Bard on the Brolly

19 January 2018 – The rain is heaving down. We are a slightly bedraggled group, waiting for Christ Church Cathedral to open its doors and admit us to this evening’s Early Music Vancouver performance.

The woman behind me is muttering dark thoughts about winter in Vancouver. The woman behind me lets her umbrella do the talking.

I am greatly amused. “Source?” I ask. “Shakespeare,” she answers. “Which bit?” I am about to ask, but the doors open and the moment is lost.

(Twelth Night, Act 5, Scene 1, the Fool’s song — I look it up later.)

 

Stares & Chairs

12 January 2018 – Out on a walk, you hope for some stare-worthy moments. But, chairs? Not unless your path takes you through furniture stores.

I am not walking through furniture stores, I am heading east from Cambie Bridge along False Creek. Chairs don’t come into it. Yet.

Staring, is what I’m doing.

At the ferries puttering back & forth; at the lone kayaker who has just glided past; at the “beehive” installation out there in the water; at the agreeably rough wooden structure nearer to land, which seems to fit so well into its nautical environment. And, yes, at the neon slogan picked out on its cross-beam.

Should I Be Worried? Truth is, despite all the issues the question teases into mind, I prefer — this bright, sunny day — not to worry. Not right now.

I prefer to cock an ear to the murder of crows in an adjacent tree, busy composing their latest Cawcophony Concerto.

Then I stop for another public-art slogan, just steps farther east than the first. This one has been around longer, so it’s familiar to me, but I always stop anyway. I like the message.

Let’s be thankful.

Something else to stare at, as I zig-zag through Hinge Park, this time courtesy of Nature: a winter palette of colour.

Intense green, tawny gold, wine-red. Boom boom boom.

I’m approaching Olympic Village Square now, with its tidy insets, pedestrian bridges, stone hard-scaping to enhance the natural setting.

And a blindingly white chair.

It’s a photo-shoot, the photographer as focused as her camera, her assistant at her shoulder. Other passers-by slow a moment, take it in, speed up again and move on.

Well, I think, it’s not the only white chair around here.

These chairs are always here, well used and a little the grubbier for it. Warmer weather, they support visitors — I’ve been one of them. Right now, their broad arms support only the photo-shoot notebooks.

Just before the Square, another inlet of water, with its tiered stones that always (inaccurately, I know) make me think of ancient Greek amphitheatres.

And what do I see? More white chairs!

Another photo-shoot. This time the photographer is male, he & his assistant svelte in black, both as carefully composed as the scene before their camera.

A latte-break in the Square, and I’m off again.

Do these qualify as chairs?

Somewhere to sit, but benches not chairs. Handsome, though, and cunningly staggered.

I turn away from the water, back toward town. No more chairs now, I think, but always something to stare at.

I’ve looked at this installation before, a cluster of “salt” mounds in tribute to the Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd. building (now restored as a pub) that they frame. But I haven’t looked at them from this angle, and I decide I like it better.

Then I’m really back in town, climbing the hill southward toward home. ‘Way up there, I walk past a favourite park — not just landscaping & benches & kiddie play stations, but also a whole set of bike repair tools. Carefully tethered, mind you, but right out there in public, for all to use.

And I see all that again, yes I do.

Plus one addition.

Of course. There had to be one last chair.

 

 

 

 

It’s Raining

9 January 2018 – And I am out walking. Not despite the rain, but because of it. I am inspired by Melissa Harrison’s book Rain (Four Walks in English Weather), the gift of very dear, and very perceptive, friends.

Don’t sulk at what rain subtracts from your walk, is the message: celebrate, instead, what it contributes.

I’m in the right city for that! Rain is at the heart of Vancouver’s self-image.

I am not en pointe; I am en rain boot. My umbrella is not flung gloriously back & up; it is snugged firmly down around my ears.

Droplets dance on the clear plastic …

and, out there beyond my protected head, shine every plant leaf to brilliance.

I’ve noticed before: rain makes colours pop.

A beacon of light spills across the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) parking lot. It illuminates the eddies of water sluicing their way to sewer grates.

Chrome yellow & white in that image; here turquoise & white, punched out against all that shiny black.

Water beads dance on the metal curves of this bench …

and pick out the lines of these tree branches.

(Yes, well, all very magic — but let us also sober up long enough to notice the amount of moss on the roof. I’m glad it’s not my roof.)

Every shop with its umbrella stand at the door. So handy! Stash the brolly beneath, while you check out the bright red rain boots above.

“Rain City Dance,” I decide, applies to more than one local studio. We and our umbrellas, we are all part of the dance.

Usually as members of the corps de ballet …

but, sometimes, at just the right moment on just the right street corner …

as prima ballerina.

“Being near water …”

6 January 2018 – The quote continues: “well … anything is possible.”

We don’t see the quote, or its context, until late in our Tuesday walk, but by then we have ample cause to agree.

The Tuesday Walking Society (West Coast branch) is out in full three-some force. Our first walk of the new year has us in North Vancouver, smack on the north shore of Burrard Inlet by Lonsdale Quay, about to explore the new Polygon Gallery.

New as Polygon — it opened last November — but with deep roots. It is the rebirth of Presentation House, which spent 40 years a bit farther up the sloping streets of North Van. Polygon sits between water and mountains and speaks to both: its south-facing glass alive to the Inlet, and its serrated roofline companion to the Coast Range at its back.

But the truth is, I don’t much notice the architecture until I am inside. Then I am wowed. It wraps us in the light-filled, warm minimalism that I love so much. All that quiet, highly functional beauty…

I fixate on the staircase.

Sally waves us on up, but I take an extra moment to admire the railing. Staircase railings protrude, right? Not here. This one, instead, is a calm, clean incision into the wall.

And it functions perfectly.

I scurry on up, discover the architect credits at the top of the stairs. Patkau Architects, I read — a Vancouver firm with an international (and award-winning) practice that emphasizes education and culture, along with their research projects.

Artspeak usually makes me itchy. Patkau’s capsule comment about Polygon seems exactly right: “Hovering, gleaming, framing the city of Vancouver, presenting a curated stream of photography and media art, reflecting the sky, flooded with northern light.”

And it is flooded with light. Provided by skylights, up here on the exhibition level. Even on this grey-brooding day, they fill the space with light.

And, occasionally, frame a construction crane on the building site next door.

Which works well with the exhibit, now that I think about it. This inaugural show, “N. Vancouver,” offers 26 existing and commissioned works by artists who have a history of engagement with north-shore themes.

My friends respond to the show as native Vancouverites: it brings back memories. I respond as the newcomer: it teaches me about this place, it builds dimension for me with backstory.

The works are strong. The archival pigment print of Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal, North Vancouver (Greg Girard, 2013/2017), for example …

or the hand-tinted black & white photos of Crossed Ski Poles Touching Shadows (N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., 1968).

I’m glad I read the small print. It explains how the shadows of these crossed poles shows them, instead, touching at the apex. (Never mind expanding the photo, here’s the story: the photos were taken at an angle.)

Brimming with curated North Van — photos, video, sculpture, weavings — we go out on the balcony for the physical North Van. Perhaps it is because we have just seen so many strong images, but we see this, too, as art. Nature’s art.

We’re looking south over Burrard Inlet, with the “Q” of the Lonsdale Quay logo here on the north shore to our right, and the city of Vancouver skyline across the way. With a line of cranes there on the left, marking the working port.

I orient you for a purpose. Things are about to go back-to-front. The Gallery’s glass wall behind us is either mirrored on the exterior, or, at this moment in the day, perfectly reflective. (How embarrassing not to have checked. Sorry.)

See? A slice of sharp-angled balcony floor beneath us, and a wall of glass that bounces the view on our right back at us from the left.

So we play with it.

Eternal nature meets 21st-c. electronics — Frances about to take a photo with her tablet; me with my phone to my eye, taking this very picture; Sally checking her tablet for the shot she has just taken. All of us facing north, aiming at the glass wall, and captured south.

More magic outside, when we rejoin the external world. The side wall of the adjacent building — and it’s not even an art gallery. It’s just (!!! “just”…) a working building, with a beautiful wall.

Lunch next, the weather raw enough to make us choose hot ramen over cold sushi at a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, then along West 1st Street as we make our way back to Lonsdale Quay.

It takes us into Jack Loucks Court, a small & charming urban parkette dedicated in 2001 to the man who had served as North Vancouver’s mayor for many years. It contains attractive plantings, benches, water  — all elements that welcome you, make you linger.

But what really makes us linger is the series of life-sized, metal sculptures, each with a incised quote from the person who (we assume) was model for that sculpture. They talk about North Van, what roots them in this place.

When we read this one, we find ourselves nodding at the figure, and at each other.

I look out at the ocean.

Being near water … well …

everything is possible.

It stretches your imagination.

Pretty well sums up our day. And, perhaps, the inaugural exhibit in that new gallery next door.

 

 

Last Walk, First Wish

31 December 2017 – My last walk for 2017, and it wasn’t even planned. At least, not the Granville Island bit and the discoveries that followed.

I’m just out there to celebrate the fact the early morning fog has yielded to a sparkling bright day. My path takes me toward Granville Street, remarking lingering hoar frost as I go …

and still marvelling at all the happy palm trees. With their holiday lights woven around their trunks.

One footstep leads to another, you know how that is, and here I am, under the Granville St. bridge.

I decide not to plunge into the shops and other temptations of the Granville Island Market. I turn right — eastward — to make my way to the Seawall along False Creek and then back home.

Indeed, I am away from the jolly shops. Look, a working crane.

Seven tons max, in case you care.

I love its strong lines, its beauty-through-utility, its sheer domination of the scene.

And I love the sturdy metalwork that supports it …

and the multi-coloured teardrop I discover at its base.

No, of course I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s another bit of beauty-through-utility, or maybe just beauty. Because it is beautiful, is it not?

More step-step-step, and I’m walking along the backside of Sea Village, a private houseboat enclave I have admired during ferry rides but have never seen up close.

Very swell houseboats, I must say, with clever mini-gardens …

and completely wonderful mailboxes! I want one of those mailboxes.

I’m still bush-whacking, wondering how/where/when I’ll find myself on the official Seawall path — but not worried. Too much to enjoy meanwhile.

Such as a wedding couple being posed for their photos at the crest of Ron Basford Park (eastern knob of Granville Island) …

and a very handsome but frustratingly anonymous sculpture down here at water level.

A pedestrian wire-mesh lock-up for lifejackets and boats near-by, made colourful by its contents.

Really, really colourful, when you get to the boats.

But they’re not colourful just for the sheer giddy fun of it. Those colours have purpose. As I discover.

One last glance back at the park, with Alder Bay to its right and False Creek beyond.

I think I’m about to join the Seawall … but no! A whole great chunk of it is closed for reconstruction. Big red detour signs arrow the alternate route. Bye-bye False Creek.

I follow the arrows eastward, then angle up through Charleson Park, admire more hoar frost (and, equally, the snake-fence construction) …

and head home.

A First Wish

Not quite 2018 where I am, but close enough to salute the year, and also all of you who, through your interest, add so much to my walks.

Here is my wish: may we all experience what poet John O’Donohue describes in the poem below. I first heard it when a dear friend brought one of his books to our Solstice Lunch on the 21st.

She opened the book …

 

and read us this poem.

 

Happy New Year. “Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning.”

 

 

 

Bright on Grey

27 December 2017 – Oh, it’s a grey day. All socked in. Grey sky, even the drizzly air is grey. Which makes every burst of colour all the more dramatic. Pow! Sock-o!!

I’m on Watson, an alley-width street immediately east of Main St. in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Main is epicentre of the city’s yearly Mural Festival, and Watson, like other surrounding streets, accumulates more and more artwork every year.

Right here between East 10th & 11th, for example.

Talk about bright on grey!

I wheel around, move into the L-shaped space, check out that north wall…

More than a whiff of Déjeuner sur l’herbe, wouldn’t you say? Let’s call it Déjeuner sur mur.  Both works are chock-full of busy participants — albeit more consistently clothed in Mengya Zhao’s 2017 mural than in Édouard Manet’s 1862-63 painting.

We have Reclining Ladies …

and Lady With Shoulder-Bird …

and Flopped-Out Lady.

Even larger, the Ben Frey wacko world splashed across the east wall.

Everything from, yes-really, the kitchen sink …

to Coffee Dog …

and Ladder Dog.

Then, smack on the next street corner, there’s another punch of bright-on-grey.

I break up every time I read this building’s overline: “Keep Vancouver Wet”!

I’d been vaguely (very vaguely) thinking that the building must be a car wash. Makes sense, right?

But, no.

Tap-tap I go on the keyboard once back home, and I learn the line first appeared on an unadorned, dead boring wall on 6 June, 2013 — a riff, apparently, on the slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” Artwork has sprouted since then, this latest version being the work of Johnnie Christmas.

But wait …

There’s more.

Another burst of colour, in front of an apartment building at E 11th and Kingsway.

It is small scale, single image, and, to my newcomer sensibilities, even more amazing.

Fresh-blooming roses! In late December.

I stand there, camera in hand, clearly impressed. Some guy, clearly not impressed, edges past me. “I’m admiring the roses,” I explain. You can practically see the “Whatever” thought bubble over his head, as he disappears into the apartment lobby.

Whatever!

And then …

21 December 2017 – And then …

And then, the sun came back.

Trees throw great long shadows across still-snowy parkland …

Shrubs gleam …

and preen …

and holiday tree ornaments shoot darts of brilliance all over the sky.

Perfect timing.  The sun comes back, just as we welcome the Solstice.

Here in the northern hemisphere, it is the Winter Solstice — the moment when the great cycle of life begins again, with its bounty of renewed light, warmth and energy.

 

Whichever your hemisphere, Happy Solstice.

 

Trees. And Gingersnap.

19 December 2017 – We’re walking along the north shore of False Creek, out around English Bay or so, heading for Stanley Park. Where there will be mega-gazillions of trees. (With 405 Ha of park space, there’s room for quite a few gazillion trees…)

But we are more immediately focused on the trees right here, standing out as they do against the beach and the waters beyond.

Palm trees! My eastern instincts are still totally amazed at the sight of palm trees, outside and unprotected — and perfectly happy, thank you.

That’s the Chusan (“Windmill”) palm, I later learn, one of a group planted around English Bay some 30 years ago.

And … Eucalyptus!

Just another of the (to me) exotic species that the Vancouver Parks people care for. (Along with the Tasmanian fern. And banana plants. And of course those palm trees.)

Finally we see something I can relate to, in a Canadian winter — bare branches.

But no, even here I am awe-struck. So many nests, and so large.

“The Stanley Park Great Blue Heron colony,” say my friends, tugging me to read the signage.

This is one of North America’s largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies, I later learn, and it has a suitably large following. Even its own web cam.

So I am still head-full of birds & trees after we reach Lost Lagoon and join our planned event: a Solstice-themed walk/talk through Stanley Park with a very informed, very cheerful, good-fun botanist.

But, nifty as she is,  we get distracted.

By elves. Hundreds of elves. With names like Gingersnap, and Twinkle-Legs.

While we stand around discussing the Solstice, they are pounding their hearts out in the annual Big Elf Run, to support the Canuck Place children’s hospice. It’s an all-inclusive event — running elves, walking elves, kiddy elves, even doggie-elves.

(Later we cross paths with a volunteer, of course with his elf-cap, picking up race bollards. We ask his race-name. He says he is Slave-Labour Elf. We tell him he is Unsung Hero Elf.)

Next day …

Next day, I meet yet another typical Vancouver tree.  One, I must add, I have met before and will meet again.

The Great Vancouver Rain Tree! Very pretty, with those sparkling, suspended rain drops.

And, over on Main Street, a sign to fit the day.

But the day after that …

Oops.

Snow-slush.

Enough to make those palm trees & eucalyptus start booking trips back to where they came from.

Little Cat Feet

10 December 2017 – We’ve been having a week of fog, of fog swirling in and out, of fog playing with altitude & longitude & latitude.

It makes me remember the fogs of my long-ago winter in Lima, Perú, also on the Pacific coast.

And it makes me remember Fog — the Carl Sandberg poem taught us in an even longer-ago grade school English class.

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbour and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

 

Light & Shadow

6 December 2017 – You look at this image, and you say to yourself, “Why, that’s a 19th-c. landau carriage rejigged as a camera obscura!

And you are right. Millennial Time Machine, it is called, created by Rodney Graham in 2003. It is just one of the works of art visible on the UBC campus, showcased in an outdoor art tour under the auspices of UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery — number 16 in the online tour guide.

The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) is enjoying this brilliantly sunny day, the bold shadows it creates,  & the works of art. We don’t take the official tour; we’re hoofing around on our own.

“Look!” I cry, as we wheel ’round a corner and see a dramatic twined sculpture in the mid-distance. “It looks just like a tuning fork!”

I say it as a joke — but, clever-boots me, that really is the title.

Tuning Fork, 1968, by Gerhard Class (number 2 in the Belkin brochure), is located right outside the main entrance to the UBC Music Building. Well, of course it is.

Our extremely wandering path eventually takes us through the UBC Rose Garden. Nary a rose to be seen, in early December, the bushes are all cut neatly back for winter. But there is still some colour, some seasonal substitute plantings …

“Cabbages!” I say, this time not as a joke since — veteran of Toronto’s Cabbagetown — I think I know an autumnal ornamental cabbage when I see one.

“Kale…” says Frances, who is closer to the display than I am, and kale they are. And very handsome too, glowing in the midday sun.

We zigzag into another enclosure, the pond and forecourt of the University Centre.  I start to laugh. What else can you do, faced with a boat balanced on the tip of its nose?

It’s made of Carrera marble, is Glen Lewis’ 1987 Classical Toy Boat (number 12), and, though now in shade, it outshines the sun. I am mesmerized.

Later I read about its travels: first installed outside the Powerpoint Gallery in Toronto’s Harbourfront, later purchased by the Belkin and installed here.

The write-up invites you to think of it as magically defying gravity. I only realize later that one could perhaps view it tragically, as a sinking boat — but, no, somehow that interpretation never occurs. It is so obviously a happy little toy boat, having a good time.

Down the steps, across the road: Frances & I plan a lunch stop in the Museum of Anthropology. But first, a pre-stop stop, to admire Joe Becker’s Transformation sculpture in a small pool right at the MOA  entrance.

I could describe it for you, but Becker’s own words are so much better:

Even with water turned off (presumably for the season), it is still a powerful, sinuous work of art. And how the roe gleams!

Lunch as planned, and then a quick trip around the exterior of the building itself, one of architect Arthur Erickson‘s masterpieces.

As always, the great linear dynamics catch my attention, and my breath. They please from every angle.

Viewed through the trees, here at the entrance …

or along the side toward the back, with tree shadows dancing on the columns.

Erickson’s inspiration, surely, was the traditional lines of the Haida double mortuary pole. There is a magnificent example in the groupings of poles and buildings behind the Museum — this one designed by Bill Reid and then carved by Reid and Douglas Cranmer, 1960-61.

You look from it to the powerful rear façade of the MOA itself.

Yes. They belong together. They belong on this land, and to this land.

 

  • 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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