So, Melbourne. It was just a week away, me trying to cheer myself up, a consolation prize to myself, because I can’t afford overseas holidays any more.
Also, tiny bit inconvenient, with the family situation and all. You know, that line in Hamlet, ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions’, I always thought it was over-egging the plot a touch by having misery upon misery, but as my family has taken a turn for the gothic, it really does go like that, I’ve discovered.
Anyway, much like my anglophile trip to NYC (saw James Corden and Andrew Garfield on stage, and an exhibition on Mary Shelley, and I went to the cloisters to see the Lewis chessmen, etc.) I decided to do a faux-euro trip to Melbourne, seeing European art in galleries and sitting in French, Italian and Greek cafes. Catching trams. Stuff I can’t do here. It sounds stupid and pathetic, and it is, but my Italian colleague gave my valiant attempt the thumbs up for trying, so there’s that.
So I went and saw the Van Gogh exhibition at the NGV. I wanted to see some VVG in Europe, so this would have to do. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed. I mean, I know they usually only send us the stuff they don’t care if it drops into the Indian Ocean, and quite right, too, (irreplaceable plant specimens from France destroyed in Australian quarantine blunder) but this was stuff they didn’t care if it fell down a volcano. Early juvenilia sketches and depressing scenes from when he was locked up in the loony bin. Exciting if you were a scholar, but it really wasn’t…there wasn’t anything to show you why people make a fuss about the man. So I was angry, because it’s crap shows like this that made me take a lifetime to understand why Vincent is considered a big deal. Because these muddy sketches in no way demonstrate it.
Also, it was far too crowded to properly look or consider, as each painting was surrounded by a deep scrum of tourists. Which was also annoying as I’ve had rooms full of Van Gogh to myself overseas (and I have the photos to prove it). Why should I have to pay a mighty fee to be jostled like I’m on my peak-hour bus, all to see a work nowhere near as luminous as the ones I’ve had all to myself to admire overseas?
Ah, well, if it was the bliss of solitary contemplation of great art I was after, I was right in my choice of the Hellenic Museum. The ticket price was off-putting to the same noisy tourists, so I had a room of ancient masterpieces all to myself to swoon over. And swoon I did. It was just a tiny room, with only a handful of statues, cups and the odd bit of bling to consider, but I prefer that, just one piece, one on one, to look, to study, to contemplate. To imagine if this was something the artist laboured over in tears, or something he knocked off before lunch? Ah, there was a lovely old pot I saw once at the Ian Potter museum that had clearly been started before lunch, but finished afterwards, because the careful lines became noticeably wobbly and skewed after a bit. So, that was me, chillin’ with Aphrodite, Paris and Hercules. Loved that.
And I loved the Love exhibition at the NGV. This one was free, uncrowded and full of treasures and delights from the NGV’s Europhile collection. The only time I grew cranky here was my outrage on the part of Aphrodite, whose statue was broken apart and stuck back together with plaster by so-called Edwardian gentlemen to better emulate their fashionable ideas of beauty. Yep, being a goddess wasn’t good enough. So they hacked her to bits and glued her back together like rough-handling Pygmalions. Because blokes.
The other one was my favourite print of Regency era dancers, arms upright and curved, no sharp-angled elbows akimbo like you see so often in period bonnet-pieces. I used to be (still am, a bit) an extreme nerd for that period and it annoys me when they don’t get the details right when it’s so easy to just look at the print and there it is, you can see how they danced, no need to guess.
Yes, you might have noticed that I don’t like huge liberties taken with history. Mainly because it’s just lazy and sloppy, but also because it’s unfair (as I don’t have access to see the real deal, be it costumes, mode or location), and it’s also bloody dangerous (to put misinformation out there).
Especially when folks take most of their history from the screen these days. Not just dangerous, but rude and insulting, too. Like, because America erases Australian forces from every single war film, despite having served alongside American troops for a hundred years, I get ignorant comments from so-called friends like ‘oh, were you guys in WWII?’ and if we hadn’t been on the freeway right then I’d have told her to pull over so I could get out. Harumph.
But enough about that. Back to love, and this exhibition covered it, from the sublime and the pious to the darn silly, filthy, dirty and dangerous, from Pamela (ah, to think I’ll never see the full set of Pamelas) to the cards pointing out the lewd imagery within symbols to cads and trollops and sweet pics of people and their pets. Love in all its forms and guises, good and bad, love gone bad and outright misogyny and yet also innocence and sacrifice. Fashions, flirting and faith.
It was a small and eclectic collection and I loved it. Again, because it was small and uncrowded I had time to pause and consider, admire and appreciate.
Pausing even more (I’m old, and my knees are gone) in a café crawl across Melbourne, but they have so many, and they’re so nice, and kitted out to an almost but not quite Euro-Disney way, like super concentrated Euro café vibes, but that’s exactly what I wanted and needed. Unfortunately, one is paying for the vibe, because the food was awful, but, as I reminded myself, that was authentic, too (I did break down and go the nasi lemak at the Malaysian café round the corner, on my last day). Still, I got to curl into various corners with my increasingly battered Rebus book, and order a coffee or three.
Trawling around Fitzroy was a bust. I thought it was because I was doing it sober and in daylight, but the problem was I was doing it years too late. All the cool ugly-beanie people have been priced out (they’re even being shifted/shafted out of Reservoir, so I hear now) and it was all ladies-who-lunch.
Who alas spoiled what had been shaping up to be a good time in a heartfelt parody of a French café, with their reeking perfume and painted faces and they went on and on like the real housewives of Melbourne over whose husband was cheating and/or beating. It was so horrifying it made me happy to be ugly and alone and forget my shameful tears earlier in the week. Good lesson.
Theatre was ripe, but I’d seen most of the shows already in Sydney, so I saw The Book of Mormon, because it’s supposed to be a big deal. I didn’t mind it. I was just there mainly because I love Melbourne’s old theatres, though I loved it slightly less when the queue for the loo stretched out into the road (male-designed architecture vs women’s anatomy and fashion – discuss).
I had a wildly overpriced cocktail and spotted friends of my happy-clappy rellos sitting in the row in front of me – mutually busted, but oddly I get on better with them than the rellos so it wasn’t as awkward a meeting as it might have been.
That wasn’t the night I ended up in Little Bourke Street, though. Meant to, but decided on a burger and a night in front of the box watching Jude Law instead. Because Jude (and as I was missing him live on stage, watching the SBS screening of Young Pope would have to suffice).
Between Young Pope and Book of Mormon there was a lot of faith-based viewing going on, but there’s no escaping it these days, even if I take it no more seriously than a statue of Hercules. Besides, both kind of offered insights into the psychology of believers, scary and unsound as it appears to me. Sorry, I’m a rational humanist and will be until the day I die.
But anyway, yes, Little Bourke Street, in the rain, with all the neon dragons flickering in the puddles and bike couriers flashing up and down. Yep, totally a Blade Runner vibe there, damn shame I didn’t have my camera on me. The gongbao chicken was pretty great, too, though I had to settle for Tsing Tao to wash it down with.
Ah yes, my great White Rabbit crawl across Melbourne. I just cannot get dark ale in Sydney. They sell me these funky pale ales that always taste like possum pee. I lurve White Rabbit. They had it at Jackson and Young, in Chloe’s bar, where the famous/infamous painting of Chloe resides. It’s a landmark. It’s a lovely pub, too. Shabby genteel.
I also popped into the Melbourne Museum to see the WWI: Love & Sorrow exhibition. This was so distressing, and I was still fuming over Patty Jenkins’ comments about no-one knowing about WWI. She meant Americans, though, as Mechad explained at the con, they don’t do remembrances there (he’d seen an ANZAC day service and was still affected). We do two a year, once on ANZAC day (25 April) when we wear rosemary for remembrance, lest we forget, and once on Armistice Day (11 November) when we wear poppies. We will remember them.
So I get there and there’s a packet of tiny souvenir playing cards like my Great Uncle had. I just reeled on from that, past the photos, drawings and casts of men without limbs and faces missing, past the letter from a child to her daddy, and the telegram that arrived instead, past the story of the soldier who came home, drank and beat his wife, then drowned himself. Past the wife who sent baby shoes to her husband from their newborn son, only to have them returned, unopened. Past the mother who waited two years to find out what happened to her son who was MIA, and when finally told he’d been blown to bits, drowned herself in the dam on the family farm. Past the mower that belonged to a blind soldier, who tended his garden by way of guide lines.
We remember them. I don’t know what the Americans do. Make cute adventure films sans ANZACs, I should guess.
So then I rambled about through the anatomy wing, where there were cases upon cases of 18th and 19th century bone saws, which is why most people (unless you make American movies) know that’s where the slang term ‘sawbones’ comes from.
Also hit the dinosaurs (just casts, but they’re always visually so cool) and the geology section (I’m from a family of geologists so I still know my igneous from my metamorphic). Zipped through the ocean and wilderness sections, because it was too much like work (my brain started pulling up work files, so no).
Café trawl was ok, I found a few nooks to hide in, and most made an effort with atmosphere. Weirdly, almost entirely staffed by French waiters, to add to the authenticity of the experience. I don’t know what France is doing for waiters. Maybe they’re all Australian? I never did get back to the café that had the absinthe, though, damn.
The con was more fun than I was expecting. Caught the 57 tram out to the showgrounds every day, past delightful but soon to be demolished heritage buildings, and Jude Law glaring at me from various posters, just to remind me I didn’t go see him in London. It wasn’t at all as bad as the set up in Sydney or that awful one at the Gold Coast, so I zipped from building to building, using and abusing the priority pass I’d bought (just because I thought I’d be way more concussed than I was) so I didn’t have to queue quite so much. There was still queueing though.
Ok, highlights: Me, making Tom Hopper nearly cry by questioning Billy’s actions in the last couple of seasons of Black Sails. Billy’s been hurt and betrayed by those he trusted most, poor wee orphan, and I ought to know that. Consider myself told. Pretty young Mr Hopper also seemed confused why his costumes never included sleeves. I didn’t burst his bubble on that one.
Natalie Dormer revealed herself to be a hardcore history nerd and passionate advocate for Anne Boleyn (all those uncharacteristic talky bits in the Tudors were her idea). So I kind of love her now.
Mehcad Brooks was a total sweetie, talking to all his fans at eye-level, and being very gentle with the tweenie Supergirl fans. It sounds creepy but it was really just him being a really nice guy. Cory Michael Smith from Gotham just about ran off with my passport, because he wouldn’t, couldn’t believe it. And the pic I got with Lee Majors was as awful as always, but the squee going on there could power my laptop for several hours (childhood hero). Besides, he’s pretty much the last of the TV cowboys (Big Valley) and, you know, living history. I honestly didn’t mind him letting a little light onto the magic of my childhood shows. As always, the never meet your heroes edict applied to Buffy more than any other show I’ve ever been a fan of (besides Trek in its many incarnations) but there always has to be one.
Oh and the swishy dress with the huge petticoats I bought on a whim was worth it for the smile it evoked from young Mr Mitchell. Well, that and he was desperate for a signing. That, too, but, oh, such a smile. I shall remember that smile.
That was Melbourne: food, coffee, history and squee.