Moments on Main

19 January 2023 – More objects, more stories. Each rich in multiple stories, depending on the receptors — interests, background, assumptions, curiosity, attitude — of the passerby.

I’m struck…

by where I pause…

and what I read…

and what I just see…

and what…

connects with what…

before I jump on a bus for home.

A Wall, a Fence, a Yard & a Bench — and their Stories

11 January 2023 – I suppose I am almost always in story mode, but at the moment in a more focused way than ever. I have just begun a six-week online course offered by SFU Continuing Studies called Object Biographies: Exploring the Secret Lives of Things. It posits that “the life stories of objects reveal who we are and how we live,” and I have this in mind during a walk that begins in the Punjabi Market neighbourhood (very roughly, around Main St. & East 49th).

It causes me to look… oh, not more intelligently, not more inclusively… but perhaps with more explicit questions (and more appreciation) as I hoof my way through this mild & sunny afternoon.

The Wall

An alley wall, just off that Punjabi Market intersection. With a mural.

Choose your story! The wall speaks to us of graphic design… or community identity… or local festivals… or perhaps of the vision, interests and travels of its creator, an artist named Jessie Sohpaul, formerly of San Francisco and now Vancouver-based.

Her title for this 2022 mural is “Kohinoor, Where Are You?” That question points us to a whole other story line, one whose three elements are so often intermingled: history, culture and politics. To answer the literal question in the mural’s title, the Kohinoor diamond is on display in the Tower of London. It is there as one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. The UK claims legitimate ownership through legal treaty; this stance is rejected by the governments of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, each of whom claims ownership.

Indeed. Choose your story.

The Fence

My feet and curiosity next lead me into Memorial South Park, a bit farther east and north, with its emphasis on providing amenities for the range of ages and interests to be found in that neighbourhood. I wander by tennis courts, kiddy playground, adult outdoor fitness circuit, the running/walking oval, even the pond surrounded by trees & benches and, in this rainy season, brimful of water with many happy ducks taking full advantage.

But it is the fence over by the Fieldhouse that has me wiggling with delight.

Story time!

Voices of South Vancouver, I later learn, was created by Langara College journalism students to share the photos and stories of South Vancouver residents. Scan those QR codes, and learn the stories of people like Rob…

Ram, Kim and Andre…

Sahil…

and Mitch.

What I love best of all — what I later share with my online SFU classmates — is the project’s decision to recognize non-humans as residents and to tell their stories as well.

Meet Bench…

and Ross Creek.

I love all this, and I am very pleased indeed, as I leave the park and make my random way back north and west.

The Yard

I meet this yard on East 41st, somewhere east of Main.

As an aesthetic story, it displeases me entirely.

But if I am willing to reframe, to consider other story lines, I am charmed.

The yard becomes the story of a different, but equally valid, sensibility… the story of personal enthusiasm and kicky good humour,… the story of sharing with neighbours and passersby… and also the story of motivating those neighbours and passersby to behave themselves. (A small card in the display politely informs us that we are under video surveillance.)

The Bench

Now I’m on East 35th, having just left Mountain View Cemetery and on my way to Main Street. I stop flat, to cock my head at a street-side bench. It is yet another street-side bench, something that residents in neighbourhoods like this often provide.

But I’d never seen one that looked like this.

It is a carefully constructed, highly lacquered bench, with selected objects dropped into custom niches and neatly sealed in place. It is a bench of stories — each item a story, all items collectively the uber-story. The air is thick with stories, and I don’t know what any of them are. The cues are everywhere, if only I could read them.

For example, insignia of the Vancouver Thunderbird Minor Hockey Association…

a coil of blue beads, and a deconstructed Rubik’s cube…

a soccer ball insignia (I think), a water pistol (I think), and a penknife (ditto)…

and even a very Grumpy Guy.

There is no plaque, no sign, anywhere, to explain any of it. I can see that these items are prized, and that for someone, or some group of someones, they speak and are cherished for what they evoke. But I not privy to any of it.

So, in the absence of their story, I must create my own. It could be a story of outrage, at being excluded… or a story of disdain, for the objects on display.

Nahhh. My chosen personal story is one of delight. Thank you, unknown story teller, for creating this! I have no idea what any of it means, and I don’t care. It matters to you, and you’re sharing it with us — and in the process you have snagged my eye, my brain and my heart with something visually stimulating and totally unexpected.

So, unlike Grumpy Guy, my mouth curves definitely upward as I walk on home.

Triangle-Plus

6 January 2023 – I’m on the walkway linking Waterfront Station with the SeaBus terminal on Burrard Inlet — essentially a metal grid with glass side panels that offer long views of the train tracks, Port of Vancouver activity and waterfront facilities.

The language of the grid — witness this public-domain night shot — is the triangle.

This means that everything we see, as we walk along, is triangle-plus.

For example!

Tall triangle + tracks + boxcars + Skytrain…

or tall triangle + tracks + small blue helicopter + a whole herd of giraffes (aka Port Authority cranes)…

or tiny triangle + bijou tracks…

or, looking west, expansive triangle + spikes (aka Canada Place).

There is even one unapologetic rectangle.

Complete with visible fish + visible giraffes + invisible maple leaves…

it sends us down the escalator to sea level, SeaBus and our trip across the water to North Vancouver.

Rage & Respect

1 January 2023 – All around me are reasons for the former; the latter — unexpected, vehement — lifts my heart. A life lesson in life’s juxtapositions, on an alley wall in the DTES, with the new year barely 11 hours old.

I had been elsewhere in the city’s Downtown Eastside, and I am now walking south on Gore Street before doubling back out to Main and a bus ride home. The area is… devastated. I have earned my living with words, and I have no adequate words for the DTES. COVID on top of the long opioid crisis, tent cities on sidewalks. No-one harasses or threatens me; I walk without fear but with an impotent mix of pity & frustration. What to do? What useful response? And, to which bit of which problem?

Then, between East Cordova & East Hastings, I walk down one half of one grubby alley, and I see something wonderful.

I see rage, and I see respect for one response to one bit of one of the problems.

Far end of the alley, down toward Main Street, is bleak and still. Crows scream insults; nothing else moves.

The near end, here at Gore, pulses with street art life. Really street — not juried, approved & curated into a festival. (I say this with no disrespect for the VMF, just in recognition that street-street is a different creature.)

This is the first of three images, all three raw with colour & line. The images are interspersed with text, and it is the text — the rage & respect of the text — that lifts my heart and fills me in turn with respect.

Text fills the wall, either side of that bald biker image. On the left, a nod of thanks to the East Van Art Crew…

and on the right, a message about the real problem. Which is not the drugz.

A big verbal smack upside the head, to treat each other right.

I move on, read on. Next, a whole doorway of text.

A big “265” at the top, okay, probably back door to something. And then a lecture, surely added later, about the people involved with “265” and how to treat them.

Later, I look it up. This is the back entrance to the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, located at 265 East Hastings, founded in 1978, open 24/7, and “one of the few safe spaces within the Downtown Eastside for self-identified women and their children.”

There must have been some incidents. Kendra, author of this lecture, is on a tear.

Hat’s off to Kendra. All these workers & volunteers deserve respect, she says. “None of these women are obligated, forced or bribed 2 BE HERE! They are all here 4 all of us because they want to be…” She closes her tirade “with all my love & respect.”

(As I stand here reading the message, a slight, young hoodied figure slides past me, inserts a key, goes in.)

Next, on the wall, a woman’s face…

and next to her, more text. Another message about how to behave.

One more face…

and one last message of respect & gratitude.

Did you see the very bottom? Half-effaced, in ground-level dirt. Your work, it says, doesn’t go unnoticed.

I go home. I am shaken by all that is so desperately, pervasively, wrong in the DTES. But I am also moved and encouraged by the proof that good work is quietly, doggedly being done — and is appreciated.

Human nature, eh? The great both/and of good and evil.

High Tide + Wind + Rain

27 December 2022 – Back from Abbotsford (yes! I made it to the Valley for a magical few days with layers & layers of family), I wake to the consequences of nature’s switcheroo from snow to rain.

“Moderate to elevated” risk of flooding in low-lying areas near the ocean, warns the City of Vancouver, due to exceptionally high tides plus strong winds plus rain. Sections of seawall along Burrard Inlet have been closed as a precaution, and False Creek is named as an area of possible flooding.

I pull on my Seriously Waterproof Coat, and go take a look.

In behind the BC Dragon Boat dock, the channel is full to the brim…

and every woofer in sight sports a raincoat.

I cross that same little pedestrian bridge over a water channel west of Olympic Village, and close in on the stretch where gravel and stepping-stone blocks link Hinge Park to the offshore Habitat Island.

No gravel, no stones. Lots of water.


Normally (and thank you TripAdvisor for this handy comparison photo), the pathway looks like this…

but not today.

I gawp at the sight, stepping stones gleaming ghost-pale from the depths. I also wonder whether nature threw that log across the submerged pathway, or workers placed it there earlier, to prevent people from making what could become a dangerous crossing.

Doubling back toward Olympic Village, I peer at more submerged stones…

and rain drops imitating the rain-drop sewer grate…

and then, heading south, I enjoy the comic relief of a Peep-Show Moment On Ontario Street. I am outside an industrial laundry facility, looking in.

It’s a huge, rambling, and pretty old facility — dickensian-derelict on the outside, but still heaving great bright-white hammocks of laundry loads around on the inside. I can hear motors grinding away, and the window panes shimmy to the beat.

And then!

And then I stop off at P√Ętisserie Melo for hot chocolate…

and finally walk back home.

Invitations

16 December 2022 – It’s barely a kilometer from the east end of False Creek back to Olympic Plaza, but it is chock-full of invitations along the way. We are encouraged to…

Help design a park:

Get involved with East Park, now in its consultation/planning stages.

Watch the changing tides:

Say yes to any or all of multiple invitations in Olympic Plaza:

  • Salute the site itself, a from-scratch construction project, “North America’s first LEED Platinum community,” completed in time to house athletes for the 2010 Winter Olympics and subsequently converted to more than 1,000 condo units; or…
  • Enjoy (but not climb!) Myfanwy Macleod’s The Birds art installations; or…
  • Admire the sleek industrial-functional lines of the 1931 Vancouver Salt Co., built to process unrefined salt shipped in from floodplains near San Francisco; or…
  • Indulge a thirst for beer not history, and visit the building in its present incarnation as CRAFT False Creek (“where everything is on tap”).

Go for the gold:

This gentleman, in largely legible and fairly grammatical prose, states that the CIA has buried two tons of gold in a secret location beneath the City of Vancouver — and he knows where it is. (Which, he adds, is why the cops shot at him the other day and CSIS is pursuing him.)

Or...

in a final invitation discovered up on West 2nd Avenue…

submit!

Ahhhh, well… or maybe just get cobbled instead.

“Mount Pleasant Station”

12 December 2022 – Not yet Mount Pleasant Station, that’s still years from reality. Not the purpose of my walk either. But this block-long construction site neatly bookends my walk — a rectangular path that takes me purpose-driven south on Main to East 18th, then whim-happy west to Quebec and north again to Broadway.

The planned station so tidy on the map! It’s our local segment of the Broadway Subway Project — the 5.7 km extension of the Millennium Line west beneath Broadway to Arbutus Street.

And so appealing, so welcoming and soothing, in this early-stage conceptual illustration!

But in the reality of right-now, here at Broadway and Main, it looks like this.

Pedestrians scurry past. Only the mannequins in the vintage shop window opposite pay any attention…

and they are unimpressed.

I visit a few shops. I achieve my holiday-season purposes. Yay! So I am ready for amusement by the time I hit East 18th.

I think I am familiar with both visual treats at this corner, but I learn something new about each. (I only learn the somethings-new later, and that’s directly thanks to you, as it always is, because I look things up to share with you.)

This Vancouver Mural Festival project on the S/W corner, I later verify…

dates from 2020, the work of indigenous artist Steve Smith ~ Dla’kwagila.

And these great bendy arches in Sun Hop Park on the N/W corner, I later learn to my delight…

reference the drinking straws in the Palm Dairy & Milk Bar that stood here 1952-89. Nearby seats, I now realize, are bottle-top shaped, and everything is painted Palm Dairy’s signature bright red. (See what you cause me to learn? Bless your boots.)

Around the corner onto East 18th, and another treat: a surviving Vancouver Special. Arguably not a visual treat, but I think an icon worthy of respect — vernacular architecture from 1965-85 that helped address the housing crisis of the day and has continued to serve city residents with the flexibility that was always a core intention of the boxy design.

Another visual icon, at least of this Fairview/Mount Pleasant neighbourhood — street-side swings. So simple, so friendly, so… neighbourly. I am charmed, every time.

Right-turn north onto Quebec Street, and a great smack-up of colours: designer-red on that house opposite, nature’s own moss green up and down this magnificent tree and, beneath it, the careless gold of autumn leaves.

One block farther south, more of nature’s colour palette: black.

What you see when someone rakes up all those sodden leaves to reveal naked soil below.

Down at East 12th, yet more seasonality: St. Patrick’s Secondary School is in the Christmas tree business.

Then more trees, but street-side, and firmly rooted. I stand mesmerized by the play of colours and texture. (And that one stubborn leaf!)

Thump.

I am back at Broadway. West end of the Mount Pleasant Station site, and just as busy a jumble as the east end.

More fun, though.

All those leaping salmon in the mural (apparently climbing the wall, as real salmon climb a waterfall), and that silver bear, one paw raised in benediction. You’d think he’d be busy nabbing salmon for lunch, not blessing the street…

but perhaps his sun glasses obscure his view.

Sun. Flower

4 December 2022 – Well… there is sun. Today, yes there is.

But, flower?

I balance on the ice-slick Scotia St. sidewalk, and anthropomorphize like mad.

Two stalks. Remnants of the rampant bright leaves and companion seed head of a big old summer sunflower — not in anybody’s garden, but right here at sidewalk’s edge.

Oh good grief, look at it now.

“I am a sunflower,” I hear it growl. “It is now winter.”

“Barely any sun. What do you expect?”

I salute its defiant, bedraggled survivor-splendour, and walk on.

“To explore…”

1 December 2022 – “To explore,” says Stephanie Rosenbloom in her book Alone Time, “we need only put one foot in front of the other.” And the best part of that is… you and your feet, you can do whatever you want! You can stop your feet, reverse them, loop around, hesitate, scratch your head, get lost in thought. Your feet don’t care, and you don’t need to find a parking space.

All of which links with an observation in my very own About comments for this blog, and with my theme for this post.

In About, I explain that until August 2012 this blog concerned training for and completing an Arthritis Society charity trek in Iceland, and then, as of August 2012, I walk on. “With my feet, and in my mind as well.”

In two recent walks, I was struck by how my feet explored very limited physical spaces, while my mind spun through decades of time and a whole world of continents.

The Alley, Manitoba south of West 5th

I’m walking east in the alley, almost at Manitoba. My eye snags on this turquoise/yellow reflection, a bright flag in an otherwise entirely boring window in an equally boring building.

And here’s the source, the mural on the side wall of that building on the left. I like everything about it, from the mural itself to the hydro poles and their play of shadows, and the far view of one of my favourite VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival) murals right across the street.

Close-up to admire the new mural…

and then I peek around the corner, to discover it’s on our friend, the snazzy new 2131 Manitoba building (cf. Taking the 5th) with snazzy new tenants like AbCellular Biologics.

No attribution for their mural, which I find disappointing, but there is attribution for the 2019 VMF mural across the street.

It’s the work of Beijing-born, Vancouver-based artist William Liao. I think his website’s use of the phrase “fine arts” is entirely justified — both for what you can see online, and for this haunting face.

Tender, traditional, very fine-arts, yet entirely at home in its alley context.

I backtrack to the west side of Manitoba and south to the corner of West 6th, for one last look at the “2131” mural through the security fencing for yet another of the new builds transforming this neighbourhood.

This hole in the ground will become the new home of Ekistics, I learn.

And that, my friends, stays my feet and launches my mind.

Ekistics is a multi-disciplinary design and consulting studio, specializing in “sustainable planning, architecture, landscape architecture and land development” — and who can argue with that? I’m all in favour.

I just think this Vancouver firm, founded in 1992, might at least give a passing nod to the pioneering work of Greek architect and urban planner C.A. Doxiades, who first coined the word “ekistics” and laid out the elements of its science and study in an October 1970 article in Science magazine. Doxiades, who was active in the Greek underground during World War II and helped lead the country’s reconstruction post-war, went on to found a firm of engineers, architects and urban planners that in time had offices on five continents and projects in more than 40 countries.

I was interested in these things, in the 1970s, and followed his work for a while. This Vancouver team owes him some respect…

The Plaza, Cambie south of West Broadway

Another day, and different weather: a snow-heavy sky about to dump all over us.

I’m just south of the Skytrain station on Broadway, about to cut south-east toward home, and find my feet slowing down. Perhaps in sympathy with all these feet.

Walking Figures, they are called, the cast-iron last survivors of a group created in Poland by Magdalena Abakanowicz and erected here as part of one of our Vancouver Biennale exhibitions.

I circle them, look at the hollowed back views marching toward the transit station as cranky gulls wheel through the grubby sky.

And I walk my own feet the other way, up the “Welcome to City Hall” (top riser) steps just beyond.

Walk-walk, admiring as I always do the architecture of this building: a Depression-era project, opened in 1936, and visually somewhere in that transition from the vertical, highly ornamented lines of Art Deco to the simpler and more horizontal lines of Moderne. Admiring also, that in our recent civic election that saw a major shift of voter sympathies, all the defeated candidates conceded quickly and gracefully. (I am only appalled that I have to be grateful for behaviour I used to take for granted.)

My feet stop at this rock, one of the City’s millennium-project incised rocks still to be found in landmark locations. Annoyingly, I can’t decipher the name or later find it online, but as I stand there, feet stilled, the words set my mind walking.

My mind and my mental ear as well. Spread the image, try to catch more words, but here’s the gist of it. It’s all about everyday sounds we no longer hear, and they are picked out in the equivalent of bold face: clickety-clack (push lawnmower), cock-a-doodle-do (rooster), clip-clop (delivery wagon horses), ah-on-gah (early car horns), whack! (the smack of a wooden frame screen door). I particularly like that whack!, it shoots my mind back to Dorval Island and our cottage there of the 1940s & 50s. That is exactly the sound.

It is still in my ear as my feet move on, just a little, carrying me across the winter-desolate plaza whose empty picnic tables bear witness to the weather. (Where are the mountains? They should be out there… All hidden.)

My busy feet scamper off the far side of the plaza and then stop me before this plaque, set my eyes reading and my mind again hard at work. This plaza bears a name. It’s a name for us all to honour.

I had never heard of Helena Gutteridge! Food for continued thought, as my feet pick up the pace, urge me back home in time to beat the snow.

Which, that evening…

comes thumping down.

3 Things About P-D Rain

22 November 2022 – There are surely many more things to know about seriously pissing-down rain, but here is your starter’s kit of three.

1 – In Nature

The Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) still deserves its nickname.

2 – In Shops

The doorway umbrella stand is chock-full.

3 – In Pedestrians

Here you have to take my word for it. As we cross paths on the sidewalk — splish-splosh in our wellie-boots, zipped up in our Seriously Waterproof Coats — we wrinkle our noses at each other in amusement.

“Isn’t this the silliest weather ever?” our noses ask each other, and we beam agreement as we walk on by.

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 115,437 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,997 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: