Oblivious. And Observant

5 October 2018 – These people are oblivious …

to the whole busy other world going right here next to them, all around Norman’s Fruit & Salad market .

They’re put to shame by these Plum Birds, who are so observant they’re practically falling off their wire.

See? It’s a world of activity, all stretched out, right beneath those bright beady eyes …

layer on layer.

All quite fanciful, too, with a certain ornithological flair.

That’s a cardinal on her head, I like to think, and on his finger, oh, let’s call it a cockatoo. (The rare crestless variant.)

Perhaps distracted by the wine, they are oblivious to the scrutiny from above.

Up there, an observant trio, who watch what’s happening below …

despite their own distractions of book, apples and, I’m willing to guess, a daffodil. (Clearly they are not the least bit distracted by untied shoe laces.)

Beside them, a second trio, the sleeping cat nicely counterbalanced by two watchful crows.

Beside them, yet another trio. A trio of trios! This time it’s a sad clown, a perhaps-concerned crow and, underneath, an I-have-my-own-problems sad civilian.

I confess. This is not where I began. Not what first switched me from oblivious to observant.

I was hiking right along at that street corner, when the young Joe Stalin caught my attention.

There he was, back from the dead to glower over a box of cabbages.

It took me a long while to notice the — what? Benedictine monk? — reading his breviary in the background.

What I noticed next was the bad-tempered cat, there at young Joe’s feet, giving that Plum Bird on the pole a hard time.

Or, perhaps, Joe & the cat are just ticked at whoever scrawled all over them.

Street artists should respect existing street art, right?

 

Time With Grit & Grime

15 September 2018 – Grab it all, drink it all in, right? Revel in eco-sculptures one day, but go prowl alleys & street corners the next …

And so here I am, back in Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, back on Main Street. Where I discover another click-clack-fall-is-back:

This street piano is still on the street, but locked up tight. (Only later, looking at my photos, do I see that piano keys are painted on the padlock.)

A silenced piano, but fair enough. There are not many people still patio-lingering to enjoy it, even had it been open for use.

I’ve been pretty sketchy about discovering this year’s Mural Festival contributions to the neighbourhood, so I double back onto Watson — looks like an alley, but it’s a legit street with its very own name — to go see what might be there.

If there is a new mural nearby, I don’t see it. I’m struck instead by this hopeful message — I interpret it as hopeful — on a dumpster.

Bit farther north, and I get to pay tribute to one of my all-time favourite Mural Festival offerings, this one a veteran from 2016.

Oh, I love this wolf. (And the companion wolf, out of frame.) It’s more than aesthetic appreciation, I realize: I stumbled on the 2016 crop of murals by accident, while visiting that year, not even knowing that a Mural Festival took place. So there’s a whole serendipity-lucky-charm current of warmth I feel, every time I see him again.

More wandering, and eventually I’m on E. Broadway (aka 9th Ave.), just west of Main. I side-slip into the alley & bend myself back-back-back, peering up-up-up, to pay proper attention to this glorious fire escape, with its entirely improbable cross-stitch of artwork, top to bottom.

All that, and one of those big boxy Vancouver hydro poles to complete the image.

I straighten up, and discover a Millennial right next to me, busy taking the same shot. “I saw you & wondered what you were looking at,” she confesses once she too is again vertical. “It’s cool.”

Farther west on Broadway, and a tattered poster I don’t understand, but the devil-baby graphics suck me in. Then I decide I like the larger composition even better: Manhattan Project + devil-baby + “Faro” +  the battered, barricaded windows + assorted scribbles.

The city — any city — just keeps throwing up these random art installations, the elements assembled by chance and disparate hands & intentions. Some cohere, some don’t. (Oooo, aren’t I playing the Deep Thinker! I’ll stop now.)

I don’t have any of these Deep thoughts at the time. I am immediately distracted by a bright red poster next to the devil-baby ensemble, and move in to read the fine print.

Later I find Expressions of Belonging online, and discover these events are being organized by a local Master’s student, not as part of her studies, just as a way to encourage human connections within the urban web. Coming up 23 September, so you still have time to mark your calendar if you’re local– but note the venue has moved to the Kitsilano Community Centre.

One last citizen of the urban web who demands our attention — a creature of many roles but, at this exact moment, playing parking vigilante.

There is always a crow.

 

Vancouver + Toronto = Victoria

7 May 2018 – So here I am, Vancouverite me, at the ferry terminal, about to make the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay crossing that will eventually take me to Victoria. Where I’ll spend a few days with a Toronto friend, who is doing a spot of house- and cat-sitting while there on vacation.

Smooth, easy crossing. I contemplate islands, mountain ranges, all that magic B.C. coastline stuff. Also the ferry’s wake, endlessly spilling out in its endlessly same-but-always-slightly-different patterns. Chaos theory made visible.

That thought would never have occurred, but for yesterday evening’s  BBC documentary, host theoretical physicist Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, on quantum physics, chaos theory and the natural world.

So, at least temporarily, I “read” the wake with a more appreciative eye.

Nothing temporary about my appreciation for cats! The house cat is a charmer, and — when not asleep in his basket — amazingly lithe for an 18-year-old.

Much to appreciate outdoors as well. We are in Vic West, just across the Upper Harbour from the heart of downtown.

Downtown can wait; today we stay on our side, walking on up the Galloping Goose Trail along the Gorge Waterway. Total delight.

Joggers, runners, speedy cyclists (in their speedy-cyclist lane), mums & tots, oldies with canes — and, of course, a happy young guy snoozing under a tree. While racing boats power on by.

We’re down around the Railyards Development, the reinvention of old railway/industrial land with parks, condos, and shops. Simple materials & lines for the buildings, punched up with colour.

Next day, downtown & beyond: our target is a pair of public gardens. One, the grounds around Government House, unknown to me but highly recommended; the other, the Abkhazi Garden, a remembered enchantment.

But first, into downtown via the Johnson St. bridge — the new one, that is, open barely a month and the largest single-leaf bascule bridge in Canada. (One of the largest in the world, come to that, at just under 46 metres.)

I’m not thinking about that. I don’t even know that, not yet. I’m just enjoying its sleek, white curving lines, and their contrast with the blocky heft of the old bridge, now being dismantled.

We walk waterside along Wharf St. for a bit, dancing around sidewalk reconstruction. Reconstruction with a commemorative purpose, I see, when I focus for a moment on the bricks in the nearest wheelbarrow.

I don’t know the story. I don’t know who these people are, or why they are being honoured. But I do like the thought of Poppy Franc Rekrut, “Honourable Gentleman,” and of George & John Haggis, “Father Son Sailor.”

We grant ourselves a genteel pause in Murchie’s Tea & Coffee on Government St., where my attention is soon focused on the decidedly ungenteel back alley I glimpse through the window, with its splashy mural.

My friend grins. She knows exactly what will happen after our coffee break. Yes. I tear down the alley, to see that mural close up.

 

I walk to the end, and discover a less-elegant offering down at the  T-junction. No artistic images here, just the power of the alley-scape as a whole: tagging, wheelies, brick walls, bright orange door.

Right! Time for those public gardens.

It all turns into a 12-km hoof, and worth it, both for the gardens and for sights on quiet residential streets along the way.

This neatly clipped rose, for example, tucked carefully into someone’s front-yard fence.

Gates to Government House: suitably dignified, armorial and splendid for the home of the provincial Lieutenant Governor. Even the logistical announcements — hours, leash-your-dog — are dignified.

Another notice on the adjacent railing explains why it is a good idea to obey the rules, and keep Fido on leash.

See? Fido vs. Deer in Rut? We all know who’d win.

The grounds are wonderful, we linger, we enjoy, we blink for a while on a bench, and then we walk on (with occasional guidance from passing pedestrians), making our way to the Abkhazi Garden on Fairfield Rd.

“The Garden that Love Built,” says a brochure, and for once PR is an understatement.

Exiled Georgian prince crosses paths with young woman in 1920s Paris; they are both interned during World War II (he in Germany, she in Shanghai); post-war she makes her way to Canada and buys a wooded, rocky chunk of land in Victoria. Each thinks the other dead; they find each other again; Prince Nicholas Abkhazi marries Peggy Pemberton-Carter; they spend the rest of their lives developing this garden, its legacy now protected by The Land Conservancy (and many other supporters).

The couple planned their garden from this tiny Summer House at the back of the property, here peek-a-boo through trees toward right rear; only later did they build a modest bungalow home (now the tea room).

We leave only when staff is, literally, closing the gates.

Next day I’m in reverse gear, on a bus to Swartz Bay, starting the trip back home. One last unexpected visual treat, as we wind through the town of Sidney enroute the ferry terminal. Me staring out the window, at nothing in particular …

Crows! Images-of. Look! Dormer windows, this cottage-y little home.

My kinda people.

 

 

Stone the Crows!

26 October 2017 – It’s an old folk-expression of dismay or surprise, say somewhat vague online sources, but I’ll go with it.

Since moving to Vancouver I have been surprised by the number of crows in the city, and by the number of crow references in signage and artwork.

 

I spotted this one a few days ago while out walking with Frances in the city’s downtown East Side. The sign points the way to a drop-in treatment clinic for drug addicts. To my mind, it positions the crow as a symbol of strength and hope.

But then, I’ve fallen in love with the crow (genus Corvus, of the Passerine family). I love their spirit, their energy, their sleek minimalist beauty.

Imagine my delight when dear friends offered me this plate, purchased on their recent Alaskan cruise.

 

It depicts a raven, not a crow, but the raven is a larger member of the same genus, and I love them both. (Memories of my years travelling Arctic hamlets, and the whopping huge ravens I’d see up there.)

No wonder I purchased a crow fridge magnet at the Vancouver Art Gallery!

It makes number three in a trio that speaks to my heart — the other two being artist Michael Snow’s Walking Woman figure, and an Icelandic stamp. First I walked myself to an Icelandic adventure; now I have walked myself to Vancouver.

Hello, Mr. Crow.

I see them just like this, on utility wires.

And I see crow imagery all over town. I thought the references benign — affectionate, even. I thought Vancouver loved its crows.

Then I entered “crows vancouver” in a search engine, and …

Well, stone the crows! I was surprised by what I found.

Headlines shouted at me:

  • Murder mystery: the reason 6,000 crows flock to Burnaby [adjacent municipality] every night” …
  • Stalked and dive-bombed: Increase in Vancouver crow attacks” … “
  • Vancouver, beware” …
  • Spike in crow attacks in Vancouver’s west end” …
  • Crow attack season in Vancouver” …

Ahhhh, you get the idea.

I discover there is an interactive website, Crowtrax, where you can post an attack to the area map. In early spring 2017, it looked like this, with grey flags marking 2016 attacks and red flags for the first few months of 2017.

Good grief.

I learn that the crow/raven place in mythology goes back millennia, and is largely negative. I find two versions of an old folk rhyme, each building to the same dire final line.

Here’s the longer version, with thanks to Mind Space Apocalypse, right here on Word Press.

“One Crow for sorrow,
Two Crows for mirth;
Three Crows for a wedding,
Four Crows for a birth;
Five Crows for silver,
Six Crows for gold;
Seven Crows for a secret, not to be told;
Eight Crows for heaven,
Nine Crows for hell;
And ten Crows for the devils own self.”

But crow/raven have their defenders. That Mind Space Apocalypse post includes their position in First Nations mythology as the Trickster, with all it implies of intelligence and ingenuity.

An article on native-languages.com says crows are often viewed as omens of good luck in First Nations cultures, and are a clan animal for some as well.

Thoughtco.com writes about “The magic of crows and ravens.”

And Derek Matthews (chair, Vancouver Avian Research Centre), interviewed by dailyhive.com on 16 April 2017, says: “Crows have very human like personalities and just like us, they protect their young. If we protect our kids, we’re called heroes, and if they do it, they are called villains.”

Bottom line: in the spring nesting season, leave crows alone.

Enjoy their images in artwork instead.

For example, cuddling up to a clown, in this wall mural detail near Commercial Drive and East 1st Avenue.

Or these crows dancing with butterflies, on Hawks Avenue near Powell Street.

Or these crows guarding the doorway in an exuberant mural on Commercial Drive north of East 1st.

I like to think of crows guarding that doorway — intelligent, inquisitive, alert, curious and fearless.

Hurray for crows!

 

Notes from the Dock

5 August 2017 – Pen & paper notes, yes, how old-fashioned, how satisfying (how functional)… but other notes as well.

You’ll see.

The forecast is 30C, the heat wave is due to last at least a week. I decide to head for the water right after breakfast & just hang out. It’s a favourite stretch of water, and close to hand.

So I walk north on Cambie, walk right on under the looming bridge, cross some bike paths, jog slightly west then north again, now beside the bridge not under it …

and I’m almost there!

You’d guessed. You know my love affair with Spyglass Place. I will sink into one of those Muskoka chairs, and let False Creek life unfold around me. There will be cyclist traffic, and foot traffic, and ferry traffic, and distant car traffic on the bridge.

And there will also be, there already is, music. Because — look again — there’s that “Jazz Cats + Mice” public piano ‘way down in the curve of the landing, and an old fellow is playing it, and the air itself dances to the strains of “If you were the only girl in the world, and I were the only boy…”

He segues into a succession of rags, played very stride-piano style.

His legs may need that Zimmer frame to get around (parked next to the bench), but by golly, his fingers fly all by themselves.

So I sink into a chair, adjust my hat, pull out my notepad, look around, & settle in.

To the west, long curves of the False Creek seawall, with cyclists and walkers on the path, a mum cuddling her toddler on the balustrade (his chubby little legs barely visible), and anchored boats bobbing in the water below.

Ferry boats bustle back & forth, linking Spyglass Dock with all the other stops both sides of False Creek. Passengers stream up & down the gangway.

For just a moment, a dragon boat hangs motionless in the water, the coach bellowing his critique of team efforts so far.  Then it’s up-paddles and away they go again.

Much more peacefully, a double kayak glides beneath the bridge, passing between striped pillars of the A False Creek art installation, the top stripe depicting a 5-metre rise in sea level.

There is a butterfly at my feet …

and crows up there on the railing, their peculiar rolling-pebbles chuckle filling my ears.

I exaggerate. What really fills my ears, keeps filling my ears and the ears of everyone else here at Spyglass Dock, is music. Provided by one musician after another.

Blue T-Shirt man plays a few scales, slowly, carefully, accurately.

Black T -Shirt man (the logo advertises beach volleyball somewhere) at first runs more to School-of-Sondheim. But then, before picking up his bike and riding off, he gets all bouncy with stride. (What is it about public pianos, and stride? The two seem to go together.)

Red Cap Guy plays quite a long time. It’s pretty darn E-Z listening, is what it is. He does it well, he is happy, people applaud; I tell myself not to be so snotty, and relax into it.

Then — reversal. Grey-Hair Man, who was listening so intently to Red Cap, is now at the keyboard. I pick out “Qué sera, sera, whatever will be, will be…” before he starts to doodle around, very at ease at the keyboard.

So at ease, he invites some children not just to come listen, but to imagine that they too — really! — could learn to play the piano

The kids linger, quite fascinated.

Grey-Hair moves on, Red Cap plays again, this time with classical riffs thrown in. (Debussy’s “La Mer” for example.) He stands up, steps back; Black Cap arrives, sits down, and disappears into his music.

He’s more bravura than his predecessors, with more chords, more emphasis, & more experimenting — it seems to me — with modulations and progressions for their own fabulous sake. Red Cap hangs in, listens, really listens. When Black Cap finally gets up to leave, they bump fists in mutual appreciation, chat a moment, exchange contact info.

Red Cap plays again, also doodling with chords for a while, but then drifts through some Bach and a flourish of Hungarian czarda. His fingers are up to it all.

A passing cyclist leans over just long enough to plonk a few keys …

but another cyclist throws down his bike, and gets serious.

Followed by a young boy, who with slight hesitations but not bad technique works away at his piano lessons while his family consults the near-by pillar map.

Dad sticks with the map-reading; mum and baby sister join the boy at the piano. The little girl becomes very busy exploring sound; the boy cheerfully yields the keyboard to her chubby fingers while mum praises them both.

Almost all male pianists, have you noticed?

Now a young woman sits down, settles in, props her smart phone in front of her, and begins to play and sing. I think she’s recording herself, I’m not sure.

I finally leave, her voice floating me away from the dock.

I was there a good four & a half hours; the piano was silent for perhaps 20 minutes, total.

 

  • 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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