Monday, March 29, 2010

Australia! Part Three

After leaving our boat, Eva and I continued our journey by electric tram through Melbourne to the St. Kilda Artisan Fair, where we met up with her brother and his girlfriend to enjoy the beach environs. I watched the varying sections of the city through the window as we passed, each with its own personality and character, but impossible to photograph through the badly scratched windows. Old and new come together in an eclectic mix of neighborhoods. We pass a kiosk, where someone has left behind a large bouquet of balloons, looking alone and forlorn, hoping to be reclaimed. And an older street person, who has no sign, but whom is given small bits of money as people walk by. Soon it’s time to disembark and as we do, we breath in the crisp salt air from the bay.

Up and over a bridge over the main highway and we are at the artisan fair. Much like our Saturday market in Portland, OR, there are a multitude of booths containing a wide variety of arts and crafts. From fine art to fine soaps, souvenirs to sculpture, I see for the first time, the amazing talent of the Australian artists. And in such a beautiful setting, with the bay in the background and the palms all around! I want one of everything!!! But knowing I have little room in my suitcases, I simply drink in the beauty and commit it to memory and settle for a few small things. From the fair, we walk towards the nearby Luna Park and the Palais Theater. The art deco theater was built in 1927 and is situated just across the street from the eclectic Luna Park entrance: the gaping mouth of a neon clown. A peep inside takes you back to a Coney Island setting: terrified screams coming from the roller coaster, lovers walking hand-in-hand and kids, whose hands and face are decorated with the leftovers of sugary treats wearing wide grins and accompanied by worn-out parents. We go on to stroll the nearby stores of Acland Street, passing cake shops with windows full of tempting treats, so many I had a hard time deciding what to buy and went on Eva’s brother’s recommendation of a Brandy Snap.

I stop for a meat pie – a delicacy I immediately fell in love with. I had never had anything quite like it in the states (but have thankfully located a place in Portland and in Seattle so I can still have a treat now and again). A flaky crust with a creamy stuffing of meats, cheese, onions and roux, topped with “sauce” (ketchup in the US). We continue on down the sidewalk, passing open air bars and restaurants, funky store exteriors and even a backpacker’s hostel, labeled the Ritz.

As we head for the beach, we pass a combined community garden and art studios, just behind the amusement park, where artists have decorated the individual gardens with both fresh and recycled art. The art was whimsical and practical and ideas swirled in my head for my own garden at home. As Australia is just heading into their autumn, there were still tomatoes on the vines and scarecrows still worked hard to keep the birds away. The mosaic art that decorated the walls of the studios, the sidewalks and plant containers danced light in the air while a sign warned to cover the sandbox at night.

We head down the boardwalk towards the bay and a walk down the St. Kilda pier. Along the way, we are treated to the sights of jellies and octopi, starfish and shells in the clear water to the side of the pier. Two black swans are sunning in the grass and a multitude of seabirds fly overhead, before landing on the pier. At the end of the pier, is the St. Kilda kiosk where we finally stop for a much needed break, before heading back to dinner.

We have dinner at Soul Mama’s, a vegetarian restaurant where you are handed a bowl of rice of your choice (jasmine, basmati, white and brown, if I recall correctly) and then pick three entrees to go on top of your rice. Delicious! But so much to eat, I could not finish it all. A bean salad, a curried pumpkin dish and some pumpkin seed balls. We serve ourselves our water here, unlike the US and it does not come with ice, but is quenching all the same.

As the sun began to set, we wandered along the beach towards Steve and Pam’s car, for a last cup of coffee at Pam’s house. The beautiful sunset is our parting treat as we head back into the city.We settle around the patio to sit and chat, when I realize that I have come to the attention of the local mosquito population and they are certainly enjoying the rare blood of a US visitor. I dash inside, but too late realize I have been “tasted” at least fifteen times by these hungry bugs, and the bites itch just as much here as in the states. As we leave and say our goodbyes, I look to the sky and the unfamiliar constellations above me and realize I am so very far from home. Yet, in my heart, I feel instantly at home in this wonderful country.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Australia!! Part Two

On my first morning, I wake up to the exotic tones of an Australian magpie and the cackling of a kookaburra. Soon, these are joined by the raucous call of cockatoos (and truly the course squawk of these birds make crows seem melodic in comparison LOL) combined with the calls of crimson rosellas and lorikeets. You know right away, you are in a new land. The sun is warm and the sky a flawless blue decorated with small cotton ball puffs of clouds. I wake to a “cuppa” tea and warm porridge (oatmeal with milk and honey) and a nectarine (in season here). I hurry to get ready. Eva is taking us by train to Melbourne for our first adventure.
We board the train at Croyden station after buying a ticket that will cover all of our transportation for the day for $5.00 and head for Melbourne. I watch the passing scenery and marvel at how alike and yet, how different it looks from the US West Coast. There are tall, skinny Mary Poppins-like chimneys that would never pass earthquake code here and every one of them has character; alike and yet different in contrast to the ticky-tacky subdivision I live in, where all things are alike. Old facades speak of history past in older areas of town, yet downtown is an eclectic mix of sleak, newer buildings mixed in with historical buildings.

We pass a park where a man is feeding cockatoos bird seed, much as we see folks feeding the pigeons and sparrows here. Almost all roofs are a red clay tile and there are signs that advertise “roof painting” to refresh the color. The clay is sturdy and resistant to the ravenous appetites of the cockatoos, who eat unprotected wood, including windowsills and shingles. History here began much at the same time as most of the area near me in the states. You can feel the raw energy of a people who landed in primitive circumstances and yet managed in short order to create a platform of history to build a great country on. The city is clean. Trash is thrown in bins and cigarettes in receptacles. There is more smoking here than I am used to, but less than you see on our east coast.

And everywhere there is graffiti. I am puzzled at first as I did not think Australia had the gang issues we have. And they don’t. The graffiti, I am told, is down by young people expressing themselves. It is graphic and beautiful and covers the walls and fences that border the train tracks. Eva takes me to an entire alley of graffiti across from the arts center and I could have spent a day taking photos of the graphic art painted across the building faces. Some of it disturbing in intensity, but amazing art, all the same.
After walking a bit to visit the area near the cathedral and arts complex, we board a riverboat on the Yarra River, to take a cruise through Melbourne. Our guide is from Ireland and narrates our journey along the river. There are numerous bridges across the river, connecting the city, much as there is in Portland. However, some bridges are old and staid and some are new and funky. There is a metal bridge with bands around it that are meant to look like an eel being caught in a cage and another with fun metal figures decorating the span.
The bridge above has pillars that are five feet higher than the highest bridge in Sydney. The pillars are detached from the bridge and serve no other purpose other than being higher than those in Sydney, according to the guide and it is apparent these two beautiful cities have a bit of a rivalry!

We pass a restaurant that serves people, cats and dogs that at one time was a public toilet in the richest part of town and public art that cost a fortune but look simply basic such as a row of 4 by 4 posts in a curving path through the grass, canted at different levels call “the falling down fence.” I learn that life preservers anre “life rings” and that when you cheer for your team, you “barrack” and that “routing” is another word for sex. Everything we see is so clean. We pass tugs, container loaders, ocean-going ships and the amazing architecture of the city. It’s almost too much to take in.

We pass under the Swan St. bridge, built entirely by women after WWII…the only bridge that has not needed any major maintenance since being built. Hmmmm…..We see black swans that are indigenous to Australia. When the British were told that black swans inhabitated Australia, they did not believe it….after all, everyone knew swans only came in white. They are beautiful birds! The guide tells us that the Yarra is not the true river name, but that when the settlers asked the name of the river, they pointed to a waterfall and were given the word for that. The river’s true Aboriginal name means ‘the land of mist and shadows’. A beautiful name that touches the soul with imagined dawns where the sun struggles to burn through the clouds and the water is shrouded in mystery. We leave the boat with an appreciation for the beauty of this city. Here you feel the world around you and truly feel we are all one on this globe.