The New & the Known

18 September 2017 – And the becoming-known as well, all courtesy of my latest visit to Vancouver’s 22-Ha VanDusen Botanical Garden.

For example, I know the quote etched onto the Visitor Centre doors, the words of American naturalist John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature / he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

But I hadn’t noticed, or had forgotten, the handsome trekking-poles that serve as door handles.

(Let’s all take a moment to honour the polite visitor on the other side, waiting for me to lower my camera before he approaches the doors.)

It’s a pretty fall day, I’m out for a walk, the VanDusen is half an hour or so from my place — off I go!

And on into the gardens, with one appreciative backward glance at the patio side, starting point for exploration, before I launch.

It’s to be a random walk, how can I lose?

I head through something Known, or at least familiar, i.e. the Eastern North America section. Then on to the relatively New, first via the wooden boardwalk over the Cypress Pond …

later through a grove of Giant Sequoias (so exotic to my eastern eyes) …

and in among Windmill Palms, seemingly scattered quite freely around.

Palms are not New. But seeing them right here in Canada, lying around outdoors and unprotected? Distinctly New.

Then into the Fern Dell, under a canopy of Douglas Fir, and full of both Known & New.

At the back, the Tasmanian Fern Tree — definitely New! Then lots of hedge fern, which maybe are New but look well-Known. And then, in front, all those Painted Lady Ferns. So very Known! And loved. I had lots in my Toronto garden, I am delighted to see my old friends.

Somewhere on the edge of one of the lawns, a bit of Vancouver / BC / VanDusen history — the Swedish Fountain.

So-named because a gift from the city’s Swedish Folk Society on the VanDusen’s opening day in 1975, with its bronze panels designed to reflect both BC’s pioneering industry and the Swedish homeland of the project’s prime mover. The panels now enclose a European ash tree, not a fountain, but the Swedish reference is not lost: in Norse mythology, the ash is Yggdrasil, the tree of life.

And life abounds, all around — in nature, and in that family in the background, the adults playing hide-and-seek with their squealing toddlers.

In the vicinity of the Cherry Grove, I pass the monument carved with winning entries for several years’-worth of the Haiku Invitational, associated with the yearly Cherry Blossom Festival.

Blurred by time, and hard to read! Visit the website, and read at leisure…

Along the edge of the Stone Garden, once the local reservoir (just as the VanDusen as a whole was once a golf course) …

and on past the Maze, guarded — and what could be more appropriate — by a Monkey Puzzle Tree. (Something else my eastern eyes still find wonderfully New and exotic.)

I, and many giddy bees, admire the flowering artichokes in a near-by bed …

I retreat, happily unstung, to sit on the bench in the Azalea Trail.

All this definitely in the Known category, from style of bench to azaleas & rhodos, to the call of chickadees in the trees.

And my final retreat, as by now you will have predicted, for a latte in the VanDusen’s café.

This post began with an inspiring quote, let it end with another inspiring quote — this one written in magic marker on the café mirror.

Oh all right, maybe “inspiring” is not the right word.

Choose your own adjective.

The Crab & the Golf Ball

15 September 2017 – For just one giddy moment, I want you to imagine a crab playing golf.

Now you must relinquish that image.

There is no golf ball in today’s adventure. Even though Frances instructs me to meet her “in front of the golf ball.”

She means this.

So I take myself off to the front doors of the building that punctuates the east end of False Creek, and faces Main Street, just beyond — the Telus World of Science, known locally as “the golf ball.” (And how chuffed am I, to learn this bit of slang!)

Not only am I denying you a real golf ball, I’m copping out on any real crabs as well. We are now going to march right up Main Street — up-up-up, northward through Chinatown, Gastown, the downtown Eastside — to tiny Crab Park, smack at the end of the road, on Burrard Inlet.

 

As consolation, let me offer you a lion and some giraffes, enroute.

The lion is one of several on the overpass over the railway tracks and Waterfront Rd., which curls us down into the park. He, and the rest of his stone pride, are a 1995 gift from the Shanghai Port Authority, to mark the sister-port relationship between these two cities.

The giraffes … What, you don’t see the giraffes? Look just left of the lion’s head.

More slang, this time perhaps unique to my friends Jai and Guninder, whom I visited recently in North Van. We were at Lonsdale Quay at one point, looking south to downtown, with Jai pointing out some of the buildings — along with the orange “giraffes,” i.e. the cranes that lift containers on and off the cargo ships.

I teach “giraffe” to Frances. It is the least I can do, in return for the gift of “golf ball” and a first trip to this magic little park. Just 2.5 hectares, caught between the tracks and the harbour, relatively unvisited, and so a peaceful spot from which to observe a busy harbour and North Vancouver just across the way.

Later, I learn that I am piling not-real upon not-real.

The real name of Crab Park is Portside Park, and even at that, it is not really a park (says Scout Magazine), it is green space on long-term loan from the Port Authority. And… and … the “crab” is no reference to crustaceans, it is an acronym honouring the Create a Real Available Beach committee that hounded the city into creating this little oasis, back in the early 1980s.

We don’t know all this at the time, Frances & I, we just enjoy the peace & the beauty, this sparkling fall day. Looking back west on the downtown side, for example, with the “sails” of Canada Place anchoring the view.

Right in front of us, all those busy little boats; beyond them, the orange giraffes and the containers, stacked up like LEGO in this container terminal. One giraffe full upright; two with long necks bent to the task at hand.

I stare at the containers. As once I trekked across the highlands of Iceland, agreeing with the colleague who murmured, “We’re walking through a Lauren Harris painting,” now I murmur: “That’s an Edward Burtynsky photograph.”

And that, immediately above, really is a Burtynsky photograph — an example of one theme this renowned large-format Canadian photographer has pursued in his continuing exploration of human activity and its consequences for the land itself.

We head back across the overpass, with one last look at the terminal …

a look at the railway tracks below …

and a sudden halt. To read, and respect, what happened right here, on 3 June 1935.

All peaceful now.

Gentrifying, in fact, rather like Toronto’s Port Lands. Where once those desperate young men milled about, grabbing at boxcars, we now see tiny verdant oases, their green curtains climbing high on adjacent walls.

Frances peels off that way; I carry on this way, somewhat at random, but overall zigzagging myself south and slightly west-ish. My route brings me to Cathedral Square, opposite Holy Rosary Cathedral at Richards & Dunsmuir.

And … to another piano!

Two young women playing this one, to a backdrop of café tables with human bottoms in almost every chair. (“Enjoy the sun,” I overhear one doleful soul tell his companion. “It’s gonna rain for seven months.”)

I do enjoy the sun. I turn from the piano/tables south end of the Square, and sit on a bench facing north. I blink lazily, the way my beloved Racket-cat would blink when particularly pleased with life, taking in the sight of the water, the sound of the water, and the dramatic shadows cast by that soon-to-disappear sunshine.

It is all very nice indeed.

Bonus! 

Your philosophic thought for the day, courtesy of this mural at Manitoba & West 3rd, which I discovered while heading for the golf ball.

The last few words are obscured by shadow. It says:

Every exit

is an entry

somewhere else

Recti/Curvi – Linear

8 September 2017 – Straight lines and curvy lines, in other words.

And they don’t come much straighter than this.

Yes, the sewer cover itself is round, thus curvy, but its design (if we may dignify the imprint as such) is very, very straight-line.

Brett Lockwood, in his eclectic and perceptive WordPress blog, O’Canada, recently had a whole post about heritage sewer covers.

This is not a heritage cover.

Even so, it is on display at the Museum of Vancouver for a purpose. The MOV, dedicated to helping us connect more deeply with the city, wants us to think about grids, and what they mean.

The display then muses about straight lines, and curving lines. What do they tell us about the cultures that use them, favour one over the other?

Consider this other Vancouver sewer cover — the work of Musqueam artists Susan Point and Kelly Cannell, commissioned by the City in 2004.

Curvilinear indeed, and deeply meaningful.

The whole rectilinear / curvilinear dynamic enters my mind — indeed, my way of connecting with the city — more deeply than I realize at the time. A few days later, my friend Louise and I are on University of British Columbia grounds, visiting first the Museum of Anthropology and, later, the UBC Botanical Garden.

I stand by the reflecting pond, I look at the magnificent MOA building — so perfectly “nestled in its landscape” as its architect, Arthur Erickson, pointed out — and I am struck by its lines.

Its bold rectilinear lines.

The reflecting pond is all gentle curves, the pathways as well, also the grassy hummock framed by those pathways. But oh, that building.

I see, too, how it echoes the post-and-beam construction of traditional Northwest Coast Aboriginal buildings — and of the mid-20th century sculpture complex in this compound, with its poles and buildings, the work of leading contemporary First Nations artists.

First you see the post-and-beam, the powerful horizontals & verticals. But then you also see the curve of the eyes, the other curves of the carved figures. And you think — well, I think — that perhaps, yes, we do reconcile the curving and the rectilinear, both often and well.

But for that MOV exhibit, I would never have noticed, never have thought about it.

Louise & I walk on down Marine Drive — 17,000 footsteps that day, I want you to know! — to visit two more UBC attractions, both of them part of one entity, the UBC Botanical Garden.

First, the Nitobe Memorial Garden, considered one of the most authentic outside Japan.

The gentle arch of the bridge, made oval by its own reflection. And, to the right, among the trees, the strong, simple, straight lines of the Tea House.

On to the main site of the Botanical Garden, where we follow our whim to its northern lobe, the North Gardens. This route takes us through the Moon Gate.

By now you’re seeing with my eye, aren’t you! Horizontals & verticals, powerful & rectilinear.

And then, drawing the eye and the feet, the distant curve of the moon gate.

Once there, again by whim, we search out the Physic Garden. It is small, beautiful, enclosed by the straight lines of its traditional yew hedge. The garden itself, a showcase of the medicinal plants of medieval Europe, contains 12 concentric beds, with a sundial at the centre.

Curve upon curve — but also the triangular gnomon (pointer), arrowing the sun’s faint shadow straight-line to 2 p.m.

I do take the MOV point about conflicting symbolisms, in those grid vs curving sewer covers.

But I also take heart in all the subsequent evidence that we do often, both in architecture and in nature, reconcile the curve and the rectilinear very nicely indeed.

Check Mates

5 September 2017 – We’re on our way to the funky shops of Main St., my houseguests & I, walking shady residential streets as we go. Chat-chat, walk-walk, and then I’m stopped flat by the sign pinned to a tree at one corner of a little triangular parkette at West 18th & Ontario.

“We love our cheeseboard,” I read aloud, puzzled.

My friends shoot me worried glances, equally puzzled.

“Chessboard,” one of them says, with remarkable patience. “Chessboard.”

And indeed it is, just look.

Black and ochre squares underfoot, somewhat faded but sufficiently clear for the purpose, and a whole pile of suitably outsized chess pieces. Plus a community bulletin board and a take-one-leave-one shelf for book swaps.

My friends read notices, glad to cool off for a moment in the dappled shade. I move in on the chess pieces.

Lovingly hand made, everything accounted for.

A pawn, right on top …

and then a knight …

I don’t dig to the bottom of the pile for all the others, but I do walk to the parkette’s south apex, where they’ve erected a child-height king & queen.

With empty ovals for child faces and photo opps.

It is all entirely charming.

I look back over my shoulder as we walk on, and catch the sign facing east.

I have no trouble reading this one!

Not-Toronto Alley

31 August 2017 – No, no! You do not go looking for one city in another, judging the latter by how much it does, or doesn’t, resemble the former.

So I am slightly embarrassed to confess that this alley immediately reminds me of Toronto alleys that I have walked & loved.

But it is not Toronto.

It is Vancouver. Lower east side Vancouver (between W. Cordova & W. Hastings, and Richards & Homer).

Still, it is very reminiscent, is it not?

I am a tad nostalgic, as I watch this old fellow pause to light his cigarette and then slowly wander on his way.

A whole lotta paint on this walls. No wonder this aerosol can is lying flat, exhausted.

(The cat, of course, would not dream of slumping in exhaustion.)

Even a bare pole isn’t quite bare.

I haven’t seen this little red Angry-Mask before, but suspect it has been pinned to many other surfaces as well.

On the pavement beneath my feet, more art work.

 

Then there’s Peek-a-Boo, with Dumpster. (Vincent Van Gogh Division.)

And Peek-a-Boo, with Truck.

And Peek-a-Boo, with Shoulder.

I emerge.

And pretty soon, on the edge of Gastown, I’m enjoying a different vista entirely.

On the right, the 1910 Dominion Building, Vancouver’s first steel-framed high-rise (once the British Empire’s tallest building); on the left, and wonderfully sympathetic in its architecture, a market-price residential tower in the redeveloped Woodward’s complex.

Definitely not Toronto! Definitely Vancouver.

 

“W” for Music

27 August 2017 – Well, yes, “W” for Music is a bit of a stretch — but not if you turn the “W” upside down.

Like this.

Very M-ish, don’t you think?

However, that large & peeling old metal letter really is a “W.”

Like this.

For Woodward’s.

Woodward’s, which was Vancouver’s top shopping destination for ages after the building’s completion in 1903, but which, as institutions do, fell from grace in later economic downturns, and finally, in 2006, fell literally to the ground in a demolition and redevelopment project that attracted a great deal of bitter controversy.

The “W” that once rode high above the original building is now honoured at ground level — a fitting art installation in the public plaza in a complex that now also includes market & non-market housing units, retail shopping, green space, government offices, a daycare and an addition to the Simon Fraser University downtown campus.

It also includes, on four Sundays over this summer, free public music concerts sponsored by the Hard Rubber New Music Society — a collective of 18 musicians, founded in 1990 by John Korsrud, and an ensemble much given to commissioning new works.

Each evening concert is preceded by an afternoon open rehearsal. I attended the first two solo; today I’m joined by my great friend Sally. Each concert has a theme; this one is Voices.

It all takes place in the soaring Woodward’s Atrium that links two parts of the complex. We climb a spiral staircase for the overview.

Yes, that is a turquoise piano in the background. And yes, it is hitched to a bicycle. And yes, it was right there for the previous Spacious Music at the Atrium events as well.

But no, the turquoise piano is not in use. See? The pianist is at her own keyboard, having a quick pre-rehearsal rehearsal with one of the singers.

No wonder they’re hard at it. Jordan Nobles wrote a new work, Memento Mori, for the occasion, and this is the first time the singers have seen it.

Seated at ground level, for a moment I look up and out, up-up-up at a tower that is part of this new complex …

and then start paying proper attention to the rehearsal.

Hard Rubber founder John Korsrud prowls quietly in the background, as he does at every concert, here lingering behind the pianist.

The conductor begins working with the singers & pianist, turning notations on paper into sound waves and pleasure.

It is of course unworthy of me, shamefully trivial, but I cannot help noticing how the turquoise glint in the sunglasses on that guy’s forehead (2nd from right) tones so perfectly with his neighbour’s shirt.

No such distractions this side. I just listen. (Just!!! As if anything more were needed…)

Musicians curve toward their drop-in audience; we curve toward them. The music swirls, and rises.

And, in time, Sally & I slip out, heading for the near-by Flack Block.

It’s an outburst of Romanesque Revival extravagance, the must-have style when Thomas Flack commissioned the building in 1898, fresh back from a very successful visit to the Klondike gold fields.

It too fell from grace in later decades but, unlike the Woodward building, was fully restored (2006), not demolished.

And has the gargoyles to prove it.

It also now has the Vancouver outlet of Purebread (a Whistler-based family bakery).

So … all honour to the gargoyles, but our focus is coffee n’ treats.

Cutting Comment

24 August 2017 – It took me a moment to get the joke.

And then I laughed & laughed.

A rather dapper businessman saw what I was doing, and stopped long enough to exclaim: “Oh! Isn’t it wonderful? Saw it earlier today, almost took a photo myself.”

A T-shirt-&-jeans mum paused to see what I was doing, read the sign, and broke up. Then she walked on down the street, chortling.

I followed her. Also chortling.

As snoot-cocking goes, it’s right up there with the Cholesterol Burger that Dangerous Dan once featured on his Diner menu. (A diner now the victim of Leslieville gentrification, alas.)

Rusty Submarine

22 August 2017 – “We all live in a yellow submarine,” carolled The Beatles back in 1969, but nowadays, here in Hinge Park, the palette runs more to rust than to sunshine.

And it is equally magical.

I love walking around False Creek, as you will have noticed by now, and I always wander through Hinge Park as I go. Repurposed land made beautiful for the community to enjoy, how could you not love it, rejoice in it?

The “submarine,” of course, isn’t one, but the whimsical structure is part of the park’s magic. Why just throw serviceable planks across the watercourse, when you can offer up some come-play-with-me sculpture instead?

Two periscopes, count ’em, and lots of portholes — places for humans to look out, and for the sunshine to peek in, throwing spotlights among the shadows.

I’m entering from the south, I’ll climb those steps at the north end up to a knoll where yet another channel of water starts tumbling down the hill.

That channel is narrow, contained, and sparkling clear. The water in the waterway beneath me is also clear, but right around here, it is carpeted in vivid pond weed, emerald contrast to the tawny bullrushes along the shore.

Peer the other way, see more of the Olympic Village condo towers in the background.

Soon I’m on the north-end stone steps, regaining footing having been nearly run down by these kiddies who charge on through, whooping with delight, their feet & their voices echoing the length of the chamber.

And then, whoop-wh0op, they reverse gears & come charging back. I’m in the grass by now, out of harm’s way, delighted with their delight, watching them dance hippety-hop from one sun-spotlight to the next.

See the little girl, still halfway through the tube? Hippety-hop.

On I wander, heading east, thoughts of a latte in Olympic Village Park beginning to form in my mind …

But I am distracted enroute by one of the City’s glorious flowing chaise-longues along the edge of False Creek. They fit the body beautifully, they stand up to the weather wonderfully, and I want one. For my body. Right now.

I hasten my steps, realize I’m on a collision course with a Nice Young Man & his Well-Behaved Dog. He has the leg-length & youthful speed to beat me to the chair. But — aha — I have the Old Lady card to play! And, shameless creature that I am, I play it. Nice Young Man steps back, courteously. I thank him, courteously. And sink into the chair, snuggle my bottom into position, wiggle my toes.

Me & the sunshine & a breeze & my wiggling toes, plus the passing cavalcade: assorted ferries (here one of the Aquabus line), dragon boat teams, kayaks, small pleasure boats …

Eventually thoughts of latte overpower all this beauty, and I move on.

I collect my latte, yes I do. I seat myself on the café’s shady patio, and discover the newest, not-yet-official Olympic Sport.

Climb the Giant Sparrow.

No sparrows — or young boys, for that matter — were harmed in the development of this sport.

 

Gallery Lane

18 August 2017 – Not named on any City-issued map of Vancouver, but right there on the Muralfest map: “Gallery Lane.” I’m back, the day after the big party, to explore what I missed the first time around. Judging by all the bright red dots on the map, I missed a whole lot, up and down the Lane.

So in I slide, dropping north from East Broadway into the alley between Quebec Street & Main. Right away I love it, it’s all grungy and eye-popping at the same time. A poster for the Mural Festival, its backdrop a tired old fire escape on the corner building…

Two more steps into the alley, and paff! A dumpster. A dumpster as set upon by Oksana Gaidasheva and Emily Gray, leaping with colour and life.

I practically fall into that corner owl, as mesmerized as any unlucky field mouse by those glaring eyes.

This starts well! I am happy.

On down the alley I go, prowling, pausing, cocking a head & a hip, again  & again.

Side trip just north of East 8th, to the Wrkless face at the end of a short cul-de-sac.

Look how it’s framed! Every element just right, stairs & security lights & wheelies & litter & windows & walls. The perfect streetscape art installation.

And now, just for the next few images, I want you to flip between this post and its predecessor, Main-ly Murals. ‘Cause we’re now in the East 7th & Main parking lot — bounded on the west by Gallery Lane — where, on Saturday, I showed you all those parking slots being turned into works of art.

Yes, cars are back in the lot, but the art still dances.

And yes, the women I photographed lifting the stencil off their car-slot left behind something terrific.

And yes! It turns out those kids creating the text mural knew all about apostrophes after all.

I fussed away, in the previous post, at their initial “Its” instead of “It’s.”

Well.

I am happy to show the world that I misjudged them.

A short conversation with a woman who carefully parks in a non-decorated slot & wields her own camera, and then on I go, north again in Gallery Lane.

I stand at East 4th, look back south, and have to stretch wide my eyes.

Behind the parking lot on the right, Andy Dixon’s big mural. Wrapped all around the building on the left, mural work by a team: Bronwyn Schuster, Lani Imre, Tia Rambaran, Amanda Smart.

One of the things I like best is that all this art becomes part of the working city. The alley is purely functional: vehicles block your view, mural segments painted across doorways disappear every time a truck has to drive into the garage.

And, all around, City workers are collecting trash, and pruning trees — here at the Main St. corner of that blue mural-wrapped building shown above.

I spin on my heel, head north again, bounded on my left by Jane Cheng’s blue-&-white fence work.

Across East 3rd, and I’m in Bunny & Bear territory.Thank you Carson Ting.

Also — did you notice? — another ripped T-shirt hanging on a utility pole.

I’ve noticed 4 or 5 by now, so it wasn’t the one-off that I thought on Saturday when I saw, literally, only one.

And the T-shirts are not all pure white, the art limited to careful rips & tears.

Which reminds me: I am hungry.

I head home.

Main-ly Murals

15 August 2017 – Well, if they’re going to throw a mural festival all around Main Street, how can one resist the pun? I’m doubly eager, both from my fascination with street art, and from my delight in the murals I saw here last fall, legacy of the 2016 festival.

So bring on the paint, is what I say.

And there is lots and lots, some wielded by an individual human hand …

and some by a whole team of people, with rollers and aerosol cans and whatever-else.

The name Ben Frey is on this mural on Watson Street, an alley-like street parallel to Main, but, I discover, he worked with a group. Including Jiromu, here vamping for a friend while he mans the booth encouraging us all to take part in the $$-raising eBay auction of hand-painted shoes.

Lots of murals, both painted and in-progress, but lots of other arts-related activities as well.

I follow Ms Mannequin down a side alley to the Public Disco, with its glittering disco balls and promises of “daytime dancing on the streets of Vancouver.”

Don’t see any dancing, I have to tell you, but there are lots of tents with lots of crafts, and disco music does fill the air.

Here someone with thriving houseplants on offer; there a sculptor …

Some 3-4 blocks of Main Street are blocked off, tents lining each side with more artisan work, more not-for-profit organizations, more start-ups & mini-businesses that strike the right cultural note.

I start imagining nada grocery, but am distracted by a small knot of cyclists, one of them with a very cool shirt.

And soon I am further distracted by all the happy activity in a parking lot, turned over for the day — thank you City of Vancouver — to artists.

Some of whom are painting newspaper boxes …

while others paint individual parking slots …

 

among them artists who prefer words to images.

I  think this will say, in its entirety: “its [sic] almost like we’re trying to be sustainable”

Too bad about that missing apostrophe. I’d like to believe it’s (note the apostrophe) beyond the powers of the stencil, but, no, I don’t think that’s the explanation. Sigh.

Meanwhile, we visitors are pointing our cameras in every direction.

I deliberately catch this woman doing a selfie in the corner of my shot of the distant mural — and then hear her exclaim, “Oh! I didn’t have it on selfie!” So I grin at her and say, “Ah! Then I got you, and you got me.”

She is underwhelmed. I giggle. She doesn’t.

Never mind, moving right along, here’s a little girl with a mean shake-rattle-roll on an aerosol can. With daddy’s encouragement, she is taking full advantage of the TAG-T offer: “blast your T with paint guns”

T-shirts are also art over on Watson Street — but no blasting with paint is involved. Here it’s all about the art of the carefully placed rip.

And then … SCOOT.

There’s lots more to see, but I’ll have to come back. I’m due at the Taoist Tai Chi set-up back out on Main Street, where I join other members in an afternoon of public demonstrations of the set.

Le-Anne has caught instructor Doug and me at a moment when no passers-by are involved, but that’s not typical. I swear, Doug was a carny barker in another life: he pulls people into the middle of our group and there they are, monkey-see-monkey-do, getting a taste of the art.

“Oh, that‘s what it’s like,” their faces say, and they go on their way with a smile and a pamphlet.

  • 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"

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