view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More thoughts on Vancouver

shipNot to beat up too much on this pseudo-city, but Vancouver seems less a destination and more a place on the way to somewhere else. I’m still trying to figure this place out, and an early observation is that the mayor’s office should hand out “just passing through” t-shirts to everyone. Cruise ships dock here regularly, flooding downtown with thousands of senior citizen tourists who collect fridge magnets and snow globes before they disembark to points north. Film productions condosdescend on town like a modern equivalent of the traveling circus. They set up camp for a while, grab the shots they need and leave just as fast. There are million dollar waterfront condos that sit vacant for months on end waiting for their summer residents.

Everywhere you turn construction projects are underway, and there’s more homeless on the streets than anywhere else I've seen. It all ads up to a city in transit, a big giant revolving door of a town.

nightSo, in keeping with this apparent stepping-stone personality of Vancouver, I’m choosing to treat it as a spring board to the Great Elsewhere. I'm living for the weekends when I can ride my bike amongst the redwoods, kayak the ocean inlets, and hike the local mountains. Maybe this is just life in the Pacific Northwest, where it’s not about the city, it’s about the larger surrounding environment.

boatsSo, my head scratching about where we currently call home continues. It fits well with the slogan for our vagabond life – home is where the luggage is. Or, in Vancouver’s case, home is where we keep the camping gear.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

You Can’t Do This Sitting in Traffic on the 405

Part 2
This last weekend Tiff and I headed north of downtown for some ocean kayaking.

We set out from Deep Cove, a tiny little place on a fjord called the Indian Arm that stretches north into the surrounding mountains. It was a cool and misty afternoon and except for a couple other boats, we seemed to have the place to ourselves. Curious seals visited with us as we drifted under cliffs of pine forests. With a little imagination we could’ve easily been the first explorers to venture up this coast.

The last time I was kayaking was about 5 years ago, so I was a little wobbly at first. I’ve got to take some of the many classes they offer here so I’ll feel more confident in these skinny little boats.

Can’t wait to get out here some more.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Bears are Coming!

Let’s here it for public art!

Vancouver, it turn out, can be a fairly gray place. It rains approximately 500 days a year here. But to brighten your walk around the city, a whole slew of vibrant bears has wandered into downtown. These colorful creatures can be found on almost every street corner.

Tiff and I spent an afternoon hopping from one to the other in our very own bear treasure hunt.


Check out more bear pictures here


Tuesday, May 23, 2006


The incomparable Bill Reid strikes again with another monumental sculpture. This time it’s a killer whale that resides outside the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park. The Aquarium itself isn’t the greatest, but this whale is worth a visit.

Monday, May 22, 2006

You Can’t Do This Sitting in Traffic on the 405

Part 1
Regular readers will have noticed my recent entries have a slight Canadian accent to them. Turns out I’m living in Vancouver these days! I've temporarily left the traffic and beige-ness of LA for the pine trees and high lakerise condos of the Pacific Northwest.

Tiffany has been working on an animated film up here for a few months while I was on my own show in LA. We swore we'd never do the long distance thing again, but the money was nice and it seemed like a good idea at the time. So, we found ourselves once again living in separate cities, though at least this time around we were in the same time zone, and a flight is only a few hours.

shoreBut about a month ago, Tiff's show offered me a job. I was really liking the film I was on in LA. It was really a lot of fun, low budget, but with that we're-all-in-this-together kind of camaraderie. The offices, though, were across town and the commute plus the meager pay was killing me. So, after much guilt about leaving a project half-way through, I agreed to take the Vancouver job. I loaded up the car on a Saturday morning, and 20 hours (and many cups of coffee) later, I was here in beautiful B.C.

bridgeI've been up here for a couple weeks now, and sure enough, this new movie is a chaotic nightmare. You can read Tiff's blog for some not-so-veiled complaints about the office and those "in charge." I've worked on some stinkers, but this one might take the cake. But then, it’s a short-term gig, and I'm not here for the show anyway. It's life outside the office that just about makes up for the incompetence of it all.

poleWe've got an apartment on the 12th floor of a high-rise condo in downtown. There's some pretty great restaurants within walking distance and more coffee shops than you can shake a stick at. We've found some unique book stores, and taken the water taxi over to Granville Island to the farmers' market. I've got my bike with me so in the mornings I can ride amongst redwoods in Stanley Park. And a 20 minute drive north of town there's amazing snow-covered mountains that I can't wait to explore, as well as sheltered sea kayaking. (I've started taking kayaking lessons so I know how to get back in the boat when I fall out. One of my goals for my time here is to learn how to do an Eskimo Roll.) I also brought all our camping gear with me so we can go a little further afield and explore the local mountains on weekends.

usSo, in order to survive this crazy show, and to assuage any lingering guilt about leaving LA, my mantra has become “you can’t do this sitting in traffic on the 405.”

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Life in Urban Vancouver

urbangroup01What's with all the “urban” store names? It's impossible to walk around this town without being reminded that this is an "urban" environment. Vancouver is a small place, downtown is more a vertical suburb than an actual city, and yet at every turn I’m being told that this metro-environment is on par with New York or London. I can't help but think this place is trying to mask a bit of an inferiority complex.

Methinks Vancouver dost protest too much.


The Spirit of Haida Gwaii

spirit8In the Vancouver airport there’s the most amazing sculpture by Haida artist Bill Reid.

Spirit of Haida Gwaii is a massive bronze sculpture that’s 6m long spirit5and weighs in at almost 5000kg. This thing is big! Treated with a green patina to resemble British Columbia jade, Spirit is deeply symbolic, portraying supernatural beings driven from their traditional homeland to the sea. This is the mythology of the Haida people all jammed into one small boat. spirit7There’s Bear, Wolf, Raven, Dogfish Woman and many others, all central to the Haida mythology, a mythology that’s as rich as that of ancient Greece. All these beings are crowded in together and somehow managing to remain afloat. But peace is hard to come by. Wolf is biting Eagle’s wing, who in turn chomps on Bear’s paw. Everyone’s squabbling and shifting for position. It’s noisy and chaotic, but somehow they’re all paddling in the same direction.

As Reid himself has explained…

spirit6There is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreaming? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.

spirit2More and more of us these days are forced from our homes for one reason of another, and all of us can relate to being a bit adrift. Life is a voyage after all. It’s fitting that the Jade Canoe is in an airport where people come and go all day, each dragging their own personal mythologies with them. Bill Reid himself is almost deified here on the North Pacific Coast. He was a master artist who embraced his Haida heritage and helped introduce this indigenous art to a wider world. Thanks to him, these spirits can sail once again for all to see.

Stanley Park totem poles

Turns out Vancouver is a place that actually encourages public displays of art. These totem poles all gather in one corner of the amazing Stanley Park.


Leaving an Impression

Vancouver sidewalks.
Come on! How cool is this?!



Saturday, May 06, 2006

Vancouver Art Gallery

Back in Vancouver for the weekend!

extTiff and I ventured out to spend some time and money at the Vancouver Art Gallery this afternoon. I had read that they have some nice paintings by local favorite Emily Carr, so I thought it would be fun to see what Canadian painters have been up to.

Whenever I’m in a new part of the world I love to see what’s been going on art-wise. It’s a wonderful window into how a place sees itself, and sometimes more so than guide books, it’s a great way to learn the culture and history.

ec1Emily Carr lived and painted in British Columbia in the early 1900s and spent a lot of time among the First Nation peoples depicting scenes of village life. The museum has some large paintings of hers as well as rough pencil sketches all done in her Fauvist style (similar to Gauguin). They were great to see, but weren’t my favorite. I was more impressed with the Group of Seven – a local group of painters who worked around the same time with the goal to consciously produce a unique Canadian iconography, something distinct from Europe. Their styles are 72impressionistic and bold - the light is just different here - and the more I see of the landscape here in B.C., the more I can see what these artists saw. In the bookstore I picked up a hiker’s guide to the Canadian Rockies that uses these paintings as a guide. Now that’s a guide book I can use!

whaleUpstairs the museum had two temporary exhibits and both were hits. Local artist Brian Jungen is a sculptor who makes traditional artifacts out of contemporary stuff. He had three life-sized whale skeletons suspended from the ceiling made entirely out of plastic lawn chairs. There was amazing care and detail in these things. He also had a huge black traditional tee-pee made from the hides of leather couches. What’s old is new, and what’s new is old again.

mask2The centerpiece of his exhibit was 23 traditional indigenous masks made from cut-up Nike Air Jordan shoes. It was spooky how life-like these masks can be, with their eye holes and traditional red, black and white coloring. Very cool stuff.mask3

On the top floor were paintings by Takeo Tanabe, another Canadian who paints giant panoramic landscapes of the scenery around Alberta where the land is flat and the sky is huge. His stuff was very impressive, as if you could step into the art and walk all the way to the horizon.

Our guide book pooh-poohed this museum for being over-priced and a bit lacking, but for us it was a big hit. Now we can’t wait to go back next month to see their exhibit on 200 years of indigenous Haida art.

(Art gallery quote of the day… “I’ve looked at all of them, and this one is the weirdest by far!” said by a little girl to her father.)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ashes and Snow

ash5For the last couple of months down by the pier in Santa Monica there’s been a strange and massive construction residing in the parking lot. This giant iron and canvas colossus built out of shipping containers is the “Nomadic Museum,” and it houses the travelling art show Ashes and Snow.

The exhibit inside is the work of artist Gregory Colbert, and consists of large sepia-toned photographs, as well as non-narrative short films depicting elephants, whales, birds of prey, and other animals in the presence of meditating, dancing and sleeping humans. The imagery is undeniably beautiful and soothingly mysterious. In one film a man dives deep underwater beneath a swimming elephant, cheetahs move in slow motion amongst blowing sands on a desert dune, and a woman dances as a huge bird of prey swoops overhead. It's visual poetry drenched in sepia, and after a while I found myself succumbing to the meditative state that the entire exhibit exudes.

ash1There are no captions on the photos and only sparse poetic narration in one of the films. Viewers are left to draw their own conclusions as to what this all means. It seems a show of contrasts and similarities. There’s the innocence of a small child curled up against the coarse skin of a towering elephant, or a woman being lead by the hand by an orangutan. In another film, a woman dances writhely amongst a group of baby elephants in latte-thick water. Drenched in monochromatic sepia and shot in slow motion, these are gorgeous images, some heart-achingly beautiful. On the Ashes and Snow web site the still photos are described as “exploring the poetic sensibilities of animals in their natural habitat as they interact with human beings.”

ash7But as I wandered through this church-like space, along with the appreciation of intent, the depictions of inter-species communion, I also had troubling thoughts. Some of the images seemed to me unintentionally menacing. I was reminded of Grizzly Man and Timothy Treadwell’s blind and misguided trust in the presence of brute indifference. Are these towering and majestic creatures really exercising their “poetic sensibilities”, or is the mild curiosity on the animals’ part more a tolerance born out of boredom?

ash3There also seemed an element of grasping for connection that bordered on forced communion. I saw this more and more in images of bodies strewn languidly amongst hulking indifference. I’m all for communing with nature and finding the connections between this planets’ beings, but parts of the show seemed exploitative and irresponsible.

The day I was there the exhibit was packed. Hundreds of people, lots of them families with kids in tow, made their way through the space. I wondered what others were thinking of it all. I heard one woman describe the animals as “cute” - I’m not sure this is what the artist was going for.

ash4It’s a subtle and tricky thing to depict a spiritual connection. There’s a danger of slipping into either condescension, or missing the boat entirely and becoming new age art for the masses. In images of a boy drifting on a raft amongst elephants in a stream, I couldn’t help but wonder, are we sailing with Ganesh, or merely adrift? As people sleep next to animals, is it meditative or somnambulant? Is Ashes and Snow beauty for beauty's sake, or is it all just Gaia-porn?

ash2Near the end of one of the films came the highlight of the entire show. In beautiful underwater photography, a man and a woman swim together in a deep slow-motion dance. There was no forced connection. No grasping for affinity. The images were primal, elemental and beautiful. Maybe it has to do with conscious intent, but all my reservations about the previous images melted away in this one sequence. It reminded me of the grace and beauty in Mary Zimmerman's amazing play Metamorphosis. It was gorgeous.

So, I have mixed feelings about this show. Some of the images will stay with me for ages, but for some reason I was prevented from fully diving in. I am glad it’s out there to be experienced, but after nearly four hours with all that sepia, I was seriously anticipating the joy of seeing blue again.

Check out the "enhanced experience" Ashes and Snow web site here