Look up and feel the city vibe

June 30, 2017

The key to a successful city stay in Melbourne is walking and enjoying a Chianti at a cafe bar. Picture: AP/Mal Fairclough

This week I’ve been looking at the world from the street and wearing out my shoes in the pursuit of discovering why people like being with other people.

While my better half has been cocooned in the bubble of a warm room at St Vincent’s Hospital at the mercy of specialists and needles, I have been tramping the streets of Fitzroy and Carlton in search of the perfect Chianti.

In the process, I have become her conduit to the world. I have told her of overheard conversations in organic coffee bars and found myself describing the smell of fresh rain on wet leaves in city gardens.

It’s been a challenge, but I think I have mastered the art of the city stay.

Walk. Just give yourself up to the floating world of the bobbing head and the drifting stare. Busy city streets are seas of human flotsam. The urgent briefcase stride, the slow wander of the tourist, the zig-zag of the mad, the lovers drift, the pavement curl of the homeless, and the circling of the lost.

Believe me, I have done a lot of circling.

I have never familiarised myself with the city’s grid system so I have no mental map of the CBD, which means every turn is a surprise and a possible adventure.

I always wondered why people walk city streets with faces buried in phones — now I know that half are following Google Maps.

The other half are texting while walking, which should incur almost the same penalties as texting and driving because of the risk of walking into bicycles and bollards.

On my walks I have thought a lot about bollards. Bollards would deliver simple preventions against the current lunacy of using vehicles to kill people by driving on to pavements in the name of God. More power to bollards.

On a chaotic walk from Lygon St to St Vincent’s on Victoria Parade I actually thought of changing the world by running for Melbourne City Council on a policy platform of increasing the bollard budget. This could be a major weapon in the war against terror. I thought of a lot of other things on that walk, but the bollard stream is the one that I remember.

Walking is akin to measuring out your thoughts by the heartbeat, which is a good way to think.

Driving around central Melbourne is something only the mad and the lost do.

The only thing you think about when driving is that arrogant shite in the BMW, or that weird knocking over the front passenger wheel.

Walking actually sets your mind free to look up at the magnificence of autumn trees and the arrogance of architects.

You also realise that big cities are really a collection of villages. Fitzroy becomes Carlton becomes Collingwood as Streatham becomes Tooting and Brooklyn becomes Brownsville. Each has its own culture and music of cafes and bars are usually based on the original migrants.

The one thing they have in common is the rush. Streets are wild rivers with all sorts of mad jetsam rushing past.

Cafes and bars are little oases of rest.

At the moment I am sitting in a café bar on Brunswick St full of drippy plants in hanging baskets, cushions and young people with berets and beards.

They have laptops on wobbly tables and are obviously writing the next great Australian novel with negotiable movie rights.

They serve an average Chianti here at an above average price. But I’m paying for the serenity and the vibe.

That’s worth two hours of my time any time.

John Lewis is chief of staff at The News.

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