It is two days till New Year’s Eve, and I am walking around Campbell’s Cove in Sydney. The view of the Opera House is like a new experience even after five days in the city. It looks better from afar, up close it loses some of its grandeur when you see the white surface glinting in the sun is nothing but ordinary white tiles. Besides, as a sail it must be seen against the water to really shine.
I take the umpteenth picture of the edifice, catching the crowds of tourists milling around at the Opera Bar below. A group of people in spiffy sailing clothes, deeply in the holiday mood and into the wine bottle stock, cheer and lift their glasses to the New Year two days early from a yacht that has just sailed under the Harbour Bridge.
I hear the water lapping below my feet on the wooden promenade in the shade of the Park Hyatt. A few yards ahead, below the dining hall of the hotel, you can see parts of the stony beach the hotel was built on. Stallone was caught with vials of illegally imported Jintropin in this hotel. The cheapest room costs six hundred Australian dollars. The average New Year’s Eve dinner just as much.
I take a close up of the weather-beaten boards of the promenade and I try to imagine what they must look like on the other side, constantly soaked in the brine. When I look up, a bum walks past and stops at the nearest rubbish bin. He’s wearing a warm coat over a shirt and sweater. His dishevelled hair looks like a lion’s mane when he peers into the bin. He goes to the next one and then the next, the nylon bag in his right hand still empty.
I lift my camera to capture the bum peering into rubbish bins with the Opera House as the backdrop. Then he lifts his head and looks at me. My finger stumbles as I imagine what he must be seeing – a carefree tourist who paid more for a dispensable gadget that she hasn’t even bothered to learn to use properly than all his belongings are worth.
Ashamed, I lower the camera. He walks around the corner and the image dissolves in front of my eyes. The Opera House now glows, a shy red penetrating from behind the clouds. Like a reflection of the blood rising in my cheeks.
published 19 May 2012