07 November 2008

In the company of chocolate

Photo by Tom Nguyen

“She felt that somehow, wandering through uncharted territory, we might stumble upon something that will, in an instant, seem to represent who we are at the core...That was very much her philosophy of life — to not be limited by fear or narrow definitions, to not build walls around ourselves and to do our best to find kinship and beauty in unexpected places.”

MAYA SOETORO-NG (Half sister of Barack Obama) discusses their mother

The rain has oiled the streets
of Melbourne. It's Friday, six o'clock and the city is writhing in the glory of Spring. There's an international football match scheduled at the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground and Spring Racing Carnival enthusiasts prowl in packs for a big night on the town.

Yesterday, Melbourne Central was heaving in school children. Today mothers and teenage offspring scour the shops for school formal attire. A man with Tourette's syndrome hisses, gurgles and swears in my wake. It rattles me in spite of my understanding that it is beyond his control and my pace gathers momentum.

I make a beeline for The Original Lolly Store - with its blackened Halloween window display - and plunge my hand into a box of English Fry's Chocolate Cream Bars; dark chocolate coated fondant sweets that console me with distant memories of my tender years in Surrey. A time of pure innocence to be reawakened just with a sniff of their spicy aroma.

Across the way I take in the progress of Patric Blanc's Green Wall. A vein of plants have not survived, though those closest to the lights still flourish. Pushing through the crowd to Swanston Street and the pavement under my feet is greasy, so under a cafe umbrella I slide out of my three inch magenta satin pumps into the safety of low altitude Mary Jane's.

Two horns, a drummer and guitarist belt out red hot funk into the humid air and large drops of rain catch the Australian flags wrapped around three football fanatics. Another, in a bright yellow suit, steps off a tram and strides into QV.

Nearby, Chocolateria San Churro is jammed solid with Asian students nursing oddly shaped mugs of spiced hot chocolate whilst flushing over big plates of deep fried churros. Upstairs, Max Brenner's shop is painting the same chocolate drenched picture without a seat to spare, the chocolate cauldron seething like a Rotarua mud bath while chocoholics sip molten confections through metal straws.

The tide of workers liberated for the weekend carries me past cheap Asian eateries until I reach the City Square. At Brunetti I pass the counter three times and from amidst the groaning cabinet of gaudy sugar fixes, I select a mini opera cake to go with my strong latte. I crave a cake from
Noisette that will wash away the frustrations of the week, but while working in the CBD this will have to suffice.

The long, communal, floral mosaic table yields me a place to huddle
away from the raindrops. In the glow of the neon lit display cabinets I dissect the small dark cake, taking in its layers. I perch on the edge of the metal chair, cajoled by the rumble of passing trams and nearby joyful revellers, their ambient cheer punctuated by the call of the barrista announcing coffees.

A pigeon with blue cotton and human hair wrapped around its foot lurches at my plate. Its green head swivelling nervously. A flick of my fork and it scurries away. Others take its place. We play cat and mouse until a plate elsewhere is abandoned to them. They swoop in, dragging chocolate icing from a cake that has not passed muster with a departing diner.

Once more I pull my fork down through the layers of cake onto the soft paper patty case. Fork passing through my lips, a soft chocolate ganache melts between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. My nose is filled with notes of alcohol from the cake as the layers of sponge disintegrate in my mouth.

A mouthful of coffee: bitter, stinging the edges of my tongue sharply. Pain. Burnt coffee and scalding milk coagulating on my tongue leaves me clearing my throat and wishing for water. Disappointment.

A strong cool breeze lifts my fringe and flaps newspapers clenched by fellow patrons. Men. Men with children, men with big bellies, middle aged tourists, an elderly woman, all sitting quietly as birds saunter nonchalantly around their ankles.

A heater warms one of my shoulders while the cold tiled table ices my elbows. A roar of laughter drifts across from Caboose, a nearby bar and the city lights begin to come on. Beyond the newly erected Christmas tree, the Victorian Boom Era town hall clock shows half past six.

I am alone with no desire to join the revellery gestating in the city bars and stadium. No hankering to join in with the throngs shopping for dresses and hats to wear to the races. And yet somehow I still feel connected. Recorded church bells ring out as a man in a Western shirt lights a cigarette beside me. It's time to move on.

As I propel myself out of my seat, my city is calling me to dance into its nooks and crannies, to mesh with its soul and drink in the enigmatic whimsy of the early evening. Quietly and alone, finding beauty in unexpected places, and to again reawaken my thirst for life and passion.