Sunday, 30 January 2011

Welcome to Australia

The Tomasz Stanko concert was on the Friday night, so I'd originally planned to stay in Sydney on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but Mrs Fool, ever sentient of the opportunity to save a few dollars, found that the hotel tariffs were cheaper on weekdays than Saturdays, so we decided to fly into Sydney on the Wednesday. This was Australia Day, but we saw no reason why this should affect us, especially as we wouldn't be arriving till the evening.

In fact there were advantages to arriving on a public holiday. For a start, the streets were relatively free of traffic, making the taxi journey from the airport to our hotel a swift one. We checked in and went out for a walk, intending to buy some food at a supermarket or convenience store on the way back to eat in our room. It had been a scorcher of a day (the hottest Australia Day in decades, apparently), and the temperature was till in the 30s. Along the way we passed a cheap pasta and pizza place with outside seating facing the street and decided to try it out. The pizza and Greek salad were surprisingly good.

The restaurant was near Darling Harbour, and as we were eating we watched people walking by on their way to view the fireworks display later that evening. A surprising number had Australian flags draped over their shoulders, wore Australian flag T-shirts, or had Australian flags painted on their faces or bodies. I said to Mrs Fool I thought there was something childish about such displays of nationalism. In truth, I find them rather disquieting. Mrs Fool agreed with me, mainly because Haruki Murakami had expressed similar sentiments in a book she had just read (written after Murakami visited Australia during the Sydney Olympics). Mrs Fool then ventured an opinion of her own, expressing surprise at the number of Asian people with Australian flags painted on the faces. I countered by saying that nationalism was about nationality, not about ethnicity, but deep down I knew she had a point. One only needs to think back to the ugly scenes in Manly on Australia Day in 2009, when a mob of up to 100 drunken youths verbally and physically attacked non-white Australians, to realize how easily the celebration of national identity can become a celebration of racial or ethnic pride, something exclusionary as opposed to something inclusionary. On the television news that night, much was made of the fact that arrests in 2011 were down 20% on the previous Australia Day, with only 180 boozy revellers nabbed by police in the entire state of New South Wales.

The following day we shopped (can you call it that even if you don't buy anything?) and in the evening caught the bus to Leichhardt, where we'd booked a table at Elio's, an Italian restaurant we went to several years ago and liked. The meal was OK (and I learnt what a spatchcock is), but negotiating Sydney's bus system during the evening rush hour to get there took some of the gloss off the evening. On the way back, the bus driver (a Sikh) had to swerve and brake to avoid ploughing into a car door, whose owner had chosen the moment the bus driver was pulling out from a bus stop to open it. This was dramatic enough, but the interaction that followed was even more startling. The bus driver, who had brought his vehicle to a stop, opened his door and shouted something at the female driver of the car. (She was plainly at fault; not only was she parked in a bus lane, but she hadn't looked behind her before opening her car door.) She responded by striding over and yelling at the top of her voice, "Don't drive so bloody fast. This is Australia." The subtext was obvious.

The next day we spent the morning looking around the Museum of Contemporary Art and the early afternoon exploring The Rocks. For dinner we went to Medusa, a lovely Greek restaurant not far from Darling Harbour. We had the most delicious entrée of grilled octopus. As we tucked into the tentacled treats, we mused on how the Japanese and the Greeks both share a passion for munching on these multi-limbed molluscs. For a main I had the vegetarian Moussaka, which was so satisfying I had no room for any baklava, a pity seeing as it's possibly my favourite sweet thing on the face of the earth.

And then it was off to see the Tomaz Stanko Quintet at the City Recital Hall. Once again, Stanko delivered. Mrs Fool said it was the best jazz concert she had ever been to. For me the concert didn't quite live up to the experience of seeing Stanko's quartet in 2009, but I put that down to the fact that this time my expectations were so high. It was interesting to see him playing with a completely different line-up. I tend to prefer purely acoustic jazz over anything with amplified instruments, but I found it difficult not to appreciate the skill and sensitivity of the young (compared to the 68-year-old Stanko) electric guitarist and electric bassist. Occasionally the quintet produced a Bitches Brew-like barrage of noise, but for the most part the music was restrained and melodic with just a touch of melancholy. Just the way I like it.

1 comment:

Sis said...

We were in Sydney last ANZAC Day and got caught up in huge crowds in the city. I also found the atmosphere quite disquieting - Australian flags everywhere (I was offered one but turned it down), lots of young men in uniform and quite a 'ra ra ra' atmosphere.