LAS Abroad: impressions of Vancouver
We watch the lunar eclipse from Stanley Park. Tonight, the moon is the moon of Nick Drake and Neil Young: pink and harvest and super, in all senses. She appears gradually, first as smoke, then as something more. A growing murmur spreads through the crowd. I move to get a better view, weave through crowds of stargazers and stoners and other Vancouver sky searchers.
I point my camera at the sky. The blood supermoon over the city. Downtown’s high-rise lights reflected in the bay.
At UBC, I walk 15 minutes from my on-campus residence flat, through the Pacific Sprit National Park and onto a beach. “Clothing optional” warns the battered wooden sign.
At Birmingham, I walk 15 minutes from my gradually subsiding terraced house, through the remains of last night’s chicken massacre and onto a building site.
I’m not passing judgment on either walk but the experience is very different.
I take courses in Theatre, Creative Writing, Film Studies, Philosophy, Art History and Visual Art. I am Mr Employable.
However, the more time I spend around people for whom Liberal Arts is university, the more I am convinced that it is absolutely the best way to do things.
Downtown is surrounded by water on three sides and as a result is mostly vertical. The architects of the centre have built upwards rather than outwards. Therefore, there is a feeling of compactness; I can explore the city and, even in eight months, make it my own.
In 30 minutes, I can walk through the West End’s luxury residential tower blocks; down Davie Street with its gay bars and bright pink bus stops; past the smug restaurants and galleries of Yaletown; into Chinatown which seems alive with construction and food; avoid the temptation of West Pender’s ramshackle bookshops; down the Granville strip illuminated with commercialism and seediness; into gentrified Gastown which fashionably sits in absolute denial of its past and present; up one block to Hastings – the original Skid Row – and east through drug markets and homelessness. Pieces of a contradictory jigsaw, tightly fitting and flowing with life.
And out of all of this, Brewery Creek quickly becomes a favourite area of mine. Lets just say that it is very aptly named.
I realise why four years at university is a good idea.
I have to submit an original piece of conceptual digital art. This, for me, is new and exciting.
So, naturally, I walk for 3 hours along the 99 express bus route from the University bus loop, all the way down to Broadway at Commercial. It is the busiest bus route in North America. Every time a 99 bus passes me I turn to my right and take a photograph.
I like to think that this is a comment about displacement and discovery, about the observation of the everyday in the face of commercial mass transit.
And because it’s supposed to be conceptual art, I believe it. Just.
Tomorrow, I have a lecture on Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I have to read Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. I find Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness interesting, in theory. In practise, I hate Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and I hate his Nothingness as well.
The mountains loom constantly like a well-worded threat. Or a memory. It is winter now and they are dusted with just the right amount of snow to be optimally photogenic.
I don’t ski.
I have skied before but that was on a small hill covered in wet rope on the outskirts of Gloucester. I imagine this is a different experience to doing it on snow down a Canadian mountain. In fact, I suspect this means that I have negative experience of skiing. I have friends who have gone up to Whistler, however, and they say that the views are beautiful. I believe them, completely.
Down below, on the sidewalk (never pavement), the resorts emerge from the forest with a strange elegance. In the evening, their lights hover over the city like alien constellations.
Occasionally, we go to a place where we float in sensory deprivation tanks for 90 minutes. It is pitch black, silent and motionless. After a while I tend to forget where my arms are. It’s an experience I can heartily recommend.
Afterwards we go to the pub.
I now know and am friends with people from Canada, the USA, France, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Chile and South Korea, as well as meeting someone that lived a ten second walk away from me in Birmingham last year, whom I had neither met nor seen before.
It is a massive small world.
University work is assigned constantly throughout the year. This means that you have to work more but also that you have to think more. This takes some getting used to. It feels beneficial in the end though.
I secure a paid Dramaturgy internship at The Arts Club, one of the foremost theatres for Canadian new writing development. Dramaturgy is a strange professional area that means different things depending on where you are in the world and who you work for. In North America, it means working with writers on new plays, as well as more “traditional” dramaturgical work – compiling resource books on productions and so on. It’s the kind of thing I’d like to do back in the UK and any experience will be worth it. I’ve had enough practice explaining my degree to be ok with explaining a job as well.
I play David Bowie all day. His last album is perfection.
I turn 21 on the second day of the second semester (never term). There is a party on Friday and it isn’t shut down at 1am like on-campus parties normally are. I think this must be a sign of something but I‘m not sure what.
We turn away from the moon and leave her hanging in the midnight air. Instantly she grows bigger, fills our mind’s eyes with her rose blood.
We merge back into the smear of city traffic. On the first of our three buses home, a man with a bulging combat coat and impressively unkempt beard tells us, “The end is coming!” He is talking about the incoming Liberal Prime Minister and he stinks of medicinally legal weed.
We, however, hear his prophecy and cannot shake the moon from our minds.
And when, in three months time and it is time for me to leave, Vancouver will be similarly unshakeable. I will miss its staggering natural and urban beauty and the way the buses always run on time. I will miss its bars and cafés, its hipster hangouts and microbreweries. I will miss its unmistakeable feel and the way that everywhere doesn’t so much close at night, as it comes to an elegant pause. And I will miss the moments when the sun finally falls below the horizon, when all that is left of its deep setting amber are lilac clouds and distant ocean warmth, when the mist rolls down the mountains and welcomes in the evening.
Words and pictures by Sam Forbes, 3rd year Drama Major and Liberal Arts and Sciences student; currently studying at the University of British Colombia on Year Abroad.