Street haunting in winter, writes Virginia Woolf, is the greatest of adventures. In the early evening she rambles, her eyes “gliding smoothly on the surface” of things and noticing, for example, that “here under the lamps are floating islands of pale light”.*
One of the loveliest qualities of the pavement is the way it reflects the glow from lights in the street at gloomy times of the day, especially when it is wet. Clarice Beckett captures these reflections in her subtle paintings of Melbourne scenes, like Wet evening c.1927 and Taxi rank c.1931.
A single tail light or traffic light can form a wavering pillar submerged in the depths beneath the surface of the street.
Rainy morning, West Pender Street, Vancouver, November 2009
*Street haunting: a London adventure, first published in 1942 and reproduced in The art of the personal essay, Anchor Books, 1995.
How do I know when the sidewalks of Vancouver were last paved? Easy. The year is impressed into the concrete. Near one of these imprints I found an impromptu wet cement drawing. This piece of pavement graffiti was the first one I photographed after arriving in Vancouver for a conference. It reflected how I felt after the 14-hour flight from Sydney.
There is much more that can be read into this small example of the official juxtaposed against the unofficial on the corner of Seymour and West Hastings Streets. Vancouver, readying itself for the 2010 Winter Olympics, is a city I would describe as ‘orderly’, and yet you don’t have to spend too much time in the streets to discover that elements of disorderliness are not entirely suppressed. The Vancouver Olympics Protest Flickr group expose what they see as Vancouver’s problems.
How quaint, I thought. Someone has etched an autumn leaf in wet cement on the sidewalk. Then I noticed another, and then a whole slew of them under an almost bare street tree.
On many blocks along Seymour Street in Downtown Vancouver it is permanently autumn, thanks to these almost inconspicuous installations that must have been put in place when the sidewalks were paved in the late 1990s.
Vancouver has many examples of street art, most of it official, some of it unofficial (though, as you would expect, graffiti mostly occurs at the fringes of Downtown, not in the centre).