Archive for the ‘tourism’ Category

When I was six or seven, I was fascinated by the promise of stores. They seemed full of undefined but definite wonder, capable of containing anything. Their potential seemed unlimited, but, the reality always fell short of my imagination. Even the magic shop at Disneyland only sold tricks rather than brass lamps with their very own genie or antique bedroom furniture that was a gateway to a world of adventure. Nowadays, I don’t expect such wonders to be near at hand, except very occasionally in a well-stocked book or music store – which is why the Granville Island market is always a pleasant surprise.

It would be easy to dismiss Granville Island as a nothing more than an extended ploy to separate yuppies from their bank accounts as painlessly as possible. And maybe if I visited with any regularity, I would come to see the market that way. But, visiting only once or twice a year, I can preserve my view of it as a bazaar of potential delights.

Part of my enjoyment is the setting – a chaos of comings and goings in which pedestrians stroll unimpeded and cars give way on the irregularly angled streets. Stores come and go in the unlikelilest places, so I could almost believe that they magically shifted locales. On the docks, water taxis are continually disembarking people from other parts of False Creek. In the outdoor sitting areas, seagulls wander with psychotic gleams in their eyes, secure in their knowledge that they have the right to any food they recognize as such.

And every fifteen minutes or so, the buskers (many of them surprisingly good) move on to a location. Rumor has it that, twenty years ago, their numbers would include Loreena McKennitt when she was in town. Now, they include many of the mainstays of the local folk scene, as well as the occasional musician. Some years, too, the Fringe Festival has had small plays performed in various corners. Something is always happening or about to happen at the market – or, at least, it seems that way.

Some of the market tables include crafts, but the main appeal of the market is its selection of food. I’m far from being a foodie, despite the half dozen or so special menus I sometimes prepare, but, more than any other public market in the greater Vancouver area, Granville Island comes close to fulfilling my imaginative expectations.

Besides the fresh produce, the market vendors sell an endless variety of food, ranging from the raw to the prepared. Wild salmon (no one in BC would admit to selling farmed salmon), crepes, locally blended coffees, dolmathes, cassava chips, smoked almonds, flax rolls, maple syrup toffee, tzatziki, pinots and zifandels – I can’t begin to list the types of food offered with anything like completeness.

Pastas, breads, and chocolate desserts are especially well-represented, but, no matter what your palate or ethnic preferences, you have a good chance of finding it somewhere on Granville Island. If you have the patience, you could assemble a ready-made meal that cost the same but was far more varied than anything you could find in the nearby restaurants. Alternatively, a well-dressed homeless person who kept their poise could feed well by going around to all the booths and taking the proferred samples as they talked seriously to the clerks about the various offerings. Just wending your way through the aisles is enough to turn you gluttonous.

Usually, I get away with only spending twenty dollars or so, but I could easily spend thirty times that if I indulged in every impulse that came my way at Granville Island. Not that I haven’t had many unexpected and delightful gourmet meals after a wander through the market, but it is the array of exotic possibilities, not actually possessing them that fascinate me. Mostly, I am content to look, sample sparingly, and buy little. The experience, which is free, is worth more to me than anything I could buy, no matter how it melted on the tongue or lingered on the palette.

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Located on the edge of the downtown eastside, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is one of the hidden wonders of Vancouver. Like the merchants’ gardens it is modeled after, it is meant to be an oasis in the middle of the city. Look up at some of the three or four story buildings around it (mercifully, anything taller is at least a block away), and the sloping tiles on the walls draw your eyes back down to the gardens. It is a place for strolling, of railings designed for leaning over the waters, and strategically positioned red lacquered benches. The gardens impress me on many levels, and I try to visit them several times a year.

One aspect that never ceases to occupy my mind is that the naturalness of their appearance is an illusion. In reality, they are art raised to such a height that they appear completely uncontrived. The limestone rocks, taken from a particular lake in China, are artfully heaped to appear natural, and every bush and tree is positioned for effect. Accidents happen, such as the turtles and the nesting Canada geese or the blue heron that ate the koi in the ponds one year, but very little is left to chance.

In the Imperial Gardens, I understand, every item in the pavilions had a mark on it indicating where it should go, and, while the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen gardens are not quite so rigidly controlled, I am always left smiling and dumbfounded when I consider artistry on such a scale. I have my doubts about feng shui as a form of divination or luck, but, after all my walks through the gardens, I have no doubt whatsoever about feng shui‘s power as an aesthetic theory. The paradox of appearing contrived through every possible contrivance runs through each step of the garden – and it is both absolute and utterly convincing, even with the little I know of the philosophy behind its construction.

One of the main principles, though, is contrast. Whether it’s the difference between the pebbles and the ridges of teacups that form lotuses in some of the paving, the differences between the granite bridges, the slate tiles, and the ceramic ones, the profusion of trees and plants, diversity rules the gardens. It’s a place of winding walks and suddenly changing views, whether through turning a corner, or peering through the diversely patterned frames in the leak windows that line the corridors. It’s a place that brings out new wonders in the rain as opposed to the sun, in the night with the lanterns lit as opposed to the dew of morning or the heat of afternoon.

At every season , too, one plant succeeds another, and new smells and sights are revealed. Inside and outside, too, are blurred by the pavilions whose doors can be thrown open or barred against the cold depending on the season. Look out one window, and you see a stand of plum – outside the one next to it, a pine tree or perhaps a plum.

I could walk the length of the garden in less than two minutes and not be winded, but instead I take hours, meandering in all the possible pathways and retracing my steps over and over. There’s no place you can see the whole of the garden at once, so you have no choice. You have to both slow down and keep moving if you want to see everything.

With so much contrast, choosing a favorite part of the garden is impossible. If I expressed a preference for the grotto in the main part of the garden, where small birds bathe in the waterfall, I’d be leaving out the t’ing, the spirit pavilion that sits high above the rest. If I favored the t’ing, I’d be doing an injustice to the jade waters, through which the koi glide in and out of visibility past the sublimely indifferent turtles sunning themselves on the rocks; put your fingers in the water, and the koi will nibble gently at them, seeking food.

And what about the main pavilion, where on winter days, the cold blends with the scent from the rosewood rafters? The austere tiling of the new pavilion? The round moon gate? The intricately carvings on the open pavilion where you can see the free gardens by looking to one side and the Sun Yat-Sen gardens by looking at another?

Still, if I had to choose, it would be the scholar’s courtyard. As the name implies, the scholar’s courtyard is where the owner of the garden would come to work on his writing or his calligraphy. It features a small pavilion overlooking a courtyard, with a small raised area at the end of the walkway for a musician to serenade the scholar. I always imagine myself at work there, or my late friend Paul Zimmer in a Chinese robe – and, on my visit two days ago, the fantasy became even easier to sustain, because the pavilion is now furnished with a chair, footrest, and a long narrow desk, complete with an inkwell and stand for calligraphy brushes. It’s a place where I could get some clean, honest work done in a state of utter composure.

All too often, though, this fantasy is interrupted by a well-meaning but loud tour guide, or a gaggle of tourists whose lack of appreciation shows in their fast pace or casual conversation. The garden is as much theirs as mine, of course, but I find myself resenting their apparent lack of appreciation, and, when I can, I take care to stay well away from them. If anybody cannot appreciate the gardens enough to give in their atmosphere and slow down or talk in hushed tones, then, so far as I’m concerned, that person is next door to dead. To me, it’s as simple as that.

Still, these intrusions lack power to spoil my pleasure in the gardens. After the first fifteen minutes, I am too relaxed to do more than sigh briefly over their lack of aesthetic judgment and stroll slowly to a less crowded part of the garden. Within a breath, usually, I forget all about them.

No doubt of it: When the gardens have had a chance to work their magic on me, I am calmer, less opinionated person, and nothing can really disturb me while I’m there, or for hours afterwards. The gardens do me good, and, if I lived closer, I would visit weekly or even daily. I’m sure that I’d always emerge refreshed.

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Setting: The Embarcadero station of the BART system in San Francisco, just after the verdict in the Rodney King case. We have just got off the train. You can tell that we’re tourists, because the weather is warm enough for us to be in shorts while everyone else is wearing coats.

An African American WOMAN is standing to one side. She is very tall, and heavyset, and has a new scar on her right cheek held together by some amateur stitches.

ME(nervously): Can you tell us how to get to the Ferry Building?

WOMAN (putting hands on her hips and speaking in a very deep accent): Honey, you ain’t from these parts, is you?

WOMAN takes us aside and explains that, with the tensions surrounding the verdict, it’s currently inadvisable in California for European ethnics and African Americans to talk to each other casually in public unless they know each other. Looking at her scar, we wonder but don’t dare to ask if she is speaking from personal experience. Eventually, we slink off, murmuring nervous thanks.

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