“To explore…”

1 December 2022 – “To explore,” says Stephanie Rosenbloom in her book Alone Time, “we need only put one foot in front of the other.” And the best part of that is… you and your feet, you can do whatever you want! You can stop your feet, reverse them, loop around, hesitate, scratch your head, get lost in thought. Your feet don’t care, and you don’t need to find a parking space.

All of which links with an observation in my very own About comments for this blog, and with my theme for this post.

In About, I explain that until August 2012 this blog concerned training for and completing an Arthritis Society charity trek in Iceland, and then, as of August 2012, I walk on. “With my feet, and in my mind as well.”

In two recent walks, I was struck by how my feet explored very limited physical spaces, while my mind spun through decades of time and a whole world of continents.

The Alley, Manitoba south of West 5th

I’m walking east in the alley, almost at Manitoba. My eye snags on this turquoise/yellow reflection, a bright flag in an otherwise entirely boring window in an equally boring building.

And here’s the source, the mural on the side wall of that building on the left. I like everything about it, from the mural itself to the hydro poles and their play of shadows, and the far view of one of my favourite VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival) murals right across the street.

Close-up to admire the new mural…

and then I peek around the corner, to discover it’s on our friend, the snazzy new 2131 Manitoba building (cf. Taking the 5th) with snazzy new tenants like AbCellular Biologics.

No attribution for their mural, which I find disappointing, but there is attribution for the 2019 VMF mural across the street.

It’s the work of Beijing-born, Vancouver-based artist William Liao. I think his website’s use of the phrase “fine arts” is entirely justified — both for what you can see online, and for this haunting face.

Tender, traditional, very fine-arts, yet entirely at home in its alley context.

I backtrack to the west side of Manitoba and south to the corner of West 6th, for one last look at the “2131” mural through the security fencing for yet another of the new builds transforming this neighbourhood.

This hole in the ground will become the new home of Ekistics, I learn.

And that, my friends, stays my feet and launches my mind.

Ekistics is a multi-disciplinary design and consulting studio, specializing in “sustainable planning, architecture, landscape architecture and land development” — and who can argue with that? I’m all in favour.

I just think this Vancouver firm, founded in 1992, might at least give a passing nod to the pioneering work of Greek architect and urban planner C.A. Doxiades, who first coined the word “ekistics” and laid out the elements of its science and study in an October 1970 article in Science magazine. Doxiades, who was active in the Greek underground during World War II and helped lead the country’s reconstruction post-war, went on to found a firm of engineers, architects and urban planners that in time had offices on five continents and projects in more than 40 countries.

I was interested in these things, in the 1970s, and followed his work for a while. This Vancouver team owes him some respect…

The Plaza, Cambie south of West Broadway

Another day, and different weather: a snow-heavy sky about to dump all over us.

I’m just south of the Skytrain station on Broadway, about to cut south-east toward home, and find my feet slowing down. Perhaps in sympathy with all these feet.

Walking Figures, they are called, the cast-iron last survivors of a group created in Poland by Magdalena Abakanowicz and erected here as part of one of our Vancouver Biennale exhibitions.

I circle them, look at the hollowed back views marching toward the transit station as cranky gulls wheel through the grubby sky.

And I walk my own feet the other way, up the “Welcome to City Hall” (top riser) steps just beyond.

Walk-walk, admiring as I always do the architecture of this building: a Depression-era project, opened in 1936, and visually somewhere in that transition from the vertical, highly ornamented lines of Art Deco to the simpler and more horizontal lines of Moderne. Admiring also, that in our recent civic election that saw a major shift of voter sympathies, all the defeated candidates conceded quickly and gracefully. (I am only appalled that I have to be grateful for behaviour I used to take for granted.)

My feet stop at this rock, one of the City’s millennium-project incised rocks still to be found in landmark locations. Annoyingly, I can’t decipher the name or later find it online, but as I stand there, feet stilled, the words set my mind walking.

My mind and my mental ear as well. Spread the image, try to catch more words, but here’s the gist of it. It’s all about everyday sounds we no longer hear, and they are picked out in the equivalent of bold face: clickety-clack (push lawnmower), cock-a-doodle-do (rooster), clip-clop (delivery wagon horses), ah-on-gah (early car horns), whack! (the smack of a wooden frame screen door). I particularly like that whack!, it shoots my mind back to Dorval Island and our cottage there of the 1940s & 50s. That is exactly the sound.

It is still in my ear as my feet move on, just a little, carrying me across the winter-desolate plaza whose empty picnic tables bear witness to the weather. (Where are the mountains? They should be out there… All hidden.)

My busy feet scamper off the far side of the plaza and then stop me before this plaque, set my eyes reading and my mind again hard at work. This plaza bears a name. It’s a name for us all to honour.

I had never heard of Helena Gutteridge! Food for continued thought, as my feet pick up the pace, urge me back home in time to beat the snow.

Which, that evening…

comes thumping down.

  • 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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