(...or "The Splendor of the Exeloo")
03.06.2017 - 03.06.2017 16 °C
I wake in a panic. What happened? I'm not completely disoriented, I know where I am, but everything else is up for debate. I remember finishing my last travel blog entry on the balcony and then coming in to prepare for exploring the Vivid light festival and to eventually hunt down some dinner. I suppose I must have laid down for a moment, just a brief moment, but that was enough time for the lights to go out - the already frayed plug powering my brain yanked violently from the socket. I frantically look at the clock radio beside the bed - it reads 10:58. And this is Australia and ergo the clocks are in 24-hour format...so is it 10:58...am???
It's dark outside...and noisy. I reach for my phone to find it is in truth just approaching 8pm. Later I will determine the clock radio is abysmally inaccurate, and can't be changed because a security tether that prevents theft is bolted over the time adjustment buttons (odd that an adequately expensive five-star hotel feels obliged to bolt down their cheap and ultimately ineffectual clock). The oblique time will continue to irritate me, very likely until I leave the room for the last time.
My involuntary nap was perhaps an hour or so. I get up to a Lynchian dream-sequence sensation. My internal time-keeping that I have been intentionally abusing for the last four or five days has been rendered useless. And I can't stop shivering for some reason, the type of shivering that comes with a high fever. It would seem my body has taken this brief window of time to launch a full-on counter-attack for all the shit it's been taking.
A Nespresso shot and hot shower aren't enough to completely alleviate the peculiar cold sensation, I just have to ride it out, and even as I step out into the Vivid crowds right outside my hotel entrance, my overall cognition is still a bit dubious.
Soundtrack: The Same Deep Water As You by The Cure
Vivid is always a somewhat euphoric experience for me; indeed, when you boil it down it's just a big light show, but the ambiance and electricity underscore the elation of being here - I gather this is tapping into the memories of my first trip. Nostalgia often evokes powerful affections of being and place.
I'm starting to find my pace - and centre of gravity (finally) - and I meander casually up to the opera house, which does not disappoint.
From the top of the stairs I admire, from a distance, a group of inebriated under-agers sharing a foil bag of cask wine like juvenile hobos. My knee-jerk middle-aged tsk-tsk reaction is quickly replaced by a scathing internal voice that sneers "really...*you're* going to judge?"
I swim through Disney-parade-thick crowds absorbing sights, sounds and smells - the quay-side cafes are deliciously tempting and quaint...and overflowing - and after a reasonable amount of time taking this all in I decide to find food. Not here however, I'd like to eat some time this month.
I head towards one of the restaurants I had earmarked - one that happens to be close by...I'm still just a touch woozy.
This is the "David Blackmore's Full Blood Wagyu Burger with Bacon, Gruyere Cheese and Zuni Pickle" from the Rockpool near Chiefly Square, an moderately upscale and trendy eatery. Luckily the burger is served in the bar so I do not have to explain my lack of reservation - on a Friday night during Vivid - and be shamed back out onto the street. The burger is $26. And that is without any sides - the fries are another $6 just for the cheap shoestrings (and by the way are totally unnecessary with this burger). And yes, I would pay $26 for another one...it is heavenly; cooked to order, composed of ingredients that were almost all created here, and messier than hell. On a related note, I understand that in Australia red meat isn't actually bad for you. An interesting fact...that I just made up (another comedian quote, I can't take credit).
I interrogate the bartender on places to see and things to do that a local wouldn't lift their nose at - and I do get a few ideas...we'll see if they lead anywhere. I head back to the hotel and climb into bed, wondering if after that unintentional nap earlier if I would be able to actually fall asleep in any reasonable amou-
Soundtrack: One by The Birthday Massacre (I gave the new album a few listens now and can name at least this song when it shows up in the playlist. You needed to know none of this.)
If you find yourself in a strange new place, far away from any familiarity, try to take the bus somewhere. Admittedly, the bus is usually the last resort...for pretty much anything. But without knowing the transit routes, and relying solely on Google Maps for (hopefully) current information, there is something to be said about handing a stranger a handful of change and placing your life in her/his hands, because (s)he is going to strand you somewhere you've never been before. And you need to find your way back.
The following day I do just this to reach a place called the Spit Bridge - this is the starting place for a popular Sydney coastal walk aptly (and blandly) titled the "Spit to Manly Coastal Walk".
In the past I've walked the Coogie to Bondi coastal walk as well as the Balmoral Head walk, so this just seems like the right thing to do on a beautiful day like today.
Ok, formally beautiful. It was nice when I left the hotel.
The walk is, much like the Balmoral Head walk, one of contrast and juxtaposition. The forested trails and beachfront paths don't necessarily clash with the recurring spans of exorbitantly posh and unquestionably very expensive houses clinging to the waterfront cliffs so much as they flaunt a real effort made to demonstrate that unbridled nature can peacefully coexist with the lifestyles of a very select few and the pipe-dreams of a great many others.
A point-by-point commentary on the complete walk - a surprisingly lengthy 10kms - would grow tiresome very quick, and pictures are far better equipped to carry the narrative this time. So here's a whack of them.
Suffice to say the trek is pieced together with corridors of lush green rainforest, stretches of beach comprised of a characteristically orange-yellow sand, residential sections ranging from “dream on” to “release the hounds!”, eventually elevating up to epic vistas of the harbour in all its grandiose spectacle.
As much as I would love to delight you with one or more flimsy excuses as to why I predominantly wear black (spoiler: you would not be at all incorrect to venture a guess that it's mainly because I'm a miserable klutz), I'll spare you the tedium and instead just point out that on this day I made the decision to wear instead a light grey stretch t-shirt. My point?
I begin the walk in what felt like a comfortable 16 degree overcast day but by the time I'm a few kilometres into the walk, and despite the fact that I have already had a few episodes of very light rain, I feel that the jetlag is still lingering and I don't know about you, but when I'm physically exhausted...I sweat for no good reason. Combine this with the fact that I've been wearing my (black) backpack laden with extra camera lenses and water. So, when I take the backpack off for a rest I find that my entire back is one big gross wet mess.
And then at one of the lookouts I lean over a metal rail to get a better angle on a picture, and without thinking I hang my arm over this rail. Remember, its been raining. And the rail is soaked. And now so is my armpit. There is no explaining this properly to anyone bereft of context...it would be as useless as trying to explain a soaked crotch as the consequence of a direct hit to the groin with a water balloon. No one will listen.
I should point out; this trail is very busy. I guess I'm wearing my backpack and keeping my arm down for a while.
Ok, yes; the walk is amazing, but I think the real highlight of the walk, an unspoken attraction if you will, is a remarkable monument to human technological achievement at the Forty Baskets Beach. It is called "the Exeloo". This astonishing advancement in elimination-on-the-go is a testament to what we as a species can do when we truly find a calling or purpose.
After three and a half hours I'm slightly bummed to find that I'm not even two thirds along the walk, and so when I see a public toilet I know to take advantage of opportunities when the present themselves. I head up the walk to find a dilapidated park toilet shack. And attached to it is a strange metal...closet (a time machine? Suicide booth?). There is a flashing green light next to the open door that invites me in. Inside, it appears like any other ugly dull-steel adorned toilet. There is no handle on the door though, instead beside it a small button. I press it.
The door slides closed as a commanding voice announces "THANK YOU FOR USING EXELOO. YOUR MAXIMUM ALOTTED TIME IS 10 MINUTES." And I shit you not, as the door slides shut it plays the Star Trek door sound effect. I'm then treated to a jazzy elevator-music rendition of Dionne Warwick's "What the World Needs Now".
Once I'm done I notice that the only way to flush the toilet...is to wash my hands. So, this contraption is also well-equipped to enforce good bathroom hygiene as well.
On my way out I'm amused to read that after 10 minutes if you're still in there, an alarm will go off.
I try to contain myself as I continue my journey, a better person now for having partaken in the ritual of the Exeloo.
I should mention that for most of the walk I have been pretty much outrunning a mild storm that keeps showing up overhead and splattering me with a hazy rain but lingering in place long enough for me to emerge from it before it can do any serious damage to my morale. I chuckle a bit to myself on more than one occasion, thinking there was no way I'd get rained out of Manly Beach again, would I?
Fast-forward to me finally stepping foot on the Manly Corso, sore and a bit worn down but otherwise satisfied with the accomplishment. The wind has kicked up but the dark clouds have remained back a safe distance away over the inner harbour.
I reward myself by locating a cozy - and quiet - wine bar called Good Hope and indulge in a glass of Cabernet and tapas (in presentation at least, in price we could argue for or against) of trout pastrami with creamed horseradish, apple shavings, and citrus jelly. I'm thoroughly enjoying my spoils when...and I can't explain this...the back of what I took initially to be a bar filled with what appeared to be some little-league team; a small army of six-to-seven-year-olds and their gaggle of obviously alcoholic parents (perhaps an ignorant assessment, but why else would you bring a kid’s sports team *here* after a match...I mean, one -entire- wall of this place is -wine-!!!). As the little vermin break into loud song, the bartender puts a failing effort into hiding what can only be construed as abject horror on her face. I most assuredly mirror her expression. So clearly this is my cue to move along.
I'm putting my jacket on and look outside...
to find it *pissing* rain. Please pardon my colourful parlance, but fuck you Manly Beach.
Really this should be funnier (and to be fair, Manly Beach is not at fault here), had it not been for my safe-place being invaded by the Village of the Damned. And as I find a seat on the outside front of the ferry that will take me back to Circular Quay I'm already finding the humour in the situation. It helps that the rain has had its fun with me and vanished into the black recesses of the horizon - it stayed just long enough to adequately wet me down somewhat on the walk from Good Hope to the wharf. After departing, the ferry becomes an amusement ride of sorts - I'm convinced that the driver is intentionally sailing head-first into the waves - and with each list forward, each violent slam into water, and each brief launch back upwards - the crowd on the bow (mostly teenagers) erupts into a squeal of shrieks and laughter. And I confess, it is pretty fun. I record some of the audio on my phone so that later I can recall how with no real context it sounds very much like dozens of people being tortured to death in most profoundly terrible ways.
Dolphin-duty has been taken up by seagulls here, the sleek and noble birds (I type with dripping sarcasm) flying in perfect lock-step with the vessel. I'm venturing there were union troubles and let's face it, seagulls have been rightly referred to as worse things than 'scabs'.
As we steer towards Circular Quay it becomes apparent why so many people have packed onto the small deck in the wet and the cold (well cold to them...I'm fine). As we sail around one of the points the Harbour Bridge comes into full view, and there is a collective gasp. The light display on the bridge is a brilliant beacon of light and colour in the distance, emphasized by the spot-lights coming off the cruise ship terminal on the west side of the quay. As we get closer you can see the flashing displays of Vivid on the otherwise shadowy buildings of the city centre. It is such a different angle to see it all from; and as the water becomes calmer, the crowd grows quieter, the overall atmosphere not dissimilar to that of a Disney fireworks display (second Disney comparison…interesting).
As we pull into the harbour the Vivid displays are now the focus of all attention, the opera house swirling with sophisticated cartoonish art. The culmination of everything from the moment I clambered onto the bus this morning to the instant I walk off this ferry is now a sum of all parts, the day now a new facet of my character (well perhaps that is a bit much but you get my drift). Reflecting on everything that has happened today, I could not have planned for - nor wanted - anything different. Except perhaps less rain. And fewer sweat stains. And, like, way fewer children in my wine bar. #stevesydneyproblems.
It is bizarre to consider that the well-earned feast of medium-rare Kangaroo at the historical Rocks Cafe across the quay is by all accounts the denouement for day two. Indeed, those who know me, or have at minimum perused my previous Aussie ramblings at least once, would be quick to point out - though perhaps not out loud in fear of encouraging my evangelical love of this dish - that this should have been the highlight. But alas the luscious beasty had stiff competition today, and further more although the meal is magnificent in its own right it is simply not the best Roo I've had. To be fair I feel that I've had it enough now to be able to judge.
I drift for a bit through the Saturday night hooliganism that downtown Sydney has contracted as a result of the immense crowds of Vivid mixing with the staggering number of bars, pubs, patios and restaurants that adorn every street block, alleyway and arcade of the CBD. Even large swaths of normally functional sidewalks have been annexed with temporary outdoor watering holes. There simply is no shortage places you can stand more than a few paces away from some establishment whose signage not-so-subtly begs the question "why are you not in here getting drunk?"
Even from the relative comfort of my room the distant screeching, whooping, hollering and occasional cacophony of what sounds like something that sounds quite smash-able irrevocably being smashed suggest the tolerance level of otherwise abhorrent behaviour has been artificially lifted a touch, if for no other reason than what is assuredly thinly-stretched resources. That, or maybe this is what a "fun" city is supposed to sound like in the throws of nightly celebration.
I'm really not the right person to ask. I'm too busy finishing my laundry.