2HOT4U

15 August 2019 – No, no, indeed not. Never 2HOT4 you.

Allow me to broaden the claim: never 2HOT4 us.

That’s just Vancouver graphic artist Alex Joukov having his little joke …

tucked into his contribution to the 4th annual Vancouver Mural Festival.

We’ve just emerged from the 10-day event (1-10 August), which this year added another 25 or so street murals to the 97 created in previous years, all of it carried out through the not-for-profit Create Vancouver Society.

The epicentre is my own Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. I wandered into the festival by accident that very first year while doing an Airbnb stint in this part of town — talk about serendipity! — and I’ve loved it ever since. This year it’s a mix of local artists (of various backgrounds, including indigenous) plus ones from Australia, Japan, Argentina and the USA.

There’s a whole clutch of new works right around Manitoba and West 7th, including Alex’s car-on-fire, in a great range of styles.

Everything from William Liao’s haunting face down an alley …

to Pablo Zamudio’s dramatic play of colour & line, in a neighbouring alley.

We watch murals take form, from one day to the next.

One day, there’s the barest whisper of sketch marks on the wall …

and next day, bold colour owns the wall.

Artists work in all sorts of ways. Up on an accordian-pleat Skyjack, as you’ve just seen,

or …

on a vast multi-storey scaffolding grid,

or …

 

on a human-scale wooden ladder,

or …

up in a cherry picker.

Through whatever combination of mood, temperament, and work pressure, the artists either ignore the onlookers, briefly acknowledge their presence, or — as with the Argentinian artists who comprise Medianeras (above) — engage with us, rise to our interest.

The women field our questions, talk about what they’re creating, and point out the footprints they have helpfully painted into the pavement below, showing us exactly where to stand for the best possible view.

We comply.

And we see just how, as intended, the human being on the side of this entrance-way does indeed seem to be emerging from the building.

I double back to the Festival’s gallery on 7 1/2 Lane, between Ontario & Quebec streets and (as the Lane’s own name tells you) between 7th and 8th avenues. Several new works are in progress, joining several from other years, including this 2018 contribution by Linsey Levendall.

It’s moody, skillful work, given an unintended zap by the current placement of that dumpster, right under the subject’s nose.

But … that’s street art, isn’t it? Each piece lives with everything else in its environment. It’s a dance with changing circumstances, and we the viewers, through our reactions, keep the beat.

One final work I have to photograph, right there among the 7 1/2 Lane murals.

“That’s not part of the festival,” somebody helpfully tells me. Good grief, I know that.

But who can ignore Romulus and Remus?

I Stop! (Twice)

3 August 2019 – So here I am, deep downtown and just flowing down the street. Flowing, not bouncing — my body, like my mind, still caught in a post-concert trance of Mozart rhythms.

And then, I stop.

Not so much for this amber hand, as for the basilisk stare behind it …

the defining feature of Traffic Bear.

(I would honour him with his proper indigenous name, but unfortunately these photo-wrapped signal boxes don’t always identify the artist or composition.)

And I walk on, I flow on, over one street, down two …

and I stop again.

My back to the law courts, my face up-tilted,

to watch real clouds drift past, checking out the art-clouds on the building below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering

28 July 2019 – My feet are wandering, as they tend to do, but more obediently than usual. This time they are trotting along with others, all of us on a neighbourhood tour of “lower Mount Pleasant” (close-ish to the south-east end of False Creek).

The guide is pointing out evidence of the social, industrial and built heritage of the area: remnants of the vernacular residential architecture of the 1910s, for example (gables, wood cladding and off-set front doors) …

or …

remnants of mid-century shop signage. (Bike Woman is listening to our guide, who is out of frame to the left.)

I am also listening, I am, but while my feet are obedient wanderers, my eyes are rebellious wanderers, and they keep leading my mind a-stray.

Here we are being shown one of those early homes, still surviving and freshly painted.

Only my eyes bounce off the bright paint, weave through the tree branches, and fasten on that bit of street mural beyond.

Now we’re being told more about the history of this house, and the (woeful) state of heritage designation in the area. My eyes instead slide along the building’s side wall and hop over alley space to contemplate the shipwreck in turquoise waters, ‘way down there.

And so it goes.

Another intersection, more information, and, though my feet are behaving themselves, my eyes are still on the prowl.

Look! A whole exuberant dance across that white wall over there, nicely framed by modes of transport: a sturdy truck up close, a sleek auto-share vehicle across the street, and guy wheeling his bike through the doorway.

Next, a neat little square of mural, far end of that parking-lot grid, tucked behind the hydro pole …

and, later, a huge full-wall’s worth of faces, with the vacant lot offering an unobstructed view of every detail.

Nothing distant about this one! We’re on the pavement right in front.

Smack-dab under the dog’s whiskers, and still, the guide manages to ignore him.

She is just not a street-art kind of gal. (I shouldn’t beat up on her — we all edit what we’re going to notice and not notice, otherwise we couldn’t get through the day.)

She does mention the company, though: apparently Mount Pleasant Furniture does a roaring business renting props to movie shoots in town.

Their doorway window gives just the tiniest indication of how many props must be on offer.

Tour over, and my feet, eyes and mind are now free to wander in unison.

Feet stop while eyes and mind enjoy this real, live dog on Main Street, patiently waiting for his human to abandon the delights of the Cartems “donuterie” and take him home.

Feet stop again just across the intersection.

Eyes read, mind again enjoys this street ode that I have read before …

with summer tree-shade bringing the text to life.

I do pause, one further moment.

And then — feet, eyes, mind, and everything in between — I wander on home.

 

Tributes

15 July 2019 – The first is a deliberate, specific tribute. It frames how I look at things for the rest of my walk.

** Outside the Native Education College, tucked into an alcove in the base of this soaring totem pole (Wil Sayt Bakwhlgat, “The place where the people gather”) by Nishga master carver Norman Tait …

a fresh bouquet of flowers in vivid orange wrapping …

a loving tribute to someone, from someone.

** Bordering one side of sleek new condos just where False Creek meets The Flats, an equally sleek channel of water running through deliberately rusted new steel & installed above age-rusted old railway tracks …

a developer’s tribute to the industrial/railway history of this area.

** By the seawall and children’s play area at the east end of False Creek, in a discreet line of porta-potties …

a tribute to fully-accessible (and very regal) raccoons. (Though it would be a more impressive tribute without the padlock on the door.)

 ** Under the Cambie St. bridge, where it runs into Coopers Park on the north side, a view of the painted pilings, A False Creek, by Rhonda Webbler and Trevor Mahovsky …

a public-art tribute to the need for environmental activism. These stripes mark the mid-point in the 4 – 6 metre rise in sea levels predicted by the UN body, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

** Just east of David Lam Park, where pedestrian and bicycle paths run right next to each other …

a tribute to public caution and common sense. (Or so The Community Against Preventable Injuries devoutly hopes.)

** At one end of the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, in the CPR Engine 374 Pavilion, on the site of the one-time CPR roundhouse …

the engine herself, lovingly maintained and displayed by the West Coast Railway Association …

a tribute to our first national railway line, and to this very engine which, on 23 May 1887, pulled the first train into the city of Vancouver.

** Outside the Pavilion, in the Arts & Rec Centre courtyard …

a tribute to Bastille Day! Food, drink, music, displays, and lots & lots of tricolor.

** In the sidewalk at the north end of the Burrard St. bridge, one of the City’s 22 mosaic tile inserts, each 9 ft square and containing 3,500-4,500 hand-cut ceramic pieces …

this one, Fireworks Over English Bay by Bruce Walther, a tribute indeed to fireworks and to English Bay, but also to the lavishly-styled Burrard St. bridge, such a tonic for Depression-weary citizens when it opened on 1 July 1932.

I walk on for a bit after that, but no more tributes.

Except for my own silent thank-you to my faithful feet…

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Into the Sunshine

23 May 2019 – Let me sort out my prepositions. Not into, but up. Up the Sunshine Coast.

Out of Vancouver, and up the 180-km stretch of mainland that — thanks to those convoluted mountain ranges — is only accessible by air or water.

I choose water.

Love those BC Ferries  Away we go from Horseshoe Bay, starting the 40-minute ride that will weave around some intervening islands in Howe Sound and deposit us all at the Langdale Ferry Terminal.

Then it’s pavement again and a local bus. I’m off at the next community along the route, Gibsons, a town of some 4,600 people just 6 km down the road. My plan? To mooch about.

And I do.

And I have a good time.

I hear great snippets of conversation. “Had a bear in my back yard yesterday,” says one woman to another as she buys some stamps. “Three hundred pounds. Totally destroyed my bird feeder.”

I see delightful things. Places to park while charging your e-vehicle …

and places where you better not park at all. Unless your name is Ribbet.

Mostly, I head for the waterfront, walking the pathway that borders crowded marinas, with pleasure and working boats both, and a long, busy public wharf.

Over here, a float plane …

and, over there, a couple of houseboats, gloriously smothered in plants.

I see tiny shells, carefully arranged on a weathered log …

and an old boat, its hull still bright, the interior bleached and collapsing.

Kiddies hurl stones at a convenient jetty …

kayakers diverge, as gulls converge …

a jaded fish swims into a parking lot …

while much happier fish swim across the community centre wall.

Of course they’re happy! These are rockfish with a purpose. On June 7, Gibsons’ inaugural World Oceans Day Festival, they will be auctioned off to raise funds for the local Marine Education Centre.

Locally created, with local resonance, for local benefit.

I’m happy too.

 

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.

 

 

“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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