Thursday, March 7, 2013

The One Thing People in Melbourne Can't Stop Talking About

"I get a shiver in my bones just thinking about the weather."
-- from "Like the Weather," by 10,000 Maniacs

I'll never forget the first rule I ever learned about life in Melbourne. It was the second day of my first visit, and my friend Marcus had just picked me up at my hotel to take me on a personally guided tour around town. I can't recall how brightly the sun was shining that day, or if there was a slight chill in the air. It was the middle of September, which is the beginning of spring on this side of the world, so I'm pretty sure it was a lovely afternoon.

Whatever the sky looked like that day, Marcus warned me that it probably wouldn't last long. The first rule of life in Melbourne: The weather is capricious as hell.

"There's a saying here in Melbourne," Marcus explained. "If you go outside, and you don't like the weather, don't worry. It'll change in a minute." A mental image rushed into my head of sunny days suddenly giving way to torrential downpours. I wasn't so crazy about that, but I had to admit that Marcus's assessment of Melbourne's weather was pretty clever.

The phrase "four seasons in a day," he went on to explain, very well may have been invented to describe the weather in Melbourne. I considered myself duly warned. What Marcus didn't warn me about, though, was the major role weather would play in my life whenever I spent time in Melbourne over the next two and a half years.

That's not so much because it's the only city I've ever been in where I can arrive in town at the tail end of a heatwave one day (as I did on January 4) and be subjected to a goose-bump inducing chill the next. Rule No. 2: In Melbourne, unseasonal is seasonal. Yes, the weather in Melbourne is as unpredictable and unstable as Marcus said it would be, but who knew it would be so hard to escape? I've never spent so much time discussing the weather as I have in Melbourne.

I've always been told that such conversations are the epitome of banal small talk, air-tight evidence that someone truly doesn't have anything interesting to say. I'm not so sure if that's the case with the husband of the woman who manages the building where I live, but I don't believe I've ever heard him talk about anything else. He's a ridiculously nice guy who reminds me of an an elderly woman with whom I used to work in New York City, and not only because she was also as sweet as could be. She would review the weather every time I saw her, even if it was the fourth time that day and neither one of us had been outside for hours. "It's mild out there," she'd often say. I'd always smile politely, but I'm still not sure what "mild" even means in reference to the weather.

I should ask the husband of the building manager. I just ran into him yesterday on my way to the laundry room. He looked up at the sky, held out his arms and said, "Where are we -- in California?" I had to admit, it was one of the most gorgeous days ever. In fact, the past week has been full of the most gorgeous days ever, with the daytime temperatures usually settling somewhere in the Celsius 30s. Apparently, though, opinion on the current warm snap is mixed.

Melburnians are accustomed to summers where there are only isolated warm days. In general, there's a chill in shade, if not everywhere else throughout the summer months. So to many of them, we're in the middle of a heatwave. Last night, I got a text message from someone who said he was having trouble falling asleep because it was too hot to sleep. I wondered if I had heard him right. Was that meant as sexual innuendo? Was he too hot to sleep? As usual, he was talking about the weather.

I felt great in my apartment. I always feel great in my apartment, where it's usually a little chilly, even on the hottest days when everyone is afraid to go outside, lest they be baked alive. A few weeks ago when we walked into my cool apartment on a particularly sultry day, Marcus explained that it felt so comfortable even without the AC cranking because older buildings in Melbourne like mine have extremely thick walls, which give them great insulation. So that's the reason why on some days when the rest of Melbourne has been sweating it out, I've been turning up the thermostat.

And all that time I'd been thinking that my 10 months in Bangkok in 2012 had changed my body chemistry so that I had become as wimpy when faced with a slight chill as the average Melburnian becomes when the heat is on. Even the Internet in Melbourne can't get over the weather. That same hot afternoon, Marcus, who is an IT expert, also told me that the outdoor component of Melbourne's online network wasn't constructed to deal with extremely hot weather, so on particularly boiling days, the Wi Fi can behave erratically or go out completely.

What a perfect excuse to log off and go outside, I thought. Enjoy life, enjoy Melbourne, enjoy the weather, and then talk about it some more.

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