Spice of life

If nothing else I live a life of variety. Thursday morning I had brunch at a groovy little cafe in Kew called Ora, with great coffee, and great coffee options – regular espresso variations, cold drip, filter and siphon. Had fun sampling their wares and tucking into a plate sized pancake, and all for a good cause – I was writing a review on it.

Work stuff in the afternoon, but that night Donna came over for a lovely and much lauded home cooked meal of satay chicken while we watched the latest episode of The Slap. Man, what an intense show that is. And fucking good too. Awesome TV, and this episode just full on. We watched holding our breath and then exploded into conversation after it. Like most of Australia we thought Rosie was a feral nutter and her husband a yobbo, bogan loser. Then, typical of our times, we sat side by side looking at the twitter feed for #theslap on our iPhones and commenting on it.

Friday morning I was out early to attend a workshop in South Melbourne about migrating from Lotus Notes to SharePoint. Saw my accountant after, confirming I owe a shitload of money to the taxman. Then a business meeting with a dodgy mob about a job with a guy I coincidentally knew, had shared a beer with, and told off last time I’d seen him. What did all that mean? Somewhere in the middle of that I got a parking ticket while I was in a shop getting change for the ticket machine.

Lovely afternoon I took a tram into the city to attend the Jelly meet-up at a friends home. She’d invited me impromptu and, curious, I decided to go. Had a coffee, began to setup before getting stuck in conversation with the guys around me. Was fascinating stuff. They’re all developing, or have developed, websites or apps that sound fun. Soon we were all in deep conversation about the possibilities, and on that note decided to head down to the nearest bar Thousand Pound Bend, for a few cold beers. Stayed till about 9 then headed home to feed the dog.

Tonight I have a school reunion to attend if I choose. Not really my thing school reunions, but I’d be much more inclined to attend if it wasn’t being held out in woop woop. I’m in inner city, woop woop is a good 50 minute drive, and further than that if you’re drinking. Of course, the venue is only 5 minutes from where I went to school, but…

Doesn’t look likely.

Bears in suits

I can’t remember the last time I wore a tie with a suit. Maybe Melbourne Cup last year? The rare occasions I wear a suit these days it’s generally with a nice shirt, but no tie, which is becoming quite normal. Today though in preparation for an important meeting I figured I had to dress to impress and so on went the tie. Then I looked in the mirror and thought fuck, how times have changed.

I’ve always looked good in a suit. I know it, but I’ve had enough people telling me it over the years that it was never in doubt. I had the build, the look, more than anything else, the utter ease in wearing a well cut suit. Those days are gone. Beautiful suit, lovely shirt, my favourite tie, a cool pair of shoes and it should be the perfect combo. Nup. I looked in the mirror and wondered who that guy was looking back at me. I looked like one of those guys who look uncomfortable in a suit as if they never wear them. You know the type. I looked like a bloody linebacker squeezing into Versace; for the first time I figured that if I’m not already then I’m coming the proverbial bear of a man. Not happy.

Earlier I’d put on a lovely Paul Smith shirt and taken it off again because it was skin tight around my biceps. I’d changed into another shirt with bigger arms thinking already that it wasn’t a good sign. I don’t want to be this big – not that I am really, but too big for anything off the rack. Then there’s my beard these days, which is really only a half beard as much hipster as anything else. Except when I look in the mirror it looks much more rugged than hipster in combination with a suit. I looked like I should be chopping down trees.

As it happened it was no big deal. Had a very good meeting and emerged onto the street with the sun streaming down. I felt buoyant. The sun was a delight. This is life, isn’t it? I wandered down a laneway speaking on the phone. Then I stopped at a small cafe lining up to get a takeaway latte – such a Melbourne ritual. While I waited I realised how much I had missed something as simple as this. Life is really made up of small rituals, but my life has been so variable lately that few rituals have been allowed to develop. The coffee ritual is deep, abiding, and almost universal across the city. Joining in again I remembered how it was and felt again part of the common weal. Sometimes that’s not a bad thing.

Hopefully it’ll be a while again before I need wear a tie, but I was glad for a while to be part of the team again.

Tightarse Tuesday, Melbourne

Last night I headed into the city for the semi-regular catch-up with the boys to see a movie. As always we met at Melbourne Central, had a beer over a quick catch-up, then proceeded into the cinema. As my mates are married men the only movies we see are boy movies. This is their night out, the leave-pass granted by their missus to catch up with their mates and for a little while regress a little into that state of borderline male immaturity. Boy movies are it for that mindset, fast moving action, sci-fi speculations and raucous comedies are the go – besides, they’re the movies their wives no interest in seeing. All yours boys.

Last nights flic was Hangover 2. I saw the first with a girl funnily enough and enjoyed it more than I expected. And so when this was released we agreed that this was the perfect boy’s night out fare.

In actual fact the movie was just ok. As they say, not nearly as good as the first. The premise is fine, the locale great, but the writing let it down. Alan, the Zach Galif , character was nowhere near as funny in this one, and in fact was annoying more often than not. If I had been there I’d have busted his nose early and figured he had it coming. It has some great moments etc, but somehow the movie is less than the sum of its parts.

Afterwards we headed out to get a bite, as is traditional also. With me was Cheeseboy, as goofy as ever, and Penguin, just as immaculately presented as ever. We ended up at Cookie, a long time favourite for all and sundry, and surprisingly busy for a wintry Tuesday night in Melbourne.

We found a spare table in the crowded and buzzing restaurant section of the bar, and perused the Thai menu that has never changed in all the time I’ve been going there. We added a wine to the order and we were good to go.

We talked, we drank wine, we shared meals, laughing often and in the way of close friends taking the mickey often. Serving us was a reasonably attractive blonde with a down to earth nature who seemed to have psychic powers. We hit it off in that natural way that sometimes happens without you really thinking much more of it than that. It set me thinking though because its been happening a lot to me lately and I’ve started to wonder why.

The other week I went to a bar and one of the barmaids – a young thing – couldn’t take her eyes from me. When I went to order something, another drink, something to nibble on, she would jump to serve me to the exclusion of others. That same night I got talking to an Eastern European girl with an interesting accent and well shaped background which went so swimmingly that if I hadn’t been dragged away then something nice would have been inevitable. And that’s on top of the casual encounters which have become a regular aspect of my life in the last 6 months particularly. And others more serious.

There wasn’t any particular frisson between me and the blonde waitress; I wouldn’t exactly describe it as a connection, though that’s a closer approximation. I would call it an understanding I think, initiated on her side which I then noticed and responded to.

I thought later on this as I was heading home. I looked out the tram window contemplating these things and trying to make sense of them as if they were puzzles to be understood. There are different elements of it. There’s the physical obviously, which often is independent of looks. There’s a physical fit, an aura if you like, one body recognising and being drawn to another. I’m taller than most which garners interest, and I have a look which if not handsome, then is interesting. Attitude plays a huge part I think. It’s in the eyes and the set of the jaw, how you hold yourself, even in the walk as one woman once told me. The tale of the man – or woman – is often revealed in these small insights which add up to something more. These are real enough, but I didn’t yet understand how they applied to me individually. What attitude do I portray? What message does my physical self emit?

Last night was a good laboratory for this. There I was out with a couple of blokes around my age (younger both actually), one of whom at least is better looking than me, but I got the attention. And then I figured it.

Both guys are married. They go home to wife and children, to a life whose boundaries are roughly constrained by that reality. They still take an interest in the world, still like to go out, play up, and so on, but in effect much of their life is now internalised because their perspective is inwards, quite logically, to their family, to sharing with them, providing for them and looking to the future with them. Focus changes, as do priorities, when you have loved ones in your care.

That’s not me. I don’t have those concerns, I’m still very much an active part of the world. I walk into a room and engage with it, I size up what’s happening, who’s doing what, where the party is, and who the interesting participants are – and it shows. It shows I think – even subliminally – much in the same way as those now ‘internalised’ are seen as opposite. I see the things happening because I’m looking for them, my perspective is external, and that gets picked up on. By contrast my friends, even the good looking ones, seem more distant because they have fallen out of the habit of looking. They have what they want at home. Now a glass of wine and a good meal will do it. The rest is decoration, ambience, sound and movement that contributes to the scene much as a soundtrack does in a movie.

That’s my theory. I’m open, awake, receptive, and for some that combined with whatever individual qualities they see in me is enough for interest to be expressed, and an engagement to commence.

It meant nothing last night, as it generally means little. It’s not the time, there’s not the real opportunity, there isn’t really that driving desire to get it done. It’s pleasant yes, and enticing to consider, but then you move on, back to your friends, the conversation, to the days and weeks ahead and the opportunities that may be closed out. In And in my case for all this there is doubt – at me really. I know some think I’m some Lothario, but I’m not. I’m not that smooth, mostly not anyway. And I get surprised all the time wondering what others see in me. And in the case of someone like last night, even if I was interested I’d have paused given the difference in our ages. I’ve been around enough to know it doesn’t for much in the end, but it’s still enough for me to hesitate.

So instead we boys carried on our playful conversations. In light of the movie we had just seen we discussed my bucks party, where it would be held, who to invite, and so on. Amongst us we decided that Thailand was a good option, or if not then Amsterdam with a wedding to follow in Tuscany. In the spirit of the moment I announced to the cloud, wondering aloud what the yet to be discovered missus would think of it. Soon enough the cloud responded.

It was about 10 when we parted. The boys went one way, I went the other. The road was wet, but the rain had stopped. Though it was cool it was not as cold as it had been earlier. The streets seemed relatively busy with people going one place or another, the odd busker playing to no-one and here and there less fortunate gathering in groups or seeking shelter and the odd spare coin. I was glad to have left my friends and to be by myself again, though I never bothered to wonder why. I walked towards Collins Street thinking I would catch a tram home. On the way I checked myself: was I feeling frisky? No, I wasn’t.

In Collins Street I discovered the tram was 15 minutes off and so I went on to Flinders Street. Here the tram was 5 minutes away. I spent the time listening to my iPod and peering at some cloth caps in the window of a nearby haberdasher. Waiting for the tram was an Asian girl in tight jeans and long tan boots with a plastic bag of take-away food in her hand. I realised somewhere between Bourke and Flinders street I had regained my customary friskiness. Do married people feel this way? I wondered to myself.

I sat in the tram and watched the scenery go by. It was fun. I listened to the story of a sexy girl and high art and watched people getting on the tram and getting off. I thought about home and the feeling of returning there bright and interested. It was a good feeling and I remembered it was what I felt most nights returning home after a pleasant evening out. The joy of going out is as much in the returning home as it is in sharing the time out with friends. I was happy with this thought and wanted to cuddle up close to it as if it was all mine. That made me think to as I reflected on that. Many times I have returned home and wished there was someone waiting for me there. Often I’d have been thrilled to have that alluring other sitting opposite me as we went wordlessly home. I didn’t feel that this time. I felt glad I was by myself, as if an essential ingredient of who I am is to be solitary and reflective, and to be otherwise is to dilute the experience. Perhaps it is. It seemed strange all the same and I pondered philosophically how sometimes to share something with someone close to you is like doubling it; and at other times, less frequently perhaps, less romantically certainly, it is like halving it.

I walked from the tram stop to my home. The grass was squelchy underfoot on the oval near home. I listened to my iPod and anticipated the moment I would walk in the door and Rigby leaping upon me in never-ending gratitude. It seemed a pity there was not some sport to tune into on my return (forgetting Wimbledon was on) since I felt on. No matter. The streets were quiet and dark, the road wet and the leaves dripping with spent rain. Am I a hard case I wondered. Maybe, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Winter how it used to be

I’ve been walking to and from work for the last 6 months. I enjoy it. It’s a good way to ease into the day and I get some exercise on top of it. In the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to reconsider this. In the last few days particularly Melbourne has been at its most frigid. Every morning I get up to find it has been raining overnight. There are puddles in my driveway, the leaves drip with water and more often than not the sky is clouded over. If I’m unlucky a few drops will fall for nuisance value as I walk into work. On the days that it is fine the temperature plummets. While the sky is a pretty blue the cold stings at the exposed skin of my cheeks. I’ve been wearing woollen gloves and thrusting my hands deep into the pockets of my coat. Often lately it has been windy also, icy blasts that drive the wind chill factor up. By the time I get into work I’m in a state of semi-frost. 

In a way it’s good. The rain is certainly welcome, and even the weather in general has a nostalgic aspect to it. It reminds me of the winter weather we had when I was growing up, at least how I remember it anyway. For the first time in years we seem to have an old fashioned winter – genuinely cold with regular rain and occasional drizzly days like Melbourne was once famous for. 

I’ll keep walking. It’s not snowing yet and for all my complaints I don’t expect it to get that cold (though I look forward to the skiing this season). End of the day it’s good exercise and takes me somewhere different for a while, neither work nor home but somewhere in between, literally.
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Love the place you live

In town the other night I walked up Collins Street up towards the Paris end. It was a little after 6, it had become dark and the after work crowd were window shopping or heading off for a drink or, most commonly, on their way home.

I walked up the slight rise past the Athenaeum theatre, past the antiquarian bookshop that’s been there as long as I can remember, and up to the corner where the old Scotch Church stood. Across the road the fancy boutiques glittered, Versace, Tiffany and Louis Vuitton. The traffic went by dimly, the trams coming in or going from the city stopped and started, brightly lit and full of passengers, and the streetlights glowing yellow in the darkness filtered their light through the leaves of the elegant trees lining the street.

I missed this I thought.  If you must work then it really should be in the cbd, wherever you live: that’s where the action is. I missed the comings and goings, the thriving activity of people doing their thing amid the multitude of available choices. So much was familiar that I thought the city, Melbourne, has become imprinted in me. I know it so well, not just the streets and laneways and the arcades that make up so much of the city’s charm, nor the bars and restaurants and the best cafes for coffee, though they too seemed written into my sub-conscious, more than anything it was the feeling I would experience, I thought, even with my eyes closed. It is an aura of grace and style and elegance comingled with a certain intellectual hauteur. It is both easy and laid back and discerning.

Like most Melburnians I love my town. It regularly gets voted the most liveable city in the world, or close to it. True enough I’m sure, but a truer indicator I would guess is that it would be one of the city’s most loved by the people who live within her. It is our own and we love her.

Later I had dinner in a cosy restaurant in Flinders Lane. It was frigidly cold out, and we stopped before a series of restaurants looking to choose one. The restaurant we chose had a fire burning in the grate and a warm, homely feel to it. I sipped my red wine and looked around, everything familiar to me after years of living this same life but in different incarnations. Our conversation touched upon that: look at the men drinking at the bar? They look like boys. I looked and sure enough the men she spoke of dressed in fine suits had the clear skin and innocent eyes of boys. I was one of them once I thought, and commented to that effect to our mutual amusement. I’ve journeyed through life since in this town and away from it, returning always as it changes and remains the same, much as I have done. We have matured together.

We left and it was late. Look she said, it really does look like Paris.

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What it means to be a Melburnian

Melbourne has its own style, everyone knows it, even those who’d rather not admit to it. As a city we know IMG_0961 we’ve got it good when it comes to food and fashion, bars, coffee, the arts, and not to mention sport. Though it’s organic roots sit in the diversity of lifestyles there is much in it that ultimately becomes self referential. We are known for something that we look to live up to. I've little doubt that there is no other citizen in Australia that has as much civic pride or sheer affection for their home town as a Melburnian does. We know we’re stylish, and so we strive to be stylish and ever more so.

In some sense that’s one of the things that sets Melbourne apart from many of the other Australian cities. Style not only matters, it is a distinct and central part of the cities consciousness and identity.

So what is Melbourne style? I was given cause to wonder this a few days ago on a visit to the CBD. I’d made a day of it managing my appointments and catching up with the odds and sods of my city life. About mid-afternoon I was on my way to have coffee with one of my ex-IT guys when I stopped at the pedestrian lights at Collins Street. In that mindless state you have while waiting for something to change from red to green I took in the guy standing beside me.

He was a stripling really, one of those pale and weedy types of no particular physical distinction. He had dark hair cut into a style Robert Smith might have looked upon with approval, reflective, no doubt, of his personality. It was different, but not objectionably so. What really took my attention was his attire.

It was a pleasant day of about 23 degrees. It wasn’t hot, but it certainly wasn’t cold. I was in shirt sleeves, but this guy was dressed all in Melbourne black with a woollen coat tightly buttoned and bound around his narrow body. He had oversized cans on his ears as he cruised through the city to his own particular soundtrack. My first thoughts were that he must be bloody hot. Then, as the lights changed and he raced ahead of me, I reflected that certain sacrifices are willingly made occasionally on the altar of fashion – discomfort is small cheese really.

I went my way and he went his, but I was left pondering. I wondered why I so rarely saw pale and weedy types in the summer. It’s true. You see plenty of hale and hearty types spreading out in beer gardens or sitting down to indulgent breakfasts or improving their tan in shorts and t out and about. The sun, for most, is the occasion to celebrate wherever you are in Australia, including Melbourne.

It’s in the summer that Melbourne style is at its dimmest, if only because it has the least scope. There are only so many ways you can pull on a pair of shorts, and flip flops are only thongs no matter how you dress them up. That might explain why the pale and weedy type is invisible in the sunny months. It’s my guess that they have pretty much the same relationship to the sun as Count Dracula does. I couldn’t imagine one in a pair of shorts, thongs and a pastel polo shirt. Summer is the season they hibernate, huddling inside their home, the blinds closed and watching the calendar keenly waiting for daylight savings to end.

It gets damn hot in Melbourne through the summer, but Melbourne really is a winter city. I wonder if that’s the European influence. The city itself, the style and a lot of the attitude is European, as are the passions and the intellectual discourse. I'm gilding the lily perhaps as there are no shortage of bogans either, but in general and in the CBD and inner suburbs that's the life. In winter the Melbourne look really comes to the fore, woollen coats, dark colours, long boots, layers…

I can remember a few years ago when I was living in Brisbane I returned to Melbourne for a conference. I befriended a guy from Adelaide and showed him around. He had a great time of it as we went to one obscurely located bar after another. That was Melbourne he said, it’s all down laneways and in arcades and hidden in the nooks and crannies only the locals know. He went on, commenting on the things that I had always taken for granted, most particularly the Melburnians propensity for black.

We ended up at a bar near the Arts Centre. We sat there sipping on a wine. At the next table were a table of very stylishly attired Melbourne women. I saw them as I had never seen them before. They had a glamour that I had forgotten living in Brisbane. They had an individuality and self-assurance that was very attractive. They were women in the best and most alluring sense of the word. Listening in they were discussing a show they had all just seen and I thought then that this is my town too, the place I belong.

Melbourne style, we’re all a part of it. 

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Pleasant sojourns

It’s another sunny day in Melbourne, the sky blue, the wind gusting. I’m not long returned from my Sunday morning brunch. This week it was at an Italian cafe opened while I was away in Darwin. Most of the various cafes and restaurants in the area are knockabout places, warm and eclectic and fashionably scruffy. It sits well with the general vibe on this side of town.

This joint is a bit different, it’s clear that the new owners are passionate people who have gone to a lot of trouble to realise a particular vision. And so I sat there in the prettily arrayed space and looked at the menu, creatively put together – baked eggs with cacciatore sausage, omelette with sage and parmesan, and so on. Chilled out mood music played in the background, a combination of Bossa Nova and jazz, pleasant but unobtrusive. Upon making my order the waiter returned and placed on the table a little ceramic container for ground pepper and salt flakes imported from Italy. The waiter was a little man who appeared very certain of his stuff, calm and unruffled and polite – he reminded me in some way of Giovanni Ribisi. At the other tables there were the suburbs young families, couples in their thirties with their young children, reading the Sunday paper and tending to their children. It was good.

I had coffee and then eggs and toast with mushrooms. Every time I come out for brunch I ask myself if I am in a sweet or a savoury mood. More often than not it is savoury, but every now and then I indulge in pancakes or French toast. More often than not I get the full spread, not even thinking about cost. This is all about indulgence so besides the main feature I’ll order the roasted tomatoes and the mushrooms, a hash brown or two, the freshly squeezed OJ to go with the latte, and so on. My eyes scour the menu, as if searching for something new to try, some further excuse to load up and indulge. And so the odd smoothie gets a guernsey, or, like today, I might finish up with
a pot of tea.

I was in no hurry to leave this morning. It was comfortable, I was lazy. Every so often Giovanni would come and check on me, was the meal good, was there anything further he could get me? I would respond in kind, politely, yes, it was fine, yes, maybe some tea. Do you have English Breakfast? Yes, of course. We were like two old fashioned gentlemen exchanging well mannered views, nothing was too difficult, nothing was of any trouble.

Between eating and drinking and peering around at my fellow diners I pored over the Lonely Planet guide to Morocco I had bought with me. I read making little notes in the margins, ticking things to do or places to stay, slowly formulating a very loose itinerary in my mind. I booked my flights on Thursday. I was surprised at how inexpensive they ended up being – under two grand. I fly with Qantas to Singapore on October 15. From there I catch connecting flights on Qatar airlines to Doha and then Cairo. I spend about 20 days in Egypt and Jordan on a tour, very loose-limbed and reasonably adventurous – the only sort of tour I’ll do. I then travel to Morocco, where I’ll hump my pack solo, checking out Casablanca and Marrakesh and towns in between, and hopefully some of the Rif valley as well. I don’t intend to push it too hard – a week lazing in Marrakesh and being the leisurely tourist sounds good. All the same, I don’t have as much time there as I would like – about 19 days.  I have work to get back to at some point, and the wedding of my favourite cousin to attend. So I make my way back to Cairo where I fly out on November 23. Sounds good, can’t wait.

It was a pleasant sojourn in the cafe. I sipped my tea and closed my book, then got up to pay the bill and leave. Have a nice day said Giovanni, thanks, I said, you too.