A Quick Summary of Melbourne

September 2010 give or take

After I put the city to sleep yesterday and watching over it until 5 o’clock in the morning, it let me doze off until 8:00 AM this morning. After the equivalent of an overpriced continental breakfast (Australia is as expensive as Europe, but the company is paying so who gives a damn), we headed out to see the city. We walked down Spencer Street (you’re welcome to follow on Google Earth or Maps) across the Yarra River – which is to Melbourne what the Thames is to London – an attempt to fill the city with running natural water which flows from West to East after a bend which everyone references as a landmark. We walked along the south bank past the Crown Palace hotel and Casino and went up to the 88th floor of the Eurika tower for a view of the city. Having identified the landmarks we fell back down, taking the elevator which is considered one of the fastest in the world and the building the tallest in the southern hemisphere. As far as tall goes – it is like saying the tallest in Australia and Antarctica – but the locals seem to take great pride in both. We tried the National Art Gallery which is national to Victoria State – Sydney must have one too. As it turns out Tuesday is the day that most exhibits are closed for some Australian reason. The only exhibition open was that of European Masters – but we were not sure if the name referred to masters of the arts or masters of the Aborigines so we moved on to the Royal Botanical Gardens which are like non-royal botanical gardens only the signs on the plants are so small that only royalty can walk the garden and know what is growing there ‘James, could you hop over to that tree yonder and tell me whether its a Eucalyptus or a water Lilly…’ There is an impressive assortment of palm trees growing in a grove set aside for palms which can survive the Melbourne climate which is anywhere between oceanic and freezing when the south ocean decides to get the best of things. A sign which we could read without James’ assistance (note that James is like Jesus was far as apostrophe s’es go) promised that additional palms which were more accustomed to warmer and more humid climates were to be found in the glass houses – but the glass houses were closed for whatever the reason.

We headed back towards the rives and downtown. Melbourne downtown is a mix of modern architecture of glass, steel and chrome and quite a few older cathedrals which let those scant few remaining christens and murderers of Christ such as ourselves amuse themselves while the Asians roam the streets. One of the most striking examples of this modern architecture is ‘Federation Square’ which every sight seeing clip of Melbourne starts with. We headed for the square after visiting the world wars’ memorial site which is located between the river and the botanical gardens. The square is paved like a brick wall with shades of desert sands deranging from light yellow and cream to darker shades of granite red. The combination and shifts in color are somewhat unsettling, but this exhibition of bad taste is dwarfed by the train station across the street which is a reduced replica of the Big Ben in bright orange and yellow. One cannot help thinking that the people of Melbourne were desperate to show the world that they have a little bit of everything.

Federation Square is surrounded on three sides by buildings whose architecture represents a trend where the scaffolding is left to stand and the building is removed. The scaffolding is then connected with sheets of glass, rock and plastics with escalators moving through open space, moving the sight seers in search of purpose and self. If you do get to the square you might want to visit the Australian Center for the Moving Image (movies) which has some very interesting displays of the history of film making and video games. They also have an exhibition of Tim Burton’s work – the meshigineh that created Scissor Hands, Batman, the latest version of Alice in Wonderland, Willie Wonka and more smiley-horror films.What I found fascinating were drafts of scripts and cartoons which Tim drew throughout his career, which bring to life the creative process. One memorable item is Willie Wonka’s headgear – braces which look more like snow chains – the amount of detail and creativity that went into making these movies and the creativity of the man is impressive, even if babies with nails in their eyes is not my cup of tea.

We crossed Flunders Street and walked into ST. Paul’s Cathedral. The organ was playing by itself – sounding the all too familiar tones of Christian religious plumbing – minimizing the believer and glorifying the institutions which tell the followers how to believe. We paid our dues by following the isle to the alter and back out along the side wall, lined with bronze plaques honoring great dead people of the faith. We existed back to the street and settled to catch our Mediterranean selves is a kebab and Shawarma stand in a nearby alley. Nourished we continued to roam the downtown – which finally qualified for the mundane repetitions of a western city with little history of its own to speak of. The cultural blanks are filled by patterns of 7Eleven’s next to MacDonald franchises, and Subways paired with Hungry Jacks. Department stores and tall office buildings – shopping bazaars with fake marble floors and mirrors on every back wall, between and beneath the buildings, traffic going the wrong way and a Starbucks where I refused the marshmallows and cream in my hot chocolate. I saw no reason to change my Starbucks name is the southern hemisphere – David is was and David it remains. I like to tell myself that David is almost a Palindrome in English and definitely a Palindrome in Hebrew – therefore I can use it all the same in upper and down-under countries. .

Tomorrow we have our meetings with our customer – which is the reason we are here in the first place. Based on what you’re read you can safely conclude that it is also the only reason to be here. If you’re planning to go to Australia you can safely bypass Melbourne.