DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Avoid Conflict With Links

8 December 2018 – Thank you for noticing. If only I had noticed!

Wrong link, in yesterday’s post.

No, indeed. A Vancouver beer crawl — even through the artisan-iest and boutique-iest of artisan, boutique breweries — will do nothing to reduce human interaction with coyotes.

Being given the correct link might be a start.

Please try again. This time, it really does talk about how to avoid coyotes, not how to  encounter beer.

(But at least you now know one more thing to do on a wet day in Vancouver.)

Sorry.

 

Marching Orders

4 July 2018 – I am not exactly marching down the underside of the Cambie Bridge on-ramp, but I am certainly striding right along. It leads to Spyglass Dock on False Creek, and once again, this is my starting point for the day’s exploration.

I ignore the large, City-sanctioned chalkboard, with its invitation to add what makes you happy to the already long list of contributions. (“You,” “weed,” it goes on like that.) But I do break stride for this entirely unsanctioned little message, right down at ankle level on one of the on-ramp pillars.

Entirely appropriate marching orders for the day, I decide.

Life-in-general deserves a smile, as the sign points out. So does life-in-Canada, something we’re all aware of on this final day of the Canada Day holiday weekend. And … and … who knows what this walk will offer?

The first offering arrives just moments later — the public piano, freshly repainted and as usual being played, right here on Spyglass Dock.

The boy is playing Beethoven’s Für Elise as I arrive, segues into Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca and, after some mad riffing on Turkish March themes (all very riffable), slides into the Beatles’ Let It Be.

And I do let it be. I sink into one of the dockside Muskoka chairs, and watch life roll/skate/walk/sail/paddle/fly by.

A couple sinks into adjoining chairs. “Free music and free chairs!” marvels the woman.

Finally, I bestir myself, & head for the spiral staircase between seawall & bridge. I do not exactly smile at the staircase, it will demand exertion …

but I appreciate how very neatly it delivers me to where I want to be, namely on the bridge  — and, in due course, to where I next want to be, namely heading west along the north side of False Creek.

Quite different, this side: imposing condos, practically to water’s edge; imposing boats crowding the public marinas, smack at water’s edge. But in between, at least a ribbon of bike/pedestrian pathway, expanding at intervals into parks.

I’ve passed these kiosks before, not paid close attention, simply registered them as backdrop to the False Creek of here & now, paying elegantly artistic tribute to all that has vanished.

Today I step close, read words engraved on the kiosk itself and frost-lettered into the glass railing. I’m not from here, these words cannot evoke for me what they can mean to others, but even so … Even so, I am moved.

Each lettered kiosk panel has its visual partner, silhouettes and cut-outs of all that has lived here, some of which still does. Wading birds, for example …

And there is signage. Lots of signage.

We are instructed to Thank Todd …

who, having provided the poop bags, points out we now have no excuse not to do the right thing.

Another sign, this one official, repeats at intervals along the pathway centre line that divides cyclist lanes from pedestrian.

This version alternates with one warning cyclists about pedestrians. Like Todd, preventable.ca now expects us to do the right thing. I suppose, in a way, it amounts to the same “right thing,” doesn’t it? We are to use our brains, think ahead, & avoid preventable messes.

So despite the wagging finger overtones, I do smile.

And smile more as I approach Waiting For Low TideDon Vaughan‘s wonderful circle of boulders that enclose a tidal pool.

It is the companion installation to his equally remarkable Marking High Tide, just a little farther west. Vaughan is a retired landscape architect and — is this not wonderful? — a fellow WordPress blogger. So follow that link.

A woman sits on the seawall near the boulders, her small dog next to her, his Canada Day kerchief of red maple leaves neatly tied around his neck. Canada Geese bob nearby. O Canada!

I circle back to the ferry dock in David Lam Park, stopping for a looney’s-worth of lemonade as I go …

and watch others also reward this boy’s entrepreneurial spirit. (His vendor’s permit, you ask? Don’t be silly.)

Onto a ferry, and on to Granville Island …

with its line of houseboats, their flags aloft for the holiday, and, beyond that, the sky-punching silos of the concrete company.

I eat a slice of spinach-rice pie, exhale with relief as I slide away from the crowds, then duck through a parking garage and enjoy its line-up of murals.

Colour everywhere, art galleries and other artisan shops — here a whole wall of scarves / hats / jackets that spill out from Funk Shui Felt. (Yes. Funk-with-a-k.)

I’m about to leave — but first I detour waterside again to pay tribute to the colours that drench Ocean Concrete. Colour, defining a concrete company worksite? There it is, before your eyes.

The 21-metre-high figures transforming the six silos are one installation in a global series called Giants, by the Brazilian twins known as OSGEMEOS, and a legacy of the 2014 edition of the Vancouver Biennale. No credit given for the cheerful cement mixer drums on some of the trucks — see that strawberry, there on the lower left? —  but I think they are perfectly swell, whoever painted them.

And that’s it. Smile!

 

Love in a Temperate Rainforest

5 June 2018 – I am climbing a steep path up through the woods in Queen Elizabeth Park, and then I stop climbing. I play the game of “No! no! I just paused to admire the view!”, but really, I am catching my breath.

And then I do admire the view. Well, you have to, don’t you, when you see umbrellas popping up above the trees?

I resume the climb, motivated now to find those umbrellas.

Which, I discover, are being held by four figures — frozen in the moment, but somehow conveying an elegant, interactive pirouette.

I come closer, and discover that each figure is two figures.

Two heads, four arms, swirled into one body.

And it all makes perfect sense, once I read the plaque.

This is Love in the Rain, a 2016 work by Bruce Voyce, and the Vancouver Park Board’s first love lock sculpture. Like other cities around the world, Vancouver is attempting to protect its bridges and railings by creating a purpose-build place for people to proclaim their love by locking a padlock in place and throwing away the key.

Vancouver being Rain City, it has chosen an art installation that “speaks of love in the temperate rainforest.”

I step in even closer, to admire the locks. Some are work-a-day, but many have clearly been chosen to honour the commitment being made, whether through the beauty of the lock, or the message it carries.

There’s the elephant lock ..

and the battered, but very handsome metal heart lock …

and the art-heart that transforms an otherwise pedestrian lock …

and the pretty red lock with its beautifully engraved names.

There are messages. Sometimes attached to the padlock …

and sometimes right on the lock itself.

But whatever the lock, whatever its message, each has been attached to the sculptures for the same reason, strong in the same belief:

Which is why the installation includes this beautiful receptacle for the keys.

I watch others explore the keys and messages, I take a photo for a young Québécois couple to commemorate their visit, and then I walk on up into the gardens.

I enjoy the stunning gardens, and I revisit, as I always do, Henry Moore’s Knife Edge sculpture that fits so handsomely, so perfectly, with the fountains to the south side of the Bloedel Conservatory.

But the best part of my visit is Love in the Rain.

 

Legs & A Twofer

27 January 2018 – It’s the grin that stops me. As if this Borealis knows it is one hot-damn velomobile.

It’s posed outside this bike shop because it is for sale, but I am impervious. I have leg power.

And those legs are about to carry me through a big rectangular loop that will deliver — or so the plan goes — a botanical twofer.

First up — and I do mean up, as I climb my way south on Cambie Street — is the delightful Bloedel Conservatory. It sits atop Queen Elizabeth Park, which is also the highest point in the City of Vancouver. But despite today’s brilliantly clear sky, I’m not ogling the mountains, I’m looking across the gardens to the Conservatory’s iconic dome.

Inside that dome, says the literature, more than 120 free-flying exotic birds, in a universe of some 500 exotic plants and flowers.

No mention of the koi, but they’re there too, darting about in the ecosystem’s clear-running streams.

Outside — and why have I never noticed this before? — a Henry Moore sculpture. It’s called Knife Edge, but for me, its lines are more flowing than edged, and beautifully reflect the lines of the dome and the mountain range that serve as its backdrop.

Giddy with sunshine, I walk west, heading for number two on my list, the VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Two bonus attractions along the way.

I indulge my fascination with the textures & tones of  tree bark, rich with moss and lichen.

 

A passing couple pause, try to figure out what I’m staring at, exchange a couple of tentative comments about the way some branches have been pruned … maybe? … and move on.

I move on too, and don’t stop again for a couple of blocks.

Then I discover Vancouver’s Nectar Trail. Well, first I discover the Insect Hotel — which, if you look closely, you will recognize as a repurposed telephone booth.

The idea is to provide additional habitat for pollinators, with naturalized, pollinator-friendly plantings and “hotels” for their long winter sleep. First stage of the trail: the stretch between the sister institutions, VanDusen and Bloedel.  First stop on the trail: right here in Oak Meadows Park.

No flowers visible, in mid-winter, but this cheerful wooden curtain, the work of local grade-8 students, brightens the day year-round.

(Honesty demands I add that the project links are years old, and some are non-operative. It is possible that the project never got beyond this first installation. I hope I’m wrong.)

On to the VanDusen. I love this place, any season, and it feels alive and growing, any season. Fountains jet their water high in the air; the spray turns into a pointillist painting as it falls back to the lake.

And mossy trees gleam emerald-edged in the afternoon sunshine.

Eventually I head for home. As happy as that grinning velomobile.

 

 

Light & Shadow

6 December 2017 – You look at this image, and you say to yourself, “Why, that’s a 19th-c. landau carriage rejigged as a camera obscura!

And you are right. Millennial Time Machine, it is called, created by Rodney Graham in 2003. It is just one of the works of art visible on the UBC campus, showcased in an outdoor art tour under the auspices of UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery — number 16 in the online tour guide.

The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) is enjoying this brilliantly sunny day, the bold shadows it creates,  & the works of art. We don’t take the official tour; we’re hoofing around on our own.

“Look!” I cry, as we wheel ’round a corner and see a dramatic twined sculpture in the mid-distance. “It looks just like a tuning fork!”

I say it as a joke — but, clever-boots me, that really is the title.

Tuning Fork, 1968, by Gerhard Class (number 2 in the Belkin brochure), is located right outside the main entrance to the UBC Music Building. Well, of course it is.

Our extremely wandering path eventually takes us through the UBC Rose Garden. Nary a rose to be seen, in early December, the bushes are all cut neatly back for winter. But there is still some colour, some seasonal substitute plantings …

“Cabbages!” I say, this time not as a joke since — veteran of Toronto’s Cabbagetown — I think I know an autumnal ornamental cabbage when I see one.

“Kale…” says Frances, who is closer to the display than I am, and kale they are. And very handsome too, glowing in the midday sun.

We zigzag into another enclosure, the pond and forecourt of the University Centre.  I start to laugh. What else can you do, faced with a boat balanced on the tip of its nose?

It’s made of Carrera marble, is Glen Lewis’ 1987 Classical Toy Boat (number 12), and, though now in shade, it outshines the sun. I am mesmerized.

Later I read about its travels: first installed outside the Powerpoint Gallery in Toronto’s Harbourfront, later purchased by the Belkin and installed here.

The write-up invites you to think of it as magically defying gravity. I only realize later that one could perhaps view it tragically, as a sinking boat — but, no, somehow that interpretation never occurs. It is so obviously a happy little toy boat, having a good time.

Down the steps, across the road: Frances & I plan a lunch stop in the Museum of Anthropology. But first, a pre-stop stop, to admire Joe Becker’s Transformation sculpture in a small pool right at the MOA  entrance.

I could describe it for you, but Becker’s own words are so much better:

Even with water turned off (presumably for the season), it is still a powerful, sinuous work of art. And how the roe gleams!

Lunch as planned, and then a quick trip around the exterior of the building itself, one of architect Arthur Erickson‘s masterpieces.

As always, the great linear dynamics catch my attention, and my breath. They please from every angle.

Viewed through the trees, here at the entrance …

or along the side toward the back, with tree shadows dancing on the columns.

Erickson’s inspiration, surely, was the traditional lines of the Haida double mortuary pole. There is a magnificent example in the groupings of poles and buildings behind the Museum — this one designed by Bill Reid and then carved by Reid and Douglas Cranmer, 1960-61.

You look from it to the powerful rear façade of the MOA itself.

Yes. They belong together. They belong on this land, and to this land.

 

Reading in the Rain

1 October 2017 – First assignment, read this.

Oh good. Now that any lurking drones have buzzed off and we are all human together, let’s go read some art.

In the rain.

I first learned about “reading” visuals as well as text from listening in on art-director conversations. They wanted images to make sense, to be visually “readable,” at a specific distance or range of distances.

A billboard next to a busy expressway, for example, designed for passing motorists, has different readability criteria than a notice posted at a street corner for pedestrians to read as they wait for the lights to change.

Public art, ideally, will “read” at a range of distances, appropriate to each site and its work of art. Emilie Crewe, the young artist leading our tour of Burrard Corridor public art, uses Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca as her first illustration of this principle.

There it is, leaping majestically and eternally at one waterfront corner of Jack Poole Plaza, today bathed in mist and rain. At this distance, it is one smooth graphic image. It reads beautifully, even from afar, even in the rain.

We move in, closer.

The work — as iconic as perhaps only a Vancouver native could hope to create — still reads, but differently. The aluminum cladding begins to assert its pixellated nature. The flowing curves break into craggy surfaces, each pixel dancing with its neighbours.

Emilie spins us around to Bon Voyage Plaza, another spatial subset within this same overall Convention Centre footprint. We’re about to read The Drop — a 65-foot polyurethane raindrop by Berlin’s Inges Idee, angled toward the harbour.

Today is the day for a raindrop.

 

Reads very well at a distance, and with the same power up close — even though, unlike Digital Orca, there’s no shape-shifting involved.

This is all great fun, despite the rain.

Hmmm. Maybe the fact I add that “despite” proves I am not yet truly Vancouverite. (As in, “Yes, it’s raining. And your point is …?”)

Next  up, a work of art that we get to read in the old-fashioned sense of the word. It is pure text — Lying on Top of a Building, the words wrapped around multiple floors of two sides of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

I don’t photograph it this time, but if you’re curious, revisit my 22 June post, The Art of Quote-Unquote, to see and read (that word again) more about this 2008 installation by the British artist, Liam Gillick.

Then Emilie leads us to something wonderful, even more wonderful because I didn’t know it existed until she pointed it out.

At first, it’s not all that wonderful. Fine, I think, handsome set of axes and rectangles, very rectilinear and spare, OK-good.

Then Emilie adds, “Unfortunately, we’re here on a weekend, so it won’t be working.” Working? I ask myself, a thought bubble barely formed before Emilie bursts it with, “Oh! It is working! Somebody must be in the office today.”

So please look again. That far right low rectangle, resting on the horizontal, has just descended from higher up its vertical.

Each rectangle represents one elevator in Environment Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans here at 401 Burrard Street. Every time someone takes an elevator, up or down, the corresponding rectangle makes the corresponding trip out here on the sculpture. Canadian Alan Storey calls the piece, Public Service / Private Step, and is that not the perfect title?

So I am charmed.

And equally charmed to visit another of his works, a sculpture called Broken Column (Pendulum), which dominates the multi-storey lobby of the HSBC building at 885 West Georgia.

I’ve seen it before, the massive (and motorized) pendulum swinging slowly and silently to and fro. Weekends, though, this one really is motionless.

Which allows me to appreciate the lines of the sculpture itself …

rather than sit entirely focused on & peacefully mesmerized by its motion.

Several more interim works, splish-splosh, and a grand finale in Robson Square. I have visited this space before, I’ve always really liked it — and I have never, until this moment, noticed Spring.

Not as in, a season of the year. Or, a coil. Or, a single dreadlock. Or even a Slinky-toy…

No. As in, Alan Chung Hung’s massive red steel sculpture that likes to pretend it supports the upper level of this public square.

Enjoy the coil, and please also notice the neat rectangular border of light grey. Today’s weather makes this an interactive piece: the light rectangle is dry, protected by upper-level beams from the rain that darkens the pavement, either side.

And while you’re busy noticing things, please peer into the murk, to the right rear of the sculpture. Yes! Vaguely humanoid shapes.

It’s a whole line-up of dancing fools — girls plus instructor, gyrating away to their music (kept respectfully low).

Isn’t this fine? Lots and lots of very permanent public art pieces, with  a passing moment of performance art thrown in.

Just because.

 

I Dally with Dance

7 July 2017 – But first,  I Dalí with dance.

As in Salvador; as in Dance of Time I.

I’m not even a Salvador Dalí enthusiast, and have seen more soft-clock iterations over the decades than I care to think about … but, still … there is something arresting about this whopping (390 kg, 213 cm high) bronze sculpture smack downtown near Howe & West Pender.

And I am quite charmed when I read the plaque. First, it’s the real thing, not a knock-off: one of an edition of eight (+ six proofs) first cast in 1984. Second, it is well-travelled: it has already been exhibited in such cities as Paris, Shanghai, Singapore, Mexico City, Venice & Taipei. Third, the Chali-Rosso Art Gallery here in Vancouver has arranged for it to be on display in this city for 150 days, to celebrate Canada’s 150 years of nationhood.

So that’s all good, and anyway (fourth…), I’m always in favour of public art.

Which explains my delight just a day later, when I’m again scurrying through downtown, this time to dally with dance.

It’s opening night of the 29th annual Dancing on the Edge festival, a performance by the Beijing Modern Dance Company of their work, Oath-Midnight Rain.

I cut through the alley just south of West Hastings off Granville … and look! It’s public art! Even better: alley art!

Vancouver-style.

I’d seen this alley once before, during my winter visit, but had forgotten where it was located. Now, in summer warmth, I can linger comfortably.

I’m not the only one lingering, or the only one with a camera, either — but the rest are more into selfies & each-other shots.

Are you following the dynamics here? Yellow Shirt Guy is taking a picture of White Shirt Guy … who is too busy watching those young women to mug for the camera.

But the young women are oblivious to his interest …

because they are too busy checking their own photos.

This is good! It shows that Alley Oop is doing what it is supposed to do: turn an ugly, strictly utilitarian, unpleasant alley into a place that welcomes people, and encourages them to use it, and have fun in the process.

Thank the DVBIA (Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association) for the idea & the funding; thank HCMA Architecture + Design for the transformation.

This one opened in September 2016, apparently two more are planned.

Before the project, this alley averaged 30 people per hour; now, 73. Before, 6 vehicles; now, down to three. Before, mostly men walked through here; now, the gender split is pretty well even.

Not the kind of alley art I’m used to, and that’s just fine, too. What’s the point of going somewhere else, if you want it to be exactly like the place you left?

I check my watch, realize I better copy this fast-moving couple …

and get on with my own Dance of Time.

Time to meet Sally, have a quick pub supper, and head for the Firehall.

As in, the Firehall Arts Centre, which was Vancouver’s first firehall when it opened in 1906 and stayed in use until the mid-1970s, but has been repurposed as an arts centre since 1982.

We dally on the patio for a moment, with its bright picnic tables and end-wall mural …

and then move inside for the performance.

Oath-Midnight Rain is really, really good. (Photo from Dancing on the Edge website.)

To keep something like this going for 29 years? And to have this level of quality?

Bravo, Donna Spencer and team.

 

 

Also T.O.

30 March 2017 – Oh yes, street art is so Toronto … but the beaches & parks along Lake Ontario are also Toronto. Phyllis & I take the Tuesday Walking Society (all two of us) out to the Beaches boardwalk, and start stomping around.

After a five-week absence, I am freshly appreciative. A dull day, grey water exchanging pixels with a grey sky, your eye could fall over the horizon.

Well, no it couldn’t.

Because it bumps up against those happily garish Muskoka chairs, and that happily prancing dog, who knows his owner is about to throw the stick. Again! (And she does, and the dog shoots off in full chase, throwing up little spurts of sand with each footfall.)

This year’s Winter Stations has just ended, Phyllis tells me, who visited the art installation, now in its third year, soon after it opened in late February. More than 350 design entries this year, worldwide, with eight winners.

The pieces are already being dismantled. Which somehow makes them even more intriguing. No signboards to tell you what is supposed to be what, just you & your reactions.

I like the reflections. I like the way the luminous silver panels fold into the luminous grey day, reflecting sky and water and each other. (Later I look it up online: This is Aurora, the work of Hunber College students, and, I discover, meant to dissolve visually into its surroundings.)

We’re walking west, close to the water. It brings us to the Leuty Lifeguard Station, one of two vintage ones (the other on Cherry Beach) still in use, and the symbol of the Beach neighbourhood. This is real life, not a winning design for Winter Stations — but it is just as powerful: the tender mother, the entranced child playing with sand, the lapping waves, the grey waters flowing out to meet the grey sky at the horizon.

Phyllis pulls me over to the next Winter Stations design. Collective Memory, says the battered signboard, now propped askew in the sand: the work of Spaniard Mario Garcia and Italian Andrea Govi, it offers two walls shimmering with 6,000 clear bottles, each one inviting visitors to insert a card with the story of how they came to live in Canada.

“The day I was here,” says Phyllis,”people were writing out their comments, and then telling each other their stories as they inserted the slips into the bottles.”

Eventually, we turn back east, farther from the water now, up on the wooden boardwalk.

More wood over there in the mid-distance: the 8-metre Beacon (by Portuguese team of Joao Araujo Sousa & Joanna Correia Silva). Later online reading confirms what my eye assumes at the time — yes, it is inspired by the silhouette of a lighthouse. It was also, when active, a drop-off point for charitable donations of food and clothing.

But my eye is drawn as much by the lake as by the art, by that horizontal line ‘way out there, slicing water from sky — or, perhaps, seaming them together.

And I think again, as I do every time I am here on the Beaches boardwalk, I think about Rita Letendre’s acrylic on canvas, Aforim.

When I stare at it in the Art Gallery of Ontario, I think about this stretch of beach. When I am on the beach, I think about the painting.

You see?

Good news for all admirers of this great Quebec artist: the AGO will mount a retrospective of her work, Rita Letendre: Fire & Light, from 19 June to 17 September.

Moss & 13th (East & West)

14 March 2017 – The sky is exceedingly grey, & the air oozes moisture. The trees are grey-brown-black, sombre camouflage for a sombre day.

Only the moss stands out.

How happy it is! I stop thinking about the air, the mist, & focus on the moss.

I am besotted. I lurch along 13th Avenue, East 13th morphing to West as I go, following the moss, tree to tree. Admiring the branches’ furry sleeves, stretching out from the trunk …

Admiring swirls of colour, texture, pattern …

moving in close …

then refreshing my eye with the restraint of this narrow trunk, just one tree farther down the line.

Then a big guy, big fat trunk.

I step in to enjoy the sheen of the day’s moisture upon the bark …

which brings me close enough to see how the buds are just starting to swell.

Another block, and I start to laugh. No need to get close.

Nature’s very own Wretched Excess, flaunting herself out there in front of God & everybody, totally shameless.

I’m attracting attention; people turn, try to see what fascinates me so. They can’t find anything. Small dismissive shakes of the head, & they walk on.

Oh, but look …

is this not totally loopy-delightful?

I move even closer to the trunk, crane my neck backwards …

study the black & white of fern silhouette against bare branches & sky.

On westward, another tree, and I’m laughing again.

 

Visions of a mad orchestra conductor, resplendent in green velvet, raising his arms for the downbeat. “Our tempo,” he intones, “is 30.”

Out to Cambie Street & north to 12th. Time for some visual contrast.

No furry-fuzzy textures here.

Just the strong, clean lines of Vancouver City Hall — built & opened in 1936, a make-work & civic-pride project that tempered the architectural exuberance of 1920s Art Deco with the sobriety of 1930s Moderne. The only colour all those flags, and the neon-circled clock.

I giggle again, thinking of the old joke: “What’s black & white & read [red] all over?” A joke that only works when spoken. Because then you can triumphantly reference the other spelling, and contradict either correct answer.

(I debate not giving you the answers. I relent. Answer # 1: “A newspaper.” Answer #2: “A blushing zebra.”)

  • 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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