Monday, October 22, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: A Long Loop

In Gastown.

So this was the route today ... and having listed the facts, I will try to write less sequentially and more experientially ... from Sophie's for breakfast on 4th Avenue to Seymour and Hastings downtown, walk through Gastown, skirting skid row, all the way up and back in Chinatown, then down Pender to the Skytrain which I took to Simon Fraser University, after which I returned via a brief stop in New Westminster, got off the the train at Broadway and Commercial, took the bus until I got sick of it and then walked back to Kits via Broadway and then 4th. If you know Vancouver, you will realize that this is quite a haul, a giant loop.

Frobisher said at dinner tonight ... which we had in a Chinese noodle shop on Broadway near Ash where the noodles are handmade as you watch ... that Vancouver was re-invented as a city pretty much overnight sometime in 1983 ... I paraphrase. This relates to what I have called the old Vancouver and the new, spaceship Vancouver. Most of where I went today was viscerally like it was when I lived here in the 70s, albeit surrounded by the looming towers of spaceship Vancouver. (I am not against spaceship Vancouver ... I think it would be hard to find a city that has done the spaceship trip as successfully as Vancouver ... but it not what a nostalgic returnee focuses on.) Gastown is like it used to be ... always dressing for dinner, never quite making it to the table. The Europe Hotel still seems to be a down and out place ... it is an Ironstone-type building at the head of Gastown. In ca 1975, my friend Robin took the topd (sixth) floor room at the prow of the building, and he painted it and made it elegant notwithstanding that he had to carry the new paint in over the recumbent bodies of various passed out drunks.

The steam clock still steams, and the statue of Gassy Jack still presides. The Mews are under construction again, and there is no shortage of predictable Canada souvenirs or vastly overpriced native crafts ... I suppose the artists don't think that they are overpriced, but they'd sell 5 times as many if they halved the cost. I don't even go in to those places at this point because there is nothing but shopper sadness. I prefer to look at the good stuff in museums where it is not for sale.

The boundary between Gastown and skid row is as fine as ever. Ghoulish street people travel by twos and threes ... vaguely threatening. Lots and lots of native people, and lots of native references in signage and institutions. I know of no enclave of successful native people, but which I mean that the successful are dispersed while the unsuccessful are concentrated. It seems very sad. Vancouver's skid row has long been a trope in Canadian life, and the trope still matches the reality. Remember, this is the place where the pig farmer preyed upon and murdered dozens of prostitutes for years and nobody wanted to notice ... serial killing seems so bloody American.

Chinatown by my inexpert observation seems less integrated into the supervening locality than its match in San Francisco. I hear virtually no English spoken by apparently Chinese people as I wandered about. I also noted my almost total invisibility ... it is a mark of the non-acculturated Chinese immigrants that they can completely ignore anyone non-Chinese ... my friend and host AW, of Chinese background, affirms my observation. I remember shopping in Chinatown in the 70s ... it seems so unchanged.

I spent a few moments and a double espresso in what used to be the Vancouver Vocational Institute, now Vancouver Community College ... I hold a certificate in Graphic Arts from there. The interior is unrecognizable. I thought of my dear Dodge who is out of town ... we spent two fun filled years in the basement of this place learning the printing trade. Dodge ... I dont even think they have a printing program any more. We should mount an outraged alum protest ... Bring back the dying trades NOW!

And then a half an hour in MacLeod's Books, one of my favorite bookstores then, and now again now.

MacLeod's Books

I gotta bag it ... just exhausted ... have a lunch at noon at the Emily Carr School of Fine Arts, so I think I have a little time in the morning to finish this.

Photos by Arod.


Anonymous said...

I really dig your relections on these parts of Vancouver. I recently was in Van, the car broke down, and I was forced to take the 14 Hastings bus downtown, past almosy all these same landmarks.

Some of my fave Vancouver images are the massive orange cranes that stand up before Burrard Inlet, just east of Roger's Sugar. I love seeing them in front of the North Shore mountains, reminding us that Vancouver is a post city, and for all its newness (spaceshipness) not as sophisticated as other Can cities, like TO. But that's why I like Van.

Shelley Ross said...

Hi Arod

I'm interested in using your photo of MacLeod's Books on my block. Can I do so? I'll give you credit, if you like?

Shelley in Vancouver