Archive for the ‘Adelaide Film Festival’ Tag

adelaide

Last weekend my wife and I visited Adelaide for the Adelaide Film Festival. Amo was on business; I was tagging along. Neither of us had ever been there.

I liked the place much more than I thought I would. I knew little going in: I knew it would feel a lot smaller than Sydney; I had an inkling of a decent arts and music scene; I’d heard about the heat. And a friend said that the huntsmen (large, creepy, dismayingly common spiders) are even bigger and that they jump. Bigger? How much bigger? Like the size of a dinner plate. You gotta be kidding. Even the biggest Amazonian bird spiders are only about the size of a dinner plate. Surely you mean something more like a saucer or a – Wait, did you say they jump? Jump?

It’s a wonder I got on the plane. Anyway, staying in a high-rise hotel, going to movies and wandering around the city center kept me out of the way of any really extravagantly huge spiders, or you would have already heard about it. But there were, oddly enough, lots of crickets and grasshoppers.

Yes, the citizens of Adelaide must have done something to mildly offend the Lord, because there was a harmless but puzzling plague of crickets and grasshoppers going on that weekend – the little buggers had taken over the town, hopping and flying everywhere, swarming around the streetlamps, getting in everyone’s hair – you’d look down and there was one on your shirt or in your beer, bodies piling up in the gutters, in hotel lobbies, in taco stands. The crickets freaked some people out, I think, because they are dark little things with long antennae and tend to look a little more unsavory than they really are. In said taco stand, there was a handwritten sign taped to the counter:

They are crickets. They are NOT cockroaches. They won’t harm you.

Maybe they came for the festival too?

OK, zero expectations, but it wasn’t a few minutes before I was really enjoying Adelaide. For one thing, I liked the layout. It’s very contained, sensible, and attractive, with wide streets forming a perfectly square grid that is, amazingly, completely encircled by a wide swath of green parkland. (Here’s an aerial view.) There are more parks within the grid too. Lots of green. Adelaide is also very pedestrian friendly. There are lots of bike lanes, trams and a number of pedestrianized streets. Rundle Street, one of the main drags in the CBD, becomes for several blocks a long pedestrianized plaza and shopping village, paved with cobblestones and featuring an attractive old arcade, hundreds of shops and sidewalk cafés. Street performers and salesmen with microphones harangue the crowd in every direction. It’s a fantastic place to be on a summer’s evening.

The buildings are attractive, too – a mix of well-preserved 19th century façades and silly but fun hypermodern stuff. For many of these reasons – the parks, the bike lanes, the trams, the old buildings, the street art, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Portland, Oregon. Even the vista out of town reminded me of the west coast – surrounding hills visible down wide, straight avenues. (Of course if it was Oregon, those hills would be a lot bigger. The hills outside of Adelaide are maybe like El Paso’s.)

The Portland analogy only continued the more I walked around and the more cafés, cool shops, record stores and great street art I saw. Clearly the scene punches above its weight. There were two major festivals on last week – the Adelaide Fringe was in full swing too – so of course that colored my outlook. Natives say Adelaide shuts down and gets pretty boring in the offseason. I don’t doubt it. Still, if it’s capable of all of this, it’s got a lot working. On Friday night I did little else but stroll around, enjoying the balmy air, wandering into shops if I felt like it, grabbing a falafel (it was surpsingly good), and sitting and having a couple of beers at a randomly selected pub. I wanted to try the local brew; come to find out the local brew in Adelaide is Coopers – already my favorite Aussie beer and fairly ubiquitous everywhere you go. But I wasn’t complaining.

The other thing about Adelaide is how incredibly friendly the people are. Everyone – cabdrivers, clerks, the terrific box office manager at the Film Festival, who acted like our personal concierge. It was nice, but kind of eerie. Sometimes people would just start having conversations with us, and I think we were taken aback. I hate to feel like such a hardened city type. And I don’t think I’d ever thought of Sydney as being particularly unfriendly. Quite the opposite – I’ve always found Sydneysiders warm and inviting, especially coming from New York. It’s one of the reasons I migrated here. But visiting a smaller place reminded me it’s all about perspective. And it’s true that most Aussies think of Sydney as the big, bad city.

Besides Portland, the other place Adelaide made me think of is, strangely enough, Abu Dhabi, where I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years. That one is harder to explain – it’s mostly an impression. But it has to do with the wide streets, the uniformly medium-sized buildings, the gleaming postmodern architecture, the perfect grid, all of it bathed in sunshine under perfect blue skies. The comparisons mostly end there – Abu Dhabi’s about as unhip and pedestrian unfriendly as you get. But the impression stayed with me.

So there we are. A weird cross between Portland and Abu Dhabi, in South Australia. Maybe I’ve just been around too much lately – kind of losing a grip on where I am.

This feeling hit me really hard when on Saturday morning we visited the Adelaide Central Market – surely the jewel in Adelaide’s crown, and one of the nicest places I’ve been in Australia. It’s a huge indoor facility that’s exactly like a souk or a bazaar in the Middle East – a bustling maze of stalls filled with produce, meat, seafood, bread and gourmet foods side-by-side with more cafés. We sat at one of these and had coffee and baguettes.

The Central Market was built in the 1860s, and it has a real old-world quality, with lavish architechtural details and decorative tiles, and especially with all of the Italian and Greek purveyors of gourmet cheese, oil, wine and vinegar and sweets. And indeed, I felt nothing so much like I was back in Istanbul (where Amo and I went on vacation last November). Tiles, olive oil, coffee, wait – where am I? Oh, I’m in Australia. It was quite a perceptual slip.

We couldn’t help but think about how Sydney doesn’t have anything like the Central Market, and how much nicer it would be if it did. The thought is a little depressing. But overall, it was a real joy to find a town in my adopted country that is not merely a smaller and less hip and less convenient version of the big city, but is in fact lively and happening and very civilized in its own way. That’s one thing about travel: if you really give a place a chance, you’ll often find that the local flavor overrules all that’s generic and tired about globalization. I definitely look forward to being back in Adelaide.

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