Sweltering heat and choking among Melbourne’s cramped city of tourists and a population explosion, I wonder how to transport myself to the Melbourne of the 1990s ~ when it was our destination of choice for a girls’ weekend, shopping trip or big nights out.
Or even a hundred years earlier like the artwork in my hotel ~ when Melbourne was a Victorian dream with landscaped gardens, architecturally stunning buildings, a slower-paced life and natural beauty in all directions.
I want to be in a time-travel bubble where I can pretend the out-of-control development, stench, exposed half-demolished buildings and homelessness does not exist. Where I don’t get asthma from the dust and building works, where my feet are not swollen from I don’t even know what; and my Travelodge hotel window doesn’t peer straight into the offices of the Channel 9 building.
Maybe I am flustered because I used to be healthier and younger, and being in this city didn’t challenge me so a decade ago.
But all cities change.
We cannot expect a favourite will remain forever the same welcoming comfort it used to be.
Some cities get quiet while others, like Melbourne, go on a development spree so vast, parts of the city you loved a decade ago become unrecognisable.
With hundreds of skyrise buildings, a Docklands without a single cafe open on a Sunday and some of the friendliest people in Australia now sick of visitors like me, I constantly lose my bearings on a recent trip.
High on my dislike list is the crowded public transport so I decide to walk, to see if I can find remnants of what I consider beauty in the Melbourne I miss.
I begin from my new hotel in Southbank and cross the foot bridge using a sun umbrella.
The dominating buildings seem to have stopped the breeze.
The smell through the Melbourne Central Railway station underground short-cut is unbreathable.
Walking first along Flinders Street I have trains shuddering on the overpass railway on my left and navigate through smokers and rushing workers on my right.
I feel lost.
Decayed, empty and boarded-up buildings ruin any hope of atmosphere and I don’t feel safe or in awe as we like to feel when visiting someplace else.
A homeless man moves so I don’t include him in a photo.
Cars honking, dirt in the air stinging my eyes and the heat leave me breathless. I know I have made a mistake and turn around to head for the nearest trams, cursing my throbbing feet and myself for not carrying a MYKI card as the trams don’t accept cash fare.
So I need to keep walking, even if slow.
I delve into my bubble of memories and decide to head for Lygon Street in Carlton, a place which used to be a haven for Italian culture and culinary authenticity.
A place perhaps I can enjoy a meal and rest my arches.
I divert back up through more populated streets such as the Bourke Street Mall, making sure to zigzag through laneways and arcades, and stumble into graffiti art.
Melbourne is known for allowing artists to be the stewards of a living canvas as huge as an entire building’s wall.
The activity makes an otherwise isolated or unsafe laneway a hub of activity for the artists and a unique way for visitors and children to be exposed to an incredible talent.
I am in awe of the perspective these artists have, creating a huge picture while their faces are so close to the wall.
They each find their own space and are clearly respectful of each other’s work.
A giant tiger face greets me, loads of colourful tags, as well as mythical fantasy images.
A small smile tickles across my face …
As I wind my way through more streets, getting lost, I come across the stunning Block Arcade where the statue of a boy blowing bubbles (first photo above) captures me.
I cannot find signage describing the artwork or the artist, but I imagine, which is what art is supposed to help us do.
I imagine he is playing in early Melbourne with some of the simple toys available at the time. I think it is a bubble-blower, although he reminds me of the nursery rhyme Little Boy Blue where a boy blows a trumpet.
I learn the Block Arcade is part of Melbourne’s Golden Mile heritage walk and has walls carved from stone in the 1800s and floors of the prettiest mosaic tiles.
Popular cake shop Hopetoun Tea Rooms has a line up while opposite the spice store Gewurzhaus entices me and I load up on truffle salts, special Dutch mixed spice for making our favourite Speculaas cookies and I even find beloved Hawaiian red clay salt.
In another store I notice the incredible artwork on the ceiling (left) and am told it was painted so in the late 1800s when the store sold Singer sewing machines.
My smile gets a little wider …
I am yet to make it to Lygon Street and get going.
Along the way I notice a line-up of mini produce bins showcasing Victoria’s farming for the Grow Show Melbourne event.
Displays are crammed with vegetable plants, herbs, flowers and greenery to encourage people to visit the show and the displays are protected by security officers.
I notice a group of elderly Europeans cooing over the plants, looking through nodding their heads in approval and am reminded Victoria, like South Australia, relied on immigrants to develop exquisite fruits and vegetables that are today a staple of Australian diets and have recently created a modern enthusiasm back to down-to-Earth food.
I am of course a country girl and am also pleased to inhale the green and acknowledge what is most important to human life, despite the twisted metropolis of infrastructure in all cities.
I am also an immigrant and from a farming family so my smile starts to beam. It is so nice to be appreciated by city people.
My feet are begging me to take a break but I can’t find a cafe I like the look of nearby … so opt for Starbucks.
Today, I like the comfort of what I know.
Once I have my order and find a table upstairs next to a window, I am dismayed again.
Bars on all the windows. Dozens of wheelie bins line the lane outside. An old Victorian building with antique lamps is obviously derelict and vacant.
Only this time I notice something else.
A sold sticker on the building.
I wonder, again in my little bubble, who bought it and whether it will be demolished to produce a modern eyesore or if someone finally decides old things are worth saving.
I try to imagine when it was built and how many transitions it has undergone. Has it been an office building with beautiful wooden stairs? A school with 1970s furniture? Apartments from an era when people dressed in their best and civility was applauded?
I remind myself to move on and eventually reach the northern streets of the CBD.
And I am again awash with nostalgia as I photograph a Victorian Bath House before I cross the lights.
Reaching the Lygon Street restaurant strip takes a few more turns but I am giddy with hunger when I see a menu board describing handmade pasta at Seasons Provedore!
A staff member points to the window explaining they are a member of the Italian Institute of Culture.
The frills of noodles are divine. The creamy sauce perfect with just the right amount of cheese and pepper. I eat slowly, as more customers take seats, and notice the area is no longer full with Italians and the eateries have changed.
As I digest the meal, as well as the day, I know this city is not alone in changing.
I have changed too since the 1990s and I can’t go back to how I used to be.
There are incredible achievements which will stand proud for a long time. Things I can look at, people and places which are an artwork installation of life ~ a gallery of time and growth.
I have also gone through a decaying of my old life, dreams and plans. Some of my dreams are exposed half-demolished and crumbling in the dust. Some of my plans have not yet come to fruition or I’ve sold out or there may be an opportunity just waiting to be revived. Some windows of my life are barred and there’s nothing much left to look at, even though the view used to be beautiful.
We can have potholes of mess knowing we need to clean them up eventually. Other areas of life get crammed like a Melbourne tram.
Sometimes life gets so stifling, it is hard to breathe.
Quite often, the bubbles pop.
So we need to inhale slowly and blow new bubbles of imagination ~ bubbles that are shaped right for the future years of life and to fit our new needs.
Just like this city.
And that transition can be a dirty, heaving, stinking mess.
And while I can carry the memories of the past and treasure the simplicity of yesteryear, time moves forward too.
Lives, like cities, are meant to rejuvenate. We need to find what works better by changing. We need to blow new bubbles of ideas, dreams, aspirations, wanderings and playfulness.
We need to take the time to enjoy the harvest of so many years of hard work, walking the millions of steps it takes each human being to discern what kind of life brings comfort, feels joyful, tastes good and helps to develop our identity.
We need to be a child blowing bubbles just because …
I swirl the last spoonful of handmade pasta and try to wipe up the sauce with it.
An Italian pizza maker a hundred years ago may have balked, but these new businesses only eventuated because of the past.
I head back to Southbank still wondering about the lovely Victorian building behind Starbucks and how I would love to see it refurbished authentically.
And I wonder if I could do the same to parts of my life …
Peel off the layers: the masks hiding pain and the patches hiding splinters.
Remove the bars: unlock new potential and allow the winds of change to blow through freely again.
Redesign: remember my authentic dreams.
Redecorate: use hard woods and stone as my foundation and strongly woven linens for the fabric of my life ~ needing only what is useful and beautiful.
Polish: smooth the original structure of my life and buff until the grain of my own truth creates a beautiful patterned mosaic ~ an original, never-to-be replicated life.
This time I know my way around a bit more, having walked so far all day.
I notice people busy at a city water fountain sticking leaves against the water to create words and shapes.
Some are names.
One is a heart.
In the middle of a city which made me so uncomfortable, there are still people creating bubbles of love.
Join the Spirit Sorbet facebook page !
© Spirit Sorbet. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: this blog post is intended as a beautiful and thought-provoking article for entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for medical care. No representations are made as to the completeness of any information and the author is not liable for any losses, injuries or damages from the use of this information.