A Day In Vancouver

Now that I’m back from Vancouver and the temperature here is a gentle 89  degrees ( not the cruel 93 at 9:00 in the morning that we all know is coming) I’ve been savoring my vacation memories. We did so many things in such a short time I’ve decided not to regale you with pictures from the WHOLE trip at once; I’ll be kind enough just to share some glimpses from time to time. Here’s today’s glimpse!

We checked into our Vancouver hotel at midnight, so we couldn’t see too much of the city or our surroundings until the next day. Upon rising the following morning, we were thrilled to find we had a tiny   balcony where, wrapped in our thick terry robes,  we could enjoy the mountain views as we sipped our coffee. Yes, something was going to have to be done about the coffee. Sweet as the staff  were and darling as the hotel was, their coffee was SLAW.

Coffee aside,  our hotel, The Sunset Inn and Suites was just what we wanted: a place to  feel relaxed and comfy after a long day of exploration. The building had 11 stories, I think, and we were on the ninth. Each floor had only 6 or so rooms. For the same price as a regular hotel room  elsewhere we had a bedroom, bath, living room and kitchen- larger than some people’s apartments!  Our room faced the backs of some restaurants but that didn’t matter to us; we were looking at the mountains anyway.

Since we had arrived so late the night before we made no definite plans for the first day, merely to orient ourselves in this bustling but walkable city.  Neither of us had been to Vancouver. We had chosen to go there because A) We needed a vacation for just the two of us B) I needed more airline miles to retain my pitifully poor airline status C) The ticket to Vancouver was not as outrageously expensive as tickets to other destinations.  We were located in Vancouver’s West End, a densely populated section close to many attractions. The weather was brisk, but we ventured out anyway. Remember, the coffee situation was critical.

Even now I smile as I think of strolling in Vancouver. The streets were full of walkers, bikers and skaters, but they  weren’t in a huge hurry as they might be for example in New York City.  As we made our way to where we hoped we could find some groceries and a little coffee, we happened on this neighborhood garden.

I approached a helpful lady who was on her way out of the garden, who informed me that the garden is on the site of a former service station. Neighborhood residents are allowed to  use a plot for ten dollars a year. There must be a huge waiting list! Here are some pretties I found on display.

I think this is rhubarb?

After we bought our few little groceries for later, it was time for lunch. I had seen the perfect spot from my balcony: The Gurkha Himalayan Kitchen.  Luckily my companion accepted my suggestion, and we had a delightful lunch. I wish I had taken more pictures but hey, I was hungry.

Look at that yummy food on a cafeteria tray! I thought we got the trays because we ordered the special, but I saw all the other customers got them as well. Regardless of the presentation of the food,  finding a good ethnic restaurant 100 steps from our hotel was definitely a good omen!

We went a different way back to our hotel so that we could check out the local beer on sale at the liquor store. Sadly, the little grocery we had been to did not sell beer. Who knew? But right down the street from the Gurkha Restaurant was a British  Columbia Liquor Store where we were able to choose a BC wine and  some beer we had never tried. We were quite the celebrities in the checkout line, with all the clerks trying to identify our accents. They couldn’t guess, but we told ’em. We’re nice like that.

Carrying the wine and beer back to our hotel, I realized I desperately needed to run into a florist and get a bouquet for our hotel living room. I chose a magnificent bunch to adorn our  home for the week. Ugh! We had cameras, my purse, a cardboard box of beer, wine, and now flowers. But it wasn’t far to the hotel now. But… “Wait! did you see that?”  I  asked my companion. He said he hadn’t seen “IT” but maybe he had and just hoped I hadn’t.

Yes my friends,; it was a neighborhood book sale! Two friendly neighbors were divesting themselves of their treasures. Of course I had to intervene. My husband gallantly watched all our previous purchases so I could have both hands to peruse the goodies and provided me with the necessary Canadian coins, for I had none.  After I made my final choices, the maker of the Book Sale sign agreed to pose for a picture!

Book Sale Finds

More book sale treasure!

After these peregrinations, some relaxing on the balcony was in order. In fact  think we both fell asleep. But later we were ready to venture out to what my husband hoped to be Beer Nirvana, The Alibi Room.

The Alibi Room which offers 50 beers on tap, is  located in trendy Gastown, is in an old brick building right beside the railroad tracks. I read on a plaque outside the building that it was originally the site of a wooden church which burned in the 1800s. The current building is 100 years old. Inside there are long shared tables and a bar on the top level, and a darker, more intimate area downstairs, with smaller shared tables. We were grateful to be seated quickly at a sliver of the bar, surrounded by raucous parties of twenty five.  ( twenty five people AND twenty five years!)  Knowing I could be in for an uncomfortable evening if I couldn’t get myself into a chair with a back, I steeled myself to use the age card on our waitress, for at the time we were the oldest people I could see in the place. Happily though I didn’t have to resort to such crass tactics, for two seats became available in a cozy alcove with a window overlooking the railroad tracks.

Once settled in that spot we could admire the passing trains, observe the fashions of the younger set and occasionally point out someone who seemed close to our age. Mostly though we savored our beers and veggie burgers and congratulated ourselves on our coolness.

Aaah. We were in the heart of Vancouver, with the best seats in the house.  Just a two mile walk away, our commodious lodgings, replete with newly purchased books and a boisterous fresh bouquet in a blue plastic pitcher awaited us. What could be sweeter?

Connect Yourself

My life can be roughly divided into three categories: what I am thinking, what I am doing, and what I am reading.  Sometimes the three categories seem completely disparate, but more often I find, and love to find, synchronicity among the three.. In fact, finding the common themes in  various areas of life is a distinctly  pleasurable pursuit. When I find these lovely alignments I am so filled with delight and enthusiasm, I feel compelled to share my discoveries. This is not to say my discoveries are noteworthy. But they are mine nonetheless.

Lately I have been thinking about, well, ancestors and their place in our lives. This is a natural topic for me to address, as I am growing older, and my parents and their parents  are deceased. I have found through personal experience that relationships are never really over. We still think of and ponder  our relationships with loved ones after they have left this earth. I am no longer able to ask my parents questions about things I would like to know, but I am free to continue to learn from them, and to be aware of what I may be passing along to the younger generation.

While these ideas were swirling in my mind I embarked upon my vacation to Vancouver. As I packed for the trip, I pulled two unread paperbacks by Colin Cotterill from my shelf: The Coroner’ s Lunch and Thirty Three Teeth  (These were the two mysteries I bought when I went to St. Louis.) I knew they would be useful  to have on the airplane when “all electronic devices must be powered off.”

In  The Coroner’s Lunch, the first  volume of the  series, I moved back in time to 1977 to Communist Laos  to make the acquaintance of Dr. Siri Paiboun, a 72 year old surgeon. Dr. Siri, having spent decades in the jungle as a surgeon to bands of Communist guerillas, is  a  childless widower who longs to retire. But because so many anti Communist professionals, fearing reprisals from the new regime, have fled the country, Dr. Siri finds himself appointed National Coroner. Dr. Siri initially lacks the will, the experience, and the materials necessary to fulfill his duties but realizes that his appointment to this post is non negotiable.

But what has any of this to do with ancestors? I will tell you. Laos, in 1977 has become a puppet government of North Vietnam. The monarchy has been forced to abdicate  and those in opposition have fled or been placed in re education camps. But the Loatian people are traditionally rural, tribal  with deep ties to the world of spirits. The  power of the unseen guides their daily decisions.

Dr.Siri knows little of his own past, having been orphaned as a young child, and does not believe in un scientific pursuits.  He is of course aware of the belief systems of his people but sees no need of any of them for himself. But as he is drawn into investigating a series of mysterious deaths, he receives nocturnal visits from  creatures who can only be from the world of spirits. These figures not only assist him to solve his cases, but also open his eyes to the to the connections between  the past and the present, to the dead and  the living. As Dr. Siri comes to accept the existence of these beings who have passed from the earth, he feels less isolated and more empowered to confront his authoritarian supervisors.

I am not rying in this little blurb to give a full review of this gem of a  series, but suffice it to say that for me to be drawn into a  book series which contains spirits, said series would have to be beautifully written. And it is. Also it is hilarious. One the funnier parts for me takes place  in the second volume of the series, The Thirty Three Teeth, in which Dr. Siri learns more of his connections to the world of the spirits.   While  he is investigating a case in a jungle village,  the local Communist bosses hold a mandatory meeting for all the local shamans. At the meeting, a military officer reads out a proclamation ordering the shamans to order the local spirits to occupy other areas, as their presence is interfering with the military’s efforts to deforest the jungle. Like spirits are going to obey orders from a totalitarian regime! Delightfully absurd!

In Vancouver, leaving Dr. Siri to his own devices,,  I visited the University of British Columbia Museum of Cultural Anthropology. which exhibits artifacts about the indigenous , or First Nations, populations. What a perfect outing for someone  who has connecting with ancestors on the brain!  I was awed by the exhibits from tribes which celebrated the people and traditions which had come before them. They treasured hospitality and family ties. While it is always heartbreaking to learn about cultures which have been mistreated or worse by Western civilization, it is also gratifying to see the efforts being made to bring back these decimated tribes and their traditions.

Items used in spiritual ceremonies, covered as a sign of respect.

Memorial by the last living member of a tribe

While I am again not trying to give a full picture of this incredible facility, a few aspects reverberated especially deeply with me. One was of course the body of work by Bill Reid, the artist who  worked so diligently to incorporate the Haida traditional arts into his work. He was  a jeweler, a carver, a painter, and more. His  sculpture “The Raven and The First Men” is on  permanent exhibit in what was  originally a gun turret.

A tribute to creation in a gun turret

Another highlight for me was the special exhibit on the work of Douglas Cranmer, the carver in the Kwakwak’wakw tradition. He preferred the name of Kesu which in his native tribal language meant “wealth being carved.” Mr. Cranmer also carried on his native tribal arts and taught and mentored many others who were trying to keep the native ways alive. he collaborated with Bill Reid to carve enormous totems from cedar. One item Mr. Cranmer, a chief of his tribe,  inherited was a copper plaque which  authorized him to tell the ancient stories and myths of his people during potlatch ceremonies which he hosted. Sadly,the exhibit did not allow pictures to be taken.

In my reading and in learning about the customs of other peoples, I find many ideas which coincide with my own. As  a member  of the oldest survivng generation of my family, I realize the importance of our stories, of telling them while we are still alive, so that we can both savor them ourselves and give them to the younger ones. Our stories and myths connect us to the ones who came before us, who struggled with existential issues as we have.

Like Dr. Siri, we struggle to find dignity and meaning in our lives despite the fact that we live in an unjust society.  Like the First Nations peoples, we need the strength gained from ritual and tradition and from objects which seem to hold the strength of  the generations. We need an appreciation for the sacred, for the unseen, for the mystery that is life.

These subjects surely deserve more thought, but I’m not in a hurry. It’s a comfort, however, that when I wonder, for example, if I am like my grandmothers, or what my mother would have thought about some situation, that I am not alone. When I go through old pictures and wish I could have been there, in that generation, just for a glimpse, I am not being maudlin, but looking for parts of myself. When I think surreal thoughts about future grandchildren and what I may pass on to them, I am in good company. Generations and generations before me have done just the same. I thank them.

Home Again

While the whole world has been spinning and rotating as it should, I’ve been off on an adventure in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Oh doesn’t it feel so upper class  British to say British Columbia! I’ll have more to share about the wonders of that lovely part of the continent later, but right now I’m just trying to adjust to having been gone a week. Now that I’ve returned to my normal environs, I am finding that somehow I am rudely expected to buy, prepare and cook my own food. The clothes i throw on the floor remain there unless I take some action. The situation is decidedly NOT upper class British. It’s the downstairs part of “Upstairs, Downstairs.” So while I clean the scullery I will leave you with a small glimpse of pictures to come!

Thanks for stopping by!

In Which I Tell On Myself

During  my involuntary convalescence last week, I reflected on many things, including the progress of my little garden. I have already established that I have no credentials as a gardener unless the  love  and desire to grow things qualifies as such. When any seed planted by my hand sprouts  with  adorable baby green leaves I am inordinately proud. I beam at every emerging bloom as if I had designed it myself.  Yes, I nod,  standing beside one of said lovely blossoms. folding my arms and  pursing my lips into what I hope is a wise facial expression, and say to myself, “This farming life is good.”

Except. Things don’t always, or sometimes, or rarely, or even never turn out the way I plan. Know what I mean? A part of me still clings to  the idea  that the bigger and more successful the harvest , the more “authentic” the farmer even though I know that is absolutely, patently untrue. Maybe if I had to subsist on what I grew I could say truthfully that  the bigger and more successful the harvest the less hungry the farmer.

By the way, no gardener has ever said anything remotely  discouraging  to me. Nope, this focus on the product and not the process comes from me alone. And I don’t even believe it. In fact I make my living trying to refute such unproductive thoughts in others. Granted, this   task oriented thing is only a small part of me. The rest of me is completely happy to dig up some dirt. throw in some seeds, see what happens. And whatever happens, happens. After all, something does always happen.

So every year I try to accomodate all points of view by adding more structure in with the spontaneity. If I plan  more, I reason with myself, I will exude more gravitas as a farmer and gardener. With planning and consistency, disappointments will be avoided. All I have to do, I  tell myself, is be just a little more scientific in my approach. Here are the results so far.

In March I planted the seedlings,

And kept these detailed maps of which were which, so there would be none of that “not knowing what things are,”

And here is the neatly written list of expected times of harvest. I wasn’t going to risk being out of town when some delicious veggies were ripe on the vines.

Then I started  planting the thousands of seedlings.  I planted and planted. marking the areas with nice white plant markers as I went, for about an hour. Then somehow I mixed up the trays. In fact the number of trays of unplanted seedlings seemed to multiply  the  more I planted. I didn’t remember which green blobs were nasturtiums and which were marigolds.  I referred back to my maps. In my sunburned haze, I couldn’t make any sense out of them. And I was tired. So  I just stuck things in all over the place. Results? I don’t know what things are!

That is how you find out that your cucumbers are gourd vines.

This looks familiar. I should know what it is, but I don’t.
But this I recognize.

And this may grow into an edible squash. Keep your fingers crossed.

Looking through this sequence of photos, I think I’m already starting to feel a little more gravitas. Despite my plans or lack thereof, plants are growing! In the ground! From seed! Maybe I don’t know what they all are yet, but who cares? Eventually I WILL know!  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have some swaggering to do out among the bean vines. And whatever those other things are.

Thanks for stopping by!