Talk-Back

3 May 2020 – It all starts with sitting safely in my stay-at-home chair, and clicking on this virtual tour of the Murals of Gratitude down in Gastown.

Go ahead! Click! I’ll wait for you …

I love these murals — 35-plus of them, by 20-plus artists — painted on the plywood covering shop windows boarded up to await healthier times. And I love what the project says about this neighbourhood, the way local businesses have expanded on a grassroots initiative, to create …

a testament to the influence the frontline staff has had on our community and a reminder that we are all in this together.

A friend and I decide to go see for ourselves. We were prepared to abort the visit, should there not be room to do it safely, but it is safe — wide sidewalks, few people, room to observe 2 metres of physical distance.

So we walk about.

Here in Maple Tree Square, Water & Carrall streets, right at the heart of it all, a statue of the first (white) settler in this founding area of Vancouver, the loquacious English immigrant turned Fraser River boat captain turned saloonkeeper & hotel-owner: Capt. John (“Gassy Jack”) Deighton.

Somebody has slung an “Anyone for takeout?” apron around his neck, a fitting addition given his pubkeeper background — and fitting for the area as well, which in normal times is a tourist/entertainment epicentre, pulsing with lights & laughter & music & action.

But those overlays are stripped away, at least for now, and Gastown is again largely the preserve of its own residents — a downtown, east-end community that, beneath the glitter, was already deeply stressed before COVID-19 came along.

So we see more than the “official” murals showcased in that virtual tour, we also see unofficial messages, by and for and about that local community.

Everybody talking with each other, and talking back to COVID-19.

Health messages, focused on local issues, sometimes in a leaflet pasted on hoardings …

sometimes in a one-off urgent graffito.

There are jokes with a marketing message thrown in …

and jokes with a political protest added later on (read the red small print) …

and thank-you’s that also have an editorial comment added later on (considerably more in-your-face).

There is a “heroes wall,” really just a naked corner of plywood beneath the window frame, with its growing number of inked tributes and post-its …

and a reminder, pasted on a number of the hoardings, that this plywood can be usefully recycled, some healthy day in the future.

And then there is this Stand United mural …

with added messages, by many hands, of hope and love and support …

radiating across hoarding panels to either side.

Messages butt up against messages, a cacophony that makes perfect harmony.

The work on the right, professional; the work on the left proudly signed “Phoebe age 7,” the p’s in her “Be happy!” message reversed but no less joyous for that.

We’ve been drinking it all in, impressed & touched & buoyant with the energy.

Then we see a board with nothing but shaky lettering on it, just words with no design flair at all. We stand still, moved to silence.

The text salutes yet another hero — but, this time, not a local frontline worker. It recognizes the RCMP constable on the other side of the country who died in that 22-person massacre on April 19.

And it goes beyond honouring Const. Heidi Stevenson, it comforts her children.

I hope, when life stabilizes into a new-normal, that it still includes the compassion and empathy so much on display in this time of pandemic.

 

Red for Joy, Red for Grief

24 April 2020 – I had not meant to continue the best/worst theme of my previous post, but here we are.

Out walking today, passing the school adjacent to Dude Chilling Park, and there it is on the playground back wall: the red of joy, delight, exuberance and fun …

…  all wrapped up in the red  balloon some crochet artist attached to an existing wall mural of a strolling child.

But later, heading back home, passing a condo building with this RCMP jacket and hat hanging from an upper-level balcony: this time it is the red of sorrow …

a tribute here in Vancouver joining others nation-wide. It is just one expression of our collective shock, grief and love for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson and the other 21 people massacred during a one-man rampage in rural Nova Scotia a few days ago.

Today, the nation joined Colchester and all Nova Scotia in a virtual vigil

Now you can too.

 

 

 

The Best/Worst of Times

21 April 2020 – Extreme times call forth extreme behaviour, the best and the worst, so I can’t be the only person with that famous opening line drumming in my head. When Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, he was contrasting Paris with London during the French Revolution, but, as we all live with this pandemic, I see those juxtapositions right here, in my own daily experience. Maybe you do too.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

As I walk around, I see reminders of the worst that confronts us, and the best of our own human response.

A brand new crochet-art tree hug …

a face mask, dangling from this car’s rear-view mirror…

brightly painted houses and spring blossoms popping along this residential street …

a reminder of our safe-behaviour obligations, written (it says on the other side) by a front-line health care professional and tied to his fence …

a salute to our Health Heroes chalked on the sidewalk …

new, heart-tugging meaning for this sidewalk mosaic, with its focus on home and staying close to home …

a young man cradling a drum under his left arm, softly beating out comforting rhythms as he looks across Prince Edward Park …

skateboard dog – !!! – carefree & cruising through the parking lot next to China Creek North Park …

a driveway SAFE line, chalked by parents to remind their children to go no farther, but stay on their own property …

and a big, fat ❤️ for Dr. McRae.

I want to explain this one.  I stop to admire this exuberant particle-board display, with all those “Go …” messages, and I fall into 2-metre-distant conversation with the pony-tailed young woman busy tidying up her front yard behind the board.

“The kids did that while I was at work,” she says. “At work,” I repeat, “so you’re in some kind of essential service?” She smiles. “I’m a doctor.” I throw up my hands in respect.

“See?” she continues. “Right there, top-centre, right under the tree trunk? That’s my name. Then the kids added everybody else they could think of — even our postman.”

So expand the photo, and you’ll see it: GO: dr mcrae.

Thank you, Dr. McRae.

Thank you all the doctors McRae, everywhere — and the truck drivers and grocery store clerks and posties and everyone else who is out there making it possible for the rest of us to stay home.

Thank you.

Stealth Art

17 April 2020 – Borrowing a brand name, and it’s one I’m about to promote, but not just yet. Meanwhile, “stealth art” in the generic sense, something that sneaks up on you. You’re not in a gallery (impossible right now anyway), you’re just going about the day that current local regulations leave open for you — and then, boom, there it is.

Art.

As long as you have a cheerfully open attitude about what constitutes “art.”

It can be an arrangement of spring blossoms, as curated by mother nature. (Blossom festivals cancelled, so what, they bloom anyway.)

Or an arrangement of caution tape, as woven by a Canadian who just can’t do without hockey, even though the season is on hold. (The crow was apparently less impressed than I was.)

Or a whole evolving Little City of rock and clean fill and other found materials out the Leslie Spit in Toronto — as arranged, or at least as initially arranged, by The Stealth Art Collective, but with other appreciative hands ever since.  Here’s one image to start with … (I am such a fan of their work out the Spit – I stood wide-eyed again and again, in the years I cycled or walked out there myself.)

Or street art on your very own table! Just download this colouring book of designs created by some of Toronto’s best-known names, all for you to enjoy in your physical isolation.

“Such a lovely, local, timely, engaging response to the times,” wrote the friend who sent me the link. Yes, it is.
I think we are all experiencing a good many lovely, local responses to the times, and feel a resulting surge of joy and energy and courage. Let’s keep it up…

High Knees (+ 18)

13 April 2020 – Turn off Netflix; leave Zoom; renounce YouTube. (Even, gasp, say good-bye to WordPress, but, there-there, only temporarily.)

Pull on your exercise clothes; lace up your shoes; meet me on Gore Street, half a block south of Union. Face north. Do a few preparatory stretches.

Ready?

JUMP.

RUN around the corner onto Union.

Now SHUFFLE until …

it’s time to HOP and then BALANCE.

WALK

up the ante with some ZIGZAG

and GALLOP!

SKIP for a bit …

Now SPIN WALK, taking your directional cue from the spirals, and next — but only once your head stops spinning — WIGGLE.

Gauge SOCIAL DISTANCE, measured in hearts …

take a running jump at HOP SCOTCH

DANCE your way to LEAP FROG

and then flash those HIGH KNEES of yours on every star.

Walk BACKWARDS (oops, trust me on this one) …

and soar into the SKI JUMP.

Finally! It’s finally time to SLITHER

sssskillfully ssslither …

your way to two-block, 19-station, sidewalk exercise …

ssssuccess.

Now cool down, pat yourself on the back, down a celebratory whatever-you-celebrate-with, and go buy some chalk.

There has to be a two-block stretch of sidewalk near you, eager to host your very own community exercise event.

 

The One-Metre World

10 April 2020 – I didn’t measure, but it’s something like that. One sidewalk-pavement square must be about that size.

And one of our local child chalk-artists has put the whole world in that square.

Its message is one of hope and courage and — like the image — is about all of us and meant for all of us, wherever we are. I’d find it moving any time, but it seems especially sweet in this period of religious significance for a number of world faiths.

The words are a little pale, maybe hard to read.

This child is telling us …

“We will be OK!”

 

 

We Speak ❤️

6 April 2020 – It seems Canada has added a third official language: ❤️

Young Miss Mila is the first one to speak it to me, carefully chalked on the ledge between the sidewalk and the front steps to her home.

And then… I realize that ❤️ is being spoken everywhere.

Pasted to a metal utility pole …

stapled to a wooden pole near Robson Park (with solitary sun-bathing woman and solitary dog-walker both in the blurry background) …

painted on a repurposed clear drum head, propped against a homeowner’s fence …

painted in a whole rainbow of colours, high on a second-storey window …

paper-chain-dancing across a doorway & front porch …

all that, plus flag …

even chalked onto the sidewalk sign for this (now offsales only) brew-pub.

But that slogan no longer fits, does it — the main thing is no longer the beer.

It’s the heart.

 

 

Chalk It Up

2 April 2020 – Chalk it up.

Not to experience, as it happens…

but to the pandemic.

Schools are closed, children at home, and all that energy needs outlets.

Result? A boom in kiddy sidewalk art.

Solo-walking in my neighbourhood, and I’m right at the street corner. Arrows tempt me in both directions.

Veer left …

to walk — or hop — an entire block of hopscotch grids, end-to-end.

Or veer right …

to dance through fantasy flowers and assorted other explosions of colour.

I dance with the flowers, and pick this blossom just for you.

Keep safe. Even as we isolate physically, we can draw closer socially.

Distance, Connected

29 March 2020 – We’ve finally got the mantra right: physical distance, social connection.

We’re all thinking about it, adapting to it, noticing it, each in our own little corner of the world. Here’s a bit of how it is currently evolving, in my little corner, as noticed in my walks of the last few days.

Almost everyone in Vancouver now works from home and we all largely stay at home, but — except for those in quarantine or self-isolation — we may still go out for exercise and essential shopping, while maintaining 2 metres of physical distances from others.

Here I’m threading my way between condo buildings toward False Creek, under a canopy of business-as-usual spring blossoms.

But life is not business-as-usual, is it?

Science World (that “golf ball”), like all public attractions, is closed, and the creek itself almost empty of all watercraft. No ferries!

Like you, like everyone, we are adapting to our new world.

Local busses permit rear boarding only (to protect the drivers) …

and waive the fee (to make any touching/tapping unnecessary).

Attractions and retailers of varying sizes expand their online presence and, as appropriate, keep some form of structured physical presence as well.

Greenworks, for example, offers its building-supply products by free delivery or through no-contact transactions at the door, all explained in trim, professional signage.

Some of the other local signs are more homespun, but just as determined to find a way to obey regulations, keep everybody safe and still, somehow, maintain connection with their customers. They position themselves at different points on the closed/open scale.

This skateboard shop is more closed than open …

while this little bicycle store is more open than closed.

Federal Store has a similar street-front strategy to Greenworks, but with its own lunchonette/grocery store spin.

Step up to the door, place your order, and then wait for it at a respectful 2-metre distance from everyone else.

We’re all beginning to get some sense of 2 metres, or hope we have — but it’s so easy to forget, isn’t it, when you’re out with your friends.

Not for this trio. They have it all worked out. I notice them today, on a walk that takes me south rather than north.

You can see two of them, properly spaced, with the third (also properly spaced) partially visible behind the woman on the right.

I don’t realize how clever they are until they move on. That’s when the rope becomes visible. They’ve looped it waist to waist, attached at 2-m intervals. They keep it taut as they walk.

I’m enjoying all this, taking comfort and inspiration from examples of good adaptations to bad circumstances — but I am also noticing examples of good things that were already with us before COVID 19, and still are.

This fabulously painted block of E. 21st Avenue, for example, probably my favourite block in the whole city …

and this front-yard statuette of the seated Buddha, his lap full of Nature’s own tribute of petals …

and this front-window evidence of a good neighbour — a heart for the community, a bike for the environment (visible through the glass), a feeder for the birds.

Heart.

Along with the opportunists and idiots that always appear in bad times, there’s a whole lot of heart on display, isn’t there? (Think of your own examples…)

Our good hearts, as we encourage balcony noise-making at 7 p.m., to support the people who protect us …

and as we reach out to support each other.

Note: Just now, as I typed that reference to the sign in Dude Chilling Park, I heard the raucous sound of clattering pots & pans, right here in my own neighbourhood.

I looked at my watch.

Exactly 7 p.m.

 

 

 

Mind-Hops / Foot-Hops

24 March 2020 – Circumstances change, and trigger new responses, both mental and behavioural.

Mind-hops. Foot-hops.

Or lack of foot-hops. Not the usual mass of happy feet this mild, sunny day, in the Olympic Village plaza at False Creek. Giant sparrow (one of Myfanwy MacLeod’s pair, The Birds, created for the 2010 Winter Olympics) pretty well has the place to himself.

I admire this rainbow & frog chalked onto the pavement, but don’t, as I would have done just two weeks ago, go get a shot with that frog right-side-up …

because that would have brought me within 2 metres of the cyclist over there. (See his bike tire, upper left?)

Another chalked message …

has me thinking, “Self isolation?” — not, “Break-up!”

A woman and her lap-dog soak up some sun, with open space all around her (I’m farther away than it seems) …

and a couple are peacefully, safely, alone, over there on the far side of Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth.

(But!!! Even as I’m appreciating the physical distance we’re all maintaining here at Olympic Village, crowds of idiots (aka COVIDIOTs) are packing English Bay. Let’s hope that the only thing going viral afterwards was the images of their irresponsibility.)

I leave False Creek for Cambie Street, slaloming around the relatively few other pedestrians as I walk. I pass more new behaviour for our new times: controlled entry into this big box retailer, with tape marking the 2-metre distance between standing points, and a staffer monitoring the queue.

Interesting, but not personally relevant. The retailer I want to check is this grocery chain. Have the new hours begun? With the promised first morning hour for people like me?

Yes.  7-8 a.m., before regular opening.

Which is why, two days later, I’m out in the breaking-dawn drizzle, heading up the street with my wheelie.

Shopping goes well: a smiling employee, out of physical range but at the door, ensuring only those qualified come in; well-stocked shelves; relatively few shoppers, all of us smiling at each other but keeping our distance.

Including at the check-out, with its taped lines to show spacing for the line-up.

Later on, some neighbourhood streetscape.

More mind-hops, foot-hops, including this example of what is becoming commonplace. A physically closed eatery, with a warm message to the community.

And, just one block over, a graffito for the times.

Well no, I don’t endorse the middle part of the message, but I love the humour.

And I love this blooming magnolia. Just for being there.

Eight years ago, I changed my About message on this blog, to explain the name-change from Sagas of Iceland Penny to Walking Woman. This excerpt comes to mind now.

Until August 2012, this blog was about training for the big Arthritis Society trek in Iceland, and then doing it. As of August 2012… I walk on! With my feet and in my mind as well.

Whatever restrictions limit our feet, nothing need limit our minds. Now, more than ever, let’s walk on. We’re in this together.

 

 

  • 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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