Puerto Vallarta!

Thanks so much to Jill for generously hosting us in Vancouver! After a not-too-bad but loonnnnngggg day flying from YVR (up at 2:30 am for the taxi to the airport) through Mexico City to Vancouver, we arrived at the hacienda in Puerto Vallarta. We are staying at the Hotel Posada Lily, corner of Basillio Badillo and Olas Altas, the epicentre of Old Town tourism, until Feb 25, in the same room as last year, number 20. Slightly unfortunately, and surprisingly to me, there is construction right across the street at the Hotel Los Arcos. They are adding a wing that is another story or two higher than the original hotel, somewhat impacting the charm of this location.

However, in the early mornings and evenings, when the banging and grinding has stopped, the place is pleasant. Below is the view from our front balcony, out over the elementary school (may they never tear it down!) and the Lazaro Cardenas Park, zumba-central here in Old Town.

Our room has a small kitchenette and we cook lots and eat out on the balcony overlooking the activity below. On any given night we are treated to Aztec dancers, guys doing acrobatic tricks, young boys singing La Bamba (out of tune), the donut man, chess players, drunken tourists trying to cross the street, muscle cars with blaring Latin music, and huge crowds lined up, for some unknown reason since tacos are everywhere here, at the taco stand du jour across the street … the whole panoply of Puerto Vallarta life.

Maggie has joined us for the first month and is in room 19 next door; we have taken over the top floor of the Lily.

One of the first couple of nights we headed out to grab some pesos from the bank near the Church of Guadalupe, with its gorgeous silver crown lit up at night glowing in the dark, and to sample some shrimp tacos from Ty’s favourite taco stand near the Municipal Market.

Luckily, the tacos are still great and we savoured the street-side feast.

One of the great things about this location is its closeness to the Malecon, the seafront boardwalk that stretches from Old Town out to 5th of Diciembre; we walk it every second day, enjoying the scene; everyone from vendors to dog-walkers to joggers to cyclists to segway riders is out and about in the morning. As usual, Ty is accosted by folks trying to sell him pipes and other assorted smoking paraphernalia (pssst Mr Whiskers, how about some weed?) Volunteers are adding more beautiful mosaics to the grandstand area of the Park.

Pro tip: the best place to get a great cup of coffee is in Old Town at Page in the Sun. We stopped further down the Malecon at an Italian Coffee shop right on the Boardwalk where Ty was given a cup of dark brown liquid that looked like coffee but had zero coffee taste (the grounds had obviously been run through about 5 times before his cup, leaving nothing of coffee for him – weird). My cappuccino was ok, though. (First world problems!)

Also down here for two months are Pam, Cec, and Beatrice, in residence at Selva Romantica, a lovely condo complex quite near our place, where we have been treated to delicious dinners a couple of times.

Each evening around 9 there is a short burst of fireworks which we were able to see from their balcony, looking north.

Another sunny morning, another stroll along the Malecon. Below is part of Isla Cuale, the green oasis of art and culture in Puerto Vallarta.

Below is a photo of my favourite Malecon sculpture; I don’t know the name of the artist but every year we enjoy sitting on these bronze creatures’ laps. Each body has a different selection of animal extremities which I find very amusing.

I love how areas of the bronze have been rubbed golden by the thousands of hands and bottoms that have enjoyed these sculptured beings.

The Mexicans seem to love Surrealism, in art, literature, and film. These creatures remind me a bit of the monster with eyeballs in his hands in the film Pan’s Labyrinth from a while back.

Puerto Vallarta’s art scene is still lively, with new murals springing up around the city. The one below, on the Isla Cuale, is still one of my favourites. Every Friday afternoon expats and tourists play social bridge at the International Friendship Club, whose headquarters are above the HSBC across the river from the Isla Cuale. Maggie and I gave it a whirl, along with about a hundred other people at a forest of white plastic tables set out in the building’s interior and courtyard.

Although I had not played at all while up in FSJ, I wasn’t too bad, albeit rusty. I seem to have forgotten some of the finer details of the bidding, though, but Maggie did not get too exercised about my incompetence.

Below is the courtyard of the Centre; one side is occupied by the Friendship Club, the other by the University of Guadalajara.

Having worked up a thirst with our afternoon of cards, Ty met us and we headed over to the Island for a drink at one of our favourite watering holes, the Brazzas Cafe.

After a few tasty margaritas at the bar, we rolled over to Marisco Cisneros for their fantastic seafood soup.

Friday nights in Old Town see the local Folkloric Ballet company dancing in the Lazaro Cardenas Park to lively Latin music, featuring dances and costumes from several of the nearby States.

We finished that evening by meeting Beatrice for music at the Mole de Jovita cafe, listening to singer and guitarist Neiri.

A nice find was the Bar La Playa right next to the Saturday market; sitting there sipping a cold one, we chatted to several people we knew passing by after visiting the Market.

Having had the Los Lirios Seafood restaurant recommended to them, Pam, Cec, and Beatrice invited us to join them for dinner. A small family-run place which does not take reservations, the restaurant was packed when we arrived. The one hour wait was worth it, though – our seafood burritas were huge and stuffed with hot, spicy shrimp – yum!

Puerto Vallarta is packed to the rafters this season. People have told us that they have never seen the place so full. The hotels are full and if you do not get to the beach by 10, a lounger is not to be had.

So naturally Ty and I were up and out the door early, to be the first people on the beach at Swell Beach Bar, one of our fave haunts on the Playa de los Muertos. Ty is getting into the swing of retirement, project-managing his consumption of cervesas in the most optimum manner.

Sunday is the day when all the local families come down to the beach with all their kids and gear, playing volleyball and frolicking in the water.

And Sunday night is the night for dancing at the main square with the Municipal Band, attracting both locals and tourists. The couple below have probably been dancing together for 40 years and they move together like magic.

I popped into Art Vallarta to see what was up there and to check out my friend Angie’s Pillars of Painting class in the centre’s downstairs painting studio. All four of the students were painting up a storm and seemed very happy with what they were able to produce in only 3 days.

Some of the works from the Women and Men Paint Women show were still up in the Centre’s Gallery, a beautiful, colourful space.

A new clay maestro from North Carolina, Rob, is in residence teaching ceramics and creating a clay portrait bust for the upcoming Magical Mar show featuring works about water and the ocean. The exhibition will feature one of my films, Awash, and paintings, ceramics, textile installations, and sculpture by local and international artists.

Veronica is also there, teaching watercolours to an eager crowd of beginners.

And Carol Anne offers acrylic pour painting, painting on silk, and fused glass classes weekly during the high season. The place was alive with creative buzz.

Lest you think that I’m doing nothing but drink beer and lie on the beach, here are some photos to show that I am easing into the art-making down here as part of the Puerto Vallarta Plein Air Painters, a group of people who head out into the streets every week to paint the local scene.

Every week the group paints at a different location; today’s was the back streets of Gringo Gultch, made famous by the lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who canoodled here in the 60s while making The Night of the Iguana, the film that brought the world to PV.

This is the spot I chose to paint, first sitting on stone steps but then chased off by a constant stream of ants and a very affectionate cat who insisted on rubbing against me and all my gear. He also walked across my paint palette, leading Angie and I to franticly try rubbing all the turquoise paint off his four paws. We later learned his name is Pasquale; he is the cat of a local singer here, Sylvie.

There are quite a few street cats here who look to be in pretty good shape; the one below watched me balefully, definitely not as friendly as Pasquale.

I did the first layer of a street scene that I wasn’t particularly enamoured of, but will see how it looks after adding more colour, lights, and darks.

Here is Angie in the middle of working on her piece; she ended up staying there almost all day to finish it. As you can see, she has all the requisite gear for painting outside, including the umbrella.

See more photos here.

Walking the Waterfront in PV

Here is our pool at the Condominios Loma Linda, a fantastic development just above Highway 200, with a panoramic view of the bay. Since it’s after Semana Santa, this place is very quiet and we have had the pool to ourselves every day. It is really beautiful.

Kathy continues to work poolside on her watercolour staining technique, using sea salt to get interesting and unpredictable textures.

We decided to walk the Malecon the other day and took the very loonnnnng set of stairs down to the beach from our place. I was surprised to see that the stairs came out exactly at the entrance to the condo where Ty and I had stayed four years ago, just half a block from Los Muertos Beach.

The beach was just waking up from its night slumber, with vendors and salespeople getting their wares ready to go and limbering up their voices for the calls to buy.

We walked out on the pier to watch the boats and birds; lots of people were already lining up for the water taxis to Yelapa.

 

Some of the bronze sculptures along the Malecon are really starting to show their age and there’s a bit of wear and tear that the city really should repair on some of the statuary.

My attempt to climb the ladder was not nearly as elegant as Janet’s.

My favourite sculpture is the one below, of many strange creatures with multi-animaled heads and dissimilar feet.

The male figure in the group below has lost an arm; Janet kindly replaced it for him

Very intricate sand sculptures rest along the water here, with boxes for tips. If one takes a photo, one is supposed to drop a few coins into the receptacle – I obliged.

“El Gordo”, the pear-shaped fat one, is eternally eating his pear.

Our reward for the walk was beers, guacamole, and ceviche at the Mango Beach Club on Playa Camarones. This one’s for you, Ty – cheers!

See more photos here.

If I Only Had a Heart … Oh, Wait – I Do!

Heart printing

Ty and I got in on the ground floor of the Kickstarter fundraising campaign for a small consumer 3D printer, the M3D. After two years of waiting it’s here and on Ty’s workstation. For its maiden run, we are printing some small anatomical hearts in different colours from biodegradable plastic filament. Here is the first one, a half-size cherry red baby.

Heart printing2

First the printer lays down a “raft” of plastic which serves as a platform for the heart. Then it builds up the object with layers and layers of filament in a criss-crossing matrix. This model was set on fine and the heart produced is about 4 inches around; the details of the veins is quite good, although you can’t really tell from these photos, since the surface is so shiny. The trick to printing anything is to determine how to position the object on the print bed such that the resulting creation is both strong and aesthetically pleasing. Huzzah!

Heart printing3

Heart printing4

Hasta Luego, Puerto Vallarta!

Well, we are back in Vancouver after a wonderful trip, luckily to some beautiful sunny, albeit cold, weather. Here are some photos and thoughts from our last couple of days in and around Puerto Vallarta.

The beach vendors have a tough job, trying to sell stuff to vacationers who, in many cases, have been here many times and already have all the trinkets and Mexican clothing they want. These pictures are from Playa de los Camarones just past the north end of the Malecon.

These black and yellow birds are beautiful.

This little guy hopped up onto my umbrella just as I was trying to take another picture of him.

The banana boat didn’t see much action in these parts but this day a group of young men decided to give it a go. With the high waves, it was a bit difficult for the operators to get the banana to the beach so that they could jump on.

Coming back in after the ride was tricky, too; the waves were still high, some of them couldn’t swim, and one of the beach folks had to go out on the paddle board and bring them in.

This sculpture of sea gods near Rosita’s Hotel is a favourite roosting place for the pelicans that hang around here.

Pelicans are large! And have attitude in keeping with their size. This beast, who obviously considered this patch of sidewalk his turf, gave Ty a run for his money, coming after us with his beak open.

These two, dressed all in black under a black umbrella, were an interesting sight on the beach.

We took one last stroll down the Malecon to admire the sculptures and the roof top line-up of chubby aging rock gods.

Feeling the need for something cold after a hard day on the beach, we stopped in at Da Vino Dante, the wine and tapas bar upstairs from Gallery Dante – great spot!

Our very last day was spent at Swell Beach Bar on Playa Los Muertos; everyone was commenting on the condition of the beach; just as we saw elsewhere in the world, rising sea levels are eroding the playa here, leaving a smaller expanse of sand and an abrupt tide’s edge cliff of sand.

On our way back to the ranch the Pope blessed us from his balcony.

Last supper at the Blue Shrimp on the beach was just OK in terms of food but the guitarist, a Gypsy King’s tribute artist, was fantastic.

Micro dogs!

Coronas with ice!

Cemetery sculpture!

Ravens!

Tattoos!

Colourful paintings!

Skeletons!

Tiny parrots!

Big pelicans!

Sayonara, PV – Hasta Luego!

See more photos here.

Puerto Vallarta Walkin’

Coming to you more or less live from the hills of old town Puerto Vallarta, high above Los Muertos beach … We are ensconced at the Vista del Mar condominiums in Colonia Amapas, not too far from, but far above, where we stayed the last time we were in PV – Easter 2012. The weather is great, about 26 degrees, cloudless and sunny. From our two balconies we have a grand view out over the Bay of Banderas and the shining crown of Our Lady of Guadalupe church, PV Centro’s architectural landmark.

The view is beautiful both day and night.

“Our” condo is located in a pretty quiet complex; yesterday there was not a soul on the pool deck just below our apartment.

Our plan for this year is to try and pretend that we are living here and to do as the locals do … shop local, eat local, and use local transport, buses and our own two feet. Since we are basically on top of the mountain here, that means a pretty loooooonnnng trek back up the hill after a hard day out and about beating the pavement.

We arrived yesterday, after a 3:15 am wake-up call, a taxi ride to the airport, and a 4.5 hour direct flight, and spent a few hours casing the neighbourhood. Ty was delighted to discover that just down the hill from us is a little beer store, so we don’t have to schlep the cases of beer we will no doubt consume up from the beach. Check out the fashion statement below: I particularly like the striped socks and black oxfords combination, a must for PV explorers … sigh.

We are always interested in accommodations, having in the back of our minds the possibility of spending the winter months here. This lovely place is just down the hill from our place, likely an inexpensive option requiring no air-conditioning, given that it lacks windows.

After walking around for a bit getting tired and hungry, we rolled into a deserted comida casera just off Olas Altas and dug into some tacos and enchiladas before wandering down Basillo Badillo and exploring the area.

Today our mission was to get some electronica that we’d left behind, some minutes for the ol’ cell phones, and groceries. It’s interesting that there are no grocery stores in this area – none. Oxos galore, all selling FUD processed cheese and meat products – not too appealing – but no real food to be found. Yesterday we had  come across one small and decrepit tienda selling some sad looking fruits and vegetables, mostly way past their consumption date, and managed to pick out a few veggies that were still edible among the carcasses of the rotted, and found a gigantic pharmacy that sold the same inedible processed FUD-stuff as Oxo, where we nonetheless picked up some bread and milk.

Today, having stopped in at the Hacienda de Vallarta, drawn in by their Room Special sign, we were lucky enough to meet Pierce, one of the expat residents, and he filled us in on where the supermercado Ley, the local Safewayesque food emporium, was.

After a really good lunch at another inexpensive comida casera right next to the Church, El Campanario, where we got an amazing spread of tortilla soup, chicken fajitas, stew of the day, and pudding,

we walked north along the Malecon and eventually arrived at the Ley store, after a pause for liquid refreshment at Mango’s Beach Bar.

I love the super markets in Mexico; as you can see from the giant black speaker strategically placed near the avocados, they all blast out lively dance music, possibly to generate a general feeling of energy and well-being that manifests in more food purchases. Bags in hand, we grabbed a bus southward that dropped us in the general direction of our place and made our way, hot and sweaty, uphillward home.

We managed to negotiate the day with only a few minor meltdowns after having purchased credits for our cell phones only to find that they’d been uploaded to some random Mexican guy’s phone rather than ours. Below are a few more pictures of the Malecon sculpture art.

You can just see Ty peeking out from beneath these pairs of legs.

This sculpture, El Gordo – the Fat Man, not our late and unlamented mug-shotted premier – reminds me a little bit of the open-mouthed gigantic pelicans that roost on the boats around here waiting to consume vast quantities of caught fish.

After being inspired by the panorama of portly past their prime rockers displayed atop one of the restaurants lining the Malecon, Ty picked a too-tiny tree to hide behind …

See a few more photos here.

Art in August

If it’s August, it must be the Harmony Arts Festival, the annual arts extravaganza on the waterfront in West Vancouver. Although we had had glorious sunny weather for the whole month of July here on the west coast, the sunniest and driest ever, by the time the opening evening of the Harmony Arts Festival rolled around the beginning of August it was grey and cloudy … sigh. Here are my two pieces selected for the Responsive Landscape exhibition, both from the infrared photograph series Urban Pastoral, not a great picture but you get the idea.

Ty and I enjoyed the opening anyway, with a nice glass of wine on the Ambleside waterfront. This festival includes a couple of juried art exhibitions, lots of vendors in tents, and musical performances alfresco on the beach.

I was happy to see the sun return after its brief disappearance; this garden at George Wainborn Park is really amazing, especially on a sunny day.

Out walking the dog one day, I happened upon this art work being installed in the Park; local artist Daphne Harwood was doing a trial run of her pop up quilt installation entitled #4 Oh Solo Double Trio, a meditation on numbers which she intends to set up for public viewing soon.

On now in the Van Dusen Botanical Garden is Touch Wood, an exhibition of wood sculpture curated by Celia Duthie and and Nicholas Hunt of the Duthie Gallery on Salt Spring Island. Touch Wood has more than two dozen wood sculptures and installations by B.C. artists such as Brent Comber, Michael Dennis, Alastair Heseltine and Martha Varcoe Sturdy, among others.

Inside the visitors centre, smaller scale wood-based works are installed in the Discovery Room, including some fine woodblock prints by Richard Tetrault.

On the day I visited the Garden, it was hot and sunny, perfect conditions for outdoor art-viewing.

I particularly enjoyed this white-painted wood piece by Brent Comber.

The Satellite Gallery on Seymour is showcasing two artists, Greg Semu and Shigeyuki Kihara from the South Pacific, in Paradise Lost?, part of a larger exhibit at the Museum of Anthropology. I found this show to be quite striking and particularly interesting because the artists were Samoans living abroad. We visited Samoa in our trip around the world in 2011-12 and saw no evidence of contemporary art while there.

From the Gallery’s website, here is an account of the show:

“The pacific islands occupy a place in the western imagination as a paradise filled with idyllic beaches and lush, tropical landscapes inhabited by dusky maidens.
With historical precedents in the accounts of European explorers, these perceptions were later re-invented and popularized by Hollywood films in the 1920s through the ’50s. Contemporary artists from the Pacific Islands frequently play with and invert such perceptions, and their work provides an alternate, more complex vision of the region.

Paradise Lost? Contemporary Works from the Pacific features works by artists from Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Working in video, installation, sculpture, painting, and photography, the artists show the Pacific Islands from an insider’s perspective. Their artworks explore environmental concerns, cultural heritage issues, questions relating to the experience of migration and diaspora, and the intersection of Indigenous belief systems and Western religions.”

Greg Semu’s pieces reference iconic western art, such as Da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Pieta, traditionally a meditation on the Dead Christ, reimagined with Pacific Islanders replacing the usual protagonists.

Kihara’s video works show the artist in a 19th century Victorian dress enacting various ritual South Pacific Dances; I particularly liked the Shiva dancing figure.

Since I am still working on an installation that will include mannequins and heads, I was delighted to find Duchesse, a thrift emporium on Columbia between Hastings and Pender in Chinatown from which I acquired several pieces. Anna, the owner, showed me photos of what the place looked like before she and her partner began renovations; they have done an amazing job of fixing the place up.

A project whose mandate I really support is Papergirl, now a worldwide phenomenon of art, cycling, and philanthropy; an exhibition of this year’s donated artwork is now on at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver.

Begun by an artist in Berlin nine years ago, Papergirl involves donated art from local contributors, both amateur and professional, which is then rolled up and given by volunteer cyclists to unsuspecting, random people on a designated day, a la traditional newspaper delivery.

Almost 1,000 works were donated this year, quite a few of which are on display.

For more information on this project, click here. I was happy to donate an artwork and my time to this venture.  The Roundhouse was also the site of Trangression Now, a group show of work by GBLT artists curated by Paul Wong and Glen Alteen.

The intricacy and detail of this collage work was quite amazing.

I also liked the thoughtful, meditative self-portraits by Joe Average

and the Butch project showing various alternative female subjectivities.

Skating around Stanley Park one morning, I was delighted to see the crochet-bombing that had popped up on the Amazing Laughter sculpture at English Bay just in time for Pride Week.

A final thought to leave with you, heads in trees …

See more photos here.

Autumn in Vancouver

Now that Winter is here I can only dream about the glorious Fall we had in Vancouver this year. Here’s the local wildlife enjoying a nibble at Beaver Lake in Stanley Park.

The pool at Second Beach has been left to the birds.

Drift on Main seems to be losing energy but I did enjoy seeing Julie McIntyre’s studio space where she’s working on some small-format mixed media prints.

I have been documenting the towers rising in our neighbourhood; this crane is building the condos where the old Cecil Hotel at the end of Granville Bridge used to be.

This gigantic tower is rising on Pacific Street across from George Wainborn Park, leaving us only a tiny sliver of False Creek water view.

November means the Eastside Culture Crawl, the vast annual cultural extravaganza in which hundreds of artists’ studios are open to the public for a three day art blitz. Torrie Groening’s new space at 832 Jackson is fabulous, an old church converted into studio, exhibition, and living spaces. I was surprised to see glasses exactly like mine in one of her large format images.

Torrie and Steven have done an amazing job of fixing up this building; it contains Torrie’s archive of prints, her equipment, and lots of room to work.

The huge rabbit warren that is 1000 Parker is always an art feast; here are a few samples of the smorgasbord on display: Christian Dahlberg’s neon photos,

Bluegrass music in the studio,

contemporary surrealist painting,

sculpture by David Robinson,

and green art, living plants displayed in frames and shadow boxes.

We watched a glass blowing demo at the Mergatroid Building, reminding me of my early ventures at this art in a garage studio in Dunbar, the products of which I still have on hand. Amazingly I managed not to set myself alight while working with the molten glass.

A hopeful sign adorns a locker in the Purple Thistle Art Cooperative studio.

Ty was beginning to lose steam at this point.

Apparently there is still a market for handprinted silkscreen T-shirts.

I was happy to catch up with my old friend Maggie Manning at the William and Clark studios.

Monika Blichar’s goth/comic art made me smile.

This fellow creates art from ordinary industrial wire, bending and working it to create sculptures and gigantic armatures for paper lanterns.

Wendy’s large-scale lotus paintings are serene and lovely.

Esther and Richard at 800 Hawks had some lively double-exposed photographs, woodcuts, and mixed media on mylar works on display in their great Strathcona studio.

Years and years ago I was involved in a life drawing class run by Richard out of the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings.

At the Razstone Studio on Powell street I enjoyed seeing Ken Clarke’s concrete sculptures of grotesques.

The Crawl is always a mixed bag of stuff but what a stimulating treat; I really love seeing what everyone is doing and the vibe generated by the thousands of artists and art buffs who support the annual event.

See more pictures here.

 

 

 

A ferryboat ride and a stroll through the gardens – Sydney!

Sydney – what a grand place! I have never had any inclination to come to Australia before and if we hadn’t had to travel here to catch our flight to Bali, I probably never would have come. But that would have been a mistake. Sydney, at least what I’ve seen of it so far, is beautiful. We arrived last night, being transported by Steve in his limo (!), at the Waterside Apartments in Manly, a lovely beach town about 45 minutes north of the city. According to Wikipedia, Manly was named by Captain Arthur Phillip for the indigenous people living there: “their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”…

Our home for the week is a studio apartment one block from Manly Beach – the location is fabulous, just off the Corso, a pedestrian area with many small shops, coffee bars, delis, restaurants and bars, and the Manly Wharf, with ferry service to downtown Sydney in 30 minutes. After having spent the last five days in a hotel, I’m really glad to have our own place – I like the anonymity of an apartment and, best of all, being able to cook our own meals. I do get tired of eating out. The apartment is small, one longish box with a small kitchen at one end and a large terrace at the other, but it suits us just fine.

This morning dawned slightly overcast with the promise of sunny periods (jeez, I do sound like a weather reporter …) and so, after a couple of cups of delicious coffee and pastries from the coffee bar around the corner, we headed out to check out Manly Beach. Along its length people were walking, running, skate-boarding, surfing and swimming. After Ty had picked up a new pair of flip-flops (his $8 ones having given up the ghost in Nadi),

we investigated the inline skate and bike rentals, determining that we’ll do that this weekend, and then headed towards the Wharf and the ferry.

After having purchased a weekly pass, we hopped on the boat and cruised along the coast to and through Sydney Harbour, passing the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and anchoring at the Circular Quay right downtown. Much of the land along the coast is undeveloped, with a long, low coastline and interesting shale rock formations with the occasional golden sand beach.

After getting off the ferry, we followed the Writers Walk, a 50 person bronze plaque trail along the harbourfront, including plaques for Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, took pictures of the iconic Sydney Opera House, and then entered into the Royal Botanic Gardens, an amazing park stretching out along the water.

Some philistine had parked his car on Umberto Eco’s plaque – the indignity!

The Botanic Gardens, established in 1816 and home to over 17,000 plant species, has, for us, really fascinating flora and fauna; almost every creature and plant we saw was one we don’t have at home.

Funny Ibis birds with long curved beaks, Noisy Mynah birds (cheeky beggars), red-beaked ducks with tiny babies (it’s Spring here), and other interesting varieties of birds captured our attention, as did the trees full of Flying Foxes, an indigenous variety of large fruit bats. These creatures have colonised several trees in the park, from which the wardens are trying to remove them, with little luck, as far as I can tell. The Mynah birds have incredibly sentient faces.

We were lucky enough to be able to check out the Artisans in the Garden art exhibition at the Lions Gate Pavilion, an interesting show of sculpture, pottery, jewellery, and ceramic art in a garden setting. Especially enjoyable were the silver sculptures of lizards and dragons whose alert faces and expressions really intrigued us.

After spending some time there, we wandered through the fern pavilion, in which beautiful varieties of tree fern were displayed – these are really amazing – and the Palace Gardens, whose sculpture reminded me very much of the Boboli Gardens in Florence.

We decided to venture into the Opera House and purchased tickets for the Tuesday night showing of Puccini’s La Boheme, which I’m very excited about. Satiated with grooving on foliage, we caught the ferry back to Manly, picked up some steaks to throw on the terrace barbie, and enjoyed a feed of red meat (first time on the trip for me – I’ve been eating mainly vegetarian). Mostly the prices for things such as cappuccinos, beer and wine, and groceries are more or less the same as in Vancouver, but some things are noticeably cheaper; for example, jars of peanut butter and jam are 1/5 the price.

Read more about the Royal Botanic Gardens here.

See more pictures here.

Kadikalesi and Gumusluk

Small Armonia Byzantine Church shrine

This morning, after a lovely breakfast of fried zucchini, carrot, onion and egg with toast, cheese and olives prepared by Seray and eaten in the garden next to the almost-empty pond, I set off on my bicycle for the 450 year old Byzantine church in Kadikalesi. I loaded myself down with all the gear required for a small shrine to be erected in that ruin of a church, my backpack on the back and two bags full hanging from the handlebars and banging into the front wheel as I pedaled, the wind not being as congenial as the other day when I rode laden. As usual, there was no one in the church and no one seemed at all interested in what I was doing – all the Armonia Holiday Village and Spa guests were lying prone poolside.

I decided to use one of the two niches left sort of intact to the left of what would have been the altar. The remains of tea light candles could be seen in this niche, as well as the one next to it and another little hole in the south wall. Also, little piles of rocks testified to small campfires in the near or distant past. I set up my little assemblage, watched the small candle flames gutter and the crepe paper ribbons flutter in the breeze, then packed it all up again and rolled back down the hill to the beach at Kadikalesi.

I had not been down to this beach before and it is quite nice and, in this area at this time, at least, practically deserted. To the right of what used to be a small pier, now derelict and unrenovated, as per usual, several workers were cleaning the beach in front of a fish restaurant getting ready to open for the season and dumping their wheelbarrows full of junk right next to the entrance to the beach. I wondered why they had to dump their junk right in that precise spot, where anyone wanting to walk down the steps and onto what remained of the pier would have to walk. It seemed thoughtless, to say the least. Sitting on the next rock bench was a local woman wearing a headscarf and a pair of denim short shorts – seemed like an incongruous pairing to me … She was fishing from the beach and did catch a few small fish which she packed up in a bucket and took away with her. The beach was pleasant enough and I sat for a bit enjoying the breeze and eating my orange, while bad nouveau disco music pumped across the water at me from the restaurant further down the way.

After dropping off my bags of stuff back at the Academy ranch, I headed back down to Gumusluk beach to take pictures of the sculpture symposium works that I had previously missed. On the street leading to the village centre, just up a hill next to a children’s playground, is an abstract work overlooking the housing estate below. Another, an abstract rendering of three figures, sits on the beach gracing the larger bay in front of what is now a whitewashed and cemented-over wreck of a building. When speaking to a beachside pension owner later, he asked me what I thought of all the sculpture and, when I replied that it was “cok guzel” – very beautiful – and that it made this village something special, he seemed amazed to hear it. Possibly other visitors are not so entranced … (As an aside, I am reminded of the reactions of Vancouverites and others to the Sculpture Biennial works erected around our city over the past several years … especially the intensely negative reaction to the upside-down church with its spire stuck in the ground, called Device to Root out Evil, down at Coal Harbour. I believe that it was removed as a result). The two figurative pieces along the harbour I had already posted pictures of so, after a Nescafe at the tea house, I made my way up to the carpark just above the beach to document two more, one, next to the taxi stand, called Requiem and the other, in the carpark, called Ada and Zaman.

On the road leading from the beach through the village centre, I saw on my right a castle-like structure that I’m amazed I hadn’t noticed before. And weirdest of all, in niches going all the way up both sides of the front “turret” are reproductions of some of western art’s most famous sculptures (Michelangelo’s David, Moses and Pieta, as well as David’s head, and Rodin’s Balzac), along with cheesecake models, strange cartoon figures and the many-breasted Diana of Ephesus – postmodernism at its finest, in Gumusluk! In the front and back gardens, ponds with sculptural fountains including nude female figures adorned the space. This place stands out from its neighbouring crowd of white blocky Satan’s eared houses, to say the least. I was tempted to knock on the door to see who owned it – maybe next time.

On my way back again I stopped at the Ada café in the village and sampled some homemade cuisine – the world’s smallest meatballs with dolmades and salad. The place was quite pleasant with some peculiar decorations: a tree made of two dried korek stalks decorated with ribbons tied in bows and other assorted paraphernalia, a wishing tree as I discovered, a portrait of Ataturk looking like Count Dracula in a tuxedo, and about 7 or 8 Santa Claus figurines, one of which was hanging with an upside-down reindeer on the korek tree. If I’d been able to do so, I would have told “Ada” about my korek project …

And some beast has been biting me, in my room and while out on the bike. From what I can discern, it’s spiders – bastards! That’s the downside of living in glorious nature …

See pictures here.