Hey everybody! Meet Stanley!
Every year around this time, Stanley lights up English Bay. He is part of the Lumière Festival, which, since it’s easily possible to physically distance while looking at the displays, is one of the few holiday festivals that still took place in Vancouver this year.
Stanley is named after Stanley Park, home to one of the largest urban Great Blue Heron colonies in North America. He stands four metres tall and is made of more than 10,000 lights.
Sometime this week, probably today, is the 250th birthday of one of the world’s greatest composers, Ludwig van Beethoven. (I say probably today because there is no record of his birth. All we know for sure is that Beethoven was baptized in Bonn, Germany, on December 17, 1770, and the tradition back then was to baptize babies the day after they were born.)
Happy birthday, Ludwig!
A lifetime ago, I had tickets for concerts on consecutive nights to hear the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The pair of concerts was advertised as “The Beethoven Experience: A Most Remarkable Night, Part 1 and Part 2.” Two nights of Beethoven. I was so looking forward to it.
Then came along this little thing called a pandemic, and the concerts, scheduled for March 13 and 14, were cancelled. The VSO generously played part of their planned repertoire on March 15 to an empty auditorium and I listened to the live stream online.
It wasn’t the same.
Fast forward to October when I bought a subscription to the VSO’s digital 2020–2021 season. I’ve listened to the concerts when they are posted, and they are delightful. But, alas, also not the same as being there in person.
Who knew I’d miss live music this much?
The glass mural in the above photo is a facsimile of Beethoven’s original score for the chorale Ode to Joy. The mural is on the façade of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s School of Music, located next door to the Orpheum, the VSO’s concert hall.
Knowing I was going to be writing this post, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about that chorale. It’s from the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth (and last) Symphony. Set to words by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, it is probably one of the best-known anthems in the world.
Ode to Joy is all emotion and power. In 1973, Chilean women sang a Spanish version of Ode to Joy while marching in the streets outside Augusto Pinochet’s prisons to let the prisoners inside know they were not alone. In 1989, the students at Tiananmen Square played the chorale over loudspeakers to drown out the speeches by the Chinese Communist Party. And on Christmas Day of that same year, six weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with an orchestra and choir made up of both East and West Germans.
It’s too early to say where 2020 will fall in the annals of history, but I think we can all agree that it has been life-changing for everyone living through it. And so I think it’s a happy coincidence that of all the composers we might be celebrating this year, it is Beethoven.
For one, Beethoven lived in turbulent times. So many revolutions. The American one and the French one. Also the Industrial Revolution. And then there was that little man, Napoleon Bonaparte, wreaking havoc across the European continent. The arts reflected the changing times as musicians (including Beethoven), writers, and artists all began to move away from creative works that emphasized elegance and order, hallmarks of the Classical period, to ones that evoked the full range of human emotion, a characteristic of the Romantic period.
For another, Beethoven is the embodiment of the tortured artist. Look up any picture of him — his hair is wildly unkempt and there’s always a scowl on his face. Much of this is likely conjecture, but we do know that Beethoven had a difficult life. He was in his late twenties when he first started having hearing problems. Only a decade later, he had lost the ability to hear speech and music. Although he was able to hear low tones and loud noises until his death at the age of 56, his hearing impairment affected him greatly both professionally and personally.
But back to that chorale. Here’s a line from the lyrics by Schiller: Alle Menschen warden Brüder.
“All people will be brothers. “
If there’s anything we learned this year, it’s that humanity can rally together in times of crisis. That’s particularly evident this week as, defying all expectations, vaccinations to protect against Covid-19 are starting to roll out a mere 11 months after the virus was first identified.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to hear those concerts I missed out on last March, but you can be sure that as soon as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is allowed to perform for the public again, I will be in the audience. Most likely weeping with joy.
Golden hour. Magic hour.
No matter what you call it, end-of-day light is enchanting.
Something shifted for me last week. It started on Thursday when the provincial health orders announced on November 7 for Metro Vancouver were extended to the entire province and until December 7. (And I have no illusions they won’t be extended again.)
And then, on Friday morning, our prime minister reverted to work-at-home and did his media appearance from the stoop of his home in Ottawa.
It feels like we’re right back where we were last March.
The second wave (or, as I like to call it, the Long Winter) that we’ve been talking about since last summer is starting to feel very, very real.
What does this mean for me personally? Pretty much the same as the last eight months: I will hunker down and do everything I can to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.
I’ll start by posting a series of photos from my recent daily walks. Because they make me happy. Maybe they’ll cheer you up too.
Here, then, are four trees I took notice of one Saturday afternoon about a month ago. I think they’re Douglas fir, but I could be wrong.
In a parallel universe, my sister and I would be getting on a plane today, headed for two weeks of sun and surf. But alas, no winter beach time for us this year.
Because it’s 2020.
Not to worry. I will instead wallow in my memories of the last time I was in the Aloha State. I took the above photo somewhere along the Windward side of Oahu, which is where my sister and I had planned to stay.
If all goes well, maybe next year.
If all goes well.
Well. That was … a week. I can’t remember another time when the world held its collective breath for four days. The tension reminded me of double overtime during Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final. In this age of instant communication and fast results, we aren’t used to having to wait so long for an outcome.
Along with yesterday’s news about the US election results came an announcement from BC’s Provincial Health Officer of new orders limiting in-person social interactions. The restrictions — the latest effort to combat the rising number of Covid-19 cases — went into effect last night and will last for two weeks.
For the first time during this pandemic, the orders apply to only two health regions of the province: Metro Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast for Vancouver Coastal Health and all areas of Fraser Health (which includes the Fraser Valley).
One restriction in particular jumped out at me: travel in and out of these regions is limited to essential travel only.
It’s not like I was about to jump on a BC ferry, but these restrictions do not bode well for me seeing my friends and family who live on Vancouver Island anytime soon. It’s starting to look like making any kind of travel plans is still a long ways off.
Which means that this blog will continue to be powered by my travel memories.
Here then is a photo to acknowledge an anniversary that slipped past me while I was distracted by the goings-on south of the border.
Ten years ago this week, I arrived in Paris for the winter. It was a bit of a rough landing as my wallet was stolen out of my bag while on the London Tube a few days prior to my arrival. Getting money wired to me proved to be a challenge as all of my ID, including my passport, was gone.
And then, on top of all that, the home exchange I had arranged for the three months I planned to be in Paris fell through and I had to find another place to live for the last two months of my stay.
Let me tell you: that was four days where I was holding my breath.
In the end, everything got sorted and I had one of the best winters of my life. And I have to say, although I don’t think there is ever a bad time to be in Paris, autumn is particularly lovely. I took the above photo on my first long walk through the city — after I had started to breathe again.
As has been the case for so many of us, one of the outcomes of this pandemic was me having to adjust my travel plans for 2020. Obviously, postponing a holiday is about as far down on the scale of hardships as you can go during this crazy year, so I really don’t want to give the impression that I am complaining.
But it did mean that the one year I finally decided to spend a longer chunk of time visiting my extended family in Alberta did not happen. Hanging out with at-risk relatives or family who need to be extra cautious because they work in health care would not have been smart.
Instead, I once again made my semi-annual trip to Alberta a quick one, with a whole lot of driving to get there, a few select physically distanced visits once I arrived, and then a whole lot of driving to get back home.
But the long drive was worth it. Seriously. The scenery between Vancouver and Red Deer is so varied; I personally think it rates up there as one of the most scenic road trips on the planet.
And on my way home, I also had one glorious day in Banff.
Who knew Banff was at its best in the fall? If I could guarantee great weather every year, I’d take all my mountain vacations in September.
Since I had only the one day, I planned it carefully. The 7 km hike up to Lake Agnes Teahouse is maximum bang for minimal effort and is a hike I used to do as a kid with my family when we spent our summers camping in the Rockies.
Plus, the trailhead is at Lake Louise, easily one of the most photographed lakes in all of Canada.
The hike up to Lake Agnes starts off with a long steady climb through the forest above Lake Louise, with a couple of spectacular peek-a-boo views of the lake far below. Then comes a series of switchbacks until you reach Mirror Lake. Looming over it is the Beehive.
While stopping to catch my breath, I ducked as a Clark’s Nutcracker skimmed by just inches above my head and took its perch on a tree branch nearby. Only a second later, I overhead a father and son near me lamenting the lack of wildlife.
Look up, I wanted to say. (But I didn’t.)
A kilometre past Mirror Lake is Lake Agnes and its famous teahouse. The lake was named after Lady Agnes MacDonald, wife of Canada’s first prime minister, who visited the lake in 1886. The tea house has been in operation since 1905.
By this point, I’d climbed 400 metres and was pretty much done, but those who have energy to burn can climb the Beehive for a bird’s eye view of all three lakes — Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake, and Lake Louise — that make up the Lakes in the Clouds.
As I drove away from Banff National Park the next morning, the clouds were rolling in and the rain was starting to fall. I had timed my one-day vacation perfectly. And as far as following the directions of my provincial health officer (“fewer faces, bigger spaces”), I had done all right by that too.
I love me some hay bales. I also thought this was an appropriate photo for Thanksgiving, which is being celebrated across Canada this weekend — albeit much differently than in other years.
Last month, I made a quick trip to Alberta to visit family. Everywhere I drove, there were signs of the harvest. This was taken along Highway 2, just south of Red Deer. Highway 2 is Alberta’s busiest highway, but, most happily for me, there was a roadside turnout located at this very spot.
It had to end, eventually.
This week marked the transition from our Summer of Covid, such as it was, to an autumn that appears to be headed towards another lockdown. I have begun mentally preparing myself for what I expect to be calling the Long Winter.
But before we spiral too far down, here’s one final beach post to share with you.
And what a beach it is.
Spanish Banks is the furthest of the beaches along the southern shore of English Bay. It looks a lot like Locarno and Jericho, but with one rather significant difference. That would be the sandbank it sits on, which lets you walk far out into the bay at low tide.
Both Spanish Banks and English Bay got their names in commemoration of an accidental meeting that took place in 1792 between two expeditions: the English one led by George Vancouver and the Spanish one led by Cayetano Valdés y Flores and Dionisio Alcalá Galiano. It was an accidental meeting because the English did not know the Spanish were in the neighbourhood, nor were the Spanish aware that the English were nearby.
In the end, though, they all got along and spent several weeks exploring and charting the Strait of Georgia together.
Although Spanish Banks, like all of Vancouver’s beaches, has swimmers and picnickers in abundance, it is really popular with kitesurfers and skimboarders at low tide.