January 24, 2018
There’s so much to like about Melbourne. So much. But I guess not the traffic. So I walked for a while. Spent the morning getting exercise by walking Fitzroy; it’s a mish mash of heritage buildings, gentrification, lovingly restored terrace homes, terrace homes much in need of restoration, cool shops and quaint streets and trendy restaurants, housing projects a la the old TO Jamestown and bottle shops and off-track betting. In essence, it’s like old Toronto and new Toronto but very Australian and oozing charm which washes up against architectural blunders and very poor city planning. Look at that over-intentioned bowl of yogurt, fruit and muesli! I made my way to an outpost on Napier called Brentwood where I had the most wonderful breakfast and a coffee they called magic, which is the ristretto from two shots of espresso and a top of hot milk but without all the heavy creaminess of a latte or typical Oz flat white and masking the ludicrous trendiness of uber-acid black coffee. The younger Zverev was in the lobby when I arrived; I was told a few of the French players were here too. I'd have to hit the fitness centre in the AM to catch sight of anyone. Fat chance, obviously, of getting a selfie with an ATP pro. My tennis tour, if you will, is Thursday through Sunday. Today was a free day. But I had bought a day session pass several months ago knowing SS wouldn’t arrive until the afternoon. Yesterday I was in the second row from the front. Today I was still in the lower bowl, but second row from the back. Good part is that I was for some reason in the media section, and of about 60 seats designated media only 12 or so journalists were ever on site, so I got to spread out and be a hog of it all. The line up was women, men, women for the day session. First up was Keys and Kerber. Honestly, it was so forgettable I had to give it a second thought, as I wrote this, as to who played. Keys simply wasn’t there; it was like a phantom tennis player. If Mischa Zverev got fined 75% of his winnings for tanking (what they called “poor performance”) I think Keys could be added to the list. Or is that’s what’s acceptable in the top tier of the women’s tour? Rod Laver gets a standing O upon entering his eponymous arena. The men’s QF was the two upsetters if you will. The challenger circuit nobody gone challenger, in the shadow of the alt-right kingpins, Tennys (“yes that really is my name”) Sandgren, and Novak-destroyer Hyeon Chung, who plays with as much emotion as Louise Lasser in Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I liked how the umpire pronounced it sand-ri-djen instead of sand-ri-gren. Sandrigen has a huge game but his body language is DelPo-ish in that he can bomb a second serve at 210 kms but then skulk around the court as if tethered to a ball and chain, whiffing easy forehands; very up and down and unpredictable, like putting a novice at the wheel of an F1 car, all power but no skillset. It was not a rout despite the two and a half hour course. There were stupendous rallies (I missed the ESPN commentary to know whether it was, e.g., a 22 or 28 or 31 shot rally) and a final game that was so weird (three match points to the wind, a long “practice rally” of soft returns and easy lobs in the middle of a point, then super aggressive and Chung prevailing) even Jim Courier referenced it as strange and out of the ordinary. Chung defeats Sandgren. When that finished I caught some of the boy’s junior doubles which was of a superior calibre and unfortunate so few were in the stands. The two female seeds in the closer for the day session were women’s number one Halep and number six Pliskova who played half decent tennis, sure, some great shots and decent gets but half the match was one of them looking at a shot whistle past without moving a muscle. That's club play. It was a glorious day, 24 without humidity, but full on heat, and I was glad to have paid extra for a spot in the shade. Back at the hotel just past five and SS was arriving YVR – Brisbane – Melbourne. He didn’t even unpack before we headed out for eats; delicious tapas at a small spot called Anada. Look: It's our cutlery hanging in a window. Something to emulate?
January 23, 2018
Caught an Uber to the airport. It took a mere 17 minutes at the speed limit. Central business district to the suburban airport. There is a tunnel that virtually skirts the city, the traffic, but is also a vortex in its never ending arc to nowhere. First time ever flying Qantas. Extravagant, I know, but used points for a biz class fair Brisbane to Melbourne. Went to check in and it said “see attendant.” So I did. And he checked me in. Then I went to the lounge because I was starving and hadn't eaten and that’s when I discovered I was in cattle class. The reason they told me was that the flight was over-booked and I’d been bumped. Go figure. I’d booked in one class and Qantas had put me in another. I said I wasn’t very happy but what can you do? Such first world problems. I got into the lounge at least and the spread was exceptional, fruit, eggs, smoothies, a barista churning out flat whites. I checked at the gate if there was any chance to end up up front but, as they say on Little Britain, “computer says no.” Had a wonderful “lunch” on board which was a sausage roll. Hey, at least Qantas is still serving a semblance of food. Two hour flight but 45 minutes to get luggage on the carrels in Melbourne. As part of the tennis package I got an airport transfer; ah the self-importance that washes over you when you see a chauffeur in a suit and tie holding a sign with your name on it. A Mercedes to boot. The hotel is expensive which I write only to state that nothing much about it is particularly great; we’ve stayed in the Sofitel in London which is exceptional, the Sofitel in NYC which was very nice, but the Melbourne Sofitel is desperately in need of an overhaul. It does boast an enviable location (being a 15 minute easy walk to the tennis); the room however is on the small side, basic with a chillingly sharp view from the 41st floor which only makes me think of Towering Inferno, not Green Acres. The air is so thin they should dispense oxygen masks. It’s the Tokyo style of hotel; mall and commercial at street; office for thirty stories, hotel at the top. As shown in the collage above, the interior centre is one large atrium, very past the due date. For no reason I can discern, there are costumes from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, on display by the elevator bank. My tennis package doesn’t start until Thursday but upon arrival the coordinator had an unused day session on her person which was offered and which I greedily snapped up. Second row. Dimitrov loses in the quarters to UK's Kyle Edmund; only the sixth UK man to make it through a grand slam quarter. Did I mention it was the second row? Dimitrov receiving from Edmund. After the match I checked out the grounds which were bursting with activity; concerts, play areas, bars and kiosks, a zip line. A zip line! What would they think at Wimbledon? After all was said an done I was back at the hotel halfway through the Cilic victory over Nadal which, alas, I had to catch on TV. The bed was comfortable and I forgot about the 41 story drop. Small mercies.
January 23, 2018
Started with a four lap swim in The Johnson's 50 meter fifth floor swimming pool. Nearly died! Hot and alternately cloudy and sunny and overall wonderful in Brisbane (which, to be fair, I expected to be more crass, flash and glitz than it was. Architecturally it was actually more interesting than YVR). Re-connected with my Oz friend Glenn after more than 30 years (!). We headed out in the AM to Mt. Coot-tha, the highest peak in the state. It was weird how quick we were out of the city and into the bush. At the top of the mountain are beautiful views north, west and south. Don't let the clouds fool you; it was plenty hot. I had to, twice, take a European shower (that's when, instead of changing your sweaty shirt, you just spritz more cologne). After coffee and a wander at the top, we drove down to the botanical garden, which runs over several hectares at the bottom (and dwarfs the older, smaller, inner city bot garden). A bottle tree on the left. Figs growing up the trunk of an Asian fig on right. Heliconia, a beautiful bird of paradise-like flowering plant. Flowering ginger. Nardoo. A floating fern that looks like a floating four leaf clover. Indigenous Australians ate the plant fresh as well as grinding parts into a flour; alternately, many Europeans died from eating it. Vanilla pods. No wonder pure vanilla is at risk of extinction. In the afternoon we walked the rejuvenated riverfront which has been reimagined in a livelier, more interesting version of Vancouver’s Yaletown, replete with a beach. A shaded walkway shrouded in bougainvillea lines a lovely path which wends a few clicks past park, ponds and cafes. Later in the afternoon we caught a movie then walked into Fortitude Valley and Newstead, diverse neighbourhoods which mix industry, gentrification and the quaint. We ate at an old gasworks, redeveloped as an open concept living and eating neighbourhood. Rolling pins on the ceiling; that was an idea that sounded good on paper. I chose the lamb and passed on the snaps. Remnants of the gasworks, a la Yaletown's roundhouse.
January 22, 2018
You know your flight leaves in the witching hour when the airport looks like this. AC flies Melbourne direct followed by Sydney direct followed by Brisbane direct. Long flights. First time in the newly renovated AC international lounge; during renos you had to go upstairs to a small and pretty drab space. The reinvented downstairs is overall splashy, clean lines, bartender, good selection of seating, very friendly. When you fly to Australia you lose a day; talked to an RBC staffer heading down who was going to miss his birthday. Boarding went smoothly. Packed plane. First time in business on a Dreamliner. Must say it’s the best AC experience I’ve ever had. The seat was private, comfortable, the AV screen enormous, the dimming options on the windows (instead of blinds) fantastic, all the basic amenities really good. The aero-nuts blog those details as “hard product” which I’d rate very high. The soft product (i.e., food and wine) is typical of AC; it always just misses the mark. Even after pairing with David Hawksworth. Hot dinner directly after takeoff, then a breakfast about an hour before landing. Still, a direct flight instead of a LAX or SFO transfer is a dream. Dream. Geddit? Frangipani with the sun at dusk peeking through. Brisbane arrival was straightforward although the taxi didn’t know where the hotel was and didn’t have navigation or a smart phone! I told him I was staying at The Johnson, but he omitted the integral definite article and only upon arriving did he say, “oh, you’re staying at The Johnson." The building was a 1970s government ministry building converted to hotel and condos a couple of years back. They crushed the marble pillars and lay them down in the lobby. It has that austerity of impersonal government bureaucracy from the exterior although the interiors are on the warm side; Oz artist Michael Johnson is the supposed inspiration, and his prints litter the public areas. The room was spacious, well appointed, quiet, with an excellent bed and pleasant views over the Spring Hill neighbourhood.