Other Cultures

Ejo #106 – My Dubai: Frying Pan Adventures

Hey, guess what? It’s been ten years since David and I moved to Dubai. A whole fucking DECADE!!!! Guess what else? After all this time, I still can’t say that I like living here. And yet here I am anyway. Go figure. And (for a bunch of different reasons) we’re actually planning on sticking around – for a while at least. So, even though I can’t say I enjoy life in Dubai, I am making an effort to at least try and actually live in the city I’ve inhabited for ten years. Believe it or not kids, I am trying. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t written a piece shitting on Dubai for a while. Nearly four years in fact. Sure, I’ll whinge about it every now and again, but that’s normal, right? We all whinge from time to time. Nope, I’ve been making a real, concerted effort to find some kind of peace with the fact that this is where I am now. It makes no sense to keep fighting it.  But that doesn’t mean I need to like it.  I never will.  What it does mean is that, occasionally, I will venture out of the comfort of my home to try something new. Something that might even be a little bit fun.

So when my beautiful friend Zimmy asked me to join her for a Bengali cooking class, of course I said yes! To be honest, I actually had no idea what Bengali food looked like, or even where Bengal was. But hey, I was going to spend some time with my second favourite person in Dubai, cooking up a storm and then eating it. What is not to love about that.

Quick geography and history lesson: Bengal, an area in north-eastern India, was ruled by the Brits until they decided to finally piss off home in 1947. The area was then divided into states belonging to India (the predominantly Hindu, west side) and Pakistan (the Muslim, east side). Fun fact: in 1971 the side belonging to Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh (hey, you learn something new in this ejo every damn month!). Our Bengali cooking class featured food from the Indian side of the road. And it was amazing.

Bengal Map

And now you know where Bengal is.

The class, held at Hyatt Place hotel was a collaboration between one of Dubai’s prominent food bloggers, Ishita Saha, author of Ishitaunblogged and co-founder of food and travel portal FoodeMag, and and a local outfit called Frying Pan Adventures. Frying Pan Adventures is actually the reason I was really excited about this event. I’ve been reading about their back-alley, culinary adventures for years. Let me put it this way; if I was visiting Dubai as a tourist today, I would skip the luxury hotels, waterparks and malls and I would hit the streets with Frying Pan Adventures. For me, a city’s heart and soul are hidden away in its unseen alleys, and I really believe that the best way to get to know a place is through those backstreets and through the food you find there. Not the “five star” Michelin pretenders, but real food, eaten by real people, every single day. For me, it’s no contest.

Frying Pan Adventures is the lovechild of several young entrepreneurs, mostly women, who came together over their shared love of food. And can I just say, I am thrilled that they didn’t just take that love and open (yet another) Dubai restaurant! This city already has 20,000 of them. It doesn’t need another one (are you listening Gordon Ramsey)? Here’s the thing though, only half of those restaurants are listed on Tripadvisor or Zomato. The rest are small, backstreet joints with no website, no Facebook page and sometimes not even a menu. And they’re usually doing a roaring trade with those in know. The ladies (and gent) of Frying Pan Adventures have taken their passion, and their knowledge of these backstreet gems, and opened that world up to those of us who would otherwise never get to experience it. Isn’t that just awesome!

I’m yet to actually go on one of their walking tours (the class I attended was a one-off event), but I have booked to do their Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage next month, featuring food from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. I’m excited. And you know what? I’m excited that I’m excited. This is a new feeling for me. Of course I should have guessed that I would feel more at home amidst the grittiness and realness of Old Dubai, than in the distorted reflections of its skyscrapers.

And so I, and 19 other people, went along to the special Bengali cooking event earlier this month. I ate some yummy Bengali snacks as I watched Ishita prepare and cook a couple of the dishes on the menu, with the help of some volunteers. She made us begun bhaja; seasoned and fried eggplant slices topped with garlic sauce and pomegranate. Yum! We then watched her make shorshe baata maach, which is a fish dish made with incredibly delicious and sassy mustard flavours. Speaking of which, did you know that the single ingredient that is most definitive of Bengali cooking is mustard oil? I don’t think I’d ever tasted it before, but it’s so fragrant and aromatic and flavoursome. I’ll definitely be cooking this easy to make dish myself at home.

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Jhal Muri – street style puffed rice with chilli and spices.  We were served this while watching Ishita work her magic in the kitchen.

 

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Begun Bhaja – such a tasty dish and super duper easy to make.

 

 

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Shorse Baata Maach – usually made with a type of fish called hilsa which was unavailable, so salmon was deliciously substituted. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it.  Photograph compliments of Zimmy’s partner Arafaat who somehow appears to have climbed into the frying pan to take the shot!

But my absolute favourite dish of the whole day was luchi!!! Luchi, for the unenlightened (as I once tragically was) is a deep-fried flatbread that puffs up while it’s cooking, transforming it into a billowy pillow of delicious, hot, flaky goodness. An orgasm in your mouth. I could literally eat these all day long, and Bengalis do. Luchi is served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. How fucking civilised!!! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do have a thing for fried bread. Don’t judge.  When they went around the group asking people what their favourite Indian dish was, I unequivocally said naan. Coz you can eat it with ALL the other dishes!! Duh!!

 

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Looks like a pappadum, tastes like the freshest, flakiest savoury cronut you’ve ever imagined.

 

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Ishita’s recipe for luchi.  Will try at home.  

After the instructional part of the event was over, we were all taken upstairs to a hotel suite that had been transformed into a typical Bengali home with the help of some soft furnishings, knick-knacks and old photos. It was a really lovely setting and we all sat down to enjoy the rest of the food, which had been prepared by the hotel cooking team and served, family-style, by our hosts from Frying Pan Adventures.

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Assorted fritters and an incredibly moreish relish to dip them in.

 

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Khichudi – a porridge made with rice and lentils.  This is comfort food right here.

 

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Cholar daal.  Someone came around and poured ghee on everyone’s serve.  YES PLEASE!

 

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Kosha Mangsho – slow cooked, tender mutton in it’s own thick onion gravy.

 

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Shukto – vegetable stew.

 

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Baked yoghurt.  This was an updated version of a traditional Bengali dessert, and if I hadn’t already stuffed my face full of everything else I might have been able to manage more than a couple of teaspoons of it.  I really let myself down, and I regret it.

 

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The feast!

 

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The team behind the scenes.  Great work, guys and girls!!  Thank you!

 

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The Frying Pan Adventures chicks rocking their traditional outfits, and some beautiful smiles.

It was such a treat to be part of this culinary adventure and to experience something new in Dubai and on my taste-buds. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about this city. But I can easily admit that there are many things here that are good. Pockets of culture and authenticity and realness, and even joy. If I can find more of those things, then perhaps I can also find a better way to live here.  Perhaps I can find my place. For fuck’s sake, if fried bread can’t do it, nothing can.

Ejo #105 – Drunk In….. Rome

Roma!  You might be surprised to learn that even though I’ve been to Italy eight times in my life, I’ve never been to Rome before.  I figured it was time, so David and I booked a three night stay at the end of our Sicily sojourn.  And I’m SO glad we did.  The moment we hit the streets, eyes wide in wonder, I fell in love.  The vibe, the architecture, the people, the opera floating into my ears from an open window down a cobblestoned alleyway.  It was such a delight to discover that Rome wasn’t going to be a huge let-down.  That it really is as wonderful as everyone says it is.  Naturally, we hit the ground running, already slightly tipsy from our flight from Sicily.  Surely you’d be disappointed with anything less.

 

WELCOME PICK UP

Taxi rides from Fiumicino Airport into the centre of Rome cost a flat fee of €48.  So, check out this cool life hack – for the exact same price, you can get a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to whisk you into town instead.  All you have to do is book it in advance and the driver will meet you and escort you into a luxurious, air-conditioned vehicle.  No queueing in line, no smelly cab, no confusion about where your Airbnb is located.  None of that shit.  This one’s a must do if you’re travelling to Rome.

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Better than a taxi, any day of the week.

 

VICOLOFT APARTMENT

We normally stay in Airbnb accommodation when we travel.  This time was no different, but this particular apartment was also available on other sites, and I have to say that I’m getting a little peeved with Airbnb’s extortionate service charges – so if I can get the same place for €70 less why the hell wouldn’t I?  We stayed in Vicoloft, an awesome apartment managed by the very lovely Alessandro, located in wonderful Trastevere.  This beautiful, cobblestoned neighbourhood is situated across the Tiber River, offering the best of both worlds – it’s walking distance to most of Rome’s incredible attractions but also a nice escape from the tourist hoardes.  Even better, this part of town rocks a great vibe every single night of the week.  I tell you what, Romans sure do love to party!!!  Our apartment was located in a particularly lively part of town, with local revellers going strong into the wee hours.  Luckily the windows are double (maybe even triple) glazed, which means that when you’re ready for bed, the place is as quiet as a tomb, despite the masses downstairs partying like it’s 1999.

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Crisp, clean sheets.  And art.  Minimal perfection.

INFO:
Vicolo De’ Cinque 16, Rome
CLICK FOR MAP

 

PIMM’S GOOD

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that Aperol Spritzes are ubiquitous in Rome.  They are literally everywhere.  And you can bet your bottom dollar we guzzled plenty of them during our three day stay, eschewing the tradition of having them just before dinner.  Hey, traditions are made to be broken.

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There’s a charming tradition in Italy called aperitivo, during which you buy a pre-dinner drink and they bring you free snacks to whet your appetite.  How civilised.

 

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We had these Spritzes during a power outage in our ‘hood – this bar had a generator, and we were lucky to squeeze these in before they ran out of ice.

 

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What better way to celebrate success at the shops than with an enormous Aperol Spritz.

 

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Pimm’s Good Bar was my favourite.  First we ordered espressos (espressi??).  When they came out we ordered Spritzes and the waiter high fived us.  It was 11am.

 

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The waiter wanted to join us in a Spritz – you could see it in his eyes.

INFO:
Via di Santa Dorotea, 8, 00153
1000-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MR. BROWN

We stumbled across this wonderful little bar, a couple of steps from our place, and decided to give it a go even though it had just opened and was totally empty.  The old dude smoking on the bench outside rushed in to take our orders and promptly made it very clear that he was only bar-sitting until his son, the owner, turned up.  But he was still more than happy to make us a drink.  How fucking cool is that.  We ordered negronis and then helped him to make them when he pretended he didn’t know how.  And you know what?  It was the best damn negroni I’ve ever had.  Listen kids, when I travel and when I drink, my absolute favourite experiences are in places like this.  I will go to five star hotel cocktail bars but they’re kinda same-same the world over.  When you want to go deep into a city or a neighbourhood, then these are the kinds of places where you’ll meet locals.  Where you talk to the owner, and watch them go about the day to day business of running a small bar.  I live for places like this.  This whole “Drunk In….” series exists because of places like this.  So, next time you travel why don’t you look for the seediest bar you can find, support a local business and have a fucking good time.

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This bar was literally five doors down from our apartment and ended up being our absolutely favourite haunt.  By the time we left three days later the owner was hugging us and giving us free shots.

 

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I know I might come across like a fancy girl, but I love nothing more than a dingy bar with a cool bartender making me tasty drinks.

 

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The Porno shot, in case you were wondering, is Mr. Brown’s home made concoction.  It’s a little sweet, a little spicy and designed to encourage more drinking.  Oh, and at €1 a pop, they’re very fucking dangerous!  Suffice to say that five Porno shots gave me the worst hangover of our holiday.

 

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The infamous Porno shot.  The picture’s a little fuzzy, because so was I.

 

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Dad was fucken awesome, chatting to us in broken English and free-pouring the tastiest damn Negroni’s we had on the whole trip.  Total highlight.

 

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During the day the bar was empty, and we had the owner, his feisty girlfriend, and his Dad to ourselves.  At night it was a totally different story.   The place was totally packed every night.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 29, 00153
1700-0200
CLICK FOR MAP

 

SUPPLIZIO

Suppli are the perfect snack.  So, what’s suppli, you ask?  Well, my friends, suppli are deep-fried balls of rice – kinda like arancini, but also kinda not.  Firstly arancini is Sicilian and suppli is Roman.  Secondly arancini are huge and suppli are bite size.  They’re also delicious and made in an assortment of flavours and fillings, which means they’re the perfect mid-afternoon snack to wash down with a cold beer.

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The Classic suppli – rice, chicken giblets, tomatoes, mozzarella and Parmesan.

 

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Cacio e pepe suppli – rice, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and black pepper.  Mmmmm!

INFO:
Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 143, 00186
1130-1600, 1630-2130
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

EL MOJITARO BAR 

As you know, strong coffee is a stalwart companion to any drunken shenanigans.  And as you’d expect, Rome has some of the best, and some of the strongest coffee around.  We didn’t have a single bad cup of the stuff, but I do think that the reason for that was that we stuck to espressos rather than milkier concoctions.  My suggestion is to walk into any espresso joint, order an espresso while jauntily standing at the bar and chug it down for an instant jolt of caffeine.  Don’t linger – that’s not how the Italians do.  A couple of pointers: NEVER, not in a million years, order a cappuccino after 11am.  You’ll be laughed out of the shop.  And don’t order a latte unless you are in the mood for a glass of milk.

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My favourite espresso bar in Rome.  Mostly because it was roll-out-of-bed-and-lurch-down-the-street distance from our apartment.  But also for the friendly service and fantastic, strong coffee.  Apparently they also do amazing mojitos, but we were there just for the coffee (I can’t believe I just wrote that!)

 

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Check out the marbling on that crema.  That’s some coffee-porn right there.

INFO:
Vicolo del Cinque 5, 00153
Mon-Fri: 0630-0200
Closed on Saturdays & Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

PASTA E VINO

I want to say that we ate well at every meal in Rome, but the sad fact is that we didn’t.  When an awesome hole-in-the-wall restaurant gets reviewed really well (or features on a TV show – Anthony Bourdain, I’m looking at you down there) it starts getting a lot of tourist traffic.  And the problem with that is that bloody tourists don’t actually like real Roman food.  They like their idea of Roman food.  So out go all the authentic recipes that made the place awesome in the first place, replaced by a bunch of dumbed down, standardised dishes which are shit.  I was disappointed at nearly every single restaurant we ate at.  But not this one.  Pasta e Vino exceeded all  my expectations and if you’re looking for a relaxed place to eat some outstanding pasta then you should come here.  Some wonderful friends (shout out to the Micheners) bought me a meal in Rome for my birthday and I chose this place as it had some pretty good Italian reviews on Tripadvisor.  The service started out a little aloof (as is the norm in Rome), but over the course of lunch warmed up significantly.  And the food?  Well, let’s just say I had the best plate of pasta I’ve eaten in my entire life here.  ‘Nuff said.

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All the pastas.

 

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David had the bucatini all’Amatriciana, a very traditional Roman dish made with tomatoes, olive oil, pecorino and the magic ingredient: guanciale (cured pork cheek).

 

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This is the dish I’ll be thinking about on my deathbed.  Bucatini alla Gricia – basically Amatriciana, minus the tomatoes.  Bloody amazing.

 

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All topped off with a beautiful Sardinian white wine.

INFO:
Vicolo de’ Cinque, 40, 00186
1200-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

GALLERIA BORGHESE

One very fine morning David and I got up super early and walked about an hour from our place to the Galleria Borghese.  I have a very close friend who sometimes wants to smack me in my face because when I travel I’m not very much into museums or sightseeing.  I’m just not.  I don’t need to see that shit.  But every now and again, I meet someone who is SO enthusiastic about a place, that it triggers something in me.  That’s when I go out of my way to seek a bit o’ culture.  And that’s exactly what happened with Galleria Borghese.  I met an older gentleman at a wedding last month and he was positively effusive about this museum.  His eyes just lit up when he mentioned the artwork inside.  He described it to us with such passion.  That kind of enthusiasm is kinda sexy, and definitely infectious.  I immediately booked tickets to go and check it out while we were in Rome.  This museum books out weeks in advance so we were very lucky to get in.  And it was totally worth it.  It really was an incredible experience to behold all that historical art set in such splendour and extravagance.

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The Borghese Museum.  It’s incredible how much art is contained behind these walls.  A mindblowing and enlightening experience.

 

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I’m getting this exact same picture painted on our bedroom ceiling at home.

 

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Hello, David.  😉

 

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Bernini’s fucking astonishing Ratto di Proserpina, which until today I didn’t realise translates as Rape of Proserpina.  Fucking intense.  Please, please, please look at Pluto’s muscular hands digging into Proserpina’s flesh as he drags her struggling ass down, into the Underworld, to be his queen.  This thing was carved out of marble, people!!  MARBLE!!!!

 

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When you’ve just spent two hours gazing upon the disturbing magnificence of Bernini and Caravaggio, it’s time to hit up the Museum cafe and get yo’self an espresso and an Aperol Spritz.  Stat!

INFO:
Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5, 00197
0900-1900
Closed on Mondays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRATTORIA DA TEO

We didn’t have any dinner reservation on our last night in Rome and that nearly turned out to be a big mistake.  All the places we wanted to eat at were full and we started to get nervous that we’d be stuck eating a slice of pizza at the local kiosk (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Trattoria da Teo was on my list of places to try, and our final chance at nabbing a table as it was getting pretty late.  Once again we lucked out and were given the last table for two.  This place was rocking with an awesome atmosphere, jovial and friendly service and very delicious food.  We were happy to let our fantastic waiter make recommendations from (and off) the menu and we weren’t disappointed with his choices.  By the time we ordered the limoncello dessert, we were on such good terms with him that he comped us two generous nips of limoncello to go with it.  Now that’s service.

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A beautiful restaurant, with street-side dining, that serves delicious and traditional Roman food that is as authentic as you’re going to get.

 

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Squid and artichoke for antipasto.  Bloody delicious.

 

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We were lucky enough to get the last serve of this special seasonal dish of stuffed zucchini flowers.  So yum!

 

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Another recommended dish of fettuccine with mushrooms

 

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Spaghettig with tuna, olives, capers and super fresh tomato.  Delish.

 

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Limoncello dessert and limoncello digestivo.  Coz you can never have too much limoncello!

INFO:
Piazza dei Ponziani, 7A, 00153
1230-1500, 1930-2330
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

 

MORDI E VAI

One of the food highlights of our trip to Rome was this amazing sandwich shop in a markethall, about a 45 minute walk from our place.  It was on our list of must-do’s, but we hadn’t really been able to find the time to make it here during our three days in Rome.  Luckily, on our final day we had to check out of our apartment at 10am and found ourselves with 2.5 terribly hungover hours to kill, so I made us walk to this place in the searing heat just to get one of these damn sandwiches.  Props to David, who loyally trudged behind me as we schlepped along the sweltering riverside to get some lunch.  And it was SO worth it.  This place is awesome because it serves proudly traditional Roman cuisine in a street-food style.  So you can get tripe, you can get offal, you can get oxtail – as well as less confronting fillings of meatballs and braised beef.  There may be a vegetarian option, but I’m gonna be honest, I did not notice.  I was too busy salivating!!!  We had done a bit of research and everyone was telling us (as I am now telling you) to get the allesso.  When you do, owner Sergio is gonna grab a panini bun and dip that baby right into a big vat of lardy, delicious gravy before stuffing it with the softest, tenderest damn slices of beef I have ever seen in my life.  This is topped with some delicious, bitter greens and the whole thing wrapped up in a plastic bag coz that baby is juicy as hell.  Best fucking hangover food EVER!!!

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Sergio Esposito making us our sandwich.

 

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Get the panino all’allesso.  You will thank me for it.

INFO:
Nuovo Mercato Comunale di Testaccio,
Via Beniamino Franklin, 12/E
0800-1500
Closed on Sundays
CLICK FOR MAP

 

Ejo #100 – A Love Letter To Melbourne

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not
be questioned.

Maya Angelou

Melbourne, my beloved, you are not the city of my birth, but you became my home before I was old enough to form memories of anywhere else. You will always be my hometown. And no matter where I live, you will always be my home.

I became aware of my capacity to love you only after we parted ways, nine and a half years ago (ack, has it really been that long?). Oh dear Melbourne, when I moved away in search of adventure, to “broaden my horizons” and to see more of the world, can you believe that I was actually happy to leave you. I was excited to embark on that brave new endeavour. It wasn’t that I was leaving you, it was just that I was going somewhere else. And even though my journey has been more difficult than I could have imagined, even though I left behind all my family and all my friends, and even though I have struggled with that, I don’t regret any of it. I have seen the world, and it’s wonderful. I have broadened my horizons and I have had adventures. Hopefully I will continue to have them.

What I do regret are all the years that I took you for granted. All the years that I failed to appreciate how entwined we were, and how dependent my sense of self was to yours. I moved away to have new experiences, arrogantly presuming that I would find the same sense of belonging and the same sense of security and oneness that you and I have always shared. Naïvely thinking that these things were inside of me.  But they were not.  I found that I did not belong anywhere else. I do not belong anywhere else. I blamed myself, for years, thinking that there was something wrong with me. Only after a great deal of painful introspection (and therapy, lots of therapy) could I see that you and I have something special, something that I will never find anywhere else in this world, no matter how hard I might search for it.

Melbourne, you have contributed so much of yourself to so much of me. I spent my formative years, my growing up years, inside of you. But until it was gone, how could I have known the extent of your influence? Does anyone ever realise how much they’re shaped by their environment, until they leave it?  The place I live now is nothing like you. The place I live now hates me, and quite frankly, I hate it back. I will always belong to you. And you will always belong to me.

I recently spent two wonderful weeks back in your embrace. In the comfort of your big sky, your clean air, your beautiful light. Enveloped in the glow of your sparkling constellation. You are my galaxy, and though my chosen orbit forces us apart, I am forever drawn to you. We resonate, you and I.  My cherished family is with you. My friends live in you. My history resides within yours. When I am “home”, I am normal.  My guard drops.  I breathe more deeply, and with less effort.  I remember who I was.  I know who I am.  I like myself more.  I regain a sense of belonging. And I do belong.

My beloved Melbourne, please, wait for me.  I promise you, one day I will return.

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Best fucking coffee in the world.

 

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David and I missed out on the “smashed avo” trend, so we make up for it every time we go back.  Also: bacon!!!!

 

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Afternoon cocktails at Madame Brussels. A quintessential Melbourne experience.

 

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Of all things, a lichen covered mailbox in Mount Waverley brings on waves of homesickness.

 

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Park.  Land.  Every.  Where.

 

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A track behind my childhood home.  You don’t realise how much you can miss trees and dirt and insects and bark and grass and fallen leaves and dappled light and twigs and Mother Nature until you have to live without them for so many years.

 

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The light.  Just, the light.

 

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A delightful afternoon in a delightful garden with delightful friends.  Melbourne.

 

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Yes, you can hire a yacht anywhere in the world.  But only in Melbourne is it helmed by such a good mate.

 

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Mah bitchzzz!!!!  Melbourne is where I am free enough to be my crazy self.

 

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Friends.  I’ve lived with these people.  I’ve danced with them.  I’ve gone to university with them.  They know me.  I know them.  Love is in the air!

 

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My gorgeous Mum in her incredible garden.

 

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My best friends in the world.  My sisters.  Melbourne girls.  ❤