26 September 2010

Vantage Points

I arrived back in Sydney on Wednesday to find a city in bloom, puffy with colour in the grips of early springtime. Plants that just a few weeks ago were lanky army-green things are now sagging with flowers. The bok choi I have in pots in the back garden had bolted and are on the brink of dropping their seeds. I'm coming up on my third spring here and it's become obvious that springtime hits Sydney like a brick. Wintertime consists of a few months of rainy dreariness with some off days of cool clarity, but then a week comes around that changes everything, and the plants respond like they've been chomping at the bit to get going since May.

Still loopy from my 1.5-day journey from Manchester's Piccadilly Station, showing up in this natural carnival was intensely confusing. I had left a winter-weary Sydney to find an infernal, sun-blasted Atlanta, then a pleasant London. Early fall in Manchester reminded me of nothing more than the depths of the antipodean wintertime, with its blustery rain. Then I got off the plane to find this. Can you blame me for being a bit mixed up? I'm glad I only came away with a scratchy throat and slight jetlag.

That, and a wounded heart. Leaving Nija behind me was really tough, and I've been walking around here in a bit of a daze since I got back. Partly, it's due to jetlag and the general space-time displacement that goes along with circumnavigating the globe. Particularly hard has been the early mornings: daylight savings starts next weekend, so until that merciful day gets here, the sun comes up at something like 5:15 AM. Mostly, though, it's just thinking about how hard things will be for the next year, maybe more, without this person that I rely on being close at hand.

To put it lightly, I haven't landed on my feet here. Nothing feels right at the moment, and I'm not motivated to do anything in particular. I went to uni on Thursday and Friday but mostly read my book, looked online and chatted with friends. Yesterday (Saturday) I got some shopping done and got a run in, but then I took two naps. Anyone will tell you that this is not the usual me.

But today I wasn't about to stay in and take naps. The weather was gorgeous, so I figured I'd take myself up on one of my favourite hobbies: wandering aimlessly through the city.

Walking down the hill from our place takes you to Blackwattle/Rozelle Bay, which has been heavily featured on this blog before. If you walk around the bay to the west (or cross the Anzac Bridge via Pyrmont, to the east) you can follow Victoria Rd up into one of inner Sydney's most interesting sections of town, Rozelle and Balmain. These are old working-class neighbourhoods situated on a peninsula that sticks like a thumb out into the western harbour. Now, of course, these places have been mostly gentrified, but they're lively and make for nice walking and people-watching. Or monster-watching, it seems:

So out I set, shuffling along with my legs and right knee surprisingly sore from yesterday's run. Springtime continued around me, as I watched male pigeons fluff themselves up and prance after the girls. Shameless.

Balmain (pronounced so that "Bal" rhymes with "Pal", not "Paul") illustrates perfectly what I think is one of Sydney's most charming aspects, that is, it's possible to get great views of the city and landmarks from almost any angle thanks to the topology of the harbour. Infinite vantage points!

The walk was pleasant and Balmain was abuzz when I arrived. On the way I stopped at the Rozelle Markets, a popular weekend attraction, and ended my journey at a nice cafe called The Little Marionette, then did some reading in Gladstone Park right next door. This spring day even started to feel a bit like summer: the sun was hot if you sat in it for a minute, and people were out in their shorts and thongs (flip-flops).

On the way back I got a glimpse of the harbour through some trees off a side street and decided to descend, and found one of Sydney's multitude of harbourside parks. This one, Elkington Park, had a dead-on view of Cockatoo Island:

Then I stumbled on one of Adriano Zumbo's bakeries, which have become famous recently, not least for Zumbo's appearances on MasterChef Australia. Two seasons ago he made a huge croquembouche, and last season he made a croquembouche out of macarons. We're in something of a Macaron Moment (tm) here in Sydney, and Zumbo's have the reputation of being the best. His certainly are some of the most exotic: today he had oatmeal liang-liang, Earl Grey and milk chocolate, and the ones I bought to take to Vix and Ruby, pear pistachio fennel (green), mango black pepper with tonka (yellow) and coconut pandan (white).

Despite its new glitzy sheen, Balmain thankfully holds on to a few relics of its industrial past. I suppose in a few years this will be something useful and attractive, but for now there's something satisfying about the presence of such an epic derelict factory:

All in all a fine walk on a brilliant day, capped off later with a visit to our old Alexandria neighbours Vix and Ruby: a fellow could ask for little more. And still I'm looking for something to grab onto to settle myself back into this life in Sydney. At the moment it doesn't feel like my home, and I think I might go on feeling adrift, unsure and upside-down for a while. What's missing from this picture?

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