Last night, I walked through the heart of Melbourne as we went into our sixth lockdown.
The city’s laneways rang with the sound of shutters going down as the city locked itself up.
It was a pretty crazy time to be editing a guidebook for the city. But there I found myself, sitting in little Shandong Mama Mini, eating its fabulous mackerel dumplings with manager Gin, taking notes and talking optimistically about when New Yorkers are going to roam freely through our little laneways once again…maybe next June.
Walking the darkening streets, I saw a woman at the gates of Gucci, pleading, pleading to make a last purchase before lockdown – only to be turned away by staff. The cash registers are closed, she was told, night is falling and lockdown looms.
The doorman at Society, the hottest new restaurant in town, told me all the late bookings had been shunted into earlier time slots, with diners ushered back onto the streets before the stroke of 8pm.
A cheery Big Issue seller chatted about his business model falling apart: with few office workers and less city dwellers, his magazines remain unsold. But he was fully vaccinated, he told me. Was I?
“These lockdowns are killing us,” said the waiter in Pellegrini where, for the first time in living memory, I could get a seat at the bar and a chat with the black apron clad waiters. Snapping a photo of the luscious cakes of the Hopetoun Tea Rooms in the glittering Block Arcade – normally a false hope due to the hordes of drooling instagrammers – was but a cinch, and the Royal Arcade remains empty of its traditional shoppers, down on a day trip from the country.
Street cafes were being packed up, outdoor furniture stacked away, kitchen staff clearing the benches, glass of wine in hand. Music played in empty hotel lobbies, with no-one to listen to it.
The streets emptied so completely they could double as a setting for an apocalyptic zombie movie.
Food delivery drivers tore down empty footpaths on their scooters with impunity.
Traffic lights clicked uselessly as an ambulance careened unimpeded through a red light – lights flashing but the sirens silent in the darkening night.