Surprise!

15 October 2020 – So satisfying: happy surprises, even when I’m walking a not-wildly different variation on a pretty familiar route.

I’m not surprised by moss on this tree trunk, as I head south on St. Catherine around East 10th, but I stop to admire it, you know I will. And while I’m at it, I salute the bike-share racks across the street. At a time when so many bad possibilities threaten, let’s treasure everything that looks unreservedly good.

Then… surprise! I notice that somebody has tucked a little painted stone into a crevice of the tree bark.

A micro-surprise, if you like, but lovable all the same.

Macro-surprise comes later, as I pass an alley between East 18th & 19th, by Carolina. First surprise is that, by total chance, I’ve just rediscovered Bee Alley. I first shared it with you last 24 May, under the pretty obvious title, B Is For Bee.

It’s a whole alley-block of pavement art, celebrating bees.

It still has those wagglers to lead me in …

and there is still bee motif all along the way, but there are some additions, some new images.

Surprise!

A butterfly …

a salmon (I think) …

and a whale.

Still no artist signature I can find & no explanations, so I can only wonder, and guess. The butterfly looks generic to my uneducated eye, but both the salmon and whale surely come to us from the rich Coast Salish imagery of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-waututh people.

On I go, already very pleased with the day, as you imagine — but it just keeps handing me more discoveries.

I’m on East 18th, near St. George, okay-residential-not-amazing, and then I see this plaque set in the walkway to an infill house. The house is fine — modern in a clean-lined, minimal way, and in scale with & respectful of its setting.

But the plaque interests me more.

“Certified passive”? I build up a whole scenario of a bone-lazy house that won’t even pick up its underwear from the floor. Alas, I do realize (though regretfully) that is probably not the explanation.

And it’s not.

Still … surprise!

Well, for me. I didn’t know there was a world-wide Certified Passive movement, let alone metrics and civic support right here, for homes that meet specific standards for occupant comfort & energy performance.

On down the block, and stop to admire a slightly but lovably dishevelled older house, with a slightly but lovably overgrown garden inside its picket fence, and a Little Free Library box out front.

I check out the books, and only then notice — surprise! — this welcome to passers-by, hung in the protected archway of the gate.

I like that very last bit especially: “Be completely silent, and that will take you to the depths of your spirit.”

The Thing About Labels

5 October 2020 – This is the thing about labels: sometimes they mislead you.

Oh, not always. Most of the time they are valuable.

Suppose you’re walking down a neighbourhood street, and you see a monster. Like this one.

You’d want to know what kind of monster he is, wouldn’t you? So you’d circle him …

and read his label. See? Valuable.

Or you’re still in the neighbourhood and you see a corner garden — an over-the-top wonderful corner garden. Like this one.

You’d be grateful for the labels. You’d read the official City one, telling you a local resident sponsored this plot under the Green Streets Program, and you’d look around a bit and …

next you’d read the gardener’s own label. Valuable.

And then you’d luck into a whole other dimension of labels — verbal labelling. It is provided by this bearded gentleman, later explaining to this lady as he had just explained to me …

that the garden was all thanks to Sherry. It is Sherry’s hard work, and he wants everybody to give credit where credit is due.

Which I am happy to do — and that leads me neatly into the topic of misleading labels.

“Naked ladies!” I squeaked at you in my previous post, adding “Amarylis belladonna” because that’s what my googling had told me. Hah. Two readers knew better and in the kindest possible way set me straight. “Autumn crocus,” they said; not Amarylis.

So I look again — and discover that “Naked Ladies” is a nickname for two entirely different families of fall-blooming flowers: the Amarylis belladonna, but also the one I’d photographed and in fact really had in mind from life in eastern Canada, namely the Colchicum autumnale, or Autumn crocus.

Just to keep the whole “misleading” riff going, I also learn that the Autumn crocus, despite its name, is not a true crocus. True crocuses belong to the Iris family and are harmless, while the Colchicaceae family aren’t crocuses and are toxic.

On the other hand, whichever variety of Naked Lady you choose to embrace, they both bloom in the fall and do so without any modesty screen of leaves.

Back to valuable labels, again with thanks to my readers (specifically fellow WP blogger bluebrightly). That stunning yellow flower I showed you last post with the iridescent buds is a Dahlia, specifically the Mystic Illusion dahlia, and is that not the perfect name?

One final label, this one discovered just hours ago, right where Hinge Park borders on False Creek. First you see the rubber boot, then you see the wording:

I go to the website, just like they ask, and read a plea from the City of Vancouver. “Help us prepare for sea level rise,” they ask.

I’d call that valuable. Definitely not misleading.

Chillin’ with The Dude

15 September 2020 – The smoke haze has lessened somewhat, and I visit Dude Chilling Park, first time out of the house in two days.

Two days ago, I did go out on my balcony, but only long enough to take this photo.

Never mind no mountains visible, almost no city visible either: that blue-tinged building mid-photo, just one and a half blocks away, is the limit of clarity. All this because of winds swirling north from those terrible wild fires along the American west coast. The morning of that photo, Vancouver’s air quality was second-worst in the world, behind Portland. Not only Old Wrinklies like me, everybody was being urged to stay indoors, with closed windows.

Then, suddenly, this afternoon, visibility improves. It’s not great, and I know the level of particulates is still dangerous, but I go for a walk. Over to see The Dude.

Understand this: this neighbourhood green space is really, officially, Guelph Park. Not Dude Chilling Park. Got that? Guelph Park.

And this sign …

is not an official Parks sign. It is public art.

Which is fitting, because the whole Dude Chilling thing is the result of another piece of public art. This one.

Well, to be tediously precise, it is the result of this sculpture’s predecessor, by the same artist. Michael Dennis created the original work in cedar, which after many years had deteriorated badly. He replaced it with this new version in bronze. The official name for either version is Reclining Figure, but the popular name was immediately, and remains, The Dude.

Of course. Just look at it — a dude leanin’ back, and chillin’. As a prank, somebody started an online petition to dump the boring old Guelph Park name in favour of Dude Chilling Park. Good prank, good fun, and tons of people signed the petition. Which did not amuse the Board of Parks. Then somebody installed a home-made Dude Chilling Park sign in the  park. Which still-unamused officials removed.

Things went on like that for a while, Fun vs Unamused, with a new public petition gathering some 1,500 signatures pleading that the fun sign/name be restored. Until I looked it up just now, I believed officialdom had yielded, and the park now had two official names. But no! Even better than that. Somebody donated this perfect imitation of a Parks sign … and the Board allowed it to be installed, as a work of art.

Not as an official name for the park. As a second work of art.

Well, I love this. Somehow nobody loses face and everybody wins and the good times roll and The Dude chills on.

Thing is, now with COVID, I swear people are seeking comfort from the embrace of his body language. They sit right up there with him. Like this.

 

I move down toward the tennis court fence, to check out its current crop of public art. This is one of the display walls favoured by our local (I think local) Yarn Artist, and the display sometimes changes.

One creation never leaves: this now-weathered yarn version of the park’s unofficial name.

 

This creation is somewhat newer — it features our beloved Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, beside the first phrase of her simple mantra for dealing with the virus.

“Be kind,” says the yarn. My mind fills in the rest: Be calm, Be safe.

I’m leaving the park, read a Megaphone magazine notice tacked to a post — and there is the mantra once again.

Dr. Henry and The Dude. We can do this.

 

 

 

The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

About Those Otters…

16 August 2020 — I am delighted to say: I was wrong.

And you are going to enjoy this correction as much as I enjoy posting it.

Last image of my Hallelujah! post, I showed you charming otters painted on a utility box — but expressed serious doubts that they hold hands in the water, as claimed in the accompanying text.

Well.

I have been very gently, but very promptly, set right by both a dear relation over in England and a dear friend right here, the one who was my companion on that walk. She included with her email a YouTube link, with proof.

While I’m making amends, let me give belated credit to the creators of that utility-box magic, both images and text.

For all that’s dark and threatening, these pandemic days, there is also this: otters hold hands as they rock gently in the waves.

 

 

 

Stares for Stairs

11 July 2020 — We’re in downtown Vancouver, Yaletown neighbourhood, and, yes, we are here to stare at stairs. (Oh, such an obvious pun — but sometimes, you just let yourself pick that low-lying fruit.)

We’re on the hunt for a BIA morale-boosting project, artists invited to let loose on the edges and stairways of some of the area’s street-side terraces (architectural remnants of previous industrial life).

But stairs aren’t all that’s worthy of a gawk or two.

We tilt-head, open-mouth our way through the parkette immediately behind the Skytrain station at Davie & Mainland.

I’ve seen an installation of overhead umbrellas here before — a rainbow of colours then, solid yellow now. Yellow for hope and remembrance, the signage tells us.

More yellow umbrellas, this time café patio adornments, up a block at Hamilton and Davie streets. With bright new mural-work below.

We are not impressed. We are righteously indignant.

Fine, love the defiant messsage of continued strength & presence: “We’re here.” But is it too much to ask for an apostrophe? Apparently, yes it is, and we grumble away to each other very happily. What-is-this-younger-generation-coming-to-I-ask-you?

Until we turn the corner, and burst out laughing. And blush.

We only saw half the message.

No apostrophe called for. “Wish you were here.”

See? Sometimes the grumbling old biddies are wrong.

Much cheered, we carry on along Hamilton Street.

Shark’s teeth don’t seem to me a very welcoming symbol — come visit, snap-munch — but yes, it is bold & handsome & owns that staircase.

Moving on, and aha, here we go! very welcoming indeed.

All hearts & loving bilingual messages.

I play with its angles, like the way railings, steps, wall & ground all dance with each other.

And then there’s Chameleon Long Dog.

Still giggling, we turn away.

Only to discover that Hamilton Street offers more than cafés and murals. Its boutiques also offer décor tips. Nay… rules.

There is Correct and there is Incorrect in this world, so pay attention.

We argue ambiably about that all the way to the Skytrain station.

 

 

The Crock Croc

7 July 2020 – Could it get any better?

An alley made happy with a happy crocodile head (or so I see it), those great jaws curved in a smile …

and, and, the croc is made up of crockery.

Gazillions of tiny shards, placed with great deliberation, colour/texture/design all orchestrated for stand-back visual coherence.

But come in close.

To the croc’s eye, for example …

You see?

The croc is not all alone, in his alley corner.

Other shapes & designs are also pressed into the retaining wall (and on up the steps of the adjoining home, so there’s one mystery solved).

I particularly like this design, because Mother Nature has added her own rose-petal embellishment, upper left.

In the Loop

1 July 2020 – In & around the loop, more like it — the “loop” being a favourite & highly variable circuit of mine down to False Creek, west along one side of this end of the Creek, across the Cambie St. bridge, and back east.

As always, these strange months, much that is familiar suddenly viewed a-slant because of the new context in which I experience it.

Feet going zig-zag (“going all fractal,” I say pretentiously to myself), heading north in a near-by alley because I like alleys, with local alleys offering a less impressive alley-art presence than their Toronto counterparts, but a much more impressive structural presence, thanks to those towering hydro poles.

And this stretch, just east of Main, offers an okay bit of street art as well.

Not to mention the haze of the Coast Range Mountains, off there in the distance. (Take that, Toronto…)

I grin at a little white bird on a big blue dumpster …

peer through chain-link fence at signage for somebody’s mini-community garden …

and, finding myself at a dead end, double back out to E. 4th and Scotia.

Where a wedge of land shelters an only slightly less-mini community garden, this one with a friendly chair at the street corner.

Gardeners of the Galaxy” reads one of its signs — a banner of its evolution from one woman’s vacant-land purchase in 2010, to its current status in the coFood Vancouver Collaborative Garden Project, within the Living Systems Network of social/food/community activists.

Still on the zig-zag, still going all fractal, soon I’m past the Galaxy, in behind Main St. on something I thought was just a lane but is wide enough for an official name. I am now on Lorne St., where an old pseudo-vintage Mexican restaurant mural …

leads to a door with an entirely spring-2020 sign of its own.

(See what I meant earlier, about familiar old landmarks thrown a-slant in a new context?)

I didn’t sit down with those galaxy gardeners, and I don’t join this sober new version of “borrachos aquí”, either.

But I do sink down on this bench for a bit …

just off Quebec St. in Creekside Park, a tribute to the one-time CPR railway yards down here. There’s even a remnant of train track.

Not that much later, just a bit round the Creek-end curve on its north side, I sit on another bench, contemplate gulls/crows/ducks/geese/kids/cyclists/geezers/dogs/etc for a while, and very idly wonder why there always seem to be a few people who spurn benches to clamber right down to water’s edge and perch on the rocks.

Well, why not.

And I walk. And I shamelessly eavesdrop on passing conversations. And I helpfully alert a young mother to the cloth storybook her child has just pitched out of the stroller. And I share giggles with another woman, who has just taken a photo of a bit of doggerel on a utility box that manages to be rude, very rude, about the Kardashian sisters and — while the author is at it — Donald Trump as well.

No, I will not show it to you. All those people get quite enough free publicity as it is.

Moving on. Literally!

My favourite dog bench, dog muzzle and dog bowl in Coopers Park , with extra water courtesy of all the recent rain …

which is located right at the Cambie Street bridge. This sends me sharp right, then spiralling upwards, to walk south across the bridge.

A favourite view over my favourite ferry dock — Spyglass — before I spiral back down to ground level, and start east along the Sea Wall.

Heading toward Olympic Village and yes! Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth is somewhat overgrown but still intact, still a landmark between Hinge Park and the tiny man-made habitat island out in the Creek itself.

Slightly to my own surprise, I don’t as usual carry on to Olympic Village plaza. Instead I cut south through Hinge Park, delighted as always at how much mystery and nature it offers, even though it is very small and bordered by condos.

 

On up to walk along East 1st, between Manitoba and Columbia. I pass the home to the Arts Club Theatre Company (unknown to me until this very moment) — a typical bit of modern glass frontage for a typical pleasant-looking reception area for a performance venue.

And then, it is no longer typical. Well, it is — our new-typical. Mannequins stand in the window display area, each one clad in some kind of essential-worker garb, and bearing this sign.

Into another alley.

No, not an alley-alley. This is a landscaped, highly designed pathway-alley between low-rise condominium structures. Each with its own combination of shrubbery, benches and water features.

I look down at that metal medallion, there at my feet.

“Tread lightly,” it says.

What a good idea, in this stressed world in which we now all live.

Oh, and, Happy Canada Day!

 

 

 

 

 

Stories

22 June 2020 – These twirling figures are literally burdened with stories …

since Bruce Voyce’s 2016 Love In The Rain installation is Vancouver Park Board’s first official “love lock sculpture.” Each padlock, key ritually discarded, tells its own frozen-moment story of love & commitment, and we can only guess at how each story has evolved since the lock was snapped into place.

The closer you come, the more you see.

And, in our case this past Tuesday, the more you hear.

Scroll back up a moment to that first shot. (Photo credit FM, by the way, and thank you.) See those two figures, intent on the back left sculpture? Two eager young girls, studying each sculpture, choosing their favourite locks, and absolutely delighted to share their discoveries with us.

We let them lead us around and, keeping prudent social-distance between us, we admire their choices.

The big fish, for example, ‘way down low! (Not to mention that heraldic lock next to it.)

And the shiny turtle, ‘way up high!

Later, in the gardens section of the same Queen Elizabeth Park, we hear another story, this time a botanical story.

We’ve stopped to watch the meticulous bedding-out being done by a young Parks employee, fall into conversation, congratulate her on how good everything looks — and then redouble our praise when we notice a stretch of bent-vine fencing.

“It’s even a living fence,” we breathe, in awe at all those tendrils of new growth. The young woman laughs, and shares the credit. She twisted some discarded pieces of cut vine into place; Mother Nature — surprise! — brought them back to life.

Later yet again, now walking north from the park on Prince Edward Street, we come across two blocks’-worth of community stories. Art, commentary, photos, poetry … all of it neatly stapled to wooden utility poles between East 21st & East 19th.

Like this.

On top, a photograph of a mossy log; middle level, somebody’s yellow “My COVID Map”; bottom left, a poem; bottom right, a watercolour. And more to the other side.

I explore the COVID Map, section by section. Not surprisingly, it features walking, and discoveries made while walking …

Now. Did you notice that bit of a bright orange head at the bottom? The bit I seem to have forgotten to crop out of the shot?

Aha. I left it on purpose. A segue to the next section of the map.

I like the boyfriend-James story. I also notice, and sigh at, the artist’s further observation on the right. “Xenophobia and tribalism” indeed.

Several of the poles feature a poem by Julia Pileggi, a name that has meant nothing to me until now.  Here’s just one example.

I like her work a lot, and I like her even better when I visit her website later on. A local  performance poet/artist, she has just won a 2020 IABC Golden Quill Award for Excellence for her I Am Your Nurse tribute to nurses. Created in 2019, it’s stunningly relevant right now, and you can see the video when you follow the link above.

Every pole wears its own stories.

Someone shares a reading list …

and someone else pretty well sums up what they’ve all been doing, all these contributors with all these stories, up & down these two blocks of Prince Edward Street.

My friend points out what I’ve missed: a multitude of tiny figures on the stem of the rose.

Helping each other create something beautiful.

 

 

DIY

14 June 2020 – You know my habit: with each post I weave images & words into a story, a single story among all the other images and other themes I could have chosen instead. But not this time. You’re on your own.

True, I have selected the images, but only because each struck my eye, not with a story-line murmuring in my ear. No, wait. To be more precise: each image tells me an individual story, but I haven’t assembled them to tell a collective story.

Which maybe is my story.

Or maybe I’m just getting precious.

So, over to you. It’s do-it-yourself time. See what story-line starts murmuring in your own ear.

A sticker on a traffic bollard …

the top bit of a display of locally made masks outside a craft shop …

a bright yellow alley weed …

two crows arguing possession of the same hydro wire …

freshly chalked sidewalk art …

and a red paper lantern under its canopy of trees, one of the group I showed you a few posts ago in that Muskoka-chair nook just off the Sahalli Community Garden.

Today I drop into one of the chairs, and look up.

Walking back home, I cut down an alley, where I am startled at the sound of applause. I look at my watch. Of course: it’s 7 p.m.

So I clap too, joining these neighbours as they stand on their balconies either side of the roadway to once again salute frontline workers — and, I think, each other as well.

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 100,885 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,836 other followers

%d bloggers like this: