"That was the best day of the trip so far" said Nina, with the typical exaggeration and amnesia of a nine-year-old. With so many UNESCO World Heritage sites under our belt, with Beijing, Sydney, Fraser Island and Fox Glacier still bearing 'Wet Paint' signs in my own mind, why in god's name did she choose Napier, pretty though it is, as The Best? You tell me.
Out of the various options Napier had to offer, Nina nad Sara chose the playground and Marine World. Letizia and I chose a self-guided tour of the Art Deco buildings, and the Earthquake Museum (Napier was flatted in 1935 by an 8.6 quake and subsequently rebuilt in an almost uniform Art Deco style).
The playground turned out to be what Italians call a 'pacco' - a waste of time, something that doesn't deliver on its promise. A disappointment. It was relatively new, wit a quirky design that looked well against the Art Deco backdrop of the town. But it was ill-concieved and badly maintained. The girls squeezed what they could from it, but left knowing that, given the glowing reports we had received, it should have been better.
They endured the Art Deco tour before falling gratefully upon Marine World, fuelled with stories of being able to hold penguins. These girls have fed wild dolphins in Tangalooma, and seen dozens of them surf the bow waves of the catamaran on Milford Sound. They've seen truely spectacular synchronized dolphin shows in the Gold Coast. Napier's Marine World, on the face of it, should have been a let down. But that same childhood amnesia and fixation with the here and now prevailed. They loved the tricks of the single, ancient dolphin called Kerry. And although they've seen fur seals in the wild on at least 3 occasions here in New Zealand, they still adored the pup that was taken for walkies around the thin Winter crown that lay scattered about the small poolside terraces. The half-hearted applause sounded like piss dribbling out of a bucket onto concrete, but that didn't diminish their enthusiasm. And at the end of the show, they did get to hold a penguin; a Little Blue called Alfred who was missing one eye and blind in the other. An admission-paying parent might mistake this for a 'pacco', and a pathetic one at that. But Nina and Sara, as they posed with the shivering bundle (penguins, the girls reminded me, shiver from warmth rather than cold) just felt how good the moment was.
We duely visited the museum where the girls remained unmoved by an old lady's filmed testimony of the earthquake, whereas I was close to tears. But they were just words from an old lady with a lot of makeup. Words are rarely enough for kids.
After our relatively busy day, we relaxed in the hostel for a few hours. I tried to read but failed; I was dragged to the pool table where my daughters found themselves in unquestionable need of help (this was their first time playing pool) but unwilling to properly accept it. "We'll just use our own rules, Daddy". When I challenged Letizia to a game, and discovered that it was also her first time, Nina and Sara looked on, in open-mouthed thrall of their father's consummate skill. I'm a below-average player of pool. Well below average. I should have been a 'pacco'. I know that I'm a 'pacco'.
We ate dinner in a Mongolian BBQ, where most appealing characteristic for the girls was the unlimited supply of icecream and soft drinks that came with the meal. Letizia and I are unashamed hard-asses when it comes to eating healthily, but every now and then we ignore our own rules. Afterwards, we walked back to the hostel joking about all the funny made-up words the girls used by mistake just a few years ago (they love stories about when they were younger). And this was the contented atmosphere in which Nina proclaimed this to be The Best Day So Far.
More often than not, I don't respond in the positive to my daughters' requests to play. I'm stuck in a book, talking to Letizia, or worse - working on this stupid blog. Too often, I am missing one eye, and blind in the other. But not today. Today I played pool, joined in, laughed - I might even have skipped at one point. I did enough today for my amnesiac daughters to forget the fact that their father is often something of a 'pacco', and they just felt how good the moment was.
If it's this easy, this inanely, embarassingly easy to make them happy, why the hell can't I manage to do it every day?