Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Latent Blogger

This was a weekend of firsts.

Traveling alone is not something that comes as naturally to me as it dose to others. There are aspects of it which I prefer, I can be say, be as cheap as I want, I don’t need to confirm an idea with somebody else and I can linger in bookstores as long as I want. Honestly the enjoyment stops there.

While I believe that there is character-building merit in traveling alone, it simply is not as enjoyable as traveling with somebody. There is nobody with whom to share those special moments when you see something amazing, or silly or sad. Nobody to point out simple joys to, nobody to convince you that ‘yes’ you really do want to buy the cheese, and nobody who is seeing the new culture through the same lens as you.

Despite these drawbacks I’ve been making the best of the experience. I’ve been taking on new challenges and overcoming fears. This Saturday for example, I was in a bit of quandary. There was a show I wanted to see downtown, for a band I had only just discovered, while my dear friends wanted to go out of the city and into the woods to dance all night at a bush doof (underground outdoor music/dance party).

Now I have never been to a doof, not a proper Aussie one at least, but neither had I ever been to a show alone. I was torn. Somewhere deep inside me there was a little voice that urged me to do the scary thing. While a doof is new in many ways it is not new in its fundamentals and considering that soon I will have a friend visiting and then soon after that Fiz will be returning I saw that this was perhaps my unique opportunity to experience standing awkwardly alone in a crowd. I chose the show.

Down to the CBD I went, riding the tram, so different late at night than early in the morning. Crowds of gaggling girls and slightly drunken dudes all headed down for a big adventure, and me.

The show, as it happened, was sold out. So much for my experience. But on my way back up to the street from the club below I caught out of the corner of my eye, the sight of a friend I had not expected to see again. One of the women from the Permaculture course was there with her date. They didn’t get tickets either. We exchanged remarks and hugs and then the three of us spent the evening walking around the city and talking. I discovered that there is an upcoming writer’s festival (they are both writers) the Melbourne’s Emerging Writer’s Festival, starting this week. So sometimes that little voice knows something you don’t.

The next morning, feeling groggy after my late night, I did something I haven’t done in years. I went to church. Now, I’m not much in the way for Christianity, I had a long period where we were at odds, but as I’ve gotten older my dislike has mellowed and eventually turned friendly. There is something comforting in the rituals, and strangely something exotic.

After traveling the world and praying in temples and pagodas and mosques to deities of every shape size and color I found that the rituals of the Anglican Church were new and different. I was raised a Catholic, or well, it was attempted, I resisted the whole time but some of it seeped in, I love frankincense and chanting and have a strong affinity for the Virgin Mary. The Anglican service (not mass!) seemed strangely devoid of all the little Catholic things I liked, but the singing was nice and the priest gave a good sermon. Melbourne’s St.Paul’s Cathedral is lovely, a beautiful piece of Victorian Victorian Architecture.

I could not help but notice as I sat in my pew waiting to take part in the Ancient Egyptian God Eating ritual that the congregation was dying. I don’t mean in front of my eyes, but just about. A full 90% were grey, and the list of the ill and the recently passed was long. There was one child there, making himself known only occasionally. It felt as though the whole giant space, designed to hold so many was now filled with a few old men trying to stay warm.

As I walked outside into the sunlight I heard chanting. Across the street at Federation Square the Asian community was celebrating Buddha’s birthday. (As the Pentecost is upon us I find it interesting that Buddha’ Birthday is so close on the calendar.) Buddhist chants were piped onto the square and people were milling about joyfully scattered, holding incense and orchids. And there were children. Heaps of children, not just from Melbourne’s growing Asian population, Anglo children, mixed race children of every colour. Children brought there by parents who had decided at some point that they no longer wanted to sit in a pew and pray to the Lord but instead were clumsily teaching foreign rituals to a new generation of seekers.

Why? Christianity in comparison to Buddhism is in fact quite young, so it should be thriving, but instead people have turned the cathedrals and churches of the world into museums, mausoleums to a dying faith. While I know that Christianity is growing rapidly in those parts of the world that are staved for learning or starved in general, willing to accept help from anywhere, I can’t help but think that they join so they can break literal bread and thereby gain salvation, in a physical rather than a theological way.

Perhaps it is the slow decay of a way of life that asked too much of its people or that makes too little sense to many these days. Pedophilia was certainly the last straw in many places. Nothing like a bit of molestation to keep the next generation coming back for more, no wonder it’s destroyed the parishes from the inside out.

It is an interesting thing to watch, this juxtaposition of faith across the street from one another, another reason to love the urban environment, even as I find myself starting to seriously miss the smell of trees.

I am a country girl after all and I worship dirt, and wind and sun and rain. My cathedral is as always the forest and I find that no tower of stone nor any beautifully build pagoda can compare to the simple experience of a mountain or a river or a plain.

 But it gives me hope for the future, as multiple muti-cultural spaces continue to grow and flourish and we manage to live within them, surely we can learn to work out our differences elsewhere. So I bowed my head at the alter of Christ and Buddha and prayed to the One for peace and justice for all.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Working Girl

By Kathleen Broadhurst

My alarm goes off at 5am and there is a nothing but darkness and a 20min walk to the train. I get to café and sit and write with the lights off for a half and hour before I open. I’m looking forward to moving into my new place this weekend, the train is closer and the it’s a shorter trip. There is a solid hour where I think that I’m crazy for getting back into this world of caffeine addicts and barista artists.

Then my co-workers show up. Overall they are lovely and my boss is wonderful. The head barista has changed my opinion about baristas he’s fun and friendly and after 18 years of pulling shots is a master. Watching him work is wonderful, it’s always interesting to see somebody who is really good at what they do. I’ve been learning a lot about coffee, it’s more of an applied science than an art with exact measurements affecting tiny details. For me as an American who grew up on Dunkin’ Donuts it all seems a bit much but it’s still cool.

I love this city more and more every day. Riding the train is one of my favorite parts of being a new urbanite. I like the graffiti and the grey concrete and the tall sky-scrapers in the distance. It’s like a big dystopian fantasy, gritty and real.

Melbourne itself is a lovely combination of old Victorian architecture and modern buildings. I’ll post some pictures as soon as I get to taking the camera around, but it’s such a monster and I feel a little silly looking like a tourist in a place that I’m calling home.

I noticed something the other day on the way to work as I was staring up at the glowing neon signs of the CBD. ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB, all banks. Historically when you look at cities, the taller the building the more power it had. In Italy families would vie for the tallest tower and hence the biggest show of power. For millennia kings and queens have been erecting monuments as testimony to their strength and all throughout the Old World the steeples and minarets and pagodas of religion have reached for the sky, dominating skylines as they scrambled to touch God.

Our city skylines are dominated by banks, by the symbols of trade and materialism. It’s not a metaphor. It’s worth thinking about.

I’m excited to move into my new place tomorrow, even as I fight off a cold, but I’ll be sad to leave my friends’ home. Australians are generous in general but these two may just be the most generous people I know. They have helped me find my feet and held my hand as I stumbled onto this new road. I can only hope one day that they come to visit in the Sates so I balance out the books, even a little bit.

Making new friends here makes my connection to here stronger, but I am always aware of those who are still at home. They walk with me, phantoms of my imagination. I see a shirt I think of you, I hear a song I think of you, I have an amazing time at a club I think of you. I rid the train and think of you. You are all in my thoughts. Friends make life worth living.

Now to make some dinner!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fallin’ Into Place

By Kathleen Broadhurst

My last week has been rainy and as far as Australia is concerned, cold. I have been getting to know the inner workings of the trains and the trams and recognizing faces at the gate of Flinders’ Street. I’ve been learning the nuances of “fare evasion”, yep, I’m that person ( At $4.50 a ticket you would be too).

Meeting strangers everyday and having to tell a quick blurb about yourself is a strange exercise in the art of being concise. You quickly learn the fundamentals of your identity. “ I’m from Massachusetts, I’m a writer, I like plants.” Seemed to be the most common themes. I delight in its over simplification.

Meeting potential employees is always a bit of a theatrical déjà vu. All those classes and years of stage acting pay off in ways like being able to give a spiel without pausing or looking nervous. So much of life is acting it seems and what we wear is all costume.

Yesterday the rain got me down, as I trudged along in a too large, too blue borrowed jacket with a strangers passport, I couldn’t help but think “ What am I doing here”. None of us like to admit when we are wrong, I sure as hell stick to my guns long past the point when I should let go, but even I was looking at the cold drizzle and thinking that Melbourne was silently rejecting me.

Today I woke up feeling conflicted. I hadn’t heard back from the job or the room I wanted and I wasn’t prepared to settle for second best or start my search from scratch again.

But Alas! The gods of this city must have heard my pleas. “ I need a sign!” I told the grey streets and the concrete. Australia isn’t what I would call an easily manipulated place. It’s a touch untamed and doesn’t seem to enjoy human interference. I was missing Asia where everything can be so easy where the seething mass of humanity has left a deep impression on the land.

Then, it all came together. The house I wanted wanted me too and the rent was cheaper than I had been first told, then as I was getting ready to apply for another round of part-time-casual f*ck-off jobs I got a phone call. I had the job, starting Monday, 6:30 AM. Back to rising before dawn in the middle of winter.

I am looking at the city with new eyes. All the events that are happening are suddenly accessible. From International Permaculture Day (preserving persimmons in the Japanese style anyone?) to Melbourne Museum’s new exhibition about Mesopotamia to the hip record stores that sell vinyl and coffee to the endless lists of shows and concerts happening at my doorstep. I need a bike!

So I am becoming a real person here. I don’t get to move in until the 10th but I start work on the 7th. So here goes nothing Vicarious adventurers, this shit’s about to get real.