Musing on Melbourne Part Two

window dressing

Looking at a map of Melbourne’s city center, you see a mostly rectilinear geometry of parallel and perpendicular streets. Vintage maroon and green trams travel the City Circle route, which marks the boundary of the free tram zone. It is on foot, though, that you’ll find the wonder of this city. Step inside those straight lines and you’ll discover a magical universe where around every corner is another surprise.

The State Library, a popular place to congregate for an al fresco lunch.

Melbourne is a very youthful, hipster city. The first things I noticed were women wearing fashionable yet sensible shoes instead of the towering black ankle booties you find on every young woman in Sydney and the absence of prams.

As I discovered two years ago when we first moved to Australia, there is a rivalry of sorts between Sydney and Melbourne for who makes the best coffee. Don’t tell Sydney I said this, but so far the best coffee I’ve discovered was in Melbourne at Brother Baba Budan , part of the Seven Seeds family. It’s a tiny little place with more chairs hanging from the ceiling than sitting on the floor. At any time you’ll find it jam packed full of coffee lovers, and the coffee is well worth it. Pick up a packet of beans to brew at home. The Adado Gedeo Ethiopia was a revelation.

cocoa and fairy floss at Hash

Another unique, hot beverage experience awaits you at Hash Specialty Coffee & Roasters. It’s a thick, Italian style hot chocolate served in a beaker, which you then pour over the lofty mountain of fairy floss (cotton candy). Myself, I skipped the spun sugar and went straight for the pudding-like chocolate.

Spicy BBQ Pork Bowl at Paperboy Kitchen

Melbournians are spoiled for choice when it comes to food and drink, and we sampled as much as we could in a week. One night we met up with some American friends for pre-dinner drinks at the Gin Palace, a moody, speak-easy kinda joint, with intimate seating arrangements of low, plush couches, and novel length list of martini choices.

After that, we moved on to Meatmaiden, where, as you can guess from the name, they serve a lot of meat. The food was delicious and beautifully presented. One of the highlights of the visit had to be watching the tables full of very large and hungry footy players. They devoured an awful lot of food and, as we got there late, there was a lot of the menu missing. The chef was very kind and sent us some on-the-house goodies.

Another popular spot was Naked For Satan in Fitzroy, a suburb just northeast of the city center. Leon Satanovich ran a vodka still in this building during the Depression. Because of the blasting heat, he worked in his undies. Folks who came to taste his vodka used the code phrase “let’s get naked for Satan.”  We sat on the rooftop terrace, watched the sun go down and feasted on Basque inspired small plates.

On our last day, we had a farewell to Melbourne meal at Terra Rossa on Flinders Lane. We had the Margherita pizza with fior de latte. Mmmmm!

Wunderkammer

Between meals, Melbourne is a literal cabinet of curiosities, starting with Wunderkammer, which was exactly that. It was filled with skeletons, fossils and minerals, taxidermy, mounted insects and strange little contraptions.

l’uccello

My favorite find, the one I dream of, was l’uccello Vintage Haberdashery & Fancy Goods in the Cathedral Arcade. It was a textile artist’s heaven. Plus, I just like to say “haberdashery.”

l’uccello

It was overflowing with vintage ribbons and buttons, with silk embroidery floss, Liberty of London and French General fabric.

l’uccello

And the Holy Grail of textile arts, something I never expected to see in real life, Sophie Digard scarves and necklaces. I’m having to fan myself right now; I feel faint thinking of it.

As I left l’uccello, I wandered in another shop next door. Fascinated with the collection of objects and the fanciful curating, I was snapping photos and wondering why there was no proprietor. I was alone in the shop until a woman whispered past me and said, “I didn’t see that.” “Didn’t see what?” I asked. The photos. Apparently I wasn’t to be taking photos. It seems a few months back, some extremist Christians had been in, snapped photos and then publicly denounced the shop owner as a Satanist. I couldn’t see anything in the shop that would give someone that idea, but I put my camera down and followed the woman into her shop, the Muses of Mystery.

Muses of Mystery

I had to scratch my head, wondering why the other guy’s shop was targeted. I had a lovely chat with Vikkhi and an enjoyable wander around her shop.

Haunted Bookshop

Another place I found in a local guide and was keen to visit was the Haunted Bookshop. I’m pretty sure the fellow behind the counter is the resident haint. When I asked to see tarot cards he might as well have chased me out of the store rattling chains and howling for all the help he gave. He made it abundantly clear that I was not welcome there. Maybe it was the camera.

 

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So Much Depends Upon a Three Piece Bistro Set

bistro set (1 of 2)I have these ideas of what elements are necessary to create a good life. Coffee on the patio, in the morning, with pen and paper in hand, is an absolute.

I only began this practice five years ago when we bought our house in Salt Lake City. Prior to that, coffee on the patio was only a fantasy that I pasted pictures of in my manifestation journal. As I think of it now, even after we bought the patio set, this practice remained more of an ideal than an actual reality. In the first warm days of spring I would sit out there, through June and the profusion of iris and poppies. Then July would find me hiding indoors again, away from the heat, until the end of August when I would go out again to dream about the approaching autumn. Then winter would return and I’d go back indoors to sit in a window, an acceptable alternative when it’s snowing.

This last year, I sat on the patio every opportunity I could find, knowing that at any moment I might be giving up that garden seat. Rose the six-toed cat would sit there with me each morning. (Gardens need a black and white cat to make them complete.) She died one day in September, and the next day we sold the patio set. I remember that morning, feeling I couldn’t bear to sit out there without her. Then as I watched the furniture being hauled away I regretted not spending one last morning there.

Winter came again and sitting on the patio was no longer an option, with or without a cat and a chair. The cold days of the northern hemisphere soon gave way to summer in the southern half of the world and I found myself on a balcony overlooking the streets of a Sydney suburb.

For thirty days I drank my coffee watching cockatoos, rainbow lorikeets, and a very vocal and territorial Australian Raven. As we spent the last month searching for a more permanent antipodean home, a proper patio was a required feature. We found this place, with not one, but two patios. I could choose which one I wanted to occupy on any given morning!

Except that I didn’t have a table or even a chair for the patio. Oh sure, I could have hauled a dining room chair out every day, but instead I sat in the dark corner, where I sit now because it’s raining, and pined for a seat in the open air. My mornings were just not quite satisfying.

Then last night, our two overly generous Kiwi friends came over for housewarming drinks, to break in the space with friendship and laughter. With them they brought a three piece bistro set: our housewarming gift. Once again, my life is complete.

That may come off as hyperbole and it’s not. The enormity of this gift goes far beyond the physicality of a small round table and two accompanying chairs. That bistro set is a front row seat to the day. It is a place to greet the morning, under the open sky where my thoughts and imagination can expand ever upward. It is a meditation retreat, a sacred shrine surrounded by flowers and vines. From that seat I can place my feet flat on the ground, feel my sit bones, and my connection to Earth.

That seat is where I plan to spend the next three years writing. It will be the birthing grounds of blog posts, short stories, essays, and articles I hope to publish. So yes, it is much more than a place to sit. This gift returned to me one of the things I miss most from my life in Salt Lake, one of the most important elements of my day and of my home. That bistro set and the friends that gave it to us transformed this place, a place I was feeling questionable about, into a home. Even if it’s raining and I can’t go outside to drink my coffee and write, I can think about doing it, and know that as soon as it stops raining I can go out there. And when I’m there, I will always be reminded of the loving and generous nature of the friends that made it possible.

~ for Merrolee and Lindsay

A Coffee Lover’s Paradise

coffee (4 of 10)I admit, I judge a city by the accessibility and quality of its coffee.  Based on availability alone, this place beats any other city where I’ve drank coffee.  Walk down the street and it seems that every other door is a cafe and espresso bar.

These guys are serious about their coffee.  You will not find brewed coffee; in fact, they like to make fun of the (American) diner style restaurants with their never-ending pours.  They go on and on about the “nasty stuff, sitting on the burner for hours.”

coffee (1 of 10)The coffee here is entirely based on espresso.  I’ve made it my personal mission to try every coffee drink available, and to drink coffee in as many spots as possible, without becoming overly caffeinated.

coffee (2 of 10)The problem with drinking coffee in cafes is they always have so many pastries to tempt as well!  This is a flat white, a drink that was developed right here in Australia.  It starts with espresso and adds steamed milk with very little foam.  It’s similar to a cappuccino, but smaller, with a higher proportion of coffee to milk.  This one came from Sappho Books Cafe & Wine bar.

coffee (3 of 10)This lovely, little cup is a piccolo latte from Glebe Deli Cafe.   This begins with a ristretto shot, ristretto being the first extraction of the espresso, to which is added the steamed and textured milk, and served in a tiny little glass.

coffee (5 of 10)We’ve returned again and again to Twenty8Acres for their coffee, not only because they’re next door, but because we are guaranteed a superb cup of coffee, delicious food, and fun conversation from the staff and owners.  This petite cup, with a cute little face, is a macchiato, similar to the flat white, but with less milk.

Chef Brendan Nolan talked to me a little about Sydney coffee culture.  He said that it began as early as the 1970s, and over the years more and more cafes were popping up.  Sydney coffee drinkers were keen for a European style coffee drink.

coffee (7 of 10)Latte Art, the pretty hearts, flowers, and faces drawn in the milk, also began to gain popularity, with the most passionate baristas attending specialized schools to learn the art.  At Twenty8Acres they are proud of their baristas and the coffee they serve.  They use only beans from Numero Uno, a boutique roaster in Sydney.

coffee (6 of 10)I’ve come close to trying all the coffees on their menu.  I branched out one day and had a Dirty Chai, hot chai with a shot of espresso added.  It did not disappoint!

coffee (8 of 10)Today, I decided it was time to try the technically challenging ristretto.  It takes a talented barista to get the right pour on this.  It is the first half of an espresso extraction, using the same amount of coffee, but half as much water.  The flavor is richer, nuttier, and sweeter than an espresso.

coffee (9 of 10)I seriously did not go there to get pastry.  It just showed up on my table.  Thank you, Chef Brendan:)

coffee (10 of 10)The gluten-free orange poppy seed cake is to die for.  Just look at the attention they pay to detail, the board dusted with sugar and the shadow of the fork.

I should probably stop thinking about coffee now and start thinking about what I’m making for tea.  That’s dinner:)