Monday, 11 April 2011

Gum trees and poetry in sunny Melbourne

I'm back from a brief trip to Melbourne (yes, I know, see my "Not so No Impact" post) and feel quite refreshed. Melbournians are good at living no-impact. They ride bikes (there's even a bike share scheme, Melbourne Bike Share, started up in May 2010, a la many European cities) and catch trams - which, I know, run on electricity, but apparently one crowded tram takes 140 cars off the road (and not in the dramatic way that sounds, thankfully). 

At the hotel I stayed in and had an all-day meeting in, The Lyall, we were given jugs of iced water instead of bottled water - it's the little things...

That night, I caught a tram to a Melbourne Comedy Festival gig and probably exhaled a bit more carbon dioxide than usual by laughing at the stand-up comics. But made up for it on Saturday morning by having a lovely, sunny breakfast with my friend Kim at a riverside, gum-shaded cafe called Kanteen, which doesn’t overtly serve organic or free-range or fair-trade fare but the staff seemed kind and patient, the food was deliciously fresh and wholesome, and they do breakfast until 3pm. Yay. Plus it was my first outdoor dining experience in Melbourne that didn’t include a side-order of traffic sounds. 

The most environmentally friendly thing I did in Melbourne, however, was a poetry walk. This new venture, started in Sept 2010, gives you maps to lose your way and, as its home page says, "navigate only by memory and heartache, history and nostalgia, lyricism and rhyme". This is the idea: a group of performance poets each wrote a poem about a Melbourne landmark; then they recorded the poems, in a shipping container studio (recycling in action), and the Melbourne Poetry Map was born. You download maps and audio files onto your ipod or smartphone, then stroll non-pollutingly around the city listening to poets tell you, in their own voices, stories about the State Library lawn (Nathan Curnow), City Square (Eleanor Jackson), Chinatown (Josephine Rowe), Collected Works poetry bookshop (Maurice McNamara)...

Collected Works is a calmer, kinder Black Books, without a Bernard or a Manny but with all the same love of writing and humour and Joan Baez singing, through a dusty CD player, The House of the Rising Sun. It's a perfect poem in four, book-lined walls. Next door is every poet's dress-up box, a Lion, a Witch and a Wardrobe-like vintage clothing store (the largest in Australia in fact) called Retrostar with whole racks of flanno shirts, tables of hats, hangers of velvet jackets rubbing shoulders. Alas, I had a carbon-neutral Skybus to catch (to the airport, though I like how it makes me sound like a no-impact Jetson), but I vowed to return. Maybe by hot-air balloon next time...

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