HOME and Democracy

15 October 2018 – I tilt backward, slide my eyes up those skyscrapers, know I won’t see any for the next few days.

I’m heading out of town, north to join friends who live by Lake Simcoe, in a community just outside Barrie.

They pick me up at the GO (= Government of Ontario) bus station, explain we have one important stop to make on the way home.

This is the first voting day in the municipal elections being held throughout the province. First voting day? Times have changed. It used to be, one official voting day plus several advance-poll days. Now, with the switch to electronic voting, people may vote across a range of days — or from home.

My friends will do it the (relatively) old-fashioned way: we’ll stop at the Innisfil town services building, where they will make their electronic mark in person.

The building is festive. Voting has become a family-friendly event. There’s a (I swear to you) Batmobile parked nearby, to amuse the kiddies, and balloons galore.

Balloons plus a list of relevant stats and fun factoids …

balloons plus pumpkins plus local band (plus Batman watching) along one side of the building …

and a Batman-meets-shy-fan moment when said hero finally walks away from the band.

We go in. Assorted smiling helpers on all sides, both town staff and volunteers, and welcoming signage right inside the door.

My friends head off to find voting kiosks. I spy all these rosettes clustered on a far wall …

and go investigate.

Turns out to be the results of a local ideaLAB & Library project, which invited people to paint a pair of donated shoes to symbolize what “HOME” means to them. Participants also stated what they were portraying, and their comments were neatly printed up and put on display as well.

I start checking out the many meanings of HOME.

Dogs!

Forest & lake — though with a nearby sign talking about a “very fat cat,” which I found confusing …

until I looked to the right instead of the left.

Certainly a very black cat and, I am happy to assume, the beloved Chubby-chubbs in question.

Someone loves his solo life …

someone else loves Toronto …

and someone else creates delicately intricate waves.

Someone reminds us that all Canada is HOME.

And what could be more appropriate than that, as, all around, citizens are gathering to care for their home with this fundamental act of good stewardship?

Much later that day, in failing light, I sit on a rock on the beach, and think about voting, think about HOME, think about that final shoe.

Yes. Lucky us. All Canada is home.

Meanwhile, back in Digbeth …

Click right here: This is what happens when a whole chunk of Birmingham decides to woo street artists.

Thanks, Rick!

T-Time

11 October 2018 – T-Time, not as in fine china & scones.

T-Time, as in YYZ; as in 43.6532°N  79.3832° W.

T-Time, as in … Toronto.

Here I am.

With luck, there will be wonderful autumn colour. With certainty, there are wonderful friends, and that is quite enough already.

A first walk-about, with assorted friends, and there’s the city, amusing me as I go.

In front of a construction site at Bathurst & Bloor, for example …

with my tummy already warm with a Green Beanery latte, so this is a bonus.

Later, down in the financial district, I look up at this play of black-on-white.

The black is one edge of one building in the cluster of buildings that make up the Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe in the 1960s.

I’m not there for those knife edges, however, not even for how they play out in geometric shadows on the ground, at precisely 2:13 p.m. on a sunny October afternoon.

I’m there for what I know lies through that arch, over by those luminous trees. Something I have loved (and visited) in every season of the year. Something I want to visit again.

The PastureJoe Fafard‘s wonderful pasture of seven life-size bronze cows, at peace and at home in the courtyard of the TD Centre.

Later yet again, Phyllis (yes! co-founder of the Tuesday Walking Society!) and I are taking a pedestrian overpass across the Yonge Street subway line, between Eglinton & Davisville.

I’ve had cows, now I get racoons. A distinctly less classy setting than a Mies van der Rohe architectural design, but perhaps better suited to the animal in question. Or, at least, showing him in one of his typical urban habitats.

Down an alley.

There’s the guy in the garbage pail, claiming the pizza box …

and the guy navigating a ladder …

and it’s all so Toronto I am giggling my silly head off.

Please, raise your glass to T-Time.

 

Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

Time With Grit & Grime

15 September 2018 – Grab it all, drink it all in, right? Revel in eco-sculptures one day, but go prowl alleys & street corners the next …

And so here I am, back in Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, back on Main Street. Where I discover another click-clack-fall-is-back:

This street piano is still on the street, but locked up tight. (Only later, looking at my photos, do I see that piano keys are painted on the padlock.)

A silenced piano, but fair enough. There are not many people still patio-lingering to enjoy it, even had it been open for use.

I’ve been pretty sketchy about discovering this year’s Mural Festival contributions to the neighbourhood, so I double back onto Watson — looks like an alley, but it’s a legit street with its very own name — to go see what might be there.

If there is a new mural nearby, I don’t see it. I’m struck instead by this hopeful message — I interpret it as hopeful — on a dumpster.

Bit farther north, and I get to pay tribute to one of my all-time favourite Mural Festival offerings, this one a veteran from 2016.

Oh, I love this wolf. (And the companion wolf, out of frame.) It’s more than aesthetic appreciation, I realize: I stumbled on the 2016 crop of murals by accident, while visiting that year, not even knowing that a Mural Festival took place. So there’s a whole serendipity-lucky-charm current of warmth I feel, every time I see him again.

More wandering, and eventually I’m on E. Broadway (aka 9th Ave.), just west of Main. I side-slip into the alley & bend myself back-back-back, peering up-up-up, to pay proper attention to this glorious fire escape, with its entirely improbable cross-stitch of artwork, top to bottom.

All that, and one of those big boxy Vancouver hydro poles to complete the image.

I straighten up, and discover a Millennial right next to me, busy taking the same shot. “I saw you & wondered what you were looking at,” she confesses once she too is again vertical. “It’s cool.”

Farther west on Broadway, and a tattered poster I don’t understand, but the devil-baby graphics suck me in. Then I decide I like the larger composition even better: Manhattan Project + devil-baby + “Faro” +  the battered, barricaded windows + assorted scribbles.

The city — any city — just keeps throwing up these random art installations, the elements assembled by chance and disparate hands & intentions. Some cohere, some don’t. (Oooo, aren’t I playing the Deep Thinker! I’ll stop now.)

I don’t have any of these Deep thoughts at the time. I am immediately distracted by a bright red poster next to the devil-baby ensemble, and move in to read the fine print.

Later I find Expressions of Belonging online, and discover these events are being organized by a local Master’s student, not as part of her studies, just as a way to encourage human connections within the urban web. Coming up 23 September, so you still have time to mark your calendar if you’re local– but note the venue has moved to the Kitsilano Community Centre.

One last citizen of the urban web who demands our attention — a creature of many roles but, at this exact moment, playing parking vigilante.

There is always a crow.

 

Another Day, Another Alley

18 August 2018 – An alley was not the plan. The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) was out in full twosome force, and the plan was to improve our minds with a hit of heritage architecture.

Specifically, a tour of the interior of this theatre, the largest in Canada when it opened in 1927 …

and once again a sparkling major theatrical presence in the city, following its restoration in the mid-1970s.

Scheduled tours all summer long, arrange ahead or just drop in; all fine.

Except when there is a film shoot that same day. As a polite little notice in the window informs us.

Never mind. We can adapt. If the theatre’s heritage interior is not available, we will console ourselves with its heritage alley right next door.

Welcome to Ackery’s Alley, nick-named for Ivan Ackery, who ran the Orpheum 1935-69 and helped visiting celebrities slip out a side door into the alley when they wanted to avoid adoring fans. Like the theatre itself, the alley deteriorated over time, and stayed scruffy a lot longer.

Until this very summer, in fact, when it became the second of the City’s downtown paint-the-alley projects. It may still be a service alley, but it’s now snazzy as all-get-out.

Good information, yes? Though perhaps you didn’t really need to have that last bit spelled out.

Great waves of colour undulate their way right up the walls …

and all over the recycling bins.

Anti-pigeon spikes are firmly attached to every horizontal surface.

Which, as Mama Pigeon discovers, makes them the perfect fence to support her nest and keep the babies from tumbling out.

I am not sympathetic to pigeons — the sight of them has me humming Tom Lehrer’s ditty, Poisoning Pigeons in the Park — but I catch myself applauding Mama P. for her ingenuity.

We repeatedly have to stop gawking at the alley’s paint job and leap out of the way of delivery trucks, threading their way through the narrow space, guided by Useful Guy working the film shoot.

He gets a moment to breathe between vehicles; that gives us a moment to admire his arms. He’s as snazzy as the rest of the alley!

And then finally away we go, Frances & I, walking on north through town, vaguely planning to reach Burrard Inlet somewhere around Canada Place, where we will then — probably — follow the seawall west for a bit.

An hour or so later, the time accounted for not by kilometres walked but diversions enroute, we reach Canada Place. The cranes on the Port of Vancouver’s Centennial Pier punch a dramatic orange through the haze, but the Coast Range Mountains, just across the Inlet, are almost totally obscured.

It is not a romantic mist, it is not Rain City about to have a rainy moment. It is wild fire smoke.

More than 500 fires are burning province-wide as I write this. We pause a moment, think about all the displaced people, all the exhausted fire fighters, all the terrified wild life, all the trees … all the loss.

We are sombre as we walk on.

Our mood doesn’t lighten until we pass this notice on a blocked staircase.

Oh! Sorry! is that one image too many? Am I boring you?

I apologize…

Murals! and a Festival To Go With ‘Em

14 August 2018 – It’s been wicked hot around here, but politely cooled of to low 20s for the big Mural Festival weekend. It also politely didn’t rain, so we are all happy.

Murals are everywhere, well everywhere in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the Festival’s traditional home, radiating all around its Main Street spine.

Big new richly complex murals, covering three walls …

sassy cartoon-image monkeys, bright-eyeing you over some alley wheelies …

even the whole side wall of a house on a residential street.

But a mural festival is more than murals, it is also a festival. With people! and dogs! and food! and games!

Start with a dog. Waiting so patiently while his owners linger over coffee in the pop-up café painted into place on E 14th at Main. Once you’ve sufficiently adored the dog, run your eye up the left side of the photo, and locate the tiny little head immediately below the grey car, last in line parked there on the right hand side of the street.

Got it? Good.

 

That’s the head of this pianist at the far end of the pop-up café. Undoubtedly another reason Fido will have to wait a while for his owners to tear themselves away and start exploring again.

 

Never mind, I’m exploring. Including food options, for later.

There is some good food on offer, including Venezuelan arepas that tempt me mightily. Then there’s  day-glo cotton candy. I gag slightly, at the sight — but I remember lapping it up as a kid.

Which is what this toddler is about to do. She has turquoise smeared across her face in no time flat.

Farther down Main, a young girl is totally absorbed in an artist at work …

while, elsewhere, a besotted couple are totally absorbed in each other and ignoring an artist at work.

One girl stops in an alley to take a photo of the bright hanging streamers …

another stops on Main Street to make some art of her own …

and everybody stops to chalk up some creative time on this E 8th wall & sidewalk at Main.

Trim white tents line 3-4 blocks of Main (car-free for the event), with some very fine displays of artists’ crafts.

There’s the other kind of retail stuff, too. What would a festival be, without it?

Nifty cats or not, there are better things to do with your legs.

Bald-guy-with-beard, for example, has just leapt high to drive a power shot that sent his opponent  scrambling to retrieve the ping-pong ball. With everyone watching & smirking like hell as he scrambles.

Even better use for your legs: hop onto the Sínulhkay & Ladders board, and sharpen your ability to decolonize your actions. The work of Squamish artist Michelle Nahanee, it invites players to notice the post-colonial thinking rewarded by a ladder boost, and old-era colonial thinking that slides you down a sínulhkay.

I’m heading for home, walking west along yet another alley, over by Quebec St. near E 7th.

Liz & Phil! How nice of them to turn up.

I spend a moment wondering how many people who understand hash tags & selfie references will also recognize the very young Liz & Phil. A quite splendidly cross-generational challenge, I decide.

A few more steps down the alley, and … no challenge here. Everyone will get this. (And jump in for a selfie.)

This is Rain City, after all.

 

 

 

Wide-Eyed

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

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

Chef Guy, however, is looking down.

 

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

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

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

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

On down the alley. Admire that fire escape.

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

And on down past that, to the mural.

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

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

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

And I catch my bus for home.

 

 

How-Not-To

7 July 2018 – Sometimes negative teaches more than positive.

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

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

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

Which is completely delightful.

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

 

The City hates art? Looks like love to me.

 

Marching Orders

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

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

Entirely appropriate marching orders for the day, I decide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there is signage. Lots of signage.

We are instructed to Thank Todd …

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

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

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

So despite the wagging finger overtones, I do smile.

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

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

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

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

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

Onto a ferry, and on to Granville Island …

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s it. Smile!

 

Jalan-Jalan

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

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

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

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

and then trot off eastward along False Creek.

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

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

Trace your sources to their roots

and they will find you laughing.

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

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

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

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

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

Bold advertising as I turn east on Keefer from Main …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very odd. I like it a lot.

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

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

 

 

  • 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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