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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

R is for Rust

28 September 2017 – Rust is on my mind, as I angle north/east-ish toward Dance House , this bright fall day, to discuss the volunteer communications project I’m about to begin.

Rust, a signature colour in nature each fall — and rust, a signature colour in metal, by time or design.

I see both, abundantly, in my zigzag travels along False Creek and then farther east to the trendifying old industrial area now home to Dance House, other creative organizations and, just this month, Emily Carr University as well.

First, as I hit 1st Avenue just west of Hinge Park, an example of rust-by-time.

I love the transformation of south-east False Creek from brownfield to green space — but I also love this battered survivor of the area’s industrial past. Toxic as it surely all was, it met the standards of the day and helped meet needs of the day.

And while that building has wrecking-ball written all over it, sections of old railway track right next door in Hinge Park will survive.

Rusty by time, but preserved by design, and rightly so. We need to honour the past.

Note, too, some companion rust-by-nature in the shrubbery, and just a glimpse, there in the middle-back, of my beloved “Rusty Sub.”

I round a corner.

More rusty leaves, to keep the sub company, and rushes turning tawny in the meandering little stream.

Then I’m down at Creek-side, right where Habitat Island juts into the water, and I start to laugh.

Looks like “R” has to slip-slide its way back up the dictionary from Rust, to Repose!

Goodness, he is so peaceful, chest rising/falling gently, relaxed in the still-warm afternoon sun. And, all around him, rust-by-nature in the shrubbery.

Lots more rust, all over the tree leaves that still half-obscure the Green Path signage. (Pedestrians this side; cyclists that.)

I’m almost at the end of False Creek now, right by The Village ferry dock, with its view of BC Place sports stadium on the north side and, to its left, a distinctly rusty-coloured building façade.

No ferry in sight at the moment, but I console myself with that bright red tug boat. I do love tug boats!

Still on 1st Avenue, just west of Main, and some more rust-by-design in the courtyard of a spiffy new condo complex.

Very minimalist, very appealing: the rich tones of the metal, the burble of the falling water, and sunshine & breeze teaming up to dance shadows on the wall.

On east I go, and I’m early for my appointment.

I wander on down to the cul-de-sac where East 1st Ave. does a dog-leg into a chain-metal fence along the cross-town train tracks.

Boxcars! Lovely rust-coloured boxcars!

With graffiti! (Bonus points)

See the young women sketching away down there, next to the inner fence right at the tracks? Students from Emily Carr next door, out on assignment. There are a dozen or more in the immediate vicinity, under the watchful eye of their man-bunn’d instructor, who circulates from one to the next, commenting as he deems appropriate.

And then I go meet Charlotte at Dance House, and we chat on the building green roof with its 180-degree view of the mountains, and we stroke a very insistent white cat as we talk — who assumes our adoration and so receives it, but that is another story — and finally I head south/west-ish back home.

Where, in an alley just east of Main, the letter “R” does another slip-slide and lands on the word “Retro.”

A wonderfully retro design, complete with the words “Todos borrachos aquí,” and … and don’t bother asking, I can’t explain it. No sign of a cantina, just an autobody shop.

But it’s fun.

 

Rusty Submarine

22 August 2017 – “We all live in a yellow submarine,” carolled The Beatles back in 1969, but nowadays, here in Hinge Park, the palette runs more to rust than to sunshine.

And it is equally magical.

I love walking around False Creek, as you will have noticed by now, and I always wander through Hinge Park as I go. Repurposed land made beautiful for the community to enjoy, how could you not love it, rejoice in it?

The “submarine,” of course, isn’t one, but the whimsical structure is part of the park’s magic. Why just throw serviceable planks across the watercourse, when you can offer up some come-play-with-me sculpture instead?

Two periscopes, count ’em, and lots of portholes — places for humans to look out, and for the sunshine to peek in, throwing spotlights among the shadows.

I’m entering from the south, I’ll climb those steps at the north end up to a knoll where yet another channel of water starts tumbling down the hill.

That channel is narrow, contained, and sparkling clear. The water in the waterway beneath me is also clear, but right around here, it is carpeted in vivid pond weed, emerald contrast to the tawny bullrushes along the shore.

Peer the other way, see more of the Olympic Village condo towers in the background.

Soon I’m on the north-end stone steps, regaining footing having been nearly run down by these kiddies who charge on through, whooping with delight, their feet & their voices echoing the length of the chamber.

And then, whoop-wh0op, they reverse gears & come charging back. I’m in the grass by now, out of harm’s way, delighted with their delight, watching them dance hippety-hop from one sun-spotlight to the next.

See the little girl, still halfway through the tube? Hippety-hop.

On I wander, heading east, thoughts of a latte in Olympic Village Park beginning to form in my mind …

But I am distracted enroute by one of the City’s glorious flowing chaise-longues along the edge of False Creek. They fit the body beautifully, they stand up to the weather wonderfully, and I want one. For my body. Right now.

I hasten my steps, realize I’m on a collision course with a Nice Young Man & his Well-Behaved Dog. He has the leg-length & youthful speed to beat me to the chair. But — aha — I have the Old Lady card to play! And, shameless creature that I am, I play it. Nice Young Man steps back, courteously. I thank him, courteously. And sink into the chair, snuggle my bottom into position, wiggle my toes.

Me & the sunshine & a breeze & my wiggling toes, plus the passing cavalcade: assorted ferries (here one of the Aquabus line), dragon boat teams, kayaks, small pleasure boats …

Eventually thoughts of latte overpower all this beauty, and I move on.

I collect my latte, yes I do. I seat myself on the café’s shady patio, and discover the newest, not-yet-official Olympic Sport.

Climb the Giant Sparrow.

No sparrows — or young boys, for that matter — were harmed in the development of this sport.

 

Smoochers & Strange Dogs

7 June 2017 – You’ll have to imagine the smoochers, but I’ll give you Smoochers Corner.  My gift to you, courtesy of a cheerful young man named Aaron, whom I met at the foot of the steps down from Jean Beaty Park to Burrard Inlet a couple of days ago.

Turns out he occasionally leads tours around the neighbourhood, here in Point Grey, and when he learns how much I love to walk & explore, he tells me about Smoochers Corner. Just down the road, he says, at the top of the Dunbar Steps.

He jumps this-way, that-way, to demonstrate what I’ll see.

And I do.

See? This-way for Him; that-way for Her; and smooch-smooch.

I giggle. And I remember the Vancouver Biennale Open Air Museum art installation I saw enroute, and giggle again.

This particular installation, Vancouver Novel by Brazilian artist João Loureiro, consists of a rotating cycle of 23 LED-light sentences. The sentence I happen to catch seems tailor-made for smoochers.

I’m on a roll, wandering daily around town, beginning to sniff out some haunts. Still with the wide eyes of the new-comer.

So I tilt my head in wonder as I emerge from a VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) lecture yesterday evening, beguiled by the soft air & golden light of mid-evening. It’s not so much the buildings, which neatly frame Hornby Street, it’s the great plummeting arrow of sky-space in-between.

I play my positive-space/negative-space game, blinking my attention back & forth.

Less esoteric today, out revisiting the pathways here on the south side of False Creek. This green space was a haunt of mine while visiting town last winter, how much more agreeable in warm spring sunshine!

I’m in Hinge Park, I go hip-hop across the big stones to the little island just off-shore, I follow the path, I peer between the trees.

Tree art! Woodpecker Dead Tree art! No woodpeckers in sight, mind you, just the evidence they leave behind.

And then, farther east, I’m prowling public waterfront space in Olympic Village … and this time the birds are visible. Bird on bird.

I know that’s a pigeon up top. The big guy underneath? Let’s call him a sparrow.

A latte stop by the water, and I start heading inland. Up to West 1st Av. and Manitoba, where once again I admire one of the City’s attractive sewer lids. Except this one has a tiny companion.

I look closely at the mini-version: “Tread Lightly,” it says; “Ship Yard.” I’d like to know more. I am mildly, but pleasurably, frustrated. These things can be learned…

Right there, too: an art installation. No plaque that I can find, no artist ID, no explanation. But it looks to me like mounds of salt.

And I’m right, I must be right. The building, now a restaurant & bar, also bears its historic name, “Vancouver Salt Co. Ltd.” The little street next to the building is — of course — Salt St.

On up Manitoba, up to West 3rd. I glance casually eastward as I wait for the light to change.

Look!

Oh, if only the doors had been closed. Oh, never mind. It is quite wonderful. I don’t know why Greenworks Building Supply wanted street-art murals, but thank you, I am all in favour.

I remember Rolf’s dictum: “When you see something interesting in front of you, there will be something equally interesting right behind you.” I spin on my heel.

Right behind me is Eddie’s Hang-Up Display Ltd. I’ve been doing my little jig of street-art delight under the cool gaze of Eddie’s Ladies.

That belly tag reads, “Wigs sold separately.” (Just FYI.)

And I zig, and I zag, and in the course of events (after a long, tempting riffle through Mountain Equipment Co-op on West Broadway) I find myself climbing on up Columbia St., just north of West 10th.

I am admiring the fine old wooden homes, one obligingly with a heritage plaque. It explains that, in 1895, it was the Bloomfield Studio, home to Henry Bloomfield and two sons, the city’s foremost stained glass artisans — responsible, among other accomplishments, for the windows of the provincial Parliament Buildings in Victoria.

Coming close enough to read the plaque brings me close enough to read another tidy little sign. This one very much of our own day.

Well??? What? Three ears? Two tails? Amazing skill with a mouth organ? Armed with a sling-shot? Alas, he is nowhere in sight, and we’ll never know.

So we can each imagine our own favourite Strange Dog, and be happy.

 

 

 

  • 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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