Smoochers & Strange Dogs

7 June 2017 – You’ll have to imagine the smoochers, but I’ll give you Smoochers Corner.  My gift to you, courtesy of a cheerful young man named Aaron, whom I met at the foot of the steps down from Jean Beaty Park to Burrard Inlet a couple of days ago.

Turns out he occasionally leads tours around the neighbourhood, here in Point Grey, and when he learns how much I love to walk & explore, he tells me about Smoochers Corner. Just down the road, he says, at the top of the Dunbar Steps.

He jumps this-way, that-way, to demonstrate what I’ll see.

And I do.

See? This-way for Him; that-way for Her; and smooch-smooch.

I giggle. And I remember the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum art installation I saw enroute, and giggle again.

This particular installation, Vancouver Novel by Brazilian artist João Loureiro, consists of a rotating cycle of 23 LED-light sentences. The sentence I happen to catch seems tailor-made for smoochers.

I’m on a roll, wandering daily around town, beginning to sniff out some haunts. Still with the wide eyes of the new-comer.

So I tilt my head in wonder as I emerge from a VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) lecture yesterday evening, beguiled by the soft air & golden light of mid-evening. It’s not so much the buildings, which neatly frame Hornby Street, it’s the great plummeting arrow of sky-space in-between.

I play my positive-space/negative-space game, blinking my attention back & forth.

Less esoteric today, out revisiting the pathways here on the south side of False Creek. This green space was a haunt of mine while visiting town last winter, how much more agreeable in warm spring sunshine!

I’m in Hinge Park, I go hip-hop across the big stones to the little island just off-shore, I follow the path, I peer between the trees.

Tree art! Woodpecker Dead Tree art! No woodpeckers in sight, mind you, just the evidence they leave behind.

And then, farther east, I’m prowling public waterfront space in Olympic Village … and this time the birds are visible. Bird on bird.

I know that’s a pigeon up top. The big guy underneath? Let’s call him a sparrow.

A latte stop by the water, and I start heading inland. Up to West 1st Av. and Manitoba, where once again I admire one of the City’s attractive sewer lids. Except this one has a tiny companion.

I look closely at the mini-version: “Tread Lightly,” it says; “Ship Yard.” I’d like to know more. I am mildly, but pleasurably, frustrated. These things can be learned…

Right there, too: an art installation. No plaque that I can find, no artist ID, no explanation. But it looks to me like mounds of salt.

And I’m right, I must be right. The building, now a restaurant & bar, also bears its historic name, “Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd.” The little street next to the building is — of course — Salt St.

On up Manitoba, up to West 3rd. I glance casually eastward as I wait for the light to change.

Look!

Oh, if only the doors had been closed. Oh, never mind. It is quite wonderful. I don’t know why Greenworks Building Supply wanted street-art murals, but thank you, I am all in favour.

I remember Rolf’s dictum: “When you see something interesting in front of you, there will be something equally interesting right behind you.” I spin on my heel.

Right behind me is Eddie’s Hang-Up Display Ltd. I’ve been doing my little jig of street-art delight under the cool gaze of Eddie’s Ladies.

That belly tag reads, “Wigs sold separately.” (Just FYI.)

And I zig, and I zag, and in the course of events (after a long, tempting riffle through Mountain Equipment Co-op on West Broadway) I find myself climbing on up Columbia St., just north of West 10th.

I am admiring the fine old wooden homes, one obligingly with a heritage plaque. It explains that, in 1895, it was the Bloomfield Studio, home to Henry Bloomfield and two sons, the city’s foremost stained glass artisans — responsible, among other accomplishments, for the windows of the provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria.

Coming close enough to read the plaque brings me close enough to read another tidy little sign. This one very much of our own day.

Well??? What? Three ears? Two tails? Amazing skill with a mouth organ? Armed with a sling-shot? Alas, he is nowhere in sight, and we’ll never know.

So we can each imagine our own favourite Strange Dog, and be happy.

 

 

 

All the Colours of a Very Grey Day

2 June 2017 – And to top it all off, we are Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, Louise & I. (West Point Grey, to be precise.) Louise is sussing out the area for some art classes she plans to offer; I am just plain sussing out Vancouver, all the happier to do so with a friend.

We jump off the bus at Sasamat & West 10th, and start walking. After a string of sunny days, we’re back to fitful grey, threats of rain. See if we care — we are booted & jacketed accordingly.

In & out of a few pretty shops (upscale neighbourhoods have pretty shops), admiring as we go, then into a café for something we not only admire, but want.

Coffee! We buy it, we drink it, we laugh at the cluster of signs. Especially this one …

Good.

Now, having followed steps 1 through 3, we are fully awake.

And ready to properly admire the vivid lavender fields outside this West-10th Av. home.

Extravagant street-corner displays are typical of the area, so are cottage-y homes.

We walk north on Trimble St., circle through Trimble Park, head back south toward West 10th again, which takes us past the West Point Grey Lawn Bowling Club …

a study in soft greens, except for the brilliant red of one gentleman’s jacket.

A red promptly echoed in the poppies of an adjacent street-corner display.

Echoed again, when we reach West 10th & tumble into Urban Yarns, one of the city’s destination wool shops.

Red, and every other colour!

We haven’t come in to buy wool. We are drawn by colour & texture. We pad softly about the shop, stroking alpaca here, merino there, silk …

We climb the stairs.

But finally go back out into the misty grey day.

Where yet more colour awaits us.

Even Louise, who knows her city and its Asian food offerings, is startled. DoDo Sushi, we agree, here we come! Your newest dish will be our lunch.

Along with miso soup, beakers of green tea, and a shared bowl of steamed edamame, that is.

It is all wonderful. We enjoy our lunch. Just as I enjoy my later peek into the kitchen …

though I do take that curtain to be telling me to Keep Out, and I obey.

We play jump-on / jump-off with the bus on our way back to the centre of town, bailing at Alma St. for a quick visit to Folk Art Interiors. It has some faux-folk art, but not much; most of the stock, crammed floor to ceiling, wall to wall, is the real thing.

An old record-player, for example, with the Eagles’ One of These Nights ready to spin.

And a beautifully worn old step-stool, exactly the right look & scale to display a pair of child-sized bright red shoes.

Then Louise & I take our adult-sized shoes back out to the bus stop, and head for home.

 

The Sights at Silly O’Clock

25 May 2017 – I’m still waking up at “Silly O’Clock,” my body not entirely convinced it has left British Standard Time & must now respond to Pacific Daylight Time.

Daylight indeed! I bounce out of bed at 5:27 a.m., any time-zone frustrations immediately dissolved in the splendour of the dawning day.

From my balcony, I have an unimpeded view of the mountains that frame North Vancouver. Called the North Shore Mountains — and what could be more logical? — they are a subset of the Pacific Ranges, in turn the southern end of the Coast Mountains that run up the B.C. coast and right on through Alaska.

Both Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour are in that line-up — Grouse, which I’ve visited by gondola ride, and Seymour, which I know only slightly better but at least with my feet on some of its trails. My friends Sally & Owen live on the last street of homes part-way up the mountain, their back yard right at the provincial park boundary.

Still mesmerized by the luminous early light, I drop my gaze to include Cambie Street below, here on my (south) side of the Burrard Inlet.

Vancouver City Hall clock glows in the dawn light, the most elegant use of neon I think I’ve ever seen.  But then, the whole building is elegant. Completed in late 1936, height of the Depression, it was both a make-work project and a hopeful symbol of an expanding city, with better times to come.

I think of it as Art Deco, yet architects Townley and Matheson made it more contemporary than that: the design blends the vertical, ornamental lines of Art Deco with the simpler, more horizontal lines of Art Moderne, just then beginning to emerge.

My thoughts shift from architecture to coffee.

I am just turning back into the house when I hear a great clatter, some thunks and grunts and … HONKKK.

Back outside! No far-flung gaze now, it’s close-up time as I peer north-westish onto a neighbour’s balcony.

Canada geese. Branta canadensis. Known, says Audubon, for their ability to adapt, “using different habitats in different regions…” Including, it would appear, Vancouver balconies.

I stare, stunned. They march around, with the bobbing heads and soft belly-grunts that mark curiosity and exploration. They check out the patio furniture, bump against the barbecue, peer through the glass into the kitchen.

Well, this is silly. Even for Silly O’Clock, it’s really silly. I rethink my plan to leave balcony doors wide open, to admit fresh morning air. Do I want a Canada goose in my kitchen, asking for toast?

I close the door. I, again, turn away. I, again, hear flutter-thunk-grunt. I, again, turn back & look.

Now one is exploring the ledge beyond my own railing. First southward, and then … back to the north.

He is quite splendid, silhouetted like that against the rising sun.

Even so, I am pleased when he abruptly loses interest, and flies away.

 

 

The Path to Wigan Pier

18 May 2017 – Another borrowed title, this time slightly amended. George Orwell called his 1936 book The Road to Wigan Pier, using the pier to symbolize the region’s industrial decline. My cousin Jane (right) & I, plus her husband Rick, are on the path alongside the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, walking our way to that famous pier.

Walking our way along a very short stretch indeed, from Top Lock to Bottom Lock in the Wigan Flight of locks, which accounts for 23 of the canal’s 91 locks. This Flight allows boats to rise (or drop) 200 vertical feet in a distance of just over 3 miles.

Work on the canal began in 1771 & was completed some 45 years later, a total of 127 miles, all of it dug by hand. The canal linked with other canals, a fast means of transport for its day, its barges carrying produce — e.g. coal, limestone, woollens — throughout the region.

Today the canal is for pleasure, maintained in part by volunteers, funded by both public & private sources.

We walk under graceful arched bridges …

pass fishermen by canal’s edge …

and read fingerboards.

I spy our destination, Wigan Pier, on the lower left finger and chirp to Rick, “Only 7 minutes away!” He replies, “By bicycle.” Ohhh. Oops.

And, of course, we see the narrow boats that have replaced the old industrial barges.

Sometimes they are right in a lock, here twinned and riding low …

and sometimes they are tied up.

Solar panels, I am told, are not unusual these days.

We stop to read a red metal detail map by the path.

We’ve come from Top Lock, well off the bottom left corner; we are are now near Bottom Lock (# 9, near the bottom left corner).

We will now walk on to Pottery Changeline Bridge (# 6), turn left along the canal and, — at #2 —  finally reach oyr goal: Wigan Pier.

Here it is! Wigan Pier.

Really. Those up-tipped metal stumps. That’s it.

In a manner of speaking.

Orwell wrote dolefully: “Even the place where it used to stand is now no longer certain.” A plaque explains why. In 1929, 7 years before his book was published, the pier had been sold for scrap. What we see now is a reproduction, created in 1986 by students of Wigan and Leeds College.

So: it’s a repro.

But still worth our respect, and our time. It represents one of the piers, or “tipplers,” that used to dot the canal.They were points where tubs of coal would be run down tracks from the collieries, to hit a jetty and “tipple” (topple over), emptying their load into a waiting barge in the canal itself.

The contents of each tub had been shaken & sorted by Pit Brow Lasses, working in teams of six. They did it all by hand, 12 hours a day. “Reet ‘ard work…” as one described it, back in 1880. “Our muscles are bigger than most men’s.”

At night they would soak their hands in cold tea, to soothe the cracks in the skin.

Jane, Rick and I head off to a tearoom. We too will seek out tea — hot tea, though, to soothe our throats.

 

The Right Attitude to Rain

16 May 2017 – A borrowed title, so thank you Alexander McCall Smith: not just for the book bearing this title in your Sunday Philosophy Club series, but for the others set in Edinburgh and of course for the Botswana series (beginning with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) that first enchanted us all.

The McCall Smith title comes to mind as we begin to explore Dartmoor and East Devon with dear friends who live in the area. Sally & I left Guernsey in blazing sunshine. Here in Devon … well, it has occasional sunny moments, but, mostly, it rains. Mist to drizzle to rain to steam to drizzle to rain to mist …

McCall Smith says: “The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain — just as the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.” We have rain, but we have so much more as well.

Consider our outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, two towns on the English Channel coast in East Devon.

The weather is blustery and capricious. Our host friend bemoans the lack of sunshine. I insist the weather is “atmospheric.” She thinks I am being polite. I am not. I find this weather immensely more interesting, more stimulating, more … well … atmospheric, than sunshine could ever be.

Boats in this sign-posted Fishermen’s Area in Sidmouth gleam in the mist; towering red cliffs, formed in the Triassic era (icons of the region’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), loom as dramatic backdrop to the east.

We walk along the ocean front, just as wind-tossed to the west as to the east …

and then turn toward town.

The beach front is lined with hotels, legacy of the Georgian & Victorian passion for coastal resorts in the 18th & 19th centuries …

imposing collectively as streetscape, and rewarding for their individual detailing as well.

This 1891 scrollwork, for example.

And on into town.

Sally & I want fish & chips. We do. We are unapologetic. Occasionally we acknowledge we are tourists & we just want to do a tourist-y thing. Like smothering chips in malt vinegar, and knocking back the breaded cod.

Fortunately, our friend happens to love a good face-full of fish & chips herself, from time to time, so she guides us to her own favourite spot. Yum.

After, we stroll the town, tempting ourselves in the shops.

It is very pretty, very tempting, but I spend my time looking, not buying. Enjoying everything I see, including the traditional red telephone box and red pillar letter-box.

The pillar box makes me laugh: I remember listening to one French tourist tell another, on a bus in Guernsey, how she eagerly wrote lots of postcards on her first visit to the island and posted them in the nearest pillar box — only to discover later she had posted them in a round refuse bin!

Back to the car. Our next stop is away from the coast in Otterton, and then back to the coast, to the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, where the estuary provides a significant reed bed and grazing marsh for wildlife.

Ocean-front signage is very 1930s sunshine-cheery.

Today’s reality requires a right attitude to rain.

Mist, wind, drizzle; everything gleams.

I am enchanted by the beach pebbles, and later learn they are as ancient as the cliffs. Sandstones, formed some 400 million years ago in what we now call Brittany, eroded over time and were transported first by Triassic-era rivers and later by the ocean itself to their present location.

Steps lead to the beach at various points along the oceanfront.

I walk among the pebbles. Crunch! Crunch!

I fill both jacket pockets with them, intent on shape & size & colour. (Later, I donate almost all to my friend’s garden; only one will come home to Vancouver with me for my own balcony garden.)

Time to turn back. I pause a moment, enjoy that line of beach huts, still boarded up, awaiting summer.

Meanwhile, they are bright with springtime rain.

 

Gorse, of Course

11 May 2017 – We don’t have gorse in mind as we board the Sark Belle for our day trip to this historic, enchanting little (5 1/2 sq km.) island member of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

We’re thinking wildflowers, walks, sweeping views, and narrow roads & lanes free of cars but alive with tractors & tractor-drawn carts (tractors being the legal car substitute), bicycles, horses, and “shank’s mare” (leg power).

It all makes me think of my childhood summers on Dorval Island near Montreal, and my year as an adult living on Algonquin Island, one of the two residential islands in Toronto Harbour.

But, back there, we haven’t the old, old stone homes and out-buildings …

or the fingerboards.

Sally & I study this one, and follow the fingers for La Coupée and Little Sark. The former — a 91-m. narrow track with 100-m. drops either side — leads to the latter, the nearly-separate southern section of the island.

Our goal is simply to walk — to breathe the fresh air, listen to the cascades of bird song, enjoy the hedgerows, the sweeps of fields & cliffs, the wildflowers.

We walk pretty steadily through Greater Sark, heading for Little Sark, and then abruptly pull up — like everybody else — at the sight of La Coupée.

We’ve been told that for most of its history, the track had no railings at all, that in those days small children crossed on hands & knees on days of high wind, and that — as a plaque now notes — German POWs build the present railing under British supervision immediately after World War II.

You peer over the edge down into La Grande Grève, you appreciate the sturdy protection.

Another 15-20 minutes down-island, and we stop for lunch in a tea garden. (No latte, not this time: good food, sparkling water, shrubs, flowers & bird song instead.)

We know we have to walk all the way back up-island again, we’ll have a ferry to catch, but we can’t resist a side-trip while here. It’s a 15-minute walk to either Venus Pool or the Silver Mines, promises a brochure. We ask directions, and we’re on our way down the appropriate lane.

And through the appropriate farm gate.

That’s a ventilation shaft for the one-time silver mines straight ahead, one of several that still dot the area. They are a handsome, craggy sight in a sweeping, craggy area …

softened by great rolling swaths of gorse.

It is everywhere.

Ulex europaeus, if you want to get scientific about it, an evergreen shrub with brilliant yellow flowers that provides shelter for insects and birds. Tough & tenacious, say the descriptions — potentially invasive, in fact. Yes, that adjective does come to mind.

We go not quite all the way down to the water, then head back to the main road and continue up-island.

We really do want to get ourselves prudently back onto Greater Sark, within striking range of the ferry dock, but another diversion looms.

Well, more for Sally than for me.

She is a horsewoman, I am not. I watch from slightly afar as she horse-whispers the animal from a skittish distance right up to the gate. I watch him relax toward her hand, bend his head, make contact.

It’s a lovely moment.

Then, hip-hop, we’re back across La Coupée — and, yes! with time to spare for another diversion. This one westward toward the Gouliot Headland. Down more lanes, past the Duck Pond (with Mallards paddling about, to justify the name), a sideways slide past a cart heaped with tree trimmings, through another cattle gate (opened & carefully closed behind us) …

and we’re positioned for more sweeping views to the cliffs and water edge.

With lots more gorse!

Gorse lines the hedgerows as we return to the main village, walk past its shops; I point out the café where, during my visit three years ago, I shared a table with an aging lady who informed me that she was the last baby delivered by the German doctor on that island before the surrender of the occupying forces. (“One year, at the Liberation Day celebrations, I was introduced to Prince Charles!”)

We take the pretty little woodland path from the village down to the harbour, and then the tunnel through the rock to the harbour now in use.

Back on Guernsey, back up the Constitution Steps — all 3,037 of them (OK,I made that up) — to our self-catering apartment in La Madeleine, and we collapse.

I check the pedometer app on my iPhone. Congratulations! it cries: you’ve walked 17.2 km today.

Yesss!

 

Donkey Island

8 May 2017 – The taxi driver cries, “Oh, I’m a donkey!” and then, via the rear-view mirror, checks out my reaction with amused eyes. I have just asked if he is native to Guernsey, or an in-comer. Will I know that he has just answered my question?

Yes. Got it. He is local.

Jersey islanders (boo, hiss!) first hung the tag on Guernsey residents, no compliment intended. Guernseymen decided it fit them to a tee: tough, stubborn, strong, and, even so, sweet. No wonder there is this sculpture of mother & foal opposite the Town Church in St. Peter Port, and donkey images on every tourist item you can imagine.

My friend Sally & I are starting a UK holiday here on the Channel Island of Guernsey — but we quickly discover that, in fact, our UK holiday won’t start until we return to the English mainland. Guernsey gives its name to the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which also includes Alderney, Sark and other smaller islands); Jersey comprises the Bailiwick of Jersey; they are both Crown dependencies, remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and not part of the UK.

The history, you will now rightly conclude, is complicated, and rife with political take-overs, from pre-historic eras to the Romans, and on from there. The most recent take-over was in living memory and, thankfully, cut short: Nazi forces occupied the Channel islands during World War II.

As it happens, we will be here for Liberation Day celebrations (9 May, tomorrow), but there is much else to celebrate, at all times.

The sea, of course, the busy ports (here, a section of St. Peter Port Harbour at low tide) …

harbour walkways accessible only at low tide …

and the homes, walls and steps that seem to erupt from the very ground beneath them.

As indeed they do: the island is rich in granite. Charmingly, wildflowers erupt as well, filling minute crannies & softening the rock face.

Sally leans in for a closer look, as we walk down Rue Berthelot.

“Down” is literally true, by the way! The capital St. Peter Port steps vertically up from the sea. Whether you choose a narrow road or one of the pedestrian staircases, you & your leg muscles are in for a work-out.

An early visit to the Tourist Information Centre pays off: we snag the last few seats on the next day’s “Old Number Eleven” tour — the last in a series on offer during the month-long Heritage events, due to culminate on Liberation Day.

The Number Eleven was a bus route, and we join a lot of nostalgic “Donkeys” on the 1954 Albion Victor bus that will follow the old route out to Portelet at the south-west corner of the island.

It’s a great stopping-point for visitors as well, because from here we can also visit the Star Fort at Pezeries Point and the Table des Pions. We enjoy both, but are most touched by something else: a rusted, badly eroded and deformed airplane propeller propped against the fence overlooking the bay.

On 11 June 1944, the German occupiers shot down a B17 Flying Fortress that was presumably returning to England from a bombing raid on France. Eleven men lost their lives. Much, much later, a fisherman hauled up this airplane remnant with his catch. The paper in front of it, sheathed in protective plastic, reads: “… You sacrificed your young lives for our freedom. The people of Guernsey thank you. Rest in Peace.”

That’s not litter, to the right of the propeller; it is just the latest in an intermittent, but continuing, series of floral tributes, offered anonymously.

Old Number Eleven now shakes free of her one-time route, and we are treated to a near-circumnavigation of the island. Next stopping point: L’Ancresse Bay in the Parish of Vale, toward the north-west. More military history — this time scattered throughout a golf course, and of much earlier vintage.

This is L’Ancresse Tower No. 7, one of 15 loophole towers built 1778-1779 as part of the island defence system against a possible French invasion. Why a possible invasion? The Americans declared independence in 1776, the French allied themselves with the rebel cause, and the British Crown not unreasonably thought it might lead to an attempt to retake the Channel islands.

As it happens, it didn’t. Today pigeons inhabit the towers, and golfers do their best to shoot around them. (Still … would a shot in one loophole and out another qualify as a hole-in-one?)

All that was yesterday. Today Sally & I follow up with another bus ride, and another dip into the history of the German occupation. This time it is a regular modern bus on its current route, depositing us in Forest, where we walk past the ancient parish church, Ste Marguerite de la Foret (its earliest parts dating from the 13th c.), to attend a lecture in the German Occupation Museum on Guernsey’s resistance heroes.

 

Pre-lecture, we wander country lanes (“ruettes”), admiring the riotous abundance of wildflowers & woodland, and the simple elegance of the buildings.

Then into the Museum.

It is an informed, personal & touching talk, given by the man who created and runs the museum. It is not the history of the war, or even the history of the Occupation on Guernsey; it is the human story of three individuals, and why they mattered. But through these three stories, we feel the larger history.

Even the little Tea Room contains memorabilia.

Tomorrow is 9 May, 2017.

The island will celebrate, and Sally & I will be there.

Cat Tales (& Tails)

14 April 2017 – It’s a bright afternoon.

Neighbourhood pussycats are lying in the warming earth of front yard gardens …

stretching their bodies — from toes to belly to ear-tips — to the sun.

I leave the groomed residential street, & tuck myself into a nearby scruffy commercial alley.

Unless something dire has happened, I am about to revisit one of my favourite pussycats.

And there he is.

Also T.O.

30 March 2017 – Oh yes, street art is so Toronto … but the beaches & parks along Lake Ontario are also Toronto. Phyllis & I take the Tuesday Walking Society (all two of us) out to the Beaches boardwalk, and start stomping around.

After a five-week absence, I am freshly appreciative. A dull day, grey water exchanging pixels with a grey sky, your eye could fall over the horizon.

Well, no it couldn’t.

Because it bumps up against those happily garish Muskoka chairs, and that happily prancing dog, who knows his owner is about to throw the stick. Again! (And she does, and the dog shoots off in full chase, throwing up little spurts of sand with each footfall.)

This year’s Winter Stations has just ended, Phyllis tells me, who visited the art installation, now in its third year, soon after it opened in late February. More than 350 design entries this year, worldwide, with eight winners.

The pieces are already being dismantled. Which somehow makes them even more intriguing. No signboards to tell you what is supposed to be what, just you & your reactions.

I like the reflections. I like the way the luminous silver panels fold into the luminous grey day, reflecting sky and water and each other. (Later I look it up online: This is Aurora, the work of Hunber College students, and, I discover, meant to dissolve visually into its surroundings.)

We’re walking west, close to the water. It brings us to the Leuty Lifeguard Station, one of two vintage ones (the other on Cherry Beach) still in use, and the symbol of the Beach neighbourhood. This is real life, not a winning design for Winter Stations — but it is just as powerful: the tender mother, the entranced child playing with sand, the lapping waves, the grey waters flowing out to meet the grey sky at the horizon.

Phyllis pulls me over to the next Winter Stations design. Collective Memory, says the battered signboard, now propped askew in the sand: the work of Spaniard Mario Garcia and Italian Andrea Govi, it offers two walls shimmering with 6,000 clear bottles, each one inviting visitors to insert a card with the story of how they came to live in Canada.

“The day I was here,” says Phyllis,”people were writing out their comments, and then telling each other their stories as they inserted the slips into the bottles.”

Eventually, we turn back east, farther from the water now, up on the wooden boardwalk.

More wood over there in the mid-distance: the 8-metre Beacon (by Portuguese team of Joao Araujo Sousa & Joanna Correia Silva). Later online reading confirms what my eye assumes at the time — yes, it is inspired by the silhouette of a lighthouse. It was also, when active, a drop-off point for charitable donations of food and clothing.

But my eye is drawn as much by the lake as by the art, by that horizontal line ‘way out there, slicing water from sky — or, perhaps, seaming them together.

And I think again, as I do every time I am here on the Beaches boardwalk, I think about Rita Letendre’s acrylic on canvas, Aforim.

When I stare at it in the Art Gallery of Ontario, I think about this stretch of beach. When I am on the beach, I think about the painting.

You see?

Good news for all admirers of this great Quebec artist: the AGO will mount a retrospective of her work, Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, from 19 June to 17 September.

And Then the Sun Came Out

20 March 2017 – “You’ll have to climb a big hill,” warns the little girl, her eyes very wide. “Then that’s what I shall do,” I promise her. And I do.

Puffpuff-pantpant.

The sun is out, and so am I.

I decide to visit Bloedel Conservatory for a hit of instant summer, and seek further directions from passers-by when I alight from the bus. Turn right at that corner, they tell me, and then right again. And up the big hill, chirps their daughter.

Puffpuff-pantpant indeed. Made all the puffpuff-ier by my decision to portage more or less straight up, cutting across the roadway’s gentle (but lengthy) topographical S-bends.

All worth it. Like every other visitor, I pause for a photo before I enter — rounded honeycomb dome of the Conservatory up close, jagged mountain peaks ‘way out there, and a bright flag in-between, snapping in the breeze.

In I go. Instant steam all over my glasses. It clears. I peel off my jacket & relax into the warmth.

Tropical vegetation & waterfalls …

and tropical birds, flying free — though some of the more spectacular ones are sufficiently habituated to their own perches that the Conservatory can post signs telling you who each one is.

Which is why I can so confidently introduce you to Mali — their Greater Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

Doesn’t he look pleased with himself? He has just watched a Conservatory employee tidy up beneath him, and he is as cavalier about it as any aristocrat being pampered by the help.

By the time I leave, I’m eager for cool bracing air. I find myself breathing it in deeply & gratefully as I wander downwards through one of the quarry gardens.

White-tipped snowdrops along the path play visual call-&-response with white-tipped mountains to the north …

local birch play against all the tropical plants inside …

and our own sturdy mallards & Canada geese swim peacefully about. A crow plays Tease-the-Tourist with me for a while, always flying off before I can take his picture.

I’m down at the bus stop now, but with all this sunshine on offer, why would I hop back on a bus? Especially when the route home is downhill all the way?

So I hoof down & down, and down some more, piling up block after block on Main Street.

And I am rewarded by one of those sidewalk signs I so dearly love, the ones that toss a hit of Philosophy With Attitude in your direction, all in a few lines.

The only thing wrong with it is … I can’t go in and order a latte.

 

 

  • 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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