Sunday, April 24, 2016

End

I will keep many images from my time in Melbourne...





... including this one of a man reclining in Fitzroy Gardens while fondling his own buttocks.


Melbourne: a classy place full of classy people.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rewarding

As I bid Melbourne a sad farewell, it seems like to a good time to offer some awards to some of the excellent cafes I've visited:


Best food – Top Paddock. I had the most elegant and delicious version of eggs benedict I’ve ever eaten.


Best coffee – Hardware Societe. Absolutely exquisite; even the foam art was so crisp and immaculate it could have been printed with a laser.


Best wifi – Touchwood. Easy to access, fast, reliable, and so powerful that I could access it from any of the other cafes on the same block. I’m sorry, but holidays make wifi whores of us all.


Best music – Madame Brussels. The home of awful, addictive 80s love songs.


Most innovative menu concepts – Bowery to Williamsburg. They refuse to do the breakfast staples. Except Bloody Marys. I salute their priorities.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Bizarre

On my last day in Melbourne, I walked up to Prahan to visit the famous Chapel Street Bazaar. It's the only place in Melbourne, or indeed anywhere else, where one can buy a bowie knife, a taxidermed duck, vintage racist lawn ornaments, Star War figures missing their capes and light sabres, a Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament stolen from someone’s Rolls Royce, go-go boots or a 200 year old mahogany sideboard, all in the one convenient place.


In the evening my friends and I went to Nevsky, a culinary celebration of everything that makes Russia great. So... vodka, basically. The food was fine, the waitress was mischievous, and the spiced ginger and honey vodka was copious. And very good. Sadly I knocked my final glass over with the carafe, causing me to say a Very Bad Word out loud in a crowded restaurant, and thus revealing that I'd had quite enough. In my defense I'd only had about three shots, but that was on top of our pre-dinner cocktails. And our pre-pre-dinner cocktails.


Okay, so my defense sucks. I'm allowed some leeway on my final evening in Melbourne.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Contrast

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the NGV is hosting a major exhibition of works by Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei which is THE cultural event of the moment. As I'm leaving tomorrow, I grabbed my chance yesterday to see it.


It was totally cool.


In the course of his career, Warhol experimented with many different art forms, and viewed in its entirety his body of work attests to his genius as an artist. Sure, anyone could film the Empire State Building for eight hours and call it art, and we might decide that they’re just a plenteous wanker. But Warhol worked with film, paint, collage, drawing, screen printing, photography, text and what can only be described as “thought”, and managed to make intriguing and insightful pieces in each medium. The confidence evident in his embellished screen prints, along with his early sketches and watercolours, shows that he was definitely a true artist, not a charlatan.


The exhibition was clever in juxtaposing his work with Ai Wei Wei’s. The Chinese artist has many of the same influences, the same varied mediums, and a similar fascination with basic cultural iconography and notions of multiplicity. The philosophical parallels of Warhol covering portraits of Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus with diamond dust and Wei Wei imprisoning a thousand year old statuette in an empty Absolut Kurant bottle are clear.


Not content with only experiencing the sublime, I managed to insert the ridiculous into my life later that evening as I attended a cabaret show featuring leggy singer/dancer Rhonda Burchmore and local drag queen Trevor Ashley. I wouldn’t have gone ordinarily, but I was with a group of friends and we’d had a few drinks, so I bought a late ticket and followed them in.


While it had a few laughs, the show was basically terrible. The jokes that weren’t crass and vulgar were ancient when music hall vaudevillians did them. The sound was mixed by hitting the mixing desk with an old shoe. Burchmore and Ashley shouted where they should have sung and stomped where they should have sashayed. Even the costumes seemed to be badly put together and perpetually on the cusp of falling apart.


But I still enjoyed myself, mainly because of the company. Since I’d bought my ticket just an hour before the show I couldn’t sit with my friends, but I ended up being seated right in the front row. Enter Jocelyn and Jared, the platonic couple in the seats next to me. Both were a little drunk and naturally boisterous before the show, but when Burchmore and Ashley came onto the stage, Jared went into some sort of wide-eyed, gay diva meltdown. He was like a camp, flamboyant child who’d fallen into a vat of sugar, climbed out, then promptly fallen into another vat of red food colouring, then received a basket of adorable puppies. His squee when Burchmore first strolled onto the stage in a beautiful tight sequined gown was audible throughout the entire theatre, and possibly in other theatres nearby. He guffawed at every lame gag, stomped his feet with every chorus, and constantly turned to face me and Jocelyn with an expression of ecstatic delight, as if to check that we were witnessing the same orgy of fabulousness that he was. Which we clearly weren’t. But while his orgasmic enthusiasm was irritating on one level, but also kind of infectious. When I found my friends after the show, I discovered that I’d actually enjoyed it more than they had, mostly because I’d been breathing in second-hand besottedness from Jared for the last ninety minutes.


My friends were scathing about Jared’s behaviour, which apparently was visible from every row, but I found him so amusing that I took a selfie of us at the end to commemorate the evening. And he, naturally, was delighted beyond all sane reason to oblige.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Civilisation

With a couple of hours to kill later yesterday afternoon I dropped into the State Library on Swanston Street. Besides untold numbers of books and glorious Victorian architecture, the library also has a nice little art collection themed around Melbourne's history.


I hadn't fully realised that Melbourne was so young, nor that it grew so fast. In 1836 Melbourne consisted quite literally of a dozen huts on a hillside. A mere 50 years later, in 1886, trams were rattling back and forth in front of the grand public buildings that still stand today. It boggles the mind how quickly Melbourne blossomed, and how much money and determination was required to make it happen. In the reign of one queen, it went from kangaroo-riddled bushland to huge neo-classical buildings and public transport networks.


You can see why Melbourne is still considered one of the most liveable cities in the world. Outside the grandeur of the State Library, people lounged on the terraced lawns, talking, reading books and tapping away at laptops. A busker played sultry music with a guitar and an oversampler while comedians joked with couples as they handed out flyers for their shows. Beyond them, trams carried people up and down Swanston Street, and overhead the lights in skyscrapers twinkled down. It was a vision of a peaceful, prosperous, harmonious civilisation in action.


Mind you, there are two Melbournes, which a friend defined as the Melbourne within the tram network and the Melbourne outside the tram network. I’ve only ever visited the first Melbourne, the Melbourne of the Comedy Festival, jazz clubs, laneway cafes, 19th century terraced houses, hipster barbers and twenty different takes on eggs benedict. The Melbourne outside the tram network is… well… Perth. Suburbs, shopping centres, cheap Korean cars, Kmart clothes and obesity. Basically, the Melbourne I’ve experienced is a lovely, stylish bubble twenty kilometres in diameter, outside of which dwells the sad, sordid reality of most Australians.


But within the bubble all is good. As evening darkened into night I met up with a friend to go to Bennetts Lane. I visit Bennetts Lane every time I come to Melbourne, and it is always a revelation. On an ordinary Thursday night, with an audience of maybe fifty people, of whom only a quarter appeared to have bought tickets, we heard a fabulously talented nine piece jazz band playing a mixture of standards and their own compositions. Band leader Gianni Marinucci played an exquisitely controlled and soulful trumpet. The alto saxophonist was a bit of a showboater, but otherwise all of the band members played with flawless beauty, in a way Perth only sees once in a blue moon, at great expense, when the stars and fates align.


But in Melbourne at Bennetts Lane, it’s just another Thursday night to fifty people.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ghettoed

I’ve moved from the apartment in Abbotsford to a friend’s place in Elsternwick. It was a fairly easy trip – I just boarded a 78 tram at its northern terminus and got off at its southern terminus and walked a little way further. The only difficulty occurred as I was walking to the tram and the heel came off my shoe. In what may be my most ghetto moment ever, I found myself sitting on the curb in the carpark of a liquor store unpacking all of my personal belongings from my suitcase rooting around for another pair of shoes, struggling to secure random pairs of underpants before they blew away down the street.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Privilege

I went out with some friends last night to catch some more comedy. I decided on Paul Culliver, a young stand up comedian who won the Comedy Award at the Perth Fringe Festival, which suggested that his show might not be disappointing and unfunny.


As it turned out, this was merely a suggestion.


I'm not quite sure how Culliver won the award for exactly the same show as he was presenting in Melbourne, given that his show was worse than any of the comedy performances I saw at Perth Fringe. Did he blackmail someone? Offer sexual favours to a judge with a fetish for physically lackadaisical suburban youths? Or (and I think this is the most likely reason) did he luck onto the rare Perth judge with exactly the right level of PC sanctimony and self-loathing to find his show dazzling... although not actually funny in any accepted sense.


There's something depressing about a cosseted white boy presuming to lecture an audience on white privilege and, in the process, mansplaining and whitesplaining sexism and racism. Far from the wryly humorous speaker of truth he no doubt imagines himself to be, he came across as a pampered little prince who'd never realised that his way is not the only way and his realisations are not groundbreaking, except perhaps to mummy's bridge friends.


The most ironic thing is that he probably took a place in the Festival from a non-white person or a woman who could have told us about racism or sexism from the perspective of someone who'd actually experienced it. Talk about appropriation.


Fortunately after that the night perked up. I was taken to a restaurant accessed by some back stairs off a laneway, which turned out to specialise in rotisserie chicken, like a Nando's reinterpreted by the cool kids from an art college. I didn't catch the name, which is unfortunate, as I'd like to recommend it.


This was followed by drinks at Melbourne institution Siglo. Siglo is a rooftop bar on the fourth floor of a Victorian building on Spring Street, an adjunct to The European restaurant. While we were there the staff silently retracted the roof, offering lovely views of the treetops, Parliament House and Parliament Gardens. My friends and I dropped by for a nightcap and ended up staying for several.


It saddens me to think that a place like Siglo wouldn't survive in Perth. I remember glancing at my watch and realising that it was nearly midnight on a Tuesday, but the bar was still thronging with people chatting, laughing, drinking martinis and smoking cigars. Melbourne is not by any means a 24 hour city - there are only a handful of 24 hour supermarkets, and good luck finding a tram after midnight - but in the romantic comedy of Australian urban life it's like the manic dream pixie girl played by Zooey Deschanel to Perth's uptight conservative bumbler played by Michael Cera. Even if Siglo were somehow magically duplicated into one of Perth's few remaining buildings older than Gangnam Style, by 10pm they'd have shut down the espresso machines and locked up the liquor cabinets, and by 10.15pm they'd be calling security on the people who hadn't left yet.


In fact the only place less likely to survive a cross-Nullabor transplant is Madame Brussels. Which saddens me even more.