Before the Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I move in for a closer look.

As did those two crows above!

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

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

They’re right.

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

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

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

Plus … they’re just fun to watch.

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

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

Something else I love to observe: houseboats!

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

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

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

Doin’ the Details

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

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

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

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

With a toboggan above the door, for example …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hmmmm, you say.

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

Theme & Variations

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

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

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

Suddenly the theme is open to variations.

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

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

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

their once-vivid messages fading to a visual mumble.

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

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

 

 

Something Special with Sophia

25 March 2019 – Beware the low-flying puns.

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

Behold the Vancouver Special.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first section leads with white swirls …

throws in a sunburst …

and ends with a shooting star.

The middle section feaures hearts and big “eyes” …

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

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

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

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

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

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

And promptly run into this sidewalk sign.

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

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

It’s also a clever pun.

And heaven knows, I do like puns.

 

 

Playing With Shadows

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shadow plays one way on a textured concrete surface …

and another way, really quite pointillist, on mesh.

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

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

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

Sometimes a shadow curves with a railing …

sometimes it marches in stiff angular formation …

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

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

to play Daddy Long Legs.

The Roar of the Boar

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

Wrong, totally wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet More Cultural Mosaic (Edible Division)

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

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

 

A Moment at E 5th & The Drive

5 January 2019 – My mind is several blocks ahead of my feet, barely registering the intersection, but then I stop.

I do register the dapper young man, down on his knees.

In photographic ecstasy, not religious. He has a real camera, interchangeable lenses & everything, and he is carefully fitting one of those lens as I watch.

Where am I? What is he looking at?

Where = E. 5th & “The Drive” (Commercial Drive to map-makers).

What = the brand new, sparkling-bright mural all along the side wall of the D-YES office across 5th.

I’m glad Drive Youth Employment Services exists; I support the key words integrated into the mural (e.g. Compassion, Respect); and I think the mural adds energy and cheer.

Even so, I’m more attracted to the battered old mural wrapped all around VAP Auto Parts & Services, on our side of the intersection.

It offers only partial views, of course, interrupted by windows, ads, doors and parked cars.

Later I learn online what I should have known anyway: November IV (or, even, 4) is National Unity and Armed Forces Day in Italy. So of course it will  be on display here, heart of Vancouver’s Little Italy. (Look again at that intersection sign above: it includes a tiny Italian flag.)

I love this. I love how an inherently grimy business, auto repair, has wrapped itself in a mural of the homeland, now worn & comfy & companionably grimy as well.

Flowing around windows and door …

and around the garage entrance as well.

Bang-clang-smack-clatter!! bounces out at us from inside that entrance. They’re busy in there. Dog in truck out here doesn’t care. Yawn.

I un-mesmerize myself, and remember that I did have a reason, when crossing this intersection. And it involved coffee, not axel grease.

One last fond glance …

and I’m on down The Drive, ready for JJ Bean and a latte.

 

“We remember them”

 

10 November 2018 – I am in a hurry, pressed for time, just striding down the Cambie Street hill: “Out of my way! I have things to do!”

And I stop flat at City Hall, not for the architecture I love so much, but for this:

Almost Remembrance Day, and isn’t this cascade of poppies a touching & wonderful sight? How could I power on by, oblivious?

I step into the installation, begin to read its signs.

I keep reading. There is history.

I nod, like these children, to the Tower of London project — but, above all, I nod to Lieut.-Col. John McCrae, the Canadian surgeon, poet, author and artist who enlisted at the outset of the War, in August 1914, despite being 41 years of age. He served as Medical Officer with the 1st Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery.

In April-May 1915, he tended the wounded at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first battle in which poison gas was used. During that prolonged battle, he wrote the poem that has made poppies a world symbol for remembrance.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow…

All of it is powerful, but I am most touched by this very human stanza part-way through:

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders Fields.

The poem has been recorded by Leonard Cohen, another author/poet/global Canadian.

Here at one precise intersection in one city in one province in one country in a whole world of remembrance, I read the words of the children who created this installation, this year.

Stepping gingerly around poppies, careful not to step on a single one, I keep reading.

They should feel good, about their own craftsmanship, along with everything else.

And so history lives within us, and through us, generation to generation, and we interpret present meaning from past events.

John McCrae survived the Second Battle of Ypres, but not the war. His asthmatic lungs further weakened by the poison gas, he died of pneumonia in 1918, in Boulongne-sur-Mer, France.

He lies in the nearby Wimereux Communal Cemetery, one of 2,847 Commonwealth soldiers to share that final resting place. If you’re ever in Guelph, Ontario, visit his childhood home, now museum.

 

Lake. Klezmer. Ghost Lake. And a Bunny-Rabbit

24 October 2018 – Not calendar-Tuesday, but honorary-Tuesday. So says the founding Tuesday Walking Society, reunited and out in full twosome force.

We jump on the southbound Spadina LRT and bail at Queen’s Quay,  just where the train does its dog-leg to the left and starts its run eastward along Lake Ontario.

Once, decades ago, Toronto parks encouraged visitor use by pegging little “Please walk on the grass” signs into the turf. Now, in all the lakefront parks and many others, the welcome is even brighter and more functional.

We walk right past those Muskoka chairs, though. We pay only the briefest attention to the Spadina Quay Wetlands — once mini-carpark, now home to a whole ecosystem of frogs, fish, birds and butterflies — and to the Toronto Music Garden, its layout co-created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

We skirt a bike path intersection …

and follow the waterfront west & then south to just below the old Canada Malting silos. Our goal is the tiny, deeply moving park tucked between silos and lake.

Ireland Park.

These emaciated figures are the work of Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie; this park is the new-world companion to the famine memorial in Dublin, for which he also sculpted the figures. Together, they commemorate the Great Famine of 1845-51. I never knew the impact of this famine on Toronto until I read the stats: in the summer of 1847 alone, more than 38,500 desperate migrants landed here. At the time, the city had a population of 20,000.

We stand behind one of the five figures (two less than in Dublin, to represent deaths en-route), and follow her gaze. The scene is not as migrants saw it, obviously, this is just our attempt to imagine their relief at being still alive, and on land.

Now we head east, to walk all these enchained lakefront parks toward the heart of the city. A first goal is to decipher the name on the red tugboat — it doesn’t look like a tourist vessel, yet despite all that bright red, doesn’t seem to be on government service either.

Tug-side, we learn she is the Radium Yellowknife. What a pan-Canadian world she represents! Named for the capital city of the Northwest Territories, registered in Vancouver, tied up right here in Toronto.

And working here, too, we learn, thanks to the guy who steps aboard to unlock a door and retrieve his bicycle. Once, in some vague past, she was in the NWT; now she helps shunt barges & whatnot from hither to yon, as needed in Toronto Harbour.

On past the yellow umbrellas of  HTO Park, enjoying the punning name as always. I wonder who first saw the possibilities in Toronto’s nickname and the symbol for water?

On and more on, enjoying water and waves and strollers and dogs and still-brave plant life and the whole happy mix. Past the first quay-side Wave Deck, then the second, then a pause to salute the third and loopiest of them all: the Simcoe Wave Deck.

For Phyllis & me, all this is a reunion with sights we already knew and wanted to see again — park after park, garden after garden. Then, boom, right in front of Queen’s Quay Terminal, a tiny park we knew nothing about: the Toronto Book Garden.

The zig-zag path is studded with the names of authors, and dates.

Ondaatje, plus Dionne Brand, Anne Michaels, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies … you get the idea. Each has won the Toronto Book Award in a given year. The author needn’t live here, and the book may be of any genre, but it must contain some clear Toronto content.

Still heading east and now, we agree, we’re into a boring bit, with concrete towers to both sides. As always, construction. As almost-always, a CAUTION sign. Suitably red. And, as-sometimes, one of the jokes people like to play when the City hasn’t specified what to be cautious about.

Ho-ho, we agree, and soon after that, we part ways — Phyllis off to vote in the municipal elections, me to wander a few more parks before joining another friend mid-afternoon.

Next up, the refurbished Berczy Park at Front & Wellington, just behind the city’s flat-iron building. I knew about its two-tier dog fountain — multitudes of life-sized dog sculptures, each squirting water (from the mouth, I hasten to add) back into the ever-receptive fountain. The dogs all look upward, to the bone topping the fountain. There is one cat statue slyly tucked into the mix, but he is looking sideways, eyeing a bird.

There is now another sculpture in the park, a pair of giant arms & hands thrusting skyward from the earth.

There are no “do not climb” signs, so I relax & enjoy the kids’ enjoyment.

Up to King & Church now, into the Toronto Sculpture Garden just opposite St. James Cathedral. The current installation is a cheerful steel structure called Pigro, the work of Tony Romono, its loops further be-looped with lights.

“It’s even better at night when the lights are on,” says a voice behind me, a man at peace on a bench. Signage tells me it’s meant to evoke Italian festival lights, which are strung along streets and illuminate church façades as they go. How perfect here, against the Cathedral spire.

I’m now making tracks for my friend on Church Street, deep in territory where I first worked decades ago. All is familiar.

Except for this, on Church just south of Front.

Shoreline Commemorative, by Paul Roff, reminds us that Front Street — now well inland — once deserved its name. Infill, not natural processes, have moved the shoreline farther south, and it’s good to remember where lake once touched land.

I salute the ghost lake, and go meet my friend.

And now for that bunny-rabbit

Time-jump. It’s now calendar Tuesday, the Tuesday Walking Society is again on the prowl, and I have decided to put away my camera. Let nothing stand between me and this walk through Moore Park Ravine! Let me be fully present; eyes, ears, boots, nature and dear friend are more than enough.

But out comes that camera,  just once.

Hello, Poser-bunny.

And on we go into Evergreen Brickworks, for lunch and latte and elbows-on-table conversation.

 

T-Time

11 October 2018 – T-Time, not as in fine china & scones.

T-Time, as in YYZ; as in 43.6532°N  79.3832° W.

T-Time, as in … Toronto.

Here I am.

With luck, there will be wonderful autumn colour. With certainty, there are wonderful friends, and that is quite enough already.

A first walk-about, with assorted friends, and there’s the city, amusing me as I go.

In front of a construction site at Bathurst & Bloor, for example …

with my tummy already warm with a Green Beanery latte, so this is a bonus.

Later, down in the financial district, I look up at this play of black-on-white.

The black is one edge of one building in the cluster of buildings that make up the Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1960s.

I’m not there for those knife edges, however, not even for how they play out in geometric shadows on the ground, at precisely 2:13 p.m. on a sunny October afternoon.

I’m there for what I know lies through that arch, over by those luminous trees. Something I have loved (and visited) in every season of the year. Something I want to visit again.

The PastureJoe Fafard‘s wonderful pasture of seven life-size bronze cows, at peace and at home in the courtyard of the TD Centre.

Later yet again, Phyllis (yes! co-founder of the Tuesday Walking Society!) and I are taking a pedestrian overpass across the Yonge Street subway line, between Eglinton & Davisville.

I’ve had cows, now I get racoons. A distinctly less classy setting than a Mies van der Rohe architectural design, but perhaps better suited to the animal in question. Or, at least, showing him in one of his typical urban habitats.

Down an alley.

There’s the guy in the garbage pail, claiming the pizza box …

and the guy navigating a ladder …

and it’s all so Toronto I am giggling my silly head off.

Please, raise your glass to T-Time.

 

  • 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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