A Lake & a Latte

1 May 2019 – Assorted obligations at the VanDusen Botanical Garden today, and, with all those obligations duly met, it was time for play.

Time to stand with the Michael Dennis Confidence couple, soaring figures of salvaged red cedar, and with them admire the fountain’s dance in Livingstone Lake …

Time, also, to sit for a while on that lakeside bench, listening to the water, the ducks, the geese, the occasional chickadee, scraps of visitor conversation …

and, finally,

Time for a latte inside.

My sentiments exactly.

Before the Rain

5 April 2019 – Vancouver a Temperate Rainforest? Nicknamed “Rain City” for a reason?  You wouldn’t know it, by March stats: 31.7 mm of rain all month, versus the historical norm of 113.9 mm.

But then rain slapped its forehead, remembered its duty, and got back to work. (It is oozing gently down as I write this sentence.)

Which makes me all the more grateful for those first still-sunny and suddenly-warm days this month, and the walks with which I celebrated them.

One takes me along the north-shore seawall on False Creek, past the Burrard Bridge all the way to Second Beach, tucked into the edge of Stanley Park.

At Sunset Beach, I stop to visit one of my favourite False Creek sculptures. This one.

The work of French artist Bernar Venet, it was acquired by the Vancouver Biennale Legacy Foundation in 2007. It has one of those cryptic titles that usually make me very cranky: 217.5 ARC X 13. This time I am not cranky, because it succinctly describes the work, which consists of 13 arcs of metal, each curved at an angle of 217.5 degrees.

Crankiness threatens as I read the subsequent artspeak about the meaning of the work, but I do agree with the final observation that “the seemingly unfinished surface invites you to give the raw material a closer look.”

I move in for a closer look.

As did those two crows above!

My next walk is again largely waterfront, but this time along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. It gets a kick-start in Mink, a café overlooking a sliver of walk-through park just south of Canada Place.

The café’s website promises that “the view in spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom is awe-inspiring.”

They’re right.

In fact, the starting logic for this walk is just that: to admire the cherry blossoms. Now suitably caffeinated, Frances & I head on up to the water and begin walking west toward Coal Harbour.

We dawdle as we go. Lots of cherry blossoms to enjoy — and apple blossoms, and magnolia, and forsythia — and other waterfront visual treats as well.

Float planes, for example, with a whole mix of tourist/private/business purposes animating them now, and with a long, rich history of innovation, exploration and adventure behind them.

Plus … they’re just fun to watch.

Rows of them here at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, this particular line-up leading the eye across the water to one of North Vancouver’s distinctive sulphur piles glowing an incandescent yellow in the distance.

Extracted from natural gas, this powder has gone from waste-product status to sought-after status as a component of fertilizer. Some 35% (I read online) of the world’s trade in sulphur passes through the Port of Vancouver.

Something else I love to observe: houseboats!

We see various groupings as we amble along, this bright duo in a marina just off Cardero Park at the west end of Coal Harbour.

We keep walking, more and more, and eventually there we are at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. It seems a fitting turn-about point, so that’s what we do, and then head for our separate destinations.

I finally hop a bus. As I cross the city eastward, I watch the clouds roll in.

Loop to Labyrinth

27 January 2019 – “Yes,” I said to myself, “a loop. Down to the very end-curve of False Creek, west along the north side of the Creek to the Cambie Street bridge, over the bridge, back east on the south side of the Creek, and home.”

You are not where it says you are. You are with me — in the magic of the historic present tense — in the end-curve next to World of Science (aka “The Golf Ball,” thank you Frances).

Looking west down the Creek, with the Cambie bridge arching one side to the other.

I head past the reeds and rushes in the parkland next to World of Science, hear the Redwing Blackbirds and read the warning, but without alarm.

None swoop down. Children swoop, on the other hand, exuberant with the park’s activity stations, their parents laughing and trotting along beside them.

I round the Creek’s north-east curve, then pass & briefly cut through the new Concord Community Park.

It is reminiscent — in its bright colours, high design and high functionality — of the new breed of urban parks I’d come to love in Toronto as well. Urbane, yet at one with nature. The perfect city combination.

The seawall scoops me by BC Place Stadium and the adjacent Casino, its metallic tawny walls the perfect foil for sunrise, sunset and — at the moment — dark reflections of its angular neighbours.

I’m barely past the canine off-leash area in Coopers’ Park when I come to its logical conclusion — dog benches!

First I see, and start laughing at, the dog faces. Only later do I notice the water bowl beneath each muzzle.

Up the long switch-back ramp onto the Cambie bridge. Even here, carefully distinct lanes for pedestrians and for bicycles. (The baby carriage may be on wheels, but mum wisely opts for the pedestrian lane.)

Approaching the south side of the Creek, I look east to the rest of my loop …

and then, just before starting down the spiral pedestrian staircase, I look west.

The Granville Street bridge is out there somewhere, but here in the foreground is Spyglass Dock, “my” dock it used to be, and still my favourite. Oh, how those colours punch through the day’s flat light.

And down the spiral ramp.

More colour punch on the bridge pillar, this time with an environmental message. The blue bands of “A False Creek” rise 5 metres above sea level, showing us mid-point of the predicted 4-6 metre rise we can expect through melting ice caps.

Eastward-ho, with great, grating swirls of crows on a line-up of trees between the bridge and Hinge Park. I remember seeing them here before, it must be a favourite roost.

Past the noisy crows, on to the peace of public lounge chairs and a cyclist peacefully lounging, bike propped to one side, tuque’d head barely visible, and an Aquabus chugging by in the Creek.

The City has tucked a small artificial island into the Creek just opposite Hinge Park, engineered to mimic nature’s own wisdom and provide additional rich habitat for wildlife. It creates a side-channel in the Creek, with the island to one side and the seawall path to the other.

After Hinge Park comes Olympic Village, with its shops, condos and big open square. I’m already anticipating the latte I will order in one of the cafés.

I am not anticipating the city’s latest labyrinth!

Oh yes, we are becoming a city of labyrinths, and look how engaged we are with this one before it is even complete.

See? A woman to the right guides her child along a path; mid-distance on the left, Turquoise Jacket cantilevers herself along another path, with Red Jacket not far behind.

And farther back — straight back from the “a” in the foreground word “Vancouver,” yes, that crouched dark figure — the artist.

Meet Himy (as in, he tells me, “Hey, It’s My Yogurt”) Syed, heart & soul & artist of the Toronto + Vancouver City of Labyrinths project.

I have to wait my turn to speak with him: one after another, passers-by stop to ask about his work, and thank him for it. I discover he’s another Toronto expat, so we swap a few Rob Ford horror stories before chattering about street art and artists in both cities.

Then he returns to his chalk, and I go find my latte.

Where I find myself still smiling about Himy’s project, and all the joy he creates for the rest of us.

 

HOME and Democracy

15 October 2018 – I tilt backward, slide my eyes up those skyscrapers, know I won’t see any for the next few days.

I’m heading out of town, north to join friends who live by Lake Simcoe, in a community just outside Barrie.

They pick me up at the GO (= Government of Ontario) bus station, explain we have one important stop to make on the way home.

This is the first voting day in the municipal elections being held throughout the province. First voting day? Times have changed. It used to be, one official voting day plus several advance-poll days. Now, with the switch to electronic voting, people may vote across a range of days — or from home.

My friends will do it the (relatively) old-fashioned way: we’ll stop at the Innisfil town services building, where they will make their electronic mark in person.

The building is festive. Voting has become a family-friendly event. There’s a (I swear to you) Batmobile parked nearby, to amuse the kiddies, and balloons galore.

Balloons plus a list of relevant stats and fun factoids …

balloons plus pumpkins plus local band (plus Batman watching) along one side of the building …

and a Batman-meets-shy-fan moment when said hero finally walks away from the band.

We go in. Assorted smiling helpers on all sides, both town staff and volunteers, and welcoming signage right inside the door.

My friends head off to find voting kiosks. I spy all these rosettes clustered on a far wall …

and go investigate.

Turns out to be the results of a local ideaLAB & Library project, which invited people to paint a pair of donated shoes to symbolize what “HOME” means to them. Participants also stated what they were portraying, and their comments were neatly printed up and put on display as well.

I start checking out the many meanings of HOME.

Dogs!

Forest & lake — though with a nearby sign talking about a “very fat cat,” which I found confusing …

until I looked to the right instead of the left.

Certainly a very black cat and, I am happy to assume, the beloved Chubby-chubbs in question.

Someone loves his solo life …

someone else loves Toronto …

and someone else creates delicately intricate waves.

Someone reminds us that all Canada is HOME.

And what could be more appropriate than that, as, all around, citizens are gathering to care for their home with this fundamental act of good stewardship?

Much later that day, in failing light, I sit on a rock on the beach, and think about voting, think about HOME, think about that final shoe.

Yes. Lucky us. All Canada is home.

Meanwhile, back in Digbeth …

Click right here: This is what happens when a whole chunk of Birmingham decides to woo street artists.

Thanks, Rick!

Eye-Smack

5 August 2018 – I have a plan. (1) Quote “better than a smack in the eye with a wet kipper”; (2) thank Monty Python’s Fish Dance for this immortal line; and (3) segue very niftily to being smacked in the eye with colour.

Then I discover that Fish Dance doesn’t include this line, and that there are a zillion variations on the line, with attributions as wide-ranging as Aussie slang, Uncle Anatole in the Tintin series, and even Dr. Cottard in the 1908 work Du côté de chez Swann by Marcel Proust.

Good grief. Let’s forget all that, and get back to my being smacked in the eye with colour.

Which is what happens during a week of blazing, pulsing sunshine.

Green!

Blue-purple!

Yellow! (bee-flecked with black)

And — just to show nature doesn’t have all the fun — look what happens when you leave the VanDusen Botanical Garden and take the Canada Line downtown to Yaletown-Roundhouse Station.

Underbrella!

Welcome to the new public art installation bobbing among the trees in Bill Curtis Square, courtesy of the Yaletown BIA.

Perfectly sensible adults dance around under it, squinting upwards, and giggling.

 

We are in love with it — at least partially because, as someone suggested, all those brollies currently shield us from sunshine rather than pelting rain.

 

How-Not-To

7 July 2018 – Sometimes negative teaches more than positive.

For example, if you wish to convince people that your City hates art …

do not — do NOT — post your message on the edge of Robson Square, with the Vancouver Art Gallery to one side, bracketed by two major sculptures (Spring, Alan Chung Hung; Bird of Spring, Abraham Etungat), and backed by a brand new, sassy labyrinth on the pavement immediately behind.

I laugh at the message, and go enjoy the labyrinth.

Which is completely delightful.

Suddenly I know why I’ve been seeing more labyrinths about the city lately — in fact, showed one of them to you in my recent Jalan-Jalan post. We’re one half of the on-going Toronto & Vancouver City of Labyrinths project, its objective being to “create public labyrinths within walking distance of every Torontonian & Vancouverite.”

 

The City hates art? Looks like love to me.

 

Grey Power

10 June 2018 – A month of near-constant sunshine has convinced me that the sun is a trickster. All that zap-powie brilliance, explosions of colour in all directions — and meanwhile it’s hiding, I have decided, more than it reveals.

Hiding it the way any illusionist hides a whole lot of what is really going on: by distraction. We are so zap-powie focused on the colour, we tend to miss everything else.

Whereas, with a grey sky — which we had the other day — with a grey sky, you notice everything else. Line, form, texture, luminosity. Also colour, oddly enough. Grey really sets off colour.

I am walking east on West 1st Avenue, heading for Hinge Park and False Creek, umbrella under my arm, leaden sky overhead.

But it isn’t really leaden — or, not uniformly so.

And it dramatically sets off the disused warehouse beneath and that brave poplar, twirling its leaves green/silver/green in the wind.

Strong line of the roof, all those tones of rust, the twirling shrub. In bright sunshine, I wouldn’t have noticed all that. I know it.

Into Hinge Park. Transfixed by one small bird a-top the rusty pillar, silhouetted against the dark-dancing sky.

And now that sky patters down rain.

Drops form endless tiny concentric circles in the pond, a Mallard duck creates one arc of larger circles there on the left, and silver light bounces back from the rufffled surface of the water. Grey sentinel stones too, at water’s edge.

More rain.

I graduate from putting up the hood on my jacket to putting up my umbrella. And then, knowing when a tactical retreat is in order, I dive into an Olympic Village café.

(Time passes.)

End of latte, end of rain shower, but a still-dancing sky as I walk back home.

How it makes that mural pop! And how it plays up the march of the hydro poles down the alley.

Then I stop looking for examples of how the sky enhances what lies beneath, and I just … look at the sky.

Which stands up very nicely on its own.

Next day the sunshine is back, and guess what. I am still noticing grey. Suddenly I see that old trickster sun as a backdrop for grey.

Though not just any old chunk of grey concrete, I have to admit.

This is one arc of landscape architect/artist Don Vaughan‘s work, Marking High Tide, which stands at the seawall in David Lam Park on  the north shore of False Creek.

Vaughan also wrote the poem: “As the moon circles the earth the oceans respond with the rhythm of the tides.”

Love in a Temperate Rainforest

5 June 2018 – I am climbing a steep path up through the woods in Queen Elizabeth Park, and then I stop climbing. I play the game of “No! no! I just paused to admire the view!”, but really, I am catching my breath.

And then I do admire the view. Well, you have to, don’t you, when you see umbrellas popping up above the trees?

I resume the climb, motivated now to find those umbrellas.

Which, I discover, are being held by four figures — frozen in the moment, but somehow conveying an elegant, interactive pirouette.

I come closer, and discover that each figure is two figures.

Two heads, four arms, swirled into one body.

And it all makes perfect sense, once I read the plaque.

This is Love in the Rain, a 2016 work by Bruce Voyce, and the Vancouver Park Board’s first love lock sculpture. Like other cities around the world, Vancouver is attempting to protect its bridges and railings by creating a purpose-build place for people to proclaim their love by locking a padlock in place and throwing away the key.

Vancouver being Rain City, it has chosen an art installation that “speaks of love in the temperate rainforest.”

I step in even closer, to admire the locks. Some are work-a-day, but many have clearly been chosen to honour the commitment being made, whether through the beauty of the lock, or the message it carries.

There’s the elephant lock ..

and the battered, but very handsome metal heart lock …

and the art-heart that transforms an otherwise pedestrian lock …

and the pretty red lock with its beautifully engraved names.

There are messages. Sometimes attached to the padlock …

and sometimes right on the lock itself.

But whatever the lock, whatever its message, each has been attached to the sculptures for the same reason, strong in the same belief:

Which is why the installation includes this beautiful receptacle for the keys.

I watch others explore the keys and messages, I take a photo for a young Québécois couple to commemorate their visit, and then I walk on up into the gardens.

I enjoy the stunning gardens, and I revisit, as I always do, Henry Moore’s Knife Edge sculpture that fits so handsomely, so perfectly, with the fountains to the south side of the Bloedel Conservatory.

But the best part of my visit is Love in the Rain.

 

Time Well Killed

11 May 2018 – Yes! You can kill time and still hold up your head in polite society.

(Credit, by the way, to Comedy Central, whose old tag line “Time Well Wasted” I have just appropriated.)

Select your location, open your eyes, and enjoy yourself.

Exhibit No. 1

I am in George Wainborn Park, smack by the walking/cycling paths along the north shore of False Creek. I’ve never noticed this park before, and it is not my destination: it is simply a meeting point. “By the fountain,” said my friend, as we planned our outing.

I am a few moments early. I kill time.

Admiring the fountain, of course.

Admiring all that “geometry at work & play,” as I like to think of it — vertical waterfall on the left; horizontal black fencing left to right; stone triangle on the right; great arch of the Granville St. Bridge overhead.

I watch a father carefully hold his toddler high enough to peer into the triangle. The child gurgles with delight, flexes his tiny starfish fingers in-out-in-out toward the spray.

I wait ’til they’re gone, then go and do the same. (Peer, that is, but perhaps even gurgle.)

Then my friend arrives, and we leave.

Exhibit No. 2

Next day, same need (same opportunity) to pace myself between appointments, and kill some time.

A quick visit to the Vancouver Art Gallery and then, because it’s a lovely day and I am in no hurry, I plonk down on the VAG steps terracing down into Robson Square.

Many others are on the steps as well, including one permanent resident.

Meet Bird of Spring, one of at least three authorized bronze replicas of a 14 cm. original by the Inuk artist Abraham Etungat, of Cape Dorset.

Bird and I watch the action below, in the Robson Square skating rink.

In season, well … it’s a skating rink, isn’t it? And off season, well … it’s whatever people want to make of it.

At the moment, it’s a studio for choreographed routines. Foreground, two young martial arts practitioners, with batons; background, a trio of dancin’ fools.

I stroll down around the rink, zero in on the dancin’ fools.

They are just a-shimmying their little hearts out.

Bird of Spring and I now bracket the rink, on the watch from opposite ends. The baton couple are still hard at it, in that sweet-spot combination of athletic precision and sheer flowing beauty.

Overhead, an audience of pigeons.

On I walk.

Still with some time to kill, but I have another destination in mind.

Exhibit No. 3

Another destination, with another overhead audience, if we may refer to inanimate objects in such terms.

It’s a tower of the Woodward’s Development on West Hastings —  the multi-use redeveloment of the old Woodward’s department store site.

The tower rises over, is visible through, the Atrium, which is a welcoming pass-through space open to all. Last summer I sat here & listened to a series of Hard Rubber Orchestra rehearsals; today I listen to the piano.

The  bright-blue piano chained to a bicycle, always there & available to anyone who wants to play it.

This intent young man is playing Chopin. He is very good, and we applaud when he ends a selection. He doesn’t look up, but, eyes still on keyboard, he does give one quick nod of the head.

He is playing again as I leave.

Nicely in time to meet my friend at our Purebread Bakery rendezvous.

 

 

 

Knobby Knees

19 March 2018 – And hairy naked ones too, but I haven’t come to the VanDusen Botanical Garden to admire human knees.

I want these guys.

Whole great marching platoons of cypress knees!

Proof I am indeed circumnavigating (with protracted time-outs on every pond-side bench) the R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond.

The Garden as a whole is very busy, on this warm, sunny weekend day —  bursting with new blossoms, excited children, and keen photographers staggering under their telephoto lenses.

The Pond, tucked away to one side, is a quiet haven. I slide off to join it.

The approach is part of the pleasure.

First, the serene warm presence of the Confidence couple, Michael Dennis’ 2012 creation in Western red cedar …

then silver sunlight glinting off Southern Magnolia leaves (their native habitat, the south-eastern USA, proving what a benign climate I now call home).

I sink onto a first bench, its wooden planks warmed and made redolent by the springtime sun. It gives me a good view of the floating bridge that zigzags its way across the Pond.

I sit there quite a while, happy to let the day come to me, feeling my muscles expand again after their two weeks’ contraction in the Toronto chill. (For all that we are a special animal, we are animal. Our bodies tell us so.)

Then I rise, turn away from the main paved path leading to the bridge, and instead walk a bark-chip path around a far pond edge.

Cypress knees delineate shoreline, neatly encircle the mini-island opposite.

I look away from the Pond, eyes right-not-left, and admire blossoms floating in a bowl of water on the other side of the path. There are several of these bowls, each placed on an upturned log, filled with blossoms currently on offer in nearby shrubs.

What could be simpler? Or prettier?

Eyes pond-side once again, but lazily so,  my mind slightly ahead of my eyes, already anticipating the next bench.

Then a double-take. I freeze. Did I see … ? Was that … ? No, couldn’t be … !

Look again.

Silly me. Of course it’s not real.

Slightly shame-faced, I walk around the far end of the floating bridge and sink onto another bench, giving me a fine view from the far side.

Another month or two, the surface will be thick with water lilies.

Two Days Earlier …

I know. Chronology shot to pieces. And no thematic link at all. (Except that, yes, I am back in Vancouver.)

But you don’t mind, do you.

Barely back in town, greeted with sunshine and double-digit temperatures, I head for favourite places. The VanDusen, above, is one — but so is the Main Street / False Creek area, and that’s where I take myself just a day or so after returning to town.

Where I meet:

Backpack Woman, scampering for safety in the Main & E. 7th parking lot …

and Bookworm Woman, soaking up sunshine and the printed word by False Creek …

and Exercise Man, digging in that paddle as he flashes under the Cambie Street bridge.

Truth is, I’d stopped to admire the flamingoes — or whatever they are — somebody has added to the acrylic stripes on this bridge piling, one element of this art installation showing the 5-metre rise in sea levels that climate change could cause.

And then racer-guy joined the scene.

Very Vancouver.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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    "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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