The won­der­ful worlds of ‘what if?’

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ERBACHER

Do you some­times think, “what if?” Not Wo­tif, as in the on­line ac­com­mo­da­tion book­ing agency, but “what if?” as in the in­fi­nite turns your life might have taken. Add to it a “how come?” or two and there’s hours of fun pon­der­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

I love the 1998 film Slid­ing Doors about par­al­lel uni­verses that hinge on the “what if?” fac­tor of Gwyneth Pal­trow catch­ing a train or miss­ing it. An in­trigu­ing play by Nick Payne, Con­stel­la­tions — which has been per­formed in Aus­tralia and re­cently on Broad­way with Jake Gyl­len­haal — takes a “mul­ti­verse” ap­proach to the course of a re­la­tion­ship be­tween two peo­ple. Its rapid-fire tran­si­tion be­tween the uni­verses is dizzy­ing; nod off for a sec­ond and you’ve missed the plot, or at least one of them.

My “what if?” thoughts of­ten cen­tre on travel. What if I’d shoul­dered the cold just one more win­ter to ful­fil an am­bi­tion to live long-term in Lon­don? I didn’t be­cause the tug of long, bright, warm De­cem­ber days in Aus­tralia was too strong. What if, in­deed, I’d never left my na­tive Queens­land to live and work in Mel­bourne first and then Sydney? I’d still be pack­ing my port for hol­i­days, in­stead of a suit­case, and head­ing off to see the odd “filum” or two, I guess. But I could never bring my­self to call a rock­melon a can­taloupe or an eg­g­plant an aubergine. And here’s a “how come?”. Why do Aus­tralians have only mi­nor re­gional vari­a­tions in pro­nun­ci­a­tion and vo­cab­u­lary? In Bri­tain they can’t un­der­stand each other from vil­lage to vil­lage some­times and in the US, with a sim­i­lar pat­tern of pop­u­la­tion spread to Aus­tralia’s, you sure don’t con­fuse a denizen of Dixie with a brother from the Bronx.

My fam­ily hol­i­dayed reg­u­larly on the Gold Coast and har­boured the hope of build­ing a beach house there. The land was bought and the breezy style cho­sen, but it never hap­pened. What if it did? I might be sit­ting pretty at Mer­maid Beach in what would now be termed a mid-cen­tury mod­ern clas­sic in Pe­trel Av­enue (note that it’s with an “e” as in the se­abird and not an “o” as in there’s a bowser down the road), just a thong’s throw from mil­lion­aires’ row, Hedges Av­enue. Aw, shucks.

But here I am, on my lo­cal beach north of Sydney with the romp­ing dog, cof­fee in my hand (the first-cup eupho­ria is kick­ing in) and en­gag­ing with an­other “how come?”. Why is Aus­tralian (and New Zealand) cof­fee so very good? We owe much to the post­war ar­rival of Greeks and Ital­ians with their espresso ma­chines, I know, but why wasn’t the US, with its rich mi­gra­tion his­tory, so lucky?

If I’m af­ter in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties, check out how the sun is ris­ing to­day, the sky’s colours, the shape of the clouds, the move­ment of the waves and the way the surf is break­ing on the sand. It’ll never be this way again, and right here, right now I wouldn’t want to be in any other uni­verse. It’s the best time of the day. The small, sad thing is, it’s just 7am.

Su­san Kuro­sawa is on as­sign­ment.

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