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.”

Light-Bright Night

25 January 2018 – I’m still playing with light, admiring the way it pops up at unexpected times, in unexpected places. Well… not all that unexpected really, if one stops to think about it, but really quite new to my own awareness. (Where have I been, all this time?) And all triggered by my finally noticing that rain brings with it enormous riches of colour and light.

Not that Light is consciously on my mind, as we open the doors of the Contemporary Art Gallery and leave the blue-indigo of late afternoon behind us.

But oh, we are showered with light.

We’ve come for this show: Brent Wadden‘s massive hand-weavings of wool, cotton & acrylic fibres, stretched over canvas and framed.

I line up, close to that same hanging (but scrupulously not touching!), sighting along the planes & textures of its surface.

Opposite wall, a line of vertical panels, in call-response with the massive horizontality that they face.

Dazzled, we return to the outside world, its blue-indigo now almost fully transformed to deep grey-black.

And … are again dazzled.

This is the work of Lyse Lemieux, the other artist currently on exhibit at the CAG. I like the concept: one artist exhibited within the space; the other, in great vinyl panels that wrap its façade.

We cock our heads, rock gently leg to leg, let all that light-bright night flood our senses.

Which perhaps explains why, as we head for the outing’s next objective (pizza), we become acutely aware of messages and images that shine in the night.

Like this one, right at our feet.

It has us in stitches. “Exit for what?” we ask each other, giggling. Deep down, we know perfectly well (or think we do…) that it is an exit for humans sent below to do Important Subterranean Things to keep the City both healthy & functioning. But we’d rather imagine urban-legend alligators & golems, and yes, I do have chase scenes from the 1949 classic, The Third Man, dancing in my head.

Well, it’s the City’s fault for not being clear. At least when B.C. Hydro wants to warn you off, they are downright graphic. “Electrical Hazard” shouts the hatch, with  lightening bolts for emphasis: “Keep Out.”

But then again, what’s the fun in that? Far more amusing to conjure up alligators and third men …

Or to enjoy the next sight that smacks us in the eye, its rain-slick brilliance shining in the street’s gaudy lights.

The first time I saw eyelash headlight wipers was on the Isle of Wight. Later, once, in Toronto. But these are the most flamboyant of all! And all the better for fluttering at us by night.

Almost at our pizza destination by now, but one more light-bright message stops us in our tracks.

First we giggle (more giggling, it’s a night of laughter). Then we begin discussing, at least half-seriously, what kind of life-philosophy is here on offer.

We are still discussing it as we pass the van, and a friendly (but amused) voice comments, “You like that, do you?”

Which leads to an explanation of the very limited, very precise, expectation behind the message.

It’s a reminder from the Provincial Air Emergency Program that, should you be unfortunate enough to be in a plane that has just crash-landed somewhere … you are to stay with the plane. Do not strike out on your own. As the nice man points out: “It’s easier for us to spot a plane, than the top of your head.”

We tuck away knowledge we hope we will never have to use, and then, in short order, also tuck away our pizza.

After that it’s boot-boot-boot through the lights of the night to the real purpose of this entire excursion: the 6:30 screening of The Walkers, a documentary hosted by VIFF as part of the City’s Push Festival. Ten years in the making, the film studies the life and impact of Taiwanese choreographer and dancer Lin Lee-chen, and her Legend Lin Dance Theatre.

Once we stop expecting it to unfold the way an occidental documentary usually unfolds, and instead relax into its own Taiwanese sensibility, we are mesmerized.

Afterwards, I walk back home, umbrella domed well down over my head, thinking how light-bright this night has been. And expecting nothing more from it.

Then, as I climb the gentle southbound curve of the Cambie Bridge, I am dazzled one more time.

Red/white; horizontal/vertical; construction/completion — an installation worthy of the Contemporary Art Gallery, I decide.

And I splosh on home.

Bard on the Brolly

19 January 2018 – The rain is heaving down. We are a slightly bedraggled group, waiting for Christ Church Cathedral to open its doors and admit us to this evening’s Early Music Vancouver performance.

The woman behind me is muttering dark thoughts about winter in Vancouver. The woman behind me lets her umbrella do the talking.

I am greatly amused. “Source?” I ask. “Shakespeare,” she answers. “Which bit?” I am about to ask, but the doors open and the moment is lost.

(Twelth Night, Act 5, Scene 1, the Fool’s song — I look it up later.)

 

It’s Raining

9 January 2018 – And I am out walking. Not despite the rain, but because of it. I am inspired by Melissa Harrison’s book Rain (Four Walks in English Weather), the gift of very dear, and very perceptive, friends.

Don’t sulk at what rain subtracts from your walk, is the message: celebrate, instead, what it contributes.

I’m in the right city for that! Rain is at the heart of Vancouver’s self-image.

I am not en pointe; I am en rain boot. My umbrella is not flung gloriously back & up; it is snugged firmly down around my ears.

Droplets dance on the clear plastic …

and, out there beyond my protected head, shine every plant leaf to brilliance.

I’ve noticed before: rain makes colours pop.

A beacon of light spills across the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital) parking lot. It illuminates the eddies of water sluicing their way to sewer grates.

Chrome yellow & white in that image; here turquoise & white, punched out against all that shiny black.

Water beads dance on the metal curves of this bench …

and pick out the lines of these tree branches.

(Yes, well, all very magic — but let us also sober up long enough to notice the amount of moss on the roof. I’m glad it’s not my roof.)

Every shop with its umbrella stand at the door. So handy! Stash the brolly beneath, while you check out the bright red rain boots above.

“Rain City Dance,” I decide, applies to more than one local studio. We and our umbrellas, we are all part of the dance.

Usually as members of the corps de ballet …

but, sometimes, at just the right moment on just the right street corner …

as prima ballerina.

“It’s Only Rain…”

18 November 2017 – I was every so slightly whimpering, kinda/sorta suggesting that we might take transit to the art gallery, because … look at the weather.

To which my born-&-bred Vancouver friend replied: “It’s only rain.”

So we walked. Of course we did. I am leaning to be a Vancouver Weather Warrior.

And, to that end, I walked to & from another appointment a few days later. In mostly-rain, with shafts of sunlight in between. I am beginning to understand that, along with the right clothing, you need the right attitude.

As in: it’s only rain.

If you take the rain as a given and focus on everything else instead, there is lots to enjoy.

For example, the rusty fall tones of the Hakonechloa macra “Aureola” (Golden Variegated Hakone, to its friends).

I can toss off this astounding bit of scientific knowledge only because I bought one of these plants for my own balcony, and therefore have the label.

After that, as I prance along through the Fairview neighbourhood just south of False Creek, I am woefully vague about what I am seeing — though fully appreciative of all the tones & textures on offer.

Birch against cedar hedge (I can get at least that far!) …

and 3 types of hedge playing against each other, horizontal & vertical …

and that pretty bush whose leaves start pink & turn green (Japanese pieris? have I got that right?) …

and holly & vivid red stuff …

and a nose-poke into those holly berries, in one of the sunshine moments …

and some floppy contrast, once again in gentle rain …

and more floppy contrast, this time some of it variegated …

and rain drops perched high & round on glossy leaves …

and — FINALLY — something I recognize.

An Orca whale. In an alley. On a garage.

I knew that. I really did. He didn’t have to tell me.

Really-Rain

16 November 2017 – Sometimes, there is no “almost” about the rain. It is really rain.

But if you’re out in it anyway — which, I am learning, is the appropriate response — it delivers its own kind of nifty moments.

There is Red on Grey, for example …

and Water on Water …

and finally, from the Cambie Bridge in the gathering dusk, Lights Through Water on Water.

After that, it’s all about Umbrella Choreography, through which we, its many creators, constantly adapt the Dance of the Crowded Sidewalk to our collective numbers, skills, and patience.

Almost-Rain

13 November 2017 – Almost-rain puts a pearly grey sheen in the air, sets it shimmering & dancing with everything below.

But at first I am thinking defensively, not collaboratively. I am thinking, “How do I inject some colour into all this grey?”

So I nip into a corner store & buy this $1 pair of stretchy gloves …

which I waggle at my amused companions as we board the bus. “Whoaaa…” says one. “I want a pair.”

We’re headed for the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, the magnet being the weekend “Artists for the Environment” exhibition and fundraiser. The art exhibit, videos & other presentations are almost exclusively indoors, but in fact we spent most of our time wandering the grounds.

Discovering the shimmer, the bright dance, of almost-rain.

I risk wet knees to get close, admire the interplay.

But it is one of my sharp-eyed friends who spots — from his full height — a tiny silver soldier figure, tucked among pine needles at the tree base.

More knees-to-ground.

Later, circling the VanDusen’s Stone Garden, we cock our heads at the sheen on vertical slabs, the wet leaves plastered in random origami folds against the rock by wind & rain.

We creep up on the bright red maple leaf — real? painted?

Painted.

And perfect, I think; the perfect complement to Nature’s own work of art on the rest of the slab.

Later, another complement — and compliment — to Nature’s works of art: Earth Art 2012 “Transformation Plant.”  Two rings of upright stones, wedged closely in position with tightly packed cut wood & smaller stones.

The installation is the work of New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth, who has done kinetic environmental sculptures all over the world, this one in collaboration with Musqueam elders & advisers, the indigenous people of this place.

Prompted by the title, we look for the “transformation plant.”

And there it is, right in the centre, a juvenile western red cedar that, 5 years on, is still barely taller than the encircling rings of stone.

Ah. But.

Think kinetic. Think decades from now.

That sprig, wrote Booth in his project diary,

would flourish over the years into a beautiful tree as the stone slabs (‘petals’) slowly opened up like a flower because of the fungi breaking down the stacked wood, recycling it into humus.

I’m still thinking about the dance of Nature, the ways humans dance with (and against) Nature, as we take the boardwalk across the Cypress Pond, to head for home.

More shimmer.

I’m into it now.

Coffee Brake

18 October 2017 – Well, if they can talk about their Brake-fast menu, I can talk about my coffee brake…

I am in the Tandem Bike Café, having splish-sploshed my way around town for assorted reasons, and in the mood to reward myself for not whining — even to myself — about the rain.

See? Very wet.

Not the driving but relatively brief downpour I wrote about earlier, but the steady, determined kind of rain that you know can keep going for … oh … a week or so. As indeed is predicted.

But I am learning to be a Vancouverite. I am wearing my new Sorel rainboots, picked up at the local MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op), and a rainproof jacket, and wielding a spacious umbrella.

At the moment I am wielding a steaming latte instead, peering over its froth to both sides of this shop’s dual identity.

Left rear = bike repair & sales. Right rear = rest of the café seating.

Click-thunk, go the sound effects, as a steady stream of customers come through the door.

“Hi Nicole, my usual…” says one young man, adding he has plenty of time because he has just missed his bus.

Next a woman who keeps her eyes focused on the front window as she orders a lemon loaf. Then, obviously thinking, Well, that’s a bit rude, explains: “Sorry, I’m watching for the bus…”

I’m seated by that front window, next to the goodies display case, so I hear all the chat.

So does the gnome.

Summer he props open the front door; rainy season, he stands guard with the space heater.

The legs behind him belong to the customer picking up his coffee & cinnamon bun order. And lingering, because Nicole & Sonia behind the counter are reading him excerpts from a book of short stories. “This guy just dropped it off, free,” says one of them. “His mother wrote it and he’s handing out copies. And look — this story, we’re supposed to fill in the blanks.”

So the three of them bend their heads to the challenge.

The next click-thunk announces a bike-repair customer, plus malfunctioning bike. He veers left, not right. The consultation begins.

I’m just gathering my belongings — stash my phone where rain can’t reach it, zip my jacket to the top, retrieve the umbrella — when yet another customer starts debating the characteristics of this particular rainfall. I listen. Of course I do! Vancouverites discuss rain like the connoisseurs they are, and I need to learn this stuff.

“I know it’s going on all week,” he says. “That’s normal! It’s just normal Vancouver rain.”

I look out the window before I head off. This is what normal rain looks like, I tell myself.

Where’s Lemon-Loaf Lady? The next bus has just arrived.

 

 

 

The Story of 38.2

14 October 2017 – That’s millimetres. Of rainfall. Setting a new day-record for Vancouver, drowning the old one by an additional 7.2 mm.

My phone’s weather app promises mere “Showers,” as I set out to join friends for a noon-time tap dance extravaganza. “Pfui,” says I (acclimatizing fast to my new environment), “what’s a few showers?”

And it is still only showers, as I pass the Tandem Bike Café, admiring this bike’s weather-wise accessory.

An hour later, we are in monsoon-land.

Leaves block sewer gratings, rivers course down the streets, cars shoot rooster plumes into the air as they aqua-plane through intersections.

In the theatre lobby, umbrella stands bloom with offerings.

I stuff mine in with the rest, tell myself there is a whole umbrella culture here that I have yet to learn.

An hour of tippety-tap magic, a half-hour’s homeward navigation on a meandering but very peaceful bus, and then …

It stops raining.

My window sparkles …

my balcony fern shimmers …

And I open an email from a long-time friend. Not just long-time — prescient as well.

She’s sent me a link to an article about umbrella culture in Japan.

Thank you, Linda.

The Right Attitude to Rain

16 May 2017 – A borrowed title, so thank you Alexander McCall Smith: not just for the book bearing this title in your Sunday Philosophy Club series, but for the others set in Edinburgh and of course for the Botswana series (beginning with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) that first enchanted us all.

The McCall Smith title comes to mind as we begin to explore Dartmoor and East Devon with dear friends who live in the area. Sally & I left Guernsey in blazing sunshine. Here in Devon … well, it has occasional sunny moments, but, mostly, it rains. Mist to drizzle to rain to steam to drizzle to rain to mist …

McCall Smith says: “The key to contentment in the Scottish climate is the right attitude to rain — just as the key to happiness lies in making the best of what you have.” We have rain, but we have so much more as well.

Consider our outing to Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton, two towns on the English Channel coast in East Devon.

The weather is blustery and capricious. Our host friend bemoans the lack of sunshine. I insist the weather is “atmospheric.” She thinks I am being polite. I am not. I find this weather immensely more interesting, more stimulating, more … well … atmospheric, than sunshine could ever be.

Boats in this sign-posted Fishermen’s Area in Sidmouth gleam in the mist; towering red cliffs, formed in the Triassic era (icons of the region’s Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site), loom as dramatic backdrop to the east.

We walk along the ocean front, just as wind-tossed to the west as to the east …

and then turn toward town.

The beach front is lined with hotels, legacy of the Georgian & Victorian passion for coastal resorts in the 18th & 19th centuries …

imposing collectively as streetscape, and rewarding for their individual detailing as well.

This 1891 scrollwork, for example.

And on into town.

Sally & I want fish & chips. We do. We are unapologetic. Occasionally we acknowledge we are tourists & we just want to do a tourist-y thing. Like smothering chips in malt vinegar, and knocking back the breaded cod.

Fortunately, our friend happens to love a good face-full of fish & chips herself, from time to time, so she guides us to her own favourite spot. Yum.

After, we stroll the town, tempting ourselves in the shops.

It is very pretty, very tempting, but I spend my time looking, not buying. Enjoying everything I see, including the traditional red telephone box and red pillar letter-box.

The pillar box makes me laugh: I remember listening to one French tourist tell another, on a bus in Guernsey, how she eagerly wrote lots of postcards on her first visit to the island and posted them in the nearest pillar box — only to discover later she had posted them in a round refuse bin!

Back to the car. Our next stop is away from the coast in Otterton, and then back to the coast, to the mouth of the River Otter at Budleigh Salterton, where the estuary provides a significant reed bed and grazing marsh for wildlife.

Ocean-front signage is very 1930s sunshine-cheery.

Today’s reality requires a right attitude to rain.

Mist, wind, drizzle; everything gleams.

I am enchanted by the beach pebbles, and later learn they are as ancient as the cliffs. Sandstones, formed some 400 million years ago in what we now call Brittany, eroded over time and were transported first by Triassic-era rivers and later by the ocean itself to their present location.

Steps lead to the beach at various points along the oceanfront.

I walk among the pebbles. Crunch! Crunch!

I fill both jacket pockets with them, intent on shape & size & colour. (Later, I donate almost all to my friend’s garden; only one will come home to Vancouver with me for my own balcony garden.)

Time to turn back. I pause a moment, enjoy that line of beach huts, still boarded up, awaiting summer.

Meanwhile, they are bright with springtime rain.

 

  • 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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