Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lightening and Fire

If you missed the Vancouver Symphony of Fire last night, (July 25th, 2009), you missed the best ones ever. I say this as a West End resident and fireworks refuse-nik who, at best, thinks they are all the same, and at worst just wants all the white trash to leave my neighbourhood and go back to Maple Ridge.

Last night was special, the most beautiful evening that I have ever witnessed in this gorgeous city. There was a strange, ironic comparison between the two shows in the sky; the crude, militaristic, man-made explosions and the altogether more impressive arcs of lightening illuminating the sun-lit, stormy clouds. The fireworks themselves were, at best, ancillary; a man made cherry on a sublime, act-of-god, weather-created light show.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Cold Sun of Spring

It's kind of wrong to complain about Vancouver, especially coming back from less fortunate places abroad. That said, I'm going to do just that. Despite it having been a lovely spring, there is a kind of coldness that hasn't gone away, even on days when its been 't-shirt warm'.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What a Difference the Weather Can Make

Often it's not just the place that leaves the strongest impression, but the circumstances under which one is there. Case-in-point: my trip to London England last week. The previous times I've been to London UK have been short stops en route to the continent, and have been during inclement (i.e. typically English) weather. My impression had been of a big, dreary, grey, expensive, complex city heaving under the weight of 18 million ugly, slightly boorish folk with bad teeth. A few weeks I found myself back in London on business with a client. The weather was spectacular and we stayed in a very decent location close to the West End. The weather was lovely and we had some time to explore and enjoy the city. My opinion has completely changed and I think London and its inhabitants are quite lovely.

A few myths to dispel;

1) The English are for the most part neither ugly nor unhealthy. The streets were filled with joggers and the women are among the most beautiful anywhere. Furthermore, they are incredibly well dressed, dapper yet distinctly individual, lacking any of the self conscious pretentiousness of North American hipster fashion.

2) The food was great. Well, most of it was. The French, Thai, Indian, and Italian food I had was delicious and made of good fresh ingredients. I did have haddock and chips, the only 'traditional' English food I ate, and it made me feel disgustingly heavy and greasy.

3) London isn't a 'hard' city. This is a bit of an ephemeral point, but I'll try to explain. Places like New York and Chicago, despite their charms, can just wear you down with their throbbing noise, thronging crowds, and complexes of walls pushing down on you at all times. I love NYC, but it makes me feel like a rat in a giant warren. By contrast, every street in London felt exciting, and open, and accessible. You have to be careful crossing the street, but the tube, though slow, is very easy to figure out and to navigate. The city doesn't stink as bad as I remember. And most of all, the English are polite, like Canadians, and don't seem to hate your presence.

4) Despite looking, I saw not a single set of bad teeth.

My impression over all is that the English have come to peace with the decision to share their excellent city and the bounties of their civilization, with others. I never felt that edgy attitude that one get's off New Yorkers which says "I had to fucking work to get here, who the hell are you and what are you doing here"?

London is a big, dense city, filled with things to do and see. I think a wise visitor doesn't bring a list of things that they must see and then trek around the city trying to see them all. Rather, find a good place to stay in an interesting part of the city and visit the cool things that are nearby on foot. There will inevitably be several. We went to two: the temple Church, home of the Knights Templar, and the Royal College of Surgeons Hunterian Museum. Both were fascinating. I couldn't take photos at the latter, but the ever-polite museum staff had no problem with me carry my camera around. None of this "you can't bring that in here" stuff you'd get in most places.

The mere act of walking around the West End, from pub to pub, was a lot of fun, and yielded plenty of interesting sights. I'm not really much of a tourist, I never try to catch the 'places of interest' when I go somewhere. I like to just walk around and run into whatever I can. London was a delight, and almost the perfect city in that respect. Every which way I turned that was something interesting to find. I look forward to going back.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Frigid Climes

Driving up to the Okanagan to visit my Moms and my Dads. As I wind my way along the Crowsnest highway that passess through Manning Park on the way to Princeton, I am struck by how dead and frigid the place feels. The mountains are dunn grey rock, interspersed with sprinkles of snow amid a patchy carpet of mostly dead pines, the quiet victims of the beetle, the occasional live trees stand in dull green contrast to their company. I used to think this area so alive, a hallowed alpine terrarium bristling with life. The windblown barrens around me are a chilling contrast to my errant recollection.

Is my impression wrong, or misread? Am I still culture shocked, erroniously comparing a hibernating northern forest that is months short of exploding with vitality to the eternally frantic and vibrant life of the equatorial land that I left weeks ago? Is my fresh memory of Uganda distorting my impression of these mountains and forests I love so much?

If you've never been to a tropical climate it's very hard to describe how much more alive they are than the temperate zones. There is no winter to halt the pace of the cycle of life, nothing to pause the onrushing cacaohony of growth. No patch of the rich, red soil exposed to the raw equatorial sun sits fallow for long before some opportunistic seed springs from it. And the skies are teeming with throngs of seemingly prehistoric avians chasing each other and diving to the rich ground below for food. By comparison, Manning Park felt like a deadzone.

Early this week Madlove dropped by and commandeered my computer to show me google earth close-ups of the interior of BC. Far from the densely forested mountainscape I expected, he displayed a twisted patchwork of barren clear cuts interspersed with new growth and some lucky stands of older timber that had so far avoided the axe and the beetle. It was as though a drunk had tried to shave his beard during an earthquake and only managed intermittent success. To be sure, BC is no longer a land of tall, vast, strong forests continuously blanketing the majestic mountains off into the distance (if indeed it ever was in my lifetime), the beetle, the fires, and the provincial Liberals have banished that place to my childhood memories. Perhaps the life is being scraped away from the surface of here, revealing this arid waste.

Down from the Similkameen Valley into the Okanagan I am impacted by the somber grey austerity of the hills and jutting rocks in their winter repose. The scattered trees on the heights and the well manicured skeletons of the vinyards on the slim shelves above the lakes do nothing to relieve the impession of lifelessness. My brain knows that in just a few weeks this place will brim with green, the trees will bulge with fruit, and the empty skies will be streaked with birds, their sounds carrying on warm sunshine breezes, but right now it feels like a wind raked moonscape.

Dad and I play crib by the wood stove then venture out to inspect some construction on his property. On the deck of the unfinshed stacked log structure, Dad and I quietly survey the valley around us. Though a wind blows howls across the rocks and through the tops of the remaining trees, it is still almost warm enough to forgo a jacket for a sweater. Spring, the great banisher and savior of the colder climates, unknown in the tropics, will soon emerge into this land and will chance to prove or fail at it's rejuvination and temporary resurrection, at least until the cold grips it again.