Brooklyn Everywhere

Love locks, Yarra footbridge, Melbourne

I am bad at giving advice.

A lot of things that I do end up working out for me, but are the opposite of what a responsible person does, so I often find myself in an unhelpful “do as I say, not as I do” type of scenario. I don’t mind eating heaps of free toast, Campbell’s Chunky, and 30 cent mcdonalds ice creams for most of my meals, so I can’t tell you how to save money on food, unless you also have the palate of a homeless pregnant person. I’m not bothered walking EVerywhere, even when it takes hours, so I don’t know where you can buy a tram ticket either. And yes, there are creeps out there and yes, you should be more careful than I am but sleeping in the homes of internet strangers has really just always worked out for me.

I don’t really love hostels. In my experience, it’s usually a very particular scene that I am moderately bored by – typically dominated by box wine and tape-recorded conversations about where everyone’s been, where everyone’s going, and yeah it really is crazy how many Germans there are in Australia. That fact, combined with my aversion to spend  $30 a night on a 10-bed dorm room, I’ve turned to Couchsurfing. I’ve done it twice before – in Sydney, with a gay young high school teacher who invited me to a Chaka Khan concert, and in Brisbane, with a sassy middle-aged divorcée. Both were lovely people, so it was worth another try in Melbourne.

That’s how I ended up at Zed’s. I thought I had a place to stay when I got into the city, but it fell through at the last minute, so I scrambled through my emails in the airport trying to figure out where I would sleep that night. After fielding a creep or two away (I am not SO naïve), someone called ZDog offered me a couch, and, like Joseph and Mary at the stables, I shrugged and headed toward the only place that would take me.

My first impressions when he met me at the tram station were of Pitbull - the rapper, not the dog breed. He even had the vest and sunglasses to complete the look. If Pitbull were Serbian, he would play guitar in a one-bedroom apartment in Australia’s second biggest city, instead of crashing all over the most boring minute of every single pop song. Zed lived in an apartment called Parkvale Mansions, and it looked exactly like the kind of apartment complex that would name itself Parkvale Mansions. There were white walls and old-school white wooden banisters, and the entire apartment, hallway, and staircase was covered in red carpet. He had ornate gold-framed mirrors on his walls, and over the mantle, a giant painting of a six-year-old girl crying that looked like it had been picked up from a thrift store in 1970. Miles Davis was playing on the radio when I walked in, which, when added to the red carpet, felt like a move, but Miles Davis was playing the whole 48 hours I stayed there. He just had good music taste. But before I knew that, flags were raised.

Looking at that painting and listening to jazz as this strange man walked into the kitchen and answered that no, he didn’t have any roommates, I experienced the only only fleeting moment of unease I’ve had in all my Couchsurfing experiences. I was instantly reminded of the part at the end of the horror movie, when the lone survivor finally finds refuge from all bloodshed at the kind old recluse neighbor’s house, only to look up slowly from her peppermint tea with a knowing look in her teary eyes, going, “…I don’t think I said anything about the basement, Mr. Jenkins…” and that is the moment you know you’ve got less than two minutes until that knives and blood and rolling credits.

But that lasted for a fraction of a second, and only because I am ridiculous. This guy was a lamb. I’m slightly relieved that I can still have defenses up – I’ve been told that in general, I am far too trusting of people I’ve never met – but they were unnecessary. He made lattes and talked a lot about Jimi Hendrix and gave me plenty of privacy, and I like him a lot more than the Spanish Pitbull.

I know people are going to see this as a cautionary tale, or at least cluck their tongues with an “ah, but there but for the grace of God go you” kind of reminder, but that’s not what I have experienced. Of course you have to be careful. Of course there is a possibility that I overestimate my own physical strength and ingenuity when trusting myself to get out of disastrous situations if the need arises. But the majority of people in the world do not want to do bad things to other people, and often want to do good things for them. I know there are exceptions, but I have been lucky enough not to have run across them.  And what’s more, I can’t buy into the strange notion that people we have not met are inherently more dangerous than people we have. Most people seem to have a weird sense of security about people they know, like somehow the good people in the world have condensed toward their own bubble, outside of which are landmines of thieves and rapists. This just isn’t true. In my experience, Couchsurfing is the kind of community that attracts hospitable, friendly, honest, curious people. 

Plus Tinder exists, so there’s really no need to prey on wary backpackers if that is what you’re after.   

Look at these baby grandmasters oh my god I am going to kidnap one

Look at these baby grandmasters oh my god I am going to kidnap one

South bank, Melbourne

South bank, Melbourne

Melbourne is cool. As traitorous as it is to admit, it’s definitely got more or better nightlife, art, music, and culture than Sydney, if only just slightly. Because of this, it’s also got a disproportionate, almost Williamsburg-level hipster population. Fling a brick from a third-story window anywhere in Brunswick or Fitzroy and you’re bound to hit a string-bean banjo player or someone with an ironic beard. But this is an occupational hazard of a lively metrop. that attracts interesting and creative people, and as a city, Melbourne is probably the best this continent has to offer.

But no one comes to Australia for the city life anyways. Sydney beaches slay St. Kilda, Melbourne’s main sorry little bay, and it rains all the time here. If I just wanted good cafés and cool architecture, I wouldn’t have had to leave the states. Sydney is less pretentious, and less fancy, and probably happier, and I will always be family-level loyal to it. My allegiances are not so easily swayed.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure , risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

Nassim Taleb, Antifragile

Melbourne is cool. As traitorous as it is to admit, it’s definitely got more or better nightlife, art, music, and culture than Sydney, if only just slightly. Because of this, it’s also got a disproportionate, almost Williamsburg-level hipster population. Fling a brick from a third-story window anywhere in Brunswick or Fitzroy and you’re bound to hit a string-bean banjo player or someone with an ironic beard. But this is an occupational hazard of a lively metrop. that attracts interesting and creative people, and as a city, Melbourne is probably the best this continent has to offer.

But no one comes to Australia for the city life anyways. Sydney beaches slay St. Kilda, Melbourne’s main sorry little bay, and it rains all the time here. If I just wanted good cafés and cool architecture, I wouldn’t have had to leave the states. Sydney is less pretentious, and less fancy, and probably happier, and I will always be family-level loyal to it. My allegiances are not so easily swayed.

Melbourne is cool. As traitorous as it is to admit, it’s definitely got more or better nightlife, art, music, and culture than Sydney, if only just slightly. Because of this, it’s also got a disproportionate, almost Williamsburg-level hipster population. Fling a brick from a third-story window anywhere in Brunswick or Fitzroy and you’re bound to hit a string-bean banjo player or someone with an ironic beard. But this is an occupational hazard of a lively metrop. that attracts interesting and creative people, and as a city, Melbourne is probably the best this continent has to offer.

But no one comes to Australia for the city life anyways. Sydney beaches slay St. Kilda, Melbourne’s main sorry little bay, and it rains all the time here. If I just wanted good cafés and cool architecture, I wouldn’t have had to leave the states. Sydney is less pretentious, and less fancy, and probably happier, and I will always be family-level loyal to it. My allegiances are not so easily swayed.

I am missing my people, now.

My goodbyes to all my Sydney friends were scattered and unceremonial. They were spread over a period of weeks, and took place outside taxis in rush hour Bali traffic, in 2 AM McDonald’s lines, and at beachside barbecues when I thought we’d have another chance. I had been gone three weeks before my victory lap around Sydney anyway, and I wouldn’t be heading home for another few months, so I felt a strange lack of finality about all of it. I definitely preferred this method to the drama and awkwardness of what for some would be final farewells - I literally heard the phrase “have a nice life” uttered without sarcasm MULTIPLE times during my last week of work. But I have gotten to be a bit of a sap over the past couple of days.

I don’t know if I even miss Sydney, really - with the surprising exception of my dingy old Axis power embassy of a flat. I love her, but I don’t wish I were back – at least not yet. But I do wish that the families that adopted me in that city could share the rest of this country with me. The people who lay with me on the beach at Jervis Bay, raving over the ridiculous starscape – I wish those people could see the Milky Way over the Great Barrier Reef, so we could argue over whether anything could top that first time. Everytime I try to operate a stove, I wish the Italians were here to roll their eyes and push me out of the way, muttering “zio porko” at my sheepish shrug and premade Bertoli sauce. I wish I could drag my Dutch roommate around Melbourne’s last-minute comedy shows and beautiful midnight campuses, live with bats, like I always could back home.

In general, I actually love being by myself. I get fidgety and distracted when I’m in groups for too long, and I am almost never bored in my own company. Most of the time, I like to do things in what I have been informed are unusual quantities and chronologies, and I love being able to do whatever intrigues me at the present moment without worrying if everyone else is enjoying themselves.

But I want to share the big things with people who have been there. I’ve met lovely people on the road, but I’m almost averse to forming meaningful relationships with someone I’ll only know for less than 48 hours. Everything happens so quickly and so intensely when you travel, but a little of the luster is gone. There’s only a shadow of the anything-can-happen newness that colored my first month here, because I can see the finish line. I’ll never be as eager to meet people in a bar as I was my first night out, when I made my First Real Friends in Sydney. I’ll never get as excited to learn where people are from as I did while trying not to confuse the Italians’ names with those of the teenage mutant ninja turtles. Just like the Jervis Bay stars, or the waterfall at Litchfield, or every young adult novel that’s been written, it’s hard to top that first time.   

Melbourne getting some sun at long last

Somebody needs to always remind me that whenever I feel anxious or stressed about anything, I need to just go be next to a large body of water for a little while. It never takes long to snap out of it. If it’s rainy or freezing, well-architected museums, churches, and libraries will do in a pinch. At night: Ernest Hemingway, I guess.

And if I’ve been moseying around on my own all day, looking at a million things and taking pictures and writing things down and maybe texting a handful of people but not saying words aloud to anyone but the girl at the sushi counter, I should probably go look friendly in a public place for a little while. This will help me avoid talking to myself like an insane person. Side effects may include publicly losing a game of chess and biting back a million overly personal questions for the man who tried to give me his bike, but they are worth it. 

S. S. Maheno shipwreck 

Fraser Island, Queensland. 

This is the only bit of Fraser Island that I got any decent pictures of. It was easily my favorite part, but there were also dingos and a nice lake or two and hella rainforest. Our 4-wheel-drive bus broke down for a minute in the rain on the way home, because it was just that kind of week a little bit, but it was a great day.

North Queensland tablelands - Eacham Lake, Josephine Falls, Milla Milla falls, and the Cathedral fig tree.

Renting a car with the German girls in my hostel was a good idea. I know I raved about Florence falls in Litchfield, but it hardly comes close - Josephine had a natural rock slide right there in the creek, and Milla Milla was the kind of waterfall you only see in movies. Not even real movies either - only Disney ones about nature, like Tarzan and Pocohontas. It just plummeted 100 feet or so into a perfect lake. You could swim to it and walk behind it, and if it hadn’t been raining for the past few days, I imagine you could get right up under it like an herbal essences ad commercial.
Eacham lake was lovely as well, and the cathedral fig tree actually made the redwood forests look about average. It was over 500 years old, over 44 meters high, and the leaves on it - just the leaves - weighed over a thousand kilograms. A literal ton of leaves on this one tree.
Of course words and pictures don’t do any of this justice, but here are some anyway.

Milla Milla falls, Queensland, Australia 

Milla Milla falls, Queensland, Australia