I was out of my customary waters, crossing the tram tracks in East Melbourne when I came across a giant wearing a blue suit and brown brogues. He was stuck at the tram stop waiting to cross the street, thwarted by a stream of traffic that refused to die down.
“Sorry mate, I shoulda pressed the button,” said the giant.
“No worries,” I reassured him, still half asleep.
He turned again, concerted, glancing into the distance. “You know, most of the time I just cross the fucking thing.”
The giant turned out to be Paul Salmon, “the big fish,” former AFL Essendon and Hawthorn football player. His toothy grin and outstanding loftiness induced a jolt of familiarity. In grade one, I took part in a primary school “Auskick” clinic; Salmon was one of the clinicians. He taught me how to handball a Sherrin without looking like a goose. It was enough to get me by, but AFL was never really my game. I was a basketballer, a South East Melbourne Magic diehard; I built a shrine dedicated to Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, “the Mailman,” and paid homage to his image every Saturday morning before my game with the Heathmont Hornets at Ringwood stadium. AFL never really jived with me. It struck me as a great big, off-field wank, rife with inane politicisation and boofhead discourse. The one thing I liked about AFL, aside from Paul Salmon, was its insistence on hanging onto daggy pre-war club theme songs, most notably Carlton’s ditty, with its brilliantly modest cadence: “we’re the only team from Carlton town.” Are we the best team? Nah. What about in Carlton? Probably not. Right, well, are we good? Not really, sorry. But…we are the only team, right..?
Fresh from my unexpected encounter with the Big Fish, I pulled up a seat at Persillade, a fine café where they serve your long macchiato in a ceramic gourd with a button of crisp meringue on a woodblock. The morning was destined to be full of encounters with mid-level celebrities. Nick Giannopoulos entered the café in a tracksuit, ordered a steak, thumbed through the financial review, peering at stock trends through Ray Bans. Incongruously, Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” filtered out of the stereo speakers. I had Berlin on my mind again—but I’ll get to that later.
It’s been a week of big change. Close to insanity, the week of torrid heat finally skipped town on Friday night, to the heaving relief of the entire deranged city. Five days of 40+ takes its toll on the sanity of a populace; we weren’t alone in treating the night as a grand celebration, downing Limoncello spritzers on the Prince Albert Mansion balcony, grooving to early 90s pop and rap anthems. Most memorable was my Chilean housemates’ offering—a latino version of Cypress Hill’s Insane in the Brain—“Medio Loco en el Coco—” the repeated chorus an apt mantra for the previous sweatstained week. Considering the average-high January temperature in Valparaiso creeps to 23C at best, and their room in the mansion is heat-wise the filthiest, known to past tenants as ‘the roasthole,’ the Chileans were more elated by the cool change than anyone in the greater Melbourne metropolitan region. We cheered the change on from balcony-high, as the temperature dropped 20 degrees in just under a half bottle of Limoncello.
So far it’s been a positive start to the year. I have a feeling in my waters that this year will be one that sticks out from the pack. That’s saying a lot, considering the intensity of each of the last few years, and the way time seems to be perpetually accelerating off its dial with each clench and twist of the proverbial Gregorian. There’s a whole lot going on down here on this tiny blue space-suspended marble. It can be hard to keep up.
The good news is that January 31 heralds the year of the Wood Horse, stamping out 2013’s wily year of the Fire Snake. There’s nothing more irksome or menacing than a snake that has been set alight in your house, singeing hairs and setting off spot fires on the rug. Last year was a challenge for a lot of people, to say the least.
According to Chinese astrologer, Susan Levitt, the year of the Wood Horse is “a time of fast victories, unexpected adventure, and surprising romance… an excellent year for travel, and the more far away and off the beaten path the better.”
Duly noted. I reckon it’s time to get moving again. Last week, I decided I’m probably going to shoot off to Berlin for a while. Not sure why exactly, other than a hunch and an affinity for krautrock—but I also keep hearing about the low cost of living, the brimming arts scene, the city’s constant thirst for reinvention, its food, rich history, and generally excellent vibe. “It’s like Melbourne on acid,” said an acquaintance recently. If all goes to plan, I’ll be Berlin-bound in May to write, rock out and see what’s what.
With all that in mind, as well as a disturbing blend of “99 Luftballons” and the Carlton football club theme song, I slide on my beige jodhpurs and prepare to go full stirrup on the back of the burgeoning wood horse. 2014 is set to be a wild, full of potential, rapid-fire year. It might be a challenge to keep up with the pace of this barreling stallion, but know this: it’s no time to be hanging back at the tram stop, waiting for traffic to stop blocking smooth passage. Or regretting that you didn’t push the button in the first place. This is the year to boldly cross the fucking thing, and do it in style on the back of a big old horse. Paul Salmon would probably agree.