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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Charm of a Sunny Day

24 January 2016 – Nippy, but brilliantly sunny, that was Saturday. The kind of day to reward an inquisitive eye, and pop even our muted winter palette into high relief.

I’d had a preview the day before, as I prowled some neighbourhood streets & alleys.

in a Cabbagtown front yard

See? All that colour & texture, doing its Happy Dance under our winter sun.

So I set out lake-ward on Saturday, full of optimism. The first amusement is just one block from home.

cat prints in replacement sidewalk pavers

Not exactly a dance of colour, I’ll agree, but certainly a dance of cat paws. Prancing across those sidewalk pavers, complete with their very feline message: “I’ll go where I please. Even if it’s gooey.”

I have no particular reason to head for Lake Ontario, just the belief, confirmed by experience, that there’s almost always lots to see and enjoy.

I cut through Sherbourne Common, the recreational park cum water-treatment facility immediately north of the waterfront.

Kiddie play equipment, so busy with children all summer, sits still and silent in the winter chill. This spinning disc, for example, a blur of motion in July …

in Sherbourne Common

is now transformed into pure, sculptural art.

Big contrast with the southern (lakeside) portion of the Common. It is home to the Paul Quarrington Ice Rink & Splash Pad. No prize for guessing which activity is currently in season!

Paul Quarrington Ice Rink & Splash Pad, in southern portion, Sherbourne Common

Right.

I follow the lake edge west to Sugar Beach, named for the Redpath Sugar Refinery on its western boundary. Sugar Beach is one of a string of high-concept, very urban parks developed in the central portion of the city’s lakefront over the last decade or so.

At first I laughed at the mid-winter sight of its oversize Muskoka chairs and bright, rigid beach umbrellas. Fine in summer, I thought, but couldn’t they have come up with a décor that worked in all four seasons?

I take that back.

I have not only seen visitors lolling in those chairs mid-winter, as of this Saturday I have done it myself. In the sun; out of the wind; looking out over Toronto Harbour and Toronto Island; listening to gulls & geese & ducks & the occasional airplane on its final approach to the island airport.

I pass a lean, young cyclist as I enter Sugar Beach. We nod, he strips off his helmet as we agree it is a major-fine day to be out & about, and we each sink into a chair, mine somewhat farther down the beach than his.

cyclist doing his stretching routine on Sugar Beach

You’d be excused for thinking I’d stumbled on a sun-worship cult, but no — while I am content just to sit back and breathe gently, he is soon on his feet again, working through his stretching routine.

When I finally walk on, I’m amused to see more footprints — different species & ephemeral not permanent, but they still make me remember those busy little cat prints I saw earlier.

footprints in Sugar Beach sand & snow

The shifting sun brings out stronger shadows. I cock my head at the foot of Yonge St., admiring the way the railing plays against the sidewalk.

Ground zero - foot of Yonge St. at Lake Ontario

Also admiring, as always, the litany of names of all the major communities along Yonge St. and their distance from the lake. Its purpose: to demonstrate that Yonge is the world’s longest street. (Assuming you allow it to change name as it goes, that is.)

From Toronto at 0 km, to Rainy River at 1896 km. With North York – Richmond Hill – Aurora – Newmarket – Barrie – Orillia – Gravenhurst – Bracebridge – Huntsville – North Bay – Iroquois Falls – Cochrane – Kapuskasing – Hearst – and Thunder Bay in between.

My ambition is more modest. I just walk on west for a bit, past Bay St. and the ferry terminal, into Harbour Square and HarbourFront Park.

Soon I’ll pass the outdoor skating rink, positively heaving with people & the hiss of skate blades. First I pass some ducks, most of them swimming about but a few tucked up on their very own patch of ice. Complete with their own trademark hiss!

ducks in Toronto Harbour

Farther west & farther west, and then finally I head north into the downtown core, beginning my loop eastward toward home.

The sinking sun still flashes fire. It highlights a group of buildings and throws their reflection against this office tower at Simcoe & Wellington.

S/E corner, Simcoe & Wellington

I have a knee-jerk objection to these glass towers, typically thinking only of all the energy they must consume winter & summer, to maintain comfortable temperatures.

But, sometimes, I just enjoy the view.

Year Five!

I’ve just realized: this is my anniversary month for blogging. My first full month was January 2012, when I began training for my Iceland trek and needed a way to engage with my donors. Back from Iceland later that year — and I just kept going.

All 2012, and 2013, and 2014, and now 2015 as well. Walking, and sharing my walks. Encouraged by your response to keep walking, and keep sharing.

Thank you for joining me. May we all continue in good health, doing what we love to do and sharing it with each other.

 

Still Land, Chill Water, & Ice

11 January 2015 – The sign says “Open” & inside all will be toasty-warm & full of glorious discoveries, because this is a wonderland, Arcadia Art & Rare Books on Queen St. East.

But I am strong! It’s about -10 C and windy, but also bright, and I am determined to stay outside this time around.

est. 1931 whenArcadia, est. 1931 when her dad bought the bldg

So I walk on past, though with fond memories of Irma. She’s now in cat-heaven, but you don’t forget Irma. She was skinny & raucous, and she’d land on your startled shoulders & hitch a ride while you browsed, purring loudly. It was like wearing a furry cement-mixer.

Bye-bye Irma, and I’m down on Lower Sherbourne St., heading into Sherbourne Common, a park cum water purification system that stretches south to the lake. The iconic towers jut into the brilliant sky.

detail, "Light Showers," Sherbourne Common

This is just the  top corner of one of them, one of three Light Showers sculptures (artist Jill Anholt). All summer long, they tumble water from great heights back into the hidden reservoir, completing one stage in the larger water treatment process.

They are beautiful as well as functional, and dramatic in part or in whole.

southernmost of the "Light Showers" towers

Mind, winter is when they rest. No water tumbling down the mesh curtains now! The towers are all snugged up having their beauty sleep, the better to work again come spring.

Play equipment is also motionless, gleaming in the winter sun, carving snow / no-snow shapes against the surface beneath.

play equipment in Sherbourne Common

I pass a young couple laughing & embracing & skating on the little rink near the lake. In summer, it is a splash pond, waters rippling. Now water is ice, still & glassy; only the couple is in motion. A few more metres and I’m at  lake edge. I look south-east, the Great Lakes boat a streak of colour against the ice & chill waters, with the Port Lands beyond and, beyond that, Leslie Spit.

a laker waiting out winter in Toronto Harbour

Only three of us are walking west along the lake. The temperature isn’t really that cold, but we are facing a steady wind, with occasional great gusts that make us do a little shuffle-hop to regain balance.

So, not being idiots, we are walking backwards — a bit drunkenly, but it protects our faces. I stop to look again at the sweep of ice & water; so do the couple with whom I’ve been more or less in step. The woman peers over the edge. So do I.

water's edge in Harbour Square Park

By now we’re in Harbour Square Park, walking between fancy condos & Lake Ontario. I know what’s coming next — an area where there is some water outflow, meaning open water, meaning a place where ducks tend to congregate.

Oh, indeed they do.

Mallard ducks in Harbour Square Park

A whole great world of Mallards, squatting and swimming and bottoms-ups’ing as if it were mid-summer. I’ve never looked up their physiology, but they must have nature’s equivalent of anti-freeze in their blood.

those Mallards!

I round the point, pass in front of the spherical structure you see beyond the ducks in the longer-view above — it houses water management equipment, near as I can figure — and I admire the bleached rushes, sculptural now mid-winter, tall & stiff against the metal structure and the residential towers beyond.

looking west

Nothing tall & stiff when I pass the rink in Harbourfront Centre! Full of laughing or squealing skaters, depending on age, twirling around. This, too, is a pond in summer. (I find it pure magic, this cycle of water-to-ice-to-water-to-ice-&-repeat-forever.)

Harbourfront Centre ice rink, Toronto Island in background

The fringe of land beyond is Toronto Island, and that airplane, streaking low, is about to land at Billy Bishop Airport on the Island.

I round another corner, walk up the side of a slip, and the wind wallops me. My cheeks & nose sting, then start to burn. Next they’d turn numb. Time to find shelter & warm up.

Fortunately, the very next quay houses the Craft & Design Studio associated with Harbourfront Centre. It houses a string of studios, open at one side to a gangway, from where the public can watch the artisans at work.

Including a glassblower! I remember standing there once, and how, even at that safe distance, I was shielding my eyes from the glare of his furnace and pulling back from its fierce heat. That will warm me up.

glassbower's studio, Craft & Design Studio, Harbourfront Centre

Oh. He’s not here today. But check the temperatures written on the furnace: 1150 C or 2050 F. Even reading the numbers is somehow warming.

Back outside I admire the Simcoe Wave Deck from the east rather than west end, a whole new perspective on its dramatic curves.

Simcoe Wave Deck, Queens Quay W & Lower Simcoe

Why does it exist? For fun. There are three wave decks along this stretch of waterfront, all of them functioning city sidewalks — but sidewalks that play with us, invite us to play with them, and together we ride the waves.

In summer I watch pedestrians slide this deck like human Slinky-toys. Not today!

I head north into town, turn east toward home.

One more park along the way: Cloud Gardens, on Temperance Street.

Cloud Gardens, Temperance St.

Each square on the wall symbolizes one of the city’s construction trades; together, they form a mosaic of tribute to the people who, literally, build our city.

The park’s name refers to something else, though. See the glass structure jutting out toward the mid-left? It is a conservatory, full of tropical plants. A cloud garden, indeed. I can’t wait to go inside, inhale some moist tropical air, expand tight muscles into the warmth …

Locked doors. Closed for maintenance!

So home I go.

 

 

  • 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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