Watson in the Rain

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

I go out for a walk.

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

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

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

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

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

And all this as well.

Still “in the midst”; Always in the midst

27 November 2021 – There was a break; now it is raining again.

We have begun what is predicted to become a “parade” of “atmospheric rivers.”

I cannot help observing that this is a mixed metaphor: a parade of rivers? Yet the reality it describes is so worrisome that I would find it unacceptable to get all snippy about the scrambled language. (And I am one who can turn snippy at the drop of a syllable, let alone a whole scramble.)

All this somehow circles me back to my previous post, and dictates today’s follow-through. Because we’re always in the midst of it all, aren’t we? Life’s just like that; it’s a both/and package, all the time. Denying myself the joy of Saturday’s Culture Crawl would not have made floodwaters recede out in the Valley.

Concurrent realities. Both/and.

One of the joys, on Saturday, was the discovery of Samantha Reynolds’ poem, My Version of Aging, while prowling the Eastside Atelier over on Clark. I’d never heard of her, but liked the poem enough to show it to all of you, and some of you liked it a lot as well. So I looked her up.

Well! Turns out she is a BC entrepreneur, head of the ECHO Storytelling Agency with some pretty big brand-name clients — but she only founded ECHO as a consequence of becoming Bentlily. And she became Bentlily because one day, bored witless at some corporate luncheon, she noticed a bent lily in the otherwise impeccable flower arrangement on the table. That so perked her up she decided to write a poem a day, as a way to force herself to be present, to notice, to observe, and share the results.

Visit her Bentlily website. Consider signing up, and receiving more of her poems.

She encourages sharing them, by the way, and I am about to do exactly that with this one, because it’s the one I need right now, in the midst of our particular BC right-now. Wherever you are, you have your own right-now to navigate, and maybe this poem will be an encouragement for you as well.

Especially the final stanza.

No Shame in Happiness

“There is no shame
in the serene drunkenness
you get when you stand
under a linden tree in summer,
wearing the smell of honey
and the rumble of contented bees
around you like a bonnet.

“There is no shame
in careening downhill on a bike
with your legs out wide
as the wind lifts the heat
right out of the air
and you are going so fast
no one can even hear you singing.

“There is no shame
in loving the movie you saw
without restraint,
in reading whatever
you want to read,
in admitting
wholeheartedly
to hope.

“Who told you
it was ignorant
to be happy?

“How dare they forbid
something so close
to peace?

“Happiness does not ignore suffering;
it is what makes the suffering
bearable enough
so there is energy
leftover
for change”

In the Midst of It All

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

is also by her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Up the stairs, at 240 Northern …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastside Atelier. More stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around another corner, and this wonderful ode to aging.

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

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

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

Seeing Double

6 November 2021 – It rained and it rained and it rained.

And then …

it gave us a double rainbow instead.

Light

2 November 2021 – Northern hemisphere, somewhat northern latitude in that hemisphere, and the late fall theme is darkness.

Shorter days. Darker days, too, with seasonal rain and low-hanging clouds.

And then… and then a couple of days of dazzling light. Sunshine and breeze and exploding colour and skies to infinity.

I’m up in the VanDusen Botanical Garden, on the edge of the Cypress Pond, and I am punch-drunk with it all.

Even the greens pulse with energy.

And, all around, those Bald Cypress doing what they do in fall — prove they are conifers, yes, but deciduous as well. Their needles blaze rust, and will soon be shed.

Up the zig-zag footbridge that floats pedestrians over one side of the Pond, and a view from the far end worthy of an impressionist painting. Perfectly anchored with that one dot of distant scarlet, a Sourwood Tree.

Now circling back down the other side of the Pond, promising myself a closer look at that Sourwood, but stopping half way. Stunned yet again at the buzz of colour and texture all around, the Pond and its little footbridge just visible, down below.

With an Alberta-blue sky overhead! (Ever since my Calgary days, I’ve called any intensely blue sky, “Alberta blue.”)

I’d never heard of the Sourwood Tree before. Not very big, and I bet most of the year entirely unremarkable. But, this short moment in fall… this is its moment. I sight through its leaves, a last look at the Pond in that tangle beyond.

And then it’s just a short woodland trail to Livingstone Lake.

Where everything glitters silver-white.

I circle the Lake, brush past shining plumes as I follow a path that will lead me back down to the Visitor Centre…

and, still be-dazzled, out to city streets.

See. Celebrate

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

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

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

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

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

Well, this is fun! Let’s do it again.

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

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

lacework.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

with a suitably dressed crow in each panel.

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

and love him even more.

Alchemy

25 October 2021 – Alchemy.

Alchemy, overhead.

Gold by day…

and…

silver by night.

Mid-Fall

21 October – Mid-fall in Vancouver.

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

scattering leaves all over windshields and grassy sidewalk verges…

and across outdoor café tables.

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

and sink into each other’s eyes.

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

The Moment In Between

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

I walk back east, in this moment.

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

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

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

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

into the alley.

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

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

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

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

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

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

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

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

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

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

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

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

I slide in for a latte.

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

Thankful

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

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

I peer eastward around the corner.

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

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

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

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

Ordinary.

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

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

Oh yes, I am thankful.

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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