The Street, The Beat

24 August 2019 – I’m hardly the first to muse about the way “the street” so often leads “the beat” — i.e., the way many big-name creative people, big-name brands, politicians etc. keep tuned to what’s happening out there on the street, and then adapt it for their own vocabulary and objectives.

But here I am, musing a-fresh, in the aftermath of the Vancouver Mural Festival which, as always, is centred around my neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant. It took shape here because some artists lived & worked around here already, and because enough local building owners resonated with the idea and offered up their walls.

So now street art is part of the image of the “new”(moving from sketchy to quirky/interesting/trending) Mount Pleasant.

References to the Festival hit vacant walls, and don’t need further explanation …

and already amazing murals have received their final knock-out element. Here, it’s the 3D hand to go with the face in this now-complete work by the Medianeras duo.

It’s not just the Festival, though.

Street art, playing with what’s on the street, is in the local vocabulary.

Right here on a pedestrian-walk button, for example.

That’s playful, modest, & definitely “street.” I begin noticing the influence on our local “beat” — how up-market merchants want the connection, want the street-art cred, though of course suitably translated into up-market terms.

A picture-framing gallery includes this shot of alley-art in its classy window display …

and a new luxury condo tower builds this imagery into its façade — part of a corporate strategy to attract with-it, design-conscious, urban/urbane residents.

Yes.

Well.

On the other hand.

The street does not like being co-opted. It has its own opinion about new luxury condo  towers, whatever their design may include.

It’s an old, old story, isn’t it? Artists move into broken-down neighbourhoods, since that’s what they can afford, and through their energy & creativity make those neighbourhoods newly vital & interesting — whereupon the Brand Name Boys take note, become interested, and move in themselves.

Whereupon, too often, the artists can no longer afford to live there, and have to move out. I hope it doesn’t happen here.

The street, the beat.

 

2HOT4U

15 August 2019 – No, no, indeed not. Never 2HOT4 you.

Allow me to broaden the claim: never 2HOT4 us.

That’s just Vancouver graphic artist Alex Joukov having his little joke …

tucked into his contribution to the 4th annual Vancouver Mural Festival.

We’ve just emerged from the 10-day event (1-10 August), which this year added another 25 or so street murals to the 97 created in previous years, all of it carried out through the not-for-profit Create Vancouver Society.

The epicentre is my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. I wandered into the festival by accident that very first year while doing an Airbnb stint in this part of town — talk about serendipity! — and I’ve loved it ever since. This year it’s a mix of local artists (of various backgrounds, including indigenous) plus ones from Australia, Japan, Argentina and the USA.

There’s a whole clutch of new works right around Manitoba and West 7th, including Alex’s car-on-fire, in a great range of styles.

Everything from William Liao’s haunting face down an alley …

to Pablo Zamudio’s dramatic play of colour & line, in a neighbouring alley.

We watch murals take form, from one day to the next.

One day, there’s the barest whisper of sketch marks on the wall …

and next day, bold colour owns the wall.

Artists work in all sorts of ways. Up on an accordian-pleat Skyjack, as you’ve just seen,

or …

on a vast multi-storey scaffolding grid,

or …

 

on a human-scale wooden ladder,

or …

up in a cherry picker.

Through whatever combination of mood, temperament, and work pressure, the artists either ignore the onlookers, briefly acknowledge their presence, or — as with the Argentinian artists who comprise Medianeras (above) — engage with us, rise to our interest.

The women field our questions, talk about what they’re creating, and point out the footprints they have helpfully painted into the pavement below, showing us exactly where to stand for the best possible view.

We comply.

And we see just how, as intended, the human being on the side of this entrance-way does indeed seem to be emerging from the building.

I double back to the Festival’s gallery on 7 1/2 Lane, between Ontario & Quebec streets and (as the Lane’s own name tells you) between 7th and 8th avenues. Several new works are in progress, joining several from other years, including this 2018 contribution by Linsey Levendall.

It’s moody, skillful work, given an unintended zap by the current placement of that dumpster, right under the subject’s nose.

But … that’s street art, isn’t it? Each piece lives with everything else in its environment. It’s a dance with changing circumstances, and we the viewers, through our reactions, keep the beat.

One final work I have to photograph, right there among the 7 1/2 Lane murals.

“That’s not part of the festival,” somebody helpfully tells me. Good grief, I know that.

But who can ignore Romulus and Remus?

That Archetypal Picket Fence

9 August 2019 – Growing up, we knew what it was, and what it stood for. The picket fence was white, and suburban, and it stood for all things predictable, bland, and safe.

But now that picket fence may be black.

And downtown (well, east-end off Commercial Drive).

And not predictable.

It may offer an unexpected little visual treat ..

or even two.

No signature, no flourishes, and à propos of nothing at all. Just … there it is. Enjoy.

I Stop! (Twice)

3 August 2019 – So here I am, deep downtown and just flowing down the street. Flowing, not bouncing — my body, like my mind, still caught in a post-concert trance of Mozart rhythms.

And then, I stop.

Not so much for this amber hand, as for the basilisk stare behind it …

the defining feature of Traffic Bear.

(I would honour him with his proper indigenous name, but unfortunately these photo-wrapped signal boxes don’t always identify the artist or composition.)

And I walk on, I flow on, over one street, down two …

and I stop again.

My back to the law courts, my face up-tilted,

to watch real clouds drift past, checking out the art-clouds on the building below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering

28 July 2019 – My feet are wandering, as they tend to do, but more obediently than usual. This time they are trotting along with others, all of us on a neighbourhood tour of “lower Mount Pleasant” (close-ish to the south-east end of False Creek).

The guide is pointing out evidence of the social, industrial and built heritage of the area: remnants of the vernacular residential architecture of the 1910s, for example (gables, wood cladding and off-set front doors) …

or …

remnants of mid-century shop signage. (Bike Woman is listening to our guide, who is out of frame to the left.)

I am also listening, I am, but while my feet are obedient wanderers, my eyes are rebellious wanderers, and they keep leading my mind a-stray.

Here we are being shown one of those early homes, still surviving and freshly painted.

Only my eyes bounce off the bright paint, weave through the tree branches, and fasten on that bit of street mural beyond.

Now we’re being told more about the history of this house, and the (woeful) state of heritage designation in the area. My eyes instead slide along the building’s side wall and hop over alley space to contemplate the shipwreck in turquoise waters, ‘way down there.

And so it goes.

Another intersection, more information, and, though my feet are behaving themselves, my eyes are still on the prowl.

Look! A whole exuberant dance across that white wall over there, nicely framed by modes of transport: a sturdy truck up close, a sleek auto-share vehicle across the street, and guy wheeling his bike through the doorway.

Next, a neat little square of mural, far end of that parking-lot grid, tucked behind the hydro pole …

and, later, a huge full-wall’s worth of faces, with the vacant lot offering an unobstructed view of every detail.

Nothing distant about this one! We’re on the pavement right in front.

Smack-dab under the dog’s whiskers, and still, the guide manages to ignore him.

She is just not a street-art kind of gal. (I shouldn’t beat up on her — we all edit what we’re going to notice and not notice, otherwise we couldn’t get through the day.)

She does mention the company, though: apparently Mount Pleasant Furniture does a roaring business renting props to movie shoots in town.

Their doorway window gives just the tiniest indication of how many props must be on offer.

Tour over, and my feet, eyes and mind are now free to wander in unison.

Feet stop while eyes and mind enjoy this real, live dog on Main Street, patiently waiting for his human to abandon the delights of the Cartems “donuterie” and take him home.

Feet stop again just across the intersection.

Eyes read, mind again enjoys this street ode that I have read before …

with summer tree-shade bringing the text to life.

I do pause, one further moment.

And then — feet, eyes, mind, and everything in between — I wander on home.

 

Tributes

15 July 2019 – The first is a deliberate, specific tribute. It frames how I look at things for the rest of my walk.

** Outside the Native Education College, tucked into an alcove in the base of this soaring totem pole (Wil Sayt Bakwhlgat, “The place where the people gather”) by Nishga master carver Norman Tait …

a fresh bouquet of flowers in vivid orange wrapping …

a loving tribute to someone, from someone.

** Bordering one side of sleek new condos just where False Creek meets The Flats, an equally sleek channel of water running through deliberately rusted new steel & installed above age-rusted old railway tracks …

a developer’s tribute to the industrial/railway history of this area.

** By the seawall and children’s play area at the east end of False Creek, in a discreet line of porta-potties …

a tribute to fully-accessible (and very regal) raccoons. (Though it would be a more impressive tribute without the padlock on the door.)

 ** Under the Cambie St. bridge, where it runs into Coopers Park on the north side, a view of the painted pilings, A False Creek, by Rhonda Webbler and Trevor Mahovsky …

a public-art tribute to the need for environmental activism. These stripes mark the mid-point in the 4 – 6 metre rise in sea levels predicted by the UN body, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

** Just east of David Lam Park, where pedestrian and bicycle paths run right next to each other …

a tribute to public caution and common sense. (Or so The Community Against Preventable Injuries devoutly hopes.)

** At one end of the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, in the CPR Engine 374 Pavilion, on the site of the one-time CPR roundhouse …

the engine herself, lovingly maintained and displayed by the West Coast Railway Association …

a tribute to our first national railway line, and to this very engine which, on 23 May 1887, pulled the first train into the city of Vancouver.

** Outside the Pavilion, in the Arts & Rec Centre courtyard …

a tribute to Bastille Day! Food, drink, music, displays, and lots & lots of tricolor.

** In the sidewalk at the north end of the Burrard St. bridge, one of the City’s 22 mosaic tile inserts, each 9 ft square and containing 3,500-4,500 hand-cut ceramic pieces …

this one, Fireworks Over English Bay by Bruce Walther, a tribute indeed to fireworks and to English Bay, but also to the lavishly-styled Burrard St. bridge, such a tonic for Depression-weary citizens when it opened on 1 July 1932.

I walk on for a bit after that, but no more tributes.

Except for my own silent thank-you to my faithful feet…

 

 

 

 

Dialogue Added

11 July 2019 – I see, but don’t hear.

So I imagine…

Woman on left, eagerly, as she adjusts her ponytail: “So, anyway, I decided…”

Woman on right, vaguely, as she reads an incoming text: “Un-hunh….”

Bright Night

7 July 2019 – Bright, because at 7 p.m. at this latitude, sunset is still a good two hours away. Also bright because, even at this still-early hour, vendor stalls woo us in full-tilt neon.

Taiyaki, I learn in the course of the evening, is a Japanese fish-shaped cake — or waffle, in the local version, stuffed with either red bean paste or chocolate and topped with ice cream.

I learn this because friends have swooped me along with them to the Richmond Night Market.

Founded in 2000 by entrepreneur Raymond Cheung, it now runs weekend evenings mid-May to mid-October, attracts more than 1 million visitors over the season, and ranks as the largest night market in North America.

Crowded alleys reflect the long, long line-ups we saw at the entrance gates. Made us glad to be Old Wrinklies — there is a special Seniors’ Entrance, and we whipped right through.

Oh, the food options we discover as we reconnoitre the stalls!

Five kinds of yummy-yogurt (including purple rice flavour and “surprise” flavour); Rainbulbs (vividly coloured sodas); liquid nitrogen ice cream (with a warning about frostbite); Dragon’s Beard (thready strands of maltose sugar wrapped around chopped peanuts, coconut shreds & sesame seeds); fried squid; traditional Brazilian, Afghan and other global street foods; German pork hocks; assorted kebabs; and cultural mash-ups befitting an immigrant nation, such as kimchi french fries, tabetai tacos, okonomi bites (a Japanese take on poutine), and sawadika fried ice cream.

I goggle at a woman clutching her “ro-tato,” a single fried potato, cunningly sliced so it can be swirled  in one unbroken length up a skewer …

and at the woman in her jaunty maple-leaf cap, claiming her bubble tea.

Apart from food (Brazilian & Afghani for main course, Italian-style gelato for dessert and Dragon’s Beard for take-home treat), we buy almost nothing. No to all the jewellery; no to the electronics; no to the ingenious hand warmers; yes to just one pair of socks.

We wander toward the kiddie-amusement area, and giggle like toddlers at everything we see.

Iridescent balloons …

bubble machines …

and even cheerful yellow-ducky seating platforms.

But oh, the winner, the amusement that has us poking each other with envy, is the water-bubble game. It’s a whole big tank of water, with child-sized, clear, waterproof plastic bubbles rolling on the surface.

Each bubble with a zipper. Large enough to admit a child. Who, zipped into place, then runs, flops, kicks & jumps about in perfect — and perfectly dry — abandon.

One last traditional amusement, good for adults & kiddies alike: the old “throw something at something and win a stuffed something.”

Stall after stall of them, each with its line-up of prize “somethings” to be won.

Our little group slows to a halt in front of a display of balloons, each tucked into its own little slot, waiting to be exploded by a well-aimed beanbag.

My Soon-To-Be Hero watches for a bit, analyzes technique, buys his handful of beanbags … and rifles them, one after another, straight at those gleaming balloon bellies.

Success!

He claims his prize.

And promptly becomes My Hero, because he gives it to me, to present to the brand-new latest member of my B.C. family clan. (Some 17 days old, as I write this.)

But ssssh. It’s still my secret.

Wisdom

4 July 2019 – While up on the North Shore, following the Spirit Trail, I briefly and slightly detoured to walk along the Wisdom Wall on the rear façade of Bodwell High School.

Bodwell is an international boarding school, and the Wall is indeed a wall …

with life-sized silhouettes and quotes from a suitably global array of wise people, ranging from Confucius to Terry Fox to Lord Byron, David Suzuki, and Chief Dan George.

And Socrates.

I hope wisdom also begins in appreciating the ridiculous! That’s not a dunce cap adorning Socrates’ head, and nobody has awarded him a white feather — those are reflections of a traffic cone and my T-shirt, respectively.

Water, Water, South & North

30 June 2019 – We’ll start South.

Having given no more than passing reference to the Fraser River in my post Up the Mighty Fraser — all about the street, not the 1,375-km river — the least I can do is show you a photo of the river itself.

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation advertises a walk along the Fraserview portion of the river as it winds through south Vancouver, and I jump at the chance.

Wonderful walking/cycling trails now, and condo/retail development, but it is still a working river, so, yes, logs still come down in booms, and sure-footed men still walk among them. (Sudden memories of childhood visits to my grandparents by the Ottawa River in Woodroffe, and our game of “riding the dead-heads” as we swam — i.e., clambering up the exposed end of a half-sunk rotten log, and bobbing up and down.)

And now … North!

Another day, another exploration.  I ride the Seabus across Burrard Inlet to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, wandering first among the docks, public art, natural beauty and retail temptations of the Shipyards District, right next to the terminal. The name is developer’s language, but fair enough: this was once a very long and very busy stretch of ship yards and dry docks.

No fog horn, not even in the day, but it didn’t matter. They had Joe Bustamente, a one-armed former Chilean mariner and — more to the point — a skilled trumpeter. Circa 1900, he and his trumpet guided ferries through the fog to safety.

I walk the length of the Burrard Dry Dock Pier and use its railings to frame a view of the St. Roch Dock, in the process catching a Seabus plying its shuttle route.

Then I head west onto the North Shore Spirit Trail. This is, or will be, a 35-km bike/pedestrian greenway along the waterfront right from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. It is also a joint project of First Nations, municipalities and the provincial and federal governments, so my hat is off to all of them. Let’s just take a moment to imagine all the negotiations, and be grateful that everyone persevered.

I’m sampling a modest number of those kilometres, the ones immediately to hand (to foot?), starting at Wade Baker’s Gateway to Ancient Wisdom, which welcomes visitors to Squamish Nation land.

I pass a stone marker at the bridge over Mosquito Creek, which features, well-of-course, a mosquito. Plus a very small sparrow…

Look downstream into Burrard Inlet. There’s a whole colony of 21st-c floating homes at rest in the water, sharing space with a working marina.

Look upstream instead, for a reminder of 19th-c history. There in the distance, the twin spires of St. Paul’s Indian Church.  (Yes, “Indian” — gone from contemporary vocabulary, but sanctioned in this historical reference.)

Built in 1868 and the oldest surviving mission church in the Vancouver area, St. Paul’s combines Gothic Revival style architecture with Coast Salish interior details. Still a working church, it has been restored four times, most recently in 2017, and I’m hoping it will be on the list for North Vancouver’s next Doors Open event, because I’d love to go inside.

A red cautionary hand, marking the road crossing ahead. Was prudence ever more beautifully delivered?

On along Kings Mill Walk, rightly named for the mammoth lumber mills that once stretched along this section of waterfront. Out in the water, a circular boom. No, I don’t know why. A seal swims through, that’s enough for me.

 

I see gates into an off-leash dog park. It is a long, winding and very beautiful pathway along the Inlet, I see no signs demanding a dog as price of entry, in I go.

And, anyway, I want to get close to some of the 15 artist-designed birdhouses, part of the Birdhouse Forest created in 2005.

Pretty sure this one is by J. Gauthier, apologies if I’ve got it wrong. Also pretty sure that, although these are meant to be working birdhouses, they aren’t. Far as I can see, the intended chickadee and tree swallow inhabitants have turned up their beaks. Well, at least we human enjoy them.

On out of the dog park, with its polite instruction to owners, and equally polite apology to the dogs…

My turn-around is the 280-m pedestrian overpass at Mackay & 1st Street West. It rises over train tracks, and you know what that means. Where there are tracks, there will be box cars. Where there are box cars …

Equally bright artwork, but this time officially sanctioned, on a utility box on the homeward stretch.

And a stop at Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie, just off Spirit Trail. (Truth is, I’ve woven two North Shore visits, one within days of the other, into this single post. The second visit is with my great friend Sally, who guides me to Thomas Haas.)

No latte this time, I order a house specialty — spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate. Then Sally & I try our luck with the bright red chocolate dispenser in the wall separating café from workspace.

See the white arrow pointing to a bright white circle, just below & left of the open tray? There are a few of these arrow/circle combos scattered over the façade, each swinging open a tray when pushed. Each tray contains a single free chocolate. If nobody got there before you, that is. (Frequent refills, but frequent eager fingers as well.)

All empty. I have to make do with my Aztec Hot Chocolate.

First-world problems.

 

  • 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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