Something Special with Sophia

25 March 2019 – Beware the low-flying puns.

“Sophia” is a street, and cap-S “Special” is an architectural style — the only house style developed in Greater Vancouver and found nowhere else, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Behold the Vancouver Special.

It was built by the thousands, 1965-1985, the boxy monster home of its day on narrow city lots, easily duplexed and therefore especially popular with multi-generational, often immigrant, households. Not popular with arbiters of tasteful design, one must add; in fact, widely reviled.

The houses survive singly or in small clusters, some much battered by time and others lovingly renovated. The style itself, if still not much loved, is at least now respected as an urban icon. When I first moved here, it was one of the first city sights my friends taught me to recognize.

So I squeak with delight when, walking south on Sophia for no good reason except I’ve never walked it before, I fall upon this little string of renovated Specials, right here at East 20th.

One has lions rampant at the gates (the VHF article later teaches me this is a common feature) …

another faces the street with no guardian sculptures to protect it …

and another flaunts bold new window treatment on the upper level.

None has been wildly transformed, but all are in good shape, and fit the scale and comfy residential charm of this neighbourhood just off Main Street.

I walk one more block south on Sophia — and wowzers, I’m handed another “something special with Sophia.” Lower-case “s” this time, but equally worthy of the adjective.

Street art, literally on the street. One-two-three sections of mural, that pop their way along East 21st from Sophia to Prince Edward.

The first section leads with white swirls …

throws in a sunburst …

and ends with a shooting star.

The middle section feaures hearts and big “eyes” …

with one “eye” circling a storm sewer grate, and a companion sun throwing out rays from beneath that black Honda.

I look back west from the far end of the third section, admire its bias-cut arches …

and ask some 20-somethings in the adjacent park if they know anything about these murals.

They stop their impromptu kick-ball game long enough to peer at the street, and shake their heads. “It’s so cool,” breathes one of the girls. “Thanks! I never noticed…”

I cut diagonally up through the park, salute the downward-dog flamingo …

take myself out to Main Street, and start back north toward home.

And promptly run into this sidewalk sign.

Heres the thing. This very urbane retail store — which specializes in contemporary furniture, objets d’art and books about design and style — contains not a single reference to the architectural form for which it is named. This has always bothered me, seemed negligent bordering on disrespectful.

Now I’ve decided to think of it as a tribute, as proof that the term has burst its original boundaries and become embedded in the culture.

It’s also a clever pun.

And heaven knows, I do like puns.

 

 

Hands Off!

21 March 2019 – There are times where you just want to bellow, HANDS OFF!!, and slap the offending fingers for good measure. But you can’t, can you? Because you are Canadian, and, according to media clichés worldwide, we are too polite to go around bellowing at people.

So what-to-do, what-to-do?

Well, don’t fret. The Creekside Collaborative Garden

has come up with a whole list of suitably polite euphemisms.

The Garden is well named. It is indeed both creekside (tucked near the south-east tip of False Creek) and collaborative (planted and maintained by people in the neighbourhood).

Everything is still a little stark …

but soon plants will burst into action, and fruit tree branches will  be bare no longer.

Which is exactly when the Hands-On impulse might lead passers-by into temptation.

Which is why polite messages are already neatly tied into place.

They encourage interaction …

but with limits.

They appeal to our nurturing instincts …

they flirt with us …

and they invoke spiritual resonance.

And when all else fails …

they guilt-trip us.

In Other Other Words

In other gardens, I’ve seen a different compromise between the urge to protect and the urge to remain … umm … Canadian. Here & there, you spot a hand-lettered sign that simply says, “Please don’t steal.”

Masterful, isn’t it? That polite “Please,” followed by that blunt choice of verb.

More Yogurt?

16 March 2019 – Oh, delete that question mark. There is no question about it: this is definitely a case of more yogurt.

If you are now shouting at your device, “Oh, silly woman! That is not yogurt! That’s a trio of labyrinths!”  … that is because you did not read, or do not remember, my post of 21 January.

In it, I introduced you to labyrinth artist Himy Syed, who is heart, soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project. When we met as he created a new labyrinth in the Olympic Village plaza, he spelled his first name for me with four words instead of four letters: “Hey, it’s my yogurt.”

These bold designs on the south shore of False Creek just east of Granville Island are surely his work as well.

I’m drawn to the orange one.

I walk it, slowly, carefully, and I thank Himy as I walk.

Bring on the yogurt!

 

Downtown

13 March 2019 – All very urban. I come reeling out of Ruben Brandt, Collector, a VIFF mid-day showing, and decide I need to walk it off. The visuals of this animated feature film are brilliant — and hallucinatory.

So there I am, walking into the downtown east end, my eye sharpened to see things   slightly beyond reality.

And I am rewarded.

A man dancing with a respectable office tower wall …

ferns fluttering coy eyelashes on an unrespectable (but very tactile) parking lot wall …

and a serpent winding his tail around defenceless street-corner chairs in Chinatown.

I am even rewarded with a passing snippet of Did-I-Really-Hear-That sidewalk conversation.

Young man: “So some domestic ones escaped, and they’re gettin’ together with wild ones, and now they’re progenating like crazy.” Impressed girl-friend: “Oh, wow!”

Progenating? I begin an automatic tut-tut and then stop myself. Slightly to my horror, I realize I like it. Maybe I’m just admiring that he knows the word “progeny” and feels free to lay hands on it.

Just like that serpent having its way with those street-corner chairs.

Playing With Shadows

5 March 2019 – Oh, I know: every smart-phone photographer clicks off streams of shadow shots. (Right  up there with reflection shots.) But if the sun gets to play with shadows… why shouldn’t we?

Out for walkies with visiting Toronto friends. Brilliant sunshine bounces off the jagged angles of the Coast Range mountains, the flat flow of False Creek, and every intervening structure its busy rays can find.

All along the pedestrian bridge near Olympic Village, for example.

Later we join other friends on Lonsdale Quay in North Van, for a visit to the Polygon Gallery.

Light pours through letter-slot windows in the gallery roof, which is as jagged as the mountain range to which it pays tribute. A construction crane punches its way into the geometry.

And then out we go again, to wander The Pier, adjacent to the Gallery, a repurposed venue on the site of the former Versatile Shipyards with several piers and docks still part of the complex.

Shadow plays one way on a textured concrete surface …

and another way, really quite pointillist, on mesh.

At the end of one pier I start fantasizing a music group, mid-performance.

See? Those harbour crane “giraffes” along the left horizon are the back-up singers, who know that back-up also means background. Meanwhile the lead singer, the sun, shoots across the water to smack into the railing and fling shadows forward onto the pier — creating an eager audience to applaud the show.

Right, enough fantasy. Back to what is really in front of me.

Sometimes a shadow curves with a railing …

sometimes it marches in stiff angular formation …

sometimes it gets to stun a bench seat with a right hook.

And sometimes (often, in fact) it has to just roll its eyes and patiently allows yet another dilettante photographer …

to play Daddy Long Legs.

Handlebar, Handlebar… and Handlebar

1 March 2019 – Count ’em.

Four Celsius Degrees

21 February 2019 – Not to copy the numerical title style of each sloppybuddhist post (a blog I recommend), but

But, I have the number four on my mind.

Yes, it is a sparkly sunny day, pouring down upon us six happy degrees of almost-warmth. However the historical average is ten, not six, I want you to know, and we citizens of this temperate rainforest are feeling short-changed.

Snow (snow!!!) fringes the Charleson Park snake fence, behind which a lonely chair sits unoccupied.

Ice invades the park’s pond, a hard skin farther out, tiny shards close to land.

Snow. Ice.  No wonder we are aggrieved.

On the other hand, the Canada Geese in False Creek don’t mind, and neither does Mr. Fix-It busy on his red sailboat …

neither does Dad With Stroller (and smart phone) down near Stamp’s Landing, for that matter, nor the cyclist behind him …

and the jay-walking crow clearly doesn’t care.

A ferry glides toward Spyglass Dock, unperturbed …

a guy (far left) in Hinge Park “golfs” tennis ball after tennis ball to his eagerly waiting dog (far right) for retrieval …

and a couple of skateboarders opt for a sunbath instead, in the Seawall’s curvy embrace near Olympic Village.

So.

By the time I order my Japadog # 12 (beef ‘dog’ with avocado, Japanese mayo, cream cheese & soy sauce) from the truck in Olympic Village, and sit wolfing it down in the open plaza …

those six available degrees of Celsius warmth are just fine, thank you.

Four more would be … superfluous.

 

Bark/Smile/Bite/Kiss

14 February 2019 – Happy Valentine’s Day!

If you survive the dog…

 

The Roar of the Boar

11 February 2019 – At first, there is no roar. There is, instead, the Flash on the Dash. Police cars blocking off blocks & blocks of downtown East Van, not a siren to be heard but lots of flashing lights. I assume the worst. Has to be some kind of manhunt, right?

Wrong, totally wrong.

Just as my eyes begin to register the relaxed body language of the police on the streets, my ears begin to pick up the sound of crashing cymbals. I look around.

And I see two dragons, strolling westward on Keefer St. toward Gore.

Of course! Early hours yet, but participants are starting to gather for the big parade.

The 46th annual Vancouver Chinatown Spring Festival Parade, that is, which each year has 3,000-plus participants, some 100,000 spectators along the route, and TV coverage.

I’ve been hearing that this is the Year of the Pig, but the Chinese Benevolent Association website, one of the parade’s co-sponsors, calls it the Year of the Boar. Altogether more dignified and powerful, I think, though perhaps less … well … lovable?

Whoever made this poster seems to be on the side of lovability.

I have other things to do for a couple of hours but, sure enough, as I walk back south on Gore late morning, I catch the parade just turning onto the street from East Pender.

I keep pace for a while, weaving through spectators as I go.

For one stunned moment, I think the British Columbia Automobile Association float is offering us a golden hand grenade …

but no — silly me — it’s a golden boar.

Lots of spectators despite the sub-zero temperature and brisk wind, including one kid up a tree, and a trio perched atop a hydro utility box a little farther down the street.

Since the parade is a cultural celebration in a country that takes Cultural Mosaic (not Melting Pot) as its ideal, there are distinct chips of that mosaic to be seen on all sides.

Sinuous koi fish swirl in the (literal) mosaic in the sidewalk at this street corner …

while a Timbits box and a roll-up-the-rim Tim Horton coffee cup perch on the rock in the foreground.

More mosaic for you — a little girl of Asian ethnic origins, astride her daddy’s shoulders, watches intently as characters representing Vancouver Canuck hockey players march by.

I turn with the parade west on Keefer, watch martial arts displays with staves (while a nearby mother reassures her little girl, “They’re only pretend fighting, darling”) …

and admire yet another dragon on the prance, with flags and cymbals and marching bands to keep him company.

Then, at Main Street, I turn south & wave good-bye.

Me, and a whole multitude of Japnese maneki-neko cats on this traffic signal box.

Yet More Cultural Mosaic (Edible Division)

The parade is just in time. Snow comes pelting down that afternoon — which is perfect for my afternoon project. Call it another chip in the Cultural Mosaic: an English friend, temporarily living here and determined to accumulate as many Canadian Experiences as possible, joins me to cook up some Métis Bannock. As far as she is concerned, a snowstorm is the perfect final ingredient.

We pile butter & jam on the warm wedges, and thank those Scots explorers/fur traders/”Bay Boys” who brought us this culinary tradition in the first place.

 

Lace on the Rocks (& Boots on the Turf)

7 February 2019 – It’s a bright, snappy day along False Creek, just enough snap to float our breath on the air as we speak …

Lace on the Rocks

… and to preserve a translucent white skin of ice, despite daytime sun, on beach rocks by Hinge Park.

I don’t scramble down to examine them; I take the easier option of looking at ones scattered in the shingle at my feet.

The ice isn’t a pure white skin at all, is it? The closer you come, the more texture you see.

Right up close, it’s all whorls and loops.

Lace on the rocks.

We walk on, visit the little habitat island just off Hinge Park (man-made, but faithful to nature’s model), then double back.

Time to put our boots where many others already have.

Boots on the Turf

Remember my post ending with Himy Syed in Olympic Village, creating his latest sidewalk labyrinth? I learned then that he also created the rock labyrinth right next to Hinge Park and the habitat island.

This one.

Here as elsewhere, Himy has beautifully executed his beautiful concept. He has a sure sense of space; all the relationships are true; the path not only looks good, it works.

The proof: it is well-trodden.

A dark chocolate line of earth between the rocky boundaries shows how many people have already put their boots to the path, and walked the labyrinth, right to its heart.

And now … so do we.

 

  • 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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