Old Melbourne

It’s easy to develop a fat arse when you work at a desk and so most lunch breaks I’ll go for a walk. I’ll head out in any direction with some destination in mind. It could be the Vic Market or the Aldi, it might be a book shop or department store or a little boutique. I’ll aim to walk for 30-40 minutes at least, rain, hail or shine.
Yesterday I set out for the Hill of Content book shop at the top end of Bourke Street. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, and recall – I think – actually visiting with my bibliophile grandfather. It’s a beautiful store with the just the right ambience for fine literature to nestle in. These days I browse the shelves without buying anything much, such was the case yesterday, but I had no intention of buying. I went for the walk and to survey books I might want to buy one day.

After the Hill of Content I walked the short distance to the Paperback Bookshop, which likewise has been there forever. It’s very different from the Hill. It’s small and inelegant but crammed full of nourishing books. I reckon I’ve been visiting it for 30 years and probably bought 30-40 books from there in that time. As much as anything else it was good to be back in such a familiar and warm environment. Once more I bought nothing.

Between the two book shops is Pellegrini’s, another Melbourne institution. Pellegrini’s has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. It was a couple of weeks ago when the alleged terrorist threatened with knife in hand, injuring some, and killing one – the co-owner of Pellegrini’s, Sisto Malaspina.

You’d have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of this. The outpouring of grief at the death of an iconic Melburnian has been immense. Everyone had a Sisto story, including me, such was his influence on the café society in this town.

Yesterday Pellegrini’s was shut. Not far away a state funeral was in progress for Sisto. Still, there was a small crowd outside the restaurant, loitering there and peering in the window and taking pics with their phone. There’s a strange, ghoulish aspect to many people that I can’t come at. I admit I looked twice at Pellegrini’s as I walked by but I wouldn’t dream of stopping. That’s just a bit too shabby for me, and somehow disrespectful.

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