Monday, October 08, 2007

a rare excursion

murray bridge - a brief highlight

I've just returned from a week in Melbourne, my first time out of my home state in years, though I'm sure I'd enjoy nothing more than the life of a ponderously romantic traveller-writer, speculating on what the architecture or politics or any other traces of particular places might mean to a middle-aged déclassé celibate libertine with something of an attention deficit problem. My excuses for not achieving such a goal are predictable enough - competing aspirations, distractions, cowardice, poverty, laziness...

There's not much really to tell about this trip. I hired a car and Sarah accompanied me, but unfortunately she can't drive, and my time in the saddle to and from was more extensive than expected. I was assured it would be eight or nine hours on the quick route through Bordertown and Ballarat, maybe an hour or so more via the Great Ocean Road. In fact, with only fairly brief stops through the day, and driving faster than I've ever driven before in the zippy little Toyota Laris, I took eleven hours to get there and about thirteen hours to get back on the long route, and I'm left wondering if I've been the victim of others' retrospective optimism. I did want to take my time, listen to the Southern Ocean, quaff from the Coonawarra, wax quizzical upon country quaintness, nestle for awhile amid the green, but we were pressed, having rooms booked in Melbourne and a vague itinerary of gallery-hopping, local shopping, wining, dining and tram-riding to get through.

Of course, though people say life’s the thing, I prefer reading. Our initial plan was to travel on The Overland, a daytime journey much improved I’m assured [watch those assurances] from the excruciatingly uncomfortable and boring all-night trips of my youth. I envisaged pleasant hours whizzing though a scenic diorama, finishing my Dennett book and maybe starting on Guns, Germs and Steel, while making ingenious notes and waxing philosophico-historical with Sarah over a lunch-time port or an evening martini, and maybe even – apogee of adventure – buttonholing or being buttonholed by some entertaining wiseacre, preferably flirtatiously female, in the dining car. Unfortunately we didn't get in early enough, and The Overland was booked solid the first week of school holidays. I would've put it off to the second week but Sarah was intent on catching the last week of the Guggenheim exhibition at the NGV.

So, I drove, and drove, zombie-like, but at least appreciating that rarity for me, a car that doesn't develop a death rattle at above 100kph. Still it was nerve-wracking, especially the last section driving into Melbourne on a totally unfamiliar road, dog-tired, dark in the night.

I'm not going to spiel on about Melbourne in the manner of some of my favourite travelling speculators, Nooteboom or Raban, as it'll raise the spectre of comparison, at least in my mind, and anyway I didn't get too many chances to take notes, so I'll just blog on about whatever comes up... a spiel of sorts.



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