Alley Art 1-2-3

25 February 2022 – There’s art, and there’s art. And there’s art.

1 – Window art

Jennifer Chernecki

… with a baleful stare.

2 – Wall art

Makoto, VMF 2016

… with a pointed beak.

3 – Objet d’art

Time, just… time

… with accessories.

First, standing there, I saw the rust. Now I see the tire. The perfectly placed tire!

Sun + Double Digits

12 February 2022 – It hits 11C this sunny Saturday — double digits, and it’s only mid-February! I break out my summer Tilley (hat), leave my coat behind, and head for False Creek. I am giddy with the promise of spring.

I’m not the only one. “Giddy” pretty well defines the mood all around me for my entire walk.

There are preening Canada geese and munching human youth by this condo water feature just east of the Creek …

and humans of every age lolling, their bodies at ease with the temperature, as they watch balls carom off whirlygigs and springs go spronnnnggggg in this Rube Goldberg sculpture outside Science World. (I am particularly taken with the eclectic style of the little girl on the scooter: lavender princess-ballerina net skirt and a bumblebee helmet.)

The playground next to Science World, with its child-friendly crushed rubber surface, is alive with leaping, squealing youngsters.

An Aquabus sets out to zigzag its way, dock by dock, west to Granville Island …

and four guys keep four basketballs busy on the court under the north-side access ramps to the Cambie Bridge.

I walk on a bit farther, past the western end of Coopers Park where I again note how much “higher-rise” and marina-dense the north side of the Creek is, compared to the south …

then turn back east. Thanks to low tide, Jerry Pethick’s Time Top sculpture is fully visible.

Four shells and one gull: the humans paddle like crazy, but the gull is still in the lead.

Down in its final curve, where False Creek is revealed to be no creek after all, a little girl adds just one more stone to the top of the stack that she has been so carefully constructing — with daddy so patiently standing by as she tests her skills. In the distance, a more exuberant family tableau: everybody is throwing stones into the water, not balancing them.

Two riders are about to pass the electronic eye on the cycle path as it dips behind Science World. When I arrived earlier, a read-out told me that 2790 cyclists used the path yesterday (midnight to midnight), and the current count for today was 800 and change. Now, a few hours later, it has already topped 1700.

Assorted buskers vie for attention. My favourites are these ukulele players, who take turns playing and being part of the audience. A moment ago, the man (right) in the black vest and watch cap was strumming away; now he is tapping his foot and smiling encouragement.

And I head home, also smiling and feeling encouraged. Time to pull out more spring clothing! (Oh, all right, still too soon. But wow, it’s coming.)

Rules of Behaviour

8 February 2022 – In this time of shameful tumult, it strikes me that the rules we teach a tantrum-throwing toddler are also pretty well the basic rules of democracy.

Vancouver City Hall
  1. Use your words.
  2. Use your indoor voice.
  3. Listen as well as speak.
  4. Respect others.
  5. Accept that you don’t always get what you want.

Geometry

1 February 2022 – I said this about the Burrard Bridge some years back and it’s still true: I stare at a bridge and I think, this is geometry made visible.

I’m on the north side of False Creek, under access ramps for the Cambie Street bridge. I look up and there it is, right before my eyes, visible and tangible. Geometry.

If that seems more than a tad artsy-precious, I can point to sober old Encyclopedia Britannica for validation. Geometry, it tells us, is “the branch of mathematics concerned with the shape of individual objects, spatial relationships among various objects, and the properties of the surrounding space.”

Shapes and relationships!

Here, for example…

and here (with some bike geometry thrown in to keep the bridge company)…

and also here, marching south to cross False Creek.

I turn back north, then angle my footsteps to go spiral my way up the pedestrian/cyclist access ramp on this eastern side of the bridge.

Oh.

Right! Time to find the pedestrian access for the other, west side of the bridge — which I haven’t used in a couple of years, but know is sprawled at some distance from this side.

Fortunately, I am capable of following arrows, when sufficiently large and vivid.

Even when they require me to turn left and then turn left again.

And here I finally am, heading south mid-bridge, with all these parallel lines yearning to converge at infinity, should we grant them sufficient time and space.

But we don’t.

I am soon dog-legging my way back down to ground just as a runner starts his upward climb.

Street-side, signage tells me what the closures are all about. Text explains the need for structural repairs and seismic upgrades …

while bold red lines trace the ramps, the bridge, and their fit with each other and with the cityscape either side of False Creek.

“Spatial relationship among various objects, and the properties of surrounding space.” Thank you, Britannica.

Sun, Fog, Fog, Fog

25 January 2022 – Bouncing sunbeams Saturday morning, as we bounce off to Blackie Spit Park. It is at the tip of Crescent Beach, a sandspit that extends into Mud Bay, itself an extension of Boundary Bay in South Surrey.

Hardly a muddy bay today! Everything sparkles, from the water right before us to the snowy North Shore Mountains in the distance.

Sparkling water in the canal as well, with (I think) American Wigeon ducks paddling their way toward that red cabin beside the controls that regulate water levels.

That was Saturday.

Sunday morning, and, yes, the forecast was right. Dense fog hovers over the Lower Mainland and is expected to last for several days, with periods of “near zero” visibility.

Car headlights peer through the murk on Main Street; black crows, doing their westward morning commute, blend into the sky.

And one guy, presumably, says “Sod it!” and turns back east. Maybe home to his Burnaby roost, where he will tuck his head under his wing and sleep away the day?

I am made of sterner stuff. I’m off to Campbell Valley Regional Park in Langley — much larger than Saturday’s park, with 29 km of sprawling trails looped through the valley and around Little Campbell River.

It’s a study in up-close clarity, and misty fog beyond.

The moss pops colour — was ever green so green? — but all is steely-grey just beyond those trees.

Like Blackie Spit (which is on the Pacific Flyway), this Campbell Valley park is a haven for birdlife. I know about Wood Ducks …

but I am introduced to west-coast varieties of species I only know in their eastern versions. The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, for example, and the Spotted Towhee. Perhaps the Fox Sparrow as well, but my companion is as scrupulous as he is knowledgeable, and cautions he is not quite sure about that one.

Don’t care. Don’t need to know all the names. It’s all splendid, just as it is.

Ultimately we’re on the Shaggy Mane Trail, shared by humans and horses. Neither of us knows anything about horses, but they are well-behaved and their riders courteous, and we are perfectly happy to step aside and admire them as they clip-clop past.

Monday: foggy.

Late Tuesday morning: still foggy.

Even deep downtown.

Barge Brain

21 January 2022 – I did not expect to contract Barge Brain. I was setting out from the Olympic Village dock in False Creek with an English Bay walk in mind — one that, yes, would include walking past the barge, but nothing more emphatic than that. Just a polite nod to an improbable celebrity as I carried on toward points farther north-west and whatever delights they might offer.

So I jump on the ferry with a clear plan in mind.

A family jumps on as well. The parents, engaged and empathetic, encourage their toddler to face forward, clutch an imaginary wheel with his little hands, and steer the boat. He of course will have none of it, and looks every which way but forward.

Ah well. They get off at Granville Island; I transfer to another ferry for the onward trip that takes us under the Burrard Street bridge, out of False Creek into English Bay, and across to the Aquatic Centre dock on the north side of the Bay. From there, I’ll walk the seawall — past Sunset Beach, on up to Morton Park just shy of Stanley Park, beyond the top frame of this map.

Sunset Beach is home to the barge. The cap-B Barge. The Celebrity Barge. The barge nobody knew or cared about until violent winds on November 15th sent it crashing onto the rocks of Sunset Beach. Where it hung its ponderous length at a tipsy angle, for all the world like a drunk clutching his lamp post, and has continued to hang ever since.

I step onto the Aquatic Centre dock, look north-west — and there it is. That rusty-red rectangle on a point of rocky land.

I start walking toward it, already feeling more fascination than I had anticipated. Two discoveries, even at this distance.

One, the barge is damn big. Lordy, it is big.

And two, the barge is just across that narrow tongue of water from my favourite Vancouver Biennale sculpture of them all: Bernar Venet’s 217.5 Arc x 13 installation of 13 arcs of steel, each arc shaped to that number of degrees. So before approaching the barge, I veer onto the sand, to pay my respects to the sculpture. (And to take this so-obvious shot of them both. Sorry! It is very obvious, isn’t it?)

Now on past that little tongue of water, closer to the barge — and to heaped piles of other debris, also thrown ashore by the storms.

Now I’m close, and I just stand there and gawk. Seeing one of these things far off in the water gives you no sense of scale. Up close, it’s different. You measure it against a parked car, or passers-by — these women with their strollers, for example.

My brain is whirling. How big is it? Media love factoids, why has nobody told me how long this thing is, how tall? And come to that, what is it? They say “barge” — but surely there are categories of barge? Why haven’t they told us these things? Pick-pick, grumble-grumble.

Later I look online. I can’t find any local reference to length, but a recent New York Times article about our celebrity barge says it is “nearly 200 feet long.” (Nearly 60 metres.) And one local story does in passing identify it as a “chip” (wood-chip) barge — corroborated by a photographer, who in November sent a drone aloft to investigate, which indeed saw scant wood chip residue in an otherwise empty shell.

I prowl its length, staring over and up. Up and up.

From the near end …

looking toward the far end …

taking in all those shades & shapes, all that texture …

sliding off the far end …

with a final backward glance at the entire hulk.

I think what fun Vancouverites have had, coming up with punning names for this impromptu event: “Barge on the Beach,” an easy slide from the Bard on the Beach open-air theatrical offerings across the water in Vanier Park; also “Barge Chilling Beach,” an amused play on our Dude Chilling Park.

But it’s not all fun, and I think about that, too. Several tiers of government are trying to solve the problem of guarding & removing the barge (which poses real environmental risks) and the owner, Sentry Marine Towing, is not proving particularly visible or forth-coming. Indeed, when I try to visit Sentry’s website I end up staring at a Not Found/404 message instead. As a recent CTV report suggests, removal is complicated and civic authorities, fronting the process & the costs, may not see either action or repayment any time soon.

And then I stop thinking about all that, and tell my Barge Brain to give it a rest.

I move on. I turn my attention to nature.

A whole flotilla of Barrow’s Goldeneye ducks …

two small stones resting atop two large rocks, in modest tribute (the storms tumbled all those grandiose stacked stones and I find I am pleased) …

and even the first spears of spring daffodils.

Just off Morton Park, where I’ve often visited the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, I discover a sundial, a 1967 Centennial project that has until now escaped my notice.

So I linger with it a moment …

and then turn back east to start the walk & ferry travel that will take me home.

I walk several docks past the Aquatic Centre before boarding a ferry, all the way back to the Aquabus dock in David Lam Park, and I am well pleased with my day when I finally step into a floating rainbow.

River-Watch

11 January 2022 — The capital-W Weather just keeps piling up. The snow I blogged about late December was followed by more snow and more cold, and then a windstorm combined with king tides that tore up Stanley Park seawall and flooded the Ambleside Park I’d visited just a little earlier that month.

And now plus-zero temperatures and a new multi-day Atmospheric River, due to start … well, any time now.

“Now” being a few hours ago, as I set out to walk east toward home. Ah, but, I am wearing my Seriously Waterproof Coat and my duck boots, and I trust them to keep me safe and pretty well dry. So I am watchful — aware of the grey sky and impending River — but perfectly happy to let my eye snag on tiny details as I walk along, and not particularly care whether I beat the rain home or not.

Here at Yukon & West 8th, it isn’t the motorcycle I notice first …

it’s the butterfly decal someone has stuck to the back of the traffic sign. I don’t care that it’s wrinkled and beginning to peel, I like it a lot.

I pivot east into the alley just south of West 8th, away from the construction for the Broadway Subway Project (an extension of the existing Millennium Line) that keeps pounding along, whatever the weather.

I see this bold taco-shop mural right at the intersection …

but again it’s a detail that draws me in: a delicate line-up of red dots above one of the florets on one of the plants.

I wonder if this is a later, complementary (and complimentary) addition by some other hand, but then see another touch of red in the swirls of ground cover, and decide it is all by the original artist.

Only later, looking at this image, do I see the magic continuity of colour — black/white/red, flowing from the mural across those cars to the red building beyond.

Just east of Alberta there’s full-tilt alleyscape, so much going on I barely register the young woman who walks into frame on the right, checking her messages …

because I’m focused on that mirror up there on the balcony. Looking very pretty, in the midst of a lot of not-pretty.

Just past Columbia, I see the pumpkin-coloured car, who could miss it …

but, really, I’m fascinated by that convex traffic mirror, and the art-nouveau swirls it bestows on tall trees and power lines.

East side of Manitoba, I’ve seen this before but for a change it’s not the H-frame hydro pole that makes me pause …

it’s the haunting mural tucked into the garage on the left. So instead of walking by, I walk in …

and when I turn to the back wall, my curiosity is rewarded — finally! — with this artist’s name.

J. Whitehead, I later learn, is a Saskatchewan-born member of the Cree Nation, a Fine Arts graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, and now resident in Vancouver. I’ve seen his distinctive work elsewhere, am glad to give you a chance to discover him as well.

Same alley block but closer to Ontario, I once again halt at this battered old garage …

but, this time, it’s the sway-backed roof that pulls me close. I really look at it, at the textures, the colours, the thriving moss on crumbling shingles — the sheer topography of it all.

And then … and then, I’m east of Ontario, on to Quebec, and the end of the alley.

I swerve north to East 8th, away from all those alleyscape details …

into the ordered, aromatic, calm and considered details of a latte at my favourite café.

I make it home, just before the River starts to flow. (And flows still, as I type this. And is expected to continue to flow, right through Thursday.)

Snow‼️

26 December 2021 – Snow in Canada in late December? Hardly worth comment. Let alone even one exclamation mark, not to mention two of them, and in punch-your-eyeball-red at that…

True, but. This is Vancouver’s first snowy Christmas since 2008, and only the fourth in the last 25 years. I know the stats thanks to a news report, but I only have to look out my window for confirmation.

No need to climb 300 metres up the Coast Range mountains today, to catch some snow! It’s right here at sea level. So I go play snow-tourist around False Creek.

Icicles. A given, in my Toronto winter days, but a rarity here, so I pay attention.

The Chai Wagon is open for business as usual, just off Science World, but the chai-wallah is more bundled up than usual …

and the nearby palm trees have their own winter adornment.

The little footbridge at Olympic Village was upgraded this summer, with — they promised — an improved anti-slip texture underfoot. Hmmm. The sign doesn’t know about that promise. Or doesn’t trust it.

Or perhaps is just a neurotic worrywart by nature.

These women are not worrywarts. They stride onto the bridge full-tilt, and cross without incident.

The welcoming chairs at Spyglass Dock are embracing snow at the moment, not Creek-side flâneurs …

but someone has cleared one of the blossoms in the artwork by Emily Gray that makes this dock so appealing.

I double back under the Cambie bridge ramps, here on the south side. This location — like Toronto’s innovative Underpass Park — is an encouraging example of what we can do with places that are more typically written off as wastelands.

Butterflies on the ramp supports, picnic and table-tennis tables on the ground below — a bright, inviting space where you feel it’s safe to linger.

At my back, the False Creek Energy Centre , hub for the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

It uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to a surprisingly large local area: Southeast False Creek, plus parts of Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Northeast False Creek. “This recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings,” says a City website. It adds: “The utility is self-funded.”

To the east, on my left, the John McBride Community Garden.

It is low on garden activity at the moment but still a magnet for this mother and child, heads bent in mutual fascination with something they see either before them or in the mind’s eye.

Straight ahead, directly beneath the Cambie Bridge, the Voxel Bridge — a Vancouver Biennale installation this past summer. Not just physical reality, but blockchain-based augmented reality.

Still dazzling on the side pillars and overhead, but surprisingly scuffed and worn underfoot.

This new sign may explain why.

I have to read up about bicycle drifting later, to appreciate the power that goes into the technique, and the problem it could therefore create for artwork.

Fortunately, human feet can safely drift all they want! Mine lead me eastward along West 5th Avenue.

Where, approaching Alberta Street, I pause at this mini-installation along the side wall of Beaumont Studios (“a supportive environment for a wide variety of creative professionals”). She’s your basic Noble Lady in Flowing Robes, isn’t she? But enlivened with colour up & down her body, and very bright turquoise sneakers by her sandalled feet.

Catty-corner at Alberta, a gleaming new facility devoted to butchering beans.

Oh. Got it. Vegan “meat.” I’m amused by the cheeky reassurance of the wall slogan (“Don’t worry, Mount Pleasant…”) …

and, while not about to order any product myself, impressed by the reach of this BC success story.

In just a few years, The Very Good Butchers has gone from Denman Island farmers’ markets, to a Victoria plant-based butchery, to this gleaming new facility and major online activity. Plus a presence in co-ops and markets north/south/east/west Canada and the USA.

Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, physical me walks on. On east to Manitoba (street, not province — though that would also work). South on Manitoba with a pause at the alley entrance that houses one of my favourite murals.

But it’s not just the mural. Not just William Lam’s skill. It’s the context. Street art, in street context.

After that, I drift on home.

(No artwork is damaged in the drift.)

Sunshine & Seawalk

21 December 2021 – Second-shortest day of the year, but dazzling sunshine in compensation. Bad weather in the forecast. A good reason to stir my bones right now, and explore the Seawalk that skirts the north shore of Burrard Inlet between Dundarave Park and John Lawson Park, out in West Vancouver.

Girl-on-turtle in Dundarave, very beachfront, both of them sporting bright red caps, very seasonal.

Freighters wait at anchor out there for their scheduled time with Port Authority cranes; waves roll in to hiss at our feet here on the shoreline.

It’s a complex shoreline, tangled and rough. Someone has carefully placed five stones on this one log; frost glistens still in the morning light.

I am fascinated by the frost, lean closer, look more closely.

Then I walk out Dundarave Pier and look east down the Inlet, tracing my eyes along the Seawalk I am about to follow. I dance them a moment across Lion’s Gate Bridge there in the distance, over to Stanley Park.

Back in the park proper and about to leave the park, I’m snagged by this wonderful German Friendship Globe. It spins gently, as indeed the world should, cushioned on an underlying bed of water. I admire the beauty and the precision of the etching.

The equator, neatly bisecting the globe; Australia, buoyant beneath it.

And then… the world is turned on its ear.

An inquisitive little girl marches up, and gives the globe a mighty push. The equator plummets out of sight, and the Americas turn sideways.

I laugh out loud. This is terrific! We are reminded that map conventions are only that — conventions. Hurray for inquisitive little girls.

And with that happy thought, this inquisitive old girl sets off down the Seawalk.

I read signage as I go. All they’ve done is pave a well-established path.

A path with a long, and still continuing, history of jousting with the rail barons.

In places dramatic tree trunks ride the rocks …

elsewhere, there’s nothing but a delicate curl of vine.

I reach John Lawson Park, far end of the official Seawalk, and watch that little boy swinging hand-over-hand in the playground. He is also being watched by four seagulls — one of them real.

Another pier, and who can resist a pier? I walk out to the end, so much closer now to Lion’s Gate Bridge, but pay more attention to the ducks — Barrow’s Goldeneye, I think — than to the bridge. A whole flotilla of them, gliding along, perfectly happy in the chilly water, perfectly at home.

It’s still possible to hug the water, and I do for a while longer, on to Ambleside Park.

Where, finally, I cut back up to Marine Drive, to look for a bus.

Culture shock!

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

  • 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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