Thursday, December 16, 2010

Holiday in Cambodia

Well I finally hit the big 30! Countries that is. (I passed that age barrier awhile ago). 30 countries and 4 continents.

I first went traveling when I was 19 and embarked on a 4 month youth hostel/eurail tour of Europe. It was very exciting planning the trip: getting my passport, buying my youth hostel card, picking up the latest copy of Let's Go Europe. It wasn't until I was on the plane and the pilot announced that we would be landing in Amsterdam in about 20 minutes, that I went into a panic. It had never occurred to me until that moment that I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I was about to land in a country where I did not speak the language, I knew no one, I didn't know where I was going to sleep, and I didn't even know how to get out of the airport. Had I the power of levitation I never would have let that plane land. But it landed alright. And I did manage to find my way out of the airport and even found a place to sleep.

When I returned from that trip I was a different person. It inspired me to go to university to learn stuff about the world because I was actually interested in it. It inspired me to go to art galleries and museums because the stuff in them could be cool. And most importantly it inspired me to continue traveling.

My next trip was 6 month venture into Africa, and that trip is a blog entry unto itself.

Most recently I returned from a trip to Cambodia. Many things have changed since I first started traveling, and most of them are me, but not all. For this trip I purchased an iPod touch. This is a big advancement for me. On my early trips I never even brought a camera; I thought it would spoil the experience. With my iPod I could listen to tunes, surf the net, watch movies and tv shows, take photos, book hotel rooms, send e-mails, and follow how the Canucks were doing. I even had an electronic guide to Bangkok (where I had a stop over). I've never felt so connected while I've been away. Sure there have been internet cafes, and computers in hotel lobby's for years, but I've only ever used them marginally. But when you have a computer that you can carry in your pocket, and almost every bar and restaurant in town (well the tourist parts of town anyway) has wifi, it's hard to resist.

However, I couldn't help but feel there was something lost as something was gained. I doubt that I will travel without my iPod touch (or something of its ilk) in the future. It was like having an electronic version of a Swiss Army Knife. But there is something that has been lost in the travel experience in this electronic age. That sense of really being away. I met a number of young travelers who didn't know a world without instant connectivity.

I am proud to say that only once did I regal the younger generation on how it used to be. I met a couple of young guys from the US who were traveling South East Asia for 4 months at a restaurant/bar in Kampot. They were telling me about their adventure and how they were relaying them back to their parents (who were duly shock) via skype, email and facebook. I couldn't help but tell them how it used to be, about having to arrange for friends and family to send mail to an American Express office in some country where you would eventually be. First you had to send them a postcard telling them where to send mail and by when. And then hope that the timing worked out. In a developing country like Cambodia the process took about 6 weeks. The young lads looked at me like I was telling them about the pony express.

The thing they may never understand, purely based on the world they were born into, is how exciting receiving an envelope in the American Express office, half a world from home, could be; the anticipation, the weeks of hoping and the utter exhilaration of holding something concrete from home in your hand. Those are moments you never forget. They remind you how far away from your world you really are. And that distance is something that we have lost with technology. Even if you choose to eschew it all, you always know it is there if you need it.

The world may not be getting smaller, but really getting away is getting harder and harder. This doesn't diminish any of the beauty and intrigue of visiting foreign countries. It just the experience of separation from your own world and everything that you know has slowly faded away and a new experience has taken its place.

Monday, May 31, 2010

A new season upon us...

Well I finally got the boler out for the first trip of the season. Last year my first trip involved ice on the ground. This year I am a bit older, and maybe a bit wiser. Not that I wouldn't camp in the cold, again. But this year I'm prepared with a kick ass catalytic heater.

I spent the weekend at a fiberglass trailer meet out by Mission. The heater came in handy as it rained the whole time and I used it to dry my socks. On Friday, when it came time for me to pack the trailer and go, I was more than a little hesitant. It wasn't the weather so much as the realization that a meet like this would force me to socialize with strangers at a level I didn't really feel I was up to. Yes, we did have our trailers in common, but after that....hmmm. I'd been to one of these meets before and had a great time, and the memory of that alone spurred me to finish packing and head out.

As I pulled into the large field, I immediately heard some one call out my name, which made me smile. They recognized me from the last meet. I found a place to park and set up camp; right behind the large Viking sculpture. (There is a story there, but I won't go into it now).

Once set up, I sat outside my trailer and opened a beer. A fellow came over, smiling and talking to me as if he knew me, "oh you made it. I have something to show you that you will be interested in". Not recognizing the man, I would have thought he was talking to someone behind me, except the only thing behind me was my trailer. He then handed me a flier with a vintage add-a-room for sale on it. I did know the man. I had tried to buy the room off him at the last meet, but he wasn't selling. Given this chance I snapped it up right away, which left a big smile on my face. (Add-a room not pictured).

15 minutes into my trip and I was already glad I'd come. I met others I had met at the first meet, and as the weekend moved on I met many more. I also picked up a couple of prized metal boler name plates which are impossible to find. They only appeared on the earliest bolers and I could see where they had been removed from my trailer. I spent the rest of the weekend with people dropping by offering to buy them off me for considerably more than I had paid for them.

What I found most rewarding was the open trailer day. Last year during open trailer time I was so busy running around looking at other peoples trailers (and getting decorating ideas) I never got to see peoples reactions to my trailer. This year I spent some time visiting other trailers, but also spent some time with people as they came to see mine. I mean, let's be honest. We go to these meets to show off our trailers, and all the little things we have done to them. And while they all may look a lot the same on the outside, it is the inside that we get to personalize. And yes I am proud of mine, and had a fine day listening to people say they liked it too.

All in all about 60 trailers came to this meet and yes I did spend a fair amount of time socializing with strangers, but it was good. It was one of those weekends that reminded me that the good things in life do require effort.

But those efforts often pay great dividends.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bloodied But Unbowed

I had the opportunity to check out the DOXA premier of the Vancouver punk documentary Bloodied But Unbowed this weekend.

I was very excited and apprehensive waiting for the film to start. I knew it would never meet all my expectation, no one film could. I missed out on the punk scene when it first happened, not because I wasn't old enough, I just wasn't cool enough. I was still listening to Billy Joel when all this stuff was going on. But when I did finally catch on to it, and started collecting all the records I came to realize that the music scene that occurred in this city between 1978 and 1982 was extraordinary: Punk, pop, hardcore, avant-garde, all absolutely brilliant.

Of course I have developed my favorites over time, leaning more toward the Young Canadians, Modernettes and Dishrags over the harder edged bands like DOA and the Subhumans, but still admiring those bands tremendously.

So there I was, sitting in the audience waiting for the film to start... and waiting... let's just say that apparently there were a lot of people who needed thanking to get this project off the ground. (I won't go into the brain damaged logic that went into the idea of hurling skateboards into the audience as prizes. All I'll say is that I was in the trajectory path of one of them and only saved from injury by the man in front of me who blocked the skateboard with his forehead. On the up side, when he left to get stitches I ended up with the best view of the screen in the house).

Now to the movie. What struck me most once I finished watching it was that it felt like two documentaries in one; and two very good documentaries, by the way. One on the Boys from Burnaby in DOA and the Subhumans which provided lots of detail and anecdotes and a story arch (for DOA at least) that spanned the whole film; and the other a quick cutting, fast paced and very funny and enlightening overview of the rest of the scene.

The result was a bit of a disjointed experience. The two separate styles created some pacing problems. The level of detail on the DOA/Subhumans stuff in contrast to everything else became a bit frustrating.

That said, the archival footage of the Boys from Burnaby was fantastic. What I enjoyed most were the early interviews with Joey Shithead, his comic timing was unbelievable, or maybe it was just good editing, but I did get in a few good solid laughs. And of course the music was great (much better sound for these two bands that any of the others).

As for the rest of the film, most it was driven by personalities and great one liners as there wasn't enough time left in the film to really put the bands they were name checking into context. The segment on the Pointed Stick focused on a Dennis Hopper movie they were in, but failed to mention the fact that they were the only band in the day to be signed to an international record deal. The fallout from that deal had a big impact on the fate of the local music scene and I think it merited mention. That gripe aside, I loved Nick Jones, I've never seen an interview with him before but he had some of the best lines from the recently shot interviews. Very pleasant surprise.

There were a couple of very entertaining segments with quick cuts that encapsulated the relationship between the local punk scene and the gay community, as well as the "volatile" relationship between punk rock sweethearts Mary-Jo Kopechne and Buck Cherry. Personally, I think Buck Cherry was woefully under used in this film. I've read both of his books and this is a man who knows how to relay a story in a most entertaining fashion.

The spotlight put on Art Bergmann as an artist and a person was quick but very nice, with thoughtful observations about him from people who actually know him and have worked with him. Interestingly, they did not include any interviews with Art in the segment on him. His story was left for others to tell, as they discussed his talent and his vulnerability before the film moved on. It was an interesting and effective narrative technique. For anyone not in the know, you certainly would have left that segment wondering what ended up happening with that guy. Contemporary Art does appear late in the film to answer that question... somewhat. Personally, I would love to see a full documentary on Art Bergmann's careers. What we see in Bloodied But Unbowed does not even begin to scratch the surface, not because the segment is not well done, but it really only touched on the tip of the iceberg as far as his career goes.

Toward the end of the film things begin to become somber, as the death of the scene begins to unfold. It is a story that needs to be told. Hard drugs did come in and take there toll, and the scene did become fragmented to the point that it wasn't a scene anymore.

I was quite impressed with Zippy Pinhead late in the film when he talked about all the loss that he experienced as he watched his friends die from drug overdoses. For much of the film he plays the role (along with Brad Kent and Randy Rampage) of drunken comic relief which made his revelation at the end so much more touching.

The end of the film did have some pacing problems, I thought the Squamish Five/Direct Action section went on far too long given that it was not actually related to the music scene at all. It deserved mention in the film given that Gerry Useless was such a major player in the scene and this is where life took him, but it needed major editing.

I have said a lot about what I thought of the film, and there is a lot more I could say. In the end did I enjoy it? Absolutely! Would I watch it again? Yup, and I did. I went to the second showing. Did it live up to everything I hoped and wished it would? Nope, but it never could have and that says more about me than it does about the film.

All in all I am incredibly thankful this documentary was made and if/when it comes out on DVD I'll be the first inline to pick it up so I can watch it over and over again.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Portland GMT 1992

Portland again.

It seems I've come back here once or twice a year for the past 4 or 5 years. Somehow it feels like being transported back in time. A City on the cusp of the future. Much like Vancouver in the pre and post Expo years. But somehow Portland seems to be doing it right. There is not that feel of reactionary, mad dash development which Vancouver went through prior to Expo and is once again going through for the Olympics now. Things feel thought out here, like there is a long term plan. The flow of traffic through town, the incorporation of transit, the development and preservation of the buildings.

But that's not why I come. For me, it is a town that takes me back in time psychologically. There are times when I'm walking through town when I feel my hands tingling and a flutter of excitement/anxiety. Like I personally am on the cusp of going back in time. I flash back to different times in my life. Harder times, but times of great fun and joy. I move back to a time before I had acquired a condo in the suburbs, a brand new car, a government sponsored pension plan, and a financial planner who actually calls me to discuss the markets twists and turns.

When I see the funky old apartment buildings with their array of creative window coverings and Sally Ann furnishings, I go back to a time when that was my life.

A time when I started hanging out with a group of discontent soles and decided to be discontent with them. It's not that I wasn't discontent already, it was just they were discontent in a much cooler fashion. Ultimately we formed a writing group so we could express out discontent selves to the world. In the end we wrote nothing of significance, drank ourselves into oblivion, and had a hell of good time while doing so.

It was a time when we would take the bus into town and walk the street looking for something to do; something that would grab us. More often than not we ended up seeing the latest unheard band in some shitty little club. Unheard they were and unheard most of them remained. I have a box full of telephone poll posters to prove it.

It was a time when every beer you drank was the most important one you would ever have, because you really couldn't afford any of them.

I remember walking through a parkade with my boyfriend to pick his rusted out car, far too sober after a long night out, and us both having the same revelation "while money might not buy you happiness, being broke sure as hell sucked". In better times, we would have had to leave the car behind.

And there was the time my friend from Ireland, who was really quite mad, convinced me to quit my job and go to San Francisco for a week or two. I didn't have any money saved after my last pay cheque or a job to go back to, but the job I had sucked and it seemed a good idea at the time. And it was. We crashed on the floor of somebody's acquaintance, found a couple of bars that had cheap booze within walking distance and spent every last cent we had. Even when we ran out of money we still kept the fun going. The acquaintance and her friends seemed to feed us on a semi regular basis (never aware of the situation we had put ourselves in); and somehow we managed to continue drinking at our favorite bar on William Saroyan Street, with nothing but pocket change to offer. I vaguely remember asking if there were free refills on Irish coffees and walking away with a fresh round. Swear to god, it was best bar ever! In the end we didn't even have enough money to get us to and from the airport at either end, but somehow we managed to make it home; and get on with life.

Jobs followed inevitably, each with a progressive level of responsibility and attendant pay increase. It just got harder and harder to blow it all off. In the years since those times I have travelled to over 25 countries, and run into money trouble in far more exotic locations than San Francisco. But there is something about that time in my life that I look back on with envy. Like I've lost something. And once or twice a year, I come to Portland to touch base with that spirit.

No, life isn't all that bad,it really is quite good; it just isn't the same somehow. And I suppose that's how it should be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bergmann's Lost Art

I had the day off today, and spent a portion of it reading Gabor Mate's book "In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction". It's a good book. Well written and with great compassion and understanding for the addicts who breathe life into what otherwise could have been another academic book on addiction. Dr. Mate's ability to convey the feeling of community and connection that exists between the addicts and denizens of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is dead on.

I worked many years on and off in that community, starting in the late 80's when I was fresh out of university, and departing most recently in 2006. And truth be told, I miss it.

After a couple of hours on the couch with the book, I jumped in my car and headed out to run a few errands. I put Art Bergmann's "Lost Art" cd into the stereo and cranked up the first track: "The Junkie Don't Care".

As the disc played itself out I came to realize that there wasn't much that Dr. Mate was saying about the the lives of addicts that Mr Bergmann hadn't already said. Although a new release, these songs were written in the mid 80's. The disc speaks of a world full of abuse, violence, death, neglect, addiction, disillusionment, betrayal, deceit, corruption, pain, self destruction, resignation, failure, and political culpability.

Pretty heavy stuff. But catchy as hell.

Gabor Mate is a medical doctor and author who works as an addiction specialist in the Downtown Eastside.

Art Bergmann is an artist, pure and simple. He has chronicled the lives of this city's lost souls since the late 1970's, long before our troubled subculture was fodder for international attention. He has always written with the intelligence and understanding of an academic, and the voice of a poet.

A true gift. And well worth finding.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Outsider Art

I took a quick pass through the Affordable Art Show at Victory Square in the Downtown Eastside today. They weren't finished setting up when I got there, and I didn't have time to stick around, so I only got to see a few tables. But I still managed to find some things I liked. And affordable they were. I picked up these two small ink and pen drawings for $3.00 each. No bartering involved.

The artist had about 50 of these small works for sale, displayed on the grass.

She was an older woman who likely looked much older than she actually was and seemed very much at home in the DTES. The kind of person you see when you drive through the neighbourhood and wonder, if you think of her at all, what her life must be like, while at the same time being grateful that your life isn't anything like whatever that might be.

I don't know what her life is like, or what stories she has to tell. But what I have at the moment are two snapshots from whatever those experiences have come to mean to her; and they are exquisite.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Garage Sale Art

Today I brought home my latest garage sale score.

A cement table.

I bought it off a friend, who is moving from a house to a downtown condo. He bought it from the Emily Carr School of Art and Design several years ago and I have always admired it. The cool part are the 3 pools in the top that one can fill with whatever suits your fancy, before putting the glass top over it. My friend use to fill the pools with water and float flowers in them. I was considering putting in Siamese Fighting Fish (their natural habitat are puddles after all) but instead have gone the conservative route, for the time being, with rocks, coral, and my collection of rusty things.