Talk-Back

3 May 2020 – It all starts with sitting safely in my stay-at-home chair, and clicking on this virtual tour of the Murals of Gratitude down in Gastown.

Go ahead! Click! I’ll wait for you …

I love these murals — 35-plus of them, by 20-plus artists — painted on the plywood covering shop windows boarded up to await healthier times. And I love what the project says about this neighbourhood, the way local businesses have expanded on a grassroots initiative, to create …

a testament to the influence the frontline staff has had on our community and a reminder that we are all in this together.

A friend and I decide to go see for ourselves. We were prepared to abort the visit, should there not be room to do it safely, but it is safe — wide sidewalks, few people, room to observe 2 metres of physical distance.

So we walk about.

Here in Maple Tree Square, Water & Carrall streets, right at the heart of it all, a statue of the first (white) settler in this founding area of Vancouver, the loquacious English immigrant turned Fraser River boat captain turned saloonkeeper & hotel-owner: Capt. John (“Gassy Jack”) Deighton.

Somebody has slung an “Anyone for takeout?” apron around his neck, a fitting addition given his pubkeeper background — and fitting for the area as well, which in normal times is a tourist/entertainment epicentre, pulsing with lights & laughter & music & action.

But those overlays are stripped away, at least for now, and Gastown is again largely the preserve of its own residents — a downtown, east-end community that, beneath the glitter, was already deeply stressed before COVID-19 came along.

So we see more than the “official” murals showcased in that virtual tour, we also see unofficial messages, by and for and about that local community.

Everybody talking with each other, and talking back to COVID-19.

Health messages, focused on local issues, sometimes in a leaflet pasted on hoardings …

sometimes in a one-off urgent graffito.

There are jokes with a marketing message thrown in …

and jokes with a political protest added later on (read the red small print) …

and thank-you’s that also have an editorial comment added later on (considerably more in-your-face).

There is a “heroes wall,” really just a naked corner of plywood beneath the window frame, with its growing number of inked tributes and post-its …

and a reminder, pasted on a number of the hoardings, that this plywood can be usefully recycled, some healthy day in the future.

And then there is this Stand United mural …

with added messages, by many hands, of hope and love and support …

radiating across hoarding panels to either side.

Messages butt up against messages, a cacophony that makes perfect harmony.

The work on the right, professional; the work on the left proudly signed “Phoebe age 7,” the p’s in her “Be happy!” message reversed but no less joyous for that.

We’ve been drinking it all in, impressed & touched & buoyant with the energy.

Then we see a board with nothing but shaky lettering on it, just words with no design flair at all. We stand still, moved to silence.

The text salutes yet another hero — but, this time, not a local frontline worker. It recognizes the RCMP constable on the other side of the country who died in that 22-person massacre on April 19.

And it goes beyond honouring Const. Heidi Stevenson, it comforts her children.

I hope, when life stabilizes into a new-normal, that it still includes the compassion and empathy so much on display in this time of pandemic.

 

High Knees (+ 18)

13 April 2020 – Turn off Netflix; leave Zoom; renounce YouTube. (Even, gasp, say good-bye to WordPress, but, there-there, only temporarily.)

Pull on your exercise clothes; lace up your shoes; meet me on Gore Street, half a block south of Union. Face north. Do a few preparatory stretches.

Ready?

JUMP.

RUN around the corner onto Union.

Now SHUFFLE until …

it’s time to HOP and then BALANCE.

WALK

up the ante with some ZIGZAG

and GALLOP!

SKIP for a bit …

Now SPIN WALK, taking your directional cue from the spirals, and next — but only once your head stops spinning — WIGGLE.

Gauge SOCIAL DISTANCE, measured in hearts …

take a running jump at HOP SCOTCH

DANCE your way to LEAP FROG

and then flash those HIGH KNEES of yours on every star.

Walk BACKWARDS (oops, trust me on this one) …

and soar into the SKI JUMP.

Finally! It’s finally time to SLITHER

sssskillfully ssslither …

your way to two-block, 19-station, sidewalk exercise …

ssssuccess.

Now cool down, pat yourself on the back, down a celebratory whatever-you-celebrate-with, and go buy some chalk.

There has to be a two-block stretch of sidewalk near you, eager to host your very own community exercise event.

 

The One-Metre World

10 April 2020 – I didn’t measure, but it’s something like that. One sidewalk-pavement square must be about that size.

And one of our local child chalk-artists has put the whole world in that square.

Its message is one of hope and courage and — like the image — is about all of us and meant for all of us, wherever we are. I’d find it moving any time, but it seems especially sweet in this period of religious significance for a number of world faiths.

The words are a little pale, maybe hard to read.

This child is telling us …

“We will be OK!”

 

 

We Speak ❤️

6 April 2020 – It seems Canada has added a third official language: ❤️

Young Miss Mila is the first one to speak it to me, carefully chalked on the ledge between the sidewalk and the front steps to her home.

And then… I realize that ❤️ is being spoken everywhere.

Pasted to a metal utility pole …

stapled to a wooden pole near Robson Park (with solitary sun-bathing woman and solitary dog-walker both in the blurry background) …

painted on a repurposed clear drum head, propped against a homeowner’s fence …

painted in a whole rainbow of colours, high on a second-storey window …

paper-chain-dancing across a doorway & front porch …

all that, plus flag …

even chalked onto the sidewalk sign for this (now offsales only) brew-pub.

But that slogan no longer fits, does it — the main thing is no longer the beer.

It’s the heart.

 

 

  • 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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