I’m stretched out in the brilliant mid-morning sun currently flooding my friend’s backyard. Can’t believe I missed the first day of my first ever Southern Hemisphere Spring (Wednesday), but I’m making up for lost celebration now. My first few days in Melbourne didn’t feel very Spring-like, and I couldn’t put my finger quite on why. I realized after some time that for one thing, nearly all native Australian vegetation is evergreen, so there’s not the dramatic starkness of an Upstate NY winter. And secondly, because Spring for me necessarily means melting snow: a liquefying cloak of the landscape drizzling through muddy courses to ice-jammed rivers. Here there’s rain, but not the Vernal Equinox transformation from gingerbread-house frosting to brown squishy terra.
This though: this feels like Spring. Greening grass, lacy pinks of blooming flowers, and that luxurious, pure, Australian light. Clearer sunshine, faster freckles, and better stargazing – all thanks to our position under the Antarctic ozone hole. Atmosphere is overrated…
Melbourne’s notorious for it’s fickle weather, and this past week it’s lived up to that reputation. The ‘four seasons in a day’ special I’ve already had the pleasure of observing – and commuting through – on more than one occasion. Sunday was blissfully sunny and in the seventies and spent at the beach with friends. Monday I caught lunch in the city with a friend from Swinburne under gray skies and a driving rain in the fifties that had me chilled to the bone by the time I caught the train back to Beaumaris.
Warmer, drier, days are good, because it means I get to take advantage of my recently acquired two-wheeled pedal-power transportation! After a few days of looking on Gumtree (the ostensibly less-sketchy Australian equivalent of Craigslist), I found a Reid single-speed commuter bike in the St. Kilda suburb, and after a quick test ride, shook on the deal with the New Zealander selling it, and took off with it, a lock, and a floor pump for $100AUD. Wednesday I picked up a set of cage pedals, a spare tube, and a front light (getting hit by a car last time has me keenly aware of the dangers of city riding – even somewhere as bike-friendly as Melbourne). I’d never seen myself as a single-speed kinda guy (which is not the same as a fixie, I found out this week), but it def adds to my hipster-designer street cred with the cool kids around here, and I have to say there is something aesthetically appealing in the purity of just one gear, two-wheels, and your own horsepower getting you places. I’ve yet to make the 15 mile ride up Beach Road into the city, but, as the name suggests, it follows the Port Phillip coastline up most of the way, and as such I’m anticipating has spectacular views of both the ocean and the city.
Now must be seasonal large-scale trash pickup for this area, because houses around where I’m staying have piles of stuff out near the curb. It looks like those National Geographic features where the families haul all their belongings out into the front yard to underscore the different standards of material possessions in different parts of the world...except I’m assuming in these cases there’re still a decent quantity of belongings in the house. My Mom would lose her mind: it’s like a town-wide garage sale, but everything is free. So far I’ve picked up: two suitcases, (both passed with flying colors a cursory check-over for for blood stains / narcotics stashes), a laundry basket, a stool, and an exercise ball.
These forays out on bike or on foot have been a wonderful way to get to know the Beaumaris area a bit. Yesterday I brought my sketchbook, and when I found a house I liked the architecture of and had interesting light and shadow, posted up just off the sidewalk and got busy with my Staedtler Mars® Technico 780 and Bee Super Deluxe. After 20 minutes or so I caught out of the corner of my eye a slowing car, and self-consciously shuffled back a few steps to a more respectful distance. The vehicle pulled in, and when its driver emerged – a man who looked to be in his seventies with an easy smile and trim physique – I offered as explanation, “I was just sketching your house; I love the way the light’s hitting it at the moment.” He surprisingly seemed totally unfazed by a stranger standing in his driveway keenly staring at his home, so the rationale probably wasn’t necessary, but when I told him this he brightened up and said, “Well, I can show you a photo of what it looked like in 1973! This was originally just one storey, and we added on the back section and when we had our third child built the second floor…”
I had made a friend.
We stood for a few minutes in the driveway and chatted for a bit about spearfishing and best spots to access the beach near here and how the mansion just down the street is tied into the current 7-Eleven scandal of exploited workers. Jeff invited me in for tea and biscuits, and took me on a short tour of their home. He'd heard of Saratoga, and even schooled me by noting its pop-culture reference in the 1972 Carly Simon Grammy-nominated hit You're So Vain ("Well I hear you went up to Saratoga / And your horse, naturally, won"). We struck on botany as a shared interest, and soon Jeff had identification books spread across the kitchen table and taught me the names of a few trees I’d been curious about but hadn’t known who to ask. I learned that this is the prevalent and beautiful Melaleuca, which is my new favorite word and I’m waiting for an excuse to bestow as a name on something.
Thanking Jeff for his hospitality, I gifted him with the sketch I'd done. Being able to make art and just give it away to whomever you want is simply the best.