By mid-day Friday I had accomplished just as much work as I possibly could working from Stephanie’s suburban Melbourne living room. The final things I needed to accomplish required answers to my questions, answers that could only come from people back in the United States. People who would not be back at work until Monday morning.
So I finally stepped outside and went for a trip into Melbourne, to see more of the city.
True, most evenings Stephanie and I had eaten dinner in various districts around the city, but that is different than actually walking around and seeing the city in broad daylight.
Interesting fact: Melbourne and San Francisco are almost exactly the same distance from the equator, just in opposite directions. Melbourne is at 37 degrees, 48 minutes, 50 seconds south latitude; San Francisco is at 37 degrees, 46 minutes north. The difference, if I understand correctly, is less than 4 km.
Taking the number three tram (others might call these trolleys or streetcars) from Caulfied North, I rode down St. Kilda’s road, a main arterial that cuts across Melbourne’s grid of streets much in the same way Market or Columbus Streets do in San Francisco, only much more beautifully. Wide medians, trees, and many parks along the way, St. Kilda’s is very pleasant.
Disembarking shortly before the Yarra River, my first stop was the National Gallery of Victoria. After a four-and-a-half year rennovation and reorganization this civic institution retains all of its admired features – a water wall at the entrance and the world’s largest stained glass ceiling in the great all – as well as adding a number of world-class gallery spaces.
The special exhibition right now (through the end of January 2007) is “Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga” about the seminal Japanese manga cartoonist Tezuka Osamu. Here’s a synopsis from the NGV website:
TEZUKA Osamu is heralded as an icon of the Japanese manga movement; acknowledged in Japan as an artistic master, and revered as the figurehead of the manga and anime industries. Creating over 700 manga titles during his lifetime, he is best known in the West for his cartoons of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, which were serialized for television in the 1960s.
Tezuka’s work is acclaimed for its complexity and originality and his drawings showcase an extraordinary calligraphic dynamism. His prolific manga work contains two main streams: manga ‘comic pictures’ for a youth audience, including Astro Boy, Kimba and Princess Knight; and gekiga ‘drama pictures’ – more seriously-toned, adult oriented narratives such as Song of Apollo and Ludwig B, that stress realistic effect and emotional impact. This exhibition features both aspects of his work, introducing Western audiences to the complexities and extraordinary range of the manga form.
This show was extremely well-curated and of special interest to me because my friend Otto is a young, upcoming cartoonist out of Singapore. I know that manga has been influential on him and so thought he might appreciate this show.
There was also a very nice exhibition of ikat, Asian resist dyed textiles (right). Running through mid-March 2007, this is a lovely collection showing the range of styles of this particular technique of textile embellishment that is employed from Central Asia to Indonesia, including mainland Southeast Asia, India and Japan. In the ikat technique the threads of a fabric are resist dyed before they are woven, so that as the cloth is woven a pattern appears.
After spending about ninety minutes at the museum, I continued down the road and crossed the Princes Bridge into the city center. The lovely Flinders Train Station faces opposite Federation Square, two incredible contrasts of style. The station is a century-old neoclassical depot, the square is a modernist plaza with abstract, metal sheet-lined buildings including the Australian Centre for the Moving Image and a new building for the National Gallery of Victoria focusing on Australian art. The cobblestone-lined square is reminiscent of the paolo in Siena, Italy, but in a very 21st-century way.
While in Melbourne this week, I was able to try four very nice restaurants including two on Friday. For your reference:
Cicciolina – modern Mediterranean with friendly service, fat Tasmanian oysters, and Italian specialties right along Acland Street in hippie-esque St. Kilda.
Fenix – an abstractly contemporary place where conservative diners get a fright. The aumse bouche was a nitrogen “cooked” green tea merenque, chilled in a silver bowl with liquid nitrogen and then placed on your tongue and allowed to disolve. My 36-hour spring lamb (cooked at 56 degrees C) with carrot blocks topped with tempura celery leaves, sweetbreads, poached pear, molasses and a line of date paste, and Stephanie’s apple- and teak-smoked mulloway (whitefish) with indian cress flower, schezwan scallops and cider air (foam) were both wonderfully prepared. The service was super-attentive and relaxed, exceptional in Australia where waiters are paid a living wage and do not normally receive tips.
Oyster Little Bourke – this faintly retro, Italianish space adjacent to Chinatown offers professional if distracted service and one of the best pistachio-crusted veal chops I’ve ever eaten. The peach melba (pictured above) was a thing of beauty.
Tutto Bene – we concluded our week dining with Stephanie’s colleague Peter and his daughter Haley (left), as this “risotteria.” With eighteen types of risotto on the menu, how could it be anything but? Located on the south bank of the Yarra river, we enjoyed nice views of the city, solid service, and tasty risotto. Service started out rushed but relaxed as the evening moved on. Peter’s duck risotto (paparadelle) was very nice, as was Stephanie’s blue crab risotto. Haley’s choice with scallops and saffron seemed a bit of a mish-mash of flavors. We had a really nice trio of desserts, including a cold zabaglione over hazlenut gelato and a panna cotta over poached apricots.
Afterwards we walked along the south bank of the river and I took some pictures, including this one of us being artistic.
It is now Saturday morning. I baked biscuits for Stephanie and we’re sitting around trying to get her iPod to work on her computer. I’m going to pack soon and will head out for the airport mid-afternoon after a bite to each at a beach-side restaurant in St. Kilda’s. It has been a fun week but I’m ready to get home to Tawn.