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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..."    

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.

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.