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Unlabor Day


Harrison Hot Springs
BC, Canada

Labor day I spent at leisure, walking around Vancouver. A fellow tried to sell me a $9000 silk and wool Persian rug. A bargain, he insists. Sometimes I have good taste, and part of that is not indulging it. Why, you could buy a heart attack for that!

I had lunch in a sidewalk cafe called "Honey's Character", by the Hotel Europe in Gastown. Steak and Prawns. There were some other characters there. A couple of a certain age sat across from me, discussing the menu in French. While I was waiting for my beer, a trio of stringy young men entered from the side and sat down behind them. They were a little grungy, a little loud, a little wrinkled and unwashed. Sported the 5 day beards of the mock Apache. They were joking and laughing in French. The old couple barely paused, then slipped effortlessly into German. Whereupon, after a short silence, the hooligans slid over into what I first thought of as a particularly musical Spanish, and later, after noting a few round vowels, decided must be Portuguese.

It was one of those European moments, a little linguistic two-step of mutual exclusion, a subtle drawing of boundaries. Neither group took any other notice of the other. My contribution was to listen in with a rusty but serviceable English sense of humor.

I understood not a word of it, but I supposed what was going on there was a desire for asymmetric privacy. Each wanted to understand without being understood. I rather prefer the opposite: being understood without having to understand. Language is more beautiful when heard without comprehension. I don't know what birds are saying, either, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying them.

Once you labor to learn a few French phrases, much is lost to you. You must deal with logic, inference, attitude, insult, and retribution. If you can remain ignorant, all is music to your ears. I like being a typical American tourist. Ignorance is the beginning of romance.

Well, that was the only European adventure I had in my walk. All the rest was Asian. Vancouver appears to have become a suburb of Hong Kong. It's not just the people in the street - all of whom can't be tourists - but the skyline. The skyline is much like pictures I have seen of Shanghai. Great apartment blocks are going up, and have gone up, in that popular Asian style of layer cake architecture. Flat roofs, myriad tiny balconies, a hatchwork of different size window, and the lack of any apparent overall statement. Perhaps the statement is fractal - all the building offers the eye can be seen in the smallest part of it. You see one floor, you've seen them all.

At the foot of Davie Street in Yaletown is a modern sculpture that inadvertently sums up the neighborhood. It is a tangled mess of leaning steel, with window-like squares of mesh scattered through it. The sum fails to improve the parts.

I remember what these buildings remind me of. If you look up quickly and away, the hundreds of little squares of translucent and opaque glass give the same impression as hundreds of single-room A/C units leaning and dripping from ledges. That's the sort of thing you used to see in urban slums across the south, fifty years ago. I guess that explains my prejudice against this style. They remind my eye of towering, expensive, instant slums.

All that said, I'd like to live in one. I suspect that looking out those windows is quite a different experience from looking up at them. But it will never happen. Ugly as they are, these condos are advertised as "beginning" at $140K. I like my ugly little trailer, pulled by a purty truck.

Vancouver has some interesting buildings. The Public Library, for instance, is built to suggest the ruin of the Roman Coliseum. But the apartment blocks dominate. The best of them are relieved by setbacks toward the top.

Toward evening I ended up in Stanley Park, having an ale at the Vancouver Rowing Club. I had wondered where all the Caucasians were. I could get into this. A few row manfully by, their oars leaving twin dimples in the bay. A hundred more sit on a barge, drinking ale and roaring their approval. My kind of sport.

I finished up on a bench near the nine o'clock gun, a charming relic of a gentler age. Seems there once was an actual curfew for teenagers, beginning when the gun went off. No excuses. Didn't you hear the cannon?

The gun is never fired these days, but the spit on which it is mounted is a grand place to sit and watch the boats go by, big and small. Here I was reminded that Vancouver was not about architecture, but about commerce and the sea. On the opposite shore you can see a mountain of golden sulphur, waiting for it's ship to come in. Floating palaces drift by, headed for Alaska. Floatplanes rise irregularly to remind you this bay is also a busy airport.

An otter is fishing just below me. It's 7 pm. Time for some sushi.

Looking over this, my comments seem negative. Actually I love Vancouver. It is a grand, crowded, prosperous, complicated, lovely city on the sea.

All that's behind me. This morning bought new tires for the trailer and set off for Harrison Hot Springs. It is an idyllic place. A deep lake with rounded green mountains tumbling steeply into the water. Maybe it's just talking to Wade, but I feel a resemblance to Lake Lugano in Switzerland. All you need are a scattering of red-tiled villas.

But just as it is ain't bad. A wide beach, with an international Sand Castle Sculpture contest at the east end. Balmy breezes, bright sun, golden sand, a cold lake to swim in, a hot pool to relax in, an impromptu supper of bagels sliced thin and slathered with smoked salmon and cream cheese, a half bottle of cabernet - stop me when you are convinced, I could go on.

The question comes unbidden - why leave? I could set up housekeeping here, and dream into my dotage, were it not certain the season will turn....

But leave I will, tomorrow, for the sunshine coast, Port Hardy, the Inside Passage, and perhaps a date with a whale or two. Also, of course, there's a certain campground along the Columbia. Sigh. The sacrifices we are called to make.

Bob PS: Wade and Gerri have been wonderful hosts. My thanks.

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