River-Watch

11 January 2022 — The capital-W Weather just keeps piling up. The snow I blogged about late December was followed by more snow and more cold, and then a windstorm combined with king tides that tore up Stanley Park seawall and flooded the Ambleside Park I’d visited just a little earlier that month.

And now plus-zero temperatures and a new multi-day Atmospheric River, due to start … well, any time now.

“Now” being a few hours ago, as I set out to walk east toward home. Ah, but, I am wearing my Seriously Waterproof Coat and my duck boots, and I trust them to keep me safe and pretty well dry. So I am watchful — aware of the grey sky and impending River — but perfectly happy to let my eye snag on tiny details as I walk along, and not particularly care whether I beat the rain home or not.

Here at Yukon & West 8th, it isn’t the motorcycle I notice first …

it’s the butterfly decal someone has stuck to the back of the traffic sign. I don’t care that it’s wrinkled and beginning to peel, I like it a lot.

I pivot east into the alley just south of West 8th, away from the construction for the Broadway Subway Project (an extension of the existing Millennium Line) that keeps pounding along, whatever the weather.

I see this bold taco-shop mural right at the intersection …

but again it’s a detail that draws me in: a delicate line-up of red dots above one of the florets on one of the plants.

I wonder if this is a later, complementary (and complimentary) addition by some other hand, but then see another touch of red in the swirls of ground cover, and decide it is all by the original artist.

Only later, looking at this image, do I see the magic continuity of colour — black/white/red, flowing from the mural across those cars to the red building beyond.

Just east of Alberta there’s full-tilt alleyscape, so much going on I barely register the young woman who walks into frame on the right, checking her messages …

because I’m focused on that mirror up there on the balcony. Looking very pretty, in the midst of a lot of not-pretty.

Just past Columbia, I see the pumpkin-coloured car, who could miss it …

but, really, I’m fascinated by that convex traffic mirror, and the art-nouveau swirls it bestows on tall trees and power lines.

East side of Manitoba, I’ve seen this before but for a change it’s not the H-frame hydro pole that makes me pause …

it’s the haunting mural tucked into the garage on the left. So instead of walking by, I walk in …

and when I turn to the back wall, my curiosity is rewarded — finally! — with this artist’s name.

J. Whitehead, I later learn, is a Saskatchewan-born member of the Cree Nation, a Fine Arts graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Arts and Design, and now resident in Vancouver. I’ve seen his distinctive work elsewhere, am glad to give you a chance to discover him as well.

Same alley block but closer to Ontario, I once again halt at this battered old garage …

but, this time, it’s the sway-backed roof that pulls me close. I really look at it, at the textures, the colours, the thriving moss on crumbling shingles — the sheer topography of it all.

And then … and then, I’m east of Ontario, on to Quebec, and the end of the alley.

I swerve north to East 8th, away from all those alleyscape details …

into the ordered, aromatic, calm and considered details of a latte at my favourite café.

I make it home, just before the River starts to flow. (And flows still, as I type this. And is expected to continue to flow, right through Thursday.)

2022: the Travel Guide

31 December 2021

detail, 2018 VMF mural, by Phantoms in the Front Yard

“The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

La Prisonnière (5th volume, Remembrance of Things Past), Marcel Proust

Snow‼️

26 December 2021 – Snow in Canada in late December? Hardly worth comment. Let alone even one exclamation mark, not to mention two of them, and in punch-your-eyeball-red at that…

True, but. This is Vancouver’s first snowy Christmas since 2008, and only the fourth in the last 25 years. I know the stats thanks to a news report, but I only have to look out my window for confirmation.

No need to climb 300 metres up the Coast Range mountains today, to catch some snow! It’s right here at sea level. So I go play snow-tourist around False Creek.

Icicles. A given, in my Toronto winter days, but a rarity here, so I pay attention.

The Chai Wagon is open for business as usual, just off Science World, but the chai-wallah is more bundled up than usual …

and the nearby palm trees have their own winter adornment.

The little footbridge at Olympic Village was upgraded this summer, with — they promised — an improved anti-slip texture underfoot. Hmmm. The sign doesn’t know about that promise. Or doesn’t trust it.

Or perhaps is just a neurotic worrywart by nature.

These women are not worrywarts. They stride onto the bridge full-tilt, and cross without incident.

The welcoming chairs at Spyglass Dock are embracing snow at the moment, not Creek-side flâneurs …

but someone has cleared one of the blossoms in the artwork by Emily Gray that makes this dock so appealing.

I double back under the Cambie bridge ramps, here on the south side. This location — like Toronto’s innovative Underpass Park — is an encouraging example of what we can do with places that are more typically written off as wastelands.

Butterflies on the ramp supports, picnic and table-tennis tables on the ground below — a bright, inviting space where you feel it’s safe to linger.

At my back, the False Creek Energy Centre , hub for the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

It uses waste thermal energy captured from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to a surprisingly large local area: Southeast False Creek, plus parts of Mount Pleasant, False Creek Flats and Northeast False Creek. “This recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings,” says a City website. It adds: “The utility is self-funded.”

To the east, on my left, the John McBride Community Garden.

It is low on garden activity at the moment but still a magnet for this mother and child, heads bent in mutual fascination with something they see either before them or in the mind’s eye.

Straight ahead, directly beneath the Cambie Bridge, the Voxel Bridge — a Vancouver Biennale installation this past summer. Not just physical reality, but blockchain-based augmented reality.

Still dazzling on the side pillars and overhead, but surprisingly scuffed and worn underfoot.

This new sign may explain why.

I have to read up about bicycle drifting later, to appreciate the power that goes into the technique, and the problem it could therefore create for artwork.

Fortunately, human feet can safely drift all they want! Mine lead me eastward along West 5th Avenue.

Where, approaching Alberta Street, I pause at this mini-installation along the side wall of Beaumont Studios (“a supportive environment for a wide variety of creative professionals”). She’s your basic Noble Lady in Flowing Robes, isn’t she? But enlivened with colour up & down her body, and very bright turquoise sneakers by her sandalled feet.

Catty-corner at Alberta, a gleaming new facility devoted to butchering beans.

Oh. Got it. Vegan “meat.” I’m amused by the cheeky reassurance of the wall slogan (“Don’t worry, Mount Pleasant…”) …

and, while not about to order any product myself, impressed by the reach of this BC success story.

In just a few years, The Very Good Butchers has gone from Denman Island farmers’ markets, to a Victoria plant-based butchery, to this gleaming new facility and major online activity. Plus a presence in co-ops and markets north/south/east/west Canada and the USA.

Meanwhile, back here in Vancouver, physical me walks on. On east to Manitoba (street, not province — though that would also work). South on Manitoba with a pause at the alley entrance that houses one of my favourite murals.

But it’s not just the mural. Not just William Lam’s skill. It’s the context. Street art, in street context.

After that, I drift on home.

(No artwork is damaged in the drift.)

Ostensible (1 & 2)

12 December 2021 – It is not what I anticipated, as I set out for a misty walk to False Creek, but here I am in an alley just west of Main & north of East 4th, pondering the meaning of the word “ostensible.”

Don’t you love an erudite alley dumpster? Grubby, battered & odiferous it may be, but by the Lord Harry, it is determined to improve our minds and build our vocabularies. All the way to polysyllabic adjectives.

Nothing “ostensible” about this dumpster, per definition no. 1: it is exactly what it appears to be. And if definition no. 2 seems (to my mind) to better fit “ostentatious” than “ostensible,” never mind! It defines the scene here on the alley’s east side.

It is indeed “open to view.” Indeed, “conspicuous.”

From barbed wire and ominous signage …

to the jumble of piled-up rubbish, punctuated by dumpsters.

Behind the rubbish, Nick Gregson‘s peacock mural still rides high.

It’s a 2016 veteran, one of the collection painted (largely in this neighbourhood) in that very first year of the Vancouver Mural Festival.

And here it is again, reflected in a doorway of the new construction on the west side of the alley — construction that undoubtedly explains the pile of rubbish.

Murals used to line both sides of this alley. Not now! Old structures disappear, new builds arrive.

Ahh, but. I have no right to sound that doleful; it is misleading. We have a net gain of murals every year, and I like a lot of the new construction, fresh & clean-lined & none of it high-rise.

And there are still murals in the alley, including Chairman Ting‘s 2017 bunny-rabbits, just north of East 3rd.

Partnered with — I hope you noticed — one of my beloved H-frame hydro poles, doing its party trick: a 45-degree pivot to accommodate alley intersections.

So that’s it, I decide: enough photos, enough to think about, should anybody be inclined to do so; I shall now just walk on on down to False Creek, and have myself an eyes-only walk.

That resolution lasts all the way to the Village Dock, the last ferry dock right at Science World. Where the pedestrian pathway leads me past this garbage bin. With this contribution neatly piled on top.

I dissolve in giggles and pull out my camera. Two passing 20-Somethings pause, and raise quizzical eyebrows.

“Look!” I say. And point, and giggle some more.

They flash bright nervous smiles, and scoot on past me as fast as their alarmed little legs can carry them.

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

In the Midst of It All

21 November 2021 – The Eastside Culture Crawl is in full swing, but I almost didn’t give myself permission to take part. It seemed trivial, disrespectful, to go enjoy myself while so much of the province is overwhelmed with destruction and loss.

A succession of Atmospheric Rivers has unleashed widespread once-in-a-century flooding, mudslides, mass evacuations and, at latest count, caused four deaths. Vancouver is spared, but in the midst of all this, how dare we have fun?

And then I try to get my brain engaged, along with my heart. Staying home in Vancouver will not drive back floodwaters in the Fraser Valley. So I make a contribution to a competent disaster-relief agency already active on the ground (I chose the Salvation Army, but there are many others) — and I head out the door.

In the midst of disaster, there is also life and courage and connection. Local artists also deserve support.

I’ve plotted a walking tour, starting with a couple of venues pretty close to home, just downhill off the east end of False Creek, in the Flats. Logical that this should be home to artists, the area was one of the earliest (2016) Vancouver Mural Festival sites as well.

And here’s proof, corner of Main and Industrial Avenue. Look at those murals off to the east and north!

First target, the Arts Factory at 281 Industrial Avenue. Oh good, the Crawl has pop-up signage…

The usual visual kaleidoscope typical of these warehouse locations — so much art, so many types, against a backdrop of pipes, valves, dangling wires and, why not, dog bed with stuffed toy thrown in.

Everybody masked, everybody vetted for Vaccine Record card and photo ID, hand sanitizers all over the place… I talk to assorted artists, spend time with Iran-born Laleh Javaheri. I’m drawn to her deft wire bird doodles …

which she explains illustrate a folk tale in her homeland. Her main work, though, is felt and fibre art, and I realize that a big piece I saw on another wall, Winter

is also by her.

Out in a hall, prowling. Past the green bike and mannequin cyclist, draped in the works of leather artist Ian Greenwood …

and after more halls, more walls, more standing/dangling/draped/floating displays, I am finally back out on Industrial Avenue with my next venue in mind.

I turn north onto Station Street (with Pacific Central Station down there at the end), and cross Southern Street.

I peer into Southern as I pass, still bright with some of those early VMF murals.

Crossing Central Street now, also mural-marked, though none of them VMF-official.

But very much part of the culture! This Culture Crawl, I realize, is only partially, very partially, about the official artists’ venues. For me, it’s the entire context.

Left turn onto Northern Street. “Culture” only in the sociological sense, nuthin’ artistic right here.

Other end of the block, over at Western Street, and here’s the signage.

Up the stairs, at 240 Northern …

with Rob Friedman’s explosion of stained glass on the right …

and Warren Murfitt’s guitar-making and wood-working studio across the hall.

Murfitt finishes what he’s doing as some other visitors also enter his space. He joins us, talks about the woods he uses for the different types of guitar he makes — some rescued wood, some local, some not. And some, to our astounded giggles, from the very building that houses him. “There was a beam there, it wasn’t supporting anything, I harvested it…”

And now a longer hike, eastward to Clark Street. To my delight, I discover there’s a bike/pedestrian pathway running between Terminal Avenue and the train tracks.

I follow it and I follow it, and I’m cheered finally to see what might be Clark, just down there framed by the Grandview Viaduct on the left, with its mural, and Skytrain lines swooping overhead.

Except it’s not Clark, it’s Glen, and I’m in a dead end. Glen ends here, and Terminal — by now I’m on Terminal — well, Terminal is terminal. So I go into that handsome furniture store and ask directions. All is well! Or will become well. I just have to backtrack, and scramble up the embankment onto the Viaduct, which has a sidewalk as well as all those lanes of traffic. It will take me across the tracks and over to Clark Street.

So I do all that, and here I am. Consult my Crawl map… head north on Clark … pass Henry’s Hip Eats and Strange Fellows brewery as I go (all part of the eastside culture) …

and, hurray!, here I am at William Street. And there, right across the street, is my next venue, with its sidewalk signage.

Eastside Atelier. More stairs.

Another of those wonderfully jumbled warrens of hallways, doorways, sudden openings, spaces looping into and around each other.

I circle that imposing wooden sculpture, and discover that it’s a horse-of-course.

Dalyn Berryman’s Palomino, created with Tofino, Squamish River and Furry Creek driftwood.

There are exquisite small works of art, such as this pottery bowl with its moss ornaments…

and an acerbic notice (by the same artist) to behave ourselves when we enter her workspace.

I don’t enter. Instead I stand in the hall, bemused by the artwork framing the claw-foot bathtub opposite.

Around another corner, and this wonderful ode to aging.

It hangs with the works of Annette Nieukerk, whose art celebrates the beauty of aging bodies.

I walk around a while longer, and eventually head back out to Clark, and then on home.

And I vow never to be tempted to iron my skin. Never.

See. Celebrate

30 October 2021 – See, really see, I keep instructing myself. And then celebrate what I see.

The farther we slide into fall, the more of a challenge that can be. For example, out on a “drizzle walk” mid-week, I see this.

Oh, ick. Immediate reaction: mushy/slimy/decayed/faded/tattered/torn.

So I mentally slap myself, instruct myself to just … just see what’s there. Not carry on about what it all means, either moaning at decay & death or cheering the botanical gift of nutrition for the soil. Just see what’s there.

Suddenly, it’s wonderful. Worth celebrating. Shape: those oval leaves now curling into ripples and parabolas; the rounded angles of the rocks below. Texture: the ribs in the leaves; the speckles dotting both leaves and rocks. Colour: lemon to ochre to silver & charcoal; random slivers of red; that lemon-lime duet top right corner.

Well, this is fun! Let’s do it again.

More ovals curling into new shapes, dancing with the season. More colour, green to gold to rust & silver.

And if I keep looking, keep seeing, there is even …

lacework.

But that’s not all there is to see, and to celebrate, even here at the tag end of October.

A few days later I’m out with friends on one of those bright breezy days that lift the heart.

We’ve just wandered around the Law Courts roof-top garden, designed by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander and Arthur Erickson, and are stepping our way back down to Robson Square. No challenge needed, to celebrate what we see here!

On we go, and we keep seeing more things to celebrate. The washroom in Mink Chocolates Café down on West Hastings, for example, which is as 21st-c. inclusive as your little heart could desire, but retains those old-fashioned virtues of good hygiene.

And later, in Bon Voyage Plaza just off the Vancouver Convention Centre on Burrard Inlet, an example of public art that, even on a sunshine day, celebrates the rain.

We swing around The Drop (all 65 feet of it, by the Berlin collective Inges Idee) and carry on westward, past float planes loading passengers for flights over to Vancouver Island …

and then angle our way south through town, right down to Morton Park on English Bay, home of A-Maze-ing Laughter.

You should always celebrate laughter! (And while we’re at it we again thank the Vancouver Biennale, this 14-statue installation being an enduring favourite from the 2009-2011 event.)

Across the street, and a clear view of a 2021 Mural Festival installation that we couldn’t properly see when we were here a while ago, when construction trucks still blocked the lane. Panel by panel, Rory Doyle’s Horae celebrates the four seasons …

with a suitably dressed crow in each panel.

Much as I love these crows, I see the three-legged dog …

and love him even more.

Mid-Fall

21 October – Mid-fall in Vancouver.

It’s the season when nature is the biggest litterbug of all…

scattering leaves all over windshields and grassy sidewalk verges…

and across outdoor café tables.

But mid-fall is also still warm enough for couples to sit at one of those outdoor café tables …

and sink into each other’s eyes.

Tucked snugly behind their very own sheet of anti-COVID plastic.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

Thankful

11 October 2021 – This Thanksgiving Day, I walk down the street in breezy sunlight and, as I approach a corner, memory suddenly tugs. Am I right? Is this the corner with that poem about birds spray-painted on the S/E building wall?

And even if I’m right, spray-paint comes & goes. Will the poem still be there?

I peer eastward around the corner.

I am thankful that I remembered to look, that the poem is still here — and that I still enjoy it. (Revisiting old delights is sometimes a bad idea.)

Later, walking my “Cambie Loop,” I find myself looking for birds above power lines. Not obsessively, you understand, but as part of paying attention to the here-&-now of my walk.

And yes, just past my turning point, just down that spiral staircase from the Cambie Bridge to the south side of False Creek, I do indeed pause in the shade of a tree and look up to watch the dance of birds and power lines.

Only two birds. Not very dramatically criss-crossing anything much.

Ordinary.

But, perhaps because of that poem and the title of this holiday, I think about John O’Donohue’s “eucharist of the ordinary” and I am thankful for these birds and for everything else I have just experienced, these last five kilometres: lots of ordinary people doing a whole range of ordinary things on the paths and on the water, walking/dog-walking/child-walking/hand-holding/bench-sitting/jogging/dawdling/cycling/kayaking/ferry-riding.

All that activity! And all of it in peace and safety.

Oh yes, I am thankful.

  • 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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