I take the opportunity to wander through a city I’ve never been, in a country I’ve never seen, populated with creatures unfamiliar and strange. I let my feet be my guide, moving slowly through the dense downtown of south Sydney, the lower part of the urban sprawl, by the harbor.
a blue-suited smoker rests under a fig tree in Hyde Park
The air is humid following heavy rainfall, traffic is heavy too, and cool green parks are a welcome respite.
a cross section of Sydneysiders (& tourists) awaits its instructions
The city is Western in character, English speaking and very businesslike.
taxi in downtown Sydney
Taxi drivers are uniformed, the cars are clean. I am comforted by this.
the Shouting Man
Close in with expensive shops and highly motivated 1st Worlders (myself included) is the Shouting Man. He shouts. It’s loud. It’s incomprehensible. It sounds like gargling blood or maybe distorted reversed audio samples from 1930′s-era Looney Tunes sound effects. I give him some coins. How thin is the line that separates his act from mine?
sign on the street - Sydney
Let the revolution be a peaceful revolution.
it's a living...
I stop down a small flight of stairs to browse a tiny shop specializing in vintage and bootleg vinyl records. Neville, swilling red wine in the early afternoon, declares he will open a bar adjacent to the back wall of this basement in a month or two, thereby combining two unstoppable cultural movements. I ask whether the chicken or the egg…? During our conversation it comes out what I am about and why I am here, in Sydney, Australia. “I don’t like Joe Satriani,” he says. “He’s a very nice man,” I say (thinking to myself: whimsical, too), “a musician first.” His wine glass empty, he heads over to the counter. I head out up into the open air.
Is the publisher's estimation of your character correct?
Knowing the power of words and thought to influence action I cannot help being taken aback when I see the popularity of this mean-spirited sentiment expressed through the wildly popular cultural activity of commerce. It makes me sad. You’re not an idiot, I’m not an idiot and I would never speak thus to a child.
I look up from the items on display and must immediately lie on the floor in a reverse, supine plank to get a photo of this beautiful stained glass ceiling.
you've got to watch for these...they'll tear your arm off.
Back on the street. My wanderings are without plan, I’m looking at everything.
Christo was here.
Through a wide open door I slide into St. Mary’s Cathedral during a sparsely attended daytime service. I lurk in the shadows, observing the rituals.
but how does it breathe?
I am intrigued by the carefully bound objects – statuary? – that populate the stage or “altar,” as they call the business end of this performance space. It’s a fine line that separates their act from mine.
and the acoustics...
The structure is glorious and the Gregorian chanting puts me into a fugue state of celestial musical harmony. I cautiously approach a priest behind the scenes while he tucks away his smoking incense device in a walkway below and away from the altar. I quietly ask would he please tell me the significance of the purple coverings? Looking at me with some alarm he fairly spits: “It’s the Passion,” continuing brusquely, “now please move away, the choir is coming.” I look at him quickly, surprised at his vehemence, say nothing and move to the side. It’s his show after all. I’m a professional, too. I crouch down to get a photo of the choir walking toward us and another robed character alongside the older priest calls to me: “Do not take pictures here!” It’s too much. I place the lens cap on my camera. Striding quickly up to the older priest and planting myself inches from his face I say clearly and quietly directly into his eyes: “I’m terribly sorry and I shall stop right away.” He looks away, backs away, opens the door to the refectory and slips inside. His tight-lipped minion pinches off another order that I “stand aside” but by then I’m nowhere near them. I watch as a robed coterie of healthy male teens on the cusp of adulthood stride by. Maybe they’re in the “Embrace Youth” group advertised on the web site of this church encouraging an “active practice of our faith.” It’s plain as day.
beliefs are useful if they help you
After the boys have turned from the hall into private chambers I notice the tight-lipped minion still carefully observing me. I give him a big thumbs up. Nice work mate, I think, how’s that Christian charity working out? But I don’t speak my thoughts. I turn my back on him and his “Belief System for Dummies” and wander outside, grateful for my freedom. A statue of a nun expresses apology and offers forgiveness. She knows what they’re up to in there.
Sister Mary Elephant
It’s my own fault of course. I started it. I head down to the water.
In sunlight by Sydney harbor
I wander among tourists in the sun, people on holiday, schoolchildren on outings, the hospitality trade, color and the warm air.
the good ship Southern Swan will take you on a three hour tour
It’s a glorious day and my pace slows and slows until I am passed on the sidewalk by grandmothers towing toddlers and pushing perambulators attached to inevitable balloons.
a group on the Sydney Harbor bridge tour
A carefully moving line of people high above street level is part of the Sydney Harbor bridge tour, an expensive and carefully marketed guided escort around the infrastructure of the 1932 bridge. Couched in coy terms of gutsy, courageous exhortation, the branding is not unlike one of those hundred mile bike rides (“the danger!” “the accomplishment!” “the relief!” “the peak experience!”) benefiting medical research. In a guerrilla action back in 1984 I climbed the north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge with John Law. I wish I still had the photos I took that night.
have you seen the bridge?
It’s almost time to meet the van taking us to the show tonight in Newcastle, two hours north of Sydney. I head back to the hotel.
I pass by many buildings from the first days of Western civilization in Australia (the Fatal Shore). It reminds a little me of New Orleans, LA, in the U.S.
But now skyscrapers dominate the landscape. It’s time for the show.