That Archetypal Picket Fence

9 August 2019 – Growing up, we knew what it was, and what it stood for. The picket fence was white, and suburban, and it stood for all things predictable, bland, and safe.

But now that picket fence may be black.

And downtown (well, east-end off Commercial Drive).

And not predictable.

It may offer an unexpected little visual treat ..

or even two.

No signature, no flourishes, and à propos of nothing at all. Just … there it is. Enjoy.

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…

 

 

 

 

Dialogue Added

11 July 2019 – I see, but don’t hear.

So I imagine…

Woman on left, eagerly, as she adjusts her ponytail: “So, anyway, I decided…”

Woman on right, vaguely, as she reads an incoming text: “Un-hunh….”

Bright Night

7 July 2019 – Bright, because at 7 p.m. at this latitude, sunset is still a good two hours away. Also bright because, even at this still-early hour, vendor stalls woo us in full-tilt neon.

Taiyaki, I learn in the course of the evening, is a Japanese fish-shaped cake — or waffle, in the local version, stuffed with either red bean paste or chocolate and topped with ice cream.

I learn this because friends have swooped me along with them to the Richmond Night Market.

Founded in 2000 by entrepreneur Raymond Cheung, it now runs weekend evenings mid-May to mid-October, attracts more than 1 million visitors over the season, and ranks as the largest night market in North America.

Crowded alleys reflect the long, long line-ups we saw at the entrance gates. Made us glad to be Old Wrinklies — there is a special Seniors’ Entrance, and we whipped right through.

Oh, the food options we discover as we reconnoitre the stalls!

Five kinds of yummy-yogurt (including purple rice flavour and “surprise” flavour); Rainbulbs (vividly coloured sodas); liquid nitrogen ice cream (with a warning about frostbite); Dragon’s Beard (thready strands of maltose sugar wrapped around chopped peanuts, coconut shreds & sesame seeds); fried squid; traditional Brazilian, Afghan and other global street foods; German pork hocks; assorted kebabs; and cultural mash-ups befitting an immigrant nation, such as kimchi french fries, tabetai tacos, okonomi bites (a Japanese take on poutine), and sawadika fried ice cream.

I goggle at a woman clutching her “ro-tato,” a single fried potato, cunningly sliced so it can be swirled  in one unbroken length up a skewer …

and at the woman in her jaunty maple-leaf cap, claiming her bubble tea.

Apart from food (Brazilian & Afghani for main course, Italian-style gelato for dessert and Dragon’s Beard for take-home treat), we buy almost nothing. No to all the jewellery; no to the electronics; no to the ingenious hand warmers; yes to just one pair of socks.

We wander toward the kiddie-amusement area, and giggle like toddlers at everything we see.

Iridescent balloons …

bubble machines …

and even cheerful yellow-ducky seating platforms.

But oh, the winner, the amusement that has us poking each other with envy, is the water-bubble game. It’s a whole big tank of water, with child-sized, clear, waterproof plastic bubbles rolling on the surface.

Each bubble with a zipper. Large enough to admit a child. Who, zipped into place, then runs, flops, kicks & jumps about in perfect — and perfectly dry — abandon.

One last traditional amusement, good for adults & kiddies alike: the old “throw something at something and win a stuffed something.”

Stall after stall of them, each with its line-up of prize “somethings” to be won.

Our little group slows to a halt in front of a display of balloons, each tucked into its own little slot, waiting to be exploded by a well-aimed beanbag.

My Soon-To-Be Hero watches for a bit, analyzes technique, buys his handful of beanbags … and rifles them, one after another, straight at those gleaming balloon bellies.

Success!

He claims his prize.

And promptly becomes My Hero, because he gives it to me, to present to the brand-new latest member of my B.C. family clan. (Some 17 days old, as I write this.)

But ssssh. It’s still my secret.

Wisdom

4 July 2019 – While up on the North Shore, following the Spirit Trail, I briefly and slightly detoured to walk along the Wisdom Wall on the rear façade of Bodwell High School.

Bodwell is an international boarding school, and the Wall is indeed a wall …

with life-sized silhouettes and quotes from a suitably global array of wise people, ranging from Confucius to Terry Fox to Lord Byron, David Suzuki, and Chief Dan George.

And Socrates.

I hope wisdom also begins in appreciating the ridiculous! That’s not a dunce cap adorning Socrates’ head, and nobody has awarded him a white feather — those are reflections of a traffic cone and my T-shirt, respectively.

Water, Water, South & North

30 June 2019 – We’ll start South.

Having given no more than passing reference to the Fraser River in my post Up the Mighty Fraser — all about the street, not the 1,375-km river — the least I can do is show you a photo of the river itself.

The Vancouver Heritage Foundation advertises a walk along the Fraserview portion of the river as it winds through south Vancouver, and I jump at the chance.

Wonderful walking/cycling trails now, and condo/retail development, but it is still a working river, so, yes, logs still come down in booms, and sure-footed men still walk among them. (Sudden memories of childhood visits to my grandparents by the Ottawa River in Woodroffe, and our game of “riding the dead-heads” as we swam — i.e., clambering up the exposed end of a half-sunk rotten log, and bobbing up and down.)

And now … North!

Another day, another exploration.  I ride the Seabus across Burrard Inlet to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver, wandering first among the docks, public art, natural beauty and retail temptations of the Shipyards District, right next to the terminal. The name is developer’s language, but fair enough: this was once a very long and very busy stretch of ship yards and dry docks.

No fog horn, not even in the day, but it didn’t matter. They had Joe Bustamente, a one-armed former Chilean mariner and — more to the point — a skilled trumpeter. Circa 1900, he and his trumpet guided ferries through the fog to safety.

I walk the length of the Burrard Dry Dock Pier and use its railings to frame a view of the St. Roch Dock, in the process catching a Seabus plying its shuttle route.

Then I head west onto the North Shore Spirit Trail. This is, or will be, a 35-km bike/pedestrian greenway along the waterfront right from Horseshoe Bay to Deep Cove. It is also a joint project of First Nations, municipalities and the provincial and federal governments, so my hat is off to all of them. Let’s just take a moment to imagine all the negotiations, and be grateful that everyone persevered.

I’m sampling a modest number of those kilometres, the ones immediately to hand (to foot?), starting at Wade Baker’s Gateway to Ancient Wisdom, which welcomes visitors to Squamish Nation land.

I pass a stone marker at the bridge over Mosquito Creek, which features, well-of-course, a mosquito. Plus a very small sparrow…

Look downstream into Burrard Inlet. There’s a whole colony of 21st-c floating homes at rest in the water, sharing space with a working marina.

Look upstream instead, for a reminder of 19th-c history. There in the distance, the twin spires of St. Paul’s Indian Church.  (Yes, “Indian” — gone from contemporary vocabulary, but sanctioned in this historical reference.)

Built in 1868 and the oldest surviving mission church in the Vancouver area, St. Paul’s combines Gothic Revival style architecture with Coast Salish interior details. Still a working church, it has been restored four times, most recently in 2017, and I’m hoping it will be on the list for North Vancouver’s next Doors Open event, because I’d love to go inside.

A red cautionary hand, marking the road crossing ahead. Was prudence ever more beautifully delivered?

On along Kings Mill Walk, rightly named for the mammoth lumber mills that once stretched along this section of waterfront. Out in the water, a circular boom. No, I don’t know why. A seal swims through, that’s enough for me.

 

I see gates into an off-leash dog park. It is a long, winding and very beautiful pathway along the Inlet, I see no signs demanding a dog as price of entry, in I go.

And, anyway, I want to get close to some of the 15 artist-designed birdhouses, part of the Birdhouse Forest created in 2005.

Pretty sure this one is by J. Gauthier, apologies if I’ve got it wrong. Also pretty sure that, although these are meant to be working birdhouses, they aren’t. Far as I can see, the intended chickadee and tree swallow inhabitants have turned up their beaks. Well, at least we human enjoy them.

On out of the dog park, with its polite instruction to owners, and equally polite apology to the dogs…

My turn-around is the 280-m pedestrian overpass at Mackay & 1st Street West. It rises over train tracks, and you know what that means. Where there are tracks, there will be box cars. Where there are box cars …

Equally bright artwork, but this time officially sanctioned, on a utility box on the homeward stretch.

And a stop at Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie, just off Spirit Trail. (Truth is, I’ve woven two North Shore visits, one within days of the other, into this single post. The second visit is with my great friend Sally, who guides me to Thomas Haas.)

No latte this time, I order a house specialty — spicy Aztec Hot Chocolate. Then Sally & I try our luck with the bright red chocolate dispenser in the wall separating café from workspace.

See the white arrow pointing to a bright white circle, just below & left of the open tray? There are a few of these arrow/circle combos scattered over the façade, each swinging open a tray when pushed. Each tray contains a single free chocolate. If nobody got there before you, that is. (Frequent refills, but frequent eager fingers as well.)

All empty. I have to make do with my Aztec Hot Chocolate.

First-world problems.

 

High Alert

21 June 2019 – Solstice, the summer version in the northern hemisphere, and, here in very-seasonal Canada, it’s street-festival season.

No wonder even dogs & cats are on high alert…

Well, that was a shameless segue if ever you saw one, wasn’t it? But there really is a kind of link between image & theme, not that I suppose you care a lot.

I’m walking back south on Ontario Street from False Creek, enjoying breeze & sunshine, and about to turn left on E 5th for a latte. I pause at the corner to properly enjoy the dog & cat — and the other two cats on the dog’s back, and the whole rest of this mad mural.

But that’s not the “whole rest.”

It’s just another chunk of this 2018 example of Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF) art work, whose epicentre is still this Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, and will be again, come 1-10 August.

So I enjoy the wall yet again, including the name & signature style of the phantoms in the front yard collective …

and go get my latte.

I sit in the café thinking just how festival-drenched we are: Main Street Car-Free Sunday just past; jazz and folk festivals warming up; VMF looming and the Vancouver Bach Festival as well (30 July – 9 August). To name a few.

But dog/cats/etc. have me thinking street art in particular, and the rest of my walk home supports that train of thought. (I almost wrote “visual thought.” Is that possible?)

A little farther south, a little higher up the hill, left turn into the alley between E 7th & E 8th, and whappp — big octopus eye stares me down. I look on east, past the rest of that mural, ‘way down the line to the pink blob in the distance, framed by hydro poles.

I reel in my visual field, focus up close again, see the octopus credit line.

Except it isn’t, I later realize. It’s acknowledging the 2018 VMF overall curator, Scott Sueme, a Vancouver-based abstract artist who began with a fascination for graffiti and skate-boarding, attended Emily Carr University, and is now hung in and represented by very fine galleries indeed.

I don’t have a credit for little girl with heart, alas, though I think this mural dates from the 2016 VMF. Query: does anybody else look at that and think of Toronto’s lovebots?

Eastward down that alley, past Quebec St., up close to the pink blob. Which is still pretty darn pink, but less blobby, even if I still can’t quite work out which body bits go where.

Right turn at the cross-alley.

But not before admiring another 2018 mural, one I’ve always liked for its cool, ordered contrast to the more typical street-mural turbulence.

For the first time, I read the complete credit line, not just the year. And I discover why this work is so cool, ordered and geometric.

See? If you keep looking, you keep learning.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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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