The Art of Quote-Unquote

22 June 2017 – It began with an email from my friend Sally, off kickin’ up her cowgirl heels in Alberta, sharing a quote she read on the washroom wall in the Bear Paw Café in Jasper:

Off to the woods I go

To lose my mind

And find my soul

The washroom scribbler helpfully added attribution: Scottish-American naturalist John Muir (1838-1914),  whose poetry is very findable online. As well as on washroom walls.

All of which got me thinking again about quotations, and how we use them, and respond to them, in public space.

A thought process much stimulated by the tail end of a long walk into/through/out of Stanley Park, ending in downtown Vancouver, where walking companion & friend Frances pointed out some landmark buildings, including the soaring Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

It was sufficiently intriguing to pull me back downtown the next day, solo, to look more closely.

Enroute, walking north on Hamilton St., I did a head-snap at this line of text on an otherwise unremarkable little building.

Confession. I originally read the text as: “Unlimited Growth Increases the Dividend.

This is richly ironic, given that artist Kathryn Walter’s 1990 installation is meant to decry rampant capitalism, and honour Del Mar Inn owner George Riste, who refused to sell out to BC Hydro and continued to offer clean accommodation at modest prices.

A major contrast, in scale and price point, with the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, at Cordova & Burrard!

But look. They have something in common.

Text.

This time in two-foot-high letters, Helvetica Bold (I love that detail), the 2010 work of British artist Liam Gillick. Repeated, again and again, between floors 5 & 22, dividing the hotel portion from the 25 additional residential floors above.

A single sentence, wrapping two sides of the structure.

lying on top of a building

the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street

I really love this, even if the unspaced letters make it hard to read.

Frances & I spent perilous long moments mid-street, puzzling it out. (Changing traffic signals & some vestigial instinct for survival caused us to scurry to the sidewalk in time.) I am more prudent on my return visit.

Safely back home again, I think about another artist who makes brilliant use of text in some of his public pieces — Toronto’s Eldon Garnet. A favourite example: his 1995 Time & A Clock installation on Queen St. East, which includes this adaptation of a Heracleitus quote on the façade of the 1911 bridge over the Don River.

Sometimes, words & images fight it out for supremacy.

Sometimes, though, the fit works perfectly.

 

 

 

Eyes on Granville

18 June 2017 – I’m out for the South Granville Art Walk, who could resist, with balloons, hoop-la, wine & cheese & what-have-you up & down the gallery-laden stretch of Granville between W. 15th & W. 6th or so, where the street pretty well becomes the bridge over False Creek.

I walk across from Cambie, virtuously resisting the pull of the Tandem Bike Café enroute, and launch my walk — my Walk! — right at West 15th.

With eyes on Granville, courtesy of the city traffic signal box at the corner. (I think that’s what these boxes house. Anyway, many feature photo-wrap artwork, and I’m all in favour.)

My own eyes equally wide, I start prowling my way north toward the water. Most of the galleries are closer to the water, so I waft in & out of some home décor shops as I go, cruise through Indigo, find everything very classy but resistible … I don’t even reach for my camera until I’m halfway north.

And then it’s for a map.

But a darn classy map.

And, for a newbie like me, darn useful as well.

There I am, I say to myself: I live above the “u” in Vancouver, close to that first short inlet of water (False Creek). At the moment, I am above the “c,” also closing in on False Creek.

Near-ish to that map, just north of West Broadway, I visit Kardosh Projects, with an exhibition of two artists I hadn’t previously known but like a lot, especially the brooding landscapes by Edward Epp.

Then I head down an alley, not expecting much, but look! what a reward.

Very loopy indeed, it’s the back-door silliness of Brian Scott Fine Art, so that’s good fun.

Then it’s on north another block, left turn on West 6th, I visit one good-taste (& very jammed) gallery and then into the building’s central courtyard, because I want to find the pousette gallery, which I know is somewhere upstairs at rooftop level.

So I’m elevator-hunting, but I get waylaid by the building’s architecture. I don’t yet know it bears the sleek name of WSix, I just know I really like the sleek lines — all concrete, copper, steel & strong angles.

 

I admire a door. They’re all identical. They are wonderful.

I tear myself away, get in the elevator — and find I’m admiring the elevator wall.

I do visit the pousette gallery, and it’s worth the visit. It is. I just find I’m more taken by the building that houses it.

Back outside, now on the fourth floor, I pay attention to the exterior catwalk that gives each unit its own direct front door. Vancouver’s relatively benign climate makes this design feature practicable, and how attractive it is.

Especially when, on the top level, you see through to the Coast Range mountains!

Then I also see the staircase. Perfect! I’ll walk down.

It takes me past a watchful dog-in-the-window.

Which reminds me of a photo I took of another dog-in-the-window — one I saw days earlier, over on Oak St. near W 13th.

Are they not unnervingly alike? (Yes, yes, there are also differences, I grant you that.)

My Art Walk began with a traffic signal box; I’m happy to see it can end with one as well.

The official upper-case-W Walk now over, I lower-case-w walk myself south/east toward home.

With a latte stop in the Tandem Bike Café! You knew I would.

Smoochers & Strange Dogs

7 June 2017 – You’ll have to imagine the smoochers, but I’ll give you Smoochers Corner.  My gift to you, courtesy of a cheerful young man named Aaron, whom I met at the foot of the steps down from Jean Beaty Park to Burrard Inlet a couple of days ago.

Turns out he occasionally leads tours around the neighbourhood, here in Point Grey, and when he learns how much I love to walk & explore, he tells me about Smoochers Corner. Just down the road, he says, at the top of the Dunbar Steps.

He jumps this-way, that-way, to demonstrate what I’ll see.

And I do.

See? This-way for Him; that-way for Her; and smooch-smooch.

I giggle. And I remember the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum art installation I saw enroute, and giggle again.

This particular installation, Vancouver Novel by Brazilian artist João Loureiro, consists of a rotating cycle of 23 LED-light sentences. The sentence I happen to catch seems tailor-made for smoochers.

I’m on a roll, wandering daily around town, beginning to sniff out some haunts. Still with the wide eyes of the new-comer.

So I tilt my head in wonder as I emerge from a VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) lecture yesterday evening, beguiled by the soft air & golden light of mid-evening. It’s not so much the buildings, which neatly frame Hornby Street, it’s the great plummeting arrow of sky-space in-between.

I play my positive-space/negative-space game, blinking my attention back & forth.

Less esoteric today, out revisiting the pathways here on the south side of False Creek. This green space was a haunt of mine while visiting town last winter, how much more agreeable in warm spring sunshine!

I’m in Hinge Park, I go hip-hop across the big stones to the little island just off-shore, I follow the path, I peer between the trees.

Tree art! Woodpecker Dead Tree art! No woodpeckers in sight, mind you, just the evidence they leave behind.

And then, farther east, I’m prowling public waterfront space in Olympic Village … and this time the birds are visible. Bird on bird.

I know that’s a pigeon up top. The big guy underneath? Let’s call him a sparrow.

A latte stop by the water, and I start heading inland. Up to West 1st Av. and Manitoba, where once again I admire one of the City’s attractive sewer lids. Except this one has a tiny companion.

I look closely at the mini-version: “Tread Lightly,” it says; “Ship Yard.” I’d like to know more. I am mildly, but pleasurably, frustrated. These things can be learned…

Right there, too: an art installation. No plaque that I can find, no artist ID, no explanation. But it looks to me like mounds of salt.

And I’m right, I must be right. The building, now a restaurant & bar, also bears its historic name, “Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd.” The little street next to the building is — of course — Salt St.

On up Manitoba, up to West 3rd. I glance casually eastward as I wait for the light to change.

Look!

Oh, if only the doors had been closed. Oh, never mind. It is quite wonderful. I don’t know why Greenworks Building Supply wanted street-art murals, but thank you, I am all in favour.

I remember Rolf’s dictum: “When you see something interesting in front of you, there will be something equally interesting right behind you.” I spin on my heel.

Right behind me is Eddie’s Hang-Up Display Ltd. I’ve been doing my little jig of street-art delight under the cool gaze of Eddie’s Ladies.

That belly tag reads, “Wigs sold separately.” (Just FYI.)

And I zig, and I zag, and in the course of events (after a long, tempting riffle through Mountain Equipment Co-op on West Broadway) I find myself climbing on up Columbia St., just north of West 10th.

I am admiring the fine old wooden homes, one obligingly with a heritage plaque. It explains that, in 1895, it was the Bloomfield Studio, home to Henry Bloomfield and two sons, the city’s foremost stained glass artisans — responsible, among other accomplishments, for the windows of the provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria.

Coming close enough to read the plaque brings me close enough to read another tidy little sign. This one very much of our own day.

Well??? What? Three ears? Two tails? Amazing skill with a mouth organ? Armed with a sling-shot? Alas, he is nowhere in sight, and we’ll never know.

So we can each imagine our own favourite Strange Dog, and be happy.

 

 

 

All the Colours of a Very Grey Day

2 June 2017 – And to top it all off, we are Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, Louise & I. (West Point Grey, to be precise.) Louise is sussing out the area for some art classes she plans to offer; I am just plain sussing out Vancouver, all the happier to do so with a friend.

We jump off the bus at Sasamat & West 10th, and start walking. After a string of sunny days, we’re back to fitful grey, threats of rain. See if we care — we are booted & jacketed accordingly.

In & out of a few pretty shops (upscale neighbourhoods have pretty shops), admiring as we go, then into a café for something we not only admire, but want.

Coffee! We buy it, we drink it, we laugh at the cluster of signs. Especially this one …

Good.

Now, having followed steps 1 through 3, we are fully awake.

And ready to properly admire the vivid lavender fields outside this West-10th Av. home.

Extravagant street-corner displays are typical of the area, so are cottage-y homes.

We walk north on Trimble St., circle through Trimble Park, head back south toward West 10th again, which takes us past the West Point Grey Lawn Bowling Club …

a study in soft greens, except for the brilliant red of one gentleman’s jacket.

A red promptly echoed in the poppies of an adjacent street-corner display.

Echoed again, when we reach West 10th & tumble into Urban Yarns, one of the city’s destination wool shops.

Red, and every other colour!

We haven’t come in to buy wool. We are drawn by colour & texture. We pad softly about the shop, stroking alpaca here, merino there, silk …

We climb the stairs.

But finally go back out into the misty grey day.

Where yet more colour awaits us.

Even Louise, who knows her city and its Asian food offerings, is startled. DoDo Sushi, we agree, here we come! Your newest dish will be our lunch.

Along with miso soup, beakers of green tea, and a shared bowl of steamed edamame, that is.

It is all wonderful. We enjoy our lunch. Just as I enjoy my later peek into the kitchen …

though I do take that curtain to be telling me to Keep Out, and I obey.

We play jump-on / jump-off with the bus on our way back to the centre of town, bailing at Alma St. for a quick visit to Folk Art Interiors. It has some faux-folk art, but not much; most of the stock, crammed floor to ceiling, wall to wall, is the real thing.

An old record-player, for example, with the Eagles’ One of These Nights ready to spin.

And a beautifully worn old step-stool, exactly the right look & scale to display a pair of child-sized bright red shoes.

Then Louise & I take our adult-sized shoes back out to the bus stop, and head for home.

 

Chinatown-Plus-Plus

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

We both have a good time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our route takes us past the gloriously named …

Ovaltine Cafe.

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

Clearly, more research is required.

 

 

The Sights at Silly O’Clock

25 May 2017 – I’m still waking up at “Silly O’Clock,” my body not entirely convinced it has left British Standard Time & must now respond to Pacific Daylight Time.

Daylight indeed! I bounce out of bed at 5:27 a.m., any time-zone frustrations immediately dissolved in the splendour of the dawning day.

From my balcony, I have an unimpeded view of the mountains that frame North Vancouver. Called the North Shore Mountains — and what could be more logical? — they are a subset of the Pacific Ranges, in turn the southern end of the Coast Mountains that run up the B.C. coast and right on through Alaska.

Both Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour are in that line-up — Grouse, which I’ve visited by gondola ride, and Seymour, which I know only slightly better but at least with my feet on some of its trails. My friends Sally & Owen live on the last street of homes part-way up the mountain, their back yard right at the provincial park boundary.

Still mesmerized by the luminous early light, I drop my gaze to include Cambie Street below, here on my (south) side of the Burrard Inlet.

Vancouver City Hall clock glows in the dawn light, the most elegant use of neon I think I’ve ever seen.  But then, the whole building is elegant. Completed in late 1936, height of the Depression, it was both a make-work project and a hopeful symbol of an expanding city, with better times to come.

I think of it as Art Deco, yet architects Townley and Matheson made it more contemporary than that: the design blends the vertical, ornamental lines of Art Deco with the simpler, more horizontal lines of Art Moderne, just then beginning to emerge.

My thoughts shift from architecture to coffee.

I am just turning back into the house when I hear a great clatter, some thunks and grunts and … HONKKK.

Back outside! No far-flung gaze now, it’s close-up time as I peer north-westish onto a neighbour’s balcony.

Canada geese. Branta canadensis. Known, says Audubon, for their ability to adapt, “using different habitats in different regions…” Including, it would appear, Vancouver balconies.

I stare, stunned. They march around, with the bobbing heads and soft belly-grunts that mark curiosity and exploration. They check out the patio furniture, bump against the barbecue, peer through the glass into the kitchen.

Well, this is silly. Even for Silly O’Clock, it’s really silly. I rethink my plan to leave balcony doors wide open, to admit fresh morning air. Do I want a Canada goose in my kitchen, asking for toast?

I close the door. I, again, turn away. I, again, hear flutter-thunk-grunt. I, again, turn back & look.

Now one is exploring the ledge beyond my own railing. First southward, and then … back to the north.

He is quite splendid, silhouetted like that against the rising sun.

Even so, I am pleased when he abruptly loses interest, and flies away.

 

 

The Path to Wigan Pier

18 May 2017 – Another borrowed title, this time slightly amended. George Orwell called his 1936 book The Road to Wigan Pier, using the pier to symbolize the region’s industrial decline. My cousin Jane (right) & I, plus her husband Rick, are on the path alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, walking our way to that famous pier.

Walking our way along a very short stretch indeed, from Top Lock to Bottom Lock in the Wigan Flight of locks, which accounts for 23 of the canal’s 91 locks. This Flight allows boats to rise (or drop) 200 vertical feet in a distance of just over 3 miles.

Work on the canal began in 1771 & was completed some 45 years later, a total of 127 miles, all of it dug by hand. The canal linked with other canals, a fast means of transport for its day, its barges carrying produce — e.g. coal, limestone, woollens — throughout the region.

Today the canal is for pleasure, maintained in part by volunteers, funded by both public & private sources.

We walk under graceful arched bridges …

pass fishermen by canal’s edge …

and read fingerboards.

I spy our destination, Wigan Pier, on the lower left finger and chirp to Rick, “Only 7 minutes away!” He replies, “By bicycle.” Ohhh. Oops.

And, of course, we see the narrow boats that have replaced the old industrial barges.

Sometimes they are right in a lock, here twinned and riding low …

and sometimes they are tied up.

Solar panels, I am told, are not unusual these days.

We stop to read a red metal detail map by the path.

We’ve come from Top Lock, well off the bottom left corner; we are are now near Bottom Lock (# 9, near the bottom left corner).

We will now walk on to Pottery Changeline Bridge (# 6), turn left along the canal and, — at #2 —  finally reach oyr goal: Wigan Pier.

Here it is! Wigan Pier.

Really. Those up-tipped metal stumps. That’s it.

In a manner of speaking.

Orwell wrote dolefully: “Even the place where it used to stand is now no longer certain.” A plaque explains why. In 1929, 7 years before his book was published, the pier had been sold for scrap. What we see now is a reproduction, created in 1986 by students of Wigan and Leeds College.

So: it’s a repro.

But still worth our respect, and our time. It represents one of the piers, or “tipplers,” that used to dot the canal.They were points where tubs of coal would be run down tracks from the collieries, to hit a jetty and “tipple” (topple over), emptying their load into a waiting barge in the canal itself.

The contents of each tub had been shaken & sorted by Pit Brow Lasses, working in teams of six. They did it all by hand, 12 hours a day. “Reet ‘ard work…” as one described it, back in 1880. “Our muscles are bigger than most men’s.”

At night they would soak their hands in cold tea, to soothe the cracks in the skin.

Jane, Rick and I head off to a tearoom. We too will seek out tea — hot tea, though, to soothe our throats.

 

The Right Attitude to Rain

16 May 2017 – A borrowed title, so thank you Alexander McCall Smith: not just for the book bearing this title in your Sunday Philosophy Club series, but for the others set in Edinburgh and of course for the Botswana series (beginning with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) that first enchanted us all.

The McCall Smith title comes to mind as we begin to explore Dartmoor and East Devon with dear friends who live in the area. Sally & I left Guernsey in blazing sunshine. Here in Devon … well, it has occasional sunny moments, but, mostly, it rains. Mist to drizzle to rain to steam to drizzle to rain to mist …

McCall Smith says: “The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain — just as the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.” We have rain, but we have so much more as well.

Consider our outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, two towns on the English Channel coast in East Devon.

The weather is blustery and capricious. Our host friend bemoans the lack of sunshine. I insist the weather is “atmospheric.” She thinks I am being polite. I am not. I find this weather immensely more interesting, more stimulating, more … well … atmospheric, than sunshine could ever be.

Boats in this sign-posted Fishermen’s Area in Sidmouth gleam in the mist; towering red cliffs, formed in the Triassic era (icons of the region’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), loom as dramatic backdrop to the east.

We walk along the ocean front, just as wind-tossed to the west as to the east …

and then turn toward town.

The beach front is lined with hotels, legacy of the Georgian & Victorian passion for coastal resorts in the 18th & 19th centuries …

imposing collectively as streetscape, and rewarding for their individual detailing as well.

This 1891 scrollwork, for example.

And on into town.

Sally & I want fish & chips. We do. We are unapologetic. Occasionally we acknowledge we are tourists & we just want to do a tourist-y thing. Like smothering chips in malt vinegar, and knocking back the breaded cod.

Fortunately, our friend happens to love a good face-full of fish & chips herself, from time to time, so she guides us to her own favourite spot. Yum.

After, we stroll the town, tempting ourselves in the shops.

It is very pretty, very tempting, but I spend my time looking, not buying. Enjoying everything I see, including the traditional red telephone box and red pillar letter-box.

The pillar box makes me laugh: I remember listening to one French tourist tell another, on a bus in Guernsey, how she eagerly wrote lots of postcards on her first visit to the island and posted them in the nearest pillar box — only to discover later she had posted them in a round refuse bin!

Back to the car. Our next stop is away from the coast in Otterton, and then back to the coast, to the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, where the estuary provides a significant reed bed and grazing marsh for wildlife.

Ocean-front signage is very 1930s sunshine-cheery.

Today’s reality requires a right attitude to rain.

Mist, wind, drizzle; everything gleams.

I am enchanted by the beach pebbles, and later learn they are as ancient as the cliffs. Sandstones, formed some 400 million years ago in what we now call Brittany, eroded over time and were transported first by Triassic-era rivers and later by the ocean itself to their present location.

Steps lead to the beach at various points along the oceanfront.

I walk among the pebbles. Crunch! Crunch!

I fill both jacket pockets with them, intent on shape & size & colour. (Later, I donate almost all to my friend’s garden; only one will come home to Vancouver with me for my own balcony garden.)

Time to turn back. I pause a moment, enjoy that line of beach huts, still boarded up, awaiting summer.

Meanwhile, they are bright with springtime rain.

 

Gorse, of Course

11 May 2017 – We don’t have gorse in mind as we board the Sark Belle for our day trip to this historic, enchanting little (5 1/2 sq km.) island member of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

We’re thinking wildflowers, walks, sweeping views, and narrow roads & lanes free of cars but alive with tractors & tractor-drawn carts (tractors being the legal car substitute), bicycles, horses, and “shank’s mare” (leg power).

It all makes me think of my childhood summers on Dorval Island near Montreal, and my year as an adult living on Algonquin Island, one of the two residential islands in Toronto Harbour.

But, back there, we haven’t the old, old stone homes and out-buildings …

or the fingerboards.

Sally & I study this one, and follow the fingers for La Coupée and Little Sark. The former — a 91-m. narrow track with 100-m. drops either side — leads to the latter, the nearly-separate southern section of the island.

Our goal is simply to walk — to breathe the fresh air, listen to the cascades of bird song, enjoy the hedgerows, the sweeps of fields & cliffs, the wildflowers.

We walk pretty steadily through Greater Sark, heading for Little Sark, and then abruptly pull up — like everybody else — at the sight of La Coupée.

We’ve been told that for most of its history, the track had no railings at all, that in those days small children crossed on hands & knees on days of high wind, and that — as a plaque now notes — German POWs build the present railing under British supervision immediately after World War II.

You peer over the edge down into La Grande Grève, you appreciate the sturdy protection.

Another 15-20 minutes down-island, and we stop for lunch in a tea garden. (No latte, not this time: good food, sparkling water, shrubs, flowers & bird song instead.)

We know we have to walk all the way back up-island again, we’ll have a ferry to catch, but we can’t resist a side-trip while here. It’s a 15-minute walk to either Venus Pool or the Silver Mines, promises a brochure. We ask directions, and we’re on our way down the appropriate lane.

And through the appropriate farm gate.

That’s a ventilation shaft for the one-time silver mines straight ahead, one of several that still dot the area. They are a handsome, craggy sight in a sweeping, craggy area …

softened by great rolling swaths of gorse.

It is everywhere.

Ulex europaeus, if you want to get scientific about it, an evergreen shrub with brilliant yellow flowers that provides shelter for insects and birds. Tough & tenacious, say the descriptions — potentially invasive, in fact. Yes, that adjective does come to mind.

We go not quite all the way down to the water, then head back to the main road and continue up-island.

We really do want to get ourselves prudently back onto Greater Sark, within striking range of the ferry dock, but another diversion looms.

Well, more for Sally than for me.

She is a horsewoman, I am not. I watch from slightly afar as she horse-whispers the animal from a skittish distance right up to the gate. I watch him relax toward her hand, bend his head, make contact.

It’s a lovely moment.

Then, hip-hop, we’re back across La Coupée — and, yes! with time to spare for another diversion. This one westward toward the Gouliot Headland. Down more lanes, past the Duck Pond (with Mallards paddling about, to justify the name), a sideways slide past a cart heaped with tree trimmings, through another cattle gate (opened & carefully closed behind us) …

and we’re positioned for more sweeping views to the cliffs and water edge.

With lots more gorse!

Gorse lines the hedgerows as we return to the main village, walk past its shops; I point out the café where, during my visit three years ago, I shared a table with an aging lady who informed me that she was the last baby delivered by the German doctor on that island before the surrender of the occupying forces. (“One year, at the Liberation Day celebrations, I was introduced to Prince Charles!”)

We take the pretty little woodland path from the village down to the harbour, and then the tunnel through the rock to the harbour now in use.

Back on Guernsey, back up the Constitution Steps — all 3,037 of them (OK,I made that up) — to our self-catering apartment in La Madeleine, and we collapse.

I check the pedometer app on my iPhone. Congratulations! it cries: you’ve walked 17.2 km today.

Yesss!

 

Donkey Island

8 May 2017 – The taxi driver cries, “Oh, I’m a donkey!” and then, via the rear-view mirror, checks out my reaction with amused eyes. I have just asked if he is native to Guernsey, or an in-comer. Will I know that he has just answered my question?

Yes. Got it. He is local.

Jersey islanders (boo, hiss!) first hung the tag on Guernsey residents, no compliment intended. Guernseymen decided it fit them to a tee: tough, stubborn, strong, and, even so, sweet. No wonder there is this sculpture of mother & foal opposite the Town Church in St. Peter Port, and donkey images on every tourist item you can imagine.

My friend Sally & I are starting a UK holiday here on the Channel Island of Guernsey — but we quickly discover that, in fact, our UK holiday won’t start until we return to the English mainland. Guernsey gives its name to the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which also includes Alderney, Sark and other smaller islands); Jersey comprises the Bailiwick of Jersey; they are both Crown dependencies, remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and not part of the UK.

The history, you will now rightly conclude, is complicated, and rife with political take-overs, from pre-historic eras to the Romans, and on from there. The most recent take-over was in living memory and, thankfully, cut short: Nazi forces occupied the Channel islands during World War II.

As it happens, we will be here for Liberation Day celebrations (9 May, tomorrow), but there is much else to celebrate, at all times.

The sea, of course, the busy ports (here, a section of St. Peter Port Harbour at low tide) …

harbour walkways accessible only at low tide …

and the homes, walls and steps that seem to erupt from the very ground beneath them.

As indeed they do: the island is rich in granite. Charmingly, wildflowers erupt as well, filling minute crannies & softening the rock face.

Sally leans in for a closer look, as we walk down Rue Berthelot.

“Down” is literally true, by the way! The capital St. Peter Port steps vertically up from the sea. Whether you choose a narrow road or one of the pedestrian staircases, you & your leg muscles are in for a work-out.

An early visit to the Tourist Information Centre pays off: we snag the last few seats on the next day’s “Old Number Eleven” tour — the last in a series on offer during the month-long Heritage events, due to culminate on Liberation Day.

The Number Eleven was a bus route, and we join a lot of nostalgic “Donkeys” on the 1954 Albion Victor bus that will follow the old route out to Portelet at the south-west corner of the island.

It’s a great stopping-point for visitors as well, because from here we can also visit the Star Fort at Pezeries Point and the Table des Pions. We enjoy both, but are most touched by something else: a rusted, badly eroded and deformed airplane propeller propped against the fence overlooking the bay.

On 11 June 1944, the German occupiers shot down a B17 Flying Fortress that was presumably returning to England from a bombing raid on France. Eleven men lost their lives. Much, much later, a fisherman hauled up this airplane remnant with his catch. The paper in front of it, sheathed in protective plastic, reads: “… You sacrificed your young lives for our freedom. The people of Guernsey thank you. Rest in Peace.”

That’s not litter, to the right of the propeller; it is just the latest in an intermittent, but continuing, series of floral tributes, offered anonymously.

Old Number Eleven now shakes free of her one-time route, and we are treated to a near-circumnavigation of the island. Next stopping point: L’Ancresse Bay in the Parish of Vale, toward the north-west. More military history — this time scattered throughout a golf course, and of much earlier vintage.

This is L’Ancresse Tower No. 7, one of 15 loophole towers built 1778-1779 as part of the island defence system against a possible French invasion. Why a possible invasion? The Americans declared independence in 1776, the French allied themselves with the rebel cause, and the British Crown not unreasonably thought it might lead to an attempt to retake the Channel islands.

As it happens, it didn’t. Today pigeons inhabit the towers, and golfers do their best to shoot around them. (Still … would a shot in one loophole and out another qualify as a hole-in-one?)

All that was yesterday. Today Sally & I follow up with another bus ride, and another dip into the history of the German occupation. This time it is a regular modern bus on its current route, depositing us in Forest, where we walk past the ancient parish church, Ste Marguerite de la Foret (its earliest parts dating from the 13th c.), to attend a lecture in the German Occupation Museum on Guernsey’s resistance heroes.

 

Pre-lecture, we wander country lanes (“ruettes”), admiring the riotous abundance of wildflowers & woodland, and the simple elegance of the buildings.

Then into the Museum.

It is an informed, personal & touching talk, given by the man who created and runs the museum. It is not the history of the war, or even the history of the Occupation on Guernsey; it is the human story of three individuals, and why they mattered. But through these three stories, we feel the larger history.

Even the little Tea Room contains memorabilia.

Tomorrow is 9 May, 2017.

The island will celebrate, and Sally & I will be there.

  • 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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