I would not dare to call myself a true Melbournian as yet for it takes years to develop an adequate understanding of sophisticated local mentality, “shake off” deeply instilled notions and prejudices, and assume a fresh mindset; however, moving to this great city to obtain a graduate degree was one of the most memorable, motivating, and happy experiences of my life.
The first hallmark graciously offered for the amusement of my mind, numbed by the hours of uneventful flight, was International Gateway (wittingly called “Ribcage and Cheesestick” by locals). I spotted it from a bus window as we were approaching the grayish-blue front line of skyscrapers and could not quite believe my eyes: a sculpture consisting of an enormous bright-yellow pillar, “hanging” at an angle above the highway on one side, and a row of smaller red beams, lined up along another, welcomed newly arrived visitors. I thought it a bold statement of abstract art, not something one can readily associate with city gates. It spoke volumes of artistic courage and progressive views. Melbourne, it appeared, had many surprises in store and was likely to perplex and astonish; stepping a few paces forward, it did not disappoint. However banal it may sound, I fell in love with the place and its atmosphere at once.
A lot has been said and written about Melbourne, a Marvelous Melbourne (an expression coined by English journalist George Augustus Henry Sala back in 1800s), a cultural capital, a home to numerous historic lanes and arcades, “Australia’s garden city”, a city known for hosting “a race that stops a nation” and “having four seasons in one day”. Melbourne is all that (I would vouch for the weather, though, since it has been treating me most kindly) and more, but for me, personally, it is the city’s spirit that seals the deal: an invigorating mixture of laid-back attitude, signature sharp wit, and entrepreneurial zeal. Upon arrival a newcomer cannot help but feel a bubbling stream of energy, powerful, yet buoyant and agile, rushing through the streets, eager to lift you off your feet and whisk away on a breathtaking adventure. Over time you realize that everything is in the details: alacrity with which new ideas are welcomed and new enterprise embarked upon, promptitude and mobility in small business matters, humor in glimpses of random conversations that catch your ear, hilarious public announcements (nowhere else did I hear so many), sculpture and street art that will make you smile. Youthful spirit is undoubtedly the Melbourne’s main attraction.
On par with holding novelty (a youth’s favorite!) in high regard is respect for tradition. Melbourne hosts one of the world’s best-known horse races, Melbourne Cup, a very popular annual event judging by the fact that the day it takes place has been a public holiday since 1873. A stranger to the opulent and refined world of equestrian sports, I was only vaguely familiar with the phenomenon while the grandeur and fashion aspect of it escaped me altogether. Preoccupied with my day-to-day pursuits and quite unaware of what was to come, I hopped on a train headed to the CBD. Flemington racecourse is in the same direction. Gradually the car, nearly empty initially, was being filled with elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen: a glamorous sea of expensive-looking suits, evening gowns, fine jewelry, and all kinds of hats: cocktails, fascinators, pillboxes, cloches – was closing in, making me, all of a sudden, stand out from the crowd in my jeans and hoodie. 😀 Quite unusual a scene for our practical age, would you agree? It felt as if the early 20th century were slowly “oozing” its way into the train cars.
The same kind of feeling appears when one takes a walk around the City Centre. Here you are to encounter a curious architectural arrangement marked by a fascinating blend of numerous styles coexisting side by side. Melbourne went to great lengths to preserve 19th century architecture, maintaining its status of a Great Victorian City, while every scrap of the expensive land was being “conquered” by modern high-rise buildings. As a result a famous juxtaposition of architectural styles emerged.
Approaching the CBD a traveler first sees a massive wall of glass and concrete, just as expected; moving forward, however, her attention is drawn to the grandeur and elegance of buildings in neoclassical style with the characteristic clean lines, symmetry, and simplicity of geometric form. Equally striking are the features and “stance” of Gothic Revival architecture. The intricacy of irregular massing and plethora of decorative elements simply cannot be passed unnoticed, as well as the slender construction sweeping upwards with stature and grace. Dark-gray (with a tint of blue) basalt adds to the dark and menacing atmosphere inherent to the style. Quite a competitor for your attention! By the time our traveler reaches a neat row of terraced houses, adorned by an elaborate ornamental iron lacework of the verandah balustrades, balconies, frieze, and brackets, she, indeed, feels herself completely immersed in Victorian era; horse-drawn carriages add to the effect. As if the past itself were hiding among the tall skyscrapers, welcoming an observant visitor with a tail of old times. This is exactly the feeling that inspired my story.
Whenever I happened to walk along the city streets I would often get a feeling of “diving” into and out of the 19th century, submerging in the past for a moment and returning to the present, which made the ordinary walk to a train station an amusing journey and gave an idea for my story “Anemoia” in the “Pocketful of Dreams” anthology.
– Ry Auscitte