And Then … the Sun Came Out

9 February 2020 – The sun is out, and so am I.

And so are spring blossoms. Look – snowdrops!

My feet scamper me north on Main St., under the Skytrain overhead tracks, under the Viaduct, and a smart right turn onto Union Street.

With an almost immediate left turn into Hogan’s Alley. You need the plaque to tell you this was once home to many homes and businesses of the city’s Black community, because mid-20th c. urban renewal demolished them. (How much destruction is done, in the name of renewal…)

So it’s fitting I am pulled into the alley by the sight of more destruction, its lines austerely geometric, but the human story so poignant, ghost lives pressed into those remaining interior walls.

But then my eyes are pulled past that wall to the mural beyond, moving from ghosts to immortals: “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea” by the Bagua Artists Association.

And beyond that, to the delightfully named Fat Mao noodle parlour, right up there on East Georgia Street. I don’t go in, but I eye it, and store the possibility in my mind, even as I head east on Georgia and see all the other possibilities on offer, everything from hair extensions to tooth implants to woks and rice cookers.

Left on Gore, heading north again, and I know it’s north because, see?, there’s the moss on the tree pointing north.

Not urban legend at all, it seems, though only mostly true and only in the northern hemisphere. (In the southern hemisphere, the moss grows mostly on the south side, but for the same reason — moss favours the shadier side of the tree.)

Eyes left, though not feet, into this alley on the other side of the street.

If you happen to like the image on that wooden hydro pole by the sidewalk, or the purple lettering on the white wall farther back, treasure this photo: hose-wielding guy works for Goodbye Graffiti, and he’s about to live up to the company name.

Right turn onto Keefer — which always, always, makes me think of “Keef” Richards and the Rolling Stones, even though I know there is no connection. The association leaves my mind as quickly as it arrives, for there’s always something right there on the street to reclaim my attention.

Like the PTT Buddhist Society, just east of Jackson. I watch people come and go, light incense, spin a large prayer wheel.

A little farther east, two icons in a row, each telling its own story of this Strathcona community. On the left, a Vancouver Special, the city’s mid-century contribution to vernacular architecture that served so many immigrant families so well …

and on the right, a 1902 example of the Queen Anne style beloved in the day. This one was built for an Irish immigrant who rose from labourer to foreman at the Hastings sawmill and was later sold to the Italian immigrant family that honoured and restored its features, and caused it to be known as the Bezzasso House.

Close by, a former chapel of some sort, or so its architecture suggests, but it is hidden behind this bamboo fencing and — in case you haven’t taken the hint — the front gate bears a large notice warning it is now a private residence with 24/7 video surveillance.

And a dog. “Beware of dog.”

I am perhaps captured on their camera, but, hey, they are captured on mine.

From former chapel to former synagogue, just north from Keefer on Heatley Avenue. The city’s first synagogue, in fact, Schara Tzedeck, built early in the 20th century when Strathcona had a large Jewish community. (It is now condos, so I am not welcome here either — though here the exclusion is silken rather than churlish.)

I walk the building’s elegant length, but first nip into the alley just to the south, drawn by this enormous tree, blasting its way through the fence.

Another tree, okay, a shrub, right at the alley corner — full bloom!

Some sort of early-blooming rhododendron, I think, but that’s only a guess. Look carefully and you may make out, in that sliver of front door, a Christmas wreath still hanging and still handsome. Two seasons in one.

Some more wandering around, coat wide open, 8-9 degrees, full sun. More snowdrops, more crocus, more mahonia with buds ready to unfurl — and cats. Cats as good a sign of spring as blossoms. Cats unfurling their winter bodies into the sunshine, one here tall on his front porch, one there writhing happily on the sidewalk.

Even houses, I swear, are stretching into the sunshine, this one with a mural gleaming in the noon-time light.

Noon-time also means lunch-time, and I’m happy to be so close to the Wilder Snail, at Keefer & Hawks, across the street from MacLean Park.

A few posts back, I told you about watching a little girl play chess here with her dad; today I overhear an excited young man describe his up-coming one-man show to a supportive friend. It’s that kind of place.

Fed and caffeinated, at peace with the world, I emerge from the café, salute Paneficio Studios diagonally opposite …

and continue east, yet again on Keefer.

Where, over at Campbell, I am given one more snapshot of neighbourhood history, a sidewalk mosaic entitled “The Militant Mothers of Raymur.”

It commemorates the women who, upon moving into the new Raymur Housing Project in 1971 with their families, realized their children had to cross busy railway tracks to get to school. They wanted remedial action, and therefore took on the school board, the city council and the railway company, wielding the usual civic weapons of phone calls, petitions and speeches.

When all that had no effect, they began physically blocking the train tracks.

Again and again.

And they won. The city erected the the Keefer Street Pedestrian Overpass.

Last year, it renamed the structure. It is now, officially, The Militant Mothers of Raymur Overpass.

 

Wandering

28 July 2019 – My feet are wandering, as they tend to do, but more obediently than usual. This time they are trotting along with others, all of us on a neighbourhood tour of “lower Mount Pleasant” (close-ish to the south-east end of False Creek).

The guide is pointing out evidence of the social, industrial and built heritage of the area: remnants of the vernacular residential architecture of the 1910s, for example (gables, wood cladding and off-set front doors) …

or …

remnants of mid-century shop signage. (Bike Woman is listening to our guide, who is out of frame to the left.)

I am also listening, I am, but while my feet are obedient wanderers, my eyes are rebellious wanderers, and they keep leading my mind a-stray.

Here we are being shown one of those early homes, still surviving and freshly painted.

Only my eyes bounce off the bright paint, weave through the tree branches, and fasten on that bit of street mural beyond.

Now we’re being told more about the history of this house, and the (woeful) state of heritage designation in the area. My eyes instead slide along the building’s side wall and hop over alley space to contemplate the shipwreck in turquoise waters, ‘way down there.

And so it goes.

Another intersection, more information, and, though my feet are behaving themselves, my eyes are still on the prowl.

Look! A whole exuberant dance across that white wall over there, nicely framed by modes of transport: a sturdy truck up close, a sleek auto-share vehicle across the street, and guy wheeling his bike through the doorway.

Next, a neat little square of mural, far end of that parking-lot grid, tucked behind the hydro pole …

and, later, a huge full-wall’s worth of faces, with the vacant lot offering an unobstructed view of every detail.

Nothing distant about this one! We’re on the pavement right in front.

Smack-dab under the dog’s whiskers, and still, the guide manages to ignore him.

She is just not a street-art kind of gal. (I shouldn’t beat up on her — we all edit what we’re going to notice and not notice, otherwise we couldn’t get through the day.)

She does mention the company, though: apparently Mount Pleasant Furniture does a roaring business renting props to movie shoots in town.

Their doorway window gives just the tiniest indication of how many props must be on offer.

Tour over, and my feet, eyes and mind are now free to wander in unison.

Feet stop while eyes and mind enjoy this real, live dog on Main Street, patiently waiting for his human to abandon the delights of the Cartems “donuterie” and take him home.

Feet stop again just across the intersection.

Eyes read, mind again enjoys this street ode that I have read before …

with summer tree-shade bringing the text to life.

I do pause, one further moment.

And then — feet, eyes, mind, and everything in between — I wander on home.

 

Quebec, Vancouver

19 May 2019 – Not the city, not the province, but the street right here in Vancouver. Imbued, I am now convinced, with all the creativity and flair of its eastern namesakes.

There is Quebec Manor, for example, corner of Quebec and East 7th, which first strutted its splendid stuff in 1912, a 32-suite luxury apartment hotel, and is now a non-profit housing co-op.

Wonderful old details still abound …

I go woo-woo every time I pass.

So I should not be surprised, really not at all, to be just as amused and delighted, farther south on the street, ‘way up by East 20th.

I am walking back north toward home, pleased with the visit I’ve just had, pleased with the leafy residential street, everything just “lying down and behaving itself”  — a definition of good design that I’ve long cherished, courtesy of a Calgary photographer I knew decades ago.

And then I see this fence, rolling on down Quebec, defining the boundary of a home that fronts on the cross-street.

Talk about street art! This one has everything, all exuberant, and pretty well all repurposed and recycled and flung into a bright new life.

A big old circular installation, for example …

crammed with lovingly rescued bits of stuff.

And larger-than-life wooden figures … this one proclaiming, board by board: “What I am / after / above all/ is / expression.”

Beyond it, more and more.

A painted orange flower, nicely framed, flirting with all the real flowers outside the frame …

a whole line-up of bird house façades …

another circular installation …

just as crammed full of reimagined bits & pieces.

Who knew rusty can lids and old CDs could dance together so happily?

My own favourite, the painted crow. Who is contemplating either a rorschach inkblot test over there to the right .. or just an inkblot, skip the tortured analysis.

A butterfly …

and I turn for one last loving look northward.

But wait!! (As the infomercials love to say) There’s more!!

One block down, right at the alley corner, a canoe.

Rusty bedsprings behind, assorted garbage and recycling containers all around, and fresh new seedlings emerging in the canoe bed.

Québec, j t’aime!

 

 

Not-Toronto Alley

31 August 2017 – No, no! You do not go looking for one city in another, judging the latter by how much it does, or doesn’t, resemble the former.

So I am slightly embarrassed to confess that this alley immediately reminds me of Toronto alleys that I have walked & loved.

But it is not Toronto.

It is Vancouver. Lower east side Vancouver (between W. Cordova & W. Hastings, and Richards & Homer).

Still, it is very reminiscent, is it not?

I am a tad nostalgic, as I watch this old fellow pause to light his cigarette and then slowly wander on his way.

A whole lotta paint on this walls. No wonder this aerosol can is lying flat, exhausted.

(The cat, of course, would not dream of slumping in exhaustion.)

Even a bare pole isn’t quite bare.

I haven’t seen this little red Angry-Mask before, but suspect it has been pinned to many other surfaces as well.

On the pavement beneath my feet, more art work.

 

Then there’s Peek-a-Boo, with Dumpster. (Vincent Van Gogh Division.)

And Peek-a-Boo, with Truck.

And Peek-a-Boo, with Shoulder.

I emerge.

And pretty soon, on the edge of Gastown, I’m enjoying a different vista entirely.

On the right, the 1910 Dominion Building, Vancouver’s first steel-framed high-rise (once the British Empire’s tallest building); on the left, and wonderfully sympathetic in its architecture, a market-price residential tower in the redeveloped Woodward’s complex.

Definitely not Toronto! Definitely Vancouver.

 

Moss & 13th (East & West)

14 March 2017 – The sky is exceedingly grey, & the air oozes moisture. The trees are grey-brown-black, sombre camouflage for a sombre day.

Only the moss stands out.

How happy it is! I stop thinking about the air, the mist, & focus on the moss.

I am besotted. I lurch along 13th Avenue, East 13th morphing to West as I go, following the moss, tree to tree. Admiring the branches’ furry sleeves, stretching out from the trunk …

Admiring swirls of colour, texture, pattern …

moving in close …

then refreshing my eye with the restraint of this narrow trunk, just one tree farther down the line.

Then a big guy, big fat trunk.

I step in to enjoy the sheen of the day’s moisture upon the bark …

which brings me close enough to see how the buds are just starting to swell.

Another block, and I start to laugh. No need to get close.

Nature’s very own Wretched Excess, flaunting herself out there in front of God & everybody, totally shameless.

I’m attracting attention; people turn, try to see what fascinates me so. They can’t find anything. Small dismissive shakes of the head, & they walk on.

Oh, but look …

is this not totally loopy-delightful?

I move even closer to the trunk, crane my neck backwards …

study the black & white of fern silhouette against bare branches & sky.

On westward, another tree, and I’m laughing again.

 

Visions of a mad orchestra conductor, resplendent in green velvet, raising his arms for the downbeat. “Our tempo,” he intones, “is 30.”

Out to Cambie Street & north to 12th. Time for some visual contrast.

No furry-fuzzy textures here.

Just the strong, clean lines of Vancouver City Hall — built & opened in 1936, a make-work & civic-pride project that tempered the architectural exuberance of 1920s Art Deco with the sobriety of 1930s Moderne. The only colour all those flags, and the neon-circled clock.

I giggle again, thinking of the old joke: “What’s black & white & read [red] all over?” A joke that only works when spoken. Because then you can triumphantly reference the other spelling, and contradict either correct answer.

(I debate not giving you the answers. I relent. Answer # 1: “A newspaper.” Answer #2: “A blushing zebra.”)

Sun City

27 February 2017 – Vancouver knows how to get even. I twice label it “Wet City” and what does it do? Next time I go out the door, it pummels me with sunshine.

But my initial thought is not for the sun, as I stand on the Main St.-Science World Station platform; I am thinking about the mountains. About how they pop up, at the turn of your head, at the flick of an eye, where you don’t expect them at all.

Through the Skytrain station’s north-facing window, for example.

looking north from Main St.=Science World Skytrain station

Right there, apparently at the north end of Main St., but more precisely across False Creek and across downtown Vancouver and across Burrard Inlet and behind North Van. Right there. I allow myself a small, tourist-y wriggle of delight. In my Calgary days, the mountains were always leaping into view — but even then, I loved every flash. Never got tired of it.

What fun to be playing peek-a-boo with mountains again!

I decide to ride the train right to its Burrard Inlet terminus, Waterfront Station, and then walk back south through the city.

A choo-choo train station when it opened in 1914, now — to use the jargon — an “intermodal transit link” and beautifully restored to boot. People stream in, for various Skytrain lines; or out, into the city; or onward, connecting with SeaBus for the ride across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver.

Whichever, they stream through a glorious lobby, in all its Neo-Classic splendour.

"The Station" - Waterfront Station, Skytrain

I stream out, first to play tourist on Granville Square facing the Inlet and the iconic sails of Canada Place. And the mountains …

Canada Place on Burrard Inlet, facing north

I don’t have a very firm plan of action, but I do have the Official Walking Map of Downtown Vancouver. And I have my own two eyes, showing me inviting pathways southward through green space.

Which lead me to the dolphins. Well, I think dolphins. Something heraldic & fanciful & marine, in any event. Very elegant.

window ornamentation, Sinclair Centre

They adorn the lower ledge of elegant windows in an elegant, restored building. The Sinclair Centre, I read: now a shopping mall, but very upscale, and brought into being by connecting four heritage buildings via an atrium. I don’t go in; I just smile at the dolphins. I’m pretty sure they are smirking, not smiling, but the sun is shining and I don’t mind.

Onto Grenville Street proper for a while, I pass an alley and — of course! — turn into it. I’m up for some alley art, that’s my Toronto training.

No alley art.

But who could resist a pink-&-gold playground? With a hopscotch painted in at this end, and dotted arcs for basketball (or perhaps ball hockey) farther down?

off Granville, between W. Pender & W. Hastings

Something leads me sideways, don’t remember, but here I am on Howe St.and — boom! look! I recognize that! (I’m still at the stage where I can’t anticipate what will come next, geographically; I can only enjoy whatever appears, awarding myself modest extra points if I recognize it.)

Yes, the Vancouver Art Gallery, which I visited just days ago with my friend Sally to see the Susan Point exhibit. Now I walk on down into Robson Square, and half-climb steps back up, to just right here, to position Abraham Etungat’s “Bird of Spring” just so against the VAG façade.

looking north to the VAG from Robson Square

And on down through Robson Square, very uncompromising concrete at its lowest level, then climbing up, literally up, into more greenery, and up again on narrow pathways, and I’m not sure where I’m headed, or if it is public property. But no gates, and it is appealing, so I keep climbing.

landscaping on upper level, The Law Courts

Terraced shrubbery & plants around me, but I become fascinated by that tower, and the reflections mirrored onto it. The influence of where I am, surely, but … don’t they remind you of totems? Twenty-first century urban totems?

tower detail

No exit up here, it turns out, all doors locked. I rewind my steps, down onto the sidewalk, see I’ve been up in The Law Courts landscaping.

I turn onto Smithe St., no particular reason except that eventually it will feed me onto the Cambie Bridge.

And then, at Homer, I have another of those “boom! I recognize that!” moments.

This time thanks to a walk last fall with my friend Louise, who pointed out The Homer. An apartment building with ground-level retail when first built in 1909, and that same combination today. Except that tenants undoubtedly now pay a lot more rent, and the ground-floor sequence of a dye works, a steam cleaner, an ice delivery service & a corner store has yielded to a very elegant café & bar.

Fair enough, The Homer has been restored to elegance as well.

bay windows of The Homer, at Homer& Smithe

Happy with my discoveries, my rediscoveries, I let Smithe St. guide me onto Cambie Bridge. Where I hang over the edge to gaze lovingly at False Creek (inconveniencing the cyclist who, rightly, thought that side of the shared track belonged to him). And flick my eyes upwards at those mountains again.

view eastward into False Creek, along the north side

I think I’m done with them, as I hit ground on the other side and walk east into Mount Pleasant.

But of course I’m not.

I stop to admire the painted building at Ontario & East 8th, and there, above it all …

view north past Ontario& E. 8th

dancing with the sky & clouds … the mountains.

Post-Script

Yes, the sun shone all day like crazy & at one point I was carrying my jacket, not wearing it.

This morning I stepped out into a snow flurry.

  • 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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