Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Train Travel

Last week when Roberta and I were returning from the Vic Market, I had my gigantic 1.8 metre painting as my other companion. Had to hold it upright, because of its size. It will hang horizontally once I find a space in Canada. The cottage is where it will go, I think. We'll see. Tom's gorgeous aboriginal art work will need a space as well... probably need to add a huge blank wall somewhere. Perhaps we'll have to build up!!??? Anyway, that's for the future.

A few people smiled when they saw the wrapped painting. Curious. The tram and the entrance to the tram was crowded, so it needed manoeuvring around the crowds. That done, I stood there, hanging on to it. One woman suggested I put it down horizontally, but I didn't think it would fit. And someone would probably trip over it. Then there wouldn't be any more smiles. A beautiful young woman offered her seat to an older man who entered the tram. He grumpily refused to notice. Of course he didn't need her spot. But then he couldn't figure out how to push his ticket into the ticket reader device, so he accepted her assistance. He is truly one of the few grumpy people I've met on public transit in and around Melbourne. We're probably getting positive responses because of our accents, as most people are curious. "Are you from Ireland?" Or, "Where in America are you from?" Or.... "You aren't from here, are you?" The ones who've met up with Canadians before ask us about Canada, without assuming we're "American". It's too tedious to explain Canada is part of North America, thus we're "American" as well. Gabe and Kai try sometimes, but the subtlety is generally lost on people.

On to Flinders Street Station. Negotiate picture down the stairs. Fortunately don't have to use the loo, or else the one hour train ride to Upper Ferntree Gully (UFG) would be more intense!

Train is waiting for us. On we go. More looks at the picture. I take a seat near the back of the carriage, and hold my wrapped companion up against the rear doors. People come and go. It's mid-afternoon on a Thursday so things aren't that busy.

About 10 stops down the line, an argument erupts between a couple... the man, a smallish, dark curly haired, blue eyed, young looking, rough guy marches to the back, loudly protesting that he doesn't believe the woman he's with. There have been a few of these moments on the trains, but usually later in the day, with more alcohol involved. Most people do not want to engage and are looking everywhere but at the man. They are airing their differences across the train car. She has told him we have to get off at a certain stop to take a bus, as there's an accident on the line... instantly the rumours float around. Someone's lying on the track. They have to remove the body. Could be. I recall hearing a muted announcement somewhere back along the line, but I can't remember. Off we troop. A person in a uniform herds us back on... the line is clear.

He taunts her across the carriage. See, you didn't know what you were talking about. She then walks over to his side, across from me, and tries to reason with him. For some reason I jump in with a comment that I heard an announcement as well. This settles things a bit, but then they have another loud discussion about where they will meet after her doctor appointment. She pushes 4 cigarettes into his hand, and tries to kiss him... he doesn't want to kiss her back. Enough, she says. I don't want to deal with my family. You wait for me outside the doctor's office in 2 hours. I'll see you then. More discussion, more trying to kiss him. Finally he kisses her back. By now I'm quite intrigued, but trying not to engage any further. She leaves. He sits down.

Looks at me and smiles. Asks me which train we're on -- the one going to Belgrave or Lilydale. I know it's Belgrave, so I fill him in. Where are you from then? Canada, I tell him. "Are there black people in Canada?" I ask him what he means by black... there are still quite a few people in Australia who refer to the Aboriginal people as "black". He is surprised to hear that Canada also has indigenous people, but he was wondering about people from Africa or the Caribbean.

Then, "Are things more dear there?" he wants to know. Some things are, some aren't. I give him my surface answer -- food is more expensive in Aus. Water costs less. The transit system is excellent -- Winnipeg's sucks. We have colder winters, so it costs more to heat our homes. This raises a discussion about where they live in government housing with their 2 daughters -- one a two year old and one two weeks. Where's your kids, I ask. With my mother. The girlfriend is on her way to the doctor, no kids in tow. We talk more about government housing in Australia. They've got a place in Rosebud, a spot we've come to love. I tell him about my interest in that area and that my big object is a painting of the foreshore along Port Philip Bay. That is interesting and now he shares more about his/their life. He has a broken hand, and illustrates a finger that moves around in the skin of his hand. (I KNOW everyone near us is listening... it's dead quiet!) He was caught driving without a license, so he was sentenced to 5 months community service. Broke his hand 10 pin bowling with a group of disabled adults. The judge isn't happy with him, because he can't do his community service until the broken finger is fixed. So tomorrow he has a date in court. But the surgeon who was supposed to fix his hand left for Ireland, so the operation has been postponed. More wiggling of finger which isn't really attached to his hand under the skin. I ask him if he's sure he broke it bowling or was it broken when it punched something? I don't know why I asked, but he just laughed. Thought I was funny. Apparently he spent a bit of time in jail 10 years ago because of a graffiti charge, so now the justice system is not happy that he was driving without a license.

There is a lot of graffiti along the train lines, and often there's an eruption of tagging along the roadways... recently all the signs in Ferny Creek were tagged with ugly black marker. Nothing creative. Creative would be interesting, but the ugly black stuff is just like the crap that was all over the West End in Winnipeg. Boring. Nothing like the creative "Bring me the head of Pierre Trudeau" I saw in Vancouver in the early 80s... the West didn't half hate that man!

We chat a bit more, and then he realizes he's missed his train stop. By now I'm quite interested in his life story, but don't want him to get in any more trouble than he's in... He shows me a picture of his little girl, and mentions she looks like him... not "strong featured" like his partner. Indeed, the partner is strong featured, and the little girl is very gorgeous with curly hair and blue eyes. Another stop goes by, and he gathers himself together, but not before showing me the letter from the plastic surgeon. He's really hoping the judge will believe him. So am I. I hope the judge believed him. I hope he doesn't spend more time in jail. I hope he and his girls can be happy. They are in Rosebud. He's going to do more fishing he tells me. From the pier. We stood on that pier on Black Saturday and watched the fairy penguin zooming around. I tell him that. We are fortunate. I hope he will be a lucky man.

He leaves. Roberta and I look at each other. Another guy pipes up from a few seats away: "Is that your surfboard?" So Australian... again I tell the story of the painting. Then, "What's better? A New York pizza or an L.A. pizza?" I'm not sure what he's asking, so I reword. NY or LA? Pizza? I suggest a pizza from NY. Good answer. He and his parents travelled around the world about 15 years ago and he still remembers the amazing pizzas he had in New York. New York state, that is. Spent time near Niagara Falls on his travels, and upstate New York. We discuss my childhood, near Niagara Falls, Ont. Did he cross the bridge? Of course. It's the better side, I suggest. We laugh. Back to pizza talk. Then he tells me his father is now 80 and his mother, who is from Mauritius, is 55. Well, your dad got lucky, I say. Yes. "He's a 10 pound Pom. Met my mom when he was travelling to Australia." The 10 pounds refers to the cost of travelling to Australia for British subjects after WWII.

Australia had a policy in place to increase the population of the country, and they encouraged British subjects. That's also the time Europeans of non-British background were recruited. And that's when the first cappuccino machines hit the Melbourne area... I have this as a fact from a woman I met in the city. She was serving coffee from a company who had been in Melbourne for 51 years. The people who started the coffee importation business were originally from Italy. There was apparently no good coffee to be found.

We finally neared UFG, and his friend piped up -- where were we living? How long are we here for? I told him Ferny Creek... where, he wondered? Turns out he's just down the street from us, on Clarke Road. Our stop arrived, and we all got off. The painting fit in the car, and off we went. It's now resting in the house, waiting for some more packing up before I take it to Pack and Send in Rowville.

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