Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

The Dance of Light & Life

1 May 2018 – Day-length leaps ahead now, and nature leaps with it. We’re in the UBC Botanical Garden, a perfect place to join the dance.

Yes, of course, great bursts of colour smack the eye in every direction …

but our eyes skitter away. We look instead for tiny details, such as minute red dots on emerging white buds, for example …

and also for the the fresh green play of light and shadow.

A towering Gingko biloba, clothed in emerging baby leaves, is radiant in the morning sunshine.

There is luminous green everywhere we look.

In skunk cabbage leaves, shadows etched against light …

and in a mossy tree crotch, bouncing its textures back & forth.

All the contrasts of early spring.

New fern growth just starting to uncoil above existing mature fronds — the one so tiny, so baby-tender-green; the other coarse, dark, brilliant.

Defiant new growth, here one sprig shooting upright from the top of a lopped tree trunk …

and defiant old growth as well. Four or five centuries old.

This tree also wears its defiance at the tip — except here it is scorched and bare, not green.

We had already read the sign at its base.

A bit farther down the path, we turn back and pick out Eagle Tree in the canopy.

We stand there a moment, silent. For Eagle Tree.

For the whole great dance of light & life.

 

 

Geometry at Work & Play

23 April 2018 – I know it’s a stretch to think of bridges as geometry-made-visible; any mathematician (or architect) would blench at the thought. But still. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines geometry as “the study of space and the relationships between points, lines, curves and surfaces.”

Doesn’t a bridge quite wonderfully show us all of that?

So I hoof onto the north end of the Burrard Bridge, ready to be delighted by all those points, lines, curves and surfaces, and by the relationships that weave them together in space.

Oh, honestly … just look at this gateway. Towers and boat prows and heroic stern-faced gentlemen and a gallery running between, with windows that serve no purpose. And all so stylishly, so happily, Art Deco.

We enjoy it now, but imagine what a tonic it must have been to the Depression-weary crowd that watched the opening ceremony on 1 July 1932.

I’m amused to discover later that these gateways — one each end of the bridge — were created for a workaday purpose. They were not structurally necessary. The architect decided to build them in order to mask the network of steel that lies between them.

Geometry looking playful, but hard at work.

Never mind. Don’t care. I’m charmed by the gateway and the arches — but also by the way they bracket that network of steel in between. This is a steel truss bridge, after all.

Step through, and here’s an invitation for pedestrians to stop walking and take a moment for play — a whole line-up of black benches, tucked into place between the trusses.

Sit down, look up — geometry at work. Wouldn’t the Cambridge dictionary be proud? Line/space relationships galore.

Now look forward, through the railing.

More invitation to play: the curve of the seawall on the north shore of False Creek. It rolls away from the Aquatic Centre Dock close to the bridge, past Sunset Beach, past English Bay Beach, on to Stanley Park.

Enough lolly-gagging! I have to get up. I have places to go, things to do.

Off the south end of the bridge, around & down & eastward along the seawall on the south side of False Creek. I pause, look back at the bridge.

From this angle, doesn’t look soaring at all, does it? No, it looks impaled on all those bristling masts in the marinas below.

But those gateways still stand out, still tell the world: “Burrard Bridge.”

I walk on, properly intent on my things-to-do.

Then, as I pass the public fish market, I am diverted  by Go Fish, a tiny takeaway booth with a big view over the Creek and a bearably small line-up. (And the day is sunny & mild! And I’ve walked a lot and deserve a rest! And I want, I really really want, their salmon & chips!)

So I place my order, snaffle the last Creek-facing perch on the little patio, and have myself a blissful half-hour.

 

 

The Dinosaur & You

19 April 2018 – Let’s suppose.

Let’s just suppose that you suddenly discover a dinosaur has taken up residence in your front yard.

Stay calm. Show him who’s boss.

Make him mow the grass.

(You will not — of course not! — be fooled by pathetic attempts at disguise. He is not Santa Claus, taking a well-deserved, off-season break. Or, for that matter, a garden gnome with Santa tied to his leg. He’s just a great big pre-historic mooch artist.)

 

 

Beaks, Boasts, & Bums

13 April 2018 – Out there on Commercial Drive near East 4th, I’m tempted to step under the Canterbury Tales awning to check out the new & used books crowding the window display.

Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, perhaps? Or the Vegetarian Flavour Bible? Or milk and honey? Or — by contrast — a peek into White House Fire and Fury?

Ummmmm, maybe step into the store instead.

I brave the awning no-go zone, protective hat firmly on head, and look up.

Roosting pigeon, all right.

And it’s not the beak-end you need to worry about.

Never mind!  on to a no-worries boast!

Is that Vancouver coffee, or what?

(I’d credit the café if I’d been attentive enough to note its name. So prowl W. Hastings just east of Cambie, and find it for yourself. Sorry.)

I discovered that yoga-loving coffee enroute the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Inside, heading for the staircase to the jazz/tap discussion I mentioned last post, I pause to watch people starting to set up a student art exhibit.

Materials piled up all over the place. Including right here, immediately through the glass in this primary display window.

Bums, glorious bums!

Please tell me it’s not just a pile of materials. I so want this to be an art installation, exactly as is.

16,901 Steps

2 April 2018 – 16,901 footsteps or 11.3 km, says my pedometer app, and I won’t argue. Though I could, instead, just call it a fairly long walk on a bright blustery day …

Either way, the outing gives me happy hours tracing a rough rectangle through a downtown-ish subsection of Vancouver.

I have a destination in mind, which sets my general direction. It is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first such scholars garden to be built outside China, meticulously accurate and created with the help of 53 master craftsmen from China, 950 crates of traditional materials and strictly 14th-c. building methods.

And so down the hill I go to False Creek, and follow its southern shore east to its stubby end by Main Street. Mostly I’m striding along, enjoying sun, fresh air, choppy water, bird song, spring blossoms — and all the other people enjoying all the same things.

But I do pause, right there where the creek proves itself a false creek, to watch a chalk artist create a great big labyrinth on the pavement.

And then I’m around the curve, doubling back to the west, now on the north side of the water. I’m watching for the exit to Carrall Street, which is unfamiliar territory for me. My preoccupation makes this cluster of inukshuk on the rocky shoreline particularly appropriate, given their traditional way-finding role.

The inukshuk (plus a large sign with a large arrow) do their job. I right-turn away from the Seawall and walk north up Carrall Street, heading into Chinatown.

Bold stripes splashed by sunshine onto an apartment building opposite the Classical Chinese Garden.

Equally powerful design inside the Garden, here created not by nature, but by careful human attention to every detail.

I linger.

And then I leave, walking north still, heading toward Burrard Inlet, out of Chinatown and into Gastown. It’s an entertainment district, a tourist district, and a magnet, this holiday weekend, for Vancouverites as well.

Laugher and music and clinking glasses on outdoor patios. But if you look sideways to the edges, to the margins, not everything is pretty-pretty.

Another alley-edge a few blocks over, and the most fully-executed street art RIP that I have ever seen.

I keep moving, now west to Cambie, where I turn south and start homeward. The streetscape evolves again. Here in the pavement at the intersection with Robson, it issues a call to bibliophiles.

The open book is a visual cross-reference to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, just a block away.

But you don’t have to go even that far! Crouch down, and read the terra-cotta inserts …

On south, now approaching the Cambie Bridge over False Creek.

I go right by the new Parq Vancouver entertainment complex — all very whizzy it is, with its hotels, spa, casino, and bunches of restaurants. Yawn, don’t care. I’m more taken with the rich colour and lines of its outer skin; the flags right-angle from their staffs in the brisk breeze; and the construction cranes reflected on the façade, just below that oval inset balcony.

Bridge ramps converge overhead.

I climb.

And I cross the bridge, looking east toward Main Street, remembering the chalk artist and his labyrinth, hours and hours ago.

The final climb, hoof-hoof-hoof, and I’m home.

I check my pedometer app, and learn how to translate this particular day’s adventure into a set of numbers.

But really, the point is the adventure, not the numbers.

(Even if they did give me a post title.)

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

Honorary Tuesday (Still)

7 March 2018 – Oh, the magic of the Present Historical Tense. Or, the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Or whatever you want to call the fact that we are happily pretending we are still in the middle of the walk I began describing in my previous post.

So. We have lunch. Then — once again as so often before — we begin a zigzaggy sort of walk north/west-ish, heading toward our respective homes.

We hit Dundas St. East. And the intersection of Craven Road.

Yes! We must revisit Craven Road!  The question that sends our legs north: Is any art still left on the Longest Wooden Fence in Toronto?

Yes.

I blogged about Craven Rd. while living in Toronto — most recently in March 2015 — celebrating its superlatively tiny homes & its superlatively long wooden fence in the stretch between Dundas & Gerrard.

Very short & inadequate fence explanation (see that March 2015 post for more): in 1910 or so, the City hived off the back portion of a north-south road; threw up a wooden fence along one side; and hey-presto, the humble little houses that once crouched in the back yards of that other street now had a street of their very own. Craven Road.

The fence is still there. So is the line-up of homes opposite.

When we first began visiting the street in 2013, a great long stretch of the fence was covered in wonderful art work, much of it by Toronto artist Christine Kowal. The pieces were already showing signs of wear, and  grew more and more tattered with the snow and rain of each passing year.

Which made me love them more and more, for their resilience. (I know. Hopelessly anthropomorphic.)

Now, in 2018, we pounce on survivors with delight. Look! there’s that black & white cat …

and that ginger cat …

and those very silly sheep.

We’ve come to the end of the old survivors.

And that’s when we see there is new artwork on the fence. Very different style & mix, but in the same spirit. The Craven Road Art Fence lives on.

We see this perhaps explanatory plaque, tucked just below a leaping golden fish.

I’d missed that, in the hurly-burly of my own 2016 … How wonderful to catch up with it now.

The closer you get, the more detail there is to enjoy.

For example, not just a teapot next to a child’s story book. Not just a child’s story book with a drawing of a pussy-cat. Not just the drawing of a pussy-cat with a cut-out where the head should be … but …

all that, plus a stuffed mouse head, to complete the cat.

Well, of course.

And look, there’s one of those plastic humanoid knife-rests. Devoid of knives, but equipped with footwear.

Also equipped with a guiding philosophy: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

Respectful nod at the philosophy; big laugh when we turn to look again at the homes opposite. Many are still the modest ones of early days, but some — like this one — are in full gentrified splendour.

Endearing thing is, this home (unlike some of its nouveaux neighbours) joins in the larky art-spirit of the street, with its very own blackboard.

Spring? I don’t think so, my friend.

Just a couple of degrees above freezing that day and, as I write this in real-today time, still just a couple of degrees with the promise of more snow.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver …  No. Let’s not think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honorary Tuesday

3 March 2018 – It isn’t Tuesday, but the original Tuesday Walking Society is out in full two-woman force, and in honour of our reunion we declare the day to be Honorary Tuesday. Makes us happy.

As so often, for all those Toronto years, we meet at an agreed time & place — this time, the Pape subway station.

I just have time to admire the frosted-glass artwork on the stairs …

when Phyllis appears. Back onto the subway, on to Main station.

Where we walk down-down-down, headed for Lake Ontario and, eventually, this year’s Winter Stations art installations along the waterfront in the city’s Beach neighbourhood.

Memories of other walks, as we walk… Once more alongside Glen Stewart Ravine as it broadens into Glen Stewart Park. This time with a fresh dusting of snow, and a snowman-in-the-making.

Mum is doing most of the work; small child pats the snowman occasionally; dog watches peacefully from one side.

The sun comes & goes; the wind comes & goes (but, mostly, comes); we reach the boardwalk and head east. The water is cloudy and choppy, wind-driven.

This is the city’s fourth annual Winter Stations — the idea being to have some wintertime fun with the lifeguard stations that otherwise just stand there, cold & bleak behind the snow fence, until it is summer again.

Here’s the wintertime fun: invite design firms internationally and universities provincially to come up with art installations that will each wrap themselves around one of the stations.

We reach the first installation.

Shazaam! Inside lurks one of those frames; outside, it’s Pussy Hut, an American tribute to the pink pussy hats worn worldwide on Women’s Day.

Beyond the hat/hut, you can see more of the installations — Revolution, with its megaphones; the ovoid Nest, with its colourful criss-cross of tapes; and then the boxy, bright-red fabric panels of Obstacle.

Nest, the work of Ryerson University students, is designed to offer “comfort and introspection within a system of complexity and disarray.” On a windy day like today, the concept becomes physical reality.

I enter, I peer up through its shell, through the lifeguard station frame, out to the clouds above.

On to Revolution (OCAD University). Much friendlier than it sounds: 36 vertical tubes, at different heights, easy to swivel — to revolve! —  that invite everyone to shout their opinions into the air.

I don’t shout. The tubes strike me more as telescopes than loudspeakers — perhaps because we are water-side? — so, instead, I peer through one of them and enjoy the change of perspective.

We can’t find an identifying sign for this next installation, but its anonymity doesn’t keep it from providing what they are all meant to provide: pleasure and comfort on a chilly winter day.

At the moment, it’s to the benefit of a tired gentleman and his dog, bright red ball still clutched firmly in its mouth. (Later, online, I learn this is Rising Up, the work of U of Guelph students.)

On to that boxy collection of bright-red fabric panels, each swivelling quite forcibly with the wind.

I put a hand to one, thinking I’ll slide inside. Oww! I’m smacked by the wooden frame that holds the fabric taut. And I discover why the UK design team called their creation, Obstacle.

“At first it appears impenetrable,” they tell you, but with closer inspection and especially through cooperation with others, you can make your way inside.

Phyllis and I have a long history of cooperation, but we don’t make our way inside — we move on to Make Some Noise!

Who can resist? It’s an “oversized noise box,” say its German designers, with black horns and red hand cranks to get ’em wailing.

So we do. And so does everybody else that passes by.

We are veterans of previous Winter Stations exhibitions; we are veterans of blustery Toronto winters; we are veterans of the impact of those winters on the city waterfront.

But we do not expect what we see next.

Three surfers! In wet suits, mind you, and surely insulated wet suits at that. But still …

They offer one more tribute to lakefront fun in winter — the perfect grand finale to Winter Stations. We admire them, but have no desire to emulate them.

We head north to Queen Street East, correctly anticipating a different kind of water, the hot kind that brings you lattes.

What we don’t anticipate is what happens after that.

Next post. You’ll see.

 

 

 

Hello, TDOT

28 February 2018 – I emerge onto Bloor St. West from the rapid transit link between the airport and downtown Toronto, and start to laugh. Right there on that busy sidewalk, with traffic whooping by in the railway underpass.

“Hello TDOT,” I say to myself, and take the photo.

A whole riot of street art, running through the underpass. Definitely Toronto. (And thank you Barb, for this bit of local slang: Toronto aka T.O.; i.e. tee-dot-oh-dot; thus TDOT.)

That’s yesterday.

Today I’m walking around a bit of Riverdale, mostly on Pape between The Danforth and Gerrard. And yessir, TDOT just keeps kicking up more street art.

A fish threatens to swallow a phone box …

and he might as well, having already swallowed the phone.

A car makes a coffee-brake, right over the Schmooz café …

which I extra-love, since I made that same coffee brake pun in a post last October.

A guy eats an ice-cream cone, and clearly doesn’t like the taste …

which is fair enough, since the owner of this now-closed corner store has pinned a furious handwritten note to his store door, making clear he really doesn’t like the graffito.

On the other hand, a very spiffy meat & deli shop just south of Danforth not only accepts the mural on its side wall …

but the owner probably commissioned it, since it bears his store name in bold block caps.

About face, I’m heading south again. Some homeowner loves poppies, right there on his front porch.

Maybe painted them himself? (Or herself, come to that.)

Monkeys on a utility box, beside the Lucky Coin Laundry …

and, under the laundry’s neon logo, a beautiful poem by 14h-c. Persian poet Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz.

Forget washing your clothes! It’s dog-wash time at the Fur Factory …

and, if you get close to that vertical line of thumbnail images, cats are also acknowledged.

Another dog under the adjacent Atomic Age comix store, looking back in some amazement — as well he might — at the red techno-monster behind him. And robot dog.

It’s cat-and-dog time farther south as well.

Be sure to read both signs …

and if you think the second one says, “Beware of the dog,” read it again.

I know. I had to read it twice myself.

Your reward for close scrutiny is …

a flower.

Tacked to a utility pole that has clearly had many other things tacked to it in its time.

But none as pretty, I bet.

 

 

  • 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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