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Thursday, 1 November 2018

Impressions on a rainy morning in Sydney

It had rained earlier in the morning but now the sky was overcast and the air was thick and moist in the warmth of spring. As I walked past the building site where they had installed a small crane to allow workers to attach colourful posters to the hoarding that had been put up around the site, I smelled the fumes of the machine as it roared away docilely in the carriageway. The smell reminded me of Japan and the building sites that spring up on roads there and that are occupied by workers even at night.

On the corner of Clarence Street and Market Street I saw Laurel Papworth, who runs social media courses. She looked preoccupied and as though she were finding her bearings in an unfamiliar landscape. She had her hand on the handle of a red vinyl suitcase the wheels of which were on the pavement. She looked at me when I glanced at her and our eyes met briefly but I didn’t say hello. She probably only saw a nondescript man in late middle age with a disreputable-looking beard and unfashionable glasses.

On Castlereagh Street a well-dressed youngish man ran his hand along the railing of a balustrade that had been constructed where an underground carpark has its access ramp. Cars and trucks use the ramp to exit the building’s underground carpark. On Martin Place near the Reserve Bank of Australia a woman wearing a yellow-and-black knitted cardigan ran her hands along the vertical blue blooms of some plants that had been planted in boxes on the pavement. She was feeling the moisture as the young man had done, experiencing a novelty because the state – indeed the entire east coast of the continent – had been in drought.

Coming back home as I was walking into the tunnel on Pitt Street Mall that goes to the Queen Victoria Building, a memory emerged that was inspired by the mingled smells in the space and that evoked the underground food hall in the Tokyu Department Store in Shibuya. There, you can buy anything you like from delicious and inexpensive bentos (lunch boxes) to nori maki (sushi rolls wrapped in dried seaweed), from slices of French cheese to chicken karaage (deep fried in oil). The smell from a shoe store as I was walking in the Sydney morning had a certain antiseptic authority, as though you would find something new if you went inside the door. As I passed a shop further along I smelled the aromatic pungency of coffee that has been roasted at heat, and outside a soap shop nearby I could aptly smell nothing at all.

On Market Street as I was crossing a road with the signal I saw a youngish woman with an infant strapped to her front in a harness and a small child supported by her right arm and her hip. Seeing her made me think of the word “burden” and I thought how it is natural for young people to be burdened by things outside themselves and for older people to be burdened by themselves as they age.

On the bridge leading to the Pyrmont Bridge a young Asian man was walking in a way that reminded me of Charlie Chaplin, his toes pointing slightly outward as he made his way over the structure with its rubber coating. His lips were invisible because he was holding his mouth in a way that made me think “determined” as I passed him there. He looked like he was busy on some task and that it would have been difficult, if you had wanted to, to persuade him to do something else.

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