Vancouver moment

We talked recently about some San Francisco impressions. Now that I've lived in Vancouver for a while, I've done a lot of walking around and, naturally, have accumulated impressions about this city as well. Yes, it rains a lot. But the air off the Pacific Ocean is always clean and the summers are never muggy.

There is a little parkette above West 8th Avenue, where you can sit under the shade of trees and look northward across the city centre to the mountains. It's a nice patch of landscaping with grass, patio stones and benches with planters, tucked in behind an office tower on Broadway Avenue. This little oasis is elevated on the Fairview slope, and like so many properties in town, is bordered by an evergreen hedge. What's unique about it, however, is the view it offers of this fortunate city.

When you stand near the hedge, you can see over the neighbourhood rooftops, over the water of False Creek, to the tall city buildings and the North Shore mountains beyond. You also get a glimpse to the west of English Bay and the waters of the Georgia Strait.

It's a tranquil place, especially after office hours. It's nice to be there when the sky clears after a stretch of cloudy weather. Twilight can be special.

On certain quiet windless evenings, wispy layers of white cloud hang motionless just below the coastal peaks, hugging the trees on the mountainside, leaving the tops clear.

Looking between the buildings over to the west, you can see the cargo ships on the glassy water of English Bay turn on their lights as the sun disappears behind the silhouette of Vancouver Island beyond. The lighthouse at Point Atkinson blinks on and off, signalling the arrival of nightfall.

It's a place and time that soothes in so many ways...

Photo credit:
Thanks to Jason Antony, who made his shot available at

Additional Links:
False Creek
Point Atkinson pictures
English Bay
Vancouver Island
Georgia Strait

Previously in this blog:
A seal and a ferry in the Strait
False Creek at night
English Bay view


Sometimes we think we have challenges, but honestly we don't have any idea of what we are capable of doing.

Here's an example. As I walked into a Starbucks coffee shop the other day, I was surprised to see a dwarf hunched over in the corner. He seemed to be wrestling with a backpack on the ground. Not only was he very short, but he had no arms; only small stumps extended a few inches from his shoulders. He was tugging at the straps of the backpack with his teeth, trying to lift it up and turn it around. He looked like he was maybe twenty or twenty-five-years-old.

I watched for a moment as he fought with the backpack and its contents, trying without success to arrange things with his teeth, pulling and lifting. I wasn't sure what to do. No one seemed to be paying any attention. I don't know if he was hoping someone would step forward to assist, but I decided to ask.

I said, " Would you like some help, or would you rather do that yourself?," wondering if this way of posing the question would do, not wanting to sound condescending. He said "Yeah," with a puff and a smile of resignation, and I felt relieved.

Even with the use of my hands and arms, the task was not easy. A computer laptop had fallen out of the backpack and was pushing a black rain jacket onto the floor. The backpack kept flopping open. I finally got it arranged and then found that zipping it closed was not easy either.

When I was done, he asked me to sling it over his shoulder, leaning forward and extending his right stump towards me. The pack was heavy. Once we got it on his back, he thanked me, grabbed a donut he had placed nearby with his teeth, and walked over to a counter. I picked up my coffee order, turned and saw him walking out the door to stand at a bus stop, where he juggled the donut in his mouth, angling his face to the sky to prevent morsels falling to the ground.

I don't think he was the type of person to worry about how he was going to get things done; he just somehow did them.

As I walked away I thought: what an obvious reminder that was, out of the blue, to be thankful and count my blessings. And what a reminder from a stranger that "not trying" should never really be an option...

(For more posts, click on some of the blog archive links in the box on the right)

San Francisco

So much has been said about San Francisco. From the Golden Gate bridge to Fisherman's Wharf, and from Lombard Street to Nob Hill, the city offers memorable experiences. They connect intrinsically with Hollywood images, tales from history and unforgettable melodies (just three examples among dozens: Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding, San Francisco [Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair] by Scott McKenzie and the unforgettable I Left My Heart in San Francisco by Tony Bennett); on a trip to the Bay area these personal experiences link to so much popular culture in your psyche that unless you're writing a tourist guide made up of simple lists of things to see and do, words just seem inadequate to describe the sensations of a visit there.

My wife, son and I spent four days in San Francisco and were lucky to visit during a four-day stretch of clear weather. The overriding impression I will keep with me is the general brightness of the city and, naturally, the steepness the downtown hills, which are even more inclined than one might have imagined. Many buildings are white or off-white in colour and in the sunshine it feels like you are enveloped in luminosity; walking around in that kind of brightness requires the use of shades, as light comes at you from many directions, reflected and direct. It's a wonderful feeling on a spring day when you crave the warmth. Waiting for my family outside a corner grocery store near Telegraph Hill, I leaned back against a sun-washed wall, felt the heat, and closed my eyes and melted in all that brightness.

San Francisco also appears to be the most Mediterranean-like of the cities that I've visited in North America. While Southern California and the American Southwest generally exhibit strong Mexican and Spanish influences, San Francisco reminds me of some of the cities of the northern Mediterranean: places like Genoa and Nice, for example. The steep slopes and the tight homes built on them use similar building methods, a European aesthetic, the same use of space -- garage ramps graded at challenging angles to the slope of the hill, or external stairs connecting homes on different levels or linking pedestrians with roads on separate parts of a hill...

Balconies with flowers; the constant breezes blowing in off the ocean or the waters of the bay; large urban trees providing welcome shade, but also colouring the streetscapes with splashes of green; the aroma of espresso at the outdoor tables in the North Beach neighbourhood, the church dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi rising nearby, it's facade painted - what else? - a bright white.

Impressions that will linger for a very long time...


>Bay City Guide
>A list of top ten things to do in San Francisco can be found here.
>San Francisco Lonely Planet Guide