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I'm feeling nostalgic for what Wellington used to be – Stuff.co.nz

OPINION: Sitting in the chair at Chop, my favourite hair joint, I found myself, as I often do, listening in to the conversation taking place between Josh, the eternally youthful and quirky senior stylist, and his client, a handsome silver fox.
They were discussing fragrances through the decades. As fragrance is one of my passions, I listened closely. I learned that Rive Gauche, a fragrance my mother adored, was the first of the feminist fragrances. I still have some somewhere, most probably way beyond its best by date. It was the perfume that announced to the world that women were bold, and strong, and could arm wrestle any man in the boardroom, according to the client.
He was absolutely on point. Rive Gauche could knock your socks off from thirty paces. It didn’t smell of flowers or candy. It had notes of money, power, and bold sexuality.
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I am effusive about the history of fragrance, but this guy was a master. As we moved simultaneously to the basins, the conversation turned to him speaking of his coming out to his mother in the nineties, and how her response had been"Darling, are you doing this because it’s fashionable?"
“I smiled to myself, but at this stage was yet to leap into the conversation. It wasn’t till the man mentioned ‘Devotion’, that I could contain myself no longer. I practically squealed,
"Oh, Devotion! I remember Devotion!" and like it or not I worked my way into the chat. I can still smell and taste the Red Bull and vodkas that kept me slightly p…d and slightly pumped at the same time. They were synonymous with Devotion.
Each year I’d grab a mate, generally straight, and head with tickets clutched in hand to the biggest gayest party in Wellington. A party where gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender would dance the night away with us ‘straightos’. It was before anyone identified as binary or pansexual, so the LBGBTQ fitted easily on the ticket stubs, and “he’s” were “he’s” or ‘her’s” , and “she’s” were “she’s” or ‘he’s’, and it was relatively easy to converse without that added pressure of having to correctly use they and them pronouns which, although entirely just, would have been difficult to self-monitor after three Red Bull and vodkas.
We came out of the ‘80s having marched, mourned, and grieved through the AIDS epidemic that had stolen so many of our queer stars and friends in Wellington and overseas. We put away our candles and quilts, and it was time to party.
Auckland had its Hero parade and party: Wellington had ‘Devotion’. Devotion was the biggest party every year for nearly all the decade. I believe the first ‘Devotion’ dance party hit Wellington in 1991, and ended as quickly as it had started before the new Millennium. Each party was an event extreme. It was unapologetically loud, proud and fabulous. By its very nature it got bigger and more carnival-like each year. I attended one at the Overseas terminal. A different celebrity was posted on the door each hour. Georgina Beyer in all her glory was on a microphone welcoming each group of guest as they arrived. Anothe was held in a barn-like building on Taranaki Street, where a full French carousel sat in the middle of the dance floor, with drag queens in full regalia, going around and around all night long. My favourite though was at Civic Square and the Town Hall. I took my husband’s best friend, who loved to dance [My husband was a strict no dance guy] and we partied till at least 3.00am, and by party I mean danced like super freaks, drank Red Bull and vodkas, and copious amounts of water. I’d be making my way through the crowds with my rented angel wings, and ridiculously high silver stilettos enjoying the attention from the occasional hot lesbian, who’d ask me for a pash. I was always back at them with a laugh and the same line, "I’d love to darling, but I’m pathologically straight!"
Thinking about it causes a wave of melancholia to wash over me. Sad also that the very thought of thousands of people crammed together in a glorious jubilant sweaty harmony seems impossible now. As the party got bigger, so apparently did the need for more and more extravagance, butgosh Wellington was so cool back then. We seemed to be the city that embraced diversity. The days of Devotion are long gone, and presently any Pride out in the Park events are on hold. Life is virtually on hold, but my word I want a Wellington like that again.
I want a city that prides itself on ‘Pride’ and being the coolest little Capital in the World. I want an Absolutely Positive Wellington, and not a dreary burnt-out ‘Lets Get Wellington Moving’ tedium.
Next weekend I might head to the famous S&Ms bar, run by the always fabulous Scott and Mal, two of Wellington’s finest queens. I may have a Red Bull minus the vodka, and chat away to them about the good old days of Devotion and diversity in all its hedonistic glory. Then I might wander home and be in bed before midnight – and dream of tottering about dressed as angel and dancing till dawn.
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