A NIGHT AT THE THEATRE
Well, not exactly at the theatre, perhaps. We were on the lawn in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens, which did not much resemble, say, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Not entirely, anyway, in spite of the stage, the actors, the floodlights. Still, it was a memorable night because of the offering: Twelfth Night, one of the bard’s most delightful romps, perhaps his most popular comedy.
We had our customary mishaps getting there. Curtain time (there was no curtain, of course) was 8:00. We left home by Uber before 7:00. Plenty of time. Except that the driver dropped us at one end of the Gardens. The play’s venue, we quickly discovered, was at the opposite end of this blocks-long, carefully tended Eden. So we tromped, food and lawn chairs and other paraphernalia in hand, the entire length of the park. Our spirits were temporarily lifted when we spotted a number of other people heading to the play. We followed them—to Tinkerbell and the Dream Fairies. Turns out there were two entertainments being offered. Tinkerbell was the other one.
Trudging on, we finally arrived, unfashionably sweaty and more-than-ready for our picnic supper. I probably shouldn’t report this part, but the same person in our party who told the driver to let us off at the wrong spot also chose the spot for our blanket, chairs and selves to be deposited. He didn’t seem to notice until the play started that he had planted us directly behind the largest person in the entire audience, seated regally and expansively in her chair, effectively blocking the view for all four of us. Visual access to the play did not seem to be one of our host’s primary values.
In an earlier life I taught Shakespeare at Milligan College, but that was over 40 years ago. I was a little rusty on some of the particulars—but the actors weren’t. Malvolio, who always steals the show, was as ridiculous as I hoped he would be in his cross-gartered yellow tights. And the madcaps Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheck, the two dissipated anything-but-noble noblemen, added to the enjoyment of the groundlings–and we were all on the ground for this performance. The plot is forgettable, almost irrelevant. Shipwrecked and separated twins, a young man and his sister cross-dressed as a man, finally (after crazy plot twists and disclosure of true identities) find each other and the right people get married to the right people and they all live happily ever after and the audience goes home in a good mood. It was a fine night at the theatre (are you appreciating my proper English spelling?), an opportunity to feel both cultured–it’s Shakespeare, after all–and properly (or improperly) entertained.
We made our way home without incident. Candy took over the arrangements. The driver dropped us at our apartment house. No sweat.
As we said goodbye to Melbourne, I was conscious of how much about this city we’ll miss:
1) Our Aussie family (Michael and Candy), whose hospitality we’ve taken advantage of since late November except for our two weeks in Oregon, and Michael’s adult children Jared, Kent and Talisha.
2) Our new Aussie friends Colin and Johanna. If you’ve been following our adventures so far you’ll recognize Colin’s name. He’s the helpful young man who ran home to get his car so he could drive us addled aliens to the botanical gardens shortly after our arrival in Australia. He and Johanna recently joined us at the Ohanessian flat for a “let’s get better acquainted” evening. Memorable. (Regrettably, we failed to take a picture of the event.)
3) And some Aussie friends we were able to enjoy a reunion with like Trevor and Jillian Keetley and Terry and Jessica Jaspers. Terry in particular has earned our admiration as he has courageously battled cancer for many years now—and still has a smile that transmits his zest for life. We spent an unforgettable Christmas season evening with these couples in the Keetley’s seventh floor flat of the Silos, the O’s apartment building.
4) The city itself. Melbourne in 2016 was voted, for the sixth year in a row, “the world’s most livable city” by the Economist Intelligence Unit. It’s a vital financial and cultural center as well. UNESCO calls it a City of Literature, a major center for street art, music and theater. We also like that it is the home of the world’s largest urban tram network, which we’ve learned to employ like natives. You can get around in this town!
5) Melbourne’s rich diversity. There’s a generous ethnic mix. Religions are equally diverse here. The 2011 census lists Roman Catholics as the largest body (27%), followed by Anglicans (11%), and then Eastern Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus in that order. Two percent are lumped together as “others.” That’s where you’ll find us Protestants. There’s definitely a secular feeling to the place, as these figures would indicate. There is also a welcoming spirit of toleration among the 4,529,500 inhabitants (2015 count).
6) The municipality of Richmond, which is among the oldest of Melbourne’s 31 municipalities. I take a walk most mornings, trying to vary my route. I don’t tire of the well-preserved neighborhoods with their mix of quite old and brand new homes and residence buildings.
Melbourne was founded in 1835 by free settlers from Tasmania. It doesn’t share Australia’s convict past. Unlike Tasmania, home of Port Arthur (where convicts shipped from England were brutally incarcerated), Melbourne from the beginning has had an air of freedom and respectability. It served in 1901-1927 as Australia’s capital.
7) The weather. Just about everywhere we’ve traveled the natives talk about the weather (it’s always unusual when we’re there, they tell us), but I think Melbourne takes the prize. It’s justly famous for the weather’s changeableness. We saw it right away, arriving when the temperature was in the 90s one day, down to the upper 50s (highs) the next, and then climbing back up. And so it went, sometimes with wild vacillations from morning to evening. Then there was that Asthma Thunderstorm which resulted in 8 deaths and hundreds fleeing to hospitals. Candy and I, both susceptible to asthma, were hit. (Fortunately, the ones most severely afflicted were old people, so Candy and I escaped.)
8) The friendliness of the people. On the streets, in the restaurants and stores, in their homes–wherever we met them, we were treated with kindness. I experienced only one exception, and I just might have been the one at fault. Surely not.
Anyway, we left Australia at 1:05 AM on January 11 and headed for India, where we’ll spend the next month. There, too, we’ll be among friends. We’re eager to see them and to report on this next phase of our Next Phase.