Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

“Satu Lagi…”

22 April 2019 – “Satu lagi,” I mutter to myself, as I wander eastward, deeper into Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. “One more.” The phrase — a linguistic remnant of time once spent in Indonesia — is the perfect motto for a wandering, exploratory walk. It tugs you along. On and on.

Walk one more block, check out one more alley, turn one more corner, step close to one more plaque, sniff one more blossoming fruit tree, stoop to touch the unfolding fiddleheads of one more fern, breathe a moment on one more sidewalk bench while you let street life unfold before you …

That kind of walk.

I am totally in the mood for a satu-lagi outing, this sunny-cloudy day, ready to pause wherever, follow any impulse.

First stop, to admire painted fir cones decorating a tree at Scotia & East 6th.

On east, thinking I’ll follow 6th for a while since I never have before, but ready to be tugged either side of that axis.

I’m enjoying a string of bright-coloured small homes, then find myself indeed tugged off-axis for satu lagi, one whose weathered paint job is warmed by its cheerful title: Chateau Leanne.

One-more / one-more.

One more traffic circle, this one at St. George, with turquoise stencilled tributes to both St. George Creek and the indigenous Coast Salish peoples …

One more cluster of fern fronds, unfolding into spring light and warmth …

One more bend in a road, this one luring me back onto Fraser, but north this time, down to a curve with its red diamond warning sign, and, beyond that — or so it seems, from this distance — a surprising little grove of trees.

I follow it, and, oh, there’s nothing one-more about what I see among the trees.

It’s a one-off, that’s what it is, and it justifies my decision to walk the extra block and explore that grove.

Littering is wrong, always wrong, but I find I have a guilty, sneaking appreciation for this litterbug’s sense of placement. That chair is perfectly placed, perfectly angled. (Sorry.)

Vaguely planning to head south ’round about now, but first satu-lagi myself a few more blocks east. Where, on the edge of a park, I discover this poignant tribute to traffic accident victims and a call for witnesses to the most recent.

I finally turn south on St. Catherines, and find myself pulled across the street by these contrasting homes — the newcomer so sombre and austere, its older neighbours so bright and at ease.

I move in for a closer look at the vivid photo-wrap utility box in front of that infill home, and then see how wonderfully it is juxtaposed with mosaic artwork along the edge of the alley just beyond.

One more utility box, one more block up the street, this one also decorated. More impressive than its neighbour, you could argue, since it is hand-painted, not photo-wrapped.

Oh, all right, perhaps not more impressive after all. But good fun, don’t you think?

I have no reason whatsoever to swerve east yet again, but … satu lagi gives me a tug, and I swerve.

Over at Prince Albert, I’m rewarded with visual haiku, one black crow silhouetted against a multitude of pink blossoms.

The sky stays grey, colours continue to pop.

Westward again by now, one-more / one-more, starting my zigzag west & north toward home.

Stream of Dreams fish swirl on an elementary school fence, one more school engaged with the charity that helps communities become better stewards of their local watersheds.

When I’m almost home — my mind jumping ahead to home, my attention with my mind — there’s a surprise. Mind & attention jump back, join my body in the present moment.

Look.

One more treat.

 

Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

Before the Rain

5 April 2019 – Vancouver a Temperate Rainforest? Nicknamed “Rain City” for a reason?  You wouldn’t know it, by March stats: 31.7 mm of rain all month, versus the historical norm of 113.9 mm.

But then rain slapped its forehead, remembered its duty, and got back to work. (It is oozing gently down as I write this sentence.)

Which makes me all the more grateful for those first still-sunny and suddenly-warm days this month, and the walks with which I celebrated them.

One takes me along the north-shore seawall on False Creek, past the Burrard Bridge all the way to Second Beach, tucked into the edge of Stanley Park.

At Sunset Beach, I stop to visit one of my favourite False Creek sculptures. This one.

The work of French artist Bernar Venet, it was acquired by the Vancouver Biennale Legacy Foundation in 2007. It has one of those cryptic titles that usually make me very cranky: 217.5 ARC X 13. This time I am not cranky, because it succinctly describes the work, which consists of 13 arcs of metal, each curved at an angle of 217.5 degrees.

Crankiness threatens as I read the subsequent artspeak about the meaning of the work, but I do agree with the final observation that “the seemingly unfinished surface invites you to give the raw material a closer look.”

I move in for a closer look.

As did those two crows above!

My next walk is again largely waterfront, but this time along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. It gets a kick-start in Mink, a café overlooking a sliver of walk-through park just south of Canada Place.

The café’s website promises that “the view in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom is awe-inspiring.”

They’re right.

In fact, the starting logic for this walk is just that: to admire the cherry blossoms. Now suitably caffeinated, Frances & I head on up to the water and begin walking west toward Coal Harbour.

We dawdle as we go. Lots of cherry blossoms to enjoy — and apple blossoms, and magnolia, and forsythia — and other waterfront visual treats as well.

Float planes, for example, with a whole mix of tourist/private/business purposes animating them now, and with a long, rich history of innovation, exploration and adventure behind them.

Plus … they’re just fun to watch.

Rows of them here at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, this particular line-up leading the eye across the water to one of North Vancouver’s distinctive sulphur piles glowing an incandescent yellow in the distance.

Extracted from natural gas, this powder has gone from waste-product status to sought-after status as a component of fertilizer. Some 35% (I read online) of the world’s trade in sulphur passes through the Port of Vancouver.

Something else I love to observe: houseboats!

We see various groupings as we amble along, this bright duo in a marina just off Cardero Park at the west end of Coal Harbour.

We keep walking, more and more, and eventually there we are at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. It seems a fitting turn-about point, so that’s what we do, and then head for our separate destinations.

I finally hop a bus. As I cross the city eastward, I watch the clouds roll in.

Doin’ the Details

1 April 2019 – It’s a day for details all right, out here in the Strathcona neighbourhood of east Vancouver, first solo and then with Frances.

A black bird (crow?), for example, riding high above a doorway, with an artist’s brush in his beak.

Riding high above other doors as well, including the one on the white house on this cheerful line-up of homes along Keefer St. approaching Hawks.

But, cheeky/charming as crows are, there are many other ways to express yourself.

With a toboggan above the door, for example …

or a great wave of metal and glass in the doorway itself.

Or, instead, you can throw yourself into repurposing mode, and plonk a bathtub in the sidewalk verge, just waiting for spring plantings.

Why stop at a bathtub? There must be an old wringer-style washing machine lying around somewhere … or, if you’re lucky, two of them.

Behind the tubs, the red awning marks the home of The Wilder Snail Neighbourhood Grocery and Coffee, right at Keefer & Hawks.

Frances & I meet here for lunch before heading off to the day’s one planned event: a visit to the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, farther south and a bit farther east, on East Cordova.

We’re looking forward to visiting the Gallery, not least for the opportunity to see how Patkau Architects (the same Vancouver firm that designed the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver) has repurposed the old Pilkington Metal Marine workshop.

The patio entrance to the Gallery has a severe, calm beauty, tucked behind a tall black wall that shields it from the sidewalk, and echoing other corrugated metal claddings all around.

After that, it’s back out to fun on the streets.

Lookit this trompe l’oeil mural, for example! Those apparently structural yellow beams and pink alcoves frame blue paint, not blue sky; that is all solid wall.

Later, we play Spot-the-Special — after my walk up Sophia Street, my eye is in for Vancouver Specials. We see a number of them, all somewhat modified over time and well maintained.

This one on Union shows how the street cuts across a slope — the houses on this side are below sidewalk level, but on the north side rise well above it.

And now … and now I offer you an exceptionally boring grey bird house, on a politely pin-striped tree.

Hmmmm, you say.

I’d’ve passed it without a second thought, but for the plaque beneath. (Ever since the years of marching around Toronto with Phyllis, my Tuesday Walking Society colleague, I’ve been a great reader of plaques.)

This isn’t any old pin-striped tree, it is a Snake Bark Maple.

And it isn’t any old Snake Bark Maple — it is in the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, though cared for by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Why?

Because it is part of the Palas Por Pistolas project of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes. In 2007 he began trading food vouchers for firearms, which are then melted down and turned into shovels, which are then used to plant trees. Ours, planted in 2008, was the first installation outside Mexico.

Speaking of installations-on-the-street … One last example, back at Main Street, under the Georgia Viaduct.

“Blank walls invite graf. Let us put nice art instead,” says the tidy block lettering — and, after thanking the city for this “fresh new canvas,” that’s exactly what the artist does.

A very satisfying last detail, to crown a very satisfying day.

Theme & Variations

28 March 2019 – The theme is street art, more specifically murals.

A straight-forward example of the genre: down an alley, created by a street artist.

But think of the whole city as a kind of pulsing, collective art installation, and then the concepts of “mural” and “artist” become much more fluid.

Suddenly the theme is open to variations.

A mural may dance across the facetted mirror-glass of an office building …

created anew each moment by the play of nature’s sun & cloud on the human hardscape below.

Or murals, plural, may interweave their stories as they share a single space across time …

their once-vivid messages fading to a visual mumble.

Or, as you walk a viaduct and look down, a mural may pop in a pop-up park …

its graphics the semaphore of a complicated City/developer green-space accommodation.

 

 

Something Special with Sophia

25 March 2019 – Beware the low-flying puns.

“Sophia” is a street, and cap-S “Special” is an architectural style — the only house style developed in Greater Vancouver and found nowhere else, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Behold the Vancouver Special.

It was built by the thousands, 1965-1985, the boxy monster home of its day on narrow city lots, easily duplexed and therefore especially popular with multi-generational, often immigrant, households. Not popular with arbiters of tasteful design, one must add; in fact, widely reviled.

The houses survive singly or in small clusters, some much battered by time and others lovingly renovated. The style itself, if still not much loved, is at least now respected as an urban icon. When I first moved here, it was one of the first city sights my friends taught me to recognize.

So I squeak with delight when, walking south on Sophia for no good reason except I’ve never walked it before, I fall upon this little string of renovated Specials, right here at East 20th.

One has lions rampant at the gates (the VHF article later teaches me this is a common feature) …

another faces the street with no guardian sculptures to protect it …

and another flaunts bold new window treatment on the upper level.

None has been wildly transformed, but all are in good shape, and fit the scale and comfy residential charm of this neighbourhood just off Main Street.

I walk one more block south on Sophia — and wowzers, I’m handed another “something special with Sophia.” Lower-case “s” this time, but equally worthy of the adjective.

Street art, literally on the street. One-two-three sections of mural, that pop their way along East 21st from Sophia to Prince Edward.

The first section leads with white swirls …

throws in a sunburst …

and ends with a shooting star.

The middle section feaures hearts and big “eyes” …

with one “eye” circling a storm sewer grate, and a companion sun throwing out rays from beneath that black Honda.

I look back west from the far end of the third section, admire its bias-cut arches …

and ask some 20-somethings in the adjacent park if they know anything about these murals.

They stop their impromptu kick-ball game long enough to peer at the street, and shake their heads. “It’s so cool,” breathes one of the girls. “Thanks! I never noticed…”

I cut diagonally up through the park, salute the downward-dog flamingo …

take myself out to Main Street, and start back north toward home.

And promptly run into this sidewalk sign.

Heres the thing. This very urbane retail store — which specializes in contemporary furniture, objets d’art and books about design and style — contains not a single reference to the architectural form for which it is named. This has always bothered me, seemed negligent bordering on disrespectful.

Now I’ve decided to think of it as a tribute, as proof that the term has burst its original boundaries and become embedded in the culture.

It’s also a clever pun.

And heaven knows, I do like puns.

 

 

Playing With Shadows

5 March 2019 – Oh, I know: every smart-phone photographer clicks off streams of shadow shots. (Right  up there with reflection shots.) But if the sun gets to play with shadows… why shouldn’t we?

Out for walkies with visiting Toronto friends. Brilliant sunshine bounces off the jagged angles of the Coast Range mountains, the flat flow of False Creek, and every intervening structure its busy rays can find.

All along the pedestrian bridge near Olympic Village, for example.

Later we join other friends on Lonsdale Quay in North Van, for a visit to the Polygon Gallery.

Light pours through letter-slot windows in the gallery roof, which is as jagged as the mountain range to which it pays tribute. A construction crane punches its way into the geometry.

And then out we go again, to wander The Pier, adjacent to the Gallery, a repurposed venue on the site of the former Versatile Shipyards with several piers and docks still part of the complex.

Shadow plays one way on a textured concrete surface …

and another way, really quite pointillist, on mesh.

At the end of one pier I start fantasizing a music group, mid-performance.

See? Those harbour crane “giraffes” along the left horizon are the back-up singers, who know that back-up also means background. Meanwhile the lead singer, the sun, shoots across the water to smack into the railing and fling shadows forward onto the pier — creating an eager audience to applaud the show.

Right, enough fantasy. Back to what is really in front of me.

Sometimes a shadow curves with a railing …

sometimes it marches in stiff angular formation …

sometimes it gets to stun a bench seat with a right hook.

And sometimes (often, in fact) it has to just roll its eyes and patiently allows yet another dilettante photographer …

to play Daddy Long Legs.

The Roar of the Boar

11 February 2019 – At first, there is no roar. There is, instead, the Flash on the Dash. Police cars blocking off blocks & blocks of downtown East Van, not a siren to be heard but lots of flashing lights. I assume the worst. Has to be some kind of manhunt, right?

Wrong, totally wrong.

Just as my eyes begin to register the relaxed body language of the police on the streets, my ears begin to pick up the sound of crashing cymbals. I look around.

And I see two dragons, strolling westward on Keefer St. toward Gore.

Of course! Early hours yet, but participants are starting to gather for the big parade.

The 46th annual Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, that is, which each year has 3,000-plus participants, some 100,000 spectators along the route, and TV coverage.

I’ve been hearing that this is the Year of the Pig, but the Chinese Benevolent Association website, one of the parade’s co-sponsors, calls it the Year of the Boar. Altogether more dignified and powerful, I think, though perhaps less … well … lovable?

Whoever made this poster seems to be on the side of lovability.

I have other things to do for a couple of hours but, sure enough, as I walk back south on Gore late morning, I catch the parade just turning onto the street from East Pender.

I keep pace for a while, weaving through spectators as I go.

For one stunned moment, I think the British Columbia Automobile Association float is offering us a golden hand grenade …

but no — silly me — it’s a golden boar.

Lots of spectators despite the sub-zero temperature and brisk wind, including one kid up a tree, and a trio perched atop a hydro utility box a little farther down the street.

Since the parade is a cultural celebration in a country that takes Cultural Mosaic (not Melting Pot) as its ideal, there are distinct chips of that mosaic to be seen on all sides.

Sinuous koi fish swirl in the (literal) mosaic in the sidewalk at this street corner …

while a Timbits box and a roll-up-the-rim Tim Horton coffee cup perch on the rock in the foreground.

More mosaic for you — a little girl of Asian ethnic origins, astride her daddy’s shoulders, watches intently as characters representing Vancouver Canuck hockey players march by.

I turn with the parade west on Keefer, watch martial arts displays with staves (while a nearby mother reassures her little girl, “They’re only pretend fighting, darling”) …

and admire yet another dragon on the prance, with flags and cymbals and marching bands to keep him company.

Then, at Main Street, I turn south & wave good-bye.

Me, and a whole multitude of Japnese maneki-neko cats on this traffic signal box.

Yet More Cultural Mosaic (Edible Division)

The parade is just in time. Snow comes pelting down that afternoon — which is perfect for my afternoon project. Call it another chip in the Cultural Mosaic: an English friend, temporarily living here and determined to accumulate as many Canadian Experiences as possible, joins me to cook up some Métis Bannock. As far as she is concerned, a snowstorm is the perfect final ingredient.

We pile butter & jam on the warm wedges, and thank those Scots explorers/fur traders/”Bay Boys” who brought us this culinary tradition in the first place.

 

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.

 

  • 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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