Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A Few Days In Melbourne

Fascinatingly Obvious
Australia is a bizarre country. Most of its huge area is filled with Next-to-nothing, with the occasional Something in between. Melbourne is definitely a Something, a huge mass of stuff clumped down on the edge of Victoria and the ocean. Barely an hours drive from central Melbourne and you'll find country. Cities aren't always like this; barely an hours drive from central Sydney and you'll find outer Sydney.
Like most of Australia's Somethings, Melbourne is full of people doing - well - Something Else. I'm not sure what this Something Else is, but Melbournians seemed to do it very well. The fact that a lot of it seems to have something to do with food, fashion, art, architecture, reading and writing doesn't really help -

Food: Something you put in your stomach

Fashion: Something you put on your body

Art: A series of bright colours you look at

Architecture: A series of large geometrical shapes that you put yourself in

Writing: Words on a page or text on a blog

Reading: Looking at the page/blog in question and looking like you understand what it means.

The most you can say is that Melbournians do all this stuff with style and flair - and they do.

Khadem's Muse
I slept four nights in Melbourne, the first night in the house of the wonderful Kathryn, and the other three nights in cheap accommodation in the city, with a middle-aged middle-eastern man named Khadem, Khamed, Khaleb, Khabel, or something else. His accent was so heavy, that I couldn't understand half of what he said; and when I did understand what he said, I couldn't believe it. And he said a lot.
"I am Egyptian ... from Iraq... in Saudia Arabia... I can speak French... because I am from Morocco... I have many degrees... a Master in Economics... I play Othello, yes... but it was only in High School, I do not remember who Desdemona was ... I am a poet ... much loved, yes, I am much loved in Arabia... and musician, too... not good, but I write many songs."
He had with him two instruments, a guitar and an Al-oud (a kind of Arabian lute). The first night I expressed interest in this; the next evening, when I came in, he was holding it over his head. "Somebody kick it," he explained to me, showing me the back, which he had repeatedly patched up with a white plaster. Later, he tuned the instrument up and began playing it like a mandolin while singing softly. It began to grow dark when he finally put the instrument down, exclaiming that, "It is no good."
He explained to me that, "I write many tunes... Yes, I am very creative after f*king a beautiful woman. Yes, I am writing much after making love with a beautiful woman."

Once I asked Khadem if he would like to have a coffee with me. He said he did not know; but, he said, I could find some wonderful cafes down by the Yarra river. "It is very beautiful," he said, "Very beautiful."
The next evening, I found myself wandering over the bridge over the Yarra, and I went by a guy wearing a horse mask and playing three notes on the accordion, over and over again. A little further up was a busker squatting on the ground, playing a different three notes on the harmonica, again and again and again. I have to say, they both played their three notes very well. Maybe their lives depended on it.

I'm a Poet and Don't You Know It
I was in Carlton on a Saturday afternoon, looking for the Dan O'Connell pub. Everybody I met gave me different directions. It was on Canning Street, off Princes Street, near the Alexander Highway. There was a poetry reading there in the afternoon. It was a pleasant Irish pub, not too garish or tourist focused, playing Andy Irvine music in the background, and serving a fruity Irish beer. Considering the location, perhaps I should have stuck with the Carlton draught, instead.
There I found a group of poets - many desperately trying to act like themselves - and many of them failing. There were hats. Men wore their hair long. Women cut their hair short. One guy wore a key around his neck. Several men wore glasses - some may have actually needed them.
Poems were read, and nature featured heavily. The language was terse, the diction slow and often forced. Attempts were made to wring as much meaning out of words like 'the' and 'of' as was possible. Most poems pretended at originality and profundity; as for me, I pretended at entertainment (and probably failed).
Some were entertaining. One girl called Lish had a delightful, alphabetic description of sex - applying several sex-soaked metaphors to every letter of the alphabet.
The lead poet was a guy called Tim Hamilton. He wore a purple shirt, talked about breathing, and used metaphors a lot.
I got bored. It was nearly five. Near the door, I waved at Melita. "Hi Melita," I said. "Bye Melita." She looked confused. Maybe I just didn't act like myself convincingly enough.

Beverages and People
Speaking words in a room full of other word-speaking rhymesters is one thing that happens with some frequency in Melbourne. Even more important than that, though, is drinking. During my three-and-a-little-bit days, I drunk latte on Bourke, chai on Little Bourke, Mocha on Swanston, Cappucino and Greek pastry on Lonsdon, Latte in St Kilda, Cappucino on Lygon, Iced Coffee, Latte, and James Squire on Russell (with mussells stewed in wine), and Gin and tonic, Gin and Coke, Vodka and Musk, Vodka and Coffee, two long Island Iced Teas, Carlton Draught, and VB in various locations around the city. I drunk in company, I drunk alone, I drunk frequently and - more than once - I got drunk. So here's to all the more-or-less sentient beings I met in Melbourne, in those contemplative pauses between one caffeine/alcohol hit and another - I hope to be back soon, folks: I raise a glass to Tim, Tim, and Tim (none of them me), Mel and Mel, David and Belle, Andrew, Simon, Graeme, Jenny, Michelle, Lish, Trevor, and definitely Kathryn, who showed great generosity, patience and warmth in introducing me to folks around the city and guiding me around - I cannot express gratitude enough.

The Last Word...
... must go to Al the Indian taxi-driver - not his real name, but a name for me to remember him by, at least - who came out with the following immortal line in between telling me about his life, his plans to learn a marketing degree, the 'nice black arse' that just walked past, and how I should stay away from the porn magazines. "I'm not joking," he said, "I'm driving."
And, you know, I really couldn't argue with him there.


Anonymous said...

Better get back soon, Timothy - I believe I owe you a drink.

Oy vey. Hope I didn't say anything too moronic on Friday night. Oofah.


Anonymous said...

Now I wanna go to Melbourne toooooooooooo! (I'd especially like to meet the Egyptian/Moroccan/Saudi man.) Oh, and the cabbie.

Glad you had fun and so much coffee.

Are you returning to chain-ganging now?

Re: Your St. Patrick's Day comments on my blog: I LOVE pointless stories. I write them all the time.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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