Spring in the Peace

I am working with Stage North again on a restaging of the Alcan Craze for the 75th Anniversary of the Building of the Alaska Highway. It is an original play “about the impact of the construction of the Alaska Highway on the homesteaders and natives of Fort St. John in 1942.”

“Written by local playwright Deborah Butler and directed by BC Actor and Director Michael Armstrong, this play depicts the amazement and fear of the colorful characters of Fort St. John when they saw the thousands of American soldiers and the huge machinery barreling through the wilderness in a rush to build 1500 miles of road to Alaska in 8 months.” This co-production of North Peace Cultural Society and Stage North Theatre Society will have 6 performances from Sept 29 to October 7. Below are some screen shots from a History channel documentary on the buidling of the highway.

Sue Popesku, the very first person I met in FSJ and a cultural mover and shaker, is producing the play and I will be creating projections and helping with set design. Deb Butler (below: photo Alaska Highway News), the playwright and also a singer/songwriter, is updating the work for the 21st century and I am really looking forward to working with these folks on what promises to be another exciting theatrical venture!

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In addition to the play, an Alaska Highway Road Trip guide, two calendars with historical information and photographs, and a CD of original music celebrating the highway have been produced. Here is an interview with Deb about her play. Currently, I am doing research for the videos, watching documentaries on the highway construction, reading newspaper articles, and looking at historical photographs. Sue has put together five huge binders worth of material from the FSJ Museum’s collection of memorabilia. And in an interesting twist, my boss at Community Bridge is the writer of many of those 25 year old articles. She is also the daughter of the photographer who came to town in 1942 to document the construction and whose photographs are in the Museum’s collection. Truly a small world! If you’re interested, here is a bit more info about the highway.

Little did I know, when we took the photo above at Mile One of the highway in Dawson Creek back in August, that I would be involved in its 75th Anniversay celebration.

As a further development related to these celebrations, the author Lawrence Hill, writer of The Book of Negroes and The Illegal, is doing a Northern road trip of readings to support his own research into the Black American soldiers who built the highway, about whom he is writing his next novel.

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I was fortunate enough to attend his invitation-only evening reading at the home of Brian and Connie Surerus in FSJ (above) with an enthusiastic crowd of local art and history supporters, including folks I had met the other day at the Museum.

Strangely, given that it has not rained here in months, we had five days of steady rain the second week in May and with it, the environment has become significantly lusher and greener. I am amazed at how quickly things environmental change up here. Seemingly overnight, it now gets light at 4 am when Ty is driving home from night shift, and stays light well into the late evening. The trees that were bare just last week have sprung leaves and small wildflowers carpet some areas of the hillsides. Since the photo below was taken on an overcast day, it’s a bit hard to see them but tiny pink crocuses cover the hills at my friend Sandra’s place fronting the Beatton River.

I had only ever seen her place in winter with a snow cover, so it was fascinating to see it now at the beginning of spring, with so many shades of green, yellow, brown, and gold.

Here is a panorama looking from the top of her property east to the river.

And, yes, it is true that one cannot count on being snow-free until the end of May. Yesterday on May 14 I woke up to this:

A hopefully-final for this year sprinkling of snow.

Now, about a week later, the trees are even lusher, the aspens’ leaves an almost glowing brilliant yellow green. Back at Sandra’s over the sunny long weekend, we practised some vinyasa flow yoga on the platform on her grassy knoll overlooking the Beatton River – glorious. And amazingly, her dog Kaiser just sat quietly and kept us company while we were executing our up- and down-dogs.

I wanted to take more pictures of her various bodies of water, and discovered the names and purposes of each of them (they all had looked the same to me, but they are not the same). The one below is a “dug-out”:

This pond is near the front of her property and is a small man-made lake dug out for the purpose of cattle drinking. It can also be used by her grandkids as a natural swimming pool. Below you can see her home in the distance.

The one below, at the bottom of the “draw” (a small ravine), is also a dugout and is on the border between her and the neighbours’ property.

We followed the game trail down and across the hill and walked through the brush down to the water’s edge.

Sandra pointed out all the various plants and animal tracks on the way; there are many varieties of small edible plants here and lots of animals come here to drink.

Below are pockets of moose poop, found abundantly around the property, and moose tracks in the mud.

From the top of her ridge you can see a number of cycling, biking, and ATV tracks on the hills across the river. The Blizzard Cycling Club uses these trails lots, as do hikers.

The second kind of water body that rural people have is a “lagoon”. When I heard that term, I immediately thought of Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. But the northern lagoon is for sewage treatment; rather than having a septic field or tank that needs to be pumped out, here the sewage is piped into large lagoons where it takes care of itself ecologically, so to speak.

Above is the road down to Charlie Lake on the way to Miep’s studio; as you can see the lake is now completely thawed and a beautiful blue. Below is a picture of Miep’s lagoon; when I didn’t know better, I thought it was a natural swimming pool. Surrounding it are the ubiquitous, but now dead, bullrushes:

While out at the studio to work on a new painting, I was also treated to the frantic rubbings and splashings of the many frogs copulating in Miep’s lagoon.

In addition to the frisky frogs, Miep has several sled dogs, chickens (in the coop above), two pet dogs, and a greenhouse full of plants. And cows with babies across the road.

To celebrate Bright Nights in June, a month of non-stop arts events up here, the Print Artists North have put together three hand-made accordian books into which the artists have put small original prints to be given to local dignitaries. If you know my work, you will be able to recognise which ones mine are …

The print artists are also one of the many exhibits being shown in town over the summer for the annual downtown Art Walk; their display is on the walls at Whole Wheat and Honey, the town arts cafe and social hub.

In addition to being a venue for visual art, the cafe also hosts Vinyasa and Vino, yoga and wine with Candace, our yogi, and live music nights. The folks below are planning the next arts event, Lift Off, featuring the art and music of local teens.

Many of the people we have met here live on gigantic pieces of property, several hundreds of acres. Several have “sections”: a section is an area nominally one square mile (2.6 square kilometers), containing 640 acres (260 hectares). Karla, my boss at work, invited me out to her place just outside of town and showed me around her acreage fronting Fish Creek between FSJ and Charlie Lake.

She and Ed live in a hand-built log house with an enormously high cathedral ceiling and an always-burning fireplace.

Karla’s an avid gardener and is just getting her greenhouse up and running for the summer.

They also have a large root cellar for cold storage of the vegetables they grow, allowing them to be almost entirely self-sufficient.

This is the property that she grew up on as a child; now the creek is more like a lake in this area because of the beavers and their dams.

As well as a miniature horse named Dash,

Karla has a dog and a large building containing rabbits; Ed breeds two different kinds of these beasts.

Here Karla is demonstrating good northern attire: fleece, jeans, and the obligatory gum boots.

The gallery curators at the Peace Gallery North, Alan and Barry, are leaving town and Barb and her partner Brian hosted a lovely send-off potluck gathering on a beautiful long weekend evening at their place out by the airport. Poor old Ty was working nights so not able to join us – boo.

It’s definitely Spring: sandals, bare legs, and short sleeves are sported by many. Although it’s warmer, I’m still wearing my long pants and fleece, my one concession to the season being that I no longer wear my Russian cossack hat, just my little summer peaked cap. If it gets up into the high 20s, I may break out the Bermuda shorts.

Today, the last day of the May long weekend, I went hiking with the Sunday group to a fellow named Alex Shaman’s ranch property accessed from Meek’s road off the Hudson Hope road.

Eleven of us, plus one small dog with his own backpack, did the 4 hour round trip hike from the bison corrals to the bluffs along the river and back again.

The first bit was along the gravel road and then we headed off across the fields along a ridge over looking the Peace River Valley.

The small dog did well, and was lucky enough to have his owner carry him up the hills using the handle on the back of the pack.

It was quite windy on the first ridge we stopped at, and after a good look around, we headed back to a different, equally windy but more scenic spot, above the river.

On the second ridge was an outcrop of sandstone hoodoos high above the valley.

A number of our group climbed up for picture taking but not me, being afraid of heights.

Heading back, we bushwacked through a stand of fire-blackened trees from the wildfires that had blasted through here last spring.

I could still smell the charcoal, and as we walked ash from the burnt vegetation billowed up from our feet in clouds.

I saw what looked like animal corrals beneath the tree cover but these turned out to be burnt and fallen trees, lying in horizonatal stacks of charcoal.

As we rolled back to the cars, we saw the bison herd in the far distance. A great walk and fascinating to see the burnt and regenerating forest.

This week it feels like summer and the lakefront area at Beatton Park was flooded and closed because of high water and the excess rain that we had a while back.

But everything is beautifully green.

Hard to believe that not too long ago we were walking across the frozen surface of this lake.

Fish Creek Forest is now devoid of snow and ice; the only remaining hazards are mud and moose and bears …

We saw a tiny squirrel and butterfly enjoying the day, sunning themselves amid the trees and foliage.

We finished up Ty’s week off with a beer on the sunny patio of Jackfish Dundee Pub out at Charlie Lake.

And here’s one of those things that make me shake my head … a combination rifle/backbone tattoo on a young woman’s arm.

And, finally for this post, I will leave you with some photos of the animals to be found on rural property in these parts: the fox and moose below were taken by Miep on her property.

And the photos below are by Irene Gut, taken over the past months out at her property at Cecil Lake, about 40 kilometers north-east of here.

See more here.

Urban Hike in PV – to the Cross!

I had read about an urban hike up to the cross above the hills in Puerto Vallarta and four of us decided to attempt it. After all, it could not possibly be as onerous as our first trip out to Las Animas, on which we bushwacked up the side of a mountain. It was a bit difficult to find the route, but after a bit of searching, I was able to find a map that showed the way up.

The best place to begin the hike is at the foot bridge to Gringo Gultch from the Isla Cuale. Passing by the buildings on the island, you can see all the murals painted by local artists on the walls of now-disused former retail shops.

We met a fellow out walking his dog there who told us that the city was planning to turn this island into a casino – I really hope that’s not the case! Although the island seems to be pretty depressed, in that there’s not much commercial activity there anymore, it is such a lovely green space in a city that doesn’t really have much of that downtown. And casinos have zero interest for me.

On the trees are quite a few signs warning people not to dump their animals here; however, there are still lots of cats roaming around from illegal dumping – people here do feed them, though. They are all pretty fat and sassy.

Once up and over the footbridge, we made a left turn and walked up past Casa Kimberley, now the Iguana Restaurant,

and then a right onto Calle Miramar past Hacienda San Angel, pausing to admire the angel statuary on the facade.

Past the Hacienda our route took us right for one black on Iturbide, then left along Emiliano Carranza to a steep narrow unnamed lane one block past Corona.

There are quite a few barking dogs and friendly cats here. We walked probably the equivalent of four or so blocks up this small street before the pavement, such as it was, petered out into scrub forest. Luckily, an old man just happened to poke his head out his door so I asked him about the best way to get to the cross. He told us to take the set of stairs just in front of his building, good thing because otherwise we would likely have missed the correct route.

The stairs took us up past several local houses, and a lovely friendly pup, as they wound up the hill.

The last bit of the route is steep, but recently paved.

At the top of this path is the electrical tower and it’s not at all obvious how to get to the cross from there. Around the tower is a metal fence and inside is a pit bull …

… but I saw a young man digging in the sand and he directed us across his work area to the new observation platform and cross.

This area is still a construction site and one of the older workers took a moment to wipe the sweat off Janet’s feet as she walked past. Update from Janet: “The sandal cleaning was much more than sweat. I had stepped into a pile of the workers’ mixed, wet cement. Deep enough to feel it between my toes. Smile. The younger workers just laughed. The older man came over and tried to clean off the drying cement. Chivalry is not dead.”

From the platform we had a panoramic view out over Banderas Bay and a gentle cooling breeze.

After hanging out on top for a while, we made our descent down the newly constructed cement stairs, watching as the workers continued to build a second set of very steep stairs.

Possibly once this project is completed there will be sign posts to the cross. At the moment, without a map it’s a bit tricky to get here. Since the path is so narrow, we were wondering how all the construction materials found their way up here. That question was answered when we saw the burro train passing by.

Although the path back down is paved, it was a bit slippery with dry soil and dust.

Back down on Calle Carranza, we saw one of the burros being loaded for a return trip up the hill. Poor beasts, I wonder how well they are treated.

See more pics here.

Here is a map of the route.

 

 

Manialtepec Lagoon, Oaxaca

PE has the usual cast of animal characters, including this tabby cuties. Actually, there are fewer stray dogs than many other places I’ve been and they don’t look at raggedy as some. We’ve seen that some of the shops put out food and water for them, which is great.

Here’s another Mother and Child shrine, this one on a house at the far end of Zicatela Beach.

This beach is really enormous and also wide; unlike places on the east coast of Mexico (Cancun I’m looking at you), it seems that the government does not need to truck in sand here to prevent the beach from disappearing. This is probably because the place is not overdeveloped and doesn’t have massive beach-side hotel developments and piers jutting into the water which alter the ocean currents and cause the sand to wash away.

Here are two ocean goddesses just washed up by the waves:

The Zicatela area has some pretty good street art in the form of colourful graffiti; we see the ones below on our hike to Dan’s for breakfast. Pam and Cec like to get a walk in in the morning and then consume hotcakes before heading back to the poolside ranch. Works for me!

Puerto Escondido is located on the coast in the lime green area of the map below, not too far from the Guatemala border, in Oaxaca state.

Right across the street from Dan’s calle is a wellness centre that offers massage and yoga; I hope to get a healing rubdown here before I leave.

One of the must-dos in PE, if you’re into the environment, is an eco-tour to the Manialtepec Lagoon, about 18 kilometers north of here. The only unfortunate thing about it is thaat, if you want to see any wildlife, you must rise early … we had to be up at 5:45 and out the door at 6:15 for our pickup with Lalo Ecotours. Here’s a view of the beach from the walkway over the highway – the sky is just beginning to lighten. The sun rises and sets extremely quickly in the tropics; one minute it’s dark, and the next – boom – it’s light.

After picking up the other two people on our tour, we rolled on down the highway to the lagoon, along with the other rush-hour travel in PE, arriving about half an hour later lagoon-side.

A very cute little terrier mix pup ran out wiggling to greet us.

After spending a few minute tickling the little guy, we hopped on our fibreglass boat and glided over the calm lagoon as the sun rose – spectacular!

When we first arrived, we were the only boat on the lagoon; as time passed a few canoes with local fishermen appeared.

Our boatman guided us down a narrow mangrove channel while the tour guide explained how parrots lay their eggs in large termite nests, giving the newly hatched birds termites to eat and thus have sustenance when they’re born – smart creatures! The termite nest is the large blackish structure on the left attached to the tree that Eve’s pointing to.

I love mangrove trees – they’re so beautiful and interesting. Eve explained that this lagoon has three species of mangrove and that the trees reproduce in two ways: with long thin seedpods that go down into the water and with the hanging roots that do the same thing – very ingenious.

Everyone on the tour is given a good quality pair of binoculars to spot all the birds that live here.

Close to one hundred different species of bird make this lagoon their home and we saw examples of about two thirds of them.

Many of them, such as these pelicans, frequent the tree tops. Apparently, pelicans find it difficult to roost on branches because of their foot structure but these ones look happy enough.

The bird below is either the Bare Throated Tiger Heron or the Black Crowned Night Heron – lots of Herons in these waters!

The fellow below is the Boat-Billed Heron

Below is a better picture of the bird’s head by Jan Sevik; in it, you can see the bird’s large and unusual beak.

The lagoon was really peaceful at this time of morning.

We also saw lots of Yellow-Corned Night Herons (the black on in the trees below) and both Snowy and Cattle Egrets.

The egrets are beautiful white birds with long graceful necks; we saw lots of them.

The root structure of the mangrove trees is really amazing.

Here’s another Tiger Heron biding its time water-side …

Against the brown background of the tree roots, it was sometimes difficult to see these birds after the sun came out. This type of heron is nocturnal, only seen very early in the morning.

I think the bird below is also a Bare Throated Tiger Heron with its neck stretched out.

Some Great Blue Heron, a species of bird that makes our part of the world home, are snowbirds and migrate south for five months in the winter, just like their human counterparts, as do these white-billed ducks, very familiar to me from False Creek in Vancouver.

We went down some very narrow mangrove channels and had to duck our heads to avoid the roots and branches.

In the rainy season this lagoon opens to the ocean; you can see the strip of beach in the photo below. This makes the water brackish, a combination of fresh water from the Manialtepec River and the ocean salt water: “Manialtepec” means “Place where the waters meet”. Our guide spent quite a bit of time calling to the birds, imitating the sounds of a tiny predatory owl to disturb the other birds who did start to flutter and flock and fly around the boat. The sounds of this predator owl, a pygmy owl, causes the other birds to fly around in a fright; the owl then grabs as many as he can and eats them as they scatter – yikes!

This area is where the egrets mate. Eve told us that the female grows long tail feathers during mating season and then loses them after. Also, there is some kind of poisonous element in the bird guano that eventually kills the trees, hence the numerous stick-like tree skeletons here.

We drove quietly down the river channel towards the ocean, passing, unexpectedly, horses on the lagoon side, grazing on grasses.

The horses belong to a local family who have lived at the lagoon for generations and are used for transport if they need to get supplies.

Our tour concluded with breakfast and beer on a huge deserted beach where the family runs a cantina for incoming tour groups, of which there was one other group besides ours this morning.

I really enjoyed our trip. We left our place at 6:30 and were returned just after noon. The tour with Lalo Ecotours cost 600 pesos, plus a tip. Breakfast at the beach was 65 pesos and beer about 20. Highly recommended! For more info about the tour company, click here.

For more photos, click here and here.

Passenger Pigeons at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, UBC

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Currently, I am working on a new project involving species loss. For part of it, I wanted to photograph a Passenger Pigeon, the one hundredth anniversary of whose extinction was mourned in 2014. I discovered that the Beaty Biodiversity Museum had two of the beasts in their collection and the curator of birds, Ildiko Szabo, kindly allowed me to come and photograph them, as well as some of the other related species and creatures in the “bone room” and lab. Interestingly, I learned that scientists in the US are right now working on bringing the passenger pigeon back to life by “de-extinctioning” it. I’m not sure if I have that terminology right, but apparently they will be taking the DNA of the pigeon and by some magical process creating pigeon sperm and eggs and implanting these into chickens. The eggs thereby produced will not be chicken eggs, but Passenger Pigeon eggs. Fascinating but not without ethical issues … I am not sure how far along in this reclamation process those individuals are.

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The Passenger Pigeon is the brown-breasted bird in the bottom left corner of the image above.

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BEATY

The second Passenger Pigeon is contained in a glass case within the Victorian Curiosity Cabinet display in the Museum itself, along with many other tetrapod specimens. “Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections—combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds—can be seen as the precursors to museums” (MOMA).

plucked pigeon

Ildiko removed a tray of pigeons from their enclosure in one of the Museum’s cabinets, which she carried out to the hall underneath the gigantic whale so I could photograph them in better light. These were the Passenger Pigeon’s closest living relatives, brownish banded pigeons from the Transval in Africa and the larger wild pigeons we see everywhere around us today; I also photographed their bones and eggs. In addition, I photographed two specimens which looked plucked and semi-skeletal, preserved such that they demonstrate the way the birds’ feathers grow.

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While in the bone room I took many photographs of the Passenger Pigeon from many angles, as well as closeups of its head. I was also able to access the drawers of similar bird species, including a very large white Rock Pigeon. I find it fascinating to compare the sizes and colours of these related birds, some of which are very small and others quite large, the latter used by poultry aficionados for pigeon pie.

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In the bone room was also several other specimens of tetrapods (four legged species), including a Canadian Bison with a tiny squirrel beneath its stomach,

squirrel and bison

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some large-horned goat-like creatures (they were not labelled), and a fantastic group of colourful birds, including several beautiful pheasants from the collection of Plato Mamo.

I was invited to take a look at the lab, a “wet room” where specimens are prepared in various ways. I saw a number of aquaria containing recently-obtained bones and skulls, upon which beetles are crawling and feasting. These bugs do the work of cleaning the bones very efficiently (although Ildiko did mention that they initially turned their collective noses up at a crocodile head).

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skull and bugs

Many thanks to Ildiko Szabo and the Museum for allowing me access!

See more information about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Read about my earlier visit to the Museum here.

 

 

Walking, rolling and owling in Stanley Park

“APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain …”

Invoking the memory of TS Eliot, our April was a mix of torrential rain and glorious sunny blue-skyed cotton-cloudy days, all the better to stroll with Brubin along the seawall,

or skate with Barb and Christine.

Ty and I spent a sunny Saturday riding our bikes through the Flats Arts District, so-called, on the former Finning Tractors industrial lands between Great Northern Way and Terminal. The Capture Photography Festival is still on for the next weeks and we caught the last day of Colin Smith’s show at the Winsor,

I loved these camera obscura works in which the artist made the interior of his Boler trailer into a gigantic pinhole camera, recording  the external landscape projected upside down onto the walls of the trailer and rightside up through the windows. I also enjoyed the infrared images in the west gallery of Los Angeles’ canals (example below) by Jason Gowans.

and the photo shows at Monte Clark and the Equinox.

Our first Friday night roll of the season was a windy evening around the seawall, enjoying the bright yellow sulfur piles against the deep blue of the North Shore mountains.

This week is Bird Week in Vancouver and we took in the Night Owl Prowl sponsored by the Stanley Park Ecological Society.

After waiting for a bit at the Lost Lagoon Nature house, and intuiting that the event would not be taking place there, given the dearth of people, we hoofed it up past the Rose Garden to Pipeline Road, lost in space with a number of others who were looking for the owl venue.

We finally found it twenty minutes late upstairs at the Stanley Park Pavilion, where we joined about 70 others for an illustrated talk on the owls of the Park and a night walk down to Beaver Lake to try and locate some of the birds.

The bird specialist described the technique for the scientific study of owls currently being conducted: first one transcribes the weather, using a scale of 1 to 5, then the noise level, using the same scale. Then, one fires up the owl recordings and blasts the sound of virtual owls out into the forest, hoping to get an answering call and/or a visit from said bird.

On alternate evenings one calls in only the big birds, then only the small ones, since the small owls are prey for the big ones and one would not want to see a pygmy owl devoured by a barred owl.

This evening all 70 of us stood quietly in the dark and listened as the recorded call of a barred owl was wafted over the forest three times – no reply and no sign of any barred owls. Then we walked to a different part of the forest for one last kick at the owl-calling can. We waited while a birder held the recorder aloft and projected the call of a screech owl into the trees – amazingly, we received a call back.

A screech owl is alive and presumably well in Stanley Park! The bird experts were ecstatic because this was the first time since 2011 that a screech owl had been heard in these parts and only the third time in 20 years. Yippee!

See more photos here.

Ceramics and other Fun in the Sun

While I wait for El Diablo to be dry enough to fire and glaze, I am working on a new creation.  This piece began life as an alien with three eyeballs and five tentacles, inspired by the octopus piece Froylan is helping Andy build.

First El Maestro threw a pot on the wheel which then became the rock on which the octopus sits. Then he and Andy crafted a hollow head for the beast and eight curling tentacles which I greatly admired.

I decided that my alien, too, would have curling tentacles; however, I didn’t have the skill to create as beautiful ones as those on the octopus.

The first two smaller tentacles I adhered in place of eyebrows, while three others were attached below the nose. These ended up looked like moustache whiskers. A further larger couple I initially intended to attach below the mouth but, upon further thought, I decided against it.

After asking me whether my creation was a predator or a vegetarian – vegetarian – Froylan had an idea for the mouth, based on a trumpet fish he’d seen while diving. He crafted me a very nice small mouthpiece on the wheel; subsequently, we decided that one of the smaller tentacles would be best placed coming out of the mouth for feeding purposes.

As I continued to work on the piece, it mutated from an alien into the Vegetarian Sea Santa you see here. The shape of the mask suggested a beard, so I carved wiggly lines into the clay to indicate wavy hair.

Scales were cut into the cheeks and algae into the area around the forehead; if I had time, I’d probably have made the algae hair more three dimensional by attaching separate fronds and leaves. Given that there’s not much time left to complete the piece, that will have to wait for another opportunity.

The other night Ty and I made our way down to the Sea Monkey beach bar to watch the pelicans swim and wait for the sunset.

While there we enjoyed watching a pair of golden long-haired dachshunds play on the sand, running and digging holes.

Other than that, we have drunk cups of coffee at various outdoor cafes – Caffe del Mar, also an art gallery containing the ceramic work of Rodo Padillo and the paintings of Angie McIntosh –  is a good one,

as is A Page in the Sun, a combo bookstore and coffee shop,

played a few games of pool at the Crowbar in our neighbourhood, run by a woman from Chilliwack,

had a few lunches at Mi Cafe, a fantastic spot around the corner from us,

and spent Sunday evening at a potluck film fest put on by Nathalie at Art VallARTa, watching Birdman and Gone Girl, while sampling some spicy chili, pasta salad (made by me from scratch), pizza, and lots of baked goodies – fun!

I really love the colourful streets here, with fabrics of many colours and stripes, beautiful flowers, and vibrantly painted cement buildings.

See more here and here.

South Side Strolling

Every second Friday night is the South Side Shuffle along Basilio Badillo. Some of the venues have changed from last year; Kathleen Carillo’s gallery has moved around the corner to Constitucion St and the Color Pod lady has packed up her palm fronds, left PV, and gone back to Florida.

However, the main galleries along here, Galeria Dante, Ambos Galeria and Contempo Gallery, are still rolling and bringing in the crowds, at least as long as the vino doesn’t run out …

Live music still gets the crowd going and adds to the festive ambiance. I particularly love the outdoor sculpture courtyard at Dante – I could sit there for a very long time – it is extremely pleasant.

I also really enjoyed meeting a small Mexican hairless dog in front of Cassandra Shaw’s jewellery shop. Poor old Ty has been fighting a cold for the last few days so unfortunately he was not well enough to join in this time.

Some of the things I love about this place are interesting roof lines, including this imitation Greek temple across the street from us, and cupolas;

skeletons and skulls, found all over the town;

angels, including this beauty at the Hacienda San Angel in Gringo Gultch;

dogs and cats, including these guys on Los Muertos beach;

and cold cervesas under an umbrella.

In my desire to be living “local” in PV, I had forgotten some of the idiosyncrasies of living in a typical Mexican neighbourhood. Let me give you an idea of what these are:

1) The small cluster of buildings in which we are staying which seemed so quiet when we arrived is now the site of a small-scale construction operation. Two guys showed up two days ago with jackhammers and buzz saws and proceeded to generate an enormous racket while presumably installing plumbing in two of the empty apartments. And, since PV does not seem to have any noise regulations, or at least none that are enforced, who knows how many days and hours this will go on.

2) Doggies and roosters I have already mentioned; there are several in the immediate vicinity. One rooster gets going at 2:30 am.

3) Our first Friday night in the Old Town was last night and it brought all new noise joys, above and beyond what we have already experienced. About 11:30 pm a blast of music startled us when a mariachi band, from the volume seemingly right in our living room, but actually on the street just around the corner, began playing at full volume to the delight of the local youth whose cries of joy added to the general mayhem. Then, around 3 am, when the mariachi band had finally finished their set, the tourist folks down the block, who’d obviously been having a few brews, began blasting their music at a thousand decibels, while screaming, yelling, and fighting, until 4:45 am. Even the animal noises disappeared into the background with all the commotion. Viva Mexico! Viva la difference!

** I realise that the whole noise issue is a cultural thing – we come from a culture of large houses (mostly) and concrete condos which mute neighbouring noises. Mexicans, at least those who are not wealthy, mostly grow up with lots of noise in the neighbourhood, houses that lie very close together with not much in the way of sound-proofing, and are accustomed to being surrounded with lively, noisy activity day and night.

One of the benefits of staying in this area is the plethora of local bars and restaurants; below is Que?Pasa just down the road from us. Here live music entertains the crowd seven nights a week and they do have delicious tortilla soup.

The Emilano Zapata farmers market is the place to buy food in this area, with several fruit and vegetable tiendas and a central area of butcher stands, as well as this little taco stand just outside.

Mid-day today, though, the scent from the meat stalls was too ripe for my sensitive nose.

While we were strolling around the area a tiny beautiful butterfly took advantage of my hat to hitch a ride. After riding around with us for quite some time, and showing no inclination to fly off, I gently swept it off my hat and onto a welcoming flower branch nearby.

See more here.

Deadhead, Night Roll & Bike Rave 2014

This past Saturday was cloudy but not raining, a perfect day to visit Deadhead, an art installation aboard a barge moored near Heritage Harbour at the Maritime Museum. Ty, Brubin and I headed out on the False Creek ferry, were dropped off at the dock, and carried by another shuttle ferry out to the barge.

From a distance the Deadhead barge looks pretty much like any working barge on the water, full of wood, metal, and strange to me machinery.

Once on board, the complexity of the construction is evident; many different levels, stairways, small rooms, and skylights have been erected on the base of an industrial barge.

The central cylindrical tower has been covered with a photographic mural and inside hangs a large hunk of wood which would be perfect as a surface on which to project images.

We all loved Deadhead; I think it would be a fabulous surface to paint and gouge into with printmaking tools.

Back on the dock at Heritage Harbour we saw this skittish little tortoiseshell cat hiding next to a small rowboat.

Before heading back, we spent a bit of time at the dog beach so that Brubin could race around on the sand and dig holes like a sand alligator.

It was hard to tell what the weather was going to do but later that evening we met a group of friends as scheduled for a night roll around the city. While waiting for everyone to arrive at Science World, we were treated to the passing parade of the undercover walk for below the belt cancers.

Finally we were all assembled and off we rolled through the downtown eastside to our first stop, the Casa de Gelato on Venables, with its incredible array of ice cream flavours.

We had to skirt around the Union Street Block Party and head down the back alleys where Ty was kind enough to block the street traffic for us.

Ty was very pleased with his bright red and blue cone, the blue staining his lips and tongue for many hours after.

From the Casa we rolled through Strathcona, across Hastings, down along the docks and over the Main Street Viaduct. After zooming down the viaduct’s off-ramp, Ty chased Winson who had decided to sprint off head, catching up to him as they neared Canada Place.

Along the waterfront, under Canada Place, and up onto the Convention Centre plaza we went, stopping for photo ops at the Olympic cauldron and overlooking the seaplane harbour.

The last half of the roll saw us along the seawall through Coal Harbour and around Stanley Park.

Lots of wildlife was out as the sun started to set; obviously the feeding was good because herons were perching hunting and sea otters were munching on crabs.

We watched a family of three otters as they cruised around looking for food. One lucky critter snagged a crab which he did not share with his brothers.

We had head that the Annual Vancouver Bike rave was happening that evening but had not yet seen them. However, while we were sitting at the Pirate Pub having a bite after the roll, the Rave road right past us, with a stop under the Burrard Bridge.

Many high fives all round as thousands of cyclists passed by our front row seats, decked out in lights and costumes and playing tunes on speakers mounted on bikes.

It was a fantastic show and a great way to finish up the roll. See more photos here.

See Greg’s photo and video collage here.

Puerto Vallarta Markets and Beaches

Old Town Puerto Vallarta is lucky enough to have two Saturday markets, one at the Paradise Community Centre and the other at Lazaro Cardenas Park, just off the Malecon. We decided to hit them both, since the day was cloudy and a bit too cold for the beach (says she whose home town is only 5 degrees …).

The Paradise Community Centre market was packed with throngs of people and lots of vendors sending vintage clothes, jewellery, kids’ items, art, books, and especially, wonderful food and baked goods.

I sampled an apple square and Ty gobbled down a huge cinnamon bun as we pondered the wares for sale. A local artisan was selling some beautifully-made bracelets and necklaces; we bought one of each.

A few blocks north of Paradise is the Lazaro Cardenas Market, also busy, and I bought three little foot decorations – like earrings for feet – which, hopefully, one of these days when my left foot has healed from whatever is ailing it and I can walk in sandles again, I can wear.

After browsing, feeling some drops of rain hitting the top of our heads, we ducked into the nearby book cafe and had the good fortune of meeting Jay, a fellow from Iowa sitting at the next table with a group of ex-pat friends.

After a delightful chat, and telling him that we were looking around for long-stay accommodation, he told us the story of meeting Lily, their house’s owner, and how he and his wife Ardis came to be staying in an apartment in Conchas Chinas, the next colonia south of Amapas. Jay was kind enough to invite us over to see the place, thinking it might be a possibility for us in the future. (Apropos of nothing … below is another majestic Queen Death figure, this one on the steps of the Hotel Catedral downtown. I love these figures, even thought their implications are sobering …)

Back wandering around the old town again, this time looking for a barbecued chicken, we walked past the vegetable stand which had had few fresh veggies before. This day it was full of great looking fruits and vegetables, obviously just having been replenished by its suppliers. The key is to figure out which day the new shipment of goodies comes in and shop for vegetables on that day. We also saw the closed hulk of a former supermarket, which Jay told us had closed down after people stopped buying there when their fresh produce deteriorated.

Sunday saw a return of the sun and a trip to the beach was in order. We plopped ourselves down on the sun loungers at the Swell Beach Bar and whiled away the afternoon sipping and munching.

Puerto Vallarta is full of pelicans roosting on the fishing boats; they are wonderful animals and I love to see them fishing and diving in the waters here. Coming screaming down out of the skies, they easily scoop up fish in their gigantic beaks.

The picture above shows Los Muertos Beach, “our beach” at the foot of the hills where we’re staying.

Although we are, as usual, on a fairly tight budget here, we want to spread a little of our cash around the place so I indulged in a reflexology foot massage by Rosalie, whose hands were incredibly strong and left my old feet feeling very relaxed.

 

Monday we visited Jay and Ardis, and met Lily, a lovely Mexican woman who rents out the three story hillside house they stay in. She has the ground floor suite, a couple from Edmonton stay on the middle floor, and Jay and Ardis have the top. Their space is incredible, huge, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an enormous sunny roof-top deck with a view that lasts forever out over the Bay and the Marietas Islands.

While sitting and visiting on the deck, we could see, and hear, the many small green and yellow parrots flitting around in the treetops. Occasionally, when a gigantic frigate bird cruised by, they screeched and squawked up a storm – funny creatures. Many butterflies also fluttered about; one landed on my hand and stayed for quite a while, a very tiny, gentle presence.

Later, we hopped the orange bus to Mismaloya, the next settlement south of PV along the coast, made famous by the film Night of the Iguana, starring Liz and Dick, filmed there in the 60s. The beach there is accessed down a path that runs along the outside of a hotel compound and over a small wooden bridge across the creek.

Many small boats are docked here and pelicans roost on them hopefully. The bay is small, with a few beach bars, and was pretty quiet this day. The place felt a bit desperate and we wondered if the tourist trade here is much diminished because of the weakness of the North American economy. Likely, the tourists who visit Puerto Vallarta are not spending as much as in previous years. We hope that the ill effects of the economic downturn will not damage the economy of this city too much; it really is a beautiful place to be.

Today, back on the road again in Old Town, I headed back to Isla Cuale and the printmaking studio. Lo and behold, it was open and I had a chance to speak to the maestra, Ireri Topete.

She explained how the studio works and told me it would be possible to use the space, either by enrolling in classes or as a visiting artist. It’s a nice space with a good sized etching press and a small litho press not currently in use. Good to know for the future. This day there were about five students working on etchings in this space, and quite a few others in the painting and sculpture studios across the way. This will be a great place to work if we are successful in being able to come here for the winter in the future.

See more pictures here, here, and here.

Thoughts on Bees, Light, and Fog

Cultivate, up recently at the Roundhouse, was an exhibition of community-based art practices in Vancouver and featured the work of artists exploring ecological and environmental concerns. I was particularly taken with the work of Jasna Guy who presented an incredible, and enormous, silk tissue and beeswax printed “bee carpet”. The artist was interested in representing the “miracle of bees together, teeming thousands, living cooperatively and interdependently, raising their brood, foraging for nectar and pollen and creating unique products of honey and wax” (artist’s statement).

As most of us know by now, much to our distress and anger, bees are dying around the world in staggering numbers. Many scientists link these losses to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides; new studies have shown that neonicotinoids block the part of their brain bees use for learning, leaving them unable to make link between floral scents and nectar (Damian Carrington in The Guardian).  When all the bees die, so, too, will we … hand-pollinating crops can only take us so far. Guy visually makes this point in her bee carpet through the giant skull image that is the centrepiece of the work.

This work is really exquisite, both visually stunning and also appealing to the nose with its lingering scent of beeswax. Also visually stunning are the coloured lights that illuminate the Roundhouse Turntable Plaza at night, their shifting and changing hues giving the plaza a darkened rainbow affect.

Our fog-drenched few weeks in October made for some nice skies, below a view from our balcony above the fog bank out over the bridge.

“Sometimes fog makes me thirst for fields aflame with flowers” (David Marshall, Haiku Streak). Since I don’t have fields aflame with flowers, I will leave you instead with a painted tree.

See more pictures here. Read the Guardian article on bee death here.