Saturday, September 22

A Week in Vancouver

So tomorrow marks the end of my first week back in Vancouver. So far, I have:

  • hung out with Emma Vardy-Bragg, who's just arrived here and started a year of exchange at the University of British Columbia and some of her new friends, including an outing (in The Beast!) to Deep Cove:
  • found a range of places to park my van on a regular basis, ranging from someone's driveway, to on a street not far from some other van-dwellers, who have so far been very useful, to outside Emma's college residence:
  • been to few job interviews, including one with a middle-aged Korean businessman who took one look at me and I knew I wasn't getting the job, and a couple for schools that I would probably really love to work for, but would feel really terrible leaving after only a month.
  • been offered a week's trial for a job that I'm terribly afraid I might enjoy so much I won't want to leave (I *will* get to Montreal...), but the director says it's fine if I leave anytime, as long as I give a bit of notice!
  • discovered a way to get free gym access (and showers!) for at least a few weeks,
  • Perfected the art of peeing in a jar
  • spent $10 on a down jacket in a thrift store (it's getting cold already!) as well as about $4 on a jumper, a long-sleeved t-shirt, some maps, a postcard and a hot water bottle (have I mentioned that I love thrift stores?)
  • Spent an evening on Wreck Beach out at UBC with Emma and her friends, sitting around a fire and singing.
Well, Emma and I were singing. And then random other people gatecrashed our fire and scared Emma's friends away, but the two of us were there for many more hours, hanging out with the local homeless bums and other interesting beach characters, and, of course, singing! And playing the guitar that I am currently looking after for Antonia. It's going to be hard to give back. I'm considering buying either a 1/4 size steele string I've seen for $50, or, one of those tiny accordions, which I would then have to learn to play. But it's only $30, and more portable. Very tempting...
And then, today, I did almost nothing. It's been raining all day, pretty much, so apart from find the nearest source of water to my van, and come up to this cafe for wifi, I've hung out in my van, read all the free papers I've been collecting (I had quite a collection) and generally relaxed and chilled out.
And now I'm going to buy some things from a little natural-foods supermarket I pass on my way home, and then eat the leftovers from yesterday's pasta that I made, then maybe watch some vodcasts before bed. I have JTV or The Chaser on my ipod, which should be good. Or practice the guitar, or tidy & clean inside my van. We'll see!

Friday, September 21

Bellingham to Vancouver

I wanted to stop in Bellingham to visit Danny, a crust punk queeruptor and baroque music virtuoso (it's a great combination!). I ended up having a great two days hanging out there. It's a lovely little university town, and felt very relaxed. We played chess in a coffee shop that gave us free refills, went to another food bank and made a huge delicious meal, found me a second-hand copy of the Pump up the Volume soundtrack (but I'm still looking for Stereo Total!), sat down by the water at night, watched The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy film, and generally hung out.
It was a very relaxing and pleasant two days. And I learnt a new verb: Spange. It means to busk, or ask for spare change. (Busking with Baroque recorder pieces is Danny's main source of income at the moment, at least until uni goes back at the end of the month.)

And then I set off for the hour or so's drive to Vancouver. It would be an hour, if it weren't for the border crossing, which can take a while.
I was lucky, although I had to wait in a long line of cars for about 30 mins, the actual crossing was quick and trouble free. I didn't even have to get out of my car. Given the stories I had heard of vehicle searches (I have a lot of vehicle to search) and delays, I was quite pleasantly surprised. He just asked a few basic questions, including 'Are you bringing anything into Canada?'. I had to point out that I was bringing everything I owned into Canada, and was he looking for anything in particular?! But as I didn't have weapons (do kitchen knives count? I didn't think of that!), tobacco, alcohol or C$10 000 (unfortunately) there wasn't any problem.

Thursday, September 20

The Puyallup Fair

While in Seattle, I discovered that my friend Brandon, whom I met in Berlin many years ago, just happened to be visiting his family 45 mins south of Seattle in Puyallup (not pull-you-up, which is how I keep wanting to say it, but pu-aaah-lup). And the famous Puyallup fair was on.
So I headed down there to experience another bit of America. I was quite excited to be going to a proper fair, complete with rides and 'cotton candy' and cows and prizewinning quilts and vegetables and giant pumpkins! I really wanted to see a giant pumpkin, and I wasn't disappointed!
There were also these Produce Dioramas, which I found rather amusing:
Brandon's a film maker and does some photography, so his motivation in going to the fair was to get stock footage he could use later, and to take photos. And, of course, for the nostalgia of it all. As I was also there as an observer, and am always doing the photography thing, we both felt a little disconnected and outside it all, I think. We didn't go on any rides, or play any sideshow games or anything like that. But we did eat some crappy fair food. I can't believe that a sausage covered in batter here is called a Krusty Pup. I thought the Australian Dagwood Dog was a bad name!

And, of course, we took lots of photos!
I had a fantastic time. It was great to hang out with someone I'd known more than a month!
And, as Antonia had decided to head straight for Vancouver instead of coming with me, it was also the first time I'd been travelling in my van on my own, which was initially daunting, but actually really nice. It does effectively double my fuel costs, of course, but Puyallup to Vancouver isn't far, so it wasn't too bad.

Many more pics on flickr, as per usual.

Tuesday, September 18

The Seattle Library, and other highlights

I spent a lot of time in the library in Seattle.

It's the most amazing and practical piece of public architecture I've ever seen, and I almost wish I had decided to be homeless in Seattle instead of Vancouver & Montreal, just so I could sit in the library there all day and explore and read and use the internet and go to the talks and do the tours and everything.

I also went to SAM - the Seattle Art Museum. The entry fee was rather a lot, but for some reason, and I'm not sure why, the guard at the entrance to the galleries was very nice to me and let me in without a ticket, telling me to be sure to put some money in the donations box on my way out instead. It's just as well, as I realised later that I only had $2 in my wallet! I put them in the donations box though. And I'm sort of glad I didn't pay the full $13 or whatever it was, as, after the MOMA SF and all the other fantastic art galleries I've seen in the last year or so, it wasn't brilliant. I rather liked the Huge silhouette of a worker outside it though.
I also explored the Pike Place Public Market, which is Seattle's most famous market. I had heard it was a sort of fish market, but I could only find 2 stalls selling fish. They seemed to be famous for throwing the fish about and yelling a lot, however. People were standing around taking pictures, and you could buy t-shirts that said 'Fish Can Fly at Pike Place Markets'. I didn't buy any fish.

Pike Place is also famous for the Original Starbucks coffee shop. I didn't go in. I just walked past.

Sunday, September 9

Portland and Seattle

Portland was a lovely place to hang out for a few days, thanks to the lovely Shea and her housemates, and to Pike from SF, who helped keep us entertained for the whole time we were were there. Apart from the stereo total concert, I also went to a mid-week club night for some ass-shakin', (translation: dancing. I'm learning the local lingo, you see), went to 'First Thursday', when a lot of the little galleries in town open up and have exhibition openings or little shows or whatever, hung out in the Black Cat cafe in Alberta St for the free wi-fi and lovely iced coffee and bagels, went to the largest new & secondhand bookstore I think I've ever seen, and *still* didn't buy anything, rode around Chinatown and other bits of the city just to look, and made good use of Shea's professional skills as a piercer.
Yep. It's 9 years since I got my tongue pierced, so it was obviously time for some more holes in my body. So I got 2 new ones. But more about that later. I might even post photos when they've healed a little...
Random pic of hanging out in Portland, on one of their great steel girder bridges:

Friday night we drove to Seattle - the plan to stop in Olympia was cancelled when we accidentally missed the exit, and it was 9pm or something by then anyway. Staying outside Lindsey & Ash's place here, and they are also wonderfully welcoming, helpful people. Yesterday, by coincidence, Shea was coming to Seattle for a couple of hours to collect a friend, so the whole bunch of us went for a picnic in a park, which was lovely. And the food was all courtesy of a food bank that we visited in the morning. The food bank seems a wonderful thing in this city - it's like organised dumpstering. Shops and other food places donate the food that they can't sell, usually because it is past the sell-by date, but not past the use-by date, and anyone can come once a week (you have to register so they know who's been already that week) and take stuff for free. There are good and bad things, but when a lot of the good stuff, particularly in the 'vegetarian' section, is supplied by a natural foods deli of some sort, so we got artichoke salad and pesto and dips and all sorts of wonderful fancy things. And about half a kilo of macadamia nut pieces each! I think it's the bottom of a bulk lot, so it's sort of crushed nuts, but that's just perfect for sprinkling on my morning porridge, or for baking with bananas and cinnamon sugar, or for just eating with a spoon... Anyway, all this made for a wonderful - and free - picnic lunch. Thankyou Seattle!

And now I'm sitting in the rather wonderful Central Library, about which I had heard so much. Actually, I've heard a lot about a lot of Seattle, thanks to my regular reading of The Stranger. It's great to be able to explore it in person. Not to mention actually do some of the great things that get mentioned in it. Last night I went to 'LSD and other Drug Scare Films', which was a very entertaining way to spend an hour or two! And I picked up a paper copy of the newspaper I had only ever seen online. It was exciting. At least, I thought so!

So now I'm going to go now and explore more of this wonderful bit of public architecture. There's a book spiral here, where all the books are on one giant sloping floor that goes around 4 times - non-stop books!

Thursday, September 6

San Fran to Portland, and a Stereo Total concert!

The fun continues - it's really been rather non-stop lately!
Leaving San Francisco felt good - back on the road, and heading north, back to Canada, eventually. I'm not in a great hurry. The funds aren't quite depleted yet, the weather is warm, the sun is shining, my Beast of a Van still goes, and I seem to have things to do and people to visit all up the west coast of north America, so why race back!

SF to Portland was a whole lot faster than the southbound trip - Antonia (who also wants to get back to Vancouver) chose to travel with me, and we decided to go straight up the I-5, the big, fast interstate freeway. It's less exciting than the coast road we took to come down, but a lot faster. We were two nights on the road, staying at a couple of well-appointed (and free) highway rest stops. The weather was hot and sunny almost the whole way - the temp rose about 10 degrees the moment we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. It's the first time I've wanted air conditioning here, I think. We passed through the volcanic country near the California/Oregon border, and considered a detour, but the good things to see were all a bit far off, and the idea of spending more time in Portland and Seattle appealed more. We did stop at a lake just near the border for a swim, though, which was very pleasant in the heat of the day.
A bit of car trouble (inexplicable flat battery - have to look into that...) meant we were a bit later than expected arriving in Portland yesterday - but that didn't matter. Like I said, there's no hurry!
Portland is one of the most comfortable places I've been. It helps that Shea, whose house I park outside here, is a wonderfully welcoming, generous person. But so are all her flatmates. And everyone else we've met here, pretty much! And there seems lots to do - last night we went to a Stereo Total concert - I've heard a bit of their music before, and had them pointed out to me in a Berlin bar (they hang out in the same sorts of places as everyone I know in Berlin) so the opportunity to go to a concert for half price (we were given one free ticket between two of us, and live music is cheap to begin with here!) was fantastic. And the concert itself was wonderful. It was like a little bit of Europe in the middle of the USA, which felt odd, but also rather good. And now I have to find a copy of one or two of their CDs, as I don't seem to have any of their music. I'll have to start combing second-hand record shops - I need the Pump up the Volume sound track too! Anyway, they put on a highly entertaining show, and I notice they are touring practically everywhere that people I know live in the next few months, so look here to find out when they are in a cool venue near you.
(Click the picture to see more!)
And today has been rather pleasant too. Antonia and I met up with Pike, another currently travelling queeruptor, and followed Shea's directions to a vegan cafe, where we had tofu, vegan sausages and vegan french toast for breakfast, and then went to a hotel/restaurant/art kind of place that is in an old elementary school. They also happen to have a large hot spa, which was a rather nice place to hang out in for an hour or so, followed by mojitos in the garden... All highly civilized, really. And extremely relaxing. So much so, that when the other two decided to ride the bikes to a anarchist collective bookstore and bike co-op, I chose to return to Alberta street (which is an interesting bit of Portland that is fast becoming very familiar...) and hangout in the cafe that has wireless access next to Shea's work (she's a piercer, which may be convenient. But more on that later... maybe...)
So life continues to be mostly idyllic. The only thing currently causing me any stress is the possibility of expensive things going wrong with the van, and even that, I know I can deal with. I just might need to find some work earlier than I'd otherwise like. So I shouldn't let even that stress me!
The unemployed travelling lifestyle is definitely agreeing with me, anyway!

Sunday, September 2

More San Fran and random observations on Thrift Stores.

The thrift shops on this continent are amazing. I first went to one in Vancouver, and almost instantly found a shirt and some trousers that a)fit, and b) were affordable, and c) looked decent. I nearly fell over. And in Portland, I spent $17 at the local Goodwill store on almost-everything I needed to live in my van. Another $2 in some tiny town on the Oregon Coast bought me 3 mugs (the plastic ones I bought in Portland tasted funny), 3 matching face/dish cloths, a couple of teaspoons and two teatowels. They're fast becoming my favourite shops.
And here's a photo of Mission in SF - the area I spent most time, and site of some rather good thrift stores. It's very multicultural - an interesting blend of latino and asian. Click the pic for more photos.

I rode across the Golden Gate bridge yesterday - after riding there all along the Embarcadero past the piers and fisherman's wharf and all that. It was lovely, although my bum is regretting it today. I really need a new bike seat... And then I was crossing the bridge back just at sunset, which was also nice. Pics on flickr, as per usual.

And in about half an hour, I plan to leave San Francisco. It's been fun, but it's time to head north. I'm *supposed* to be in Canada, you know.

Saturday, September 1

MOMA SF and I Love the Castro Cinema

I like hanging around with Micha and Tobi. They know people. Specifically, in this case, they knew someone who knew someone who works at the modern art museum here - MOMA SF, and got us three complimentary tickets. Useful when it's usually between 12 and 15$. So we went on Thursday, and I spent about 5 hours wandering around there, I think. We did a bit of a tour about 'what is art' and some of the pieces that have challenged this in the last century or so - matisse's colours, that so shocked everyone, and found art, and whole canvasses of one colour (it's *which* colour that is important...). There was also an amazing installation that involved a huge vaguely coffin shaped pile of 18000 used blue cotton shirts and pants, all neatly folded. In front of it, a volunteer 'attendant' sits for 4 hours each day erasing a book (a naval code of practice, I believe) from back to front using a pink eraser and his/her own spit. The human element becoming art was quite amazing really.
The other piece that I loved was this one by Anthony McCall (I even remember the artist's name - it must have made an impression!). It was a very dark room - kind of scary to walk into because you really couldn't see a thing at first - and a projector projecting a pattern of gradually changing white lines - a circle that breaks to become a lines that become a cross etc... Doesn't sound much, until you add the fog machine, and then stand in the middle of the screen looking at the projector. When the projection was of a circle, it was like standing in a tunnel of watered-silk-patterned light. Quite amazing, really. The fog makes the light seem solid. It was also amusing to stand back and watch others in there. And be completely un-seen until their eyes adjusted enough to get a fright that there was someone lurking in the darkness the whole time! I didn't mean to lurk - I was just admiring the art, really!

(I don't know these people - the pic is from google, as you weren't supposed to take photos in the musem)
The other wonderful thing I've done recently is go to the Castro cinema. This is a fabulous grand old cinema, with the red plush seats and gilded ceiling, gold velvet curtains and what appears to be the original organ! And organist! (not the original, though. He wasn't *that* old). And last night I went to a regular themed marathon thing where they screen three related movies in a row. I have to admit that I didn't stay for the last one, which started a midnight, but the first two more more than enough! The theme was 'switching schools sucks' and they showed: Pump up the Volume (1990), Footloose (1984), and Massacre at Central High (1974) (now maybe you see why I didn't stay for the last one.
And I think Pump Up the Volume is my New Favourite Movie. I can't believe I had never seen it before. And I can't believe I hadn't seen Footloose, either, but I knew I would get to one day, and this was probably the best way - with the organist before it started, previews for upcoming films there (I now REALLY want to see The Incredible Shrinking Woman which is on here in two weeks!) and a crowd of people willing to laugh in all the right moments, and respond amusingly to the film ('You can't just yell Fire in a crowded theatre and then walk out!' said the film. 'FIRE' yelled someone in the audience....).

And today, which seems to be starting very slowly, I plan to ride my bike (I haven't blogged about my bike, but I have one - it was free, it fits in the back of the van and it's cool) to the golden gate bridge and ride across that, which is apparently a Very Good Thing to do. I might ride the longish way too, which goes along the embarcadero and past Fisherman's Wharf. And then I might check out some of the beaches near the bridge before putting my bike on a bus and taking the easier way home!
And then tomorrow, or maybe Monday, though I think I would prefer tomorrow, I'm heading north again - back to Portland for a few days on my gradual way back to Vancouver.