Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

Thirty Six Hours Away From Home

When you live somewhere you cease to see it as a tourist. The days blend. You find a routine. After ten weeks in Melbourne my days had all blended. And so it was until the day I bought a car.

With an end to my time here in sight – only four-ish days off – I was a short timer. The sights I had not seen would soon go unseen. And I looked forward to the last days with a renewed energy.

On Saturday I walked to the city by a new path. Always a new path. New streets, new art, new houses and shops. You get a sense of the city. And the routine is staved off another day. I sat in an alley and called an old friend I hadn’t talked to voice to voice since I’d left. The voice was the same one I remembered, and it was great to hear it again, even if a little difficult. I had gelato. I gave Camy Dumpling House another try, and while it did better than the first time it still fell short of the dumpling house down the street. I walked through built-up high-rise Southbank passing only carbon-copy designer model inhabitants to the comfort of a neighborhood more my style beyond.

The Butterfly Club was a small row house turned bar. Small rooms. A living room turned stage and seating. Tonight Damsel Sophie doing cabaret. Self-aware self-indulgence on stage is still self-indulgent. It caused me to question what exactly is cabaret, a question that wasn’t really answered to my satisfaction. A dining room turned pass-through drinking salon. A kitchen turned bar service area. A back patio turned beer garden and smokers haven, lit with colored Christmas tree lights and watched over by about twenty porcelain and masquerade masks. (Upon first seeing the garden my comment was, “God, I just want to go to sleep under those lights tonight.”)

I performed a mercy killing. I had a free shot for said mercy killing. There was a show, and drinks, and discussions. Julia and I quickly made friends with the bar staff. Between the pigeon, Simpsons quotes, sing-alongs with the playlist, and general snark and compliments, we made friends quickly. My questions of the drinks they were making got me a free one. We somehow adopted a man from Perth who was running from a jealous and violent man who he had wronged to become a film student here. Our interest in his life story netted us a couple dangerously strong rounds. (To clarify, my interest in his life and in the drinks being made were genuine interest and not a scam to get free drinks. That said, they did get me free drinks, which I am not complaining about.)

Both solidly drunk, Julia and I moved outside for fresh air that we could pollute. Not yet a full day from coughing and drunk Justin took smoking back up like an old habit. Well, actually, exactly like an old habit. After walking Julia to the tram, I found the door to the bar locked. After climbing a three meter wall and getting through a seemingly locked door, I rejoined the crowd inside for a couple more hours of drunken fun. I had been adopted as a new friend by the family of friends running the bar. Their pick of music for the playlist was impeccable (Dandy Warhols, other bands I was impressed by at the time but forgot since I was drunk, and even “Girl Anachronism” by Amanda Palmer, which itself hit me like a kick to the teeth after my previous phone conversation). I spoke with people about banking, about accents, about acting. One of the other guests stole from the bar and was banished. I paid my respects and complements, truly appreciative of the glorious night that was unfolding. I was rewarded by being tucked in on the beer garden couch to fall asleep under the Christmas lights.

I woke the next morning to perfect weather and silence. Surrounded by trees. A bathroom three meters away. A glass of water left out for me. Finding my exit and way to St. Kilda I had brunch and glass after glass of water. I wasn’t quite still drunk, but I wasn’t quite hungover either. What better state to walk to an amusement park in?

I spent an hour perusing a craft market – great pictures, logs turned into chests, scented eucalypt turned into cutting boards, Victorian-era hats, jewelry. And finally arrived at my destination, Luna park. Coney Island in Melbourne that didn’t fall into disrepair and become a junkie hangout. Home to the oldest operating roller coaster – the reason for my visit. I stood in line joyous. Overcast day, perfect temperature, still foggy brain working slowly, higher thinking about to-do lists and plans and stresses shut down while my body repaired itself. I was at peace. I had poisoned away that which made me ill at ease. As we pulled out of the station I lifted my skinny fists like antennas to heaven (the action a reference to an album that has a song about Coney Island, something I didn’t realize at the time) and prepared for the drop. The ride was rough. Bumpy. Really abrasive. For a hundred year old wooden coaster, it was pretty intense. For a modern coaster, it was child’s-play. The brakes were manually operated by a woman in purple riding standing up in the middle of the train. I smiled. I giggled giddily. I was at peace while bruising my knees.

A burger later I walked around the colorful park taking pictures. Uncrowded Sunday morning carnival, all colors and motion under a monochrome gray sky. It is a place trapped in time. Part 1920s, part 1950s, part 1970s. All smashed together. All screaming from a mythical before-time, when people had fun for the sake of having fun.

I made my way to Federation Square for an event I had seen advertised at brunch. Free concert or something. Turned out to be the Viva Victoria multicultural festival. Vendor stalls hawking overpriced and mediocre food from thirty different countries. Stages with performances from a variety of places. I followed the sound I knew, the voice of the Baltic Nightingale, Mikelangelo. Dressed as impeccably as always he introduced the next band. Klezmania. They played drinking and dancing music to an audience that remained seated in weirdly detached appreciation. Three people got up to dance. I joined. The singer came down to join us, starting a circle dance and instructing us on what to do. Here I was, on the other side of the world from one of the few yearly events I never miss, my fraternity’s initiation, a ceremony of togetherness and bonding, joining in a circular dance with strangers and forming a new community. We held hands, raised them high, and sang as we slowly expanded and contracted the circle. My heart swelled and I felt at peace.

They were followed by a band meshing traditional and new West Papuan music. They by a South Korean singer. I headed to the main stage to see Blue King Brown, one of the groups I had hoped to see here in Australia who just happened to be headlining. The crowd again sat in weird detached appreciation of this music that seems impossible not to dance to. Part afro-beat, part rock, part funk, part reggae. All energy. Even after a couple requests for standing and dancing much of the crowd remained seated. I was on my feet and grooving, apathetic to those sitting behind me and the hordes of people behind them that could see my dancing unobstructed. I felt the music and I let myself go with it.

Back at Mikelangelo’s stage I grabbed half-price paella (which was worth about exactly how much I paid for it) for myself and one for the hostel den mother – who has been having a rough time as of late -and caught the last act, a samba/bossa nova act fronted by a Brazilian-born son of Chinese circus performers. This was multicultural at its core. Breaking stereotypes. A large ethnically Chinese body speaking with a Brazilian accent and moving with a decidedly South American style.

I walked through parks slowly and deliberately. I sat to soak in the silence and the greenery around me so close to the city. Knowing not what I wanted or was looking for I opened myself up to the world to tell me. I heard the lightly squealing metal on metal that repeated a two note pattern of breeee then brauuu and looked around for what I knew was causing it. The swing set hung from a metal giraffe’s antlers. With only one swing there, taken by someone who seemed as much on a walkabout the city as I, and seeing the sun slowly leaving us in dusk, I continued the measured walk home. New route, new buildings.

Thirty six hours after having left the hostel for a couple hours, I put my bag down on my floor, plugged in my dead phone, dead ipod, and dead laptop, and I thought about brushing my teeth.

One comment on “Thirty Six Hours Away From Home

  1. Dino
    April 30, 2012

    I love the last line of this post – the perfect “non-summary” summary of a 36 hour whirlwind

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This entry was posted on March 29, 2012 by in Australia, Victoria (Melbourne) and tagged , , .

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