Ooooooo & Ouch

22 September 2019 – I’m crossing Cambie St. on West Cordova, deep in Gastown territory, lots of gloss & touristy flash and noisy patios and whatnot, and then … wait a minute …

Oooooooo

A patio, not noisy, and okay definitely glossy, but the gloss is on the table-tops and it makes their designs dance for us, even on this dull day.

I lean over the railing for a closer look.

Well, that’s fun. Bold lines, local references (“Gastown” and the iconic East-Van cruciform image…) and even, on that far right corner, some words.

So I lean even closer.

And I am happy.  Amidst all the Gastown tourist come-on, some real humanity. Not generic design work on these tables, but specific art by a specific artist, Alberto, who this time around had some help from Katarina and chooses to offer her a very public thank-you.

Oooooo-worthy, on all levels.

?????

Hah, not the heading you expected, but accurate to what I’m thinking — if confusion amounts to thinking — as I head south on Homer from West Hastings.

What is that image, there on the south-east alley corner? Surely not a green & white python, swirling up from its street-level basket?

No, of course it’s not.

It’s a woman, albeit quite improbably swirly in form, with a flower. Green, white and, I now see, lavender. (Nicely picked up in the lavender shade of the graffiti on the lamp post…)

I am no longer ???? about the image, but still pretty darn ????? about why it’s there.

The sidewalk sign tells me this shop is called Coalition Skin and, once I get past the scowling feline and read the small print …

the Ouch sets in.

 

 

 

Door to Door

19 September 2019 – Two walking women meet one walking man.

Not any old walking man — this is Walking Man (Howard Street, Glasgow), by Alex Tedlie-Stursberg.

Thing is, we’re not in Glasgow. We’re in Eihu Lane, downtown Vancouver — specifically the two blocks of this commercial laneway, wedged between Alberni & Robson, that lie between Burrard & Bute.

It is a very busy commercial lane.

More than once, we have to summon our inner gazelle & leap to safety. (Not as gracefully as the gazelle, perhaps, but with the same sense of urgency.)

It’s worth it. We are walking the City’s new Canvas Corridor — 45 murals adorning back doors and vents, in a laneway project involving downtown business associations, the City of Vancouver and 27 artists (culled from hundreds of applicants via the Simon Fraser University School for Contemporary Arts and the Vancouver Mural Festival).

There are delicately haunting doorways (I Hate Rain, Nadia So) …

vibrating doorways (Holy Mountain/Man, Adam Rashid) …

two-fers …

and even four-fers.

There’s a city on the tip-tilt (City, Jag Nagra) …

and a sraight-up heart …

with, just like it says …

Enough Room For One More (Justine Crawford).

We laugh and point and compare/contrast and leap out of the way of trucks and leap back into mid-lane and, finally, realize it’s time to put on our skates (with Skatemail man, Graeme Kirk) …

and leave the alley.

So we follow that cement mixer as he pulls away …

and get one final treat.

Just look what he was obscuring

Hello Malayan Tiger, thank you Elaine Chen.

(And yes, this is the twice-promised post, about the rendezvous I was rushing to keep when that panel of VSE hand signals slowed me down.)

 

A Loop Beneath a Rain-Rich Sky

14 September 2019 – Rich more in promise than delivery, though, as I write this, rain is pelting down.

Earlier, the sky is merely lowering, luminous grey, the air heavy with its cargo of rain. But I am now a Vancouverite, am I not? I put on my jacket, tuck a mini-umbrella into my backpack, and off I go.

A loop, I tell myself: down to the eastern end of False Creek, west up its north side to the Cambie bridge, over the bridge, back east to Creek-end once more, and home.

I’m not the only Vancouverite. Waving-cat Maneki-nako stops waving, wraps his paw around an umbrella instead, and turns into rain-cat.

Luminous sky means darker darks & punched-up colour, this rain-filled trench in a construction site suddenly a turquoise pond.

Site equipment rears dark against the sky …

as do hydro poles in a nearby alley, their attendant crows somehow even blacker than  usual.

Down on False Creek, an inukshuk seems to huddle against the chill …

and tide height turns rock tips into dark islands in the glittering waters.

A woman stops beside me, also contemplating the rocks. We chat, her small dog with butterfly ears yips at a passing gull. “I named him Napoleon for good reason,” she sighs. “Small Frenchman with big attitude.”

Just before the south-side ramp up onto the Cambie bridge, I pause again. A kid & his skateboard take a breather beside the mural with its large “Stay in school” message. It’s Saturday. He’s legal.

Over the bridge, and, starting down the spiral staircase at the south end, I hear music.

I look over the edge.

Some passer-by has pushed  back the protective tarp, and started playing the public piano that lives here on Spyglass Dock every summer. The music swells; the pavement murals glow in the mist.

A little farther east, I watch crows fly in to join their fellows in a favourite staging tree. Come evening, they’ll take wing for their nightly migration to the next municipality over, Burnaby. Night after night, they swirl past my balcony, dozens at a time.

 

Mist has turned to drizzle; drizzle is thickening to rain. One more line of hydro poles, as I cut south-east toward home. No crows here, just one bright saw-tooth line of pink warning flags.

And now… rain! I scamper.

(You’re right: this is not the post I semi-promised you last time around. This one seemed more here-and-now. That one comes next. Yes! I promise.)

170 Km from Home…

30 August 2019 – It’s the start of a holiday weekend, so I join the exodus from town.

I’m on a B.C. Ferry run from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale — first hop in a ferry/bus/ferry/bus trip that will take me those 170 km up the Sunshine Coast to Powell River.

Powell River was all about forestry, is imprinted by forestry, and still produces newsprint and other specialty papers. The Powell River Company began building a pulp and paper mill here in 1909, started production in 1912, and at one point was the largest pulp mill in the world. The mill was built on the unceded lands of Tla’amin First Nation, whose people were summarily relocated without compensation. Logging practices were equally cavalier, and equally accepted, in the spirit of the day.

The day has changed, old practices and arrangements have changed, are changing, but — here as elsewhere — aboriginal/logging/environmental cross-currents still swirl. I am aware of what I don’t know and choose to step aside from judgment, and simply see what I see.

First full day in town, down to Willingdon Beach Park, heading for the forest trail that will launch my walk to the Historic District. I’m clipping through the park at speed — I have places to go! — and I stop in my tracks. Just look what young Eli Hueston has done.

Clever-boots Eli, and clever the team that turned his design for an octopus bike rack into the real thing. (Well, no, not a real octopus…)

And onto the Trail — a nature trail since the 1920s, when the logging railway ties and rails were removed.

It’s a little over a kilometre in length, and I don’t expect it to take up much time, or occupy much mind-space. La-la, great tall trees and cedar path and glimpses through the trees over the gravelly beach to Malaspina Srait. A joy, all of it, but I’m moving right along.

Ah but, you see, there are signs all along the way and I am a sucker for signs. (Ask Phyllis or Frances, bless their patient souls.) So I am impressed to learn that the gravel mixed into the ground beneath my feet, up here at a higher level, is Pleistocene-era, originally deposited at sea level but stranded when the glaciers melted (some 10,000 years ago) and the land rebounded.

No sign for this uprooted giant tree, but I stop to gawk anyway. My attitude about this Trail has definitely shifted.

Mind, there are lots of signs about the trees and plant life: Western Redwood Cedar (B.C.’s official tree), Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock, the Grand Fir, Sword Ferns (which always make me expect a dinosaur around the next bend), Salal, Oregon Grape…

I read all this, but what really stops me, again and again, are all the pieces of old logging machinery, now on open-air display here in the forest. (And where better?)

A boomboat, for example (used in the booming ground to sort logs into booms) …

and a 1940s Track Logging Arch (towed behind bulldozers to elevate one end of a turn of logs being skidded to a loading area or a dump).

Like huge mechanical children, playing hide-&-seek in the forest.

Here’s another — a 1941 steam shovel that had been converted to a log loader.

I move in close to this example of a Spliced Eye. Sounds gruesome, but we’re talking about logging cables …

their wires interwoven to shape and secure an eye.

And here, oh look, the wonderfully named Steam Donkey, creating the steam to power the winches to spool the cables.

I reach the other end of the Trail, marked by this High Frame Hammer. I don’t know what it did, when it was active, they don’t tell me, and I don’t care. I’m charmed because it looks like a puppy-dog, paws up and begging for a treat.

End of the Trail, and polite, law-abiding citizens are supposed to peel off to a designated road. Because, if you go straight ahead, you are on a private industrial road, in active use, and You. Are. Trespassing.

I trespass! Somewhere back there on the Trail, I met Bruce R.V. (as I dub him), Bruce-who-lives-in-an-R.V. and comes here a lot. He tells me how much more interesting it is to carry on down the private road — “Just watch for trucks” — and visit the Log Dump, and on from there, for a first glimpse of The Hulks, and eventually turn right and wiggle up into the Historic District.

So I do.

I reach the Log Dump, look out into the Strait where busy little boats take the dumped logs and shape them into booms. (Oh! They must be boomboats! A word I just learned minutes ago springs to life!)

While here I fall into conversation with Raven Lady — well, I muscle in on her conversation with friends, and they don’t object. She’s telling them about the raven duo that stay around her home, and how much she enjoys them. Suddenly she points into the water: “Baby seal!” Yes, she can tell that little head is a baby, not an adult — partly by comparative size (practice has given her that skill), and partly because babies only partially raise their heads, while adults lift them clear of the water.

Raven Lady suggests that, once I hit the Historic District, I head for Townsite Brewery. “And if you don’t care for beer, order a kombucha. They have that on tap as well.” I promise.

I carry on. Passing crows on this side …

and a whole wall of murals on the other side …

as I leave the Log Dump. Imagine that, I walk right past a whole wall of street art.

And I walk and I walk. And then I stop, because, ohhhh, it’s my first glimpse of The Hulks.

See? Floating concrete boats, forming a breakwater for the mill. (I don’t know it, but I’ll see them again, much later in my walk.)

Finally I hit the edge of the Historic District, and I am tired. I still plan to follow my self-guiding tour (pamphlet in hand) around the District, but… oh… I am so relieved to see the Veterans’ Memorial Park, with its welcome benches and fountain ringed by spitting lions.

I long for that kombucha.

I wonder where Townsite Brewery might be. It’s not on my little map. I spin 360-degrees at the next intersection — and there it is! I march in, plonk myself at the bar, order my drink, and am delighted to overhear the cheerful barmaid chatter with the couple next to me and their little girl. Barmaid: “And which beer do you want, miss?” Little girl, in fits of giggles: “I don’t drink beer! I want … mummy, what’s it called?” Mummy supplies the magic word, and little girl gets her very own kombucha.

Such a family-friendly bar, and surely this explains the door frame.

Yup. Children’s heights, one after another, each with the child’s name and date he/she grew that tall.

I do a really truncated self-guiding tour, because Self is getting tired. I keep the Patricia Theatre on my hit list — founded in 1913, it is now the province’s oldest continuously active theatre — but I stop to read this Garage Sale sign before I cross the street to visit it.

The sale has items you probably wouldn’t see in an urban setting, a cement mixer being one of them.

Almost out of the District, with a detour to look at St. David and St. Paul’s Anglican Church — but I’m stopped first by this bus-shelter bench in front of the church.

Shaped from mud adobe-style, as you can see, and with a wooden hatch door. I open it. It’s a Little Free Library.

Is this not wonderful? No signage, so I can’t give appropriate credit.

The church sponsors a community permaculture project called Sycamore Common, which also includes a labyrinth.

I am delighted that the sign for the labyrinth quotes the same Antonio Machado reference I use on my blog home page (“Paths are made by walking”).

Finally onto Marine Avenue — parallel to the waterfront, but above it — to start the walk back to my part of town. Pure highway at this point, and not that appealing, except that it’s leading me home, which begins to seem awfully attractive.

Then I am rewarded: a lookout point for The Hulks.

One last look …

And on down Marine Avenue I go, tromp-tromp.

I’m startled to discover that I’m not allowed to cross the street …

while deer are allowed to leap all over the place. (See that yellow sign with the black symbol, farther down?)

I have so had enough! Tromp-tromp.

Eventually, of course, I hit my stretch of Marine Avenue — where I fall into the first café in sight. Time for a reviving latte. Through the window I notice a wall mural opposite, featuring a very large blue crow.

Nicely re-caffeinated, I check out the wall before the final sprint home.

Very nice blue crow. But I like the cat even more.

(He’s there. Keep looking.)

 

Wisdom

4 July 2019 – While up on the North Shore, following the Spirit Trail, I briefly and slightly detoured to walk along the Wisdom Wall on the rear façade of Bodwell High School.

Bodwell is an international boarding school, and the Wall is indeed a wall …

with life-sized silhouettes and quotes from a suitably global array of wise people, ranging from Confucius to Terry Fox to Lord Byron, David Suzuki, and Chief Dan George.

And Socrates.

I hope wisdom also begins in appreciating the ridiculous! That’s not a dunce cap adorning Socrates’ head, and nobody has awarded him a white feather — those are reflections of a traffic cone and my T-shirt, respectively.

Water, Water, South & North

30 June 2019 – We’ll start South.

Having given no more than passing reference to the Fraser River in my post Up the Mighty Fraser — all about the street, not the 1,375-km river — the least I can do is show you a photo of the river itself.

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation advertises a walk along the Fraserview portion of the river as it winds through south Vancouver, and I jump at the chance.

Wonderful walking/cycling trails now, and condo/retail development, but it is still a working river, so, yes, logs still come down in booms, and sure-footed men still walk among them. (Sudden memories of childhood visits to my grandparents by the Ottawa River in Woodroffe, and our game of “riding the dead-heads” as we swam — i.e., clambering up the exposed end of a half-sunk rotten log, and bobbing up and down.)

And now … North!

Another day, another exploration.  I ride the Seabus across Burrard Inlet to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, wandering first among the docks, public art, natural beauty and retail temptations of the Shipyards District, right next to the terminal. The name is developer’s language, but fair enough: this was once a very long and very busy stretch of ship yards and dry docks.

No fog horn, not even in the day, but it didn’t matter. They had Joe Bustamente, a one-armed former Chilean mariner and — more to the point — a skilled trumpeter. Circa 1900, he and his trumpet guided ferries through the fog to safety.

I walk the length of the Burrard Dry Dock Pier and use its railings to frame a view of the St. Roch Dock, in the process catching a Seabus plying its shuttle route.

Then I head west onto the North Shore Spirit Trail. This is, or will be, a 35-km bike/pedestrian greenway along the waterfront right from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. It is also a joint project of First Nations, municipalities and the provincial and federal governments, so my hat is off to all of them. Let’s just take a moment to imagine all the negotiations, and be grateful that everyone persevered.

I’m sampling a modest number of those kilometres, the ones immediately to hand (to foot?), starting at Wade Baker’s Gateway to Ancient Wisdom, which welcomes visitors to Squamish Nation land.

I pass a stone marker at the bridge over Mosquito Creek, which features, well-of-course, a mosquito. Plus a very small sparrow…

Look downstream into Burrard Inlet. There’s a whole colony of 21st-c floating homes at rest in the water, sharing space with a working marina.

Look upstream instead, for a reminder of 19th-c history. There in the distance, the twin spires of St. Paul’s Indian Church.  (Yes, “Indian” — gone from contemporary vocabulary, but sanctioned in this historical reference.)

Built in 1868 and the oldest surviving mission church in the Vancouver area, St. Paul’s combines Gothic Revival style architecture with Coast Salish interior details. Still a working church, it has been restored four times, most recently in 2017, and I’m hoping it will be on the list for North Vancouver’s next Doors Open event, because I’d love to go inside.

A red cautionary hand, marking the road crossing ahead. Was prudence ever more beautifully delivered?

On along Kings Mill Walk, rightly named for the mammoth lumber mills that once stretched along this section of waterfront. Out in the water, a circular boom. No, I don’t know why. A seal swims through, that’s enough for me.

 

I see gates into an off-leash dog park. It is a long, winding and very beautiful pathway along the Inlet, I see no signs demanding a dog as price of entry, in I go.

And, anyway, I want to get close to some of the 15 artist-designed birdhouses, part of the Birdhouse Forest created in 2005.

Pretty sure this one is by J. Gauthier, apologies if I’ve got it wrong. Also pretty sure that, although these are meant to be working birdhouses, they aren’t. Far as I can see, the intended chickadee and tree swallow inhabitants have turned up their beaks. Well, at least we human enjoy them.

On out of the dog park, with its polite instruction to owners, and equally polite apology to the dogs…

My turn-around is the 280-m pedestrian overpass at Mackay & 1st Street West. It rises over train tracks, and you know what that means. Where there are tracks, there will be box cars. Where there are box cars …

Equally bright artwork, but this time officially sanctioned, on a utility box on the homeward stretch.

And a stop at Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie, just off Spirit Trail. (Truth is, I’ve woven two North Shore visits, one within days of the other, into this single post. The second visit is with my great friend Sally, who guides me to Thomas Haas.)

No latte this time, I order a house specialty — spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate. Then Sally & I try our luck with the bright red chocolate dispenser in the wall separating café from workspace.

See the white arrow pointing to a bright white circle, just below & left of the open tray? There are a few of these arrow/circle combos scattered over the façade, each swinging open a tray when pushed. Each tray contains a single free chocolate. If nobody got there before you, that is. (Frequent refills, but frequent eager fingers as well.)

All empty. I have to make do with my Aztec Hot Chocolate.

First-world problems.

 

Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

Three Signs

20 January 2019 – On Carrall Street, near West Hastings …

in the Woodward’s Atrium, heart of the redeveloped heritage site …

and on the washroom door in the Lost and Found Café, West Hastings near Abbott Street.

Yes.

 

A Secret Handshake on Pape (with cheese)

18 October 2018 – I’m walking north on Pape and stop at the corner of Wroxeter for a fond smile at The Schmooz, where I enjoyed many a fine coffee during my Toronto stay last winter.

Click!

(There’s only one of me. Something about that reflecting glass doubles me up.)

But that’s not the best. The best is the café’s sidewalk sign, both sides of it.

A “secret handshake!” I chortle.

And now we digress.

The term is the invention of Douglas Coupland, who first burned his way into the global mind by inventing another term back in 1991 and writing a novel about it: Generation X.

By 2014 he had long since added other media to his initial reputation as a novelist. That year, he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery in his sort-of home town, called everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. (Though not born in Vancouver nor always resident there, he is very much claimed by the city.)

One of its sections was The Secret Handshake.

Said the VAG:

Through a wide range of media Coupland has persistently investigated Canadian cultural identity, both benign and menacing.  Using imagery and objects latent with symbolic meaning for Canadians, he delineates what it means to be Canadian, offering a “secret handshake” not easily understood by others.

In April 2015, The Secret Handshake was one section of a Douglas Coupland exhibition in Toronto, and I blogged about it. With no pretence at originality, I called that post The Secret Handshake.

End of digression.

We’re back on Pape, with The Schmooz’ addition to the canon of secret handshakes.

North side of sign:

South side of sign:

If you’re not Canadian, but you get the references, then welcome! You are an honorary Canadian, and entitled to say “double-double” with the rest of us.

 

  • 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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