CALL me shallow, call me selfish, I’ll answer to both. But there is something deeply heartwarming in nosing around a smart shopping centre, the kind of place where you might bump into Imelda Marcos shopping for shoes, or someone equally famous for her feet or hairstyle.
Sydney’s Double Bay used to be that kind of place and now, sadly, its gone rather to the dogs. I blame the large multipurpose shopping mall in an adjacent suburb that has spread its tentacles across the eastern suburbs of this city. Personally speaking, shopping malls — which are probably encroaching on a neighbourhood near you — make me break out in an ugly rash that frightens even my children.
Double Bay used to be the Rodeo Drive of Sydney; Sydney, as we all know, is similar to Los Angeles, without David Hockney and earthquakes ( touch wood). Both are — were — suburbs of relentless retail, where most of the women in pursuit of perfect happiness via a pedicure would have to live for another 2000 years to acquire the nonchalance of old money. Fat, in these precincts, was considered a crime.
Things went pear- shaped when they closed down the Double Bay cinema, one of the focal points of this shoppers’ mecca. At the same time they installed parking meters, which are ugly and inconvenient and attract grim- faced men and women brandishing ticket- books.
What used to happen on a Saturday was very much a ritual: you’d buy a movie ticket early to avoid being stampeded by hordes of local flat- dwellers of a certain age, and then you’d do a little browsing in what used to be the best bookshop in Sydney, or in one of the many pharmacies where the shelves were full of unguents and magic medications and stomach- acid soothers, or perhaps in a newsagent to buy the perfect birthday card.
After the flicks you’d eat Indian or — if you were feeling particularly flash — up- market Italian, where you’d bump into lots of older sung heroes or younger men, carefree fishers of women, and you’d retire to bed feeling quite sated.
Now many of the shops are empty and cheaper, gender- specific clothes stores and realtors are hanging up their shingles. Shopgirls sit disconsolately in the park with their takeaway sushi and coffee in cardboard. The posh and oomph has gone from the place, and I suspect this is all to do with having no specific meeting place; we all like a feeling of belonging.
Some years ago a friend who owns a retirement village noticed that none of the old people was socialising: they kept to themselves, sitting gloomily in their rooms. A brainwave struck him and he built a bus stop in the grounds — no buses, just a couple of benches — and before you could snap your fingers they were all outdoors, blinking wildly against the sun, and the seats were soon full of pensioners. The cinema was our bus stop.
fraserj@ theaustralian. com. au