What Goes Up Must Come Down

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I hiked The Stawamus Chief in Squamish, BC. It’s been on my bucket list for a while and, as everyone in Vancouver says, “You HAVE to do it!” It was also on this list of 10 amazing day hikes to do near Vancouver which we’re kind of slowly working our way through—I wrote about #1 here.

The Chief

The Chief

So we did it. I love having Fridays off to be able to climb mountains when it’s less crowded, especially on sunny Fridays with clear views. The Chief is 11 km with a 600 metre elevation gain, accessible through Shannon Lake Provincial Park. We parked here where a lot of tour buses stop to get a picture of Shannon Falls and then started the ascent up the mountain.

Shannon Falls

Shannon Falls

This is the sign that greets you once you enter the forest:

Caution signLuckily, I wasn’t expecting it the Chief be “a walk in the park.” That being said, I also wasn’t expecting it to be so similar to the Grouse Grind in its relentless number of wooden stairs to climb up for a good hour or so. But it was a lot more enjoyable because of the views along the way and the canopy of forest that keeps you relatively cool and shaded.

IMG_8895One of the views A gigantic rock along the wayIMG_8894Don’t believe signs like this. Someone had written: “This is a lie!” on the other side.

Not Far Now!We eventually came to a fork in the road where we could choose a path that led to the 1st peak (or South Peak, which is the closest), or another path that led to the 2nd and 3rd peaks. We opted for the 2nd and 3rd ones (or Centre and North peaks as they’re also called). We reached the 2nd one in 2 hours since our departure.

2nd Peak / Centre Peak

This is how you get up to the 2nd peak. Boy did I feel hardcore.

climbing the chainsWe passed some teenage girls on this section, one of them who exclaimed: “Whoa, I feel like a mountain goat!” That wasn’t such a far off description.

ChainsBut does it get any better than this? The view of Howe Sound from the 2nd Peak:

Centre PeakThe town of Squamish below:

IMG_8920We made some chipmunk friends who tried taking off with our food:

chipmunk & Squamishchipmunks on backpacksSince it wasn’t even noon yet, we decided to hike over to the 3rd peak which is only about 25 minutes further.

A sliver of Squamish between the trail leading from the 2nd to the 3rd peak:

IMG_89513rd Peak / North Peak

This is the highest peak and also the one with the most vegetation at the top. It offers a slightly different view than the 1st and 2nd ones—you can see several peaks in Garibaldi Provincial Park, as well as people atop the 1st and 2nd peaks below. We stopped here for about an hour for lunch.

view of 1st and 2nd peaksNorth Peaktree on North PeakGaribaldi Provincial Park1st Peak / South Peak

We debated going to the 1st peak since you have to climb all the way back down to the fork in the forest and then climb up again with a different set of chains and ladders (too bad there’s no trail from the 2nd to the 1st peak!) but since we’re all or nothing-type-of-people, we decided to go for it. We definitely felt the fatigue on this one, but again, the views from the top were a good reward for the work.

1st peak2nd and 3rd peaks in distanceThe skies were starting to get a little moody so we started the descent while we still had daylight left. As hard as I thought going up the trail was, going down was even harder! Oh my wobbly knees. They were quivering by the time we got back to the parking lot. But as they say, “What goes up must come down.” We thankfully came down with no injuries—sore bodies and sweaty skin, yes, but also a lot of great memories.



Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything

Douglas Coupland atrium

I look back at myself two decades ago, and I think of how different me and my brain were back then–and how differently I looked at the world and communicated with others. The essential “me” is still here…it just relates to the universe much differently. What will the world look like when anywhere becomes everywhere becomes everything becomes anything?

Based on this introduction to the current exhibit by Douglas Coupland at the Vancouver Art Gallery, you can imagine that technology plays a major role, as this has been one of the big influencers in what Coupland calls “the 21st century condition.”IMG_8786

The Twin Towers with images of falling humans in the works behind.

The Twin Towers with images of falling humans in the works behind.

Other themes in the exhibit, according to the program guide, are “the singularity of Canadian culture” and “the power of language.”

Having devoted half my Master’s thesis to Coupland’s dystopian novel, Girlfriend in a Coma, I was particularly keen on seeing the first ever museum survey of his career which had a strong emphasis on images as well as words (fitting since he’s an artist and a writer).

I found this exhibit fascinating and thought-provoking. There are so many different types of art to grab your attention, from the unfinished plywood basement filled with Canadiana to a Lego tower installation; abstract art renderings of the Group of Seven and Emily Carr paintings; sticky-note style memes representing the 21st century condition; pop art referencing Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Piet Mondrian; and a peek into Coupland’s brain, to name a few.

All you Piet Mondrian fans, do you get the reference?

All you Piet Mondrian fans, do you get the reference?

Lego installation. Suburbia vs. urban jungle. Utopia vs. dystopia?

Lego installation. Suburbia vs. urban jungle. Utopia vs. dystopia?

As a Canadian, it was fun to recognize the “Secret Handshake” in the Canadiana-themed rooms:



Secret HandshakeHub cap blanketCanadianaI also enjoyed identifying some familiar objects I played with as a kid in “The Brain” installation (Mousetrap, toboggans, old cash registers, etc.)

"The Brain"

“The Brain”

Details from “The Brain”:

Detail from "The Brain"Detail from "The Brain"

Based on Coupland’s inclusion of any and every sort of material (hub caps, cheerios, cleaning products, license plates, road signs, pencil crayons, lego, wooden blocks, plastic fruit, toy piano, etc), you get the sense that he is blurring the lines between high art and mass culture. Anything and everything is art, and it’s anywhere and everywhere, just like the title says.

IMG_8778IMG_8769Cleaning Products

The exhibit is engaging, accurate, and timely. Afterwards, I was talking with an artist-friend about the purpose of art and whether all art strives for beauty. We concluded that not all art does or necessarily should, and that Coupland’s work would not fit into the “beautiful” category. Yet to my surprise, Coupland talks about his surprise at finding “Gumhead” and “The Brain” beautiful, albeit “weirdly beautiful.” (see video below) I think I know what he’s getting at because ordinary objects definitely can be beautiful, but overall, I would characterize Coupland’s work as “critique” more than anything else. Take a look at these “Slogans for the 21st Century” that exemplify this:

"Slogans for the 21st Century"

“Slogans for the 21st Century”

The artist-critic has an important role in society. As Coupland says in the video, “Sometimes you have to look at these things” (i.e. things that are uncomfortable or unsettling) and I’m thankful he draws our eyes to them. He makes us question and rethink how our society got here and where we’re going. But I also find that Coupland doesn’t go further than this. It’s the same with his novels. He’s great at doing the dystopia thing where the world has gone wrong, how technology is making us less human and more lonely, how we need to do something to wake up and make changes before it’s too late. But just what these ideas for change are, he doesn’t give. My friend had suggested offsetting the 21st century slogans with a different room full of slogans we haven’t heard yet—ones that speak to a different story of how we could live. Coupland affirms the power of language and creativity (as evidenced by these dark reconstructions of children’s toy blocks below), so why not create new, hope-filled language? Can the future not hold hands with hope?

"Talking Sticks" series

“Talking Sticks” series

I found the works that most embodied his critique and methodology were a series of hornets’ nests. The ones hanging from the ceiling were real, but the ones enclosed in glass were Coupland’s own nests made from the chewed up pages of his novel, Girlfriend in a Coma. I don’t think it’s an accident that the shape resembles a brain, which, in his novel, was a metaphor for a biologically and culturally comatose condition. Similarly, in this series, Coupland questions the relationship between cultural and evolutionary time, between cultural artifacts and natural objects and how long either of them last. He’s deconstructed his own language as far as it can go. It’s not words and pages anymore. It’s pulp in the mouth. It’s chewing gum. It’s biodegradable. It’s unrecognizable. Now what?

Hornet's Nest Girlfriend in a Coma

On the subject of chewing gum and unrecognizability, you can’t help but notice this 7-foot tall sculpture of the artist outside the Gallery. It’s called “Gumhead” and it’s meant to be transformed over time to the point of unrecognizability by the application of gum. Seattle’s Gum Wall, anyone? Again, Coupland’s blurring the lines between high art (bust of a head typically found in museums) and low art (chewing gum straight from the mouths of passersby). Given Coupland’s fascination with time, I wonder if he’s keeping track of how long it takes for his face to be deconstructed/defaced?

Gumhead. Can you tell I visited it on Canada Day?

Gumhead. Can you tell I visited it on Canada Day?

Back to the question of beauty, the closest works I found that edged towards this category were the abstracted depictions of the Group of Seven’s and Emily Carr’s paintings. It’s interesting that they were inspired by iconographic Canadian art which, in turn, was inspired by the Canadian landscape or, in other words, natural beauty—not pop art or technology.

Inspired paintings

This was my favourite

This was my favourite

While I am aware that I, too, have offered a critique of Coupland, I do admire him for the amount of thoughtfulness that goes into his work. For example, it’s fairly easy to have a surface-level reading of what’s happening, but then you read the description and realize, “Oh, there’s a lot more to this piece than meets the eye.” I felt that way a few times while walking around the exhibit, especially with the hornets’ nests and with the series below. My initial reaction was, “This is something about how our brains are all the same now because of technology and we’re going to explode soon,” but if you read the description, it’s actually about a lot more than that: it speaks to the formative teenage years, emotions, anonymity, influence, information, pressure, etc.

Pop headsPop explosion descriptionTurns out I had a lot more to say than I anticipated on this exhibit. I do find it exciting that the Vancouver Art Gallery took a chance in having something completely different fill its walls from now until September 1. So if you live in the Vancouver area and haven’t gone, you have 2 more months to pop in! And for those of you who have visited it, what are your thoughts on everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything? Would you call it beautiful?




Armpits, Armadillos, and Art

Last week I shared my Austin experience. This week you get to hear my Houston experience. I spent less time there so I don’t know it as well—I never even went downtown. My boyfriend who grew up in Houston describes it as “the armpit of Texas.” I  could see what he meant and I guess other people feel the same.

Houston signIt’s not that there aren’t nice parts, because there are (I’ll show you some below), but the majority of it is highways and yellowy-beige strip malls that sit half empty. It’s quite depressing how much vacant retail space there is. It’s like the developers built them without knowing if there was a demand, or they’re only occupied for a short season before the business shuts down. I’m looking through my photos and I don’t even have a single strip mall or highway to show you, which I guess demonstrates how uninspired I was by the suburban landscape.

But I did get out of my camera for a lot of other things, such as this weird beer can house that could belong in Austin.

Beer Can House 1

A house made entirely of beer cans


Transco Tower (now called the Williams Tower) is the most distinguishable skyscraper on Houston’s skyline, and it’s not even downtown. It’s located in the Uptown District. This office tower with a beacon on top was built by New York-based John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson—the famous architect who designed the Glass House. You can see that glassy influence on this postmodern tower which is the 4th tallest in Texas.

Transco TowerOpposite Transco Tower is the Waterwall that I alluded to in my last post. I stood under its Roman arches and heard the thunder of 11,000 gallons of water spilling over the edge. Its height is also significant as 64 feet references the 64 stories of the Transco Tower.

WaterwallWaterWall PlaqueStanding by WaterwallThe other highlights of Houston, also in the Uptown District, were their fabulous museums. We first checked out the Museum of Natural Science which required much more than the 2.5 hours we gave it. Still, we managed to see the Lester & Sue Smith Gem Vault, the Hall of Ancient Egypt, and the Morian Hall of Paleontology (rather rapidly).


A sample of one of the cool configurations of fossils in the paleontology hall

The Morian Hall of Paleontology

dinosaurs, dinosaurs everywhere!

Did you know the nine-banded armadillo is the state mammal of Texas?

Did you know the nine-banded armadillo is the state mammal of Texas?

On the way out I snapped some pics of beautiful Hermann Park across the street with a large spider sculpture in the middle of the reflecting pool, reminiscent of Ottawa’s spider in front of the National Gallery of Canada.

Reflecting PoolThis area of town is called the Museum District for a reason, so we visited The Museum of Fine Arts until we called it a day. I was really impressed at the size and quality of their collections, and especially how many Impressionist paintings they had (my favourite kind!)

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Orange Trees by Gustave Caillebotte, 1878.

The Orange Trees by Gustave Caillebotte, 1878.

Water Lilies (Nymphéas) by Claude Monet, 1907.

Water Lilies (Nymphéas) by Claude Monet, 1907.

The Rocks by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

The Rocks by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

We only had time to do the European and American collections, but we did walk through this bamboo-style installation made of 24,000 plastic tubes that hang 28 feet from the ceiling to the floor. Venezuelan artist Jesus Rafael Soto has made 25-30 of these works he calls “Penetrables” that “epitomize his investigations into space and movement. For Soto, space was a perceptual field that had to be experienced, not just with the eyes but with the entire body and senses.” (quoted from the plaque) Soto was a pioneer of the Kinetic Art Movement. I’m a fan. I love interactive art, especially ones you can get lost in!

Soto: the Houston Penetrable by Jesus Rafael Soto. It was exclusively created for this hall at the MFA in Houston, a space designed by Mies van der Rohe.

Soto: the Houston Penetrable by Jesus Rafael Soto. It was exclusively created for this exhibition hall designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

So there you have it, a snapshot of my Austin & Houston experiences. Contrary to what everyone had been telling me and how it normally is, Houston actually had “cooler” temperatures than Austin. God knows I needed it! There was a massive thunderstorm while we were touring the MFA and it was impressive to hear rain pounding so loudly on the roof. I thought a machine had gone haywire in the building. Vancouver gets a lot of rain, but not like that! I was telling an older gentleman in Austin about the Houston storm when we returned to Austin to finish the trip, and his response was, “Well, what can I say? We Texans like to put on a show for y’all!”

Keep Austin Weird

I apologize for being MIA on here this past week. I was in Texas where I stared at the domed ceiling of the State Capitol Building in Austin; stood underneath the Gerald D. Hines Water Wall in Houston; smelled the seaweed-infested beaches of Galveston; posed in front of Texas’ oldest dance hall in Gruene; and dropped my mouth at the size of their college football stadiums, fast food drinks, and Buc-ee’s gas stations that look more like a Walmart.

Renaissance Revival architecture of the Texas State Capitol in Austin

Renaissance Revival architecture of the Texas State Capitol in Austin

Looking up from the rotunda of the Texas State Capitol

Domed ceiling of the Texas State Capitol

Texas Memorial Stadium at University of Texas in Austin.

Texas Memorial Stadium at University of Texas in Austin

Before this trip, the furthest south I had been was Oregon. Texas is only a two-hour time difference from Vancouver, but it felt like a completely different (albeit fascinating) world. Many of the stereotypes are true: American flags on houses, stores, and car dealerships, spaghetti-style highway systems (made me appreciate Vancouver’s highway-lessness even more), and big portions of everything, especially food—so much so that there’s even a “Texas size” option on many restaurant menus.

Have you ever seen onion rings this big?

Luckily there were 4 of us sharing these beastly yet delicious onion rings.

I got used to seeing these colours everywhere

I got used to seeing these colours everywhere

But I was also pleasantly surprised at many things—particularly in Austin. Like how green and pretty it is after stopping over in Phoenix, Arizona, and how snazzy their skyscrapers are, like this Frost Bank Tower with its owl-like face:

Frost Bank Tower. 33 floors & 3rd tallest building in Austin. People say its owl face helps keep Austin weird.

Frost Bank Tower. 33 floors and 3rd tallest building in Austin. People say its owl face helps keep Austin weird. One critic said it resembles an enormous set of nose hair trimmers. What do you think?

I loved strolling along Town Lake, experiencing TexMex food, and taking in the plethora of live music acts along Sixth Street competing for your ears and your wallets. Austin is the self-proclaimed “live music capital of the world” and in staying there for a few days, it’s easy to see it’s a hip, artistic, friendly, and vibrant city. Being introduced to Texas through Austin was probably the best and least shocking way of meeting this strange state—although the 33 degree Celsius heat was shocking enough to almost send me running back into the airport. Thank goodness for AC in every single building.

Lady Bird Lake in Austin (but what everyone still calls Town Lake)

Lady Bird Lake in Austin (but everyone still calls it Town Lake) with a view of downtown skyscrapers. Pretty, eh?

6th Street - home of live music, pubs, and tattoo parlours

Sixth Street – home of live music, pubs, and tattoo parlours. Locals call it “Dirty Sixth”

I was also surprised to learn that Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird” slogan was the original city to birth this phrase intended to promote small businesses. This happened in 2000, and Portland followed in 2003. In honour of that slogan that you can find on banners, billboards, bumper stickers, and T-shirts, here are my favourite “weird” Austin photos, most of them from South Congress Street (or “SoCo”) which I would compare with Vancouver’s Main Street, although I think SoCo is even more eclectic.

Keep Austin Weird sign on South Congress Street

Keep Austin Weird sign on South Congress Street

public art near Town Lake

public art near Town Lake

a favourite local Austin business

a favourite local Austin business

Austin Motel

A classic Austin lodging that sums up the city’s ethos pretty well

A costume store that has everything you could possibly imagine and things you don't want to.

A costume store that has everything you could possibly imagine and things you don’t want to

Allen's BootsAlligator skin boots

Called the "grandaddy of all local music venues," where Stevie Ray Vaughan and other famous musicians played.

Called the “grandaddy of all local music venues,” where Stevie Ray Vaughan and other famous musicians played. Opened in 1957.

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue by Town Lake

Stevie Ray Vaughan statue by Town Lake

Yard Dog art gallery featuring American folk art on South Congress Street

Yard Dog art gallery featuring American folk art. Allen’s Boots just up the street where I even tried on a few pairs. Not the alligator skin ones shown above though.

South Congress Street

View looking downtown from South Congress Street. Can you spot the State Capitol Building straight ahead in the distance?

Austin has a lot of food trucks. Here's a crepe place in a space shuttle

Austin has a lot of food trucks. Here’s a crepe place in a space shuttle next to an art market.

I’ll write about Houston and the other places I visited some other time, but to finish off this post, I’ll leave you with my favourite weird Austin photo. There are hardly words.

Just in case you're unsure about finding your car...

Just in case you weren’t sure which car was yours…

Paradise Lost

A couple weeks ago, I took a one-week summer course at Regent College. It was on Paradise Lost. I had read this epic once in high school and another time in undergrad, and now I got to read it a third time from one of the top Milton scholars in the world—Dennis Danielson, who wrote this parallel prose edition that goes page-by-page alongside the original 1667 edition.

Paradise LostIf you’ve always wanted to read this classic (and why wouldn’t you? It’s only “the story of all things” as Northrop Frye says!) but you’re intimidated by the language, I’d highly suggest picking up Danielson’s book so you can read it much easier while still getting a feel for the original language.

Since it was a crash course, we could only cover the highlights although I think all of us in  class felt we could have used several more weeks. There’s so much to unpack, and so much that came alive for me, as is often the case for me with fiction. Here I offer some of my own “crash course” takeaways for those interested. (All references are from the parallel prose edition.)

I was struck by how much boldness it takes to write your own version of events in the Bible: the war in heaven, Satan’s fall, the creation of Adam and Eve, and the fall of Adam and Eve. John Milton worked off of what we’re told in the Bible, but he had to exercise a lot of creative license to extend a story that only covers the first few chapters of Genesis into a 12-book epic. (Indeed, his invocations to the muse often tread the line of humility and arrogance). Notice I mentioned not just one Fall, but plural Falls. Three falls actually happen in Paradise Lost: the fall of Satan, the fall of Eve, and the fall of Adam at all separate points in time.

Dennis said one of Milton’s tasks that align with his overarching goal of giving us a theodicy (“a justification of the ways of God to men”), is to increase the narrative plausibility of Genesis 3, which gives us the bare bones of the fall of Adam and Eve (the “what”) but not really the “how” or the “why.” So Milton seeks to provide this. And I think he does a pretty convincing job. For instance, when Satan in the guise of a serpent finds Eve alone to tempt, why was she not with Adam? Well, Milton narrates a “separation scene” as it’s called, based on their differing ideas of how to garden Paradise. Eve proposes the novel idea of dividing the labour so they can get more done. They had previously always worked together and Adam wanted to continue this way. The conversation starts off pleasantly enough, but then Adam grows cautious of Eve wanting to leave, and Eve grows offended at Adam’s protection of her, and before you know it, there is the seed of quarrel planted in their interaction and finally Adam commands her twice to go on then. So they separate, and that’s how Satan finds Eve alone.

Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder. 1526.

This separation scene was the most heartbreaking for me to read, I think because I knew what this decision was going to lead to. I found myself inwardly shouting at the characters, “No, don’t do that!” or “Don’t listen to him!” We spent the most time discussing this separation in class—if this was actually the beginning of Eve’s fall (as some scholars believe), which got into the larger, stickier question of how do you know when a sin actually begins? In the case of adultery, as was brought up, does the sin first take place in the mind before it’s acted out in the body?

I think a lot of people resonated with this scene because it felt so human. One student said something like, “I think what’s going on in this scene is simply marital miscommunication and misinterpretation. It’s a problem of language. Adam and Eve both read each other wrong, emotions get involved, and egos get injured. It reminds me of arguments I have with my husband.”

There are some pretty funny lines as well. Take Eve’s comment to her husband after they both eat the fruit from the forbidden tree and Adam blames her for her desire to wander: “Was I never to have left your side? I might as well have stayed one of your ribs, with no life of my own!”

Milton tells us a lot by his use of language, or his character’s use of language. For instance, Eve from the Latin “Eva” actually means “life” or “breath.” But after the fall, Adam puns on her name and says, “O Eve, it was an evil hour when you gave ear to that false snake” even though “Eve” and “evil” have no etymological connection. Before the Fall, Adam was tasked with naming all the creatures and God praises him for his ability to attribute the right name to the right thing—implying that language resembles reality (realism vs. nominalism). But after the Fall, this alignment breaks down. There is a fall in Adam and Eve’s language (possibly a 4th fall?), punctuated by the ferocious blame game they play.

Madonna of the Palafrenieri by Caravaggio. 1605-1606.

Madonna of the Palafrenieri by Caravaggio. 1605-1606.

As you can tell, it was the relationship between Adam and Eve that most fascinated me, although the conflict within Satan at the beginning of the book is interesting too, especially from a psychological perspective. Satan comes across so human as well with the self-doubt he has about his mission—doubt that turns to manipulation.

According to Satan, Adam and Eve are created to replace the fallen angels heaven lost when Satan and his renegade army opposed God and were banished to hell. This explains Satan’s justification for punishing Adam and Eve, whose innocence he is initially aware of but whose happiness he can’t bear to see. He eventually convinces himself that they are worthy objects for his revenge. His anger at the Creator unleashes on his creation instead. The phrase “zero-sum game” came up a lot in reference to Satan. If he can’t have Paradise, Adam and Eve aren’t going to have it either. If he can’t have happiness, no way in hell they’re going to have it. He lives in a black and white world. Adam and Eve lose their colourful one, walking out of Eden hand in hand “with slow and wandering steps.” For those of us who have said goodbye to a beloved place we called home for even a short amount of time, there is much empathy in these last lines. Much emotion balanced somewhere between the bitter and the sweet. Much like my feelings at the end of this course.




Main Street Miscellany

Main Street is one of my favourite streets to walk in Vancouver. It’s full of coffee shops, antique stores, vintage boutiques, art galleries, patio restaurants from the classy comfort of Burgoo to the kitschy flamingo-decorated Rumpus Room, and everything in between. I was in the French château-inspired ballroom of the Heritage Hall last night for a fundraiser, and it reminded me of how much I love this street of all things where you just never know what writing will appear on the walls.

Here are some shots of my favourite Main Street miscellany:
IMG_7763IMG_20140530_221650554IMG_759949th Parallel & Lucky's DoughnutsIMG_7766IMG_7603Urban SourceMain Street is also home to a great art store called Urban Source (pictured above) where you’ll find almost any material from scrabble letters to puzzle pieces, dried flowers to woodcuts, miniature test tubes to coloured clothespins. I think I spent over an hour perusing their bins of paper and tables of objects. It’s particularly a treasure’s chest for collage work. It provided the materials for my latest DIY project—turning my empty David’s Tea containers into 12 little “windows” that represent different parts of me. I hung it in my apartment kitchen.

IMG_7782IMG_7774With the lid closed: