Astrid Kitchen – Social Anthropology – University of Melbourne – Australia
My first ending was my last haircut which was followed by ‘have a safe flight back and do come visit!’ a bit absurdly premature at that point since I still had another 2 monthes to go till D-day but it felt poignant nonetheless. From them on I tried to experience everything with the consciousness that time was running out and everything was a special moment worth savouring; an exhausting ambition. Also very hard to do, when you spend the large part of a year investing a lot of time, emotion and energy into carefully crafting a little belonging in a new place and you get to the comfortable place of starting to take this for granted, it feels completely counter-intuitive to throw all that effort into peril by telling yourself it will all soon just come to a halt. Much like wiling away ours melting chocolate, mixing ingredients, baking the bases of a cake with three different icings and toppings which you bring together to make a tremendous three-tier layer cake. Then the point at which you have laid out the plates to eat it and the knife is poised to serve it, you abruptly stand up and throw it in the bin. And the weirdest thing is: you are vegan (true story) and were never going to eat it in the first place! You new this peculiar fact from the first bag of sugar but got carried away with the exhilarating baking process so that it was still mega painful to watch that masterpiece topple out of sight. I may have veered a little off-piste with that metaphor but it is to stress the weirdness that is having an end date on a life which you are ending on one level wilfully and on another with a lot of sadness (I realise this sounds a bit like I am talking about suicide, which is also more dramatic than I intend)
This meant, rather than our time being dominated by fits of sobbing or wistful moments of silence, everything felt very normal right up to the flight home (at which point for me it still didn’t change and I had quite a pleasant 26 hours of bottomless gnt’s and great movies). Not for a lack of sadness but more out of an inability to engage with a confusing concept. It did mean we were proactive like never before. Academically, it was a period in which I did the most productive work I have ever done which meant I spent the least amount of time in correlation to the highest quality work I have ever done so an not to waste a single special Melbourne moment locked inside a dull library unless I absolutely had to. To offer some perspective here, I wrote 16,000 words in 2.5 weeks. Some pieces I had been working on for a while before but in terms of final writing, I stand by that claim.
More than ever we tried to make the most of evenings and nights without forsaking the daytimes and fabricated the cutest of weekend day activities. One Monday we drove 40 minutes into the Dandenong ranges to visit the William Rickett’s sanctuary, since my housemate was using it as her fieldwork site for her dissertation: to talk of the appropriation of Aboriginal culture for the purposes of white audiences and the colonial project. She and I could talk on this topic forever and often would between classes (the majority of my modules have been in Indigenous Studies and has driven me to choose it as my own intended dissertation topic). The sanctuary itself on the surface is very serene and beautiful and is described as such on TripAdvisor where it is rated with a whopping 4 stars. It is only such a pity that nowhere does it educate tourist audiences on the problematics of a white, uneducated, Australian man carving into the rock face his fantasies of what Aboriginal people looked like and should represent ,and then pose it as an authentic depiction of a culture he knows nothing about, AND has no right to speak for. The centre plays a very creepy video, on repeat, inside a building which used to be Ricketts’ home of the crazed man in his senile older years, flapping his arms to impersonate his bird spirit animal. This admittedly is very funny, but what this site says about the extent Aboriginal people are misunderstood, misrepresented and otherwise merely disregarded, is far from comical.
On a lighter note, other weekend expeditions included a trip to Smith Street’s bead shop which preceded a crafternoon of making pom pom bracelets and jewelled earrings. The chosen location for one of our friend’s final brunches was at industry beans, also in Fitzroy, after which we popped into Rose Street market round the corner (which is on every weekend), and my friend bought a very expensive silver vagina ring…so Melbourne darling. Finally, our house which had been nicknamed ‘Twycko’ after its name ‘Twickenham’ which is written out the front, hosted our own final hurrah in the form of a ‘under the sea/wetter is better’ themed party. This also ate away at a whole weekend, which begun with op shop visits to track down appropriate materials to dress up our humble abode in the theme. Claire made a yellow submarine out of a hollow shelf we had accumulated earlier in the year, Izzy made the main living room light into a jelly fish and I suspended a blue cloth from the ceiling to create an underwatery vibe. It actually all looked pretty good in the end, if a little kitsch.
My penultimate night was spent at China Red, a dumpling place whose prices are a little higher than the cheap and cheerful but legendary likes of Shangahi dumplings and the Empress of China. This wasn’t intentional but only because we booked it last minute and it was the only restaurant with space because a) I have loaaads of friends and b) the place is humungus. It also has electronic ordering! You order everything through a touchscreen and it pops out of nowhere 20 minutes later; it feels more like a computer game than dinner. BYO dumplings is a bit of a Melbourne rite of passage however, and a great way to eat out rather cheaply in big groups and be able to afford to also get a lil boozy. My final eve was spent at Chin Chin’s with Izzy and Claire, two English exchange students who have been my number 1’s since day three. We met over free pancakes at our hostel during the frenzy of trying to find a house. Chin Chin’s is a reputable, very trendy Thai restaurant which takes its ego for a ride every night by refusing to take bookings-instead, impatient punters have to get down to the restaurant as early as possible to get their name on a list where they then await a text confirmation alerting them when their table is ready. We played their twisted game, arriving there for 5.45pm, we were warned of around a 90 minute wait so we popped next door to the Garden State Hotel for a drink beforehand. Chin Chin’s got a thumbs up from us; drinks were lovely, food was sensational, atmosphere-buzzy and as usual the three of us had great chats and lols and the rest of it.
The next morning, after our very last breakfast at our local café down the road in our darling Parkville suburb, the same spot we’d had our first every Melbourne breakfast, I caught the Starbus (cheapest way to get there FYI folks) to the airport to embark on my long journey back to Sweden. Once there, I would be met by my parents to spend a few days downtime in the scandi countryside, before facing the music of returning to London on July 8th, one day shy of being a full year since the day I set off. What a momentous thing!