Sunday, November 24, 2013

I am a Melbournian

When I first moved to Melbourne at the beginning of last year, I noticed that Melbournians spend a lot of time talking Melbourne up. At the time, I put this down to an inferiority complex, especially when mention of the fact that I am from Sydney gave rise to the inevitable question, “So, which do you like better, Sydney or Melbourne?” 

It’s not a question that would ever occur to a Sydney-sider. Not because we walk around constantly congratulating ourselves on Sydney’s superiority, but just because we’re not insecure about our city’s attractions. Melbourne poses no threat. I also wondered whether this constant insistence on the marvelousness of Melbourne was a way of denying the obvious suffering imposed by Melbourne’s terrible, inconstant weather.

Now that I’m well into my second year of living in Melbourne, my perspective is a little different. Have I been corrupted, the balance of my mind broken by hayfever, or have I just seen the light? By the light, I refer to that powerful glow that illuminates the city of Melbourne from within, visible and palpable only to those who have joined in worship of this great metropolis.

Living in Melbourne is a bit like living in a cult. Insidiously, day after day, you find yourself involved, first passively, then actively and with an enthusiasm that seems to bubble up from nowhere, in conversations about how great it is to live here. I’d like to think that this is simply an example of how gratitude and appreciation for good things is infectious. It’s part of Melbourne culture to count your blessings, daily and communally. But there is undeniably a less noble aspect to this phenomenon. Even when it is not articulated, it is understood: Melbourne is not just good, not just marvelous, it is better. The long shadow of Sydney is always there, the darkness that defines the light.

I think it wasn’t until I moved to Fitzroy that I fully succumbed to the collective narcissism that characterizes life in Melbourne. It’s a suburb where a quick study break stroll to stock up on Twisties at the supermarket can end up taking a little longer than expected because on the way I allow myself to be distracted by the colourful display in the window of a gallery showing indigenous art. Inside, the attendant, a man of extreme refinement and extensive knowledge, treats me as if I might be a potentially major art investor despite the fact that I say things like, “So, what are those poles with feathers stuck on them? They’re gorgeous,” and “Who’s Christian Thompson?”

Fitzroy is nothing if not arty. The back streets and lanes are full of street art and tasteful graffiti. On Saturday I went for a guided tour of some of the highlights, took the photos you see on this blog-post, and got into an argument with a former city councillor about whether graffiti can still lay claim to being truly subversive when it’s been commissioned by the council (he said yes, I said no). In any case, I’m happy to concede that what Fitzroy street art may lack in street cred, it more than makes up for in style.

But the beauty of Fitzroy is not just skin deep. This morning, while browsing websites of the dozen or so yoga schools in Fitzroy to find a class that might suit me, I discovered that the Dance of Life studio was offering a session described as a Luscious Ovarian Temple, with lavender foot bath. How could I resist? I thought this kind of thing only happened in the Blue Mountains. But the precise reality is that it only happens in Melbourne.

When I emerged from exploring my Ovarian Temple later this afternoon, I felt as if the cavities of my body were sparkling with interior light. As I floated off down Brunswick Street, I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. Like an ovarian cyst, my Sydney-bred cynicism had been finally, painlessly excised.

As J.F.K. might have said if he had ever come here:

I am a Melbournian.

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