Tourist in my own home town II

Having sold the red Echo, Ty and I are travelling transit until we leave. Yesterday we headed out via the Skytrain to grab Ty’s bike from our locker downtown and then made our way to Third Beach through the urban forest. While there, I had a quick chat with Mick, one of the park’s regulars who makes his home in the trees there: “Well, I have the beach for my front yard and the trees for my back – who wouldn’t like that?”.

A 60 year old, wiry, brown and lean from days and nights living rough, and with a ripped tendon from pushing his loaded cart all over town, Mick looked more beaten down than his contemporary Gipsy Jack (who, with the same long grey hair in a ponytail, could have been his more prosperous brother). “It is what it is”, he said resignedly when I asked about his daily treks collecting anything useable to sell.

This day we decided to take the 49th bus out to UBC to check out the action pre-back-to-school at our old Alma Mater. The campus was quiet and dusty; we were surprised to see the amount of landscaping construction going on, with route detour signs and orange fencing everywhere. Hopefully this will be completed within the next three weeks, otherwise, with the rains that are sure to come, the whole place will be a gigantic mud pit. We were also surprised to see how unkempt everything – the buildings and gardens – looked; I suppose the current austerity climate has even affected this place.

We visited the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a new version of what would have been called a Natural History Museum back in the day. Upon entering a visitor is greeted with a gigantic Blue Whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling; down a ramp is the collection itself, a series of black cabinets and drawers that hold specimens from every period of historic life.

We were fortunate enough to hook onto a tour that was just starting; the guide Tanis was great and explained some of the highlights of the collection, including replicas of 19th century curiosity cabinets, a dangerous tropical cone snail shell with beautiful patterned markings which can paralyze prey (including humans if the animal is large enough) (note to self: avoid while travelling), a species of fish, two branches of which are quickly evolving in separate directions because of changing habitat, and fossils from the Burgess Shale. The displays themselves are really gorgeous, with the specimens beautifully displayed in glass containers and wooden boxes.

The display setup here is much more modern and sleek than the older style of museum epitomised by, say, La Specola in Florence. That place, built in the 18th century, contains row after row of glass cases of dusty specimens unenlivened by any narrative material that could contextualise the exhibits for a non-scientific visitor. For me, the best part of La Specola is instead its collection of wax anatomical teaching models, 1800 or so wax body parts and several full-scale human bodies sculpted in the 18th century and posed free-standing (the men) and reclining (the women), their positions indicating the gender conventions formerly adhered to … manly rigidity for males and languid, made-up receptivity for females.

After finishing our perusal of natural history, Ty and I headed off down to the Nitobe Gardens, with a stop at Rodney Graham’s Millennial Time Machine on the way, an old turn of the century motor car containing a camera obscura housed within a glass and cement structure.

The Nitobe Garden is an oasis of quiet varieties of green, bonsai trees, cherry trees, which are unfortunately afflicted by the same blight affecting their brothers lining the streets of Vancouver (meaning they’re all going to have to be cut down eventually – a real shame), bridges, small pagoda sculptures and ponds (although the $18 entry fee is a bit much).

Back on the bus, we made our way down to English Bay, realising as we looked out the window, that we were heading into zombie territory as more and more made-up figures roamed the roadway the further into the west end we travelled. Remembering that today was the fourth annual Zombie Walk, we took some time to investigate the varieties of ghouls on display, enjoying the theatricality of the spectacle taking place in and around the Amazing Laughter sculpture, ranging from the munching of (fake) bloody limbs and heads, to gigantic axe and pistol fighting, to sleep-walking, to carnivorous dead-devouring.

Later, we enjoyed the company of friends on the rooftop deck of a classic 60s west end apartment building as the sun set, another fabulous day here on the west coast.

Read about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum here.

Read about La Specola Natural History Museum here. See pictures of the displays here. Read about my anatomical art work here. More information about my La Specola art work here.

Read about the Nitobe Garden at UBC here.

See more pictures here.

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