Rules of the Road

31 January 2019 – Rules learned while on foot, meandering alleys & side streets in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

Rule # 1:

Don’t steal.

Rules # 2:

Don’t ride alone.

(I’d like to add some kind of quip, but, honestly, I am rendered speechless.)

 

Loop to Labyrinth

27 January 2019 – “Yes,” I said to myself, “a loop. Down to the very end-curve of False Creek, west along the north side of the Creek to the Cambie Street bridge, over the bridge, back east on the south side of the Creek, and home.”

You are not where it says you are. You are with me — in the magic of the historic present tense — in the end-curve next to World of Science (aka “The Golf Ball,” thank you Frances).

Looking west down the Creek, with the Cambie bridge arching one side to the other.

I head past the reeds and rushes in the parkland next to World of Science, hear the Redwing Blackbirds and read the warning, but without alarm.

None swoop down. Children swoop, on the other hand, exuberant with the park’s activity stations, their parents laughing and trotting along beside them.

I round the Creek’s north-east curve, then pass & briefly cut through the new Concord Community Park.

It is reminiscent — in its bright colours, high design and high functionality — of the new breed of urban parks I’d come to love in Toronto as well. Urbane, yet at one with nature. The perfect city combination.

The seawall scoops me by BC Place Stadium and the adjacent Casino, its metallic tawny walls the perfect foil for sunrise, sunset and — at the moment — dark reflections of its angular neighbours.

I’m barely past the canine off-leash area in Coopers’ Park when I come to its logical conclusion — dog benches!

First I see, and start laughing at, the dog faces. Only later do I notice the water bowl beneath each muzzle.

Up the long switch-back ramp onto the Cambie bridge. Even here, carefully distinct lanes for pedestrians and for bicycles. (The baby carriage may be on wheels, but mum wisely opts for the pedestrian lane.)

Approaching the south side of the Creek, I look east to the rest of my loop …

and then, just before starting down the spiral pedestrian staircase, I look west.

The Granville Street bridge is out there somewhere, but here in the foreground is Spyglass Dock, “my” dock it used to be, and still my favourite. Oh, how those colours punch through the day’s flat light.

And down the spiral ramp.

More colour punch on the bridge pillar, this time with an environmental message. The blue bands of “A False Creek” rise 5 metres above sea level, showing us mid-point of the predicted 4-6 metre rise we can expect through melting ice caps.

Eastward-ho, with great, grating swirls of crows on a line-up of trees between the bridge and Hinge Park. I remember seeing them here before, it must be a favourite roost.

Past the noisy crows, on to the peace of public lounge chairs and a cyclist peacefully lounging, bike propped to one side, tuque’d head barely visible, and an Aquabus chugging by in the Creek.

The City has tucked a small artificial island into the Creek just opposite Hinge Park, engineered to mimic nature’s own wisdom and provide additional rich habitat for wildlife. It creates a side-channel in the Creek, with the island to one side and the seawall path to the other.

After Hinge Park comes Olympic Village, with its shops, condos and big open square. I’m already anticipating the latte I will order in one of the cafés.

I am not anticipating the city’s latest labyrinth!

Oh yes, we are becoming a city of labyrinths, and look how engaged we are with this one before it is even complete.

See? A woman to the right guides her child along a path; mid-distance on the left, Turquoise Jacket cantilevers herself along another path, with Red Jacket not far behind.

And farther back — straight back from the “a” in the foreground word “Vancouver,” yes, that crouched dark figure — the artist.

Meet Himy (as in, he tells me, “Hey, It’s My Yogurt”) Syed, heart & soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project.

I have to wait my turn to speak with him: one after another, passers-by stop to ask about his work, and thank him for it. I discover he’s another Toronto expat, so we swap a few Rob Ford horror stories before chattering about street art and artists in both cities.

Then he returns to his chalk, and I go find my latte.

Where I find myself still smiling about Himy’s project, and all the joy he creates for the rest of us.

 

Three Signs

20 January 2019 – On Carrall Street, near West Hastings …

in the Woodward’s Atrium, heart of the redeveloped heritage site …

and on the washroom door in the Lost and Found Café, West Hastings near Abbott Street.

Yes.

 

DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixed Messages

11 January 2019 – Oh, good grief, what are we to believe?

The “Boring Is Best” message on her bag …

or the message delivered by her lime-green hair?

 

A Moment at E 5th & The Drive

5 January 2019 – My mind is several blocks ahead of my feet, barely registering the intersection, but then I stop.

I do register the dapper young man, down on his knees.

In photographic ecstasy, not religious. He has a real camera, interchangeable lenses & everything, and he is carefully fitting one of those lens as I watch.

Where am I? What is he looking at?

Where = E. 5th & “The Drive” (Commercial Drive to map-makers).

What = the brand new, sparkling-bright mural all along the side wall of the D-YES office across 5th.

I’m glad Drive Youth Employment Services exists; I support the key words integrated into the mural (e.g. Compassion, Respect); and I think the mural adds energy and cheer.

Even so, I’m more attracted to the battered old mural wrapped all around VAP Auto Parts & Services, on our side of the intersection.

It offers only partial views, of course, interrupted by windows, ads, doors and parked cars.

Later I learn online what I should have known anyway: November IV (or, even, 4) is National Unity and Armed Forces Day in Italy. So of course it will  be on display here, heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy. (Look again at that intersection sign above: it includes a tiny Italian flag.)

I love this. I love how an inherently grimy business, auto repair, has wrapped itself in a mural of the homeland, now worn & comfy & companionably grimy as well.

Flowing around windows and door …

and around the garage entrance as well.

Bang-clang-smack-clatter!! bounces out at us from inside that entrance. They’re busy in there. Dog in truck out here doesn’t care. Yawn.

I un-mesmerize myself, and remember that I did have a reason, when crossing this intersection. And it involved coffee, not axel grease.

One last fond glance …

and I’m on down The Drive, ready for JJ Bean and a latte.

 

Daylight

1 January 2019 – I’m not thinking about “daylight” in any jargon sense, as I wander east through Mount Pleasant on 8th Avenue. I’m not thinking about daylight at all, beyond noting that today’s version is grey, and more dull than luminous.

But one thing leads to another, starting with my puzzling at this neat stencil on the sidewalk edge at an intersection.

I look around, see a traffic circle, see it has larger letters stencilled all around, move in to look.

Doesn’t get me much further. Thank you for the welcome, I think, but.. umm … to what?

I try the other side of the traffic circle.

Not as far ahead as I might have hoped… “Rainway”?

Aha, another sidewalk stencil.

Progress! All this has to do with St. George Creek — not that any creek is visible. Though, I now realize, I am at St. George Street.

There is a mud/rain-spattered sign fixed to the chainlink fence surrounding the adjacent school yard.

“Did you know a creek still flows beneath St. George Street?” it asks, and then describes the community-based project to honour the buried creek (te Statlew in the original Musqueam language) that once ran north from the Kingsway just above me right down to the False Creek Flats.

The sign invites me to notice all those salmon, painted by the schoolchildren, leaping along the fence. I do.

Later, a website dedicated to salmon in the cities tells me that more than 50 freshwater streams once ran through Vancouver, “like transit lines for wild salmon.”

The goal of this particular project, says its own Rainway website, is to use runoff from adjacent properties, laneways and the street to recreate the lost stream as part of a Rainway. It is to be an example of “daylighting” buried creeks and streams.

(You knew I’d get back to “daylight” eventually.)

The project is also meant to tie into the City’s goal of using our abundant rainwater to make us one of the world’s Greenest cities.

I’d like to be more optimistic, because everything about this project appeals to me — from community roots to public/private sector support to street art and infrastructure and environmental objectives. But it seems to have stalled somewhere around 2016. The signage is battered; none of the further steps projected on the website are visible.

I hope I’m wrong — and even if I’m right, the idea deserves new mention. It could rise again.

But oh dear, all this makes an unfortunate juxtaposition with the last scene I want to show you!

Doubling back toward home, I pass a couple of boarded-up bungalows, all fenced off, clearly soon to be razed for some higher-density infill. And, right there twined into the turquoise plastic fencing, are these words:

“Let it go.”

I don’t want the community to let go of their creek daylighting project, yet I do agree that, sometimes, letting go is exactly what we should be doing.

Perhaps especially right now, the start of a new year. Let go of everything toxic that has been hobbling us, just put it down, breathe freely, step forward more freely.

Maybe the trick, as always, is to know what to hold on to — a community creek project, for example — and what to let go. (Fill in the blanks for yourself.)

And that’s as philosophic as I’m going to get, late on this new year’s day.

So let’s let that go… and have ourselves a happy moment of fibre-art appreciation. Remember the flower next to the words “Let it go”? Like those words, it is crochet.

Aren’t you glad you know that?

Welcome the Light

21 December 2018 – And now, here in the northern hemisphere, it begins again. Not the calendar year, but the light year.

The sun has been in retreat for six months. Now, as of 8:05 a.m. (Vancouver time) this very day, it turns toward us again.

True, it will only stay with us today until 4:16 p.m. Today, it hangs suspended. But as of tomorrow, day by day, increment by increment, for the next six months, it will linger a little longer. And longer. And longer.

Hello sun, creeping up over the Coast Range Mountains …

Welcome back.

 

Here Kitty! (and Friends)

20 December 2018 – There she is, smirking at me with those clever-cat eyes …

and an elegant curl to her tail.

I’m pelting along Howe, crossing West Georgia, but I stop to admire Âstam minôs: Here kitty, one of the City’s bright photo-wraps on utility boxes, this one designed by Adele Arseneau with background by youth artist Krystal, Creativelife East Van.

Kitty, it turns out, is just the start of a day dominated by urban wildlife — a few of the creatures real, most of them art, and almost all of those out-on-the-street-for-free.

The next one, though, is indoors-for-a-fee.

I’m up on the top floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery with a friend, enjoying a show of works from the VAG’s permanent collection, selected by Senior Curator Ian M. Thom.

I’m particularly taken by unknown (to me) works by some artists I do know and and already love — Paterson Ewen, Pudlo Pudlat, Jack Shadbolt, Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Paul-Emile Borduas — and then I see ten neat inkjet printings on paperboard by an artist I know nothing about, Kim Kennedy Austin.

Including this rumination …

I laugh out loud. My friend looks, also breaks up, and soon we’re reminiscing about geckos and our gratitude that their clever little suction pads really do work and the geckos really do not fall on our heads.

Enough high-class art on a gallery wall! Back to the street!

Where, in my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, I find a lion delicately sniffing a flower …

and his companion in full roar …

about to be tickled by a set of brave (or stupid) female fingers.

They are elements in an enormous mural stretching down East 10th just off Kingsway …

with the lion end by Gaidasheva Oksana, the octopus end by Emily Gray, and the whole painted during the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

I turn around, and see I am not the only onlooker.

There is a shop called Birds on a Wire just a few blocks away,  selling regional artwork. It knows its neighbourhood.

I turn down Sophia, and meet more birds.

This time on a ventilator shaft (or something).

A whole menagerie fills the rest of the parking lot wall  …

with Antler Man declaiming, Ghost Triplets perhaps listening, and an audience of eavesdroppers & kibitzers stretching off to the left. This mural is a legacy of the 2018 Mural Festival, curated by Roxanne Charles and signed by Ahziyelli Gaia, Cayley Carlson and Andres SLZ.

One last touch of reality, as I loop around the library branch toward home.

I’ve always liked birds’ nests in winter, the sense of discovering something that lies so well hidden all summer long, and then, come winter, adds another sculptural element to all those bare branches.

Speaking of urban wildlife…

That Springbok I showed you, in my post of 26 November?

He isn’t.

“Definitely not a Springbok,” says a friend who knows his African wildlife, “but probably a Gemsbok or Oryx. The question is, what inspired someone to paint this on a Vancouver wall?”

My guess is, all these artists inspire each other, and that’s reason enough. Whatever the inspiration, I’m grateful.

 

The Wave

15 December 2018 – I have not yet joined the Cloud Appreciation Society, but, more and more, I appreciate the clouds that form the final dimension in my city/mountains/sky view to the north.

Especially this morning.

I really did have to blink, wonder if my eyes were correctly processing what lay before them.

I have never seen clouds like this, I muttered to myself. What’s going on?

Asperitas (aka Undulatus Asperitas) is what’s going on, I learned on the evening news, and — according to the UK Met Office — it is indeed “a distinctive and relatively rare cloud formation.”

Everybody agrees the name makes sense: the clouds look like great undulating waves. There is less agreement on why or how they form. As the Met Office puts it, it is a subject of “much debate and confusion,” with one theory suggesting they form when “mammatus clouds descend into areas of sky where the wind direction changes with height, causing the wave-like movement.”

They are also the newest (2017) addition to The International Cloud Atlas, which is the bible of cloud classification, published by the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva.

Thank you, WMO, but the credit really goes to the CAS (Cloud Appreciation Society — but you know that by now, don’t you). It launched a campaign for recognition back in the mid-first decade of this century, and just never let up.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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    "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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