The truth about Palmerston North

People like to mock my town, they mock it
for being too provincial and too boring
and it’s true, not much of import happens here
but I don’t mind. Some people say, when they are asked
what they like about Palmerston North,
that you can always find a park and that’s true,
too, you can always find a park just a short walk
from where you want to go, sometimes right outside,
you don’t have to walk at all, you’re right there.
Of course only people who live in New Zealand
mock Palmerston North, as people who live
outside New Zealand know nothing about it.
People who don’t live in New Zealand mock
our entire little country as a 1950s
throwback with honest, rural folk and unspoilt
scenery which isn’t quite true, our scenery
is spoilt from being looked at too often
and freedom campers, they say, are a problem,
but me, I blame dairy cows. When I lived
in the UK people there thought New Zealand
was a state of Australia, and they would
ask me what was coming up on Neighbours,
thinking I had some kind of inside knowledge,
but the truth is I don’t even watch Neighbours
or indeed any soap operas. Actually
the whole Southern Hemisphere is more or less
written off by people who don’t live here,
as somewhere elsewhere, insignificant,
like Palmerston North, where as I said nothing
much happens. And it’s an undeniable
fact that the magazines I subscribe to
come from exotic places that they flaunt
in their titles, magazines like The New Yorker
and London Review of Books and The Paris Review
but not The Palmerston Northerner.
It’s another fact that The Paris Review
isn’t even published in Paris
and has nothing to say about that city
but it has insightful interviews with famous
writers, some of whom I have read. I have been
to Paris and apart from the architecture
and the food and some very fine cemeteries
and of course the language it’s quite like Palmerston
North, though parking is a nightmare. I never
visited the Louvre but one fine afternoon
I went to the Musée d’Orsay which in the opinion
of many educated people really
is just as good if you like Impressionist
and Post-Impressionist art, which I do.
Still it was nice to come home again, home
to Palmerston North, New Zealand, and to see
the good brown Manawatū River moving
sluggishly under the bridge. It’s not the Seine,
but water is water. Paul Celan threw himself — 
odd phrase, as if he were both baseball and pitcher —
into the Seine. John Cleese said Palmerston North
is the suicide capital of New Zealand,
yet you don’t hear of people throwing themselves
into the Manawatū, which would be a risky
business, but only because of the effluent
from those dairy cows leaching into the river.
We live on a floodplain, and the river is ever
in our thoughts and sometimes our houses.
At such times we are downcast but we lift up
our eyes unto the hills and the windmills
perched on them that turn and turn. One time
I saw a middle-aged woman in the Plaza,
our only shopping mall, with her head tilted
to where the sky would have been, but for the ceiling
and the mood lighting, a stout middle-aged woman
with black mascara, elegantly dressed,
her wet mouth a dark, soundless O, and the crowd
not unsympathetically parting
and reforming around her — rock in the river — 
noticing and not noticing, which is our way.