Both/And

8 April 2021 – Once you notice the both/anded-ness of life, all those concurrent realties swirling around, examples just keep smacking you in the face.

Both the beauty of this cherry tree, arching its blossoms over an entrance to the coFood Collaborative Garden at Scotia & East 5th …

… and the wording of their welcoming signage, which recognizes the possibility that people will use this space to shoot up. (But, and here is a both/and within the larger both/and: note that they gently accept all possibilities, and only ask for considerate behaviour.)

Both the blue sky and shining waters of False Creek, right here by Science World …

… and the discarded face mask on the foot path.

Both the fresh, trim spring beauty of this volunteer-tended Green Streets garden, tucked by an access ramp to the north-east side of the Cambie Street bridge over False Creek …

and the graffiti on the ramp. (Note that I make a distinction between street art, and graffiti.)

But … but … here again, a both/and within the larger both/and: did you notice that bright posy of blossoms, in a circle of dirt within all that well-tended gravel?

See? Both a “bright posy of blossoms” and a tombstone for a felled tree, since the flowers sit atop a tree stump. (I am reminded of the neatly hand-lettered sign I once saw pinned to a wooden utility pole on a Toronto street, which read: “I miss being a tree.”)

Ahh but, how do I know which way ’round to assign the “both” and the “and”? Maybe it was a diseased tree. Come to that, why am I, even implicitly, suggesting that “both” and “and” are necessarily in conflict?

Whoops. Sorry.

I climb the ramp up to the bridge, where I’ll cross and loop my way back east. Another both/and as I reach the first bend: all that bouncy interplay of lines and curves, but also the litter on the ground.

Then I pause, and laugh out loud. Lookit those cheeky gulls, perched like sentinels on the light standard.

Both a very ordinary sight, as urban-waterfront sights go, and totally amusing.

Well, I think so, and this is my set of concurrent realities!

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

Now. Right Now

11 March 2021 – At the intersection of Main & East Broadway — and of past, present & future.

The past is rubble.

The future is undisclosed.

The present is a gift.

H-Frames

23 February 2021 – In my recent Alley Eyes post, I was all “H for hydro pole” — but I have learned so much more since then.

Not least that, in this part of the country, people talk about power poles, not hydro poles: “hydro” seems to be eastern-Canadian usage only.

I’ve also learned that some of you share my admiration for the look of these two-legged monster poles, the way they march down the alley and, block by block, frame everything it contains into a deep-downtown alleyscape.

Like this.

I didn’t just stumble on that, I went looking for it. I went looking for it because of what I had just learned during the “Discovering Heritage Places” virtual tour offered online by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as part of its Heritage Week events. We virtually-visited a number of buildings in older neighbourhoods, each one with history and meaning for its area and the city as a whole.

And then, next image: one of these power poles. Identified by name: H-frame.

The city began installing them some 80 years ago, therefore in the older neighbourhoods, and is now gradually replacing them with underground lines instead. The speaker then invited us to broaden our definition of “heritage.” Why limit it to buildings? He mentioned the attachment some communities have to these old poles, and, yes, there is a preserve the H-frame campaign underway right now in Chinatown.

See? H-for hydro (my eastern usage); H-for-H-frame (local); and H-for-heritage. And that, all that, is what took me into the alleys of Mount Pleasant, looking for H-frames. The photo above is from Ontario Street, looking east toward Quebec, along the alley between East 2nd & 3rd avenues.

Those H-frames just keep framing the alley into segments as they (and you) march along, creating context and visual punch.

Mind, it helps to have interesting content for them to frame.

That sassy yellow & black Dog Taxi on the right, for example, one of a small fleet that picks up woofers for their day at the doggy hotel… And on the left, a bit farther down, that back-tilted face…

Walk closer.

Yes! The face, the hand. Summer 2019, I watched Argentinian street-artist duo Medianeras create that work as part of the year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

A few days ago, I was a bit farther south in the neighbourhood, around 18th-22nd avenues. This part is newer than the more northern stretch, and its hydro … sorry! … power poles come from different parts of the alphabet.

There’s the T-frame …

and the L-frame …

and even, to my giddy delight, the occasional hybrid.

Meet H-L-L. (What the H-l-l??)

But… no. Com’on. Nothing matches a majestic H-frame, rearing into the sky.

Especially when you get a colour-block building thrown in for good measure.

Crow Bingo

I know. Total change of subject. You could get whip-lash. But since I am as obsessed with local crows as I am with H-frames, I have to do this.

June Hunter is a local artist who translates her deep love of urban nature into prints, photos, calendars, scarves, tote bags, jewellery and more. She obviously has a website, and she also has a newsletter & blog, to which I subscribe. The latest issue features her very own creation: Crow Bingo.

Play beginner level or intermediate, and while you’re on the site, I encourage you to click on her Crow Therapy as well.

We all need therapy these days, and we might as well get it from the crows.

Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

Alley Eyes

10 February 2021 – But then there are all the days that I don’t go down in the woods.

I go down an urban alley instead.

Where, for once, my eyes slide past the marching hydro poles that usually obsess me, even past the red dumpster positively shouting for attention…

to land on that convex mirror on the left, greedily pulling peripheral images onto its bulging surface.

I move in close, peer upwards…

and discover a whole dancing universe of lines, arcs, and circles.

A Moment, & Another Moment

21 January 2021 – One was colour, the other was light.

Colour!!

Heading home yesterday, I opt for West 10th since it’s a quiet residential street, and then, right there between Columbia and Manitoba …

I laugh out loud. Not exactly San Francisco’s fabled Painted Ladies, or as elaborate as ones I can think of in Toronto’s Cabbagetown … but there are similarities. These, too, are Victorian/Edwardian style wooden houses, built in the first decade or so of the 20th century, now restored and painted in bold colours to enhance the architecture. What’s extra here, I discover when I dig a bit, is that the Davis family not only received a Heritage Canada award for this streetscape but created decent rental housing in the process.

I don’t know all this at the time. I’m just enjoying the colour and the street-friendly, community-friendly extras that add to the pleasure. For example, the red Muskoka chair and the wheelbarrow of greenery (L & R, above) positioned by the sidewalk, to expand the charm right out into public space.

I cross the street. More details, equally colourful. A metal container (was it once a garbage can? surely not…), full of winter-hardy red/greenery …

a deep-ochre feline container for more winter ornamentals …

and, not to be outdone, a stylish canine container for yet more bright foliage …

on a bicycle.

Cat, dog, who cares? Make way for the lumberjack-plaid buck.

Immediately east of this run of houses is one that is clearly not part of the group. So, yes, definitely less colourful, but it is equally of the era and equally committed to improving the streetscape.

Albeit with a different sensibility.

I particularly like the stand-off between train and ‘gator. Though that T-rex atop another train engine almost gets my vote.

Light!!

Again heading for home, but this time via the Cambie Bridge and north side of False Creek. Unlike yesterday, today is all glitter & brilliance. I lean on the bridge and start noticing how morning light plays off, plays with, everything it touches. I begin to appreciate the literal truth of the words “sunshine” and sunlit.”

The rail beneath my elbows, the churn behind that Aquabus ferry headed for the Olympic Village dock, the ripples fanning out to either side …

and then, the curve of the Seawall, and two shining benches.

It’s hopelessly anthropomorphic, and I know it and I don’t care, and maybe you won’t care either, if I confess that, to me, those benches are positively basking in the sunny warmth. It takes me a moment to spot that each is just the eastern end of a trio of benches, companionably curved toward each other.

I want sunshine drama? Razzle-dazzle flashing light? Fine. There’s this moment, as I start down the off-ramp from the bridge…

I sit for a moment on one of those benches I had noticed from the bridge. And yes, it’s just as sunny-warm as I had imagined. Happy sounds are all around me — first some mother/toddler conversation, then dog-owner/puppy conversation, with mother & dog-owner both expert at deciphering what comes back at them, and everybody having a good time.

I walk on, still fascinated by the light. It just lasers down the pathway, hard shadows here, glitter there, and, ‘way down there, just in front of that mirrored marina building, the Blue Cabin — rocking gently on the ripples and, like those benches, basking in the sunshine.

As are these rocks, this side of the grove of trees next to the Blue Cabin.

And now for basking chairs!

Fabulous, big, come-sit-in-me blue & red chairs. They, and more, are tucked into the community park right at the end of False Creek. They’re empty, but the park isn’t — just out of frame, two teenagers are playing a furious game of table tennis in one direction, while in the other, a whole squad of (supervised) small children is playing some complicated game that involves kicking coloured balls around and Squealing Very Loudly with each kick.

I sink into that blue chair, prop up my feet on the log.

Sitting there, I realize that I’m almost at the end of a False Creek walk and I haven’t yet brought crows into the story. Which I usually do.

So now I will.

See? Crows on my toes!

Framed in sunlight.

The Charm of the Unexpected

4 January 2020 – Given the city I’m in, I expect rain: I don’t get any. Given the city streets I plan to walk, I do not expect a bunny trail: I get one.

You see? It’s a walk full of the unexpected. None of it spectacular, I hasten to add, but each moment showing someone’s personality and engagement with the street and the community. I discover one little oh-look-at-that after another. I am charmed.

Bunny trail comes late in the walk, but the discoveries do start with a “B” as I cross East 16th and continue south on Ontario Street.

B-for-Buddha. (Or so I, in ignorance, think. I’ll be grateful to be corrected.) Very peaceful, not very large and calling no particular attention to itself, tucked among the fallen leaves & tufted grasses in someone’s street-corner garden.

Another block, another sculpture. Also among fallen leaves in someone’s garden, but there the resemblance ends.

From peaceful Buddha, to pugnacious crow.

Then, in a little corner parkette, community notices and a book exchange. Splendid idea; not-so-splendid protection from the elements.

From across the street, I watch an elderly couple study the collection (much larger than the bit I’ve shown) and select two to carry away with them. Books can be dried, after all, and a few ripples in the pages are really neither here nor there.

Another block, another pleasure: my first 2021 sighting of a street-side child’s swing.

Half a block farther south again, and my first 2021 sighting of spring bulbs poking up from the ground.

(This is the kind of image that Vancouverites love to send to snow-bound eastern friends, January-March. I promise you that it is invariably done with a smirk, and, having received such photos while in Toronto, I vowed never to send any once I lived here. Oops. Maybe I just did…)

Moving right along!

And in this walk I do move right along, farther south and farther west for a while and then I curlicue my way eastward again and find myself on James Street somewhere south of East 28th. By now I am ready to start heading north for home, so I walk on down James.

And find myself in a cul-de-sac.

And discover … the Bunny Trail.

Capital letters, City Parks Dept. plaque, paved path through the grass, and all.

Could there be a more wonderful way to escape a cul-de-sac? I wait for a woman coming westward with toddler & Labradoodle to clear the path, spend a few moments scratching the ‘Doodle behind his ears (his leash at full extension) and then take the path eastward.

And discover, if not flesh & blood bunnies on the Trail, a few pebble bunnies, tucked in among the tree roots.

Out the other end of the Trail, and pop, just like that, I’m at East 27th & Quebec. Where I see this quietly beautiful row of 1912 early-Craftsman houses, the Shirley Houses.

I’m able to identify them for you because I’m able to read signs.

I turn around and, smack on the opposite corner, see this interesting-looking little apartment building. Some degree of vintage, surely?

Neither then nor later can I find out anything about it, but I don’t really care. I just zero in on the corner juxtaposition of Art Deco (probably?) tile work with a very contemporary poster.

A passing couple exclaim in delight. We agree, from safe distance, that Dr. Henry’s words have become our provincial mantra and deserve their place on this highly unofficial version of the B.C. coat of arms. Then on they go and on I go — and then Quebec Street seems to disappear on me, so I find myself walking east on East 24th.

Where I bump into another offering of the unexpected. You might call it, the last in a bumper crop of the unexpected.

Well, anyway, a bumper.

Canine wisdom, to guide us through the year.

Fazes, Flatz & Catz

9 December 2020 – I am zed-obsessed, you will have just noticed, and it’s all because my feet turn right instead of left and send me on a tour of Zedland. (As in, South Flatz-with-a-zed.)

But before the Flatz, a face. (I’m back to proper spelling. Aren’t you glad? A little cute goes a long way.)

This image is just where it should be, in an alley betwixt garbage bin & hydro pole, and I like it a lot. Partly for the message (“It’s okay / to let things / feel a little / bit easier”), mostly for the line strength and enigmatic stare. The power of this graphic brings to mind the face by Toronto street artist Anser that became a city icon.

See what I mean? Not the same, but reminiscent.

I see the face again as I enter an alley down between East 2nd & East 1st, right where my feet turn me right instead of left — unexpectedly toward Emily Carr University and away from my intended visit to False Creek. Eyes even more powerful this time, framed by that rusty railing. (The artist signs as DATA, and I can find nothing helpful online.)

On East 1st now… and yet more faces! Each one presumably giving you a reason to drink Red Truck Beer.

And now, closing in on Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I hit the Zed.

South Flatz will be an entirely legit and valuable campus of high-tech buildings close to Emily Carr. The branding, however, meant to establish creative, street-smart creds for the development, has drawn heavy sarcasm online: “spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s cool!” snipes one review; “so hip it hurts!” I have to confess, my own lip curls at the sight.

But my humour is restored when, in the midst of that glossy line-up of images, I spot Sir Wilfrid Laurier Cat.

What do you mean, you don’t see any resemblance to our country’s 7th prime minister? Look at the collar.

Another cat, but this one more Parking Lot than Parliament Hill. He’s on a service pole in the parking lots stretching on east from Emily Carr. Train tracks to the other side and, here, trucks and tents associated with location shooting for a new documentary film: Managing the Pandemic Risk. (Sigh.)

Also in the parking lot, more faces and — perhaps — another cat. Faces on the back of that colourful van, showing the eponymous Two Nice Guys ready to move your belongings; Perhaps Cat scrawled on that white van right-forefront.

And on I go, as far as Clark Drive, and then south (uphill, pant-pant) until I turn west again on East 10th.

Where I meet two more cats.

In a manner of speaking. Black cat high; gold cat low; neither deigning to acknowledge the other or passers-by. Well, they can’t, can they, because they’re not real. But the behaviour is real …

And just when I think I’m fresh out of cats, and into Starry Trees instead …

I get another cat. In among the branches. White polar bear on the left, more vivid, but red cat nicely visible as he prowls above that star.

Above them all, tucked in the crotch of the tree, a fairy door and a heart with the first phrase of Dr. Henry’s mantra.

“Be kind.”

Nothing to do with faces or cats or Flatz or the letter zed — but always appropriate.

The Street of Good Cheer

3 December 2020 – I’ll get to Vancouver, 2020. First we need to visit the New France colony of Port-Royale, 1606.

What with scurvy and one thing and another, the colonists have had a rough few years, so wily old Samuel de Champlain invents a morale-booster: l’Ordre de Bon Temps. The Order of Good Cheer.

Each member in turn takes responsibility for the evening meal and, as that day’s chief steward, leads the procession that starts the meal and the song, dance and what-have-you that complete it.

Jollity ensues.

Meanwhile, back here in 2020 downtown Vancouver, I am not jolly. I am grumpy. Petulant, even. I stomp my way south & east of my home base, just daring the day to try to cheer me up.

And then I hit East 15th & St. Catherines, more or less, and forget my sulks long enough to enjoy the sunshine glow on that house on the right, and the comfy, relaxed attitude of the streetscape in general.

I head east on East 15th, first time I’ve been here — already a recommendation — and begin to see evidence that this is a kid-friendly neighbourhood. Kid-busy as well.

They play, and they communicate.

Love for a tree, for example …

love for frontline workers …

even love for passing motorists.

They’re right: Windsor St. does a serious wobble as it crosses over.

I do my own little wobble, heading slightly south on Windsor to check out the cows and flowers …

before heading back to East 15th, where I crane my neck at another expression of love: a suet offering for local birds.

Kid stuff gives way to this truly beautiful banner fixed to the street lamp (and no, I found nothing to explain or identify it) …

and again, a bit farther east, to this equally beautiful work in stained glass.

I finally abandon East 15th at Glen Drive — but get to take with me one last perfect image. It is the most battered, chipped, kitschy and completely adorable Squirrel Sentinel in the universe.

By now, I am entirely cheerful. Thank you, Street of Good Cheer.

  • 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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