When people ask me what Berlin was like, my mind shifts into autopilot, flying me first class and one way back to the sexy, gritty and unconventional city where I lived for over a year. On the outside, I'm still here, but inside, I'm wandering the quiet, winding cobblestone streets of Europe. I'm loitering in smoky cafes, seedy kneipes, 24-hour clubs and renegade art studios. I'm sitting under weeping willows that cradle the brown canal, watching white swans drift by. I'm taking pictures of endless graffiti. I'm lounging in one of the infinite parks where thousands of people spend hours sipping 2-euro bottles of beer and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Turkish street food, miles of flea markets, bizarre art exhibitions and fearless fashion statements. All of these were things that made me love Berlin and never want to leave. But most of all, they exemplify what I miss most. Freedom. Freedom to drink, smoke, eat, laugh, dance, dress and enjoy life. The vigorous and careless spirit of a city that’s permitted to be deviant, atypical and raw.
It was hard to say goodbye. Real hard. But what has been even harder is realizing how much my perspective of Vancouver has changed. This city consistently rates as one of the most livable cities in the world. And yes, the surroundings are beautiful – the mountains are beautiful, the Pacific ocean is beautiful, the weather is beautiful. One needs only to take a stroll along the seawall on a sunny day to understand the appeal.
But the words don’t entirely fit the picture. Vancouver, I have discovered, is a city whose potential is more often than not repressed by money and laws. System regulations, zoning limitations, expensive rents and unreasonable authorities, all of these things working together to inhibit the lifeblood of culture: Art.
Art, music, activism and alternatives. These things feed a city's soul. But Vancouver falls victim to financial status and the prospects of development. The incessant rumbling of SUVs on wide, busy, noisy streets. The grinding of saws and whirring of cranes as condos sprout up on every corner. Busses packed with weary construction workers who rest their tired forearms on concrete-splattered pants, gazing at their muddy boots. Here, I wander through expensive supermarkets and over-taxed liquor stores, frustrated at the memory of wine cheaper than water and cheese cheaper than a bus ticket.
Money feeds our identity here and as a result, the wealthy flourish and the less than wealthy struggle to survive - and I’m not just talking about the Downtown Eastside. But I do cherish the East side community, if only for its realness. I find comfort in the existence of East Vancouver and that, within its confines, one finds counter-culture peeking through the cracks. Underground party spaces, avant-guard boutiques, urban galleries and cheap Asian foodstuffs. These are the things I am grateful for, lifelines to the freedom I crave, landmarks that locate me in this city since I came back, since starting Bloodhound, since this endless quest for inspiration began. I've become more attuned to the world around me, more appreciative of the things that give my environment spirit and identity.
So with all that in mind, this entry pays tribute to a few things in Vancouver that I find freeing. Each, in their own way or another, make a stand for change.
The East Van Cross by Ken Lum
Erected in February 2010 as part of Vancouver’s Olympic public arts project, this glowing beacon of glass and steel at VCC-Clark Station is 20 meters high, ablaze with LED light and impossible to ignore. It’s also beautiful. And badass.
Douglas Todd wrote in the Vancouver Sun that the East Van Cross “seems to suit what appears to be the secular, activist, anarchist, centre-left attitudes of people in many parts of East Vancouver.” You said it Todd. This neighbourhood has for years been home to immigrants, artists and small business owners who could afford its cheaper rents. But naturally, as with any city, that condition has changed. Real-estate prices are rising, condos are popping up and working professionals are moving in. Lum stated that the structure was a "rearguard gesture of defiance, protest and assertion of identity" - identity for a part of the city whose gritty history is perpetually threatened by development. He has intriguing perspectives on architecture, ideas that I find relatable to the overall Vancouver condition. He notes "an overwhelmingly segregated contemporary condition, fixed ideologies and over-rationalization, uninspiring and rigid." The East Van Cross is controversial. Sacrilegious. Gang-related. Badass. It memorializes a history and spirit that will hopefully always survive.
View from VCC-Clark Station.
De-fenced, Main Street and Terminal Avenue
This is a prime example of how you don’t need a spray can to execute street art. Along a huge vacant lot on the southeast corner of Main and Terminal, a long fence made from cheap plastic green panels was meticulously rearranged to create a row of heart-shaped patterns. I love how the loose ends of this cheap material are magically transformed into draping, palm-like fringes that float organically overhead. And the perfect sunny day made all of this even more beautiful.Not a few days later, the fence was slid back into place, another short-lived counterattack lost, which made this mischievous act of “de-fencing” all the more special.
A Bit More Street
Broadway and Ash St.
Lights on Water Street, Gastown.
For numerous reasons, I’m lucky to work at the Alibi Room. Delicious beer, cool clientele and most of all, awesome co-workers. This includes the adorable army of metalheads that run our kitchen. Part of what’s interesting about these guys (aside from the bizarre shit that comes out of their mouths on a daily basis) is their ability to wear uniforms and still celebrate their own personal style.
Adam here didn’t want to talk about himself too much. When I asked him what he was doing the following day, he told me he’d probably be tanning in a graveyard. But instead I managed to convince him to be this entry’s feature for street style. Originally from Victoria, he’s a certified pastry chef who apprenticed for nine years at Café Brio. Meanwhile he honed his 20-plus years of guitar skills and apparently is "a practitioner of modern Witchcraft and endorser of the occult.”
But enough about him, let’s talk about what he’s wearing. I love how Adam has ditched Crocs and checkered anti-flammable pants for perfectly hung dark denim DC jeans and a pair of Yo! MTV Raps. Top that off with a slick black chef’s coat (and even slicker hair) and you’ve got someone who seriously wants to make you food. Or kill you. Your choice.
Let’s end with some music shall we?
I caught the buzz on Babe Rainbow while checking out the amazing demo reel of local film company Salazar, who make incredible music videos for tons of Vancouver talent. But their video for Babe Rainbow’s “Shaved” is by far my favourite. The song is sick and right up my alley – dark, atmospheric, lo-fi. Sort of sounds like humpback whales singing in a prison cell.
And the video is almost better, spooky as hell and set against the gorgeous forests of the Pacific Northwest. But more so, the girls look absolutely perfect. The soft blues and warm reds of their clothes are the perfect contrast against the wet green backdrop of the trees. They look almost pinafore – innocent but modern. Whoever does the styling for Salazar has proven, time and time again, impeccable taste. Check it out (and get creeped out.)
Babe Rainbow - Shaved from Salazar on Vimeo.
Thanks again for taking the time to read this entry of Bloodhound. I hope I don't sound too much like a "hater," hence why I'm paying tribute to some cool things about Vancity. Keep 'em comin. I'm here for a while.
Also, I'm sorry about the occasional weird inconsistencies with the font and formatting. Html really gets pesky on this site.