Story From the City: An Ode To Vancouver, British Columbia

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Justine Leonhardt. Vancouver at Night. 2007. JPEG.

The swathes of brightly coloured vegetation in late October may have appealed to me from the window of the plane, but down below, on the ground, the story felt different. After taking a bus to Vancouver’s downtown core, the area I would presumably be living in, I dragged my bag to a hostel and headed to a café to look for somewhere to live. Before the time when it was common to bring a Mac computer to a café, I pulled apart the newspaper and called every number I could, getting one terrifying response to my answer of how much I could spend: That’s not enough. By the afternoon, the day had grayed considerably and the clouds were spitting up on the dark pavement as I walked up Davie Street, thinking it had all been some huge mistake.

Fortunately, the first day in a new city does not define the future that is to be forged. Reality may rise up once one is down on the ground, but like anything, a city must be discovered over time and made real, until it becomes a thing that is ever-present and familiar. The beginnings of a new place are rife with terror and a feeling of displacement that is temporarily – in its moments – completely gutting, but beginning to love anything is like everything: there is disappointment, loathing and irritation, but there is still love; something that keeps us there.

On the HBO show Sex and the City, New York City was often defined as being ‘the fifth woman’ because its presence throughout the series, from the filming locations to the storylines, was so essential. In one episode, “Anchors Away”, main character Carrie Bradshaw even walks away from a date with a sailor because he espouses his dislike for the city, Carrie’s home since moving at the age of 21. As Bradshaw opines, “If Louis was right, and you only get one great love…New York may just be mine. And I can’t have nobody talking shit about my boyfriend.”

But, oh, the things we go through in order to love a place! For a week before I was able to move into the apartment I rented after moving to Vancouver, I stayed in a hostel. All alone in the city, without a friend or a relative even, it was easy to begin to hate and resent the newfound place I had decided to move to. I would lay awake, hearing the terrible yowls of street people in the middle of the night, beginning to cry as I too felt the displacement, the sheer isolation, of what it is when we lose ourselves in a new place, going forward with excitement but forgetting the cold shock of the day-to-day.

But like a person, a job, a different way of being, the realities begin to grow on you. Instead of feeling an odd sense of placement, like one does when they travel from station to station with no sense of distance or direction, you begin to fill in the squares. The streets stack up slowly and the buildings become familiar, giving way to communities and parks and cafes that slowly hold our history. Like Carrie Bradshaw, there are things that enrage me about my city, but it’s mine…and nobody better talk badly about it. There’s no letting go of that sense of commitment.

Hate, of course, has its places alongside love, and I feel my fair share of it too. I hate the real estate prospects that grow more and more expensive, the ever-fancier cars that motor up the street like they alone are privy to the cement. It is a city that is fast becoming unattainable with fancy skyscrapers that will soon be throttling the skyline, the communities rapidly being poached for greater profit. Whatever the case, as long as it remains my home, I always head back over the Rockies with the sense that I am again facing the right direction, the Pacific coast, the world once so unknown that sits closer than skin.

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