I once wrote about happening upon a little town named Rothenburg, while travelling through Germany in the heyday of my youth. What set Rothenburg apart from every other quaint little gated German town was the fact that it was a ‘Christmas town’. And it was not hard to see why that was: the town celebrated Christmas every single day of the year!
Similarly, when I headed to Paris a few days later, I immediately saw why it was called the City of Love. While Paris -unlike Rothenburg -did not put on a garish daily chocolate-and-roses parade (something which would, no doubt, be decidedly un-Parisian), every day certainly felt like it was some kind of Valentine’s Day.
Romance danced in the air. There was an effervescent energy that hinted at myriad possibilities. It was clear: Paris was not a city that had forgotten how to love, even amidst the hustle and bustle of daily commutes on le metro, ferocious politics and the incoherent babble of (French) management speak.
One thing I have discovered since then, however, is that the French capital is not the only City of Love in the world. In fact, Italy has at least three: Rome, Venice and Verona. Then there are Prague, Vienna and Barcelona, and the little-known Hoi An in Vietnam.
So what makes for a City of Love? I cannot say it is necessarily because of the couples making out on every corner -though of this there was certainly no shortage. What I can say is that in each of these cities, whether you are single or coupled up is immaterial. The particular brand of magic is felt in the joie de vivre that the place inspires. It is evident in everyday interactions and innocent flirtations, and in every morsel of food -whether gourmet or bought at the local grocer’s and prepared at home -where each bite makes you fall in love with the place and with life just a little bit more.
In a City of Love, there is an insistence on beauty in the ordinary, and beautiful natural and man-made structures can transport you into other worlds. Life becomes about pleasure and doing just a little bit more of what you please than you otherwise would. Whatever your age, you feel young and free and every day holds a sense of optimism and endless possibility. Intellect mingles with passion and creativity abounds.
Against this backdrop, it is easy to see how you can fall head-over-heels in love with someone several times over.
This is not to say that the people of these cities are mindless fluffballs living in delusion and denial. Nor is it to say that these cities are not without pressing social concerns and serious financial challenges. What it does point to, however, is that a City of Love is one where it is entirely possible to live a life of romance and pleasure amongst the functionality and demands of life in the modern world.
Love is so much more than a bunch of roses and a Hallmark card once a year. And so is Hamilton.
Hamilton is New Zealand’s City of Love. It is not Paris or Rome (because how can any city in a country as young as ours compare?), but it is the only city in New Zealand that evokes that same kind of feeling of freedom and pleasure in the everyday.
I found myself falling in love in Hamilton and with Hamilton almost at the same time, at the close of the first decade of the new millennium. I had left behind the modern -but sterile and expectant -comforts of the City of Sails to embrace the brave, new and completely foreign world of the Tron.
The last thing I had expected from Hamilton was the heady rush of new love. Yet, I should not have been surprised. No city in New Zealand loves itself more openly and shamelessly than Hamilton loves itself (how else can you explain the hundreds of people who are on #lovethetron?) All the world loves a lover, and it is hard not to be swept up in that tide.
If the way to our hearts is through our stomachs, Hamilton definitely has culinary pleasure down to a fine art. This is a city that makes a meal out of loving food. And we don’t just love an establishment because of rave reviews or trendy new concoctions. Whether you are being wined and dined at the upmarket Victoria Street Bistro or eating from a stall at one of our many markets, this is a city where good food is the norm, not something special to be savoured on occasion.
Beauty in the everyday is also part of the norm. Leisurely ambles along the river, around the lake and across the city’s many bridges are not only favourite pastimes for Hamiltonians, but also part and parcel of daily commutes to work and school. The Hamilton Gardens is the perfect marriage of nature and nurture, elevating what could have been a simple open space into a whimsical work of art and fantasy, perfect for picnics, outdoor theatre and stolen kisses. Being free to enter makes one free to fall in love.
Perhaps the very nature of being free has something to do with the making of a City of Love. So much of the world’s great Cities of Love is free to look at, to touch, to smell, to feel. And if not free, then very affordable. That is not to say that everything is free or cheap. But rather, that there are enough very good quality options that are so accessible to you, that you can fully commit yourself to experiencing joy without the stress of constantly pinching pennies (stress is, after all, not conducive to love). From buskers on the street, to public art, to happy interactions with locals –Hamilton leaves you free to fall in love with life a little bit more.
And perhaps it is this freedom that gives us permission to think, to create, to play and to sing. Hamilton is a city with possibility around every corner. You can be who or what you want to be, with very little expectation of what you should be. With the freedom to pursue absolutely anything , it is little wonder that so many of New Zealand’s greatest thinkers, creators, musicians and athletes come from Hamilton. After all, La Belle Époque did take place in one City of Love, and the Renaissance in another.
Hamilton is New Zealand’s City of Love because it is a city where love is celebrated everyday and in the every day. Amongst the humdrum of everyday life, worrying statistics and absurd politics that plague all New Zealand cities, Hamilton is the one city where you can escape to a place of pleasure without actually having to leave home. No wonder then, that we continue to love the Tron.