A Place of Refuge

25 February 2020 – I am semi-lost, my usual condition when a-foot on the UBC campus, but not bothered by it. First, I’m only semi-lost; I always find my destination eventually. And, second, there are always discoveries along the way.

So here I am on Memorial Road, just off Main Mall and heading for East Mall. I snag on the bird houses — obviously ornamental, but nothing wrong with that.

It takes me a moment to notice the bench, and realize these are two elements of one installation.

Then I read the bench.

  • At the top, a title: A Place of Refuge.
  • At the bottom, five bird species, to tie the elements together: Wren, Woodpecker, Chickadee, Finch, Sparrow.
  • In between: four texts.

Each author, three of them immigrants, reflecting on what it means to be here, in this country.

Talking about the meaning of an opened door …

about the identity of “home” …

about taking things for granted …

and about learning not to things for granted.

I glance again at the bird houses, this time with a different eye …

and go on my way.

 

KIS-Smart

20 February 2020 – There is nothing Stupid about Keeping It Simple. It is Smart. And challenging. It takes time, thought and skill to present complex ideas in a way that is both accessible, and intelligent.

Much easier to throw out a smokescreen of obscurantist jargon.

Can you tell I am on a rant? My target is artspeak.

My gallery-going friends and I, all of us reasonably intelligent and articulate, are fed up. We read the poly-syllabic babble aloud to each other, and snarl. If you feel the same way, take heart.

It’s not you. It’s them. Those sign-writers lack either the skill, or the desire, to communicate effectively with the “intelligent outsiders” who form the bulk of their audience. It is not our job to learn jargon. It is their job to offer us a way to connect with the images, using intelligent, everyday language that adds clarity without sacrificing nuance.

Enough snarling. On to the joy of a gallery that gets it right. A gallery whose acronym could not be more misleading: the Surrey Art Gallery (second-largest public art museum in Metro Vancouver) does not make you sag, it expands your heart and mind with every visit.

The tree reflection rippling in the courtyard pool is a foretaste of the art/nature celebrations to come.

First, the Don Li-Leger exhibit. A Surrey-based artist, recently deceased, and we had never heard of him. Here’s how the Gallery describes him:

Don Li-Leger (1948-2019) had a five-decade long art practice marked by a deep and enduring curiosity for nature. Over his career, he explored flora, fauna, and landscapes through a variety of media. This exhibition brings togther selections of late video works alongside a series of paintings the artist made in response to the 2017 “super bloom” of wildflowers in Southern California and Arizona. Vivid colours and abstraction point to Li-Leger’s enduring ecological vision, rooted in life and light.

You see?  Clear, concise, and information-rich.

We watch a loop of short videos, and step through zigzag curtains to find ourselves in a darkened room, with wildflowers glowing from every wall.

We just … breathe for a moment, amazed. Then we look. Then we bend close to a wall, to read.

Nothing baffling here; every word intelligent, relevant, and clear. The text adds to our appreciation, right down to those last few sentences that put the exhibition title, Counting the Steps of the Sun, in context.

We linger over large images …

and ones that are relatively small …

and then move on to the Gallery’s other major exhibition, the work of Musqueam artist Susan Point.

We know this name, and maybe you do too.

“Over the past three and a half decades,” says the Gallery online introduction,

artist Susan Point has received acclaim for her accomplished and wide-ranging works that compellingly assert the vitality of Coast Salish culture, both past and present. … On tour from the Vancouver Art Gallery, Susan Point: Spindle Whorl showcases her silkscreen prints and their significant role in her practice, with a focus on the recurring motif of the Coast Salish spindle whorl. Comprised of a small (usually) wooden disk with a pole inserted through the centre, this tool was traditionally used by Coast Salish women to prepare wool that would be woven into garments and ceremonial blankets…

Point’s artistic vocabulary is entirely other than that of Li-Leger, and deeply rooted in her culture. There is Gallery signage to explain it to us.

(Oooooo, imagine the scope for artspeak.)

Absolutely clear. Not easy, but clear. A resource, along with the spindle explanation, to help us connect with the images.

Point herself wrote the title and text for this work: Salish Vision.

I could just enjoy the image. But, thanks to the quality of the signage, I am offered a way to explore at a deeper level.

We walk, we pause, we look, and we sometimes bend in to read as well.

My eyes keep flicking back to this work, and eventually my feet physically bring me back, to linger another moment before we leave the Gallery.

This time the signage consists of the title, nothing more — and that’s enough.

Raven’s Song.

I laugh, delighted. Isn’t that exactly how they sound?

 

 

 

And Then … the Sun Came Out

9 February 2020 – The sun is out, and so am I.

And so are spring blossoms. Look – snowdrops!

My feet scamper me north on Main St., under the Skytrain overhead tracks, under the Viaduct, and a smart right turn onto Union Street.

With an almost immediate left turn into Hogan’s Alley. You need the plaque to tell you this was once home to many homes and businesses of the city’s Black community, because mid-20th c. urban renewal demolished them. (How much destruction is done, in the name of renewal…)

So it’s fitting I am pulled into the alley by the sight of more destruction, its lines austerely geometric, but the human story so poignant, ghost lives pressed into those remaining interior walls.

But then my eyes are pulled past that wall to the mural beyond, moving from ghosts to immortals: “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” by the Bagua Artists Association.

And beyond that, to the delightfully named Fat Mao noodle parlour, right up there on East Georgia Street. I don’t go in, but I eye it, and store the possibility in my mind, even as I head east on Georgia and see all the other possibilities on offer, everything from hair extensions to tooth implants to woks and rice cookers.

Left on Gore, heading north again, and I know it’s north because, see?, there’s the moss on the tree pointing north.

Not urban legend at all, it seems, though only mostly true and only in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, the moss grows mostly on the south side, but for the same reason — moss favours the shadier side of the tree.)

Eyes left, though not feet, into this alley on the other side of the street.

If you happen to like the image on that wooden hydro pole by the sidewalk, or the purple lettering on the white wall farther back, treasure this photo: hose-wielding guy works for Goodbye Graffiti, and he’s about to live up to the company name.

Right turn onto Keefer — which always, always, makes me think of “Keef” Richards and the Rolling Stones, even though I know there is no connection. The association leaves my mind as quickly as it arrives, for there’s always something right there on the street to reclaim my attention.

Like the PTT Buddhist Society, just east of Jackson. I watch people come and go, light incense, spin a large prayer wheel.

A little farther east, two icons in a row, each telling its own story of this Strathcona community. On the left, a Vancouver Special, the city’s mid-century contribution to vernacular architecture that served so many immigrant families so well …

and on the right, a 1902 example of the Queen Anne style beloved in the day. This one was built for an Irish immigrant who rose from labourer to foreman at the Hastings sawmill and was later sold to the Italian immigrant family that honoured and restored its features, and caused it to be known as the Bezzasso House.

Close by, a former chapel of some sort, or so its architecture suggests, but it is hidden behind this bamboo fencing and — in case you haven’t taken the hint — the front gate bears a large notice warning it is now a private residence with 24/7 video surveillance.

And a dog. “Beware of dog.”

I am perhaps captured on their camera, but, hey, they are captured on mine.

From former chapel to former synagogue, just north from Keefer on Heatley Avenue. The city’s first synagogue, in fact, Schara Tzedeck, built early in the 20th century when Strathcona had a large Jewish community. (It is now condos, so I am not welcome here either — though here the exclusion is silken rather than churlish.)

I walk the building’s elegant length, but first nip into the alley just to the south, drawn by this enormous tree, blasting its way through the fence.

Another tree, okay, a shrub, right at the alley corner — full bloom!

Some sort of early-blooming rhododendron, I think, but that’s only a guess. Look carefully and you may make out, in that sliver of front door, a Christmas wreath still hanging and still handsome. Two seasons in one.

Some more wandering around, coat wide open, 8-9 degrees, full sun. More snowdrops, more crocus, more mahonia with buds ready to unfurl — and cats. Cats as good a sign of spring as blossoms. Cats unfurling their winter bodies into the sunshine, one here tall on his front porch, one there writhing happily on the sidewalk.

Even houses, I swear, are stretching into the sunshine, this one with a mural gleaming in the noon-time light.

Noon-time also means lunch-time, and I’m happy to be so close to the Wilder Snail, at Keefer & Hawks, across the street from MacLean Park.

A few posts back, I told you about watching a little girl play chess here with her dad; today I overhear an excited young man describe his up-coming one-man show to a supportive friend. It’s that kind of place.

Fed and caffeinated, at peace with the world, I emerge from the café, salute Paneficio Studios diagonally opposite …

and continue east, yet again on Keefer.

Where, over at Campbell, I am given one more snapshot of neighbourhood history, a sidewalk mosaic entitled “The Militant Mothers of Raymur.”

It commemorates the women who, upon moving into the new Raymur Housing Project in 1971 with their families, realized their children had to cross busy railway tracks to get to school. They wanted remedial action, and therefore took on the school board, the city council and the railway company, wielding the usual civic weapons of phone calls, petitions and speeches.

When all that had no effect, they began physically blocking the train tracks.

Again and again.

And they won. The city erected the the Keefer Street Pedestrian Overpass.

Last year, it renamed the structure. It is now, officially, The Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass.

 

Q&A (&A)

2 February 2020 – “Oh when,” we ask ourselves plaintively as we wait for a bus at Broadway & Cambie early one evening, “when will it stop being so dark and wet?”

“Soon!” predict assorted groundhogs, shaken out of their torpor to check for shadows. “Soon! We predict an early spring.”

“Right,” says the weather-person briskly, who has just reported these furry conclusions, “and now back to science.”

She waves at the isobars on her map of the Lower Mainland, and warns of snow, rain and lower temperatures on through the week.

 

False Creek, Real Action

30 January 2020 – The afternoon break in the rain arrives as promised, and I’m out the door and down to False Creek. Where I wander along, tune in to the action — and realize action can be latent, as well as right-now.

Start with right-now. Kayakers just off Olympic Village, a pair of enthusiasts I will meet again and again in this walk as they ply this end of the Creek, though I don’t know that yet.

Then another example of right-now action — but well camouflaged.

I’m looking out over the little man-made island just off Hinge Park, when a near-by pedestrian crooks a finger to beckon me closer. He invites me to sight along his furled umbrella, and murmurs, “Otter. His head. Looks like just another rock there at water’s edge, except it’s moving. See? Just down to the right from that gull?”

I look, watch, wait for bobbing motion. And I see.

You won’t see. You’ll just see the gull, that white flash at the upper edge of the island’s tip. After that … a pile of rocks. Perfect camouflage.

No camouflage here! Crows squawking their heads off, assembling in the tree for their afternoon commute back out to Burnaby.

No camouflage here either, and definitely an example of right-now action. That’s my black-clad toe at the top of the Cambie Bridge spiral staircase. I usually do this loop the other way around and therefore walk down, but this time, I have just climbed those 80 steps up. (You bet. I counted.)

Latent-action time: dedicated dog bowl waiting for customers, in Coopers Park across the bridge on the north side.

There are real dogs in abundance in the off-leash area, all of them too busy being active to bother with the drinking bowl.

And here’s the Blue Cabin, glowing in a burst of afternoon sunshine at its Plaza of Nations mooring. As with that dog bowl, it seems that here too, action is currently latent. The residency of Tsleil Waututh artist Angela George has just ended, and the Blue Cabin Floating Artist website is inviting new applications. (Interested? Click Programs on the menu, and scroll to Current Residency Call.)

Almost opposite, down on the rocky beach, a couple of inukshuks stand in relief against the water, where the World of Science complex anchors the eastern end of the Creek.

Out there on the deck, also picked out in the late-afternoon light, the huge orange sculpture of a reclining question-mark, inviting us to ponder our responsibilities in the world’s eco-system. A repository of latent action, arguably, calling us to real action.

I pass the question-mark sculpture as I head on home …

and think that’s the end of my story.

But it isn’t.

Because there at the railing I see a woman raise her camera so stealthily that I also pause, and search for whatever it is that has caught her eye.

This is it.

A heron. Watching the waters for dinner. More latent action, wrapped up in feathers.

The woman and I discover we like to walk the same loop at this end of the Creek. “I always mean to walk briskly,” she tells me. “But there are so many reasons to stop, and look, and wait, and watch…”

 

Unintended Consequences

23 January 2020 – The Law of Unintended Consequences usually comes at us with a negative tilt: Your action will have consequences you cannot anticipate, and won’t much like.

But, sometimes, you just look around and think, Well, isn’t this fun?

As in, the moment I find myself at Venables St. & Clark Drive.

My intended action took me to an espresso machines specialty store on Clark, seeking new gaskets for the screen in my moka pot. Nice Young Man said they didn’t have the ones I needed, and softened the blow with a complimentary latte and directions to a shop over on Victoria Drive — east on Venables, on past Commercial, north on Victoria, there you are.

And so, unintended consequence, I am about to walk a route that had, until then, never even crossed my mind.

It’s a drizzly, splattery day, and the streetscape is endless low-rise clutter, so I’m not sure why I’m so good-humoured about it — except that I’ve never walked here before, an adventure all in itself, and there may even be new gaskets to reward me at the other end.

And I can’t resist those praying mantises, swaying over that building toward the right …  Then I prod myself past the dreariness of the architecture, and notice the wonderful juxtaposition of shops: Buddy Walks doggie spa, Mr. Mattress (never flip your mattress again), Kon Auto Service, and A&B Tool Rentals. Well! This is going to be fun.

And it is, look, the juxtapositions just keep coming …

A mini-cluster of transportation options: janitor carts, motorcycles, and shared bicycles.

The wonderfully named Vancouver Hack Space Community Workshop (“share ideas, tools and know-how…”) …

rainbow stripes …

and, down there at the corner, a bamboo grove.

South side of the street, a store specializing in vintage Scandinavian Modern …

and, here on my side, The Wallace — the cogs on the building’s façade honouring its former life as a machine shop.

It is now home to Alternatives Gallery and Studio, and to …

East Van Brewing Company.

There are other banners in their windows, a snarling cobra among them, but of course I choose to show you the crow.

On a bit, past a wallpaper/paint store and an auto body shop, and after that some new construction, just beyond this auto-aftermarket store with a big Junkyard Angel truck (great name!) in its parking lot.

And on some more, across Commercial Drive, past the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (aka The Cultch), into less-industrial, less collective, and more individually artistic territory.

Victoria Drive, left turn.

And this front-yard display up near East Georgia.

I find I am slightly unnerved by that declaration of love. Not too sure I’d want to be on the receiving end.

Then I forget all about it, because I see my destination food shop, a little farther north and over on the east side of the street.

YES! they have the gaskets.

 

 

Snow!

13 January 2020 – Snow.

Not just up in the mountains and out in the Valley, but right here in the heart of Vancouver itself.

Snow on the ground …

and even on the crows.

Hat Trick

10 January 2020 — Three.

Hat Trick = three.

Every hockey-loving Canadian knows this. When a player scores three goals in one game, he (or she, thank you) has pulled off a hat trick. It has nothing to do with hats.

Mind you, in the 19th-c world of English cricket, it did. The club would present a new hat (or equivalent) to a bowler taking three wickets in succession.

So let me, here in 21st-c Vancouver, bring it back to hats. A three-hat hat trick, based on weather.

You have met (Blown Off Course) my drizzle-proof winter Tilley and my wind-proof Orkney rainbow. Today we woke up to what, in downtown Vancouver, passes for snow. There is real snow at higher elevations and out in the Valley, but right here … it’s more like this.

Slush-heading-for-rain.

It’s not particularly vicious, but it’s gloomy and wet and people don’t like it.

So I round out my personal, hat-based hat trick …

and sport my Ms Scarlet version of Paddington Bear. Just look at it: rain-proof, highly visible in the gloom, and silly enough to raise spirits.

Another hat trick! A hat trick of virtues.

 

 

Blown Off Course

7 January 2020 – A cloudy/sunny day, in a run of seriously rainy days, so of course I’m out the door. And promptly back in again, to change hats.

It’s windy out there.

So windy they’re cancelling ferry sailings. So windy I switch my usual  winter Tilley (left), which would para-sail me right into next week, for my Orkney rainbow-&-runes cloche, which snugs tight about the ears.

Enroute False Creek, I exchange winks with one little star-segment of Cosmic Breeze, a 2019 Mural Festival creation by Olivia Di Liberto …

and, once Creek-side in Olympic Village Square, I admire how this sculpture — momento of the 2010 Olympics — glitters in the morning sunshine.

All this is pretty well what I have, admittedly vaguely, planned: down to False Creek, west on False Creek right to Granville Market, and then … oh … whatever.

“Whatever” arrives sooner than planned. That wind! Gusts barrelling down the Creek, and me staggering with their impact. Once I make it upright to Spyglass Dock, I decide not to press my luck any longer and cut up the access road beside Cambie Bridge, heading for a bit of inland shelter.

See? Even a traffic sign is toppled.

Smart right onto Commodore Rd., leading to Moberly Rd. and a more prudent route that starts with this berm of trees and woods at the eastern end of Charleson Park.

I am now “off course,” in that I haven’t walked this route before, but surely that’s a bonus? (As Phyllis, my wonderful Tuesday Walking Society partner back in Toronto, would say: “It’s all walking…”)

Very peaceful, on Maberly Rd. — trees to the left, narrow roadway, homes to the right and just beyond them, the Creek.

More people and bicycles — and dogs — than cars. This cyclist has just stopped, yet again, to give his little dog time to catch up. All this gives me time to notice the exceedingly moss-shaggy shrub there on the right, practically under my nose.

I move in, expecting to bliss out on all that moss, and instead discover it is festooned with dangling amulets, twirly-bobs, ceramic ornaments and ribbons. And this brazen babe, lolling on the fence rail, half out of sight.

I love this stuff, I do, and I’m in high good humour — also safe from wind — as I continue down the road, then cut to the land side of the Charleson Park Community Garden, and head into the open parkland beyond.

Where I don’t even know how to take in what is happening.

A little boy next to me screams, “CROWS!!!” with the enthusiasm and leather lungs that only a six-year-old can possess. His father and I exchange round-eyed looks of amazement and mutter allusions to Alfred Hitchcock.

Indeed, CROWS.

All over the grass, lining the tree branches, swirling through the air, and filling that air with a raucous uproar that rattles my brain. Father and son have moved on, I’m now standing beside a woman thoughtfully studying the scene. “Chafer beetles,” she says. “Crows dig the larvae out of lawns. Wow.” She gives a little snort-giggle. “And they just sodded this thing, too.”

I carry on about loving crows, but I tell you, I am happy to get out of that park, and through Sutcliffe Park onto the east lobe of Granville Island. Winds have died down, and not a crow in sight. Just a pair of boaters out there in an endearingly simple wooden canoe, paddling along.

And around and around I go, looping myself onto the north side of the Island, taking the path just in behind the floating homes of Sea Village.

I walk on down the line, peering into the gaps between homes.

I’ve fantasized about living in a houseboat, who hasn’t, but not very seriously. I’ve been on a few — most dramatically in winter-time Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake — and have realized I enjoy visiting but wouldn’t want the upkeep.

So bye-bye to the Sea Village houseboats, and inland to the main part of Granville Island.

Where I hang over the fence to enjoy, as I always do, the sight of the aptly named Giants — the concrete silo murals painted by Brazilian twin brothers under the joint name of Osgemeos for the Vancouver Biennale.

I finger some crafts in the shops, drop my jaw at the range of fresh produce in the food market, find myself a latte (you knew that), and finally catch a bus home.

Soon after, the rain returns.

 

Omens, One-Two-Three

4 January 2020 – I’m not superstitious, black cats & ladders are safe with me, so I don’t get all jumpy about a possible bad omen — but I’m quick to call something a good omen and get all gleeful about it.

So please join me in the Historical Present Tense, jump back to 1 January, and get all gleeful with me about my walk that day.

We’re having lots of rain this winter, but here in downtown Vancouver, this first morning of a brand new decade, the sun is blazing down.

First good omen: sunshine.

It bounces crisp shadows off richly warmed walls …

and highlights just a riffle of cloud in that Alberta-blue (still my criterion) sky.

Which brings us to my second good omen: feet overrule brain, and it pays off.

Brain thought that we (the whole mind/spirit/body collective it thinks it controls) would head north-then-west. Feet abruptly veered east instead, into the South Flatz.

With a zed. Because this once-grotty stretch of reclaimed lowland — from the current artificial end of False Creek on east to its former natural end near Clark Drive — is becoming an artistic and intellectual magnet, thanks to the relocation here of Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

But the train tracks still run along the north side of all this redevelopment, and graffiti, murals and boxcars are as much part of the scene as the snazzy newcomers.

I peer through chainlink fence, using boxcar ribs to frame images on the walls beyond. I smirk at this neatly lettered graffito: “art is pain.”

I have visions of an Emily Carr student bursting out of that handsome building right behind me …

to leap the fence and take out his/her frustrations on that wall beyond the tracks.

Next door, another handsome building, this one the Centre for Digital Media, a post-grad collaboration among various universities. More art, but this time 3-D, official and not at all painful.

No need for that umbrella today!

The work brings to mind the Love In The Rain sculptures by Bruce Voyce in Queen Elizabeth Park, but I can’t find confirmation.

I’m up by Great Northern Way by now, once train tracks and now home to cars, bikes, pedestrians, and even a Little Free Library box. Of course I peer in.

Oh, New Year’s is so ten hours ago!

Across the broad street, an imposing & equally broad staircase. Lined with statuary.

I’m glad it’s there, but I don’t quite know what I’m looking at.

Over at Clark Drive, though, I know exactly what I’m looking at.

As in: “I’ll see your padlock and raise you a pair of clippers.”

I follow my feet north on Clark for a bunch of boring blocks, be grateful I’m skipping this bit in the re-telling. Just south of Prior, I head west again, with no particular plan in mind except to escape Clark, and wander willy-nilly through industrial park territory — everything from tool manufacturers to “integrated media solutions” studios to something called Flüff (with the umlaut) and the Vancouver International Marathon Society.

Some okay murals, plus this imaginative use of (I think) a glue gun to create a runic cameo on one corner of a nondescript wall.

I wander on, feet doing the work, mind along for the ride. Then eyes see three spur-line train tracks, and brain & feet agree we should all turn left and follow the tracks.

Which brings us to my third good omen: serendipity. Sometimes you rediscover by accident a place you could never find again on purpose.

I am so pleased. I recognize this mishmash of brick and wood and out-buildings, covered in murals. Complete with alley-ways (dungarees optional) …

and plant growth as much part of the total effect as the artwork.

By sheer, happy, welcome-to-2020 good luck, I have once again found myself at 1000 Parker Street. I am behind the Parker Street Studios, which houses some 200 artists in its four sprawling floors of space.

Every alcove and doorway an explosion.

Its spirit? Look closer, up above the top-left corner of the door.

“People are having too much fun,” it says.

I laugh.

The guy standing nearby, having himself a smoke, turns at the sound and nods. We talk. He is one of the building managers. “Oh, it’s a great place. Lot of really good artists here, you know — all kinds.” I say yes, I know; I came here once on an art tour. “Come back any time,” he says.

We beam at each other, wish each other happy new year, and go our separate ways.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 96,918 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,774 other followers

%d bloggers like this: