Sunday, May 28, 2017

Emi at the beach

Emi, with sunglasses, running for the water at Kitsilano beach on Sunday.

Yipe! I think it's cold!

My grandniece Emi is just old enough now to fully appreciate the possibilities of sand, plastic shovels and tin pails that can be filled with water. On Sunday she took full advantage of a visit to Vancouver’s Kitsilano beach to help her mom Aya build sandcastles and haul pails of water to her father Etienne. Meanwhile, her Uncle John captured some of the action: he said it reminded him of his time as a news photographer, scouring the beach on a hot day for a photo for the next day's paper. As for me, I just sat in the shade.

After a long, miserable winter and wet spring, the crowds were thick at Vancouver beaches on Sunday. Aya and Emi, centre, join them in the water.

Negotiating the waves.

Getting down to serious sandcastle-building.

A day with Audain

Okay, so I don't usually like modern buildings, but the entrance to the sleek new Audain Art Museum in Whistler is pretty impressive. I was there on Saturday for a class tour  as part of my "Arts, Criticism and the City" course at Simon Fraser University. All photos by John, who graciously joined the action.

Philanthropist Michael Audain spent about $40 million on this building to house his extensive B.C. art collection, much of it indigenous work. That's reflected nicely in the metal sculpture at the entrance. 

Me and my classmates busily taking notes at the beginning of the tour, led by chief curator Darrin Martens. At far left on the bench is Professor Sasha Colby. Notice the gorgeous natural landscape behind us.

One of the first things you see when you begin touring the museum is this work by Haida master carver James Hart, called The Dance Screen (The Scream Too). Audain once had it at his home; it must have been in a very big room.

In the E.J. Hughes room. John said seeing one of the paintings was worth the $18 price of admission all on its own. The painting was of a ship, of course.

Tucked away in a treed section of Whistler village weaves Michael Audain’s sleek new art project. I’m usually not a fan of modern minimalist architecture, but even I could appreciate the beauty of the Audain Art Museum’s glass-walled hallways overlooking natural landscapes, its geometrically stunning entrance, and an underbelly so well-designed that it’s impressive even when it’s the first thing you see of the building.

Audain, founder of Polygon Homes, a major player in the B.C. real-estate world, created the $40-million museum to provide a home for the extensive collection of B.C. art he and his wife had collected over the years. Much of the art is indigenous – both old and modern -- but one section is devoted to Emily Carr, and there is a fine selection of E.J. Hughes’ work, as well as a room of more modernist work by Jack Shadbolt and Bill Reid and huge photos by artists like Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas.

I came away from the tour – part of the "Arts, Criticism and the City" course I’m taking at Simon Fraser University – with stunning visual memories of brightly coloured paintings; solemn ancient masks, a wall-size screen alive with indigenous carving. But when our class gathered after the tour, our professor expected us to think beyond the impressive surfaces. And so we asked about the viability of a big-city-quality museum in a resort town with a permanent population of 10,000; who will pay its operating costs now that it’s been built, and what First Nations people think about their masks and other artifacts ending up in the museum.

Chief curator Darrin Martens, who conducted the tour, handled our questions like a pro. But there are course papers to be written, and I expect these issues will be as much a part of them as the fabulous creation Audain has slipped into Whistler.

This painting, Clearcut to the Last Old Growth Tree,  by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, caught my attention with its brilliant colours.

And here we are in the Emily Carr section,  busily taking notes and texting away.

Chief curator Darrin Martens talks about Jack Shadbolt's six-panel painting, Butterfly Transformation Theme, 1981. 

The class gets a look at Greg Girard's Shanghai View 4.

This was one of the more modern works, called Guitar # 5. It's a collage of guitar-related photos from the internet.

I don't know what the vaguely map-like work behind me is all about, but it's called Ploy, by Graham Gilmore.

And here we all are, near the end of the tour, which concludes with modern works. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Andre's owls

My friend Andre captured this photo of an owl during his annual bird-banding trip to the prairies. The photo was taken between Kyle and Swift Current in southern Saskatchewan.

I know my friend Andre mainly as a Virginia Woolf aficionado, but every year he turns into someone else entirely. He drops his books and papers and joins a band of raptor enthusiasts attempting to ensure the birds’ survival in the Canadian prairies.

They find nests of owls and other raptors and band the birds (not easy) so they can be tracked.  The hope is that the resulting information will help preserve them in a landscape that is rapidly changing in the service of the industrialization of agriculture. Hills, sloughs, and bushes – everything raptors need for survival -- are being eliminated so computer-controlled machinery can make maximum use of every inch of territory.

But there’s enough of the landscape left that Andre, who grew up on the West Coast, returned from this year’s trip to Saskatchewan marveling at the beauty of the prairies. “It is just too bad the camera can't capture the sky and the wind and the vastness of the horizon,” he wrote when he sent me his photos from the trip, knowing I am a prairie native. “It also fails when trying to record the beauty and variety of the coulees.  So many breathtaking sights.”

Raptors are often found around deserted homesteads like this one. What a wonderful family home this would have been!

Another old house, with one of the bird-banders in the doorway.

Andre's son Sam with one of the more than 70 birds that were banded on the trip.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The back-yard dream

When John and I were planning to buy a place together in the mid-1970s, at one point he raised the possibility of a condo. To me, it was unthinkable. Farm girl that I am, space, privacy and greenery were what I wanted: a house with a yard was the only real estate for me.

We all know that it’s a different universe now for young working people in super-expensive cities like Vancouver and Toronto, where affordable detached homes reasonably close to downtown are only a dream. But a couple of stories this week made me think about how intensely (some) people still long for their own outdoor space, and how that conflicts with today’s received wisdom that they should just get over the idea.

“Canadians need to replace backyards with balconies,” is the headline on a May 20 Globe and Mail column by Doug Saunders, who notes that while apartment living is the accepted norm in Europe, “Canada suffers, almost uniquely in the world, from a priggish middle-class animus against homes in the air.” Condos are greener, cheaper and provide the density needed for transit, he says, and “we need to apartmentize ourselves a lot faster. . . .We need to welcome a generation of condo kids.”

But in “A goodbye to Vancouver,” published May 17 in The Georgia Straight,  theatre artist Emelia Symington Fedy says she’s made the heartbreaking decision to leave for Halifax. While she’s earned success in her tough field in Vancouver and loves the city, daycare costs of $2,500 a month for her two toddlers, a dicey rental situation and ever-increasing prices are driving her family out.

She doesn’t expect to own a house in Vancouver, eat out or buy new clothes, she says, but she’s adamant about one thing. “All I want is my kids to have a back yard. And for that, I have to move across the country and begin again.”

Later, in response to a question in the comments section about her desire to own property as opposed to co-housing or other arrangements, she says: “I think we all deserve some green space. I’d be happy to share it with as many people who wanted in, just to plant a small garden, or to dig in the dirt. My kids need that.”

I'm aware that it’s my background talking, but if I was a kid, I know which place I’d choose for my games of  hide-and-seek. And it’s not an apartment balcony.


Globe article:

Georgia Straight article:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Purple mystery

I've been noticing trees like this around town lately and wondering what they are. After seeing this beauty in a little park by the Burrard bridge on Saturday, I'm determined to find a name for it. 
My friend Ros, visiting from Mexico, gives the mystery tree a good sniff. She says it "smells purple." 
A close-up of the blossoms, which look like they'd have lots of nectar. The starlings and bees were having a good time on it in Saturday's sunshine.

As the seasons come and go every year, I learn certain plant names and recite them confidently as long as the plants are front and centre. Some names I retain from year to year (Alchemilla Mollis, or Lady’s Mantle, seems to stick), but others (Aquilegia, or columbine) vanish as quickly as the blooms. 

I’m pretty sure I once knew the name of a spectacular tree with wisteria-like purple-blue flowers that I saw last week by the Kitsilano swimming pool, but I couldn’t retrieve it. I was willing to let it slip, but during a walk with my friend Ros in a little park east of the Burrard bridge on Saturday, I spotted another. It was a stunning tree, a dance of delicate blue against the concrete bridge structure, all the more beautiful because it stood in a semi-wild field of white blossoms.

A tree like that deserves to have a name, especially since the starlings were having a ball in it, the bees were hovering, and Ros discovered it has a lovely scent. “Like Juicy Fruit,” she said, sniffing. “It smells purple.”

Unfortunately, it’s not common enough to be in my usual Internet search sites or even in my Vancouver Tree Book. I tried hard to make it into a purple robe locust, but the pods are wrong.  I’ll keep looking, and when I find it, I’ll add the name to this blog. It will come in handy for when I forget it next year.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Tulips take over at Ambleside

Tulips and pedestrians have taken over from cars on the new Spirit Trail at Ambleside park in West Vancouver. What could be wrong with that? Photo by John. 
A close-up of the planters, which looked sad and grey last winter when they were empty.

I am the last person to champion cars, and boats, well, I don’t have a particular feeling for them either. But West Vancouver’s new Ambleside waterfront plan has me wondering whether that city might be going a bit, ahem, overboard.

Argyle Avenue – the road dividing the railway tracks and the waterfront park – is being closed to cars between 13th and 14th and 16th and 18th; a number of parking spots are being removed, and the public boat launch on Ambleside beach is no more.

Instead of cars, a row of planters bursting with purple tulips now meanders down Argyle (renamed the “Spirit Trail”) between 13th and 14th, dividing bicyclists and pedestrians. On Thursday, when John and I walked the trail, it was pleasant and pretty, but we wondered about how the many changes being made to the park will affect its accessibility. 

With reduced parking, located farther away, the less-mobile will have a harder time getting to parts of the park. Those who drive will have to fight for parking spaces. Those wanting to launch boats are out of luck. John and I saw a car with a boat-trailer and boat attached circling the area hopelessly – obviously someone hadn’t kept up with the park “improvements.”

But expensive new condos are being added to those already lining the waterfront, and the beautifully redone park will be right at their front door. I expect the residents of all those buildings will enjoy it very much.

Some tulips that aren't displacing traffic: these are outside the Ferry Building art gallery, which always has beautiful  flower displays.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Being harsh

The best story I know about criticism happened in my early journalism days, when there was still a touch of The Front Page about The Vancouver Sun newsroom. In comes Jake Vander Kamp for his first day as a reporter at a big-city daily. Assigned a desk, he is approached by reporter Wyng Chow, who tells him to call on him and his long experience should he need any help.

Then a black-bearded, scowling character stands up at the nearby city desk and scouts the room. “Chow!” he barks. “Get over here!” Wyng goes, and Jake watches in some trepidation as the fierce man– whom he later comes to know well as legendary city desker John Olding – berates Wyng loudly and vociferously over the inadequacy of a story. Jake is astonished when the tirade ends with black-beard screwing Wyng’s story up into a ball and stomping on it.

Now that’s criticism!

I thought of that scene this week during a class discussion on criticism, part of the “Arts, Criticism and the City” course I’m taking at Simon Fraser University. Some of my classmates are leery of the “critical” part of criticism, it seems, not wanting to break the hearts of artists who have a tough enough time already. Critic Jerry Wasserman’s description of one play as a “smart, fascinating mess,” for example, was deemed too negative.

Things got a lot gentler in The Sun newsroom as the years went by, and I must have been affected. When it came time to write my own review for the class, I chose a play I liked rather than one I didn’t, even though it would have been more fun to go negative. Even for an old journalist, it seems, stomping has become a bit harsh.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Culture queen

Susan Point's "Spindle Whorl" exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery isn't part of the university course I'm taking about arts in Vancouver, but in the spirit of  paying more attention to the culture around me, I  took a look. It's very beautifully done. Photo by John.

I wondered why John chose this spot for a photograph. But it's a "point" at the Point show. Only a photographer would think like that! 

For someone who lives in a city well supplied with music, cinema, theatre and visual art of all kinds, I am a slacker. My friend Linda dragged me to two movies in the last few months, but I have gone whole years without setting foot in a cinema. John and I used to like seeing plays in small theatres, but we fell out of the habit years ago. Music? Nah. Art galleries? The occasional whip through a photo show with John, and every once in a long while, the Vancouver Art Gallery – usually disappointing.

I blame it all on years of working the night shift; I learned long ago to tune out the arts scene because I couldn’t go anyway. My habits were set by the time I retired and nothing changed.

But everything is different now. Thanks to the Simon Fraser University course I’m taking (Arts, Criticism and the City), I have been to two (2)!! plays in the last couple of weeks. I have heard lectures from theatre critic Jerry Wasserman and local playwright Peter Dickinson, and on Monday I’ll be at a “contemporary piano concert” by Peter Czink.  Getting into the swing of things on my own, I recently saw Susan Point’s “Spindle Whorl” show at the Vancouver Art Gallery with John, and on Friday, I dragged John and two friends to the DOXA Documentary Film Festival to see Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, about my city-activist hero Jane Jacobs.

Still ahead in my SFU course are modern dance, fine art, a trip to the Audain Art Museum in Whistler and much, much more. By the time this is over, I may be running in a new groove altogether. Can you say Culture Queen?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Family, garden

Our bright pink azalea is always a show-stopper at this time of year. I'm glad my sister-in-law Wendy got a chance to share it with me. Left to right: azalea, me, Wendy. Photo by John.

 My brother Brian and his wife Wendy are the easiest of guests. They don't need a bed, food or even a bathroom because it's all part of the very fine motor home they park outside our house when they visit from Red Deer. En route to Vancouver Island this week, they stayed long enough for a visit and tour around my spring garden. The weather doesn't look too promising for the island-hopping trip they're hoping to make, but Wendy loved what greeted her when she opened the motor-home door in the morning. "The air," she said. Compared to Alberta, "it's just so warm!"

I supervise on the front boulevard while my brother Brian and his wife Wendy prepare to hit the road in their motor home.  Photo by John.

Before they left, we had time to tour the garden and smell the lilacs by the back door.

The white azaleas by the front steps are in bloom now, but the star magnolia in the background is nearly over.

Trapped by Solomon's Seal, this lone pink tulip popped up from somewhere in my back garden.

A bouquet of lilacs from the bush out back brings a touch of spring into the house.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Planting time

I have a bad habit of buying plants and letting them sit for a long time before actually planting them. After a bad experience last fall, I vowed I'd get these new plants in right away after I bought them Sunday.
John  photographed me many hours later, in the front garden. Things didn't go quite as I'd hoped.

It’s always fun to go into a garden centre and buy lovely plants. The problem – for me at least – is getting them into the ground.  Last fall, when I bought my spring bulbs, which should have been planted immediately, I was in the middle of a university course. By the time I was ready to tackle them, it was snowing. And snowing. And freezing. For months, the window that allows West Coasters to cheat on normal gardening practices never opened. It was March before I finally dug those bulbs – some should have been blooming by then – into the ground. The squirrels must have been waiting all winter for this great event, because they promptly dug them up and ate them.

So when I brought this summer’s plants home on Sunday, I immediately put on my grubby gardening gear and headed into the garden. Alas, it’s not that simple. Months of spring rain combined with recent sunshine have encouraged a fine crop of weeds, all of which must be cleared before anything can be planted. Half a big garbage container of debris later, my determination that it would be different this time was fading. As evening fell, I was about half done. I set the remaining plants in a safe place and promised I’d be back soon. I don’t want to be planting them this fall, when those spring bulbs should be going in.

 I bought a lot of delphiniums, and 10 new bamboo stakes to hold them up when they get bigger, 

A closer look at my purchases. The white daisy-looking thing is an osteopernum, which will go in one of my few sunny spots. There are also some New Guinea impatients, a little pink rose, petunias, and a lot of  basket--fillers. The baskets didn't get filled on Sunday.  

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Glades

For years,  Linda has wanted to show off her favourite garden, The Glades in south Surrey, to her former co-workers. On Friday, we finally made it. Left to right, Mariken, Karenn, Linda and Cheryl. (I'm taking the photo!)

Even though The Glades -- with 10 acres, going up to 15 -- is tiny compared to the 55-acre VanDusen Garden in Vancouver, it has many similar features.  Such as a water course with fountains.

Karenn looks out over banks of rhododendrons. The garden has over 1,600 mature rhododendrons, azaleas and companion plants. It was begun in 1956 by Lydia and Murray Stephen, who bought five acres of rough land and began creating a rhododendron garden. 

Over the years, my ex-colleague Linda has often mentioned a garden in south Surrey owned by friends of a friend. And every time she does, a look comes into her eyes signaling that this is no ordinary garden; this one is magical.

Some kind of colourful wonderland in deepest, darkest Surrey, I always imagined. Given its location near the U.S. border and the fact that it’s open to the public only occasionally, I didn’t pursue details.

But Linda was determined to share her special place with a group of former colleagues, and on Friday, there we were in the rain, booted and umbrellaed, trekking down the trails of the garden known as The Glades. As a gardener who has often fantasized impossible gardens, I understood immediately what makes it special.

 Imagine having a huge wild back yard, with woods and water galore, then being able to organize it and add everything to it you ever dreamed of. All your favourite trees. Layers upon layers of rhododendrons of all colours. A water course with fountains spouting along its length. Statues. A curved bridge. A waterfall tumbling down rocks into a fern-surrounded pool. A stand of giant red cedars. A field of ferns. A bank of red trilliums. All impeccably groomed and maintained.

There’s more to the garden than its contents, of course. Linda has watched it evolve for years, along with a dear friend, an avid gardener who lived nearby and knew the owners. The friend has died, but Linda’s connection with the garden remains. She had to take a second look at a view spot called the ridge before we left on Friday. And when we drove past the garden once again on our way back to Vancouver, she called out to it: “Goodbye, Glades!” she said.

A bank of red trilliums greets visitors at the start of the tour.

A curved bridge, just like we'd all like in our own gardens.

A Japanese maple with pink leaves -- no, those are not blossoms. There is a pink rhododendron underneath.
The Glades is called a woodland garden; scenes like this show why.

This is a western red cedar, known in the garden as the Bent Tree, for obvious reasons.

A waterfall, a pond, a statue.

A chat about an addition to the garden between Elfrieda DeWolf and Linda. (Left to right, Mariken, Cheryl, Elfrieda and Linda.) Elfrieda and her husband Jim DeWolf bought the garden in 1994, which had declined after its previous owner died in 1970. The DeWolfs gifted the garden to city of Surrey in 2002, but they continue to live there and are active in its operation.

This is the new area that is the subject of the chat.

Statues like this are scattered throughout the garden.

Linda with umbrella and maple, with its fresh new leaves. 

The ridge area at the high spot of the garden. Walk down this lawn between the rhodos and look out on even more rhodos.