Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

Hoboken & Right Here

18 August 2021 – Well, there’s a stretch. I’ve never visited Hoboken or even had cause to think about it, not until bluebrightly and I entered into some chatter about one of the images in my Murals & Time Travel post.

It showed vine and ripening berries rampaging all over a chainlink fence, and I had soared off into some fantasy about city-as-art-installation. Bluebrightly commented that, instead, she thought of it as an example of nature taking over.

She added, “I always loved stubborn manifestations like that. In the industrial city of Hoboken, New Jersey, across the river from NYC, there was an Ailanthus tree growing out of the old train station roof. And Tansies along the railroad tracks. Probably all gone now, since Hoboken became popular.”

I replied that it made me think of a particular take-over moment in an alley right here, back in June 2020.

This moment:

So here’s to stubborn, insistent nature, in Hoboken, Vancouver & everywhere else.

Other Realities

16 March 2021 – Ohhh, growl. I’ve dutifully listened to the Morning Misery (aka morning news) and I am out the door. I need a dose of other realities.

Happy, fun, friendly, plain-old-neighbourly realities.

And I want them right now. Stomp stomp.

Is one block sufficiently “right now”? Because look, up on that balcony, a little “boy” climbing his ladder to admire the “moon.”

And, immediately next door, on a boring old wire-mesh fence, a mural of moon/clouds/skyline.

Around a couple of corners, on up south (how can south also be up? it just is), past the corner garden tended by Sherry. I’ve never met Sherry, but almost every time I linger to admire her work, someone local tells me her name. They want me to know who is offering so much pleasure, and I’m happy to hear it, every time.

This time, I notice a wonky set of shelves, decorated with strawberry ornaments, offering a child’s book below (Five Little Gefiltes), and up here on the top shelf — also for the having — small plastic figurines. “One per child,” asks Sherry. I love that one is a hockey player. Canadian, eh?

Still climbing my way south, nod at the cowboy just off the corner of Robson Park …

and check out the books in the neatly painted, sturdy Little Free Library kiosk near Prince Edward Street & East 19th. And — one final detail in this whole generous offering — isn’t that a lovely knob on the kiosk door?

A few more blocks, and Prince Edward Street borders Prince Edward Park. I sit on a bench for a moment, watch a passle of pre-teens kicking a ball around & shrieking with joy. I decide not to worry about COVID; I will instead assume they are bubbled class-mates.

When I leave, I read the plaque on my bench.

It makes sense of the companion bench, with a female first name, same surname, and a later death date. That plaque reads: “Together again.”

And yes, East 21st, the park’s northern border, is a “perfect walking street.” Not just big, happy park to the south, but, look: trees with great big burls! And a whole block of painted pavement!

Plus, tucked into this particularly twisty-twirly burl, a whole fairy kingdom of mushrooms and doorway. (Fact is, I am not a fan of twee little fairy kingdoms decorating trees. Other fact is, I love that people are being happy, and sharing what they hope will make the rest of us happy as well.)

My next other fact is, pretty well any street can be a “perfect walking street” if you just damn-well decide to view it that way…

Here on Sophia, for example, as I turn back north.

Tiny new astilbe shoots, just beginning to unfurl inside that thicket of old stalks from last year.

And dog-paw solar lights in the next garden down.

One more park-bench moment, in the wonderfully named Tea Swamp Park at Sophia & East 16th. (The name, explains the Vancouver Park Board, is a reminder of the Labrador tea plants that once flourished in the area.) And then, just off the park, the Tea Swamp Community Garden.

With its turquoise & sunshine yellow garden shed, and its tidy plots, just about to rev up for the new season.

Now. Right Now

11 March 2021 – At the intersection of Main & East Broadway — and of past, present & future.

The past is rubble.

The future is undisclosed.

The present is a gift.

Time for Grit

25 November 2020 – This time, my feet walk me right past the waterscape of False Creek, on north into the cityscape of Yaletown.

Time for some city grit.

I am standing at the corner of Mainland and Davie, just behind the skytrain station. I’m about to wander this downtown enclave with its mixture of upscale boutiques (everything proudly “artisan”) for the influx of upscale residents, plus services for and reminders of the population they displace.

So I do smile at this image, as requested — including at the sassy “Take requests?” someone has added — but I know I’ll have cause during this walk to sigh as well as to smile.

Oh look — a skeleton! With a mic for its chest. And why not, entertainment is one of the neighbourhood offerings.

Still on Mainland, now at Helmcken, where I contemplate the guy quickly, and surely illegally, slapping a poster on that utility pole. A ribbon of street mural weaves around his bicycle, on its way up this block of Helmcken.

Steps right opposite Poster Guy bear a message now blurry with time, but still warm in intent.

Can you make it out? “We shape/each other/and fit/together.”

My zig-zags take me along Helmcken. At Seymour I’m drawn to this bright ceramic tile plaque on a building wall:

Only then do I notice the building itself. This is the City-run Gathering Place Community Centre, a social centre for the Downtown South community. “We primarily serve vulnerable populations…” says its website, and this is obviously true.

For one thing, individual tiles in the plaque often commemorate lives cut short.

For another, the website lists practical support for the homeless, such as showers and laundry service, along with meals and other programs less specifically focused.

And for yet another, one of the windows displays this poster:

In the midst of pandemic, more addicts are using alone, and more are dying.

Walk around with open eyes, and you are reminded how many worlds co-exist in the same geographic space.

Back among the boutique shops of Helmcken, I see another poster — this one on the sidewalk, adapting Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra to a best practices code for considerate shoppers.

While over in Emery Barnes Park, on the fence of the off-leash area, there is another best-practices code on display.

This one is for considerate dogs.

(I am enchanted at the thought of all those up-market, downtown dogs: both literate and considerate!)

I walk and I walk and eventually my feet have me back south of False Creek, home once again in Mount Pleasant.

An alley off Broadway reveals the devastation of a recent three-alarm fire among shops on Main Street …

while a front view, on Main itself, shows that our local Yarn Artist has joined others in expressing sympathy and support.

All these realities, all at the same time.

Lines & Spaces

9 November 2020 – Another looping walk down to my end of False Creek, west to the Cambie St. bridge, up and across, back east via Olympic Village plaza, and home.

Hadn’t planned any theme, but this industrial corner off Scotia & East 2nd seems to focus my eye in a particular way.

Lines & spaces!

In this case, with rust.

But later, with water …

with traffic lights and a seagull …

with a floating log …

with on-ramps for the Cambie St. bridge …

with a whole mad frenzy of tubular geometry …

and, most wonderfully of all …

with dog leashes.

It’s an outdoor doggie obedience class in the Olympic Village plaza.

The Crock Croc

7 July 2020 – Could it get any better?

An alley made happy with a happy crocodile head (or so I see it), those great jaws curved in a smile …

and, and, the croc is made up of crockery.

Gazillions of tiny shards, placed with great deliberation, colour/texture/design all orchestrated for stand-back visual coherence.

But come in close.

To the croc’s eye, for example …

You see?

The croc is not all alone, in his alley corner.

Other shapes & designs are also pressed into the retaining wall (and on up the steps of the adjoining home, so there’s one mystery solved).

I particularly like this design, because Mother Nature has added her own rose-petal embellishment, upper left.

B Is For Bee (& Buttercup)

24 May 2020 – Walking south through quiet residential local streets, as usual, and, again as usual, head-swivelling to check out each back alley as I pass. Because there might be something to explore.

And, oh, this time, there is.

A brightly painted bee-trail the length of the block.

It starts with that one bee, then leads you hippity-hop forward …

 

to a node with two bees, to keep you motivated …

and a final twist of hippity-hop …

 

to the three-bee finale.

And then the magic spell is broken.

Or perhaps intensified, depending on your attitude to cityscape.

I turn my head to the right, and take in the boarded-up old house, the beater-car in the yard — and what explodes all over the rest of the yard.

B is for buttercup.

 

 

Chalk It Up

2 April 2020 – Chalk it up.

Not to experience, as it happens…

but to the pandemic.

Schools are closed, children at home, and all that energy needs outlets.

Result? A boom in kiddy sidewalk art.

Solo-walking in my neighbourhood, and I’m right at the street corner. Arrows tempt me in both directions.

Veer left …

to walk — or hop — an entire block of hopscotch grids, end-to-end.

Or veer right …

to dance through fantasy flowers and assorted other explosions of colour.

I dance with the flowers, and pick this blossom just for you.

Keep safe. Even as we isolate physically, we can draw closer socially.

Ooooooo & Ouch

22 September 2019 – I’m crossing Cambie St. on West Cordova, deep in Gastown territory, lots of gloss & touristy flash and noisy patios and whatnot, and then … wait a minute …

Oooooooo

A patio, not noisy, and okay definitely glossy, but the gloss is on the table-tops and it makes their designs dance for us, even on this dull day.

I lean over the railing for a closer look.

Well, that’s fun. Bold lines, local references (“Gastown” and the iconic East-Van cruciform image…) and even, on that far right corner, some words.

So I lean even closer.

And I am happy.  Amidst all the Gastown tourist come-on, some real humanity. Not generic design work on these tables, but specific art by a specific artist, Alberto, who this time around had some help from Katarina and chooses to offer her a very public thank-you.

Oooooo-worthy, on all levels.

?????

Hah, not the heading you expected, but accurate to what I’m thinking — if confusion amounts to thinking — as I head south on Homer from West Hastings.

What is that image, there on the south-east alley corner? Surely not a green & white python, swirling up from its street-level basket?

No, of course it’s not.

It’s a woman, albeit quite improbably swirly in form, with a flower. Green, white and, I now see, lavender. (Nicely picked up in the lavender shade of the graffiti on the lamp post…)

I am no longer ???? about the image, but still pretty darn ????? about why it’s there.

The sidewalk sign tells me this shop is called Coalition Skin and, once I get past the scowling feline and read the small print …

the Ouch sets in.

 

 

 

  • 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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