Thursday, 23 June 2011


“When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing at all.” - Saint Francis of Assisi

Every morning I commute to work on the train. I catch an early train, which means that I am usually in at my desk just after 7:00 a.m. It takes a little will power during the winter months as I get up in the middle of the dark night, it seems. The train is surprisingly full, one of the benefits of being an early bird is that provided your train journey is concluded by 7:00 a.m., it is free. The other benefit of course, is that one can do so much between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. when most other people get here. No distracting phone calls, no people knocking on your office doors, no meetings, no constant stream of emails that need to be looked at and acted upon.

An extra treat I sometimes allow myself occasionally is to stop for breakfast at one of the cafés in the lanes between Flinders St Station and work, which is further north. Today was a fine and mild morning and the warm glow of lights and the enticing aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee from an open café was too much to resist. Many other people had the same idea as me and the patrons were not only commuters, but also many city residents who come down from their apartments for breakfast in one of these cafés, which provide an embarrassing choice of ambience, cuisine, décor and prices.

The clatter of cutlery and crockery, the whoosh of the steam and the bubbling of the milk as it is being frothed, the conversations from adjoining tables and the orders being given and acknowledged make for a particularly vital and invigorating mélange of sound that serves as a soundtrack for the rich visual stimuli. A mixture of people in all shapes and sizes, some happy some melancholy, the ugly and the beautiful, the lonely and the gregarious, the newspaper readers and the people watchers (like me!). The array of breakfast options being prepared and handed out is a delight to watch. The frugal toast or lone muffin, the omelettes, scrambled eggs, or the full cooked breakfasts such as bacon and eggs with grilled tomatoes and sausages, the sweet tooth choice of sticky waffles and syrup and there is always of course the healthy selection of cereals and fruit, muesli of various kinds.

Coffee is a Melbourne speciality and I am always amazed at the huge variety of types that one can choose from. Fully caffeinated to decaffeinated, light, medium and dark roasts, rich blends of beans to pure, single provenance pedigrees. Your choice of milk: Full cream, reduced fat, cow’s, goat’s or soy. Cappuccino, latte, macchiato, affogato, frappé, espresso, long black, short black, milk coffee, mocha chocolate, and the list goes on! And don’t think that the tea drinkers or herbal beverage consumers are hard done by either. Every kind of tea you can imagine, as well as the most exotic herbal infusions can be had as a matter of course with your waiter not blinking an eyelid while you give your pernickety order.

The morning papers are there to be read and if catching up with latest news is not your cup of tea first thing, there are always the crossword puzzle pages to hone one’s mind and ready it for the demands of the work day. “The Age” is the newspaper par excellence of Melbourne and its Cryptic Crossword is something that I am partial to in the morning. One is amused, somewhat challenged and greatly satisfied as the last clue falls into place and the puzzle is completed, just as one is swallowing the last mouthful of coffee.

As I continue up Elizabeth St, after having my breakfast (a two-shot latte with a blueberry muffin), it is advisable to walk briskly and work some of those calories off! Today on impulse I entered St Francis’s Church at the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Sts. This is Victoria’s first Catholic church, built between 1841 and 1845. I was greatly surprised at the large number of people inside, praying. Perhaps penance after a sin of gluttony on the early morning breakfast table? Or maybe asking for divine intervention in an untoward turn of events in one’s personal or professional life? An early morning routine for many, an act of devotion and faith that needs to be formalised in such a setting…

The church has a beautiful Lady Chapel on its Western side and in the early morning darkness it is an almost magical place. The gaudy colours of the frescoes are toned down, the flickering of the devotional candles provide a beautiful soft light and the quiet of the hour is conducive to reflection and meditation. One may sit down and think, contemplate, pray, muse and ponder on all sorts of things. The most earnest prayers are not those that ask for something, nor those requests for divine intervention to resolve problems that we have caused for ourselves and only we alone can resolve. They are those prayers uttered in the course of self-examination and reflection on one’s status quo. Those that are the result of a self-judgment of our actions and their motives. Those that come after an evaluation of how seemly, how proper, how decent and honourable our existence is. Those prayers that allow our conscience to come forth and converse with us in a frank and open manner.

The rest of the walk to work in the dawn light was concluded in a positive frame of mind and in a mood that was cheerful and bright. One’s day can only go well after such an early jaunt through the City streets, with two stops of such different character…

prayer |pre(ə)r| noun
A solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship: I'll say a prayer for him | The peace of God is ours through prayer.
• (prayers) A religious service, esp. a regular one, at which people gather in order to pray together: 500 people were detained as they attended Friday prayers.
• An earnest hope or wish: It is our prayer that the current progress on human rights will be sustained.
Not have a prayer informal: Have no chance at all of succeeding at something: He doesn't have a prayer of toppling Tyson.
ORIGIN Middle English: From Old French preiere, based on Latin precarius ‘obtained by entreaty,’ from prex, prec- ‘prayer.’


  1. Getting up very early in the morning is really difficult for at least half the population. But you are correct... those are two extra, precious hours that could be productively used - eating, walking, reading, travelling, coffeeing, even reflecting and praying.

    Melbourne is fortunate that the Olympic Games came here in 1956. I think that without the Games, it would have taken much longer for us to develop a coffee culture and the taste for outdoor eating.

    This entire topic was fascinating when I examined the city's lanes. I will add a link straight away.


  2. Yes, thanks Helen, and here is more on another Melbourne Laneway, the "open-air gallery" of Hosier Lane:

  3. What a beautiful post, Nicholas! You had me there smelling, seeing and hearing everything you described. It's great to live in a city that has such treasures...
    Off to the link to see the open air gallery!

  4. Hello Nicholas V;
    Such a wonderfull descriptive post which we have much enjoyed reading over our first coffee of the day. You paint a very atmospheric picture of the early morning cafés, of the commuters, and of a life going on within a busy and industrious city.

    Like you, although we fortunately do not have to work, we enjoy the very early morning and are usually, in summer, up around five. In winter, in the dark, it becomes a little later but it is always, in our view, one of the most beautiful times of the day.

    St. Francis's Church looks to be very beautiful. There is something very comforting, and for us quite spiritual, in such places.

  5. Religion has been getting bad press for some years, as if it belonged to another age. Rarely, when such assaults are made, is it remembered that for innumerable people across centuries of time, religion has provided solace and hope where there has otherwise been none.
    Religious observances are as normal to many people as having a coffee, so Nicholas, thankyou for revealing the ordinariness and innocence of them.

  6. How beautiful!!!!! great blog post :)