Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Thomas McGuane is a writer I read a lot of in my early-twenties. I came to his work after coming home late one night, just in time for the start of a 1975 film on one of the two uncabled channels my TV had to offer, based on his book of the same name -- 92 in the Shade (1973). How often does that happen, where a novelist writes and directs the film adaptation of his book? (Pasolini wrote the novel Teorema while making the film version.)

92 in the Shade is the story of a young man named "Tom Skelton" (played by Peter Fonda in the film), who returns to his hometown of Key West from what could only be described as "the Sixties." His intention is to start again, for real this time, doing all he knows how to do, and that is skiff-guiding. Confronting him is "Nichol Dance" (played by Warren Oates), a man who "can't get no creedence," and who sees Skelton as a threat.

Below is a crucial scene in the film, where "Dance" spells it out:

Monday, May 28, 2012

Twenty-eight years after the passing of United States fiction writer Richard Brautigan (1935-1984) comes William Hjortsberg's whopping 852 page biography, inside of which can be found a quote from one of Brautigan's early editors, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (b. 1919), who published early sections of Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America (1967) in his City Lights Journal.

Here is what Ferlinghetti said in the mid-1980s after Brautigan's death:

"As an editor, I always kept waiting for Richard to grow up as a writer. Essentially he had a naif style, a style based on a childlike perception of the world. The hippie cult was itself a childlike movement. I guess Richard was all the novelist the hippies needed. It was a nonliterate age."

Hmmm, yes, well -- "grow up" into what? Long form narrators like Thomas Berger (b. 1924) and Thomas McGuane (b. 1939)?

To me, Brautigan was essentially a stylist, a poet, and books like Trout Fishing and my favorite, In Watermelon Sugar (1968), though prose works, appeal to the poetic sensibility.

I think the best response to Ferlinghetti can be found in the pages of In Watermelon Sugar, where that which looms largest is, in fact, the narrator's refusal to "grow up" as others, like Ferlinghetti, expected him to.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


Friday, May 25, 2012

The video below features a range of heartfelt and critical responses to the RIZE development proposal at the southeast corner of Kingsway and Broadway.

At 5:42 we hear from Annabel Vaughn, a local architect whose expansive studio practice is steeped less in embedded entrepreneurial rhetoric than in social responsibility.

Unlike last year’s fight to stop a downtown casino, the RIZE proposal went in favour of the developer.

It took twenty years for the Broadway and Main area to flower into the social nexus we know today. However, a couple of suspicious fires and a revenue-first City Council later, all that is about to change.

What bothers me about RIZE is not just its outrageous scale (relative to the surrounding area) but the rationalization it will provide for future out-sized proposals, like the one forming over the low-rise site across the street (the Kingsgate Mall). Precedent has been set; now it's a free-for-all.

So with the end of Broadway and Main, what next?

Rather than speculate, let's look back at another traditional working-class neighbourhood, Commercial Drive, which began its social re-orientation in the early-1980s.

The development issue back then was the Il Mercato proposal at 1st and Commercial, a two story po-mo with an interior mall consisting of six shops, anchored by a credit union (VanCity). Tucked in back, in a building all its own (in the event of an attack by activist hoardes?), the only McDonald’s I know of to close for lack of business.

Why Commercial Drive (between Venables and Broadway) did not go the way of Main Street (between King Edward and Broadway) might have to do with proximity: Commerical Drive remains too far from the ever-westerning city, with Knight Street, not Main, the new east/west divide. Another could be the historically entrenched strength of Commerical Drive residents compared to the historically transitory Main Street (Mount Pleasant) population.

Whatever the case, it is worthwhile to look back on our city's development history for parallels with what is happening today. Back in the 1970s it was a fight to block a freeway; a couple years ago, a fight to block a casino. The first concerned the flow of labour (coming in from the suburbs to work -- and consume); the second, the flow of capital (which includes the laundering of dirty money). Both fights were successful. However, where the fight to block a freeway gave us a civic political party (COPE), the fight to block the casino gave us an independent city council candidate who ran unsuccessfully in the last election.

My point? I don't have one. Not yet. I have a date with that candidate on Monday.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Received in my inbox this morning a link to the City of Vancouver’s new arts advisory committee, a topic that was laconically debated at my local this morning amongst househusbands, posties, actors and construction workers. Some felt the committee was a waste of taxpayers’ dollars, while others, such as myself, argued that municipal committees have been known to save dollars, even increase them through thoughtful recommendations.

Of those partisan to an arts advisory committee, some were upset with certain members of the group, one of whom performed the vomit induction gesture at the mention of Graeme Berglund and Becki Chan -- the former a faux mystic libertarian who applies centuries old carpet selling techniques to the promotion and distribution of art objects (The Cheaper Show), the latter a “spatial designer” and member of the cultural brokerage house Cause + Affect, who are known for marketing condominiums and their corporatization of the Pechu Kucha presentation method.

For my part I was happy to see Graeme and Becki on this committee, since they will find themselves amidst some of the committee's more critically-engaged, socially-responsible membership, active thinkers like VIVO's Amy Kazymerchyk and Neworld Theatre's Marcus Youssef. Indeed, my "positive spin" (with apologies to Vancouver is Awesome) is that Graeme and Becki will, like Vancouver taxpayers, benefit from the composition of this group and come to know the city less as market state step-and-fetch-its than as proprioceptive participants.

A "walk in the park" with Vancouver's homeless lobby:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I admire the way Trevor Boddy gets out and about. As an architect he knows something of the built environment, and his interests are wide and varied.

Like many Vancouverities, Trevor loves the city, loathes the city, and loves what he loathes about it. He is also hugely opportunistic, and Fanny Keifer is right to liken him to that laissez faire libertarian Michael Campbell.

Below is from Trevor's interview with Keifer. The last clause in particular speaks to where Trevor is coming from and to whom he is speaking.

"The easy days are over...we are up against some devilishly tough issues...affordibility...makes housing the homeless like a walk in the park."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vancouver's municipal Vision party is in favour of taking down the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts in an effort to both "open up" and "link" the city, not to mention add a few more towers in their place. Whether these towers will be market-oriented, social-oriented, or a mix, has not yet been floated.

It is worth noting that the party from which Vision emerged -- the Committee of Progressive Electors (COPE) -- formed from an ad hoc group that came together over forty years ago to fight a proposed freeway that would have destroyed Strathcona (like the viaducts did to Hogan's Alley) and create a rationale for further unsustainable development.

Interesting that Vision City Councillor Geoff Meggs (first elected under the COPE banner) does not mention COPE in his infomercial, particularly since Vision and COPE are ostensibly partners in the quest towards what the latter refer to as a "livable city."

Monday, May 21, 2012

A couple years ago museum directors and curators the world over were flocking to the Columbian city of Medellin. In yesterday's New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section, Michael Kimmelman reminds us why.

Below is a paragraph from that feature, one that could have been written about Vancouver:

What sets Medellín [Vancouver] apart is the particular strength of its culture of urbanism, which acts now almost like a civic calling card [Trevor Boddy's "Vancouverism"]. The city’s new mayor, Aníbal Gaviria [Gregor Robertson], spent an hour describing to me his [green] dreams for burying a congested highway that runs through the middle of town [the Georgia Viaduct], building an electric tram along the hillsides to stem the sprawl of the slums [the proposed Evergreen Line], adding a green belt of public buildings along the tram [social housing?], rehabilitating the Medellín River [False Creek] and densifying the city center ["Eco-Density" TM] — smart, public-spirited improvements. It’s as if, in this country [Canada] whose relatively robust economy has underwritten many forward-thinking projects, every mayor here [former mayor Sam Sullivan] has to have enormous architectural and infrastructural plans [Olympic Village], or risk coming across as small-minded or an outsider [Sam Sullivan].

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Saturday, May 19, 2012

At bottom is a historic aerial view of West Vancouver, specifically the Great Northern Cannery, now a Federal Fisheries research station.

Great Northern served as a location for James Clavell's 1962 film The Sweet and the Bitter, while Bill Millerd, the great-great grandson of Great Northern's founder, Francis Millerd, is responsible for turning the Arts Club Theatre on Seymour Street into a multi-venue juggernaut, a transition that mirrored the shift of the provincial economic base from primary resource extraction (forestry, fishing and mining) to tertiary or service-based industries (real estate speculation, drug dealing and cruise ship minstrel shows).

In November, Intellect Press will release another in its series of cities-as-film-locations, this one focused on Vancouver (Rachel Walls, editor). For my part, I have contributed a 1000-word essay on Clavell's film, which was also shot at The Electra (formerly the B.C. Hydro Building) and Lighthouse Park. Other contributors include Amy Kazymerchyk, Diane Burgess, Elvy Del Bianco and Colin Browne, who will provide an "Introduction".

Friday, May 18, 2012

On Wednesday morning I woke early, completed my routines, then left the house with a lightly packed shoulder bag, walking south on Clark. Six blocks later I caught the King Ed bus west to Cambie, where I boarded the southbound Olympic Line for YVR -- a $5.00 trip that took forty minutes versus a thirty-five dollar cab ride that took half that.

Air Canada’s Dash-8 flight to Kamloops is estimated at 45 minutes. On this day most of it occurred in the clouds. But we started blue enough: a sharp turn over West Van, where I stared down at the old world roads of the principality's historic subdivisions, her turquoise swimming pools, and above them, in the lap of the mountains, a lake I had never seen before.

The purpose of my journey was the Esther Shalev-Gerz show at the Kamloops Art Gallery, which I was asked to review for Canadian Art. I am familiar with Esther’s work, having included a piece of hers in a group exhibition I curated last September at Gallery 1965, called "Vancouver/Vancouver". The name of the KAG exhibition is "WHITE-OUT: Between Telling and Listening" (2002), and it is up until June 16th.

Yesterday morning I woke early, completed half my routines, then left the house of KAG curator Charo Neville for the passenger seat of her car. Although the drive from Kamloops to Vancouver was as gorgeous as the transition from high desert to maritime forest was palpable, all I could think about were the old world roads of West Vancouver’s historic subdivisions, her turquoise swimming pools, and above them, in the heavens, the exhibition’s co-curator, Annette Hurtig, whose Hornby Island memorial – the one Charo was travelling to – is today.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Monday, May 14, 2012

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

I must replace my sink plug. The one I am using is an improvisation comprised of three corks from bottles whose contents were long ago consumed.

For a time I knew of the lives of these bottles, when their contents were emptied. But the paper on which I kept this record became a shopping list and was left behind on the counter where I paid for my groceries.

Today I will purchase a proper plug and in a couple months those corks will be forgotten too.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

I thought about posting the first Billy Bragg song I ever heard, a song called "A New England" (1983), because I like how the song is aware of a politic -- a bio-politic -- without allowing that politic to reduce its singer to an ideologue, something Bragg, like his idol Woody Guthrie,  managed to do so well.

Was all set to post "A New England" when I thought of another song from a few years later, The Proclaimer's "It Broke My Heart" (1987), about a (Scottish) family for whom the political economic situation had clung to them like soot.

Back in the late-80s my band (Hard Rock Miners) and I had the pleasure of opening for The Proclaimers at the Commodore Ballroom, after the release of their second album, Sunshine on Leith (1988).

It was not the biggest crowd at the Commodore that night. But that would change -- certainly for The Proclaimers, who, some years later, had their song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" turned into a beer ad, and went from clubs to concert halls. As for us, we did a beer ad (radio version) and, as a result, lost our college airplay.

It Broke My Heart
(Charlie Reid, Craig Reid)

Saw a man who was fifty-one
He had married daughters and a single son
And he's lost his job as this year's begun
And it broke my heart

Saw his wife who was fifty-two
She said she was sure they could make it through 
That her single wage would just have to do it now
And it broke my heart.
Talked about it with the family now
What began in sadness ended up a row 
All the guys with their clever mouths
They were saying we should move south.
Saw the son who's been gone two weeks
And he's down already with a job to seek
And he's in King's Cross and there's no one speaking now
And it broke my heart.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Who Is Ivan Drury?

Who is Ivan Drury?

Over the past couple years I have become aware of Ivan Drury, mostly as a passionate and informed advocate of the poor and homeless who live in Vancouver's downtown eastside, sometimes as a poet. But never have I seen him so present in the city's media. This week he has appeared in Allen Garr's city hall watch (Vancouver Courier) and Pieta Woolley's food column (Georgia Straight). When someone achieves that level of saturation, that range, it is time to read further.

Two hours later I have my notes:

-Ivan is extreme. But so is the culture. Back in the 1980s, DERA's Jim Green was extreme; same with anti-poverty advocates Jean Swanson and Sheila Baxter. Not that I disagreed with them or thought them "wrong". The times were not as extreme as they are today -- but they were becoming so. Government de-regulation in the U.K. (Thatcher) and the U.S. (Reagan), likewise in B.C. (Bennett's Social Credit government) and in Canada (Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives). The welfare state was shrinking, and with it public space. (Developers have always run Vancouver; the difference now is that they care about what people think of them -- the Aquilinis notwithstanding.) We were bound to arrive at this point. And now that we have, an Ivan Drury is inevitable.

-To deny the extreme in our culture is to deny the ever-widening gulf between haves and have-nots. The extreme culture is underwritten by the material conditions that have helped to shape it, much like the days of Ancient Rome. Ivan Drury is a product of his time, a media tendency that was, in the 1980s, more common to The Right than The Left. Could we say that the achievement of The Right, in part, has been its ability to exchange the word "neo-conservative" for "neo-liberal"?

-Do I like Ivan Drury? That is another problem in our culture -- Do we have to "like" people or things in order to stop -- or continue -- thinking about them? Maybe a better question is, Do we need Ivan Drury? I say yes -- we need Ivan Drury to assist in exciting the range of response, resistance and critique in the cultural discourse; to provide us with a view to what lies beyond those edges we keep shrugging at, pretend are fuzzy; to force likable politicians such as Gregor Robertson and Sandy Garrosino to think deeper, work harder. An analogy might be Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada: if we take him seriously, he is a bigot; if we accept him for what he is -- a cartoon -- then he functions not as a journalist but as a trickster.

-Ivan Drury believes in what he says, knows something about what he says, and has the gall to say it. Of course he expresses himself in a way that people find frightening. But young men are like that these days, whether their rage is on the outside or on the inside. Something else I noticed in the 1980s: the way boys were being raised, as if their ability to one day manufacture testosterone was not an option. I think many young men under thirty are time-bombs. Witness the behaviour of young men at the end of last year's Stanley Cup final. Not only were these men (and some women) letting off steam, they were doing so in a city they resented -- a cosmopolitan city that has no use for that which they have been raised to repress.

-Ivan Drury is very possessive about the downtown eastside, and as such has provided me with yet another example of why I would never support a ward system in Vancouver. As a Vancouverite, I live in and care about all parts of the city, not just the four block radius around my East Vancouver home. I am also aware that while I have the means to experience different parts of the city, those with less than me do not. Last time I was in Kerrisdale I watched what some might call a homeless man take a seat on a public bench. Within minutes a cop was leaning over him, giving him the third degree. This is the kind of contradiction Ivan Drury is expert at pointing out -- again and again and again. Yes, some of us are tired of hearing it, but many more are tired of hearing about what Ian Gillespie is building, or what Bob Rennie is selling. To be extreme at one end only lengthens what lies at the other.

Downtown Eastside restaurants respond to antipoverty activists
By Pieta Woolley

Anywhere else, Cartems Donuterie could probably sell $3 pork-sprinkled pastries in peace. But at its pop-up location at 408 Carrall Street across from Pigeon Park on a recent Tuesday morning, area advocate Ivan Drury was causing a scene.
“The mere fact that this place exists is an aggression,” Drury hollered in the lineup, which was about eight people long, and mostly men in business attire. He stared down the line, asking people: “Excuse me, are you from this neighbourhood?”
Drury, who had never set foot in Cartems before, was there to tour new eateries in the Downtown Eastside. He’s been the most outspoken activist slamming the restaurants, including organizing a community meeting in March to raise awareness about what he characterizes as their “violent” impact on the residents of the neighbourhood.
In line, the man just ahead of him said, “Actually, I am from the neighbourhood.”
He explained that he was Tarry Giannakos, an owner of Revolver Coffee (325 Cambie Street), which opened last summer. “So I guess I’m one of the ones causing problems for you,” he said jovially. “Sorry about that.”
After an awkward silence, the line moved along and Drury selected a citrus doughnut. Later, Drury refused to eat it or have his photo taken with it, saying that he “felt dirty” having entered Cartems. “If people open a restaurant here, they should realize they’re part of a social cleansing and there’s nothing they can do to make it better,” Drury, a Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council board member, told the Georgia Straightthat morning.
He said a legacy of abusive foster care, residential schools, and prison shape the neighbourhood. It’s a place, he said, where those whose lives have been marked by constant violence can find a sense of stability and acceptance.
“The capitalist economy comes in with its restaurants, boutiques, and condos, and it’s hostile to those bonds. What can they do to make up for destroying that? Nothing. If restaurant owners want to help the neighbourhood, they should not open restaurants here.”
It’s a statement that comes after the fact. Over the past several years, plenty of eateries have opened, including Acme Cafe, Save On Meats, Catch 122, and Bitter Tasting Room on West Hastings Street; Au Petit Chavignol on East Hastings Street; Meat & Bread on Cambie Street; Big Lou’s Butcher Shop and Fat Dragon Bar-B-Que on Powell Street; Dunlevy Snackbar on Dunlevy Avenue, and Calabash Bistro on Carrall Street. More are opening soon.
In the same period, several restaurants serving resident-affordable food have closed, including Uncle Henry’s Restaurant and Flowers Café on East Hastings Street, and Vic’s Restaurant on Main Street. However, many of the new restaurants are giving back to the community. The most famous is Save On Meats, owned by Mark Brand. Each day, his kitchen makes 480 meals for residents of Atira Women’s Resource Society buildings. He says that he “subsidizes” mammoth $1.50 breakfast sandwiches—which include generous ham and real Cheddar—and sells about 200 per day.
Brand also employs 30 residents of the neighbourhood, a model based on the West Hastings’ Potluck Café & Catering’s social enterprise, which accommodates a wider range of behaviours on the job. And, he told the Straight in a phone interview, he’s helping Grandview elementary start a breakfast program.
“It’s always a good idea to work with the community you’re in,” he said, pointing out that he attended the entire, hostile, antirestaurant meeting that Drury organized. “But it’s unfair for restaurants to be polarized like this. Mostly, they’re independent operations just trying to do their thing, and for a small group to rally against this is really unfair.”
Indeed, Wes Regan, executive director of the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association, said restaurants have no ethical obligation to provide food security in the area—although many restaurateurs are going above and beyond.
“The new breed of business owner down here does this stuff,” he told the Straight in a phone interview, noting that he’s heard Drury’s complaints about how stale, leftover food is given to residents. “We’re not always going to be successful, but we’re getting better and better about how to fit the social components into the business model. The more we do this, the more we learn.”
Sean Heather, who owns nine eateries and pubs within a five-minute walk from his office at Hastings and Carrall, said no one loses when the drug dealers leave the streets—except the drug dealers. He’s watched them disappear from in front of his businesses since he opened the Irish Heather more than a decade ago.
“Very few people open down here with the idea that they’re going to change the neighbourhood,” he said in an interview in the lobby of the old B.C. Electric Building, mentioning that he doesn’t like to promote his own charitable activities. “Those that do don’t last long. If your attitude is, ‘Don’t assimilate, dominate’, there’s always a backlash.”
At this point, though, there’s simply generalized backlash. Heather said Drury recently followed him up the street, shouting, “You’ve got the blood of the poor on your hands!”
At Cartems, home of Drury’s uneaten snack, owner Jordan Cash donates doughnuts to shelters and works with the Salvation Army’s historical Donut Day fundraiser, among other initiatives.
“We’re not blind to where we are,” Cash said in a phone interview with the Straight. “Drury is entitled to his feelings, and we welcome a discussion with him. Ultimately, we’re just a business trying to make an honest product, and we’re doing our best to coexist in the area.”

Neighbourhood bully harms Downtown Eastside planning process

Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem moved this week to clip the wings of our most notorious Downtown Eastside bully, Ivan Drury.
This follows the meeting last week of the Development Permit Board where, according to witnesses, Drury and a crowd he was leading crashed the meeting in an attempt to block approval of a mixed housing development on the site of the former Pantages Theatre at 138 East Hasting.
According to Foad Rafii who sits on the board’s advisory panel, folks were being shouted down by Drury and his crew even before they could speak. Then there was the threat Rafii heard that there “would be blood in the streets.”
This is typical of the intimidation strategy Drury has employed. Coun. Kerry Jang said that in 2010 the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council (DNC) chaired by Drury launched an attack on Mayor Gregor Robertson and Jang. It ultimately led to threatening late-night phone calls to Jang’s home which, he says, has his two kids on edge to this day.
Drury’s bullying and intimidation were also evident during city council hearings last year when the Chinatown community was making presentations regarding height restrictions.
When Fern Jeffries, representing the False Creek Residents and the Crosstown Residents associations, rose to speak at the Development Permit Board hearing, she says, “There were all sorts of things being shouted at me” including “racist pig.”
When Jeffries decided to leave the meeting, she says three police officers suggested she would be safer if they accompanied her to her car. She says that many people have been “traumatized” by Drury’s behaviour to the point they will no longer appear at public meetings. (I’ll get back to this in a moment.)
In a letter to the Courier published online from Drury ally Jean Swanson on Monday, the veteran anti-poverty campaigner disputes the role Drury played at the meeting: “I didn’t hear anyone threatening anyone when I was there. Not once.”
One can only conclude she was conveniently deaf.
I wasn’t there, but aside from Rafii and Jeffries, of those willing to speak up, there is this from city manager Ballem: “I was there. My staff was threatened. I was threatened. I was called all sorts of things.” For the people in that room “it was very scary.”
But the Development Permit Board is just a sideshow. The real action is taking place at the Local Area Planning Process (LAPP) set up by the city to develop a community plan for the Downtown Eastside (which includes Gastown, Victory Square, Strathcona, Chinatown, industrial lands, and the Oppenheimer and Thornton Park areas).
While there are many organizations and interests within that area, the city decided the process “will be developed in partnership with the DTES Neighbourhood Council (DNC), Building Community Society (BCS) headed by Mike Harcourt, and the Local Area Planning Committee which will include residents of the community.”
But here’s the catch: The meetings would be co-chaired by Wendy Pedersen from the DNC and Michael Clague from BCS. And that put DNC member Drury right at the centre of the action. He was on the advisory committee.
And that meant a whole lot of people decided they would be better off staying away, although a few have sent their submissions directly to council.
That was until Ballem stepped in on Monday and bluntly told Clague and Pedersen if they wanted a community planning process, Drury had to go. The fact that he had managed to do as much damage as he had done was on them.
“He cannot be part of the committee. We will not give him the legitimacy of being part of a formal city process. I just said, ‘Out.’”
Clague told me the next day that “all of Vancouver has a stake in the Downtown Eastside.”
That is exactly why the decision to neuter Drury should be applauded.
Now let’s see if it works.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the bannister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh.
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collections her motions into shape.

--X.J. Kennedy (1929-)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012