Friday, June 30, 2017

Flowers for Monet

Last year, when I started blogging, I joyfully posted photos of the wave after wave of blossoms I revel in every spring. This year, I was deeply involved in a university course at the height of the flower season, and the blog receded into the background. But I was still going on walks, the flowers were still blooming, and I was still recording some of the more impressive displays. After seeing the flower-filled Monet exhibition this week, I went back to those pictures, thinking about how he would have painted them.

Monet and his fellow Impressionists scandalized the French art world by leaving the studio and going outside to paint what they found there. Their paintings were fleeting impressions of colour and light, bright, vibrant, and lacking detail. Critics said their work was just sketches, unfinished. “Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape,” a reviewer wrote of an early Monet painting. But the public soon came around to the fresh new style, and it’s now accepted as just one of many ways artists portray the world. 

Here are some of the spring blossoms I would have liked Monet to have a go at:

Lilacs outside my window. A sea of purple and green. 

Poppies in a side yard. Bright pops of orange in a feathery field.

My tied-up delphiniums; I think he would have liked the vivid colours.
A fence laden with white clematis.

A front garden jam-packed with red and yellow tulips.

A white rhodo looks fresh and bright in its bed of green leaves.

The laburnum walk at VanDusen Botanical Garden is an obvious Monet painting.

A sweep of blue irises in my garden.

The beauty bush is a bouquet of pink above the boxwood hedge.

A little bunch of tulips strategically placed at a fence corner.

Bluebells are a carpet under a tree at VanDusen.

Mock orange outside my window.

The last of the big blue irises in my garden.

A magnolia tree dwarfs the front of this house.

Purple petunias in my garden planter.

Monet and me

John photographs me photographing one of Claude Monet's water lily paintings. The Monet exhibition on now at the Vancouver Art Gallery reminds me of my own visit to the artist's garden in France many years ago.

Along with Monet's paintings are a number of current photographs of his gardens at Giverny. Take away the Impressionism, and the gardens are beautiful, but far more down-to-earth than their artistic portrayals. 

The water lilies as they appear in a photograph.

And as the artist saw them. Quite a difference! 

I fell in love with Claude Monet and all thing Impressionist back in the 1980s, when I was getting into gardening. Just as I was memorizing plant names and building my own garden, I learned about the wonderful landscape Monet had created for himself in Giverny, France, and used as a subject for much of his best work. It was a highlight of the travel I was doing at about that time to visit his garden and see with my own eyes his lily ponds, his wisteria-laden green Chinese bridge, his pink and green house.

In real life, nothing was as idealized as his paintings – the nitty-gritty of gardening involves wheelbarrows, hoses and past-it plants that just need cutting back. I thought about both the beauty and reality of gardening as John and I visited the Monet exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday.  My own garden has gone through its first flush of spring beauty, and now there are roses and peonies to deadhead, annuals to keep alive and delphiniums to stake. It’s good to remember that even the greatest of artists had to hop over hoses and see past the gaps in his own garden to make paintings of pure beauty.

Monet's roses.

And, just for fun, my roses, now getting past their prime. I wonder how Monet would have painted them?

Or my delphiniums? He probably would have left out the stakes that prop them up.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two men, a motorcycle

Even though John has given up motorcycles for bicycles, he can't help checking them out. Here he is, surveying a  Suzuki in the parking lot of the Galileo Coffee Company at Britannia Beach on his birthday Tuesday. Behind him is his pickup truck.

The well-loaded motorcycle awaits its owner; John has tracked him down for a chat under the red umbrellas.

John starts off the conversation by asking about the kind of shocks on the Suzuki; he knows they aren't original.
Motorcyclists love to chat. The owner, Murray, and John deep in conversation.

Murray insists that John have a seat on his bike.  

John gave up dirt-bike racing 10 years ago, when falls “started hurting too much.” But after his years of racing, plus commuting to work on a street bike, it’s a rare motorcycle he can pass without casting a connoisseur’s eye over it.

So it’s no surprise that after his birthday lunch at our favourite coffee shop at Britannia Beach on Tuesday, he heads straight for the motorcycle that has parked near our truck in the interim. After surveying it for a few minutes, he turns to the man in motorcycle gear drinking his coffee nearby, and asks: “That’s not the original shock, is it?” The owner blinks; you can see the wheels turning. “Do you know about Suzukis?” he asks. A couple of exchanges later and they’re off  – launched into a blizzard of insider motorcycle talk: Suzukis, Hondas, shocks, engines, gas tanks, maintenance, prices, biking experiences good and bad. At one point, John’s new friend insists he sit on the bike to see how it feels (heavy).

Turns out Murray is a motorcycle mechanic with a penchant for decommissioned forestry roads around the Stawamus Chief in the Squamish area. He rides roads that have hollowed out and turned into dry creekbeds, with rocks the size of boulders. Heading from Squamish to Indian Arm, he’s been stopped twice this spring by snow.

The thing about Murray, a smallish, neat man likely in his late 40s or early 50s, is that he rides alone. Even though bikes fall over, and ones loaded like his, with extra gear and gas, can weigh about 400 pounds. He admits it’s dangerous. He’s already had to lift the bike himself once, “even though one person really can’t do that. I hurt myself.” But he likes to choose his own paths, “and what if the other person doesn’t want to go that way?” Or wants to back out when the boulders get really big? “Yeah,” says John, his eyes lighting up, “just when it starts getting fun!”

As the conversation draws to a close, we get around to the fact that it’s John’s birthday. “May I ask,” says Murray, who has a cultivated, almost European air, “how old you are?” When John says he’s 72, the younger man beams. “That’s great,” he says. “You’re giving me something to look forward to!”

John dismounting. Luckily, the bike doesn't fall over. It would take two of them to pick it up.

Murray shows John pictures of the old forestry road where he likes to ride; it's full of boulders.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A treatful day

A good conversation about literature and a walk in the sunshine with a friend are two of my ingredients for a perfect day.  Here is  my very literary friend Andre with a batch of peonies that begged to be photographed.
Later,  my friend Ros and I shared dessert, an essential part of a truly great day. Ros said it was the best chocolate cake she had ever eaten.

That cake. The green swirls on the plate are pistachio sauce. The white section in the middle is a marvelous light coconut something.

The program for the play Ros and I saw in the evening at the  Pacific Theatre on Granville, about two feuding Irish farm families. What a cultured day!

Everybody has their own recipe for what makes up a perfect day, but mine would have to include friends, food, literature and nature. Friday was one of those days for me.

Over a coffee on Main Street, my Simon Fraser University friend Andre read me the excellent paper he will be presenting to a conference in England on George Meredith’s influence on Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and we talked Meredith, Woolf and Annie Dilliard. When we left the coffee shop, the mid-spring flowers were bursting with colour, as if they could hardly restrain themselves, in all the gardens along the way.

Later, my friend Ros and I shared tacos and an amazing grilled avocado at the Heirloom vegetarian restaurant on Granville, along with a double-layer chocolate cake. It was, said Ros, the best chocolate cake she had ever had.

Then to the nearby Pacific Theatre, where it was back to literature with a tightly professional version of Outside Mullingar, a sad-funny rural-Irish play written by Moonstruck and Doubt playwright John Patrick Shanley. We laughed, I cried – it doesn’t take much – and we emerged, subtly transformed, into a gentle June evening.

I will remember Andre and Meredith; Ros and chocolate cake, and a blaze of peonies and irises in the sunshine. Friends, stories, food and flowers -- my version of  the best kind of day.

On a sunny day like Friday, these blue irises were positively glowing, a little raft of blue in a sea of green.
A closer look at those peonies. 

I'm not sure what the rhubarb-like leaves are, but they're a nice contrast to the purple alliums that lined this front garden.

The alliums. I love them, but each bulb costs a whack, and it's hard to persuade myself to buy enough to make an effective display. Obviously this gardener thinks they're worth it.