THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Thursday, 15 March

Because we bought ground coffee last night, I could French-press something semi-decent to start my day. A good bakery a couple of blocks up O’Connell Street makes a fine flat white and toasts the banana bread. I want to go to there.

Adelaide is one of the few Australian cities without a convict history. It was laid out by idealists in the early 19th century in a figure-eight pattern, two urban centers, South and North, surrounded by a serpentine of parkland. The Fire Station Inn is in North Adelaide, while the institutions of commerce and learning are a twenty-five minute walk downhill, in South Adelaide. Like many cities in Australia, Adelaide suffered post-war indignities as gorgeous homes and mercantile buildings were replaced by blocky eyesores. We pass what used to be a hospital with turrets and balconies and elaborate gingerbread filigree. Under one dormer, stone letters declare – Elder Laboratory. It speaks to me.

We’re aiming for the Art Gallery of South Australia, which, I believe, has a show up from Musée d’Orsay. On the way, we step into a used bookshop chockablock full of old Aussie tomes. I find my way to the fiction section and discover a signed first edition of Edmund White’s Nocturnes for the King of Naples. I’ll take you home, I will. The proprietor feels compelled to tell us about a going-out-of-biz sale that their second location is having. He expounds at length concerning the directions to this gold mine of weary titles. We give him our puppy-like attention, then continue on to the Art Gallery, drained of our humanity.

This may be why an eager docent pegs us as two people in need of a hyper-detailed schematic for navigating the Art Gallery’s collection. He marks a route on the map with a dotted line that loops over itself as it wanders from floor to floor. It seems the Parisian treasures won’t show up until the end of the month. We were misinformed. The current show moves through the galleries thematically, one high-toned concept after another – Death, Rapture, Toil, etc. Goddamn, if this doesn’t work in an entertaining and surprising fashion. Most of the work is Australian with a smattering of ‘school of – ’ European pieces. We have a great old time.

Ali turns and asks, “Where’s your book?” “Oh, shit. I left it in the bathroom by the entrance.” Phew. It’s still there in its brown paper wrapping. Some light lunch is enjoyed on the patio and we stroll a little further down North Terrace to Ayers House, home of Sir Henry Ayers, for whom that Rock was named. He was a 19th century immigrant Irishman made good, becoming a copper baron, politician, and knight. The house has been restored with care and affection. It’s a modest (Think Graceland, but with a ballroom), two-story High Victorian home. I love house tours; this one is self-guided. Throughout the house, they’ve encouraged school children to leave comment cards by the exhibits that intrigue them. “I want to live in this room for a week.” “Where is the refrigerator?” “This dress would fit my mum but my dad wouldn’t like it.”

Time for a little shopping. Walking down the Rundle Street pedestrian mall, the bistros and hip clothing stores gradually succumb to brand retailers. We slip into one store with its own brand of funky clothing. Ali finds a terrific dress with a recurring Godzilla pattern. Very flattering and nerdy: the pirate bunny one, not so much. For me, there’s a jaunty, black watch cap. Finding a restroom in this maelstrom of commerce is not easy, but we do. Also, more coffee. Also, a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle.

This time of day, finding a cab requires dexterity and perseverance. After a few false starts, we’re on our way back to the Fire Station Inn to put our feet up. A good Indian restaurant a few blocks north on O’Connell beckons. Meanwhile, I’ve done a load of whites for the third time due to my inability to understand how a goddamn washer/dryer combo works. If I could only make it stop.

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