“Satu Lagi…”

22 April 2019 – “Satu lagi,” I mutter to myself, as I wander eastward, deeper into Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. “One more.” The phrase — a linguistic remnant of time once spent in Indonesia — is the perfect motto for a wandering, exploratory walk. It tugs you along. On and on.

Walk one more block, check out one more alley, turn one more corner, step close to one more plaque, sniff one more blossoming fruit tree, stoop to touch the unfolding fiddleheads of one more fern, breathe a moment on one more sidewalk bench while you let street life unfold before you …

That kind of walk.

I am totally in the mood for a satu-lagi outing, this sunny-cloudy day, ready to pause wherever, follow any impulse.

First stop, to admire painted fir cones decorating a tree at Scotia & East 6th.

On east, thinking I’ll follow 6th for a while since I never have before, but ready to be tugged either side of that axis.

I’m enjoying a string of bright-coloured small homes, then find myself indeed tugged off-axis for satu lagi, one whose weathered paint job is warmed by its cheerful title: Chateau Leanne.

One-more / one-more.

One more traffic circle, this one at St. George, with turquoise stencilled tributes to both St. George Creek and the indigenous Coast Salish peoples …

One more cluster of fern fronds, unfolding into spring light and warmth …

One more bend in a road, this one luring me back onto Fraser, but north this time, down to a curve with its red diamond warning sign, and, beyond that — or so it seems, from this distance — a surprising little grove of trees.

I follow it, and, oh, there’s nothing one-more about what I see among the trees.

It’s a one-off, that’s what it is, and it justifies my decision to walk the extra block and explore that grove.

Littering is wrong, always wrong, but I find I have a guilty, sneaking appreciation for this litterbug’s sense of placement. That chair is perfectly placed, perfectly angled. (Sorry.)

Vaguely planning to head south ’round about now, but first satu-lagi myself a few more blocks east. Where, on the edge of a park, I discover this poignant tribute to traffic accident victims and a call for witnesses to the most recent.

I finally turn south on St. Catherines, and find myself pulled across the street by these contrasting homes — the newcomer so sombre and austere, its older neighbours so bright and at ease.

I move in for a closer look at the vivid photo-wrap utility box in front of that infill home, and then see how wonderfully it is juxtaposed with mosaic artwork along the edge of the alley just beyond.

One more utility box, one more block up the street, this one also decorated. More impressive than its neighbour, you could argue, since it is hand-painted, not photo-wrapped.

Oh, all right, perhaps not more impressive after all. But good fun, don’t you think?

I have no reason whatsoever to swerve east yet again, but … satu lagi gives me a tug, and I swerve.

Over at Prince Albert, I’m rewarded with visual haiku, one black crow silhouetted against a multitude of pink blossoms.

The sky stays grey, colours continue to pop.

Westward again by now, one-more / one-more, starting my zigzag west & north toward home.

Stream of Dreams fish swirl on an elementary school fence, one more school engaged with the charity that helps communities become better stewards of their local watersheds.

When I’m almost home — my mind jumping ahead to home, my attention with my mind — there’s a surprise. Mind & attention jump back, join my body in the present moment.

Look.

One more treat.

 

“Dream So Big …”

10 April 2019 – I only notice the slogan later on. “Dream so big…” it says, “people laugh in your face.”

I’m not dreaming anything, big or small, as I head-swivel my way past endless independent retail shops and cafés, out here in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood.

And if I had to name something in particular that I am not dreaming, at this very moment, I might nominate … oh … a lion.

Maybe especially a lion on a canoe.

Perhaps most especially a lion on a canoe on a van.

But here he is.

I move in closer. I admire the crossed paws.

The van driver is grinning at me through his windshield. He rolls down the passenger window, leans across to urge me to check out the lion from the street. “He’s dark on that side,” he explains. “Half light, half dark. Go look!”

So, with a cautious eye for cars, bicycles, motorcycles and city busses, I step onto the street.

Half & half, just like the man said.

Now his driver’s-side window is also open, and I can see that his hat is just like his lion.

There’s no commercial application to all this, he tells me — though he thinks he might try some busking this summer — and he has no webpage, no business card.

He’s just a cheerful man with a lion on-his-canoe-on-his-van.

I don’t get to ask about the “dream so big” slogan, because I only notice it on the van side panel as I start to walk away, and before I can turn back, he is pulling out into traffic.

Doesn’t matter. We did laugh in each other’s face, didn’t we, and I’m still giggling a bit as I walk on down the street.

 

 

Doin’ the Details

1 April 2019 – It’s a day for details all right, out here in the Strathcona neighbourhood of east Vancouver, first solo and then with Frances.

A black bird (crow?), for example, riding high above a doorway, with an artist’s brush in his beak.

Riding high above other doors as well, including the one on the white house on this cheerful line-up of homes along Keefer St. approaching Hawks.

But, cheeky/charming as crows are, there are many other ways to express yourself.

With a toboggan above the door, for example …

or a great wave of metal and glass in the doorway itself.

Or, instead, you can throw yourself into repurposing mode, and plonk a bathtub in the sidewalk verge, just waiting for spring plantings.

Why stop at a bathtub? There must be an old wringer-style washing machine lying around somewhere … or, if you’re lucky, two of them.

Behind the tubs, the red awning marks the home of The Wilder Snail Neighbourhood Grocery and Coffee, right at Keefer & Hawks.

Frances & I meet here for lunch before heading off to the day’s one planned event: a visit to the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, farther south and a bit farther east, on East Cordova.

We’re looking forward to visiting the Gallery, not least for the opportunity to see how Patkau Architects (the same Vancouver firm that designed the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver) has repurposed the old Pilkington Metal Marine workshop.

The patio entrance to the Gallery has a severe, calm beauty, tucked behind a tall black wall that shields it from the sidewalk, and echoing other corrugated metal claddings all around.

After that, it’s back out to fun on the streets.

Lookit this trompe l’oeil mural, for example! Those apparently structural yellow beams and pink alcoves frame blue paint, not blue sky; that is all solid wall.

Later, we play Spot-the-Special — after my walk up Sophia Street, my eye is in for Vancouver Specials. We see a number of them, all somewhat modified over time and well maintained.

This one on Union shows how the street cuts across a slope — the houses on this side are below sidewalk level, but on the north side rise well above it.

And now … and now I offer you an exceptionally boring grey bird house, on a politely pin-striped tree.

Hmmmm, you say.

I’d’ve passed it without a second thought, but for the plaque beneath. (Ever since the years of marching around Toronto with Phyllis, my Tuesday Walking Society colleague, I’ve been a great reader of plaques.)

This isn’t any old pin-striped tree, it is a Snake Bark Maple.

And it isn’t any old Snake Bark Maple — it is in the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, though cared for by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Why?

Because it is part of the Palas Por Pistolas project of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes. In 2007 he began trading food vouchers for firearms, which are then melted down and turned into shovels, which are then used to plant trees. Ours, planted in 2008, was the first installation outside Mexico.

Speaking of installations-on-the-street … One last example, back at Main Street, under the Georgia Viaduct.

“Blank walls invite graf. Let us put nice art instead,” says the tidy block lettering — and, after thanking the city for this “fresh new canvas,” that’s exactly what the artist does.

A very satisfying last detail, to crown a very satisfying day.

Theme & Variations

28 March 2019 – The theme is street art, more specifically murals.

A straight-forward example of the genre: down an alley, created by a street artist.

But think of the whole city as a kind of pulsing, collective art installation, and then the concepts of “mural” and “artist” become much more fluid.

Suddenly the theme is open to variations.

A mural may dance across the facetted mirror-glass of an office building …

created anew each moment by the play of nature’s sun & cloud on the human hardscape below.

Or murals, plural, may interweave their stories as they share a single space across time …

their once-vivid messages fading to a visual mumble.

Or, as you walk a viaduct and look down, a mural may pop in a pop-up park …

its graphics the semaphore of a complicated City/developer green-space accommodation.

 

 

Something Special with Sophia

25 March 2019 – Beware the low-flying puns.

“Sophia” is a street, and cap-S “Special” is an architectural style — the only house style developed in Greater Vancouver and found nowhere else, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Behold the Vancouver Special.

It was built by the thousands, 1965-1985, the boxy monster home of its day on narrow city lots, easily duplexed and therefore especially popular with multi-generational, often immigrant, households. Not popular with arbiters of tasteful design, one must add; in fact, widely reviled.

The houses survive singly or in small clusters, some much battered by time and others lovingly renovated. The style itself, if still not much loved, is at least now respected as an urban icon. When I first moved here, it was one of the first city sights my friends taught me to recognize.

So I squeak with delight when, walking south on Sophia for no good reason except I’ve never walked it before, I fall upon this little string of renovated Specials, right here at East 20th.

One has lions rampant at the gates (the VHF article later teaches me this is a common feature) …

another faces the street with no guardian sculptures to protect it …

and another flaunts bold new window treatment on the upper level.

None has been wildly transformed, but all are in good shape, and fit the scale and comfy residential charm of this neighbourhood just off Main Street.

I walk one more block south on Sophia — and wowzers, I’m handed another “something special with Sophia.” Lower-case “s” this time, but equally worthy of the adjective.

Street art, literally on the street. One-two-three sections of mural, that pop their way along East 21st from Sophia to Prince Edward.

The first section leads with white swirls …

throws in a sunburst …

and ends with a shooting star.

The middle section feaures hearts and big “eyes” …

with one “eye” circling a storm sewer grate, and a companion sun throwing out rays from beneath that black Honda.

I look back west from the far end of the third section, admire its bias-cut arches …

and ask some 20-somethings in the adjacent park if they know anything about these murals.

They stop their impromptu kick-ball game long enough to peer at the street, and shake their heads. “It’s so cool,” breathes one of the girls. “Thanks! I never noticed…”

I cut diagonally up through the park, salute the downward-dog flamingo …

take myself out to Main Street, and start back north toward home.

And promptly run into this sidewalk sign.

Heres the thing. This very urbane retail store — which specializes in contemporary furniture, objets d’art and books about design and style — contains not a single reference to the architectural form for which it is named. This has always bothered me, seemed negligent bordering on disrespectful.

Now I’ve decided to think of it as a tribute, as proof that the term has burst its original boundaries and become embedded in the culture.

It’s also a clever pun.

And heaven knows, I do like puns.

 

 

More Yogurt?

16 March 2019 – Oh, delete that question mark. There is no question about it: this is definitely a case of more yogurt.

If you are now shouting at your device, “Oh, silly woman! That is not yogurt! That’s a trio of labyrinths!”  … that is because you did not read, or do not remember, my post of 21 January.

In it, I introduced you to labyrinth artist Himy Syed, who is heart, soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project. When we met as he created a new labyrinth in the Olympic Village plaza, he spelled his first name for me with four words instead of four letters: “Hey, it’s my yogurt.”

These bold designs on the south shore of False Creek just east of Granville Island are surely his work as well.

I’m drawn to the orange one.

I walk it, slowly, carefully, and I thank Himy as I walk.

Bring on the yogurt!

 

The Roar of the Boar

11 February 2019 – At first, there is no roar. There is, instead, the Flash on the Dash. Police cars blocking off blocks & blocks of downtown East Van, not a siren to be heard but lots of flashing lights. I assume the worst. Has to be some kind of manhunt, right?

Wrong, totally wrong.

Just as my eyes begin to register the relaxed body language of the police on the streets, my ears begin to pick up the sound of crashing cymbals. I look around.

And I see two dragons, strolling westward on Keefer St. toward Gore.

Of course! Early hours yet, but participants are starting to gather for the big parade.

The 46th annual Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, that is, which each year has 3,000-plus participants, some 100,000 spectators along the route, and TV coverage.

I’ve been hearing that this is the Year of the Pig, but the Chinese Benevolent Association website, one of the parade’s co-sponsors, calls it the Year of the Boar. Altogether more dignified and powerful, I think, though perhaps less … well … lovable?

Whoever made this poster seems to be on the side of lovability.

I have other things to do for a couple of hours but, sure enough, as I walk back south on Gore late morning, I catch the parade just turning onto the street from East Pender.

I keep pace for a while, weaving through spectators as I go.

For one stunned moment, I think the British Columbia Automobile Association float is offering us a golden hand grenade …

but no — silly me — it’s a golden boar.

Lots of spectators despite the sub-zero temperature and brisk wind, including one kid up a tree, and a trio perched atop a hydro utility box a little farther down the street.

Since the parade is a cultural celebration in a country that takes Cultural Mosaic (not Melting Pot) as its ideal, there are distinct chips of that mosaic to be seen on all sides.

Sinuous koi fish swirl in the (literal) mosaic in the sidewalk at this street corner …

while a Timbits box and a roll-up-the-rim Tim Horton coffee cup perch on the rock in the foreground.

More mosaic for you — a little girl of Asian ethnic origins, astride her daddy’s shoulders, watches intently as characters representing Vancouver Canuck hockey players march by.

I turn with the parade west on Keefer, watch martial arts displays with staves (while a nearby mother reassures her little girl, “They’re only pretend fighting, darling”) …

and admire yet another dragon on the prance, with flags and cymbals and marching bands to keep him company.

Then, at Main Street, I turn south & wave good-bye.

Me, and a whole multitude of Japnese maneki-neko cats on this traffic signal box.

Yet More Cultural Mosaic (Edible Division)

The parade is just in time. Snow comes pelting down that afternoon — which is perfect for my afternoon project. Call it another chip in the Cultural Mosaic: an English friend, temporarily living here and determined to accumulate as many Canadian Experiences as possible, joins me to cook up some Métis Bannock. As far as she is concerned, a snowstorm is the perfect final ingredient.

We pile butter & jam on the warm wedges, and thank those Scots explorers/fur traders/”Bay Boys” who brought us this culinary tradition in the first place.

 

Loop to Labyrinth

27 January 2019 – “Yes,” I said to myself, “a loop. Down to the very end-curve of False Creek, west along the north side of the Creek to the Cambie Street bridge, over the bridge, back east on the south side of the Creek, and home.”

You are not where it says you are. You are with me — in the magic of the historic present tense — in the end-curve next to World of Science (aka “The Golf Ball,” thank you Frances).

Looking west down the Creek, with the Cambie bridge arching one side to the other.

I head past the reeds and rushes in the parkland next to World of Science, hear the Redwing Blackbirds and read the warning, but without alarm.

None swoop down. Children swoop, on the other hand, exuberant with the park’s activity stations, their parents laughing and trotting along beside them.

I round the Creek’s north-east curve, then pass & briefly cut through the new Concord Community Park.

It is reminiscent — in its bright colours, high design and high functionality — of the new breed of urban parks I’d come to love in Toronto as well. Urbane, yet at one with nature. The perfect city combination.

The seawall scoops me by BC Place Stadium and the adjacent Casino, its metallic tawny walls the perfect foil for sunrise, sunset and — at the moment — dark reflections of its angular neighbours.

I’m barely past the canine off-leash area in Coopers’ Park when I come to its logical conclusion — dog benches!

First I see, and start laughing at, the dog faces. Only later do I notice the water bowl beneath each muzzle.

Up the long switch-back ramp onto the Cambie bridge. Even here, carefully distinct lanes for pedestrians and for bicycles. (The baby carriage may be on wheels, but mum wisely opts for the pedestrian lane.)

Approaching the south side of the Creek, I look east to the rest of my loop …

and then, just before starting down the spiral pedestrian staircase, I look west.

The Granville Street bridge is out there somewhere, but here in the foreground is Spyglass Dock, “my” dock it used to be, and still my favourite. Oh, how those colours punch through the day’s flat light.

And down the spiral ramp.

More colour punch on the bridge pillar, this time with an environmental message. The blue bands of “A False Creek” rise 5 metres above sea level, showing us mid-point of the predicted 4-6 metre rise we can expect through melting ice caps.

Eastward-ho, with great, grating swirls of crows on a line-up of trees between the bridge and Hinge Park. I remember seeing them here before, it must be a favourite roost.

Past the noisy crows, on to the peace of public lounge chairs and a cyclist peacefully lounging, bike propped to one side, tuque’d head barely visible, and an Aquabus chugging by in the Creek.

The City has tucked a small artificial island into the Creek just opposite Hinge Park, engineered to mimic nature’s own wisdom and provide additional rich habitat for wildlife. It creates a side-channel in the Creek, with the island to one side and the seawall path to the other.

After Hinge Park comes Olympic Village, with its shops, condos and big open square. I’m already anticipating the latte I will order in one of the cafés.

I am not anticipating the city’s latest labyrinth!

Oh yes, we are becoming a city of labyrinths, and look how engaged we are with this one before it is even complete.

See? A woman to the right guides her child along a path; mid-distance on the left, Turquoise Jacket cantilevers herself along another path, with Red Jacket not far behind.

And farther back — straight back from the “a” in the foreground word “Vancouver,” yes, that crouched dark figure — the artist.

Meet Himy (as in, he tells me, “Hey, It’s My Yogurt”) Syed, heart & soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project.

I have to wait my turn to speak with him: one after another, passers-by stop to ask about his work, and thank him for it. I discover he’s another Toronto expat, so we swap a few Rob Ford horror stories before chattering about street art and artists in both cities.

Then he returns to his chalk, and I go find my latte.

Where I find myself still smiling about Himy’s project, and all the joy he creates for the rest of us.

 

Three Signs

20 January 2019 – On Carrall Street, near West Hastings …

in the Woodward’s Atrium, heart of the redeveloped heritage site …

and on the washroom door in the Lost and Found Café, West Hastings near Abbott Street.

Yes.

 

DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

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

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