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NGV in Melbourne and My Second Home

I didn’t realize that this trip was essentially an around the world ticket with just two destinations. By hour 23 of my 28 flight hours (not including layovers) I was anxious, claustrophobic, and wondering if consuming nothing but airplane food for two days was sufficient for meeting my daily vitamin and mineral intake and if airlines took extreme flyers into account when creating their menus. When my last flight landed in Melbourne I turned my phone back on and was greeted by a litany of texts from friends/family in the states, each more heartfelt and emotional then the last. I immediately missed the Estonian family I just left and again thought maybe this leg of my journey was a mistake. Outside of the airport I waited for my uber to my Airbnb in the cold dark winter night of Melbourne. At first I thought I’d drop my things and then head to a bar for a couple drinks before calling it a night, it being Saturday and all, but by the time I got to the Airbnb, showered, went to the grocery for a snack and water, the exhaustion of so much time on airplanes set in and all I could do was send Bren a text that I was here and already of dreaming of my favorite breakfast.

When I woke up at 9am the next morning I felt brand new. And I was starving. This is the first time since my first trip to Melbourne that I wasn’t staying with Bren and it felt weird to wake up all alone with no housemates and no one snoring to let me know he was still asleep or not. I finally was getting ready, sent Bren a text and he said he’d just woken up himself and would meet me for brekkie. I think we’ve been to the cafe (Terror Twilight) at least half a dozen times by now if not more. Every time I order the same thing and most of the time Bren does as well. It’s my favorite breakfast in town, a simple but amazingly put together ham and gruyere grilled cheese on sourdough with spicy mustard and a sweet pickle on the side. Anyway I arrived to the cafe some time after Bren since he said there was a wait and was already out the door by the time I was putting on my pants. I walked in and there was no one waiting so the waitress asked and I said a friend of mine was already sitting and she said oh Brenton? And pointed to my quokka sitting there on the bench at the window sipping black coffee. I walked up and he had the biggest smile on his face when he saw me, I could feel the same stupid smile mirrored on my own as he scrambled to get out of his seat and hug me hello. We took our seats again and all the anxiety and worry I had about this leg of the trip, leaving Estonia behind, was gone as I realized I was home again.

Now when I describe Melbourne as home it’s not the same way New York is home or even the same way that Tallinn is becoming like home. New York will always be the place that made me who I am, deeply rooted in my family history and blood there is something about it that formed the essence of who I am and will never leave. Going back to New York is always like putting on an old pair of sweatpants, it’s comfortable and familiar if not always the best. Melbourne on the other hand is like wearing my favorite pair of jeans. It fits, I feel like myself, comfortable, familiar but just different enough from New York to be interesting. I’ve grown to know the neighborhood of Fitzroy as well as my own Astoria (both of which are actually amazingly similar to each other).

So after breakfast Bren said “I know you just went to a bunch of museums but would you be keen to go to another one?” I laughed and was totally in since I had planned on a return visit to the museum while I was here anyway but I figured I’d have to do it on my own. Having fun company was just so much better. We walked back to his apartment and went right to his car, a throwback to my first visit when he drove me all over Melbourne, and I hear Bren say “what is this?! Someone was in my car!” I peered into the window and it was hard to know if anything was out of place or if, much like his room, he just had his things everywhere. So I asked what was different and besides some objects being moved the most glaring thing was a cut bike lock had been placed in the passenger side of the car. Very strange indeed. On our ride to the museum we speculated about not only how the bike lock had gotten there but why someone would want to put it in a strangers car to begin with. When we parked and walked to the museum I was a little surprised to find it wasn’t the one we went to last year (NGV Australia) but one I hadn’t been to yet (National Gallery of Victoria). Bren said there was a new exhibit with the terra cotta warriors from China and I was even more excited since I had always wanted to see them. It seems I wasn’t the only one excited to see the exhibit because when we arrive there was a line of about 50 people waiting. “Brenton John does not like waiting in lines,” Bren said and I simply rolled my eyes and replied that I already knew this but at least it wasn’t what he calls “New York style lines.” He claims that as a New Yorker not only am I equipped to wait in excessively long lines but that it is expected of me. While I can’t really recall waiting for anything except the subway, waiting in lines is definitely a distinctive memory of my childhood.

It wasn’t long until Bren was buying tickets and audio guides for us and we were entering the exhibit. Overall it was one of the better exhibitions I’ve seen on my travels. The audio guide was informative and engaging and the layout of the exhibit was fascinating. Above our heads were hundreds of small porcelain birds that had been colored using gunpowder by and artist who was collaborating on the exhibit with the museum. His work was so good that I wished I could have it at home, and it seems I wasn’t the only one because they were selling prints on display first thing as you exited the exhibit. I ended up buying a greeting card version because I couldn’t fathom bringing home an 11x17 print unscathed. The other artifacts on display were amazing as well and the terra cotta warriors were spectacular. They had a sample from each of the different kinds of statues that were in the mausoleum in China - generals, foot soldiers, archers, clerics, etc. the differences in them were subtle but astounding. I could barely fathom the labor required for such an undertaking.

Once we were both done with the exhibit and perusing the gift shop Bren said that he wanted to show me a painting in the main museum. I thought we’d be touring the rest of it room by room but he was on a singular mission to find a specific painting so we passed a lot of rooms while barely looking around them. It wasn’t too disappointing since the works in them were nothing spectacular. We did slow down for the interesting rooms and eventually as I was looking at a painting I hear Bren say this is it come look. I turn around and I see a large painting of two people having a feast surrounded by servants and slaves. The man is dressed as a Greek warrior and the woman in a Victorian looking gown. It seemed very strange and then Bren said, that’s supposed to be Cleopatra. I told him that he must be joking and he simply smiled and said nope. I still didn’t believe him so I looked at the description and sure enough it was a painting that was supposed to be Cleopatra and Marc Antony having a “who can have the most decadent feast” competition. I moved my nose closer to the painting and declared it baloney. I’m mixed, most of my dad’s family is mixed, and I know damn well that genetically it would be impossible for Cleopatra who was half Egyptian and half greek to have the milky white skin of an English monarch. I ranted about it as we continued our museum tour at a more leisurely pace now that Bren’s mission was completed and he simply giggled at my rage.

The next best part of the museum would have to be the Chinese modern art exhibit. The pieces ranged from street art to classical style to think pieces. One of the think pieces was a pile of brown ceramic leaves, like the kind you find in fall in New York just caught up in corners of the sidewalk that don’t see much foot traffic. I read the description and it said the artist looked at fallen leaves and said it reminded him of the passage of time and had to capture it. I must have scowled while reading this because when Bren said what? I told him “yea this artist looked at a bunch of dead leaves piled up on the ground and it reminded him of the passage of time but every five year old has that thought!” I distinctly remember having had this thought process as a small kid on the playground. Who doesn’t?! I yelled at Bren and he simply laughed and laughed. He was still randomly giggling to himself much later as we walked through another room and said he was just remembering what I said about the five year olds.

Once we survived the remainder of the oddly curated museum, the last few rooms having existing pieces simply shoved behind designer clothing and a room with just tons of paintings piled high on each other on the walls, it was off to find some food. It had started to rain a bit which is typical for winter here but thankfully we were warm and dry eating delicious burgers outdoors at a restaurant along the river by the time the rain was pouring.

It was already getting dark by the time we were back in Collingwood and when we regrouped for dinner about two hours later I thought it must be midnight! It was so dark. Then I remembered that I was quite literally on the opposite side of the world from Tallinn and that it was just 7pm.

Originally our plan was to go to Chotto Motto, a Japanese hipster dumpling shop run by these guys who have a cafe about a kilometer up the road and also run the Instagram famous Tofu Pupper account. We discovered Tofu Pupper after visiting the cafe back in January and talking to one of the guys who helps run the account. We’ve been following it ever since and I get a kick out of watching this fluffy shiba inu walked around my neighborhood. The new restaurant was nearly done when I left and I was really looking forward to finally eating there, especially after Bren said he’d been a few times and it was really good. When we walked up to the restaurant, however, we discovered that it’s closed on Sundays. I was pretty disappointed but Bren said the bbq place next door was good and we could go back tomorrow night for dinner.

The BBQ place was good. Texas style BBQ and a lot of American beers. They had a country band playing in the front room and we stayed until they literally kicked us out. Not ready for the night to end we wandered back closer to the apartment looking for anything that was open. Old faithful, The Noble Experiment, was and we walked in to find a bunch of Pakistani guys watching the cricket World Cup and enjoying their beer. Except for them the place was all ours and the bartender even let us stay later then closing. Bren had said that these guys looked like they were visiting their friend the bartender and once he closed up they’d probably go to the casino since that’s what all the tourists do. I looked at Bren curiously and said should I be going to the casino then if that’s what the tourists do? And with the most serious face I think I’ve ever seen on him he said you’re not a tourist. It is the best compliment I think I’ve ever received in my life so far.

When it was finally time to head out Bren asked for a hug and slowly we parted ways. It felt a bit strange to not be going back to the Wellington house but at the same time it makes being here feel less transient.

I’m certainly looking forward to a lazy day wandering around to see what’s changed, picking up gifts, and then finally getting to Chotto Motto for dinner!


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