The city was pissing me off…

by Anna Buckley

IMG_6646[1]Last Friday I’d woken up in one of those moods, an inexplicable melancholia I just couldn’t shake. A walk to the Victoria Markets, via Smith Street, buy food for the weekend…that should clear my head. It was a warm Autumn day so I crossed the road to the shady side of the street. I’m a creature of habit and rarely walk on this side. It gave me a different view of that fading mural and I noticed it was slowly being obliterated with a layer of clumsy tags. It pissed me off!

IMG_6715[1]Work on a new apartment block, a little further along, had annoyingly blocked the footpath. So I crossed back into the now hot sun!

IMG_6706[1]Greenpeace collectors on Smith Street were hassling pedestrians… and me. Weren’t the dark glasses and headphones a good enough indicator that I didn’t want to talk? I smiled politely when what I really wanted to say was “fuck off and leave me alone”…one day I will!

IMG_6702[1]The yarn bombing of the perfectly fine bike stands was falling apart and I wished someone would do something more inspiring than this lame attempt at public art.

IMG_6697[1]I normally loved walking along this strip but today the magic just wasn’t there and didn’t have the charm that Christina had observed when she first moved to Fitzroy.

Smith Street, less chic than Gertrude, was a bustling utilitarian strip with a supermarket and more commonplace mix of shops and people. Standing tall, just one street away from the inner city ‘renovators’ delights’, were the housing commission towers. Here new immigrants were given refuge, before they made their escape to more gentle homes in the suburbs. The towers were also sanctuary for those whose lives were bleaker, without ambition. The odd junkie begging, concocting stories, asking for small change. A mix of people who inhabited this suburb long before it became desirable. A combination of comfort and confrontation.

I liked the idea of wandering along the strip, looking for things to furnish the flat. There were a few retro furniture stores that sold the modernist fifties and sixties pieces I liked. I was blown away by the cost. I remembered picking up the beautiful pieces for my first flat from the streets on hard rubbish day for free. Those same items now commanded high prices. Thank God the apartment was small. It was just me and I didn’t need very much.

But it wasn’t was the Commission towers, the beggars or the junkies annoying me, it was the noise coming from one of the many construction sites. Luxury apartments being built on every available piece of land, creating man-made canyons along this gentrified street. The entire profile of the suburb was changing, bigger noisier, less inclusive…it was really pissing me off!

IMG_6653[1] So I tried to cut through the back streets of Fitzroy only to be stopped by a crane on yet another redevelopment site. And I felt a sense of loss and dreaded what this suburb would become in ten years time.

IMG_6677[1] And my normally peaceful stroll through Carlton Gardens had also had been curtailed. Our lovely parks were now obviously ‘available for rent’ to the highest bidder.

IMG_6678[1]And the burst water pipe on Nicholson meant I couldn’t cross where I had been redirected to.

IMG_6661[1] And the Yoga mediation centre on Brunswick street was taunting me by offering ‘FREE POSITIVE THINKING CLASSES’ but they were two weeks away and by then it would be far too late! Who knew what my middle class dummy spitting tantrum might lead to?!

IMG_6716[1]Later that evening my husband suggested a gelati at Messina…he’d sensed my mood, thought it might help. While I fumed at having to queue for ice-cream my phone rang. It was my darling friend Cherry calling to see if we wanted to spend the day with them, tomorrow, at their house in the country…they were pressing the first of the seasons grapes. “Yes, yes, yes…you have no idea! The city is really pissing me off, I need to get out! What time?”

IMG_6633[1] The gum trees, the giant ferns, the greenery and the quiet were just I needed. No traffic, no noise…peaceful. I loved coming to Clarke and Cherry’s. They had escaped the rat race, sold up their house in the city and were now completely ensconced in country life. Their weekend house-parties were legendary (Jay Gatsby was, by comparison, a rank amateur) and it was strange not to be walking up to their front door in stilettos and a little black dress!

IMG_6517[1]Today was different, it was just us. We’d be pressing grapes and bare feet would be much more appropriate. We walked into the kitchen and I was immediately overjoyed at the cornucopia of fruit and vegetables spilling out onto the bench. Cherry said that this was only the first picking and there was much more to be gathered before lunch. She grabbed me, a basket, and we headed straight out the door. The boys had a coffee and eventually made their way to the wine shed.

IMG_6549[1] Cherry’s vegetable garden provided them with food all year round. It is fully fenced to stop the rabbits. We started to think of delicious recipes that would be a fitting end to the pesky creatures who still somehow managed to get in. We agreed there would be merit in learning how to shoot and I was reminded of the time in the second book, CAPTURING THE LOST WOMAN, when Christina takes action after rabbits had destroyed all the seedlings planted the previous day…

I didn’t answer, so he jumped in beside me and I drove to the place that had caused us such grief this morning. I turned off the engine and could see many rabbits. I knew they would all be out at sunset. I went to the back of the car, grabbed the ammo, the gun, loaded it and aimed. BOOM, hit, reload. BOOM, hit, reload. I felt a surge of power as I took my revenge, adrenaline coursing through my veins. The anger and frustration of the past few days finally finding release. My father had taught me well, one shot, a good clean kill.

IMG_6557[1]Luckily no rabbits had gotten in overnight and the garden was bursting with vegetables.

As a concession to my noirish inner city mood we picked dark purple eggplants,

IMG_6560[1]Cavallo Nero
IMG_6554[1]And the very gothic black bell peppers! Vegetables that most definitely lifted my Fitzroy mood!

IMG_6521[1]Out of the garden and next to the orchard were hundreds of apples, in many varieties, begging to be picked. We chatted excitedly about baking and bottling and  I wondered what the hell Cherry was actually going to do with so much fruit. Most of it would be given to friends and family she said.

IMG_6540[1]The figs were still a few weeks away…

IMG_6548[1]And the citrus… oranges, cumquats, lemons, limes and grapefruit were at various stages of ripeness.

IMG_6546[1]Hundreds of Kiwifruit hung from the vine and again I wondered what could be done with so much. The answer was the same.

IMG_6547[1]We walked between rows of tanks and I was reminded that this property relied solely on the rain water collected. No town supply out here, no water when in drought…I wondered how Cherry would’ve reacted to seeing so much water flooding Nicholson street and running wastefully away into the drains.

IMG_6534[1]My phone buzzed…the boys were ready to start pressing the grapes so we wandered past the now picked vines,

IMG_6571[1]And back to the shed.

IMG_6573[1]The pinot noir grapes had been picked last week and had been left, with skins and seeds on, in a vast white tank to begin the wine making process.

IMG_6591[1]The purple soup was poured into the press, squeezed…and the pure, slightly fermented, juice extracted.

IMG_6593[1]Then poured through a sieve into a giant glass demi-john where the remaining solids are left to settle.

IMG_6601[1]We pulled the press apart and all that remained was a solid cake of skins and seeds. This would be composted and eventually put back on the garden.

IMG_6598[1]We each had a sip of the freshly pressed juice and wondered how this vintage would turn out after a year or two in the bottle.

IMG_6615[1]While the boys cleaned up the mess Cherry and I headed back to the kitchen to prepare lunch. She disappeared to the cellar  and returned with a very nice bottle of French (real) Champagne. “Thirsty work this ‘hunting and gathering’ “she said, smiling, as we clinked glasses!

IMG_6609[1]Apart from the chicken and some of the wine I’d brought, all the food was from Cherry’s garden.

IMG_6611[1]Nothing too fancy, just roughly chopped…the sort of meal I imagined Christina ate when she shared lunches with the Finestra’s.

Pickled artichoke, eggplant, red, green and yellow capsicum. Salad of arugula, mesclun and radicchio. Cured meats, salamis, porchetta and a rustic loaf of bread.

‘This food is delicious,’ I said, as more and more was handed to me.

‘Thank you, Christina, I do most of it myself. I am still just a peasant at heart. It is my hobby, what I do to relax. I hope to do more when the children take over the business.’

IMG_6613[1]The chicken, then the vegetables, where fried in olive oil with a little salt, pepper, fresh herbs, and a splash of balsamic. A simple one pot dish… a fitting meal to celebrate this years harvest.

IMG_6610[1]Even Charlie the dog was on hand to clean up the spills…no outsourced cleaner!

IMG_6519[1]It was one of those perfect autumnal days and Cherry insisted we sit outside to eat. Her terrace, in fact her entire garden was the inspiration behind the setting for the first meal Christina shares with the Finestra’s…

We walked through the glass doors to a stone terrace. Verdant gardens rolled down the river valley, gum trees framed the view. This sanctuary only ten minutes from the city. We sat under a vine twisted pergola. A large wooden table was laid simply and stylishly with cutlery, big white plates, crisp linen napkins, water and wine glasses, set for five. Lola looked at me and the empty space.

‘My brother,’ she cocked an eyebrow and with a wry grin said, ‘He’s always late.’

IMG_6619[1]We started with a prawn chowder Cherry had made using celeriac and parsnips from the garden (instead of the usual potato).

IMG_6630[1]From the cellar Clarke brought out one of his aged Reisling’s. We ate and drank and talked about what was next for the garden. There was lots to do… although winter would see the pace slow a little. We finished with the apples picked earlier and I was amazed at what a difference freshly picked fruit tasted like. I’d grown so used to floury old apples that I’d stopped buying them back in Melbourne.

It really was such a perfect day, being in the garden, seeing these lovely people… just what my soul needed. I didn’t want it to end, but the family were coming over for dinner and it was time to head back.

IMG_6639[1]And just like the book we returned home with bags of produce…

We finished the day with fruit from his trees and like Lola said, I returned home, generously laden with gifts from their garden and pantry. I was slightly saddened knowing my friend would soon be leaving and that my connection to this day, this family, was only fleeting.

Lucky my connection to this day, to Cherry and Clarke, would not be fleeting and we made plans to come back, there was, after-all, last years vintage to sample, perfect with some slow cooked rabbit? Open fires, bread baking…perhaps with so much tasting to be done, we might just require an overnight stay?

Would next week be too soon?

Thanks so much Cherry and Clarke… a little bit of your magic was just the right panacea for this jaded city chick,

Much love, Anna x

Where do you go to escape the humdrum of everyday life?

Anna Buckley Books

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The Lost Woman series follows the sexy adventures of Christina as she makes her way through a world of new media, design, fashion,  travel, and … men.
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