It is a city of extremes, of macular degenerating blue skies and strikingly bright waterfronts. The waves kick the harbour walls, captured in a blink like chopped glass. It is a city where the tallest of skyscrapers thrust up through the older urban jungle of brick and wrought iron from early colonial settlement, shy relics of a bygone era like the ferns of the botanical world. Tall blocks extrude, Sharp edged, flashing with sunlight and dripping in crystalline modernity; it is as though the future is breaking through, filling every gap, dressed all in mirrors.
People shield their eyes and cluster towards the upturned rearrangement of orange segments (or is sails of a deconstructed boat? Shield-like layers of a shell?), walking blindly into the light with arms outstretched and glass screens reflecting their faces, an icon in the shot periphery. An army of selfie sticks marching into the glare, swarming, amassing, only dispersing to trip over a street performer and hurtle towards a bar. We raise our glasses to the winter sun, discuss how travel brings about enlightenment, helps you find yourself, until at the bottom of the glass- the big reveal- my glistening face again.
We walk back to our bus stop, several blocks into the city. The Balmain bus is for the fortunate. We wait at the bench on the slickest of streets, a Miu Miu and Swarkovski sandwich and the old lady on the bench turns from us and our backpacks. On the corner by the lights, a man is on his knees, arms outstretched with clasped hands. He sits sunk into a long-held bow, face almost on the floor, grovelling his unworthiness for spare cents in a city of glass and diamonds. His reflection sits on every corner.
The bus arrives, we flash our cards, the tinkling machine permits our passage and the glass doors close on us and the city. We wind over bypasses, sail through the upper echelons of the city, look down loftily on it all, squinting down at Darling harbour and entering the quaintness of classy Sydney suburbia, our home for 2 weeks. Home in time for the 5 o’clock sunset, we settle in for the night, gazing through the glass at the wide gape of the harbour, the opposite side lit up like a knowing smile of glistening teeth. The city is now a perfect mirror of itself in the orange glow clouding the water, lights trickling out from the mainland like a perfectly linear paint leak. It is unreal. The stillness of this watery lightshow is sliced only by the party boats that straddle the night with tinkling glasses, awash with mirrors and flash photography. We sit and watch somewhere in between, luxuriating in traded hospitality and patched jeans, neither a part of the boat party and the true Balmaineers, nor the man with his nose pressed to the street slab, facing away from all those mirrors.