Pleasant Perth

It’s nice to start a holiday with a mate driving you to the airport, then bumping into another mate as soon as you get there. Just an hour after I’d stepped out of the office clutching my laptop bag and backpack, I was already at a pub downing Peronis with Marcin and Kelly, light-headed with the sensation of my complete and newfound freedom.

The flight was uneventful, which I guess is a good thing for flights. I was seated next to an Asian lady who arrived 10 minutes after me, sat down, looked at the chapter heading on the page I was reading (which happened to be ‘When You’re Married, Your Wife Sees Your Penis’), looked at me, then closed her eyes and pretty much stayed that way until we got to Perth. I read several more chapters of ‘I Suck At Girls’ until it became more depressing than funny, had an apple juice, listened to some Falco, and a good couple of hours into the flight finally glanced at my watch to find out it wasn’t actually two hours in at all, but 35 minutes. Much of the rest of the flight I spent doing nothing in particular – observing the passengers waiting for the toilet, watching bits of Dark Shadows over someone’s shoulder, and trying to ignore the over-the-top gayness of the all-male flight crew, who reeked of chick’s perfume, exchanged endless wry smiles and remarked how great it was that “it’s just us guys on the flight” – a sentiment I can’t say I shared. Eventually though the plane hit the tarmac, everyone shuffled out, and at about midnight Melbourne time – 9pm Perth time – I was at my parents’ modest but charmingly rustic home in Woodbridge, consuming fresh ham, bread and beer in the finest Polish tradition.

It goes without saying that Perth isn’t London or Tokyo. There are no world wonders or celebrated cultures here. But it is extremely clean, tidy, easy-to-navigate and just damn pleasant. Everything looks like it’s just had a fresh lick of paint and where it’s not painted, like the bricks were laid yesterday. There are trees and birds and parks everywhere to an extent that puts our own ‘Garden State’ to shame – even my parents’ street ends in an untamed wetlands reserve with a creek running through it, like something out of a Mark Twain novel. Perth also has a knack for clever and artistic retro-fitting, combining the old, peeling and rusty with the slick, new and shiny in a way that not only seems to work well functionally but is aesthetically pleasing. Most of the sculptures I’ve seen around town are likewise made out of bits of recycled stuff – pipes, tins, sheets of corrugated iron etc – yet are far more interesting and meaningful than the soulless, plasticky shit sprinkled around Melbourne… complimenting rather than contrasting offensively with their surroundings. Wherever you go, Perth gives the impression of being inherently cohesive, thoughtfully planned and lovingly maintained, even if there’s nothing in particular to make you go ‘whoa!’… a down-to-earth, picturesque city full of green spaces and shimmering waterfronts that, to be honest, seems a lot more liveable if less exciting than Melbourne. Another way to put it would be that if Australian cities were women, Perth would be a relatively petite, unassuming but wholesome natural beauty – in contrast to the flashy, big-boobed and sexed-up glamour girls on the east coast. And I do like my unassuming natural beauties.

Perhaps as a result, the people here are more relaxed and friendly as well – much more like country than city folk. At the Midland Farmers Market where I had ‘kangaroo on stick’ and ‘crocodile on stick’ for lunch, complete strangers would make comment to one another while picking their fruit and veg: “How’s this bloody weather eh?” “Any idea where the scales are mate?” One dude who looked like a bushranger remarked to no-one in particular, while sticking mushrooms up his nose, “I can smell these mushrooms. They’re good. If mushrooms don’t have a smell they won’t have a taste either.” At one point an older man offered a little Asian mother in short sleeves his jacket. Which reminds me – you’re always seeing racially-mixed couples here; particularly white guys/Asian ladies – something I realized you hardly ever see in Melbourne despite the far greater number of, well, white guys and Asian ladies. A final observation on Perth folks that gets me, as a Melburnian programmed for rush and impatience, is that at boom gates, drivers never take off as soon as the actual gates lift, but sit there obediently until the bells and lights themselves have ceased – like L-platers on a driving test trying to make the best impression.

Above all it’s just nice to be with parents and eat healthy home-cooked food – fuckloads of it, including bigos, my own brand of pesto- and anchovy-smothered pizza, and some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had. On Sunday night we went to a German restaurant which isn’t so much a restaurant as a domestic European dinner experience: You step into a warm brick house full of antique knick-knacks and framed watercolours and are greeted by a short, soft-spoken German man – the younger of a middle-aged gay couple who run the place by themselves – sit down at  whichever table you want, and basically wait for food to come out while listening to crackly vinyls of old German songs… one of which my parents immediately recognized from their childhood in Communist Poland, when it was used repeatedly in war films to signal “Here comes the evil Kraut.” There are no menus and no specials boards – basically you don’t get to choose what you’re served – but when the evening’s offerings are straight-out-of-the-oven bread, thick chicken soup, pork schnitzel with potato salad, and Black Forest cake, who could care less. Sure enough it was all delicious and, again, incredibly fresh – once a nearby group were served their helpings of steaming crumbed goodness, we could hear the cook in the kitchen smashing raw pork fillets for the next tableful, i.e. us. No pre-prepared shit bunged into a microwave here.

We spent this afternoon in Fremantle – for those who don’t know (as I didn’t), ‘Freo’ is a coastal suburb of Perth that’s probably best compared to St Kilda – full of streetside cafes, stalls selling beads and other hipster/hippy paraphernalia, and yes, hip young people and their hip partners. What makes it better than St Kilda is that there’s quaint colonial-era architecture around every corner, made largely of ocean wind-blasted sandstone reminiscent of Violet Crumble, which glows yellow in the sun and made the late spring afternoon seem all the more radiant. The throngs of young people, Edwardian facades and pedestrianized areas actually gave me a strong deja vu of sitting at Krakow’s market square at one point – a lovely thing, and not one, I have to say, I’m ever likely to experience in any of Melbourne’s trendy hot-spots.

Anyway that’s enough writing for one entry. I’m gonna close off with something I discovered thanks to a scrawl in a toilet cubicle at Fremantle’s Notre Dame University. The scrawl consisted of the second paragraph, and when I Googled it back home, found that it was part of a larger and rather nice bit of poetry:

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he realized that he was not his car, he realized that he was not his job, he was not his phone, his desk or his shoes. Like a boat cut from its anchor, he’d begin to drift.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – he took the wind for a map, he took the sky for a clock, and he set off with no destination. He was never lost.

“There once was a man who became unstuck in the world – instead of hooks or a net, he threw himself into the sea. He was never thirsty.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – with a Polaroid camera he made pictures of all the people he met, and then he gave all the pictures away. He would never forget their faces.

“There was once a man who became unstuck in the world – and each person he met became a little less stuck themselves. He traveled only with himself and he was never alone.

“There was once a man who’d become unstuck in the world – and he traveled around like a leaf in the wind until he reached the place where he started out. His car, his job, his phone, his shoes – everything was right where he’d left it. Nothing had changed, and yet he felt excited to have arrived here – as if this were the place he’d been going all along.”

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