Steve Braunias: The perfect summer of 2022 is a fool’s paradise


This is the best summer ever. It’s one for the ages, one to remember and treasure, and build into our very identity as inhabitants of a truly lucky country – summer makes sense of New Zealand, and in particular its largest city, that shining citadel of the north, that town of port and isthmus, good old Auckland. We are a littoral city. Water, water everywhere, and summer makes all of it sparkle. It’s like we live on a diamond. But a shadow is looming.

This is the best summer ever. It comes off the back of the worst winter and spring ever, the Great Lockdown of 2020, four months in a leaky boat that decidedly did not float. Auckland in lockdown was like a dreary shipwreck story of survival where the crew were marooned on a reef, every day was the same, time ceased to exist, people died, and the only subjects of interest were food and rescue. It was the worst story ever told and maybe we’re going to have to tell it again.

This is the best summer ever. What amazing weather! Even Invercargill measured 32. Invercargill! Even more of a miracle was the fact that it didn’t rain in Auckland on Christmas Day. It’s usually a grey, showery drag, but Xmas 2021 was a peach, and every day since then has been a peach. It’s the summer of peaches, all of them golden and ripe, day after day of earthly delight. “Too much of a good thing,” Liberace used to say, “is marvellous.” But something worse than rain is coming.

This is the best summer ever. You can measure it in beach towels. There they are, curled up like warm cats in the back of the car on the way to the beach. There they are, rolled up like logs under your arm to the sand. There they are, spread out flat as shields on the sand. There they are, sticky with sand and salt after a swim. There they are, hanging over railings at the end of the day, pegged up on camping ground and motel clotheslines at the end of the day, curled up like wet cats in the back of the car at the end of the day. The beach towel is the true flag of New Zealand. John Key’s proposed new flag looked like a beach towel. But every day feels like it’s about to be hung at half-mast.

This is the best summer ever. Every day feels like it might be the last. Strange to exist in a state of bliss at the same time in a state of something not exactly resembling panic but not too far from it. The summer of 2022 is a fool’s paradise. Ever since lockdown was relaxed and the borders were opened, happiness has risen in the air like heatwaves off of tar. Holidays in Ruakākā, in Taupō, in St Martin’s Bay; climbing, tramping, road tripping; to remain in Auckland is to wander empty streets, and enjoy the silence. But the price of freedom in the age of Covid is eternal vigilance. We scan the horizons for something closely resembling an incoming terror and there’s nothing we can do to stop it, not really.

This was the best summer ever. It’s already feeling like a past tense. Helter skelter is coming down fast, in the shape of all the bristling spikes on that little rat known as the Omicron variant. Headline the other day in the Medical News: “Did Omicron evolve in mice?” Let’s kill all the mice. Let’s wait and see if it all blows over. It won’t blow over. Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, wants a word. Ignore it. You can’t ignore it. New Zealanders might expect the “next outbreak to occur in 18 days”, said Covid-19 modelling expert Dr Michael Plank, four days ago. Okay so another fortnight of summer sounds awesome. Enjoy every second of it if it lasts that long, or longer, or not even that long. Relax. Don’t relax. Stock up now on sausages, prawns, chops, all the barbecue essentials. There are now 10 million new Omicron cases worldwide. New Zealand, at the end of the world, waits patiently at the end of the queue, for the end of the golden weather, but right now this is the best summer ever.

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