Sunday, April 10, 2016

Alienation

Yesterday's breakfast involved a walk to Hardware Societe, a beautiful French café serving French-inspired food. It was probably intended to be the sort of place where the affluent local foodies would congregate for breakfast, and the fashionable Melbourne ladies meet for lunch. Instead, it seems, the majority of the clientele are status-obsessed Chinese tourists, who noisily slurp their gently sauteed spinach and stab at a croque madame in bewilderment. The cafe must be making money beyond the dreams of all avarice, but instead of an elegant salon it’s a loud, cramped, harried space surrounded by stony-faced crowds who are mainly there to tick it off their list and get on with their day.


It’s a shame, because my French toasted brioche with blueberries, frosted almonds and salted caramel was beautifully executed, and the coffee is easily the most exquisite I’ve had in Melbourne – quite an achievement in this coffee-savvy city.


In the evening I returned to the Centre for the Moving Image to see the 2014 Spanish film ‘Amor Eterna’, a deeply unsettling story of generational conflict, alienation, rebellion and, since this is a Spanish film, hot sex. I’m very glad I saw it. Not only was it a film exploring themes and a story that no English-language film would attempt, but it was beautifully shot with long, almost static but gently closing in shots of activities both frenetic (a couple having sex in a parked VW Polo) and mundane (a girl washing up in a stream). It also had an exquisite structure, which constantly gave indications that something creepy and horrible was going on in the background without revealing what it actually was until the final minutes.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Changing

As Richmond, like all neighbourhoods, gradually evolves, the outlet stores and discounted boutiques along Bridge Road are slowly vanishing. Apparently the land is so valuable now that the 19th century shopfronts are being gutted down to their ornate facades and five or six storey luxury apartment buildings are bursting up out of them like an alien out of John Hurt, only with German appliances and designer door handles. In twenty years’ time this area could be populated solely by workaholic yuppies and Foodara riders.


However some of the old clothing shops remain. I went into one today in my search of a new smart casual jacket, where I was served by two young but old-school voluble Italians in tightly fitted shirts, who gushed as only Italians can about the marvel that is a $400 deconstructed burgundy sportscoat.


I ended up buying a very nice dark charcoal jacket made from a thick, soft corded cloth, because it was just what I was looking for, it was on sale, and old-school voluble Italians really inspire one to wear beautiful clothes.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Fidgetty

Yesterday I wandered down to the National Gallery Victoria to take in their permanent art collection. The NGV is currently showing a blended exhibition of works by Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei, and Melburnians are all, without apparent exception, obsessed with it. However I’ll be attending that next week. Today was just about acquainting myself with the free bits – the 600 year old religious icons, the delicate 300 year old Venetian glass that has miraculously survived the centuries, the exuberant 19th century oil paintings with literally more square meterage than my apartment, the 20th century masters and the 21st century indigenous collection.


Like all modern public galleries, the NGV has a school holiday program, because apparently having hyped-up little kids rampaging through a hall filled with defenseless 13th century artworks is a great idea. The rarified hush of the fine art gallery is somewhat broken when it’s punctuated by children screaming at the top of their lungs, whether in joy or indignation or anything in between.


I noticed one woman (wearing yoga pants in the NGV because you never know when you might need to Salute the Sun in front of a Caravaggio) as she called out to her upset daughter and revealed the child’s name to be Maisie. I wondered why all fashionable little girls these days appear to be named after Edwardian scullery maids? You just know that Maisie’s next activity was going to be babyccinos with Millie, Tilly, Elspeth and Dora at a local café, making life miserable for some waiter with a man bun.


In the evening I was invited to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image to see ‘Querrelle’, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final film, and the only film ever to be shot entirely inside Jean Paul Gautier’s head.


A handsome sailor in an improbably low cut singlet goes through something of an existential crisis, alternately stomping taciturnly around the streets of Brest and having wild bouts off histrionics. Then he murders one of his fellow sailors for some ill-defined reason. But people seem willing to look past that, because he’s hot.


Meanwhile a construction worker flirts madly with the younger brother of the girl he’s supposedly keen on, to the extent that his fellow workers mock him. He responds by glassing his supervisor in the throat.


We’ve all been there.


Investigating these two murders is the local Inspector. However, he’s more fond of sitting at the bar in the local bawdyhouse flirting with the owner, while wearing an open leather vest and a leather hat with Police written on the front - apparently in Brest you can qualify for a job just by hiring the kinky version of the uniform at your local Sinsations store.


Querrelle is a surreal film, and has a certain beauty in its use of light and its evocative stagey set, but there’s a limit to how many scenes of actors reciting portentous dialogue in artistic poses an audience can take before it gets fidgety. It’s the quintessential art house film. Stylised gay sex? Check. Pretentious narration? Check. German and French involvement? Check. A famous but elderly actress playing a floozy? Check. Audience laughing at moments that probably weren’t meant to be funny? Check and check.


Afterwards I finally got to visit one of Melbourne’s cocktail bars, Eau-de-Vie. There I drank a cocktail made with bacon bourbon and blood orange marmalade out of a ceramic skull… if only I’d been wearing a leather bus conductor’s uniform, I could have been in a Fassbinder film.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Beastly

Melbourne is finally treating me to a healthy serving of its famous rain. Somehow the city just makes more sense when it’s wet, grey and gloomy, rather than bathed in sunshine and heat. Nothing worse than a sweaty broiled hipster, after all.


Speaking of hipsters, I treated myself to a hipster haircut and beard trim yesterday. You know you’re getting a proper hipster haircut when you’re sitting in a space filled with raw wood and exposed brick and the barber offers you a cider before getting out the scissors.





Beef’s is named after Beef, the owner’s lovable couch-sized mastiff. Beef’s face adorns the signage, and the beast himself spends his days dozing in the window, snoring like an idling tractor. As a piece of marketing its brilliant and, apparently, entirely accidental: the barber just didn’t want to leave him at home all day.


I came out immaculately shorn and smelling like four different kinds of manliness.


In the evening I went to another comedy show, ‘She Was Probably Not a Robot’ by the charmingly kooky Stuart Bowden. The show is basically a loose tale of survival in a post-apocalyptic world shot through with expertly improvised floundering. Bowden has a warm and goofy stage persona that makes it impossible not to like him, even when he’s just capering maniacally around the stage, or beating me over the head with an air mattress, or telling random audience members how they’re going to die (head falling off while brushing their teeth, in one case).


I ended my evening with a quintessential Melbourne experience: eating late-night Anzac biscuit gelati in St Kilda while being shouted at by a homeless lunatic about deodorant.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Copped

Last night I ventured into the Comedy Festival again for Police Cops, a high energy, exquisitely choreographed mockery of the clichés and formulas of American cop dramas. There’s the older brother/father gunned down before the young hero’s eyes, the slow motion flying from an explosion, the jaded ex-cop whose faith in humanity is restored by the hero’s idealism, the authority figure who betrays them and, of course, the casual racism.


We entered that macho, vaguely homoerotic reality when manly men do manly things and crack their own tough outer shells and learn to share their entirely manly feelings (a love for socket sets, or something). They raise a barn, they ride horses, and they fight bad guys… and rip their shirts off at every opportunity. The funniest part of the show, apart from the occasional slip in the choreography that sent props flying or left someone with their shirt on backwards, was the fact that two of the performers had perfect six pack abs, but the third, while no fatty, didn’t. When he went into one of his shirtless hero poses, he would hold it just a little longer than the others, flexing just a little bit more to make his muscles pop, catching the audience's eyes as he grimaced with the effort, thus breaking for fourth wall for a second and underlining the ridiculousness of it all.


At the end of the performance they were all drenched in sweat despite the chilly Melbourne evening. I only hope they washed their Old Glory underpants and cat costumes before the next show.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Thwarted

I had breakfast this morning at Three Bags Full, an establishment refreshingly devoted to the culinary power of fat. There was spinach sautéed in butter, mushrooms roasted in herbed oil, and bacon so crispy it could be used by one of those old time radio sound effect guys to mimic walking on autumn leaves.


They had slightly disappointing coffee, but the strange thing about Melbourne is that good coffee is common but good crispy bacon is rare. So it still gets a big thumbs up from me.


Speaking of disappointment, I walked past the local Country Road outlet store yesterday and discovered that they were having an extra 40% off sale, on top of the existing sale prices. Thus a jacket I’d seen for $500 in the city store earlier was only $150 here. Once I got my hyperventilating under control, I made my way inside.


The store was full of the sorts of surly, gimlet-eyed lowlifes who flock to a big sale regardless of whether they actually want heavily discounted business suits or high-end polo shirts. To them, a bargain is a bargain: questions of “need” or “want” don’t enter into it.


I, on the other hand, was looking for specific things, such as a new smart casual jacket. They had them in abundance – beautifully cut and detailed, in fine wools and linens. And naturally, when I slipped them on, they either enveloped me like a collapsed marquee or perched tightly on my shoulders as if I was a midget who’d suddenly Hulked out into a person of normal size. There were John Cena sizes and Peter Dinklage sizes, and absolutely nothing in between.


The only way I could have been more heartbroken is if they’d required me to vote for the Greens before entering.

Worthy

I had breakfast on Sunday morning at Bowery to Williamsburg, a hipster café named after Hipster Mecca. I had poached eggs with creamed corn, smoked trout and hushpuppies, a combination that didn’t completely work, but I salute their ambition.





Any disappointments in the food were compensated for by the presence of rather excellent Bloody Marys - just the right level of chilli and very nicely balanced flavours.


Hipster and Grey did not feel worthy.





In the late afternoon I went out to see a jazz session at one of Melbourne’s many heritage corner hotels. In true jazz tradition, there were about nine musicians who ebbed and flowed on and off the stage, and while they were all superbly talented and played brilliantly, it was clear that they hadn’t actually practiced the songs much. It was especially evident when each song ended, and the musicians, being musicians, wouldn’t stop playing. Instead of a snappy crisp finish, each song meandered along for an extra twenty or thirty seconds as the individual players either tried to get the last note in or just weren’t paying attention.





But I've obviously been in Melbourne too long if I start complaining that excellent music isn't ending enough.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Appearances

I had my Saturday breakfast at Pillar of Salt, where the beautiful people of Richmond come for their acai bowls and skinny decaf lattes. The girls flounce about in lululemon outfits with yoga mats strapped to their backs, just in case they suddenly feel the need to adopt the Downward Dog while crossing Church Road. The boys strut, simultaneously flexing and clenching, wearing rumpled sportswear in a way that suggests they spent the previous hour preening, cleansing and artfully tousling to get that “I just fell out of bed and I still look hot” look.


I had some bircher muesli… sorry, Amazon Superfood Bircher Muesli… at the suggestion of my waitress, who was one of those girls for whom everything is a delightful revelation. “You’re here for breakfast? OMG! No, you can totally sit anywhere! Would you like a coffee? Flat white? That’s super! And here’s a menu! Fantastic! Ooh look a puppy! Squeeeee!”


The puppy in question was a pug, of course, because this is Richmond and pugs are the 'it' dogs of the moment. You can’t throw a rock in Richmond without hitting half a dozen pugs, which probably explains why they frown on people throwing rocks in their neighbourhood. No doubt in six months’ time the poor little pugs will be clogging up the animal shelters as the fashionistas switch over to miniature weimaraners or whatever it is that comes in next.


Mind you, Melbourne is a city that loves its second hand stores, so the pugs may just get passed down the hipness ladder to the suburban classes, along with the fiddle leaf fig trees and rustic industrial light fittings.