Twenty-five years ago today, the new central branch of the Vancouver Public Library opened to the public. Its iconic building is meant to resemble the Colosseum in Rome and was designed by Moshe Safdie, Richard Archambault and Barry Downs.
All public libraries in Vancouver have been closed since March 16 because of the pandemic. Demand for online content, including streaming services, has skyrocketed since. I have a handful of books I checked out months ago, none of which, I am happy to report, I’ve managed to read. The due dates have been extended three times already so there’s no pressure to return them and, had I known what was coming, I might have been far more careful in choosing my books. The books sitting on my bedside table aren’t exactly what you would call light reads.
One of the library books currently in my possession has turned out to be indispensable, however. It’s all about how to make artisan sourdough bread — rarely am I so prescient, but wasn’t that a happy choice?
As with all birthdays during these pandemic times, the celebrations for Vancouver Central Library have been muted. But one bit of celebratory news we heard today is that the library will begin curbside pickup at a few select branches next week. Patrons will be able to request books online and make an appointment for when to pick them up. And for parents, library staff will select a number of books suitable for each child’s age and interests and bag those up for the same curbside pickup.
Do you hear that? That is the sound of parents everywhere cheering at the news they will soon have a fresh selection of books to read to their toddlers.
Midday on a Saturday afternoon about six weeks ago, I went for a walk through downtown Vancouver to see what it looked like during a pandemic lockdown.
It was heart breaking.
There was no traffic to speak of. Tables and chairs on outdoor patios were covered in a thick layer of dust. All the stores were shuttered and most of them boarded up with plywood to discourage break-ins.
That was the day when it hit me what this pandemic is doing to our society.
A few weeks later, I heard that many of the boarded-up stores had hired artists to paint murals. So I went back for another look.
Many of the murals are rather uplifting. They certainly made me feel much more cheerful.
This week, British Columbia began Phase 2 of its pandemic lockdown. And so I took yet another walk to see the transformation.
Traffic levels were what you’d expect for a sunny afternoon. Many of the stores — which were never ordered closed, but they closed anyways — are open again with all physical-distancing measures in place.
It still doesn’t look like Vancouver of three months ago, but it’s a glimpse of what our new normal will be.
For now, at any rate.
When Canada’s lockdown began almost overnight about eight weeks ago, I found myself reflecting on how adaptable the human spirit can be. I also found myself wondering whether what we are going through in these pandemic times has any similarity to what life was like for my mother’s family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Not that a pandemic is anything comparable to a war, but what pandemics and wars do have in common is they require us all to live with constant uncertainty.
I’m not the only one who is thinking back to World War II. In her speech to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth last month, Queen Elizabeth made reference to the challenges faced during that war as well as the family separations that were endured. She finished by expressing her confidence that, one day, “we will meet again.”
One of the sad consequences of this pandemic is that all of the celebrations to acknowledge the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II have been cancelled. No world leaders are congregating in the Netherlands or France or Britain, and no veterans are gathering on what was likely to have been the last significant anniversary for which they might have been able to attend.
Today is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, the day when the Dutch remember and celebrate their liberation from Nazi occupation. The links between Canada and the Netherlands are strong; the Dutch Royal family found refuge in Ottawa during World War II and most of the soldiers who liberated Holland in 1945 were Canadian. All of the activities that were to have taken place in Vancouver to celebrate the liberation of the Netherlands have also been cancelled.
One thing a pandemic could not stop, however, is the blooming of the Liberation Tulips. The goal established last fall was to plant 1.1 million tulips across Canada, one for every Canadian who served in World War II.
Here then is a photo I took last week of one of those tulip patches. These 800 bright red “Canadian Liberator” tulips are blooming in front of the Seaforth Armoury in Kitsilano, home to the Seaforth Highlanders. The regiment was involved in liberating Amsterdam in 1945 and about 40 of its members were planning to travel to Holland this month. Although the march into Amsterdam they intended to recreate on May 8 will not be happening, Canadians still appreciate the service those veterans gave our country and are thankful on behalf of the Dutch citizens they liberated.
I wasn’t planning on writing a post to celebrate the birthday of the English poet William Wordsworth, but somewhere on the Interwebs today, I came across the last verse of his most famous poem. That would be “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” — or, as many people call it, “that daffodil poem.”
Here’s the verse I’m talking about:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
What hit home for me about this particular verse today is the realization that the one-time Poet Laureate of England was doing exactly what we are all being asked to do right now: living a virtual life. Long after he wandered through those daffodil fields, Wordsworth wrote about the feelings he experienced as he did so, and how those memories sustained him.
As our memories are sustaining all of us during this pandemic.
Here then, as a nod to Mr. Wordsworth and on the happy occasion of his 250th birthday, is a photo taken back in the time of before, when we could walk side-by-side without a care along a seawall adorned with daffodils.
For Palm Sunday, I’m posting a photo of the window in Notre-Dame Basilica that celebrates Tekakwitha.
Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in what we now call upstate New York. At four years of age, her entire family died of smallpox. She also caught the disease, but survived.
(An aside that is particular pertinent these days: it is estimated that about 90 percent of the Indigenous population of North America — some 20 million people — died of the viral infectious diseases of smallpox, flu, and measles.)
Tekakwitha converted to Christianity when she was 19 and lived among the Jesuit missionaries at Kahnawake near Montreal. She had always been sickly, however, and she died at age 24.
After her death, the smallpox scars on Tekakwitha’s face were said to have disappeared. She was canonized in 2012 and is the first North American Indigenous saint.
There is one thing about Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal that jumps out at you almost right away, and that is its stained glass windows.
Stained glass windows have been used in churches since the Middle Ages to tell stories about Bible characters and the Christian saints. The windows of Notre-Dame Basilica also tell stories, but their stories are about Montreal.
This window, for example. My photo choice for the Fifth Sunday of Lent shows Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve, co-founder of Montreal, lugging a cross to the top of Mount Royal in 1643. A large cross has stood on top of the mountain ever since.
Not many pulpits around the world were in use today, on what is the Fourth Sunday of Lent, so here’s a photo of the pulpit of Notre-Dame Basilica. The sculptor was Louis-Philippe Hébert, whose work is well known in Quebec. The two figures at the bottom are the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
What a year this week has been.
Typically, the first week of spring is when Canadians celebrate the end of a long winter and begin to celebrate our great outdoors. This year, not so much. Social distancing is our new normal.
I’ve been pondering two things this past week as all travel around the world has been cut short, cancelled, or put on hold.
The first is that it’s humanity’s love of travel and exploration and wanting to connect with other cultures that has allowed the Covid-19 virus to travel the globe as quickly as it has.
And the second is that over the past eight or so days, our personal worlds have shrunk. Mine at present is about as small as it has even been: the inside of my apartment.
What helps me accept all the restrictions placed on our daily routines is not worrying so much about what I can’t control (whether I will get sick), but to focus on what I can control by thinking of myself as a carrier of the virus and acting accordingly. Knowing that everything I do going forward may prevent others from getting sick makes it pretty easy to stay home.
Everyone is joking about how introverts are living their best lives right now. Seriously, though, after so many years of working alone at home, as I do, I’ve often felt like a freak. Now … I just feel ready. That’s because I already have a lot of coping mechanisms to help me deal with isolation.
One change to my daily routine, however, is that I now start the day by listening to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he addresses the country. One reporter referred to him as the nation’s “Prime Comforter.” What I find remarkable is he’s been leading Canadians through these extraordinary times while in self-isolation and while solo parenting his three young children. (His wife is currently in quarantine at home after testing positive for Covid-19 and there is no other adult in their home at present.)
The other difference to my daily routine is that I time my afternoon tea break to coincide with the daily news conference offered by Adrian Dix, British Columbia’s Minister of Health, and Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer. BC’s top doctor has such a comforting voice, and when she introduces each new restriction, she does so by saying, “This is not forever. This is for now.” Her other mantra is this: “We need to be kind. We need to be calm. We need to be safe.”
The traffic reporter on the radio show I listen to each morning has been working from home this past week. There’s not a lot of traffic to talk about, so she’s taken to reporting on how many dogs pass her living room window during the course of the show. I think it’s important that we all look for whatever makes us laugh right now.
It’s also important that we look for joy wherever we can find it. To that end, here is a photo I took exactly a month ago today, when our world was a much different place.
I have a thing for pipe organs — I may have mentioned this before. The preeminent organ builders in Canada are the Casavant Frères (Casavant Brothers). They learned their trade in Europe and have been building pipe organs for Canadians since 1879. I’ve played a few of their instruments in my time.
In 1891, they built the organ at Notre-Dame Basilica. That work sealed their reputation as world-class organ builders. This magnificent instrument has 7000 pipes and four keyboards and is my photo choice for today, the Third Sunday of Lent.