"My one regret in life is that I am not someone else." - Woody Allen
|Inside a Melbourne Tram|
He was the Melbourne 200-City-Bulleen bus driver and he had just been forced to brake for a man in double dreadlocks who had walked in front of the bus to get to its door. Unfazed and unsconned, Dreadlocks swiped his ticket and sat down in front of me.
I'd realized the bus driver was a wise guy, when I'd gotten onto the bus and asked whether it went down Johnston Street, which was not far away. "Yes next turn I make is into Elgin Street," he had replied. Adding, "Elgin Street turns into Johnston. Then I turn onto Studley Park Road and go left at Princess, right into Willsmere, left into Kirkby Street. Then I get to Bulleen road and make a right at Thompson's Road, another right at Manningham and then it's right at Williams Road and then I get off and go to the pub for a beer".
I thanked him and smiled. But it was his comment to the nearly-sconned man that got to me. And I think, that's what did it. That's what triggered the memories and the longing.
The laconic irreverence of the stereotypical Australian. Had I heard the same sentence spoken by an actor in an Australian film, or in an ad for Fosters I would have found it over the top; at worse embarrassing, at best ridiculous. But coming from the horse's mouth as it were, it was reassuring. The best and worst of Australia was apparently alive and well.
|Australians at Play - Belgium Beer Garden, Melbourne|
The image of Australians sitting in sidewalk cafés - unhurried, cell phones hidden from view, conversing sans-FaceBook - is engraved in my mind. My vision - although I know it is not representative - of "life back home. Nevertheless it is stamped there. I tend to be like that - easily conditioned, impressionable.
A hundred years ago I was crossing the land border from Pakistan to India. I was leaving a country where I'd had to cover most of my body and a fair bit of my head whenever I ventured out. After looking through my passport the Pakistani border guy motioned me to move on. "Where to?" I asked. "To hell," he replied, pointing to India. I walked on.
My first vision of India then was of a bunch of brightly-colored-sari clad Indian woman sitting on a cart being driven by oxen. I remember distinctly. Their saris were yellow, blue and red, bordered with gold patterns. Their faces were uncovered. They were talking and laughing. I was in India! I was not in hell! Darkness turned to light.
|Australian for Politics|
In much the same way, Australia evokes images of warm days relaxing in beer gardens or dining el fresco, of bus drivers unafraid of saying what they think, of lazy hazy days.
Representative or not it doesn't matter. The images are planted firmly in my brain - a yardstick by which other societies will be unjustly no doubt, judged.
New York - you are pretty good - but you are not, my Australia.