Saturday, February 27, 2010

Vancouver Experiences a Frenetic Olympic Energy

Last night my friend Nancy and I went downtown to see Robert Lepage's brilliant theatrical production, The Blue Dragon, at the recently opened SFU experimental theatre in the old Woodward's building. The refurbished building and the show were both great.

But theatre was not our only reason for taking the Sky Train downtown. Nancy has been volunteering for the Olympics and it was her umpteenth trip downtown since the celebrations began.

For me, it was the first, and my friend was determined that I should experience the festive atmosphere in the heart of the city. For my part, I was determined to brave the crowds to witness at first hand a modern ritual that has roots in the distant past.

From Waterfront Station, we went first to look at the Olympic flame, then to another vantage point from where the interlocking Olympic rings can be seen in lights out on the water. When a medal is earned, the lights turn gold, Nancy explained.

The streets were full of people from all over, and they seemed in joyous mood, chatting together and giving one another information and directions. Many were wearing the red mittens with the maple leaves, and many were singing. Food and drink was flowing in specially set up tents as well as the usual places.

Vancouver as Lotus Land was putting on her best show: cherry trees in full flower, crocuses and primulas in brilliant bloom, and even some early pink rhododendrons.

Near the Olympic cauldron, a man sat high up on a lifeguard chair with a megaphone, encouraging people to come over and see and advising them how to get the best views.

Huge TV screens made it easy to watch the action from practically anywhere. A hockey game was going on, and every time a goal was scored, the crowd would roar.

Tomorrow the flames of the Olympic cauldron will be put out, and the flag passed on to the next host city. The party will be over. While it lasted, it connected us with people of the distant past.

What would those ancient Greeks think if they could see what the modern world has done with their ancient ritual?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We are all Wayfinders

Airplanes travel to their destinations by a process of constant course correction. People are wayfinders too.

Consciously or not, we use a similar process of constant small corrections to keep us moving in the direction that feels right, towards the goals and desires we want to attain. Becoming aware of zigging a little too far in one direction, we zag back the other way in a constant effort to maintain balance, momentum and direction.

In the CBC Massey Lectures of 2009, anthropologist Wade Davis describes The Wayfinders of Polynesia, using their ancient skills to "pull islands out of the sea." From an early age, the highly skilled navigator learns all the signs of wave and weather. On a voyage, his responsibility is to read them correctly.

From ancient times Polynesian vessels have crossed great stretches of the South Pacific, seeking tiny distant islands. Once they near the destination, the next step is to tack back and forth, back and forth, combing the sea to avoid inadvertently passing it. Soon the tiny island appears on the horizon. The navigator has managed it again.

Polynesian outrigger oceangoing canoes are designed for one way travel. Arrival is the decided intention; there is no thought of turning back.

Life is like that too. We only go forward, and always into the unknown. Sometimes we must tack back and forth, back and forth, until we find the gem that appears like magic from what only a moment ago looked like an empty horizon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tunnels of Rain and Memory

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote that happy and sad memories exist in separate and mutually inaccessible tunnels. From the place of blue skies and sunshine, she said, we remember back along the tunnel of joyful memories. Conversely, when we feel low, our minds cast back to other times of grief or sadness.

Rain works like that on me. I am from a rainy and temperate city, and have rarely experienced tropical downpours. In fact, the heavy rain that fell a few days ago in Puerto Vallarta was for me only the second time it rained during our many family visits, begun about twenty years ago.

The smell of the air, the sound of water rushing along the stone-cobbled streets, and the sensation of warm water on bare skin evoked so clearly the first rain we felt here.

Feeling the warm water hitting my head and arms as I followed my daughter, now a young woman walking rapidly toward the shelter of the hotel, I found myself standing again in memory on that first pink-tiled balcony.

This same daughter was a tiny child between us holding the railings, her eyes large with wonder as the noisy water sluiced down over the unresisting banana leaves and the palms swayed and creaked overhead.

Dear Reader, may these words open for you the tunnel of your own golden memories, from whence you can enjoy remembered access to the many happy times of your life.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Silver Net of the World

I have been blogging since November, putting words out into the world. But where do they go? A friend showed me HiStats so I could track reader locations and my daughter got that set up and counting.

The results were not what I expected. First, I thought my friends to whom I had sent the link would see it, and I watched for their cities to show up on my tracking system. Interestingly, many did not appear. Even the people who said "Send me your link" were not looking.

Most of those who have been looking are people I've never met. All part of my mysterious web of connection. I imagine this as a shimmering gauzy silver fabric with wonderful properties. It's the kind of thing the ally gives the quester in a fairy tale, to help with the achievement of the three difficult tasks.

Each of us, I think, is part of a great silver net that resonates with many others. This resonance is helping my readers to find this blog.

They aren't just any readers. These net fellows find something of value in my words. Maybe just an idea, maybe a line or two. Some little phrase that comes at the right moment, vibrates strongly. Story is powerful.

Yesterday Lucy left a comment with one of my articles on Suite 101. Thanks and greetings, Lucy. I'll say it here, as Suite 101 does not encourage responding to reader comments.

Where are you, Lucy? Calgary? That's the city that has clocked by far the most readers. And I don't know a soul there.

I have travelled a bit, but neither in my travels nor in my life here in the balmy southwestern corner of Canada have I ever met anyone from Malaysia, Mauritius, New Haven, San Francisco, or Washington, DC. Yet people from all those places and more have looked at this blog. I know a couple of people in the UK, but not from London, Glasgow or Manchester. Still, people there have somehow found this blog.

I look at the Hi Stats map every morning. Magic. How does it happen? We must all belong to the same silver net. The little one, I mean. There's a really big net too. All of us are part of that one.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Lightfoot music reveals rootball of memory

Image from tumblr

In the grocery store, I saw a Gordon Lightfoot CD. I hadn't thought about him in years, and I picked it up. The moment I turned it over and saw those familiar titles, I was gone. The CD went in the shopping basket along with the bread and oysters.

In the car, I took off the cellophane. Then, with the groceries safely stowed at home and a long solitary drive ahead of me, I pressed play and let the music to carry me. Vistas of memory from forty years ago: the high school folk-singing club, and making my first cherry pie to the strains of Steel Rail Blues. Reading in the Winnipeg Free Press Prairie Farmer that Gordon Lightfoot intended to become Canada's top folksinger.

Then these two lines entwined me firmly in the rootball of memory: Is the old roof still leaking when the late snow turns to rain? And by the way, did she mention my name? My eyes filled and I spoke out loud, "Mompy." And she twenty-one years dead.

But how clearly I saw her, bustling around the kitchen in her gingham house dress and dingy bib apron. Her brown eyes, her long dark brown hair braided and looped over her head, her smell, her voice. And there I was, a grouchy teenager, sitting on the creaky kitchen chair beside the wood stove singing and chording with my first guitar, the one I got from the second hand store for fifteen bucks.

When she said to me, "Play that one about the old roof leaking," my world changed. My mother did love me. She had been listening all along. She wanted to hear.

As the car flew along 88th, the February day should by rights have been mid-winter, but it was spring. I glanced out at the pale blue sky, "Love you, Mom," I whispered, and two birds swam across my vision, soaring on an updraft of balmy air.

In spite of the perils of alcoholism and fame, Gordon Lightfoot is still going strong. In fact, on Friday night he did a concert in Toronto with Gord Downie. As Brad Wheeler captions the picture of the grinning duo in his review in the Globe and Mail, "Songwriters can never be thanked enough. Understanding what they do isn’t so important. Just be amazed – they deserve it."

I couldn't agree more. Keep smiling, Mr. Lightfoot. You'll never know how much you've given to people you'll never even see.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Licensed Buskers?

At Commercial-Broadway station, I heard the haunting sound of Guantanamera played on the zampona, the Andean pan flute. I hadn't heard that song since it was a major radio hit by the Sandpipers. I was a sentimental teen in a northern town, and little as I understood it, I loved it.

Today the dark-skinned, dark-haired musician was wearing a South American style serape, and that seemed appropriate. I stepped away from the moving river of people heading for the escalator to listen, and to drop a toonie into the open instrument case.

Was he a qualified Olympics busker? Translink has been auditioning them. To play for the Olympics, they have to compete and then pay for their licenses.

Licensing a busker seems wrong. Buskers are artists. Willing to live on the edge for the sake of their art. Willing to have faith that the increasingly jaded commuters will check out the world beyond their ipods long enough to hear the live music of the city's dedicated street musicians.

The first busker I ever heard was in London, at Kensington Tube Station in the early seventies. The soaring voice of that tiny long-haired woman wailing Mary Hopkin's lonely ballad, The Streets of London, is a memory that remains with me still.

Buskers are a special breed. If they want to make music in the train stations, they should be allowed. No quality control necessary, not even for the Olympics.