They keep saying they are happy

I didn’t participate in Bike to Work this week because biking from Vancouver to Surrey along Highway 91 is a) very long and b) a little dangerous, but I like to think I made up for it by biking from Marpole, the southernmost neighbourhood of the city, to the ocean at Jericho Beach today.

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And I was so excited by what I saw on my ride home that I’m on my computer now to share it with you.

I haven’t posted about a public artwork in a while but this one stopped me full-pedal and had me rummaging through my backpack for my camera.

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This LED screen at Point Grey Road and Collingwood Street containing short, pithy statements that rotate every few minutes was right outside a residential house in the affluent neighbourhood of Kitsilano. It was strangely discreet (except for the pink Vancouver Biennale sign) and yet obviously not something you’d expect to see on a scenic route.

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I watched it for a few minutes to see about three different narratives appear on the screen.

Called Vancouver Novel, it was made by Brazilian artist João Loureiro. The description on the sign says:

Inspired by the Vancouver Biennale’s 2014-2016 exhibition theme Open Borders / Crossroads Vancouver, Vancouver Novel by João Loureiro explores the shifting boundaries between public and private life in an era marked by social media and reality TV.  Situated in one of Vancouver’s most exclusive waterfront neighbourhoods, the installation cycles through a series of 23 sentences which weave a poignant narrative of daily life.  These snippets of domesticity, by turns banal and ominous, underscore our ever-growing appetite for updated information and continuous content.  Intensely personal and yet broadcast for the world to see, Vancouver Novel asks us to consider the narrowing chasm between our public and private lives.

While I was photographing the screen, I experienced an uneasiness between the public and private spheres because even though this was “public art,” I was taking pictures of someone’s home. Something like this ran through my mind: Do the the residents know this is here? They must! The artist would have had to get their permission, I’m sure. But they must have gawkers like me all the time just standing outside their home reading this sign. How annoying!

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And then when you watch this short clip, you realize the artist’s work is a fictional story about the occupants in the house, which takes it to a whole new level of voyeurism and discomfort.

 

Yet I think maybe we are supposed to squirm a little? If we had a sign outside our home, what would our story be?

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In some ways, we each already do. It may not be an LED screen and it may not be constantly running, but most of us turn to social media to provide status updates of what’s going on in our homes and lives. We’ve already made the private public, but I think why Vancouver Novel is so powerful is because:

  • Having your private life aired on a screen like a reality TV show where you don’t control who sees it is that much more vulnerable than putting it on social media where you can still put safeguards in place around privacy and security.
  • The “status updates” on this sign aren’t the “show how cool/beautiful/exciting your life is to make everybody else jealous” type of updates most people post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram etc. Some of the sentences are banal but some are acutely poignant and even dark. In 23 lines, we witness the unhappiness, the struggle, the pretense, and possibly the demise of a relationship.

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  • There’s an assumption that affluent people have perfect lives because everything on the outside looks that way: their houses, their cars, their clothes, their vacations, their kids etc. Vancouver Novel reminds us that we really have no clue what goes on behind those pretty, perfect doors. Things aren’t always what they seem.
  • Vancouver is the city everybody wants to live in. It’s come under fire more recently for its high costs and inaccessibility, but there is still this golden aura to the city. I think the artist must know something about this, or why would he call it Vancouver Novel? He’s turning the narrative of the city on its head, cracking open its shiny facade and exposing its grimy underbelly.

This is what art does—exposes things. As much as I love my city, this Vancouver Novel needs to be written. João Loureiro may have intended it as fictional story, but I think there are elements of reality to it that we are all uncomfortably familiar with.

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The Mountain and the Valley: Pemberton Weekend

No, this isn’t a post about the Canadian novel of the same name by Ernest Buckler, one of my all-time favourites.

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I borrowed the title to show pics of a weekend spent in Pemberton this month, hiking the rainy heights of Joffre Lakes and biking the flat streets of Pemberton Valley for their annual Slow Food Cycle.

Joffre Lakes

This hike rewards you with 3 beautiful lakes along the way—Lower, Middle, and Upper lakes, fed by glacier runoff. You see the Lower one right away, which is always nice to have a view for motivation early in the hike.

Lower Joffre Lake.

Lower Joffre Lake

Walking into the mystic vale

Walking into the mystic vale

As you can tell from these pictures, we chose one of the rainiest days this summer to do the hike. But the mist added its own beauty to it. I was thankful the fog started clearing by the time we arrived at the Middle Lake so we could get this mysterious view.

The Middle Joffre Lake ghosting into view

The Middle Joffre Lake ghosting into view

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The longest stretch of the hike is from the Middle Lake to the Upper one, but even then, I was surprised at how quick it was. The hike took us about 3.5 hours in total. Much easier of a climb than Garibaldi. We didn’t stay too long at the top because we were cold and wet, but we could see the outline of the glacier behind, and it made me eager to return here on a brighter day to see it in all its alpine glory.

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Upper Joffre Lake with glacier

Slow Food Cycle

I was thankful the hike wasn’t more strenuous because the next day, we did a 20K bike ride along Pemberton Meadows Road, stopping at various farms to enjoy local food as part of Pemberton’s 11th annual Slow Food Cycle.

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One of the stops

Stopping for lunch at one of the farms

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Here’s a video that explains more about it:

What a fun way to spend a Sunday, biking in the lap of majestic mountains and enjoying produce fresh off a farm. Such a different experience than I’ve ever had biking in the city! I think I’ll be back to do this again one summer.

On Broken Bulbs & Flat Tires

This story starts with a discovery.

Last Friday, I am in my washroom. One of the light bulbs is burned out above the mirror. I go to replace it and notice there’s an outlet attached to the light fixture. I am curious, grab my hair dryer from my bedroom and plug it in above the mirror. Turn it on, and away it blasts. After almost 2 years of living in my apartment and blow drying my hair in my bedroom, I discover there is—always was—an outlet in the washroom. No one—myself, the Artist, my dad, or my landlord—noticed it.

And then the other day when the Artist was over, he discovered the inside of the pantry door had a lock on it. Why on earth is there a lock on the inside? This is what I love about old character apartments—sometimes they don’t make sense. And they surprise you. After I thought I knew everything there is to know about my apartment, I am still discovering it.

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The next day was a Saturday much like this one. Sun shining, cherry blossoms out, my amaryllis in full bloom. I needed to run an errand on Main Street and was tempted to drive for convenience sake, and then thought: Why drive when I could bike? Not only could I bike, but I could bike in a T-shirt! In February!

I had never biked east of Cambie Street before, so it was a new route for me. I took Ontario Street all the way north to 27th Avenue. And because I had never ridden that street before, I was greeted with more discoveries. Ontario Street is the street of schools. First Langara College, which I had always known about because the Canada Line SkyTrain station nearby is called Langara, but had never seen the actual building. And then I pedalled by some old brick beauties: Sir William Van Horne Elementary and General Wolfe Elementary School.

Sir William Van Horne

Sir William Van Horne

General Wolfe

General Wolfe

Since Ontario Street is a bike street, there are fun bike sculptures along the way, such as these bike seat benches in Queen Elizabeth Park.IMG_1012

On my way home, I sat and started reading a used book I picked up while I was running my errand. I got it a Y’s Books, a store I had never seen before, and you know I am a sucker for my classics, especially when they’re at a great price!

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Everything was perfect the way there & the way back from Main Street. That is, until it started feeling like I was pulling a 100-tonne truck behind me when I wasn’t even going up a hill. I get off my bike. The back tire is as flat as a pancake. I am still a 15-20 minute ride from home. But I am on Ontario Street and there are people standing on patios enjoying the sunshine, so I walk over and ask, “Would you happen to have a bike pump?”

Sure enough, the man does. He fetches it and helps me pump it up. But then we discover the outer tube/valve where the air goes in is broken and only keeps air in if held a certain way. By this time, another neighbour comes out to offer his assistance, running to get electrical tape and secure the precarious tube. He also sends me home with one of his pumps in case I need to use it along the way. I am speechless. “Really? You want to lend this to me?”

He says, “It’s no big deal. You know where I live now and so just swing by and return it when you get the chance.”

I am stunned, and grateful. I ride home and the air comes out of my tire within another five minutes. And I am hauling a truck again. I pump it up and get back on it, and it lasts another minute. I do this maybe one more time before I realize I’m better off walking it home.

And so I do. At first I’m upset that the otherwise perfect day ended with a flat tire, but then this thought came into view: This is how I slow you down, Charlene.

I don’t slow down very easily. Unless I’m forced to. And I’ve been more aware of it during this Lenten season where I’m trying to pay attention to what God is doing. Maybe there are some discoveries that await in walking my bike instead of riding it. In making some new “neighbours” who don’t live near me at all but who set aside half an hour of their afternoon to show love to a stranger and quiet those naysayers who purport that Vancouver isn’t a friendly place.

I need to slow down, to see the beauty and discovery that comes from broken things and a bunch of people trying to fix it together.

I now have the most wonderful reason to bake a batch of cookies.