To tell you the name of this street would be ruining it for the both of us, not that I even know its name, mind. I suppose I could take a look for a sign of some sorts, but there’s a special feel to this place that makes the thought of turning it into just another thing we can reference on the internet somewhat unappetising. I’m not sure I want this location to be something else we can process and place into a systematic order of some mundane variety, like a map…
…So let’s just leave the context as a tiny back street in central Melbourne which is decorated in a range of interesting graffiti and art, not far from the prominent Flinders Street. I discovered it accidentally whilst trying to find a sweet looking spot for some coffee, and am now sat on a wonky stool on the pavement with my notebook out. Perfecto.
Nosing at the graffiti it begins to stagger me how when it comes to street art like this, we seldom see it until it’s complete. Until it’s done. Finished. We are left wondering who imprinted these images upon these walls, and what thoughts were going through their minds when they decided that they wanted to put them here? What are the messages they were trying to get across to those passers by, and those who wanted to sit on the other side of the road drinking coffee?
Just as I find myself starting to get a bit deep, I’m distracted by the overwhelming smell of cardamom. In this particular moment it comes across as an unmistakable sign of being abroad, much like how the skies over the CBD match the metallic greys of the skyscrapers which penetrate its landscape, yet the air remains so hot and humid. Typical Southern hemisphere city.
The Hispanic cafe owner approaches my table and pierces the bubble of solitude that has encased me for the past hour whilst I’ve been lost in my notebook by serving up a warm pastry and explaining that it’s on the house. Time alone in a city comprises of a staggered sequence of the briefest of interactions, to the point where they become the subject of a closer focus. This was one of today’s more pleasant ones. Earlier on, whilst walking north along Swanston Street, a lady had tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that my dress was tucked up at the back. Mortified, all I could think to do was stutter out the fastest of thank you’s, avoid eye contact, and fixate madly upon a menu on display in the window of a nearby dim sum cafe in an attempt to hide my face and compose myself. Why do these things always happen when we’re alone!
That said, I doubt anybody really noticed or cared anyway. That’s the mistake that we’re all guilty of making sometimes. We assume that we attract an audience whenever we slip up but the truth is that everybody’s probably too busy dealing with their own dramas to even have seen, let alone care. People are too busy thinking about what to have for dinner, or the wording they should use in a text message they’re apprehensive about sending.
The older I become the more I understand that worrying about what others think is a bit like having a vaccination to protect you from contracting a disease. A shot of Hepatitis into our system will help our immune system to fight off a more prolific onslaught of the stuff, should we become infected. A small fragment of worrying about what people think helps us to become self-aware and identify the impact our actions can have on others, and that’s a very valuable thing, but if you worry too much, it can be pretty dangerous.
As I think about this, the street art catches my eye again, and I find myself considering these mystery artists with even more respect than I did when I first set foot down this street and admired the talents on display.
This recollection, over coffee, of the time I unknowingly flashed the people of Melbourne because my dress had caught onto my bag suddenly seems to be not too dissimilar to the time when these artists imprinted their hearts and souls onto a brick wall here in the city centre, on display for a thousand sets of eyes to cast judgment upon. In the act of expressing themselves, they knew that a lot of people would love their work. They also knew a lot of people would hate it and, most certainly, they knew that not everybody would understand it in the way it was intended. But, there the images are anyway, unable to conceal themselves in the window of a dim sum restaurant in the event of shame, unlike me.
And the other beauty? Everybody will find a different meaning within these images, and everybody will have their own personal favourite. Everybody will walk away thinking about what they’ve been looking at and considering the messages within…
A lady with a big yellow umbrella leads a group of tourists around a corner and into the street. “And so this street is….” she begins to explain. I close my ears because I don’t want to hear.
Sometimes it’s nice to just not know.
It’s time to go and meet my friend at the station.
Song of the Day: Amanda Palmer – Map of Tasmania
Amanda Palmer is best known for being the front lady for the Dresden Dolls, but as part of her solo work she produced an entire album of songs about Australia. This is my favourite. For many months I genuinely thought this was a song about her fondness for a navigational device. It’s not. At all. See if you get it quicker than I did…