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Continental Contrasts - the first weeks back

07 March 2011

Living half my year in Melbourne and half in New York makes for living with contrasts and comparisons. Not good versus bad, or worse and better. More a curious noticing of the differences from small to big.

It's very hard not to be knocked over by the one that hits with full force as soon as you step off the plane - the weather. The blast of thick, soggy incredible heat makes you want to turn around and jump on a plane out of there as fast as you can.

In August the city is at its worst. And, as if a climate of nearly 100 fahrenheit every day, over 90% humidity, with little or no relief at night is not bad enough, the air conditioners on apartment blocks, buses, subways and cars blast even more stinking hot air out into the streets.

In my first week or two back I'm sensitive to the differences. That distinctive smell of mouse droppings mixed with stale urine and rotting garbage which the heat intensifies. (Just as in my first weeks in Melbourne my eyes hurt from all the light of that great big sky.) The well-dressed people - mainly men - who spit in the gutters. And every day, the huge piles of rubbish wrapped in blue plastic bags waiting to be collected, taking up most of the pavement.

I'm agog at the drama of the streets - one of my great pleasures in living here. People shouting their life stories into their mobile phones. And so many dressed as if parading on some special stage. Look at me, look at me, their clothes shout. Like the head to toe, dressed in white, middle aged couple on the corner of 6th and Greenwich. Polar bears in matching stretch jumpsuits, wilting in the heat. A woman in the steamy subway wears a thick black coat sweeping to her ankles, Anna Karenina-like. Eye-catching. You have to stare. They want you to stare, and smile smugly when they see you paying attention to their effort to stand out from the crowd.

And then suddenly it's over. In the third week of August, from one day to the next, the temperature drops 20 degrees. It starts raining and in the lift the greeting changes from a weary, \"98 again today,\" to the plaintive \"is it ever going to stop raining?\"