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.

  • 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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