Sam Says

26 March 2021 – Down a nearby alley, just the other day:

Sam says.

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

Other Realities

16 March 2021 – Ohhh, growl. I’ve dutifully listened to the Morning Misery (aka morning news) and I am out the door. I need a dose of other realities.

Happy, fun, friendly, plain-old-neighbourly realities.

And I want them right now. Stomp stomp.

Is one block sufficiently “right now”? Because look, up on that balcony, a little “boy” climbing his ladder to admire the “moon.”

And, immediately next door, on a boring old wire-mesh fence, a mural of moon/clouds/skyline.

Around a couple of corners, on up south (how can south also be up? it just is), past the corner garden tended by Sherry. I’ve never met Sherry, but almost every time I linger to admire her work, someone local tells me her name. They want me to know who is offering so much pleasure, and I’m happy to hear it, every time.

This time, I notice a wonky set of shelves, decorated with strawberry ornaments, offering a child’s book below (Five Little Gefiltes), and up here on the top shelf — also for the having — small plastic figurines. “One per child,” asks Sherry. I love that one is a hockey player. Canadian, eh?

Still climbing my way south, nod at the cowboy just off the corner of Robson Park …

and check out the books in the neatly painted, sturdy Little Free Library kiosk near Prince Edward Street & East 19th. And — one final detail in this whole generous offering — isn’t that a lovely knob on the kiosk door?

A few more blocks, and Prince Edward Street borders Prince Edward Park. I sit on a bench for a moment, watch a passle of pre-teens kicking a ball around & shrieking with joy. I decide not to worry about COVID; I will instead assume they are bubbled class-mates.

When I leave, I read the plaque on my bench.

It makes sense of the companion bench, with a female first name, same surname, and a later death date. That plaque reads: “Together again.”

And yes, East 21st, the park’s northern border, is a “perfect walking street.” Not just big, happy park to the south, but, look: trees with great big burls! And a whole block of painted pavement!

Plus, tucked into this particularly twisty-twirly burl, a whole fairy kingdom of mushrooms and doorway. (Fact is, I am not a fan of twee little fairy kingdoms decorating trees. Other fact is, I love that people are being happy, and sharing what they hope will make the rest of us happy as well.)

My next other fact is, pretty well any street can be a “perfect walking street” if you just damn-well decide to view it that way…

Here on Sophia, for example, as I turn back north.

Tiny new astilbe shoots, just beginning to unfurl inside that thicket of old stalks from last year.

And dog-paw solar lights in the next garden down.

One more park-bench moment, in the wonderfully named Tea Swamp Park at Sophia & East 16th. (The name, explains the Vancouver Park Board, is a reminder of the Labrador tea plants that once flourished in the area.) And then, just off the park, the Tea Swamp Community Garden.

With its turquoise & sunshine yellow garden shed, and its tidy plots, just about to rev up for the new season.

Now. Right Now

11 March 2021 – At the intersection of Main & East Broadway — and of past, present & future.

The past is rubble.

The future is undisclosed.

The present is a gift.

H-Frames

23 February 2021 – In my recent Alley Eyes post, I was all “H for hydro pole” — but I have learned so much more since then.

Not least that, in this part of the country, people talk about power poles, not hydro poles: “hydro” seems to be eastern-Canadian usage only.

I’ve also learned that some of you share my admiration for the look of these two-legged monster poles, the way they march down the alley and, block by block, frame everything it contains into a deep-downtown alleyscape.

Like this.

I didn’t just stumble on that, I went looking for it. I went looking for it because of what I had just learned during the “Discovering Heritage Places” virtual tour offered online by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as part of its Heritage Week events. We virtually-visited a number of buildings in older neighbourhoods, each one with history and meaning for its area and the city as a whole.

And then, next image: one of these power poles. Identified by name: H-frame.

The city began installing them some 80 years ago, therefore in the older neighbourhoods, and is now gradually replacing them with underground lines instead. The speaker then invited us to broaden our definition of “heritage.” Why limit it to buildings? He mentioned the attachment some communities have to these old poles, and, yes, there is a preserve the H-frame campaign underway right now in Chinatown.

See? H-for hydro (my eastern usage); H-for-H-frame (local); and H-for-heritage. And that, all that, is what took me into the alleys of Mount Pleasant, looking for H-frames. The photo above is from Ontario Street, looking east toward Quebec, along the alley between East 2nd & 3rd avenues.

Those H-frames just keep framing the alley into segments as they (and you) march along, creating context and visual punch.

Mind, it helps to have interesting content for them to frame.

That sassy yellow & black Dog Taxi on the right, for example, one of a small fleet that picks up woofers for their day at the doggy hotel… And on the left, a bit farther down, that back-tilted face…

Walk closer.

Yes! The face, the hand. Summer 2019, I watched Argentinian street-artist duo Medianeras create that work as part of the year’s Vancouver Mural Festival.

A few days ago, I was a bit farther south in the neighbourhood, around 18th-22nd avenues. This part is newer than the more northern stretch, and its hydro … sorry! … power poles come from different parts of the alphabet.

There’s the T-frame …

and the L-frame …

and even, to my giddy delight, the occasional hybrid.

Meet H-L-L. (What the H-l-l??)

But… no. Com’on. Nothing matches a majestic H-frame, rearing into the sky.

Especially when you get a colour-block building thrown in for good measure.

Crow Bingo

I know. Total change of subject. You could get whip-lash. But since I am as obsessed with local crows as I am with H-frames, I have to do this.

June Hunter is a local artist who translates her deep love of urban nature into prints, photos, calendars, scarves, tote bags, jewellery and more. She obviously has a website, and she also has a newsletter & blog, to which I subscribe. The latest issue features her very own creation: Crow Bingo.

Play beginner level or intermediate, and while you’re on the site, I encourage you to click on her Crow Therapy as well.

We all need therapy these days, and we might as well get it from the crows.

Colour Blocking

15 February 2021 – Snow, surprise-surprise; then rain, no-surprise; and always colour.

I think about Colour Blocking and then — the way it sometimes works out — the idea takes over.

So, eyes & mind, I go along for the ride, and make an afternoon of it.

Online

“This design technique is all about showcasing curated combinations of colour,” says Google, adding that it arose during the modernist art movement of the 20th century.

In Museums & Collections

… by Piet Mondrian, for example, with his 1935 Composition C (courtesy of http://www.piet-mondrian.org).

Or, back here in my own real world…

In Window Displays

… for a local art supply store.

On Neighbourhood 1920s homes

On Alley Walls

Underfoot, in Street-Café Decor (the puddle a temporary embellishment)

and finally…

On a Winter-Mossy Tree

I say “Finally” because, whatever human beings care to think, Mother Nature always has the last word.

Burly Boles

29 January 2021Boles??? Until yesterday, I would have been unable to spring this title on you, because I didn’t know the word bole. I knew bowl, and I knew burl, and I had admired (in classy shops) beautiful bowls made from burls, and it’s only because of linguistic/dictionary ricochets I discovered the word bole.

In very broad terms, and I do stress “broad,” the bole is the trunk (stem + main wooden axis) of a tree.

So when I walk down East 7th, the stretch bordering the northern edge of Dude Chilling Park, I am not just fixated on a huge great burl protruding from that tree in front of me, I have the whole B-on-B phenomenon right there before my eyes.

You’ll notice a whole line-up of trees behind that one, Bs-on-Bs one after another, all along the sidewalk edge of the park. Look, here’s the very next tree.

Lumpy burls all over this sturdy bole. Though … check out the sudden indent about 2 metres up. A number of these trees have that same shape, I wonder if they were all chopped off at that height and defiantly grew on up anyway. (Take that, you think-you’re-so-smart human being!)

So maybe a bit of tree pruning history is being revealed. Along with lots of winter moss.

Back to the burls. Again in very broad terms, they occur when (perhaps through injury) the grain grows in a deformed manner, typically turning into a rounded outgrowth filled with small knots.

Small knots.

A few of the burls in this line-up of trees are purists, wearing no ornamentation beyond that offered by the tree itself …

but most of them, this being Vancouver in winter, reach for available accessories and luxuriate in moss.

Sometimes just a delicate spray or two …

sometimes a whole puffy cloak, a pile-on of shapes, textures & shades.

Not that the moss limits itself to burls. It flings itself everywhere. Bole, burl, branch, twig …

I walk from the park’s N/E edge to its S/E edge. In so doing, I pass abruptly from the eternal verities of nature to the street art of here & now. (Up high. Corner of the apartment building.)

This signature is appearing all around town these days …

Never mind.

Back to the eternal verities of nature.

I also see clusters of bright new snowdrops, rising up healthy & strong through last year’s dead, fallen leaves.

And you can read into that as much symbolism as you choose.

Wired for Walking

11 January 2021 – I’m out walking again, with the same motivation that drove And Also. Medical & political turbulence aren’t going away any time soon, so let’s balance those realities with other realities — moments of delight, charm, generosity, fun, engagement.

French author Marcel Proust knew about concurrent realities when he observed that the voyage of discovery lay in having new eyes, not in seeking new landscapes. (The quote is on my home page. I’ve loved it ever since I saw it on a wall at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and I no longer remember why it was there. Though, arguably, it’s one of those anchor thoughts that need no further justification.)

One hundred-plus years later, neuroscience has caught up with Proust. Psychologist & author Rick Hanson (e.g. Buddha’s Brain, Hardwired for Happiness) points out: “Neurons that fire together wire together. Mental states become neural traits. Day after day, your mind is building your brain. This is what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity…” Also: “When you tilt toward the good, you’re not denying or resisting the bad. You’re simply acknowledging, enjoying and using the good. You’re acknowledging the whole truth, all the tiles of the mosaic of life…”

So, hey, claim your favourite authority — from Buddha to Marcel Proust to experience-dependent neuroplasticity — but feel no guilt about also noticing what is delightful.

I have myself a truly delightful, absolutely guilt-free, and (for me) quite lengthy walk. I take lots of photos. I select a bunch for this post.

And decide to use only two.

Go find your own delightful moments — the ones that speak to you, for your own reasons, in your own environment. We’re each on our own voyage of discovery, each selecting our own moments that will select the neurons to fire together & wire together.

Two photos, I promised you.

And they’re all about wires!

Last few blocks in the homeward stretch, I am more intent on plod-plod than see-see.

And then I see — just peripherally, but the sight ambushes my eye, snags me, halts my feet. There, on that ground-floor balcony ledge, next to that winter-mossy tree.

I trespass, move in close.

She is perfect. She is exuberant, strong, literally wired for joy & walking & discovery & everything wonderful, and, in the multiplicity of her colours, totally inclusive. I shamelessly stole Michael Snow’s Walking Woman sculpture series for my blog title, but I’m now adding her as another avatar, another inspiration.

(Guys, you can claim her too. Just do a mental photo-shop, and substitute your dangly bits for her dangly bits.)

And here we are. Our very own Wired for Walking avatar, just when we need one.

Fazes, Flatz & Catz

9 December 2020 – I am zed-obsessed, you will have just noticed, and it’s all because my feet turn right instead of left and send me on a tour of Zedland. (As in, South Flatz-with-a-zed.)

But before the Flatz, a face. (I’m back to proper spelling. Aren’t you glad? A little cute goes a long way.)

This image is just where it should be, in an alley betwixt garbage bin & hydro pole, and I like it a lot. Partly for the message (“It’s okay / to let things / feel a little / bit easier”), mostly for the line strength and enigmatic stare. The power of this graphic brings to mind the face by Toronto street artist Anser that became a city icon.

See what I mean? Not the same, but reminiscent.

I see the face again as I enter an alley down between East 2nd & East 1st, right where my feet turn me right instead of left — unexpectedly toward Emily Carr University and away from my intended visit to False Creek. Eyes even more powerful this time, framed by that rusty railing. (The artist signs as DATA, and I can find nothing helpful online.)

On East 1st now… and yet more faces! Each one presumably giving you a reason to drink Red Truck Beer.

And now, closing in on Emily Carr University of Art + Design, I hit the Zed.

South Flatz will be an entirely legit and valuable campus of high-tech buildings close to Emily Carr. The branding, however, meant to establish creative, street-smart creds for the development, has drawn heavy sarcasm online: “spelled with a ‘z’ because it’s cool!” snipes one review; “so hip it hurts!” I have to confess, my own lip curls at the sight.

But my humour is restored when, in the midst of that glossy line-up of images, I spot Sir Wilfrid Laurier Cat.

What do you mean, you don’t see any resemblance to our country’s 7th prime minister? Look at the collar.

Another cat, but this one more Parking Lot than Parliament Hill. He’s on a service pole in the parking lots stretching on east from Emily Carr. Train tracks to the other side and, here, trucks and tents associated with location shooting for a new documentary film: Managing the Pandemic Risk. (Sigh.)

Also in the parking lot, more faces and — perhaps — another cat. Faces on the back of that colourful van, showing the eponymous Two Nice Guys ready to move your belongings; Perhaps Cat scrawled on that white van right-forefront.

And on I go, as far as Clark Drive, and then south (uphill, pant-pant) until I turn west again on East 10th.

Where I meet two more cats.

In a manner of speaking. Black cat high; gold cat low; neither deigning to acknowledge the other or passers-by. Well, they can’t, can they, because they’re not real. But the behaviour is real …

And just when I think I’m fresh out of cats, and into Starry Trees instead …

I get another cat. In among the branches. White polar bear on the left, more vivid, but red cat nicely visible as he prowls above that star.

Above them all, tucked in the crotch of the tree, a fairy door and a heart with the first phrase of Dr. Henry’s mantra.

“Be kind.”

Nothing to do with faces or cats or Flatz or the letter zed — but always appropriate.

Time for Grit

25 November 2020 – This time, my feet walk me right past the waterscape of False Creek, on north into the cityscape of Yaletown.

Time for some city grit.

I am standing at the corner of Mainland and Davie, just behind the skytrain station. I’m about to wander this downtown enclave with its mixture of upscale boutiques (everything proudly “artisan”) for the influx of upscale residents, plus services for and reminders of the population they displace.

So I do smile at this image, as requested — including at the sassy “Take requests?” someone has added — but I know I’ll have cause during this walk to sigh as well as to smile.

Oh look — a skeleton! With a mic for its chest. And why not, entertainment is one of the neighbourhood offerings.

Still on Mainland, now at Helmcken, where I contemplate the guy quickly, and surely illegally, slapping a poster on that utility pole. A ribbon of street mural weaves around his bicycle, on its way up this block of Helmcken.

Steps right opposite Poster Guy bear a message now blurry with time, but still warm in intent.

Can you make it out? “We shape/each other/and fit/together.”

My zig-zags take me along Helmcken. At Seymour I’m drawn to this bright ceramic tile plaque on a building wall:

Only then do I notice the building itself. This is the City-run Gathering Place Community Centre, a social centre for the Downtown South community. “We primarily serve vulnerable populations…” says its website, and this is obviously true.

For one thing, individual tiles in the plaque often commemorate lives cut short.

For another, the website lists practical support for the homeless, such as showers and laundry service, along with meals and other programs less specifically focused.

And for yet another, one of the windows displays this poster:

In the midst of pandemic, more addicts are using alone, and more are dying.

Walk around with open eyes, and you are reminded how many worlds co-exist in the same geographic space.

Back among the boutique shops of Helmcken, I see another poster — this one on the sidewalk, adapting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra to a best practices code for considerate shoppers.

While over in Emery Barnes Park, on the fence of the off-leash area, there is another best-practices code on display.

This one is for considerate dogs.

(I am enchanted at the thought of all those up-market, downtown dogs: both literate and considerate!)

I walk and I walk and eventually my feet have me back south of False Creek, home once again in Mount Pleasant.

An alley off Broadway reveals the devastation of a recent three-alarm fire among shops on Main Street …

while a front view, on Main itself, shows that our local Yarn Artist has joined others in expressing sympathy and support.

All these realities, all at the same time.

  • 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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