Urban Melbourne Life

The old box

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Sofia, Bulgaria
Sofia, Bulgaria

In the vibrant metro of Paris, you hear her. Mumbled notes are suspended in the stairwell as you descend closer to the platform until finally, you perceive each note just as distinctly as you see her player who sways and squeezes in that same old dance.

In Sarajevo, she arrived at my table, anchored by the pluck of contrabass, and echoing the tears of the singer weeping Sevdalinka.*

Her sound has bombarded passengers on many rusted trams in Sofia. Clasped in an old man’s hand, he maneuvers her and teases her, summoning the old folk modes and beckoning for a coin or two. You’re saddened if the player alights before you reach the centre . It’s a shame for the show to end before your destination is reached. Needless to say, you step into the main boulevard with an extra buoyancy and the barista is as baffled by your jocund conversation as much as your quirky attempts to order an espresso in Bulgarian.

She’s followed me, all over the world. In my travels she weaves in and out and in a pitter patter of fingers on keys I’m transported immediately, on wings of sentiment, pathos and romance.

That old box of acoustic wonders squeezes, tugs and begs you to waltz like the Bohemians, tarantella like the Italians and tango like the Argentinians. Play on accordion, play on. Dance on my friends. Dance on. 

*A traditional genre of music developed in Bosnia Herzegovina that is known for it’s slow, lilting melodies set to poetic text that is typically of a sombre, mournful or poetic nature and rendered with a passionate and emotive vocal tone. 


Picasso in the pool / Picasso en la piscina

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The Swimmer. Picasso. 1929.

Picasso in the pool 

The cap tugs my thin hair, pulling it at the roots, right near where I have my goggle strap. It really hurts, but is nothing compared to the ice cold water that awaits. There is no easy way to get into a pool and get it over with. I’ve tried all the options and attest, nothing works to assuage the bloodcurdling jolt it gives your heart on entry.

I scan the poolside. The serious set is here. One broad shouldered amazon does her arm swings. She twirls from the shoulder blades like a whipper snipper.

I place my kick board at the slow lane as a swimmer shoots off from the wall end, gliding beneath the surface of the water in pursuit of the next lap. That is the thing I paddle and splash for. That kick-off from the wall. Even in the slow lane, you never feel slow doing that.


Picasso en la piscina

El gorro de nadar hala mis cabellos delgados desde sus raíces, muy cerca de donde el caucho de las gafas se ubica, realmente duele, pero no se compara con el agua congelada que me espera. No hay una manera más sencilla de entrar a una piscina y terminar de una vez, sin embargo después de agotar todas mis opciones e intentos, nada funciona para reducir los espantosos escalofríos del primer contacto con el agua.

Al revisar la orilla veo que la bañista elite está presente, hombros anchos y poderosos sacuden sus brazos haciéndola girar como una guadaña.

Esto sucede mientras ubico mi tabla de patear sobre el muro que marca la línea destinada para los nadadores lentos. En la siguiente vuelta se que esta es la razón por la que remo y salpico en el agua al notar que pronto me alejo de la pared inicial. Sin importar que te encuentres en la línea lenta, nunca te sientes lento haciendo esto.

Translation: Fabian Rodriguez

Nick the Greek / El Griego Nick

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Nick the Greek

Sometimes childhood recollection seems stronger than present experience. I know this sounds all very Proustian, only for me today, it is not the smell of steaming madeleines, but rather the tart astringency of my mother’s yoghurt. Mum learnt it from the Greeks. At 25 she was on a ship to Athens via North Africa. Fortunately she turned down the marriage proposal of Nick, the Greek soccer player she met on her way or else this story, as much as its author, would never have come into fruition.

I learnt how to prepare it, and also how the Greeks prepared it. Apparently, every household had a pot that was left at the front doorstep overnight. In the early hours of the morning the milk man would come past each door and fill the pot. By breakfast time, it would be ready for the family to haul into the kitchen from the hot Mediterranean sun.

I could tell by Mum’s tone that she wished we had a milk man to fill our yoghurt pot, as in Greece. I guess she made her own yoghurt out of a frustration with the gelatinous farce that was 1980’s shop bought Australian yoghurt.

I’d drag one of the wooden chairs, with intricate wood carvings in recession, across the wooden floor to the kitchen bench top that overlooked our jungly garden. Climbing the chair to add to my 5 year old height, I’d soon be by Mum’s side as she prepared the milk. She would boil, mix and finally pour it into her brown earthenware yoghurt pot.

In the scorched summer mornings Mum would place the pot, brimming with milk, out on a wooden chair under the sun, wrapped in a tea-towel, to incubate. By dinner time, after a few hours of refrigeration, we would cup our own cool bowl filled with it, scooping it into our mouths as it swum in the mahogany juice of  home stewed plums.

Today, I echoed my mother’s frustrations for shop bought yoghurt. It’s sitting by my window garden now, waiting to incubate while I write at the library. Though ironically, given the Melbourne weather, it’s started to rain.

Oh! For a Mediterranean sun!


El Griego Nick

Se que esto puede sonar muy Prusiano, pero algunas veces los recuerdos de la infancia parecen más fuertes que las experiencias del presente. Para mi, hoy no estuvo presente el aroma de las magdalenas al vapor, pero si la fragancia de la tarta astringente del yogurt de mi madre.  Ella lo aprendio de los griegos  cuando tenia 25 años de edad y mientras viajaba por barco desde Africa del Norte rumbo a Atenas.  Afortunadamente rechazό la propuesta de matrimonio de Nick; el futbolista griego que conocio durante su trayecto, de lo contrario esta historia junto con su autora nunca hubiesen sido posibles.

Aprendi a como prepararlo y tambien como los griegos lo preparaban: Aparentemente cada hogar dejaba un recipiente en la entrada de la casa durante la noche, que luego muy temprano en la mañana, el lechero pasaba de puerta en puerta llenandos. A la hora del desayuno, el Yogurt ya estaba al punto debido al calor mediterraneo, asi que esta vasija podia ser  arrastratrada hacia la cocina para la familia.

Por el tono de mi madre deducì que ella deseaba que nuestro yogurt fuese como en Grecia.   Y creo que apartir de su frustracion por la gelatina artificial disponible en las tiendas de los 80’s que dio origen al yogurt australiano, ella empezo a preparar su propio yogurt.

Yo arrastraba una silla de madera, con grabados intrincados en el espaldar, atravez del piso tambien hecho de madera, para ubicarla junto al meson de la cosina que tenía vista hacia nuestro jardin selvatico, al treparme a esta silla ganaba más altura de la normal a mis 5 años de edad, de esta manera podia estar a su lado mientras preparaba nuestro yogurt.  En el proceso ella hervia, mesclaba y finalmente vaciaba la leche en una olla de terracota oscura destinada para el yogurt.

Durante las mañanas calurosas de verano, mi madre sacaba  al sol este recipiente rebosante de leche, previamente envuelto en un paño y sobre una silla de madera para que se aliñara. A la hora de la cena y despues de algunas horas de refrigeracion, ya podiamos llenar nuestras tazas con el producto final, el cual lo degustabamos al mezclarlo con el jugo caoba de los duraznos guisados en casa.

Hoy repreti la frustracion de mi madre por el yogurt comprado en la tienda. Por eso ahora mi propio producto esta reposando en el jardin de la ventana para que se aliñe, mientras estoy en la biblioteca escriendo. Ironicamente pienso en el clima de Melbourne porque ya empezo a llover.

Opa! Por un sol mediterraneo!

Translated by Fabian Rodriguez

In the depths of the Pine Forest / En las profundidades del bosque de pinos

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Dance with the Pine Tree. Roberto Manetta.
Dance with the Pine Tree. Roberto Manetta. Available from http://www.saatchionline.com

The pine tree is heaving  its last perfumed sigh. Lying, spoiled with its trunk severed, the tree looks forlorn on our hardwood floor. Weeping resin.  Viscous amber. My breath catches. Not only due to the crisp, woody scent of the fir tree, but also for the end of a splendid reign in our living room. Its jewels, Christmas baubles, lie scattered around it. Needles are browning, they are brittle now and snap with the slightest pressure. The only sign of our tree’s former glory is the heady perfume that fills the room and upstages our freshly brewed coffee.

The tree is taken out and hurled into the skip bin.

But the scent lingers. If you close your eyes, you could be deceived that there is a pine forest in our living room.


El árbol de pino exhala su último suspiro perfumado.  Sin esperanza alguna, con su tronco seccionado y con un aspecto melancólico, se encuentra yacente en nuestro piso de madera mientras descarga lagrimas de resina   y ámbar viscoso.  Mi aliento se detiene  no solo por el aroma de madera fresca del abeto, sino también por ser el final de su esplendido reinado en nuestra sala. Sus Joyas  y adornos navideños reposan a su alrededor. sus agujas frágiles ahora de color marrón sucumben con facilidad,  el único trazo de su antigua gloria es su embriagador perfume que inunda nuestro aposento y a la vez eclipsa nuestro café recién preparado. El pino es exilado y arrojado al contenedor de basura pero su fragancia permanece  Si cierras los ojos, podrías creer que hay un bosque de pinos en nuestra sala.

Translated by Fabian Rodriguez.

Day 365 at a bookstore

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ImageStepping into the threshold of a bookstore is always the same. Regardless of whether the store lies on home turf or is in some lane way in Bulgaria stocked with literature stamped in Cyrillic, the experience is always the same.

In any given store, I will manage to locate an item of my fancy. Desirous of a slippery embossed hard cover, wooed by the inner parchment, I’ll be ensnared by the merchandise. Always.

Some bookstores give me rustic worn leather to sit myself. There I muse and flick, flick and muse, through pages.

But I’m a fickle mistress. I adhere to no genre or classification. Instead, I swan between photos of Chinese street food, philosophy, entrepreneurship or art. On a given day, I may be noting down a recipe to choux puffs, on another, puzzling over grammar exercises checking my score in the final pages religiously. Novels are flicked to the end. Jokes are laughed over too raucously for the other clientele with my companion. Sometimes, I go to the language section and just ogle. I just stand there and imagine under what circumstances I’d be possessed to study Hebrew. Or Urdu? Anyway, what do their orthographic scribbles look like? Before I know it, I’m skimming to the third chapter and have found a few novel Tagalog idioms.

Bookstores provide one with the chance to sift through a wealth of New Year’s resolutions. The thing is, they are not just open for one day of the year. Tonight, I’ll roam one. Maybe I’ll learn Urdu after all.

Urban Etude and “The Gallery of Air”

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-Sorry, I thought you were awake as I saw you had seen my message on facebook at 8am….Oh, right. Yeah, me too. Actually I wake up at 8 and go to the toilet then have a coffee and cigarette, then back to sleep for a few hours. Yeah… It’s amazing that the coffee doesn’t keep me awake.

The platinum bobbed lady in her white linen flicks the pages of her Vogue. The tips of her smile lengthen and she winks elegantly at me.

The young guy on his phone continues

-Yeah, I’m just like so stressed about this t-shirt. Like, when can I get it from you? … I know, I was going to speak to her but she’s really bipolar sometimes, you know?

The bob jiggles as the elderly lady giggles, this time aloud.

-What a stressful and fascinating life he leads,

she muses to me.

I grin back, sheepishly observing the lines of her face – creases of life long vivacity, I suspect.

I slip my phone back into my bag and we start to chat. About Vogue, about travel, about Brighton and the leafy streets of Surrey Hills all the way to Flinders Street. Her sapphire eyes glint with wisdom and humor. Is it loneliness I see too?

Yesterday, I attended the latest offering from the National Gallery of Victoria- Melbourne Now. I entered a curtained exhibit coined “The Gallery of Air”. In a small space, assembled like a thrift shop, the artist, Patrick Pound, draws the the viewer into a semantic game. Contained behind the curtain are objects collated from NGV’s permanent collection that allude to the idea of air- a quirky print from Goya (nothing unusual for Goya) titled, “Blow”, a whoopee cushion, a barometer, a pipe; even the finest porcelain urns depicting winged celestial beings silhouetted in relief against duck-egg blue. This morning I was wondering, what would I assemble if I were to create my own “Gallery of Air”. I’d be at a loss to create it however, for I’d need to place this moment on the train in there and no curtained room can contain the dynamic exchange of heartfelt conversation, that flows un-stifled like a current, from an elderly lady, unhampered by the trappings of technology. Image

Loca (crazy) for Mocha

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I take a sip, followed by a gulp. This mocha is good, in fact, it’s superb. I first became giddy about mocha through my near others’ vices. Both my husband and a very close friend swoon over mochas and before I knew it, auditory bombardment of the request, “Give me a mocha please”, soon saw me ordering it. Call me easily influenced, if you so please. But I never realised the implications of becoming a mocha drinker in the big wide world that is the Melbourne cafe scene. Melbournites pride themselves on the state of their coffee and baristas are lauded as the darlings of urban Melbourne.

That aside, ordering a mocha here in an unfamiliar cafe is like Russian Roulette.

Even some of the best cafes in Melbourne have served me the shoddiest of mochas. On entry, I skim the counter quickly to determine the fate of ordering a mocha. If I sight syrup, the show is over and a cappuccino it shall be. I’m skeptical about powder, unless it’s a boutique one from a few establishments. Invariably powder leaves me tetchy and unfulfilled- clumped and sickly sweet it sits at the base of my cup testament more to it’s sugar lineage than any cocoa bean genealogy.
At this point in my epistle it should come as no surprise that I’m overjoyed to have sipped the best mocha in a long time. Right on my window seat at home. We purchased some old school Colombian block of cocoa mass goodness, unsweetened and sourced from Melbourne’s little Spanish supermarket Casa Iberica. Snapping the block into pieces, I plopped a few into our little red saucepan and topped it with milk while the stovetop espresso steamed and erupted it’s aromatic gold crema topped brew. Once the milk bubbled at the edges, it moved from a white tint to a light mahogany, I poured it over the coffee shot and commenced my trip to utopia. The cocoa wraps around the black coffee, caressing it yet not overpowering it. We drink it slowly, contentedly. The aroma of chocolate lingers in our little apartment for the whole morning. Loca for mocha.