I catch my flight back to the UK this afternoon. Goodbye Australia!
I WILL MISS:
- My clever, volatile sister and her clever, manic boyfriend. They are a phenomenon.
- My childhood friend, Tyler. A driven genius writing an eye-popping novel. Somehow, not having seen each other since 1986 didn't matter.
- Renata, who I last saw at her house in the Czech Republic, just outside my wife's native village. Nice to see her here living her new life, evidently successfully.
- Australian food. The standard here is consistently high and less than half the price of the UK. An average Sydney cafe serves food and coffee better than anything I've had in France, and quality asian and middle eastern fare is ubiquitous.
- Large and exotic flora absolutely everywhere. Gaily coloured parrots playing in the trees every morning.
- Vicious sunshine that burns in 20 minutes. Giant roaches.
- Sydney traffic. Less than half the population of London but it's already this bad? Jesus. Doesn't bode well for the future.
- The lack of children. I really miss mine. Where do they hide them in this city? Are they so unwelcome in public? The few I saw seemed tightly confined to a small number of playgrounds and swimming pools.
- The social drinking. Very generous but, really, I think it would kill me in a few months. The wine is superb, of course.
Today I made my way to Sydney city centre, alone. What to do? Some ships outside the maritime museum distracted me for a while but that great gleaming white magnet of the opera house drew me back in the end. I couldn't resist. I paid for the expensive tour of the interior. An Indian gentleman who was in our group became excited by the quality of the concrete. I empathised. It is the best building constructed since WW2, without any doubt. The story of its creation reads like the making of some Werner-Herzog epic. They'd been constructing it for three years before they even formed an idea of how they were going to render its curved shell roofs into physical reality. It ran eleven years over schedule. Its Danish architect, Jorn Utzon, walked off the job in 1966 and never saw it again. Everything about it is special. The shells are cladded in a mixture of matt and glazed tiles which Utzon described as "snow and ice". The ceiling of the concourse, in the plain brown podium upon which the shells sit, is made from concrete members that undulate from a cross-section U-shape to a T-shape and back again. Even the wash basins in the toilets are strange and clever; almost flat, dented tables onto which the water runs off, seemingly into the wall behind.
"It is strange that it should be here, in such an otherwise conservative country" observed my sister's Australian boyfriend.
I took photos, which will be posted when I return to England.
Then I turned my attention to Australia, sniffing up and down the streets in Sydney where my sister and other friends live. I sent one friend a chirpy email describing the recycling bins and pot plants outside his front door, and the grafitti on the wall nearby. "Stalker! I feel dirty." he replied. Getting bored of this I soon discovered that Google streetview isn't confined to Australian cities but, remarkably, extends across the entire vast expanse of that country, criss-crossing the desert. I'm surprised they went to all the bother, but the result is absorbing. Pick a road at random way out in the middle of nowhere and just drop your little yellow man. I highly recommend it.
I found this fellow, Louis, in the market yesterday. You can just about make out the date 1912 on the postmark, which would fit the style of dress. I'm tempted to post it to the address in Adelaide, just for fun. By pure fluke there was an elderly Australian woman from Adelaide standing next to me when I found it. She had a look and said "ah, St Peters. I know it well". I'm curious why this man writing from Sydney would say he's got a job on the "South Coast", because Sydney is no further south than Adelaide. Why has he capitalised it? Is it the name of a ship perhaps?
UPDATE: a commenter on the Vintage Photo group has just informed me that South Coast is a district south of Sydney. So, that solves that one.
Why should they be so annoyed by this? It's a free holiday isn't it?
And so it is that sis finds herself in a flat/ house (I'm not sure) in what I gather is an aboriginal slum so notorious (but quaint-looking, see above) that taxis won't go there after dark. This doesn't bother her. More alarming is the sheer sprawling size of the place. She describes it as a cross between Hong Kong and Santa Cruz, the only two Pacific cities with which she is familiar. Sydney has developed along the Los Angeles model; low density in all directions, without restraint, swallowing all the outlying villages and towns and all the spaces between. Travelling west to the town/suburb where she'll be starting her new job she found herself in a landscape of peeling weather boarded houses and Vietnamese restaurants, interspersed with gaudy palaces built by Lebanese-Australians. Visually bland but ethnically interesting. It amuses her that she has yet to see a single living example of the stereotypical white, hetero, beer-swilling Anglo-Australian. Except for our old school friend, I quipped, but then remembered that both his parents were Canadian, so even he doesn't count. He says he is delighted to have a visitor who he can talk French to, no matter how badly, because "my friends will be so fucking impressed!"