Portable Curiosities (6 page)

BOOK: Portable Curiosities
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Windy used to be a Senior Associate at the firm. Her name was really Wendy but she was from New Zealand.

Windy wasn't like Beth from Banking. She was dumpy, eccentric and an oversharer, and more often than not sported ladders in the calves of her stockings.

Windy complained daily of feeling sick in her stomach.

‘I just can't work out what it is,' she said one day, leaning over her secretary's desk. She clutched her belly, which had swollen to the size of a gigantic inflatable beach ball but hadn't yet developed multicoloured stripes.

‘Women hold stress in their stomachs,' declared her secretary.

‘It can't be stress,' said Windy. ‘It's probably indigestion.'

‘Every day of the year?' you asked. ‘Maybe it
is
stress.'

‘It has to be indigestion,' said Windy. ‘I can't afford to be stressed. I have a mortgage to pay.'

She pulled out her purse, twisted the clasp and flipped it open, revealing a crumpled photo stuffed into a plastic insert.

‘This is my house,' she said.

‘You keep a photo of your house in your purse?'

‘It motivates me to come to work.'

She handed you her purse and you took a closer look at the picture.

‘Hang on, this isn't a house. It's Civility Place.'

‘What?' She grabbed it back and stared at the photo. ‘You're right. How strange. When I first moved in, it was a cottage.'

The secretary rolled her eyes. You watched her open a new window on her computer screen.
Psycho
, she typed and clicked
send
.

Another secretary halfway across the floor laughed out loud.

‘So,' you joked, ‘every day you've been catching trains from work to work from work.'

‘I suppose so,' said Windy. ‘I've never noticed. I'm so tired these days. I don't look up at the sky anymore. Are there any stars left?'

A week later, Windy was in the middle of asking her secretary to order her a monitor-riser when she stopped abruptly.

Then she let out a shriek and proceeded to run silently in rectangular patterns around the edges of Level 403, slamming into the intervening glass, over and over again, until paramedics arrived.

It was impossible not to see and hear Windy's meltdown through the walls, floors and ceilings. Everyone pretended she was simply not there. They sidestepped her as they went about their important filing and practice group meetings and two-unit coffee runs.

That night, the cleaners sprayed each of the affected glass walls and windows, and wiped them down with chamois cloths. They removed the cheek marks, the nose and chin marks, and the palm marks with the splayed fingers.

‘At least we know it's suicide proof,' said Phillips Tom.

All day you think of the cleaners removing Windy's marks from the glass.

At five o'clock you pick up your keys and wallet. You leave your jacket on the back of your chair, a trick one of the guys once taught you, which apparently suggests to passers-by that one is still in the building when one is really out doing other things, like having a hotel quickie with the new girl from Payroll.

You wait for a lift. Phillips Tom is already there, jamming his thumb against the up arrow.

He looks at you with narrowed eyes and then, with a disdainful flourish, checks the time on his watch.

‘I,' you mumble, ‘I have a medical appointment.'

‘We have that conference call with the Chinese at seven tomorrow morning.'

‘I'll be on time.'

‘Good,' says Phillips Tom. ‘Now, go get a life.'

Serge is standing in the foyer, as always, with his hands resting in front of him, one over the other. You take him aside.

‘I need your bike.'

‘Pardon?'

‘I need it right now,' you say. ‘I can pay you half of what's in my bank account. You can buy twenty bikes with it.'

He picks up a phone concealed behind the birds of paradise.

‘Rob?' he says. ‘Can you cover for me?'

You've been passing your wallet from one hand to the other, and Serge notices they're trembling.

‘You okay?'

‘I have to get out of here.'

‘Follow me,' he says.

In the car park, he asks where you're going.

‘Far away. All those places you talked about. Tokyo, maybe.'

You transfer him the money on the spot.

‘Have a good trip,' winks Serge, handing you a pair of aviators. ‘Send me a postcard.'

Aviators on, you are riding out of the city, past beaches and over mountain ranges, and the whole time you are singing ‘Serge, Serge, the concierge', and you are overtaking slow trucks on highways, and you are passing bright lights and small towns, and the sun is warming your back, and the wind billows inside your shirt, and the air is crisp, and the birds are calling.

You are taking trains and buses and boats, and you are crossing seas to places where people offer you food in strange tongues and write you directions in unfamiliar scripts, and your hands are steady, and your soul is lifting, and the smiling face of a once young pop star with white teeth and white wings appears against a fluffy white backdrop of clouds and sings gently to you about a summer holiday in a place where the sun shines brightly and the sea is blue.

And then you slow down and begin to walk, and you discover a billboard filled with white-panted women, and you spy the word
HOTEL
emblazoned in bold on their buttocks, and the billboard is pointing you to an arched hedge.

You wander down the green tunnel and it is rustling around you, and you are dreaming of white high-waisted pants and white terry-towelling robes and white bubble baths and crisp white sheets when you begin to hear a familiar
whump, whump, whump
.

There, at the end of the tunnel, are those six revolving blades.

Serge is standing in the foyer, one hand resting over the other. The birds of paradise seem to have been rearranged by an ikebana artist of unsound mind. Their stems have been driven into metal stakes and they peck at each other as if in pain.

You find you are wearing a sleek new suit and holding an expensive briefcase in one hand.

‘
Konnichiwa
,' says Serge, bowing. ‘Welcome to Civility Place.'

You say nothing in response. You take off his aviators, drop them on the glass floor and crush them with the heel of your designer shoe.

‘Shame,' says Serge. ‘They weren't a bad pair.'

A stream of Beths from Banking, wearing shiny black heels with red undersides, clack past you to the lifts. You follow them.

‘Good morning,' says the lift in its smooth voice. ‘Phillips Tom is waiting for you in the conference room on Level 1200.'

Around you, the Beths assemble. They take sips through straws from bottles of juice branded with ugly purple cows with bad teeth.

‘What flavour is that?' you ask them.

‘Fruits of the Valley,' they say.

‘Does it really taste like fruits from a valley?' you ask. ‘What fruits even grow in valleys?'

‘It's everything we could have asked for,' they say in the voice of the lift, ‘and more.'

As the doors close, the automated voice of civilisation announces that you are rising to Level 1200, to the very top of the hill, to the very peak of the world, into the clouds, into the sky, and beyond.

Cream Reaper

I've spent just five minutes in the presence of the man known as Bartholomew G, and I'm already convinced he's a special kind of genius.

The famous allure of this titan ice-creamer is hard to deny. Forget the Romans: this suave thirty-four-year-old is the new man of modern empire, the greatest food revolutionary of his generation, a self-described food futurist slash visionary educationist who has Sydney in the grip of a deluxe ice-cream pandemic. So far, his empire stands at five Ice Dealerships, whipping up frenzies in Alexandria, Surry Hills, Bondi, Darlinghurst and The Star.

The man with the finger on the pulse of frozen desserts has cleared his usually frantic schedule to give me this exclusive on a pop-up venture he is trialling this week. He's granting me no-holds-barred access to follow him and his team over the venture's first five days. He's already calling me his ‘embedded journalist'.

I can barely contain my excitement. Not only is this my biggest assignment yet but I've also dabbled in a bit of horrifically bad homemade ice-cream in my time. I could do with some professional tips.

We're standing in front of the security gates of G's new digs in Alexandria, waiting for his business partner, Ian Lee, to arrive. When I comment on G's individual style, he launches into a rundown of his outfit for today – a dark green Acne Studios fine-knit merino wool sweater over a white A.P.C. shirt, ASOS slim dusty-pink chinos rolled at the ankle, and a pair of Tod's tan suede moccasins. He's rocking Cutler and Gross tortoiseshell glasses and a pompadour cut so sleek he reckons it gives David Beckham a run for his money.

‘You know,' he confides, ‘true style is a core life skill. It's all about mixing high-and low-end brands. Plus if you can add a compelling op-shop find to your ensemble, you're more than ready to step out the door.'

I tell G that I'm in awe of the empire he has under his belt, which is continuing to expand with no signs of flagging. I ask what drives him to succeed.

‘I came from nothing,' G shrugs. ‘All I'll say is that Dad cleaned shopping centre toilets. But I've always thought ahead of the curve. Years ago I had this epiphany. In the near future, we weren't going to have newspapers with food lift-outs. We were going to have foodpapers with news lift-outs. Who wanted to read about the Middle East anymore? Food was where it was at.'

It turns out G is a polymath of sorts. With a degree in pharmacology, he began his career in pharmaceutical research before making a dramatic switch to pharma-degustation, apprenticing at Louis Vian's two-Michelin-star London restaurant, Opioid, in the late 2000s, then getting runs on the board at fine-dining establishments Kurohiko, Grästerika and The Merry Axolotl. He credits Opioid with instilling in him a deep respect for each ingredient, honed while working under the watchful eye of Vian, who insisted that each dish be served in a blister pack of ten softgel capsules.

G's luck changed in 2013 after a near-miss scooter accident grazed his leg. He quit as sous-chef at The Merry Axolotl and returned to Sydney to get back to basics: artisanal ice-cream, his one true love. It also eventually meant uniting with his pal Lee for today's joint venture.

‘Speaking of the Dude Food Devil,' says G, as Lee finally fronts up.

Lee is a member of the hot celebrity set G runs with – known among foodies as The Golden Circle. Also a bit of a polymath, he's an ex-Big Four auditor and now the plaid-shirted king of Antipodean dude food, known for uber-popular Surry Hills joints Hoe Dawg
and
Douchely
.
I ask Lee about his love of French–Japanese fusion hot dogs and cold drip espresso martinis, his worship of nose-to-tail chefs and craft beer artisans.

‘Man, you've done your homework on me,' he says. ‘The Capote of the food world, hey?'

I tell him I keep my ear to the ground.

I ask Lee what he thinks of G. He credits him as an inspiration.

‘What we're seeing in Bart's work is mind-blowing, to say the least,' says Lee. ‘He's the go-to guy for innovation. An absolute revelation. Everyone who's anyone worships him. He's ice-cream royalty, and no one's going to get anywhere near him for a very long time.'

‘Ready to see where the magic happens?' says G. He presses a button on a remote. The security gates swing open.

G's house is a glass hemisphere – a stand-out look for the industrial Alexandria skyline.

‘It's a converted warehouse,' he says as we walk up the driveway. ‘I told my architect to design me a place that literally looks like the Sydney housing bubble.'

On the front steps, we run into G's advertising team. He has them living on the premises while they develop the promotional strategy for the venture. They're standing around in a cloud of their own herbal smoke, holding their cigarettes out to the side, tapping the ash. They are in the midst of an impenetrable conversation about organic Dutch carrots and
mise en scène
and style sins and intercultural artistic collectives.

G introduces me to the art director. ‘Tell her about the campaign, Rhys.'

Rhys visibly shivers with excitement under his Native American headdress. ‘Oh my God, it's so high concept it's on Pluto. It's so underground it's above ground.'

I tell him I'm very curious about the new product.

‘Hells yeah,' says Rhys. ‘So are we.'

He doesn't even know what the product is?

‘Well, no. But we'd totes line up to taste it. We hear it's a killer flavour.'

In the hallway we have to edge past a TV crew.

‘Just ignore them,' says G. ‘They're filming our renovation contest.'

The hallway leads us straight through to the centre of the bubble. The ceiling, at its highest point, must be ten metres above the floor.

‘Money comes, money goes,' says G. ‘You have to do something with it. May as well be high ceilings.'

In the centre of the bubble is a circular pool area with two yellow slippery slides. The slide on the left is open-topped. The slide on the right is a closed tunnel. Two streams of beautiful naked women with high hair and big breasts slide down them over and over again. The accompanying soundscape seems to be a recording of a busy construction site.

‘Like it?' asks G. ‘It's an art installation. You have two viewing options. You can either watch the ladies slide all the way down on the left, or on the right you can delay visual gratification until they pop out the end. The fact that I buy important pieces of art like this, it really makes me feel like I'm giving back to the community – completing the loop.'

Lining the outer area of the bubble are rooms with views of the central pool.

G shows us the kitchen first, where a pair of eager contestants is awaiting G's approval. G casts his eye over the space – which is scattered with multicoloured Eames chairs – and shakes his head.

‘The splashback has to go,' he says. ‘What were you thinking? Three out of ten.'

We move on with the TV crew. Pairs of contestants have been assigned to each room. The boom operator tells me that each couple is responsible for renovating a room according to a theme selected by G. The money comes out of their own pockets, with many contestants borrowing against their own homes.

Most are in a state of panic. They stand in the middle of their rooms, heads bowed, weeping silently, with paint rollers in their hands. A rumour is going around that the team with the lowest score at the end of the day will be asked to crawl out of the bubble on their hands and knees, before being whisked off to an hour-long session of electroshock therapy.

I ask what the show is called.

‘Is it a show? We hired a camera crew, so I guess it looks like a show. I just wanted a reno, really. The original interior was so last quarter.'

What's in it for the contestants?

‘Potential exposure.'

G takes us through to his bedroom, which is dominated by a custom calf-leather bed shaped like a waxed vagina.

‘I adore this piece because it goes right to the heart of the question: “Can art be commercial?” You have to sleep right in the centre of it, though, to be comfortable. Or you'll roll over the edges.'

On the wall is a framed spread he did for a
Good Weekend
interview. It shows him
curled in foetal position in the middle of the bed.

‘Someone told me it's outrageous, like sleeping in a little girl's fanny.' He shrugs. ‘Taste. You either have it or you don't.'

Out the back of the property is where all the real action is taking place. Connected to the main bubble by a glass walkway is a smaller bubble housing G's experimental kitchen headquarters, a veritable temple for the worship of the ice-cream gods.

There is all manner of stainless steel equipment. G's crew – in chef's whites, hair nets, face masks and gloves – is cooking up a storm. They're hard at work bringing in trays of eggs, grating orange zest, shelling Sicilian pistachios, weighing saffron, unwrapping parcels of camembert, and slicing open vanilla pods.

As part of what G calls his Multi-sensorial Method, the team listens to a mix of nature soundtracks and Sigur Rós while concocting new flavours to add to the more than 220 already in G's arsenal.

G has built his reputation on making seemingly impossible taste combinations work in complete harmony. Some have dubbed him the bad boy of ice-cream for attempting these edible highwire acts – madness for the tastebuds. One of his most popular flavours is sage, roast duck and single-origin cardboard.

‘For that one we had to get the balance perfectly right,' says G. ‘We had to keep in mind that the duck was the hero of the ice-cream, and things went smoothly from there.'

G takes me over to a Carpigiani batch freezer, which is in the process of discharging newly frozen duck ice-cream. One of his assistants is collecting the ice-cream from the machine in a stainless steel pan, helping it along with a spatula. G dips a wooden popsicle stick into the pan and hands it to me.

‘Give it a try. We've just switched to organic bullock milk for this flavour.'

The ice-cream has a full-bodied, creamy mouthfeel unlike any other I've tasted. The duck is surprisingly punchy and unapologetic.

Next, G opens a round metal tin for me. ‘Smell this. The rarest tea in the world. It's made of soft down plucked from the pubic region of virgins and folded into twenty-four-carat gold dust. I use it in the Virginal – the most expensive ice-cream in our range.' He runs his pinkie along the inside of the tin lid and shows me the tip, now covered in fine gold. ‘You can use it as make-up too.'

The Virginal will set customers back a cool $1,000. It comes in G's signature waffle cone, which is coated in dark chocolate and freeze-dried coffee granules. ‘The coffee adds an extra crunchy element to the overall ice-cream,' adds G.

For those who have less cash kicking around in their bank accounts, there is the Aspirational – half the price and made from Tahitian vanilla combined with the essence of Giza 45, the most highly graded Egyptian cotton.

I laughingly ask if G has gone so far as to use drugs in his cones.

‘Look, everyone's done a weed cone,' he says. ‘That fad's over. We've been experimenting with a new substance for today's venture – a secret ingredient that, fingers crossed, will pay massive dividends.'

He points to one of his assistants, who is opening a cardboard box with a Stanley knife.

‘That's a new shipment of it.'

I wander over and peer at the address on the box. The ingredient appears to be sourced from Bolivia.

‘Come on,' says G. ‘Let's get this show on the road.'

G takes me out to the street in front of the housing bubble.

A van is now parked there. It's matt black except for the words
Cream Reaper
painted in white cursive lettering on the front and side.

‘We're moving into ice-cream vans,' says G. ‘This is my new extreme pop-up concept. We're launching the trial today in Surry Hills. If we're successful, we'll expand the fleet.'

‘Where's the menu?' I ask. ‘Isn't it usually on the side of the van?'

‘No need. There's only one flavour.' He gets into the driver's seat. ‘Hop in.'

He reaches out through the window and pulls a rope. A bell clangs. ‘I hate “Greensleeves”,' he explains.

As we pull out of the property, we chat about the new venture.

‘It's all good to be making beautiful ice-creams and to be turning that into a sustainable business,' says G, ‘but I need to be thinking strategically. The thing is, you always have to think of what you need to do to stay ahead of the competition. That's the nature of business. If you've ever owned a cafe, you'd know how it is. You're always checking out the menus of your competitors, seeing if you can do better for a particular price point, shifting your menu to keep up with food trends. If a competitor does a deconstructed eggs Benedict, you do a
reconstructed
deconstructed eggs Benedict. When it comes to the ice-cream business, how do you stay miles ahead of the rest – escape the daily tit-for-tat? You gotta be streetwise, you know, meaning you have to know what they want on the streets. You need more than just a high-concept ice-cream. You need a game changer. And what do you think the game changer is?'

Buy one get one free, I suggest.

‘I saw this Instagram post, right? And this girl wrote that she would, and I quote,
kill
for one of my ice-creams and I thought, as I slid down the left slippery slide, I wonder if she would literally
die
for one. That's a gap in the market if I ever spied one. What if I decided to take ice-cream out of the ice-cream business and turn it into an extreme sport? What if an ice-cream existed that said to foodies everywhere: “How serious are you about food?” An ice-cream that sorts the professionals from the amateurs, the men from the boys. So I thought I'd put the word out. Call in the media. We're going to try it out today.'

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