It’s winter here in Melbourne. We’ve been in some kind of strict lockdown since late March, save a few dreamy weeks in May when we were allowed to eat out (with strict distancing measures and other restrictions in place) and have family over for dinner. The relief of having my siblings at my dining table, or a glass of wine at a local bar, was overwhelming and extremely short-lived. There are rumors that we won’t get back to that level of freedom until December.
Currently, there are only four reasons we’re allowed to leave home: to shop for necessary items, mainly restricted to grocery and pharmacy; to work (in a small number of essential industries); to provide or receive care; and to exercise, which must be done within an hour and within five kilometers from your home.
Some nights I make blender Piña Coladas—the least seasonal or appropriate drink possible, given the circumstances—just for the fuck of it.
So, we drink wine and beer and Martinis, and we play cards. We do awkward YouTube workouts in our living room, our cats looking at us quizzically, our teenage son shouting from his room for us to turn down the awful techno music. The weeks pass quickly or teeth-grindingly slowly. Were we taking a day off drinking this week? Is it still this week?
My husband and I celebrated our 20th anniversary under these conditions. I celebrated a James Beard nomination, a milestone career contract, birthdays and holidays and random Saturday nights. Sometimes the Champagne hits the same as it might if we were sharing it with others or drinking it in some romantic locale, but mostly it doesn’t. Some nights I make blender Piña Coladas—the least seasonal or appropriate drink possible, given the circumstances—just for the fuck of it. Some nights they help.
I keep wondering if this winter lockdown is better or worse than the prospect of a summer spent under similar restrictions. During winter, there is the instinct to nest, to huddle inside, to hibernate. But Melbourne is a city that has perfected its resilience to a drawn-out cold season that is rarely freezing but often dreary and wet and gray and persistent. Our historic pubs offer much comfort, many of them with large fireplaces and a wooly, warming atmosphere. They are all closed, many of them for good. Our national sport—Australian rules football—was born in Melbourne and plays out on chilly winter nights in stadiums full of beer-swilling, pie-eating fans. Those games have been moved to other states. We look good in our high boots and our black coats. Who has worn anything other than pajamas? What even is fashion?
I spent almost 30 years missing this city. I lived in and loved New York, Oakland, North Carolina, Atlanta and Los Angeles. But I was and am, above all else, a Melbourne girl. I know this because of the light, especially the light in the late afternoon on winter evenings, which cuts through the clouds and rain and shines pure and cold and golden on the Victorian terrace houses in my neighborhood and into the patio off of my bedroom. I walk out into that light and feel its bracing beauty and feel known. This is an unusual and welcome sensation.
The light reminds me that I am—mercifully, still, despite it all—home.