A weekend in Sydney

Off to Sydney for Vesna and Herman’s wedding. A weekend in Sydney.

We are staying at the Park Royal in Darling Harbour which is a pretty cool, five-star hotel with a really friendly staff. The main reason we stay there is its convenience to Balmain, where the wedding is to be held.

Balmain is an elderly suburb on a peninsular jutting out into the river north west of downtown Sydney. The streets are lined with mature trees and many of the single-story houses must be eighty years old, but the place is in the process of being gentrified, with trendy cafes and bistros and extensive renovations on a lot of the houses.

The church where Vesna and Herman are married is a surprise. From the outside it looks like a red-brick Methodist chapel in Rochdale, but inside it’s high Anglican, with holy water and people genuflecting as they come in, although the people who do that I discover later at the reception are Irish, so maybe they were Catholic and it was a knee-jerk reaction. Geddit!? Oh, never mind.

Vesna looks terrific while Herman’s suit has the cut and perfect shoulder line you usually only see in Europe. We have known Vesna for about fifteen years, ever since she showed up on our doorstep in Cambridge as a backpacker friend of Jono’s. He had met her in Australia and invited her to stay with us when she was in the UK… the only problem being he hadn’t told us. Anyway, she stayed for a couple of weeks and had a good time and ever since then we have remained friends.

They make a handsome couple: Vesna, short, dark, vital and Croatian; Herman, tall , blonde, languid and Dutch. The reception is at the Balmain Rowing Club right on the river. It’s a memorable evening and the Dutch contingent, some of whom have flown fromHolland, very quickly mingle with the extended Croatian family. We have a ball: Abbe takes lots of pictures while I meet a whole bunch of really interesting people.

Next day, Sunday, we take a leisurely stroll through the sunshine to the Opera House. La Boheme is playing and we’re hoping to score tickets, but the next show isn’t until after we leave. But I see there’s to be a lecture that afternoon by the positive psychologist, Martin Seligman. I’m a big fan of his approach to the scientific study of happiness. His latest book, Flourish, is excellent. The lecture is in the concert hall, with at least 2000 people there but the acoustics are so good we hear every word.

Afterwards we stroll around to the Museum of Contemporary Art on the other side of Circular Quay. At the front of the museum is an enormous, polished stainless steel disc, set at a forty-five degree angle and called Sky Mirror; the work of the sculptor, Anish Kapoor. It looks as if one of the wheels has dropped off an alien spaceship. Anish Kapoor has a major exhibition in the museum but we’re too tired to explore it and frankly nothing else in the place turns us on at all.

Monday morning the weather is again fine and we walk to QVB where we have coffee before spending at least an hour in the fabulous bookshop, Kinokuniya. Afterwards we walk to the botanical gardens and the NSW Art Museum where there is a major exhibition of the works of Francis Bacon.

The exhibition blurb bills him as the greatest painter of the 20th century. I don’t see it myself, Halthough my good buddy, Jules Sher, who is a first class artist himself, rates him highly, while another close friend, John Stevenson, now sadly departed, was his nephew, the son of Bacon’s sister.  So with all these connections I really ought to reckon the guy, but there’s something about his work that doesn’t do it for me. Abbe feels the same. But the exhibition covers about seven large galleries and is superbly mounted. It’s a definite, ‘have to see’.

Afterwards we grab a cab to Bills on Liverpool Street in Darlinghurst, another must do when we are in Sydney. We both have Poke, which is a Hawaiian dish of raw tuna and avocado. Delicious.

Then a stroll through leafy Darlinghurst to the Australian Museum where there’s  a major exhibition of weapons and artefacts from L’Hermitage in St Petersburg, entitled Alexander the Great. This is more like it. The exhibition is wonderfully laid out, with lots of maps showing Alexander’s travels and conquests and the timeline. The weapons, eroded by the years are fascinating, while the porphyry jugs and vases, some of them two and half thousand years old, are fantastically well preserved. We are in the exhibition for almost two hours and needless to say I buy a couple of books, one of which I almost finish on the long flight back to Perth next day.