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.

Winter Growth

5 December 2019 – “Winter growth” is not quite the oxymoron it sounds, even if some things — daylight hours, for example — definitely contract in this season. Some other things increase.

Cats grow more fur.

And Vancouver trees grow more moss.

Everywhere you see trees packing on the moss, including downtown streets like this one.

Porch Guy is eyeing me, and I spend a nano-second or two wondering if he would be reassured or insulted to learn I am taking a picture of the tree, not him…

Who cares, back to the moss. Moss spreading down tree trunks right to the curb-side ground …

fattening branches to shaggy splendour …

creating mossblots …

snuggling down with other moss-family relations and a lichen or two …

and popping up in emerald bubbles against streaky bark.

The scene is just as luxuriant, and a lot more lyrical, out at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. (It also lets me look like I know what I’m talking about, since most trees are tagged.)

Red Maples compensate with moss for their loss of leaves …

[

and a Black Elder flashes green against the dramatic backdrop of rusty orange across the Garden’s Cypress Pond.

Not surprisingly, there are a lot of Bald Cypress trees in the vicinity, and all that vivid orange is their needlework. They’re no slouch in the moss department either, whether on solid land or growing in the water …

I mean, look closer — even their knobby knees are covered in moss!

In this temperate rainforest climate, winter moss doesn’t just leap all over the trees, it will happily grow on pretty well any wooden surface that presents itself.

Including the shingled rooftop of this temporary Festival of Lights kiosk, in stark contrast to the undulating lines of the Visitor Centre’s permanent rooftop just behind & above.

 

Dull Day Bright

1 December 2019 – Images from 30 November, a suitably overcast last day of a traditionally rainy month. But bright even so, bright with art and words that brighten the mind and spirits.

This great pop of art for example, lighting up a grey-scale alley just off West Broadway & Ontario Street.

A corner signature tells me the artist: Stefan Raupach — and later exploration tells me more. This is Morning Sun, created in 2015 in collaboration with the City of Vancouver and Tunari Gumi, a grassroots organization serving the Japanese-Canadian community. (Indeed, it is on the alley wall of the organization’s offices.)

No clear shot possible, such is alley art life, but lots to admire in bits & pieces. The flautist’s head and nimble fingers, for example …

and the morning sun itself, along with mountain peaks, waves and (inevitably) crows against the clouds still pink with sunrise.

I even like the sight lines up that staircase — a reminder that street art lives within its larger urban context. The macro urban-art installation, if you like. (Well, only if you like artspeak. Sorry.)

On I go, I am in fact heading for somewhere (though not with any sense of urgency). Next time I stop to cock my head, it is at a different kind of “macro urban-art installation.” (Smirk.)

It’s not the old house itself, particularly …

it is that parliament of owls on the porch roof. (Yes, “parliament” is the collective noun for owls. Isn’t that wonderful?)

I leave the owls to their deliberations.

Still heading west, now on West 8th between Ontario and Manitoba streets, the southern border of Jonathan Rogers Park.

Nothing macro about this next art installation, it is gloriously micro, eye-level and eye-scale.

I love this series — by now some 60 utility-pole plaques dotted around the city, an initiative of the Reading Lights program that publicizes B.C. children’s book authors & illustrators and makes their work available through the library system. This particular plaque brings us a snippet of Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin (by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng).

I read the snippet …

and enjoy the illustration — and then I look north instead of south.

Straight across the park for another macro view of something bright on a dull day.

Very big, very bright — created during the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival, the work of Germany-based “SatOne” (as Venezuela-born artist Rafael Gerlach signs his works).

Up there on the horizon, something even bigger: the Coast Range. Not particularly bright as yet, but look, there is that one vivid tongue of white on the Grouse Mountain ski run…

And, with that bright promise of winter, trot-trot, on I go.

 

 

Gore St., Sunday Morning

24 November 2019 – Gore north of Keefer, not the tourist-poster part of town. But no reason not to look about with appreciative eyes.

There’s Madonna of the Crows …

and Wild Rose of the Alley …

and Multi-Roses of the Roller-Door …

and Still Life with Hydro Poles.

And with Crows!

One definitely nature morte, two tiers up …

the other right up top, and just as definitely vivante.

Between Bands

17 November 2019 – Rain bands that is, not the musical kind. Rain behind us, just this morning, and rain ahead of us, starting this evening, but meanwhile …  meanwhile, the showers have stopped and the sun dominates the remaining few clouds.

Water beads still on metal surfaces, the droplets glittering …

glittering on plants as well …

and even without lingering droplets, newly-washed surfaces glow in the sunshine.

Here on a shrub …

there on Cosmic Breeze, Olivia di Liberto’s contribution to the 2019 Vancouver Mural Festival …

and, over there, on the face of this Mount Pleasant home. The day now feels as warm as that mustard yellow looks, and I am not surprised to see this young woman seat herself on the steps, wriggle into a comfy position and take up her smart phone, a wine bottle companionably to hand.

Closer to False Creek, among the sleek new post-Olympic condos, still-dripping eaves roll slow concentric ripples through the water feature below.

Another concentric circle at the Creek, in Olympic Village, where Musqueam artist Susan Point‘s sewer cover is perfectly static, yet ripples — with evolving light/dark patterns as different patches of the iron surface dry at different rates, and also with the life-cycle design below, egg to tadpole to frog.

A great long standing pool draws the eye from the Seawall bike path down to False Creek, across the water, all the way to those Cirque du Soleil tents on the north side.

And a perfectly crow-sized standing pool of water sits in a dip in this Seawall path divider. Mr. Crow has just dipped his beak, and is about to fly off again.

No need to search for a standing pool, these ducks glide along the tributary that winds through Hinge Park into False Creek.

The sun still shines, the rusty fall colours glow, but by the time I am home …

clouds are massing once again.

Strike up the band!

 

November 11: an Ordinary Day

11 November 2019 – A little cool, a little grey, but a perfectly ordinary, peaceful day. A good day to do whatever you want, go wherever you want.

Wander down to the south-east curve of False Creek, for example. Enter via Hinge Park, where the “Rusty Sub” sits in perfect camouflage amidst the rusty bullrushes of the adjacent tiny watercourse …

Or lead your dog into (or out of) the off-leash dog park that borders Hinge Park …

Eye the remaining produce in the Village Community Garden, but politely keep your fingers to yourself …

Cock a thoughtful eye at the public art atop that pedestal in False Creek or, if it’s not much to your taste, focus instead on the man peacefully sculling by  …

Eye the ferries (Aquabus left, rival False Creek line right) that just as peacefully share the waterway with scullers, dragon-boaters, kayakers, assorted yachts & each other …

Check the ferry schedule on Spyglass Dock …

Feel free to write a moving plea for gratitude on a nearby tree …

Or feel equally free to denounce the plea as vandalism …

Rest beside your bicycle in Olympic Village plaza, or perhaps hunker down behind one of its public benches in a game of Hide & Seek …

Indulge yourself with a selfie in Mollie Burke’s Unfolded art installation …

Or settle down outside an Olympic Village creek-side café, while you check your smartphone for messages.

But keep that Remembrance Day poppy (above) close to hand.

Because an “ordinary” day of peace, calm, safety, choice and good humour is an extraordinary gift.

Those of us fortunate enough to experience it should always be grateful, always remember all the people and all the effort and vigilance that make it possible.

So, as a whistle echoes across the water at 11 a.m., and the Fraser Blues fly overhead in tight formation …

look up, say thank you,

and remember.

 

 

  • 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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