a little east of reality

Monday, May 14, 2007

five days in melbourne

Okay, so Melbourne was mostly great, but it had its downside. You'll see what I mean as I go along. People-wise I spent the first three days staying with a friend and her husband, and spending my time with them and a close friend of theirs who lives in Melbourne. We also saw a lot of my friend's daughter, who moved to Melbourne about six months ago.

First night in I saw Miss Saigon. It's a powerful story, and the production was wonderful, particularly the staging (the sets were great and at one point you would have sworn that a real helicopter landed on the stage and then took off again). I have to admit though that the score was kind of average. The one exception was a really stirring song at the beginning of the second act called "Bui Doi". It's a song about the Amerasian children fathered by GIs during the Vietnam war, children who went on to be pariahs in their own society once the US withdrew. The whole time the song was sung they showed images of these children, including some from the child camps they were put into after the war. Here's a youtube link to the song. Here are the lyrics.

The next day we had lunch at Fifteen, the restaurant that Jamie Oliver set up in Melbourne to offer a career opportunity to troubled youth. The first batch of trainees were part of a television series that showed their personal journeys to become chefs and the setting up of the restaurant itself. Of course there were a few who wasted their opportunity, but I was so impressed with most of them and the way they really turned their lives around that I wanted to visit the restaurant if the chance came. Thirty percent of the profits go back into the foundation to train other young people, too. I like the combination of a casual atmosphere with silver service level dining, and the food was SO GOOD! ( I had the Roasted Berkshire pork with fennel seed and rosemary, Mt Zero lentils, baby chard, crème fraiche and pan juices. Chocolate nemesis (yes Nemesis, apparently there's a dessert named after you) with pistachio biscotti and blood plum. Mmm.)

Later that night we hit the Pink concert. She is so powerful, so bold. Most of the songs were from her latest album, I'm Not Dead, which I like a lot. Unfortunately the concert indirectly led to me having an argument with one of my best friends over Pink's song, "Stupid Girls". She was basically defending the girls the song describes(here's an excellent explanation of the song if you're interested), saying that if all they care about was partying and shopping and being a size 0, that that was their right. I tried for a solid hour to explain that the song is not targeting them individually so much as the superficial culture they represent, and that while it certainly is their right to live as they choose, I'm allowed (and Pink's allowed) to have an opinion about it, especially if I feel their lifestyle is negatively affecting girls who think they are supposed to emulate it. There's nothing wrong with calling something stupid if it IS, especially when that something is influential. I think the most frustrating part was when she argued that "they can't be totally stupid if they're making that kind of money". I hated the fact that I needed to explain to this wonderful friend, right in the middle of a discussion about superficiality, that money alone was hardly a worthy marker of success. There was a time when she wouldn't have needed someone else to tell her that.

And of course having been friends for over twenty years we moved on by the next morning and had brunch at a lovely Italian cafe called Brunnelli's: chicken and asparagus crepe with a Caesar side salad. They also make confections and nougat and ornate cake for big Italian celebrations. It was worth going there just to look around. Restaurants featured heavily in our trip. Fifteen, Brunnelli's, a place on the beach called The Stokehouse, plus a little Thai restaurant and a couple of cafes. I mean just because our hotel room had a kitchen with a microwave didn't mean we were going to cook. And in fairness if you're going to check out restaurants, Melbourne is the place to do it. There's good reason that Jamie Oliver picked Melbourne. Each year there'll be new trainees and he needed a strong restaurant and cafe culture that will provide jobs for them once they've done their year at Fifteen.

Now of course I couldn't be in Melbourne for the tail end of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival without catching at least one show, so we went to see Adam Hills' current show, Joymonger. It was great, so upbeat and positive (hence the name) and very funny. We were in the front row and he talks a LOT with audience people, so I was trying to keep a low profile, haha. We did have a chat with him afterwards. Nice guy. He talked a little in the show about having an artificial right leg, a little bit of trivia about him that I hadn't known. He shared a story about getting his licence renewed...a little adventure in bureaucracy that resulted in his driver's licence now being printed with the licence condition: "Must wear artificial right foot." He said he showed it to an Irish friend once, who gave him a sly smile and said, "Ah, but it doesn't say where." :)

A couple of other photos from the trip ~ a quirky shop name and some fun street art I happened upon.

The other activity I spent a lot of time on in Sydney was called "avoiding shopping". Don't get me wrong. I did some shopping. I bought a pair of black jeans, I browsed the bookstore, I checked out some homeware stores and I tried samples of Aesop's mandarin-scented hand balm (pricey, but oh so good). And then I was all shopped out. So while my friend went to ten more stores, I saw a movie. The next night we met an old friend I hadn't seen for years, so when they decided they wanted to check out every designer brand store that was open late at the casino complex, I couldn't duck out and do something else. I'm not into the brand label thing. In fact I'm next door to being anti-brand after seeing how it drives many women and girls in Japan. But there I was, for two hours straight, trawling Guess and Gucci and whoever else with them. So you can imagine my glee (not) the next day when she announced that the thing they most wanted to use their last day for was to visit DFO (designer factory outlet). I told them to meet me when they were done, at the Starbucks where I would be reading my book (ironically, The Devil Wears Prada). Good book by the way.

I had two days in Melbourne after they flew home, which were so relaxing. I wandered around St Kilda, sat by the ocean and slipped in another lunch at Fifteen (Grilled Margaret River porterhouse steak with rosemary potatoes, large leaf rocket and eggplant funghetto). I visited a family who recently moved to Melbourne and had a surprisingly lighthearted visit with a friend of my mum's who found out a few months ago that she has an inoperable cancer. She's retired and is using her time now to visit her children and grandchildren. I left them feeling very peaceful and reassured.
And that was Melbourne.

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