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.

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.

In the Loop

1 July 2020 – In & around the loop, more like it — the “loop” being a favourite & highly variable circuit of mine down to False Creek, west along one side of this end of the Creek, across the Cambie St. bridge, and back east.

As always, these strange months, much that is familiar suddenly viewed a-slant because of the new context in which I experience it.

Feet going zig-zag (“going all fractal,” I say pretentiously to myself), heading north in a near-by alley because I like alleys, with local alleys offering a less impressive alley-art presence than their Toronto counterparts, but a much more impressive structural presence, thanks to those towering hydro poles.

And this stretch, just east of Main, offers an okay bit of street art as well.

Not to mention the haze of the Coast Range Mountains, off there in the distance. (Take that, Toronto…)

I grin at a little white bird on a big blue dumpster …

peer through chain-link fence at signage for somebody’s mini-community garden …

and, finding myself at a dead end, double back out to E. 4th and Scotia.

Where a wedge of land shelters an only slightly less-mini community garden, this one with a friendly chair at the street corner.

Gardeners of the Galaxy” reads one of its signs — a banner of its evolution from one woman’s vacant-land purchase in 2010, to its current status in the coFood Vancouver Collaborative Garden Project, within the Living Systems Network of social/food/community activists.

Still on the zig-zag, still going all fractal, soon I’m past the Galaxy, in behind Main St. on something I thought was just a lane but is wide enough for an official name. I am now on Lorne St., where an old pseudo-vintage Mexican restaurant mural …

leads to a door with an entirely spring-2020 sign of its own.

(See what I meant earlier, about familiar old landmarks thrown a-slant in a new context?)

I didn’t sit down with those galaxy gardeners, and I don’t join this sober new version of “borrachos aquĆ­”, either.

But I do sink down on this bench for a bit …

just off Quebec St. in Creekside Park, a tribute to the one-time CPR railway yards down here. There’s even a remnant of train track.

Not that much later, just a bit round the Creek-end curve on its north side, I sit on another bench, contemplate gulls/crows/ducks/geese/kids/cyclists/geezers/dogs/etc for a while, and very idly wonder why there always seem to be a few people who spurn benches to clamber right down to water’s edge and perch on the rocks.

Well, why not.

And I walk. And I shamelessly eavesdrop on passing conversations. And I helpfully alert a young mother to the cloth storybook her child has just pitched out of the stroller. And I share giggles with another woman, who has just taken a photo of a bit of doggerel on a utility box that manages to be rude, very rude, about the Kardashian sisters and — while the author is at it — Donald Trump as well.

No, I will not show it to you. All those people get quite enough free publicity as it is.

Moving on. Literally!

My favourite dog bench, dog muzzle and dog bowl in Coopers Park , with extra water courtesy of all the recent rain …

which is located right at the Cambie Street bridge. This sends me sharp right, then spiralling upwards, to walk south across the bridge.

A favourite view over my favourite ferry dock — Spyglass — before I spiral back down to ground level, and start east along the Sea Wall.

Heading toward Olympic Village and yes! Himy Syed’s stone labyrinth is somewhat overgrown but still intact, still a landmark between Hinge Park and the tiny man-made habitat island out in the Creek itself.

Slightly to my own surprise, I don’t as usual carry on to Olympic Village plaza. Instead I cut south through Hinge Park, delighted as always at how much mystery and nature it offers, even though it is very small and bordered by condos.

 

On up to walk along East 1st, between Manitoba and Columbia. I pass the home to the Arts Club Theatre Company (unknown to me until this very moment) — a typical bit of modern glass frontage for a typical pleasant-looking reception area for a performance venue.

And then, it is no longer typical. Well, it is — our new-typical. Mannequins stand in the window display area, each one clad in some kind of essential-worker garb, and bearing this sign.

Into another alley.

No, not an alley-alley. This is a landscaped, highly designed pathway-alley between low-rise condominium structures. Each with its own combination of shrubbery, benches and water features.

I look down at that metal medallion, there at my feet.

“Tread lightly,” it says.

What a good idea, in this stressed world in which we now all live.

Oh, and, Happy Canada Day!

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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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