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August 29, 2011

A Brush with War in Victoria

Reflections of broken glass in Vancouver's Chinatown.
About a week ago or so when I was in Victoria for the day, I dropped in at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I had finally made a visit to Emily Carr House and from there discovered that their was another exhibit of 50 Emily Carr paintings at the gallery.  I was pleasantly surprised to see more than a couple paintings there that I hadn't seen before so that was interesting. I've gained a much greater appreciation of Emily Carr's work after learning about her life through her writing and other books about her.

While I was standing looking at some of the work, a slightly older than middle-aged couple who looked like they might be on a date came in. They did a whirlwind tour and the first words out of his mouth were, "I really hate Emily Carr. I really don't understand how some of this can be considered important and I'm not one to just wander around a gallery like so many others pretending that I think it's good." As you can imagine, it took everything I had to keep my mouth shut. So, you come to an exhibit of Emily Carr as a little pre-date entertainment and yet you hate her. Alright. Idiocy has no boundaries.

Moving on from Emily Carr, what I hadn't expected and what turned into the highlight was the exhibit entitled, A Brush with War: Military Art from Korea to Afghanistan.  Did you know that there is something called the Canadian Forces Artist program (2001 - present)?

One artist, Gertrude Kearns really stood out for me. When I passed the painting she did in 1996 of a Canadian Soldier torturing a teenager in Somalia, I was riveted. I'm not sure a painting has ever caused such a visceral, instant reaction as this one did for me.  I'm not sure where I was or why I wasn't paying attention when it was first shown but I was stunned by Somalia 2, Without Conscience, a painting that was done from a photograph.

The exhibit consists of 30 post WWII paintings from the Canadian War Museum and other venues. Most of the paintings have never been see prior to this exhibit which was first shown in 2010 with 50 paintings.

The diversity of the work on display ranges from famous historic paintings by Alex Colville, A.Y. Jackson and Pegi Nicol MacLeod to contemporary artists including Kearns, William MacDonnell, Allan Harding MacKay Scott Waters and others.

If you're in Victoria, even if you think you couldn't possibly like art that depicts war, just put away all  preconceptions and be a wide-eyed, sponge-like observer. You could even schedule in a special talk by Canadian Photographer Ted Grant on September 1  that's taking place at the gallery at 7 pm.

August 24, 2011

Daytripping Mayne Island

There are few things I like better than a spontaneous decision to go somewhere or do something that I've been wanting to do. Usually, what happens is that one day I wake up, the wind is blowing in the right direction or who knows what, and voila, I know it's the day to do it, Mary Poppins-style.

That happened on Sunday. I have been wanting to get over to Mayne Island for a while now and after almost 3 years on Salt Spring you wouldn't think it would be a difficult to get to another Gulf Island but it has been.  I'm always at the market on Saturday and the inter-island ferry schedules are, surprisingly, not the greatest for daytripping in terms of the scheduling and the amount of time you're left with to explore if you plan on returning the same day.

So, I packed a knapsack, threw in a toothbrush and some toothpaste, added my flipflops, an apple, a nectarine and my camera and off I went. It wasn't until I was walking to pay for boarding that I realized, hey, just a minute, if  I leave the car at Long Harbour, I have to come back for the car. I can't just come back via Swartz Bay at a time when the bus no longer runs on Salt Spring and the buses don't run later than 7pm here. But, by that time, my intention was set and come hell or high water I was going to Mayne Island even if it meant I had to sleep under a Garry Oak in a meadow. (Yeah, right!).

And, let me just say, doing the walk-on inter-island option has to be one of the best travel deals in B.C. It cost a whopping $5.70 each way.

It was a spectacular August day. I got off the ferry and felt like walking. In fact, by the end of the day, it was like I'd become the female version of the fictional Forrest Gump; as if my car-dependent lifestyle on Salt Spring had reached its zenith and my body told me you just keep moving there you little slug. So, I just kept walking. I walked from the ferry to Miner's Bay where there's a little village, a bookstore, a bakery, a real-estate office, a General Store and a pub.

From there I decided it really wasn't that far to walk to Georgina Point Lighthouse. I enjoyed the slow pace looking at the scenery that I'm very familiar with from jaunts in past years, albeit I'd typically be cycling. I sampled a few blackberries to see if they were ripe, I stopped in at a garage sale and there's nothing better than perusing someone else's stuff with all the weirdness of it. I enjoyed the aromas of dry golden grass and nature's sweetness and scenes of long meadows of yellow grass with the occasional Garry Oak breaking the flatness. I saw empty shacks and rusted cars fantastic for photographing and an old rowboat behind the lighthouse building. I talked a bit with a man out for a walk with his son.

While I was at Georgina Point, I decided  that I really didn't want to to get back on a ferry in 3 hours so I called the Mayne Inn and found a room for the night. I pictured the beautiful old white house that was on the point near Bennett Bay. I was feeling really happy.  I know it's weird but sometimes just exploring on my own makes me really, really happy. Not that I don't like good company but when I'm in the right mood, solo, day-time meandering is just something that I absolutely love to do. As long as I have my camera, I'm good.

I walked back towards the Springwater Lodge and had lunch on the deck which has to be one of the best decks in all the Gulf Islands (although the food there could be better).  The food is edible but it's not Bruce's Kitchen.

After lunch, I poked around, got some fruit, a bag of nachos and a beer for later and walked towards Bennett Bay. When I arrived, I was shocked to see that the old white Mayne Inn and the charming country style room that I was fantasizing about, was gone. In its place, I had actually booked myself into one of those time-share style condo-things that had replaced it. The view out the deck was spectacular except my room was right above the restaurant deck which meant I'd be staring down at people while they were eating. But, the restaurant, or at least the deck, wasn't that busy and they cleared out by around 7:30 so it was no big deal.

I took myself out to Bennett Bay and explored that whole area. I had no idea there was a park there and walked among the gnarly Arbutus to the end of Campbell point with a spectacular view of Mount Baker. As I left the complex, I ran into this woman, whom I'm guessing may be in her 80s, riding the coolest electric bike she bought from a place in Kitsilano. She just struck me as the definition of "cool" with her clothes and her helmet and her bike and the fact that as an elderly person she was still rockin' it.

My room was small but clean. Unfortunately, the toilet seemed to have a problem in that it would be silent for a long time and then suddenly, inconsistently, it would spring to life, runing and ending with gurgling sounds. I awoke at 3:00 am to gurgling sounds and in my semi-conscious state, I imagined the toilet blowing the ceiling off the place wondering if they'd built upon a natural spring or something like Old Geyser.

I awoke to a very grey and rainy Monday. I got dressed and walked to a designated Car Share sign and stuck out my thumb. I was picked up by two older men who were going to the island's coffee-shop hub in the village. There were lots of regulars and part-time islanders with tourists sprinkled in. It's a great little bakery/coffee-shop/breakfast and lunch spot and it was good to just drop in to an environment that was completely foreign and watch all the interactions.

It's good to get off one island and go to another where nobody knows you and none of the faces are familiar.

The moral of this story? Do something you've been wanting to do. Just do it. You'll feel better afterwards regardless of how small an "adventure" it is.

August 20, 2011

A French Messenger in Victoria

Perhaps you have heard of that old television show, Touched by an Angel.
Don't you just love the psychedelic in the door?
Today, I truly felt as if I was "touched by an angel." The really weird part is that until I started writing this, I hadn't thought about the meaning of his name, Raphael, which is of course the name of Saint Raphael the archangel. Sometimes I really feel like I'm living that book, The Celestine Prophecy that says you must pay close attention when synchronistic events happen to you. And, I don't even believe that book, but you know, I'm beginning to think maybe I should. Here's the story.

I'm in Victoria strolling along the upper harbour in front of The Empress Hotel on the water side where you can look over the cement wall down onto all the tourists and the buskers and the vendors selling their arts and crafts. A man arrives to my left. I notice him when he arrived because he was alone. As I have begun to notice, when these types of interactions happen for me, I have an instant feeling before they occur that there's something about the person that draws me to them, and with this man,I felt it but I didn't have the energy to do anything about it.

If I had been feeling more social, I may have even started a conversation on purpose because it might sound weird to say, especially if you have never had this experience, but I get a very distinct feeling prior to these types of interactions. I'll just call it intuition but it's an actual physical feeling that I can't really describe except to say, an internal knowing that I need to interact with the person in some way. In his case I had the thought that if my feeling was correct, I would see if he would find a way to talk to me.
 Don't you just want to get to know whoever made this fountain?
I wasn't feeling very social or like making any effort however so I didn't. About six or seven minutes passed, and then he stepped closer towards me and began telling me about the busker we were both watching. I was surprised when he did that because I'd become engrossed in the crowdwatching.

This man proceeds to tell me how good this particular busker is and how he has watched him for years. I'm a bit confused because this man has a very thick French accent and I thought as soon as he spoke that he was a tourist from France.  Later, I discover that he is from the French Alps. He ended up in Victoria where he and his wife have lived for five years when their participation in a biosphere in the Kootenays turned out less than stellar and they followed friends who had moved to Victoria from there.

I can't explain our conversation but it was almost immediately at a very deep level and not the kind of conversation I ever have with strangers. It rambled from life after death to the connectedness of all living beings and how we draw those of the same frequency to us to choosing our parents to reincarnation and Buddhism to German New Medicine,  and the fact that this year's 13 moons, instead of 12, has impacted the weather and if you were to go back and examine the data, you would find that every year that has 13 moons has the same problems.  Let's face it, you don't launch into these types of conversations as a matter of course with just anyone.  

(Employee of RedfishBluefish making an unusual fashion statement.)

We were so intent on speaking with each other that time seemed to stand still. When we parted company, 45 minutes had passed and we hadn't moved from the spots we were in.
 Decent shot of kayaks I'd say

 These were in front of the Parliament Buildings; metaphorical Amber and Red lights perhaps.

And, for you cynics out there, he wasn't trying to pick me up. The nature of the interaction had none of those overtones. When we parted, I shook his hand and told him it was lovely to talk to him. That's it.
But, as I walked away, I was feeling amazed, as if someone was trying to tell me something that I just haven't been hearing.  It wasn't just a conversation. It felt as if he was some sort of messenger.  I know this will sound ridiculous to many of you, especially to those of you who don't have these types of interactions, EVER, but I like to pay attention when extraordinary meetings occur seemingly out of nowhere.

Can you allow for the possibility that we can't understand or explain everything but we can be open to wondering about it the way we might have as a child before our natural instincts or clairvoyance was deadened by socialization?
 PS: The photos have absolutely nothing to do with the text, other than they were taken in Victoria!:-)

August 17, 2011

Yellow Point Area another Vancouver Island Gem

  Gwen was visiting and we made a day trip over to the Yellow Point Area on Vancouver Island. Wow. It`s so beautiful there. Our ulterior mission was to visit the Crow and Gate Pub in Cedar, BC, but after the short 20-minute trip from Salt Spring to Crofton on the Vesuvius Ferry we took the turn onto Yellow Point Road that follows the coast. First stop the iconic Yellow Point Lodge. It`s a relic from the 1940s (1939 to be exact)  but the setting is spectacular. I felt like I`d stepped back into some 1950s movie about summer camp.

The small, rustic cabins right on the ocean are so retro. Loved them. The problem is, it`s so popular and has such a faithful following that it`s next to impossible to get a reservation because longstanding visitors book for the next year as soon as they have finished their annual getaway. They have a 14-day cancellation policy so at some point, through persistence, you`re sure to luck out.

 After we finished wandering around and checking out the old fashioned wooden swinging chairs (see below) and admiring the amazingly long wooden tables set up in front of the barbecue area, we carried on.
 Just a short distance down the road, we came upon Blue Heron Park, the kind of beach you could spend a long time exploring with tide pools and flat rocks and a grassy area to picnic on. The only thing that seemed to be missing were the outhouses. At one point I came across a bunch of fish heads scattered along the beach and I wondered if some bear had been having a feast the night before.
There`s another beach lookout, all flat rocks and higher up from the water with about a 10 minute walk through the rainforest before you get to it. It`s called Robert`s Memorial but we didn`t think it was as nice as Blue Heron Park.

The drive is beautiful with a narrow, winding road that motorcyclists and cyclists seem to love. There were packs of cyclists doing laps on Sunday.

We didn`t know that the Cedar Market takes place every Sunday from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm until Oct. 2 when the theme is Harvest. It`s a really great little country market in the grass area before you get to the Crow and Gate. I liked the fact that it was almost entirely food. There were stalls of popping fresh raspberries and amber fennel honey and home-made sausage, lamb, pork, freshly picked lavendar, and plump breads. Because it was more accessible and a lot less crowded, it seemed more relaxing and quaint than the Salt Spring market. I realize how wonderful it is to have a market restricted to food products, dare I say that.

After a quick browse, we managed to find a shared picnic table at the Crow and Gate and in my usual fashion, (although I can`t take full credit since Gwen was there as well), we ended up sitting beside quite the character before we even knew he was sitting there since he was ordering his drink as we sat down. He was a Canadian with a Scottish accent who had been a commercial diver in the North Sea and then went and worked in S.E. Asia for 26 years based in Singapore. He ended up in a Singaporean prison for 9 years as a result of a lot of Cannabis being discovered (without his knowledge, he claims not very convincingly) in the room in his house he was letting out to some 20 year old acquaintance. Go figure.

We listened very aptly for about 50 minutes to that and references to various motorcycle accidents at which point I was getting a little annoyed, wondering if it would ever occur to him to ask us just one teeny weeny question about our lives even though clearly neither qualifies as script material for a James Bond movie like his does. I didn`t think he would and lo and behold he didn`t ask.  No point in deviating from the well rehearsed life story that must be told and retold to all.  I had to excuse myself for a walk around the garden and this beauty washed away the anxiety building as a result of enduring his life's monologue.
 All in all, it was a beautiful day; the kind of summer day where time stands still!

August 14, 2011

Salt Spring: 'You Gotta Serve Somebody'

 My sister, June, came to visit and as a result I took the opportunity to eat out on Salt Spring during this busiest month of tourist season. It was very interesting.  When I first arrived on island, I was always eating out but that was almost 3 years ago now. This past year, I really haven’t eaten out much at all and it's usually just coffee or lunch. Now, after a really nice visit of eating out a lot, I noticed some things about service. While it isn`t brain surgery, I know for certain that it's way harder than it looks from the receiving side of the table and yet if you have to serve somebody, you might as well get it right.
Help me figure out how to behave when I grace your doorstep. Is it okay to sit down? Should I take that table over there even though it’s huge but it’s the only one left? Am I supposed to wait at the door? Why is there no sign telling me what to do? How come nobody is coming up to meet me even though I’m wandering through the restaurant? It’s so much more comfortable for patrons when they are clear on what to do as soon as they arrive.

Acknowledge my existence. I’m not saying that I need a dedicated greeter. I don’t need to feel like I’ve just entered WalMart, but you know, if I wanted to be invisible, I’d stay home. If I’m going to give you money, I want you to pretend to care. 
Menus should be enticing. Maybe it’s the writer in me. I don’t want to just know what it is. Otherwise, menus could just say hunk of meat, piece of lettuce, some kind of root vegetable.  I want you to make me want it by using descriptive language that helps me imagine it. Here’s the difference. 1. Chicken. Chef’s daily potato. Seasonal vegetables  or 2. A Juniper & rosemary-brined breast with a Tuscan heirloom tomato bread salad and roast fingerling potatoes.” Which one do you think you’re going to order?  

Let me read it for a moment, already! If you’re a server and you just handed me the drink menu, unless I eat at your establishment weekly, I might actually have to look at the wine list which will take me longer than 5 seconds. Give me a couple of minutes to examine it without hovering and awaiting my decision.

Ask me what I think.  One of the restaurants handed us a survey with the bill. They asked the question, "What is one thing we could do differently?" That’s a great question. More restaurants/coffee shops on Salt Spring should have comment cards or dedicate one month to specifically giving out very short (no more than 5 questions) surveys. They could offer a chance to win one free dinner as the prize for filling out the survey.

This tip is for patrons in choosing a place to eat. If you go to a restaurant that has a communal lay-out where everyone eats at the same table, don’t sit down across from me with your newspaper and your crossword puzzle and not even acknowledge me. Work with "the concept. At the very least, say Hello. I mean, really, if you want to be alone, get take-out or sit outside. Maybe you're just pathologically shy but if I wanted to sit across from someone doing a crossword or reading the paper while I’m eating at a communal table, I could choose to put myself in that situation; sometimes they call it marriage. 

Everybody deserves a second chance. It’s easy to pigeon-hole restaurants based on one bad experience and decide forevermore that a particular place is crap. It’s the death knell of restaurants, especially on a tiny little island. People have bad days. So do businesses. I was surprised when we ate at one place (chosen for its deck) that I’d pretty much written off a few years ago as not having good food or service. Lo and behold, they changed my mind.
Bon Appetit!

August 07, 2011

Art & Craft for Discerning Tastes on Salt Spring

One of the best things about living on Salt Spring Island is the very thing that made its reputation in the first place: the never ending supply of high quality art and crafts.

Many of the formal galleries are situated in or near Grace Point Square. You can take the Studio Tour, visit the gallery space at ArtSpring, drop into the newest co-operatively-run Salt Spring Gallery of Fine Art on McPhillips or throughout the year see if  The Point Gallery near Fulford village has an exhibit in its cute little two-storey barn structure.

Twice a year, see what's happening at  ArtCraft and Winter Craft at the big yellow Mahon Hall.

I visited Mahon Hall last long weekend and took a few photos. This, in no way, represents all the artists/craftspeople who exist on island, but these captured my attention on the day I was there.

I love Stefanie Denz' art. There's something about it that feels like I'm about to begin reading a novel by Alice Munro. There's a Canadian familiarity to her work even though it's often very people focused such as the exhibit she currently has at the Salt Spring Roasting Company. I love the tactile nature of this piece. I believe it's a painting of the stairs on the Mayne Queen (a ferry). It's on a piece of wood with an iron latch smack dab in the middle of the work. There's just something so alive about her work that it feels to me that if you turn your back for a minute, it might just walk away on its own. Stream of consciousness people. That's where that comment came from. 
Visit her website at Stefanie Denz

This piece below is by Gillean McConnell. I especially like the miniature collage that is on  top of the painting near the bottom left. Look closely. I thought that was a really cool idea. If you want to learn more about McConnell and her work, watch this video.

The vibrant blues of this piece and the number of pieces in it really captured my attention. How could it not? How long did this take to make? I thought it was stunning. The artist, Beulah Gordon, calls them glass paintings. They are lit from behind.

When I saw this work, just because I happened to be reading a book that compared the works of Georgia O'Keeffe to Ansel Adams, it reminded me, in stone, of some of the dark paintings O'Keeffe did of New York that are less well known.This is very stark but my brain clung to the uniqueness of it. The artist is: Gerda Lattey
Unfortunately, this photo (below) does not even come close to accurately representing the amazing talent of Carl Sean McMahon but his work is so wonderful I want you to visit his website to get a sense of it. His Breaching Orca III is situated outside of ArtCraft made entirely out of recycled steel and recycled wooden chairs. He also has a studio on Churchill Road. You must take a look at it here. 
This felted owl was made by Aki & Akiko Otsu. They live on Salt Spring but are originally from Japan. They have the cutest children in the world and they make both felted creatures and wonderful vegan and gluten free seaweed rice treats from their Roly Poly Rice Ball company. You can find them at the Tuesday Farmers' Market and the Saturday Market in the Park seling both of their items.
I also like the work of zendotstudio The photo below, once again, doesn't do the work justice but their work is focused on "tranquility and spirit" as it says on Carole Leslie's business card really appeals to me and many others I'm sure. 

 There is so much talent in one place at ArtCraft. Pottery. Jewellery. Lavendar coffee. Beautiful felted scarves. Little girl dresses. Wonderful pottery. Watercolour paintings. Hand-made journals. Wool slippers, and so much more. Even if you've lived here 20 years, it's worth reminding yourself of the talent in our midst by dropping by Mahon Hall just for a peek.