Remembering Rembrandt

Today marks the 350th anniversary of the death of the Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn. He died in Amsterdam in 1669, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Westerkerk. I want to acknowledge the anniversary of his death for one simple reason: Rembrandt is one of my favourite artists.

You don’t really get a sense of what Rembrandt means to the Dutch until you see how his most famous painting, The Night Watch (in Dutch: De Nachtwacht), is displayed in the country’s national museum, the Rijksmuseum. The painting is the focal point of the immense Gallery of Honour and your eyes are immediately drawn to it as soon as you enter the gallery.

About a kilometre away from the Rijksmuseum is Rembrandtplein (Rembrandt Square), one of Amsterdam’s busiest squares. Now the centre of the city’s infamous nightlife, its origins were as a butter and dairy market. In the centre of the square is a cast iron statue of Rembrandt that dates back to 1852. That’s a photo of the statue up above. At the artist’s feet are life-size bronze cast statues of the some of the subjects depicted in The Night Watch, which were created to celebrate Rembrandt’s 400th birthday back in 2006. In the photo below are the two central figures: Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (on the left) and Willem van Ruytenburch (on the right).

The Rijksmuseum is calling 2019 “The Year of Rembrandt,” and it is celebrating with a variety of special events and exhibitions. The museum has also begun a year-long study and restoration of The Night Watch in full view of museum visitors.

Who could have known when Rembrandt died, alone and penniless, that 350 years later so many people from all over the world would be so enthralled with his work?

Advertisements

Red Arrows Over Burrard Inlet

Every once in a while, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Such was the case this afternoon.

The Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows have been on a North American tour. This afternoon, they did several flypasts over Burrard Inlet.

I was there.

Return of the Wet

Enough already!!

Could this month be any wetter? Vancouver has already received more than twice the average rainfall for September — and we still have another week to get through.

Sigh.

Yes, it’s time for my annual kvetching about the transition from what was an absolutely spectacular, magnificent, fabulous summer (as far as the weather is concerned) to the annual Wet.

I know, I know. It’s inevitable. Unavoidable. What was I thinking would happen?

But did it have to happen overnight? And so close to Labour Day? This month’s quick change in seasons reminds me of Septembers in Alberta, where I grew up. The day before Labour Day always seemed like the heat of summer was still in full swing. The day after Labour Day? Out came the long pants, the woolly sweaters, and a coat thick enough to keep away the chill of the prairie wind.

When I lived in Toronto, I absolutely loved fall. Four months of humidity will do that to you. All I could think come September was, “Relief!” (Not to mention that the colour display by Toronto’s tree canopy is among the best in the world.)

But on the Wet Coast? Not such a fan. Earlier this month, I decided to put some effort into making a nice dinner one night to cheer myself up. A thought flashed through my mind — “Oh, this is cozy” — and I immediately felt betrayed by my own body for adapting much more quickly than my brain to our vanishing summer.

The truth, however, is that there is nothing for it but to get on with it. Buy a new umbrella, dig the gum boots and Gore-Tex out of the closet, and just … get on with it.

What else can I do?

Happy Autumnal Equinox, everyone!

Butchart Gardens

I’m so thankful there are people in this world who can see something in a whole lot of nothing.

Jennie Butchart was one of those people. She looked out over a dug-up limestone quarry and saw a garden.

Painstakingly planted and nurtured by Jennie and her descendants, the Butchart Gardens are the crown jewel of Victoria’s gardens — a city whose nickname is, appropriately, Garden City.

There are four gardens at Butchart, each one unique and each one remarkable. The Sunken Garden was the first to be developed, on the site of the old quarry. As the limestone was exhausted, Jennie began planning her garden. She had top soil brought in by horse and cart and the five-acre garden took nine years to build.

Next to be built were the Japanese Gardens. In the springtime, it is bursting with colour when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. In the fall, the Japanese maples glow orange and red.

The Butchart family’s former tennis court was eventually transformed into the Italian Gardens.

Last to be planted was the Rose Garden. Today, it has 30 rose arches and 280 varieties of roses.

New to me was the Mediterranean Garden — a fifth garden that has been added since my last visit.

My friends and I spent most of a Sunday marvelling at and photographing the flowers at Butchart Gardens. We wondered aloud whether the colour palette of the Sunken Garden changes from year to year. We enjoyed gelato in the Italian Gardens. And we all agreed that the one-year pass is an incredible deal (paid for in as few as two visits) because the gardens need to be seen in all four seasons.

I was a teenager the first time I went to Butchart Gardens, but regardless of whether you see it only once in your lifetime, or you return dozens of times, know this: each visit is as mind-blowing as your first visit.

Happy Birthday, Canada Line!

Ten years ago today, and three months ahead of schedule, the Canada Line came into service. Built for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, it connects downtown Vancouver to the airport in 24 minutes. (That’s as fast as a taxi and a whole lot cheaper.) Right from the start, it exceeded ridership estimates and is already running nearly at capacity.

The Canada Line has forever changed how I travel to and from Vancouver. Being able to get from my downtown condo to the Vancouver International Airport (known as YVR around town — the name of the Canada Line station is YVR Airport) as quickly as I can for only $2.50 is a traveller’s dream.

It has also forever changed this city. High-density residences and retail spaces that weren’t even dreamed of ten years ago have been built at Marine Drive and are in the planning stages for Oakridge. I saw a quotation this week that pretty much summed up how the Canada Line has changed Vancouver: “you don’t build urban rail primarily for transit, but for shaping growth.”

And so … happy birthday, Canada Line!

Through My Lens: Galiano Evening

The best thing about living on the West Coast? You never tire of the view. I took this photo last weekend while on a Galiano Island mini-break.

To the Moon and Back

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969, AD. We came in peace for all mankind. — Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

I took this photo of our moon two years ago, during my summer in Amsterdam. At the time I set it aside, not thinking it would ever be an appropriate photo for a travel blog.

But with all the build-up this week to the anniversary of Apollo 11, it seems like an appropriate photo for today, the 50th anniversary of the day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon. After all, isn’t space the ultimate travel destination?

I was too young in 1969 to remember much of Apollo 11. I have a vague memory of looking up at the night sky and asking my mom if the astronauts were on the moon at that very moment. “Maybe,” she said, but as I think about this memory, I know it was highly unlikely at that age that I was taking a walk outdoors after dark in the middle of July. And so, as we say in my family, I probably dreamed it.

As I watch all the documentaries on TV this week about Apollo 11, there are two thoughts that keep coming back to me. The first is that walking on the moon seems so very concrete compared to what we’ve seen of space travel in the past few decades. A man or woman taking a spacewalk from the Space Shuttle or the International Space Station leaves no trace. But a walk on the moon … there are footprints.

And the second thought is that, for a while at least, all of humanity was united in aiming for and achieving a common goal.

Would that all of humanity could be that unified again.

Raccoon at Scarborough Bluffs

I spent much of May gallivanting around the Eastern Time Zone, and most of June sorting through my photos and planning what blog posts I might write about my travels.

This photo though. Not your usual holiday snap, but it makes me laugh every time I look at it. I met up with this raccoon one evening in Toronto while exploring the Scarborough Bluffs with a friend.

For my non-Canadian readers, raccoons are known in this country as trash pandas. They’ve adapted remarkably well to urban living and are known for finding their dinner in our garbage cans. Toronto spent millions developing and purchasing raccoon-resistant green bins — only they turned out to be not so resistant.

Back when I lived in Toronto, I had a mom and her three kits hanging around my house for an entire summer. Every evening, like clockwork, they would amble along the fence in my backyard as I watched from my kitchen window.

Here in Vancouver, I see raccoons mostly in Stanley Park, although one hot summer afternoon, I noticed a hefty raccoon napping in the tree outside my window. The tree is long gone — it came down in a winter storm — but I thought the clever creature had found a innovative solution to the heat.

The raccoon got its name from the Anishinaabe word aroughcun, which means “one who rubs and scrubs and scratches with its hands.” Raccoons are known for washing their food before they eat it.

Anthony Bourdain

If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your minds, get up off the couch, move. Anthony Bourdain