THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Wednesday, 21 March

More excello and more long blacks. And more lovely bacon. There is to be a cab in our future, for the less city driving by me, the better. We have a 10:30 appointment at the Justin Art House Museum, located in a suburb about 20 minutes from the Hotel Windsock*. Leah and Charles Justin built the house specifically to serve their collection of contemporary abstract art. Leah graciously greets us at the door, then ushers us into a black room with two rows of orange chairs. . Opposite, a wall-size video is playing: a four by eight grid of human figures dressed in black lies against a white background stretching and contracting, randomly contorting into fetal position. One by one each winks out, disappears. It’s mesmerizing at first.

By now ten of us are seated in the orange chairs, with Charles leading us in a stiff discussion about what we see. Then we move up a flight of stairs to a red room filled with black-and-white paintings. Each piece merits a thorough discussion. I’m enjoying this. Close reading or close looking is all the same exercise to me – brain drawing: filling in blanks or turning over an image to see the bottom or listing synonyms or making educated guesses. Fun. Some of the work the Justins have collected is truly lovely. I’m the only man in the audience: Ali’s the only person under 50.

After this lively exchange, we adjourn to their apartment on the top floor, where a bountiful spread of canapés covers the dining table. It’s a gorgeous, light-filled space with bright colors and art everywhere. Clearly, they love what they’re doing. They don’t throw great wads of cash around; most of the pieces cost in the range of several thousand dollars. Their eye is highly personal, yet acute and practiced. A house museum, what a concept. Back to the Windsor for lunch and a rest.

Late in the afternoon, Ali and I walk to the State Library of Victoria to find the death mask and armor (!) of Ned Kelly, the last (d. 1880) and most famous bushranger and folk hero (and eloquent psychopath). A lot of space here is devoted to this outlaw and murderer. The armor, for God’s sake, the armor. In their final showdown with the law, he and his gang wore ungainly, patently ridiculous, iron get-ups made from ploughs and boiler plate. Very Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I’m sure the two of us haven’t seen the last of Mister Kelly.

Ned Kelly is but one element of the encyclopedic display in this fourth floor gallery that wraps around the vast dome of the Library’s Main Reading Room. Looking down, wooden tables surround a large podium arrayed in a snowflake pattern. Students peer into laptops. Ali finds more reading material in the Library’s bookstore. So do I.

Dinner options in Melbourne are dauntingly multitudinous. This is a sophisticated town in so many ways. I shepherd us toward Cookie, which the guidebooks all agree is a decent Thai establishment. First, it doesn’t seem to be at the address given. Ha! It’s on the first (second) floor. And Second, seating is mystifying; we inadvertently seat ourselves in the ‘reservations-only’ section and get shooed to the bar. Oh, the hipster hubbub. After fumbling over the menu which promises much savory goodness, it became apparent the ordering process takes place at the bar. How many challenges do we have to overcome in order to get fed? The bartender tends to us pretty quickly. He’s chatty and kindly with colorful arms. The food is delicious and the hipster/kitsch Indochinese decor endearing.

* When Ali and I traveled in Sicily two years ago, the curious prevalence of windsocks became a recurring joke. And obviously a joke that can withstand a good belaboring.

 

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