A somewhat guilt-ridden update because I still owe you the Melbourne updates as well as some reflections on what makes cities livable. But I’m in a mood for writing and the words are flowing for once, so I’m making the most of it.
Today dawned rainy and miserable, so Chris and I stayed in late, watching the brilliant, funny and very sad Mary and Max. Chris has a large DVD collection, though nothing compared to his roommates (one of whom has an MA in Film Theory and Practice from UCT). I’ve never lived with guys for any length of time, so it’s interesting to see how different their stuff is from women. The bookshelves are covered with hundreds of DVDs, mostly science fiction, and a poker table serves as a dining room table. There are also, somewhat unexpectedly, enough stuffed toy animals on display to gladden the heart of the average kid (my favourites are the tiger and the red panda).
Chris doesn’t own a lot of stuff, but he does possess a large Sony TV, a Blu-ray DVD player, an impressive sound system, all of which he has managed to cram into a small room in a rented house along with a single bed (which I sleep on) and an air mattress (which he uses). The fact that we are able to live together like this without getting stressed about it is, I think, a testament to our respective abilities to be adaptable. (Something which has surprised me – I’ve always found it difficult to live with others.)
Where was I? Oh yes. We were watching Mary and Max, and the day was trickling by into the irretrievable past, and I had banking to sort out. That’s why I travelled all this way, after all. So off we went to Chatswood, a hub of high rise apartment blocks and shopping malls (I spent many hours on the bus to and from Chatswood when I lived in Sydney). The bank branch there refused to process my transaction, so we had to do the unthinkable and drive across the Harbour Bridge into CBD, to the branch where I had opened the account.
I was there last week, but it was my experience today that evoked a vivid emotional response. When I worked there, at M&C Saatchi Sydney on Macquarie Street, I felt like one of those sleek black-clad corporate animals who stalk the streets and hunch over tables in the food courts at lunch time. Chris says Melburnians dress up more – they’ll wear ties where Sydneysiders opt for open-necked shirts – but it’s unnerving to be a tourist with a backpack in a city where the corporate uniform of suit and heels is de rigueur. It brought back all the anxiety of the days after I was made redundant in late 2008, and my routine had to change so profoundly. I’ve never based my identity on my job – I have far too many other interests for that – and yet this knocked me for a six. I lost not so much my sense of self-worth, but my sense of what I felt others respected in me.
This is one of the reasons I love social media: that you are visible to others through your words and your biography; you are not some anonymous person on a street in an indifferent world.
I walked along those streets today knowing that to these men in their pin stripes and those women in their astonishing heels, I was invisible at best, worthless at worst. This is character-building, I think: to know what it feels like to know that you don’t matter at all. So many people live with this knowledge every day, and they keep going.
The nice man in the bank branch who helped me last week helped me again. Where others had found a reason to say no, he looked for ways to say yes. I signed his papers, adding a pointless squiggle to my usual signature in my nervousness.
Chris. meanwhile, had found parking eventually, at the princely sum of $7 an hour (times that by 10 for comparison). We found good cheap Chinese at the food court at Hunter Connection – if you go after the lunch hour rush, they drop the prices and you can pick up a substantial meal for $5. Then we drove all the way to Palm Beach north of the city, and ate it while looking at this view.
On the way back, we saw black-cockatoos flying through the forest. We might have been a world away from the city instead of 45 minutes. I wonder how many readers who have never been to Sydney realize how beautiful it is. Everywhere you look there are forest reserves and yachts floating on a tranquil stretch of water.
Dinner required a long drive through rush hour to Campsie, one of Sydney’s less affluent suburbs but one where you’ll find a lot of cheap, authentic Asian cuisine. We met Chris’s Canadian friend Tamara (I met her last week in Glebe) and we picked up beer and cider from the local Woolworths and some vegetarian dumplings from a Nepalese restaurant. Chris drove us back to Lane Cove where we sat around the poker table and his roommate Al tried to get a pill down Chairman Meow.
Al, who is from the country, is a model of patience and courage.
After supper, 007 joined us on the table while Chris demonstrated his calligraphy skills and his knowledge of Tolkien’s Elf Runes. He showed me my own name
as well as one of the English language’s most common phrases:
“I wish I was someone’s cat.” Chris observed after dropping Tamara off at a nearby station. “I’d be me, but I’d just be a cat. I’d be cute and rub up against people and get food.” Watching 007 asleep on the table, his mind empty of cares, it was hard to disagree.
Tomorrow it’s a visit to my namesake at the Taronga Zoo, then packing. On Friday I fly home. This has been good.