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 aquí”, 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!

 

 

 

 

 

Street Talk

13 May 2019 – I feel not the least bit artsy-precious as I insist that, yes, the street does talk to you, and in your reaction you talk back to the street, and on and on the conversation goes.

How fitting, given my theme, that here on the edge of Chinatown there’s a fresh reminder of an old linguistic factoid, blazoned beneath the rotting window frames of a derelict building.

Padlocked doorway, rubbish-strewn …

with an exhortation to spiritual renewal, bright against old posters …

and nature’s own renewal, bright against the sky.

Nature’s renewal farther east in Strathcona neighbourhood as well.

The herringbone weave of rhodo buds yet to unfurl, for example …

a vivid blossom tucked into someone’s front staircase …

and wildflowers down an alley, perfectly at home against that garage door.

Still in Strathcona, another alley, this time with a workshop. It spills soft jazz into our ears, the music flowing out over the bike gears & chain pressed into the doorstep design.

More bike art, this time for bikes, this time out west in Kitsilano.

Who wouldn’t want to chain their bikes right here? We can’t, we’re on foot, visiting various stops in the west-of-Main art crawl, but we pause long enough to admire the bike rack before going inside.

Lots to notice on Kits residential streets, they’re like that.

Solo again, post-crawl, I read a curb-side warning …

but, being dog-free, I move on, and eye a sequinned flamingo instead. I briefly — oh, so very briefly — eye that Kawasaki Ninja 500R as well, but resist the opportunity to make it mine.

Walk on. Chitter-chatter, me & the neighbourhood, feet moving me eastward again.

At Fir and West 5th, I discover the Fir Street Rectifier Station. Fortunately I don’t have to know what a “rectifier station” is, to enjoy the harlequin utility box right next to it. (I looked it up later. It’s an electrical substation. Doing whatever substations do.)

The temporary path for the under-design Arbutus Greenway is right opposite, bordered here by the Pine Street Community Gardens.

I have walked chunks of the Greenway (once, with a vigorous visiting friend, right to the Fraser River south end), and I will surely explore it again — but not today.

Today, I sink down on that Community Gardens bench instead.

And I do not smoke. Just as well. The bench plaque says: “No smoking SVP.”

I love it. Street talk at its pithy, bi-bi best.

Bye-bye.

 

 

Hands Off!

21 March 2019 – There are times where you just want to bellow, HANDS OFF!!, and slap the offending fingers for good measure. But you can’t, can you? Because you are Canadian, and, according to media clichés worldwide, we are too polite to go around bellowing at people.

So what-to-do, what-to-do?

Well, don’t fret. The Creekside Collaborative Garden

has come up with a whole list of suitably polite euphemisms.

The Garden is well named. It is indeed both creekside (tucked near the south-east tip of False Creek) and collaborative (planted and maintained by people in the neighbourhood).

Everything is still a little stark …

but soon plants will burst into action, and fruit tree branches will  be bare no longer.

Which is exactly when the Hands-On impulse might lead passers-by into temptation.

Which is why polite messages are already neatly tied into place.

They encourage interaction …

but with limits.

They appeal to our nurturing instincts …

they flirt with us …

and they invoke spiritual resonance.

And when all else fails …

they guilt-trip us.

In Other Other Words

In other gardens, I’ve seen a different compromise between the urge to protect and the urge to remain … umm … Canadian. Here & there, you spot a hand-lettered sign that simply says, “Please don’t steal.”

Masterful, isn’t it? That polite “Please,” followed by that blunt choice of verb.

DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Very, Very Vancouver

5 November 2017 – (Twice is my limit. You will not be subjected to “very-very-very.”)

Yesterday evening I’m out in my Serious Weather puffy down parka — the one I thought I’d never wear in balmy old Vancouver — thinking, “Ummmm… it’s cold.” We’re in minus-digits territory on the thermometer.

But, as I stand there in Cathedral Square, hopping gently from foot to foot, I am also thinking, “It’s very beautiful, in a ghostly sort of way.”

A frosty full moon (lower middle of image) glows through the Gingko biloba trees, still golden with late-fall leaves …

and the pond fountains shoot jets of icy light into the air.

 

Appropriate that I find this a ghostly sort of beauty: our small group is waiting for the start of this evening’s “Lost Souls of Gastown” walking tour. (Thanks here to my companion Jim — honorary family, in a complicated way — who came up with the idea.)

It is an excellent tour, using the prism of one (fictional) woman’s experiences to bring a human dimension to key early events — the felling of trees to carve out a raw new frontier town, the coming of the railway, the great fire of 1886, smallpox outbreaks, the Klondike gold rush, and unsolved murders.

I am all the more impressed by my engagement with this story because … I don’t much like Gastown. Like many urban historic areas elsewhere, it became very seedy indeed before being restored and repackaged as a major entertainment & tourist attraction. To my eye, it is now more faux than fact, its embellishments more stage prop than real.

The celebrated Gastown Steam Clock, for example, for all its vintage appearance, was built and installed in the late 1990s. Still, I am charmed to learn that its steam is real — it serves as an essential vent for steam pipes running beneath the streets.

And it looks absolutely wonderful, gloriously atmospheric, in the evening’s misty chill.

Yes, those “period” globe lights are as recent as the Steam Clock. But that one last globe light, in the upper left, touching the roof of the white building? That’s real. It’s our full moon.

The moon stays with us throughout the tour, right down to the last moments in a back alley that runs between restaurant service doors and the railway tracks. It is joined by an equally real owl. He sits patiently on a tree branch overhead, waiting for us to disappear so he can get back to raiding the dumpsters and, perhaps, swoop down on the rat that shot past our feet as we clustered for the final instalment in this saga of 19th-c. lost souls.

Sunday morning brings a whole new magic: bright sunshine & plus-zero temperatures. We bounce down to False Creek for a walk, how could we not?

Into Hinge Park. The ducks are as happy with the day as the passing humans, swimming around or — like Mr. Mallard here — stretching a wing into the (comparative) warmth of the day.

I look across the stream, drawn as I always am by the Rusty Submarine. Drawn also, this time, by its reflection in the stream.

Look closely on the left, you’ll see two adults about to enter it and walk through.

A moment later, I enter from the other end.

And instantly turn into a 4-year-old. First I jump up & down — ra-ta-ta-boom-boom!!! It resonates wonderfully. I giggle.

Then I peer up through one of the sub’s overhead periscopes.

And then more walking, right down to the Village Dock at False Creek’s east end; after that a ferry ride back to Spyglass Dock, my Cambie-Street dock.

I pause a moment under the Cambie bridge supports to enjoy again something I always admire, the John McBridge Community Garden snugged up right there next to the bridge.

It’s just one of many in this city, some (as here) run by a neighbourhood association, some by the City itself, all of them planted out in trim boxes and therefore independent of what lies beneath.

Then I spin about, face the other way, and do a double-take.

I’ve not seen this before! But I admire it already.

And if you are thinking to yourself, “Hmmm, well, my goodness, that’s sure looks a piano bench, a drummer’s throne & a musician’s chair, up there on that bright red stand” … you’d be right.

Is this not wonderful? The City has taken away all the painted pianos for the winter, but here we are with an art installation — 3-Piece Band, by Elisa Yan and Elia Kirby — that wants you to sit right down, you busker you, and make music.

But, of course (cf. those rules of etiquette), you must play nicely with the other children. Wait your turn. And if there is someone waiting for their own turn after you, don’t play for more than an hour.

This final image is arguably redundant. I have already shown you 3-Piece Band. Here it is again. Please guess why.

Right! Because there’s a cycling pedalling by in the background.

Last night & today, from Steam Clock to cyclist, it is all very, very Vancouver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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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