Cycling the Arbutus Greenway

I had seen others doing it and it looked like fun. So today was the day I finally hopped on the Arbutus Greenway for myself.

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This former railway track was recently converted into a paved pathway, connecting Marpole to Granville Island. It provides a designated north-south route for cyclists and walkers to get from one end of the City to another, something sorely lacking up until now.

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I loved it. It was so convenient to hop on 70th Avenue in Marpole and ride to 41st and onto Southwest Marine Drive to meet up with some friends at UBC. On my way home, I took 16th Avenue back to the Greenway so I could cover most of the path. It’s 8.5 km long—here’s a map.

These vibrant poppies and purple wildflowers near 70th were a delight to see as I started out.

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Community gardens line the right side of the path as you’re heading north. Someone had fun with these scarecrows.

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I loved seeing parts of the City I hadn’t seen before. I was riding slowly up Vancouver’s spine, admiring houses that belong in a fairy tale, smiling at strangers standing in gardens with a hose in hand, and breathing in the scent of wildflowers spilling onto the pavement.

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It was a leisurely ride devoid of traffic and steep hills! Most of the intersections had helpful signage that indicated to cross with pedestrians at the light, like you can see these cyclists doing at Arbutus and 16th.

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Benches and portable toilets were available along the way. The biggest hill from this point riding south was winding through the Quilchena neighbourhood. But it provided some fabulous new lookout points, including slices of ocean.

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Something to note is that there aren’t many trees along the trail so shade isn’t an option, which you really notice on hot days like today.

Between Nanton Road and Quilchena Park, these colourful rocks stopped me in my tracks. Their messages and the conversations they inspired were my favourite experiences along the route.

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Painted all colours of the rainbow, they are as diverse as the people I saw using the path: cyclists, walkers, joggers, seniors, kids, families, rollerbladers, people in wheelchairs, skateboarders, you name it.

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“Pretty cool, eh?” An oldish man spoke to me from the walking side of the path and I said, “Totally cool.” He pointed a little further down where a plaque explained this public artwork done by York House Grade 2 students, a Vancouver Biennale project.

I told him this was my first time on the path and he said he walks parts of it almost every day. “So it’s well used?” I asked. “Oh yeah,” he replied. He said it’s packed on the weekends and he’s particularly encouraged to see a lot of seniors walking with canes on it. He said many seniors don’t feel safe navigating heavy intersections, so this designated route gets more people out enjoying nature and the city who wouldn’t otherwise. I completely get that as a cyclist who doesn’t love riding on busy streets!

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Near the sign, I spoke with another man who was admiring the rocks. He said this Greenway really was a case of “build it, and they will come.” Apparently it’s just a temporary path though with plans to make it into “a destination that fosters both movement and rich social interaction – inspired by nature and the stories of the places it connects” (from the City website). I kind of like it just as it is though, with the exception of adding more public art and trees.

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I ended up having a third conversation with someone along the Greenway when I stopped at 57th Avenue to pick up a few things from Choices Markets. One of the Rainbow Rocks said “Make community” and these friendly encounters with strangers seemed to affirm the spirit of that message already, an experience I don’t take for granted in Vancouver.

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Snaps of Summer

A holiday Monday with sunshine like this called me downtown to walk Stanley Park with a friend. The Rose Garden was in bloom so I snapped some pics of that as well.

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Afterwards, I explored Robson Street and enjoyed this patch of public space set up with picnic tables and an outdoor piano at the intersection of Robson and Bute. Great for people watching!

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Here’s a piece of public art at Robson and Jervis called Jasper.

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From the Vancouver Biennale website:

Jasper is a whimsical sculpture by Brooklyn-based artist John Clement. His trademark steel spirals with bold primary colours invite children to touch and play. The turns and loops of Jasper challenge the inherent properties of rigid tubular steel and the result is an implied movement with the sense of twisting right out of the ground.

Whenever I walk by this sculpture it reminds me of balloon animals popular at children’s birthday parties. Or my coil bike lock. No one was playing on it at the time but I like public art you’re invited to touch. If public art is meant to bring art where people are (because not everyone goes to art galleries), I appreciate works that call for different forms of engagement rather than the traditional “looking only”/observer-observed relationship. That being said, some public art provokes more thought than others and while the form is fun, I find the content strongly lacking in this piece. I think good public art brings form and content together in striking ways. What about you?

Hope everyone is enjoying the Canada Day long weekend!

Hello, Marine Gateway

Part of my rationale in choosing Marpole when I moved to Vancouver in 2013 was not just the cheaper rents, but the access to downtown and Richmond via the new Canada Line SkyTrain station at Marine Drive and Cambie Street.

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Where there’s a SkyTrain station, development always follows, and now when I walk to that SkyTrain station, I see soaring residential towers and a whole new shopping hub that has been named “High Street” (I don’t know if I’d go that far since it’s not offering anything out of the chain store norm, but you know marketers…)

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I have to say I am happy Marine Gateway has arrived in my neighbourhood— a neighbourhood that I love yet is sorely lacking retail shops and more variety of restaurants.

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No longer will the Artist and I have to go downtown to see a movie in theatres—we can walk fifteen minutes from our apartment! I am particularly excited about the Winners and Shoppers Drug Mart for the convenience factor.

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I walked around there the other day, checking out which stores have opened so far. Tim Hortons and Dublin Crossing are still in the works (shown above), but Starbucks, Shoppers, CIBC, BMO, T&T Supermarket, and A&W are up and running. (A&W is my favourite fast food joint so this addition really thrills me).

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There’s even some public art in the plaza! Here’s a statue of Simon Fraser by Ken Lum, the explorer after which the university is named.

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And on the pavement, some writing about the history of the surrounding places.

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On the stairs leading down to the bus loop, I discovered some more public art that looks like it might be back lit at night. I couldn’t find a plaque so not sure what it’s about, though I’m guessing it’s an homage to the Musqueam people and their tools/ways of life who lived in this area first.

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Here’s a complete list of the calls for public art at Marine Gateway.

Marpole is certainly getting more attractive features, and it will be interesting to see how this affects traffic and housing and rent prices that I hope can remain affordable for this neighbourhood I call home on the edge of the city.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life

“Everyone has a hotel story.” So says the tagline of the feature exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which ended today.

Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life

The exhibit traces the evolution of the hotel from seventeenth-century dak bungalows (government structures put up for European travellers living and travelling in India) to self-contained miniature cities. The exhibit looks at four main themes surrounding the phenomenon of the hotel: travel, design, social, and culture.

I particularly enjoyed the design part, in which ten models of world-famous hotels were displayed in a rectangular room with architectural and historical facts.

Imperial Hotel in Tokyo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

The real hotel

Raffles Hotel in Singapore designed by Regent Alfred John Bidwell

The real hotel

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown LA is a good example of a city within a city—but this “hotel city” seeks to offer protection to its guests from the “other city” with its dark, reflective glass and lack of formal entry. You’re not sure when you’ve officially entered it because the exterior skin folds in on itself, reflecting where you’ve come from but not revealing what you’re about to step into. With four identical towers, the structure almost intends you to get lost in it. Literary critic Frederic Jameson calls this hotel the quintessential postmodern space or “hyperspace”, a word he uses to describe a space that mutates so fast that the human body and mind has difficulty keeping up with it.

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles designed by John Portman & Associates

The real hotel

Jameson writes in Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism:

The mini-city of Portman’s Bonaventure ought not to have entrances at all, since the entryway is always the seam that links the building to the rest of the city that surrounds it: for it does not wish to be a part of the city, but rather its equivalent and its replacement or substitute. That is, however, obviously not possible or practical, whence the deliberate downplaying and reduction of the entrance function to its bare minimum.

“Design” room featuring wall of hotel diagrams

These next two models are the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The back side (right picture) “reveals a cross-section of multiple and diverse scenes recreating a microcosm of the urban life around it—a labyrinth of interweaving public and private space.”

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Here are a few of my own photos of the Waldorf Astoria from my NYC trip two years ago:

IMG_6242 - Version 2IMG_6210The exhibit stressed the role of the hotel as a liminal space between public and private; individual and collective. As the quotation above says, you’ll never know who you may “collide” with in a hotel. The hotel collects a motley crew of individuals and arranges them into private rooms and communal spaces (lobbies, pools, restaurants) for varied lengths of time, a constant motion of inhaling energetic faces while exhaling wearied ones.

When I returned home last week after seeing the exhibit, I began to think of my “hotel story.” After all, everyone has one, right? Then I realized that as informative and entertaining as the exhibit was, it missed a big part of the hotel experience for Gen Yers like me. It gave space to the hotel and the motel, but what about the hostel? The only time I’ve stayed in hotels is when travelling with my family as a kid. As such, I can think of hostel stories more readily than I can of hotel stories, and I know many of my friends would say the same. In fact, this is the only way we travel as adults—I would say it’s even more conducive for “generating random but fortuitous collisions,” especially collisions with other solo travellers who then become your companions to take on the city. I know the exhibit can’t include every configuration of the hotel experience, but this gap stands out to me as a significant one as modern-day hotel culture, especially for young people, includes the hostel.

Wallpaper in Llayers Llove Hotel, Room 307, Tokyo designed by Richard Hutton

In any case, the exhibit provided a fascinating overview of the hotel and its place in history, travel (whether by airplane, car, or train), design, and culture (including famous artists who created in hotels and historic moments that happened in their spaces). After walking through the exhibit, there’s no denying that hotels have significantly shaped modern life in some form or another.

How has it shaped yours? Do you have a hotel story?

Backstage Truths

Last weekend, the long weekend, I was surrounded by people saying things like “frame,” “BTS,” “room tone,” “boom operator,” and many other film-related jargon that was completely foreign to me.

I was an extra in a short film called Souls that Balance. The title, taken from the first line of this poem, intrigued me from the start, and it was great fun to make my first foray into the acting world with such a great team of people and what seems like an incredibly creative script. To qualify that statement, I should hardly call what I did acting since all you can see is the back of my head, but still. I was on a film set!

A few brief observations from the weekend about acting and film-making:

  • Long days, early mornings
  • Details matter – like, every single detail in every single shot matters. I have so much more appreciation when I watch films now.
  • A lot of waiting around. I can see how people on a film set can get really close in a short amount of time, because you’re all waiting around together in the same space. The community part of it was the highlight.
  • I think there’s a tendency to glamourize actor’s lives and the work they do, but after this experience, I didn’t see any glamour—just a lot of work. Saying your line over and over again as if it was the first time. Or saying the line perfectly but having to redo it anyway because some detail was out of place, or the camera angle was slightly off. Requires a lot of patience and concentration.
  • It’s all about the light. One of the other extras who’s involved in the Vancouver acting community told me she immediately knew how serious the production was by the lighting equipment on set.

Seems like so many things/professions depend on the light. Photographers, painters, lovers. This film experience made me think of the Impressionists who made light their subject. Sure, they painted boats and people and gardens, but the subject of their paintings—what they were after—was how the light fell on the boats and people and gardens: how our perception of things depends on when and how we are seeing it.

Monet. Bathers at La Grenouillère (1869)

Take Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series for an example. Over thirty paintings in total, different seasons, different times of day. As the Wikipedia entry states, the cathedral provides an interesting juxtaposition between a solid, permanent structure and the evanescent quality of light.

When the light is right, you just know. I knew when I was in New York City and took this photo. This was my favourite picture from the whole trip, all because of the light. No touch-ups, no Photoshop, no nothing added to it. Just sun and sky and stone kissing at 1047 Amsterdam Ave in Morningside Heights.

Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, NYC. Charlene Kwiatkowski 2011.

On the subject of Impressionists, Degas’ ballerina paintings similarly convey the unglamorous work that goes on behind-the-scenes (BTS) of anyone who performs. While he also painted ballerinas performing on stage in front of 19th-century bourgeois Parisians, many of his pieces show ballerinas in rehearsal—training, stretching, and yes, waiting. In this way, Degas’ works give outsiders a view from the other side, behind the curtain where it’s all work, fatigue, and routine. And some critics didn’t like this “backstage pass” so to speak because it wasn’t pretty. But it’s true.

Degas. Monsieur Perrot’s Dance Class (1875)

Degas. The Dance Lesson (1872)

Degas. Waiting (1882)

Degas. The Mante Family (1880)

In response to the painting directly above, The Mante Family, critic J-K. Huysmans wrote:

What truth! What life! How all these figures hold the space, how exactly the light bathes the scene, how the expression of these physiognomies, the searching look of the mother whose hopes rise when her daughter’s body unbends, the indifference of comrades for well-known weariness, how these are etched out and noted with the perspicacity of an analyst at once cruel and subtle.

This makes Degas a realist, or a naturalist to use the artistic term.

Degas. Rehearsal (1879)

Rehearsal (1879) says it even more. I love the way Robert Herbert writes about it in his book Impressionism, my go-to guide for painters of this style:

Here [light] models the dancers in reverse, and stresses the artifice involved, that is, natural light is made to seem artificial in the fiction of the picture, as it is in actuality: it is the artist himself who took the colors of his palette and made up the dancers’ masks. ‘Light,’ that is, artists’ paint, reveals backstage truths, the hard work and ugly grimaces which cannot be seen by spectators at a performance. This is–again!–the work of a naturalist. ‘Oh! all the things in the world, as long as one sees them from behind!’ wrote the Goncourt brothers.”

What backstage truths have you encountered, whether it be in the performing arts or other industries?

Lesson One

where the magic happens

“You should probably cut your nails if you want to continue.”

His stubby ones are barely visible below callused fingertips.

I realize learning guitar isn’t going to be easy. Or pretty. Goodbye feminine nails I worked so hard to grow out.

Like trying anything new, I weigh the costs and ask how badly I want this.

“Practice half an hour each day, and you’ll have calluses built up by next week’s lesson.”

Yeah, I’ll get on that right away.

“And retrain the muscle memory in your fourth finger. It wants to go straight but it needs to bend so the chord sounds cleaner.”

I look at the troublesome finger playing D major, stuck straight as a pencil with no sign of arcing. Old and set in my ways, I doubt how much practice will help. My fingers resort to their former positions like good students.

“Save your money and teach yourself,” my brother had said. I had tried that, but teaching myself isn’t helpful when I’m teaching wrong.

I didn’t know there was follow-through in guitar like in basketball. I didn’t know to wrap my hands tightly around the neck like gripping a baseball bat. Heck, I didn’t know playing guitar was so much like playing sports, the fingers curved like a body over a high jump bar.

Practice makes better. How badly do I want to be better?

I remember I am finished school, worried my brain’s glory days are over and are now starting a gradual process of decline. I remember a university professor asking, “Which of the arts most powerfully and universally conveys human experience?”

The class was mute. When we finally answered, we said theatre. There are wrong answers in the humanities by the way. The professor said no. Music. Who are you?

Tonight I am taking scissors to my nails.