So I have been in Sydney for about a week. This is my second trip, for business rather than pleasure. I'm getting to see a great deal more because I have a weekend to myself.
The first time I was here was 14 years ago. I came for the Olympic Games attached to my wife's business. She helped manage the team that was in charge of getting food to the Village. Crazy busy work. There were several things I remember about that trip that bear recounting here.
The first thing was that like the people of Atlanta, I found Sydney folks barely global but mostly local. I thought that the sports announcers were in a league all by themselves, with the uncanny ability to make every sport seem fasciinating, even women's speedwalking. I found a lot of parallels between Aussies and Californians, a love for outdoors, sports and animals. I found the food here lousy and can't say I got one good meal for as much money as I paid. I was impressed by the weather and the openess of the people. It was very weird but delicious to have a McDonald's Quarter Pounder with beet, or as they call it here, beetroot.
The most profound things that happened when I was here were two. After the close of the games, we had a big party and some Maori (and all of us) got drunk and so they taught us their secret tribal dance. The dude from Hobart wanted no part of it. The second thing was that when the USA men's 4x100 relay won they got booed. That event was the springboard for the existence of this blog.
Somebody has been saying that nationalism isn't a great idea, or that maybe it once was but now is not. I'm influenced by that concept and I think, these days 14 years later, more at civilizations, languages and laws as organizing principles of people. I think diet and religion will become the biggest things if and when I get down to rethinking for the last part of my life - these are probably the most unchanging parts of a person's life. But as I'm down here in Sydney, I am thinking about the extent to which this place is a nation and is not.
I am oblivious to Australian politics, and clearly most Aussies are oblivious to American politics. Smart people seem not to have any clue as to what our American sense of exceptionalism might be. Perhaps I'll get to that conversation, but it's not important that I do. For the moment I can take some notice of what seems to go on here without any such subtext. I am about to embark on the last part of Churchills review of English civilization and that is most appropriate so that I can swing back around in a few weeks and go back at it. I just finished the chapter in American Caesar in which our hero saves Australia by defeating the Japanese at Port Moresby.
Yesterday I went out on my walking tour of the city. I started here in Surry Hills and headed up toward the CBD up Elizabeth and then Wenworth St. From what I can tell, Sydney gets vertical very quickly, which means their crappy buildings tend to be taller. There isn't a large area for lofts and warehouses on this side of town, so I was somewhat surprised to see such large run-down joints so close to Hyde Park. Celebrating my own Memorial Day here, I went to the Anzac Memorial and noticed how realtively empty it and the park were as compared to the new Westfield shopping mall under the big tower.
Surry Hills itself is a gradually gentrifying neighborhood. I'm staying around the corner from the large government projects in a quiet secury post-Brutalist apartment building next to Reader's Digest, which is a very strange building indeed. Just up the road is a secure cube with a stainless steel door, but most of the neighborhood is that kind of unique row house design with the wrought iron fences and balconies. The nicest of them are over in the Armani District of 'Paddo', or Paddington.
In a week, I've seen about 6 Africans. It's rather stunning. Also, if my eyeballs are right, there are that many Latins here as well. I question my eyeballs because there are a larger number of Indians here than I see in California and they tend not to be professionals - a broader cross-section. I only caught a few Americans over in the trendy section, and there are a lot fewer Nordics here as well. It's an interesting mix. Most of the people seem a little less athletic than in SoCal, which shouldn't be a surprise, but everyone seems to be a little shorter and homlier than I kind of expect.
Downtown in the splashy mall, the mildly upscales are a lot of Chinese. They're all on holiday I think - with their big watches and designer shopping bags. Mothers hold the hands of sons. Many prams but no so many kids. Even in Hyde Park, I saw maybe a half dozen 8 year olds. I managed to avoid the garishness of Kings Cross, because I was on my way to Paddington. I wish I knew about the hills, I would have gone straight out Oxford instead of the back way from Kings Cross, which looks like the old grungy part of Times Square 1983.
Paddo turned out to be much like Manhattan Beach but with a bit more citification. I found a really cool Chap-style men's shop with $300 canes with silver caps. Top hats, dinner jackets and flash vests. Smashing. I then continued back downtown on Oxford Street and bumped into a Texan Coast Guard SAR who runs a bicycle shop there. We chatted for a bit, one of the longest conversations I had all weekend, then I continued back to where the Courthouse is. Lovely color stone. By this time I was quite hungry but found that at 3pm, nobody expects anybody to eat. I wound up back at the other Armani disctrict, the Westfield mall and had some overprice sushi from a girl who didn't understand the concept of 'lemonade', so I sucked down the Sprite instead.
By the time I got to Circular Quay, I was exhausted, and having eaten a whole bag of chocolate macadamias, I was fairly stuffed too. Bad meal planning. I cabbed it back to the pad. My cabbie, an excitable old gent, did a John Wayne and a Cagney impersonation for me. I answered back with a Jimmy Stewart. My Jimmy Stewart is pretty good...
To be continued..