Why revive the right to picnic in Melbourne?


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I used to joke that someone in Melbourne should make a song to the tune of the 2 Pac song ‘California Love’ but instead of the line “California knows how to party,” the words would be “Victoria knows how to picnic.” Because man, Victoria really knows how to have a picnic.

On any normal Melbourne spring or summer day, every available green space is littered with crowds of people. Parks, medians, beaches, even sidewalks and parking lots are becoming spaces for lounging and eating and drinking. Some revelers just eat sandwiches on the grass. Some have blankets spread with elaborate cheese and fruit bowls.

I joke that the median strip outside my house is my favorite bar in Melbourne – on hot days, it’s packed with families and friends sitting on blankets and chairs drinking wine and admiring each other’s pets and children. I’ve seen long tables set up in small neighborhood parks, covered with beautiful tablecloths with extravagant table settings, and people in evening wear seated around them, glasses clinking as if they were in the fanciest ballroom rather than on a small sunny patch of grass between city streets. It’s a glorious sight.

Of course, this spring was different. Due to our sixth lockdown, which has now been extended to 42 days (which, in combination with other lockdowns, makes 230 days at home so far), sitting outside in the park — or wherever — is illegal. The legal reasons for leaving the house don’t include the simple pleasure of stretching out on the grass with a friend and having a drink. Until today.

Despite the rising number of cases in Victoria, our vaccination rates have finally gotten high enough for state officials to declare it’s safe for us to picnic. The new dawn in Melbourne started at midnight last night (Sydney has been allowed to picnic since Monday). These picnics must be small and privilege depends on the vaccination status of the participants.

It seems like the smallest possible freedom, and yet the relief and joy I felt yesterday when the news broke was the most I’ve felt in months. My phone exploded with text messages from friends and family. This beautiful, vital part of our city’s personality means more to many of us than the return to bars and restaurants that are probably weeks or months away. It is not tied to commerce. It is connected to our humanity.

I will no longer be able to experience this new freedom for the time being. My husband’s workplace is a prime exposure location, meaning he and everyone in his household must be isolated in our home for 14 days. This also applies to our son, who turns 18 during that 14-day period. This morning, an email came in from his school saying that his year 12 – the equivalent of a senior prom – has been formally cancelled.

For a while these things felt unbearable: so many milestones stolen; so many memorable occasions stuck inside. But I swear that yesterday, when we got the news about picnics, everyone’s mood lifted. It won’t be his actual birthday, but my kid (husband soon!) gets to sit in the park with his girlfriend. People will be able to bring him gifts. It’s something to look forward to. And that’s what we all need right now.

These are this week’s stories.

  • As Russians vote, resignation, anger and fear of a post-Putin unknown. Many in Russia say they are fed up with corruption, stagnant wages and rising prices. But they worry, as one man said, that “when things start to change, there will be blood.”

  • Cave with Native American wall art sold to anonymous bidder. The cave, which sold for $2.2 million in St. Louis on Tuesday, is considered a sacred site by members of the Osage Nation. A tribal leader called the sale “heartbreaking.”

  • What should I do about my bird killing cat? The magazine’s Ethics columnist on whether an outdoor cat can be kept indoors and how to treat a family member with aggressive parenting tactics.

  • Ohio House Republican, calls Trump ‘a cancer’, bows out from 2022. Representative Anthony Gonzalez, who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, will relinquish his seat rather than face a tough primary challenge.

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