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.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Best RV Show in Town

I took a trip out to Mission today to spend a couple of hours at the Tin Can Tourist (TCT) vintage travel trailer meet. WOW! An incredible array of vintage trailers were on display:
  • Airstream- Bambi, Safari, International, Ambassador, Argosy
  • Spartan
  • Airfloat
  • Chinook
  • Sport Ranger
  • Shasta
  • Comet
  • Serro Scotty
  • and of course....boler
I had so many favorites, all for different reasons.

The Argosy, which is a painted Airstream. Seems Airstream wanted to use some of their blemished aluminum and came up with this painted model.

This Airfloat, pure class inside ....

....and out!

The Spartan was just huge inside.

The Airstream Ambassador which was a house on wheels. I can just picture Dick Van Dyke walking in and tripping over the ottoman.

Well worth the drive out. It wasn't actually an RV show, but a camping weekend for people with vintage trailers. Having been to a similar meet for fiberglass trailer owners earlier this year I figure the odds were good that they would have an open trailer day on Saturday, as they did at the meet I was at. Fortunately for me, there were people there that I met at the last meet so I had some credibility when I started walking into peoples trailers.

Oh, and have a look at some of the tow vehicles...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Year of the boler (small "b" intended)

So, I'm just back from another boler weekend.

Having purchased my new toy and current object of obsession last October I have deemed 2009 the year of the boler! For the uninitiated, bolers are small molded fiberglass travel trailers built in Canada from 1968 through the 1970's (the end date of production is a bit vague as there were many offshoots made from the same molds, but with different names). There were approximately 10,000 bolers produced, and given the number you still see on the road, I'd bet the a good majority of them are still around.

I first became facinated by the boler after listening to a CBC radio documentary on them. When they began to talk about these vintage eggs shaped trailers I immediately knew what they were, having seen them on the road for years. But I'd never really thought about them much before. I hadn't considered the brilliance of their design, or taken pride in the face that they were made in Canada; and I certainly had never considered them cool. But by time the show was over, the seeds were sewn. I began researching them on the internet; walking into peoples yards where I saw them parked, so I could look in the windows; and at the hight of my obsession knocking on strangers doors to ask if I could have a look inside.

This was all over the course 4 or 5 years. In the interim I had become the not so proud 1/4 share owner of a beat-to-shit 1976 Bonaire tent trailer (also made in Canada). A story in itself. But one to be told at a later date. Then last October, it was time. My obsession had fermented to the point of action. I scoped it out on Craigslist, picking the cleanest one I saw. I layed down $4,000 cash after a brief negotiation, which included getting the owner to tow it to my place for me. And then it was mine.

So far it has been everything I had hoped: It is simple to tow and set up, comfortable to sleep in, and most importantly, it's cool!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Who are the art collectors?

In recent years I've taken an interest in art and art collecting. I found that my joy and appreciation for art began to increase exponentially once I actually began to purchase it. It was that sudden realization that the only thing that separated me from art collectors was buying stuff, not just looking at it.

Once I had acquired my first piece, I suddenly started to think I had entered a world that really belonged to others. I had been to many shows, galleries and openings and had always wondered "who are the art collectors?" "What is it they know that the rest of us don't?" I always thought there was some sort of barrier between looking and buying. Even when I found something that I really quite liked, I could never take that next step. I didn't think I knew enough.

And then it happened. I was perusing a table of off centre prints at an artists studio during the East Van Culture Crawl, finding one I quite liked and discussing it with my friend before putting it back.

"Aren't you going to buy it?" my friend asked.
"I don't know, what do you think?"
"It's $15.00!?!

And with that my friend reach into his pocket handed the artist the money, laughed and said, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

And that was it. Really quite simple. The barrier was gone. The buying became much easier after that. Never one to do things in moderation, I now need to figure out how to pay for it all.