An alley in the Central Business District, Melbourne, Australia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2005. There are times when somebody shows you their favorite... whatever. Their favorite book, their favorite baseball team. Their favorite dish that their momma used to cook. Their favorite bum that's been begging for change off the same corner for 15 years. As I said, their favorite whatever. And your reaction is appropriate for a whatever it is, which is to say that you just don't give a fig. Their favorite porno, to be indiscreet about it, is not your favorite porno. Not only that, but it may even be closer to your least favorite porno than anything else you've been subjected to in quite some time. However, although this alley somewhere in downtown Melbourne was not the FMA's favorite whatever, it was indicative of one of her favorite parts of her hometown: the alleyways and corridors that sprouted artistic graffiti, forty-foot tall petri dishes of pop culture, biding their time 'til they exploded on the scene or died a horrible lab death. Fortunately for both of us, this was a mule that we both could get behind. Popular culture is a funny, three-armed and one-legged thing, hopping around and clawing with all its strength for acceptance. Tags and graffiti that embody the transient and kinetic nature of some artforms are looked on as nothing more than territorial pissings by those who haven't grown up with them. One of my friends describes herself as being the younger generation's cultural ambassador to her folks. If only we all could have such insight, and if only it came with diplomatic plates.
Respite from the crowd at the Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2005. I had the strangest sense of deja vu walking through the Vic Market. I'd never been there before. In fact, I'd never been to any place quite like it. It was a familiar yet unique mix of deli, Chinese vegetable market and urban farmer's market, all rolled into one and topped off with a long black. That's a coffee, an Americano, but stronger and more flavorful.
Car 870 on the 78-line, Prahran, Melbourne, Australia. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2005. Unbeknownst to me until about 5 seconds before I started writing this, the Melbourne, Australia - as opposed to Melbourne, Florida - public trams constitute the third-largest public tram network in the world with, as Wikipedia points out, 245 kilometers of track, 500 trams, and 1813 tram stops. More importantly, they have these gorgeous wooden trams that are supported by a hidden steel underskeleton. The featured tram is a W class car, first introduced to Melbourne in 1923. It's either a W5, W6 or W7, so designated by safety and other substantial tweaks introduced as late as the mid-1950s. Their use was discontinued in the 1970s and then brought back in the 1990s after certain safety measures had been enacted, and now most of them ride the 78 and 79 lines from North Richmond to Prahran/St. Kilda. While this is all fascinating, I'm sure, it raises a very important question: Why do we keep looking to the past? What is it, in this modern era with our modern trappings, our ability to communicate with people on the other side of the planet from a plastic device in our hands, our ability to resist death with a couple of pounds of synthetic fabric, and our ability to let inaction and greed, not inability, determine whether a disease is a scourge or a footnote, why do we keep looking to the past? It's a fascinating conundrum, when technology advances at such a pace that people devote their lives merely to tracking it, and yet we derive more and more aesthetically from eras more than 50 years gone.
Windsurfing near Crissy Field, The Presidio, San Francisco, CA. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2007. Even when you're standing right at the beach near Crissy Field, with leaping windsurfers jumping from wave to wave until they succumb to the tide, it's hard to believe you're still standing in a major American city. It's a big part of the reason that San Francisco has a housing market at least as bad as New York's, and it's a big part of the reason why the revitalization of the Crissy Field area has been so important to the City. It is the dramatic gateway to the bay, just east of the Golden Gate Bridge, and in most other towns you'd expect to have the homes of the rich and overprivileged lining the coast. Fortunately, the Spanish military got there first and established a base on what would become Fort Point there in the late 18th century. When the Americans took control of California, the army took control of the Presidio and it remained in their hands, generally unchanged, for nearly two centuries. When the Presidio became a national park in the 1990s, though, some of the changes wrought by the needs of the U.S. Army came to light, and efforts were made to reverse them. Most important of the two were replacing Crissy Field's concrete with the original native grasses that were there and used as a landing strip in the 1920s, and restoring a wetlands area. As I mentioned briefly here, the restoration project was so successful that native birds began using the area as a landing and feeding ground years before the project would be finished.
Muni Streetcar PCC 1060, Westbound F-Market, San Francisco, CA. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2007. Along with the return of the wetlands near Crissy Field that followed the U.S. military turning the Presidio over to civilian governance in the late 1990s was a second refurbishment of the past: the revitalization of the F Market streetcar line. While the Muni public transportation system failed to bring back pre-World War II transit prices for the F, they did take a bunch of old streetcars from around the country, paint them in their original colors and set them loose on the drab corridor that stretches from the foot of Twin Peaks and the Castro through the towers of downtown and up the famous bayfront to the end of the Embarcadero just past Pier 39. This was a stroke of genius: turn a necessary public transportation line into a tourist attraction, similar to the Cable Cars but without the tourist-only appeal. It's kind of like the San Diego Zoo of trolleys: Come see the natives in their natural habitat! Marvel at the girl with the pierced neck! Be shocked by the two men kissing in public! Get angry at the crazy bicyclist flipping off the SUV driver! Each trolley on the F line holds a plaque in the interior which gives a quick briefing on the history of the car you're riding. The 1060 comes from the Philadelphia Transportation Company, which had painted its cars silver, cream and blue, not coincidentally the same colors as the famous Philadelphia Cream Cheese packaging. The style of cars were nicknamed PCC, which is what they're called to this day. More information about the F-Market trolleys is available at Streetcar.org. Update: The Web site has been hiccuping and I think I've gotten it solved, so I'm truly sorry if you've gotten an update note about this photo two or even three times. Please don't hate me.
Heron, The Marina, San Francisco, CA. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2007. At least, I think this is a heron. It might be a stork, maybe. I'm far more accustomed to eating dead (and cooked) birds than identifying live ones. The revitalization of the wetlands near Crissy Field, which are about a mile away from this part of the Marina, has been an unequivocal success. When I was a kid, there were really only two kinds of birds on the waterfront: shit-dropping seagulls and shit-dropping pigeons. That the resurgent diversity has spread beyond the narrow inlet of bay water and now interacts with nearby parts of the city is a great opportunity to experience new kinds of roast bird. Just kidding. Heron's probably too stringy, anyway.
Elvis window display, Zain's Liquor's, 3rd St. and Market, San Francisco, CA. Seth Rosenblatt (c) 2007. There's no reason why this liquor store has an Elvis shrine in its window, other than, perhaps, Elvis is the patron saint of alcoholic binges. As anybody who's spent time in Boston knows, liquor and corner stores are most often called packies. While in Australia, I mentioned this to the FMA and her friends. Several of them thought the name referred to the country of origin of the man behind the counter. No, I said. Not paki, but packie - for package store. Isn't that a post office, one guy asked. It was a long day, during which international relations took a bit of a hit. At least there was good Australian wine to make it pass quicker.