Archive for the ‘Vancouver’ Category

First as a student then as an instructor, I spent three decades in class rooms. Even now, when I step into a class to speak, I am immediately comfortable with my surroundings. So when I attended my first Philosophers’ Cafe last night, I knew exactly what to expect: an informal discussion in informal surroundings by well-educated people. Nor were my expectations wrong.

Philosophers’ Cafes are events organized throughout the Vancouver area by Simon Fraser University, the institution where I earned two degrees and spent five years teaching. Events may take place on a campus, but are just as likely to take place in a library or a cafe. An academic is on hand to coordinate the discussion, and anybody who cares to can drop by to participate.
Topics are usually chosen for their broad appeal, but are diverse. For example, this month, participants could choose from such discussions as “Charity and Justice,” “Michael Blugakov’s Master and Margarita” (in Russian), “Does reason have limitations?”, “Intellectual vs. technological discoveries,” “Is nothing sacred? The ethics of television,” “Are traditional proofs for the existence of God still valid?” and a dozen other topics. The topics remind me very much of the sort of points that I used to argue earnestly in pubs and seminars as an undergraduate, and still occasionally enjoy with intellectual friends.

The session I attended last night was on the topic, “Should we teach religion in public schools?” Although as an agnostic, the topic is not of overwhelming importance to me, I foresaw that it could lead to a number of interesting points. Besides, the location, Nature Gardens’ Organic Deli on University High Street near the SFU Burnaby campus, was close enough to my townhouse that I wouldn’t have wasted much time if the discussion was less than I had hoped.

I arrived early so I could grab a bowl of soup to fortify me for the discussion. Jason Carreiro, the education doctoral student who was the evening’s coordinator, was already there, deep in discussion with one of the deli’s owners. However, I took out my book and kept to myself until the event started, remembering that, when I was teaching, I always preferred to have a few moments to myself before beginning.

About a dozen people participated. All had obvious academic backgrounds somewhere in their past. Besides the deli owner, they included two men who were strongly biased against religion and a third who was mildly so, two Moslem women who were Carreiro’s fellow grad students, a Christian art teacher in a wheelchair with her helper dog, and an education student from Belfast who professed herself to be a Catholic.

After everyone introduced themselves, the coordinator read part of a newspaper article on the topic, and made a few general remarks to get the discussion started. It was exactly as I had hoped – a free-ranging discussion in which maybe two-thirds of those in attendance participated without prodding, distinctions were made, interesting suggestions raised, and tempers only threatened to get out of hand once. But, if voices were occasionally raised, only beliefs and not people were attacked, and, although no consensus was reached during the two hours, people departed amiably enough.

To me, the experience was reminiscent of the round-robin bardic circles I’ve attended at various conferences and conventions over the year. Both are a non-threatening way to enjoy the company of strangers, and left me feeling stimulated and full of good natured espirit d’escalier. Even if other Philosophers’ Cafe sessions turn out to only half as interesting as last night’s, I recommend them as a civilized remedy for midweek boredom, and plan to attend others over the next few months.

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Like those infinite monkeys who eventually replicate Shakespeare on their keyboards, so I become fashionable at random intervals in my life. This time, it’s with hoods, and, I presume, connected to the popularity of hip hop and hoodies, as well the fact that we’re currently slogging through a wet winter in Vancouver. But I find the situation alarming, just the same.

My own reasons for liking hoods are much more personal than fashion. To start with, hoods are often connected to cloaks — and, as I discovered when I was a medievalist, the only thing that’s more romantic or mysteriously dramatic than a cloak is a cloak with a hood.

Think Robin Hood going to the archery contest in disguise. Think Aragorn sitting in the dark corner of the tavern at Bree. Anyone can wear a hat, but only hawks and super heroes or mysterious strangers go hooded. Show me a person who doesn’t feel like a figure of mystery when they’re in a hood and peering out of its dark recesses, and I’ll show you a person whose imagination is either dead or mortally wounded. It’s like carrying your own piece of the night everywhere you go.

Just as importantly, a hood is more practical than any alternative. Unlike most of my fellow Vancouverites, I don’t deny that rain happens frequently around here. It happens a lot, and in winter we sometimes get wind storms full of damp air. But an umbrella or a hat is just one more thing to pack. As I rush for the bus, I’m likely to forget either. If I do remember an umbrella or hat, I either clutch it compulsively when I’m inside, or else put it down and forget it until I’m halfway home.

By contrast, a hood is connected to a coat. That means I’m less likely to forget it. And it definitely won’t fall under a chair and be lost.

However, the real reason I prefer a hood is my lifelong fear of baldness. I was six when I first worried about inheriting my father’s pattern of baldness. Probably, I won’t, because my hairline is inherited from my maternal grandfather, who had a full head of hair when he was eighty. But in my adolescence and young adulthood, I thought my father’s baldness had something to do with his wearing of a tight cap in the British army during World War II.

That was never going to happen to me, I resolved. Besides, wearing hats in public was something my father’s generation did, not mine. So I got into the habit of never wearing one, even to ward off sun stroke. No skull-fitting cap was going to erode my hair prematurely, thanks all the same.

By the time I figured that the issue was one of genetics, the habit had already been formed. Now, I can’t wear a hat or cap without feeling stupid and self-conscious. I don’t even need to reverse a cap to feel this way. Long ago, the feeling became automatic.

Finding myself unintentionally fashionable, I’m almost tempted to break my lifelong habits and start wearing a hat, or at least a toque until the weather improves. But I’m afraid it’s far too late to have a choice. All I can do is pull my hood down over my temples and glare from the depths of its folds at all the latecomers who are intruding on my scene for no better reason than fashion.

With luck, they’ll be so unsettled by the way my eyes glare out like coals at them that they will take their lack of originality and slink away, leaving me alone with my lonely but lordly splendor.

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I spent several years of my university career hitchhiking to and from university For the first two years, I’d bus to work, then hitch from the campus to downtown Vancouver, or even home to the North Shore. Later, when I moved closer to campus, I’d regularly hitch while waiting for the bus at the foot of the hill, hoping someone would stop and save me a few minutes.

To many today, this hitchhiking must seem appallingly dangerous. At the time, though, it made me only slightly uneasy. I was an ultra-fit young male, so I was in minimal danger. Besides, I rationalized, I further minimized any danger by hitching only to and from campus – as though, just because someone was associated with the university, they wouldn’t be predators. Sometimes, too, I got such a good ride that I saved my bus fare.

People being what they are, I’m sure that hitchhikers, especially young women, must have been harassed and abused. But, if so, the university took care not to publicize these incidents. For many years, the university actually encouraged hitchhiking, setting by three hitching posts where people could wait for a ride. I was a grad student before the hitching posts were dismantled, and many people protested their removal, even though times had changed, and the campus women’s groups were complaining by then about such an irresponsible policy.

All that I can say is that I never had the slightest problem. The first few times I hitched, I was nervous, but in those days I was telling myself that I needed to be more adventuresome, so I overrode my apprehensions, and soon learned to take them for granted. For better or worse, hitching seemed an adventure. It allowed me to meet people I would never otherwise have met. Often, for a semester at a time, I had regular rides, although I rarely knew the names of my benefactors, for all the far-ranging conversations that we had.

Of the hundreds of rides I cadged, several stand out. One was from a battered pickup truck containing two long-haired musicians and their dog. They did a hilarious fire and brimstone preaching routine to a banjo accompaniment, and insisted on performing for me on the spot, the driver wedging his banjo between his stomach and the wheel, and taking his hands off the wheel to strum. They made me feel hopelessly straight, but I was proud that I could enjoy their company.

Another time, a ride let me out at Main and Hastings. Even then, the intersection was the heart of Vancouver’s skid row, although those were prosperous times and the area was much safer then than it is now. But to a sheltered kid like me, the intersection felt like dangerous territory. I walked eight or ten blocks until I got to the business section, and only relaxed when I boarded the bus for home.

Yet another time, in my second year, I got a ride to North Vancouver, a couple of miles from home, which was an easy jog to home. At the time, I was uncomfortably aware that I came from an affluent municipality – never mind that my family was no more than middle class – and went to great lengths to hide the fact.

Consequently, I lied to the driver about where I lived. When he went on to ask if I were interested in car-pooling, I lied again, saying I was about to move. After he dropped me off, I went half a mile out of my way to pretend that I was heading towards the area where I said I lived, and kept looking over my shoulder all the way home in case for some reason the driver might be following me. My nervousness was due to my discomfort at having lied so lightly, and was directly responsible for me resolving to eradicate or at least minimize my lying – not so much for moral reasons, so much as because of the complications that a lie could cause. Even then, I could see how ridiculous and unfounded my behavior was.

All these episodes were years ago, and I haven’t hitchhiked since. Probably I wouldn’t now, unless I was with at least one other person. But, although in retrospect, I think that I was lucky (perhaps my naivety protected me), I can’t help feeling nostalgic for a time when hitchhiking seemed a natural thing to do, and trusting yourself to strangers didn’t seem rash.

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A week of riding a bicycle around Vancouver reminds me of the first time I took a boat up the Fraser River. Seeing the region from the water, I became aware of industries and activities that most people drive past every day, never imagining nor seeing. In the same way, riding a bike – often on trails and routes that run parallel to main roads, rather than on them – is making me discover corners of the city that I thought I knew. It’s as though I’m continually crossing over into an alternate universe from the one I’ve lived in most of my life.

The small revelations are all the more surprising because, as someone who until a few years ago did some serious daily running, I figured I already knew more than most about the hidden pockets of the city. Yet riding along the south side of Burnaby Lake, I discovered trails that I either never imagined, or had forgot years ago if I ever did know them. Half a kilometer away, traffic on the Trans Canada roared past, yet I was alone on trails through partly reclaimed marshland that gave a green and brackish impression of eternity.

Then, on Friday, I was on the first few kilometers of the Central Valley Greenway, where it crosses from New Westminster into Burnaby. The route passes through Hume Park, which I have been passing for years in cars and on the bus, but of which I’ve been only vaguely aware. To my surprise, the path through the park was surrounded by the tall and dripping green of secondary trees, and passes a semi-professional baseball diamond I never knew existed, and exits into a small urbane oasis of calm only a couple of blocks from the busy streets that made up my definition of New Westminster.

Coming back, I detoured from the Greenway up a steep hill to a path beside the small switching yard for the trains. I’ve run along this part of the Greenway for years, figuring I had a shrewd idea where the path up the hill must lead – but I was wrong by three or four blocks. In fact, the distance from the Greenway to the end of this detour was at least half a kilometer longer than I imagined. In the middle of the city, less than two kilometers from where I live, was a stretch of woodland where I was completely alone, except for the occasional dog walker.

Much the same discovery awaited me this afternoon, when I took the Skytrain to the Main Street station and rode to Granville Island. I was vaguely aware of the Olympic Village, Vancouver’s white elephant from the Winter Games, and the fact that the seawall wound along the south shore of False Creek, but both were far enough from my usual haunts that I had never seen them up close. But today I had a chance to see them up close – even if I did have to keep more than half an eye on the crowds of pedestrians and dawdling cyclists. The Olympic Village struck me as a piece of post-modern minimalism that would benefit from more trees and garden, and I much preferred the older condos closer to Granville Island, but the point is that I had seen neither. I even discovered pubs and restaurants that must cater to a severely local crowd, because I had never heard of them.

The illusion of a parallel world is all the stronger because I’ve met more people in a week than I have in all my years of riding in a car or among the anonymous, iPod-deafened crowds on public transit. Cyclists, I’ve discovered, actually talk to each other. Unlike most of the people you encounter in public, they have potential topics of conversation with each other – and their chosen means of transport actually makes conversation possible.

After all, as a cyclist, you know that any other cyclists is one of the few percent who have chosen a means of transport that depends on their own muscle power. And while the bike routes are mostly well marked, there is often the need to ask directions, or maybe the need to borrow a pump or repair kid.

But, whatever the reason, cyclists talk to each other as they cruise along or wait at lights. One couple even volunteered themselves as guides for several kilometers before we parted ways.

Possibly, my reaction is colored from the wild exuberance and nostalgia I still feel from being back on a bicycle. But I am tickled by the small discoveries I’m making – and more than a little smug that I am now part of a small minority that knows the city in a way that most of its inhabitants never will.

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“I’m going back on the bicycle,
I just can’t pay the bills,
I’m going back on the bicycle,
And freewheel down the hill.”

–Tommy Sands

In my teens, I was welded to my bicycle. I used it to run errands in the village, and in the summer I would organize forty kilometer rides out to Horseshoe Bay or the University of British Columbia. But as an adult, I let my bicycle rust on the porch until it was beyond reclaiming, and walked or rode in a car – until today, when I spent the afternoon becoming a cyclist again.

I’d been contemplating the move for some time. For one thing, I only preserve my sanity when riding an exercise bike at the gym by doing interval workouts – and even then I have to grit my teeth against the sports and diet talk around me. For another, Burnaby, the city where I live, has kilometers of urban cycle trails, including the Central Valley Greenway, which goes all the way into Vancouver, as well as dozens of trails through the nearby green belt. Just as importantly, now that I’m by myself, I felt the need of doing something new, something just for me.

Still, for a while I thought I wasn’t fated to be a cyclist again. Twice when I planned to find a bike, the Skytrain broke down. Two other times, I had a swollen ankle that kept me near home. Another time, a friend arrived unexpectedly in town, causing me to cancel my plans. But today, the stars were finally aligned, and shortly after noon, I arrived at the shop and started trying bikes.

Supposedly, you never forget how to ride. But in my case, that’s a half truth: in my first effort, I managed to stay upright, but I wobbled like the backside of a duck.

Fortunately, my inner ear and muscles soon started half-remembering the skills I hadn’t used in years, and within twenty minutes I was no longer disgracing myself quite so badly and could almost look over my shoulder without veering out of control. If I couldn’t turn on a dime, I could just about manage the maneuver on a baseball diamond.

I did, though, need to go back and try the first bike again. The first time I tried it, I was too busy clinging to the handle bars and trying not to yelp with terror when the bike store employee gave me a push.

I had come with a definite idea of what I wanted – a refurbished bike, with racing handle bars, and a good gear ratio so I wouldn’t bang my chin with my knees when pedaling on the flat. But a slightly used hybrid (half mountain, half road) was almost the same price, gave a better ride with regular handle bars, and gave me more options for the kinds of riding I was likely to do. So that’s what I ended up buying, even though twenty-one gears seems a ridiculously large number.

Then it was time to accessorize. When I was a teenager, I just hopped on my bike and rode. In contrast, today the law requires a helmet and a bell at the very least (never mind that I would forget all about the bell and most likely shout on any occasion when it might be useful). If I ride at night, I need a rear reflector. A basket and lock were necessary for quick hops to the store. I also wanted fenders, since the idea of my back being spotted by mud didn’t appeal – and, living in the Lower Mainland, sooner or later, I knew I would be riding in the rain. Still, somehow I fought the madness and managed to keep my spending down to only ten dollars more than I had planned.

“How are you going to get home?” the store clerk asked.

I had planned to take my new purchase on the Skytrain and only ride a couple of kilometers home, but in a fit of bravado I said, “I’m going to ride it.”

“Good for you! Way to go!” The clerk enthused. But when he asked me where I lived, I couldn’t help imagining that he looked glad to think that he was unlikely to be on the road while I was. He’d seen me testing bikes.

Since home was ten kilometers away, I was already repenting my rashness. Yet I couldn’t back down without condemning myself as an empty boaster, even if nobody except me would know. So I set off, my hands a little uncertain on the gears, worrying that any moment I was going to end up curled in a ball, like the centipede who become uncoordinated when asked how he walked. So long as I didn’t think too much, I kept telling myself, I could trust my old reflexes to get me home – even if I took three hours to get there, and walked most of the way.

But you know what? Within a kilometer of leaving the store, I was having the most fun I had had in over a year. Like walking, cycling keeps me in touch with what’s happening around me, but it has the advantage of letting you travel reasonably quickly.

Moreover, unlike a car, a bicycle is a machine that enhances your muscular effort. Where a car simply carries you, a bike improves your efficiency, helping you to climb a hill more easily in lower gears, and to travel farther with each revolution of the pedal in higher gears.

The result was a wild joy in my heart, of a sort that only the best of runs can provide. I felt strong and unlimited, as though I wanted to sing but too many songs were clamoring to be sung for me to know which to voice first.

Thirty minutes later, I was regretting the end of the trip, and only the knowledge that I had to get other things done kept me from prolonging it.

I’m sure that my muscles will pay the price tomorrow. But I’m going out for a ride tomorrow, too, hoping to recapture more of that strenuous pleasure from my teen years that I’d forgotten.

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Over the last few years, I have spent more than my share of time visiting in hospitals. Visiting a patient in a private room has its advantages – I once marked several batches of essays in one – but can be lonely for the patient unless they have a constant stream of visitors. A semi-private room is better, depending on who the other patient is, but can turn into a nightmare, as happened once when the other patient was from a psychiatric ward and had to be strapped down because he was under the illusion that he was defending the west coast against a Chinese invasion. So, on the whole, a four-bed room is usually the best balance between privacy and company.

For instance, over the past three weeks, the four-bed room where I have been spending several hours every day has presented a variety of people coming and going, some pleasant, some eccentric, but all providing stimulation to one another with their differences.

One was a woman who in sixty years had been both a hairdresser and a prison guard. She was outspoken, and obviously restraining her language, but unfailingly polite to the nurses and everyone else. She quickly became friends with the person I was visiting, and the two of them soon started trading the contents of their meal trays like kids at recess, and watching out for each other.

At the start of my visits, another of the bed was occupied by a soft-spoken man who had recently retired from sales. His wife, a puppeteer, was another frequent visitor. He participated lightly in the conversation, and everyone knew he was a Christian fundamentalist, but it was only on his last night that he revealed his missionary instinct. In response to a few questions, he got out an oversized Bible and a stack of computer printouts and immediately started trying to convert the ex-hairdresser-prison guard. It was a mark of her restraint that she didn’t lose her temper with him, although she complained long and bitterly after he left.

The fundamentalist was followed by a man who kept the curtains drawn around his bed and said as little as possible. He, in turn, was followed by a male nurse who took some advantage of his conventional good looks, but also interceded with the ward nurses on behalf of other patients. After him came a folk singer from Prince Edward Island, hospitalized on the other side of the continent after he had come to sing at a family wedding and contracted laryngitis. He spoke little (unsurprisingly), but showed a strong streak of kindness when he did.

The other bed in the room was initially occupied by a young Vietnamese woman. She would talk, but she spent a lot of her time on her cell phone or watching videos on a portable player with her legs draped over her bed tray. Either her sister or her boyfriend would crawl into bed with her at night, a practice that disturbed the nurses, but seems to me a reasonable way to help lessen the strain of being in hospital.

When the Vietnamese woman left, her bed was taken by a homeless man who worked part time as a roofer. He had the most prehensile toes I had ever seen, and was absolutely filthy. Despite cracked ribs, he was always descending six floors to go for a smoke – and I suspect, to judge from his behavior, for his drug of choice as well. Talking to him, I got the impression that his brains and reality were not quite in sync. However, his brains worked well enough for him to realize that he had a good place to stay, and he only left when it was clear that the next step would be to have security escort him out.

None of these people were extraordinary. You could probably pick half a dozen strangers at random on the street and find an equally interesting assortment. But on the street, of course, you would never learn much about them. In a hospital room, where little happens between doctors’ visits and being wheeled away for tests, people have to pass the time somehow, and while some opt for a portable TV, sooner or later most people talk. And, because they have so little to do, anyone who does talk invariably ends up saying more about themselves than they would in other settings. Probably, it helps that the first questions anyone is asked is why they are in a hospital – a private detail that makes giving more private details easy.

I’m not sure if I or the patient I was visiting will ever see these people again. Both of us took several people’s contact information, but a promise to keep in touch made when you are sharing the experience of being in the hospital is easy to break afterwards. You can’t help suspecting that you knew the other people only in special circumstances, and that in their ordinary lives they might be strangers – and strangers who are not at all eager to see anyone from a time when they were helpless, bored, and far from their best. Still, for the time of a hospital stay, the people in a four-bed room provide a variety and interest that any other form of hospital accommodation cannot hope to match.

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The last time I saw a Robert Davidson retrospective was his Eagle of the Dawn show in 1993. Back then, all I knew about Northwest Coast Art was that I liked it. But, having learned a little since then, I appreciated the Surrey Art Gallery’s “Eagle Transforming: The Prints of Robert Davidson” as a chance to put my thoughts about Davidson’s work in some sort of order.

My superficial impression has always been that Davidson’s prints have changed dramatically in the last forty-two years. However, my second time around the gallery, I started to see the continuities.

For instance, from the start of his career, Davidson’s formlines have varied dramatically in thickness. He is especially fond of long tapers at the end of a line, such as the end of a feather, or at the end of elongated fingers or claws. Because of this habit, his formlines keep the eye moving far more than most artists’, which would account for the sense of movement in many of his designs.

Frequently, too, Davidson promotes red from the secondary to the primary formline color (although he uses a brighter red now than when he started), sometimes omitting black altogether, or else using it as the background for a print. When he does use a traditional black formline, he often used red as the primary formline on limbs or figures inside a larger one.

In addition, from very early in his career, Davidson has looked for unusual shapes to contain his designs. Although working in an art tradition that tends towards the symmetrical, Davidson often makes his designs asymmetrical. He is perfectly capable of a traditionally symmetrical design, as in “Eagle: Oliver Adan’s Potlatch Gift,” but his symmetrical designs have a stiffness (or perhaps a formality) that his other work does not. You might almost think that his symmetrical designs were exercises – and not wholly successful exercises, at that. Other artists succeed with symmetrical designs, but Davidson, I would suggest, is not strongly interested in them.

Accompanying the asymmetry is a search for form. A few years into his print designs, Davidson is already projecting his design on to a whale fin. Circular designs are also frequent in his work, both confining shapes and appearing as negative spaces in such works as the 1987 “Seven Ravens.” I was surprised not to see many split forms in the exhibit, but perhaps the reason is that split forms tend to be symmetrical by definition.

This interest in irregular and different shapes has served Davidson well over the years. “Butterflies,” printed in 1977, escapes the potential banality of its subject by placing the design into two circles. Similarly, a hummingbird design from a couple of years later avoids the usual cuteness of the subject by making it a stocky creature with wings attached to powerful shoulders.

Davidson’s least successful works? Those with extensive areas of cross-hatching, which work well in engraved metals or on carved wood, but tend to look unfinished in a print – especially since Davidson does little to vary them.

Nor is Davidson at his best with more than a few colors. Davidson’s palette is relatively small. In addition to red and black, it includes a royal blue and a turquoise. But, when he ventures beyond these four colors, the result can seem garish rather than bold, which may be why his color choice remains relatively cautious.

For me, one result of seeing so much of Davidson’s work side by side is that I now realize that his movement towards abstraction in the last decade is less of a break than I had previously thought. I knew, of course, that he had continued to do more traditional works while doing his annual prints, but I had tended to view the abstractions as facile works – as small ideas printed large to lend them an interest that they wouldn’t otherwise have.

I still think of these abstractions, which often take the form of closeups of a small part of a larger design, as working against themselves, because they expect the eye to linger when the basic tenets of the tradition have the effect of keeping the eye moving. However, even though I consider them unsuccessful, I can see now that they are a natural extension of interests that he has had all along.

My only complaint about the exhibit as a whole is that, by including only prints, it robs the individual pieces of part of their context. Davidson is a carver and jewelry-make as well as a print designer, and, to my eye, many of the prints in the show show the influence of these other media (for example, the cross-hatching).

However even with this omission, “Eagle Transforming” is well-worth a few hours and several trips around it. If you are like me, you will only notice some aspects on the second or third viewing.

And to those visitors who left comments saying that they don’t care much for Northwest Coast Art, all I can say is that they are barbarians who don’t know fine art when they are confronted by it. For myself, the only reason that I don’t look forward to the day when some of Davidson’s designs join Bill Reid’s on Canadian currency is that, when that day comes, he will probably be dead, and then we will have nothing new from him to admire.

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Most people are probably unaware that the South Terminal of the Vancouver airport even exists. Decades ago, it was the main terminal, but now it is reserved for small local airlines, and the occasional celebrity hoping to slip into town unobserved. A ten minute shuttle ride from the main terminal will take you there, but the effect is like stepping back in time. Looking at the two-story, yellow brick building and the small, aging Dash-8s on the tarmac, you half expect to see Humphrey Bogart and Claude Rains standing around in trench-coats talking about what they will do next over a bottle of Vichy water.

Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but the scale and the pace are very different from what you find at the main terminal. For one thing, the building is no more than seventy meters long. Inside, it looks more like a shopping mall than an airport terminal. Counters for half a dozen companies line one side, and the center of the building is dominated by a cafe. At one end is a gift shop, full of the inevitable smoked salmon and vaguely Northwest Coast designs. You have to search to find the security checkpoint, which opens on to the single waiting area, which might manage to hold a hundred people, if it were ever full (which, in my experience, it never is).

The crowds are smaller, too, and their members more casually dressed. You don’t get many executives flying out of the South Terminal – or, if they do, they are flying upcountry to small towns where blue jeans and a T-shirt are acceptable as business casual. Who you do see are many men and women in middle age, heavy set and looking as if they might have fished or cut timber thirty years ago. A few music players and netbooks are visible if you look, but not many. You can count them on the fingers of one hand, if you choose, because, there’s rarely forty people waiting at any given time.

This setting makes traveling far more casual than at the main terminal. If you have to wait in line at the counter, it’s only for a couple of people at the most. The counter staff are relaxed and chatty. So are the security staff; while they are by no means slack, they are the only security staff I’ve ever encountered who could be described as friendly and forthcoming. When I forgot my keys in a tray after my belongings were scanned, one even hurried after me with them. They almost make an annoying and pointless procedure bearable, apparently well aware that the chances of suicide bombers targeting a flight to Campbell River or Terrace are remote. Of course, they don’t have to hurry, since there are almost never two planes taking off at the same time, but I appreciate the general atmosphere all the same.
When you line up and are led to your plane along the pedestrian walkways painted on the tarmac, you find the same casual efficiency is found on board the aircraft that fly from the South Terminal – or at least you do on Hawkair, which I’ve flown twice now. When was the last time you remember that WestJet or Air Canada held an in-flight raffle? Or handed out complementary newspapers (even if it was just The Vancouver Province)? Or invited you to take advantage of the empty seats to give yourself more room? Admittedly, once on a SouthWest flight into Phoenix, the pilot announced that we were ahead of schedule and detoured so we could see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, but I can’t remember the same atmosphere anywhere else.
If you can’t guess, I love flying out of the South Terminal. If the airlines attached to it flew every place I wanted to go, I would use it exclusively and never come near the main terminal (except to view its display of Northwest Coast Art). Given that my parents didn’t have the decency to let me born independently wealthy, it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to get to flying in a private charter.

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Tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage,
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.

– Stan Rogers

I maintain that you can never know a city until you walk around it and use its sidewalks and public transit. Last year, I didn’t get to see much of Calgary outside of the conference hotel for COSSFest (the Calgary Open Source Solutions Festival), so I was determined to correct my oversight this year, at least a bit. I arrived the day before the conference, and no sooner checked in to the hotel and dropped my luggage than I headed off to catch the C-Train.

The first thing I learned was that Calgary takes a different view of rapid transit than the Vancouver region. In Vancouver, space is scarce, so elevated transit lines, which are both more expensive and environmentally less sound are favored. By contrast, Calgary opted for a mostly ground level system. It It seems to work at least as well as Vancouver’s. And while the highways were crowded enough at rush hour, so were the C-Train cars.

Moreover, Calgary is more systematic about rapid transit. Instead of Vancouver’s confusing system of zones, which can challenge even experienced riders (okay, I mean it can challenge me), Calgary has a flat rate of $2.75 for the entire system. Similarly, where the Vancouver region has designed many of its recent stages as modern art that leaves passengers on the platform in the middle of a wind-tunnel, Calgary provides an area where people can huddle inside until the train comes. The difference, I suppose, is that Vancouver rarely gets truly cold, while Calgary does so regularly. Having been caught in a snow storm on the C-Train, I can testify that shelter is a necessity, not a frill.

The trip downtown was quick and non-eventful, although I noted that my hotel was not far from the zoo. I also observed that Calgary seems to have a thorough system of urban trails, and that people use them. The rivers the C-Train crossed were still frozen along sheltered shore lines, and every now and then the currents would flash an icy green whose like I have never quite seen anywhere else.

Getting off at the Olympic Plaza station, I quickly found my way to the Glenbow Museum for a whirlwind tour (which I plan to write about in the near future). Then, with the station as my anchor, I started looping further away in one block intervals in all directions.

My impression is that Calgary is a brasher city than Vancouver, more entrepreneurial where Vancouver is more activist and artistic. The Olympic advertising excess that left half of Vancouver disgusted (including me) would hardly rate a notice in Calgary; the casual ads I saw on the C-Train and on the streets were blaring by Vancouver standards. Perhaps that is why their Winter Olympics had more support than ours, although the difference in the times is probably responsible as well.

Another difference is that, while Vancouver sometimes seems cursed to be a forest of skyscrapers covered in blue-green glass, Calgary is more adventurous (or insecure) architecturally. Every 20th and 21st Century school of architecture seems represented in Calgary’s downtown. The result could be called a high-rise version of strip malls, with all the different styles tending to cancel each other out, and only an impression of disorder remaining.

This impression is strengthened by the fact that Calgary preserves relative low rises far more often than Vancouver does. I suppose it can afford to preserve its history because space is not at premium, whereas, in Vancouver, the fact that development is squeezed into a couple of peninsulas means that preservation is only practical in limited areas.

But, whatever the reason, the establishing shots you see of Calgary as just another high-rise business center are real only at a distance. When you are actually walking the streets, the difference in building heights is very noticeable. On some streets, you almost get the impression when looking up that Calgary is a much smaller city than it really is, despite the crowds on the sidewalks

I reasoned – correctly – that Calgary would have a rush hour, so I kept an eye out for a place to eat. In Vancouver, in the distance I walked, I could have found a dozen ethnic restaurants, each of which would offer a superb meal in a mellow setting. As a former Calgarian said to me, “Vancouver is one big restaurant.”

In Calgary, though, the ethnic restaurants downtown were less upscale in Vancouver (at least the ones I saw). Most upscale restaurants seem to offer some variant of modern cuisine, and to be overpriced by Vancouver standards. Or such was my impression – I’ll have to verify it on later trips. On this trip, wanting more than deVille Luxury Coffee and Pastries could provide, I settled on the Deli at Art Center, which had a casual atmosphere and reasonable food not that much more expensive than its equivalent would have been in Vancouver.

True to my regional conditioning, I scurried back to the hotel at the first signs of a snow flurry, and unfortunately, I am unlikely to have more time to explore this trip. So I still cannot claim with any accuracy that I know Calgary. All I can really say is that I’ve traced a few paths through it. Most of greater Calgary remains unknown to me.

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Aboriginal artists in British Columbia have been combining traditions for some years now. Preston Singletary, for example, has collaborated with Maori artist Lewis Gardiner, while Terrance Campbell is strongly influenced by the jewelry of the American Southwest. But I admit I was skeptical about the collaborations of Mike Dangeli and Don McIntyre. Maybe the problem was my own ignorance, but I wondered how much artists like Dangeli in the Northwest style and McIntyre in the Woodlands style could exchange, beyond good will.

Don McIntyre (left) and Mike Dangeli (right)

However, in practice, the mingling of traditions works much better than I expected in “East Meets West: Throwing Power,” Dangeli and McIntyre’s combined show currently at the art gallery in the Student Union Building at the University of British Columbia.

The main reason, I suspect, is the obvious closeness of the two artists. Dangeli and McIntyre share studio space and are adoptive brothers. They share such a sympathy that at times, they say, they have trouble remembering who painted which line when they collaborate.

The mixture of their style may be sometimes jarring, but it succeeds because, while both Dangeli and McIntyre show a firm understanding of their respective traditions, they are also concerned with adopting those traditions to contemporary urban life, often with a sense of humor that begins with the titles of their works and continues with their choice of subject matter. Despite the large differences in traditions, this similarity of outlook allows them to meet in the middle, as their paintings do literally in the galley.

If you look at a selection of Dangeli’s work with any knowledge of the northern formline style, it immediately becomes obvious that he is intimately familiar with the tradition. And some of his work does not stray very far from that tradition, apart from the selection of colors.

However, in many of his pieces in this show, Dangeli’s rendering of that tradition is a departure from the norm. In the classical northern tradition, ovoids and U-shapes are rendered as though from a template – in fact, in large scale projects like house-fronts, artists often work from stencils.

Dangeli does work in this tradition. However, just as often – and perhaps increasingly – he favors a looser, hand-drawn rendering of classical shapes – a sketch as opposed to a smoothly finished work. Often, too, he combines shapes in non-classical ways. The result is that, where in his tradition, formlines tend to flow together, dragging the eye through a work, Dangeli’s looser renderings sometimes seem fragmentary and disjointed.

Perhaps the effect is a stylistic commentary on the survival of the northern tradition in industrial urban life. If so, the style is well-suited to Dangeli’s habit of commenting on this lifestyle.

The titles alone indicate his on-going commentary on the modern relations between First Nations people and this lifestyle, for instance, “Bright Shining Lie,” “For Those Who Had to Hide,” and “We Will Not Be Boxed In. Often, the titles are referenced by the techniques in each work, so that “Surviving the White Wash” literally has a wash of white over everything, while “We’re Not Open for Business,” an anti-Olympic statement,” has the shape of a Closed sign.

Don McIntyre’s relation to his tradition closely resembles Dangeli’s. Like Dangeli, McIntyre sometimes produces a piece that fits comfortably within his tradition, as in “A Place to Come Back To.”

"A Place to Come Back To"

Yet even when McIntyre appears to be working in the tradition, first impressions can be deceptive. His apparently innocuous drum (shown above), if you look closely, shows the union of sky and earth as an act of sex, and his title for this depiction of creation is “The Big Bang.”

Yet, where many Woodlands artists continue to depict natural scenes that have little in common with the cities in which they live, McIntyre tries to advance his school of painting by transferring its traditions to what he sees around him.

At times, the difference is subtle. As he pointed out to me at the exhibit’s opening, “Natural Urbanity” could easily be a classical work, if the streetlights were replaced by trees. At other times, as in “New Counsel,” nature creeps into the cityscape only in small oases, like the log that the birds in the canvas cling to.

"Natural Urbanity"

"New Counsel"

And, as in Dangeli’s work, McIntyre often turns his extension of his tradition into social commentary. In “(Dis) Placed Illusions,” for example, McIntyre combines an inukshuk, the symbol of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, with a sleeping polar bear, drawing a line between cultural appropriation and global warming .

"(Dis) Placed Illusions"

Combined with their friendship, such similarities make Dangeli and McIntyre’s collaborations exactly what collaborations should be: not just a juxtaposition, but something that neither could achieve by themselves.

For me, the most successful of the several collaborations on display was “Ben Couver: Olympic Gluttony.” The central figure, with its extended belly, fits in well with McIntyre’s style, in a way that it would not into Dangeli’s.

Yet, at the same time, Dangeli’s image of broken coppers being thrown into the water adds its own dimension. Moreover, the combination of Dangeli’s self-consuming two-headed serpent and McIntyre’s Wendigo provide two complementary images of destruction.

“East Meets West” is a small show, but it is an ambitious one. To its credit, though, it convincingly draws parallels between the two traditions in the show, and produces intriguing art in the process. While the gallery may be obscure for many people, it is well worth searching out just to see this show.

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