Starting the New Year with Eagles

The Artist and I ushered in the New Year with out-of-town friends by taking a trip to Brackendale, a small town just north of Squamish. Marked as the “Eagle Capital of the World,” Brackendale is home to one of North America’s largest congregations of wintering bald eagles. They feed on the chum salmon in the Squamish River.

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On a trip a previous year, we only saw one eagle flying overhead and were understandably disappointed. This trip yielded far greater results. We winded along the river bank, enjoying the crisp January air and the sun on the mountains and snow.

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Once we rounded this bend, we saw our first eagle perched in a tree.

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That’s the closest I’ve ever seen one. Majestic and huge, just like they’re portrayed on US money and other things.

We thought that sighting was exciting but then we walked a little further and saw this!

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Jackpot day! Not to mention numerous eagles flying overhead. We probably spotted a dozen in total. This is a good time of year to get a visit in if you’re a bird watcher like we are!

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Woodward’s Windows

I’m too young to remember the big Woodward’s Department Store at the edge of Vancouver’s Gastown and Chinatown. But I see the illuminated neon “W” when I walk downtown in the evenings and textual reminders on the original building, marking what was once there.

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You can see the “W” far in the distance on the left. View from Canada Place.

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When in Europe this fall, we just missed the start of the big department stores setting up their window displays for Christmas. I’m sure Le Bon Marche in Paris, the world’s original modern department store, would have had some spectacular ones. It seems I tend to take big trips in October just as the Christmas prep is beginning, as I also recall this window from New York in its early stages.

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Woodward’s also had elaborate Christmas displays of animated figures moving behind glass. Canada Place purchased their displays when the store closed in 1993 and have made them available for Vancouverites to enjoy again or for the first time (as in my case). They were wonderful in the original sense of that word. Fun for kids and adults, noticing which figurines are moving and what they’re doing. I loved the mouse atop the Woodward’s trolley, lifting a string attached to a package. The best part? It’s free and makes for a lovely evening, strolling along Canada Place with all the lights glowing and a row of Christmas trees adding to the festiveness.

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Around the back of Canada Place, you can also experience a rendition of the North Pole, using a bit of imagination.

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The windows are up until tomorrow night (Dec 31) so see them before they’re gone, or catch them next year.

Hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2018!

In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 2

You may remember Part 1 when Monet came to the VAG in summer. Last month I had the delight of walking through his gardens in Giverny.

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It was a crisp and beautiful October day. As much as I loved Paris, getting outside of it to experience the French countryside was time well spent. The Artist and I arrived by train in the town of Vernon where shuttle buses are waiting to take loads of tourists to Monet’s house and gardens in the nearby and much smaller town of Giverny.

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We hopped on the first “shuttle” we saw (Le Petit Train Givernon), which was actually a rickety open air train that came with a pre-recorded tour of sites along the way from Vernon to Giverny—a nice bonus. We loved it!

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Looking back through my Europe photos, this was the day of brightest colours. I’ve been telling people since I’ve been home that Europe doesn’t have the vibrant fall hues like Vancouver has (particularly the reds), but lo and behold, we did see red!

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Monet is famous for painting outside but he also had a studio in his house, which looks more like a living room. My artist-husband was jealous of all that light. You can see Monet’s love for colour even on the exterior. When you do step through the front door, you notice each room is painted a different colour. My favourite was the yellow kitchen.

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Touring Monet’s house doesn’t take long so we spent most of our time wandering under arches and walking down aisles of geraniums, roses, daisies, sunflowers, and other flora I don’t know the name of. What a visual feast! I could see why Monet wanted to spend the last part of his life here.

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Imagine having this pond in your backyard! There are actually two green Japanese footbridges at either end. I also saw some dilapidated wooden boats and pictured Monet sitting in one, transcribing light onto canvas to come up with these masterpieces on display in Musée de l’Orangerie.

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Giverny is basically a one-street town. At the far end of the main road is the church where Monet is buried, along with his family.

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This view capped off a peaceful day spent in the place that brought Monet such joy.

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If you’d like to know more about Monet’s gardens and who tends them now, read this fantastic article.

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On Emerging from a Station of the Metro

We arrive like children on the first day of school
Backpacks bigger than our bodies.

Overeager smiles, no sleep the night before
Pointing at everything.

That church! That café! That door!
Everything so old it’s new.

The city moves faster than our fingers
We learn to get out of the way.

I try out the language like I cross the street—
Quick prayer for minimal damage.

When people are kind
The lights along the Seine double their glow.

You eat a baguette as you walk
Because you can do anything!

Paris is the girl who brings the best lunch to school
The rest of us hoping she’ll share.

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End of Summer at Ross Lake

I almost don’t want to write about where my husband and I camped this long weekend for fear of exposing this hidden gem to the masses (not that there are tons of people who read my blog, but still).

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When we broached the idea of one last camping trip before summer’s end, I remember a friend mentioning Ross Lake in Skagit Valley Provincial Park (near Hope) where campsites are first come, first serve (which is great because all the other local provincial parks that accept reservations were unsurprisingly full).

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We assume most people take Fridays before a long weekend off so they can get a head start on the R&R, but that was not the case with us. We figured if we left early Saturday morning from Vancouver, we could still have a chance of snagging a spot. We decided to take the risk.

It paid off.

We arrived around 10:30am after travelling what seeemed like forever down the bumpy and dusty Silver Skagit Road leading to the northern tip of Ross Lake, where the campground is.

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A suspension bridge along Silver Skagit Road. Hubby likes to fish under here.

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Very proud of his rainbow trout that he wanted a pic of before he released back into the Skagit.

The coveted spots along the lake were taken but there were plenty on the inside up for grabs. This was a beautiful long weekend of summer. Where was everyone? Do people not know about this place or does it have something to do with the mosquitoes? THEY ARE RELENTLESS. Even with bug spray, my husband and I have too many bites to count. We saw many families with see-through net shelters erected around picnic tables, which was a smart move. The mosquitoes are far worse at the campsite so we spent almost all our time at the lake.

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Ross Lake straddles the US/Canada border with just the northern tip reaching into Canada. Thanks to this article in the Georgia Straight, I learned it’s only available for camping on the BC side during the summer months when the water levels are at their highest. Here’s a helpful map.

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I loved venturing out in an inflatable kayak we got to borrow for the summer and paddling into the States and around the marshes where Canada geese like to hang out. See the swath of land cut out of the mountain in the photo below? That’s the border line. Fortunately no passport required for this crossing.

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There’s a dirt road that leads from Ross Lake campground to its counterpart on the American side, Hozomeen campground. A perfect place to camp for a Canadian-American couple, ha!

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I was craving a last lake swim and got plenty of opportunities, as well as some quiet reading and writing time too. Goodbye summer, September here we come.

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Hope all of your Labour Day weekends were restful and rejuvenating. What did you get up to?

In Monet’s Secret Garden Part 1

He’s arguably the best known painter in the world. His scenes of nature and Parisian life grace calendars, purses, notebooks, umbrellas, teapots, and even socks (check the VAG gift shop).

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Of course I’m talking about Claude Monet (1840-1926), the French Impressionist painter who influenced the course of modern art with his unconventional techniques. He painted outside (which wasn’t done at the time), and his quick, loose brushwork aimed to capture an impression of something, not the thing itself (hence the label Impressionist, which was first used by critics in a derogatory sense).

The Vancouver Art Gallery is currently showing 38 of Monet’s works from the Musée Marmottan in Paris. In an interview with the CBC, the exhibition’s curator Marianne Matthieu says:

[Guests] have to visit this exhibition as if they were an invited guest of Monet. All the paintings have been selected personally by Monet [while he was alive] to describe his career, his life.

I visited the VAG last Tuesday evening (when admission is by donation) along with everyone else in Vancouver, so it seemed.

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The exhibit takes you chronologically through Monet’s work, beginning with some scenes with figures in them before the majority focuses all on nature.

I liked knowing Monet picked these works out himself. It made me wonder, Why this one? What did he like about it? What did he achieve with this one?

I enjoyed seeing paintings of his I had never come across in other galleries or books:

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Claude Monet, Le chatêau de Dolceacqua, 1884, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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Claude Monet, Vétheuil in the Fog, 1879, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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The picture does not do this piece justice.

Monet painted the same scene many times, in different seasons and different times of the day to study the effect of light on a subject. Light was his subject.

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Claude Monet, La Seine à Port-Villez, effet rose, 1894, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The two below were the only figurative works included. You can see the loose Impressionist style best by looking at the undefined faces. And the little boy practically blends in with the flowers.

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Claude Monet, En promenade près d’Argenteuil, 1875, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

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Claude Monet, Sur la plage de Trouville, 1870–71, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

The didactic panel for the image above talks about how sand was lodged in some of Monet’s canvasses because he painted these beach scenes outside. Talk about the nitty gritty.

I had assumed there would be more water lily paintings given the title is Secret Garden and Monet’s gardens in Giverny are synonymous with his grand, rectangular water lily paintings. This was the most “quintessential” one shown at the VAG, with the characteristic pastel blues, pinks, and purples:

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Claude Monet, Nymphéas, 1903, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

There were also these two beautiful wisteria panels hung to mimic the oval rooms at Musée de L’Orangerie where Monet’s famous water lilies live.

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But there were other paintings that were darker and challenged what I thought I knew about the painter.

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Monet devoted the last two decades of his life to painting and cultivating his gardens in Giverny, a work of art in themselves. After touring the exhibition, I was surprised Monet chose so many of these works to depict his career  when he has hundreds of others to choose from. But perhaps these works came closest to communicating his artistic vision?

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Claude Monet, Le Pont japonais, 1918-24, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

In 1902, Monet was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes, and his works during his later years became increasingly abstract and darker. Notice also how much of the blank canvas he lets show through. The curator’s remarks accompanying this room below suggest the anguish and grief of WWI seeped into Monet’s canvasses, particularly his weeping willow series.

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Claude Monet, Saule pleureur, 1918-19, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

After all this heaviness and twisty contortions, Monet’s very last work closes the exhibition, returning to the light and soft palette that infused his earlier work (albeit looking unfinished). I thought it was a perfect farewell.

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Claude Monet, Les Roses, 1925-26, oil on canvas, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris

Seeing these works has only increased my anticipation of setting foot in Monet’s gardens this fall and immersing myself in his inspiration.

I highly recommend you take in this exhibit at the VAG before it closes October 1!