A woman with hopeful blue eyes above a white face mask was the most moving artwork I saw in Melbourne's Hosier Lane. It made me smile.
And my day needed brightening, for I had just walked through the eerie streets of the Melbourne CBD under lockdown.
Eerie but surprisingly normal. Despite self-isolation and social distancing. If I step out onto Elizabeth Street (where I live) there's still the car traffic, trams trundling past, people walking by in masks..
It's in Melbourne's famous laneways, however, that I really notice the difference. Since the development of small-bar licences in the 1980s and '90s, these alleys have developed into the CBD's trademark, Containing a bustling collection of bars, cafes, restaurants and shops, they are sometimes referred to as "a city within a city".
And now that secondary city - the hidden, secretive, playful counterpart to the "establishment" major thoroughfares - has gone silent.
It's not completely dead, as here and there a lone coffee kiosk or sandwich shop has stayed open, dishing out takeaway offerings to far fewer passers-by; but somehow that makes it worse. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" about sums it up.
This was the still, gloomy atmosphere that prevailed on a slightly chilly autumnal afternoon as I walked up Flinders Lane toward Russell Street. Then I turned right into Hosier Lane, and on a nearby wall a big painting of a frog as DJ cheered me up immediately.
Hosier Lane is the epicentre of the city's great street art scene and could see it was as bright as ever - but how had it reacted to the virus era, if at all? Some of the pieces had nothing to do with the times in which we now live: a colourful cartoonish image of a man wearing several hats; a woman in a hijab next to a message of inclusion; an elfin woman who might have escaped from The Lord of the Rings; and a koala with a firehose which must have been left over from the bushfires at the start of the year (which might as well have been a thousand years ago).
And then - paydirt! That woman, her luminous eyes staring straight at the onlooker, but with a calming sense of hope rather than panic. And below those eyes, framed by flowing brown hair, a pure white mask. This beautiful piece by artist John Lawry seemed to sum up these strange times.
On my way home, looping back along Swanston Street and Flinders Lane, I found another piece of street art that had something to say about the virus: a cartoonish depiction of a lovelorn nurse in a mask along the lines of Roy Lichtenstein's famous send-ups of comic book panels (probably created by artist Cel Out). This paste-up was on a wall in Scott Alley, a short laneway that runs off Flinders Lane. It made me laugh, and that is no bad thing in these virus-ridden days.
I hope you're doing well wherever you are, and that we all get a chance to meet again in Hosier Lane - or wherever you find your favourite street art - in a happier era with fewer end-of-the-world vibes.
Tim Richards writes about travel at patreon.com/timrichards.