Rain City Takes a Stand

24 March 2018 – It’s been raining. To be expected, here in Vancouver.

How else would that dog grow such a magnificent crop of moss on his head?

Lots of rain = lots of umbrellas = lots of umbrella stands.

Right there inside every public access door, upmarket or down, retail or public sector, frivolous or serious or medical or artsy, or whatever.

I first noticed the phenomenon last October 12, when a deluge had us all shedding more umbrellas in the Scotiabank Dance Centre than the receptacles could handle.

You may remember the shot. It was my first umbrella stand photo, and I’ve been taking them ever since.

Today’s rain is a good excuse to show you some.

Mimimalism is the rule at both The Mighty Oak grocery & coffee bar on West 18th …

and at Elysian Coffee on West 5th.

Crema, down by the West Van Seawall, is also a coffee bar, but takes a much more exuberant approach. Their umbrella stand is in fact a coat-cum-umbrella rack, but, this drizzly day, umbrellas have commandeered the whole thing.

 

Colourful brollies and yet more colour right outside the door — all those daffs happily blooming, even though it’s still early February.

The Dr. Vigari Art Gallery on Commercial Drive takes a surprisingly austere approach — where’s the artistic flair? On the other hand, it does provide clear instructions, and one handsome resident brolly to show you how it’s done.

Pfui! says Exposure Clothing over on Main Street: instructions, yes, but let’s have some fun with those demo brollies.

The stand at VIDA Eye Care on West Broadway is suitably clear …

while an oral surgeon farther west swathes his umbrella stand in a big lavender bow. (Perhaps to take your mind off the fact that you are indeed at the dentist’s?)

The Sally Ann Thrift Shop on East 12th takes a thrifty, but highly functional, approach . ..

and the Art Gallery of Ontario — I couldn’t help myself! — offers functionality as well, but probably paid more for the container.

In fact, it is so elegant that it is not an umbrella stand. It is an umbrella drop station, and don’t you forget it.

(It is also empty. That’s because the sky was heaving down snow that mid-March day, not rain.)

 

 

 

 

Good-bye, TDOT

14 March 2018 – The visit ends as it began. With a great visual punch of art.

But, this time, not street art!

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, not all of Toronto’s art is on the street. Some of it is on walls — interior walls, you understand,  and sometimes visible only by paid admission. Really.

I spend my last day in Toronto — indeed, I am en route the airport — at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture and exhibitions come second to the power of memory and the joy of seeing old friends and former colleagues.

Mind you, as “second” goes, it’s first-rate.

I visit the Burning Forest …

La Forêt ardente, Jean Paul Riopelle, part of the Mitchell/Riopelle exhibition …

wander through the Narcissus Garden

one installation in Yayoi Kusama’s multi-floor exhibition …

and drink my latte under a bright winter sky in the AGO’s Galleria Italia café.

 

All that skyscape is curated into multiple images by the lines and curves of Frank Gehry‘s architectural magic, a fitting tribute by this native son to his home town — indeed, his home neighbourhood.

Over the years, one weekly shift after another, I nursed my coffee-break lattes under these soaring arcs, exposed to the weather visually but protected from it physically, and so free to enjoy its every mood.

One more latte, this time as a visitor. The perfect end to the perfect final day of my visit.

And I’m off to the airport, and home.

 

Sorry …

12 March 2018 – “Sorry.”

And there you have it, in one word — the world’s image of Canadians.

We are so polite, and endlessly apologizing. Even to the person who has just stepped on our toes. (Fill in your own favourite Canadian joke right here.)

So this is surely the ultimate Canadian coffee shop. Never mind that it is sleek and classy, overlooking the equally sleek and classy Village of Yorkville Park.

It has ur-Canadian DNA.

I am not the first to make this connection. In January 2016, a BlogTO correspondent wrote:

Its name is a playful nod to Canadian politeness, as the stereotype says we tend to apologize all the time, and as my friend and I prove is true since we realize we’ve inadvertently said “sorry” about five times since we’ve arrived.

And the Sorry website says:

We’re here whether you need a dose of inspiration or just a sorry excuse to get away from it all.

Hmmm. Now for the awkward bit.

I feel compelled to reveal that I didn’t go in. I went & found myself a latte somewhere else.

Sorry.

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

Honorary Tuesday (Still)

7 March 2018 – Oh, the magic of the Present Historical Tense. Or, the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Or whatever you want to call the fact that we are happily pretending we are still in the middle of the walk I began describing in my previous post.

So. We have lunch. Then — once again as so often before — we begin a zigzaggy sort of walk north/west-ish, heading toward our respective homes.

We hit Dundas St. East. And the intersection of Craven Road.

Yes! We must revisit Craven Road!  The question that sends our legs north: Is any art still left on the Longest Wooden Fence in Toronto?

Yes.

I blogged about Craven Rd. while living in Toronto — most recently in March 2015 — celebrating its superlatively tiny homes & its superlatively long wooden fence in the stretch between Dundas & Gerrard.

Very short & inadequate fence explanation (see that March 2015 post for more): in 1910 or so, the City hived off the back portion of a north-south road; threw up a wooden fence along one side; and hey-presto, the humble little houses that once crouched in the back yards of that other street now had a street of their very own. Craven Road.

The fence is still there. So is the line-up of homes opposite.

When we first began visiting the street in 2013, a great long stretch of the fence was covered in wonderful art work, much of it by Toronto artist Christine Kowal. The pieces were already showing signs of wear, and  grew more and more tattered with the snow and rain of each passing year.

Which made me love them more and more, for their resilience. (I know. Hopelessly anthropomorphic.)

Now, in 2018, we pounce on survivors with delight. Look! there’s that black & white cat …

and that ginger cat …

and those very silly sheep.

We’ve come to the end of the old survivors.

And that’s when we see there is new artwork on the fence. Very different style & mix, but in the same spirit. The Craven Road Art Fence lives on.

We see this perhaps explanatory plaque, tucked just below a leaping golden fish.

I’d missed that, in the hurly-burly of my own 2016 … How wonderful to catch up with it now.

The closer you get, the more detail there is to enjoy.

For example, not just a teapot next to a child’s story book. Not just a child’s story book with a drawing of a pussy-cat. Not just the drawing of a pussy-cat with a cut-out where the head should be … but …

all that, plus a stuffed mouse head, to complete the cat.

Well, of course.

And look, there’s one of those plastic humanoid knife-rests. Devoid of knives, but equipped with footwear.

Also equipped with a guiding philosophy: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

Respectful nod at the philosophy; big laugh when we turn to look again at the homes opposite. Many are still the modest ones of early days, but some — like this one — are in full gentrified splendour.

Endearing thing is, this home (unlike some of its nouveaux neighbours) joins in the larky art-spirit of the street, with its very own blackboard.

Spring? I don’t think so, my friend.

Just a couple of degrees above freezing that day and, as I write this in real-today time, still just a couple of degrees with the promise of more snow.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver …  No. Let’s not think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorary Tuesday

3 March 2018 – It isn’t Tuesday, but the original Tuesday Walking Society is out in full two-woman force, and in honour of our reunion we declare the day to be Honorary Tuesday. Makes us happy.

As so often, for all those Toronto years, we meet at an agreed time & place — this time, the Pape subway station.

I just have time to admire the frosted-glass artwork on the stairs …

when Phyllis appears. Back onto the subway, on to Main station.

Where we walk down-down-down, headed for Lake Ontario and, eventually, this year’s Winter Stations art installations along the waterfront in the city’s Beach neighbourhood.

Memories of other walks, as we walk… Once more alongside Glen Stewart Ravine as it broadens into Glen Stewart Park. This time with a fresh dusting of snow, and a snowman-in-the-making.

Mum is doing most of the work; small child pats the snowman occasionally; dog watches peacefully from one side.

The sun comes & goes; the wind comes & goes (but, mostly, comes); we reach the boardwalk and head east. The water is cloudy and choppy, wind-driven.

This is the city’s fourth annual Winter Stations — the idea being to have some wintertime fun with the lifeguard stations that otherwise just stand there, cold & bleak behind the snow fence, until it is summer again.

Here’s the wintertime fun: invite design firms internationally and universities provincially to come up with art installations that will each wrap themselves around one of the stations.

We reach the first installation.

Shazaam! Inside lurks one of those frames; outside, it’s Pussy Hut, an American tribute to the pink pussy hats worn worldwide on Women’s Day.

Beyond the hat/hut, you can see more of the installations — Revolution, with its megaphones; the ovoid Nest, with its colourful criss-cross of tapes; and then the boxy, bright-red fabric panels of Obstacle.

Nest, the work of Ryerson University students, is designed to offer “comfort and introspection within a system of complexity and disarray.” On a windy day like today, the concept becomes physical reality.

I enter, I peer up through its shell, through the lifeguard station frame, out to the clouds above.

On to Revolution (OCAD University). Much friendlier than it sounds: 36 vertical tubes, at different heights, easy to swivel — to revolve! —  that invite everyone to shout their opinions into the air.

I don’t shout. The tubes strike me more as telescopes than loudspeakers — perhaps because we are water-side? — so, instead, I peer through one of them and enjoy the change of perspective.

We can’t find an identifying sign for this next installation, but its anonymity doesn’t keep it from providing what they are all meant to provide: pleasure and comfort on a chilly winter day.

At the moment, it’s to the benefit of a tired gentleman and his dog, bright red ball still clutched firmly in its mouth. (Later, online, I learn this is Rising Up, the work of U of Guelph students.)

On to that boxy collection of bright-red fabric panels, each swivelling quite forcibly with the wind.

I put a hand to one, thinking I’ll slide inside. Oww! I’m smacked by the wooden frame that holds the fabric taut. And I discover why the UK design team called their creation, Obstacle.

“At first it appears impenetrable,” they tell you, but with closer inspection and especially through cooperation with others, you can make your way inside.

Phyllis and I have a long history of cooperation, but we don’t make our way inside — we move on to Make Some Noise!

Who can resist? It’s an “oversized noise box,” say its German designers, with black horns and red hand cranks to get ’em wailing.

So we do. And so does everybody else that passes by.

We are veterans of previous Winter Stations exhibitions; we are veterans of blustery Toronto winters; we are veterans of the impact of those winters on the city waterfront.

But we do not expect what we see next.

Three surfers! In wet suits, mind you, and surely insulated wet suits at that. But still …

They offer one more tribute to lakefront fun in winter — the perfect grand finale to Winter Stations. We admire them, but have no desire to emulate them.

We head north to Queen Street East, correctly anticipating a different kind of water, the hot kind that brings you lattes.

What we don’t anticipate is what happens after that.

Next post. You’ll see.

 

 

 

Hello, TDOT

28 February 2018 – I emerge onto Bloor St. West from the rapid transit link between the airport and downtown Toronto, and start to laugh. Right there on that busy sidewalk, with traffic whooping by in the railway underpass.

“Hello TDOT,” I say to myself, and take the photo.

A whole riot of street art, running through the underpass. Definitely Toronto. (And thank you Barb, for this bit of local slang: Toronto aka T.O.; i.e. tee-dot-oh-dot; thus TDOT.)

That’s yesterday.

Today I’m walking around a bit of Riverdale, mostly on Pape between The Danforth and Gerrard. And yessir, TDOT just keeps kicking up more street art.

A fish threatens to swallow a phone box …

and he might as well, having already swallowed the phone.

A car makes a coffee-brake, right over the Schmooz café …

which I extra-love, since I made that same coffee brake pun in a post last October.

A guy eats an ice-cream cone, and clearly doesn’t like the taste …

which is fair enough, since the owner of this now-closed corner store has pinned a furious handwritten note to his store door, making clear he really doesn’t like the graffito.

On the other hand, a very spiffy meat & deli shop just south of Danforth not only accepts the mural on its side wall …

but the owner probably commissioned it, since it bears his store name in bold block caps.

About face, I’m heading south again. Some homeowner loves poppies, right there on his front porch.

Maybe painted them himself? (Or herself, come to that.)

Monkeys on a utility box, beside the Lucky Coin Laundry …

and, under the laundry’s neon logo, a beautiful poem by 14h-c. Persian poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz.

Forget washing your clothes! It’s dog-wash time at the Fur Factory …

and, if you get close to that vertical line of thumbnail images, cats are also acknowledged.

Another dog under the adjacent Atomic Age comix store, looking back in some amazement — as well he might — at the red techno-monster behind him. And robot dog.

It’s cat-and-dog time farther south as well.

Be sure to read both signs …

and if you think the second one says, “Beware of the dog,” read it again.

I know. I had to read it twice myself.

Your reward for close scrutiny is …

a flower.

Tacked to a utility pole that has clearly had many other things tacked to it in its time.

But none as pretty, I bet.

 

 

It’s Raining

9 January 2018 – And I am out walking. Not despite the rain, but because of it. I am inspired by Melissa Harrison’s book Rain (Four Walks in English Weather), the gift of very dear, and very perceptive, friends.

Don’t sulk at what rain subtracts from your walk, is the message: celebrate, instead, what it contributes.

I’m in the right city for that! Rain is at the heart of Vancouver’s self-image.

I am not en pointe; I am en rain boot. My umbrella is not flung gloriously back & up; it is snugged firmly down around my ears.

Droplets dance on the clear plastic …

and, out there beyond my protected head, shine every plant leaf to brilliance.

I’ve noticed before: rain makes colours pop.

A beacon of light spills across the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) parking lot. It illuminates the eddies of water sluicing their way to sewer grates.

Chrome yellow & white in that image; here turquoise & white, punched out against all that shiny black.

Water beads dance on the metal curves of this bench …

and pick out the lines of these tree branches.

(Yes, well, all very magic — but let us also sober up long enough to notice the amount of moss on the roof. I’m glad it’s not my roof.)

Every shop with its umbrella stand at the door. So handy! Stash the brolly beneath, while you check out the bright red rain boots above.

“Rain City Dance,” I decide, applies to more than one local studio. We and our umbrellas, we are all part of the dance.

Usually as members of the corps de ballet …

but, sometimes, at just the right moment on just the right street corner …

as prima ballerina.

More Quotes, Some Keys, a Ferry, & a Dragonfly

28 June 2017 – Isn’t it always the way? You’ve never heard of something, and then you do, and then it jumps on you from all sides.

I’d never heard of John Muir, Scottish-born poet & naturalist (1838-1914), until Sally sent me the quote that opened a recent (Art of Quote-Unquote) post. A couple of days later, I’m entering the VanDusen Botanical Garden with my friend Louise, and there, beautifully incised into the glass doorway, is another Muir quote: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

(Checking it later online, I discover another I like a lot: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” The dirt-path strategy for happiness?)

We’re not in this stunning botanical garden for doorway quotes. We have come to walk the grounds, to enjoy all the collections, all the “rooms,” from the serenely austere Stone Garden to the Meditation Garden, the Sino-Himalayan collections, the Elizabethan Maze and more.

And we do. Oh, we certainly do. But we also admire the works of art in the grounds.

Including a piano.

It’s not much of a functioning piano by now, just look at those keys. But with seagulls like that swooping around (the work of Ilya Viryachev), you don’t mind.

Louise explains that the city has had several years of placing pianos in public — a CityStudio project called “Keys to the Streets” — and I realize I have seen a few about.

With more to come!

The next day I’m walking again — and again in brilliant sunshine, take that soggy Toronto, these two cities seem to have swapped weather patterns. This time in a loop around False Creek. Frances & I head west along the south side, then north across the Burrard St. bridge, its elegant Art Deco lines signalling its 1930s construction.

I stop to admire the view, and pound a few more geographic factoids into my brain.

False Creek flows into English Bay, into Burrard Inlet, into the Strait of Georgia … That’s Bowen Island, beyond that Vancouver Island, beyond that the Pacific Ocean …

We head back east on the north side. At David Lam Park, we hop around the stepping stones that encircle Don Vaughan’s temple-like sculpture, “Marking High Tide and Waiting for Low Tide,” reading the inscription as we go.

Hop, hop …

Hop, hop …

It’s just one of numerous pieces of public art around False Creek, and I like it a lot.

Now for something else I like a lot: a trip on one of the cheerful little ferry boats that shuttle back & forth! I jump aboard at the Yaletown Dock, for a quick crossing to Spyglass Place, back on my side of the Creek.

Spyglass Place Dock is a whole art installation all by itself: comfy bear-chairs for contemplating the view, artwork underfoot and all around … and, look, a piano.

This one is working just fine, thank you, its keys highly responsive, the pianist enthusiastic, and the rest of us charmed.

I contemplate a dragonfly.

I remember another piano in my recent past — this one plain blue, but startling for all that.

It was attached to a bicycle, though nicely stationary at the time in Woodward’s Atrium, part of the Hard Rubber Orchestra‘s open rehearsal for its first summer-time “Spacious Music at the Atrium” concert.

The music was good, the acoustics terrific, I made note of future concert dates.

So, pianos firmly in mind, it’s no wonder I see another as I make my way back south on Cambie. This one is in a much less appealing environment — a shopping mall food court — but it’s also part of the City’s public pianos initiative.

And it is also being played. Where the toddler in Spyglass Place ran to, shall we say, personal random expression, this guy is definitely into stride.

I hum my way home.

Where, via email, I collect one more quote!

Cake-Quotable

Thank you, Phyllis.  She was out Dundas St. West, in Toronto’s Junction area, and came across this bakery sidewalk signboard.

All right, everybody. Eat up.

 

 

The Art of Quote-Unquote

22 June 2017 – It began with an email from my friend Sally, off kickin’ up her cowgirl heels in Alberta, sharing a quote she read on the washroom wall in the Bear Paw Café in Jasper:

Off to the woods I go

To lose my mind

And find my soul

The washroom scribbler helpfully added attribution: Scottish-American naturalist John Muir (1838-1914),  whose poetry is very findable online. As well as on washroom walls.

All of which got me thinking again about quotations, and how we use them, and respond to them, in public space.

A thought process much stimulated by the tail end of a long walk into/through/out of Stanley Park, ending in downtown Vancouver, where walking companion & friend Frances pointed out some landmark buildings, including the soaring Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

It was sufficiently intriguing to pull me back downtown the next day, solo, to look more closely.

Enroute, walking north on Hamilton St., I did a head-snap at this line of text on an otherwise unremarkable little building.

Confession. I originally read the text as: “Unlimited Growth Increases the Dividend.

This is richly ironic, given that artist Kathryn Walter’s 1990 installation is meant to decry rampant capitalism, and honour Del Mar Inn owner George Riste, who refused to sell out to BC Hydro and continued to offer clean accommodation at modest prices.

A major contrast, in scale and price point, with the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, at Cordova & Burrard!

But look. They have something in common.

Text.

This time in two-foot-high letters, Helvetica Bold (I love that detail), the 2010 work of British artist Liam Gillick. Repeated, again and again, between floors 5 & 22, dividing the hotel portion from the 25 additional residential floors above.

A single sentence, wrapping two sides of the structure.

lying on top of a building

the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street

I really love this, even if the unspaced letters make it hard to read.

Frances & I spent perilous long moments mid-street, puzzling it out. (Changing traffic signals & some vestigial instinct for survival caused us to scurry to the sidewalk in time.) I am more prudent on my return visit.

Safely back home again, I think about another artist who makes brilliant use of text in some of his public pieces — Toronto’s Eldon Garnet. A favourite example: his 1995 Time & A Clock installation on Queen St. East, which includes this adaptation of a Heracleitus quote on the façade of the 1911 bridge over the Don River.

Sometimes, words & images fight it out for supremacy.

Sometimes, though, the fit works perfectly.

 

 

 

  • 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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