Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blogging Vancouver: Nostalgia in the Drizzle

The Warren G. Harding Memorial in Stanley Park

Headed out early in a steady cold drizzle ... just what I bargained for. I had breakfast at a fabulous breakfasterie on 4th Avenue, Sophie's Cosmic Café. Oodles of Canadian politesse accompanied by a menu that pointedly states that they do not take special requests ... the diner should constrain himself to choose from the ample menu provided. Regardless, I asked for a side of Chorizo and got it with a ready "of course." This was the one place on 4th Avenue that I could identify as reminiscent of Kitsilano's old function as the heartland of Canadian hippiedom late into the 70s. When I arrived in Vancouver in 1974, GATE (the Gay Alliance Toward Equality) was having its meetings at the Mental People's Association on Yew near 4th in Kits. My first boyfriend at the time, the "fan lady as Maurice called him, and Jamie Hart as I called him, lived in Kitsilano with a bunch of straight guys. Jamie was still pretending, not to very good effect, that he was straight. Once he came out, he drove the straight guys out. Jamie ended up on Toronto as a film costumer, but he too is gone.

The Burrard Street Bridge from English Bay Beach

After breakfast, back into the drizzle for a long ramble across the Burrard Bridge, along English Bay, down Denman Street, then into Stanley Park via Nelson Street, and around Stanley Park which I will describe below, before emerging on the north side, wandering through Coal Harbor, and then meandering back to Davie Street via Granville, and then home. On my feet for eight and a half hours, so one tuckered out ole fag here. Still, gotta get this written because Frobisher, his lover AW, and I are heading out for Greek food and an English movie shortly.

For me, a returnee after three decades living abroad, there are two Vancouvers now. There is the one that is still vaguely recognizable and there is a giant gleaming spaceship that has landed in the middle of the old town and, despite its evident dynamism, is utterly alien. I'll try to write more on how I see the new Vancouver on another occasion, but today is for the nostaliga.

English Bay Beach from the Burrard Street Bridge

Walking along English Bay on the south side of the West End is old Vancouver, essentially the same, a little cleaned up, a few more signs with annoying instructions. There are a lot of signs indicating that the maximum fine for not doing with your dog as the sign says is $2000. No one seemed to be paying a lot of attention. Lots of rainwear clad walkers, mostly middle aged. Not as many dogs as you might expect, and most of those were labs and a few huskies. People playing some sort of souped up soccer. The sound of tiny waves washing ashore. Birds crying and swooping. Very clean. I walked very slowly right along the shore, climbing gingerly over the boulders as necessary. It is not that I cannot readily vault over boulders, but I am much more loathe to risk the pain of a slip than I might have been 27 years ago when I lived here.

[sidebar ... I have a charming neighbor's cat interfering with my typing here at Frobisher's kitchen table. I am allergic to cats, but still love them, and I enjoy having a little bit of rare feline company. She likes to rub her gums on the edge of my laptop and parade across the keyboard.]

So the walk along English Bay was as leisurely and pleasurable as it has ever been. I had a little business to do on Denman Street, which is just like it always was only more so .... little shops, Greek restaurants ranging from take out to sit down, coffe here, there, and everywhere, little shops selling frivolities and paper products and obscure fashions. Lots of rainbow flags.

And Stanley Park was almost just like old times. Except that it has suffered a terrible calamity and lost hundreds of trees. I still know the park like the back of my hand and only got turned around once today, while looking for the Warren Harding memorial which I will describe below. But I only saw a few spots where the trees had evidently been felled by the windstorm that did all the damage, although I did not venture to Third Beach which bore the brunt of the storm.

I saw a Great Blue heron just standing there. And a bunch of raccoons. And a swan up close and as personal as one wants to get with swans. And then I headed over the Pedestrian/Equestrian bridge, over which I must have cycled a thousand times in the rain, on my way to Beaver Lake where Gary's ashes were distributed. It is a sad fact in the life of many of us who lost hordes of friends to the plague that we participated in all manner of illegal ashes-scatterings. For me, there were two in Stanley Park. For a long while, Beaver Lake was choked with some sort of invasive weed, but it was realtively clear and beautiful in the rain today. I hung out a long while, as the drizzle intensified. Sad, of course, but at peace and trying to focus on thinking about Gary and what we made together in Vancouver.

Beaver Lake

I guess it is a bit indulgent to be nostalgic on a vacation when one should be charging the mind. So I thought I would get all the moping out of the way on the first day, and the drizzle certainly helped. After I left Beaver Lake, I managed by following my nose to find a little hidden nook in the trees where I often used to go to be alone, sometimes by myself and sometimes with someone else. I first encountered my friend Tom Buhr at that spot, and I sat there for a while and thought of him.

Then I meandered along the seawall, through the now evidently defunct zoo, and after a few false starts found myself at the weird memorial to Warren G. Harding who died in San Francisco shortly after visiting Vancouver. There was some suggestion that he died of food poisoning from a meal here, but we hardly want to credit that. Some think his wife murdered him. It is irrelevant to me because his demise produced this fabulous monument with its great bronze eagles that one can caress. My friend Robin Simpson loved them, and before his death had a miniature bronze likeness cast for donation to the American Uniform Association (AUA) to which both he and I belonged ... the AUA is now defunct, and I wonder what happened to that statue ... I ache to own it. Robin contrived, successfully, to have his friends bury his ashes at the Warren Harding memorial, and I visited him there again today. (Click here for a little background on the sculptor and history of this weird lacuna.)

The Banffshire, hardly visible, is nestled at the bottom, between the two towers on the right

And after that, I left the park to look for the Banffshire where Robin, and Gary and I, and Dodge, and sundry others, had apartments. Leaving the park on the north side is where the old Vancouver ends and the spaceship Vancouver starts. When I lived here, Coal Harbor was dingy and rundown and a working place with fishing vessels and tugs and pontoon planes. I remember once my Aunt Brenda visited with mother, and I knew a fisherman at that point who offered to show them around his boat. Brenda, who loves shoes, had on a pair of truly impractical "pumps" (or some such thing ... I don't know shoes), nd that fisherman was so happy to have to assist her up the gangplank. No one in fancy shoes needs help in Coal Harbor any more. The fishing vessels are still here, but surrounded by massive yachts and, on land, a forest of exquisite high rises, nearly all with green tinted glass, that obviously command obscene prices for what is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular urban vistas on the planet. Snuggled in the middle of all that is the Banffshire, slowly disappearing, probably almost never in direct sun. Nostalgia indeed.

The rest of the walk was wending my way back through the West End looking for a flash card reader (I found it) and reasonably priced wine (I found wine, but the prices are ludicrous). When we get back from dinner and the movie, I will try to write about Davie Street, but for now, there it is ... a warming walk through the past and the drizzle. Love this city.

Photos by Arod.

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