Cecile Meier: Mood swings in a broken city

HAPPY MOOD: Cecile Meier (left) and photographer Tanya Mariel Iniguez at the opening of the pop-up exhibition AGROPOLIS at the ArtBox Gallery on Madras St.
HAPPY MOOD: Cecile Meier (left) and photographer Tanya Mariel Iniguez at the opening of the pop-up exhibition AGROPOLIS at the ArtBox Gallery on Madras St.

I've experienced all sorts of feelings about living in Christchurch this week. 

Madness bloomed when I got lost in the central city's maze of blocked roads, one-way streets, and roadworks. I wanted to run over all the orange cones, like bowling pins. No, what I really wanted was to bike and feel a breeze go through my hair. But no one was biking on that street. No one was walking either.

Just a few grumpy drivers, who annoyingly seemed to know their way, and empty building facades barely hiding the decrepitude inside. Then I finally saw a landmark: the building under construction I see everyday on my way to work. The one that seems like it will never be finished. 

''Christchurch, I'm sick of you,'' I thought.

But on Sunday I felt calm as I wandered on Sumner beach. The sand cooled my feet and I played with the waves, running away at the last minute to keep my pants dry. I could have walked on this beach for hours without ever getting bored of all the different ways the wet sand reflected the sky. Underfoot it was not too soft, not too firm; just right for breaking into the occasional run.''I quite like you after all, Christchurch,'' I thought.

Frustration returned when I searched rental listings with my fiance. Our house is cold in winter and far from the city. We looked for a warm house, close enough to the city to bike. But the houses looked badly insulated and damp. Just looking at the photos, you could feel how cold and wet and moldy they would get in winter. The walls might have been freshly painted, but the carpet seemed old and the rooms dark. The average rent was $500 a week.

''Christchurch, you're pushing your luck,'' I thought.

Later, I felt happy again at a gallery opening in a tiny container. The black and white photos showed men and women cleaning up debris and rubble to build an urban farm in one of Christchurch's empty spaces. A picture of them laughing together made me nostalgic for my friends far away in Europe. But friendly locals and people with accents from all over the world talked to me. And a nice woman I'd just met kissed me goodbye on both cheeks before I left.

''I can do this, Christchurch,'' I thought.

It's easy to blame a bad mood on your surroundings when you're in a broken city that's struggling through recovery. But I had mood swings in Zurich too, where everything ran like clockwork. And in Nice, and in New York. I just couldn't blame it on road works or badly insulated houses.

I've tried to learn from two iconic modern philosophers: Gandhi said ''each one has to find his peace from within. And peace, to be real, must be unaffected by outside circumstances.'' 

And Kung Fu Panda said ''anything is possible when you have inner peace''.

I need to take responsibility for my moods. But even Gandhi's patience would be tested if he tried to find a flat in Christchurch. 

The Press