Return to Vancouver

On my first morning back in Vancouver, I turn right out of the house in Kitsilano, look north and there they are -seemingly at the end of the street: Vancouver's three great mountains - from left to right - Cypress (or Hollyburn) Grouse and Seymour -all snow-covered on this rainy morning down in the city.

I've left the mayhem of London - of Ealing to be precise. I'm no longer one of the teeming crowd that stream out of Ealing Broadway station every minute of every day. I'm far from the smells of the falafel shop on the corner and the gloom of the shopping precinct where every week seem to bring another vacated premise. I've exchanged the possibility of a London day - a quick hop on the Central Line and in 25 minutes, there's the British Museum - for the green, peaceful streets of Kitsilano - once Vancouver's answer to the hippy Haight Ashbury in San Francisco.

Now the evening offers "Marley and Me" at the family-run Art Deco, Hollywood Cinema on Broadway - $6 on Monday for a double bill - Marley is followed by "The Day the Earth Stood Still." It's a far cry from trying for a ten quid standing place at the Royal Opera House but I'm relieved to be gone. Nobody here is braying about dead reality tv performers. Nobody cares about the bloated over-paid likes of Jonathan Ross or Fred Goodwin.

When I shop, I don't have to rely on Mr Sainsbury, Mr Waitrose, Mr Tesco or Mr Asda to feed me. Broadway, the main street round the corner boasts half a dozen excellent Chinese greengrocers - mangos at 50p and the owners all know me and ask how I am. Coffee at Whole Foods costs 90p. Add to that, a chocolate-raspberry tart and it's five minutes of paradise, Crab cakes at the Seven Seas fish store are as good as in any restaurant and cost less than £2. Terra Breads in the same block sells a walnut bread that surpasses any I've tasted in Paris.

And all the while the snow falls on those mountains and the forests of great cedars and pines, the Pacific laps at the end of the street and there's not a red-top tabloid newspaper in sight.

Blissful BC courtesy of David Attenborough and the BBC

Nature's Great Event last night, viewed from the Ealing living room, was the salmon run in BC.   Bears, wolves, eagles, orcas and the salmon themselves paraded before me on the tv.  How rare and exotic they looked after an afternoon on the Central Line. And how exquisitely beautiful was, as always, British Columbia. So green, so blue, so many trees, so many mountains, so much water.
I've had a suspicion for years that if BC were in the USA where they are so much more inclined to self-promotion, the place would be a mob scene. But it's those reserved, self-deprecating Canadians who won the Majestic Landscape lottery. And they have, on the whole, spent it in quiet sensible ways.  (Yes, yes I know ...clearcutting, Sea to Sky Olympic massacre but Greenpeace was born in Vancouver.. and vast swathes of BC remain untouched and inaccessible)

London  life feels so small-minded and banal when confronted with the drama of grizzlies descending snow-wrapped mountains to wait on the shores of sparkling rivers for the arrival of the fish from thousand of miles out in the Pacific. Fish who are compelled to return to the exact place of their birth to spawn and die. On the way, BC's spectacular wildlife  - wolves, orcas, eagles and grizzlies will kill  many of them but the salmon persist, growing pink and uglier as they do. And when they die and rot and their carcasses are devoured and scattered by scavengers, their remains sink back into those lush green forests, feeding them the precious nitrogen that gives us the great cedars, sitka spruce and western hemlock that make up these glorious forests. Round and round goes the green and blue cycle.

On my first summer in Vancouver,  I was astounded to see  whole wild salmon on sale in the Safeway for about $3. The run had been spectacular that year and we, the blundering bipeds were also getting our pickings right behind the grizzlies and eagles.

When I come out of that Safeway, if I look down the hill on which it stands, I can see mountains and forest and ocean. How lucky I am that for just a few months each year, I get to live alongside such grandeur, such ongoing spectacle.

Blissful Vancouver Sundays - without the Sunday papers

I'd been going back and forth to Vancouver for 7 years when I suddenly realized why Sundays in Vancouver felt lighter and cheerier than Sundays in London. Of course, in the Canadian city I can see the snow on the mountains when I wake up. And in winter there's the prospect of snow-shoeing on those peaks - in summer there's a dip in the Pacific at the end of the road. But all the Lotus-land pleasures of BC aside, the one enormous difference is that nobody bothers with Sunday papers in Vancouver. This pathetic ritual of loading a stonking great pile of dead tree into your supermarket trolley and lugging it home to read all those opinions of all those dried-up poseurs  would be unthinkable in Canada. The leading national paper, The Globe and Mail doesn't even bother publishing a Sunday edition. 

I remember once reading a Stephen Fry column (in something like the Spectator NOT a Sunday paper) where he said that he had found himself becoming increasingly more depressed by the Sunday press - all those dismissive opinions - all the cynicism - and had finally called a halt and felt better for it. The prospect of a hike up Mt Seymour makes it easy to ignore the press but even in London, I think the time would be better spent picking dry skin of the soles of my feet.

And yes, I do occasionally write for said Sundays. And I do my best to make my stories witty and informative. I'm happy that people read them but I'd rather they were read over a cup of tea and a bun after a good walk in the woods. And the Style section should definitely be used to wrap the fish and chips that the food section probably tells us we should no longer eat.

Posted by Janette Griffiths
at 14:34