I Got What I Came For

In 2017 Nadal was up a break on Federer in the AO Final.  It looked like he would close the gap to one slam apart.  A year later it’s a done deal; Nadal will never close that gap and it will take someone very special to get to 20 slams.    Our last full day in Melbourne.  Hot.  Men’s final.  Hot hot.  It was 34 on our morning walk but hit 38 in the afternoon although all I can say for certain is that it was like being in an incubator and when the wind blew, instead of offering relief, it was like someone turned on a hairdryer.  There wasn’t much respite in the shade except that the tiny little spot on the crown of my head, just that very little soupcon of baldness, didn’t get burnt.   We headed out across the river for coffee then a mosey around the parks which lie near the tennis arenas.  We were heading towards the botanical gardens but only made it as far as Queen Victoria Gardens.  Our plan to stick to the shade didn’t help much.   We had a quick peak in the National Gallery of Victoria; there wasn’t time for a full on skinny as it was nearing midday and we had lunch reservations, but there was a sensational piece by Chinese sculptor Xu Shen with an eternity Buddha in Nirvana covered in a variety of mythical figures (Achilles, Dancing Faun, Narcissus, Icarus, etc.) near the entrance.   Although we’d only been out for less than three hours we returned to the hotel and showered off the sweat then headed out for lunch.  We decided to do one “fancy” meal in Melbourne and chose Cutler & Company, which is on the pricey side except at Sunday lunch, where they prepare an elaborate set menu at a much reduced price.    Three starters came to the table first, a seaweed cracker with fromage blanc; salami with marinated olives, and a Sydney rock oyster.  Since I don’t do oysters, they gave me a tiny baby corn charred on the grill.  Next, another three small plates, smoked mussels, stuffed and braised zucchini flower and sliced prosciutto with pickled peach.  Again, since I don’t do mussels, they gave me an heirloom tomato salad.  For mains SS had an ocean trout (what Canadians call steelhead) with chorizo vinaigrette and I had some hand rolled linguine with basil pesto and fresh peas which was beyond superb.  The prosciutto was the best I’d had outside of Italy and the peaches were sweet and tender as ganache.  For dessert I had fresh fruit with fig sorbet and SS had cheese.  Fresh marshmallows were served with the cheque.  It was a spectacular meal but when we emerged outside around 2 p.m. the heat nearly killed us.   We headed back to the CBD.  SS pushed on to check out some museums, and snapped these shots of the Manchester Unity Building, a deco gothic heritage structure with interesting friezes in the lobby.  The collage here shows one of the notable human attributes, caring for the sick.  Next to that is another not so human attribute, loaning money for a first home.  Go figure.  I simply motored on back to the AC at the Sofitel.   I guess the tennis was dry and dull.  NOT.  It was sensational and to come all this way and see a rout, which it appeared it would be after the first set, would have been a letdown.  Kudos to Cilic for trying, I would say his power and service prowess far exceeded Roger, but RF doesn’t give up, his defense is near miraculous, and when the pressure really, really mounts, he is as stoic and composed as the Buddha we saw in the AM, whereas Cilic fell apart emotionally, grimaces, sweat, anger and frustration.   I ran into a tennis umpire on the tram and we had a nice chat.  Not Carlos Bernardes, the other ATP Carlos.  Not Mohamed Lahyani, the umpire for the Isner Mahut match at Wimbledon that went on for two days and for which he appeared never to need a bathroom break.  But Carlos Ramos who, I think, is one of the better umpires in that he gives no favour to the big four (but you can Google him, all the big four have had run ins).  Interesting to see that Tennis Australia and/or the ATP provides no transport for their support team.   Eyes on the prize. Awards, rewards. Victory lap.    So that was tennis, and it was so incredibly worth it I can’t imagine.  I headed back to the hotel with a slew of over-excited fans.   The lobby of the Sofitel has an art display showcasing a celebrity photographer of the 60s and 70s called Slim Aarons; he was obsessed with capturing the mid-20th C jetsetters.  His catalog is mainly at the Getty in California.  Unfortunately they hang in the foyer bar where a full wall of glass blasts natural light: In the day you can’t even see the art because the light refracts off the glass so sharply.  In the evening, Edison fluorescents mar the images in stripes.  Still, they are so very cool and of a particular moment I had to post a couple regardless of the reflections.   Desert House Party: A 1970 party at a Richard Neutra house in Palm Springs.   Colourful Crew: On a yacht in Bermuda, 1970.  : Poolside Gossip: Nelda Linsk, in yellow, talking to former fashion model Helen Dzo Dzo Kaptur.  "Did you hear about the tennis..."    

The Dane in Three

I was going to call this post Hot Pants and a Unique Sweet but then Caroline Wozniacki made history and it seemed flip.   We dropped off laundry first thing.  You know how vacation plus humidity plus staying in a hotel goes.  I remember when Brad Gilbert was Andy Murray’s coach and on ESPN he was telling an anecdote about doing (dropping off) Andy’s laundry because even when you’re a gazillionaire hotel laundry fees are too much to stomach.   Then we cut across Carlton Gardens with its lovely nymph receiving turtle spray and its Exhibition Hall (a UNESCO World Heritage site) towards Fitzroy.  They were in the early stages of hosting a “hot rod show” which had attracted a mixed bag of cars from a Chevy Chevelle to Wacky Races dragsters.    A not too mint Avanti on site looked a little sad compared to a red Chrysler.   We returned to Bentwood for breakfast because, well, earlier in the week it was just so darn good.   Toasted sour dough with beet paste, topped with heirloom carrots, radish, greens, goat cheese and a poached egg, sprinkled with pistachios.  That bacon on the side, shurely shome mishtake?   After breakfast we walked to the east, the Fitzroy/Collingwood border, where we ambled and shopped along Smith Street.  And, yes, there was Birmingham Hotel, amongst everything else Smithy, from butchers to bakers to expensive candle stick makers.   Smith Street was about the most fun shopping I’ve had in years.  There was an abundance of every single thing you didn’t need (hand-crafted violins, footy memorabilia, kitsch, antiques, outright junk, curated boutiques) and essentials (food of every manner, stationery to take-away to pet care to cleaners), in short, you could live there, and have fun there, and not be awash in multinational chains.  As we walked south you could sense the rents getting higher; less graffiti and more predictability (e.g., a McDonalds).   I had to be restrained from buying artificial fruit.   How could you say no?  We did.   Too big for luggage.   I’m sure Frank would approve.   Very, very hot pants.  I’m thinking Versace crossed with Laugh-in.  SS wouldn’t even let me try them on!   Vintage Passepartout by Edra.  It was meant for hot pants.   Unique sweet.   After a lot of fun on Smith Street we walked further east through Fitzroy Gardens into Richmond.   There wasn’t a heck of a lot of see in that neighbourhood, but the walk was good.  A long ways from the centre, we caught a tram back to the hotel   With the tennis schedule, we are doing a late-ish breakfast followed by an early dinner.  Tonight we went to, as Time Out calls it, the “no-bookings” zone, a slew of restaurants that are walk-in only and for which people queue forever or, as TO put it, crowds that only slightly fall short of the 1964 visit of the Beatles to Melbourne.  Some, like Chin Chin, do allow reservations (for parties of nine; this is assuming I have eight friends to ask along).  Others, like Meatball, serve meatballs, where an hour and a half wait is common for a product about 40% as good as what SS can pull off on a Tuesday night.  Still, I should be grateful that we can eat a decent meal and, 15 minutes later, be at Rod Laver arena; Wimbledon and Flushing Meadow are over an hour from central London and NYC, respectively, and Roland Garros is also a trek deep west in Paris.   We ended up at a place called Cumulus (which, we didn’t know, is owned by the same people as Marion, where we ate last night).  It was, at 5 p.m., you guessed it, packed.  We ate at the kitchen bar watching the chefs, sous-chefs, and expediters handle a Saturday crowd; crudites with taramasalata; dates filled with chorizo wrapped in prosciutto; melt in your mouth ricotta dumplings; and Scotch pork, whatever that is, but to me a loin delicately marinated and served on an apple puree.    The tennis began with a song from Abba (yes, seriously), an award (Order of Australia) to an Aussie women’s singles player of the 1970s (Evonne Goolagong Cawley), the national anthem, the Vegemite song, and then the women’s final.  Which was, how can I put it?  Which was phenomenal.  Absolutely over the top point to point amazing, competitive, heart wrenching, brilliant tennis; 60% humidity notwithstanding.  I didn’t have a pony in the race, but it was unfortunate to see Halep dig so deep, to fight so hard, to struggle over two weeks with injuries and near losses, only to fade out at the very end.  It really was a final for the ages.  I honestly felt privileged to be there; if there are seven billion people on the planet, a packed Rod Laver arena represents about .0002%.  Caroline thanks her dad, accepts a check for $4,000,000, and hopes she'll finally get a cover of Elle.  (She actually said that.)   Back at the hotel by 11; so sweet to be 15 minutes from the arena.

Happy Australia Day 2018: Protest in Peace

So said the tabloids; the movement to reject Australia Day as a testament to European presence was dominating social media.  Happy Invasion Day some were calling it. Celebrating Australia Day. Celebrating Australia Day. Flowers laid at State Parliament to celebrate Australia Day. Or protest Australia Day.  It's open to interpretation.   The parade passes by.   SS in Docklands. It was hot.  It was only just over 30, but very humid in the AM, although it cleared in the afternoon, the humidity dropped, then it was just hot hot.  We walked the Yarra again, first Soutbank, then crossing at South Wharf north to Docklands, a rehabilitated neighbourhood akin to London’s Canary Wharf.  About 1.5 hours.  We became obsessed with the clash of architectural styles which dominated the new builds, no better shown than in this retro condo and monolith behind it. As it neared lunch we caught a tram back into the centre for some window shopping, stopping at the David Jones department store for some eats at its tony food hall. 3-D menu and placemat.  You can only see the dogs cheating and the kids kissing if you toggle the images. It's hard on foot.   If for some unknown reason travel seems like bliss, or even just a good time, take three minutes to watch Tripp and Tyler do air travel in a car.  Excuse me sir, would you like to buy some ear phones?  Because, really, why is travel such a hassle?  Walking and eating in Melbourne isn't: For dinner we went, Florida senior style, to a restaurant at 5 p.m.  Beauty of doing this is 15,000 people, two weeks of the year, are all having dinner between the day and night sessions at the AO, so you arrive at five and the places are already buzzing.  Tonight we ate at Marion, a wine bar in Fitzroy about 15 minutes walk north of the hotel.  House made terrine, in-house bread and pickles; superb.  I would say this was our best meal to date; a casual restaurant, not stuffy, well considered food, didn't cost an arm and a leg. The tennis tonight, the last semi-final, Federer and Chung.  As unlikely a semi as anyone could have ever imagined.  So goes sport.  I may be sitting in the shade, and it may be an open air stadium, but 15,000 people all sweating together is not pretty.  The collage shows the national anthem followed by, wait for it, the Vegemite song (seriously: it was Australia Day after all) and Roger serving.  This was fantastic tennis.  Roger was a clinic, painting the lines, every trick in the book, he totally befuddled Chung.  There was huge excitement in the arena (which, due to some light rain, was tennis played with the roof closed, but without air conditioning).  Then, only an hour plus in, due to a blister, a blister of all things, Chung conceded.  Jeez, half the fans in the stadium made the trek to Rod Laver arena with a blister or two.  HUGE letdown.  GREAT beginnings then just sheer disappointment.  

In Search of Real Bread

  The food at the Australian Open is an affront: to taste, the senses, nutrition and satiety.  All the fried stuff of an exhibition midway, $14 sandwiches made with white foam and coloured paste, more fried items, stand alone chip kiosks, and more offers of salt than you can shake a stick at.  There is a Rockpool, we ate at the Sydney outpost years ago, and you can spend $200 on lunch if you like.  My tour gives me entrance to a corporate lounge where the food is OK if even more overpriced than the sandwiches.  But here’s something special: You can bring your own food in.  So today we set out to find a take away lunch.   We spent an hour walking south along the Yarra to, yes, South Yarra.  It was hot today; hot hot.  Not hot, hot, hot, that is scheduled for tomorrow.  But 28 and 29 and humid.  So it was a gorgeous walk if a little sticky.  And we ended up at a place called Ned the Baker who makes some of the most stupendous bread in Melbourne and, from my perspective, a baguette that rivals anything in Paris.  I got my take away but we also stopped and had a late breakfast.  Cheese toastie with a poached egg and mustard greens.  The heart in SS's coffee at the bottom of his cup! Then I retraced the hour long walk and SS did a shop and stop on his own.   I went to the AO early-ish to watch mixed doubles at Rod Laver arena; doubles rarely gets much attention and is almost never on a show court, but it’s fun, there’s no deuce points, and the pace is zippier than many singles matches. En route I saw the crowds swarming a photo opp with Korea's Chung.  Here's a pic of a pic. Memorabilia of Margaret Court's career in the arena named after her.  Then there was, wait for it, a disappointing women’s semi final: Wozniacki, once upon a time a 67 week number one player, took out Belgian Elise Mertens.    That was followed by a special ceremony honoring Billie Jean King.   The second women’s semi was number one Halep and Kerber, who I’d seen neatly win earlier in the week.  The first set was a rout; 13 minutes and Halep was up.  So at that point it seemed sensible to leave, meet SS for dinner, and forget about it all.   We had a wonderful early supper at Lucy Liu, a hip Asian fusion place in the downtown, pork buns, slow cooked ribs, sashimi, papaya salad, that sort of thing.  When all was said and done it was nearly time for he men’s semi, so I headed back to the AO.  And there I saw throngs of day session fans leaving: Wouldn’t you know the Halep match went three and would have been worth sticking out.   Before the men’s, Todd Martin, who is current chair of the tennis hall of fame, inducted Germany’s Michael Stich and the Czech Helena Sukova as its newest members.  It was sort of special given so many hall of famers were on site: Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Margaret Court, and a dozen others. Below in the collage above is BJK in the red jump suit.   Kyle Edmund had shown amazing speed, serving prowess and stamina against Grigor Dimitrov two days ago.  Alas, he more or less crumbled under Cilic, who didn’t even have to bring his best game or his best serving, just good returns and capable serving to defeat Edmunds in three sets, only the second of which was close and competitive.  We’ll have to see how Chung handles Federer tomorrow.

The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

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?        

I Don’t Just Adore a Penthouse View

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.