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Monday, February 27, 2006

Melbourne Minutes

Four Seasons

They say that if you don't like the weather in New England, all you have to do is wait for five minutes. Well, in Melbourne at this time of the year, you have to wait for 24 hours. This week, in succession, it's been humid and sunny, cool and autumnal, delightful and spring-like, and this morning it was damp, followed by stormy spells of rain. One's wardrobe has proved to be woefully inadequate.

Ki Gull Hai

A collection of birds fussing and pecking at a nearby park is identified by one's companion as seagulls. This comes as a surprise: in one's urban imagination, seagulls are white and menacing, with large wing spans (hold on, are those albatrosses?). In any case, these seagulls, with white and ash-coloured plumage, seem placid and content to co-exist with human beings taking in the sun, occasionally uttering raucous though muted cries. The birds, not the humans.

Playing Opossum

At other parks, one notices that the trunks of eucalyptus trees are protected by plastic wrapping. This, one is informed, is to protect the bark from opossums, which prowl along suburban lanes. Late that night, one detects a small, grey shape slinking behind a line of parked cars; early the next morning, one hears an oddly metallic, staccato cry.

Sightings

An elderly Sikh behind the counter at a convenience store wears a T-shirt that proclaims 'I Slurp For Australia'. A store that provides office security systems with the baseline "The Eye That Never Closes" sports a placard that says, "Sorry, We're Closed". A Kenyan taxi driver confesses that one of the things he doesn't like about the city is that children -- his son, in particular -- are prone to eczema. Another taxi driver, when asked whether he's aware of the whereabouts of the Supper Inn in Melbourne's Chinatown, whips out a map and says, "Ah, it's on Celestial Avenue." (And so it is.) At a camera store, a beefy Australian, when asked whether a DVD-RW manufactured by JVC would work on a Sony Handycam, replies, "Do Ford cars run only on Ford petrol?". Near the HMV store at the intersection of Swanston and Bourke, a quartet, possibly Aboriginal, plays on the sidewalk -- the music is a cross between the Gypsy Kings and St Germain. The next day, their place is taken by a scruffy blond Australian wielding a guitar who sounds like nothing on earth.

Second-hand Experience

Carlton Books, a second-hand bookstore near Melbourne University, proves to be a wonderful discovery. Here, there are eight rooms of books, four up and four down, and the landing, too, is lined with shelves. The books are splendidly and painstakingly classified, from Fiction to Women's Studies to Anthropology to History to Politics to Film to Art and more. Passing over a Latin translation of Winnie the Pooh and Gould's History of Freemasonry, Vols I - V, one chooses J.P. Donleavey's The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthasar B, Charles Dickens' American Notes and Grace Paley's Just As I Thought. One leaves the store with regret; it's a place one could live in.

Sidewalking

To stroll down the tony streets of South Yarra, the buzzing, restauraunt-lined Lygon Street or the tourist-afflicted area of St Kilda's is to be once more struck with regret that the streets in Mumbai have no sidewalks to speak of. Here, conversations, enounters, gossip, shopping and -- most importantly -- eating and drinking take place out in the open, and there seems to be no better way of being part of the city than to take a seat at one of the cafes, delis, patesseries and other restaurants that have spilled over onto the sidewalk and watch life swirl around you while sipping on your Long Black (a double espresso, for the uninitiated). Though this isn't exactly what Jane Jacobs had in mind when she wrote about the importance of diverse communities creating neighbourhoods in The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, it comes pretty close.

Operation Clean-up

Posters in trams and trains urge Melbournians to clean up their city in preparation for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. To one from the subcontinent, the city looks clean enough already. Uniformed men regularly emerge from a neighbourhood cleaning service called Streets Ahead to clear litter from driveways and roads; at nights in the city, other personnel use power hoses to wash down main avenues, causing them to momentarily glitter and reflect the lights of the restaurants and shops that remain open; and one observes smokers stamp out butts not on the road but on or by the side of green litter bins on virtually every intersection.


Two Trams

One of the last occasions that one travelled by tram was at dawn on the first day of a new year during the early Eighties in Calcutta. It had been a New Year's Eve of collegian revelry that involved, among other things, gatecrashing into Tollygunge Club though its capacious kitchen, cars breaking down minutes before midnight and co-revellers tottering into bathrooms to twitch in front of basins. The celebrations had died down but the intoxication hadn't, so a few of us found ourselves taking a tram ride on a route that bordered the city's Maidan. Huddled into a borrowed blazer and gazed upon by bemused milkmen, one inhaled the cool morning air and looked out upon the brown-green expanse adjacent to Chowringhee. Very quickly, one's musings on the year ahead changed to considerations of a more urgent nature, namely, the availability of a hot breakfast which, as one recalls, was consumed shortly thereafter at the coffee shop of the Grand Hotel.

The other day, one found oneself on a tram again. This was no Calcutta contraption but its smarter Melbourne counterpart, and one was much older if not exactly wiser. Inside,. there was unfamiliar air-conditioning, an LED screen on which the names of the stops scrolled, and automatic pass-validating counters. Familiar, though, was the carriage's pitch and sway, with steel tracks gleaming in the asphalt marking the tram's fixed route. Schoolboys and girls, iPodded Orientals, investment bankers and quintessential t-shirted and thong-slippered Aussies made up the rest in the compartment. Then, one reached out to pull the cord and stepped out into Antipodean sunshine and into circumstances vastly dissimilar to those that prevailed the last time one took a tram.

5 Comments:

  • Lovely minutes.

    Sigh.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:22 AM  

  • I have a feeling you won't mind migrating to Oz ;-)

    By Anonymous Sam, at 4:53 PM  

  • Anon: Thanks. Why the sigh?
    Sam: Migrate? No, not at all. Back to dear dirty Bombay next week.

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 5:23 AM  

  • Hey! Stumbled in here just a few minutes ago. Very cool blog. We experienced four seasons in ONE DAY in Melbourne this Christmas. We had to dive into the comforter when we went to bed and we woke up in the middle of the night sweating because it suddenly got very warm. And then we woke up to the sound of the thurnder rumbling early in the morning :-S It was crazy!

    By Blogger ..., at 4:21 PM  

  • Only 24hours? Must be a good run, normally we have four in one day, as they say. Wonderful minutesm kaes me homesick!

    By Blogger flygirl, at 10:56 AM  

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