At Home and Homesick

nycpost.jpgI love Melbourne with a deep understanding that we usually reserve for friendships. That understanding is sometimes more hindsight than it is of the moment. We see what we once had when a friendship finally dissolves and simultaneously mourn its loss while also remembering fondly all of the wonderful times that strengthened the bond.

Melbourne is my home but I live with a powerful compulsion to reside elsewhere. Not just anywhere but New York City.

A lot has been written about New York City. Really. A lot. Too much. Having spent so much of my life deriding the mainstream and seeking out the eclectic, extreme and commonplace, it somewhat pains me to admit that the city I love most and most wish to reside in is the topic of so many other people's love letters.

New York is a popular choice, there's no doubting that. Worse still is the writer who describes the city as if no one else has ever experienced it.

Like a 19th century missionary discovering an African tribe, the writer describes a place where an everyday action can be interpreted as a ritual to be explained to the outsider. That temptation is ever-present because it's the cliché we've come to expect from somebody detailing a new experience.

When I was in university, London was the popular destination for Australian students to call their temporary home. They lived there and travelled to Spain for weekends, went to parties with lots of other Australians and, for as long as their visas lasted, pretended like they had shaken off the stink of their suburban middle-class upbringing.

They were experiencing the world and their experiences were "unique".

For those of us who stayed at home during those years, we knew their experiences were not, in any way, unique. We knew this because every sad-sack who returned home, broke and unemployed, told us the same stories. Their experiences were almost identical and we were bored by their pretension.

The fashion of answer-seeking, temporary expatriation seems to be skewing towards New York at the moment. The lower east side (uninspiringly dubbed LES by its tedious hipster population) is full of Australians trying to experience "something real" while simultaneously escaping the reality of their lives back home.

My long-term and agonisingly unrequited crush with the city began in December 1992. Until that time, New York was a magical place of fairy tales with muggings and street violence, Sesame Street and the Cosby Show, Woody Allen and Spike Lee, Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, the Ramones and Sonic Youth. The best and worst of humanity called New York their home and I was intrigued. At the very least I wanted to see what this place was like and see how I faired out of my own middle-class suburban comfort zone.

I've been back to New York three more times since my first visit. On days like today, when the Melbourne wind blows heat from the north, I dream of a city I've only ever experienced in winter and wonder when I'll find a way to return.

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