Sitting at a coffee shop terrace in Yaletown, the afternoon sun pleasantly warming me up, I can’t help but to realize how far ahead Vancouver is compared to most North American cities I know. "Ahead in what way?" might you ask. In the art of en-joy-ing life.
I honestly rarely see anybody show any signs of stress in their everyday life or at work. Drivers are polite, taking their time, patient. Pedestrians are given complete respect and priority. On the other hand, nobody here jailwalks.
Vancouver is also the most dog-friendly city I know, France included. And yet, as opposed to Paris, strolling down the waterfront Seawall or Robson Street doesn’t feel like walking on a mine field, the way it would in the City of Light itself. One can actually wander around gazing up at the high-rises without fear of stepping into a dog’s revenge.
And walking with your eyes turned skyward is something you end up doing a lot, in Vancouver. She isn’t called the City of Glass for nothing. The buildings are all literally made of glass, in turn shiny, reflective, pastel green, metallic or transparent. It almost seems as though cement has been banished from construction ethics. Le Corbusier wouldn’t be happy here, but I am.
So today I ended up in Yaletown after arriving late at the Science World and deciding to hop on the False Creek Ferry which links four or five locations on both banks of the Creek. The slow ferry looks more like a floating bath tub than a boat but it’s fun and extremely convenient to avoid a bus ride or a long walk across bridges.
The sun is reflecting on all the windows and birds are singing in nearby trees, as if enjoying it too, like Mr. Hulot’s canary responding to the window’s reflection.
This is not a poor area. A Lamborghini is parked a few meters from here and the rest aren’t cheap either. I’m tempted to compare the neighborhood to Beverly hills or St. Tropez but the difference is that here I don’t get a sense of jealous exclusivity and I don’t feel out of place even though I could barely pay for my coffee.
Vancouver’s elite tends to tolerate its poor counterpart with nonchalance. The fact is that our city is the end of the line on a national westward migration of the poor and the homeless who flee unforgiving eastern winters in search of warmer nights and merrier days, like the rest of us.
I’ve read somewhere that Vancouver’s homeless population is estimated at 5000 souls, which would probably be a fraction of what it is in many other North American cities. It’s 5000 too many, of course, and I don’t pretend to know what their life is like and what they must endure. Theirs is a misery that I suppose must be experienced to be understood. A misery of the mind, mostly.
They manage, however, to keep their presence very noticeable and begging is quite common downtown. It surprises visitors but doesn’t seem to impress the locals. It probably gives them a chance to practice R.A.K.’s and must help them feel better about themselves and justify the high price of living downtown.
But as people say here, "It’s all good, eh!"
For the homeless, wherever, whenever:
"Remember when we found misery
We watched her, watched her spread her wings
And slowly fly around our room
And she asked for your gentle mind"
[Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly]