DTES

14 January 2019 – DTES. I had to see the initialism a few times before it quietly spoke its identity into my mind.

Downtown East Side.

Vancouver’s downtown east side, where it is all on display — all the contrasts that remind us what a messy business it is, being human. All those juxtapositions that chill us, warm us, frighten us, shock us, delight us, inspire us, touch our hearts. All the dimensions.

A church, with the Madonna and Child, the Stations of the Cross … and a Fentanyl poster. We are asked to remember the City’s street nurses in our prayers, along with all the other first responders.

Later, this mild late morning, I walk south on Gore Street, an historic part of town now largely identified as part of Chinatown, but resonating with layers of Japanese, Afro-Canadian and indigenous history as well.

Every now and then, the wail of an paramedic ambulance screaming by.

Life on the sidewalks, shop after shop, service after service. A barber shop, for example …

with sidewalk displays stretching south beyond it. And each sidewalk display opening into an enclosed shop as well.

The lure of shop names …

and of product samples. Ginseng! All the way from Wisconsin.

Martial arts studios …

and alley art …

sometimes with a disposal bin or two, for punctuation.

Then more art-in-the-alley — but not like the others.

This is Designer Alley Art. The demographics must be changing.

And indeed they are, indeed they do, as I turn the corner westward onto Union St.

People and pooches relaxing in the warmth, drinking their specialty coffees outdoors as they tilt their faces to the sun.

Right across the street, though, a reminder of Vancouver’s housing crisis. One of the City’s temporary modular housing projects is nearing completion.

Budget approval for 600 units in 2017; a budget request for another 600 in late 2018. Each unit to provide its occupants with health & social services, two meals a day, life skills training, and ways to connect with community organizations.

Back here on the north side of the street, a tidy little plaque that fits its gentrified surroundings, announcing as it does that Semi-Public will soon mount another commissioned public art installation in this fenced-off space.

But the website, like the housing units opposite, reminds us of other realities, weaving up through history into this present moment, tying each with the other.

Semi-Public’s programming is informed by the contested spatial politics of its location on traditional ancestral and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, in the neighbourhood of Chinatown, adjacent to what was the largest civic concentration of African-Canadians families and businesses before their displacement for a major automobile corridor in the 1970s, and within one of the most speculative and expensive real estate markets in the world.

I look down the line-up of shops and services, here on the fortunate side of the street. (I am not mocking or reviling this world or its inhabitants; I am well aware I am one of them.)

Just beyond the bike shop, the white sign wiped blank by sunshine invites us to come in for this café’s speciality: crème brûlée.

I almost veer in, but don’t. I’m caught instead by the noodle bowls on offer right next door, in Harvest Community Foods. They not only serve good, local food right on the spot, they sell prepared bags of “urban agricultural produce” each week.

I slurp up my bowl-of-the-day (mushroom/miso broth, ramen, tofu, mixed mushrooms & greens, wakame) and shamelessly eavesdrop on the conversation one table over. They first compare favourite ginger teas, but move quickly on to the relative merits of Rocky Road vs. Hazelnut-Espresso ice cream. I make a mental note to go hunt down the latter.

Full, happy tummy. On I go, on south out of Chinatown, back into Mount Pleasant, and — by chance wandering — past another example of community food production.

A triangular lot, nicked into the streetscape. The air is spicy with evergreen mulch — maybe they’ve just been chipping some Christmas trees? Signs propped here & there tell you what is being grown. Plot “Y” for example, lists cucumber, chard, purslane, zucchini & eggplant.

I take a picture of the intersection signs, a lazy way to document location — and later discover it’s another Vancouver Moment, all on its own.

How handy, that big command to STOP! Back in Toronto, I’d seen the signs highjacked to urge us to stop assorted politicians (Rob Ford and Stephen Harper being then high on the list). But this is Vancouver, and a different priority.

Another Message, Perhaps

My thanks to my friend Linda, who points out that the lime-green hair in my previous post might not be an anti-boredom message after all. It might be an extension of the movement to wear different colour ribbons as support for people with various forms of cancer — in this case, lymphoma.

 

 

 

 

 

Jalan-Jalan

27 June 2018 – It’s one of my favourite remembered scraps of Indonesian: literally “street-street,” meaning “out & about” or “wandering around” or — channelling 1980s British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse — “Walkies!”

The day is breezy-sunny, perfect for a nice long street-street. Feet-feet, come to that, because I really am just following my feet, seeing where they’d like to go and tagging along after them.

My feet & I, we head under the south-side ramps for the Cambie Street bridge …

plonk ourselves into one of the Muskoka chairs at Spyglass Dock for a bit, to listen to the current passing pianist …

and then trot off eastward along False Creek.

We walk the stone labyrinth at water’s edge opposite Hinge Park. While my feet are busy tracing the path …

my mind is busy chanting a graffito I once saw on a Toronto wall, the words neatly spiralled inward, with the final word at the centre.

Trace your sources to their roots

and they will find you laughing.

My old copy-editor self has always fretted about the ambiguous “they” reference. Your sources? Or your roots? And then I always shrug, because it doesn’t matter, does it? Whatever it is, I love that, at its heart, it will reward you with laughter.

Off the eastern end of False Creek, over to the Pacific Central Station for a (premature, it turns out) query about train service, and then I find myself not heading for the north side of False Creek, as I thought I had intended. Nope! I’m all street-street / feet-feet into Chinatown. Well, there’s a surprise, but I’m happy to follow my feet.

First a half-block along Station Street, to get a bit closer to those murals opposite the park, high over the back side of Campagnolo Restaurant. (Rustic Italian, its website later tells me, and once a Condé Nast Traveller choice as a hot new restaurant worth noting.)

Then my feet double me around to Main Street again. I start north, past the resto’s invitation to come on in for lunch.

I don’t. I keep walking, curious to see what I’ll see. Even a scruffy wall glitters in the sunlight, a kind of exercise in found colour blocking.

Bold advertising as I turn east on Keefer from Main …

and for an establishment NOT to be confused with the much classier Keefer Suites, same street but several polite blocks farther west.

My feet & I, we just keep ambling around. On Gore now, approaching East Pender, I blink at these bright emerald doors.

Marked “E” for Emerald Supper Club, I discover. Later, I see the website promises “a mix of old school vegas glamour with a little bit of anything goes attitude,” not that I can vouch for it personally.

Turn my head left, and there’s something I can vouch for — yet another of Chinatown’s sidewalk cornucopias of foodstuffs. Texture, colour, aroma, variety! Splendid.

I pivot around the lamp standard at the street corner, admiring the embedded brass lettering as I turn west onto East Pender …

and then, before I get to Main Street again, I stop in some confusion.

Does that sign really say Klaus Koffee Haus? Here in the heart of Chinatown?

I peer through its long front window, thrown open to the street. A young waiter smiles back out at me — as cosmopolitan as the restaurant, I later discover, with his Cajun/Cherokee/African American/Caucasian ancestry — and confirms that yes, this is an Austrian restaurant. With Italian and other comfort-food standards thrown in.

Who could resist? I go in, take a stool at the window ledge, and have myself a bowl of goulash while I consider the street’s array of other offerings, one after another, all the way down the block.

Continental Herbal, Kam Tong Enterprises, Kiu Yick Books, the Dollar Meat Store, Tinland Cooking, Care Home Mart. And just beyond all that, Vegan Supplies and frozen Dim Sum.

Truth is, I don’t visit any of them. But I am very happy they exist.

Back on Main, still heading north, almost at Powell, it’s street-art time. Can’t admire the barrel’s contents, namely a dead tree, but I am quite taken by the artwork.

The animals, I decide, have a semi-feral edge that I respect.

Westward on Powell now, getting closer to Gastown and entertainment/tourist territory. A wowzer of a mural, large enough to admire from afar and a good thing too, since I’d have to leap barricades and construction workers to get any closer.

A bit farther west, and this time it’s a good thing I can admire close up, because I need to read the words.

Very odd. I like it a lot.

Then I’m into Gastown and the shops and services are upmarket, and I go all reverse-snob and put away my camera.

My feet & I decide to hop a bus and ride back home.

 

 

16,901 Steps

2 April 2018 – 16,901 footsteps or 11.3 km, says my pedometer app, and I won’t argue. Though I could, instead, just call it a fairly long walk on a bright blustery day …

Either way, the outing gives me happy hours tracing a rough rectangle through a downtown-ish subsection of Vancouver.

I have a destination in mind, which sets my general direction. It is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first such scholars garden to be built outside China, meticulously accurate and created with the help of 53 master craftsmen from China, 950 crates of traditional materials and strictly 14th-c. building methods.

And so down the hill I go to False Creek, and follow its southern shore east to its stubby end by Main Street. Mostly I’m striding along, enjoying sun, fresh air, choppy water, bird song, spring blossoms — and all the other people enjoying all the same things.

But I do pause, right there where the creek proves itself a false creek, to watch a chalk artist create a great big labyrinth on the pavement.

And then I’m around the curve, doubling back to the west, now on the north side of the water. I’m watching for the exit to Carrall Street, which is unfamiliar territory for me. My preoccupation makes this cluster of inukshuk on the rocky shoreline particularly appropriate, given their traditional way-finding role.

The inukshuk (plus a large sign with a large arrow) do their job. I right-turn away from the Seawall and walk north up Carrall Street, heading into Chinatown.

Bold stripes splashed by sunshine onto an apartment building opposite the Classical Chinese Garden.

Equally powerful design inside the Garden, here created not by nature, but by careful human attention to every detail.

I linger.

And then I leave, walking north still, heading toward Burrard Inlet, out of Chinatown and into Gastown. It’s an entertainment district, a tourist district, and a magnet, this holiday weekend, for Vancouverites as well.

Laugher and music and clinking glasses on outdoor patios. But if you look sideways to the edges, to the margins, not everything is pretty-pretty.

Another alley-edge a few blocks over, and the most fully-executed street art RIP that I have ever seen.

I keep moving, now west to Cambie, where I turn south and start homeward. The streetscape evolves again. Here in the pavement at the intersection with Robson, it issues a call to bibliophiles.

The open book is a visual cross-reference to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, just a block away.

But you don’t have to go even that far! Crouch down, and read the terra-cotta inserts …

On south, now approaching the Cambie Bridge over False Creek.

I go right by the new Parq Vancouver entertainment complex — all very whizzy it is, with its hotels, spa, casino, and bunches of restaurants. Yawn, don’t care. I’m more taken with the rich colour and lines of its outer skin; the flags right-angle from their staffs in the brisk breeze; and the construction cranes reflected on the façade, just below that oval inset balcony.

Bridge ramps converge overhead.

I climb.

And I cross the bridge, looking east toward Main Street, remembering the chalk artist and his labyrinth, hours and hours ago.

The final climb, hoof-hoof-hoof, and I’m home.

I check my pedometer app, and learn how to translate this particular day’s adventure into a set of numbers.

But really, the point is the adventure, not the numbers.

(Even if they did give me a post title.)

  • 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"

  • Recent Posts

  • Walk, Talk, Rock… B.C.-style

  • Post Categories

  • Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 90,362 hits
  • Since 14 August 2014

    Flag Counter
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,660 other followers

%d bloggers like this: