Archive | August 2012

Fort Tryon Park

On my third day in New York City, I discovered another of the city’s great parks: Fort Tryon Park. My friend and I went there to see The Cloisters (which I’ll write more about in another post), but also to meet up with some friends of my friend. They live near the park, which is in Washington Heights.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch and watched their children play. It was a lovely way to spend a summer afternoon in New York City.

New York dog walkers in Fort Tryon Park

George Washington Bridge and the Hudson River from Fort Tryon Park

Battery Park

In my mind, cities have to have good parks to be livable. New York City has great parks. I’ve been here four days and have already wandered through five of them.

Last Thursday, I spent the morning exploring Battery Park, the 25-acre park that lies at the southern tip of Lower Manhattan. It looks west over the Hudson River towards New Jersey and south towards Liberty Island. I was facing south when I took these photos, and you can see the Statue of Liberty in the far distance.

Located in Battery Park is a poignant reminder of September 11, 2001. The Sphere is a piece of artwork by the German sculptor Fritz Koenig that used to stand at the base of the Twin Towers. Although damaged by the September 11 attacks, it remains intact and in March 2002 was temporarily placed in Battery Park, only blocks from the World Trade Center site, as a memorial.

Lower Manhattan is one giant construction site at the moment, what with the ongoing building of five skyscrapers at the World Trade Center site. But walking through Battery Park was a welcome respite from the noise and heat of the city. If done right, waterfront parks are special. Battery Park in Lower Manhattan is particularly special.

Deer Lake Park

The other day I wrote that, during my time hanging out in Solo, I’ve discovered a few of Burnaby’s treasures ― delightful treasures that redeem some of the annoying and ugly aspects of suburban living. Deer Lake Park is one such treasure.

A friend introduced me to Deer Lake Park one afternoon about a week ago. Her townhouse complex backs onto the 500-acre park, so you could say the park is right in her backyard. We walked a loop around the park and I took some photos of the lake. Here are a few of them.

Deer Lake Park is a park for all seasons and I intend to come back to explore it some more.

Hanging Out in Solo

While my sister and her husband are busy eating, drinking, and loving their way around Italy, I’ve been on house-sitting duty. House sitting, I’m discovering, is an awful lot like home exchanging: it gives me a chance to enjoy the perks of someone else’s home for a while, and the opportunity to explore a new neighbourhood. The only difference between this round of house sitting and my previous home exchanges is that, if I need something from home, I can easily go get it.

The perks this time are pretty good. I have an enormous south-facing backyard all to myself, with a covered patio, a Rolls-Royce of barbecues, and an herb garden. Beyond that, there’s a back 40 filled with bushes dripping with almost-ripe blackberries. The herb garden has to be watered daily, as does a forest of small trees belonging to my brother-in-law. And then there are the six cats (two of them my own) who need to be fed and watered twice a day. I feel like I’m playing farmer, what with all these animals, crops, and chores, but hey, it’s summertime, and it’s pretty heavenly.

The neighbourhood, on the other hand? Not so heavenly. I’m in North Burnaby, in an area some developers are starting to call Solo ― that’s SOuth of LOugheed. (Go ahead, laugh. I did.) The subdivision where I am temporarily lodged is sandwiched between two highways: Lougheed (with the elevated SkyTrain running above it) and the Trans-Canada. That means I’m listening to the constant white noise of freeway traffic to the south, and the intermittent whirr of the SkyTrain to the north.

North Burnaby is not that attractive, in other words. It’s one mall after another, one industrial park after another, one arterial road after another. I loathe the whole car culture that is necessary here; I know it’s no different from any other North American suburb, but it’s what I hate most about suburbia and why I choose to live downtown. The other day I used a drive-through ATM for the first time in my life, and felt strangely defeated by doing so.

However, spend enough time in a neighbourhood and eventually, somewhere, somehow, you begin to discover its treasures. Burnaby has a few that are simply delightful, which I’ll write about in another post. For now, I will remind you (my faithful readers) and myself that the intent of this blog is to take a second look at our surroundings ― whether beautiful or mundane. And I’ll leave you with a photo of some marvellous engineering. After all, there is beauty in that, too, right?

SkyTrain tracks snaking their way east above Lougheed Highway

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

I could not let today go by without posting something about Julia Child. Today would have been her 100th birthday.

The piece of cake in this photo was my birthday treat to myself, one sunny wintry afternoon in Paris some eighteen months ago.

Happy birthday, Julia. And thank you.

Gâteau au chocolat fondant et crème anglaise

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

In the heart of Chinatown is one of Vancouver’s hidden gems: Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park. The garden was named the 2011 Best City Garden by National Geographic. The park (where these photos were taken) is an extension of the garden and has no admission fee. If you’re in the vicinity, be sure to stop in. It’s a peaceful break from the noise and bustle of Chinatown.

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Art Talk: William Kurelek

The other week when I was in Victoria, I went out of my way to stop in at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I wanted to see William Kurelek: The Messenger.

I was expecting one room, maybe two, with a handful of paintings, but this exhibition completely exceeded my expectations. It is one of the largest-ever retrospectives of Kurelek’s work ― some 80 pieces ― and opened in Victoria earlier this summer after appearing at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

William Kurelek was born in Alberta in 1927, moved to Manitoba as a child with his family, worked as a lumberjack as a young man to earn money for art studies, and eventually settled in Toronto, where he married, raised a family, and painted. He died there in 1977.

Before he settled in Toronto, Kurelek travelled to England because he had heard the English were doing interesting things with art therapy. He checked himself into a psychiatric hospital and spent the next seven years in and out of hospital. Some of the paintings he did as part of his therapy are included in this exhibition. They are disturbing images, filled with evidence of his illness. But in them you also see the influence of Bosch, Bruegel, and Vermeer ― artists whose work Kurelek studied while in Europe, and whose work would be life-long influences on his style.

While in England, Kurelek converted to Catholicism. At that point, he began painting Biblical scenes and subjects. Later, after his return to Canada, he took on apocalyptic themes as he reacted to world events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kurelek saw himself as “the messenger,” tasked with spreading moral and Christian messages through his work. Although the prairies are a central theme in his artistic vision, even his pastoral landscapes have a mushroom cloud on the horizon, or a crucified Christ at the edge of a freshly plowed field.

Most of us know Kurelek’s artwork from his illustrated children’s books that are now Canadian classics. I don’t remember when I first was introduced to his work ― I suspect it was in grade school by one of my teachers ― but I appreciate it because I’m interested in the themes Kurelek explored: the prairies, landscape, place, memory, the immigrant experience, and Christianity. He was an avid photographer as well, and used his camera as a view finder to find subjects to paint.

Canada has a great tradition of landscape painting. Unfortunately, when asked to name a Canadian landscape artist, most of us don’t get much beyond the Group of Seven. Maybe Emily Carr. William Kurelek, I’m now convinced, is one of Canada most underrated artists. William Kurelek: The Messenger is at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria until September 3.

Through My Lens: Venice

Someone near and dear to me is enjoying the sweet life in Venice this week. And so: here’s a photo of Venetian gondolas moored at Piazzetta di San Marco.