Blown Off Course

7 January 2020 – A cloudy/sunny day, in a run of seriously rainy days, so of course I’m out the door. And promptly back in again, to change hats.

It’s windy out there.

So windy they’re cancelling ferry sailings. So windy I switch my usual  winter Tilley (left), which would para-sail me right into next week, for my Orkney rainbow-&-runes cloche, which snugs tight about the ears.

Enroute False Creek, I exchange winks with one little star-segment of Cosmic Breeze, a 2019 Mural Festival creation by Olivia Di Liberto …

and, once Creek-side in Olympic Village Square, I admire how this sculpture — momento of the 2010 Olympics — glitters in the morning sunshine.

All this is pretty well what I have, admittedly vaguely, planned: down to False Creek, west on False Creek right to Granville Market, and then … oh … whatever.

“Whatever” arrives sooner than planned. That wind! Gusts barrelling down the Creek, and me staggering with their impact. Once I make it upright to Spyglass Dock, I decide not to press my luck any longer and cut up the access road beside Cambie Bridge, heading for a bit of inland shelter.

See? Even a traffic sign is toppled.

Smart right onto Commodore Rd., leading to Moberly Rd. and a more prudent route that starts with this berm of trees and woods at the eastern end of Charleson Park.

I am now “off course,” in that I haven’t walked this route before, but surely that’s a bonus? (As Phyllis, my wonderful Tuesday Walking Society partner back in Toronto, would say: “It’s all walking…”)

Very peaceful, on Maberly Rd. — trees to the left, narrow roadway, homes to the right and just beyond them, the Creek.

More people and bicycles — and dogs — than cars. This cyclist has just stopped, yet again, to give his little dog time to catch up. All this gives me time to notice the exceedingly moss-shaggy shrub there on the right, practically under my nose.

I move in, expecting to bliss out on all that moss, and instead discover it is festooned with dangling amulets, twirly-bobs, ceramic ornaments and ribbons. And this brazen babe, lolling on the fence rail, half out of sight.

I love this stuff, I do, and I’m in high good humour — also safe from wind — as I continue down the road, then cut to the land side of the Charleson Park Community Garden, and head into the open parkland beyond.

Where I don’t even know how to take in what is happening.

A little boy next to me screams, “CROWS!!!” with the enthusiasm and leather lungs that only a six-year-old can possess. His father and I exchange round-eyed looks of amazement and mutter allusions to Alfred Hitchcock.

Indeed, CROWS.

All over the grass, lining the tree branches, swirling through the air, and filling that air with a raucous uproar that rattles my brain. Father and son have moved on, I’m now standing beside a woman thoughtfully studying the scene. “Chafer beetles,” she says. “Crows dig the larvae out of lawns. Wow.” She gives a little snort-giggle. “And they just sodded this thing, too.”

I carry on about loving crows, but I tell you, I am happy to get out of that park, and through Sutcliffe Park onto the east lobe of Granville Island. Winds have died down, and not a crow in sight. Just a pair of boaters out there in an endearingly simple wooden canoe, paddling along.

And around and around I go, looping myself onto the north side of the Island, taking the path just in behind the floating homes of Sea Village.

I walk on down the line, peering into the gaps between homes.

I’ve fantasized about living in a houseboat, who hasn’t, but not very seriously. I’ve been on a few — most dramatically in winter-time Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake — and have realized I enjoy visiting but wouldn’t want the upkeep.

So bye-bye to the Sea Village houseboats, and inland to the main part of Granville Island.

Where I hang over the fence to enjoy, as I always do, the sight of the aptly named Giants — the concrete silo murals painted by Brazilian twin brothers under the joint name of Osgemeos for the Vancouver Biennale.

I finger some crafts in the shops, drop my jaw at the range of fresh produce in the food market, find myself a latte (you knew that), and finally catch a bus home.

Soon after, the rain returns.

 

Omens, One-Two-Three

4 January 2020 – I’m not superstitious, black cats & ladders are safe with me, so I don’t get all jumpy about a possible bad omen — but I’m quick to call something a good omen and get all gleeful about it.

So please join me in the Historical Present Tense, jump back to 1 January, and get all gleeful with me about my walk that day.

We’re having lots of rain this winter, but here in downtown Vancouver, this first morning of a brand new decade, the sun is blazing down.

First good omen: sunshine.

It bounces crisp shadows off richly warmed walls …

and highlights just a riffle of cloud in that Alberta-blue (still my criterion) sky.

Which brings us to my second good omen: feet overrule brain, and it pays off.

Brain thought that we (the whole mind/spirit/body collective it thinks it controls) would head north-then-west. Feet abruptly veered east instead, into the South Flatz.

With a zed. Because this once-grotty stretch of reclaimed lowland — from the current artificial end of False Creek on east to its former natural end near Clark Drive — is becoming an artistic and intellectual magnet, thanks to the relocation here of Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

But the train tracks still run along the north side of all this redevelopment, and graffiti, murals and boxcars are as much part of the scene as the snazzy newcomers.

I peer through chainlink fence, using boxcar ribs to frame images on the walls beyond. I smirk at this neatly lettered graffito: “art is pain.”

I have visions of an Emily Carr student bursting out of that handsome building right behind me …

to leap the fence and take out his/her frustrations on that wall beyond the tracks.

Next door, another handsome building, this one the Centre for Digital Media, a post-grad collaboration among various universities. More art, but this time 3-D, official and not at all painful.

No need for that umbrella today!

The work brings to mind the Love In The Rain sculptures by Bruce Voyce in Queen Elizabeth Park, but I can’t find confirmation.

I’m up by Great Northern Way by now, once train tracks and now home to cars, bikes, pedestrians, and even a Little Free Library box. Of course I peer in.

Oh, New Year’s is so ten hours ago!

Across the broad street, an imposing & equally broad staircase. Lined with statuary.

I’m glad it’s there, but I don’t quite know what I’m looking at.

Over at Clark Drive, though, I know exactly what I’m looking at.

As in: “I’ll see your padlock and raise you a pair of clippers.”

I follow my feet north on Clark for a bunch of boring blocks, be grateful I’m skipping this bit in the re-telling. Just south of Prior, I head west again, with no particular plan in mind except to escape Clark, and wander willy-nilly through industrial park territory — everything from tool manufacturers to “integrated media solutions” studios to something called Flüff (with the umlaut) and the Vancouver International Marathon Society.

Some okay murals, plus this imaginative use of (I think) a glue gun to create a runic cameo on one corner of a nondescript wall.

I wander on, feet doing the work, mind along for the ride. Then eyes see three spur-line train tracks, and brain & feet agree we should all turn left and follow the tracks.

Which brings us to my third good omen: serendipity. Sometimes you rediscover by accident a place you could never find again on purpose.

I am so pleased. I recognize this mishmash of brick and wood and out-buildings, covered in murals. Complete with alley-ways (dungarees optional) …

and plant growth as much part of the total effect as the artwork.

By sheer, happy, welcome-to-2020 good luck, I have once again found myself at 1000 Parker Street. I am behind the Parker Street Studios, which houses some 200 artists in its four sprawling floors of space.

Every alcove and doorway an explosion.

Its spirit? Look closer, up above the top-left corner of the door.

“People are having too much fun,” it says.

I laugh.

The guy standing nearby, having himself a smoke, turns at the sound and nods. We talk. He is one of the building managers. “Oh, it’s a great place. Lot of really good artists here, you know — all kinds.” I say yes, I know; I came here once on an art tour. “Come back any time,” he says.

We beam at each other, wish each other happy new year, and go our separate ways.

2020

30 December 2019 – Oh 2020, you are almost here.

We know you want to treat us right, so here are some suggestions.

Please be the kind of year in which, for example, a functional utility box is also a bright-eyed owl …

an equally functional bike stand becomes a work of wool art …

a derelict houseboat is transformed into a floating artists’ haven …

and grubby old car tires turn into safe, bright playground pads.

Put your mind to it, 2020.

Be a year in which padlocks denote love …

tent cities are full of joy and magic …

and the downtown core offers us abundant public benches …

recycling locations …

and bike rental stands.

C’mon, 2020! Accept the challenge.

Be a year in which the graffito underfoot is a coffee cup, not an F-bomb …

even a 93-year-old monarch tries to stay current …

crows feel free to offer editorial opinion …

and the humble little sparrow dares to dream big, and succeeds.

Happy new year, everyone.

May we all have a year in which we dare to dream big, and succeed.

(I feel I must add: I do know this is just the pretty stuff, and there is much that is dark, dangerous and disgraceful. But I believe we must also recognize and celebrate everything that is wonderful. It restores balance to our vision, and it gives us the energy and motivation to get out there and help make things better.)

Off-Main

24 December 2019 – I’m weaving around that Main St. axis, mostly not on it but orienting with it even so…

“Palimpsest!” I think as I pause at this E. Pender alley corner, always happy to use the word (it’s such a wonderfully crunchy mouthful).

Look closer, and no, it’s not some one-time iconic brand. It is, well it says here, “Good Company Lager.” It also says, “What’s Up Fool,” but let’s ignore that.

just below it, a graffito correction for the old-fashioned washroom signs also painted on the wall. “Non binary” it scolds, the lettering faded but the 21st-c. message clear.

Right, shame on you, there are more gender options than male & female.

(My personal “WTF?” is all about the signage convention that men get to be men, while women have to be ladies, but each to their own obsession.)

Another message, this time full of beauty and spirituality, at E. Hastings and Gore — no. 21 of the 31 mosaics embedded in downtown sidewalks, especially here in the Downtown East Side.

I love this series, love discovering the squares at random. I’m always amazed that people can walk right over them unheeding, but stubbornly confident that many other people do notice, do enjoy, do feel energized by the civic display of beauty.

I especially like this particular mosaic, of course, for the raven…

 

… and for that message of survival, still defiantly there despite the beating inflicted on this explanatory sign by time and vandals.

From underfoot to overhead, as I veer back along E. Hastings to Main.

Vintage neon! There since this café opened its doors in 1942.  (Brings to mind “The Goof” in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood…)

More neon in the doorway, a cup presumably brimming with Ovaltine.

I waver, I do, I confess to a long-standing fondness for chocolate Ovaltine … but… naaah.

I go home for coffee.

 

 

“Please notice …”

15 December 2019 – The quotation hangs in a bookstore window up Main Street near 20th or so — large, neat, nicely framed, and from an author I haven’t thought of in a while but am pleased to remember.

Good advice, and easy to follow a day or two later as I find myself very happy indeed, having an unplanned but discovery-rich walk around Strathcona. It’s the city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, east of downtown, east of Main Street, echoing past lives as well as today’s demographic mix.

What I had planned was a direct trip home, but, right there at Gore & East Pender, curiosity throws me off-piste.

It leads me across Gore to read the Project Bookmark sign …

which is physically next to Christ Church of China, but in literary imagination pinpoints Gee Sook’s laundry & dry cleaning shop as portrayed by Wayson Choy in The Jade Peony.

Now that I’m facing east on Pender, I might as well continue, hmmm? So I do, and that Bookmark sign proves prophetic. There is a lot of art, culture and history to come.

A Literary Landmark, for example, just a bit farther east on Pender. This one connects Paul Yee, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1999 (among other honours) …

with the Mau Dan Gardens Co-operative, right across the street. He lived with his Aunt Lillian in her home at this address in the 1960s, a location to which his aunt returned decades later …

not to her old house, which had been demolished, but to the co-operative that now stood in its place.

I loop around for a while, drop slightly south to Keefer Street and follow it east.

Yes! another of these crow-with-paintbrush doorways that I remember from previous walks.

But this time, I know what it means. Eastside Culture Crawl artists identify their locations and, back in 2009, this was the symbol. (The door also announces, in neat letters: “Entrée des artistes.”) I love it, I love it.

Not to be outdone, MacLean Park, also bordering Keefer, is home to one of City Park’s Artist Fieldhouse Studio projects, all of them housed in now-disused caretaker suites. I don’t know which artist (or community group) is currently in residence, and anyway …

I’m more taken with these spears of birch, rising from the glossy hedge that leads to the fieldhouse door.

Speaking of glossy, speaking of happy-tree, how about this towering evergreen that marks the entrance to Angiolina Court?

Not just towering, but laden with Christmas ornaments, right out there on a public street. Trusting people to admire, but to keep their hands to themselves.

That’s what stops me first, but then there’s everything else: the bike leaning companionably near-by, the fire escape, the red awning & door, the age (1898) of the structure, the rumour that this trim little apartment building housed an illegal still during prohibition, and the certainty that it has housed a corner grocery store since 1905.

The current grocery store is exactly where I want to be. The Wilder Snail is also a café, and I’m ready for a latte. I go in, order my latte, scoop up the very last blueberry scone while I’m at it, and find a seat.

I smirk at the ceiling décor …

and settle back to eavesdrop on the father-daughter combo next to me: dad so dark and bearded, moppet so blonde and pony-tailed, both intent on their chess game.

She is perhaps five or six, and being taken seriously by her father — no baby-talk, just endless loving patience and calm mentoring, helping her see the implications of what’s on the board before her as the game evolves. Finally, inevitably, it’s chess-mate. She nods agreement at her father’s praise — “You’re learning!”– and, together, they pack up the board.

Soon after I move on myself.

South on Hawks, still bordering MacLean Park, where a winter-mossy tree trunk is as vivid as the jacket of the child retrieving an errant soccer ball.

Then, across the street, where … well, I don’t even know what’s going on.

All that comes to mind is that Alice in Wonderland scene where she’s faced with a bottle labelled “Drink Me.”

I share her confusion. Fortunately, there’s nothing visible on the porch to drink.

Soon after, over on Keefer near East Georgia, something I can cope with. It’s another of the City’s Millennium Story Stones, this one, of course, a memory of life on Keefer Street.

Dr. Yurkovich takes us back to 1934, when his father returned from the sanitarium, knowing he was dying and wanting to spend those last days with his wife and children. He died in 1935, his widow spurned public assistance and instead offered room and board in the family home.

More loop-abouts, and finally I’m on Union Street, heading west and homeward bound.

One last treat: a dangling tree ornament, created from horse chestnut “conkers.”

Kurt Vonnegut was right.

I think about my afternoon, and murmur to myself (and now to you as well): “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

 

 

 

Dull Day Bright

1 December 2019 – Images from 30 November, a suitably overcast last day of a traditionally rainy month. But bright even so, bright with art and words that brighten the mind and spirits.

This great pop of art for example, lighting up a grey-scale alley just off West Broadway & Ontario Street.

A corner signature tells me the artist: Stefan Raupach — and later exploration tells me more. This is Morning Sun, created in 2015 in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and Tunari Gumi, a grassroots organization serving the Japanese-Canadian community. (Indeed, it is on the alley wall of the organization’s offices.)

No clear shot possible, such is alley art life, but lots to admire in bits & pieces. The flautist’s head and nimble fingers, for example …

and the morning sun itself, along with mountain peaks, waves and (inevitably) crows against the clouds still pink with sunrise.

I even like the sight lines up that staircase — a reminder that street art lives within its larger urban context. The macro urban-art installation, if you like. (Well, only if you like artspeak. Sorry.)

On I go, I am in fact heading for somewhere (though not with any sense of urgency). Next time I stop to cock my head, it is at a different kind of “macro urban-art installation.” (Smirk.)

It’s not the old house itself, particularly …

it is that parliament of owls on the porch roof. (Yes, “parliament” is the collective noun for owls. Isn’t that wonderful?)

I leave the owls to their deliberations.

Still heading west, now on West 8th between Ontario and Manitoba streets, the southern border of Jonathan Rogers Park.

Nothing macro about this next art installation, it is gloriously micro, eye-level and eye-scale.

I love this series — by now some 60 utility-pole plaques dotted around the city, an initiative of the Reading Lights program that publicizes B.C. children’s book authors & illustrators and makes their work available through the library system. This particular plaque brings us a snippet of Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin (by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng).

I read the snippet …

and enjoy the illustration — and then I look north instead of south.

Straight across the park for another macro view of something bright on a dull day.

Very big, very bright — created during the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival, the work of Germany-based “SatOne” (as Venezuela-born artist Rafael Gerlach signs his works).

Up there on the horizon, something even bigger: the Coast Range. Not particularly bright as yet, but look, there is that one vivid tongue of white on the Grouse Mountain ski run…

And, with that bright promise of winter, trot-trot, on I go.

 

 

Gore St., Sunday Morning

24 November 2019 – Gore north of Keefer, not the tourist-poster part of town. But no reason not to look about with appreciative eyes.

There’s Madonna of the Crows …

and Wild Rose of the Alley …

and Multi-Roses of the Roller-Door …

and Still Life with Hydro Poles.

And with Crows!

One definitely nature morte, two tiers up …

the other right up top, and just as definitely vivante.

Between Bands

17 November 2019 – Rain bands that is, not the musical kind. Rain behind us, just this morning, and rain ahead of us, starting this evening, but meanwhile …  meanwhile, the showers have stopped and the sun dominates the remaining few clouds.

Water beads still on metal surfaces, the droplets glittering …

glittering on plants as well …

and even without lingering droplets, newly-washed surfaces glow in the sunshine.

Here on a shrub …

there on Cosmic Breeze, Olivia di Liberto’s contribution to the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival …

and, over there, on the face of this Mount Pleasant home. The day now feels as warm as that mustard yellow looks, and I am not surprised to see this young woman seat herself on the steps, wriggle into a comfy position and take up her smart phone, a wine bottle companionably to hand.

Closer to False Creek, among the sleek new post-Olympic condos, still-dripping eaves roll slow concentric ripples through the water feature below.

Another concentric circle at the Creek, in Olympic Village, where Musqueam artist Susan Point‘s sewer cover is perfectly static, yet ripples — with evolving light/dark patterns as different patches of the iron surface dry at different rates, and also with the life-cycle design below, egg to tadpole to frog.

A great long standing pool draws the eye from the Seawall bike path down to False Creek, across the water, all the way to those Cirque du Soleil tents on the north side.

And a perfectly crow-sized standing pool of water sits in a dip in this Seawall path divider. Mr. Crow has just dipped his beak, and is about to fly off again.

No need to search for a standing pool, these ducks glide along the tributary that winds through Hinge Park into False Creek.

The sun still shines, the rusty fall colours glow, but by the time I am home …

clouds are massing once again.

Strike up the band!

 

November 11: an Ordinary Day

11 November 2019 – A little cool, a little grey, but a perfectly ordinary, peaceful day. A good day to do whatever you want, go wherever you want.

Wander down to the south-east curve of False Creek, for example. Enter via Hinge Park, where the “Rusty Sub” sits in perfect camouflage amidst the rusty bullrushes of the adjacent tiny watercourse …

Or lead your dog into (or out of) the off-leash dog park that borders Hinge Park …

Eye the remaining produce in the Village Community Garden, but politely keep your fingers to yourself …

Cock a thoughtful eye at the public art atop that pedestal in False Creek or, if it’s not much to your taste, focus instead on the man peacefully sculling by  …

Eye the ferries (Aquabus left, rival False Creek line right) that just as peacefully share the waterway with scullers, dragon-boaters, kayakers, assorted yachts & each other …

Check the ferry schedule on Spyglass Dock …

Feel free to write a moving plea for gratitude on a nearby tree …

Or feel equally free to denounce the plea as vandalism …

Rest beside your bicycle in Olympic Village plaza, or perhaps hunker down behind one of its public benches in a game of Hide & Seek …

Indulge yourself with a selfie in Mollie Burke’s Unfolded art installation …

Or settle down outside an Olympic Village creek-side café, while you check your smartphone for messages.

But keep that Remembrance Day poppy (above) close to hand.

Because an “ordinary” day of peace, calm, safety, choice and good humour is an extraordinary gift.

Those of us fortunate enough to experience it should always be grateful, always remember all the people and all the effort and vigilance that make it possible.

So, as a whistle echoes across the water at 11 a.m., and the Fraser Blues fly overhead in tight formation …

look up, say thank you,

and remember.

 

 

Heading for Hallowe’en

30 October 2019 – Almost upon us, and the signs & portents are everywhere.

A ghost horse in my latte at a neighbourhood café …

an elegant jack-o’-lantern atop a townhouse staircase …

and a boring joke bill on a bus stop pillar, enlivened only by the play on words …

that has nothing to do with Hallowe’en …

until you read the fine print.

(I will point out they missed the apostrophe, and then I will stop being a grump.)

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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    "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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