Steve Braunias on living the dream under the same star
Xmas in my new house is like I'm living the dream or, more to the point, it's like I'm living someone else's dream. I have moved into New Zealand's most expensive suburb and am so far coping pretty admirably as likely the poorest person in that suburb. But we are all one beneath the Star of Bethlehem and my Xmas is as good as anyone else's Xmas in this little radius of incomprehensible wealth. I have a Xmas tree. I bought it from a house on my street; I picked it up and walked it across the road. The next day, Grant Dalton arrived to buy his Xmas tree. He picked it up and would have sailed it across the Waitematā if the price was right.
Xmas in my new house is very, very quiet. It's like I am living in a zone of incomprehensible silence. It's like the end of the world in this neck of the woods, somewhere deserted and abandoned – the rich have packed up and gone to their holiday homes, which are possibly as big as their city homes, which are as large as ships. The static of conversations in holiday homes in Coromandel and Wānaka and Taupō and Queenstown linger in the air. I wonder if they're talking about money, but do the rich actually talk about money? Maybe they just go out and make it. The poor always talk about money. I'm aware that right now I'm talking about money.
Xmas in my new house is littered with petals. The footpaths are stained red with pōhutukawa flowers, and there's a Jaguar parked beneath a jacaranda tree up the street – it's like an art exhibition, every day the car is covered with a deeper layer of jacaranda flowers and leaves. There are a lot of palm trees. The tallest palm trees are in front of a very, very large house that used to be owned by one of the world's richest sheikhs. I met someone recently who told me a story about how in the early 2000s she was a waitress at a restaurant around the corner from the sheikh's oasis of palm trees. One night the sheikh came for dinner. When it came time to pay the bill, he said to her that he was very impressed with her demeanour, her poise, her professionalism, then explained that he owned 600 houses around the world and that each needed a property manager, then asked her if she would like to work for him as the property manager at his house in Paris. She lived for many years in France. I suppose it was a kind of tip.
Xmas in my new house is lapped by water. There are a series of lovely little bays. The tide creeps in, and the tide creeps out, expensively. I keep noticing an old, tanned guy who arrives at the one of the bays in the late afternoon. He has long hair, wears tight white jeans, and nipple rings that catch the last of the sunlight. He brings loud music. He takes possession of the beach. Someone always greets him, and he says things like, "Hey man, who's your lovely lady?" At low tide, the suburb continues to be lapped by water: there are very, very many swimming pools. They form a kind of river. I recently read Home Before Dark, Susan Cheever's memoir of her father, the great author John Cheever. She writes, "The incinerator was often merrily ablaze with letters and manuscripts, journals, and old notes. One afternoon he fed the flames three-quarters of a short novel he had written about a man who swims across a suburban county from swimming pool to swimming pool. The pages he had left became the short story 'The Swimmer'." I read the memoir on the beach visited by the man with glistening nipple rings.
Xmas in my new home is awesome. My girlfriend arrived from Wellington to stay the week before Xmas; we wandered the scented avenues beneath the jacaranda trees, and swam in the bays. My daughter woke up on Xmas Day and unwrapped the presents beneath the Xmas tree she had chosen from across the road. We are living a dream of the same thing everyone who has any kind of love in their lives is dreaming this Xmas: a dream of incomprehensible happiness.