Bare Ankles & All

1 June 2019 – Oh, forget the calendar. Canadians know that once the 24th of May holiday is past … and the weather is warm… it is summer.

Time to enjoy.

Which is exactly what I see happening, in assorted manifestations, all along my walk west on the False Creek south seawall, up into Granville Market & South Granville, and eventually back over into Mount Pleasant.

Man props up his bike, sinks into a freshly-repainted Muskoka chair on Spyglass Dock, and relaxes into the sunshine, bare ankles & all …

Crow preens atop the nearest lamp post, bare beak & all …

Very small craft await spring fix-ups (in contrast to sparkling larger neighbours) …

Goslings learn to look both ways before they cross the bike path through Charleson Park …

Yellow Something pretends to be a bright red poppy in the Charleson Park Community Garden …

Labyrinth detail pretends to be the eyes & beak of a ferocious owl (or vice-versa) on a sea wall lookout near Granville Market …

Patch on battered building in Granville Market doesn’t pretend to be anything but what it is, rust …

Child discovers the splash-pad fire hydrants in the Granville Market playground turn on and off, all by themselves …

A festival poster in the Market acknowledges (as all events now do) where we work, live and play …

Guys on the left edge of a Granville Bridge on-ramp watch pigeons eat grain, lower right; neither group pays any attention to the mural trio, upper right, admiring the mural tribute to Lawren Harris; for that matter, the mural trio pays no attention to man-on-bike emerging from that red door on their left …

A sunbather in Jonathan Rogers Park bares more than her ankles & toes (take that, Mr. Spyglass Dock Man) …

And a bakery signboard on the Kingsway …

proves that not all Vancouverites are fitness freaks.

Into the Sunshine

23 May 2019 – Let me sort out my prepositions. Not into, but up. Up the Sunshine Coast.

Out of Vancouver, and up the 180-km stretch of mainland that — thanks to those convoluted mountain ranges — is only accessible by air or water.

I choose water.

Love those BC Ferries  Away we go from Horseshoe Bay, starting the 40-minute ride that will weave around some intervening islands in Howe Sound and deposit us all at the Langdale Ferry Terminal.

Then it’s pavement again and a local bus. I’m off at the next community along the route, Gibsons, a town of some 4,600 people just 6 km down the road. My plan? To mooch about.

And I do.

And I have a good time.

I hear great snippets of conversation. “Had a bear in my back yard yesterday,” says one woman to another as she buys some stamps. “Three hundred pounds. Totally destroyed my bird feeder.”

I see delightful things. Places to park while charging your e-vehicle …

and places where you better not park at all. Unless your name is Ribbet.

Mostly, I head for the waterfront, walking the pathway that borders crowded marinas, with pleasure and working boats both, and a long, busy public wharf.

Over here, a float plane …

and, over there, a couple of houseboats, gloriously smothered in plants.

I see tiny shells, carefully arranged on a weathered log …

and an old boat, its hull still bright, the interior bleached and collapsing.

Kiddies hurl stones at a convenient jetty …

kayakers diverge, as gulls converge …

a jaded fish swims into a parking lot …

while much happier fish swim across the community centre wall.

Of course they’re happy! These are rockfish with a purpose. On June 7, Gibsons’ inaugural World Oceans Day Festival, they will be auctioned off to raise funds for the local Marine Education Centre.

Locally created, with local resonance, for local benefit.

I’m happy too.

 

Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

“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.

 

  • 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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