No King. But a Springbok & Some Dragons. And Assorted Birds

26 November 2018 – I never need a reason to go walk False Creek, it’s reason enough all by itself, but today, I do have an objective. I want to see the King Tide in action.

King tides (local media explain) occur when the moon is closest to the earth, the gravitational pull of sun & moon reinforce each other, and tides rise to their highest levels. Vancouver has just begun a run of king tide: November 23-30.

So I go looking, but obviously I’ve arrived at the wrong point in the cycle. Things look darn normal.

No king.

I don’t care. I’ve already had a springbok!

Maybe a springbok? This guy’s horns don’t have that lovely springbok heart-curve, so perhaps he is something else. The text above his head says “Sea Power” and by his hooves says “the natural law”, so that’s no help. Oh well. He’s lovely, whatever he is.

I’m angling down to the water just west of Main Street, a route that zigs & zags me into “Main Alley” — something I had thought just a pretentious name for an alley, but which I now know marks the block where an entire new tech campus will arise.

It already sports the Main Alley Urban Park.

So says the pink sign beyond this shaggy greenery, all that’s left now that summer’s planters have been tidied away for winter. and the café tables &  benches neatly stored.

And “shaggy” is the word, isn’t it, for late fall? Even here in mild Vancouver, summer’s botanical opulence by now is on the weary side …

But.

Farewell summer, yeah-yeah, so what. Look! Hello winter, first snow on the mountains.

I saw the peaks glistening from my own windows early this morning, and felt quite exhilarated by it all. New season, new energy.

Winter up there; here on the water, ferries as usual. And a dragon boat team, also as usual. (OK, you’ve got me. No dragons. Just dragon boaters…)

I’m approaching Hinge Park, but I am distracted by a labyrinth. It glistens quite eerily, as if floating on its own skin of water.

Am amateur job, surely. Masking tape is my bet — and by now in no better shape than the leaves that have landed on it.

But I like it a lot. I like that it’s wonky, and disheveled. I even forgive the fact that you can’t navigate it without cheating a bit, here & there …  (Yes, I walk it. Of course I do.)

Out of the labyrinth, past Hinge Park, & here’s Habitat Island — the man-made island designed to follow nature’s own recipe and provide additional wildlife habitat within False Creek. Two great dead trees anchor the island, spear the sky, and are topped, as always, with live birds.

I go read the plaque, and discover those dead trees are a deliberate part of the plan.

“Raptor Perch” indeed. No raptors at the moment, just gulls & crows — but perched. Definitely perched.

Starting to loop back east takes me along the little creek through Hinge Park that feeds into False Creek. At the moment it’s full of Mallard ducks, bright against the soft grey light.

Heading back up Main Street, one last tribute to birds, at the corner of East 6th.

The leaves have fallen, no shade here until next spring. But I do pause. A moment of appreciation is always in season.

 

 

Lake. Klezmer. Ghost Lake. And a Bunny-Rabbit

24 October 2018 – Not calendar-Tuesday, but honorary-Tuesday. So says the founding Tuesday Walking Society, reunited and out in full twosome force.

We jump on the southbound Spadina LRT and bail at Queen’s Quay,  just where the train does its dog-leg to the left and starts its run eastward along Lake Ontario.

Once, decades ago, Toronto parks encouraged visitor use by pegging little “Please walk on the grass” signs into the turf. Now, in all the lakefront parks and many others, the welcome is even brighter and more functional.

We walk right past those Muskoka chairs, though. We pay only the briefest attention to the Spadina Quay Wetlands — once mini-carpark, now home to a whole ecosystem of frogs, fish, birds and butterflies — and to the Toronto Music Garden, its layout co-created by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

We skirt a bike path intersection …

and follow the waterfront west & then south to just below the old Canada Malting silos. Our goal is the tiny, deeply moving park tucked between silos and lake.

Ireland Park.

These emaciated figures are the work of Irish sculptor Rowan Gillespie; this park is the new-world companion to the famine memorial in Dublin, for which he also sculpted the figures. Together, they commemorate the Great Famine of 1845-51. I never knew the impact of this famine on Toronto until I read the stats: in the summer of 1847 alone, more than 38,500 desperate migrants landed here. At the time, the city had a population of 20,000.

We stand behind one of the five figures (two less than in Dublin, to represent deaths en-route), and follow her gaze. The scene is not as migrants saw it, obviously, this is just our attempt to imagine their relief at being still alive, and on land.

Now we head east, to walk all these enchained lakefront parks toward the heart of the city. A first goal is to decipher the name on the red tugboat — it doesn’t look like a tourist vessel, yet despite all that bright red, doesn’t seem to be on government service either.

Tug-side, we learn she is the Radium Yellowknife. What a pan-Canadian world she represents! Named for the capital city of the Northwest Territories, registered in Vancouver, tied up right here in Toronto.

And working here, too, we learn, thanks to the guy who steps aboard to unlock a door and retrieve his bicycle. Once, in some vague past, she was in the NWT; now she helps shunt barges & whatnot from hither to yon, as needed in Toronto Harbour.

On past the yellow umbrellas of  HTO Park, enjoying the punning name as always. I wonder who first saw the possibilities in Toronto’s nickname and the symbol for water?

On and more on, enjoying water and waves and strollers and dogs and still-brave plant life and the whole happy mix. Past the first quay-side Wave Deck, then the second, then a pause to salute the third and loopiest of them all: the Simcoe Wave Deck.

For Phyllis & me, all this is a reunion with sights we already knew and wanted to see again — park after park, garden after garden. Then, boom, right in front of Queen’s Quay Terminal, a tiny park we knew nothing about: the Toronto Book Garden.

The zig-zag path is studded with the names of authors, and dates.

Ondaatje, plus Dionne Brand, Anne Michaels, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies … you get the idea. Each has won the Toronto Book Award in a given year. The author needn’t live here, and the book may be of any genre, but it must contain some clear Toronto content.

Still heading east and now, we agree, we’re into a boring bit, with concrete towers to both sides. As always, construction. As almost-always, a CAUTION sign. Suitably red. And, as-sometimes, one of the jokes people like to play when the City hasn’t specified what to be cautious about.

Ho-ho, we agree, and soon after that, we part ways — Phyllis off to vote in the municipal elections, me to wander a few more parks before joining another friend mid-afternoon.

Next up, the refurbished Berczy Park at Front & Wellington, just behind the city’s flat-iron building. I knew about its two-tier dog fountain — multitudes of life-sized dog sculptures, each squirting water (from the mouth, I hasten to add) back into the ever-receptive fountain. The dogs all look upward, to the bone topping the fountain. There is one cat statue slyly tucked into the mix, but he is looking sideways, eyeing a bird.

There is now another sculpture in the park, a pair of giant arms & hands thrusting skyward from the earth.

There are no “do not climb” signs, so I relax & enjoy the kids’ enjoyment.

Up to King & Church now, into the Toronto Sculpture Garden just opposite St. James Cathedral. The current installation is a cheerful steel structure called Pigro, the work of Tony Romono, its loops further be-looped with lights.

“It’s even better at night when the lights are on,” says a voice behind me, a man at peace on a bench. Signage tells me it’s meant to evoke Italian festival lights, which are strung along streets and illuminate church façades as they go. How perfect here, against the Cathedral spire.

I’m now making tracks for my friend on Church Street, deep in territory where I first worked decades ago. All is familiar.

Except for this, on Church just south of Front.

Shoreline Commemorative, by Paul Roff, reminds us that Front Street — now well inland — once deserved its name. Infill, not natural processes, have moved the shoreline farther south, and it’s good to remember where lake once touched land.

I salute the ghost lake, and go meet my friend.

And now for that bunny-rabbit

Time-jump. It’s now calendar Tuesday, the Tuesday Walking Society is again on the prowl, and I have decided to put away my camera. Let nothing stand between me and this walk through Moore Park Ravine! Let me be fully present; eyes, ears, boots, nature and dear friend are more than enough.

But out comes that camera,  just once.

Hello, Poser-bunny.

And on we go into Evergreen Brickworks, for lunch and latte and elbows-on-table conversation.

 

X-Power

22 October 2018 – I’m not sure how to pronounce it, but I for-sure like the results when womxn street artists are invited to paint up a storm in a particular city alley.

I’m here thanks to a tip-off from Chloe, another onetime AGO colleague who has turned into a continuing good friend. She’d have cause to know about this 2018 project: apart from anything else, it’s virtually across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario — in the alley on the north side of Dundas, between McCaul & D’Arcy streets.

So right after Anthropocene, I cross the street and left-turn into the alley from McCaul. First up, a big black blank canvas — probably not part of the project, but something Chloe told me to check, since it is regularly repainted with another quote. Current version is:

One other person is prowling the alley, camera in hand. I mean, a real camera, with attachments and everything. Backpack Guy and I dance around each other very agreeably all the way down the block.

And there’s lots to see.

Down at the end of that long shot, you’ll see the multi-coloured suggestion of this (I think) leopard, who leaps right at me once I reach that particular garage door.

He’s in high contrast with an image more often associated with women …

I particularly like the jaunty angle of the needle.

There are eyes, twice over …

and dancing cranes …

and dancing water-babies. A splashy great mix of diving styles, complete with a couple of exuberant cannonballs.

As I head back to Dundas West, one final message.

Life philosophy all wrapped up in a tongue-twister. I twist my tongue around it a time or two, as I wait for my streetcar.

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.

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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