Benched

10 August 2018 – How much civility is added to our lives by the strategic placement of public benches! They allow us to sit, to consider, to rest, to be at ease in public space, perhaps to share that space with others, or simply to enjoy the present moment — or a succession of present moments, if we are patient enough to allow them to unfold for us, in their own time and way.

I am particularly enamoured of benches at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. They exist in great variety, and in magic settings.

These Michael Dennis red cedar figures (Confidence, 2012) need no bench as they gaze upon Livingstone Lake, but we humans appreciate the one down there in the shade at water’s edge.

It is a classic bench shape ..

as simple and timeless as the lines of a canoe.

I sit there, mentally floating with the water lilies on the lake.

Then I sharpen focus, both mind and eyes, my attention snagged by movement in the lake. One lily pad, just one, is jigging back & forth.

I watch. I wait.

And I am rewarded by the sight of a tiny black triangular snout popping up on the lily pad’s far side. A turtle is busy doing turtle things, and I would have missed it but for my willingness to just … sit there.

Many benches have plaques, most of them just a commemorative name. I am so grateful to discover this one, for it perfectly captures what I am doing, what benches offer us if we come to them on their own quiet terms.

The plaque is attached to this bench beside the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond — another classic bench shape

From here I often rest my eyes on knobby cypress knees all around the Pond and, one memorable day, listen to a young woman chant mantras at the far end of the floating boardwalk, just out of sight.

Very plain, these flat benches, but they often have ornamentation.

An impromptu walking stick, for example …

or a whole smother-load of plant life.

Another classic bench shape, with arms-and-back, this time also with guy-and-cellphone, up by the Scottish Shelter and Heather Garden.

Same bench shape elsewhere, but minus the guy — and minus a few back slats as well.

All the different ways, to make a bench part of your meandering exploration of this botanical garden.

Walk quietly into the Meditation Garden, rest on a stone bench.

 

Walk the narrow wood-chip Azalea Trail, sit a moment tip-tilted on the world’s most rustic bench …

and, farther down the Trail, sit a more stable moment on the world’s second-most-rustic bench.

Say good-bye to rustic.

Loop to the north-eastern side of Heron Lake, cross the open lawn between the Giant Redwoods and the South African Garden, do a double-take, suddenly realize that the elegant green ellipse down by the water is not a companion sculpture to the David Marshall work in the background …

it is a bench.

That is my discovery this very day, after a year-plus of visiting the VanDusen. So I sit there, and I laugh at myself and all the discoveries we can make as we go through a day. What fun this is!

I think a moment about what I have seen and heard, just by sitting quietly on one or another of their benches — ducks carving a slalom curve through thick lily pads in Livingstone Lake; hummingbirds darting back & forth among shrubs above the Cypress Pond; a heron suddenly landing on (where else?) Heron Lake; chickadees calling; squirrels scolding; ducklings plonking along after mum, past my bench & back to the security of the water.

I walk on, read another plaque.

“A place to sit in the garden.”

Yes. Exactly.

 

 

Eye-Smack

5 August 2018 – I have a plan. (1) Quote “better than a smack in the eye with a wet kipper”; (2) thank Monty Python’s Fish Dance for this immortal line; and (3) segue very niftily to being smacked in the eye with colour.

Then I discover that Fish Dance doesn’t include this line, and that there are a zillion variations on the line, with attributions as wide-ranging as Aussie slang, Uncle Anatole in the Tintin series, and even Dr. Cottard in the 1908 work Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust.

Good grief. Let’s forget all that, and get back to my being smacked in the eye with colour.

Which is what happens during a week of blazing, pulsing sunshine.

Green!

Blue-purple!

Yellow! (bee-flecked with black)

And — just to show nature doesn’t have all the fun — look what happens when you leave the VanDusen Botanical Garden and take the Canada Line downtown to Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

Underbrella!

Welcome to the new public art installation bobbing among the trees in Bill Curtis Square, courtesy of the Yaletown BIA.

Perfectly sensible adults dance around under it, squinting upwards, and giggling.

 

We are in love with it — at least partially because, as someone suggested, all those brollies currently shield us from sunshine rather than pelting rain.

 

Wide-Eyed

31 July 2018 – I’m on Helmcken, almost at Granville, minding my own business. I see Very Feminine eyes on the wall. She is staring, wide-eyed.

Next to her, Very Masculine eyes. Also staring, and also wide-eyed (in a Very Masculine sort of way).

Chef Guy, however, is looking down.

 

But then, he is part of what the other two are staring at: the entrance to the alley smack opposite their wall, immediately west of Granville.

The least I can do is go take a look for myself. With my real, live human eyes. Wide open.

The first thing that catches my attention is the scruffy wall. The scurfy wall. All rust streaks and bubbling, peeling paint. Rust speaks of many ugly things — but it is a beautiful colour, is it not?

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Chef Guy. I’m more taken with the protruding edge of that fire escape to his right, yet another example of one of my favourite (imaginary) mathematical concepts: Geometry at Work.

On down the alley. Admire that fire escape.

I’d rather admire it, than have to use it.

And on down past that, to the mural.

I stand back far enough to see it as an urban art installation, framed by hydro poles and a delivery truck. Signed AA Crew (street artists Virus, Tar and Dedos), an important presence, I discover, at the city’s 2017 Muralfest. It’s a timely discovery, with Muralfest 2018 coming up August 6-11.

And then I’m out the other end of the block, back to Granville, on south to Drake.

My eye is still in for street art, planned or found, and I decide the repaint job for Wildlife Thrift Shop qualifies.

And I catch my bus for home.

 

 

Yes-yes! No-no!

25 July 2018 – So here we are in the trendy Yaletown neighbourhood of downtown Vancouver.

Yes-yes! cries the sidewalk sign. Bring in your beloved Fifi, bedeck her with jewels…

And, right next door, an equally upmarket residential complex, with its own signage.

No-no! it cries …

Wrap Fifi’s neck in rhinestones if you must, but tell her to cross her legs until you get home.

 

Mea Culpa

I thought I had two copies of Sally’s photo of Frances & me disappearing around the bend in Burns Bog, which I used as lead image for the previous post.

No-no! (to borrow a phrase…) Frances took a near-identical photo of Sally & me, at another bend in the boardwalk.

I used Frances’ photo, but with Sally’s title.

Yes-yes!

City Math

14 July 2018 – Given my severely modest school grades in math, it is very odd that I am so fascinated by lines & shapes, as I wander around town. You’ve met this fascination at least twice before — in Recti/Curvi-Linear and in Geometry at Work & Play — and here it is again.

I’m downtown on Burrard and, as I eye a group of towers reflected in another tower …

I think: “Vertical!” More precisely, Jagged-Vertical, as tends to be the case with reflections.

Somewhat later, I’m on a bench in Emery Barnes Park, enjoying the sound & sight of the fountain at one end of the long watercourse that runs the length of the park to a waterfall at the other end.

I don’t know why it makes me remember the reflected office towers, but it does. That in turn makes me think about verticals and horizontals, and the other lines and shapes of the built city. And the way each category has its variations.

More than one kind of vertical, for example. A fountain, I realize, is Arching-Vertical.

Now that I’m looking for lines & shapes, I see the connecting watercourse with a different eye.

Never mind the sparkle of the water, the colourful mosaics in the canal bed. I’m alert to shape, and this is Horizontal. No, wait a minute: it’s Downtown-Horizontal with Pigeons and Park-Bench Feet.

I sit on my bench, watch park life for a while. Despite signage that this is not a wading pond, small children & indulgent parents think it is a wading pond, and behave accordingly.

Which brings us to the next category of Horizontal:

Horizontal with Small Damp Vertical Humanoid. (Plus rock-arch, footbridge-arch, water-jet arching-vertical.)

I begin to walk along the watercourse, and realize it offers even more geometry than that.

It is also Cruciform! And, ‘way down at the end, it leads into yellow Triangular cranes above the Verticals of the waterfall.

Close to the waterfall, I see that, at this particular moment, it is Downtown Vertical with Pigeons.

Eventually I wander on, following the very Horizontal guidelines on the sidewalk …

down through Yaletown and its many shops.

Which expose me first to …

Retail-Vertical, Foodstuffs Division; and, a little farther along, to …

well! Let’s just call it, Retail-Geometry, Rental Bicycle Division.

My eye first reads those horizontal handlebars, then registers the vertical bike frames, then adds in the circular tires and, up above, the  horizontal rack of curved baskets.

Plus, on one of those handlebars, an off-kilter vertical. (Tower of Pisa Division?)

It’s relief to hit Yaletown Dock, with a simple clear example of Horizontal (Passenger-Direction Division) …

and, a short ferry ride later, to arrive at Spyglass Dock, with its distinctive Woolly Vertical.

I sink into a Muskoka chair for a bit, and listen to a teenage girl improvise some jazz on the dock piano while I admire the Verticals (all that real estate across the water) and Horizontals (the waters of False Creek) shining in the mid-afternoon sunshine.

I catch myself trying to calculate the angle of the ferry dock ramp, and how to capture the vegetation in a suitably geometric description. I start to laugh.

Quite enough math for one day! I go home.

 

How-Not-To

7 July 2018 – Sometimes negative teaches more than positive.

For example, if you wish to convince people that your City hates art …

do not — do NOT — post your message on the edge of Robson Square, with the Vancouver Art Gallery to one side, bracketed by two major sculptures (Spring, Alan Chung Hung; Bird of Spring, Abraham Etungat), and backed by a brand new, sassy labyrinth on the pavement immediately behind.

I laugh at the message, and go enjoy the labyrinth.

Which is completely delightful.

Suddenly I know why I’ve been seeing more labyrinths about the city lately — in fact, showed one of them to you in my recent Jalan-Jalan post. We’re one half of the on-going Toronto & Vancouver City of Labyrinths project, its objective being to “create public labyrinths within walking distance of every Torontonian & Vancouverite.”

 

The City hates art? Looks like love to me.

 

Marching Orders

4 July 2018 – I am not exactly marching down the underside of the Cambie Bridge on-ramp, but I am certainly striding right along. It leads to Spyglass Dock on False Creek, and once again, this is my starting point for the day’s exploration.

I ignore the large, City-sanctioned chalkboard, with its invitation to add what makes you happy to the already long list of contributions. (“You,” “weed,” it goes on like that.) But I do break stride for this entirely unsanctioned little message, right down at ankle level on one of the on-ramp pillars.

Entirely appropriate marching orders for the day, I decide.

Life-in-general deserves a smile, as the sign points out. So does life-in-Canada, something we’re all aware of on this final day of the Canada Day holiday weekend. And … and … who knows what this walk will offer?

The first offering arrives just moments later — the public piano, freshly repainted and as usual being played, right here on Spyglass Dock.

The boy is playing Beethoven’s Für Elise as I arrive, segues into Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca and, after some mad riffing on Turkish March themes (all very riffable), slides into the Beatles’ Let It Be.

And I do let it be. I sink into one of the dockside Muskoka chairs, and watch life roll/skate/walk/sail/paddle/fly by.

A couple sinks into adjoining chairs. “Free music and free chairs!” marvels the woman.

Finally, I bestir myself, & head for the spiral staircase between seawall & bridge. I do not exactly smile at the staircase, it will demand exertion …

but I appreciate how very neatly it delivers me to where I want to be, namely on the bridge  — and, in due course, to where I next want to be, namely heading west along the north side of False Creek.

Quite different, this side: imposing condos, practically to water’s edge; imposing boats crowding the public marinas, smack at water’s edge. But in between, at least a ribbon of bike/pedestrian pathway, expanding at intervals into parks.

I’ve passed these kiosks before, not paid close attention, simply registered them as backdrop to the False Creek of here & now, paying elegantly artistic tribute to all that has vanished.

Today I step close, read words engraved on the kiosk itself and frost-lettered into the glass railing. I’m not from here, these words cannot evoke for me what they can mean to others, but even so … Even so, I am moved.

Each lettered kiosk panel has its visual partner, silhouettes and cut-outs of all that has lived here, some of which still does. Wading birds, for example …

And there is signage. Lots of signage.

We are instructed to Thank Todd …

who, having provided the poop bags, points out we now have no excuse not to do the right thing.

Another sign, this one official, repeats at intervals along the pathway centre line that divides cyclist lanes from pedestrian.

This version alternates with one warning cyclists about pedestrians. Like Todd, preventable.ca now expects us to do the right thing. I suppose, in a way, it amounts to the same “right thing,” doesn’t it? We are to use our brains, think ahead, & avoid preventable messes.

So despite the wagging finger overtones, I do smile.

And smile more as I approach Waiting For Low TideDon Vaughan‘s wonderful circle of boulders that enclose a tidal pool.

It is the companion installation to his equally remarkable Marking High Tide, just a little farther west. Vaughan is a retired landscape architect and — is this not wonderful? — a fellow WordPress blogger. So follow that link.

A woman sits on the seawall near the boulders, her small dog next to her, his Canada Day kerchief of red maple leaves neatly tied around his neck. Canada Geese bob nearby. O Canada!

I circle back to the ferry dock in David Lam Park, stopping for a looney’s-worth of lemonade as I go …

and watch others also reward this boy’s entrepreneurial spirit. (His vendor’s permit, you ask? Don’t be silly.)

Onto a ferry, and on to Granville Island …

with its line of houseboats, their flags aloft for the holiday, and, beyond that, the sky-punching silos of the concrete company.

I eat a slice of spinach-rice pie, exhale with relief as I slide away from the crowds, then duck through a parking garage and enjoy its line-up of murals.

Colour everywhere, art galleries and other artisan shops — here a whole wall of scarves / hats / jackets that spill out from Funk Shui Felt. (Yes. Funk-with-a-k.)

I’m about to leave — but first I detour waterside again to pay tribute to the colours that drench Ocean Concrete. Colour, defining a concrete company worksite? There it is, before your eyes.

The 21-metre-high figures transforming the six silos are one installation in a global series called Giants, by the Brazilian twins known as OSGEMEOS, and a legacy of the 2014 edition of the Vancouver Biennale. No credit given for the cheerful cement mixer drums on some of the trucks — see that strawberry, there on the lower left? —  but I think they are perfectly swell, whoever painted them.

And that’s it. Smile!

 

Jalan-Jalan

27 June 2018 – It’s one of my favourite remembered scraps of Indonesian: literally “street-street,” meaning “out & about” or “wandering around” or — channelling 1980s British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse — “Walkies!”

The day is breezy-sunny, perfect for a nice long street-street. Feet-feet, come to that, because I really am just following my feet, seeing where they’d like to go and tagging along after them.

My feet & I, we head under the south-side ramps for the Cambie Street bridge …

plonk ourselves into one of the Muskoka chairs at Spyglass Dock for a bit, to listen to the current passing pianist …

and then trot off eastward along False Creek.

We walk the stone labyrinth at water’s edge opposite Hinge Park. While my feet are busy tracing the path …

my mind is busy chanting a graffito I once saw on a Toronto wall, the words neatly spiralled inward, with the final word at the centre.

Trace your sources to their roots

and they will find you laughing.

My old copy-editor self has always fretted about the ambiguous “they” reference. Your sources? Or your roots? And then I always shrug, because it doesn’t matter, does it? Whatever it is, I love that, at its heart, it will reward you with laughter.

Off the eastern end of False Creek, over to the Pacific Central Station for a (premature, it turns out) query about train service, and then I find myself not heading for the north side of False Creek, as I thought I had intended. Nope! I’m all street-street / feet-feet into Chinatown. Well, there’s a surprise, but I’m happy to follow my feet.

First a half-block along Station Street, to get a bit closer to those murals opposite the park, high over the back side of Campagnolo Restaurant. (Rustic Italian, its website later tells me, and once a Condé Nast Traveller choice as a hot new restaurant worth noting.)

Then my feet double me around to Main Street again. I start north, past the resto’s invitation to come on in for lunch.

I don’t. I keep walking, curious to see what I’ll see. Even a scruffy wall glitters in the sunlight, a kind of exercise in found colour blocking.

Bold advertising as I turn east on Keefer from Main …

and for an establishment NOT to be confused with the much classier Keefer Suites, same street but several polite blocks farther west.

My feet & I, we just keep ambling around. On Gore now, approaching East Pender, I blink at these bright emerald doors.

Marked “E” for Emerald Supper Club, I discover. Later, I see the website promises “a mix of old school vegas glamour with a little bit of anything goes attitude,” not that I can vouch for it personally.

Turn my head left, and there’s something I can vouch for — yet another of Chinatown’s sidewalk cornucopias of foodstuffs. Texture, colour, aroma, variety! Splendid.

I pivot around the lamp standard at the street corner, admiring the embedded brass lettering as I turn west onto East Pender …

and then, before I get to Main Street again, I stop in some confusion.

Does that sign really say Klaus Koffee Haus? Here in the heart of Chinatown?

I peer through its long front window, thrown open to the street. A young waiter smiles back out at me — as cosmopolitan as the restaurant, I later discover, with his Cajun/Cherokee/African American/Caucasian ancestry — and confirms that yes, this is an Austrian restaurant. With Italian and other comfort-food standards thrown in.

Who could resist? I go in, take a stool at the window ledge, and have myself a bowl of goulash while I consider the street’s array of other offerings, one after another, all the way down the block.

Continental Herbal, Kam Tong Enterprises, Kiu Yick Books, the Dollar Meat Store, Tinland Cooking, Care Home Mart. And just beyond all that, Vegan Supplies and frozen Dim Sum.

Truth is, I don’t visit any of them. But I am very happy they exist.

Back on Main, still heading north, almost at Powell, it’s street-art time. Can’t admire the barrel’s contents, namely a dead tree, but I am quite taken by the artwork.

The animals, I decide, have a semi-feral edge that I respect.

Westward on Powell now, getting closer to Gastown and entertainment/tourist territory. A wowzer of a mural, large enough to admire from afar and a good thing too, since I’d have to leap barricades and construction workers to get any closer.

A bit farther west, and this time it’s a good thing I can admire close up, because I need to read the words.

Very odd. I like it a lot.

Then I’m into Gastown and the shops and services are upmarket, and I go all reverse-snob and put away my camera.

My feet & I decide to hop a bus and ride back home.

 

 

The Pick Up

18 June 2018 – Of course you follow responsible pet etiquette.

You don’t need signs …

to remind you to carry plastic baggies when you’re out walking with Fido.

But suppose Fido isn’t a dog?

Suppose Fido is your pet elephant?

Well then!

maybe you’d better bring a backhoe.

 

 

Grey Power

10 June 2018 – A month of near-constant sunshine has convinced me that the sun is a trickster. All that zap-powie brilliance, explosions of colour in all directions — and meanwhile it’s hiding, I have decided, more than it reveals.

Hiding it the way any illusionist hides a whole lot of what is really going on: by distraction. We are so zap-powie focused on the colour, we tend to miss everything else.

Whereas, with a grey sky — which we had the other day — with a grey sky, you notice everything else. Line, form, texture, luminosity. Also colour, oddly enough. Grey really sets off colour.

I am walking east on West 1st Avenue, heading for Hinge Park and False Creek, umbrella under my arm, leaden sky overhead.

But it isn’t really leaden — or, not uniformly so.

And it dramatically sets off the disused warehouse beneath and that brave poplar, twirling its leaves green/silver/green in the wind.

Strong line of the roof, all those tones of rust, the twirling shrub. In bright sunshine, I wouldn’t have noticed all that. I know it.

Into Hinge Park. Transfixed by one small bird a-top the rusty pillar, silhouetted against the dark-dancing sky.

And now that sky patters down rain.

Drops form endless tiny concentric circles in the pond, a Mallard duck creates one arc of larger circles there on the left, and silver light bounces back from the rufffled surface of the water. Grey sentinel stones too, at water’s edge.

More rain.

I graduate from putting up the hood on my jacket to putting up my umbrella. And then, knowing when a tactical retreat is in order, I dive into an Olympic Village café.

(Time passes.)

End of latte, end of rain shower, but a still-dancing sky as I walk back home.

How it makes that mural pop! And how it plays up the march of the hydro poles down the alley.

Then I stop looking for examples of how the sky enhances what lies beneath, and I just … look at the sky.

Which stands up very nicely on its own.

Next day the sunshine is back, and guess what. I am still noticing grey. Suddenly I see that old trickster sun as a backdrop for grey.

Though not just any old chunk of grey concrete, I have to admit.

This is one arc of landscape architect/artist Don Vaughan‘s work, Marking High Tide, which stands at the seawall in David Lam Park on  the north shore of False Creek.

Vaughan also wrote the poem: “As the moon circles the earth the oceans respond with the rhythm of the tides.”

  • 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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