It’s Chris-A-Riffic!

30 May 2018 – Well, I have some nerve. That is a totally misleading title for this post, Chris barely gets a walk-on, and not for ages yet.

I just like the name.

Even though I start with Caroline.

I’m prancing up Main Street, southward from False Creek, noticing tiny scraps of street art as I go. (Every now and then I am up to here with stunningly beautiful nature, and I have to go bang my head against street art instead.)

Though, mind, you, I seem to be noticing nature in the street art …

Witness that red flower above. And this blue bird below, bottom left corner in a parking lot mural at Main & E. Broadway (or so).

This is a detail of Community Tree, by the GHIA (= Growing Hope Into Action) Collective, a group of Emily Carr University students, one of the 2017 Mural Festival creations.

Yet more nature! Sunflowers!

This time an upper corner of Emily Gray‘s Cycle Mural at Main & E. 10th. I look her up later, pretty sure she is the engaging young artist who led a public-art tour I joined in downtown Vancouver last summer. And yes, not only that, she is also responsible for other murals & street art I’ve been enjoying around town, including all the gloriously loopy stuff all over Spyglass Dock. (“My” ferry dock. as I like to claim, on False Creek.)

This mural at E. 10th deserves its title, with cyclists & skate-boarder whooping around the scene, but it also pays whimsical tribute to False Creek, complete with dragon boat racers and the distinctive Golf Ball (oh all right, Telus World of Science) at the east end.

Not to mention all that asparagus and an eggplant or two …

At Main & E 13th, I back up for the whole shot rather than a detail.

Woman in all her languid glory, by Loretta Lizlo & Cam Scale, draped across the side wall of this Forty Ninth Parallel Coffee Roasters location.

We’re on to a bike theme now, have you noticed? First Emily Gray’s mural & now the real thing.

And a coffee theme as well.

I cleverly (but only in retrospect) combine the two by trucking west to Heather & W. 16th, where I order my latte in the Tandem Bike Café.

Coffee & treats this side; bike repair that side.

Along with the café menu and those bike tires looped overhead — genuinely for sale in the bike repair shop, not just for décor — along with the menu & the tires, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, yes, along with them, there is a poster for a Chris-A Riffic launch party.

We finally reach Chris.

Did you notice? Flick your eyes back up. Bottom left corner …

Alas, the party was two months ago. So much for a date with C-A-R.

I’m still into details, perky signs, and silly words.

Like this city-reg announcement barring cars on this stretch of Yukon …

with some citizen’s happy-face addition, and very polite words of appreciation. (Oh, he must be Canadian.)

One more bit of citizen action, this time on Cambie just south of Broadway.

Go for it.


7 April 2018 – No thematic unity to these images, except that they are all part of the Vancouver cityscape, and they have all recently snagged my eye.

Sometimes from amusement, as here at an entrance to Mountain View Cemetery — not a location one traditionally associates with amusement.

Got that? Rover-on-a-leash, yes. Rover-no-leash has to stay home with your pet elephant and pet camel.

(Amusement mixed with admiration, I should add. What a gentle way to remind people how to behave.)

More amusement and admiration across the street from the cemetery. A very handsome, beautifully maintained yellow home — that’s the admiration part.

Amusement comes with the family’s Little Free Library box, there in the foreground, built and painted to copy the home.

Even more amusement when we come close. Lovely details on all sides, including two tiny figures on the balcony.

Speaking of homes … Here’s one to snag the eye!

We’re bundled up for a fitful grey day, but all this blue & orange blazes through.

The house is special for more than its colour scheme.

It is a surviving, and prettied-up, example of the Vancouver Special — the city’s one indigenous house form, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Built 1965-85, sometimes described as a “two-storey rancher turned at right angles to the street,” the Vancouver Special was a response to setback by-laws and the need for economic housing. Almost all the Specials quickly became multi-generational housing, reconfigured for a ground-level suite. Today, each survivor is a history lesson, reflecting both that civic moment in time, and its own succession of owners.

So my delight has a whole vernacular-architecture streak to it.

Another Vancouver “special” – i.e., something else that is Very Vancouver.


Clusters of bicycles, whole art-installations of bicycles.

I’m passing the Tandem Bike Café (which fixes bikes and feeds people), with its distinctive, of-course, form of advertising out there at the street corner.

It’s what’s behind that snags my eye, makes me pause on yet another misty day.

First I see that red trike, touched to see it carefully fastened to the bicycle stand. Then I notice the very-Vancouver adaptations of those other bicycles, each with a front carrier, each prepared for rain. (Also the burgeoning Grape Hyacinth, thriving in the showers.)

Rain City!

As I type this, my chimes sing in the breeze, and we have just had the season’s first flash of lightning, first clap of thunder.



Very Vancouver

4 November 2017 – Trucking on down West Broadway I am, and there it is. A Very Vancouver moment.

A bike. With prayer flags.

I should add… That was two days ago.

Yesterday it snowed. But the snow is all up there, atop the Coast Mountains, not down here on city streets (though visible from here).

Down here the palm trees still wave their fronds, as they do year-round.

Meanwhile skiers are ecstatic, digging out their gear, and non-skiers are scrabbling around, trying to find their gloves & scarves.

And umbrellas.


By Land, by Sea, by Foot, by Ferry…

4 July 2017 – It’s the Canada Day weekend, I’m off to Granville Island to enjoy the celebrations with family, and I consider modes of transport.

I could be part of the by-foot brigade, walking west along the False Creek seawall and curving myself onto the island: I’ve done it a few times already since moving here, and it’s mightily tempting.

But I’m even more tempted by the ferry!

So I bounce down to Spyglass Dock instead, admire yet again that piano with its “Jazz Cats + Mice” motif, and jump onto an Aquabus, just about to push off from the dock.

The ferries are not only frequent, inexpensive & efficient, they make you smile. They’re right up there with helium balloons, they just make you smile.

That’s the cartoon drawing on the captain’s T-shirt, but it’s true to life.

Fifteen minutes later (with one stop in between), I’m on Granville Island.

Me and many others; people are gathering. We — and a sky full of sunshine — are celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. Official maple leaf flags and insignia all over the place, but my favourite is this very wonky chalk rendition on a sidewalk.

Granville Island isn’t really an island at all, it is a sandspit on the south shore of False Creek, home to factories & sawmills in the early 1900s but now entirely transformed, a magnet for Vancouverites & tourists as well: a huge indoor public market, home to theatres, artisan workshops & studios, retail outlets, a sake maker (Canada’s first), 2 breweries & a distillery, a community centre, and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

We weave among the crowds, buskers & music on all sides. Perhaps because my niece drove & I came by ferry, I start ticking off modes of transport.

Cars, of course, tucked up in mural-bright car parks …

bicycles, up-ended in their own lock-up along one wall …

a kayak!

Well, no, not the mode of transport, but on display, and what could be more fitting? There are scads of them in False Creek, along with dragon boats & canoes.

Down by the Emily Carr buildings, I see a transportation triple threat, bing-bang-bong, all in a row: a boat awaiting its launching, a school bus, and (left of the bright yellow school bus) a white chartered bus.

One more means of transport: magic carpet.

And “magic” is the word. It is quite magic to walk that carpet-strewn entrance: once inside the shop, you could be in a souk, the textures & colours delighting the eye, the complex aromas of all those carpets quivering the nose.

Part of the holiday fun is, adults get to be 4 years old again.

We take turns playing on the swings …

and we are as breathless as the children, all jammed together to watch a latter-day Houdini (the sunlit head under the awning word “organic”) step free from his shackles.

Time to go.

I move slowly past the various outdoor solo performers, here a dapper francophone improvising on “La Mer,” there a Cape Breton fiddler, and ‘way down there, the far end of this quay, a young woman crooning jazz to her keyboard.

I find the Aquabus dock; I hand in my return ticket; I watch a little girl — her eyes large & serious — carefully hand in the tickets for her entire family, and then relax happily once aboard, giggling, responsibility discharged.

A tip of my Tilley to “Jazz Cats + Mice” back at Spyglass Dock, and home I go.


Family Portrait

23 June 2016 – Mummy, daddy, and …


little baby bike.

All Bike, No Hike (Spit! Spit!)

30 September 2015 – I told you I’d take you out the Spit, didn’t I? So here we go.

No danger I’ll exceed the posted max speed for bicycles …

speed limits, even for bikes

and I don’t see anyone else giving the limit a serious challenge, either. But, goodness, every kind of bike you can imagine is out here: tandem, recumbent, ultra-lightwight, & regular old plonkers like mine.

We cyclists are just a few of the 100,000 visitors each year to this 5-km-long, 250 hectare urban wilderness, the Tommy Thompson Park that is open weekends & holidays only. Why the limitations? Because the Spit is also an active clean-fill dump site all week long.

Green park, grey rubble. You see the Green-Grey contrast very neatly in this 2013 aerial view, which I took the easy way — standing on land, on my own two feet, behind an official van. (The shot looks north, from the tip back toward the city.)

Leslie Spit 2013

The original plan, 40 years ago, was pure Grey. The city organized dumping off the end of Leslie Street, planning to build a breakwater with the accumulated rubble. Needs & interests changed, the breakwater idea was scrapped, but the dumping went on.

Then people looked over their shoulders and saw that Green — unplanned (& unanticipated) nature — was climbing all over the Grey. They changed course, began planning for the Green, organizing & contouring dumping locations to facilitate an eventual park. Currently, we have both activities; in time, the Spit will be all parkland. It already has its organized devotees, Friends of Leslie Spit.

So a visit to the Spit is all about enjoying nature, and enjoying rubble as well — more precisely, the art visitors make with the rubble.

I bike down the expanding east-side angle of the Spit, known on the latest maps as the Endikement. An ugly word, & I’m not convinced it even is a word. But, look, great ridges of new rubble have much the appearance of a dike.

rubble on the east flank of the Spit, the Endikement

See how much plant life has leapt up all around? By now Leslie Spit is home to some 400 species of plants — plus (year-round or seasonally) to some 316 species of birds, 50 species of butterfly, and many mammals and reptiles.

I spin on my heel, take in Cell # 1 now being contoured just across the gravel road, joining other cells that will help shape the eventual parkland in this part of the  site.

Cell # 1, under development

Then I bike on, enjoying more nature. Waves splashing up over the rocks, for example …

along the eastern edge of the Spit

and, something I always check, the beaver lodge in Triangle Pond.

Triangle Pond, with its beaver lodge

Next — and just as eagerly — I check for the latest installations of rubble art. Some of it signed by brand-name artists, I’ll have you know.

Poser, out on the Spit

First I see the panda bear, then the signature. Street artist Poser is known for great loopy rabbits, but where would he have put the ears on this concrete block? So that’s fine, hello Mr. Panda Bear.

And then I see the rest of the block and whoop with laughter. I first photographed it back in January 2013, when all it bore was the inscription you see here — now faded — on the surface to the right: “Respect your city’s vandals.” Loved it then; love it still.

A little farther out the Spit, stacks of small concrete blocks, some brightly painted.

more rubble art...

More great mounds of rubble right out at the tip, at Lighthouse Point. Some with one or more humans a-top, in this case members of a cycling team.

at Lighthouse Point

We just have to climb this stuff, don’t we?

And then we make things with it. Inuksuks, for example …

inuksuk at Lighthouse Point

or, um, little houses. Or something.

very tiny house? at Lighthouse Point

Another inuksuk, this one my favourite because it has been built at water’s edge, looking out to the horizon. It reminds me of Inuit inuksuks I have seen on the Arctic tundra, also overlooking the water.

inuksuk, Lighthouse Point

Then I notice something small & wonderful, my best rubble-art find of all. It excites and touches me, because I think I recognize the handwriting, the style of poetry, the sensibility of this artist.

rubble-art poet

He (or she, but context makes me think probably “he”) has neatly written a poem on a jagged piece of composite, then posed it against the turquoise backdrop. It is dated 20 September 2015, and begins:

You must have / jogged another’s memory / of / baby blue / baby eyes /

Did their memory also hold the indigo / rimming irises / (irides if you want to get medical about it) /

That indigo is still there / around the baby blue.

He writes of memory, but it is my memory that he jogs.

I have never forgotten the rubble bed I saw here in that January 2013 visit I have already mentioned, surely the work of this same person.

rubble bed, at Lighthouse Point, Jan 2013

Each “pillow” is neatly incised with poetry, poetry in the form of a haunting diary, dated at intervals through fall 2012.

And now here he is again, this anonymous artist, this rubble-art poet. I am happy to think he still visits the Spit, still creates his lyric poetry.

I think about his work off and on as I pedal back north along the Spit, cross the little pedestrian bridge …

pedestrian bridge, part-way up the Spit

and head on home.

I’m smiling now, as I write about it.







Le Rouge et le Noir

3 September 2015 – Very rouge, and very noir.

Though not exactly as Stendhal intended it.

bike art at Church & Wood streets

Another hot-steamy week. No long walks; I go early to the Y and, if I’m lucky, see something like this.

Mackinac, UP

20 May 2015 – That “UP” may give it away to a few people — but just a few, in a tight geographic cluster. I only learned today that “UP” is local slang, meaning “Upper Peninsula,” with the further explanation “– of the State of Michigan, USA” neither provided nor needed.

All of which may suggest I am not at the moment tucked up in my usual Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

And I am not. Could I have taken this photo in Toronto?

outside the Mackinac Island police station

See? I am definitely elsewhere. I am, in fact, spending the day on Mackinac Island in that curious northern peninsular bit of Michigan that butts against Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

No cars on Mackinac; transportation instead by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. I’ve always been curious — as I am about almost any island — but not at all informed about the island’s history.

A plaque provides that history, pared down to the essentials. (Well, no, not quite all the essentials. It does leave out the aboriginal history.)

historical plaque on Mackinac

When my very dear friend Danna & I were plotting our spring get-away to Mason City, Iowa — home of the North Iowa Marching Band Festival every Memorial Day weekend — we decided to included Mackinac Island in our itinerary. It meant a 12-hour drive from Ottawa (her home) to St. Ignace (ferry jump-off for the island) on Tuesday, a feat requiring us to “get up before we went to bed” as one friend likes to put it.

But totally worth it.

Group-of-Seven-scenery all along the Canadian portion of the drive; a U.S. border guard who lit up with delight when she learned we were headed for a marching band festival (“I was in a marching band in high school myself!”); and a cheerful motel room next to the ferry docks, with a lake view.

So I will not complain about the fact that, on May 19, it was only a degree or two above freezing. (Anyway, as a Canadian, I’d be embarrassed to complain about feeling cold in a country south of my own…)

This morning, onto the ferry, and on to Mackinac Island.

map of Mackinac Island

Choices galore. Jump into a tour-carriage; yield to the gob-smacking array of shopping opportunities; perhaps spend our time in the butterfly conservatory? We don’t do any of that. We decide we are there to walk some trails. So we do.

We start from the ferry docks in the bay in the south end of the island, & follow the main drag east toward Mission District out there where the island curves to the north-west. The barrage of tourist shops fades away as we walk east; other island characteristics become more apparent — the horses, the bikes, the grand, grand homes.

Lake Shore Blvd, approaching Mission District

A tour-carriage is heading toward us, pulled by the usual troika of heavy horses; a workman’s bike  (with some plumbing supplies in the boxy cart) is propped up outside one of the homes; tourists fill the sidewalks; fine homes line the street; the spire of Ste. Anne’s Church (1874) rises in the distance.

This is what I mean by a “troika of heavy horses.”

horses pulling tour carriage, Mackinac Island

Aren’t they wonderful? Team after team, patient & strong, steady of nerve. Sometimes smaller carriages with just two horses, but most of the ones we see have three.

I mentioned grand homes, and that’s what they are. Many are now some variety of tourist accommodation — enough of them that, presumably to avoid confusion, private homes often have a neat sign to that effect at the gate. This home, for example.

private home on Lake Shore Blvd

No confusion about some tourist accommodation, however! Mission Point Resort was purpose-built to be exactly that, a resort in the grand tradition.

Mission Point Resort

We pivot around the point of land, head north-west on up Lake Shore Blvd., along the shores of Lake Huron. Lots of rocks, which here — as in Canada, as in Iceland, as I suspect everywhere else — means inuksuks. Where there are rocks, people will pile them up.

inuksuks on Mackinac Island

More shoreline, then up many-many-very-many steps to Arch Rock high on the bluffs. Given the formation, the name was inevitable.

Arch Rock, Mackinac Island

We visit one more of the tourist destinations up here in the woods, a limestone stack given the equally inevitable and descriptive name of Sugar Loaf Rock.

But, mostly, what we do is walk trails. There is a lot of forest up here, entirely another world from the retail/tourist world below. And just as beautifully presented: good trails, maintained but not over-groomed, and well sign-posted.

And, oh, the names!

Just one of the Mackinac Island trails

Plus Juniper Trail, Tranquil Bluff Trail, Crooked Tree Road, Beechwood Trail, Watch-Your-Step Trail, Soldier’s Garden Trail …

We meet only two other people, as we weave around, and both live here. Each provides further tips about favourite trails and secluded parts of the island. The friendly residents and enjoyable trails lead to wonderful discoveries, none of which bears a price tag.

For example, trilliums up and down the slopes …

just a few of the trilliums in the woods

two Jack-in-the-Pulpit …


and a tree trunk with the most glorious fungi I’ve ever seen. Danna tells me the nickname for this particular one is Artist’s Conk …

Artist's Conk (fungus)

because, she explains, you can incise a design on its underside when it is fresh, which it will retain  when it dries.

Finally, we leave the wooded heights, drop down to town via Garrison Rd., and Custer St., and Turkey Hill Rd. (with its warning that its steep slope is dangerous and not to be attempted by bike or in a horse carriage without brakes).

There is time for one more turn around a few lower-level streets before catching the ferry back to St. Ignace.

And one more bit of proof about how deeply these heavy horses are part of the island psyche. Even grand, lakefront homes show their love.

door with horse motif wreath, Mackinac Island

Confession: at first I think it is a misshapen, left-over Christmas wreath. Silly girl, of course not! It is a very deliberate, very elegant, silhouette of a horse’s head.

Itinerary: we leave St. Ignace Thursday morning and, within hours, “UP” Michigan — in fact, all of Michigan — as we head farther south-west and inland.

On to Mason City in a day. Or two. I’ll let you know what happens.



Basquiat on Bathurst (In a pawn shop)

23 February 2015 – Basquait is not top-of-mind on Saturday morning, though in general he is very much in my mind, since the Art Gallery of Ontario has just opened a spectacular retrospective of his work.

Top-of-mind is the weather: it is mild, and very grey, and snowing. It looks like this.

College TTC streetcar, at St. George

You see? I need colour. That’s why I’m trundling west in a College Street streetcar, heading for a couple of small art galleries up Bathurst Street, near Dupont. I pity the streetcar drivers, and private car drivers as well …

shovelling, Bathurst nr Dupond

… digging themselves clear. But I’m just fine, I’m in my tall Sorel boots, veterans of the Canadian Arctic, I can mush through anything.

If you ignore all the inconveniences that come with a snowfall, it is also very pretty. It highlights line & shape, turns everything into a sculpture. Quite Mondrian, this grid-composition of stairway framed by gate & narrow laneway walls.

lane east side of Bathurst, south of Dupont

That could even be quite a Mondrian-inspired punch of yellow, bottom left. (Sorry, it’s a snow shovel.)

In & out of a couple of art galleries, good art, well displayed, why am I not more grateful? I don’t really perk up until I see this pawn shop window. Specifically, what stands between the bird house & the Mike’s Hard Lemonade advertisement.

Annex Pawn front window, 1044 Bathurst

I am now fully perked-up. I go in. I must here confess that I’m not yet registering the mannequin’s Basquiat references. I’m drawn by the torso’s vibrant energy and — once I’m inside — gob-smacked by the abundance & eclecticism of Annex Pawn. It’s definitely “more than a junk shop” as its slogan promises, and I’m not surprised when staff later tell me it’s also more of a consignment store than pawn shop.

I do wander around — Lalique & Tiffany here, war memorabilia there, neon signs & a knight in shining armour & vinyl records & guitars (including a Fender Stratocaster) & vintage clothes & art & stuff & stuff — and then I make my way back to that front window mannequin. When I ask permission to photograph it, the young saleswoman points out it is a tribute to Basquiat.

back, Basquiat-style mannequin

A piece of found art, she says: brought in by someone at multiple degrees of separation from whoever so lovingly painted it. And, presumably, who also composed the tribute poem on the bright green thigh. (“I searched online, but couldn’t find the poem,” she adds.)

tribute poem to Basquiat on mannequin thigh

By now, of course, I can see the Basquiat style & imagery.

The face on the other thigh, for example …

image on Basquiat-style mannequin

… jumps at me again the very next day, when my partner & I spend hours in the AGO exhibition. There it is — identified as Untitled, 1981 —  large & powerful, bursting from the gallery wall.

This is a tough act to follow!

Good thing I next discover Weird Things, still on Bathurst & just a bit farther south. “It is a place with all the weird things you need,” promises its Facebook page. The first thing I notice isn’t all that weird, but it sure is colourful.

piano in Weird Things, 998 Bathurst

I ask owner Jonathan Peterson, a cheerful face through a little hatch at the back of the space, if this is one of the Pan Am Games “Play Me” pianos. No. It’s one that he himself painted, commissioned by TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) for an event. “When they finished with it, they gave it back. I store it here — it’s too big for anywhere else.”

We talk a whole range of things, from piano art, to 19th-c pottery urns (Farrar a name we both quote), to keeping frisky kittens out of Bathurst Street traffic, to Soviet-era cartoon characters.

Really! Not a topic I would have thought to raise, except I am fingering my way through a tin box full of bright enamelled pins. I comment they seem like Disney characters, only .. well … to borrow the adjective … weird. By now Jonathan has emerged from the hatch & we’re exploring the pins together.

“A local guy brought them in, didn’t know anything about them. Later a Russian guy identified them — Soviet TV cartoon characters got their start when a Russian artist saw some American cartoons around the end of World War Two, and went from there.” Beavers with chain saws, rabbits with scary black eyes, very stylish bears & roosters, some sweet folklore characters, and — Jonathan singles him out — the wolf who started it all. (Think of Disney’s Pluto, gone bad.) Check out Nu Pogodi.

So I am having a very good time, I am highly entertained, and I decide that my Arctic boots & I will keep on mushing for a while yet.

Past bikes turned Bike Art.

Bathurst St. bike in the snow

Eventually down an alley near Bloor, between Bathurst & Albany. From Bloor, it looks promising …

alley n. of Bloor between Bathurst & Albany

… but no, it disappoints me. To my eye it looks like the original murals have been (my judgmental word) vandalized with tags by other hands over the lower half. Vandalism or not, the later additions certainly destroy the coherence of the original work. I am somewhat cranky by the time I reach the Albany end.

And then I laugh, & cheer up.

Albany end of lane between Bathurst & Albany n. of Bloor

Oh, thank you Matthew Del Degan and your “lovebot” campaign! This particular random act of kindness has just worked its magic.

The artist had planned to add a lot more lovebots to our streets this February, and what better month to choose. He seems to have achieved his goal. By now I’m around the corner, on Bloor West near Spadina, and look.

Over there, across the street, snugged up next to Lee’s Palace of alternative & rock music.

lovebot south side of Bloor West nr Spadina

By now I am so pleased with the world, I don’t even snarl at the signs on the fence around this very private club, firmly telling non-members to keep out.

I just admire the snow on the fence.

fence around Bloor West private club

I suspect they’d like the beauty of their snow also to be available only to members, but HAH … it’s right there for all of us to enjoy.


    "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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