Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

31 Aug 2010, 22:36 p.m.

"Going once / Going twice / Won't these gentlemen suffice?"

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2010 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Something like a full day on airplanes, and I skipped getting sick. But then I caught my host's cold, so instead of exploring Melbourne on the last day before WorldCon starts, I'm yawning out from the living room at a sky smeared with indifferent shades of grey, like used paintbrush-cup water drying on newsprint. I sit crosslegged on a couch, under four thin blankets, consuming lemongrass ginger tea, toast with peanut butter and banana (Australia has peanut butter! despite Leonard's declaration that it's the American marmite), and comfort media. I'm listening to Tally Hall's Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (post title from "The Bidding") and reading Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Fortunately I've already read the prerequisite Stephenson, Owen Hill, and Nathanael West, and seen The Big Lebowski, so I can keep up and laugh as Pynchon riffs on "a hippie walks into a noir." And then there are Worldcon-related tweets and the AussieCon 4 LiveJournal community, and Finn's old winter thoughts, which match my physical climate.

More "responsibly," I'm pondering things to do in Melbourne. I'm especially interested in the immigration museum and hot-air balloon rides, the tramcar restaurant, and visiting Puffing Billy. Watching Three Thousand for more idiosyncratic, local, and one-time events happening between 7 and 13 September, and welcoming suggestions.

Yesterday was great, till I got sick. Danni led me onto train and tram to Fitzroy, which seems to be like San Francisco's Mission District. I bought a few cards and a button at Incube8r, and mooned over some jewelry from Limerence: very simple excerpts from working watches, the first steampunk I've ever seen that made me Get It. The name's enchanting and accurate. We visited a Friends of the Earth (acronymises to FOE) shop where an "It's Time." shirt indirectly caused Danni to explain Gough Whitlam to me. The shop allows people to stick small housing-related ads onto the window, facing out. I looked to my left and saw a short set of sentence fragments that I couldn't instantly read, set (to the reader) left-justified and ragged-right, and flashed back to the Pegasus bookstore at Shattuck and Durant in Berkeley, poems all over its windows -- where I first read Adam Zagajewski's "Try To Praise The Mutilated World," right after the 2001 terror attacks.

Drinks with Danni, Steph, and their friends at Polly's (recommended for service, ambiance, and selection), where I acted tourist and asked for AUTHENTIC Australian or Melburnian liquors or cocktails. Liquors: not so much (another bit of indigenous culture that got wiped out?). Evidently 1806 serves a "Japanese Slipper" cocktail, invented in Melbourne a whole twenty-six years ago. "[C]an be ordered safely in most countries where Midori is available." In other countries: peel it, it's the feds!

A fine faux lamb bolognese at Vegie Bar (recommended for food, veg friendliness, and buzz) (warning: it is a restaurant and thus the site is all in Flash or some other obstructive doesn'tworkalike). We talked about Askers vs. Guessers, the Melburnian ex-Perth crowd, neighborhoods, travel, computers, clients, footnotes and punctuation, booze, &c. I found myself asking "what?" a lot, sometimes because Australians speak very quickly, or because of crowd noise, and sometimes because I did not know whether I had heard a proper name, a bit of slang, a mistake, or a standard English word I would recognize were it written down. After India, it's a relief to be in a foreign country where nearly everyone speaks a variant of English, but I do feel loud, overbearing, obvious, a quarter-beat off. I'm five feet one, yet socially, I lumber, stumbling into things, an SUV among bikes.

Tram to train home. The Parliament train station played music over the public address system, random 80s stuff. Now I'm listening to the Mountain Goats, Tallahassee: more comfort music. Time to forage for lunch. No pub crawl for me tonight, I suspect. Pynchon, email gardening, the indoor life, intoxicated only by pseudoephedrine, if I can convince a nearby chemist I'm not looking for meth precursors.


01 Sep 2010, 6:31 a.m.

Melbourne is so great! The immigration museum is pretty good (well, it was, I haven't been there for ten years). I was considering, during the first half of the post, recommending Polly's for the combination of being great and having many bemusing but super-enthusiastic fake-pre-Raphaelite paintings, but I see you've already already been. The aquarium is very good. Federation Square is charmingly ugly.

It's one of those cities that is instantly likeable, though, that you can wander around and look at stuff and eat things and go "oh, Melbourne, you're great!". (This is a distinction between cities that I'm very interested in - the ones that are effortlessly great, and the ones that make you work for their love, or that only really come into their own with someone who knows their way around.) It's very much worth going into the city centre and spending half a day on your own wandering around and going "oh, here is a thing! Here is another thing."

In South Australia, peanut butter is frequently referred to as "peanut paste" because - or so I was told - the dairy farmers wouldn't allow it to be sold using the word "butter".