The fifth day of my adventure in Melbourne began like all the others; leaping out of bed at 8:00am, showering, throwing some clothes on and keenly leaving the motel by 9:00am to explore the various locales and laneways of old Melbourne town. On the agenda for Sunday was; a bracing walk down Lygon Street and a trip to the ocean-side suburb of St. Kilda.
Lygon Street is better known as Little Italy, not because it is overrun with Italians, but because it is overrun with Italian restaurants. No matter where you look, there is a restaurant offering everything from pizza and pasta to pasta and pizza. It is a street I used to know well, in my old pre-breakdown life, and like Brunswick Street, a street that is now a constant reminder of my abusive girlfriend. But, as with my efforts to walk Brunswick Street without a panic attack, I was determined to stroll down this street without anxiety and trauma overpowering my mind. The time I chose to do this was instrumental. Early morning on a Sunday is probably the quietest Lygon Street will ever be. It is, after all, an evening street. During the day there is little to do, as all the eateries are closed, opening only for lunch and dinner. So customers are few and far between. But like Brunswick Street, as I wandered the pathways of the street, I realised that once again the hipsters had taken over. Independent shops and eateries had been replaced with trendy chain stores and franchises. The soul of the street that I once loved had disappeared and been replaced with hipster-chic.
For example. On the corner of Lygon Street and Elgin Street once stood a second-hand bookstore called Book Affair. It was heralded as the largest second-hand bookstore in Victoria, and had two huge floors overflowing with books and tomes for your literary enjoyment. Book Affair, in a past life, was my favourite bookstore in Melbourne and I spent many – many – hours perusing the shelves and filling my bookshelf with their ware. But now it has gone. Replaced with an Insurance broker (as if the world needs any more of those) and a trendy stationary store selling overpriced merchandise. To say I mourned the loss of this once great bookstore was an understatement. I felt its loss deep within me and had to settle my emotions with a lengthy sit down on a conveniently placed bench. It truly felt like I had lost a significant chapter of my life, such was my love of this store.
Fortunately, the hipsterfication of Lygon Street had not claimed Readings. Readings is one of the oldest independent booksellers in Melbourne, and houses a vast collection of books, music and DVDs, many being hard to find items and those imported from overseas. Readings, in my pre-breakdown life, was the place I would go for Scottish folk music, it was the place I would go for interesting literature, and the place I would go for rare DVDs. It is a shop I have always loved with my whole heart and a shop I could always find something I wanted to purchase. And this visit was no different. A book that collected the short fiction of Alasdair Gray was lusted after, although not purchased as it was close to $50 (nearly three times my daily budget) and a DVD copy of Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet was lusted after, although not purchased as it was close to $30 (nearly twice my daily budget). So I left Readings without purchasing anything; even though my whole being was crying out to buy something! I don’t think I’ve ever shown such restraint in this majestic retailer.
After leaving Readings I decided to meander through my old neighbourhood to see what had changed. After Louise and I broke up I moved into a boarding house in Fitzroy, lodged neatly between Lygon Street and Brunswick Street. It was a pretty shocking place to live, and the landlord was featured in the newspaper as being the worst landlord in Melbourne, but I loved living so close to my favourite streets in Melbourne. As I walked the streets, the memories came flying back; memories of being attacked and abused by my abuser; memories of hanging out and chilling with friends, memories that, for better or worse, I don’t want to lose. The suburban streets hadn’t changed much. Sure, new apartment blocks had sprung up and shops gone the way of the dodo, but it was all pretty much as I remembered. Certainly, the hipsterfication had infiltrated this part of the world (my old launderette, which was once a hovel of a place containing only washers and dryers now featured a funky cafe and bright, breezy decoration) but it wasn’t as severe and noticeable as other parts of the city.
I ended up on Brunswick Street, and spent half an hour perusing some of the shops and revisiting the Grub Street Bookstore. My Readings restraint evaporated and I ended up buying a book (Stonemouth, by Iain Banks) as all books were 50% off due to the shop closing down and selling up. Another blow to the heart and another reason I hate Kindles so much. Sure, they’re valuable for people who have trouble reading small print and those who don’t want to carry a small library around with them, but they’re destroying all the wonderful, independent, second-hand book sellers who make the world such a beautiful, magical place.
Brunswick Street led me to Smith Street which led me back to the wonder of Fitzroy Gardens, where I spent an hour chilling amidst the trees, watching happy little children scream and bound about with carefree abandon. I then wandered into the city to catch a tram to St. Kilda.
And what did I find once I reached this seaside locale? Yep. You guessed it. The hipsters had taken over. Acland Street, which was once a collection of independent stores and funky little bakeries, was now a hideous assortment of trendy, upmarket retailers and franchised food stores selling overpriced, “gluten-free” products. I used to love Acland Street. It was one of the first streets I came to know when I arrived in Australia way back in 2002. But I hated it now. I truly, utterly despised it. I spent much of my time ruing the day the damned hipsters took over. How dare they destroy the hearts of suburbs with their sheep-like mentality and grandiose, holier than thou attitudes.
The beach, however, was blissful. I hadn’t seen the ocean since I was in Scotland in 2009 and spent nearly two hours roaming the beach, paddling in the water and watching the happy little children scream and bound about with carefree abandon. It felt so good to be beside the ocean again, felt so good to feel the cool salt water lap around my toes. It’s one of the things I miss most whilst living in the landlocked town of Wodonga. The ocean is in my blood, always has been, and it just feels wrong to live so far away from it.
After perusing the artistic wares on offer at the St. Kilda Esplanade market, I boarded a tram for a return trip to the city. Unlike the tram I caught to St. Kilda, I became a little overwhelmed on my return. I don’t deal well with public transport. Buses. Trams. Trains. I don’t like the hideous amount of people crammed into a tiny space. I don’t like control being taken away from me. I don’t like stop-start movement of these methods of transportation. So as the tram trundled along St. Kilda Road I found my anxiety rising for the first time since being in Melbourne. It wasn’t helped by the person sitting next to me noisily chewing gum; something which set my misophonia off to startling, uncomfortable degrees. So I alighted the tram early, choosing to walk my blistered feet a couple of kilometers rather than deal with the anxiety that was overtaking me.
By now I was pretty tired. My feet were sore. And I was somewhat overwhelmed with all the memories that had been bombarding me all day. I was proud of my achievements – Lygon Street, Brunswick Street, two tram journeys – but knew it would be best to return to the motel for a night of relaxation and reflection.
For dinner I chose to have a Subway Veggie Delight sandwich, which I munched down on whilst watching a double bill of Spider-man and Spider-man 2, which I found playing on an obscure television channel. On the agenda for Monday was the (much longed for) Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium and an evening spent enjoying the city after dark; surely two activities that would ensure the day be something exceptional! :)