on weeding.

In most cities, you're close to people when you live in the centre.

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Eccles cakes and all the things we now appreciate

05:00am 06 Feb 2015


Last week I wrote about what I learned to appreciate in post-quake Christchurch. I came up with a list of seven things and asked readers to email me their thoughts at the end. Turns out there are many other things I had not thought about. I received a dozen enthusiastic emails sharing little pieces of appreciation for our messy city.

Louise Hadlee said she appreciated "our fabulous Botanical Gardens".

"It is such a special place to relax in or to work out or just to smell the roses."

I completely agree with Louise. Hagley Park is like a temple for me with its majestic trees and precious flowers. I do not belong to any religion so I have no church to go to when I am in need of something bigger than life and reassuring. But a stroll in Hagley Park always quietens my soul and gladdens my heart.

Stephanie Kirk wrote about the temporary bus exchange. I bike most of the time so I never took any notice of it but according to Stephanie it is much better than the old one and she is hoping the new one will be even better.

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Appreciating what there is, not what isn't there

05:00am 30 Jan 2015


Living in Christchurch helps you appreciate little luxuries we take for granted. Seeing as lists are a la mode at the moment, here's my list of the things I've learned to enjoy in our post-quake environment.

1. A brand new road: This week I rode my bike up Manchester St towards Bealey Ave. A collection of potholes and road cones covered the first half of the street. But after Cambridge Tce, a brand new road awaited me. The white lines of the biking lane shone brightly against the fresh, dark tar. Riding on it felt smooth and luxurious.

2. Birdsong: I work in the CBD where construction workers, trucks and cranes drill, rumble and howl. But a five-minute walk takes me from my office to Hagley Park, where birds sing and willow trees brush gently against the Avon River.

3. Libraries: Yes, the city is broken and dysfunctional but many things still work well. I recently signed up to the city libraries and I was amazed to find there were four libraries within biking distance of my house. You can find a huge variety of books online and place holds to pick them up at your nearest library. Librarians are helpful and knowledgeable. While the city council is struggling, let's not forget what it's getting right.

4. New buildings: I remember driving past the Stranges building construction site in 2013 and thinking it was taking forever to build and would never be finished. This persistently incomplete steel shell was my Southern Cross reassuring me I was going the right way to work. Now, it's a brand new building with sharp steel angles, a strong presence and a burger outlet tucked in behind it.

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More to the night sky than meets the eye

05:00am 23 Jan 2015


I've always liked looking up at the dark night sky.

It's peaceful and mysterious and it was when looking up at the stars from a camping mattress in the Swiss Alps that I first kissed my husband, Nick.

Since moving to New Zealand two years ago, I've spotted a few shooting stars while on holiday at Arthur's Pass and marvelled at the darkness on overnight tramps but I've never really given the stars the attention they deserve.

So last week we decided to play tourist and went on a night-sky tour up to Mt John Observatory in Tekapo.

We had not planned around the weather forecast but it happened to be a perfectly clear, windless, moonless night.

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