To Beat the Deadline

27 February 2022 – It turns out to be a false deadline — but who knew, at the time?

The morning weather mavens are all serious faces and urgent voices: Merely cloudy now, they tell us, but by 1 p.m., it’s atmospheric river time! Snow, rain, high winds, ugly-ugly — and set to last for 3-4 days.

Suitably motivated, I zip out the door. If I want to say hello to False Creek, right now is the time.

No lingering to admire Animalitoland’s winsome lady (VMF 2020) as I zigzag north-west.

On to the Creek! Where I find everybody full speed with their morning agendas.

Paddlers getting organized, down on their dock just east of Olympic Village Square …

jogger jogging over the inlet, far side of the Square …

ferry boat bustling eastward to the Village Dock …

and an improbable bird house out on Habitat Island, just off Hinge Park, glowing gold against the surrounding grey.

No real live bird would give that creation a moment’s thought, but it’s not there for the birds, is it? Some human being built and hung it there to amuse and charm the rest of us. And since it harms no-one, I am charmed.

As I am by my next discovery, looped into the chain link fence just west of Habitat Island.

“Draw someone you love,” says that glossy red sign — and look at the display.

Most of the drawings are of humans …

but not all.

On I go and on I go, and out there past Spyglass Place, closing in on Leg-in-Boot Square, I see another drawing of love. This one.

I know. It’s just another, yet another, yet another generic old boring old smiley face. Please.

Except… it’s wearing a mask. So this is a drawing of love in action: love for each other, for our community as a whole.

I’m still cheered by that thought as I turn back east — and further cheered by the fact that the dread 1 p.m. deadline draws close, but there is no sign yet of snow/rain/wind/general mayhem.

Anyway, what’s wrong with rain?

I will not argue with Thrive Art Studio and their alley wisdom (VMF 2018).

Ostensible (1 & 2)

12 December 2021 – It is not what I anticipated, as I set out for a misty walk to False Creek, but here I am in an alley just west of Main & north of East 4th, pondering the meaning of the word “ostensible.”

Don’t you love an erudite alley dumpster? Grubby, battered & odiferous it may be, but by the Lord Harry, it is determined to improve our minds and build our vocabularies. All the way to polysyllabic adjectives.

Nothing “ostensible” about this dumpster, per definition no. 1: it is exactly what it appears to be. And if definition no. 2 seems (to my mind) to better fit “ostentatious” than “ostensible,” never mind! It defines the scene here on the alley’s east side.

It is indeed “open to view.” Indeed, “conspicuous.”

From barbed wire and ominous signage …

to the jumble of piled-up rubbish, punctuated by dumpsters.

Behind the rubbish, Nick Gregson‘s peacock mural still rides high.

It’s a 2016 veteran, one of the collection painted (largely in this neighbourhood) in that very first year of the Vancouver Mural Festival.

And here it is again, reflected in a doorway of the new construction on the west side of the alley — construction that undoubtedly explains the pile of rubbish.

Murals used to line both sides of this alley. Not now! Old structures disappear, new builds arrive.

Ahh, but. I have no right to sound that doleful; it is misleading. We have a net gain of murals every year, and I like a lot of the new construction, fresh & clean-lined & none of it high-rise.

And there are still murals in the alley, including Chairman Ting‘s 2017 bunny-rabbits, just north of East 3rd.

Partnered with — I hope you noticed — one of my beloved H-frame hydro poles, doing its party trick: a 45-degree pivot to accommodate alley intersections.

So that’s it, I decide: enough photos, enough to think about, should anybody be inclined to do so; I shall now just walk on on down to False Creek, and have myself an eyes-only walk.

That resolution lasts all the way to the Village Dock, the last ferry dock right at Science World. Where the pedestrian pathway leads me past this garbage bin. With this contribution neatly piled on top.

I dissolve in giggles and pull out my camera. Two passing 20-Somethings pause, and raise quizzical eyebrows.

“Look!” I say. And point, and giggle some more.

They flash bright nervous smiles, and scoot on past me as fast as their alarmed little legs can carry them.

Watson in the Rain

30 November 2021 – Raining still, expected to intensify, sombre warnings about the coming 48 hours.

I go out for a walk.

Watson runs parallel to Main Street, feels and mostly behaves like a lane but is just slightly too wide for the anonymity of lane-hood. It is officially street width, and requires a name. I do not know which Watson they had in mind; I can only think of clever Holmes barking an exasperated “Watson!” at his befuddled colleague.

So. That voice in my ear, and all this in my eye: drizzle & chilly air & sodden leaves & garbage bins & garbage in and out of bins & hand-lettered notices about missing dogs, cats and oh yes human beings.

But also, here at East 14th: a share-bike rack; Andrea Wan‘s vintage VMF mural (2016) peeking through the foliage; and the literal and emotional warmth of the Main Street JJ Bean café, one of 22 outlets of a fourth-generation Vancouver dynasty that offers quality to customers and better than Fair Trade prices and other support to its suppliers.

And also, one block farther south at East 15th: Phil Phil Studio‘s 2021 VMF mural opposite Heritage Hall; and Heritage Hall itself, currently shrouded for its seismic upgrade and re-roofing project — only the latest stage in a history that began in 1915 and has taken the building from post office to federal agriculture facility to vacant and derelict to restored as a community and cultural centre. I don’t know if it has remained open for events throughout this latest refurbishment, but I do know it will be open December 15-16 (obeying all virus protocols) for Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice.

So much, all around us, that is uncertain, worrisome, just plain sad and wrong.

And all this as well.

In the Midst of It All

21 November 2021 – The Eastside Culture Crawl is in full swing, but I almost didn’t give myself permission to take part. It seemed trivial, disrespectful, to go enjoy myself while so much of the province is overwhelmed with destruction and loss.

A succession of Atmospheric Rivers has unleashed widespread once-in-a-century flooding, mudslides, mass evacuations and, at latest count, caused four deaths. Vancouver is spared, but in the midst of all this, how dare we have fun?

And then I try to get my brain engaged, along with my heart. Staying home in Vancouver will not drive back floodwaters in the Fraser Valley. So I make a contribution to a competent disaster-relief agency already active on the ground (I chose the Salvation Army, but there are many others) — and I head out the door.

In the midst of disaster, there is also life and courage and connection. Local artists also deserve support.

I’ve plotted a walking tour, starting with a couple of venues pretty close to home, just downhill off the east end of False Creek, in the Flats. Logical that this should be home to artists, the area was one of the earliest (2016) Vancouver Mural Festival sites as well.

And here’s proof, corner of Main and Industrial Avenue. Look at those murals off to the east and north!

First target, the Arts Factory at 281 Industrial Avenue. Oh good, the Crawl has pop-up signage…

The usual visual kaleidoscope typical of these warehouse locations — so much art, so many types, against a backdrop of pipes, valves, dangling wires and, why not, dog bed with stuffed toy thrown in.

Everybody masked, everybody vetted for Vaccine Record card and photo ID, hand sanitizers all over the place… I talk to assorted artists, spend time with Iran-born Laleh Javaheri. I’m drawn to her deft wire bird doodles …

which she explains illustrate a folk tale in her homeland. Her main work, though, is felt and fibre art, and I realize that a big piece I saw on another wall, Winter

is also by her.

Out in a hall, prowling. Past the green bike and mannequin cyclist, draped in the works of leather artist Ian Greenwood …

and after more halls, more walls, more standing/dangling/draped/floating displays, I am finally back out on Industrial Avenue with my next venue in mind.

I turn north onto Station Street (with Pacific Central Station down there at the end), and cross Southern Street.

I peer into Southern as I pass, still bright with some of those early VMF murals.

Crossing Central Street now, also mural-marked, though none of them VMF-official.

But very much part of the culture! This Culture Crawl, I realize, is only partially, very partially, about the official artists’ venues. For me, it’s the entire context.

Left turn onto Northern Street. “Culture” only in the sociological sense, nuthin’ artistic right here.

Other end of the block, over at Western Street, and here’s the signage.

Up the stairs, at 240 Northern …

with Rob Friedman’s explosion of stained glass on the right …

and Warren Murfitt’s guitar-making and wood-working studio across the hall.

Murfitt finishes what he’s doing as some other visitors also enter his space. He joins us, talks about the woods he uses for the different types of guitar he makes — some rescued wood, some local, some not. And some, to our astounded giggles, from the very building that houses him. “There was a beam there, it wasn’t supporting anything, I harvested it…”

And now a longer hike, eastward to Clark Street. To my delight, I discover there’s a bike/pedestrian pathway running between Terminal Avenue and the train tracks.

I follow it and I follow it, and I’m cheered finally to see what might be Clark, just down there framed by the Grandview Viaduct on the left, with its mural, and Skytrain lines swooping overhead.

Except it’s not Clark, it’s Glen, and I’m in a dead end. Glen ends here, and Terminal — by now I’m on Terminal — well, Terminal is terminal. So I go into that handsome furniture store and ask directions. All is well! Or will become well. I just have to backtrack, and scramble up the embankment onto the Viaduct, which has a sidewalk as well as all those lanes of traffic. It will take me across the tracks and over to Clark Street.

So I do all that, and here I am. Consult my Crawl map… head north on Clark … pass Henry’s Hip Eats and Strange Fellows brewery as I go (all part of the eastside culture) …

and, hurray!, here I am at William Street. And there, right across the street, is my next venue, with its sidewalk signage.

Eastside Atelier. More stairs.

Another of those wonderfully jumbled warrens of hallways, doorways, sudden openings, spaces looping into and around each other.

I circle that imposing wooden sculpture, and discover that it’s a horse-of-course.

Dalyn Berryman’s Palomino, created with Tofino, Squamish River and Furry Creek driftwood.

There are exquisite small works of art, such as this pottery bowl with its moss ornaments…

and an acerbic notice (by the same artist) to behave ourselves when we enter her workspace.

I don’t enter. Instead I stand in the hall, bemused by the artwork framing the claw-foot bathtub opposite.

Around another corner, and this wonderful ode to aging.

It hangs with the works of Annette Nieukerk, whose art celebrates the beauty of aging bodies.

I walk around a while longer, and eventually head back out to Clark, and then on home.

And I vow never to be tempted to iron my skin. Never.

The Moment In Between

16 October 2021 – It has just rained and it will soon rain again, but, meanwhile, there is this moment in between.

I walk back east, in this moment.

A burst of nature’s own autumnal colour blocking on West 8th, climbing the Whole Foods wall near Cambie …

and a cryptic message, one block farther east.

It’s a study in contrasting response to the rain: the paper lies limp & sodden, literally washed out, while the leaves and pavement dazzle & dance in glowing colour.

Over at Alberta St. I angle myself off 8th Avenue, pivoting S/E around this blue-mural’ed building (artist Debra Sparrow, VMF 2020)…

into the alley.

I’d forgotten the march of murals down this alley, discover them again. Right here at the corner, Reclaimed, a 2020 VMF work by Carole Mathys.

There’s more than murals, marching down this alley! I salute the H-frames

and, out at the corner of Manitoba St., take in yet more colour blocking. Red/orange tree; grey building with golden window frames; bright blue utility bin; and a whole swatch of very angry black on the wall beside me.

You’re gone, graffiti! Though I suspect all that black makes a tempting canvas for a new round of aerosol cans.

Just east of Manitoba, a mural style I’ve seen elsewhere (notably around the Native Education College) but so far without an identifying artist name.

This is the alley that keeps on giving.

Approaching Ontario, here’s the back door to a doggie spa, with a so-cute cartoon on the wall and a real live client showing off his latest trim. Just groomed, his owner tells me, and very pleased with himself.

Opposite that, the antithesis of grooming.

Nearing Quebec St. by now, and I finally learn the ID of the artist for this powerful mural just past the Raven Song Community Health Centre parking lot. It’s the VMF 2017 work of “Morik,” as in Russia-born Marat Danilyan.

Out of the alley onto Quebec, pivot N/E past all this ivy, flaming with the impact of fall weather…

onto East 8th, where weather has no impact on the pace of construction. (Though it makes the ground a lot soggier.)

You often see their hard hats among clients at my own favourite café, just a few doors farther east on 8th.

I slide in for a latte.

Herewith an unabashed plug for Melo Patisserie: the refinement of Melo’s French culinary training, with the warmth of his Brazilian heritage. Plus a posy of fresh freesia on every table every day, and a trio of teddy bears in the window.

Along the Spine

11 September 2021 – “Yes,” we decide, studying the print-out of a Mural Festival neighbourhood map, “Strathcona’s a good choice. Nice cluster of murals along that Cordova/East Hastings spine between Heatley and Campbell.”

We each have some familiarity with this east-of-East-Van neighbourhood, my friend much more than I, but it’s the first time we’ve come here focused on murals. Not that we care that much — it’s good walking territory, no matter what.

But, oh yes, there are murals!

We stand on Campbell, laughing with delight as we stare westward down the alley between East Hastings and Cordova.

Flowers to the left of us …

dancing aerosole cans to the right …[

after that a three-storey building painted top to bottom, side to side …

and just a little farther along, this bold triptych, its cheerful style in stark contrast to the fencing and razor wire that protect it.

Strathcona is a decidedly mixed neighbourhood, with problems as well as gaiety. All the more reason to admire and salute everything they do so well, while dealing with their other realities.

Same alley block, yet more charm. This time an ocean-to-mountains-to-ocean mural, starting at this end with a leaping whale and (off the lower-right corner of the window, by the downpipes) a yellow pop-up seal …

and ending, on the far side of the mountain range, with the world’s most adorable little otter, waving his paw.

We’re out of the alley now, on Cordoba itself & heading for Heatley, thinking everything else will surely be an anti-climax.

Wrong!

That VW bug need offer no apologies. Even if the pigeon is unimpressed. (He’s there. You’ll find him.)

Barely onto a city street proper and we’re off it again, pulled into yet another alley to investigate flashes of colour obscured by the street-front buildings.

This is what we wanted to see close up, my friend telling me the history of this old family company while I go goofy-happy about the colours, the typography, the peeling paint, the paint-brush image on that open door.

Another voice, unexpected and unexpectedly close, urges me to take a picture of that as well.

I look up. The workman, carefully balancing his take-out coffee in one hand, points across the alley with his chin. “That,” he repeats. “Look!”

Yes, wow, look.

I ask if he’s a fan of street art. He waves aside the abstraction, sticks to the reality of this alley. “I work here,” he says. “Watched them paint that. I like it.”

I catch up with my friend, who is talking with some Harm Reduction workers down at the Hawks end of the block. I contemplate this … what? tea ceremony? … mural.

We emerge onto Hawks, look back down the alley, bright murals of assorted eras to both sides and there, on the left, the alley end of the East Van Community Centre garden that stretches up to and along East Hastings.

As we skirt the garden, we exchange nods with a middle-aged man at one of the picnic tables by the sidewalk, and then fall into conversation with him. He looks like he has known a tough life, but there is peace and dignity in his posture and he describes current produce in relaxed, clear, well-chosen language. He knows a lot about gardening, we later agree.

“Go look at the pumpkins,” he urges us, and crinkles his eyes in farewell as we nod agreement and head off down Hastings, to look for the pumpkins.

A while later we’re at Campbell and East Hastings, waiting for the light to change so we can claim the car and go have lunch at Finch’s up on East Georgia.

I stare kitty-corner across the intersection at the housing development on the other side. It’s Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67 reborn right here in Strathcona, we agree — but a lot more colourful. (And more affordable.)

We fall into city-as-art-installation mode. Look: the colours of the building reflect the colours of the banner and the traffic signals.

Enough art appreciation. We’re off to Finch’s.

The Open-Air Gallery (Year 5)

5 September 2020 – We’re talking street art, but organized street art, with the street as part of the art. Which justifies the invitation on the Vancouver Mural Festival home page: “Discover the city’s open-air gallery of murals.”

Now in year 5, this non-profit event has to date added more than 200 murals to the cityscape and made them a welcome, a vaunted, part of our identity.  It’s a little different this year — no street parties, for obvious reasons — but even so, 60 new murals, and an expanded presence in nine neighbourhoods.

Armed with the app, friends & I descend on three of them: West End + Robson one day, and my very own ‘hood (and birthplace of the VMF), Mount Pleasant, a few days later.

In a regular gallery, the art dynamic is between you and the work of art. Out on the street, it becomes a three-way conversation: you, the work of art, and whatever’s happening in that bit of the city at the moment you three collide.

So, standing in Pantages Lane behind Davie Street, eager to see Pearl Low’s Precious Fruit, we wait patiently while the Steam Works Brewery driver climbs back into his cab and methodically — oh, so methodically — organizes himself to drive off.

We chat, comfy in the shade. Then the door slams, the engine catches, lights flash on, and he’s gone.

Start looking at the murals, and you look at everything else as well — all the other visual cues to where you are, and to the rhythm and values of the part of town where you happen to be standing.

Maybe it’s signage right here in Pantages Lane at a cross-alley …

or a memorial next to St. Paul’s Anglican Church, just off Davie St. on Jervis.

The whole city is an open-air gallery, not just the murals.

A few days later, we’re in Mount Pleasant, where the Festival began and still its epicentre. We prowl more streets and alleys, this time in an 8-km curve from north/west-ish to south/east-ish.

In the alley just off Columbia & West 8th, artist Carole Mathys talks to my friend about her mural, Reclaimed. Finishing touches still to come, but the work already proclaims that we humans are just one small part of the eco-system, and not, ultimately, in control.

Right opposite, a work still so much in creation I don’t even have a name for it, and artist Cara Guri hasn’t yet arrived to satisfy our curiosity.

By the time Year 5 rolls around, the legacy of previous years is all around you. At Columbia & West 7th, we bounce with the energy of Magic Music Ride, a 2018 work by American artist Bunnie Reiss.

The car this side of the street bounces with it as well. See how its windshield and gleaming hood throw reflections back at the mural?

Makes me goofy-willing to see art in everything.

Ohhh, that yellow van is so perfectly framed in these blind-spot mirrors, high on the wall where Manitoba meets the alley just north of West 7th … And look, the green of the wall complements the green of the trees… (Sigh… )

Down the alley, something more substantial than traffic mirrors!

A succession of murals, but we stop longest at Entangled Flow, by Abbey Pierson, a Cowlitz/Mexican/European artist based in Olympia, Washington.

It covers a long stretch of wall, the artist statement as powerful as the work itself. “Each new generation faces the effects of neglect that spreads through the world like poison in veins. It takes form in our hatred, our carelessness and in our environment …”

A sombre message, with an optimistic call to action. “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

Another 2018 favourite of mine, at Ontario & West 7th — a wall-full of people (many modelled on local residents), cats, dogs, wine glasses and seething activity. It was created by all seven members of the Phantoms in the Front Yard collective, but seems not to have a name.

Every time I look, I see something more.

Like this cat (yet another cat), peeking ’round a window bolted shut.

Sorry cat — my head swivels.

Right across the street, a 2020 mural-in-the-making, Gabriel Martin’s Presence.

At first it seems the opposite of its neighbour — where the Phantoms’ mural pulls you close, to search for every detail, the one by Martin pulses from afar. You almost feel the need to stand back, as if it can only be read from a distance.

Which would be a mistake.

Because, A to Z, in deliberately ghost-pale lettering, Martin neatly prints a dictionary of emotions to either side of the figure. The mural pulses with more than radiant colour; it pulses with the ebb & flow of human emotions.

Later, in a Main Street café, we talk about the art, the city, and how lucky we are. Despite all the threats — medical, political, environmental — there is also laughter and art and generosity and possibility.

Abbey Pierson got it right, didn’t she? “Our issues are entangled, but so are our solutions.”

 

 

Blown Off Course

7 January 2020 – A cloudy/sunny day, in a run of seriously rainy days, so of course I’m out the door. And promptly back in again, to change hats.

It’s windy out there.

So windy they’re cancelling ferry sailings. So windy I switch my usual  winter Tilley (left), which would para-sail me right into next week, for my Orkney rainbow-&-runes cloche, which snugs tight about the ears.

Enroute False Creek, I exchange winks with one little star-segment of Cosmic Breeze, a 2019 Mural Festival creation by Olivia Di Liberto …

and, once Creek-side in Olympic Village Square, I admire how this sculpture — momento of the 2010 Olympics — glitters in the morning sunshine.

All this is pretty well what I have, admittedly vaguely, planned: down to False Creek, west on False Creek right to Granville Market, and then … oh … whatever.

“Whatever” arrives sooner than planned. That wind! Gusts barrelling down the Creek, and me staggering with their impact. Once I make it upright to Spyglass Dock, I decide not to press my luck any longer and cut up the access road beside Cambie Bridge, heading for a bit of inland shelter.

See? Even a traffic sign is toppled.

Smart right onto Commodore Rd., leading to Moberly Rd. and a more prudent route that starts with this berm of trees and woods at the eastern end of Charleson Park.

I am now “off course,” in that I haven’t walked this route before, but surely that’s a bonus? (As Phyllis, my wonderful Tuesday Walking Society partner back in Toronto, would say: “It’s all walking…”)

Very peaceful, on Maberly Rd. — trees to the left, narrow roadway, homes to the right and just beyond them, the Creek.

More people and bicycles — and dogs — than cars. This cyclist has just stopped, yet again, to give his little dog time to catch up. All this gives me time to notice the exceedingly moss-shaggy shrub there on the right, practically under my nose.

I move in, expecting to bliss out on all that moss, and instead discover it is festooned with dangling amulets, twirly-bobs, ceramic ornaments and ribbons. And this brazen babe, lolling on the fence rail, half out of sight.

I love this stuff, I do, and I’m in high good humour — also safe from wind — as I continue down the road, then cut to the land side of the Charleson Park Community Garden, and head into the open parkland beyond.

Where I don’t even know how to take in what is happening.

A little boy next to me screams, “CROWS!!!” with the enthusiasm and leather lungs that only a six-year-old can possess. His father and I exchange round-eyed looks of amazement and mutter allusions to Alfred Hitchcock.

Indeed, CROWS.

All over the grass, lining the tree branches, swirling through the air, and filling that air with a raucous uproar that rattles my brain. Father and son have moved on, I’m now standing beside a woman thoughtfully studying the scene. “Chafer beetles,” she says. “Crows dig the larvae out of lawns. Wow.” She gives a little snort-giggle. “And they just sodded this thing, too.”

I carry on about loving crows, but I tell you, I am happy to get out of that park, and through Sutcliffe Park onto the east lobe of Granville Island. Winds have died down, and not a crow in sight. Just a pair of boaters out there in an endearingly simple wooden canoe, paddling along.

And around and around I go, looping myself onto the north side of the Island, taking the path just in behind the floating homes of Sea Village.

I walk on down the line, peering into the gaps between homes.

I’ve fantasized about living in a houseboat, who hasn’t, but not very seriously. I’ve been on a few — most dramatically in winter-time Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake — and have realized I enjoy visiting but wouldn’t want the upkeep.

So bye-bye to the Sea Village houseboats, and inland to the main part of Granville Island.

Where I hang over the fence to enjoy, as I always do, the sight of the aptly named Giants — the concrete silo murals painted by Brazilian twin brothers under the joint name of Osgemeos for the Vancouver Biennale.

I finger some crafts in the shops, drop my jaw at the range of fresh produce in the food market, find myself a latte (you knew that), and finally catch a bus home.

Soon after, the rain returns.

 

  • 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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