This is the view from my brother and sister-in-law's new home in Oregon.
Last year B+SIL retired, pull up stakes, sold their home in New Jersey, and moved to the other side of the country. One of their adult children and partner - and now their first grandchild! - lives 15 minutes away in Ashland, Oregon. Their other two adult children and their partners live in the Bay Area, a five-hour drive or short flight away.
And then - this is the real knock-out - my 84-year-old mother is moving out there, too! With the help of B+SIL, she sold her apartment in New Jersey, gave her car away to one of her granddaughter-in-laws, and is preparing to move into a retirement community in Ashland. She'll be able to see her great-granddaughter grow up, and there'll be family on hand as she gets older and needs more care.
We're all incredibly impressed that she's up for this huge life change at 84 years old. She's lived in the NYC-metro area all her life,
For me, this means a much longer and more complicated trip to see her. On the other hand, there's a lot more family to visit when I do. We used to all gather once a year at B+SIL's home in New Jersey, but for the last few years, B+SIL have been going west, so we hadn't all seen each other in a very long time.
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We got in late on Friday night (or very early Saturday morning). Since then we've been talking and reconnecting with each other, drinking wine, taking walks on B+SIL's 45-acre property, and especially and constantly playing with, watching, talking to, admiring, and exclaiming over the darling Sophia, nine months old.
Yesterday, Sunday, the Bay Area contingent had to take off, people I hugely love and already miss. Today we're going to see Ashland, Sophia's parents' home, and their office where they practice acupuncture and holistic healthcare. And of course more Sophia time.
We had planned to take a break from the family activities to spend a couple of days in Portland. But after driving from Vancouver and having the return trip in front of us, we're not keen to drive another 10 hours (five hours each way) to see that city, even for Powell's.
If I were to blog the rest of the trip, it would be super boring. But way fun here!
The Acme Cafe is a few buildings down from the old Woodward's Building, which figures prominently in the rise and fall of this historic neighbourhood. We took a few photos, then packed up, and took the Skytrain back to the airport, getting to the airport quickly and easily for $8, total for two. This makes Toronto's $30 UP Express ripoff seem even more egregious.
And then it happened. We tried to check in at the flight counter, only to learn that our passports had expired. Last summer! We were utterly shocked. And yes, we are idiots. Obviously I must have seen the expiry date on our passports, but it never clicked: they were good for only five years.
Unbelievable. And completely our own fault.
The counter agent was very nice but there was absolutely nothing she could do to help. You must have a valid passport to fly internationally. And we did not.
This trip has been planned for at least nine months. Family is expecting us - and some folks are driving up from the Bay Area to Oregon, and they only have this weekend. What are we going to do?! We took our luggage and sat down, stunned, trying to assess our options.
The counter agent suggested going back to downtown Vancouver to apply for new passports, but on a Friday afternoon, we'd be very lucky to have new passports early next week. Too late.
After a few minutes we realized there was only one possible solution. We had to rent a car and drive to Oregon, taking a chance that we'd be admitted to the US. A passport would still be necessary, but land crossings are at the discretion of the border guard. We are still US citizens, and supposedly cannot be denied entry. However, US citizens are supposed to carry US passports, and we don't.
But there was no choice. We had to take that chance.
The first car rental counter had no cars available, and told us another place was also sold out. A little scary, but Avis made it happen - a good price and unlimited mileage. In a few minutes we were heading south. And very worried! We'd have our expired passports, all the information from the flights we were supposed to take, plus all the ID to back up the passport. Would that be enough? We were sure we'd need the "secondary interview" - another interrogation inside the border-services building.
At the border crossing, we pulled up to the booth.
Border guard, taking our passports: Where are you going?
Us: Ashland, Oregon.
Guard: How long are you staying?
Us: Til Friday, March 4th.
Guard: Are you bringing anything in to the US?
Us: Just our personal things, and a few small gifts.
Guard, handing our passports back to us: Have a safe trip.
We managed to control ourselves until we were safely away from the booth, before letting out one huge WHOO-HOOO.
Then all we had was 10 hours of driving ahead of us. Which would have been fine, except for the three hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Sea-Tac area, from north of Seattle to south of Tacoma. The rain didn't help either. But at 1:00 a.m. we were driving up the gravel road to my brother and sister-in-law's new home.
So we had to eat the price of the flight from Vancouver to Oregon, and pay a huge penalty and increased fare to fly home from Vancouver, as well as rent a vehicle for a week. An expensive holiday, indeed.
The morale of the story is check those expiration dates.
I didn't want another breakfast at the hotel, so we poked around a bit online and found something nearby. This place didn't open til 10:00 (I guess hipsters don't wake up early) but we noticed the Acme Cafe next door. It looks like a diner - an authentic diner, not a fake retro ironic diner - but with a contemporary menu. The food was very good - I had a truly excellent frittata with portobello mushrooms - but the best treat came with the bill. We unintentionally qualified for the early-bird special: between 8 and 9:00, buy one breakfast, get another free. A BOGO breakfast? What fun! And an amazing deal, as the food is outstanding and not cheap..
After breakfast we walked to the Vancouver Public Library, the Central branch known for its distinctive look. The library hadn't opened yet and there was the usual crowd waiting to get in. Anyone who imagines that libraries are no longer needed should stop by right before one opens.
I'm not sure why a library should look like the Roman Colosseum, considering the original function of that ancient building (far more brutal and bloody than is commonly known). But it's an impressive and distinctive structure, and Vancouverites voted for it in a design competition. I like the inner concourse, which gives the feel of a city block across from a library, but within the library complex itself. I hope in the warmer months there is public seating on the huge open plaza in front of the building. If there isn't, it's a ridiculously wasted space.
We wandered a bit inside the library, which is very nice. I saw something I would love to emulate in Mississauga... more on that if I'm able to help make it happen.
After the library, I went to the Bill Reid Gallery, while Allan went to check out a bookstore. Bill Reid, for any readers who don't know him, was a Canadian aboriginal artist, writer, teacher, and spokesperson. His most famous work is the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, this sculpture, which lives at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC, and is pictured on the old (pre-Harper) Canadian $20 bill. The gallery is wonderful, a little gem of a museum. I enjoyed learning about Reid's life, although I could have used more context for some of the Haida modern cultural history. Of his own background, Reid (whose father was a white Canadian) said, "I am neither Haida nor non-Haida, neither white nor not-white. I am a person of the Haida Gwaii". I was also surprised to learn that before becoming a visual artist, Reid was a writer; I bought a beautiful book of his writing.
After meeting up again, with a few complications, we took a long train ride out to The Drive, a Vancouver neighbourhood with a counterculture flavour. We walked a lot, checked out a lot of used bookstores and a few oddball boutiques, and ate way too much excellent wood oven pizza. Eating too much was definitely a theme of this day. Unfortunately, The People's Co-op Bookstore, one of the places on The Drive we were most looking forward to, was closed because of fire damage.
From The Drive we took a B-line "99" bus to some other neighbourhood, transferred to another bus, all to pay a visit to this creatively-named store: The Regional Assembly of Text. Funny thing, Allan dragged us all over town to get there, and I was just humouring him. But as soon as we walked in, I was smitten and wanted to buy armloads of stuff. The store is full of beautiful hand-made cards with book, writing, and library themes. There are beautiful writing implements and blank books, stamps and buttons, pads and paper. The store displays a collection of old manual typewriters and file boxes, and a huge collection of zines that you can browse in a closet-sized reading room. It's an absolutely lovely store and worth a visit if you love print.
Then it was back on another bus to yet another used bookstore! When it comes to bookstores, the man is insatiable. I was way past my limit for both buses and bookstores, but my patience was less important than the payback I'd cash in later.
Our afternoon collapse was short, as I had my heart set on one more bowl of ramen before leaving Ramen City. We went back to Gyoza, the place from our first night, and I savoured yet another tomato-pork broth and noodley goodness.
After dinner, we met SB at a Gastown pub, the first time we met in person. S is a central person in the west coast branch of the War Resisters Support Campaign. She's also a CUPE activist and a librarian. We have a few things in common! None of other potential Vancouver meet-ups with internet friends worked out, but this one was really special.
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Waking up early as I do, I've been able to see Tala and Diego on the webcam every morning. I'm worry free, so happy to see them happy!
We got an early start with the train to a bus to Stanley Park. On the way to the bus, I was intrigued by a food truck called Yolks. (Apparently it's also a restaurant. Their tagline: Eat Breakfast Now.) I got this incredible homemade granola with a banana and yogurt; it totally made my morning.
The bus took us right to Stanley Park. I had heard of the park, of course, as it's usually the first attraction anyone mentions about Vancouver, but I had no idea what made it so special. If you look at a map of Vancouver, the huge green peninsula jutting off the west end of the city is Stanley Park. It's huge.
The park is full of attractions - famous totem poles, an aquarium, all manner of trails - but the best feature surely must be the seawall walk and bike path. It rings the park, with the water on one side and green wooded area on the other. We decided to walk all 8.8 kms of it. (That's about 5.5 miles for my US friends.)
There's a path just for foot traffic and one beside it for bikes and inline skates. On this warm (and dry!) Wednesday afternoon, there were plenty of people walking, running, biking, and blading, and we could imagine it could get crowded in warmer months.
Most of the way, we were walking beside kelp-covered tidal pools at low tide. We passed a bridge and what appeared to be suburbs on the other side, several seaplanes, and some huge container ships. There are two small sandy beaches, but mostly rocky shoreline.
About halfway, we stopped for lunch, which was everything we picked up at the Granville Island Market the day before - smoked salmon, cheese, cured meats, and bread.
These market stands were really superb. The smoked salmon stand offered fish with several different methods of smoking, all of the salmon local and wild, richly red. We bought cold-smoked salmon, and some salmon jerky just for fun.
The sausage stand was one of the best stores in the market, displaying every kind of sausage imaginable, seemingly from every type of cooking in the world. We bought small amounts of chorizo, salami, pepperoni, and some lamb prosciutto. A little smoked gouda and some freshly baked bread, and that's a great lunch.
At about the eight-kilometre mark, when our feet were getting tired, the trail turned inland and ran alongside a pond. This was an opportunity to see many different kinds of birds, and the work of some industrious beavers.
Then suddenly we felt like we couldn't walk another step, and a bus stop appeared. It seemed like we were waiting in the middle of nowhere, and we were a bit skeptical... but a few minutes later, there was our bus, the same route we had taken to the park. Brilliant.
Although our feet were a bit sore, we weren't done for the day. Allan had more things planned! One of the best aspects of this trip, for me, is that Allan has done 99% of the planning. It's usually more 50-50, with me doing the long-range, big-picture plans, and Allan filling in the details. But right now, between the library and the union, I have no time or mental energy to plan one more thing. Allan has stepped up - big time - and taken care of everything. I'm like a passenger on a personalized tour, and I couldn't be happier.
So we took the bus back into town, hopped on the Skytrain for one stop (day passes again), and found the famed gelato store. This gelato won first prize in some huge world gelato competition, the only non-Italian ever to do so.
You can get three flavours for $8.00, so between the two of us we tried Thai coconut, banana bread, whiskey fudge, mint chocolate chip, fior de latte, and blood orange sorbeto. It is quite possibly the best gelato you'll ever eat.
Back at the room, we had our obligatory late-afternoon collapse, then went to dinner. It turns out that another entry on the must-try ramen list was right near our hotel. And I do mean right near, closer than our Skytrain stop.
This place was a more casual noodle joint, packed with young, hip, loud Asian-Canadian 20-somethings chowing down on noodles. The ramen was amazing in a rich chicken or pork broth. Their house specialty, tsukemen, is served with a pitcher of clear broth, so you can adjust the consistency and flavour to your own liking.
This noodle shop is an example of this neighbourhood "in transition" where we're staying. There are homeless people, panhandlers, and welfare hotels all around, but sprinkled throughout, there are expensive organic bath shops and hyper-trendy bars.
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Although Vancouver is smaller than Toronto by population, to me Vancouver feels like a bigger city - more bustle, more sparkle. I have to say, it also seems more stylish and hip than TO. Of course, I am neither hip nor stylish, but I know (and enjoy) style when I see it, and this city seems to have a lot of it.
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It's been difficult to see the dogs on the Dogtopia webcam. Between the time-zone difference the midday rest period, and Tala's extra rest, we haven't seen a lot of them. But when we do catch a glimpse, they seem very happy.
When Diego is in the gym but Tala is not, he just stands around looking at a spot off-camera. He seems to be waiting for her to come back. So sweet.
There are tons of dogs there! Mississauga has had some doggie daycare places before, but none as centrally located as Dogtopia. I'm so glad to see that enough dog-parents are willing to spend money so their pups can get exercise and be happy during the day.
After a quick breakfast in the hotel, we bought day passes for transit - Vancouver's new Compass Card - and set out for the Granville Island Market. The weather was beautiful - 9C and sunny - but would supposedly be even nicer the following day, so we were planning accordingly.
We took the Skytrain (the same train we took from the airport) to a bus through the downtown to Granville Island and the market. It's a small but beautiful market, and the food is really top-notch. Besides eating and wandering, we bought food for our visit to Stanley Park. We think for once we refrained from buying three times as much as we need.
The Granville Island Market also boasts a huge collection of shops of local and independent artists and artisans. Paper crafts, potters, textile arts, glass art, jewelry, you name it. We're not big shoppers, but living in the middle of homogenized sprawl as we do, this is a treat. We were able to pick up some gifts we needed, too.
Across False Creek from the market are the condo high-rises you always see in pictures of Vancouver, and in the distance you see snow-capped mountains. You actually see those in the near distance from various vantage points downtown, too, much like Seattle.
We bussed back to the hotel and collapsed for a while, our brains still on Eastern time. The transit here seems great. The buses are electric, so they're quieter and the air is cleaner. In general, this city is so clean, like all Canadian cities, at least compared to the US.
Later, we were back on the train to dinner. A friend sent me this review of Vancouver's Top 10 ramen spots. As soon as I saw it, I was like "Noodles!! Noodles every day!" Last night we went to the first one on the list, Gyoza. We had some messy, delicious pulled-pork bao, then a ramen in a rich, delicious, tomato-based broth, almost like a bouillabaisse. I could eat that every day and never get tired of it.
The restaurant was a short stroll - in beautiful Spring-like weather - to the Vancouver Art Gallery, the main art museum here. We weren't interested enough to spend $20 each admission, but Tuesday night is pay by donation night, so we thought we'd spend an hour there.
As it turns out, there's a special exhibit on taking up the entire museum. And of course there are big crowds (which is nice to see). But focusing on art and navigating through crowds while our brains are on another time zone was not too appealing.
We strolled back to the train, seeing more of the downtown, including some of the famous food trucks. And then, using the hell out of our transit passes, it was back to the hotel.
We forgot to pack Allan's netbook and my little Bluetooth keyboard for my tablet isn't working, so this is going to be interesting. And annoying! But I can't travel without writing, so here goes.
We landed in Vancouver mid-day on Monday. A super friendly information person gave us directions to our hotel, and Vancouver wins the prize for best airport-to-city transportation, probably of any city we've been to. Inexpensive, fast, clean, accessible. I don't know why so many cities can't manage it, but well done, Vancouver!
We're staying at Skwachays Lodge, a social enterprise of an aboriginal community. It's gotten a lot of media attention in Canada. It's on the cusp of Chinatown, and also part of the revitalization of Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside. This means that the immediate surroundings are a bit sketchy, so if you were very concerned about that, this wouldn't be a good pick. But the room is stylish, spotless, comfortable, and full of all the good hotel amenities. As a bonus, it's a third of the price of any other decent hotel in Vancouver.
Our first order of business was to see Tala and Diego on webcam, but between internet problems and the time difference, it didn't work. We walked into Chinatown, found a tea shop, and had some dumplings and tea. From there we strolled to Gastown, an expensive, heavily gentrified area full of upscale restaurants and bars, upscale shops, and beautiful people. Also full of panhandlers from the nearby Eastside. It's like no one can figure out anything else to do with cities. It's either hungry, homeless, marginalized people living in squalor or conspicuous affluence.
We've seen the equivalent of Gastown in every city we've been to, and it doesn't do anything for us. One nicer element here is the shops and galleries of aboriginal artisanship. I love the silver jewelry and the paintings of the Coastal peoples. All of it is well out of my price range, so it"s strictly for looking.
Another interesting note were the neighbourhood banners announcing we were in "Seattle's Original Neighborhood". We could only guess that a sitcom or movie set in Seattle is being filmed here, because as we know, "Vancouver never plays itself."
We had some disappointing food, then went back to the hotel and collapsed. Allan was especially wrecked, having worked til 1:00 a.m. the night before.
(And I got the keyboard to work. Whew.)
This morning we are flying to Vancouver, our first time there. A few days later, Oregon and a mini family reunion. Two very needed weeks off.
But first: Dogtopia.
A few days later, a writer called about a story for The Guardian, asking much the same questions. That interview resulted in this article: 'An alternative exists': the US citizens who vowed to flee to Canada – and did. This writer didn't use much of my interview, but I did get the last word!
Then someone at The Toronto Star noticed the Guardian story and did a long interview with me. That story came out yesterday: Disenchanted U.S. voters look with longing eyes to Canada, but few follow through.
The editors scrapped most of what I said about the differences between Canada and the U.S. I even gave them the bullet-point version: universal health care, didn't invade Iraq, no death penalty, no abortion law, one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage, a party to the left of liberal. A functioning democracy. A more secular society. On the other hand, no one mentioned Stephen Harper, so that was nice.
Funny thing about that Guardian story. The man in the photo is someone I used to work and hang with in the War Resisters Support Campaign. And we met through - wait for it - a radio interview about Americans who had moved to Canada for political reasons.
The Star article includes a link to this blog, so I figured I should write something.
Why prison libraries? From a rehabilitation perspective, there is a high correlation between illiteracy and crime, and illiteracy and recidivism. Certainly education can only help inmates successfully re-enter society.
From a social justice perspective, most people in prison are there because their life circumstances led inexorably to criminality. Access to information can help change the odds.
And from a human rights perspective, access to information is a basic human right - but prisons are environments of severe information poverty. Contrary to popular belief, inmates have no access to television or internet.
For decades, prison libraries had been a regular feature of all correctional facilities in North America. They were run by professional librarians, usually with inmate volunteers. It will not surprise you to learn that conservative and neoliberal governments have eliminated the meager funds once used for prison libraries. New prisons - often run for profit by private corporations - are now built without space for a library.
Fortunately, there are librarians who are so committed to providing information services to inmates that they are doing so anyway, without government support or funding, as volunteers. As president of my library workers' union, I spend a good deal of time and energy pushing back against the incursion of volunteers in our library. But for some communities, it's volunteers or nothing.
Library services to prisons include resource fairs, book clubs (and kits to get book clubs started), deliveries of weeded copies of bestsellers, and collecting and distributing donated magazines. One of the speakers noted that readers' advisory is one of the few services that treats inmates as individuals, rather than as "a population".
During this talk, I quickly recognized the strong connection between this presentation and the one I had attended previously, on services to indigenous people. Prison librarianship is all about relationship-building - about listening to what people want and need, then trying to provide it. And as indigenous people comprise Canada's underclass, there is a strong connection between colonialism, aboriginal issues, and the criminal justice system. A disproportionate percentage of inmates in Canadian prisons are aboriginal.
The Manitoba Library Association's Prison Libraries Committee has published a toolkit called Library Outreach on the Inside, based on their local experiences, something I look forward to reading. I don't know when or how I could get involved in this, but it's an interest I want to keep alive in my mind.
I haven't yet read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg, but I plan to. The blog Librarian Behind Bars may have ended, but as a lot of great information archived.
There are also several organizations like this one that distribute donated books to incarcerated people. On the blog Picturesque, a librarian offers a good overview of the job and its context.
A while back, I announced that Allan and I were going to try weeding our books and CD collection. A few months passed until we could find the time, but we've done it. Seven boxes of books and three boxes of CDs will be leaving our lives.
Last September, I said this:
When I was in my 20s, I wanted to own every book I'd ever read. I was one of those people who believed that my personal library was a statement about myself. I needed to proudly display my politics and my tastes through my bookshelves and records. I loved seeing other people's libraries, and loved when people perused mine. I can recall that when we found ourselves in the home of a new friend, we would soon be looking through their books and music.So there we have it. I don't fully understand why I can now let go of things that I've packed up and moved from apartment to apartment to house to house more times that I want to count. But suddenly, it's fine.
For many years, we loved amassing as large a music collection as we possibly could. . . .
The whole concept of a library being a personal statement has been erased by the digital age. Most people under a certain age have never owned a physical medium of music. The sharing ethos of the internet has led to things like BookCrossing, BookMooch, Read It Foward, and Little Free Libraries. . . .
I don't know if this is a function of working in a library and having ready access to so many books, or just a general change in my desires.
We don't know what we're doing with all of it. Some we can donate to the annual giant book sale that benefits the Mississauga Symphony Orchestra. Allan thinks we might get some money for the CDs at BMV Books. I'm highly skeptical, but I'm willing to try.