Friday, October 01, 2004

Worlds of Foam and Curtains of Syrup

After a successful Sydney gig and some follow-up celebration at the Town Hall Hotel in Newtown, I made my drowsy way to the airport on Botany Bay, fell asleep in the departures lounge, and woke up in time to get on an early flight to Melbourne on snack-less, movie-less (but cheap) Virgin Blue Airlines.

Melbourne was just as I had left it - cool in both major senses of the word. The Fringe Festival was on, and in addition it was Footy Finals weekend; there is possibly no better time to be in Melbourne (as long as you don't mind wearing a sweater). This year, though, the Finals frenzy and the mayhem which normally grips the city, apparently, was lessened by the lamentable fact that neither team in the final was from Melbourne, the origin and traditional home of Ozzie Rules Football and (still) home to the majority of the teams in the league. It was the Brisbane Lions - three-time champions who have at least some connection to the city as the Lions used to be the team of Fitzroy, a Melbourne suburb - versus the Port Adelaide Power, an upstart 8-year-old team who have never won the premiership and have a silly lightning bolt for a mascot. Followers of Worldwide Flux will note that they have appeared here before, and may be disappointed, as were my friends in Fitzroy, to learn that they won.

I watched some of the game at Sean's house in Fitzroy/Collingwood, where a tight-knit contingent of supporters of the Lions had assembled. Which team are you rooting for? I asked them. I was reminded that it was probably better not to use that term to describe one's affiliation with a men's football club. Which team do you support is a less-easily-misinterpreted choice of words. As the game wound down and it became clear that Brisbane's winning streak would end, the room grew grumpy and despondent. Let's go out and punch somebody, said my usually pacific friend.

One of my Melbourne friends, Emily, had a much better vantage point for the game: on the field, right next to the close-up camera that is positioned to capture all those crushing collisions between players as they literally jump on each others' shoulders to catch the ball. Emily is a part-time mascot: she gets to dress up in foam and fake fur on a regular basis and strut her mute antics in front of crazed sports lovers. Although usually she plays the Collingwood Magpie, during the final she was the St.Kilda Saint, a grinning man in robes with a plastic halo suspended above his cartoony prosthetic head, which has mesh across the mouth for Emily to (partially) see through. "My world was a world of foam," she later told me. She participated in a race between all the Melbourne-based mascots, and if you were in the live audience you know that she came fourth. What you don't know, though - I do because she told me - and I'm sorry if I shock you by saying this, what you don't know is that the race was FIXED.

I could have gone out after the game and started fights or joined in with those underway, but instead I chose to go to see a butoh performance. It was actually the second time I was seeing it - my friend Alys generously gave me two free tickets - but I enjoyed it even more the second time around. I won't try to describe it because it may not sound like much, but if you know butoh you know there was some very slow movement, and this was followed by some rather fast movement, and you may not be surprised to hear that some clothing was removed and non-verbal noises were emitted. The overall effect, though, was really quite moving.

The next few days I spent travelling the Great Ocean Road, to the west and south of Melbourne. I walked among the ferns on the floor of a rainforest of giant mountain ash. Then I walked among the treetops on a steel catwalk built some 40 metres above the ground. I spotted a wallaby in the car's headlights and an echidna on the side of the road. I strolled along the beach by moonlight and slept in a fake-wood-panelled caravan in a caravan park. I was attacked by a voracious but friendly flock of rosellas and lorikeets - vibrant red and green parrots who made amazingly quick work of the sunflower seeds in my hand. I went for a swim in crashing waves that resembled snowbanks in size and temperature. I took touristy photos of the Twelve Apostles, huge free-standing maritime rock formations formerly known as the Sow and Piglets. I don't know why they changed the name.

Like all good things my days of shivering in Melbourne came to an end and I reluctantly flew to the sunny warmth and expansive beachs of the north. Currently I am in Brisbane, where tonight I appeared on a panel with Jane Urquhart, Austin Clarke, and Isabel Huggan, moderated by Australian Gillian Whitlock. The topic: Behind the Maple Syrup Curtain. Basically, we revealed to our unsuspecting Queensland audience some of the closely guarded secrets of What It Means To Be Canadian. They did not seem too flabbergasted, curiously. But nevertheless they seemed to want to buy our books and have them signed. The Brisbanites are beautiful and mysterious, and their city has a beguilingly sinuous river, called appropriately the Brisbane River. On Sunday I will perform a couple of pieces at a session with Australian poets, which is called "Poetry Live!" I will try to live up to that exclamation mark.

Let me know if you have any questions.


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