Saturday, February 25, 2017

farewell to perth

Perth is a very nice place to visit. But, unlike Roy, it is not a place I would like to live.

Its isolated imperial charm is redolent of afternoon teas similar to Victoria, British Columbia. I have a friend in Salem who insists on calling his living room a sitting room -- where he regularly treats guests to tea and scones. He would most likely make a go of it in Perth. But not me.

That assessment is a little harsh. Two days in Perth is like two days in any new city. At best, a visitor can get a taste of what the place would like to be. But not much more than that. And that makes any assessment a bit suspect.

Perth has the advantage of being a provincial outpost. There is not much subtext there. What you see is it. Its brief history of European settlement rests lightly on its daily life.

Walking along its main street is a bit like strolling through Old Town Portland. I suspect that comparison arises, in part, from Perth's preserved cast iron facades.

Obviously, Perth's buildings are not all early twentieth century reservations. Those skyscrapers are quite new.

And skyscrapers do not spring out of vacant lots. The past is often ceded on the blades of bulldozers.

Perth has a clever solution. Rather than pull down all of its old buildings, planners have tried to save at least a fragment of the city's architectural past. The facades of old buildings are allowed to remain while the rest of the building is razed. The facade then acts as the entry way to a new skyscraper or hotel.

This classical porch was once the entrance to Perth's first theater. It now leads to governmental offices, where similar fictions are performed.

As befits its social and political conservatism, Perth draws on the best lessons of its past to retain a growing community. Those skyscrapers house not only companies flogging natural resources to China; they are also investment centers for this part of the world.

The place is modern enough to publicly display abstract expressionist sculpture that catch the eyes of passing pedestrians. Or, at least, of one sex.

But not everything in Perth is a pleasant blend of old and new. Our tour guide, in an attempt to  to graphically describe Perth's isolation, pointed out that Perth is closer to Singapore than it is to its own national capital.

His point was that Perth's isolation justifies Western Australia having its own parliament -- and parliament building. As if the pirate king of Singapore was about to sweep down on Western Australia and set siege to the state.

I will pass on commenting about another country's security concerns -- and what goes on inside parliament. But I can comment on the architecture of the building.

The place looks as if Kim Jong Un could take up residence and feel right at home.

The town also has a romantic, and vaguely plagiarist, side. Just like the Rialto bridge in Venice and the Ponte des Artes in Paris, the railing of the Swan bell tower has morphed into another repository of false hope -- where lovers leave locks symbolizing their undying devotion.

And what could be more English in a former outpost of empire than a garden. Perth has a grand one -- the largest urban garden in the world. King's Park.

The park affords perfect views of the city nestled by the Swan river. (The name derives from the Australian black swans the settlers found there.) Like most parks of this sort, it is filled with tree-lined boulevards. But the trees do not stop there.

Because the continent of Australia was separated from Asia long ago, many of its plants and animals can be found nowhere else in the world. Many of them are on display in the botanical garden.

Most of the plants are well-signed. Such as this odd variety of eucalyptus that seems to be ubiquitous. Quite different than the eucalyptus we know in Mexico and California.

But the signs are deceiving. We repeatedly saw signs announcing "displays of brilliant red flowers most of the year," but saw only well-leaved plants. Perhaps summer is not "most of the year" when it comes to plant reproduction.

Plants are pleasant to view. But King's Park, like most parks, are best-suited to meeting the recreational needs of families. And it easily passed that test. There were families everywhere on the type of Friday afternoon when residents seek shady relief from heat waves.

Buildings and parks help form the bones of a city, but its life is in its food. Man may not live by bread alone. But, without bread, man does not live.

Of the three of us, one had great meals at each sitting. Two of us found the food to range from mediocre to really bad.

An example of the mediocre is this deceivingly attractive serving of shepherd's pie. With lamb. In Australia. What could go wrong? Especially, at $28 (AUS)?

The Moon and Sixpence is one of those pubs that serves the needs of local office workers and tourists. Maybe they are not picky about their food. Maybe I am too picky. Even with a dousing of HP sauce, it was without flavor.

As English as the city is, I was surprised to see the number of ethnic restaurants. Within a block of our hotel, were Lebanese, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean eateries.

But Friday evening helped salvage our culinary experience. Each Friday evening from October to April, what is known as the Twilight Hawker Market sets up shop downtown.

The market is primarily food stalls from almost every part of the world -- including Mexico. But the emphasis is on the middle east and Asia.

Inevitably, there are apparent contradictions. Such as the two pork stalls that are cheek and jowl with the halal Moroccan stall.

There were several Indian offerings. And all of them attracted customers.

My favorite was the stall offering Persian food. I had a conversation with one of the young men working there. The term "Iranian" is avoided -- for political reasons.

Roy availed himself of a creme brulee. But it appeared most customers did their best to avoid the temptation.

And others were simply befuddled by the choices on offer.

There were good reasons for confusion. Walking back from the market to our hotel, this was the rather odd combination that confronted us two doors from our home for our two nights in Perth.

But, Perth is in the past. Yesterday, we took a taxi to the port of Fremantle, and clamored abroad our new home for the next 17 days.

I am writing this on my sunny balcony. Australia is off our port side, and I am reveling in the prospect of internet that may actually work to keep in touch with all of you. (The fact that it took nearly seven hours to upload this handful of photographs may mean that future essays will be accompanied by only one photograph.)

Tomorrow we tender into Esperance. 

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