The Quiet Pleasures of the Perfectly Ordinary

13 August 2021 – This post title throws me into Alexander McCall Smith-land (many of whose titles follow this construction & tone, e.g. The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday; The Careful Use of Compliments; The Right Attitude to Rain). I considered other title possibilities, equally of the style (e.g. The Reassurance of Scorched Grass, or The Joy of Social Distancing), but finally settled on this one.

All this to say: I am walking past an ordinary local park, and I am touched and heartened by what I see.

Which is… perfectly ordinary.

Just people sitting about on the grass in a small (1.03 Ha) neighbourhood park.

But I see it with neighbourhood eyes. I am right-angling my way around two sides of Guelph Park (aka Dude Chilling Park), and I am thinking how important this small stretch of currently very scorched grass has been, ever since COVID hit our world and pinned us in place.

Right from the start, it has been a precious resource, a safe place to sit outside, breathe outside air, feel free. It still feels that way, even now, as we cautiously test greater freedom.

This is not extraordinary, it is surely the common story of parks all over the world. Peaceful space, for simple activities that result in quiet pleasure.

A place to check your phone for texts (right foreground, below) or to sit on a bench fingering your acoustic guitar (left, rear).

A place to drape your latest crochet-street-artist offerings.

A place to drop your bicycles beside you and just hang out for a while — with the eponymous Dude himself lounging in the background, host to your quartet and everyone else who has loved him since 1991.

Oh all right, small recap of the “Dude” story. I’ve pretty well backed myself into this corner, haven’t I?

In 1991 Guelph Park became home to a large cedar sculpture of an abstract reclining figure by Michael Dennis. Somewhere around 2012 (accounts vary & it doesn’t matter), someone installed a pseudo-Parks Board sign renaming the park, “Dude Chilling Park.” Sign removed; merry pranksters mount an online petition for the name change; on the kufuffle goes for a while. Meanwhile the cedar sculpture deteriorates, since that is what cedar does, and sculptor Michael Dennis offers to recast it in bronze. Citizens, the City & assorted businesses raise funds and in 2019 the new Dude (Reclining Figure, on the paperwork) is installed.

By then, the park-name business has long since been very nicely sorted out. It is still officially Guelph Park — but, as of spring 2014, it also sports an officially approved “art installation” of the name “Dude Chilling Park,” that exactly copies official signage.

You may want to suggest that, given all this, the park hardly deserves the description of “perfectly ordinary.” I’ll sort of agree — and then slide out from under. First: my post title refers to current park use, not its back-story.

And! Second! If we just pay attention, everywhere and everybody has a story. The ordinary always has something extraordinary going on…

Both Sides Now

2 May 2021 – Joni Mitchell’s pithy phrase leaps to mind, and I borrow it. Her “both sides” explored the many concepts of her magical 1967 song; mine speaks only of a magical day on first one side, and then the other side, of Burrard Inlet. And my “now”? Ahhh, more magic: the magic of the present historical tense, and your willingness to enter it with me.

Here we are, about to amble our way through West Vancouver’s Ambleside Park.

The park flows along the north shore of Burrard Inlet, pretty well right out there where the fiord first starts knifing eastward from Strait of Georgia all the way to Port Moody at the other end. And “amble” is the right verb: there is something soothing and easy-going about this park, and we slow our pace.

I fall instantly in love with the spare, functional elegance of the Ambleside Fishing Pier.

It is the 1990 replacement for the original 1913 structure, which was a vital ferry terminal as well as fishing pier, until bridges (e.g. Lions Gate Bridge, 1938) began to offer another way to cross Burrard Inlet.

We walk toward the pier, peek at an off-shoot through the trees …

but choose to walk out the main pier, right to the end.

Out there in safely deep water, freighters sit anchored in the Port of Vancouver “parking lot,” awaiting their turn to head down-Inlet and offload or receive cargo.

Right here at Pier’s edge, something that excites us a lot more than yet another freighter: a seal!

He may or may not be a capital-H Harbour seal, but he is a seal in the harbour and his presence speaks to the cumulative impact of steps being taken to improve water quality.

Back from the Pier, we briefly cut away from the water, follow footpaths past stands of cherry trees. Yes, the blossoms are falling fast; yes, it’s the “litterbug” stage I smirked about in my previous post. But look: somebody has neatly raked the windfall into a tidy heart.

More charm: a tangle of wild something-or-other draped all over this concrete guidepost.

Yet more charm: the smallest community book-exchange box I have ever seen, with the most inventive signage …

and a stunning backdrop.

Lamp standards evoke the grace of an earlier time …

even when they abut car parks and serve to enthrone a guardian crow.

Having looked westward toward those freighters earlier, we now look south and east, to the dense greens of Stanley Park directly opposite (here white-speckled with a whole flurry of seagulls) and the long curve of Lions Gate Bridge.

That bridge links the “both sides” of this day. We cross it to leave north-side Burrard Inlet for south, and then on down through Stanley Park and a few more kilometres west along the south shore, past Jericho Beach, past Locarno Beach, out to Spanish Banks just short of UBC.

This is why.

We’re here to see some furniture. But not any old furniture. Public Furniture.

They are terrific. So minimally, empathetically sculpted you’d swear nobody but nature had touched them. They rest easily on the sands, absolutely at home with their surroundings and each other.

Like this …

and this …

and this.

Both sides of Burrard Inlet, and magic each side.

Then a surprise, the magic of the unexpected.

Something that catches the eye, confuses the eye, intrigues the eye, and has us skitter across NW Marine Drive for a closer look. At first, it does seem unlikely to enchant: all padlocks, razor wire, rusting metal and Video Surveillance warnings.

But look into the glossy foliage, just there to the left of the staircase. See?

Well of course it’s a dancing orca. How else could we end this day?

Bright Red

21 March 2021 – But not this bright red.

We’re not out in the drizzle for the latest umbrella installation just behind the Yaletown Skytrain station.

And we pause very briefly indeed for a sticker-sized offering of Philosophy To Guide Your Life.

Nope. We zigzag on down to the north shore of False Creek, right there by the foot of Drake Street.

We’re looking for something else. We’re on the trail of The Proud Youth, one of Beijing artist Chen Wenling’s two contributions to this year’s Vancouver Biennale. We don’t have an exact address. We hope we can find it.

That turns out not to be a problem. It is eminently findable.

We move closer — puzzled, laughing, and fascinated. My friend grabs a full-frontal, as I start circling around.

Later, the online description gives us context:

The Proud Youth is a representative artwork in Chen Wenling’s Red Memories series. It is named after a popular Wuxia (Martial Heroes) novel called The Smiling, Proud Wanderer (Xiao Ao Jiang Hu 笑傲江湖), which in Chinese literally means “to live a carefree life in a mundane world of strife.” The novel is frequently read as a political allegory.”

The description moves on from literary reference to what is, literally, right in front of us. That pose! That red! The colour signifying not just auspiciousness, but the artist’s own “fiery” attitude to life: “The red figure, naked and free… The cheeky expression and arresting pose…”

Doubled over…

peering down between his feet …

and laughing his head off …

at the reaction of passers-by.

Eventually we move on. Double back to the north side of the Cambie St. bridge, where we’ll climb the on-ramp sidewalk…

and cross False Creek. With a latte destination firmly in mind.

But, barely onto the bridge, we stop for another hit of red.

Okay, more blush-pink than red, but auspicious even so.

Cherry blossoms! Already!

Wet

2 February 2021 – All these versions of “wet,” shining up at me immediately post-showers in a 2-km radius of home!

For example, there’s Tree-Bark Wet , whose sub-categories include…

Naked Gleaming Bark

Adorned Gleaming Bark (in this case, with a sodden felt heart)…

and even,

Hidden Gleaming Bark (here buried beneath squishy moss and droplet-shiny baby ferns).

Then there’s Art-Installation Wet

with its own sub-categories, including…

Sidewalk Mosaics (here, the eponymous Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathern — briefly Governor-General of Canada — glints up at us from his place of honour in front of Mount Pleasant’s Connaught apartment building) …

and also, and of course, Park Statues.

For example, The Dude!

Mount Pleasant’s very own bronze Dude (Reclining Figure, if you insist), at ease in the S/E corner of his very own Dude Chilling Park (Guelph Park, if you insist).

By now he is relatively dry on top, but still shedding droplets beneath his extended forearm.

I am completely dry, thank you, inside my Vancouver–proof raincoat, and I walk on home, much amused.

Marching Orders

4 July 2018 – I am not exactly marching down the underside of the Cambie Bridge on-ramp, but I am certainly striding right along. It leads to Spyglass Dock on False Creek, and once again, this is my starting point for the day’s exploration.

I ignore the large, City-sanctioned chalkboard, with its invitation to add what makes you happy to the already long list of contributions. (“You,” “weed,” it goes on like that.) But I do break stride for this entirely unsanctioned little message, right down at ankle level on one of the on-ramp pillars.

Entirely appropriate marching orders for the day, I decide.

Life-in-general deserves a smile, as the sign points out. So does life-in-Canada, something we’re all aware of on this final day of the Canada Day holiday weekend. And … and … who knows what this walk will offer?

The first offering arrives just moments later — the public piano, freshly repainted and as usual being played, right here on Spyglass Dock.

The boy is playing Beethoven’s Für Elise as I arrive, segues into Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca and, after some mad riffing on Turkish March themes (all very riffable), slides into the Beatles’ Let It Be.

And I do let it be. I sink into one of the dockside Muskoka chairs, and watch life roll/skate/walk/sail/paddle/fly by.

A couple sinks into adjoining chairs. “Free music and free chairs!” marvels the woman.

Finally, I bestir myself, & head for the spiral staircase between seawall & bridge. I do not exactly smile at the staircase, it will demand exertion …

but I appreciate how very neatly it delivers me to where I want to be, namely on the bridge  — and, in due course, to where I next want to be, namely heading west along the north side of False Creek.

Quite different, this side: imposing condos, practically to water’s edge; imposing boats crowding the public marinas, smack at water’s edge. But in between, at least a ribbon of bike/pedestrian pathway, expanding at intervals into parks.

I’ve passed these kiosks before, not paid close attention, simply registered them as backdrop to the False Creek of here & now, paying elegantly artistic tribute to all that has vanished.

Today I step close, read words engraved on the kiosk itself and frost-lettered into the glass railing. I’m not from here, these words cannot evoke for me what they can mean to others, but even so … Even so, I am moved.

Each lettered kiosk panel has its visual partner, silhouettes and cut-outs of all that has lived here, some of which still does. Wading birds, for example …

And there is signage. Lots of signage.

We are instructed to Thank Todd …

who, having provided the poop bags, points out we now have no excuse not to do the right thing.

Another sign, this one official, repeats at intervals along the pathway centre line that divides cyclist lanes from pedestrian.

This version alternates with one warning cyclists about pedestrians. Like Todd, preventable.ca now expects us to do the right thing. I suppose, in a way, it amounts to the same “right thing,” doesn’t it? We are to use our brains, think ahead, & avoid preventable messes.

So despite the wagging finger overtones, I do smile.

And smile more as I approach Waiting For Low TideDon Vaughan‘s wonderful circle of boulders that enclose a tidal pool.

It is the companion installation to his equally remarkable Marking High Tide, just a little farther west. Vaughan is a retired landscape architect and — is this not wonderful? — a fellow WordPress blogger. So follow that link.

A woman sits on the seawall near the boulders, her small dog next to her, his Canada Day kerchief of red maple leaves neatly tied around his neck. Canada Geese bob nearby. O Canada!

I circle back to the ferry dock in David Lam Park, stopping for a looney’s-worth of lemonade as I go …

and watch others also reward this boy’s entrepreneurial spirit. (His vendor’s permit, you ask? Don’t be silly.)

Onto a ferry, and on to Granville Island …

with its line of houseboats, their flags aloft for the holiday, and, beyond that, the sky-punching silos of the concrete company.

I eat a slice of spinach-rice pie, exhale with relief as I slide away from the crowds, then duck through a parking garage and enjoy its line-up of murals.

Colour everywhere, art galleries and other artisan shops — here a whole wall of scarves / hats / jackets that spill out from Funk Shui Felt. (Yes. Funk-with-a-k.)

I’m about to leave — but first I detour waterside again to pay tribute to the colours that drench Ocean Concrete. Colour, defining a concrete company worksite? There it is, before your eyes.

The 21-metre-high figures transforming the six silos are one installation in a global series called Giants, by the Brazilian twins known as OSGEMEOS, and a legacy of the 2014 edition of the Vancouver Biennale. No credit given for the cheerful cement mixer drums on some of the trucks — see that strawberry, there on the lower left? —  but I think they are perfectly swell, whoever painted them.

And that’s it. Smile!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

POP! Go the Chairs

22 January 2017 – It is a totally pissy day (dull, damp, raw, intermittent rain-spittle), & I march out into it anyway.

And I am rewarded.

If waterfront summertime chairs can be this cheerful, if they can go POP! despite the weather, who am I not to join in?

chairs in Harbour Square Park, lakefront & Bay St

I’m in Harbour Square Park, by Lake Ontario just opposite the ferry terminal, starting to walk west along the lake and thinking how my attitude has changed to out-of-season accessories. Such as these Muskoka chairs, for example.

I used to sneer — yes, peaceful broadminded me — when confronted by public facilities designed, so I thought, for one season only. And for summer at that. When we inhabit, in fact, a primarily not-summer environment.

Now I delight in them — the chairs, the huge umbrellas at HTO Park and Sugar Beach, the lot. Why? Because so many others delight in them, and enjoy them year-round. So I am now an old dog with a new attitude. (Woof woof.)

More of those chairs keep popping at me through the drizzle as I walk along.

For example, when I meet Leeward Fleet in Canada Square. Background, but still definitely a presence.

2 of 3 components, Leeward Fleet, Canada Square

I read the signboard, and learn these pivoting structures (by RAW Design) were inspired by iceboat & sailboat technology. “Ancient fleet, blowing in the wind,” says the slogan.

The signboard also excuses me for not having noticed this installation before: it is one of five along Queen’s Quay West that together make up Ice Breakers, an exhibition that only opened yesterday and runs until 26 February.

A little farther west through Harbourfront Park, and my eyes follow my ears, to discover the source of the shrill squeal that fills the air …

marina along Harbourfront Park

Oh, I know, not a Muskoka chair in sight. But we can’t let ourselves be hamstrung by a theme, can we? And the sight does support my “out-of-season” sub-theme. All these little boats in the basin, tucked away for winter, and one man out there anyway — in a T-shirt! — power-drilling his way through an off-season project.

North side of Queen’s Quay, down by the Peter Street Basin, I spot giant hands. And jaywalk to check them out.

Tailored Twins, Queen's Quay W at the Peter Street Basin

Wouldn’t you?

It’s Tailored Twins (Ferris + Associates), another of the Ice Breakers installations, 3-metre-high faceted wooden hands, their golden palms glinting, even on a dark day. “Put your hands where my eyes can see,” says the slogan, and my eyes say thank you.

the west-end of the two hands

Well, that’s fun, and I head back east full of bounce.

Another of the installations, this one Incognito (Curio Art Consultancy and Jaspal Riyait), with — yes — a POP! factor.

Incognito, Queen's Quay W at Rees Street

This time the chairs, highly visible as they are, counter-balance a theme of invisibility. “An invisible city inside a park, can you see it?” The design, the signboard tells me, copies the same camouflaging technique used by World War I warships.

And on east I go, and on, and short winter days mean that by 6 p.m. it is already dark.

I turn north up Jarvis, and at King West see one final chair. This time it is just part of a tableau, and it is the tableau as a whole that goes POP!

through the Second Cup window, Jarvis & King West

I like everything about this scene: a warm, dry refuge glowing into the rainy night; a man ensconced in that refuge, head bent over his acoustic guitar, coffee near to hand.

I pick up the pace, walking on to home. The sooner I am there, the sooner I, too, will have coffee near to hand!

  • 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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