On Sydney

You know the feeling: those afternoons, after an enormous lunch, when the sunshine is delicious, so you curl up for a nap with the sheets twisted around your ankles.

You dream in high contrast - saturated meat dreams - spinning images filled with bad decisions. Then you wake, hours after you thought you set your alarm, and it’s dark. You can’t sleep because you just woke, you don’t know what day it is anymore and there’s a pervasive sense of annoyance; annoyance because even the surreality is vague and restless.

There is familiarity in this new city; a disconcerting sense of stepping backwards into a long-lost Australian childhood, in a place I’ve never lived.

There is a sense of blithe privilege, unacknowledged ghosts; invisible and oppressive. Activewear-clothed entitlement pressing in on all sides until the air is so thick and still, it’s hard to draw a breath.

I find an old friend. We go to a restaurant filled with botanic wall paper and enormous views, eat kingfish carpaccio with cucumber jelly on the deck of a creaky old terrace.

Show me how to love this city, I say. If you can do it, so can I.

Oh, we don't, she replies. I’ve been here six months, we're moving to Hong Kong.

I go a dinner party of financial journalists, armed with Eton mess and patriotic toasted macadamias.

On the way home, after buses in the rain, in the centre of town next to a "Smile, you're on CCTV" sign, I'm punched in the head by two teenage thugs, who run laughing across the street.

As my face swells, I stop a suited stranger to accompany me, who obliges as a gang of thug-friends climb out of the bushes. He insists on buying me a drink, to try to win me back to the city.

What do you want? he asks.

In the raucous throng at the late night bar, whisky can only be served with a mixer shot out of a soda gun, because it's after 11 o'clock.

I can't tell whether I'm more disheartened by the violence-for-amusement or that the government insists on telling me how to have my single malt.

It is Orwell meets Pinterest, with faux suspenders and Prohibition cocktails.

There is the Harbour Bridge every morning on the train, a blur of smeared windows and pylon-streaked sunshine. At work, people bring their own teabags and no one talks.

There are so many questions, and even Google has decided I need different answers.

Evenings are punctuated with sipped Old Fashioneds in a whisky bar down a fire escape, bourbon and freshly pressed apple juice in the secret space behind a record store.

I crave reality, something searing and solid. In the middle of the night, humidity buzzing in my ears, I climb out of bed, sniff the mosquito coil.

When I look, I have no matching socks. Days repeat themselves, back and forth, round and round.

I make myself say yes to everything.

One afternoon, a surfer takes me to a drizzly beach, shows me where the resident nurse shark lives. We drink Mountain Goat stout on the rocks, swim breaststroke races in a sea pool under the cliffs under a full moon.

The water fills with bioluminescent sparks. I imagine them drifting from Kenya.

I wander through weekends with salt in my hair, so I taste an ocean that touches the other side of my life.

 

Kingfish and views at The Butler, +61 (0)2 8354 0742, butlersydney.com.au
Late night drinks at Henrietta Supper Club, henriettasupperclub.com.au
Down the fire escape, the Baxter Inn, thebaxterinn.com
Mojo Record Bar, +61 (0)2 9262 4999, www.majorecordbar.com
The sea pool at Bronte Baths