Light-Bright Night

25 January 2018 – I’m still playing with light, admiring the way it pops up at unexpected times, in unexpected places. Well… not all that unexpected really, if one stops to think about it, but really quite new to my own awareness. (Where have I been, all this time?) And all triggered by my finally noticing that rain brings with it enormous riches of colour and light.

Not that Light is consciously on my mind, as we open the doors of the Contemporary Art Gallery and leave the blue-indigo of late afternoon behind us.

But oh, we are showered with light.

We’ve come for this show: Brent Wadden‘s massive hand-weavings of wool, cotton & acrylic fibres, stretched over canvas and framed.

I line up, close to that same hanging (but scrupulously not touching!), sighting along the planes & textures of its surface.

Opposite wall, a line of vertical panels, in call-response with the massive horizontality that they face.

Dazzled, we return to the outside world, its blue-indigo now almost fully transformed to deep grey-black.

And … are again dazzled.

This is the work of Lyse Lemieux, the other artist currently on exhibit at the CAG. I like the concept: one artist exhibited within the space; the other, in great vinyl panels that wrap its façade.

We cock our heads, rock gently leg to leg, let all that light-bright night flood our senses.

Which perhaps explains why, as we head for the outing’s next objective (pizza), we become acutely aware of messages and images that shine in the night.

Like this one, right at our feet.

It has us in stitches. “Exit for what?” we ask each other, giggling. Deep down, we know perfectly well (or think we do…) that it is an exit for humans sent below to do Important Subterranean Things to keep the City both healthy & functioning. But we’d rather imagine urban-legend alligators & golems, and yes, I do have chase scenes from the 1949 classic, The Third Man, dancing in my head.

Well, it’s the City’s fault for not being clear. At least when B.C. Hydro wants to warn you off, they are downright graphic. “Electrical Hazard” shouts the hatch, with  lightening bolts for emphasis: “Keep Out.”

But then again, what’s the fun in that? Far more amusing to conjure up alligators and third men …

Or to enjoy the next sight that smacks us in the eye, its rain-slick brilliance shining in the street’s gaudy lights.

The first time I saw eyelash headlight wipers was on the Isle of Wight. Later, once, in Toronto. But these are the most flamboyant of all! And all the better for fluttering at us by night.

Almost at our pizza destination by now, but one more light-bright message stops us in our tracks.

First we giggle (more giggling, it’s a night of laughter). Then we begin discussing, at least half-seriously, what kind of life-philosophy is here on offer.

We are still discussing it as we pass the van, and a friendly (but amused) voice comments, “You like that, do you?”

Which leads to an explanation of the very limited, very precise, expectation behind the message.

It’s a reminder from the Provincial Air Emergency Program that, should you be unfortunate enough to be in a plane that has just crash-landed somewhere … you are to stay with the plane. Do not strike out on your own. As the nice man points out: “It’s easier for us to spot a plane, than the top of your head.”

We tuck away knowledge we hope we will never have to use, and then, in short order, also tuck away our pizza.

After that it’s boot-boot-boot through the lights of the night to the real purpose of this entire excursion: the 6:30 screening of The Walkers, a documentary hosted by VIFF as part of the City’s Push Festival. Ten years in the making, the film studies the life and impact of Taiwanese choreographer and dancer Lin Lee-chen, and her Legend Lin Dance Theatre.

Once we stop expecting it to unfold the way an occidental documentary usually unfolds, and instead relax into its own Taiwanese sensibility, we are mesmerized.

Afterwards, I walk back home, umbrella domed well down over my head, thinking how light-bright this night has been. And expecting nothing more from it.

Then, as I climb the gentle southbound curve of the Cambie Bridge, I am dazzled one more time.

Red/white; horizontal/vertical; construction/completion — an installation worthy of the Contemporary Art Gallery, I decide.

And I splosh on home.

“Being near water …”

6 January 2018 – The quote continues: “well … anything is possible.”

We don’t see the quote, or its context, until late in our Tuesday walk, but by then we have ample cause to agree.

The Tuesday Walking Society (West Coast branch) is out in full three-some force. Our first walk of the new year has us in North Vancouver, smack on the north shore of Burrard Inlet by Lonsdale Quay, about to explore the new Polygon Gallery.

New as Polygon — it opened last November — but with deep roots. It is the rebirth of Presentation House, which spent 40 years a bit farther up the sloping streets of North Van. Polygon sits between water and mountains and speaks to both: its south-facing glass alive to the Inlet, and its serrated roofline companion to the Coast Range at its back.

But the truth is, I don’t much notice the architecture until I am inside. Then I am wowed. It wraps us in the light-filled, warm minimalism that I love so much. All that quiet, highly functional beauty…

I fixate on the staircase.

Sally waves us on up, but I take an extra moment to admire the railing. Staircase railings protrude, right? Not here. This one, instead, is a calm, clean incision into the wall.

And it functions perfectly.

I scurry on up, discover the architect credits at the top of the stairs. Patkau Architects, I read — a Vancouver firm with an international (and award-winning) practice that emphasizes education and culture, along with their research projects.

Artspeak usually makes me itchy. Patkau’s capsule comment about Polygon seems exactly right: “Hovering, gleaming, framing the city of Vancouver, presenting a curated stream of photography and media art, reflecting the sky, flooded with northern light.”

And it is flooded with light. Provided by skylights, up here on the exhibition level. Even on this grey-brooding day, they fill the space with light.

And, occasionally, frame a construction crane on the building site next door.

Which works well with the exhibit, now that I think about it. This inaugural show, “N. Vancouver,” offers 26 existing and commissioned works by artists who have a history of engagement with north-shore themes.

My friends respond to the show as native Vancouverites: it brings back memories. I respond as the newcomer: it teaches me about this place, it builds dimension for me with backstory.

The works are strong. The archival pigment print of Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal, North Vancouver (Greg Girard, 2013/2017), for example …

or the hand-tinted black & white photos of Crossed Ski Poles Touching Shadows (N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., 1968).

I’m glad I read the small print. It explains how the shadows of these crossed poles shows them, instead, touching at the apex. (Never mind expanding the photo, here’s the story: the photos were taken at an angle.)

Brimming with curated North Van — photos, video, sculpture, weavings — we go out on the balcony for the physical North Van. Perhaps it is because we have just seen so many strong images, but we see this, too, as art. Nature’s art.

We’re looking south over Burrard Inlet, with the “Q” of the Lonsdale Quay logo here on the north shore to our right, and the city of Vancouver skyline across the way. With a line of cranes there on the left, marking the working port.

I orient you for a purpose. Things are about to go back-to-front. The Gallery’s glass wall behind us is either mirrored on the exterior, or, at this moment in the day, perfectly reflective. (How embarrassing not to have checked. Sorry.)

See? A slice of sharp-angled balcony floor beneath us, and a wall of glass that bounces the view on our right back at us from the left.

So we play with it.

Eternal nature meets 21st-c. electronics — Frances about to take a photo with her tablet; me with my phone to my eye, taking this very picture; Sally checking her tablet for the shot she has just taken. All of us facing north, aiming at the glass wall, and captured south.

More magic outside, when we rejoin the external world. The side wall of the adjacent building — and it’s not even an art gallery. It’s just (!!! “just”…) a working building, with a beautiful wall.

Lunch next, the weather raw enough to make us choose hot ramen over cold sushi at a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, then along West 1st Street as we make our way back to Lonsdale Quay.

It takes us into Jack Loucks Court, a small & charming urban parkette dedicated in 2001 to the man who had served as North Vancouver’s mayor for many years. It contains attractive plantings, benches, water  — all elements that welcome you, make you linger.

But what really makes us linger is the series of life-sized, metal sculptures, each with a incised quote from the person who (we assume) was model for that sculpture. They talk about North Van, what roots them in this place.

When we read this one, we find ourselves nodding at the figure, and at each other.

I look out at the ocean.

Being near water … well …

everything is possible.

It stretches your imagination.

Pretty well sums up our day. And, perhaps, the inaugural exhibit in that new gallery next door.

 

 

Light & Shadow

6 December 2017 – You look at this image, and you say to yourself, “Why, that’s a 19th-c. landau carriage rejigged as a camera obscura!

And you are right. Millennial Time Machine, it is called, created by Rodney Graham in 2003. It is just one of the works of art visible on the UBC campus, showcased in an outdoor art tour under the auspices of UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery — number 16 in the online tour guide.

The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) is enjoying this brilliantly sunny day, the bold shadows it creates,  & the works of art. We don’t take the official tour; we’re hoofing around on our own.

“Look!” I cry, as we wheel ’round a corner and see a dramatic twined sculpture in the mid-distance. “It looks just like a tuning fork!”

I say it as a joke — but, clever-boots me, that really is the title.

Tuning Fork, 1968, by Gerhard Class (number 2 in the Belkin brochure), is located right outside the main entrance to the UBC Music Building. Well, of course it is.

Our extremely wandering path eventually takes us through the UBC Rose Garden. Nary a rose to be seen, in early December, the bushes are all cut neatly back for winter. But there is still some colour, some seasonal substitute plantings …

“Cabbages!” I say, this time not as a joke since — veteran of Toronto’s Cabbagetown — I think I know an autumnal ornamental cabbage when I see one.

“Kale…” says Frances, who is closer to the display than I am, and kale they are. And very handsome too, glowing in the midday sun.

We zigzag into another enclosure, the pond and forecourt of the University Centre.  I start to laugh. What else can you do, faced with a boat balanced on the tip of its nose?

It’s made of Carrera marble, is Glen Lewis’ 1987 Classical Toy Boat (number 12), and, though now in shade, it outshines the sun. I am mesmerized.

Later I read about its travels: first installed outside the Powerpoint Gallery in Toronto’s Harbourfront, later purchased by the Belkin and installed here.

The write-up invites you to think of it as magically defying gravity. I only realize later that one could perhaps view it tragically, as a sinking boat — but, no, somehow that interpretation never occurs. It is so obviously a happy little toy boat, having a good time.

Down the steps, across the road: Frances & I plan a lunch stop in the Museum of Anthropology. But first, a pre-stop stop, to admire Joe Becker’s Transformation sculpture in a small pool right at the MOA  entrance.

I could describe it for you, but Becker’s own words are so much better:

Even with water turned off (presumably for the season), it is still a powerful, sinuous work of art. And how the roe gleams!

Lunch as planned, and then a quick trip around the exterior of the building itself, one of architect Arthur Erickson‘s masterpieces.

As always, the great linear dynamics catch my attention, and my breath. They please from every angle.

Viewed through the trees, here at the entrance …

or along the side toward the back, with tree shadows dancing on the columns.

Erickson’s inspiration, surely, was the traditional lines of the Haida double mortuary pole. There is a magnificent example in the groupings of poles and buildings behind the Museum — this one designed by Bill Reid and then carved by Reid and Douglas Cranmer, 1960-61.

You look from it to the powerful rear façade of the MOA itself.

Yes. They belong together. They belong on this land, and to this land.

 

Street Sights

1 December 2017 – Well, there’s the pavement, of course.

But the pavement has plenty of companions, to keep it from feeling all lonely & dull.

Ground-hugging toadstools (genus Ventilationii), for example ..

and up-thrust daisies (same genus) …

crows on wires (real & faux) …

and leapin’ lemurs …

a kaleidoscope moose …

and a high-flying toro …

a beating heart …

a cryptic message from the heavens …

and the gentle protection, we hope …

of a guiding spirit right here in the neighbourhood.

 

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat…”

9 November 2017 – Chant along with me:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat…”

I am not in a pea green boat.

I am in the former mattress factory at 1000 Parker Street, but I am as deliriously enchanted with my surroundings as any fan of Edward Lear could ever hope to be with his nonsense verse.

And, right here at 1000 Parker, there is an owl.

We are on the Surrey Art Gallery bus tour I mentioned last post, the day-long visit to clusters of artists’ studios in two Vancouver locations.

1000 Parker Street, I learn, is a Vancouver treasure, one of those rare examples of a major property developer/manager — in this case, the Beedie Development Group — that decides to dedicate one of its properties to the needs of its city’s artists.

Result: some 110 studios & 227 artists over four floors of a rambling wooden structure that began life in 1896 as the Restmore Manufacturing Company (and has been a few other things along the way).

I begin to think the hallways house almost as many artistic delights as the studios. There was that owl and, look, here’s a painted piano. With fall pumpkins.

The artists we visit speak coherently and engagingly about their lives, their preoccupations, their creative explorations. We’re a sort of dress rehearsal for the 20th annual Eastside Culture Crawl  (November 16-19), when this building, and its residents, will be a key attraction.

As always — at least, for me — it’s the asides, the little sidebars to the main story, that bring the artists most compellingly to life.

Visual artist Tiko Kerr, for example, works in the studio space once occupied by Jack Shadbolt (1909-1998). Assorted materials belonging to that renowned painter had been left behind, including a whole array of paint brushes. Kerr grouped some together, prepped them, and repurposed them as his “canvas” for a tribute painting that now hangs on a studio wall.

Later, when Judson Beaumont, woodworker/founder of Straight Line Designs (“We make quirk work”), explains that an early influence was the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

his beautifully executed, totally functional — and entirely loopy — designs make perfect sense.

His studio is on the top floor. He leads us out a doorway onto a little deck, talking about the work they do, answering questions, out there in the fresh air.

I sight down the old wooden walls to the railway tracks below,  a reminder of this building’s — this whole area’s — industrial/manufacturing past.

Frances nudges me, points straight down between two arms of the building. “Ooooooo,” I breathe. A continuous frieze of street art.

I want to see it! Inside is fine, it’s informative & stimulating … but I want to go outside, circle the building, see everything up close.

And I get to do just that.

Most tour members climb back in the bus for the return trip to Surrey; one other woman & I are staying in town. Jud Beaumont offers us the circle tour of the walls.

He laughs when I read out the company name lined up with his over a doorway. “Survival kits,” he repeats. “But they’re gone.”

I stare down a long building wall, realize I am as taken by the lines, colours & textures of the old building itself, as I am by the new — and ephemeral — artwork that is now part of it.

It becomes one stunning package, a dialogue of component parts that gives energy to the whole.

“The fire department inspector must have hysterics every time he visits,” I say. Beaumont is suddenly serious. “We are completely up to code. In everything.”

Then he breaks out in more laughter. “But I tend not to show potential clients any shots of the outside of the building,” he adds. “It might worry them.”

I’m not worried, I am having the time of my life, scooting from one visual treat to the next. Look at this doorway!

And this gold-sprayed mannequin tucked in a niche!

And Mr. Periscope Rabbit!

And the austere beauty of precisely aligned windows.

I am swept by sudden memory of the wall of north-facing windows on the Group of 7 Studio in the Rosedale Valley Ravine, in Toronto.

Except that Group of 7 building does not have any backchat from a line-up of chartreuse what-nots.

Or the scrutiny of laser-beam eyes in a smirking white face.

Well, it had to turn up, didn’t it?

We started with an owl. Of course there’ll be a pussy-cat.

I prance down the cul-de-sac, for a closer look.

Then I thank Beaumont for his street-art tour, say good-bye to my tour companion, and walk the 8 kilometres home, west through Strathcona, across Main Street, along False Creek, and up the hill.

So much fun.

 

 

 

Boots

12 October 2017 – There we are, prancing along in our citified walking boots, and there they are.

Construction worker boots. Well-used & apparently abandoned, beneath a handsome bench next to the handsome landscaping around one of the new condo towers clustered at the north end of the Granville St. bridge.

The worker boots are just as appropriate as the bench, though, because new buildings are going up all the time.

Including this one!

I know. Upside-down and everything.

Meet Vancouver House-in-the making, a star project of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), with condos above and retail below, the latter nicely scooped out to a 30-m. set-back from the bridge on/off ramps.

We go “Wow” and then our personal boots — worn by my Delightful Young Relation (DYR) & me — prance on.

It’s a day for discoveries. First the impossible-to-describe, very high-tech Fly Over Canada spectacle in Canada Place — thank you for the treat, DYR. Then from high- to low-tech, namely our boots on pavement as we walk south from Burrard Inlet to False Creek. Making discoveries as we go.

This outsized table & chairs in Mae and Lorne Brown Park, for example.

A confession. I know the bright-rust shrubs are that colour because they’re dead — but, still, even so, aren’t they pretty? Isn’t that green/rust contrast very pleasing to the eye?

But so is GRANtable, a madcap sculpture created by Pechet + Robb on commission from Parks & Rec for the City of Vancouver.

DYR lines it all up through a viewing aperture in the chair; I line him up, lining it up.

Plan A had been to catch a ferry once we hit False Creek (because I do love those ferries), but when we get there, we morph into Plan B instead. The weather is so appealing, and our boots are so made for walking … So we walk. Initially eastward on the north side of False Creek, which will in time take us around the curve to the south side (home turf for us both).

Still on the north side, a series of kiosks along the pathways, the words resonating — says an online page about False Creek art — with “the site’s natural and industrial history.”

I’m puzzled by some of the references, captivated by others. Somebody, please, tell me about that red caboose!

Almost to the stub end of False Creek now, approaching BC Place Stadium, and we gawk at the just-unveiled Parq [sic] Vancouver Casino.

Still finishing touches. Two ant-sized humans up there, see them?

One sitting on the roof, legs dangling; one partway up the façade, undoubtedly fitting something to something.

A casino, and a fine fit with the rust-by-design component of my recent R is for Rust post…

More rust soon after, this time rust-by-time, when I lean over DYR’s balcony for a bird’s eye view of The Flats — the industrial expanse just east of Main St., pretty well level with the end of False Creek.

And a nice contrast too, between the battered old building on the left, and the gussied up, be-muralled beauty on the right — but both of them equally workhorse, both of them warehouses.

I tuck down to water’s edge again, immediately behind the Telus World of Science building, to admire the curve of pilings at Creek-end, and the marine-life silhouettes glinting silver atop each one.

Westward now, along the south shore of the Creek. I’m approaching Hinge Park, my head full of fall and fall colours and fall odours and fall events.

I do not anticipate ice.

Great slabs of ice. Ice-as-art. Who would?

But there it is.

Oh, don’t even ask, I have no idea. No little signboard to explain what he’s up to, and no interaction by Ice Artist Guy with his mesmerized audience.

And they are indeed mesmerized. Especially Pretzel Woman.

After a bit, I smack myself upside the head, and walk on.

 

 

Reading in the Rain

1 October 2017 – First assignment, read this.

Oh good. Now that any lurking drones have buzzed off and we are all human together, let’s go read some art.

In the rain.

I first learned about “reading” visuals as well as text from listening in on art-director conversations. They wanted images to make sense, to be visually “readable,” at a specific distance or range of distances.

A billboard next to a busy expressway, for example, designed for passing motorists, has different readability criteria than a notice posted at a street corner for pedestrians to read as they wait for the lights to change.

Public art, ideally, will “read” at a range of distances, appropriate to each site and its work of art. Emilie Crewe, the young artist leading our tour of Burrard Corridor public art, uses Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca as her first illustration of this principle.

There it is, leaping majestically and eternally at one waterfront corner of Jack Poole Plaza, today bathed in mist and rain. At this distance, it is one smooth graphic image. It reads beautifully, even from afar, even in the rain.

We move in, closer.

The work — as iconic as perhaps only a Vancouver native could hope to create — still reads, but differently. The aluminum cladding begins to assert its pixellated nature. The flowing curves break into craggy surfaces, each pixel dancing with its neighbours.

Emilie spins us around to Bon Voyage Plaza, another spatial subset within this same overall Convention Centre footprint. We’re about to read The Drop — a 65-foot polyurethane raindrop by Berlin’s Inges Idee, angled toward the harbour.

Today is the day for a raindrop.

 

Reads very well at a distance, and with the same power up close — even though, unlike Digital Orca, there’s no shape-shifting involved.

This is all great fun, despite the rain.

Hmmm. Maybe the fact I add that “despite” proves I am not yet truly Vancouverite. (As in, “Yes, it’s raining. And your point is …?”)

Next  up, a work of art that we get to read in the old-fashioned sense of the word. It is pure text — Lying on Top of a Building, the words wrapped around multiple floors of two sides of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

I don’t photograph it this time, but if you’re curious, revisit my 22 June post, The Art of Quote-Unquote, to see and read (that word again) more about this 2008 installation by the British artist, Liam Gillick.

Then Emilie leads us to something wonderful, even more wonderful because I didn’t know it existed until she pointed it out.

At first, it’s not all that wonderful. Fine, I think, handsome set of axes and rectangles, very rectilinear and spare, OK-good.

Then Emilie adds, “Unfortunately, we’re here on a weekend, so it won’t be working.” Working? I ask myself, a thought bubble barely formed before Emilie bursts it with, “Oh! It is working! Somebody must be in the office today.”

So please look again. That far right low rectangle, resting on the horizontal, has just descended from higher up its vertical.

Each rectangle represents one elevator in Environment Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans here at 401 Burrard Street. Every time someone takes an elevator, up or down, the corresponding rectangle makes the corresponding trip out here on the sculpture. Canadian Alan Storey calls the piece, Public Service / Private Step, and is that not the perfect title?

So I am charmed.

And equally charmed to visit another of his works, a sculpture called Broken Column (Pendulum), which dominates the multi-storey lobby of the HSBC building at 885 West Georgia.

I’ve seen it before, the massive (and motorized) pendulum swinging slowly and silently to and fro. Weekends, though, this one really is motionless.

Which allows me to appreciate the lines of the sculpture itself …

rather than sit entirely focused on & peacefully mesmerized by its motion.

Several more interim works, splish-splosh, and a grand finale in Robson Square. I have visited this space before, I’ve always really liked it — and I have never, until this moment, noticed Spring.

Not as in, a season of the year. Or, a coil. Or, a single dreadlock. Or even a Slinky-toy…

No. As in, Alan Chung Hung’s massive red steel sculpture that likes to pretend it supports the upper level of this public square.

Enjoy the coil, and please also notice the neat rectangular border of light grey. Today’s weather makes this an interactive piece: the light rectangle is dry, protected by upper-level beams from the rain that darkens the pavement, either side.

And while you’re busy noticing things, please peer into the murk, to the right rear of the sculpture. Yes! Vaguely humanoid shapes.

It’s a whole line-up of dancing fools — girls plus instructor, gyrating away to their music (kept respectfully low).

Isn’t this fine? Lots and lots of very permanent public art pieces, with  a passing moment of performance art thrown in.

Just because.

 

R is for Rust

28 September 2017 – Rust is on my mind, as I angle north/east-ish toward Dance House , this bright fall day, to discuss the volunteer communications project I’m about to begin.

Rust, a signature colour in nature each fall — and rust, a signature colour in metal, by time or design.

I see both, abundantly, in my zigzag travels along False Creek and then farther east to the trendifying old industrial area now home to Dance House, other creative organizations and, just this month, Emily Carr University as well.

First, as I hit 1st Avenue just west of Hinge Park, an example of rust-by-time.

I love the transformation of south-east False Creek from brownfield to green space — but I also love this battered survivor of the area’s industrial past. Toxic as it surely all was, it met the standards of the day and helped meet needs of the day.

And while that building has wrecking-ball written all over it, sections of old railway track right next door in Hinge Park will survive.

Rusty by time, but preserved by design, and rightly so. We need to honour the past.

Note, too, some companion rust-by-nature in the shrubbery, and just a glimpse, there in the middle-back, of my beloved “Rusty Sub.”

I round a corner.

More rusty leaves, to keep the sub company, and rushes turning tawny in the meandering little stream.

Then I’m down at Creek-side, right where Habitat Island juts into the water, and I start to laugh.

Looks like “R” has to slip-slide its way back up the dictionary from Rust, to Repose!

Goodness, he is so peaceful, chest rising/falling gently, relaxed in the still-warm afternoon sun. And, all around him, rust-by-nature in the shrubbery.

Lots more rust, all over the tree leaves that still half-obscure the Green Path signage. (Pedestrians this side; cyclists that.)

I’m almost at the end of False Creek now, right by The Village ferry dock, with its view of BC Place sports stadium on the north side and, to its left, a distinctly rusty-coloured building façade.

No ferry in sight at the moment, but I console myself with that bright red tug boat. I do love tug boats!

Still on 1st Avenue, just west of Main, and some more rust-by-design in the courtyard of a spiffy new condo complex.

Very minimalist, very appealing: the rich tones of the metal, the burble of the falling water, and sunshine & breeze teaming up to dance shadows on the wall.

On east I go, and I’m early for my appointment.

I wander on down to the cul-de-sac where East 1st Ave. does a dog-leg into a chain-metal fence along the cross-town train tracks.

Boxcars! Lovely rust-coloured boxcars!

With graffiti! (Bonus points)

See the young women sketching away down there, next to the inner fence right at the tracks? Students from Emily Carr next door, out on assignment. There are a dozen or more in the immediate vicinity, under the watchful eye of their man-bunn’d instructor, who circulates from one to the next, commenting as he deems appropriate.

And then I go meet Charlotte at Dance House, and we chat on the building green roof with its 180-degree view of the mountains, and we stroke a very insistent white cat as we talk — who assumes our adoration and so receives it, but that is another story — and finally I head south/west-ish back home.

Where, in an alley just east of Main, the letter “R” does another slip-slide and lands on the word “Retro.”

A wonderfully retro design, complete with the words “Todos borrachos aquí,” and … and don’t bother asking, I can’t explain it. No sign of a cantina, just an autobody shop.

But it’s fun.

 

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.

  • 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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