Unintended Consequences

23 January 2020 – The Law of Unintended Consequences usually comes at us with a negative tilt: Your action will have consequences you cannot anticipate, and won’t much like.

But, sometimes, you just look around and think, Well, isn’t this fun?

As in, the moment I find myself at Venables St. & Clark Drive.

My intended action took me to an espresso machines specialty store on Clark, seeking new gaskets for the screen in my moka pot. Nice Young Man said they didn’t have the ones I needed, and softened the blow with a complimentary latte and directions to a shop over on Victoria Drive — east on Venables, on past Commercial, north on Victoria, there you are.

And so, unintended consequence, I am about to walk a route that had, until then, never even crossed my mind.

It’s a drizzly, splattery day, and the streetscape is endless low-rise clutter, so I’m not sure why I’m so good-humoured about it — except that I’ve never walked here before, an adventure all in itself, and there may even be new gaskets to reward me at the other end.

And I can’t resist those praying mantises, swaying over that building toward the right …  Then I prod myself past the dreariness of the architecture, and notice the wonderful juxtaposition of shops: Buddy Walks doggie spa, Mr. Mattress (never flip your mattress again), Kon Auto Service, and A&B Tool Rentals. Well! This is going to be fun.

And it is, look, the juxtapositions just keep coming …

A mini-cluster of transportation options: janitor carts, motorcycles, and shared bicycles.

The wonderfully named Vancouver Hack Space Community Workshop (“share ideas, tools and know-how…”) …

rainbow stripes …

and, down there at the corner, a bamboo grove.

South side of the street, a store specializing in vintage Scandinavian Modern …

and, here on my side, The Wallace — the cogs on the building’s façade honouring its former life as a machine shop.

It is now home to Alternatives Gallery and Studio, and to …

East Van Brewing Company.

There are other banners in their windows, a snarling cobra among them, but of course I choose to show you the crow.

On a bit, past a wallpaper/paint store and an auto body shop, and after that some new construction, just beyond this auto-aftermarket store with a big Junkyard Angel truck (great name!) in its parking lot.

And on some more, across Commercial Drive, past the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (aka The Cultch), into less-industrial, less collective, and more individually artistic territory.

Victoria Drive, left turn.

And this front-yard display up near East Georgia.

I find I am slightly unnerved by that declaration of love. Not too sure I’d want to be on the receiving end.

Then I forget all about it, because I see my destination food shop, a little farther north and over on the east side of the street.

YES! they have the gaskets.

 

 

Snow!

13 January 2020 – Snow.

Not just up in the mountains and out in the Valley, but right here in the heart of Vancouver itself.

Snow on the ground …

and even on the crows.

Hat Trick

10 January 2020 — Three.

Hat Trick = three.

Every hockey-loving Canadian knows this. When a player scores three goals in one game, he (or she, thank you) has pulled off a hat trick. It has nothing to do with hats.

Mind you, in the 19th-c world of English cricket, it did. The club would present a new hat (or equivalent) to a bowler taking three wickets in succession.

So let me, here in 21st-c Vancouver, bring it back to hats. A three-hat hat trick, based on weather.

You have met (Blown Off Course) my drizzle-proof winter Tilley and my wind-proof Orkney rainbow. Today we woke up to what, in downtown Vancouver, passes for snow. There is real snow at higher elevations and out in the Valley, but right here … it’s more like this.

Slush-heading-for-rain.

It’s not particularly vicious, but it’s gloomy and wet and people don’t like it.

So I round out my personal, hat-based hat trick …

and sport my Ms Scarlet version of Paddington Bear. Just look at it: rain-proof, highly visible in the gloom, and silly enough to raise spirits.

Another hat trick! A hat trick of virtues.

 

 

Blown Off Course

7 January 2020 – A cloudy/sunny day, in a run of seriously rainy days, so of course I’m out the door. And promptly back in again, to change hats.

It’s windy out there.

So windy they’re cancelling ferry sailings. So windy I switch my usual  winter Tilley (left), which would para-sail me right into next week, for my Orkney rainbow-&-runes cloche, which snugs tight about the ears.

Enroute False Creek, I exchange winks with one little star-segment of Cosmic Breeze, a 2019 Mural Festival creation by Olivia Di Liberto …

and, once Creek-side in Olympic Village Square, I admire how this sculpture — momento of the 2010 Olympics — glitters in the morning sunshine.

All this is pretty well what I have, admittedly vaguely, planned: down to False Creek, west on False Creek right to Granville Market, and then … oh … whatever.

“Whatever” arrives sooner than planned. That wind! Gusts barrelling down the Creek, and me staggering with their impact. Once I make it upright to Spyglass Dock, I decide not to press my luck any longer and cut up the access road beside Cambie Bridge, heading for a bit of inland shelter.

See? Even a traffic sign is toppled.

Smart right onto Commodore Rd., leading to Moberly Rd. and a more prudent route that starts with this berm of trees and woods at the eastern end of Charleson Park.

I am now “off course,” in that I haven’t walked this route before, but surely that’s a bonus? (As Phyllis, my wonderful Tuesday Walking Society partner back in Toronto, would say: “It’s all walking…”)

Very peaceful, on Maberly Rd. — trees to the left, narrow roadway, homes to the right and just beyond them, the Creek.

More people and bicycles — and dogs — than cars. This cyclist has just stopped, yet again, to give his little dog time to catch up. All this gives me time to notice the exceedingly moss-shaggy shrub there on the right, practically under my nose.

I move in, expecting to bliss out on all that moss, and instead discover it is festooned with dangling amulets, twirly-bobs, ceramic ornaments and ribbons. And this brazen babe, lolling on the fence rail, half out of sight.

I love this stuff, I do, and I’m in high good humour — also safe from wind — as I continue down the road, then cut to the land side of the Charleson Park Community Garden, and head into the open parkland beyond.

Where I don’t even know how to take in what is happening.

A little boy next to me screams, “CROWS!!!” with the enthusiasm and leather lungs that only a six-year-old can possess. His father and I exchange round-eyed looks of amazement and mutter allusions to Alfred Hitchcock.

Indeed, CROWS.

All over the grass, lining the tree branches, swirling through the air, and filling that air with a raucous uproar that rattles my brain. Father and son have moved on, I’m now standing beside a woman thoughtfully studying the scene. “Chafer beetles,” she says. “Crows dig the larvae out of lawns. Wow.” She gives a little snort-giggle. “And they just sodded this thing, too.”

I carry on about loving crows, but I tell you, I am happy to get out of that park, and through Sutcliffe Park onto the east lobe of Granville Island. Winds have died down, and not a crow in sight. Just a pair of boaters out there in an endearingly simple wooden canoe, paddling along.

And around and around I go, looping myself onto the north side of the Island, taking the path just in behind the floating homes of Sea Village.

I walk on down the line, peering into the gaps between homes.

I’ve fantasized about living in a houseboat, who hasn’t, but not very seriously. I’ve been on a few — most dramatically in winter-time Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake — and have realized I enjoy visiting but wouldn’t want the upkeep.

So bye-bye to the Sea Village houseboats, and inland to the main part of Granville Island.

Where I hang over the fence to enjoy, as I always do, the sight of the aptly named Giants — the concrete silo murals painted by Brazilian twin brothers under the joint name of Osgemeos for the Vancouver Biennale.

I finger some crafts in the shops, drop my jaw at the range of fresh produce in the food market, find myself a latte (you knew that), and finally catch a bus home.

Soon after, the rain returns.

 

Omens, One-Two-Three

4 January 2020 – I’m not superstitious, black cats & ladders are safe with me, so I don’t get all jumpy about a possible bad omen — but I’m quick to call something a good omen and get all gleeful about it.

So please join me in the Historical Present Tense, jump back to 1 January, and get all gleeful with me about my walk that day.

We’re having lots of rain this winter, but here in downtown Vancouver, this first morning of a brand new decade, the sun is blazing down.

First good omen: sunshine.

It bounces crisp shadows off richly warmed walls …

and highlights just a riffle of cloud in that Alberta-blue (still my criterion) sky.

Which brings us to my second good omen: feet overrule brain, and it pays off.

Brain thought that we (the whole mind/spirit/body collective it thinks it controls) would head north-then-west. Feet abruptly veered east instead, into the South Flatz.

With a zed. Because this once-grotty stretch of reclaimed lowland — from the current artificial end of False Creek on east to its former natural end near Clark Drive — is becoming an artistic and intellectual magnet, thanks to the relocation here of Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

But the train tracks still run along the north side of all this redevelopment, and graffiti, murals and boxcars are as much part of the scene as the snazzy newcomers.

I peer through chainlink fence, using boxcar ribs to frame images on the walls beyond. I smirk at this neatly lettered graffito: “art is pain.”

I have visions of an Emily Carr student bursting out of that handsome building right behind me …

to leap the fence and take out his/her frustrations on that wall beyond the tracks.

Next door, another handsome building, this one the Centre for Digital Media, a post-grad collaboration among various universities. More art, but this time 3-D, official and not at all painful.

No need for that umbrella today!

The work brings to mind the Love In The Rain sculptures by Bruce Voyce in Queen Elizabeth Park, but I can’t find confirmation.

I’m up by Great Northern Way by now, once train tracks and now home to cars, bikes, pedestrians, and even a Little Free Library box. Of course I peer in.

Oh, New Year’s is so ten hours ago!

Across the broad street, an imposing & equally broad staircase. Lined with statuary.

I’m glad it’s there, but I don’t quite know what I’m looking at.

Over at Clark Drive, though, I know exactly what I’m looking at.

As in: “I’ll see your padlock and raise you a pair of clippers.”

I follow my feet north on Clark for a bunch of boring blocks, be grateful I’m skipping this bit in the re-telling. Just south of Prior, I head west again, with no particular plan in mind except to escape Clark, and wander willy-nilly through industrial park territory — everything from tool manufacturers to “integrated media solutions” studios to something called Flüff (with the umlaut) and the Vancouver International Marathon Society.

Some okay murals, plus this imaginative use of (I think) a glue gun to create a runic cameo on one corner of a nondescript wall.

I wander on, feet doing the work, mind along for the ride. Then eyes see three spur-line train tracks, and brain & feet agree we should all turn left and follow the tracks.

Which brings us to my third good omen: serendipity. Sometimes you rediscover by accident a place you could never find again on purpose.

I am so pleased. I recognize this mishmash of brick and wood and out-buildings, covered in murals. Complete with alley-ways (dungarees optional) …

and plant growth as much part of the total effect as the artwork.

By sheer, happy, welcome-to-2020 good luck, I have once again found myself at 1000 Parker Street. I am behind the Parker Street Studios, which houses some 200 artists in its four sprawling floors of space.

Every alcove and doorway an explosion.

Its spirit? Look closer, up above the top-left corner of the door.

“People are having too much fun,” it says.

I laugh.

The guy standing nearby, having himself a smoke, turns at the sound and nods. We talk. He is one of the building managers. “Oh, it’s a great place. Lot of really good artists here, you know — all kinds.” I say yes, I know; I came here once on an art tour. “Come back any time,” he says.

We beam at each other, wish each other happy new year, and go our separate ways.

2020

30 December 2019 – Oh 2020, you are almost here.

We know you want to treat us right, so here are some suggestions.

Please be the kind of year in which, for example, a functional utility box is also a bright-eyed owl …

an equally functional bike stand becomes a work of wool art …

a derelict houseboat is transformed into a floating artists’ haven …

and grubby old car tires turn into safe, bright playground pads.

Put your mind to it, 2020.

Be a year in which padlocks denote love …

tent cities are full of joy and magic …

and the downtown core offers us abundant public benches …

recycling locations …

and bike rental stands.

C’mon, 2020! Accept the challenge.

Be a year in which the graffito underfoot is a coffee cup, not an F-bomb …

even a 93-year-old monarch tries to stay current …

crows feel free to offer editorial opinion …

and the humble little sparrow dares to dream big, and succeeds.

Happy new year, everyone.

May we all have a year in which we dare to dream big, and succeed.

(I feel I must add: I do know this is just the pretty stuff, and there is much that is dark, dangerous and disgraceful. But I believe we must also recognize and celebrate everything that is wonderful. It restores balance to our vision, and it gives us the energy and motivation to get out there and help make things better.)

Off-Main

24 December 2019 – I’m weaving around that Main St. axis, mostly not on it but orienting with it even so…

“Palimpsest!” I think as I pause at this E. Pender alley corner, always happy to use the word (it’s such a wonderfully crunchy mouthful).

Look closer, and no, it’s not some one-time iconic brand. It is, well it says here, “Good Company Lager.” It also says, “What’s Up Fool,” but let’s ignore that.

just below it, a graffito correction for the old-fashioned washroom signs also painted on the wall. “Non binary” it scolds, the lettering faded but the 21st-c. message clear.

Right, shame on you, there are more gender options than male & female.

(My personal “WTF?” is all about the signage convention that men get to be men, while women have to be ladies, but each to their own obsession.)

Another message, this time full of beauty and spirituality, at E. Hastings and Gore — no. 21 of the 31 mosaics embedded in downtown sidewalks, especially here in the Downtown East Side.

I love this series, love discovering the squares at random. I’m always amazed that people can walk right over them unheeding, but stubbornly confident that many other people do notice, do enjoy, do feel energized by the civic display of beauty.

I especially like this particular mosaic, of course, for the raven…

 

… and for that message of survival, still defiantly there despite the beating inflicted on this explanatory sign by time and vandals.

From underfoot to overhead, as I veer back along E. Hastings to Main.

Vintage neon! There since this café opened its doors in 1942.  (Brings to mind “The Goof” in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood…)

More neon in the doorway, a cup presumably brimming with Ovaltine.

I waver, I do, I confess to a long-standing fondness for chocolate Ovaltine … but… naaah.

I go home for coffee.

 

 

Grand Chain

18 December 2019 – All those decades ago, and only for a while, I was pretty nifty at square dancing. Practically every step has now left memory, but I still recall a few basics. Including “Grand Chain” — a sequence in which you leave your original position, weave your way among other participants, and end up back where you began.

I think of this, the other day, on a very crowded bus. Not for the first tine, either, because a Grand Chain often takes place on Vancouver public transit.

It is set off by a combination of (a), official signage …

and, (b), human kindness. (Though not always the full square-dance choreography: there’s no guarantee, not even the likelihood, that people will end up where they began.)

Signage reminds us that Vancouver busses are not only fully accessible, they reserve front-of-bus priority for certain categories of passenger.

Which means that I, all these decades later and all by myself, can be enough to trigger a Grand Chain of seat redistribution.

And so it is, this very crowded day.

  • I, visibly a Senior, pay my fare & slalom my way into the knot of youthful standees immediately past the driver.
  • Middle-Aged Lady smiles and stands up; I smile and sit down.
  • MIddle-Aged Lady in turn slaloms into the congested aisle.
  • Young Man smiles and stands up; she smiles and sits down.

Driver, next stop, calls out: “Stroller coming on!”

  • People vacate the side-facing front seats.
  • Stroller Mother smiles and locks in the stroller.

  • Now-Standing-People slalom along the aisle.
  • Middle-Aged Lady spots someone Now-Standing whom she judges older than she is; she once again smiles and stands up.
  • Somewhat-Older-Person smiles and sits down.

My stop!

  • I get up, smile at Middle-Aged Lady, and wave at my seat.
  • She smiles and sits down.

Grand Chain.

“Please notice …”

15 December 2019 – The quotation hangs in a bookstore window up Main Street near 20th or so — large, neat, nicely framed, and from an author I haven’t thought of in a while but am pleased to remember.

Good advice, and easy to follow a day or two later as I find myself very happy indeed, having an unplanned but discovery-rich walk around Strathcona. It’s the city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, east of downtown, east of Main Street, echoing past lives as well as today’s demographic mix.

What I had planned was a direct trip home, but, right there at Gore & East Pender, curiosity throws me off-piste.

It leads me across Gore to read the Project Bookmark sign …

which is physically next to Christ Church of China, but in literary imagination pinpoints Gee Sook’s laundry & dry cleaning shop as portrayed by Wayson Choy in The Jade Peony.

Now that I’m facing east on Pender, I might as well continue, hmmm? So I do, and that Bookmark sign proves prophetic. There is a lot of art, culture and history to come.

A Literary Landmark, for example, just a bit farther east on Pender. This one connects Paul Yee, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1999 (among other honours) …

with the Mau Dan Gardens Co-operative, right across the street. He lived with his Aunt Lillian in her home at this address in the 1960s, a location to which his aunt returned decades later …

not to her old house, which had been demolished, but to the co-operative that now stood in its place.

I loop around for a while, drop slightly south to Keefer Street and follow it east.

Yes! another of these crow-with-paintbrush doorways that I remember from previous walks.

But this time, I know what it means. Eastside Culture Crawl artists identify their locations and, back in 2009, this was the symbol. (The door also announces, in neat letters: “Entrée des artistes.”) I love it, I love it.

Not to be outdone, MacLean Park, also bordering Keefer, is home to one of City Park’s Artist Fieldhouse Studio projects, all of them housed in now-disused caretaker suites. I don’t know which artist (or community group) is currently in residence, and anyway …

I’m more taken with these spears of birch, rising from the glossy hedge that leads to the fieldhouse door.

Speaking of glossy, speaking of happy-tree, how about this towering evergreen that marks the entrance to Angiolina Court?

Not just towering, but laden with Christmas ornaments, right out there on a public street. Trusting people to admire, but to keep their hands to themselves.

That’s what stops me first, but then there’s everything else: the bike leaning companionably near-by, the fire escape, the red awning & door, the age (1898) of the structure, the rumour that this trim little apartment building housed an illegal still during prohibition, and the certainty that it has housed a corner grocery store since 1905.

The current grocery store is exactly where I want to be. The Wilder Snail is also a café, and I’m ready for a latte. I go in, order my latte, scoop up the very last blueberry scone while I’m at it, and find a seat.

I smirk at the ceiling décor …

and settle back to eavesdrop on the father-daughter combo next to me: dad so dark and bearded, moppet so blonde and pony-tailed, both intent on their chess game.

She is perhaps five or six, and being taken seriously by her father — no baby-talk, just endless loving patience and calm mentoring, helping her see the implications of what’s on the board before her as the game evolves. Finally, inevitably, it’s chess-mate. She nods agreement at her father’s praise — “You’re learning!”– and, together, they pack up the board.

Soon after I move on myself.

South on Hawks, still bordering MacLean Park, where a winter-mossy tree trunk is as vivid as the jacket of the child retrieving an errant soccer ball.

Then, across the street, where … well, I don’t even know what’s going on.

All that comes to mind is that Alice in Wonderland scene where she’s faced with a bottle labelled “Drink Me.”

I share her confusion. Fortunately, there’s nothing visible on the porch to drink.

Soon after, over on Keefer near East Georgia, something I can cope with. It’s another of the City’s Millennium Story Stones, this one, of course, a memory of life on Keefer Street.

Dr. Yurkovich takes us back to 1934, when his father returned from the sanitarium, knowing he was dying and wanting to spend those last days with his wife and children. He died in 1935, his widow spurned public assistance and instead offered room and board in the family home.

More loop-abouts, and finally I’m on Union Street, heading west and homeward bound.

One last treat: a dangling tree ornament, created from horse chestnut “conkers.”

Kurt Vonnegut was right.

I think about my afternoon, and murmur to myself (and now to you as well): “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

 

 

 

Splash! (or: Marketing Pitfalls in a Cross-Cultural World)

9 December 2019 – There are many tales told, in the marketing world, of brand names & slogans that work just fine in the home market, but self-sabotage elsewhere:

  • the Chevy Nova — all shiny-new in English, but in Spanish (no va) a warning that the car won’t go
  • the Alliance for Progress — intended to boost economic cooperation between the USA and Latin America, but in Spanish (Alianza para el Progreso) a prediction that the Alliance will put the brakes on progress
  • Diversified Action Group, or DAG in snappy short-form — a safely bland title for its collection of miscellaneous small acquisitions, thought the global ad agency, until its Australian partners managed to stop laughing long enough to explain what “dag” means in the sheep-shearing world

Which — speaking of Australia — brings us to Yellow Tail wines, and their campaign to “add a splash of yellow.”

On billboards everywhere.

Well, on downtown Vancouver bus shelters, at any rate.

Okay.

Here in Canada, there is only one possible explanation for a splash of yellow on the snow.

 

Dog pee.

Or cougar, or lynx, or bear, or wolf, or coyote, or even human.  But whatever the source, it’s still pee.

Dog Pee Wine! Right up there with the Chevy that doesn’t go.

  • 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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