Washington Drivers (written with love, respect, and a wink)

Sea-to-Sky Highway between Vancouver, Squamish, and WhistlerI drive to Squamish periodically, along the Sea-to-Sky highway, a superbly scenic winding road that wends its way along the northern side of the Howe Sound, seemingly precariously perched along steep fjord walls that rise above you several hundred metres to snow-capped peaks in the late fall through early spring, and fall sharply below you into the deep, always dark waters of the Sound. My grandmother affectionately says that the Sea-to-Sky highway reminds her of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, which is arguably a jewel as one of Europe’s most scenic routes.

For those living in Squamish, the Sea-to-Sky makes for an always spectacular commute, rain, snow, or shine. You quickly get used to the twists and turns of the snake-like road, which almost mesmerize you, and certainly I’ve had passengers in the car fall asleep as the car rocks back and forth with the sun shining down on them after a beer in the local in Squamish.

One thing mars the scene. It’s really more the fault of the road-makers than anything else, but in parts, when the highway was updated from a single lane in either direction, to two lanes, there are still parts of the Sea-to-Sky that narrow back down to a single lane in either direction. This narrowing makes for a frustrating drive if you end up behind a nervous driver who is traversing the track for the first time, not used to the continuous sharp s-curves. I do blame the engineers. They should have either punched their way through the rock and tunneled the highway in order to twin the lanes, or built the perch further out over the Sound. Expensive, I know, but would likely have helped to prevent the numerous accidents that inevitably claim a life or two every summer and winter; I’ve been stuck on the highway for two hours as a foolhardy motorcyclist had to be scraped off of the highway because of their reckless disregard for common sense (FYI to all motorcyclists: driving between two cars in order to overtake your sense of frustration will only result in you being scraped off of the pavement at some point).

But my peeve is not the narrowing of the two lanes into one, it’s our Washington cousins who sit in the left lane and go on the speed limit on the nose, hunched over the wheels, oblivious to the fact that half a dozen cars have overtaken then in the past two minutes. I have seen the signs in Washington: “slower traffic keep right, use left lane only to pass.” Why can’t they carry over this motor maxim up north?

I had some minor justification of God’s existence today, in this regard. A motorcyclist of the decent variety was stuck behind a Washington driver driving a behemoth of a dated white Cadillac, who was keeping pace with the vehicle next to them. Just around the Lions Bay, the motorcyclist finally had his opportunity to overtake the Washington fellow, but oddly enough kept pace with the Cadillac. I wondered what the heck he was doing. I realized that he was trying to get the Washington driver’s attention, and started to gesture for that driver to move over into the right, slow, lane. Super awesome. Message received. The Cadillac moved over.

Washington drivers: please, the left lane is the fast, or passing, lane – the right lane is the slow lane. It’s a beautiful winding road so if you want to really take it in slow, wonderful, just stick to that right lane. Our traffic rules in Canada are essentially the same. Just like the size of our change: our quarters are just like your quarters, and so forth. The same principle applies to traffic rules.

And in the meantime, I’ll just trail you and vent loudly to no one in particular.

An Urban Hike Through Vancouver

I set my heart on getting a dress at a store on the eastern fringes of Gastown, and had been meaning to go there for a few weeks. Yesterday, I had nothing better to do so decided that I’d roll in my daily exercise with the pursuit of a dress, and walk to the store. Round trip, it took my the better part of 4 hours, and just .25km shy of 20km. I live not too far from Lionsgate Bridge, so my route took me across the bridge, through Stanley Park, along the Coal Harbour portion of the Sea Wall, and into Gastown. I returned via Hastings, as far as I could go, then back along the Causeway, through Stanley Park, to Park Royal, and back home. It was a perfect day for walking, about 20 degrees, cloudy, and a nice breeze. It started to rain just as I left Park Royal, but it was warm enough and light enough not to bother me.

The following are some photos of things that I found interesting along the route, and am sharing the vignettes for your amusement (in order as they appeared along the walk):

confederate flag, Vancouver, Lionsgate Bridge

Confederate Flag Finds Safe Harbour in Vancouver

 

 

Taken from the Lionsgate Bridge, east side, north shore. The irony of the three flags, side by side, was lovely.

 

Canada Goose, Stanley Park

Walk like a goose

 

I caught this fellow goose-stepping (not in the SS sense) alongside that Canada goose. He’d stop when it stopped; start up when it would waddle its way forward. Lord only knows why, perhaps the goose made for a better walking companion than anyone else.

oil spill, Vancouver, Pride, Rainbow

Vancouver Rainbow Pride

 

 

Caught this rainbow of a different variety in Coal Harbour. Not quite the usual Vancouver pride.

comic-con, fascinator, cruise ship, Vancouver

Cruise Ship Creature At Large

 

 

 

I don’t usually take photos of eccentric people but this one was a comic-con candidate sans the comic-con. A daily outfit obviously, carefully put together. Loved the touch with the top hat fascinator.

 

 

 

 

Hastings, construction, facade, heritage, DTE

Heads

Hastings, construction, facade, heritage, DTE

Tails

This bit of construction caught my eye as you don’t get to see ‘old’ buildings much in Vancouver. I was appreciative of the fact that they were retaining the old facade as a nod to Vancouver’s heritage. I then caught the tail side of the same scene when I was going back home.

Vancouver, brick, back alley

Brick Alley Staple Of Every Major Metropolitan City

 

 

 

 

This could have been a back alley in London, save for the waste receptacle.

 

 

 

Lionsgate Bridge, Vancouver, First Narrows, tanker

Tanked Under Lionsgate

 

 

Caught a tanker going out, as I was crossing Lionsgate towards the North Shore.

 

Capilano River, Squamish First Nation, salmon fishing, weir

Salmon Fishing the First Nations Way: Weired and Wonderful

Capilano River, Squamish First Nation, salmon fishing, weir

Salmon Fishing the First Nations Way: Weired and Wonderful

Capilano River, Squamish First Nation, salmon fishing, weir

Salmon Fishing the First Nations Way: Weired and Wonderful (note the pool to the bottom left, used to store caught fish)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Capilano River, and the Squamish First Nation Reserve, are right next to Park Royal. I was delighted to see a member of the band fishing on Cap, using traditional rock weirs, just liked I’d seen displayed at the Royal BC Museum when I was a child. Glad that tradition lives on!

Last, but not least, beside the weired site, was this, a very cool collection of seagulls bathing and awaiting fish bits from an caught salmon. I loved the tonality of this photo, and there is something so joyous in seeing a bird bathe.

seagulls, Capilano River

Seagulls and Sea Stones

 

So there you have it, an urban hike complete with wildlife (actual and urban), history (modern), tradition (aboriginal), and current issues (consider the issue flagged!).

Vancouver: Then and Now

Four score and seven years ago,buntzen lake rainforest port moody
This land was filled with trees.
The deer‘s soft tread
Upon the path a pitter-patter lead,
And leaves came tumbling after.

Now this land is filled with streets.
The thud of boots clinks with iron cleats
And the clack of stiletto heels
Echoes in dark alleys and congeals
Amidst the shattered darkness.

PROSTITUTES

 

Tourists come to gawk alike at that what was and that what is:
Mountains, seas, and forests tall,
Climbing rocks, and scaling walls;
Ogling the improvident and impoverished
And secretly feeling better for being more polished.

Wrapping Up My Fringe

vancouver-fringe-festivalI had a long Saturday afternoon and evening, taking on three of the Fringe’s darker performances. I decided to be strategic I my selection, and chose plays located at the Cultch Theatre, and thus staggered Little One by Hannah Moscovitch, The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War by Matei Visniec, and Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

I was pleased with Moscovitch’s Little One. The play is narrated by Aaron, whose parents died under tragic circumstances as a young child, who was raised by his partially deaf aunt and, upon whose death in his early youth (probably around the age of twelve), was adopted by Mom and Dad. Adopted somewhat around the same time was his younger sister, Clare. Clare might not even be Clare’s name, as she was found abandoned in a derelict building. The happy family are living in a middle class nice Ottawa neighbourhood.

Aaron narrates from the perspective of an adult, a medical student, and the play flashes between the narration, which is set as a series of monologues, and scenes fluidly enacted from his narration. The acting is brilliant and mesmerizing, the text descriptive enough so that each scene is vividly imagined though the actual set is minimalist at best.

The performance wavers between comedic, as Aaron describes his sister’s psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies and how the family unit sacrifices all to try to help Clare normalize, to tragic, as the scenes where Clare appears are chilling.

Daniel Arnold does a superb job as Aaron, trying to be a good son to Mom and Dad, and a good brother to Clare: he gives up hockey and his social life to support Clare at home as everyone waits with bated breath to see if Clare can remember her name and stop stabbing herself with knives, how he tries to teach Clare how to deal with Aaron’s new kitten ‘Little One,’ and how tries to escape his stifled teenage years on a family camping trip by hanging out with the girl with the red coat.

You feel for Aaron, as he’s a good kid really trying to do best with a terrible situation that is clearly impacting his life, though his adopted parents seem oblivious to the fact of this.

Marisa Smith as Clare gives a superlative performance. Her blank look and ever present wide smile puts me to mind of the same blank looks that pit bulls have: nobody home; they’re simply, present.

One of the interesting subtexts of the play are Clare’s occasional monologues relating to a set of neighbours, Roger and Kim Lee. The little vignettes of the couple’s life, from when they met, to the first (and only) disastrous dinner with Aaron and Clare’s family, are eerie in the detached curiosity with which Clare describes the scenes. It is clear that she has been peeping in on the couple’s life, and you are led to wonder whether her fascination with the couple had anything to do with her suppressed past.

Little One is a fantastic play, and it was a privilege to be able to see such a stellar performance from both Arnold and Smith, and the highlight of the three plays that I saw.

The Body of a Woman as a Battlefield in the Bosnian War was a very sombre reflection on some of the horrors of the Bosnian war: the mass executions of Bosnian males in Srebrenica, and the subsequent exhumation of these mass graves by international organizations; and the use of rape as a system of terror against Bosnia women.

This play was particularly poignant for me as a I have a Bosnian friend who lived through the horrors of the Bosnia war when she was in her early teens. She shared how one day, when she was home alone, some Serbian soldiers had banged on the door of the home, and she let them in. They seemed to be looking for someone and left shortly thereafter, and when she told her mother of the experience, her mother was terrified that the soldiers might come back and either try to take my friend away to rape her, or to take away the males of the family.

The realities of the Bosnian war did not happen so long ago and out of our memory for us to forget these atrocities. The performances by Sinziana Corozel (as the victim of gang rape) and by Qelsey Zeeper (as the American psychologist who was working on the exhumations of the mass graves before suffering from PTSD) are excellent.

One thing I found a bit disjointing, and took away from the seriousness of the whole play, was an interlude where the two characters list off all the Balkan stereotypes while drinking wine. Perhaps this scene was meant to relieve some of the tension of the subject matter, but it only served to annoy.

Overall, a good play, a solid performance, and a good reminder that such atrocities still need to be fought.

Lastly, Macbeth. The director, Danielle Benzon, had put an interesting twist to this old classic, but opening the play in an asylum where Macbeth is awaiting execution for the murders of Duncan, Banquo, and MacDuff’s family. The play ends with the execution. Benzon does an amazing job of making the script fit this theme, without any major deviation from Shakespeare’s script, relative to both the text and the scenes. The other neat twist was making Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan’s sons in the original play, princesses instead of princes. The change works fabulously well, with a particularly strong performance from Kallie Jean Sorensen as Malcolm.

A nod must be given to the three witches, James Dolby, Julia Fox, and Madlen Scot, very primordial and thoroughly dissolute, and were ever present throughout the play as they took on the roles of Banquo’s and Lady MacDuff’s murderers, and asylum orderlies. I loved their costumes, make-up, and thoroughly delightful despicableness; I would not want to meet them on a dark night on the heath.

Thankfully, the night was young that Fringe Fest Saturday, and no witches abroad. It had been a great way to end my Fringe Fest experience, and I’m looking forward to the next.

Belated Review of Helen Lawrence

Chris Haddock and Stan Douglas turn Vancouver from an environmentally friendly flower child of the 2010s into a sultry, slightly used, and somewhat seedy whore of the 1940s in their play Helen Lawrence. Several stories are juxtaposed over a veterans’ SRO, ready for demolition in a few weeks, and a version of Blood Alley, brimming with prostitutes, gambling addicts, PTSD-suffering WWII veterans, small-time sleazes, bookies, and corrupt police officers.

Helen, the title character, appears in Vancouver looking to revenge herself on her former lover, who left her to take the heat for the murder of Helen’s wealthy California husband. She appears in the hotel, and using pure Hollywood sex appeal, impresses the bellboy, Joe-not-Julie-Anymore, and the general manager, Harry.

The former lover, Percy, lives in the hotel and uses it as a base for his bookie business, and for working with Buddy, the local sleaze business owner, to buy up the businesses in the alley area so that Buddy’s remains the only open beer garden in town. Buddy’s brother Henry, a WWII veteran, is Buddy’s main rival on the strip, and both are being played by the corrupt Chief of Police, Muldoon, and his sidekick Sergeant Perkins.

Aside from Helen and the ambiguous Joe, the other female characters are more secondary: from Buddy’s mistress, Mary, who is waiting to hear whether her Air Force husband is dead or alive; Rose, an alley prostitute and former Japanese internee, pining for a better life; and Eva, a German war bride with a PTSD-suffering gambling addict of a husband.

The superb script of staccatoed dialogue helps to create a fast-paced, tense atmosphere, punctuated by quick and precise one liners that occasionally give release to the tension through a bit of comic relief. The acting is gripping, with each actor putting their all into a very intense drama, and the very real tragedy of everyday life on the streets of mid-century Vancouver.

On that note, it must be remarked that the city itself is a character, giving rise to the darkness and despair in each of the character’s lives, trapped in their own personal narratives, through the crumbling brick, the dirt roads, the skewed wooden fences, and the slat sided Edwardian houses.

If not for Haddock’s excellent writing, the whole play could be overshadowed by the actual staging. Douglas very cleverly layers a live shoot of the whole play onto an opaque screen that traverses the entire stage, behind which are several cameras that the actors, when not on stage performing, operate for the various close-ups, angles, frames etc…

The actors are all standing in front of giant blue screens so that when they are performing, the audience can see the actor both on the stage and on the screen: the screen shot is shown in black and white, and provides a very engaging backdrop for the dingy, rundown hotel, and gritty alley, surrounded by wooden shacks.

It feels as though you are watching a play in three dimensions layered on top of the usual three dimensions of our lines of sight: the screen, the cameras, and the actual stage. It’s a brilliant use of space, and the lighting is likewise effectively used to sometimes fade out the screens and to focus on the actors on the stage for a particularly poignant moment. The layered staging certainly helps to draw in and completely immerse the audience in the multiple plots

By the end of the play, you can hardly believe that you’ve just watched a play for ninety minutes straight, with no intermission, just like a movie. And, due to some excellent acting and staging, you become so caught up in the action, that you almost forgot that you are watching a play.

Waiting for the Light to Change

A man emerged from out of the verdant shrubbery of Kitsilano’s carefully landscaped heritage homes, as I was driving up MacDonald, to get to UBC. He looked to be in his mid-thirties, and seemed to be homeless: dark, dusty clothes, patched in places; a worn, black pack slung over one shoulder;  and a guitar in a black sleeve, over the other. His left hand was holding the strap of the guitar case, adding a bit of extra weight to keep the guitar from slipping off of his shoulder. He wore a crumpled black fedora on his head, his long crinkled black hair tied back in a pony tail. It was sunny day, twenty degrees in the sun, and a pleasant spring breeze. Rather warm for all those layers.

A black figure, emerging from the bushes; a walking stereotype for the evening news after an assault occurs in the neighbourhood.

There was one oddity to him: in his right hand, he carried a bouquet of brightly coloured flowers.  He must have just picked them from some garden (or several) along his meanderings; the blossoms were still upright and lively.

He held the stems tightly, like a small child with a nosegay of dandelions, picked from along the dusty back alley, for their mother.

Ahead of me, at the corner of MacDonald and West 4th, standing by a chain link fence that surrounded a construction site (another aesthetic gentrification along that corridor), stood a young woman. She looked like one of the local university students. She stood beside a footstool-sized metal box, some plastic bags at her feet. She was waiting for something, looking into the intersection, yet the bus stop was around the fence from her, and there was nowhere for a car to stop to pick her up.

I watched out of the corner of my eye, as the man in tattered black slowed down his pace as he neared the girl. His right arm seemed to start to extend, the blossoms of his bouquet trembling ever so slightly at the movement. The girl turned to face him.

The light turned green. I did an extra long shoulder check to my right, for pedestrians, and to see if the gesture was completed.

The fence was the only thing in my sight, and the questioning numbness of a moment lost, the only sensation.

Vancouver Fog 2013