Hello Again, Sydney

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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Anatomy of summer

It's the 31st of January, and I'm not sure I want this month to end yet.

Partly it's the holiday vibe - fewer cars on the road and less bustle on the sidewalk. It's also the weather and the beach/pool time. Without going into a numerical breakdown, we've done a lot more swimming so far this year, and Santi is improving all the time. Last weekend he even managed to tread water in the sea pool without his floaties. Fear of drowning is a strong motivator I suppose. (Joke, joke, that's a joke. He was smiling the whole time, honestly.) Finally, there's the sense of potential - the unblotted copybook of a whole year still ahead.

But sitting here with about two hours of the month left, I can feel by the humidity that it's already gone. January is about sunburn and ants on the picnic rug, February is sweatstains and cockroaches under the sink. January is afternoon siestas in a hammock and the heat of the day brewing into an evening storm. February is long slimy nights, when you search in vain under your pillow for a cold spot. At least the water's still warm.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger

It started on the street. Some guy I passed was talking on his hands-free about something that had "just happened". Then in the lift up to level 12 another couple of people were chatting in those hushed serious-newsreader voices. "He had a role as the Joker, so he wasn't hard up for work," one of them said. Then another person in the lift got a call on their mobile. "No way," they said, then "hang on a second I'm in a lift." And the office, when I walked in, was like an ants' nest that had been poked with a stick.

"Is there some big news," I asked.

"Heath Ledger is dead." they said.

Truth is, I'm not one for these "news items". Sorry to sound like a cold fish, but to me, the death of Heath Ledger is just as tragic as the death of some guy down the street who didn't get a mention in the paper. I liked his acting alright - that moment in Two Hands when he locks gazes with Rose Byrne's character was pure magic.

But I hadn't counted on the ramifications this event had on our magazine. Some of our copy had to disappear, new articles about Heath had to be written. Other famous people had to be contacted to get quotes about how tragic it was and headlines had to be thought up. And all the while I'm conscious that this is far from the thin end of the wedge - there are people in the media who must have even more vulture-like jobs, calling family members, for example. I'm not sure why people provide quotes for these stories, why we write them down, or why people read them. It all feels a bit wrong.

Usually we write about soap-opera characters who have died or whatever and in a way people in the spotlight are just soap-opera characters to us - how can we know them any more deeply? It's hard to draw any human conclusion from an event (and indeed a life) so refracted and distorted by the media, but if I can it's that here's a guy who from the outside had it all. Be thankful for the things you love and that love you I say.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Cracking Sydney

I don't know if it's the holiday vibe still hanging on, or the new year, but I suddenly feel like the only thing stopping me from grabbing Sydney by the balls is me. In a few years time, this blog will serve as a diary of when we came here, and I'm pretty sure when I read it I'll think what a miserable bastard I was! In some ways, Sydney is exactly the place to be for me right now. All the bad habits I had before, everything I basically ran away from, that's still here, and still holds sway to some degree. Ultimately, that's what I need to conquer. Have you ever heard that saying that if you can meditate on a busy street in Manhattan then you can meditate anywhere? Well for me, if I can be happy in Sydney, then I can do it anywhere. And I'm getting closer.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Dancing in the streets

"You know they call this the CBD - the Central Business District - and I think you'd have to agree, there's some pretty serious business going on here tonight." That was the MC on Saturday night, and a very funny chap he was. We were there for the opening night of the Sydney Festival, for which a number of concerts had been scheduled around the city. If you'd told me five years ago that Plump DJs would play in Martin Place, as an opening act for the Sydney Festival, and that it would be free, I would have told you to check your prescription. But there we were, listening to the rather obscene growling bassline of Automatic, looking up at the marble columns of the CBA building. Surreal.

Perhaps even better than that was the atmosphere around the city. People talk about the atmosphere during the Olympic Games, and I'm sorry I missed it. But I do remember how it was when we won the bid. Juan Antonio Samaranch on a big screen at 4am. "The winner is Sideney". Whoooooohooooooooo! That was the most friendly I've ever felt Sydney, and while we weren't hugging complete strangers on Saturday night, it was a big step in the right direction. Three massive cheers for the festival organisers, and three more for the people who made it a great night, and who guaranteed there are no excuses for it not happening again next year.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Come on Aussie

This week I finally made it back to the SCG and saw the first day of the Australia/India test match. As we never tire of explaining to foreigners, a cricket test match runs over five days and may still end in a draw, so it's not to everyone's tastes (in fact some of my female co-workers described it as their idea of hell). It can be a game of subtle conflicts and deep strategy - which is another way of saying that there's not always a hell of a lot going on - so statistics are vital for keeping things interesting. Like when Hogg and Symonds broke the record for best seventh-wicket partnership... against India... at the SCG. Time for a Mexican wave?

Well before you do, check the conditions of entry part 16(e) on the back of the ticket:

"[do not] interfere with the comfort of other patrons in their enjoyment of any of the matches or other activities at the Venue, including by way of participation, in any manner, in a 'Mexican wave' "

Stay seated then (and dial 1300-Plain English, quick!), because a lot of things are not allowed any more. The day before the match we saw some reruns of games from the 1980s, and every time they hit a boundary there were kids jumping on the ground to grab the ball. You get tackled by a security guard if you try and do that these days. Besides, there are relatively few kids in the crowd - at about $50 a pop, it's simply too expensive. And don't try making a beer snake (when you put all the empty beer cups you've accumulated over the day together and hold it up to the crowd). That will bring the police over, and maybe get you chucked out.

Probably the biggest change is that you can't get full-strength beer any more. Apparently they used to have a limit on how much beer you could bring in to the ground - one case (24 bottles) each! Now you can't bring in anything. And perhaps this is a good thing. You certainly don't see as many fights and crowd-control problems, but it has become a bit sanitised. Sadly, it also smacks of a money-making exercise. The thoughtfully provided "bus service" to the ground cost $5.40 return from Central station ($1.70 if you catch the normal bus from around the corner). No you can't buy a one-way ticket. And no you can't use your travel card. Fuck you very much.

But those are the distractions; what it comes down to is the cricket. You see the players as humans, rather than figures on a slow-motion replay, Ganguly signing an Indian flag for a kid between overs, the Australians' gritty first-day fightback and that moment about halfway through the afternoon when the heat stops being oppressive and becomes perfect. And after watching all of the last day on TV today - Australia pulled off a pretty amazing victory with just 7 balls remaining - I'm especially happy I got to see some of it live.