Alexa Lawrence: The new-normal picnic is born out of optimism and solidarity

For so long, Aucklanders have been required to maintain physical distance from others, to stay away from crowds and to keep to small household bubbles of contact.

By reducing the number of people with whom we have had contact, we dutifully held out for everyone the promise that we would personally remain healthy and the spread of the virus would be controlled. Inevitably, as a result, we have become used to an uncanny, altered ambience in our neighbourhoods. It has been an extraordinary collective act of solidarity; the team of five million. And all this time, we have been sketching a new version of nationalism, through our singleness of purpose, mutual support, and optimism. Go New Zealand!

Yes, optimism is at the very heart of New Zealand’s Covid response, with its alert levels and lockdown edicts. And it is optimism that has galvanised the good folk of Auckland to behave like decent citizens, adhering to the rules. For many of us, segregation has now become something that is both therapeutic and an act of solidarity. It has made us feel virtuous.

However, this all comes at a cost to us as human beings. We have been shackled by the idea of contagion which is a function of proximity, and proximity turns out to be uncomfortable when contagion is a risk. Historically, pandemic conditions in the past have reshaped buildings and cities and civic behaviour. As expected, we are experiencing just this kind of reshaping of our spaces, our movements and our activities.

On the first weekend in Tāmaki Makaurau after a few level 3 lockdown rules were relaxed, it was a delight to see the local parks come alive with open air conviviality. The warm weather that weekend was an added incentive, encouraging people to take part in open-air bubble-bonding get-togethers. It was as if families and friends were responding to the call as a matter of civic duty, getting out in the fresh air and sunlight, a health and safety measure specifically authorised by the government in its Covid-19 response decree. It was such a marvellous sight, to see that we have not completely forgotten how to exist in a
social community.

The humble picnic, the rediscovered custom of meeting outdoors for a simple meal is definitely worth keeping and practising as often as possible. This is a call to the good citizens of Tāmaki Makaurau, to embrace picnicking as a newfound tradition. It is an inexpensive, easily organised activity and it should become one of the renewed customs that we consolidate for the future. We are shaped as a community by closeness and distance; as human beings, we need to see each other, to make bodily contact and to enjoy the sight of lips forming words.

So, give it a try. Dig out an old woollen blanket (naturally damp proof), find the unbreakable utensils that have drifted to the back of the cupboard, make some old school simple sandwiches, boil some eggs, make fresh lemonade and voila, a picnic! Even better, make it a low carbon activity in your local park. Discover different routes to get there on foot through your increasingly familiar neighbourhood streets.

Get ready and get involved in a simpler, old-style local summer. (ALEXA LAWRENCE)

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Published 5 November 2021