Other Cultures

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.

IMG_4829

Best fucking coffee in the world.

 

IMG_4827

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

 

IMG_4860

Afternoon cocktails at Madame Brussels. A quintessential Melbourne experience.

 

IMG_4831

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

 

IMG_4834

Park.  Land.  Every.  Where.

 

IMG_4837

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.

 

IMG_4939

The light.  Just, the light.

 

IMG_1093

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

 

IMG_1108

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

 

IMG_0988

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

 

IMG_4909

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!

 

image

My gorgeous Mum in her incredible garden.

 

FullSizeRender2

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

Ejo #98 – Drunk In….. Colombo

Last week David and I popped over to Sri Lanka for three days.  Yup.  We popped over.   I know, I know – don’t hate.  Look, Emirates Airline was having an amazing sale, so it was cheap to get there.  I’m talking dirt cheap.  And in terms of flight time, it’s not much further than flying from Melbourne to Cairns.  So why wouldn’t we go?  Sadly we didn’t have enough time to explore the amazing beaches and mountains of the country (which just means we’ll have to go back another time).   But we did manage to do a lotta eatin’ and a lotta drinkin’.  Coz you know that’s our specialty!

NUGA GAMA

So when we travel somewhere, we want to eat the food of that particular place. For instance, I would never go to Japan and eat Italian. That just doesn’t make sense to me, especially when there is so much amazing local stuff on offer. So the first station on our whistle-stop tour of Colombo was a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant called Nuga Gama at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel. Actually Nuga Gama was the second stop. The first was the Lagoon bar at the hotel, where we hydrated with a Seabreeze (for David) and a Salty Dog (for me).

IMG_4305
A Salty Dog for a salty lady, at Lagoon Bar.

Ready for dinner, we headed to Nuga Gama, where we were greeted by staff dressed in traditional village outfits who just went ahead and painted ceremonial red dots on our foreheads. Turns out they were having a Jaffna Festival!! How lucky are we!?

So, Jaffna is a city in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, known for its traditional Tamil cuisine.  And let me tell you, it’s bloody delicious.  We felt so incredibly fortunate to experience this amazing celebration of a region we’d never even heard of before that night.  We ate egg hoppers (check out the slideshow below of how a hopper is made), we ate curries, we ate breads, we ate traditional seafood soup (called Jaffna Kool), we ate ten different types of sambol (mmmmm, sambol).  And of course we drank.  We were offered two typical Jaffna choices – a sickly sweet, viscous rosé wine or arrack, which is a spirit distilled from the sap of the palmyrha palm tree (think coconut flavour, without the sweetness).  We went with the arrack.  It’s 60 proof, and it goes down easy, so the choice was a total no-brainer.  The rest of the night went by in a swirl of food, arrack and trippy dance performances.  It was a total blast and a wonderful introduction to Colombo, and Sri Lanka.

IMG_4307
Getting into the Jaffna spirit!  In more ways than one.  😉

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

IMG_4328 - Copy
We were offered cutlery, but chose to eat the traditional way, with our fingers.  It’s the only way to go kids.

 

IMG_4331 - Copy
I’d like to say we finished this whole bottle of arrack in one night, but alas we did not.  We must be getting old, or wise, or something.

 

Jaffna Kool – an amazing soup made with seafood and palmyrha flour.

 

Ceremonial Jaffna dance (either that or someone slipped us a mickey!!)

INFO:
77 Galle Road, Colombo 03
+94 112 437 437
Lunch: 1200-1430
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP

 

MINISTRY OF CRAB

Ministry Of Crab does what it says on the box.  Crabs.  And lots of them.  In all sorts of different sizes, and all sorts of different cooking methods and sauces.  And they’re super fresh and super delicious!!!  Even better, they are sustainably fished so you can enjoy them totally guilt-free.  We arrived about ten minutes early for our reservation so we went across the street to the Taphouse for a couple of ice-cold local Lion beers.  Perfect start to the meal.

IMG_4414 - Copy
Pre-lunch local beers at The Taphouse, right next door to Ministry of Crab.  

 

IMG_4422 - Copy
David ordered the specialty Sri Lankan pepper crab.  So much peppery goodness. 

 

IMG_4423 - Copy
I went with butter sauce on the side.  My doctor would probably not be very happy with that choice, but my tastebuds surely were!

 

IMG_4427 - Copy
Thank god for bibs!!  Crabs are messy bastards to eat.  But totally worth the stains.  

INFO:
No 04, Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 01
+94 112 342 722
Lunch: 1130-1530
Dinner: 1700-2300
CLICK FOR MAP

 

“EAT, EAT REPEAT” BY COLOMBO URBAN ADVENTURES

We don’t normally do tours when we travel.  Of any sort.  But since we had such a short time in the city, and since we wanted to eat as much local food as possible, and since the tour was called “Eat, Eat, Repeat” we figured it’d be worth a shot.  And it totally was.  Unfortunately, because I was constantly stuffing food in my mouth my fingers were always smeared with delicious food, so I didn’t really get a chance to take too many photos.  But trust me, if you want to sample Colombo’s finest street foods then you should definitely do this three hour walking tour of the city.  We ate fried pastries, nuts, pickles, lentil cakes with prawns, porridge, ginger tea, hoppers, paratha and kottu roti (a delightful blend of veggies and chopped up roti bread).  We also got the chance to walk through Pettah vegetable market which was a wonderfully riotous attack on all the senses.

IMG_4431 - Copy

 

IMG_4432 - Copy

 

IMG_4433 - Copy

 

IMG_4434 - CopyINFO:
+94 76 831 6000
info@colombourbanadventures.com

 

THE MANGO TREE & THE BERLIN SKY LOUNGE

While the Eat, Eat, Repeat tour introduced us to many of Colombo’s yummy treats, most street vendors in Colombo are Muslim, and so there was no alcohol involved (just one cheeky beer, dodgily wrapped in a white paper bag at the end of the tour).  So once we were done, David and I went off in search of cocktails.  Thanks to Google Maps we found The Mango Tree and The Berlin Sky Lounge close by.  The Cosmopolitans were huge, strong and very tasty!

IMG_4445 - Copy

 

 

UPALI’S BY NAWALOKA

In our tireless search for quintessential Sri Lankan food, we booked lunch at Upali’s, a very popular restaurant in town.  We were taken to our table by the owner, who picked up on our Australian accents and asked us if we’d been to the sister restaurant in Melbourne, which as it turns out, is about a two minute drive from my Mum’s house!  It’s a small world, people!  We’ll definitely have to try it next time we’re in Melbourne and see if the quality of food is as good as the Colombo branch.  Lamentably, as seems to be the case in a lot of yummy eateries in the city, Upali’s doesn’t serve booze – the Melbourne restaurant bloody better!!  😉

IMG_4447 - Copy
In the absence of beer, a crisp ice-coffee hit the spot while we waited for our food.  Sparkling water sufficed for the rest of the meal.  

 

IMG_4452
We ordered a crab pancake, paratha with chicken curry, fried rice and fish head soup.  Mmmmmmm, all the flavours were amazing.  My mouth is watering just looking at that fish head!!!  

INFO:
65 C.W.W. Kannangara Mawatha, Colombo 07
+94 112 695 812
Mon-Thur: 1130-2230
Fri-Sat: 1130-2330
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CARNIVAL ICE-CREAM

Colombo was hot.  Stinky, sweaty hot.  And when it’s hot, and I can’t find a beer to save my life, I turn to ice-cream.

IMG_4453

 

IMG_4454

 

IMG_4459
INFO:
263, Galle Road, Colombo – 03
+94 11 5 346139
Hours: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

CAFÉ FRANÇAIS

So, as I’ve already implied, we would never EAT at a French café in Sri Lanka.  But nothing’s going to stop us from DRINKING there.  We turned up to this French bistro at about 1.56pm and asked if they were serving drinks.  The two barmen looked at each other, then they looked at their watches, and then they looked at each other again and said, “Of course, take a seat at the bar – but we have to stop serving at 2pm”.  Legends!!  Turns out there’s a law prohibiting the sale of alcohol between the hours of 2pm to 5pm.  We snuck in a couple of Negronis, tipped the barmen handsomely, and then walked home for a lovely afternoon nap.  Coz that’s just how we roll.

IMG_4461INFO:
48 Park St, Colombo 07
+94 114 502 602
Tue-Sun: 1000-0000
CLICK FOR MAP

 

TRAVELLER’S BAR & SEASPRAY AT GALLE FACE HOTEL

OK, so, I have to admit I don’t like eating or drinking at fancy places anymore.  I like to keep things real.  I like to keep things authentic.  Genuine.  Down and dirty, even.  But sometimes, keeping it real means embracing history.  And Colombo’s history is steeped in colonialism.  There’s no getting away from that.  The Portuguese, the Dutch, and most recently the British have all put their stamp on Colombo and, despite how I might feel about that, it has become an indelible part of the city and its history.  And so, it was that we found ourselves at Galle Face Hotel on the last night of our trip, having sundowners at Traveller’s Bar.  And, check this out!  At sunset, a Sri Lankan man with lovely legs wearing a rather short kilt played bagpipes while another dude lowered the flag out the front of the hotel.  Talk about a flamboyant (and not a little bit ostentatious) mixing of the cultures.

 

IMG_4479
Cocktail Round #1 (the one in front was made with my new favourite booze – arrack!!!)

 

IMG_4484
Cocktail Round #2 – A sangria thingy and a minty thingy.  

 

IMG_4488Cocktail Round #3 – a couple of pink grapefruit numbers.  David had the negroni and I had the margarita.  Most refreshing.  

 

We had initially just planned to go to the hotel for drinks but we were lured by Seaspray restaurant advertising “a traditional Sri Lankan seafood experience, crafted entirely from fresh seasonal Island produce and coastal seafood”.  Hard to say no to that.  So we had drinks and dinner (and then drinks again) at the hotel.  It was pretty nice.  I’d recommend it.

IMG_4492
The menu at Seaspray.  You can mix and match, but their recommendations of cooking style and sauce with the featured seafood is pretty spot on.  And the seafood itself?  Super fresh goodness.  I don’t know how, but we managed to score a table right on the beach, and we literally got misted with seaspray.  It was pretty fucking romantic. 

 

IMG_4493
Whitebait with fresh lime and chilli salt (and the ubiquitous and delicious curry leaves).

 

IMG_4494
The most tender salt and pepper cuttlefish you’ve ever eaten in your life.

 

IMG_4495
Condiments.  

 

IMG_4496
The pièce de résistance, local fresh rock lobster.  YUM!

INFO:
2 Galle Road,Colombo 3
+94 11 254 1010
TRAVELLER’S BAR
1000-0000
SEASPRAY
Lunch: 1130-1430
Drinks: 1700-2230
Dinner: 1900-2230
CLICK FOR MAP

 

Ejo #92 – My Name Is Chrysoula Stathopoulos

My name is Chrysoula Stathopoulos. Since 1933, I’ve lived in Lechaion, a small seaside town in Greece. But I was born in a tiny village in the Peloponnese mountains in 1916. I am 101 years old.

My name is Chrysoula Stathopoulos. I’ve lived in Dubai since 2008. But I was born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971 and raised in Melbourne. I am 46 years old.

As the firstborn, I was named after my Dad’s mother, which is how the Greeks do. I hated my name growing up because nobody could ever pronounce it, and a lot of kids gave me shit for it. On the first day of Grade 2, my teacher actually accused me of making it up. I casually dropped the “oula” part of my name when I was 12, and made it official when I was 14. Over the years I’ve grown to love my full name again. It’s unique, and it’s who I am. It’s also something that connects me to my grandmother, my yiayia, whom I love dearly.

My twin sister Fotoula and I were the apples of our father’s eye. We had two older brothers, but we were the favourites and everyone knew it, including Mum. She scolded us once for making too much noise while we were playing and Dad looked at her very seriously and said, “Whatever you do, don’t ever talk to my girls like that again”. And she never did. Times were tough growing up because of the war, and we didn’t have a lot, but our house was filled with love and I always tried my best to make my Dad proud of me when he was home. He was gone for most of my childhood, working in America so that he could send money home for us. Every time he came home was a big deal and my favourite memory was of being bounced on his knees – me on one leg, and Fotoula on the other, the three of us laughing and laughing.

Even though Greek families usually covet a son, my parents had three daughters and I think that, secretly, my father loved being surrounded by women. My Dad drove trucks for a living in the early seventies, and he was gone for long stretches at a time. My earliest memory is of our flat in Elwood. I was wearing a nappy and crawling to the front door because Mum had told me that Dad was coming home. I remember bursting with joy when he appeared at the flyscreen door.

In 1924 my family moved down from the mountains so that we could attend school near Korinth. Some of the teachers were very strict, which I didn’t like very much. I certainly wasn’t used to being smacked, but the teachers had no problem hitting us if they got mad. I always studied hard, and tried to be the best student so that they would never have any reason to hit me. On 22nd April 1928 a big earthquake shook Korinth. Twenty people died, and nearly 15,000 people were left homeless. Even though our home was damaged, we were lucky that it wasn’t one of the 3000 that were destroyed, and that we still had somewhere to live. Our school had turned to rubble and, while it was being rebuilt, classes were held outside, on the football field.

Fotoula hated school. She would say, “Chrysoula, I’ve been to school for a week, now it’s your turn”. School wasn’t compulsory back then, so she could get away with it but it’s a shame that she never learned to read or write. I wanted to be a teacher or a mid-wife when I grew up because they earned 500 drachmas (about €2) a month, which was a lot of money for a woman back then. But I was forced to drop out of school in 1929, at age 13.

When we were young,my parents forced me and my sisters to go to Greek school on Saturday mornings. I hated it and faced each weekend with sickening dread. But my parents wanted us to learn how to speak Greek, and to appreciate Greek history and customs. Fair enough, but the teachers at the school we attended were sadistic fucks and what I remember most about those classes was the constant fear. It ended when a teacher pinched my cheek so hard he left a large purple bruise across my face. My crime? Not completing my homework. My parents, horrified that the tales of assault and battery were actually true, allowed me to drop out of Greek school at age 12.

In 1930 my beloved father got sick with double pneumonia. The closest doctor was in Didima, a village 100km away, and every time he came to the house it cost us 500 drachmas. When Dad died, we owed the doctor a small fortune and since we didn’t have the money, it was negotiated that I would go with him back to Didima and work as his housekeeper until the bill was paid. I didn’t want to go, but my older brother got very angry and slapped me across the face and told me I was going and that was the end of it. After that I was happy to leave, just to get away from him. My Dad would never have allowed anyone to strike me like that. But now he was gone, and I had no choice but to enter into servitude for nearly three years in a village where I didn’t know anyone and where they didn’t even speak Greek. During my time in Didima, I slowly learned some Albanian so that I could communicate with people, but I was happy when the debt was finally paid off, and I could return to my family, who had moved to Lechaion.

In late 2002 my beloved father was diagnosed with lung cancer. My parents tried to be upbeat and hopeful about the prognosis but as you can imagine, it was a total shock for all of us. My father was the healthiest and most robust man I’d ever known. He was invincible to me, a rock. In denial, I didn’t even believe that he was actually sick until he started showing symptoms a couple of months later. And after that, the decline in his health was rapid. Lung cancer is a truly horrible disease and over a ten month period I watched my father deteriorate from a tower of strength into an emaciated skeleton coughing up tar-black mucus onto my birthday cake, a month before he died. Shit like that stays with you, man. When we told yiayia that her firstborn had passed away, she cried. But because of the Alzheimer’s she sometimes forgets. Sometimes she doesn’t even remember who he was.

In 1933 I started working in the fields with my sister, picking fruit to support our family. We earned just 25 drachmas a day, which wasn’t much, but our lack of education didn’t leave us many options. A lot of people were in the same boat and there was a great deal of competition for these field jobs, so we weren’t always gainfully employed. In 1936 I met a man at work called Panagiotis, who was a real go-getter. He would schmooze around the taverns at night, networking for jobs, and his circle of friends always had paid work, thanks to him. He seemed like a nice guy, and he must have taken a liking to me because he started getting regular work for me too. Working side by side we started developing feelings for each other, and after a year we were engaged. We couldn’t afford to get married right away but I did move in with him which was illegal back then, so we pretended that I was his housekeeper and everyone fell for it! Haha! Suckers! We lived in sin for two years before we got married on New Year’s Eve, 1939. Ten months later we had our first child, Konstantinos, and then after that I gave birth every two years, with Roula, Chris, Toula, Sofia and our baby Stavros.

 

Capture1

In the fields.  Kon, Chris, Toula, Sofia, Stavros, Roula, Panagiotis and Chrysoula.  And a small kid.

 

I met my husband David at work in 2005. It was love at first sight, for me anyway. We worked together for a year, exchanging flirty glances across the tower console before we actually started going out. Two days later I moved in, and four months after that we were married. Most people at work thought it wouldn’t last but, after eleven years together, we’re still nuts about each other. We decided not to have children, which we sometimes lament, but usually not.

Over the years all my children except Stavros emigrated to Australia. Roula went first because she hated working in the fields and wanted a chance to start a new life. Kon joined her a year later, and then the others followed. I wanted them to be happy and to have a better life than I did so I didn’t mind them leaving, but my god I missed them so much. My children are my life and they have always made me so happy and so proud, even now. In 1976 I went to Australia for a visit and I had such a wonderful time, mostly because I got to see all my children and grandchildren. Little Chrysoula was, of course, my favourite*. She was such a delightful child, and she taught me how to count to ten in English, and even though my memory isn’t what it used to be, I’ve never forgotten: onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten! See!! I do have trouble remembering some things, but those old days are crystal clear. I loved Australia so much I went back for another visit in 1988 and I wish I could go again, but, even though I’m as fit as a fiddle, let’s face it, at my age it’s probably not going to happen. There is always someone here, one of my kids, looking after me, and I appreciate that. But I wish my grandchildren would visit more often.

I met my yiayia for the first time when I was five years old. She came to visit us from Greece and stayed with us for a few months. It was nice having her around because she was always smiling and laughing and hugging us and telling stories and crocheting beautiful things. Her skin was wrinkly, but soft, like well-worn leather. And you could tell that my Dad just LOVED having her around. They glowed around each other, overflowing with mutual adoration and respect. My grandmother was such a loving person and she taught my Dad to be honest and hard-working and to be proud of his achievements. In turn, he taught me the same.

I’ve been thinking about my yiayia a lot lately. I am writing this ejo to celebrate her, while she’s still alive. I don’t know if I will ever see her again. But I want to. The last time was five years ago. She recognised me, which was wonderful, but she is very locked up in her mind most of the time. Locked in the past. And the people around her, even loved ones, are very much in the periphery of her consciousness. But every time we are together, even though my Greek is shit and she can’t speak English, there is always a deep and loving connection between us. A circle of life and love that cannot be broken by distance or years apart.

We are Chrysoula Stathopoulos.

 

IMG_1418

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* Some creative license MAY have been used in the writing of this ejo.