Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Tale of Two Snack Foods

Relax, I'm not going to riff off the 'best of times/worst of times' thing. What I am going to do is present two of my favourite snack foods.

Firstly, these bad boys: Smith's Salt and Vinegar Crisps. God I missed them when I lived in Colombia. They can reduce you to tears when you've got a mouth ulcer. And I love the way that the packet is pink - they're so not feminine. You could put silk tassels on the corners, and it still wouldn't matter because they're rock.

Secondly, this is snack-food brutality, the Colombian way: Todo Rico, or, roughly translated, "everything yummy", where everything is plain potato chips (the no-nonsense foundation), salted plantain crisps (with a hint of sweetness) and chicharrones, or pork crackling (crunch, boom - like Batman sound effects for your tastebuds). Sum of it's parts, better, etc - you can fill it in; I'm already thinking how when I finally get back to Bogota, I will not make it out of the airport before I scoff a packet of these guys. Como te extraño!

And sorry, but it's always the best of times and the worst of times when you love chips from different continents. Chip Olympics anyone?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

People are strange, when you're a driver

Away for Easter meant that I borrowed a friend's car and got to see how the other three-quarters live. I came away thinking that in a city where so many people drive, it necessarily shapes their perspective and behaviour.

For starters you really do see things in a new way when you're driving. The view from the Cahill expressway is far superior to the view of it and I don't think I ever totally got the Anzac bridge until I drove over it. Even parts of the M4 are quite attractive in their way. It stands to reason that a lot of the built environment - especially advertising - caters to drivers, but I'd hadn't thought about this until I sat behind the wheel. I had a feeling of suddenly being part of a favoured (or more lucrative?) demographic.

Then this morning, back on the bus, I noticed one of those LED traffic signs flashing the message "PROTEST MARCH 11AM, COLLEGE ST". Well that's pretty dumb, I thought, if they don't even tell you what the march is about, who will bother going? Then I clicked that the sign was aimed at the drivers, who are (we assume) only interested in the march to the extent that it disturbs traffic.

In terms of behaviour, have you noticed the way drivers' conversations home in on a couple of themes?

1. The person who cut me off/didn't let me in/didn't take off from the lights fast enough. This topic is introduced by the phrase "Look at this guy."

2. The price of petrol. When this topic comes up, the driver will start reciting figures like a cracked numerologist. After a bit of head scratching you'll see them staring at the big numbers outside a petrol station. "118!" they say, to which the correct response is, "no way!"

As a passenger I've always marvelled at how people can be reduced to such tedium, but suddenly it was me saying these things, getting tushy with the idiot behind me and cursing when I missed out on a cheap tank of petrol.

On a deeper level (oh dear), I reckon this kind of irritation has to affect the way people behave all round. During a normal drive to/from work there are so many moments of conflict that never get resolved. You'll rarely get a chance to tell that inconsiderate driver how you feel. And then you're also subject to the malevolent vicissitudes of a market you cannot understand. That's gotta have an impact.

I present as evidence my experience crossing Parramatta Road on the way to work.

This is one of the most hardened vehicular arteries of the city and not even a car windscreen can save it from looking ugly. There is this a walkway further along (which gives new meaning to the expression 'rat race') but usually I cross frogger style.

So the other day I cut it a bit fine and one driver actually accelerated and almost hit me. I won't bang on about it - we've all experienced little unkindnesses in our days and know what it's like - but when I got to the curb and looked at the car speeding off I could imagine the driver felt totally justified. If he had a passenger he probably said "look at this guy" before ramming his foot to the floor, and I'm sure many motorists out there would give him a pat on the back for trying to run me down. But isn't it weird that in Bogota - a supposedly more dangerous city, with homicide rates much higher than Sydney's - you don't get these hissy-fits of hostility?

Follow the rules motherfucker, and if you don't I'll run you over. That's the driving credo in Sydney, and I'm not sure you can switch it off with the engine.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Hero of the Day (so far)

"Ladies and gentlemen," he started. This was the announcer on the train this morning. You could see the people in the carriage sitting up, somewhat shocked by the honorifics and looking around as if to say "what, us?" He then went on to list the upcoming stations in a voice bursting with anticipation and excitement, like you sometimes hear at the big awards ceremonies. "Next stop," you could imagine him saying, "a station that needs no introduction, change here for the Bankstown line and the Royal Easter Show, please join me in welcoming ..."

The way he said it, you almost believed you were pulling in to Las Islas del Rosario rather than grubby old Lidcombe. He had an accent too, for an exotic twist (in fact, I'll bet he was from Colombia). I wasn't the only one smiling when his voice came over the PA, and anyone who can get that to happen on a morning train heading out to Campbelltown really is a hero.

Mr Announcer, thank you.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Secret Men's Business

I do love the pubs in Sydney, and I wish that I could spend more time in them. In Bogotá it seemed like I couldn't avoid having a drink with friends at least once a week, but in Sydney it's a bit trickier. And the best theory I've heard on why this is so, is that everything is more spread out here. If the character of some parts of Sydney is ever going to improve – urban planners please take note – we need many more pubs to fill in the gaps.

But back to the here and now; checking out promising pubs has always been a favourite pastime of mine, and a couple of weeks ago we managed a long-overdue catch-up with some friends at a place I'd often admired from the train - The White Cockatoo at Petersham. The inner west is particularly blessed with old-school boozers like this one. In a nice twist of history, one of the guys in our group told us that his great-grandmother used to work there. I bet things have changed since her day. For one thing, they probably wouldn't have let a two-year-old in. But pubs are more family friendly now, and so, he got to come along. He's still getting the hang of eating out was more interested in playing that game where you postition the claw then drop it, and watch it flop ineffectually over the prizes. And he wasn't as impressed as he might have been by the food. The White Cockatoo is famous for its outsized schnitzels and steak sandwiches. If you've ever seen those spot the ball competitions, consider this a variation: spot the bread.