Monday, February 28, 2011

Vancouver's Hotel Europe another triangle

The Hotel Europe, at Alexander and Abbott Streets in Gastown, has always been one of my favourite Vancouver icons.

A treat for the eye, this was commissioned by Angelo Calori, whose name is inscribed above the main door. The building was designed by architects J.E. Parr and T.A. Fee.

Built in 1909, it was undoubtedly the last word in elegance when erected, and still retains its original Italian tilework and some leaded glass windows. Glass blocks inset in the sidewalk used to give light to a below-ground saloon.

According to, it was the first reinforced concrete structure in Vancouver. It predates even the dear old ivy-covered Sylvia, which didn't arrive on the scene till 1912.

Photo by archiseek

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Recent Triangular Building echoes older ones

Gastown, like Toronto and New York, has some lovely triangular buildings.

Taken on Water Street, these picture show a new and much taller triangular building that echoes the older ones.

This beauty is located at Water Street and Cordova.

Photos: Carol Tulpar

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Royal York Hotel in Toronto

Right Photo by Carol Tulpar

When first I visited the city, the Royal York and Union Station still dominated the downtown waterfront. Now "the grand old lady," is hemmed in by huge high rises. The waterfront has been filled in too, to create more building space.

Left Photo by Gemma Grace

In Toronto in 2009, I had coffee at the Royal York, and learned of its current green innovations of the current Royal York. The hotel now serves produce from the rooftop garden, where they also have an apiary. The rooftop honey was delicious.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Sea Change

The past week has brought demonstrations of the speed of linguistic change. These anecdotes came from two different teachers.

One asked her class -- mainly baby boomers, "Would you know what I meant by a sea change?" Most of us nodded vigorously. "I said to someone, 'I'm going through a sea change,'" she said, and he looked at her strangely. He had no idea what she was talking about.

"And he's an actor," she said. laughing. The reference, of course, is to Shakespeare's play, The Tempest. To go through a sea change means to undergo an mysterious and radical transformation, a profound shift, as the original lines from Ariel's song suggest:

Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

This anecdote made me face the possibility that the metaphorical language used so easily and effortlessly by our passing generation to express elusive ideas might soon be lost. Not exactly lost, but replaced by new linguistic innovations.

The second anecdote was related in passing, after -- as a self-correction -- an editor with forty years of publishing experience elided the pronunciation of a common three-syllable adverb.

"My fourteen-year-old granddaughter taught me to pronounce that as a two-syllable word," she said.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Flatiron Building in Toronto

Left Photo by
David Henman

Photo right by Kit Logan

Like its New York counterpart, Toronto's Flatiron building was associated with the alcohol business. Built in 1891, more than ten years before its New York sister, the Toronto Flatiron was commissioned by the Goodenham family as a head office for Goodenham and Worts Distillery.

It was built on a triangular site at intersection of Front, Wellington and Church Streets, in an imposting Gothic Romanesque style.

Renovated and designated as a Heritage building in the 1970s, then revitalized again in the 90s, the Flatiron is now the home of highly sought office space.

A feature of great interest is the mural. Painted on the rear of the building by Derek Basant, this intriguing work of trompe d'oeil depicts the Perkins Building, located across the street.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Door Bridge Stair

Photo: courtesy of

According to Jungian analyst and renowned author Marion Woodman, dreams about doors, bridges and staircases often mirror significant moments on our life paths.

Like many other dream watchers, I've had my share of these. Looking back, I see them as dream series that heralded life transitions from one phase of psycho-spiritual evolution into another.

The other night, I had a refreshing variant of this type of dream. Overlain with a light sheen of humour, it involved an international border, itself a kind of door.

I was trying to cross into the USA from Canada, and had forgotten that we now need passports to cross what was for long touted by both nations as the longest undefended border in the world.

Though I live in the west, this dream took place in eastern Canada, so I had no chance to run home and get my passport.

That's when the magic idea of reversal struck. The people I wanted to see in the US were at home, ergo, they had access to their passports. Instead of frantically trying to figure out how to get to them, why didn't I simply invite them to come to me? So that's what I did.

Regrettably, I woke up before finding out how they responded to this revolutionary idea. Meanwhile, I remain intrigued by the layers of possible interpretations the dream suggests.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

High above Lake Samish

Photo: Lake Samish Canoe, by Eddie McHugh

In this dream, I'm crossing a precipitously high bridge over Lake Samish, Washington.

Yes, I know. Geographically inaccurate. Dreams are like that. Is it one of my threshold dreams? I'll have to wait and see how waking life works out. Then I'll have a better idea.

Where am I trying to get to in these dreams? Always the same destination, I think.

It's the part of me where the good stories reside. Maybe is it even a portal to something that extends beyond me. Either way, it gives me access to fiction, and that's where I'm bound.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Marine Building, Vancouver

Photo: Carol Tulpar

Among the many new high-rise buildings in downtown Vancouver stands the Marine Building. Located at 355 Burrard Street, this structure is a work of art with handsome Art Deco finishing.

Between its completion in 1930 and 1939, this 21-storey structure was the tallest in Vancouver. It cost 2.3 million to build, almost double the original budget, and the price, when it was sold to the Guinness family of Ireland during the years of the Great Depression, dropped below a million.

During a renovation in the 1980s, the original battleship linoleum in the lobby was replaced by marble.

Above the doorway of this building:
Photo by Evan Leeson

For more stunning views of the Marine building,
see Evan's photostream at ecstaticist.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Unsilted" memory

A news show was reporting on a recent demonstration. Waiting in a noisy restaurant for my family, and for a table, I watched the written version unroll across the prominently displayed TV screen.

It seemed the newscaster had been interviewing someone about his brother. Unable to catch the gist of the story, I was surprised to see the words "unsilted the memory of his brother" roll across the screen.

A part of my mind knew it was a typo, that someone's grief was exacerbated by feeling insulted on behalf of a brother he had lost.

Meanwhile, a deeper part went to work on the imagery; I comforted myself with the possibility that the spelling was correct.

This suggested a completely different story. Perhaps the brothers, separated in childhood, had not seen one another for a very long time.

Now some sight, sound or movement had unlocked a treasure trove. As these long-inaccessible memories rose, cleaned of the silt of time, the man wept for his long-lost brother and was comforted.

If only that were so. But no matter how true, what newscaster would speak of the unsilting of memory? Such imagery belongs only to poetry, or fiction.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Flatiron Building NYC

Photo by MP Tillema, Wikimedia Commons

This triangular building, an example of a style called Chicago Early Modern, was erected in 1902. The outside of the steel structure is clad in limestone and terra cotta, in the beaux arts style.

Originally called the Fuller Building, it is located at
175 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. At 286 feet in height, this was the first true skyscraper to grace the skyline of the Big Apple.

A national landmark and an enduring mecca for tourists,
this handsome historic building has been home to various New York-based publishing houses.

But why the name? It is said that the triangular shape of the site resembled that of the flatiron, then the most updated household tool for smoothing clothes.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wet Wedding

There was something poignant about the festive straw hat swathed in a veil. It was meant to be worn in the bright sunshine, not half-hidden under the shelter of a two-tone golf umbrella.

The wearer was part of a small wedding party of about half a dozen people, and I imagined she was the mother of the bride. Somehow, she was the one whose image remained in my mind afterward.

I met the group emerging from the Vancouver Public Library, Central Branch, bracing themselves to plunge into the dark wintry rain outside.

What brought them there? Among the small coffee and snack shops in the glass-roofed library concourse, I could imagine none that would be a suitable venue for a wedding reception.

Perhaps the couple got married in the library, or wanted wedding photos taken there.

And if that's the case, thereby hangs a tale. Though I have no idea what the real story may be, my imagination is perfectly willing to create one to serve in its place.

Here's one possibility: perhaps they met and fell in love in the library. Second only to their promises to each other, they've both sworn fealty to books.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fog and Bridges 5

Photo: Trees in Fog, by Steve Whiston, 2008

5. Lost and Found

Fog transforms the world.
Distracted, confused,
I drift into the exit lane,
nearly cause a long unnecessary detour.

At the last moment,
I recover,
check the rearview mirror.
Empty of cars;
I soon reclaim my lane.
I'm driving on a tree-lined highway,
still blurred by fog.

What are these trees? I don’t remember all these trees.
Was that the bridge I crossed?
Where am I?

Then, with a sudden flip, just as after sleeping on a train,
my body orientation rights itself.
A familiar freeway exit sign comes into view.
Ah, yes! This is the world I knew!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fog and Bridges 4

Photo: Two birds and cranes, by Pekka Leppanen

4. Second Narrows: lost in fog

I ride the ramp onto the bridge
On either side is emptiness:
no sea, no ships, no lights, no docks, no cranes.
Nothing but fog.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fog and Bridges 3

Photo: Fog moves in, by Chris Hays

3. Ghost Ships

Lonsdale in autumn darkness.
Seen through wispy moving fog
this well-known street feels unfamiliar.
Turning at the bottom, I pass warehouses
dark now, deserted at this time of evening.
From the dry dock, bones of a ghostly ship
reveal themselves in outline through the mist.
My heart lurches.

Round the curve
the road runs right along the railway tracks.
There is no traffic.
In eerie silence I slip past the gleaming chain
of looming tankers, all the same.
Soaring up, silo on silo faintly lit by smudgy yellow light,
grain elevators vanish in the fog.
Where is the sky?

Beside me sudden clanging of a bell.
Adrenalin slams my head;
as crisscross lights flash red.

Only the railroad signal!
My brakes engage; only semi-visible
the hulking train jolts by.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Driven by guilt and fuelled by chocolate

Photo courtesy of riptheskull
Today is Valentine's and a few predictable things will happen. Sadly, these events form an easily foreseeable emotional spiral that travels downward.

First, a lot of flowers will change hands. Wait...Did I detect a spike in the price of red roses in the week leading up to Valentine's Day?

Sadly, many of those who give these flowers will look for a return on their investment in the form of the pleasure and surprise (go figure) the recipient is expected to show. The downward spiral begins when the she fails to display appropriate gratitude and love.

Who can say why her face falls? She almost manages to hide it when he hands over the last dyed, overpriced, wilting and beribboned pink bouquet from Safeway. Perhaps she feels the colour is too wishy-washy. Doesn't he know that red symbolizes love and Valentines? Or perhaps what flashes through her mind is dismay at the thought that this gift is far nicer than the dumb little card she got for him.

If the man who gave her the flowers is unusually self-aware, he may notice a creeping resentment begin to replace the satisfaction he felt when buying the flowers. This is followed quickly by guilt. He knows perfectly well that if he had shopped for flowers earlier, the fresh red ones wouldn't have been sold out.

Unclamping their teeth, they smile at each other. "Gee, thanks, Honey."

"You're my Valentine."

At the first opportunity, she sneaks into the closet to console herself with a truffle from the box she bought -- just in case.

Like the flowers, a lot of chocolates will be passed around today too, driving both giver and receiver to similar emotional lows.

It all begins in Elementary school, where some children get more voluntary Valentine cards than others. Even though the teacher sees to it that everyone distributes Valentines among classmates, the unpopular kids know who they are. The Valentine count confirms it.

But all the kids get chocolate. Thus do the unpopular kids begin the lifelong habit of using the C substance to counter negative emotions. When this nefarious habit eventually leads, as it must, to overweight and a bad complexion, this only fuels the original sense of inferiority. Chocolate addiction leads another level to the guilt.

Far from lifting people's spirits and making them feel loved, the Valentine's gift exchange that has become de rigeur on February 14 actually leads to a massive drop in overall moods. The only things that rise are sales figures: mostly for chocolates, cards and flowers.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fog and Bridges 2

Photo: Ominous Fog, by Dino Abatzidis -- Atomic Shark

2. Assured by Rationality

Rationally, I know the bridge is here:
it holds the heavy metal of my car.

Faint outlines of towers appear.
I’m almost upon them!

Safe in mid-span,
relief weakens then strengthens me.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fog and Bridges 1

Photo by sonson

1. Lion's Gate

I drive across the Lion’s Gate in fog
and glance in passing at this lion.
Its granite shape is sharp and fully formed.
Thick-carved layers of stony mane
ambush a memory:
thirty years ago I mounted this lion
giggling with two girl friends,
posing for a picture.
A policeman on a motorcycle
politely asked us to get down.

As I ascend the bridge today,
fog engulfs me.
There's only the bridge deck and fog.
Where the high suspension towers should rise,
where the supporting cables should hang,
nothing but fog.

Fear invades my belly.
Context is everything;
shapes that should be there are now conspicuous absences.
Unable to see the structure of the bridge,
high up in the air
suspended in nothing,
I quail at fog.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Photo: Crocus by Joan Simon

She bends to see a crocus in the field,
feel springtime’s warming sunshine on her back.

The baseball players far across the green
have long receded from her mental track.

She looks up at the sky and sees the blue,
the clouds, each of a different shape and hue.

She hears a yell, “The ball!” from far away;
she drops her glove, then turns and walks away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Boxcars at Dusk

Boxcars pass White Rock in evening

Thump, thump, thump go the rails
as hulking boxcars block the evening light.
Beneath their great bellies, geese calmly swim in a bright band of sea.

Pressed down by heavy tankers the ties creak and shift,
the ground trembles, the rails groan.

Brief glimpses of light show between, below the bellies of the cars
a bright band of sea where geese swim calmly.

The train has passed, its single red light flashing at the rear.
With its retreats, the dramatic lessening of sound is infinite relief.

As the train judders away, the sea and sky are lit with late light.
The geese, in tight formation, swim slowly, honk gently, face west.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Trees Passing

Photo: Denizli, Turkey, near the ancient Greek city of Hierapolis, believed to have been founded by Apollo

Long years ago, a world away,
yearning for a larger life,
the girl I was then watched
an unvarying wilderness of jackpines.

As the bus travelled inland with windows closed against the cold,
the trees parading by the window changed.
Jackpines gave way to forests of birch and alder,
then, in the dry half-desert of the Cariboo,
sparse long-needled ponderosa pines.

Later, slanting rain thrashed ferry windows
through which I marvelled at arbutuses,
thin bark peeling, sinuous branches
leaning contorted over island cliffs dropping to the Pacific.

Then later still, tall unkempt ungainly palms, faded fronds drooping
and the sand beneath them littered with green coconuts.

Now on steep dry hills I savour the scent of Mediterranean pine.
Hot wind blows through bus windows;
the red dust carries the fragrance of eucalyptus.

Unfamiliar leafy trees bow down in dappled shade,
salute the rich red earth that nourishes them.
We are coming into a settlement now.
On one side of the road hunch ranks of dusty olives;
on the other, orange trees bow low,
weighted down with their still-green fruit.

Trees passing – I have watched them
from so many windows
while travelling the roads of my life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Fly Low, Fly high

In this small open car
I speed along the surface of our shared earth
while you fly high above.

In the atmospheric sky through endless dusk
you pursue the daylight to a far country.

Your vehicle is large, enclosed.
In that rarefied atmosphere
no sudden gusts of wind enter the cabin
to ruffle your hair.

The air you breathe,
carried up from the surface, is filtered, calm.

You experience no feeling of motion,
only the steady drone of jet engines.

Down here at dusk, this small car plunges into the curves
like a live thing.

Wind lifts my hair from my neck,
whips it back against my face.

This ride is flight.

Talking Stick Festival Well Underway

The Tenth Annual Talking Stick Festival is a celebration of Aboriginal visual and performance art. The festival, which kicked off on February 1 goes on for another week.

The Pond on Commercial Drive hosted this evening's performance. Singers included Greg Coyes, Russell Wallace and Sandy Scofield. Poetic performers included Janet Rogers and Wanda John. Wanda also read a poignant short story.

I went early with a friend. Later, the cafe was packed. A bench seat that extended along one wall meant that by scootching together a little more, we managed to make room for most people to sit.

A Nisg'a woman who grew up on Haida Gwaii sat beside me and we struck up a conversation. Later, during a break, she gave me a one-on-one reading of a couple of poems from the notebooks she was carrying.

The Salish Sea Writers Collective launched their new anthology last week at the Gallery Gachet in Gastown.

This evening, a great evening of music and readings was enjoyed by all. As part of the Talking Stick Festival, a variety of performances, art events, workshops and panels go on till February 13th. Check here for more information.

Monday, February 7, 2011

High after "Inspire a Book Weekend"

I spent the weekend at an "Inspire a book" workshop with Julie Salisbury and seven aspiring authors. The variety of book projects was amazing, and so was the synergistic energy. Under Julie's enthusiastic and expert tutelage, seven people with an amazing array of book ideas helped one another to move all their projects forward.

As the only fiction writer, I felt at first that I might be out of place -- but not for long. The useful feedback and enthusiastic advice I received helped me express my book concept briefly and attractively. Julie's interactive forum helped us refine our titles, subtitles, back cover headlines, tantalizers and author bios.

Another bonus was networking. Participants brought variety of relevant expertise. Joe knows how to use the internet effectively; his forthcoming book will help readers do the same. Bobby, aka Dr. Love, has already created the highly successful Synchrohearts relationship game. DeAnn designs graphics, including books, and I edit.

Some unique and inspiring books are on the way. Lori's book on emotional healing through acting sounds promising. Also in the pipe are Joy's playbook for children, and two books from DeAnn. Janette, who's becoming the poster girl for kicking drugs and finding a much healthier high, is embarking on a memoir about how she got clean and happy in under four years.

Along with valuable insights about who my readers might be, I came away from the workshop with new knowledge about book design, publishing and marketing, and new perspectives on my work. All in all, it was an inspiring and exhilarating weekend.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday morning: a tribute to Wallace Stevens

The yellow flower in cut glass on my table
had fallen formerly against the wind.
It greeted me this morning bright, unchanged
after the night of murmured questionings
and hollow chimings of the restless clock
that stormed the shallow waters of my sleep
While curtains billowed, eerie night came in
upon me, as I lay and quaked defenceless
against the terrors of antiquity.

Now Sunday morning’s winter light is silent
until I decorate it with my music
that brings the symphony into the room.
O luxuries of modern days --
Where is the ancient terror now?
With break of dawn, light changes everything.
The morning’s terrorless, and sounds of rain
and cars on the paved streets below my window
are somehow peaceful, hopeful, reassuring.
Each day’s a new beginning now as then
when ancient wizards squatted by their fires
or when medieval minstrels waked in Sherwood
to play a happy tune upon their lyres
in thankfulness of this new day, a gift.

And so I lift my teacup in salute
to this new day of hope that’s just been born.
The honey’d tea that trickles down my throat
is sweet ambrosia on this Sunday morn.

(a tribute to Wallace Stevens)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cloth of Gold

Alvina's story of being bitten by a cloth of gold was chilling. I first came to hear it when I asked why her left index finger was bent, and looked different from the corresponding one.

"Oh, that happened when I was bitten by a poisonous sea snail, the cloth of gold. I nearly died." She picked a small pretty shell from a basket and put it in my hand. "This one." I shivered.

"In Dar es Salaam, we lived right on the Indian Ocean. I used to collect shells from the beach, and I picked up this pretty little thing. I thought it was empty but I felt it bite my finger."

"Did you know it was poisonous?" I asked.

"I suspected it might be, so I dropped it in my basket and took it home to show Tom. He recognized it -- said it was a Cone shell, or cloth of gold. By that time, I felt pins and needles in my arm. I lay on the bed while Tom called the doctor."

"By the time the doctor came, I was in bad shape. He looked at my hand and arm and said the neural toxin from the shellfish was spreading. By then my whole arm felt numb."

"Wow. That must have been scary."

"Yes, I knew the toxin could be fatal. There was no antidote. The doctor said I was lucky to be bitten just on the end of the finger like that. It was also fortunate that I was young and strong. If I was still alive by evening, he reckoned I'd probably survive."

I regarded my friend with a new respect. I tried to imagine it, lying under the mosquito net in the afternoon, trying to make peace with the shadow of imminent death -- not certain death, but the strong possibility. With such suddenness can mortality confront us. And how ironic that this tiny deadly shellfish is so pretty-looking.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Leather sandals from the Blind Owl

Image from static.wix

Near Central Africa Imports, The Blind Owl was another shop on the what in the sixties and seventies was the hippie strip of West Fourth, between Arbutus and Vine. According to this post, Julie Christie once visited it.

The narrow shopfront was dim and smelled of leather. The long-haired shoemaker made sandals to order by drawing around the client's feet. Having unusually wide feet, I was delighted to get comfortable sandals that fit.

The two shoes were not identical but they fit my feet perfectly. The design was ingenious. A single long strip of leather wound around the foot in a snug fitting pattern, then threaded below the topsole and back up to tie at the side. The sole was all leather, a thick tough layer on the bottom and a soft one on top.

When the shoes became too loose as the leather stretched with wear, this thong could be pulled tighter and retied, and the end cut off to form a snug fit once again.

Twenty dollars seemed like a fortune, but it turned out to be a good investment. I wore those sandals for over ten years, until the thong, tightened one too many times, finally broke through. I was truly sorry when I had to throw them away.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Makonde spirit carving

Isn't she lovely? A woman, an antelope, or both? Or is she one, about to become the other? How different her two faces are.

She was carved in the 1960s by a Makonde sculptor, a talented and skilled wood carver whose name I don't know.

A gift from the late Tom and Alvina Wylie, this shape-shifting lady has lived with us for the past twenty-five years.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Long leisurely flexible afternoons with Alvina

Sundays on Salt Spring, we'd to rise for a late morning brunch. Alvina would make her special poached eggs with whole grain toast and blackberry jam from the wild berries at the edge of her property.

Afternoons at Alvina's felt long and leisurely. While we adults sat and talked , Yasemin would play quietly with some of the shells, carvings, or other exotic clutter that filled Alvina's small house.

Eventually Alvina would rise. "I got some nice halibut from a local fisherman. We'll have a meal before you go." Her voice was soft and her hospitality gentle. She was a fabulous cook. My husband would make a salad while Alvina cooked the fish.

For Yasemin, Alvina would get out a certain dish, a special place mat or spoon or a tiny object to set beside her plate.

I'd clear space on the table and spread an ironed batik tablecloth from the buffet drawer, then lay out the dishes and the soft folded cotton serviettes. While we sat companionably over our meal, I'd look through the kitchen window at the wide half-shaded wraparound wooden deck at the pots of bright petunias and impatiens and yellow pansies.

Then time would telescope back; it would be time to go. In her little cream Toyota Alvina would drive us over the hilly winding roads, through the flashing light and shadow of arbutus and alder, to walk on the ferry at Long Harbour. Engines revving, the ship would vibrate as it backed and turned, and we'd wave till Alvina was out of sight.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Central Africa Imports

Image from blackwoodconservation

In the early seventies I sewed caftans for a shop called Central Africa Imports. Located on West Fourth Avenue in hippie land, it was run by a couple, Alvina and Tom.

Tom, a large man with a gravelly voice, sported a bushy grey beard and short-sleeved cotton batik print shirts. At his leisurely pace, he told stories. When the shop was quiet, he played the thumb pianos he'd acquired in Dar es Salaam, when he worked at the National Museum of Tanzania.

Alvina was quiet and self-contained. Her dark hair was streaked with gray, and she wore it in a French roll. She kept on top of the business of the shop, while Tom chatted to customers.

At meal times "Al" cooked fragrant curries on a hotplate in the back. Behind the bead curtain, the tiny storage area was packed from floor to ceiling with goods. As well as the aroma of exotic foods, the back room exuded scents of sandalwood and dust from distant continents.

How well I remember the exotic items in that shop. Red frangipani and patchouli oil in tiny vials, striped Indian bedspreads block printed with elephants, caftans and embroidered rayon shirts, and above all, the wonderful ebony sculptures that my friends had collected slowly over their years in Tanzania, buying them from Makonde carvers who sat by the roadside unearthing spirits from heavy African blackwood.

I learned much from Tom and Alvina, even some words of Swahili. Only once since they closed have I smelled something close to the scent of their shop; that elusive and transitory fragrance hit me with the force of a tsunami of longing to revisit those years with my friends.