High Alert

21 June 2019 – Solstice, the summer version in the northern hemisphere, and, here in very-seasonal Canada, it’s street-festival season.

No wonder even dogs & cats are on high alert…

Well, that was a shameless segue if ever you saw one, wasn’t it? But there really is a kind of link between image & theme, not that I suppose you care a lot.

I’m walking back south on Ontario Street from False Creek, enjoying breeze & sunshine, and about to turn left on E 5th for a latte. I pause at the corner to properly enjoy the dog & cat — and the other two cats on the dog’s back, and the whole rest of this mad mural.

But that’s not the “whole rest.”

It’s just another chunk of this 2018 example of Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) art work, whose epicentre is still this Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, and will be again, come 1-10 August.

So I enjoy the wall yet again, including the name & signature style of the phantoms in the front yard collective …

and go get my latte.

I sit in the café thinking just how festival-drenched we are: Main Street Car-Free Sunday just past; jazz and folk festivals warming up; VMF looming and the Vancouver Bach Festival as well (30 July – 9 August). To name a few.

But dog/cats/etc. have me thinking street art in particular, and the rest of my walk home supports that train of thought. (I almost wrote “visual thought.” Is that possible?)

A little farther south, a little higher up the hill, left turn into the alley between E 7th & E 8th, and whappp — big octopus eye stares me down. I look on east, past the rest of that mural, ‘way down the line to the pink blob in the distance, framed by hydro poles.

I reel in my visual field, focus up close again, see the octopus credit line.

Except it isn’t, I later realize. It’s acknowledging the 2018 VMF overall curator, Scott Sueme, a Vancouver-based abstract artist who began with a fascination for graffiti and skate-boarding, attended Emily Carr University, and is now hung in and represented by very fine galleries indeed.

I don’t have a credit for little girl with heart, alas, though I think this mural dates from the 2016 VMF. Query: does anybody else look at that and think of Toronto’s lovebots?

Eastward down that alley, past Quebec St., up close to the pink blob. Which is still pretty darn pink, but less blobby, even if I still can’t quite work out which body bits go where.

Right turn at the cross-alley.

But not before admiring another 2018 mural, one I’ve always liked for its cool, ordered contrast to the more typical street-mural turbulence.

For the first time, I read the complete credit line, not just the year. And I discover why this work is so cool, ordered and geometric.

See? If you keep looking, you keep learning.

Framed

15 June 2019 – Framed, not as in “…and hanging on the wall,” nor as in “convicted on faked evidence.” Framed, as in: “one bit of the scene inadvertently framed by another.”

I don’t have this theme in mind. I am simply zipping down to the eastern end of False Creek, planning to take a ferry to Granville Island and then walk on west along the seawall — perhaps all the way to Jericho Park. Or thereabouts.

But on East 5th near Main, I am stopped, I am smacked in the eye, by a sight you might well argue does qualify as framed art, hanging on the wall.

Except it isn’t. It is a lineup of windows, reflecting a big street mural opposite.

So I get thinking, Well, this is fun! Images, inadvertently framed! And I decide to look for more, throughout my walk.

It could backfire — I could be so busy trying to fit what I see into a theme that I miss what is really there. Then again, if I don’t get all rigid about it, the game could grant me the “new eyes” that Marcel Proust says offer a voyage of discovery without the bother of seeking new landscapes. (Go look up the quote on my home page…)

Almost immediately, another example: heavy machinery deep in the bowels of a construction site, nicely framed by a square of the safety fence.

Onto my ferry at the Olympic Village dock, and another prime bit of framing as we approach Granville Island — the six industrial silos painted by Brazilian twins Gustavo & Otavio Pandolfo (OSGEMEOS) for the 2014 Vancouver Biennale, a gigantic 360-degree work aptly named Giants.

On foot now, following the Seawall westward along the south shore of False Creek. In Cultural Harmony Grove, a monkey puzzle tree frames one of the tall — and wonderfully flamboyant — galleries of the Burrard Street Bridge.

Not to be outdone, a birch tree farther west in Vanier Park works with what’s available: a crow.

Farther west again though still in Vanier Park, wooden salmon circle the good ship Osiris, up on land in the Burrard Civic Marina.

Ah, but now, no frame at all. I won’t even pretend. This is just … OMG.

I’m in Hadden Park, part of the contiguous flow of public space from Vanier Park through to Kitsilano Beach. I lean on the fence, look east, and there it is: the sea/sand/sun/mountains/sky panorama that tempts Vancouverites to get all smug with the rest of the world.

And yes, it is swell. But no, it’s not as if they built those mountains themselves…

Still, my fence-leaning moment has a payoff. Very Lean Bicycle Guy has also stopped to admire the view, we agree it’s stunning, and he asks, “But did you notice the friendship bracelet on the fence? Just behind you there?” Well, no, I hadn’t. So he shows me.

This, I choose to argue, is framed. Framed orally rather than visually, courtesy of Bicycle Guy. “People weave grasses into bracelets, give them to their friends… Well, somebody made one for the fence. I saw it first the other day. I cleared away some branches, just so you can see it properly.”

And he’s back on his bike and away, riding to East Van and a benefit concert for VAMS (Vancouver Adapted Music Society, for musicians with disabilities). I carry on west, onto Kitsilano Beach.

It is known, among other things, for its courts and courts and courts of beach volleyball. All in full swing. With referees on ladders at the net. And referee legs nicely framed by the ladder.

(Plus a few tankers caught in the net, as t’were.)

From volleyball to art, just like that, right here on Kits Beach.

Which, if I just wanted to show you the installation — Echoes, by Quebec artist Michel Goulet, Vancouver Biennale 2005 — I would photograph very differently. I’d show you the entire run of metal chairs, each with a few lines of poetry (French or English) incised in the seat, casting bright words on the shadowed ground beneath.

The chair-back loops, I discover, frame chair-seat text very nicely indeed.

My frame criterion dictates that I capture it upside-down. This creates a bit of a reading challenge, so, ever helpful, I circle around, and take the shadow-shot right side up.

Oops. Scuffed sand creates the equivalent of visual static.

(“Love / and / other / perils”)

The next beach section is amazing. I had already walked those other bits before. This is new — and it takes me onto Wilderness Beach.

You won’t find that name on a map, it is generic, and on a sign explaining that this stretch of shoreline, between Kits and Jericho, is one of the last natural beaches in Vancouver. The sign urges us to enjoy, but not to interfere or alter anything in any way. It also describes the wealth of vegetation tumbling down the adjacent cliffs to a “country lane” below. Alder, mountain ash, bigleaf maple, salmonberry, thimbleberry, yellow monkey flower …

It is quite, quite magic. I spend my time enjoying, not photographing.

One shot — an artist framed by the staircase railing as I finally climb my way back up to roadside at Volunteer Park.

That’s it, I think. Time to catch a bus home.

But look, right here on very-upmarket Point Grey Road, right at stiff-upper-lip Balaclava Street … another frame. Showcasing the offerings of this take-something / leave-something community free store.

Again I think, That’s it. But no.

I get the camera out again, one very last time, when I’m back in Mount Pleasant, climbing up Scotia Street toward home.

The walk has come full-circle, hasn’t it? This visual game ends as it began: with windows framing a reflection.

 

 

 

 

 

Bare Ankles & All

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

Time to enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And a bakery signboard on the Kingsway …

proves that not all Vancouverites are fitness freaks.

Young’uns Exonerated

26 May 2019 – “Oh dear,” I think, as my windows start to rattle, “those young’uns next door have turned into Neighbours From Hell, and cranked up the volume.”

Young’uns exonerated, I later discover, as I set out on a Sunday-afternoon walk.

All that volume, not to mention choice of musical genre, comes from a street festival just down the slope toward False Creek.

It’s the East Van Show & Shine!

A modest but eye-rivetting slew of vintage automobiles, sponsored by the resto behind that banner.

Right opposite, the band making all the ruckus.

Please note the dazzling little bicycle in the foreground — it’s one of the vehicles on display.

And “dazzling” is the word for almost every vehicle here. This red beauty, for example, its hood propped up so admirers can take lots of photos.

So shiny, so beautifully restored. No wonder the owner has propped that “Please Just Look” card in the side window.

Right across the way, another car. Also on display. Not shiny. Not beautifully — or, perhaps, at all — restored.

Not begging for respectful hands-off, either.

 

One last dazzler, before I carry on with my walk — a 1930 Ford.

With considerable artistic licence in the restoration.

No more photos, that’s it.

I have lots of delightful moments on my subsequent walk along False Creek, but … what could top the Show & Shine?

Quebec, Vancouver

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

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

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

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

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

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

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

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

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

Beyond it, more and more.

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

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

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

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

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

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

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

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

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

Street Talk

13 May 2019 – I feel not the least bit artsy-precious as I insist that, yes, the street does talk to you, and in your reaction you talk back to the street, and on and on the conversation goes.

How fitting, given my theme, that here on the edge of Chinatown there’s a fresh reminder of an old linguistic factoid, blazoned beneath the rotting window frames of a derelict building.

Padlocked doorway, rubbish-strewn …

with an exhortation to spiritual renewal, bright against old posters …

and nature’s own renewal, bright against the sky.

Nature’s renewal farther east in Strathcona neighbourhood as well.

The herringbone weave of rhodo buds yet to unfurl, for example …

a vivid blossom tucked into someone’s front staircase …

and wildflowers down an alley, perfectly at home against that garage door.

Still in Strathcona, another alley, this time with a workshop. It spills soft jazz into our ears, the music flowing out over the bike gears & chain pressed into the doorstep design.

More bike art, this time for bikes, this time out west in Kitsilano.

Who wouldn’t want to chain their bikes right here? We can’t, we’re on foot, visiting various stops in the west-of-Main art crawl, but we pause long enough to admire the bike rack before going inside.

Lots to notice on Kits residential streets, they’re like that.

Solo again, post-crawl, I read a curb-side warning …

but, being dog-free, I move on, and eye a sequinned flamingo instead. I briefly — oh, so very briefly — eye that Kawasaki Ninja 500R as well, but resist the opportunity to make it mine.

Walk on. Chitter-chatter, me & the neighbourhood, feet moving me eastward again.

At Fir and West 5th, I discover the Fir Street Rectifier Station. Fortunately I don’t have to know what a “rectifier station” is, to enjoy the harlequin utility box right next to it. (I looked it up later. It’s an electrical substation. Doing whatever substations do.)

The temporary path for the under-design Arbutus Greenway is right opposite, bordered here by the Pine Street Community Gardens.

I have walked chunks of the Greenway (once, with a vigorous visiting friend, right to the Fraser River south end), and I will surely explore it again — but not today.

Today, I sink down on that Community Gardens bench instead.

And I do not smoke. Just as well. The bench plaque says: “No smoking SVP.”

I love it. Street talk at its pithy, bi-bi best.

Bye-bye.

 

 

Sunset

8 May 2019 – Sunset.

The sinking sun hurls last golden rays at city towers …

and west-angled windows hurl the rays right back at the sun.

A Lake & a Latte

1 May 2019 – Assorted obligations at the VanDusen Botanical Garden today, and, with all those obligations duly met, it was time for play.

Time to stand with the Michael Dennis Confidence couple, soaring figures of salvaged red cedar, and with them admire the fountain’s dance in Livingstone Lake …

Time, also, to sit for a while on that lakeside bench, listening to the water, the ducks, the geese, the occasional chickadee, scraps of visitor conversation …

and, finally,

Time for a latte inside.

My sentiments exactly.

“Satu Lagi…”

22 April 2019 – “Satu lagi,” I mutter to myself, as I wander eastward, deeper into Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. “One more.” The phrase — a linguistic remnant of time once spent in Indonesia — is the perfect motto for a wandering, exploratory walk. It tugs you along. On and on.

Walk one more block, check out one more alley, turn one more corner, step close to one more plaque, sniff one more blossoming fruit tree, stoop to touch the unfolding fiddleheads of one more fern, breathe a moment on one more sidewalk bench while you let street life unfold before you …

That kind of walk.

I am totally in the mood for a satu-lagi outing, this sunny-cloudy day, ready to pause wherever, follow any impulse.

First stop, to admire painted fir cones decorating a tree at Scotia & East 6th.

On east, thinking I’ll follow 6th for a while since I never have before, but ready to be tugged either side of that axis.

I’m enjoying a string of bright-coloured small homes, then find myself indeed tugged off-axis for satu lagi, one whose weathered paint job is warmed by its cheerful title: Chateau Leanne.

One-more / one-more.

One more traffic circle, this one at St. George, with turquoise stencilled tributes to both St. George Creek and the indigenous Coast Salish peoples …

One more cluster of fern fronds, unfolding into spring light and warmth …

One more bend in a road, this one luring me back onto Fraser, but north this time, down to a curve with its red diamond warning sign, and, beyond that — or so it seems, from this distance — a surprising little grove of trees.

I follow it, and, oh, there’s nothing one-more about what I see among the trees.

It’s a one-off, that’s what it is, and it justifies my decision to walk the extra block and explore that grove.

Littering is wrong, always wrong, but I find I have a guilty, sneaking appreciation for this litterbug’s sense of placement. That chair is perfectly placed, perfectly angled. (Sorry.)

Vaguely planning to head south ’round about now, but first satu-lagi myself a few more blocks east. Where, on the edge of a park, I discover this poignant tribute to traffic accident victims and a call for witnesses to the most recent.

I finally turn south on St. Catherines, and find myself pulled across the street by these contrasting homes — the newcomer so sombre and austere, its older neighbours so bright and at ease.

I move in for a closer look at the vivid photo-wrap utility box in front of that infill home, and then see how wonderfully it is juxtaposed with mosaic artwork along the edge of the alley just beyond.

One more utility box, one more block up the street, this one also decorated. More impressive than its neighbour, you could argue, since it is hand-painted, not photo-wrapped.

Oh, all right, perhaps not more impressive after all. But good fun, don’t you think?

I have no reason whatsoever to swerve east yet again, but … satu lagi gives me a tug, and I swerve.

Over at Prince Albert, I’m rewarded with visual haiku, one black crow silhouetted against a multitude of pink blossoms.

The sky stays grey, colours continue to pop.

Westward again by now, one-more / one-more, starting my zigzag west & north toward home.

Stream of Dreams fish swirl on an elementary school fence, one more school engaged with the charity that helps communities become better stewards of their local watersheds.

When I’m almost home — my mind jumping ahead to home, my attention with my mind — there’s a surprise. Mind & attention jump back, join my body in the present moment.

Look.

One more treat.

 

Up the Mighty Fraser

16 April 2019 – Drop that paddle, shuck that life vest — I’m talking street, not river.

No, not the river that tumbles 1,375 km from B.C.’s Mount Robson Provincial Park, down & down to empty into the Pacific via the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver. Yes, the 13.6 km street that runs through Vancouver and neighbouring Burnaby.

Why Fraser Street? Because — like Sophia Street — it’s there, and I’ve never spent any time on it.

I join Fraser at the Kingsway, with a utility-box owl to cheer me on my way.

Right across the street, under that orange awning you can see behind the owl, the grocery store advertises some of its specials in a note taped to the window.

Not-quite-gentrified neighbourhoods, with their independent shops and quirky homes, have a particular kind of streetscape. They teem with juxtapositions.

Guns & gardens, for example …

Followed by a variety of calls to civic activism, one after another. On a post box …

on a utility pole …

and in a convenience store window.

There are homes as well as shops along Fraser, with peaceful gardens glimpsed over weathered fences.

And then — just after a big evangelical church, and just before a compact Hindu temple — I see a side street with a long string of Vancouver Specials. Bonus!

Another 7-8 blocks farther south, I decide to cut over westward toward & through Mountain View Cemetery, making the first of the turns that will eventually bring me back north & home.

And what greets me, on this residential cross-street? Two more Vancouver Specials, one each end of the block. Both comprehensively restored, each in a very different style. The first is cozy-charming, as comfy as a glass of warm milk at bedtime. The second …

is quiet, and austere.

I stand there shaking my head, delighted. Talk about vernacular architecture! Architecture-turned-folk-art!

This once-despised design — boxy, pragmatic, purely utilitarian, churned out in generic quantity — is now, I suspect, the play toy for a new generation of owners. Are you old enough to remember how hippies loved their VW vans, turned them into expressions of their own identity? Something like that seems to be going on with the VS.

Around a corner and another couple of blocks south, I’m about to dive through a hobbit-hole gap in the hedge surrounding Mountain View Cemetery … but I stop. I’m intrigued by the cheerful lady I see cutting strands from the ivy that cascades through the hedge.

“My mother’s name was Ivy,” she explains. “When she died at 95, I decided to include fresh ivy in every bouquet I make. The City told me I can take as much as I want, as long as it’s from the outside of the Cemetery hedge.”

I don’t expect anything inside the Cemetery to be as touching as what I have just experienced on the outside. But I am wrong.

What could be less alike than fresh ivy and a plastic Snoopy? Or a 95-year-old great-grandmother and a toddler? But they are entirely alike in the love of the families who remember them, and have found a visual icon for that love.

Outside the Cemetery again, I nod at the white trilliums in someone’s front garden — my Ontario moment! — and then make one last westward dog-leg toward Main Street.

And, of course, run into another Vancouver Special.

See what I mean about individual expression? People are not intimidated by the VS. They just grab that box, and run with it. Wherever their self-image wants them to go.

Onto Main Street. I am finally heading north.

An owl marked the start of this walk; a pair of ravens mark its final few klicks.

 

 

  • 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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