Chinatown-Plus-Plus

28 May 2017 – I’m toured around this bright, sunny weekend by a friend who loves to walk fairly slowly, look around carefully, take time to see, and perhaps take some thoughtful, judicious photos along the way. I am more indiscriminate, lolloping along like a puppy-dog, all big eyes & enthusiasm.

We both have a good time.

I’m in my city-as-art-installation mode: just look at all the components that, together, make up cityscape! Chinatown buildings as a study in colour blocking, for example:

A big punch of red, against the background cream. Colour blocks, and chunky architectural blocks as well.

The old Chinatown, I am told, is disappearing; here as elsewhere, gentrification is at the expense of pungent specificity. All the more reason to enjoy what is still here.

But no reason not to enjoy, as well, an endearing new-style shop sign.

The food markets are bustling, wide open to the street this sunny, warm day. Each one with its foodstuffs wide open as well — offering a whole world of textures, colours, odours.

We stop to stare at a particular example of a building style I’m seeing a lot, here in Chinatown. I’m privately calling it “tall-skinny” simply because of the shape, but that’s pure ignorance on my part. There is surely a proper name?

In a way, this is an unfair example: many of the tall-skinnies are beautifully maintained, or restored, this one is not typical. But its shabbiness is, to me, fascinating. The faded colours, the texture of the peeling surfaces — and the adjacent alley doubling as a hydro corridor, which is as Vancouver-distinctive as the building itself.

I tilt my head, study the top floor, the windows on the top floor, how each serves as a frame for a still-life within.

I’m now paying attention to windows, to the scenes they frame.

Farther along the same street, a woman leans out to water her window-ledge plants: counterpoint to the plants diagonally above, contrast to the nearly blank windows in cross-diagonal.

And again.

This time the wall cross-hatched with shadows, the window offering a composition worthy of Mondrian at his blocky-est.

Now we’re in Strathcona, on cottage-y residential streets. I see what my eye wants to call gingerbread, except it bears no resemblance to the Victorian gingerbread I know so well in Toronto’s Cabbagetown.

A kind of Arts & Crafts gingerbread, perhaps? Sort of? I like it.

I’m shown, and stupidly don’t photograph, a Vancouver Special — an example of a utilitarian, cookie-cutter style that spread through Vancouver in the 1960s, designed to minimize costs & maximize floor space. In atonement, I pass on to you two links (thank you, Rolf). One gives the history and human story; the other a more purely architectural study, but on a heritage site that presents it as one of the city’s chronology of housing styles.

I love all the exuberant colour on these wooden houses — wine-red (I always think of it as CPR Red), mustard yellow, paddy green, bright purple, bright blue. The colours pulse, the houses jump & dance.

Though maybe this isn’t the best example! It’s a cheerful bright green, all right, but you can hardly see it for all those flowering shrubs & trees. Nature just flinging herself around, what a hussy.

And if sometimes Nature gets flung into a couple of antique wringer-washing machines, and left to brighten the sidewalk … why not?

No lattes today; we stop for ice cream at The Wilder Snail corner store in Strathcona. Then we start looping back to our starting point, the City Centre SkyTrain station at Granville & West Georgia.

Our route takes us past the gloriously named …

Ovaltine Cafe.

I later read it has been in continuous operation since 1942; I nowhere read whether or not it serves Ovaltine.

Clearly, more research is required.

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. And no doubt you’ll be further researching! Do you like ovaltine? I love your study in windows and the Chinese market and the colours against that blue sky.

    Reply
  2. That sign for ‘Pounce’ the cat by “love, BLIM” ? So charming. We’re so glad you took your ‘charm seeking’ eyes with you to BC.

    Reply
  3. Bob Georgiou

     /  29 May 2017

    That faded, rustic “tall-skinny” (yeah, I don’t know if it has a name either) is gorgeous!

    Reply
  4. More research, yes! I love your street sojourns. I’m with you on the old Chinatown buildings, the interesting windows, all of it, and that gingerbread, yes, seems like Arts and Crafts is in the mix. And nature flinging herself around like a hussy – fabulous words! That describes this time of year so well. I would have neglected taking a picture of the Vancouver Special too, because boy, is it bland.

    Reply
    • Ah, but the Special is important. My friend’s comments made me ‘read’ beyond the architecture, realize it tells a larger story than I yet know to appreciate…

      Reply

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  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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