Short on Water, Not on Flavor: Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 2007

Melbourne’s fountains stand dry. Its botanical garden tells at just about every exhibit what steps are taken to conserve water. Australia’s in a bit of a drought.
Newspapers and talk shows have constant reports on whether efforts to improve water supply are sound or flawed.
Melbourne’s big museum even has put together a “water trail.” A brochure highlights how art depicts the importance of water in works at the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian state that includes Melbourne. The water trail includes an Aztec statue of the rain god Tlaloc from around 1400 along with Chinese, Indian and European art. It’s a clever way to link objects in the galleries to what’s happening in Melbourne today, and a nice use of the collection.
It reminded me of how the Brooklyn Museum set up a little exhibit of its own works in front of the Star Wars:The Magic of Myth traveling show it hosted in 2002. The Brooklyn Museum’s little warm-up exhibit included things like ancient Greek pottery illustrating the perpetual story of hero struggling and then triumphing in time.
The Victoria museum did its water project with government-owned utilities.
The brochure’s back page tells of the museum’s own efforts to conserve water, such as having efficient taps.

My husband and I enjoyed downtown Melbourne. We liked the 19th and early 20th century buildings and the grounds around the War Memorial, from which the lion shown below perches.

We liked the discount store that had constant announcements on a loudspeaker about its products and how tenuous its lease was. Each night, we sat on benches in the nice little park along the Yarra River and watched sunset. Here’s a picture David took at dusk.

Heart of Curry

And, we loved the food in Melbourne. On Valentine’s Day, David painted a heart in sauce on my lunch. We were having a favorite of ours, a South Indian crepe of sorts, filled with seasoned potatoes and vegetables, called masala dosa. This was our second visit in less than a week to the Curry Lobby.


Australia’s fun Eatability.com site gives the particulars for the Curry Lobby as “Level Ground, Shop 5, 227 Collins St…Phone (03) 9650 0900.”
For breakfast some days, we had egg tarts from a Chinatown bakery. These are little flakey pastry shells filled with a light sweet yellow custard and about $U.S. 1. We ate them on the rooftop terrace of our hotel, enjoying free tea and coffee.
Other days, we went to a little alley lined with cafes in the business district. We found a place offering raisin toast and a beverage for about U.S.$3, quite a bargain in those parts. David’s coffee each day was a perfect mix of foamy steamed milk and good strong coffee. My Earl Grey tea had a good dose of citrusy bergamot taste to it.

Market, Neighborhoods

Near downtown is Melbourne’s Victoria Market, where there was a drum jam session going on the evening we visited.
The market had dozens of foodstands, and people selling soap, earrings and crafts. David and I wished we’d been there there during the day to see the produce and meat stands. At home in Washington, D.C., we go to our own smaller Eastern Market. People relax and chat with each other when buying their vegetables in markets, something that doesn’t happen in supermarkets.
Our tours around Melbourne’s neighborhoods got us a good Vietnamese dinner in the Richmond section. We had less luck in St. Kilda. We hit that collection of lovely homes and good shops send bakeries on the wrong day for us.
There was a giant music festival,
bringing thousands of people to the town. Strong winds whipped that day, ruling out a swim and lazing on its pretty beach.
Still, we got to see its streets filled with lovely bungalow style houses and its local botanical garden. In the Fitzroy neighborhood, there were some grand Victorian-looking buildings. We chatted with the man running a good Malaysian restaurant in Fitzroywhere we ate. He was a native of Penang, a Malaysian island David and I visited in 2006 and loved.
We wound up talking about how few people outside of Australia know the capital is Canberra. Most people think it’s Sydney or Melbourne, he said, giving it the correct Aussie pronunciation of Melburn.
David and I talked after about that, about how few people outside Australia would say Melbourne. Our restauranteur was proud of Malaysia and spoke of frequent visits to it. Yet, he had thoroughly adopted his second home, where he lived for about two decades, that he had taken on the view of a Melbournian.

Handy Geologist

We ventured out to Sorrento to see what the beaches looked like on the other side of Melbourne’s broad harbor. They were like none I have ever visited, even the not-so spectacular one close to Melbourne’s regional public transit.
Waves crashed against a long stretch of rock. There were pools in the rock for swimming. They were filled with clear water. David and I wondered what kind of rock this was. A few minutes later, we were talking with a nice woman in the pool and asked if she happened to know about the rocks. She laughed and said we should talk to her dad, a geologist.
She brought him back to the pool. He explained about how grains of sand, time and wind had formed these great rocks of sandstone.

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