“Please notice …”

15 December 2019 – The quotation hangs in a bookstore window up Main Street near 20th or so — large, neat, nicely framed, and from an author I haven’t thought of in a while but am pleased to remember.

Good advice, and easy to follow a day or two later as I find myself very happy indeed, having an unplanned but discovery-rich walk around Strathcona. It’s the city’s oldest residential neighbourhood, east of downtown, east of Main Street, echoing past lives as well as today’s demographic mix.

What I had planned was a direct trip home, but, right there at Gore & East Pender, curiosity throws me off-piste.

It leads me across Gore to read the Project Bookmark sign …

which is physically next to Christ Church of China, but in literary imagination pinpoints Gee Sook’s laundry & dry cleaning shop as portrayed by Wayson Choy in The Jade Peony.

Now that I’m facing east on Pender, I might as well continue, hmmm? So I do, and that Bookmark sign proves prophetic. There is a lot of art, culture and history to come.

A Literary Landmark, for example, just a bit farther east on Pender. This one connects Paul Yee, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature in 1999 (among other honours) …

with the Mau Dan Gardens Co-operative, right across the street. He lived with his Aunt Lillian in her home at this address in the 1960s, a location to which his aunt returned decades later …

not to her old house, which had been demolished, but to the co-operative that now stood in its place.

I loop around for a while, drop slightly south to Keefer Street and follow it east.

Yes! another of these crow-with-paintbrush doorways that I remember from previous walks.

But this time, I know what it means. Eastside Culture Crawl artists identify their locations and, back in 2009, this was the symbol. (The door also announces, in neat letters: “Entrée des artistes.”) I love it, I love it.

Not to be outdone, MacLean Park, also bordering Keefer, is home to one of City Park’s Artist Fieldhouse Studio projects, all of them housed in now-disused caretaker suites. I don’t know which artist (or community group) is currently in residence, and anyway …

I’m more taken with these spears of birch, rising from the glossy hedge that leads to the fieldhouse door.

Speaking of glossy, speaking of happy-tree, how about this towering evergreen that marks the entrance to Angiolina Court?

Not just towering, but laden with Christmas ornaments, right out there on a public street. Trusting people to admire, but to keep their hands to themselves.

That’s what stops me first, but then there’s everything else: the bike leaning companionably near-by, the fire escape, the red awning & door, the age (1898) of the structure, the rumour that this trim little apartment building housed an illegal still during prohibition, and the certainty that it has housed a corner grocery store since 1905.

The current grocery store is exactly where I want to be. The Wilder Snail is also a café, and I’m ready for a latte. I go in, order my latte, scoop up the very last blueberry scone while I’m at it, and find a seat.

I smirk at the ceiling décor …

and settle back to eavesdrop on the father-daughter combo next to me: dad so dark and bearded, moppet so blonde and pony-tailed, both intent on their chess game.

She is perhaps five or six, and being taken seriously by her father — no baby-talk, just endless loving patience and calm mentoring, helping her see the implications of what’s on the board before her as the game evolves. Finally, inevitably, it’s chess-mate. She nods agreement at her father’s praise — “You’re learning!”– and, together, they pack up the board.

Soon after I move on myself.

South on Hawks, still bordering MacLean Park, where a winter-mossy tree trunk is as vivid as the jacket of the child retrieving an errant soccer ball.

Then, across the street, where … well, I don’t even know what’s going on.

All that comes to mind is that Alice in Wonderland scene where she’s faced with a bottle labelled “Drink Me.”

I share her confusion. Fortunately, there’s nothing visible on the porch to drink.

Soon after, over on Keefer near East Georgia, something I can cope with. It’s another of the City’s Millennium Story Stones, this one, of course, a memory of life on Keefer Street.

Dr. Yurkovich takes us back to 1934, when his father returned from the sanitarium, knowing he was dying and wanting to spend those last days with his wife and children. He died in 1935, his widow spurned public assistance and instead offered room and board in the family home.

More loop-abouts, and finally I’m on Union Street, heading west and homeward bound.

One last treat: a dangling tree ornament, created from horse chestnut “conkers.”

Kurt Vonnegut was right.

I think about my afternoon, and murmur to myself (and now to you as well): “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

 

 

 

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat…”

9 November 2017 – Chant along with me:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat…”

I am not in a pea green boat.

I am in the former mattress factory at 1000 Parker Street, but I am as deliriously enchanted with my surroundings as any fan of Edward Lear could ever hope to be with his nonsense verse.

And, right here at 1000 Parker, there is an owl.

We are on the Surrey Art Gallery bus tour I mentioned last post, the day-long visit to clusters of artists’ studios in two Vancouver locations.

1000 Parker Street, I learn, is a Vancouver treasure, one of those rare examples of a major property developer/manager — in this case, the Beedie Development Group — that decides to dedicate one of its properties to the needs of its city’s artists.

Result: some 110 studios & 227 artists over four floors of a rambling wooden structure that began life in 1896 as the Restmore Manufacturing Company (and has been a few other things along the way).

I begin to think the hallways house almost as many artistic delights as the studios. There was that owl and, look, here’s a painted piano. With fall pumpkins.

The artists we visit speak coherently and engagingly about their lives, their preoccupations, their creative explorations. We’re a sort of dress rehearsal for the 20th annual Eastside Culture Crawl  (November 16-19), when this building, and its residents, will be a key attraction.

As always — at least, for me — it’s the asides, the little sidebars to the main story, that bring the artists most compellingly to life.

Visual artist Tiko Kerr, for example, works in the studio space once occupied by Jack Shadbolt (1909-1998). Assorted materials belonging to that renowned painter had been left behind, including a whole array of paint brushes. Kerr grouped some together, prepped them, and repurposed them as his “canvas” for a tribute painting that now hangs on a studio wall.

Later, when Judson Beaumont, woodworker/founder of Straight Line Designs (“We make quirk work”), explains that an early influence was the 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit

his beautifully executed, totally functional — and entirely loopy — designs make perfect sense.

His studio is on the top floor. He leads us out a doorway onto a little deck, talking about the work they do, answering questions, out there in the fresh air.

I sight down the old wooden walls to the railway tracks below,  a reminder of this building’s — this whole area’s — industrial/manufacturing past.

Frances nudges me, points straight down between two arms of the building. “Ooooooo,” I breathe. A continuous frieze of street art.

I want to see it! Inside is fine, it’s informative & stimulating … but I want to go outside, circle the building, see everything up close.

And I get to do just that.

Most tour members climb back in the bus for the return trip to Surrey; one other woman & I are staying in town. Jud Beaumont offers us the circle tour of the walls.

He laughs when I read out the company name lined up with his over a doorway. “Survival kits,” he repeats. “But they’re gone.”

I stare down a long building wall, realize I am as taken by the lines, colours & textures of the old building itself, as I am by the new — and ephemeral — artwork that is now part of it.

It becomes one stunning package, a dialogue of component parts that gives energy to the whole.

“The fire department inspector must have hysterics every time he visits,” I say. Beaumont is suddenly serious. “We are completely up to code. In everything.”

Then he breaks out in more laughter. “But I tend not to show potential clients any shots of the outside of the building,” he adds. “It might worry them.”

I’m not worried, I am having the time of my life, scooting from one visual treat to the next. Look at this doorway!

And this gold-sprayed mannequin tucked in a niche!

And Mr. Periscope Rabbit!

And the austere beauty of precisely aligned windows.

I am swept by sudden memory of the wall of north-facing windows on the Group of 7 Studio in the Rosedale Valley Ravine, in Toronto.

Except that Group of 7 building does not have any backchat from a line-up of chartreuse what-nots.

Or the scrutiny of laser-beam eyes in a smirking white face.

Well, it had to turn up, didn’t it?

We started with an owl. Of course there’ll be a pussy-cat.

I prance down the cul-de-sac, for a closer look.

Then I thank Beaumont for his street-art tour, say good-bye to my tour companion, and walk the 8 kilometres home, west through Strathcona, across Main Street, along False Creek, and up the hill.

So much fun.

 

 

 

  • 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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