I’m sitting in Pellegrini’s Bar in Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District, or as they would say in Europe, “the centre.”) I’m drinking the worst hot chocolate of my life made by an under-stimulated barista who is currently yelling out in Italian, “2 Spaghetti Napoli, Maria!” but it’s ok… I get that hot chocolate isn’t their thing. I’ve come here because I miss Italy. This bar is an institution in Melbourne. It’s apparently run by a guy named Sisto, to whom several notes on the shelves have been dedicated. Despite being right in the middle of Melbourne in 2014, it, like many a bar back in Italy, is stuck in some brown-stained, technology-resistant yesteryear that retains ostensibly useless pieces of historic junk on the knick-knack cluttered shelves.
I’m talking about gems like this:
poor quality photo stealthily taken on my out of date smart-phone
My knee bumps up against the underside of the bar and splinters from cheap chipboard scratch at my leggings. I know I’m making it sound tacky, but it’s exactly this lack of pretension that lovers of the humble Italian bar flock to. It’s so contrary to the other aesthetically obsessed features of their beauty conscious culture. It’s a mystery I’m yet to figure out. I guess people love the dependability of its well-loved stools and benches, which have been a kind of stage for the place’s history to unfold on. If you hang out there enough, well, then they’re a part of your history too, and you want it to stay the same no matter how ragged or unfashionable it gets. You want to be able to depend on it. Why else would that dirty, unidentifiable piece of ancient “technology” be left rotting on the shelf long after its used-by date?
I’m not sure if being at Pellegrini’s is helping my nostalgia for Italy or not, but there is also a practical reason why I’m here on a Monday afternoon, writing to you about decaying furniture. It’s a complicated reason with many layers, and it’s responsible for my long absence from this blog. The simple answer is, I’ve moved back to Australia and am trying to pick up the pieces of my displaced life! I’m doing an intensive course in the CBD that will hopefully open up some job opportunities for me. I’ve decided not to go back to Occupational Therapy if I can help it, and stick to teaching English if I can. So far it hasn’t been easy to get steady work, though I have been working casually at a couple of places. Right now I’m also killing time until my first French class starts at 6pm. That’s an attempt at keeping my brain from turning to mush while I’m working inconsistently.
I said it was layered… I really hate cliché analogies like “layers,” but it’s apt. The top layer is that I love my home, but I guess when I moved back here, I thought it would be easier. I thought it would be different to starting from scratch in a new city (which I did four times while I was away), but actually, it’s a lot harder than I imagined. I’m four years older. I’ve changed. Not just as a result of living overseas and “experiencing the world”, but simply as a result of getting older, of making mistakes, and learning new things. It’s impossible to fit back into the space I left when I first went overseas. I’ve changed shape, or size, or something. I have some things to resolve, and I have lots of things to figure out in this new place I find myself in. I feel like I’m walking along a dark path with only a candle. I can only see what’s one or two steps ahead of me, and it’s a long path out of the woods.
By the way, while I was writing all that stuff, the bored – albeit likable – waiter used the dirty, prosaic machine thing to call Sisto; it’s an intercom! Mystery solved. Wish all life’s mysteries disappeared with the touch of a discoloured plastic button.