An opportunity to spend a little time in Tasmania is always a good thing. And so it was that I organised to stay an extra twenty-four hours in Hobart following a work trip.
It was all going swimmingly until I got sick. I’d had a useful meeting with colleagues, raided the Red Cross second-hand bookshop and even had time for a shot of late-night shopping after work. The weather was unseasonably warm and it promised to be a beautiful evening. But my temperature was soaring and by six o’clock on my free night I was sitting in my hotel room unsure whether I was well enough to venture anywhere.
I took a look at my basic hotel surroundings, and imagined the early-summer evening I was missing outside. This was what I promised myself: an evening out on a date with myself, a good glass of wine and Salamanca Market in the morning. What was I thinking? I dosed myself up with more aspirin, changed, and headed out with a new book.
The evening was beautiful. Dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing boots, I was the odd one out. It was all the clothes I’d brought with me. How was I to know Tasmania would transform into a tropical paradise instead of its usual cool temperate maritime vibe? Young women strolled arm in arm dressed in strapless maxi dresses and strappy sandals. Young men scrubbed up well and sported the latest logo tees and edgy hairstyles. Even the over-sixties tourists sported jaunty spring-summer outfits with their Tevas.
Down by the Elizabeth Street pier a beautiful ketch got ready to cast off, crew on board. The sky turned all colours, then settled on lavenders, pinks and blues as the sun set through the high clouds. I strolled towards Salamanca Market and selected a restaurant. Ciuccio’s in Salamanca Place looked inviting and I craved pasta. I headed inside.
Dining alone is a treat for me. Many people I know dread the thought of eating alone anywhere, whether away on business or even just out at lunch from work. I love it. Since my twenties I’ve loved getting all dressed up and taking myself out to dinner, alone, or sometimes with a good book. I sit at my table, hopefully with a good view of something – the scenery, or other diners, or the world outside, and drink it all in. Whether it is the changing view before me or a chance to people-watch, or perhaps to look like you are people-watching but you are actually in deep thought about something else, there is nothing like it. Sometimes it is a more internal experience, when I open my book and settle in for an evening of good food and wine with my reading. I choose dishes that can be eaten with one hand – risotto and small pasta shapes are perfect – so that I can hold my book with the other. There is no need to compromise on ambience or quality of food just because one is reading.
Just because I was reading, I still had a chance to do a little people-watching. The two men beside me were an enigma. I could not figure out whether they were brothers, father and son, colleagues or a couple. The larger table in front of me was a couple and their respective parents, perhaps meeting for the first time, or certainly their first formal evening out together. The couple to the other side of me were innocuous-looking for the most part, except they’d spent the evening playing noughts and crosses and other children’s games on their paper tablecloth with the crayons provided on each table for just that purpose.
I paid the bill and headed hotelwards not long after nine – well, I was poorly. Salamanca Place was still buzzing and the sun had only just set. Amazingly the temperature still hovered around the high twenties and it felt a little like summer in Dublin. Enjoying the solitude, I picked my way through groups of students congregated on the grass and the odd Hobart Show dropout in all their finery, back past Franklin Wharf and along by the fish places moored in the little enclosed dock.
Next morning after a good night’s sleep, I retraced my steps back to Salamanca Place for the Saturday-morning market. It was a good deal cooler in the morning, so my all-black outfit and sturdy boots looked less out of place. I strolled the aisles, unencumbered by any companions whose interests I had to accommodate. I flitted from jewellery stall to book stall, lingering over pieces that caught my attention without feeling I was delaying anybody. The sizzling of those gourmet sausages seriously tempted me, and this was the only time I felt the loss of a pal: logistically, it was not possible to purchase a currywurst outside and a glass of bubbly inside, and still be sure of a pavement table at which to enjoy it all. As Mena succinctly put it later, I didn’t have anybody to mind my sausage… Defeated, it was back to Salamanca Place where I found a nice “gawky” seat at Barcelona, where a healthier breakfast of eggs florentine awaited.
I sat, book in hand, but this was a much more tempting place to people-watch. A young student entertained us in the centre of the Place with beautiful renditions of operatic arias. People from every cafe and restaurant applauded each piece he sang. The fashions of the young women had not abated since the night before, even though the temperature had. I sat, barely keeping my own body at a decent temperature, watching in fascination as outfits more worthy of a Gold Coast housewife wandered past. Two young children, one dressed as a fairy with a denim jacket, the other in top-to-toe OshKosh, played with a twenty-first century frisbee as their parents waited in the ATM queue. A bunch of young women in one corner of my cafe postured and tinkled with laughter for the sole benefit of a bunch of young men in the other corner.
I didn’t buy much: a small birthday gift for a friend, some chocolate for Orlando, some more chocolate for Orlando, and a little shopping bag to send to Ireland for Annette. It was the browsing I enjoyed, all at my own pace and without the need for conversation or compromise. Yes, even I like silence sometimes, and a solo half-weekend was the perfect time for that.