Monday, March 17, 2008

Settling in to St. Kilda East

When last i wrote, I was adjusting to life in my new neighborhood. Due to my lengthy last blog, I spared you all the details but, the time has come to paint a picture of my new hometown. 

Our flat, which is generously described as cozy, if you interpret cozy as small enough to simultaneously shower, cook breakfast and peruse your wardrobe, is coming together. We've been inheriting some free furniture from Adi's mom, a free TV from a friend of his and a free desk from a stranger off of Gumtree- the Aussie version of Craig's List. I've been spending lots of quality time at the $2 shops- described more below- and have been filling our house with needed tchatkes, trying to keep our colors of orange and green omnipresent. For example, orange napkins, can opener, tissue box, green file holder, trash can, cutting board. We have a green accent wall, making our home very trendy looking, so I'm jut trying to keep it hip...because, as you all know, I am nothing if not hip!

We live in a neighborhood called St. Kilda east- on the edge of Balaclava. If I were so inclined, I'd open a store that served only baclava and call it Balaclava baclava. Say it 10 times fast and you get a free piece. But I don't really like baclava, so another genius business idea bites the dust. 

We're about 4 blocks from the start of Carlisle Street, the main street of Balaclava. Here, you can see gentrification in action. 

To imagine the make-up of my neighborhood, think Boulder. Only replace all of the runners with Frum Jews and all of the hippies with Asian immigrants. This is an especially apt description given that Boulder runners would consider what I do "running" about as much as these Jews would consider how I practice my religion "Judaism".

Adi describes our 'hood as "the ghetto". By this, he doesn't mean folks wearing their jeans below their boxers, driving low-riders with thumping bass from their pimped out stereo system. No, ghetto more in the way of black hats, black suits, long beards and long black skirts and wigs. There are a number of positives to this. 1) No loud parties on Friday nights. 2) Not a good chance of getting whistles and cat-calls as I walk down the street, given that most of the men don't look at me. 3) A plethora of great bakeries and 4) The aforementioned $2 shops. 

If you've ever wondered what happens when you combine a group of people with a penchant for bargains with a group of people with access to cheap imported plastic goods, come to Carlisle street and find out! We have 5 of these "bargain gift stores" in a 4 block radius-- so I guess $2 shops are the equivalent of Sushi restaurants on Pearl street. At first glance, all of them are the same. However, having spent most of my time last week in these shops I can now tell the subtle differences. I think Astoria might be my favorite. It's called a paper supply warehouse so I first wandered in looking for envelopes. Of these they had none, but they did have 5 rooms filled with the biggest collection of lead-painted merchandise that I've ever seen. From zip-locks to brooms, tupperware to purim costumes, this store has it all. Even an entire section devoted to Hollywood, with a variety of fake plastic oscars. Another favorite is the one I call "the one next to Pause", named such by the proximity to the coffee shop called Pause. Then there's the one with my friend. Thats where she has come to recognize me and says- are you here for orange and green again? in her broken English. She's my favorite of the proprietors. I frequently marvel that there is a market for so many pieces of crap serving such little purpose in the world. Then I snatch up whatever it is I'm looking at and add it to my basket!

A few commonalities of all the stores...their penchant for a complete lack of any semblance of organization of their merchandise- toilet brushes next to cooking utensils next to hello kitty socks- and the fact that there is literally not a single thing available for the advertised $2!

Interspersed with these shops are a multitude of coffee shops- Melbourne has a Seattle-like coffee culture that I, of course, wont be a part of. There are also about 5 pizza places, including a few "Bouldery" earthy veg spots that I like and Adi scoffs at. I mentioned the addition to the 5 or 6 Jewish ones-we plan to sample a Challah from each over the upcoming weeks- there are some Vietnamese and plain old regular ones. So you can buy Hamentaschen, a Vietnamese loaf and Hot Cross Buns "in time for Easter" within three stores of each other. Dr. Atkins would not be happy but I certainly am!

We've got a slew of restaurants cheap and more upscale- everything from Sushi to Thai to great Falafel to salads and backed potatoes and even a Subway (I find it interesting that they sell foot-longs here...) and then an amalgamation of upscale clothing and accessory stores intermingling with second-hand and Judaica shops. It's a very eclectic mix and I like the European feel of having a fishmonger and a butcher (or three) and a chemist and a florist and a produce stand all standing side-by-side. Of course, for the more lazy one-stop-shopper (i.e., me) there are two US-inspired supermarkets- including a Safeway. it is much smaller and anyone concerned with my sodium intake will be glad to know the option of veggie frozen meals are quite slim. If someone could let Amy's know their product is desperately needed, I'd appreciate it!

We've also got a post office, cleaners, laundromat, video store and some internet cafes rounding out the commerce options. Unfortunately, no ice cream but that is probably best. Luckily I have less of a weakness for bakeries.

The train station, where a train to the CBD is about 10 minutes and $3.50 is on this block- just be sure to step over the used syringes in the alley- and a tram runs up and down Carlisle street for the days I over shop, with a stop across the street from our house. At the other end of the shopping area is the public library, where I sit writing this, enjoy the wireless and air con. Across the street from that is the St. Kilda Town hall, currently finishing a renovation connecting a brand new modern building to the old town hall, a visual representation of the old and new coming together. The grand opening party in a few weeks offers both a hip hop battle and a Russian folk-dancing session, so you can see the mixed-use of the neighborhood. The fact that many of the posters in the library are provided in Russian and more than one Asian language as well as English demonstrates the diversity, a nice change coming from Boulder.

I hope I've given you a feel for what's out my front door. And this week, I plan to venture past it a little more, providing the oppressive heat breaks, so I can give a better idea of what Melbourne is like. And photos of the flat coming soon, I promise.

And a Mazel Tov shout-out to Amy who just got engaged!!

Until then, post your comments and take care!



Amy Kopkin said...

Life down under sounds fantastic. I love the neighborhood! We'll let you know what we decide in terms of honeymoon, although it may be a bit expensive to visit OZ.

dena c-c said...

your neighborhood sounds great. i LOVE asian bakeries, maybe i'll have to come visit you after all.

Seidperson said...

Hi! So fun to travel vicariously through you, you know how much I miss it! We're off to Disney in May, woo hoo!