Will Convenience/Instant Gratification Be Our Undoing?

A City’s exorbitant cardboard trash got me thinking about our excessive consumption, and, in this Covid-19 reality, creating.

Author’s portrait of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Oil and x-acto knife on recycled cardboard. Covid-19 series. Cutting into cardboard give a 3-D effect.

I’ve longed to live in NYC for years, and when it became a reality this October, it didn’t disappoint in showing me a rich banquet of stimuli that could satisfy the senses of any appetite. But an interesting side effect, a slight indigestion, grew as my awareness sharpened and revealed some of the underbelly amidst the dazzle.


Sure, I expected to see skittering rats on the subway tracks and a cockroach or two. What I didn’t expect were mountains of trash, especially cardboard, left curbside most days. This begged the question why do we have to have so much? All you have to do is look at the growing trend of self storage units that have become a blight on the landscape anywhere in the U.S. We have so much damn stuff, we need additional space to house more damn stuff. And then there’s the environmental impact.

Back in October an average of 1.5 million packages a day were delivered to NYC. In addition to the congestion, add to that the growing concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and deteriorating infrastructure.

For most of us, myself included, these growing concerns flicker to a weak flame for a moment in our consciousness but then quickly get tamped out by our desire for convenience and instant gratification so easily attained with the tap of a finger.

But this pandemic is an opportunity to reevaluate, reflect, to go deeper.  By going deeper I mean calling on our higher nature to do the right thing instead of succumbing to our lower nature that always demands I want it now. Essential workers’ lives in this plague economy are on the line, and that includes people filling orders and delivering goods. We’ve got to be asking ourselves is this something I need or something I want? Is it an emergency? Then act accordingly.

Author’s painting: Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, NY. Oil and x-acto knife on cardboard. Covid-19 series.

Like millions of others, I’m trying to exercise restraint and do the right thing. At the same time I’m looking for ways to be productive, creative, and entertained with what I already have as we social distance and self quarantine. 

As an artist, I’m continually looking for ways to be innovative while limiting my carbon footprint. Not able to find the right size canvas/wood block I wanted, and not wanting to place an order that required a delivery, I looked to recycled items.

In January, I joined the ranks of the bottle-pickers and began scavenging my Brooklyn neighborhood for large pieces of of unblemished cardboard (flat screen TV boxes are perfect). This resulted in a never-ending, free supply of discarded cardboard and the discovery of a medium that, when cut into, adds a 3-D effect to my paintings.

Author’s painting: Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn. Oil and x-acto knife on cardboard. Covidd-19 series.
Author’s painting: Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, NY. Oil and x-acto knife of recycled cardboard. Covid-19 series.

Covid-19 has brought the world to a screeching halt. If it has done anything, it has, perhaps, forced us to take a ” searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Or it should.

I’d like to think there are many ways we can make a difference. Acts of kindness, thinking of others, being resourceful and creative can spread exponentially too.

Embark on a Hero’s Quest. It’s not Just for the Young.

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.  Follow your bliss, and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.   Joseph Campbell.

A trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the exhibition, The Last Knight: The Art, Armor,and Ambition of Maximilian I before it closed, happened to coincide with rereading a couple of inspiring books, The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, and Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield. Together they inspire a call to action: create a new vision of the future, embark on a quest, slay the dragon of resistance to bring it to fruition.

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His horse couldn’t be lacking in sumptuous adornment. A similar Bard (body armor for war horses) was presented by Maximilian I to Henry VIII.

Campbell’s quote could apply to Maximilian I. Although he was the son of a Holy Roman Emperor, he got little kingly guidance at home. He realized his own “unique potentiality for experience” and created a vision of what constituted a great ruler. With little money, land, prestige, or political clout, he forged a new identity with a marriage to Marie of Burgundy, a full-on propaganda campaign, crafted armor befitting the gods, and dazzling jousting tournaments. In today’s lingo, he knew how to create a brand.

His alliances and military strategies earned him the title of one of the most powerful leaders in European history and probably the label “hero.” I imagine him, with the flick of his fingers, casting off the past and then plunging himself headlong into an uncertain future.

According to Campbell, most hero stories are about the young–finding themselves confronting the unknown in a place, a forest perhaps. The hero embarks on this journey and must leave dependency and immaturity behind and then find the passion and courage deep within to overcome many trials.  If she or he is strong enough, the end result and revelations learned along the way will bring the hero to a richer and mature new life, a new consciousness– a mythological death and a rebirth.

But a hero’s quest isn’t just for the young!

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Ceremonial Armor of Charles V, grandson of Maximilian I and future Emperor.  The cost of this armor would be equal to the price of a Manhattan townhouse in today’s market. Original photo

A hero’s journey is exactly what we need in the later stages of our lives. To look inward, To be reborn. To save ourselves.

When we’re older, past childbearing/ child rearing years, or in retirement, we can find ourselves suddenly lost too, wondering what it all means?  Our trials are different– lost youth, declining bodily functions, confronting mortality (technology!)–but no less difficult. Shouldn’t  we to go forth and participate in life with as much courage and vitality as we did when we were young?

I think so. We Boomers are leading the way.

Now that we’re living longer we have another chance to take this adventure. Maybe it’s finally taking a cross-country trip, committing to a healthy life style, writing that book, or starting that business venture. You don’t have to go far or put yourself in much danger. But you do have to get out of your comfort zone.

Getting started and staying the course is the hard part.  In his book Do The Work, Steven Pressfield puts is this way:

On a field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.  You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.

Resistance will probably be the greatest trial, and some of the “greatest hits” that elicit the dragon of resistance according to Pressfield are any creative art, any course or program designed to overcome a bad habit or addiction, education of any kind, any act that entails commitment of the heart. In essence, “any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”

Pressfield says we can use resistance as a compass.

Rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.”

Next to resistance, Pressfield, goes on to say, “…rational thought is the soul’s worst enemy. “Bad things happen when we employ rational thought, because rational thought comes from the ego.” Rational thought or the ego will find a multitude of reasons why this adventure is a bad idea. It wants to play it safe, quell those fears that arise. What’s the solution?

Instead, we want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.

Working from the self requires spending some quiet time away from social media, texting, anything that constantly grabs our attention.  Long walks, keeping a journal, enjoying nature, prayer/meditation help to cultivate intuition and shed light on the unconscious. These are simple undertakings, yet they require the most effort. But what a thrill it will be to live a second self– a new version of you.

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Steel Gloves–Gauntlets– of Maximilian I.  These give new meaning to the expression: Throwing down the Gauntlet. Original photo

Joseph Campbell coined the phrase follow your bliss.  He affirmed living life as an adventure.

What each must seek in his life never was on land or sea. It is something out of his own unique potentiality for experience, something that never has been and never could have been experienced by anyone else.

So, throw down the gauntlet.

And with your higher self, pick it up.

Embrace the challenge.

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out! Traveling Solo at 63…and on a Budget.

Volunteering and Meeting Aboriginal Artists at Waringarri Art Center in Kununurra, The East Kimberley.

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Artist Phyllis Ningamara working on a canvas at the Waringarri Art Center, in Kununurra. She told me she is very proud of the fact that her work is sold all over Australia.

 

A strong racial divide has existed for years in Kununurra similar to that in Alice Springs.  The Indigenous population is housed separately on the outskirts of town, and poverty, alcoholism, and domestic violence are pervasive.  Add to that the terrible distinction in 2014 when The World Health Organization found that suicide rates among Indigenous people in the Kimberley region were among the highest in the world.

Despite these troubling problems, there is a bright spot in the form of Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, an art center that houses both artists’ studios and galleries open to the public.  Waringarri is the first wholly Indigenous owned art center established in the Kimberley region, and one of the oldest continuously operating Centers in Australia.  Since studying art was one of my traveling goals, volunteering at the Center,  a short drive from where I was staying, was paramount.  I was given an introduction via email from a gallery owner in Perth who represents Waringarri artists back in April, but when I went to the center in June to introduce myself to the director, I was told that I had to first write a letter and be approved by the board before I could do any volunteering.  Finally, after two weeks of cancelled board meetings, I was approved to work in the studio with the artists.

Waringarri Art Center supports over 100 artists who specialize in natural ocher painting on canvas and paper, limited edition prints, wood carvings and sculptures, and hand- printed fabrics.  The Indigenous group represented in this area are the Miriwoong people who hold the land sacred and see themselves as custodians caring for the country and resting places of their spiritual ancestors.  Artists typically paint a kind of aerial map of the land they grew up in which helps them maintain a connection to the sacred places of that country.  I was lucky to have the chance to meet and speak with some of the artists while helping out in the studio for several days.

In the photo above, Phyllis Ningamara explained to me that she was painting a view of the river after the wet season where she grew up and the many colored river stones reflecting in the sunshine.

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Artist Ben Ward explaining a just-completed work.

Bigger than life and very chatty is artist Ben Ward, who with his family, worked and lived at Argyle Downs station until he was ten.  He later worked at Carlton Station, and his paintings focus on his memories of when he was a young man mustering cattle. Triangles of different colors representing the rivers, Boab trees, water, and mountains appear in his most recent work.  I later saw that this piece (shown in the above photo) had been sold in the gallery.  In the past, my experience with Aboriginal art brought to mind paintings consisting primarily of hundreds of dots.  Different regions depict different styles, and the work here has a much more contemporary, abstract quality that I particularly like.

Peggy Griffiths, and her husband Alan Griffiths, are two well known artists from this region.  Peggy was born in the Norther Territory but moved to Argyle Station when she was 15.  At the age of 16, she was promised in marriage to Alan Griffiths.  She started working at Waringarri in 1985, is now a senior artist, and teaches other artists. While helping to organize the studio, I noticed lots of Peggy’s notes explaining how to do color mixing.  Peggy is a beautiful woman who though quiet, has a regal air about her.  She and husband Alan are highly respected in the community, and their work is prominently displayed at the impressive, new court house in Kununurra.  I’m told they often paint together.

 

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Lovely Jalah home from acting school in Sydney volunteered with me at Waringarri Art Center where her mother works in the office. She was a great source of information about Aboriginal culture and informed me that she is what is known as “half caste”( half white and half Aboriginal). This was a common term used in the past but is now considered derogatory.

Volunteering at the center was a great experience in many ways. One morning I got a call from the center to come in as soon as possible.  The Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council (WAITOC) was doing a photo shoot for some new brochures, and they were looking for “tourists” to be in their photos.

Another local couple was drafted from town and we headed out with photographer Jack, business development manager Liz, and several members from the art center to a location just outside of town considered sacred by the Miriwoong.  After a “blessings” ceremony at the Dunham River welcoming us to the land, we headed to another location featuring a  mighty Boab tree thought to be thousands of years old.

At one point, I got a little annoyed, and even felt a little discriminated against when Liz asked me, the single person, to step aside in a few of the shots because they wanted “couple photos.”  Although they didn’t want the photos to appear staged, they looked pretty staged to me. During my travels, I’ve met lots of single women, young and old, traveling alone.  Tourism groups and businesses would be wise to cater to lone travelers; there is a need and a market in the industry!

Several weeks after the shoot, I followed up with Liz about the brochures and asked if I had made it into any of the photos.  She said, indeed, I was included.  I’m now waiting to get a copy!

Up until this point in my travels I hadn’t purchased any art or souvenirs, but at the art center, where I knew the money would go directly back to the artists, I splurged on two hand-carved didgeridoos for my son and his dad(women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo), and several hand-carved Boab nuts for other family members and friends.  Each item came with a certificate of provenance and identified the artist who created it.

In the process of volunteering and meeting some of these Aboriginal artists, I’ve gained a greater respect for their culture and the deep love they have for the land of their ancestors. I’ve also come to realize that art illuminates (stealing a quote from Maya Angelou) that “… we are more alike than we are unalike,” and in this global society, we can all do with a little more understanding and less fear.  In the words of author Andrew Solomon:

It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.

A”Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out!

 A Trip Across The River Styx to the Underworld:  The MONA Museum, Hobart, Tasmania.

 

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Arriving at the MONA on the Mona Roma ferry. You can also drive or take a coach. I recommend the ferry!

Tasmania (known as Tas or Tassie by locals) certainly lives up to one of its slogans: The Island of Inspiration.  This Commonwealth, island state just south of Melbourne is home to approximately 500,000 residents, half of whom reside in the port city capital of Hobart.  Known for its World Heritage wilderness, good food, and clean air, I think most people would agree that what has really put Tasmania on the map as a destination is the privately owed MONA museum(Museum of Old and New Art), which is dedicated to sex and death.  With only three and a half days in Hobart, it was the focus of my visit.

The MONA is like no other museum in the world.  Since it  opened in 2011, it has been hailed as both visionary and profane and has drawn over 1.65 million visitors from around the world (Tasmanians have embraced it and get in free).  The man inspired to create this is as interesting as his collection of modern art and antiquities. David Walsh grew up in a poor, working class suburb of Hobart(across from where the MONA is built), was considered a shy nerd, developed an algorithm, and became one of the world’s top gamblers earning millions. A self proclaimed atheist, Walsh gambled 150 million dollars on what he describes as “a secular temple and subversive adult Disneyland” with art that he wagers could become worthless in a decade or two.

Going to the MONA for one day just wasn’t enough… too much sensory overload. I had to go back a second time.  Even so, it was several days later before I could make sense of it all. The experience  had to be ingested and digested before I could excrete anything I could express verbally ( you will come to appreciate this analogy later).

Visiting the MONA is like crossing The River Styx to the Underworld, but this time Charon is taking you across the Derwent River on a luxury, two story ferry, and it only costs $20.00 round trip for the half hour ride. If you want to “escape the riff raff,” a $50.00 Posh Pit ticket will get you an exclusive lounge and lots of extras including a 30 minute wine tasting at Morilla Winery next door to the museum.

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The Mona Roma ferry, takes you on a half hour ride from the harbor to the museum for $20.00 round trip. If you are Tasmanian, you get to go to the museum for free.

A light drizzle, grey skies, and cold temperatures (by Australian standards) provided what seemed like  perfect weather for my first visit.  It’s quite dramatic approaching the museum from the water. This steel and sandstone edifice sits theatrically  up high on a promontory, and after docking at the ferry wharf, a ninety-nine-step climb takes you to the entrance.

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Mirrored entrance to the MONA. Walsh is an avid tennis player, so, of course, there’s a tennis court at the entrance.  Nothing intimidating or high brow here!

 

What I immediately loved about the MONA is that there is nothing sanctimonious about it.  So often when entering museums, and even some art galleries, there is an atmosphere that suggests conversations should be spoken in whispers… that maybe genuflecting is required.  There’s serious stuff at the MONA, yet the place doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There’s a healthy dose of humor and irreverence everywhere.

First of all, there is no writing or labeling of artwork on the walls.  After getting through the lobby, a smart phone-like device called the O is handed out. The O is the first system in the world designed to replace traditional artwork labels. Walk into any of the galleries and a click on the device brings up pictures of the artwork. An additional click on each piece shows a selection of information you can access such as ideas, artist’s interviews, art wank, Gonzo (Walsh’s commentary–he thinks Madonna is shit), music, and videos. Who wants to read stuffy art discourse bunched up against other viewers when you can listen, at your convenience, to what interests you? Save your tour gets you an email later that night of your path through the museum including a list of viewed, loved, and hated works.

Armed with the O, you are directed by “front of house staff” to a circular, steel staircase that descends 55 feet (17 meters) to the bowels of a dimly lit underworld… complete with a bar. The basement level is otherworldly and  feels a little cave-like, with a narrow hallway lined with a huge wall of ancient sandstone left exposed. It seems fitting that Cinerarium, velvet drapes surrounding three shelves containing elaborate, egg-shaped cremation urns, is the first artwork seen.   A reminder of death, but also a reminder to celebrate life. Just beyond, a huge water installation, Bit.fall, rains paintings of words most commonly seen on the internet.

The remainder of space in this level is dedicated to new exhibitions that change every few months, and the latest,  Field Lines, by Cameron Robbins had just opened up.  Robbins somehow harnesses nature using “instruments” set up outside that draw the wind and map geothermal dynamics using neon light against a night sky.

 

The remaining three levels house Walsh’s collection of contemporary art and antiquities, and the two are intermixed.  An ancient Egyptian coffin stands along side a contemporary ink on paper drawing inspired from forensic photography and scientific textbooks.

If you should ever meet someone who has been to the MONA, he/she will undoubtedly mention the wall of vaginas.  Entitled Cunts… and other Conversations, the installation features 77 life- size, porcelain, molded sculptures of women’s vaginas modeled by women from all walks of life ranging in ages from 18 to 78. It’s a little titillating and pretty much in your face (literally, they hang at eye level). But what inspired the artist(a man) was an article about three young women who had undergone labioplasty surgery because “…they feared men wouldn’t find them attractive if their labia did not conform to a standard seen in pornography, in which labia are airbrushed out.” These women models wanted one thing: for young women to be free of growing up with fear, ignorance, and loathing of their bodies and sexuality.  Let’s face it. How many of us women really know what we look like down there?   It’s amazing how different we all are. Who knew?!  (The gift shop sells vagina soap replicas, apparently very popular).

One of the most hated and popular installations is Wim Delvoyes’s Cloaca Professional, a large machine that replicates the human digestive system turning food into feces(remember that earlier metaphor?).  At appointed times of day, you can witness it  being fed or taking a dump (making fun of modern art?).

On the other hand, one of the most disturbing and painful works is that of Jenny Holzer who makes words into art, and in this case, words printed on human skin.  Inspired after reading about rape as an act of war carried out in Bosnia, Lustmorde, is a series of photographs with a narrative from three different perspectives: the perpetrator, the victim, and an observer (most often a family member).  They are excruciating to read. Hotzer’s work hangs near a Goya etching entitled This is Worse, from a series known as The Disasters of War.   Walsh is right when he says a lot of blood and guts are represented.

A visit to the MONA  isn’t something that is quickly forgotten.  It confronts, it entertains, it stirs things up.  Its effects are residual.  Almost six months into my trip, I realized that this was the first time I had felt lonely.  Maybe it was a combination of things.  The skies had remained overcast the whole time with the constant threat of a cold rain. My airbnb room was not in a welcoming, private home but rather in a kind of chilly rooming house, and I appeared to be the lone occupant. During this visit, I was totally on my own and never met up with anyone to share a meal with or have a friendly chat over coffee.

The MONA did what it does best, and that is it left me overwhelmed with a lot of mixed feelings.  Like an unwelcome visitor, that what-is-the-meaning-of-life existential angst crept in during the night, kept me awake, and wouldn’t leave. I finally figured the only way to get angst to leave was to make him laugh and not take myself or it too seriously. For me, the MONA reminds us that we are mortal–and to find the humor in that.

 

 

Postscript : Hobart is a beautiful city. I loved it!

 

 

A “Boomer” and Tripping My Brains Out: My Solo Adventure at 63 Down Under…On a Budget!.

It’s Back to the Big City!

Melbourne, a Genteel, Well-heeled Lady with a Complexion of Many Colors.

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A view of the Yarra River Bridge walking from Southbank the Arts Precinct  to Federation Square and Flinders Street Station in the Central Business District, early evening.

Living with uncertainly is a skill I am slowly acquiring–on second thought– quickly acquiring.

I suddenly found myself in Australia’s other big city of about 4.5 million people, Melbourne, for close to three weeks. And this time I didn’t have anyone picking me up at the airport. ( But I did learn to book flights that arrived during the daytime, avoiding late night wanderings.)  All I had was an airbnb address in South Melbourne along with directions from my hosts to take the SkyBus to Southern Cross Station in the city, find Williams street, hop on tram number 55, and get off on Park Street.

Needless to say it didn’t run all that smoothly. After asking LOTS of directions, I did find myself on tram number 55…but heading in the wrong direction.  I have to say that people were incredibly helpful (pointing out the correct tram on the other side of the street),  chivalrous (lifting my suitcase on and off the tram), and caring (one young couple getting off at the same stop, walked me to my address).

Initially, I didn’t think I liked Melbourne as well as Sydney.  Melbourne doesn’t have that beautiful harbor, and I didn’t find the trams and myki card particularly user-friendly.  I was somewhat acquainted with the long-standing rivalry that exists between the two cities reading that it might have started back in the early 1900s with the intense competition between Melbourne and Sydney for the new national capital. Canberra had to be built to end the fighting. Still others posit that it began back in the 1850s during the gold rush making Melbourne for the next 40 years one of the wealthiest cities in the world.

The rivalry still exists today, and you’re apt to hear little quips about the weather differences: Sydney is sunnier and has the beaches. Melbourne is colder and can have four seasons of weather on the same day, or remarks like: Sydney is “fashionable and luxurious,” while Melbourne is “intellectual and cultural.” I came to realize that I didn’t prefer one over the other. They’re both great, just different. Friends in Australia told me I would love Melbourne. They were right.

Melbourne has a way of capturing your heart. Like the beginnings of a  promising relationship, you aren’t necessarily dazzled by a blinding attraction. There are no immediate fireworks and adrenaline rushes.  It’s more a kind of like, and over time as you get to know each other, a slow, passionate burn. As you plumb the regions below the surface, more and more of the city’s fascinating personality is revealed, and you slowly fall in love.  This city is no light weight. There’s depth here… and always something to do. The pace seems slower, and people don’t appear to be rushed.  Yet there’s a lively, celebratory ambiance and a multi cultural beauty that makes for a great “global village.”

Don’t get me wrong, Melbourne is not without its deficiencies. Housing costs are exorbitant, negative gearing (investors who lose money on a property can deduct losses on income tax) and real estate investing are making it nearly impossible for young people to buy a first home. (Housing prices in Sydney are higher). Yet people want to move here like the young man with his two young kids I met on a tram who hailed from Los Angeles but recently relocated.

My first four days were booked through airbnb with hosts Christian and Sean in South Melbourne. I highly recommend airbnb and renting a private room.  Sean gave me a myki card for the tram saving me six dollars, and they both were a wealth of information about getting around the city. (They also had just returned from a great weekend in  Hobart, Tasmania, where I would be going next.)

The tram stopped right outside their door, and if I was up for some exercise, a thirty minute walk would take me to National Gallery of Victoria, past the Arts Precinct, to the CBD (Central Business District). I opted to walk because the best way to learn the city layout is on foot, and walking is just plain good for the soul.

Melbourne’s CBD is well organized in a rectangular grid with five main streets running horizontally and seven streets that bisect vertically.  The tram is free to ride within the city center, but if leaving the tram free zone, a prepaid myki card is required, and you have to touch your card on the card reader either entering or before exiting the tram. They do police this with surprise checks as I found out heading back home one night. There is a fine for not having a myki card. I’m told it’s either $75.00 cash on the spot or a billable $200.00 later.

The city is fairly easy to navigate once you learn which trams take you into the CBD and which take you outside.  Then there are all the Lanes and Little Streets in between.  For instance, Flinders Street has a Flinders Lane, Collins Street( a mini Paris!) has a Little Collins Street, Bourke Street has a Little Bourke etc.  THEN on many of the main streets, there are Arcades, like the beautiful Block Arcade, which are little mini malls stuffed with more interesting shops, cafes, and restaurants, AND particular buildings (The Nicholson Building, Curtin House) that house several floors of shops and artist studios. Hosier, Rutledge, and Union Lanes are known throughout the world for their iconic street art.  Every nook and cranny surprises.

After getting around by myself for four days, I met up with Carol, from the BroadsAbroad website, who invited me for a total of three days at her place, also in South Melbourne. Carol, a long time Melbourne resident, is a savvy business woman who has her own HR consulting company.  She, along with her very sharp 89 year-old mother, took me for a ride around the city and beyond pointing out the different suburbs (the very posh Toorak) and the many precincts.

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Having breakfast with Carol from the BroadsAbroad network at St. Ali Cafe in So. Melbourne.  St. Ali roasts their own coffee and gets my vote for the best coffee in Australia…so far. They also feature dinners with special pairing of coffees for each part of the meal! For the true afficionado!

Aussies love sports, and Melbourne is considered the sporting capital of Australia. The sports precinct is home to the Melbourne Cricket Ground(MCG), also called the “G”, a premier venue for cricket and Australian Rules Football (footy for short),  and has a seating capacity  100,000. Melbourne also hosts the Australian Grand Slam (at Rod Laver Arena), and since 1996, the Formula 1 Grand Prix, set up in beautiful Albert Park, part of the track using closed- off, city roads and a car park. The Melbourne Cup, Australia’s most prestigious thoroughbred horse race with over six million in prize money is a short train ride from either station to Flemington racecourse.  Other precincts include the medical, university, and arts/cultural precinct (my favorite). It makes sense to me to group these together.

After our ride, Carol’s mother Doris took us to brunch at IL Vicolo in the Italian section of the CBD, near Lygon Street. Italian immigrants are credited with bringing outdoor cafes to Melbourne.  Ohhh, the food…

Since my hosts Sean and Christian were booked for the coming weeks, I found another airbnb room in South Melbourne, even closer to the National Gallery of Victoria and the arts precinct.  Sydney has its captivating harbor, but Melbourne has Southbank and the arts precinct, and most nights I found myself walking along St. Kilda Road with the opera, symphony, and theater goers, enjoying the beautiful lights and being part of a happy crowd celebrating La Dolce Vita.

I was definitely living the good life, with introductions to Melbourne folks from Gayl and husband Tom’s friends and colleagues back in Perth. I’ve visited with many great people who met me in the city and took me to lunch(Maria, not pictured), to the Yarra Valley region, and to Mt. Macedon, once the summer retreat of wealthy city dwellers.

I’m five months into my travels at this point, and although I miss family and friends, I haven’t been lonely.  This low budget trip has been rich in the relationships I’ve formed, even the short stays with hostel mates and airbnb hosts who have shared with me little pieces of their lives.  I wouldn’t swap a luxury suite for any of these experiences. (But if anyone wants to take me on a five star, we-cater-to-your-every-need cruise, I’m there). Without a traveling companion, I’m more engaged, more conscious of me viewing people viewing me. There’s no one else to hide behind, act as a buffer, or take the edge off.  I’ve gained confidence. And who couldn’t use a little more confidence?

So I find myself, as I have more and more frequently, enjoying coffee at a little cafe, this time the Barista Cafe on Flinders Lane, and I’m overcome with an intense feeling of joy. It hovers and it’s fleeting, but not before the molecules are vibrating and I’m infused with a happiness that life is good.  Damn, I’m glad to be alive.

 

(And then I went to the MONA(Museum of Old and New Art)….next)