Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Vancouver in Autumn

A red carpet of maple leaves line the city streets.  Under my umbrella I glimpse the winter white sky.   Vancouver is bathed with splendor.  There is no place else I'd rather be.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Laughing Men

Art in Public Places

We were feeling a little blue after walking around Vancouver in the pouring rain, but when we stumbled across this group of bronze giants, half-naked and laughing like maniacs, we couldn't help but join in their reverie.  So what if it was raining?  So what if my suitcase was lost?  So what if my best boots were soaked through?  Life is to be celebrated and laughed at, especially during times of hardship.  And I mean really?  Hardship?  Being cold, wet and without a change of clothes was only temporary.  I started to laugh.  My travel buddy started to laugh.  All was well.
These fourteen figures were temporarily lent to Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics by Yue Minjun, a sculptor from China.  They were supposed to be returned this year, but Lululemon owner, Chip Wilson, bought them for the city and they are now on permanent display at the corner of Denman and Davies St., just south of Stanley Park.  Minjun called his art, "A-Mazing Laughter".  They were meant to celebrate public art, but they do so much more.  They celebrate Life.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Packing for British Columbia

We had planned to go to Egypt this October, but with the political turmoil going on over there, we thought it prudent to change directions.

"What about British Columbia?" I suggested.  "Wouldn't it be nice to feel that cool crisp Autumn air again?  Hike in rainforests.  Wear a jacket.  Summer is lasting way too long down here."

"Can we stalk a grizzley?"

"Um.  Sure."

So my travel buddy and I traded our miles to buy two tickets to Vancouver.  I checked my handy-dandy weather app this morning and it is raining up there nonstop for an entire week.   I added a poncho to my suitcase.

"I swear, I don't want to hear any complaining.  This was your idea!"

Mimi suggested I pack the camo jacket I bought at Capela's in Kansas City last March.  I've never worn it.  It will be perfect to wear while hiking in the Great Bear Rainforest.  (Under my poncho.) 

See you in a couple of weeks.  Cold and drenched and happy to be back.  But no complaints.  I promise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Aboard the Pilgrim

After reading Richard Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, I couldn't wait to see the replica of the small brig he sailed from Boston around Cape Horn to California.  The original Pilgrim was built in 1825 for the sum of $50,000.  The owners were able to cover that cost in only one voyage when it returned to Boston loaded with valuable hides.  After that, it was pure profit.  Pilgrim met her demise in 1856 when she burned and sank.  Today, a replica is moored at the Ocean Institute at Dana Point, California.  It is open to the public for tours every Sunday.  During the week it is used as a living history classroom for students.

Although I loved the book, especially the descriptions of the California coastline and Dana's encounters with the people he met, I tended to skim over the nautical parts.  I had hoped seeing the boat would help me understand the rigging, but it is so complex, it's amazing a city boy like Dana was able to figure it out!  What's the difference between the royal yard and the skysail yard?  A trussel tree and a cross tree?  What is a ringtail halyard or a top-gallant studding sail?  My travel buddy and I lucked out on the tour we signed up for--we were the only two on it!  The poor tour guides really had to work hard to answer all our questions, but they did a remarkable job.

The truth is, as Dana writes in his book, rarely is a ship at full sail.  During the two years he was at sea, it only happened once on the way home, and actually, he was on a different ship, the Alert.

Notwithstanding all that has been said about the beauty of a ship under full sail, there are very few who have ever seen a ship, literally, under all her sail.  A ship coming in or going out of port, with her ordinary sails, and perhaps two or three studding-sails, is commonly said to be under full sail; but a ship never has all her sail upon her, except when she has a light, steady breeze, very nearly, but not quite, dead aft, and so regular that it can be trusted, and is likely to last for some time.

In 1835, Richard Dana took a break from college to sail to California as an ordinary sailor.  This is something many educated young men did at the time, but it made for awkward situations.  They were neither officers nor common sailor, not fully trusted by either group.  However, Dana was a very likable fellow and the men opened up to him.  It was clear, however, he was not absolutely honest in his writing.  I felt he held back at times being the "gentleman" he was.  His worst fear was that his adventure would last longer than two years and his dream of becoming a lawyer would not happen.  It almost didn't, but I don't want this post to be a spoiler.  Read the book!
Seeing how small she was really made the book come alive.  There were three officers, six common sailors and a steward, cook, carpenter and sail maker all on board.  During the voyage to California, the boat was filled with leather goods, foodstuffs and ironware.  Every nook and cranny was taken, so the men had to sleep wherever they could find room, often on a coil of rope.  They ate standing up or on deck.  It was a rough, tiresome life, to say the least.

The Ocean Institute actually takes the Pilgrim sailing once a year.   A very lucky volunteer crew gets to go on this adventure.  I tell you, if I lived in Dana Point, I wouldn't mind polishing, scrubbing, painting or climbing a mast, all for a chance to sail on this historical vessel.  As our guide said, "She's a different ship at sea.  Buoyant.  Light.  Graceful.  A sight to behold!"

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dana Point

This summer I read Richard Dana's Two Years Before the Mast.  It held me in its grip--so much so I was saddened when I reached the end.  He describes a California coastline full of natural beauty, untouched by the hordes of people who poured into the state a mere twenty years later.  It is one of the few books we have that gives us an accurate slice of life in the 1830's.  When Dana returned to California in his old age, he was dumbfounded by the changes.

 Dana Point was named in the author's honor.   The passage in his book describing these headlands is so beautiful, I want to share it with you here: 

San Juan is the only romantic spot in California.  The country here for several miles is high table-land, running boldly to the shore, and breaking off in a steep hill, at the foot of which the waters of the Pacific are constantly dashing.  For several miles the water washes the very base of the hill, or breaks upon ledges and fragments of rocks which run out in the sea.  Just where we landed was a small cove, or "bight", which gave us, at high tide, a few square feet of sand-beach between the sea and the bottom of the hill.
Today, the tops of the cliffs are lined with million dollar homes.  The view, however, is still gorgeous despite the mass of humanity surrounding it.  My travel buddy and I bought sandwiches at the Tudor and Spunky Deli and walked to the gazebo and had lunch.  A replica of the Pilgrim is anchored in the cove below.

We tried to imagine the mission's inhabitants throwing the hides over the cliffs to the sailors below.   Vessels from the east coast of the United States sailed up and down California in the 1800's, filling their ships with hides.  They took them back to Boston where they were made into shoes, belts, bags and saddles.
We then drove down the hill to the rocky beach he describes.  It's a little easier to understand his rapture when you are looking out at the ocean than it is from above.  There is nothing but water, rocks and birds--possibly the very scene Dana witnessed.

I separated myself from the rest, and sat down on a rock, just where the sea ran in and formed a fine spouting horn.  Compared with the plain, dull sand-beach of the rest of the coast, this grandeur was as refreshing as a great rock in a weary land.  It was almost the first time that I had been positively alone--free from the sense that human beings were at my elbow, if not talking with me--since I had left home. . . Everything was in accordance with my state of feeling, and I experienced a glow of pleasure at finding that what of poetry and romance I ever had in me, had not been entirely deadened by the laborious and frittering life I had led.

A magical moment!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The World of John Eyn

The colorful, violent world of John Eyn inhabits a hidden corner of Pierce College in Woodland Hills, just south of Los Angeles.  An old trapper turned motel owner, he became a self-taught sculptor in order to attract paying guests to his business.   His art, however, soon consumed him and Eyn spent the last thirty years of his life creating these elaborate scenarios of the Wild, Wild West.

John Eyn was born in 1897.  "Old Trappers Lodge",  the name of his motel was opened in 1941 near the Burbank Airport.   He died in 1981, and although the motel was razed, the sculptures were moved to this tiny corner of Pierce College.  Enter the campus via El Rancho Drive.  After you pass the stables, look to the left,  The site can be spotted behind a chicken coop.  Not easy to find, but worth it! 

Old Trappers Lodge tells a tale of violence, mistrust and discrimination.  Men are bloodied with hatchets.  Women are assaulted; the ones who survive wrap pistols around their seductive thighs.  It is a tragic, short-lived, boozy world.  Welcome to the world of John Eyn--a world that ends with whimsical epitaphs.  Glamorous?  Hardly.  Nostalgic?  No way.  And yet it is a world, I can't get enough of.

Such creativity lures me in.  I seek out these folk art installations whenever I travel.  My fascination, I hope, is equal to the artists' passion.  I walk away, inspired, determined to spend my golden years inside a garage or in the back of a vacant lot painting, molding, welding a world of creatures from an imagination that will not stop until I take my last breath.

Sadly, when my travel buddy and I were there a few weeks ago, the sculptures were in bad need of repair.  They need new coats of paint and some of them need major replastering.  These larger than life people, molded from the historical Old West, are treasures worth preserving.  I hope restoration is forth-coming.

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