Gorse, of Course

11 May 2017 – We don’t have gorse in mind as we board the Sark Belle for our day trip to this historic, enchanting little (5 1/2 sq km.) island member of the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

We’re thinking wildflowers, walks, sweeping views, and narrow roads & lanes free of cars but alive with tractors & tractor-drawn carts (tractors being the legal car substitute), bicycles, horses, and “shank’s mare” (leg power).

It all makes me think of my childhood summers on Dorval Island near Montreal, and my year as an adult living on Algonquin Island, one of the two residential islands in Toronto Harbour.

But, back there, we haven’t the old, old stone homes and out-buildings …

or the fingerboards.

Sally & I study this one, and follow the fingers for La Coupée and Little Sark. The former — a 91-m. narrow track with 100-m. drops either side — leads to the latter, the nearly-separate southern section of the island.

Our goal is simply to walk — to breathe the fresh air, listen to the cascades of bird song, enjoy the hedgerows, the sweeps of fields & cliffs, the wildflowers.

We walk pretty steadily through Greater Sark, heading for Little Sark, and then abruptly pull up — like everybody else — at the sight of La Coupée.

We’ve been told that for most of its history, the track had no railings at all, that in those days small children crossed on hands & knees on days of high wind, and that — as a plaque now notes — German POWs build the present railing under British supervision immediately after World War II.

You peer over the edge down into La Grande Grève, you appreciate the sturdy protection.

Another 15-20 minutes down-island, and we stop for lunch in a tea garden. (No latte, not this time: good food, sparkling water, shrubs, flowers & bird song instead.)

We know we have to walk all the way back up-island again, we’ll have a ferry to catch, but we can’t resist a side-trip while here. It’s a 15-minute walk to either Venus Pool or the Silver Mines, promises a brochure. We ask directions, and we’re on our way down the appropriate lane.

And through the appropriate farm gate.

That’s a ventilation shaft for the one-time silver mines straight ahead, one of several that still dot the area. They are a handsome, craggy sight in a sweeping, craggy area …

softened by great rolling swaths of gorse.

It is everywhere.

Ulex europaeus, if you want to get scientific about it, an evergreen shrub with brilliant yellow flowers that provides shelter for insects and birds. Tough & tenacious, say the descriptions — potentially invasive, in fact. Yes, that adjective does come to mind.

We go not quite all the way down to the water, then head back to the main road and continue up-island.

We really do want to get ourselves prudently back onto Greater Sark, within striking range of the ferry dock, but another diversion looms.

Well, more for Sally than for me.

She is a horsewoman, I am not. I watch from slightly afar as she horse-whispers the animal from a skittish distance right up to the gate. I watch him relax toward her hand, bend his head, make contact.

It’s a lovely moment.

Then, hip-hop, we’re back across La Coupée — and, yes! with time to spare for another diversion. This one westward toward the Gouliot Headland. Down more lanes, past the Duck Pond (with Mallards paddling about, to justify the name), a sideways slide past a cart heaped with tree trimmings, through another cattle gate (opened & carefully closed behind us) …

and we’re positioned for more sweeping views to the cliffs and water edge.

With lots more gorse!

Gorse lines the hedgerows as we return to the main village, walk past its shops; I point out the café where, during my visit three years ago, I shared a table with an aging lady who informed me that she was the last baby delivered by the German doctor on that island before the surrender of the occupying forces. (“One year, at the Liberation Day celebrations, I was introduced to Prince Charles!”)

We take the pretty little woodland path from the village down to the harbour, and then the tunnel through the rock to the harbour now in use.

Back on Guernsey, back up the Constitution Steps — all 3,037 of them (OK,I made that up) — to our self-catering apartment in La Madeleine, and we collapse.

I check the pedometer app on my iPhone. Congratulations! it cries: you’ve walked 17.2 km today.

Yesss!

 

Donkey Island

8 May 2017 – The taxi driver cries, “Oh, I’m a donkey!” and then, via the rear-view mirror, checks out my reaction with amused eyes. I have just asked if he is native to Guernsey, or an in-comer. Will I know that he has just answered my question?

Yes. Got it. He is local.

Jersey islanders (boo, hiss!) first hung the tag on Guernsey residents, no compliment intended. Guernseymen decided it fit them to a tee: tough, stubborn, strong, and, even so, sweet. No wonder there is this sculpture of mother & foal opposite the Town Church in St. Peter Port, and donkey images on every tourist item you can imagine.

My friend Sally & I are starting a UK holiday here on the Channel Island of Guernsey — but we quickly discover that, in fact, our UK holiday won’t start until we return to the English mainland. Guernsey gives its name to the Bailiwick of Guernsey (which also includes Alderney, Sark and other smaller islands); Jersey comprises the Bailiwick of Jersey; they are both Crown dependencies, remnants of the Duchy of Normandy, and not part of the UK.

The history, you will now rightly conclude, is complicated, and rife with political take-overs, from pre-historic eras to the Romans, and on from there. The most recent take-over was in living memory and, thankfully, cut short: Nazi forces occupied the Channel islands during World War II.

As it happens, we will be here for Liberation Day celebrations (9 May, tomorrow), but there is much else to celebrate, at all times.

The sea, of course, the busy ports (here, a section of St. Peter Port Harbour at low tide) …

harbour walkways accessible only at low tide …

and the homes, walls and steps that seem to erupt from the very ground beneath them.

As indeed they do: the island is rich in granite. Charmingly, wildflowers erupt as well, filling minute crannies & softening the rock face.

Sally leans in for a closer look, as we walk down Rue Berthelot.

“Down” is literally true, by the way! The capital St. Peter Port steps vertically up from the sea. Whether you choose a narrow road or one of the pedestrian staircases, you & your leg muscles are in for a work-out.

An early visit to the Tourist Information Centre pays off: we snag the last few seats on the next day’s “Old Number Eleven” tour — the last in a series on offer during the month-long Heritage events, due to culminate on Liberation Day.

The Number Eleven was a bus route, and we join a lot of nostalgic “Donkeys” on the 1954 Albion Victor bus that will follow the old route out to Portelet at the south-west corner of the island.

It’s a great stopping-point for visitors as well, because from here we can also visit the Star Fort at Pezeries Point and the Table des Pions. We enjoy both, but are most touched by something else: a rusted, badly eroded and deformed airplane propeller propped against the fence overlooking the bay.

On 11 June 1944, the German occupiers shot down a B17 Flying Fortress that was presumably returning to England from a bombing raid on France. Eleven men lost their lives. Much, much later, a fisherman hauled up this airplane remnant with his catch. The paper in front of it, sheathed in protective plastic, reads: “… You sacrificed your young lives for our freedom. The people of Guernsey thank you. Rest in Peace.”

That’s not litter, to the right of the propeller; it is just the latest in an intermittent, but continuing, series of floral tributes, offered anonymously.

Old Number Eleven now shakes free of her one-time route, and we are treated to a near-circumnavigation of the island. Next stopping point: L’Ancresse Bay in the Parish of Vale, toward the north-west. More military history — this time scattered throughout a golf course, and of much earlier vintage.

This is L’Ancresse Tower No. 7, one of 15 loophole towers built 1778-1779 as part of the island defence system against a possible French invasion. Why a possible invasion? The Americans declared independence in 1776, the French allied themselves with the rebel cause, and the British Crown not unreasonably thought it might lead to an attempt to retake the Channel islands.

As it happens, it didn’t. Today pigeons inhabit the towers, and golfers do their best to shoot around them. (Still … would a shot in one loophole and out another qualify as a hole-in-one?)

All that was yesterday. Today Sally & I follow up with another bus ride, and another dip into the history of the German occupation. This time it is a regular modern bus on its current route, depositing us in Forest, where we walk past the ancient parish church, Ste Marguerite de la Foret (its earliest parts dating from the 13th c.), to attend a lecture in the German Occupation Museum on Guernsey’s resistance heroes.

 

Pre-lecture, we wander country lanes (“ruettes”), admiring the riotous abundance of wildflowers & woodland, and the simple elegance of the buildings.

Then into the Museum.

It is an informed, personal & touching talk, given by the man who created and runs the museum. It is not the history of the war, or even the history of the Occupation on Guernsey; it is the human story of three individuals, and why they mattered. But through these three stories, we feel the larger history.

Even the little Tea Room contains memorabilia.

Tomorrow is 9 May, 2017.

The island will celebrate, and Sally & I will be there.

Goodbye / Hello

30 April 2017 – And so it is time.

Goodbye, Toronto …

and hello, Vancouver.

“Traveller, there is no path,” says Antonio Machado (1875-1939). “Paths are made by walking.”

 

Eight Virtues of Underpass Art

27 April 2017 – T.E. Lawrence had his Seven Pillars of Wisdom; you & me, we have Eight Virtues of Underpass Art, courtesy of the railway underpass on Dufferin, just north of Dupont.

I am buoyant, as I approach Dupont. I have just spent a happy hour with my friend Sarah in the Sovereign Espresso Bar on Davenport, lingering over our lattes. There is the pain of my imminent departure from Toronto, but it is far outweighed by the warmth of all the friends wishing me well, promising to visit.

Now Sarah is off on her bicycle and I am off on foot. In an hour or so, I’ll be sitting down with other friends in Yorkville — but meanwhile, here I am in the warm, bright sunshine, prowling along, absorbing Toronto streetscape through every pore.

The underpass is shabby, the artwork peeling and visually incoherent: it has no apparent theme.

Until I see the neatly printed word “love,” block-printed red letters tucked around a curve of yellow paint.

Peeling paint; eternal virtue.

I walk even more slowly … and discover “truth.” Bold, as truth should be, despite its uncongenial background.

We have a theme after all.

Virtue by virtue, I work my way south through the underpass.

Sometimes the virtue is printed over a decorative border …

sometimes it is given visual dynamic by workmen one level above …

sometimes it is tucked between swirls of colour …

sometimes it borrows a parrot’s head …

or a human head, for that matter.

And, sometimes, it swells & diminishes, obeying its own secret rhythm.

The day carries on from there, better & better, serving up all the virtues of friendship as it goes.

And it ends, after a brief evening thunderstorm, with a glowing rainbow in the eastern sky.

Snap-Happy on Queen

23 April 2017 – I’m still swooning around Toronto, noticing things with a keener eye now that I shall not be living here & therefore can no longer take them for granted.

During this walk along Queen St. West, for example — nothing capital-S Significant, but all quietly significant to me.

Garage art down Cayley Lane just south of Grange Park, for example …

the garage door bright & probably fairly recently painted, but just one component in a total “urban installation” that also includes a scrawled-upon fence, some older low-level brick attached homes, & a soaring new glass condo tower as well.

Back onto Queen, over to Peter St., and yes! that funny frieze of street art still decorates one top edge of the corner brick building that, at street level, has long housed the Peter Pan Bistro.

Another bit of familiar street art in this neighbourhood, over by Soho: the dead tree stump that Elicser turned into street-sculpture years ago, and still refreshes from time to time.

I always look for the latest version — and this time literally clap my hands in delight.  Construction is underway right next to the sidewalk, and each city tree is carefully boxed, to prevent damage.

So is Elicser’s “tree”!

I love it, I love it.

Eyes up, more high-level artwork, this one new to me.

Low-level now, and why do I show it to you?

It’s vandalized, dirty, & the relic of another technological time.

Well I don’t know, but it snags my attention even so, there’s something about a phone-shape sculpture to encase a phone, even if only the smallest fragments of the physical phone still exist.

Exuberance & jollity a bit farther west, over by Spadina. Not new, but always delightful.

It’s another mad exercise in geometry & spatial relationships, courtesy of Birdo.

I veer left (south, that is) into Rush Lane, aka Graffiti Alley; also aka Rant Alley, since this is where CBC-TV’s Rick Mercer famously films his rants. (South of Queen, parallel to Queen, roughly between Portland & Spadina, if you want to visit it yourself.)

Year over year, the artwork morphs & evolves, coming & going, some images untouched, others repainted, yet others palimpsest. I’ve been here lots, it is slightly different every time. And … or … what I happen to notice is slightly different every time.

I’ve seen this doorway Poser bunny before, of course, but today I take near-curatorial delight in its “installation”: neatly tucked into its own niche, framed all around by other murals, with a final visual/spatial punch from the indigo wheelies.

Queen St. again, and sidewalk signs. This one is out of date, but it startles me into hiccupping giggles, even so.

One more sign.

Not for a café, as you will immediately appreciate. It’s for a denim shop — what’s more, for the best denim shop in the city. Says the website. (Their Vancouver website makes the same claim.)

First, I pick up on the pun.

Then I pick up on the skinny jeans [sic] walking into frame, right on cue.

Art & Art, High & Low

17 April 2017 – I’m not too sure about that “high & low” distinction, but I stand by “art & art.”

And every molecule of it breathes Toronto.

Henry Moore’s Two Forms, for example, an icon of the Art Gallery of Ontario, long resident at the AGO’s N/E corner (and due to be relocated to Grange Park).

Fine art, “high art,” that inside the Gallery would be guarded & untouchable.

Out here on the street corner, it is beloved by all, stroked by all, sat upon & slid through by many, and never vandalized — except by all that love. “It’s worn through to the rivets,” a conservator once told me ruefully. “One of these days, we’ll have to have it repatinated.”

Inside the AGO, I revisit one of my favourite rooms, a quiet little room tucked away in a corner of the 2nd floor, housing only two works by Inuk artist Jacoposie Oopakak.

I love the simplicity of the caribou skull, title Family, its antlers delicately carved with images of people, a family tree.

I love, too, the painted line of caribou slanting down the wall, refracted by the case to dance with the skull as they walk and keep it company.

I’m back outside again, dog-leg into an alley just N/W of McCaul & Dundas — and look at this!

Street art featuring a high-minded quote by a brand-name thinker.

(Ignore her. She is not contemplating the art. She’s on her cell with her boyfriend, comparing their respective holiday weekends.)

I am impressed. I look up the Voltaire quote later on, back home. Many sources agree, it’s by our man Voltaire all right. One disagrees. Nah: Pierre de Beaumarchais said this in 1775, while working on the 2nd scene, 1st act, of Le Barbier de Séville. (Well, strictly speaking, no. What he said was: “Aujourd’hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d’être dit, on le chante.”

Really? I have no idea. Click here & decide for yourself.

Or ignore all that, and instead contemplate this next bit of alley-art philosophy, cheek-by-jowl with M. Voltaire/deBeaumarchais. No authorship dispute here: it’s the work of Blaze Wiradharma.

We are spoiled for choice. We can say something, sing something … or just spray it instead.

 

Cat Tales (& Tails)

14 April 2017 – It’s a bright afternoon.

Neighbourhood pussycats are lying in the warming earth of front yard gardens …

stretching their bodies — from toes to belly to ear-tips — to the sun.

I leave the groomed residential street, & tuck myself into a nearby scruffy commercial alley.

Unless something dire has happened, I am about to revisit one of my favourite pussycats.

And there he is.

Symbol City (T.O. Version)

11 April 2017 – I’ve given you one Symbol City already — an array of Vancouver images that, to my delighted visitor’s eye, stood for the Vancouver I was beginning to discover.

Now I’ll offer the Toronto version. A delighted, fresh eye here as well, partly because I am recently back from a 5-week absence — but much more because, in just a few weeks’ time, I shall move from Toronto to Vancouver.

So I am acutely aware of sights that are symbols of my own personal Toronto.

Here are a few.

Riverdale Park, straddling the Don River, with its 1840s Francy Barn attracting hordes of visitors this mild spring day …

William Lishman’s exuberant sculptures, cascading down the river-side face of Bridgepoint Health Care …

a random example of railway underpass street art, this bit on Logan south of Gerrard …

a silly sign!

Jimmy Chiale’s great, pulsing wall mural on Queen St. East, adding energy to the city all around it — from parked cars to streetcar stop, pedestrians, hydro poles trailing wires, vines about to bud on the brick wall …

a whole mural celebrating the city’s distinctive red streetcars …

and a real streetcar, pulled up next to yet another wall mural, this one by Elicser and proclaiming one of the city’s east-end neighbourhoods …

and of course a café!

An attraction in itself, but, really, also just one component of an entire downtown streetscape: patio, traffic sign, bicycle, parked car & all.

I go in, assuming I’ll order a latte. Don’t I always?

Except, this time, no I don’t. I am beguiled instead by an organic hot dog (I always eat a hot-dog in spring, it’s a ritual), smothered in mashed avocado & salsa. Soon my face follows suit, smothered in the generous dressings, ear to ear and nose to chin. The man next to me, knocking back his tortillas, observes the state of my face with some awe. “I’ll try that next time,” he decides.

I loop back west toward home, angle through a scruffy laneway just off Parliament & Queen.

I am here to pay homage to …

Golden Girl!

and to …

Famous Dog!

I don’t know why he is famous — but, come to think of it, he is famous with me.

I’m just happy both murals are still with us, they’ve been around for years & years, and they are part of my Toronto, yes they are.

Here’s lookin’ at you, dawg…

Positive! Negative! (one more time)

8 April 2017 – At the risk of annoying people who got it the first time, I’m going to belabour the point I wanted to make in my previous post.

It was all about the double visuals — the vases, and the not-vases.

I would like everyone to enjoy what artist Greg Payce worked so hard to offer us in this installation at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum of Ceramics.

“Positive/Negative,” I said in the post title. “Play with the spaces,” I urged in the post itself,

Positive space: the intricate — and very deliberate — shape outlined by each vase.

Negative space: the intricate — and very deliberate — shape outlined between each pair of vases.

Refocus.

Look between the vases, not at them.

And there they are.

A little boy, a little girl; a gift of deliberately arranged space.

 

 

Positive / Negative (negative / positive)

6 April 2017 – Oh, go ahead …

Play with the spaces.

I seek out Greg Payce’s Apparently every time I visit Toronto’s Gardiner Museum.

And no, not because these earthenware vessels are examples of “albarelli,” a pharmaceutical shape of the 16th century. (Though that is very good to know, isn’t it?)

Nope. I just want to stand there, playing with the spaces.

And giggling when I succeed.

  • 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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