As an expat, one only seems to return home for an event or a catch up. If it’s for an event, you catch up with as many people as you can while you’re there, and if you come back purely for a catch up, you try and schedule it to coincide with an event, or instead organize and event to make the whole catching up exercise more efficient. Either way, it’s going to be hectic.

I remember a friend once telling me that since she moved to Sydney, she had associated a visit to Melbourne with no sleep and people fighting over her attention. She said it was a sapper of vacations, and she had not had some lazy time in the sun since she moved. I had initially thought her a little egotistical, and this resulted in a sour grapes behaviour involving thoughts like “Well if you’re so important, I don’t want to be the one monopolising your time – go spend it with someone who cares“. Now I realize she was right. It doesn’t matter how many or how few friends and family one has as an expat, there is guaranteed to be someone who believes they have been shortchanged of your attendance. And “me time”? Forget it. That’s just selfish. Not much of a “holiday” is it?

So my recent trip to Melbourne, although for a horrible reason, allowed me a Melbourne experience I haven’t had in years. I had a couple of afternoons as a tourist. You see, nobody except the immediate family knew I was there, at least until later. Not only that, I was traveling without children, so found myself in a position of irresponsibility that entirely suited my mood.

I potatoed myself on the couch of my dilapidated 100 year old house, with new episodes of Masterchef and drank way too much red wine. I enjoyed Melbourne winter in the best possible way – an open fire, stodgy comfort food, and a snuggling chocolate Labrador for extra warmth. I relished the shock of a cold cheek as my sister in law came home and kissed me in greeting. I shut the door and the world out, and laughed with her over bowl-shaped glasses of magenta magic and pretended nothing was wrong.

I drove down to Acland St, usually a walk, but the rain provided a lazy excuse. I entered my old haunt – Cicciolina, the duchess of St Kilda bistros. I sat myself at a table close enough to graze elbows with some hefty builders, who played with their iPhones and swilled Pyranees Shiraz as an accompaniment to their Angus T-bones with truffled mash – a far cry from what the Dubai labourer and his lunch. I gorged on perfect pasta with ham hock ragu and drank boutique Pinot Noir from Central Otago. It warmed me like a blanket on the inside, and made me realize I do actually miss Melbourne itself, not just the people I know who inhabit it.

I ambled past the famous cake shops of the strip, every store touting the “state’s best vanilla slice”, “Melbourne’s favourite meringues” and “Rygor delight” which is a brick of chocolate and cholesterol that I believe has been named so because it causes death and therefore rigor mortis. No need to buy – just looking at them filled me satisfyingly. Instead, I turned the corner into the cheap end of Acland St and had soy chai at the Galleon. Another institution of St Kilda – perfect in its rustic simplicity, and it’s unfailing offering of superb tea and coffee. The chai was so good, I wondered how on earth it could be made by a non-Indian. Melbourne might not be as multicultural as Dubai, but the food and drink is.

The next day after my morning ritual with Mum, I headed to the South Melbourne market. Dubai, with all it’s ‘world’s best‘, cannot provide me with a complete market such as this. Butchers, bakers, fishmongers, delicatessans, florists, second hand traders, variety stores, market gardeners, and greengrocers sold their wares loudly and brashly or silently and prettily.

Pork – not hidden behind the curtain…

I purchased local organic chicken, freshly caught ocean trout and home-smoked organic kassler. Flowers for my sister in law – Christmas lillies in June, because here it’s the start of winter. Fruit and veggies – sparse in variety compared to Dubai – but all fresh, in season, and comparatively local. I visited the ‘Jeans Man’ for a pair of Lee Rider Bootcuts – the best jeans in the world (for me), and the only man that bargains in the market. He dropped the price when I surrendered to winter and bought some moleskins that seem to make me look like a size 10. Or so he says.

And then I went home, to my old house (which my brother now lives in), to cook. The kitchen is a 1970s colonial-inspired tragedy with coffee coloured tiles complete with baskets of onions printed on one in every ten. The laminate is peeling and stained. The blind doesn’t go up all the way, and the single light globe only emits an energy-saving 8 watts behind its paper Ikea shade. It’s not quite the maid-cleaned marble-benched  and stainless-steel applianced spacious kitchen of Dubai. But the veggies were squeaky fresh and totally inspiring. I made trout and asparagus risotto, ratatouille, gnocchi all’amatriciana and a mild coconut chicken curry, and boxed it all up in freezer containers to take to my dad in the afternoon. It felt so good to do something little to help after all my parents have done for me, and in my favourite vein of assistance – cooking.

Friends who bring me peace

That evening, I finally confessed to some very close friends that I was in town, and dropping everything, they rushed over. I wondered why I had refrained from telling them I was here earlier. I saw their beautiful children, who have grown a foot in 12 months, they were polite and welcoming, just like their parents. Then they whisked me off to the Carlisle Wine Bar, thrust me back into the Melbourne so familiar to me and make me forget all my troubles. And for some reason, they didn’t care that I selfishly enjoyed time on my own. Ahh. I’m glad I’ve got some more time to see them in July. 

7 thoughts on “Going home”

  1. Please tell me that you had some freshly shucked Tassie oysters from the seafood counter at Sth. Melbourne. That's the experience that I miss most of all about the city – shopping on a Saturday morning at the market, and the final reward of 4 oysters each before heading home on the tram!Oh – and the amazing Porterhouse steaks!

  2. Is it bad that I scrolled through just to stare at the vanilla slices?? I can't stop looking at them…reminds me of a mille feuille almost, and I so love those…Sorry, couldn't focus on the rest of the post with that picture in there. šŸ™

  3. What your friend said was very true. Only once have I been able to sneak back home with no-one finding out about it. So much more relaxing. This year my aunt found out and is planning a reunion. *depressed face*

  4. Wow Sarah, what a great post. I laughed out loud with you about the home visits – it's always my experience that I don't have enough hours in the day to see everyone, and end up doing a group effort which is less than satisfying for all concerned.You had my mouth watering about the food too – I could just picture the fresh veggies at the market – I so agree with you that this is something missing in Dubai.Sounds like you had a great trip. Nice!

  5. I can relate to you in a sense because I used to make sure no one knows that I am home so I could act as a tourist once in a while. I hope the reason why you came home would be resolved whatever it is.

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