Sydney. Went to Hollow Man at a cinema on George Street; and after it, outside, saw there was something happening near the Town Hall, half a block away.

It was 3.15 p.m. There was a double row of mounted police facing north at the intersection of George and Bathurst Streets, and as I went by I saw they were facing a large conglomeration of people who were occupying the roadway outside the Town Hall. This was Reclaim the Streets, which seemed to be a motley bunch of what the city's residents think of as inner-city types. A mixture of punks, anarchists, hippies, alternative lifestylers, musicians, students. Babies and small children, a couple of people on bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards. A large ramshackle nuclear-missile-seeming object on the body of a wrecked car, propelled by people pulling it along on ropes and others pushing behind. A van playing loud techno and with a large pink flag flapping above it. The red, black and yellow Aboriginal flag. Other people waving flags that looked like old striped bedsheets. Somebody with a microphone proclaimed that they were reclaiming the street for pedestrians and from automobiles, big business, petroleum concerns, the Olympics hysteria, and I forget what else. At the south end of the block were the mounted police, and the north end was a barricade of police cars and coppers. Police looked on from the top of the Town Hall steps and from the sidewalk at both sides. Traffic was being detoured into parallel streets. There were more spectators (including a couple of foreign media teams) watching from the sidewalks than there were Street Reclaimers squatting on the macadam. Today was a good day for it, with athletes and international media in the city. Maybe next Saturday, the first full day of the Olympic Games, would have been better, but the security would have been tighter.

After an hour or so the event began moving south down George Street to someplace called Victoria Park. The police on horseback had now come north to be at the end of the procession, and while they were waiting for it to get moving, behind them was the façade of the Queen Victoria Building--the scene looked as if it was waiting to turn into the Storming of the Winter Palace. But it stayed peaceful. The Street Reclaimers hauled their missile-like vehicle south down George Street; the rest followed behind, with the police at the rear. It was a parade, accompanied by pedestrians and more police on the sidewalk, tourists with cameras. I walked with it as far as Railway Square, then stopped and watched them pass me; police halted traffic a block back, people in the nearby high-rise hotel came to the windows to look.

On a corner of Railway Square was a secondhand bookstore, and I went in and found old copies of Sir Walter Scott's Kenilworth for A$19.95 each. That's as much as a new paperback costs! Then went to 2 retail bookstores back in the city center and saw The Journals of Woodrow Wyatt Volume II selling for $71. Maybe that makes sense with the exchange rate: A$1 equal about 37 pence sterling or 56 U.S cents. Bought Edward W. Said's Out of Place, and The Hulton Getty Picture Collection: 1940s.

How Sydney has changed in 7 months. When you look down main streets you see two rows of blue "Sydney 2000" banners (advertising Olympics sponsors like IBM and UPS) hanging from light poles and converging to vanishing point. White Olympics banners outside the Town Hall. Boxes of potted flowers have been brought in to add color. The bus lanes in the city center have been painted red. There're a lot more signposted directions for tourists. Stores of various kinds have been demolished to make way for apartment blocks and modish eating-places. It's easier to find a café or restaurant here than a post office or bookstore. There's a Starbucks, maybe the first in the country. Seemingly-permanent cracks and potholes in road surfaces have been fixed. City residents have had to live with the noise of roadworks and construction until midnight and starting again at 6 a.m. The price of movie tickets has been slashed by a third just for this month. There're gigantic videoscreens in public places. Endless Olympics-related commercials on TV. More people everywhere, more black people; Olympics officials wearing large plastic IDs around their necks, athletes wearing team tracksuits. More traffic. More UPS trucks, which used to be non-existent. There's a sense of excitement, but less than there was in December 1999 for New Year's Eve. Then, it was pure anticipation and exhilaration; now, it's mingled with cynicism: too many questionable things have been done for the sake of the Olympics--some of the things Reclaim the Streets was about.

Seeing Reclaim the Streets made me feel happy and lucky--being in the right place at the right time. But, as ever, after a while it depresses me to be in a city with so little history. Scrape the glamorous surface and there's not much underneath. People tell me to stop thinking and just enjoy Sydney for the surface, the moment. Maybe. I'm lucky to be here right now, to see it all.

September 12, 2000
September 14, 2000
September 15, 2000
September 18, 2000
September 24, 2000
September 29, 2000
September 30, 2000
October 1, 2000
October 2, 2000