Friday Flashback…

I found this little Librarian badge at the British Library in London, and had to get it since it reminded me of those long-ago school days when students were given “jobs” to do (along with special badges if you were lucky).

(This may have been a very 1960s/1970s English thing…)

Although I was sadly never offered the position of librarian, I would have jumped at the chance. Instead, I have this fabulous little badge to make up for that dreadful oversight.

(Our school used to give out “posture” badges, although I didn’t actually earn one. (My sis did though.) I may have slouched my way through my school days, I think…Tired arms and shoulders from swimming training?)

🙂

Random Vancouver pics…

Side by side contrast view of old hotel vs new one.
Fairmont Vancouver Hotel (with green roof). The old and the new co-exist happily in Vancouver.
A lovely face shot of hotel dog, a yellow Labrador.
A very sweet hotel dog who hangs out by the concierge desk at the hotel.
An example close-up of some aboriginal native art.
Example of aboriginal art at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Pic of random guy having lunch in the architecturally interesting rooftop garden at VPL.
Great place for a lunchtime break at the VPL (in their rooftop garden).
Pic of some more aboriginal art on the street.
Example of some First Nations art style…
Pic of trans-welcoming bathroom signs.
Sign of the inclusive times in Vancouver: welcoming all at the VPL bathrooms.
Photo of lady on Vancouver street giving her pet duck a ride on a shopping trolley.
The lady taking her duck for a walk on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Because why not? 🙂

Active outdoor Vancouver…

View of Capilano Suspension Bridge as it crosses the chasm below. Lots of fir trees!
The Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver. (Pic from park website.)

Set in the lower left corner of Canada, British Columbia’s flagship city of Vancouver seems to have the best of everything in its location: close to the Pacific Ocean, close to mountains, plenty of green, easy to get to (good to and from airport transportation), friendly people… Plus, the locals tell us that it’s pretty moderate, despite being so north: medium summer and medium winter… (unlike Toronto, according to a couple of people, where temps are really hot in summer and really cold in winter. Is this true?)

Situated as it is on the west coast, Vancouver is also full of outdoor active choices, and the SuperHero and I wanted to make the most of some of these whilst we were there. Of course, limited time and finances meant that we couldn’t do everything, but after researching, it looked like the two things not to miss were both achievable and super-fun.

Our first outdoor adventure was a quick trip to the northern part of Vancouver and its surroundings to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Set in the Canadian rainforest (which I hadn’t realized that Canada has), this national park features a lovely old cable bridge (which really sways) and a treetop wooden track which allows you to see the rainforest from high up in the canopy. (What a great idea.)

Birds-eye view of the wooden suspended path that takes you through the rainforest canopy at Capilano Bridge Park.
Part of the treetop wooden path that gives a birds-eye view of the canopy. (Pic from park website.)

I wasn’t really expecting that exciting a ride from the cable suspension bridge, but you know what? It’s actually much cooler than I had anticipated so poo on me for thinking that.

The bridge spans a large gorge (I think is the right term?) and is wide enough for two fairly typical height-weight appropriate people (or one rather large person). It’s built using cables so the bridge actually sways in the wind and wobbles from side to side, so you’ll probably need to grab the handrails at time to steady yourself and the view is outstanding. (Not recommended for perhaps very old or unsteady folks…)

Once you reach the other side of the cable bridge (which is the first thing to do when you enter the place) and have survived the overly-dramatic groups of teenaged girls walking across (:-)), then you get to go on the Treetop Adventure experience (which is the wooden track high up in the tree canopy that gives you a super-great view of life as a bird/squirrel). It’s sounds very plain-Jane, but is in fact a really nice experience as you get to look down and around from an unfamiliar view. (Plus – it’s so green!!)

And then towards the end of the trail, there’s a big climb up some stairs to reach a glass overhang than gives you a view of the rocky chasm right beneath you. Honestly. If you get the chance to see this place, it’s worth the effort to get there.

(And – what is really helpful is that the place provides a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver by the harbor so you can just jump on to that and get there really easily and cheaply.) Totes enjoyable.

Pic of bike-rider view of coastal bike path that hugs edge of Stanley Park.
The bike path that hugs the coastal edge of Stanley Park – fantastic!

The next day was also a super-fun outdoor experience when we rented assisted bikes (i.e. bikes with a little motor attached) and rode the wide and well-maintained bike path that takes you from, again, the downtown harbor to the nearby Stanley Park, a huge outdoor park place which juts out into the ocean with a well-designed bike/roller-blade path (separate from the walking path) to follow that hugs the coast.

(Note: You might want to take a light jacket with you since, due to the off-shore winds, the temp can get quite a bit lower than it is downtown. We could have used one each…)

The park is a lovely ride and has occasional stops for a quick coffee or similar, and the views are simply amazing. The bike rental place provided a lock, helmets and a map, and then it’s up to you. (Bike rental places are pretty easy to find, so no shortage of those.) Since we opted for the motor-assisted bikes, it wasn’t strenuous and kept it fun. We had a great time, to be honest. Worth doing and pretty affordable since the only thing you pay for is the actual bike rental, and our ride took about 2.5 hours in total.

After that, we hung out at the harbor for a bite to eat and to watch the cool sea planes land on the water, and then it was back to the hotel.

Vancouverites: thank you for a lovely and welcoming visit! We’ll be back. I’m curious how you guys handle winter! 🙂

Pic of five large painted totem poles in front of small patch of forest. Varying heights and designs.
Some of the authentic totem poles throughout Stanley Park.

Bookish Vancouver highlights…

A panoramic view of Vancouver's harbor and the sea planes.
Panoramic view of Vancouver Harbor downtown.

As is my tendency, I walked around Vancouver during my recent visit looking at the city through a bookish lens: always fun to do, and found some fascinating (and impressive) literary hangouts.

I’m always up for a visit to a local independent bookstore, and a quick search online yielded the nugget that the Indigo bookstore was quite close by, and although it’s not that well sign-posted externally (so easy to miss), it’s a treasure trove of literary loveliness inside the actual store.

View of inside Indigo bookshop.

It’s a well-lit haven of all things to do with the written word, including books (with a special focus on Canadian authors/lit which I found very helpful), but also a pretty well-stocked supply of other authors, big and small, and the usual selection of book-shop extras such as blank journals and other stationary accessories. (These were lovely though, so I’m not knocking it at all.)

I had entered with the intention of buying a title by a Canadian First Nation/aboriginal author, but when I asked an associate, she pointed me to the tiniest display of Canada-related books. I was confused as to the small choice since this place is one of the premier bookshops in Vancouver, so I looked at the selection and then looked up and there, before me stood a whole WALL of Canadian authors/books which had a much larger selection.

After pondering why I hadn’t been pointed to this huge display of possible reads, I mooched over to see what they had – such riches by authors new-to-me and old, but since luggage space was at a premium on this trip, I ended up buying just one book. (They did however have a sale on Moleskin notebooks – sales are rare! – so I ended up buying one of them for 20 percent off. (Seriously – there are never sales for Moleskin journals and notebooks. Never (at least in my experience).)

Pic of written welcome statement to !ndigo bookshop in Vancouver.

(Since Canada uses dollars (except they’re Canadian dollars – of course), I kept forgetting to translate prices to U.S. dollars so at first, everything seems sooo expensive, but when I finally remembered to do the exchange rate, things were actually pretty good prices. Sigh. I was such a tourist.)

External view of Vancouver Public Library. (Looks like a variation of the Roman colluseum.)

Another free afternoon later in the week yielded a happy visit to the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) which is, to put it mildly, a FANTASTIC space for readers. Seriously. It’s one of the most modern and biggest libraries that I have ever visited. Floor after floor of literature and numerous other community services (even a musical instrument lending collection (should you need a banjo or a flute, for example).)

The VPL was amazing on each floor (and there were nine floors!). They had writers-in-residence positions, they had so much light and space for its patrons, and get this magical option: they had a roof-top garden available for everyone. This wasn’t just an afterthought as well: it was landscaped with trees and plants, provided shade and tables and chairs (along with benches) and the view was stupendous: you were almost sky-high with all the notable surrounding architecture, some of which buildings also had roof-top spaces for their tenants. I’d never seen anything like it. Even better, it was free and available for anyone in the community.

View of fantabulous rooftop garden available at VPL.
Rooftop garden at the Vancouver Public Library. Be still, my heart. (View from rooftop garden in below.)

(Curiously, Vancouver is a very clean city. I didn’t see that many trashcans so I’m not sure where Vancouverites put their rubbish, but perhaps this is sorted out by the commonly available and comprehensive recycling cans? Not sure.)

In case you’re still wondering, I really enjoyed Vancouver!

(For more info about my Vancouver experience, try this post.)

View from one perspective of the VPL rooftop garden. (Pic of close-by residential building with gardens and balconies on high stories.)
Image of display of VPL's musical instrument lending collection...
The musical instrument lending library display…

Oh Canada…

Canadian flag fridge magnets on display in shop.

Earlier in the year, I happened to be very lucky to learn that work would be amenable to funding my attendance at a professional conference to be held in Vancouver. (Canada? Yes please.) After jumping through the required administrative hoops, I soon found myself in a plane seat heading for the Great North. Good stuff.

The actual conference occurred for the first half of the week, and then I opted to stay a few more days to meet up with the Superhero and see what we could experience in the metropolis of Vancouver. So much to choose!

One of the first places that we visited (and actually, this was pre-conference as I’d also arrived a bit early) was the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Vancouver doesn’t support Uber or Lyft so we were forced to either pay for a taxi (big bucks) or figure the journey out old-school by public transportation (meaning mostly buses). (No biggie but did take us by surprise a bit.)

Luckily, it was pretty ok to figure out bus schedules and pick-up places etc., but it still took quite a long time to actually get to the UBC campus. In the end, it was so worth it as the university has a gorgeous location full of plenty of trees, public art and close to the sea. (What a treat for this person.)

Close-up pic of a wooden piece of art  showing First Nation's symbols and colors (from University of British Columbia-Museum of Anthropology).

The actual museum itself was modern and well organized, so kudos to those folks. The most interesting section (and the one where we spent the most time) ended up being the Great Hall section where it was focused on the local First Nation people’s experience in the region. This included totem poles which were fascinating!

I happen to live in West Texas and Native American tribes were common throughout our region, but these were Plains tribes who commonly moved around and also did not have access to plenty of forest for totem poles so the poles were a new thing for me.

One thing that I hadn’t realized about totem poles is that there were usually several poles outside the dwellings of prominent people in the tribe’s community. I learned that these important houses would have two totem poles outside their front entrances, so although I think it’s inaccurate to report that each village was a forest of totem poles, there were definitely more than just one (which is what I had originally thought).

Each totem pole is carved with significant symbols that tell a story related to the family or individual outside whose house these poles would stand, and when I saw the poles in the museum standing in this awesome display area, they looked very majestic. They were huge – much taller and more sturdy than I had thought, but then that would make total sense as I think the Vancouver-area tribes weren’t that nomadic (at least compared with the West Texas tribes.) (Plus the no-trees thing which is significant around these here parts, pardner.)

This was a fascinating area to explore as it was all very new for me, and I loved it. The museum also focused on aboriginal/First Nations artists as well, so we were introduced to such luminaries as Bill Reid, a modern First Nations artist whose work was solid, beautiful and meditative in a way with strong connections with the natural world. (And slightly randomly, the place also had big collections of ceramics…Not sure of this connection with anthropology but there you go… ?)

Pic of sculpture, The Birth of Man by artist Bill Reid. Wooden carving.
Sculpture by Bill Reid: “The Birth of Mankind”. (At the UBC.)

So, after walking through the museum, we had a bite to eat at the small museum cafe (great food, btw) before we visited the nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden, a 2.5 acre Japanese garden also on the UBC campus and about a five-minute walk from the museum. This was gorgeous: incredibly green (so many different shades of green!) and serene, with a lovely winding path over bridges and around the different park spaces.

Before my trip, I hadn’t really put it together in my mind how geographically close Vancouver actually is for visitors and immigrants from many of the various Asian countries, but of course it is. (It’s actually closer to these countries than LA since the land sticks out a little bit around Vancouver.) Thus, there were absolutely tons of overlap between the different cultures and how they existed in Vancouver. (Another cultural layer to uncover for us!)

More to come, but don’t want to overstay my welcome with you with all this travel news. Suffice to say, we had a fab time. 🙂

Photo of serene Japanese garden, the Nitobe Japanese Garden, with stone wedding lamps, a small bridge and lots of trees and plants.
A view in Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Vancouver. Worth a visit!

Summer time and the livin’ is easy…

Photo of hand holding slice of yummy watermelon with blue sky behind it. Summer!
Credit here.

Summer has been in full swing for a few weeks now, and since I’m faculty, I am privileged to enjoy a long break. It’s only my second faculty summer so it’s still quite new for me, and I have to admit that it’s a very nice set-up. 🙂

School finished up in mid-May with getting those final grades in, graduation and sorting out the related debris from the semester. Then I chillaxed a little bit (in between doing some heavy-duty yard work), and prepared for a week-long trip to Canada, Vancouver in particular. (You know how I likes me to over-prepare in pre-researching our destinations that don’t revolve around a beach.)

So, I completed those front beds (and their numerous rocks), I planted some marigolds in a pot (and they are still alive). Worked pretty hard on a difficult (and ultimately impossible for me) jigsaw puzzle, so now have donated that to the FoL folks. (Maybe one of them will have more luck.) It was a shame as it would have been a good image at the end, but oh my. For some reason, I wasn’t that thrilled with it and so passed it on to another loving home. There’s more in the cupboard when I’m moved by the puzzle spirit! 🙂

I’ve also been reading, but not at quite the usual manic speed. (It’s hot in Texas right now. Did you see that Paris was over a 100 degrees the other day? Yikes. And not much air-conditioning. Even more yikes.)

Just a note to let you know that I’m back and there’ll be a few posts in the upcoming days about books, Vancouver and anything else that comes up.

Tell me your news…

Summer Catch-Up: Flower beds and books (of course!)

So I’m at the beginning of summer break (woohoo) which is a great gift for faculty. All the graduates have gone off to explore their worlds and I have a space until the beginning of July to hang out and do stuff (or not, as the case may be). I wish I could share this with you all though.

So, what exactly have I been doing? Well. Let’s see…

I have redone the two flower beds in front of the house. This included removing every single river stone from each bed, planting some annuals in front and filling some gaps in the boxhedge, and then I’m now putting each of those river stones back in place. (Phew. A huge job for me, but it will look good when it’s done. See photos below for updates on progress.)

Flower bed #1 (after all stones pulled out). Ready for planting annuals and putting stones back.
Flower bed #2: halfway through the process (now completed).

I’ve also been reading, naturally, so seeing as it’s summer (and the living is easy :-)), I thought I’d just do some reviewlettes to keep caught up with the titles.

I had a fun read of R.C. Sheriff’s Greengates (1936), a domestic mid-century novel about an English couple who have to (re-) find themselves after the husband retires. Nothing too deep and meaningful, but just a good solid read. Just right after the end of the semester…  

I had a lovely peruse through a coffee table book on modern interior design and yearned for some of these rooms. (Unfortunately, I don’t happen to have one zillion dollars at the moment, but when I do… Yes.)

Called Interiors: Inside the American Home and edited by Marc Kristal (I think), these were not your average American home. No sirree bob. It was more along the level of perhaps the Kardashians, but it was still enjoyable to look at how the designs were for the rooms, and learn more about my own style. I can still pull the pieces of design that I really like and integrate it into my own home, yes?  

In the mood for short stories, preferably speculative fiction and by a POC, I went looking for some more Nalo Hopkinson and came from with the library edition of Mojo: Conjure Stories, an anthology edited by Hopkinson. This is a collection of short stories written by a variety of authors across the globe, but all POC and written through the lens of Caribbean and AfAm magic. (Magic is a little bit of a stretch for me to read, but the majority of these stories were fine… Only a few didn’t make the cut, in my opinion, but that’s to be expected with an anthology.)

Overall, this was a fun read so I’m open to reading more along those lines in the future.

And now I’m choosing my next read. Which one, which one… ? (Plus – finishing the flower beds!)

Oh, and plus this: I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks for a conference, so been reading about Vancouver (where I’ll be)… Cool beans.

Screen Time – Dogs and a RomCom

Sometimes, you just sometimes want to chill in front of the television and do approximately not much, so that is exactly what we did the other weekend. We’d run out of energy by Friday, so sadly (in retrospect) we decided to watch the romcom, Rich Crazy Asians

I had little idea about the plot of the movie apart from that it was a romcom, so my expectations weren’t skyhigh – which was lucky as the movie was such predictable crud. Yes, there are lovely-to-look-at people and yes, it’s your basic Cinderella story, but honestly, that’s all it was. 

So, I rather regret using my time to watch this, as almost any other romcom would have done the job with this rather trite plot. Just now, I was just trying to work out who the target market would be for this film, and the most obvious audience would be teenagers and college students who, perhaps, haven’t seen a thousand romcoms with the same plot. And also, they still might believe in the fairy tale for real life. I’m not sure. 

I sound really grumpy, and I wasn’t really. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized my annoyance at wasting my time with this, but then I’m not really the target market so no surprise that it didn’t tick my boxes. Aah well. 

In contrast with that sad excuse of a movie, we also watched Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018), a wonderful stop-motion (sci fi/spec fiction?) film set in Japan about a city mayor (or prefect) who puts the kibosh on dogs. After an outbreak of doggie flu, he believes that there are too many canines and so he starts in motion a campaign to move the dogs to an island for a permanent quarantine and then poison the rest. The plot follows the journey of a young boy who tries to find and then rescue his own dog. 

I’d briefly seen a trailer for Isle of Dogs at the cinema the other day, but the impression that it gave me was that it wasn’t a pleasant happy film, so I entered this movie with a bit of trepidation. (It was the SuperHero’s movie choice time.) In the end, it was really a good piece of work. I was really impressed. 

I have rather a hit-or-miss relationship with Wes Anderson since there are some of his movies with which I just haven’t clicked (e.g. The Royal TanenbaumsThe Grand Budapest Hotel), which was also another reason I was a little concerned about watching his latest. 

But, you know. I was so wrong about that. I just ended loving this film. It’s not a kids’ animation movie, for sure; instead, it’s a mature story with a stellar voice cast and an interesting plot line which was not predictable. (As you probably can see, I get annoyed by “boringly predictable” in movies sometimes.) And it was very fun trying to figure out who each of the characters were voiced by… (Such luminaries included Scarlett Johanssen, Edward Norton, Brian Cranston, Francis McDormand, Yoko Ono (!) etc.) 

What also intrigued me about this film was that it’s also based in Japan, and Anderson has the human characters only speaking in Japanese while the animals (mostly dogs) all speak in English. 

It’s been criticized by some as using cultural appropriation and being insensitive, but it’s also been supported by others who view it as an homage to Japan and Japanese culture, so it’s been a mixed bag. I think it really depends on your own individual interpretation as to which side of the fence the film falls on… There is, admittedly, some stereotypical cultural representation (such as taiko drummers, cherry blossom, a nuclear explosion, sumo wrestlers) but again, they were presented with grace as opposed to snark (at least to me). 

I can sympathize though because when I see an American (usually) film set in England, I can almost guarantee that it will have references to the soldiers who guard Buckingham Palace, the Queen/royalty, a cup of tea, and rain). However, I can usually see that the intention is not mockery most of the time, but rather a way to show admiration for England/UK/GB etc. I know that my home country is much more than these stereotypes, but in most of the cases, the actual intention is not malicious. 

I do admit that it gets a bit thorny when the racial aspect steps into the picture, but the Isle of Dogs didn’t focus on that. I’m not sure. It’s quite provocative when you think about it, and I’m really interested in how both Asian-Americans and people from Japan view the film’s portrayal of their country and culture. 

(Point to ponder: all the dogs (who end up saving the day) have obviously white people features and English/American accents. This doesn’t help the criticism that’s been offered that this movie relies on the idea of the “white savior” to save the world… Link with above note about the role role of race in the movie. Interesting to note though, isn’t it?)

Anyway, this was a really good film that assumed its viewers were intelligent enough to get its subtle humor and non-predictable narrative arc. I really enjoyed it. 

(One curious-cat question though: why does the young boy go around with a large metal screw sticking out of his head? And then why is there another screw added in his head towards the end? There’s no mention of it in the plot. Any ideas?)