Yesterday was a glorious day. Up there among those days that drip with nostalgia while you’re still experiencing them. Kyla and I slept in all morning, then got up to an apartment full of light and heat and sun, and decided to go to the beach. So we threw on floaty summer dresses over our swimsuits, and took the tram down to Luna Park. It was so hot; one of those Fall days that refuses to play by the rules, and instead is a throw back to the Best of Summer hits, and everyone walks around in a sort of daze at the unexpectedness of it all.
We lay on the sand, getting gritty where it stuck to our sweat, reading novels borrowed from the library, sunglasses sliding down slippery noses. The waves were non-existent, and there was a breeze that was body temperature. Finally, when the sun began to go down, we gathered our things and headed to the grocery store, bought ingredients for tacos, and cold cider. Went to Reece’s giant old house in St Kilda, with the wooden floorboards and high ceilings, and cooked dinner while Luke and Reece finished studying. Then we sat around outside lazily, feasting, laughing, still sweating. When the sun had just gone down, we decided to go see the penguins come to sleep on the rocks by the pier, so Reece grabbed his red-light head lamp, and Luke grabbed his towel, and Kyla and I carried nothing.
It was still so warm in the dark. Everything was sticky, and the penguin sounds were marvellous, and we lay on our bellies and stuck our heads under the boardwalk to see them, and spotted them hopping around, just tiny fairy penguins, and we cooed and oo-ed and ahh-ed. After a while though, there’s only so much watching little shapes in the dark do not much more than flap a wing, or scratch a head, so we walked back to the end of the pier, and decided to go night time swimming. So Kyla guarded our clothes on a grassy hill, and the 3 of us ran straight down the beach and into the water and dived in and swam and gasped and splashed and pushed and shivered, and eventually came out covered in salt water and glowing with health and happiness in the dark.
We walked back to the house, swinging our shoes in our hands, with not a single goose bump, skin tightening as it dried and hair forming Medusa-esque cords in the night wind. How can I explain the feeling of complete contentment? Of pinching leaves off trees and smelling them in your hand, of brushing arms and hands and shuddering a bit at the clammy, moist warmth of sea-water skin? Or bare feet pounding the pavement confidently, dancingly, swingingly, or wearing nothing underneath your clothes?
February 26, 2014
We have started to settle in to our beautiful little home. Multiple trips to the Salvation Army combined with the kindness and generosity of our friends Sue and Vlad (who on our first night here showed up with duvets, towels, sheets, plates, bowls, glasses, cutlery, etc.) have imbued the place with a certain worn, but lovingly decorated, charm. Every night that we sleep in our own beds, in our own rooms, in our own apartment, is like a gift. We sleep deeply and for long, restful hours. Our hearts and our minds are at peace.
We have jobs. Kyla is working a block away at Trunk, a large, popular Italian restaurant with hip, beautiful staff, and I am at The Mess Hall, which is 2 blocks away, and is a teensy tiny light-filled café with a one page menu and the best fresh pasta in the city.
Berri and the heat seems like a bad dream, a shimmering, red and gold and sweaty dream. I remember that we would play these little games while we picked, mind games, tricks, teasing. One was presenting someone else with your best fruit- the biggest, reddest, juiciest piece you picked, and you would just give it away- or more specifically, hand it to someone with a serious face and an air of humility. It was a good way to not get sucked in by the work, to remember that it was just fruit, not a competition.
We would throw hard, dried up fruit at each other’s heads or butts. And rotten, dripping, squishy ones that would explode on impact on someone’s ankle, calf, shoulder, covering the recipient in a pungent, fermenting juice that would dry sticky and attract flies.
Another one, a little fantasy I would indulge in, was that when I went to empty my bucket of fruit into the bin under the supervision of Roy, I would pretend to be an Aztec, bringing an offering of gold or jewels to a foreign idol. Kyla admitted that she had been imagining the exact same thing.
On the weekend, Melbourne had its second “White Night”, an all-night city-wide party. From 7pm until 7am, bars and restaurants and museums stayed open, and there was live music and performers in the streets. All the main buildings in the city were lit up by these incredibly colourful lights, and down back alleys strange movies were being projected high on the brick walls, and there were hordes of people everywhere. Along with our friends Nate and Daniel (both native Melbournians), we stayed awake until 4am, eating good food, drinking good beer, and dancing to wonderful music, along with 400,000 other people. The obvious feelings of good will and joy coming from our surroundings made us fall in love with the city a little bit more- which is almost impossible, seeing as how both of us are pretty head over heels already.
We haven’t been here long enough yet to agree or disagree with the magazines and the surveys that say Melbourne is the most “liveable” city in the world yet. But there is something special about it. We’ve only been in Australia for 2 months, and I can already say in complete sincerity that it’s changed Kyla’s and mine characters, and for the better. I’m slightly afraid of how drastic those changes will be after a year, and whether or not we’ll even be recognizable by the time we emerge on the other side. But here’s to trust: that even if we are changed completely, it will be into something better than we were before we came here.
Andrea + Kyla
February 18, 2014
Our life has been broken down into very simple building blocks. One heavy stone after the other has to be coarsely mined and exhaustively extracted, carefully stacked on top of one another:
Find a social network.
So. Good news. We have found an apartment, signed a long lease, and move in on Friday. It is the brightest, sunniest, cleanest little place in the downtown core, and we fought 2 other couples for it and won, which makes us the happiest girls around. We have also, thanks once again to the power of the Internet, started to form social connections, and actually have plans during the week and weekend for lunches, and dinners, and drinks. Yay!
It’s also right between Chinatown and the Greek district, so we are set for food for life.
Now for jobs to pay for our exorbitant rent, and we are golden, Pony Boy. Life is starting to come together.
Andrea + Kyla
February 14, 2014
As soon as I got on the bus from Berri to Adelaide, it felt as though my old self immediately started to come trickling back in to my body. That horrid, nasty, dark cloud of pessimism and unhappiness that had been following me since I touched down in Melbourne a month and a half ago lifted, and I couldn’t stop grinning as wave after wave of happiness and joy and optimism washed over me. I was free. I was on the road. I was going to find an apartment, and a job, and I was going to smash into this scene with careless grace and a constant laugh.
In Adelaide we met LeeRoy, who, by the power of random Gumtree ads, had offered to drive us to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road, in exchange for nothing more than beer and conversation. He even had a tent we could use. And a blow-up mattress. And food, and a stove, and a bike, and blankets, and a slight tendency to be a bit racist. Spending a picturesque week with him gave us a great insight into the minds of young Australians, and the conclusion we came to is that beneath their shells of hardness and strong opinions lurks generous hearts and the inability to pass up an opportunity to be a knight in shining armour.
And today, Valentines Day, we arrived back in Melbourne. We are staying at a cheerless, charmless, grungy hostel in a fantastic location, and already we are arranging apartment viewings for the weekend. Being back in the city is like a dream come true. All of the people and the rush and the smells and even the dirt and the traffic. There are glittering things, and foreign food, and you have to be fast and on your guard and constantly weaving in and out of tourists. I am in love, this Valentines Day, not with a person, but with an idea, a concept- with not only the city, but with the people in it, and with my self in it- the concept that a city can be like a mirror, that it can reflect back basically whatever you want to see. It’s glorious.
Wish us luck this week as we search for a place to call home for a while, and then as we look for jobs. At least we have each other, and our pluckiness, and an ability to laugh at ourselves and to eat discount chocolate.
With hearts overflowing with love to you all,
Andrea + Kyla
February 8, 2014
It’s official- we’re leaving Berri on Monday. I had been planning on leaving this week anyway, and on Friday Kyla woke up with a huge allergic reaction all over her face and arms, and so she decided to come with me. Yes, it feels slightly as though we are giving up, but I prefer to think of it as flexibility- we are like the houses that best survive earthquakes, and trees that survive storms. What are our other options? To cry, to give up and go home, to soldier on miserably…or to bend, change our plans, maneuver through difficulties with laughter and kindness and understanding.
To be honest, I’m breathing constant sighs of relief. I can’t wait to get out of here, to find an apartment, to decorate and be clean and cool and find a job, to see underground shows and drink a pint of beer, to go to art gallery openings and late night parties and to ride a bike through a park, and to possibly even have my own room. CULTURE, I’M CRAVING CULTURE.
We are planning on taking a few days to explore the Great Ocean Road between Adelaide and Melbourne. It will be an adventure. I’m thinking of having that tattooed on my forehead- “Andrea the Adventuress”. It’s been incredibly difficult so far, but if anyone can do this, we can.
So. Onwards and upwards and forwards and backwards and sideways…but moving, constantly moving. We’ll let you all know what we get up to next.
There is a Steven King story I’ve read about how a man travels back in time to stop the JFK assassination. He spends some time in a small mining town, planning, and the longer he stays the more he gets a sense of creeping dread that the inhabitants and the very town itself are out to kill him.
Please bear with me, and let me explain that this is how we’re starting to feel about Berri.
We had heard that the people here hate backpackers, mainly because we’re foreigners, and we take jobs from the locals- to which we all say, If they worked as hard as we work, they can have the bloody job. Personally, Kyla and I had zero evidence for this- the Australians we worked with were lovely, and took us out every weekend for BBQs, and Lazertag, and just chilling with a beer. But this past weekend Kyla and I have had at least 3 incidents, incurring with more and more frequency, until we too have to agree that yes, Berri hates us.
Every time we enter a supermarket the men stare with unabashed desire in their eyes, and the women glare openly with undisguised hatred. Even this afternoon after work as we sat in the air-conditioned shopping centre, dirty and sweaty and probably smelling, I overheard an obese and tattooed young woman complaining to her punkish boyfriend (who had grinned creepily at me) about how Inconsiderate and rude those backpackers were, sitting outside and taking up room (but with many more swear words).
Here’s the thing. I am a nice person, and so is Kyla. But our patience is wearing thin, and sooner rather than later I fear that one of us is going to snap, and say something rude back. I’ve never been in a fight before, and would probably be destroyed, but it’s exhausting to keep on laughing it off. It feels like we are in the Steven King story, and it’s only going to get worse until Berri actually kills us, or runs us out of town.
On another note, it’s another heat wave this week, and the infamous Australian wildlife is making itself known- a redback spider in the my bucket yesterday, a whitetail spider on my nectarine today, and also was warned to make a lot of noise in the weeds this afternoon because they had spotted a brown snake heading in to the patch that morning. See links below for how venomous they all are:
Kyla decided to step up to the plate and wrote this post while I cooked a slightly weird and horrible dinner that left us reeking of 6 cloves of garlic- enjoy (more than our roommates will our breath tomorrow morning)…
Some days can be a little too sweet and serene. Maybe it’s the endless hours of lounging by the sunlit pool or in shady hammocks or even up in a secluded tree house. As simple and lovely as life gets in the Riverlands, perfection day in and day out is somewhat dull. So this morning at our friend Heather’s suggestion we went, along with Leah and Audrey, on an excursion from Berri to another nearby small town called Loxton.
Out of necessity Heather and Leah had hastily bought a lemon a few weeks back, affectionately nicknamed “Suzy” or “Shitbox” (dependent on the vehicles ever changing disposition), to get themselves to and from jobs. We started out just after noon by pushing the stalled car down the hill from the hostel in a vain attempt to start the engine. No luck. Fortunately not long after this predicament emerged, Kai (the one who tries to see us naked- despite which he is a gentleman) came to our rescue to give us a boost. We were shortly on our way.
Loxton is a quick 15 minute drive from Berri. It was the perfect escape. A scenic drive through the scrub and although not the most exhilarating sight to behold, the quaint town with wide green lawns soon had us charmed. We arrived and immediately stumbled upon the Tree of Knowledge; years listed and posted at their designated depth, recounting the floods that have raged from the river Murray over the decades. We were briefly entertained, but soon hunger set in and we ventured off to begin our picnic. Not long after we had piled ourselves back into the car and made our way up the hill towards the grocery store we realized poor old Suzy wasn’t going to make it without our help. How entertained the locals must have been to see 5 young foreign girls jumping in and out of the beater car to push it through a certain intersection or out of parking stalls. I certainly saw a few townsfolk have a good chuckle at our expense, but they were kind hearted and eager to lend a hand.
So pleased to finally have our lunches, we seated ourselves at a bench beside the river where we were assaulted by birds from all angles; hungry for our breads and cakes. The cautious, but entirely ravenous creatures caused a few shrieks and laughs as they hopped and swooped toward us cawing on their enforcements. Regardless of the minute challenges of the afternoon, we had an enjoyable escape. It was unbelievably pleasant to have change of scenery and chat about our many varied life experiences with differing points of view. How lucky we are to be challenged in finding simple pleasures and taking in these freedoms.
Kyla + Andrea