“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.

 

 

Now Playing!

25 February 2018 – And then … it snowed again. A big old wet-sloppy storm whumping in off the Pacific.

Media weatherpersons put on serious faces.

Black Dog Video chalked up a signboard.

“Bad drivers” and “slush puddles” are universal phenomena. “Translink” = public transit.

Not my problem, that day. I didn’t have to go out, so I didn’t. Instead, I could take a disinterested view of the storm, and admire frosted trees from the warmth of my own living room.

But today I was out. Out there in the slush puddles. My reward was this canoe & bedsprings arrangement in an alley just off Quebec St.

The bedsprings, I assume, are for the toss. But surely the canoe is a keeper?

Why else would you plant tulips in it?

The Incongruity of Snow

22 February 2018 – There! That’s what I mean. Not “Silly in Snow” or “Surprised in Snow” — though both titles appealed to my sophomoric love of alliteration — no, it’s the sheer incongruity of snow in Vancouver that I’m struggling to express.

I’m used to snow in cities (says the native Montrealer), but in cities that are themselves used to snow. Snow scenes that look entirely normal in that context are bemusing — to me, anyway — when viewed in a city whose ecology and architecture prove that snow is a rare phenomenon.

In this context, it is… incongruous.

And for precisely that reason, I am alive to it here in a way I no longer respond to it in more snow-normal contexts.

Even paw prints delight me.

As does the sight of a snow-silly dog himself, leaping at snowballs thrown by his owners, getting his ears scratched and whirling snow from his tail as he waits for the next toss.

See the pale green chair, in the lower left? We’re down on the Arbutus Greenway again, and there are chairs and other warm-weather, garden-related objects all around.

A week or so ago, in the green glow of seasonal warmth, they looked quite normal. Now everything reads differently, in juxtaposition with the white of snow and the sparkle of ice.

Icicles trace frozen vines in the foreground; a blue chair waits out the snow beyond.

As does this hibiscus!

And these primula — part of the exuberant display of plants & garden-implement art on the gates of the Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden.

Around the corner now, away from the Greenway and heading into Kitsilano.

Tree buds furry with the promise of blossoms are, at least for the moment, also bright with the hard glint of ice.

The homeowner has just shovelled his sidewalk and is now sprinkling a bit of salt. We tell him he is Our Hero. He grins, says it’s nothing much really, we don’t get snow all that often. “Not like back east! Those guys, it’s a life sentence.”

By now it has become our game, as we walk, to spot objects/plants that seem particularly incongruous in the snow. This yellow ducky, for example?

Definitely!

Soon after, down on the Kits main shopping street, we burst out laughing at a street corner decal. Nothing to do with snow. Just plain incongruous, all on its own.

Right. Back to snow sights.

This little woollen stuffed animal, tied to a bench in Vanier Park. Why is it that can we just laugh at the sight of the yellow duck, but somehow wish we could protect this little creature from the elements?

I think we would have been touched anyway. But more so, because the bench has a plaque on it, commemorating a young woman who was, say her grieving family and friends, both “beautiful and fierce.” We pause for a moment, honouring the loss to the universe of this bright spark.

I’m almost used to the next sight — palms wearing snow berets. (Am I acclimatizing?)

And I can at least decipher the sight after that — this, thanks to many walks along Lake Ontario in Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood. There as here, poles wait for the volleyball nets of summer. But here, unlike there, laden freighters sit in the water and mountain peaks line the horizon.

Next day we’re up at the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Again the contrast to my visit a week or so ago: everything now snow-covered, silent, still.

Even this pond, temporarily frozen.

“Snow bomb!” shouts my friend. A ski veteran of the Lizard Range near Fernie, B.C., she knows what she’s looking at.

Meanwhile, Down South…

Go read Lori Greer‘s recent posts about snow in Portland, our nearish neighbour across the border. They, too, find snow a bit bemusing. (If you don’t know her blog, this may be a happy discovery.)

 

 

 

Westward Ho…

16 February 2018 – You’d think I was already as west as it gets, but no! Not in Vancouver terms. Here we are in West Van this grey-shimmer morning, following a good chunk of the West Van Seawall.

It is a delightful 5.6 km ribbon of pathway, snaked between Burrard Inlet to the south and a still-active CN railway track to the north. Community gardens and luxuriant growth screen the tracks; we are free to enjoy the long views across the water, with Lion’s Gate Bridge to one side and those Coast Mountains to the other.

We see fish as well. Though not in the water…

A whole little gathering of these mosaics, a 1994 project (if I interpret signage correctly) of grade 6 Irwin Park students called “The Meaning of Peace Goes Beyond Words.”

More artwork as we walk along, some official — such as Bill Pechet’s outsized chairs — and some definitely spur of the moment. A predictable moment, any time you have quantities of rocks to hand.

We walk out one of the wooden piers, then blink at all those feathers at our feet. Some of them bloody. Our speculation is cut short by a middle-aged man leaning against the railing.

“I can tell you what happened,” he says.

Picture it: gull minding his own business in the waves; eagle on high, looking for breakfast.

“He just snatched up that gull, plucked it clean of feathers right here on the pier. And look!” Our informant points to the top of a very tall tree back from the water’s edge. “There he is! Digesting, I guess…”

Next pier along is Ambleside Pier. Long distance, I pay more attention to the near-by gull, posing for his moment of fame (I hope he’s watching for eagles), than to the human activity out on the pier.

A handful of men out on the pier, dropping their crabbing paraphernalia into the water. Each one of them, presumably, armed with his valid Tidal Waters Sports Fishing Licence. Large signs specify exactly what they may take, and how many, how often.

Heading back toward the car, I am again gob-smacked by happy palm trees, out there in a Canadian winter. This particular time, I am also pleased by their dance with the spidery bare-branch Something, right next door.

My friends indulge me. Other pedestrians stride by without a glance. I guess they are all used to palm trees.

But my friend slow down as much as I do, to eye the ducks. We’ve been fascinated throughout the walk by convoys of these boldly marked black & white ducks. They seem to cluster much more than other ducks I’m used to — sometimes bobbing head-down beneath the water one after another like an aquatic chorus line, or all swirling in one direction, or suddenly exploding in two opposite directions.

Or, as here, stretched in one long scribble across the silvery surface.

They make me think of the Bufflehead duck that I know (sort of know) from back east, simply because they are also black & white. My friends do a better online search later than I manage to do, and identify them.

Barrow’s Goldeneye!

Aren’t you glad you know that?

When Bears Go Bad…

14 February 2018

 

Rok Tok

11 February 2018 – Rocks can talk. And make magic. We discover the magic, rok by rok.

We’re partway along the Arbutus Greenway Corridor — an otherwise unprepossessing stretch one must add, between Nanton Rd. and Quilchena Park.

See what I mean?

But look again. See. See the long line of rainbow rocks. Thank the grade 2 students of York House School, and all the people who helped them.

We bend our heads, crouch to read.

The Corridor runs just east of Arbutus Street, repurposing a disused CPR line for some 8.5 kilometres or so …

from Fir St. & W 6th Av. near False Creek, to just south of W 7oth, near the Fraser River.

We start at the False Creek end, work our way south to W 70th, lingering in this stretch with the rocks.

 

Don’t see, or hear, a stellar jay. But when you do, oh, they are wonderful.

 

Imagine how much stronger a sense of community those children have, thanks to this project.

It’s reflected in their rocks.

Some add pictures …

 

or mix their languages, comfortably at ease …

and they all, rock by rock, move the rest of us to action.

Yes, nature is waiting for us. All around us. Farther south we come across another stretch of community gardens.

At first with silent sentinels …

but then with cheerful real-live gardeners, out removing winter mulch, preparing the soil, doing all those tidy-up-get-ready steps of early spring.

And we get an answer to the question posed earlier by one of the rocks.

The answer — the winter-time answer at least — is: Brussels sprouts and kale.

Silver & Light

9 February 2018 – We’re in Stanley Park, tracing its perimeter as we walk the Seawall. A cloudy day, the water a silvery sheen but, here and there, one moment or another, a piercing pinpoint of light & colour.

The incandescent yellow mound of the sulphur terminal, for example, as we approach Prospect Point. It is across Burrard Inlet on the shores of North Vancouver, not close, but look, it draws the eye.

Very close, the reflected arc of Lion’s Gate Bridge, a broken dark scribble on the shining water. Shining, too, rectangles of bright windows in a single focal point of sunshine through drifting clouds.

A backward glance as we round Prospect Point, and that sulphur pile still pulls the eye. (No need to keep the eye instead alert for roller-bladers — we pedestrians have a designated path of our own.)

More sunshine slanting through the clouds — another momentary focal point in the seascape. This time it’s a freighter laden with containers (I see containers & I think photographer Ed Burtynsky, every time), picked out bright against the water, clouds & backdrop mountain range.

We’re around the point of land, curving back eastward toward English Bay and False Creek. Now the sun offers more than a spotlight; it offers a whole sky.

But not quite yet! We must yet pass Siwash Rock, and walk into the sunshine around that next fold in the land. Still, there it will be — the freighter is the promise: no longer a single focal point of light, but part of a larger light-bright whole.

And so it is. We round that fold of land & walk into sunshine.

Past Third Beach, past Second Beach, past English Bay (with a sideways diversion to a café) … and onto a False Creek ferry.

Next stop, the purposeful (& successful) hunt for wind chimes to suspend from my upper balcony. Come to think of it, they too are “silver & light” (even if here silhouetted black).

I see them, and hear their mellow, deep bong, as I type these words.

  • 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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