Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Kilda: Sun, Sand, and Scary Clown Heads

Winter weather in California is nothing to complain about, but stepping onto a plane in the dead of winter and getting off some hours later in the height of summer feels less like a plane trip and more like time travel. The flight to Australia is, of course, monstrously long, but the brain has a remarkable ability to quickly forget the sensation of passage of time. I got on a plane, something halfway unpleasant happened, I watched Julie & Julia (also halfway unpleasant as it turns out), and moments later I emerged on the other side of the planet with bad hair into a disconcerting world of heat and sun. Presto. You can go on and on about jet engines and Bernoulli's principle as much as you like, but you can't completely remove the magic from planes.

Most of my recent trip to Melbourne was occupied with work, the sunny weather passing by without me, so I was happy to have a weekend to take advantage of my short preview of summer weather. On a hot, bright blue Saturday, I rented bicycles in central Melbourne with two colleagues and we took a leisurely ride first along the banks of the Yarra River and then down to the beach, eventually ending up in St. Kilda.

Pedaling along the Yarra River


St. Kilda reminds me of many other beachside towns: slow, breezy, pricey in parts, a bit weather-beaten and fraying at the edges but mostly no one notices or cares because of the beach and the view. It felt very familiar, equal parts Santa Monica, Brighton, and Coney Island. The Coney Island comparison is perhaps the most apt, as St. Kilda is best known for it's old-timey fun park Luna Park, shown below in the middle of construction in 1912.


I can just imagine the architects gazing at this partially completed park sitting next to a glorious beach and saying to themselves, "This isn't quite right yet. You know what this needs? A giant freakish clown mouth for an entrance." And thus Mr. Moon was born.

Mr. Moon

Can't sleep, clowns will eat me. Can't sleep, clowns will eat me.

My nightmare: being eaten alive by a clown named Mr. Moon

I'm endlessly fascinated by clowns and mimes. Please do not take this to mean that I like clowns and mimes, in fact clowns are about the scariest things on the planet next to goats and Rush fans, and mimes tap into a part of the human psyche that was really best left unexplored. But they fascinate me as a concept: how did something so objectively unpleasant and disturbing become so ubiquitous?

This kid had the right idea

Luckily, if you brave the walk through the clown's mouth, the inside of Luna Park isn't scary at all, as this short movie shows:



As disturbing as giant clown mouths are, perhaps the scariest thing I saw in St. Kilda was somebody's future lunch. Ever seen (or heard of) a yabby before? I hadn't, but it certainly sounded Australian. I have no illusion about how food gets to my plate, but I can't eat something that I've been introduced to; I'd rather walk through a giant clown mouth.