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Tour buzz

  • 24 April 2006

About a decade ago, I discovered an outfit named Icon Tours. Sleazily located above an adult supermarket in St Kilda, Icon Tours was uncorrupted by its neighbour and fully bore out its claim to provide something unique among day tours. That first encounter took me, along with a few nondescript fellow tourists, on a weird journey through contemporary ‘icons’. Spurning the usual stuff of such tours—famous buildings, churches, galleries, etc—we visited THE BOTTOM LINE, THE BIG END OF TOWN, OUT THERE, THE END OF THE DAY and other ‘potent concepts’, as the proprietor called them, that were obsessively scattered through modern utterance. Finding myself in St Kilda recently, I decided to see if Icon Tours still existed and, if it did, what it was offering nearly ten years on from my last visit. To my considerable surprise, though the adult supermarket had become a McDonald’s, the original sign – ‘Icon Tours Upstairs’, disencumbered of surrounding and distracting invitations to sample various esoteric toys and indulgences—was still there. And so was Mr Alighieri, the proprietor. He remembered me, even after ten years, and I certainly remembered him: the somehow darkened, brooding visage, the lambent eyes. ‘Please to get on the bus,’ he said, ushering me and five or six others waiting in the small reception area. It was the same old battered bus but whereas on my last trip Mr Alighieri had driven it himself, he now had a driver, a Mr Vergil, releasing Mr Alighieri to offer commentary on each of the sights. We clattered off across the big square in front of Luna Park and the Palais—a place I have known for years—yet within moments, as had happened on my previous trip, the scenery somehow seemed to shimmer and we entered a world of shapes and blurred edges as if travelling at terrific speed, or as if we had passed into a slightly removed dimension. And so we came to our first destination. At first it was hard to fathom. I saw people milling about everywhere, and the air was filled with what sounded initially like thousands of conversations flowing into, over and against one another, but which turned out to be on closer attention merely endless verbiage, always on the edge of comprehensibility but never quite crossing the boundary. We walked among the crowd. These were, Mr Alighieri told us, THE CHATTERING CLASSES. If you stopped one of them, he said, and looked