June 30, 2013

Summer Sunsets

We are now, finally, into our second summer of the year. Six months ago we arrived in Buenos Aires, from the Yukon, and entered a wonderful world of heat and humidity. Returning to Vancouver in April brought spring, and after a cool and wet month of June, the heat has arrived on Canada's south-west coast, and the sunsets, are wonderful.

June 22, 2013

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City ~ The book & the movie

The book, first published in 2004, is Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. The movie is called Being Flynn, directed  by Paul Weitz and starring Robert De Niro and Paul Dano, and it was released in 2012.

 Over 40 million people live in poverty in the US, subsisting for the most part, doing the menial jobs that keep the engine of economic life running in the greatest nation on earth. The book, and the movie, deals with the millions of people who fall even further below the poverty line: the homeless, the powerless, the forgotten. In the beginning of course, Nick Flynn's life, and that of his father, is nowhere near that point. The family, together in some fashion, does well enough; his mother has a regular job, supplemented by odd jobs, and his father, Jonathan, is around though often drunk.

Shortly after his birth, Nick's mother, giving up on her husband, took her two children and walked out. Nick would not see his father, never really knowing him in the first place, until well into adult life, and then under strange circumstances indeed, which is where the memoir begins: Nick works in a Boston homeless shelter and meets his father, a "guest".

Nick's life is predictable enough: a childhood of poverty, near-criminality, alcohol, drugs, and his mother's strange and disruptive boy friends. Ultimately Nick becomes semi-itinerant himself, drifting, always drifting, with drugs and alcohol close by. Bizarrely he has some contact with his father, one-way, through the post; Nick saves all his father's letters. In the film, Nick is played interestingly enough by Paul Dano, though the book presents a fuller, richer view of the young man's life and issues than can be handled by Dano in 100 minutes.

Jonathan is a delusional character, calling himself the greatest living writer in the US. He is a braggart and a wind-bag, endlessly waiting for the million dollar advance on his novel ("It's here somewhere"and oddly enough does appear near the story's end). Most of all Jonathan is a drunk and a con-man. De Niro plays him well in the movie, in fact it is one of De Niro's better recent performances, with the right balance of crazed humour and insane anger.

This is the story of two men and their converging lives. It is told in a fragmentary style that is quite appealing. Depressing, sordid and painfully real, the book features short chapters describing events in non-chronological order which captures the random craziness of the two Flynns wonderfully.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (a phrase the senior Flynn uses to describe his time on the street) is a great read. Disturbing on a number of levels, it is a brilliant description of fathers and sons travelling  in dark places. The movie, Being Flynn, for some reason falling under the radar of critics and moviegoers alike, is highly entertaining and well worth finding.

That the story ends as well as it does is amazing.

June 15, 2013

Viva Java ~ Vancouver Coffee Shops Part 4

Across the bridge we find a coffee shop with a personality all its own, or that of its owner. I've followed Viva Java to three locations over the years and this one defies understanding. At the end of nondescript strip mall along busy Bridgeport Road, south of the casino, close to Costco and within walking of the Canada Line, but nowhere near anything in particular, we find Arti Hagop and his amazing coffee roasting operation.

It's a strange location to be sure but well worth the visit. Arti roasts organic beans every day and will blend them to your specifications (he has supplied coffee to the fussiest of film crews).

Arti has a reputation, and it's largely true: he doesn't always get along with  people. He is an independent thinker who loves coffee and knows the coffee roasting business. It is all about coffee with Arti, and the coffee is wonderful.

Become Arti's friend and you will be greeted by name, even after a lengthy absence. In my case, it's been about four years, and upon seeing me Arti shouted out an immediate, "Hello Jimmie-Man!"

I've always been Jimmie-Man to Arti, and one only argues with Arti if... well, if you don't want any coffee today. Years ago, he earned the nick name The Coffee Nazi and it still applies. He seems to  have softened just a bit, though it still helps if you know what you want before you order.

No fancy desserts or croissants here, and that isn't important. What is important is the great coffee, along with Arti's special blend of humour and commentary on world events, and for freshly roasted beans: there's nothing to compare with Viva Java.

Viva Java is located at 2900 Smith Street, Unit 9, in Richmond BC.

Photos by Jeem . Copyright 2013 by Jim Murray.

Viva Java Roasting House on Urbanspoon

June 12, 2013

VanDusen Gardens ~ The Council of Elders

The Council of Elders is present at VanDusen Gardens this summer. 
There are eleven in the group and as one approaches,
a meeting of some sort is obviously taking place.

The Council of Elders is the work of Denman Island artist Michael Dennis, and is part of a collection of art works set to open at VanDusen on June 20th. The collection, featuring twenty-four wood sculptures and installations, celebrates the culture of wood, is called Touch Wood.

Michael Dennis arrived on Denman in the 1980s, the same time he left the academy of science for the practice of art. Dennis has a PhD in Neurophysiology from Standford University. He creates large figures from salvaged cedar and the Elders are all in excess of 3.5 m in height. They are abstract yet intentional, with power and personality, and they certainly seem to be purposeful standing in the Garden.

June 09, 2013

VanDusen Gardens

VanDusen Gardens has become our backyard of sorts. It is always inviting and relaxing.

Compared to many municipal gardens around the world VanDusen Botanical Gardens is relatively new.

In 1910 it was scrub land owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, when it was leased to the Shaughnessy Golf Club until 1960 when the CPR proposed a subdivision. This was opposed by citizens and ultimately the land was purchased for a park with monies coming from the City of Vancouver, the provincial government and the Vancouver Foundation led by a donation by W.J. VanDusen, noted industrialist and philanthropist, after whom the Garden was named.

VanDusen Botanical Gardens officially opened in 1975 and features 22 hectares of thousands of plants and many wonderful views.

June 02, 2013

Vancouver Coffee Shops ~ part 3

The Blue Parrot has been around a long time. Established in 1979 at Granville Island, it has changed ownership only once in thirty-three years and continues to be a family-owned business. It takes its name from the rival bar to Rick`s American Cafe in the movie Casablanca.

There are now two Blue Parrots, the busy Granville Island flagship and the newer Hillcrest Community Centre location, between the swimming pool and ice rink and not far from the library and the fitness room. The coffee is fine; nothing exceptional but adequate and served in a mug.

Not all that far from Hillcrest Centre, and still well within my walking zone, near the corner of Main and 33rd Avenue is an amazing little indie coffee shop called Little Mountain Coffee Company. Friendly and clean, with amazingly strong espresso drinks. An added bonus is the nice selection of gelati and sorbetti. I have a feeling the people here would remember names and favourite drinks. And the coffee is long on strength and flavour; did I mention strong?