Days before beginning my trip on the Great Ocean Road, and a week-n-a-half before my mother dies, I a sit in a beautiful park looking up at a blue sky. It is 34 degrees Celsius and it is hot. Next week there will be fires surrounding the city of Melbourne.
It is late January in Australia which is summer to those of us from the northern hemisphere. I’ve never experienced a sunny February since 1992 when I had lived in Hawaii.
Where does all of this take place? In the past or the present?
It’s always the past unless it is happening exactly when it is happening, and as I gaze at photos from a year ago, and you read this post possibly years from the date it was written, I write it as I again sit in a cafe in June. I’m sitting across from a new friend that is going to leave the city for a new life. This morning around 8 a.m. another new friend, left Prague. My heart feels a little heavy since when you live your life traveling (or partially traveling) you fall in love with people so quickly. The friendships are so precious- as if we had all known each other for years, but this is impossible. I used to ask myself, would we even be friends if we had met in another lifestyle, in the nine-to-five world, would the age differences and the cultures matter more in our daily relations? I stopped asking these questions because they are useless questions.
Friends are yet again leaving my life. Yes they are leaving, my life. It sounds selfish, but this is all from my perspective, and I only know what I see and feel within my periphery. They walk into and out of my life or I walk into or out of their life, but from my perspective. Once we separate everyone becomes a story, just like I am a story to them. It’s remarkable.
Lisa left Australia a week before I did. I had more time because in China as a teacher you get up to a month off during the winter holiday. It’s a huge perk. They offer this month break in many countries, the U.S. does not, so Lisa had to return to the states after two weeks. This left me with about four or maybe five days on my own.
We met a friend of a friend of Lisa’s in Melbourne. Craig. He was a nice guy, and a talented artist. He walked us all around the city of Melbourne at breakneck speed. He didn’t drive and so he was an expert walker. Craig introduced us to this beautiful park the Fitzroy Gardens in the city near to where we were staying.
After Lisa left and I returned from my Ocean road trip, I spent one day wandering around the city by myself and I finally found Gertrude street. Lisa did end up finding it before me, but I didn’t go with her that day preferring to loll about in the gardens instead of shopping. I’m not a shopper.
My favorite thing is to wander, take some photos, and then sit in cafes drinking coffee or drinking something while people-watching and writing in my journal. I’m jumping a little ahead- on my last day I spent the earlier part of my day with Craig.
Craig had walked me over into the Italian part of the city and we had these amazing watermelon granitas. A watermelon-lemon nonalcoholic crushed ice drink. They were so amazing, so refreshing we gluttonously had two each. Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, the cafe where we had the ice drinks was built in the 1950’s and it had that wonderful 1950’s cafe design, and apparently it was the same interior as it was 58 ago. The seats at the bar and the checkered floor. “Come back to the Five and Dime Jimmy-Dean Jimmy-Dean”. It reminded me of the Italian cafes you find in San Francisco or New York.
Melbourne has an Italian and a Greek part of the city, it also has a Chinatown that is the oldest Chinatown in Australia. “Country-towns” all have a kind of movie appeal. As if it’s all a set, and you are the actor in the film. You travel to a foreign country, and then have lunch on the movie set of another foreign country, then go for a walk in another movie set foreign country, and dinner in yet another, and somehow the Greek town in Melbourne has a likeness to the Greek town in San Francisco, but you have a difficult time finding the Greek town in Greece. It’s true, we are all just folding over stories and illusions. I do enjoy the layers. I don’t think Prague has any of these. Everything thing in Prague is Prague- maybe on the outskirts, maybe some Russian parts. I’m not sure this is a new and extemporaneous thought.
I didn’t spend a lot of time wandering through Chinatown since I had been living in China during my time of visit, and Chinese food outside of China is never as good as Chinese food in China. As a side note I think San Francisco’s Chinatown can at times give you the closest idea of what it is really like in parts of China.
Craig took me to the sky view of the Eureka Tower, but because of the fires we were not able to see anything. He kept apologizing that we paid to go up to the top of the tower and there was no view. I said, that it wasn’t a problem that it was just preparing me for my return to China where I never had a view because of the pollution. Nothing could have prepared me for my return to China, not even my mother’s last e-mail. We are never prepared for the reality of death, even when we think we are waiting for it. In truth, the fires didn’t prepare me for the pollution either. When Lisa and I first left Oregon we drove through and visited Crater Lake. There had been terrible fires that year; it was August 2013. The skies were full of smoke and we could feel it in our skin, but fire is a clean smoke and the burning wood leaves a different residue. In China it is concrete and chemicals- forest fires don’t prepare you- a walk through a burning chemical plant would be more appropriate. I suppose you prepare for life the best way that you can and then walk through it with balance so you can catch yourself as you fall.
As soon as I had returned to China, and a day after I found out my mother had died, Craig sent me a photo from the tower because the smoke had cleared and he wanted me to see the view. Unfortunately, since my mom had died I didn’t see the photo till two or three weeks after he had sent it, but the kindness was not over looked. Kindness and thoughtfulness can never be overlooked. I had left Craig’s story in this story of my story. I don’t know how his story continued, but I kept the photos and the friendly e-mails.Now I write about him here in a story.
The last moments of my day in Melbourne and Australia were spent on Gertrude street in the Sila cafe, eating cookies, and drinking coffee, and writing. All of my favorite things. I had always wanted to be a beatnik, but felt I lacked the talent of words,and I was born about 30 years too late, but I did know how to drink coffee and too much wine plus I knew how to meet truly interesting and talented people. That was about as beatific as I could ever get.
I was particularly fond of this cafe because it reminded me of one of my favorite places in the world; North beach San Francisco in Cafe Trieste where Francis Ford Coppola wrote the God Father, and the where the beats, and the poets, writers and artists of the San Francisco Renaissance converged to create or cure a hangover or just hangout.
Writing these post from the past while in a present tense, yet thinking about the future, I am aware of the constant intersections as if life was a highway. The common cliche of the open road or the drive through life, and there are so many on and off ramps. We think we have maps, but they are often outdated, and even with modern technology we still don’t always know if we took the right turn. Not that it matters, because it’s all about the journey, right? I think a lot of the journey is about the people you meet and the things you do, and how open you are to the experiences offered.
What will you do with your one precious life? I ask myself constantly, and more so now that she’s gone, my mothers gone. I don’t ask myself so much what’s the right choice, I cat because I have to accept the choices I make. That’s not the right questions. The right question is what will I do with my precious short fragile life? What will I do today, and how much of it will be devoted to tomorrow?