Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Melbourne Framed by Food

The classic city shot.

I began and ended my stay in Melbourne with fabulous meals. The first was on Lygon Street, Melbourne's "Little Italy." As you walk down the street, the hosts stop you on the sidewalk and try to convince you to come into their restaurant. We were finally persuaded by a charismatic man who promised us complimentary bruchetta. He said he was the Legend on Lygon Street, and showed an award that his restaurant had won. He was a great salesman. Throughout the dinner, he would come out and chat with Alex in Italian, often bursting out into song with him. It was very entertaining.

When the waiter came out and I ordered my food, he looked at me for a second and said, "You're from the States. Eastern seaboard, right?"I was stunned.
"I used to live in Boston. You can tell that from my accent?" I don't think I have a Boston accent at all.
He told me that he was from Boston. His accent was not Australian, but not American either. It decided to give him a little test.
"Can you believe the Red Sox are already out of the Series?"
"Yeah, but at least the Angels beat the Yankees. That's all I care about." Hmm. Maybe he really is from Boston.

The dinner was really nice and involved five bottles of wine and lasted nearly five hours which, according to Alex, is the Italian way.

When not eating, I spent some time looking around the city. It is very clean feeling, perhaps because the sky is so bright.

Some cool looking buildings.

I spent a good portion of one day on Brunswick Street. This is the arty, alternative area (for lack of a better way to describe it) full of organic shops and funky clothing stores.

Brunswick Street

I love train stations.

There is a museum in Chinatown dealing with Chinese Australian history that I would recommend going to, if you ever get the chance. The intro was fantastic. You start of by walking down a narrow, steep, winding, dark staircase to the basement. There is only enough light to see a few feet in front of you. Once you reach the corridor, you follow a winding path that suddenly brings you to a statue of a Chinese man standing in front of a ship to Australia. His voice-over begins, and he talks about how times are very bad in China, so he is going to Australia where people say there is lots of gold to be found. He is worried about having to leave his family, and he is nervous about living among people who have been known to be violent toward the immigrants.

The voice-over stops. The only ways out of this darkened room are the entrance you just came through and a burlap curtain. When you pass through the curtain you find yourself in the belly of a ship. It is crowded with bunks on either side, and it is musty. The ship creaks and moans. There is another curtain ahead of you. Through this is the deck of the ship, with the sounds of seagulls.

After this, it turns into basically every other museum. But man, that introduction was brilliant. It actually makes you feel some of the uncertainty and trepidation they must have felt embarking on this unknown voyage (a much smaller scale, of course).

Many Chinese people came to Australia in search of gold during the mid-1800s. These immigrants met with a great deal of prejudice (which seems to happen a lot in these situations). There was a section of the museum that had some drawings run in newspapers during that time:

The insert in the lower right-hand corner has a sifter that says, "The Law" and these serpent people are slipping through.

"Multiply and replenish the earth and divide it among you."

After this I went to the Immigration Museum which was actually quite similar, but bigger and more polished. It also dealt with why people came to Australia, and how they were treated throughout history. One very interesting and dark (no pun intended) portion of Australian history began in 1901 when they brought in the Immigration Restriciton Act, better known as the White Australia Policy. Under this law, immigrants had to pass a dictation test. They gave an example of it at the museum, and it was pretty ludicrous. The examiner would read several sentances in English and the immigrant had to write them. I found the sentances themselves somewhat confusing and strangely worded, and English is my first language. The most ridiculous part about the test is that they could choose what language you had to write it in, cycling through as many as they liked until the immigrant failed. There was a story about a man who spoke several languages fluently, and eventually failed the test when asked to write in Gaelic.

The museum had tons of information and I wish I had had more time to spend there. As it was, I just got an overview and couldn't read everything as I like to (I'm a bit obsessive in museums).

On my last night in Melbourne Kerensa, Max (another friend of Raf's) and I went out to dinner in Chinatown. It was another great meal, and Kerensa and I spent some time recounting family stories. She told me one that I had never heard before:

Our ancestor was a guard for the Emperor (this I knew). One day when he was on guard, a vandal came onto the property. Our ancestor could tell by the way he tied his belt that he was an excellent martial artist. The vandal approached and attacked him. It was a close fight, but the vandal made a few errors, and our ancestor was able to get the upper hand and defeat him.

Months later, he gets an anonymous invitation to a party. When he arrives, he realizes it is the vandal that he fought months ago. He turns to leave, but the vandal stops him, saying that this dinner is a peace offering. "Since you are such a great fighter, you must also be a great healer." (When studying martial arts you also had to learn Chinese medicine along with it.) He went on, "The injuries you inflicted upon me will not heal. Only you know how to help me."

That's all Kerensa remembers of the story. I don't know how much of it is true, but it is a pretty grandiose story.

For part of our dinner we ordered a fish which they bring with the head still attached in Chinese restaurants. Kerensa asked if my family ate the head, and I said that I remembered as a kid being told that the eyes have lots of nutrients and would make me smart. Neither she nor I had eaten this in our memories, so we decided in honor of our Chinese blood we should continue that tradition. It was pretty good, and the eye was remarkably crunchy and fairly dry.

I liked Melbourne, it was a decent city, but to be honest there was nothing about it that really stood out and made it unique. Brunswick Street was cool, and it reminded me a lot of Hawthorn Street in Portland, OR. The Victoria Markets were fun, basically an outdoor market with a variety of clothes and food for sale, and it was a lot like the Waterlooplein in Amsterdam. Chinatown was, you know, Chinatown, like the one in Boston but without the seedy underbelly feeling. Are you sensing a trend? I think I'm just burnt out on cities. There was one cool thing that stood out, though, and that was this kid who busks outside the Flinders Street Station. He looks like he's about 13, and he strums random chords on his guitar while screaming really inflamatory things about John Howard and the government in general. I really enjoyed seeing that.

No comments: