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Turtles at Lost Lagoon

Everyone I talk to in Vancouver these past few weeks is gushing about the fantastic summer weather we’re experiencing. Yes, gushing!

Canadians can be pretty low-key except when it comes to (1) their sports teams and (2) the weather. We get absolutely patriotic when our teams win (sorry — I just had to get in at least one Raptors’ reference) and we get absolutely giddy when the summer temperatures kick in.

To celebrate the 16 hours and 15 minutes of sunshine that Vancouver experienced today on the first day of summer, here’s a photo I took of the turtles at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon.

They, like most Canadians, take their sun-worshipping seriously.

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Northern Pintail

This elegant fellow is a Northern Pintail. I came across him while walking the seawall along Burrard Inlet about six weeks ago.

The Northern Pintail is rarely seen in my neighbourhood — this was my first-ever encounter — but Vancouver is on the Pacific Flyway and they are a migrating duck. And so, in honour of World Migratory Bird Day (that would be today), I’m happy to post this photo.

Through My Lens: Pretty Pink Parasols

It was another weird and wacky winter in Vancouver. Daffodils in January. The coldest February ever (since they started to keep records in 1937). The driest March since 1992 (which does not bode well for wildfire season).

Hello, climate change.

April, thank goodness, was blessedly normal.

April is cherry blossom season in Vancouver. The last of the blossoms are still in bloom, but they will be gone in a few days, I’m sure.

To celebrate the season this year, another public art installation was put up in the same square as last year’s Underbrellas. I don’t know what this year’s umbrellas are called, but I’m calling them the pretty pink parasols.

Through My Lens: Snowy Woods

As you can tell by this photo, it finally happened. Winter is here.

After a couple of false alarms last week, snow has come to Vancouver. The polar vortex everyone is talking about? It’s here too. (Although, truth be told, what we call “cold” is considered positively balmy in the rest of Canada.)

The thing is, we’ve been crowing for weeks already about our super early spring. The daffodils were in full bloom more than four weeks ago — that’s two months earlier than usual — and our smugness was enough to make the rest of the country want to push us off the continent and set us adrift.

Those poor daffodils? With last night’s dump of snow, they’re goners.

I took the above photo late this afternoon on my walk through some snowy woods.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Welcome to the Year of the Pig!

In celebration of the new lunar year, the Coastal Lunar Lanterns were commissioned and are now hanging in Jack Poole Plaza on Vancouver’s waterfront. To acknowledge that the public art stands on unceded Coast Salish territory, the lanterns were created jointly by Indigenous artists from the Zihung tribe of the Atayal in Taiwan and of the Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh nations.

The images on the lanterns show the coastal mountains and the sea, and a large mythological creature that helped create Burrard Inlet. The Coastal Lunar Lanterns are on display until February 18.

Happy Birthday, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra!

I went to a birthday party today. And oh, what a party. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra hosted 100 free musical performances to mark 100 years since its first-ever concert on January 26, 1919. For 12 hours today, 1000 musicians performed across 10 stages, including several at the Orpheum Theatre, the symphony’s home since 1977.

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal, January 26, 2019

That’s where my friend and I headed early this morning. We wanted to catch the orchestra during its last rehearsal before tonight’s concert. I was thrilled — despite the occasional flashback to my sometimes tedious high-school band practices — to watch the symphony’s new (as of July 2018) Music Director Otto Tausk lead his musicians through a dress rehearsal of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Grieg’s Peer Gynt.

Maestro Bramwell Tovey’s last performance as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, June 18, 2018

After a leisurely lunch, my friend and I returned for the afternoon and I was taken aback by how the crowds had grown since the morning. The lobby and auditorium were now filled to capacity. The most heart-warming sight were the dozens of strollers parked outside the box office; scores of parents had brought their toddlers to the Orpheum to introduce them to symphonic music. (Although we didn’t check out it out, there was also an Instrument Petting Zoo for the children.)

Vancouver is world famous for its natural beauty — which is a good enough reason to visit, no doubt. But culture? Not so much. That’s not what attracts the millions of tourists who visit Vancouver every year.

Even so, I personally think that the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is the cultural jewel of this city and it is the arts organization I frequent the most.

Happy birthday, VSO!

Vancouver Symphony Orchestra performs Verdi’s Requiem, November 12, 2016

Through My Lens: Christmas Moose

Is this not the most Canadian holiday display ever?

This moose is lighting up the North Point of Canada Place, where the cruise ships dock every summer. The pier does a good job of cleaning up for the holidays; every year it puts up a number of window and light displays, which it calls Christmas at Canada Place.

Some friends and I went out for drinks the other night at one of the hotel bars near the waterfront. When we finished imbibing, we took a walk along Canada Place to check out the light displays and so I could take some photos. That’s an almost-full moon just to the left of the moose’s antlers.

Vancouver is so pretty this time of year.

Vansterdam

O Cannabis!

Recreational marijuana, as of this month, is now legal in Canada. This has caused a flurry of media attention and a raft of bad puns.

The sentiment in Vancouver seems to be that October 17, 2018, was a non-event. Because, well, this is Vansterdam, after all.

It took a mix-up about a long-haul flight from Amsterdam to wake me up to the fact that Vancouver has a thriving underground drug scene. The mix-up started with me wandering up and down Schiphol’s cavernous terminal one morning, many years ago, looking in vain for the Air Canada check-in counter. As I retraced my steps, I noticed an information desk with a small Air Canada sign above it in an out-of-the-way corner.

“Hi,” I said, handing the agent my ticket. “I’m booked to fly to Vancouver today through Toronto. Where do I check in?”

The agent looked at my ticket, then he looked at me, then he looked again at my ticket.

“We don’t fly to Toronto today,” he said. “Weren’t you contacted about the new timetable?”

“No…,” I said, slowly. “Nor did anyone say anything about a timetable change when I checked in for my outbound flight two weeks ago.”

He started tapping his keyboard.

“I need to get back to Canada today,” I added. “I have to be at work tomorrow.”

“We’ll get you on another flight,” he said as he typed.

True to his word, in no time at all, he handed me a new ticket and a boarding pass. I was now booked on a KLM flight direct to Vancouver. And by the time he was finished with me, there was a line-up of people behind me, no doubt all of them wondering what had happened to their flights back to Canada.

Some ten hours later, I was going through the usual routine that seems to take forever when you’re jet-lagged: the long walk through the international terminal, the long wait at customs, the brief chat with the customs officer, the long wait at the baggage carousel, the handing of my customs form to the customs officer at the exit doors….

Which is exactly where the routine stopped being routine.

“Please go through there,” he said. That woke me up. He was pointing to the room where they send you when they want to search your luggage. Groan. Why me?

A customs officer waved me over and told me to set my suitcase on the table in front of her. She looked at my customs form and asked to see my plane ticket, then opened my suitcase and proceeded to look through my belongings.

She looked at my ticket again.

“You bought this ticket this morning?” she said.

“No,” I said. “I bought it months ago.”

She continued looking through my suitcase and asked me about every non-clothing item.

She’s being awfully thorough, I thought.

“You bought a one-way ticket this morning?” she asked me again.

And then the penny dropped. She was looking for drugs.

“Oh!” I said. “No! I bought the ticket months ago, but Air Canada changed its timetable and didn’t think to let me know, so they booked me on the KLM flight to get me home,” I explained. “There were a whole bunch of us.” (Except it wasn’t until later that I remembered the “whole bunch” was put on a flight to Toronto, whereas I was likely the only traveller flying all the way to Vancouver.)

My story seemed to satisfy the customs officer. She told me I could close up my suitcase and go on my way.

(As an aside: I don’t know how Canada Customs knew that my ticket had been issued only that morning — this was pre-9/11 — but that incident made realize that my government watches me in many more ways than I will ever know.)

Back to the beginning of my post. Pot is simply so not part of my world. Yes, I occasionally notice a pungent odour when walking along one of the beaches in this city. Sometimes I see people smoking up on the street. Whatever. But for me to be suspected of being a drug courier? That’s a laugh.

However, in the past few years, Vancouver’s status as the Cannabis Capital of Canada has become too obvious for even head-in-the-clouds me to not notice. That’s because of a federal program allowing the production and sale of marijuana for medical use that went into effect in 2013. The number of pot dispensaries in Vancouver jumped from about a dozen to almost a hundred. But only a quarter of them were approved by Health Canada and so, in 2015, the city council passed a bylaw to regulate and license the dispensaries, much to the disapproval of our beloved federal government. The city’s response was that it was taking action because the federal government had failed to do so.

The bylaw requires dispensaries to pay $30,000 for a business licence, and they are not allowed to operate within 300 metres of a school or community centre or another marijuana dispensary. And so, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to regulate the sale and distribution of a drug that was illegal under federal law except for medicinal use.

Fast forward to this month. Canada is only the second country in the world to legalize marijuana for recreational use. (The other is Uruguay. Contrary to popular belief, marijuana consumption in the Netherlands is tolerated, but not legal. Kinda like Vancouver before now.) Smoking laws must still be obeyed, so you can only smoke up where it’s legal to smoke cigarettes. In Vancouver, that rules out the beaches and parks. And, erm, the building I currently live in.

As of today, 19 of Vancouver’s medical marijuana dispensaries are licensed, 46 have land-use approval but no licence, and 75 are operating illegally. The illegal ones have been advised to shut down until they are provincially licensed to avoid prosecution — and I noticed the other day that my closest medical pot dispensary is shuttered.

Incidentally, I went through customs at Vancouver Airport on October 17, exactly an hour after recreational pot became legal in the province of British Columbia. Lo and behold, there was a new question on the declaration form: Was I bringing cannabis into Canada?

Nope.

Just as I wasn’t all those years ago when I flew from Amsterdam to Vancouver.

I can’t imagine pot tourism coming to Vancouver anytime soon, but with recreational marijuana still a budding industry, who knows what the future holds? The tourists might come for our scenery, but stick around for the unnatural high.

The New Amsterdam Cafe advertises itself as “North America’s premier smoke friendly cafe.” It has been operating on Vancouver’s Pot Block since 2000.

Through My Lens: Underbrella

Whoa.

When the temperature drops ten degrees in two days, you know that September is just around the corner. Wildfire smoke aside, it’s been a fabulous summer here in Vancouver and this photo is a metaphor for my current mood.

These cheerful umbrellas are part of a public art installation in Yaletown called Underbrella. It was put up back in May as a way to celebrate the time of year when we Vancouverites put away our umbrellas and start worshipping the summer sun.

And that we have done.

Through My Lens: Vancouver Clouds

OK, so I lied. Vancouver does get some spectacular clouds every once in a while. Just not very often.

I took this photo of Burrard Inlet from Stanley Park a few weeks ago.