“Dream So Big …”

10 April 2019 – I only notice the slogan later on. “Dream so big…” it says, “people laugh in your face.”

I’m not dreaming anything, big or small, as I head-swivel my way past endless independent retail shops and cafés, out here in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood.

And if I had to name something in particular that I am not dreaming, at this very moment, I might nominate … oh … a lion.

Maybe especially a lion on a canoe.

Perhaps most especially a lion on a canoe on a van.

But here he is.

I move in closer. I admire the crossed paws.

The van driver is grinning at me through his windshield. He rolls down the passenger window, leans across to urge me to check out the lion from the street. “He’s dark on that side,” he explains. “Half light, half dark. Go look!”

So, with a cautious eye for cars, bicycles, motorcycles and city busses, I step onto the street.

Half & half, just like the man said.

Now his driver’s-side window is also open, and I can see that his hat is just like his lion.

There’s no commercial application to all this, he tells me — though he thinks he might try some busking this summer — and he has no webpage, no business card.

He’s just a cheerful man with a lion on-his-canoe-on-his-van.

I don’t get to ask about the “dream so big” slogan, because I only notice it on the van side panel as I start to walk away, and before I can turn back, he is pulling out into traffic.

Doesn’t matter. We did laugh in each other’s face, didn’t we, and I’m still giggling a bit as I walk on down the street.

 

 

Before the Rain

5 April 2019 – Vancouver a Temperate Rainforest? Nicknamed “Rain City” for a reason?  You wouldn’t know it, by March stats: 31.7 mm of rain all month, versus the historical norm of 113.9 mm.

But then rain slapped its forehead, remembered its duty, and got back to work. (It is oozing gently down as I write this sentence.)

Which makes me all the more grateful for those first still-sunny and suddenly-warm days this month, and the walks with which I celebrated them.

One takes me along the north-shore seawall on False Creek, past the Burrard Bridge all the way to Second Beach, tucked into the edge of Stanley Park.

At Sunset Beach, I stop to visit one of my favourite False Creek sculptures. This one.

The work of French artist Bernar Venet, it was acquired by the Vancouver Biennale Legacy Foundation in 2007. It has one of those cryptic titles that usually make me very cranky: 217.5 ARC X 13. This time I am not cranky, because it succinctly describes the work, which consists of 13 arcs of metal, each curved at an angle of 217.5 degrees.

Crankiness threatens as I read the subsequent artspeak about the meaning of the work, but I do agree with the final observation that “the seemingly unfinished surface invites you to give the raw material a closer look.”

I move in for a closer look.

As did those two crows above!

My next walk is again largely waterfront, but this time along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. It gets a kick-start in Mink, a café overlooking a sliver of walk-through park just south of Canada Place.

The café’s website promises that “the view in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom is awe-inspiring.”

They’re right.

In fact, the starting logic for this walk is just that: to admire the cherry blossoms. Now suitably caffeinated, Frances & I head on up to the water and begin walking west toward Coal Harbour.

We dawdle as we go. Lots of cherry blossoms to enjoy — and apple blossoms, and magnolia, and forsythia — and other waterfront visual treats as well.

Float planes, for example, with a whole mix of tourist/private/business purposes animating them now, and with a long, rich history of innovation, exploration and adventure behind them.

Plus … they’re just fun to watch.

Rows of them here at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, this particular line-up leading the eye across the water to one of North Vancouver’s distinctive sulphur piles glowing an incandescent yellow in the distance.

Extracted from natural gas, this powder has gone from waste-product status to sought-after status as a component of fertilizer. Some 35% (I read online) of the world’s trade in sulphur passes through the Port of Vancouver.

Something else I love to observe: houseboats!

We see various groupings as we amble along, this bright duo in a marina just off Cardero Park at the west end of Coal Harbour.

We keep walking, more and more, and eventually there we are at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. It seems a fitting turn-about point, so that’s what we do, and then head for our separate destinations.

I finally hop a bus. As I cross the city eastward, I watch the clouds roll in.

Doin’ the Details

1 April 2019 – It’s a day for details all right, out here in the Strathcona neighbourhood of east Vancouver, first solo and then with Frances.

A black bird (crow?), for example, riding high above a doorway, with an artist’s brush in his beak.

Riding high above other doors as well, including the one on the white house on this cheerful line-up of homes along Keefer St. approaching Hawks.

But, cheeky/charming as crows are, there are many other ways to express yourself.

With a toboggan above the door, for example …

or a great wave of metal and glass in the doorway itself.

Or, instead, you can throw yourself into repurposing mode, and plonk a bathtub in the sidewalk verge, just waiting for spring plantings.

Why stop at a bathtub? There must be an old wringer-style washing machine lying around somewhere … or, if you’re lucky, two of them.

Behind the tubs, the red awning marks the home of The Wilder Snail Neighbourhood Grocery and Coffee, right at Keefer & Hawks.

Frances & I meet here for lunch before heading off to the day’s one planned event: a visit to the Catriona Jeffries Gallery, farther south and a bit farther east, on East Cordova.

We’re looking forward to visiting the Gallery, not least for the opportunity to see how Patkau Architects (the same Vancouver firm that designed the Polygon Gallery in North Vancouver) has repurposed the old Pilkington Metal Marine workshop.

The patio entrance to the Gallery has a severe, calm beauty, tucked behind a tall black wall that shields it from the sidewalk, and echoing other corrugated metal claddings all around.

After that, it’s back out to fun on the streets.

Lookit this trompe l’oeil mural, for example! Those apparently structural yellow beams and pink alcoves frame blue paint, not blue sky; that is all solid wall.

Later, we play Spot-the-Special — after my walk up Sophia Street, my eye is in for Vancouver Specials. We see a number of them, all somewhat modified over time and well maintained.

This one on Union shows how the street cuts across a slope — the houses on this side are below sidewalk level, but on the north side rise well above it.

And now … and now I offer you an exceptionally boring grey bird house, on a politely pin-striped tree.

Hmmmm, you say.

I’d’ve passed it without a second thought, but for the plaque beneath. (Ever since the years of marching around Toronto with Phyllis, my Tuesday Walking Society colleague, I’ve been a great reader of plaques.)

This isn’t any old pin-striped tree, it is a Snake Bark Maple.

And it isn’t any old Snake Bark Maple — it is in the Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, though cared for by the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Why?

Because it is part of the Palas Por Pistolas project of Mexican artist Pedro Reyes. In 2007 he began trading food vouchers for firearms, which are then melted down and turned into shovels, which are then used to plant trees. Ours, planted in 2008, was the first installation outside Mexico.

Speaking of installations-on-the-street … One last example, back at Main Street, under the Georgia Viaduct.

“Blank walls invite graf. Let us put nice art instead,” says the tidy block lettering — and, after thanking the city for this “fresh new canvas,” that’s exactly what the artist does.

A very satisfying last detail, to crown a very satisfying day.

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.

 

 

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.

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…

 

From the Overpass

4 February 2019 – I’m out and about on what passes for a cold day in Vancouver. (I love living here, I do, but I still giggle a bit at this city’s idea of “cold.”) It’s fractionally sub-zero, with a tentative dusting of snow. And sunny. And breezy. So everything sparkles, and the day is magic.

My feet lead me north on Main Street, almost to Burrard Inlet, well into East Vancouver and, more specifically, into its Railtown neighbourhood.

The name fits. I am on the overpass, looking down at the railway tracks that played such a huge role in stitching us together into one country. (And created such huge fortunes for some 19th-c. buccaneer capitalists, but that’s a separate story.)

Here on the east side of the overpass, the plaque commemorating the launch-point of the 1935 “On to Ottawa Trek” by striking residents of federal unemployment relief camps in British Columbia. I peer down the track, try to imagine the long, jolting train ride east to Ottawa by those desperate, angry people, picking up other strikers from other camps as they went.

Here on the west side, no plaque. Just the gleam of the tracks, still slicing their way into the downtown heart of 21st-c. Vancouver.

With that little sprinkle of snow, to remind me that this is winter.

Speaking of transportation…

Rio-the-clown, who follows my blog just as I follow hers, explains “riding with Hitler” (see my previous post). As she points out, the poster I showed you is either an original or a repro of a wartime poster urging people to make every drop of fuel count – no unnecessary trips, and no solo trips. When you wasted fuel, you effectively helped the enemy.

I should have figured it out for myself, but didn’t. Thank you, Rio.

 

Rules of the Road

31 January 2019 – Rules learned while on foot, meandering alleys & side streets in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.

Rule # 1:

Don’t steal.

Rules # 2:

Don’t ride alone.

(I’d like to add some kind of quip, but, honestly, I am rendered speechless.)

 

Loop to Labyrinth

27 January 2019 – “Yes,” I said to myself, “a loop. Down to the very end-curve of False Creek, west along the north side of the Creek to the Cambie Street bridge, over the bridge, back east on the south side of the Creek, and home.”

You are not where it says you are. You are with me — in the magic of the historic present tense — in the end-curve next to World of Science (aka “The Golf Ball,” thank you Frances).

Looking west down the Creek, with the Cambie bridge arching one side to the other.

I head past the reeds and rushes in the parkland next to World of Science, hear the Redwing Blackbirds and read the warning, but without alarm.

None swoop down. Children swoop, on the other hand, exuberant with the park’s activity stations, their parents laughing and trotting along beside them.

I round the Creek’s north-east curve, then pass & briefly cut through the new Concord Community Park.

It is reminiscent — in its bright colours, high design and high functionality — of the new breed of urban parks I’d come to love in Toronto as well. Urbane, yet at one with nature. The perfect city combination.

The seawall scoops me by BC Place Stadium and the adjacent Casino, its metallic tawny walls the perfect foil for sunrise, sunset and — at the moment — dark reflections of its angular neighbours.

I’m barely past the canine off-leash area in Coopers’ Park when I come to its logical conclusion — dog benches!

First I see, and start laughing at, the dog faces. Only later do I notice the water bowl beneath each muzzle.

Up the long switch-back ramp onto the Cambie bridge. Even here, carefully distinct lanes for pedestrians and for bicycles. (The baby carriage may be on wheels, but mum wisely opts for the pedestrian lane.)

Approaching the south side of the Creek, I look east to the rest of my loop …

and then, just before starting down the spiral pedestrian staircase, I look west.

The Granville Street bridge is out there somewhere, but here in the foreground is Spyglass Dock, “my” dock it used to be, and still my favourite. Oh, how those colours punch through the day’s flat light.

And down the spiral ramp.

More colour punch on the bridge pillar, this time with an environmental message. The blue bands of “A False Creek” rise 5 metres above sea level, showing us mid-point of the predicted 4-6 metre rise we can expect through melting ice caps.

Eastward-ho, with great, grating swirls of crows on a line-up of trees between the bridge and Hinge Park. I remember seeing them here before, it must be a favourite roost.

Past the noisy crows, on to the peace of public lounge chairs and a cyclist peacefully lounging, bike propped to one side, tuque’d head barely visible, and an Aquabus chugging by in the Creek.

The City has tucked a small artificial island into the Creek just opposite Hinge Park, engineered to mimic nature’s own wisdom and provide additional rich habitat for wildlife. It creates a side-channel in the Creek, with the island to one side and the seawall path to the other.

After Hinge Park comes Olympic Village, with its shops, condos and big open square. I’m already anticipating the latte I will order in one of the cafés.

I am not anticipating the city’s latest labyrinth!

Oh yes, we are becoming a city of labyrinths, and look how engaged we are with this one before it is even complete.

See? A woman to the right guides her child along a path; mid-distance on the left, Turquoise Jacket cantilevers herself along another path, with Red Jacket not far behind.

And farther back — straight back from the “a” in the foreground word “Vancouver,” yes, that crouched dark figure — the artist.

Meet Himy (as in, he tells me, “Hey, It’s My Yogurt”) Syed, heart & soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project.

I have to wait my turn to speak with him: one after another, passers-by stop to ask about his work, and thank him for it. I discover he’s another Toronto expat, so we swap a few Rob Ford horror stories before chattering about street art and artists in both cities.

Then he returns to his chalk, and I go find my latte.

Where I find myself still smiling about Himy’s project, and all the joy he creates for the rest of us.

 

  • 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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