Sydney Road Shisha Lounges
Smoke quaffs in curls above my head, water bubbles in vibrations at my foot. Brass furnishings and Arabic-Egyptian designs fill the lounge as men humbly greet one another with “as-salam alaykum” (السلام عليكم). Wait, listen again: an Australian women’s accent greets the customer as he walks in the door, “hello Habibi” and reaches out with her hand with an Islamic greeting. Dozen of speakers quietly pump out a mix of bass both modern western and traditional Arabic…
Welcome to one of the many beautiful Shisha lounges on Sydney road, Brunswick (Melbourne). The artwork on the walls alone challenge our very conception of modernity: a giant pair of painted eyes peer out beyond a burkha, a Muslim cleric’s face is composed of women’s bodies; all mixed amongst traditional Egyptian artwork and the iconic glass lightwork.
Some will find this mixing of cultures abhorrent: Muslim-Arabic culture meets western world Australian? Retaining the best and most beautiful aspects of their culture while adopting the bits of Australian culture that works (so seamlessly) with their own.
This pattern is repeated with so many cultures here, Greek meets Australian (Oakley), Italian meets Australian (Carlton), Chinese/Korean/Japanese meets Australian (Footscray) and here in Brunswick Arabic meets Australian. (this pattern repeated through so many Australian enclaves). How has this cultural melting pot happened so easily here in Australia? Simply: the previous generation who came to this country have had children and those children have grown up in Australia. Most of them retaining their culture at home (often in their mother tongue), while living as Australians.
For me, this period in Australia’s young history is perhaps one of the most magical of any civilization. This hybrid cultural generation is a cultural fusion which is fleeting and more precious than any culture I know. Best of all it is resulting in the best parts a culture has to offer: baklava from Greek grandmothers, Chinese soups served street-style fresh and explosive, Korean barbecues smoking in your face with savor, Japanese Ramen that warms to the soul, Italian pasta that is a texture of fresh only found in tradition, and Shisha as intoxicating as the souks of Egypt.
To say the least, I love Melbourne: it has the best mix of culture in the world thanks to all the other cultures meeting in this perfect Australian historical moment.
We care so much about ‘place’ when it comes to traveling and yet it is the combination of ‘time meets place’ that is the most amazing experiences of our lives; these moments in Melbourne are (alas) some of the most wonderful cultural experiences of my life.
I hope you can one day come and visit so I can introduce you to this wonderfully world of whirled cultures.