Writing from a table by a large window in the Lonsdale Quay Market, I can’t help but to ponder, once more, Vancouver’s strange magic.
The sun is slowly setting across the Burrard Inlet, turning North Vancouver into an orange mosaic. Red and white tug boats are tied up to a dock next to me, patiently awaiting their turn to take part in the port’s never-ending ballet. The Seabuses come and go endlessly, clockwork timing and total efficiency.
Vancouver is made of extremes and contradictions. Maybe it is her high contrasts that make her so fascinating and completely addictive.
Where else can one find, in one package deal, the richest and the poorest neighborhoods of an entire country, an extremely densely populated urban core of high-rises surrounded by the sea and framed by snowcapped mountains, and sixty-eight recorded ethnicities cohabitating in a swirling, ever changing playground?
It seems impossible at first to conciliate the many contradicting facets of the city. People sitting in t-shirts at a café terrace in March, Canadian geese peacefully grazing on the grass of a park across the street, a harbor seal poking its head in the distance through the surface of the very calm fjord while a Twin Otter takes off noisily above it, a couple of teenagers walking by with snowboards and goggles, heavily dressed, while others in shorts and running shoes run the sidewalk on their skateboards, businessmen eating one dollar pizza slices and ignoring their way passed a homeless bum begging for change – and a joint, handicapped and bicycle-friendly buses sharing lanes with bikers in bright jackets, girls in flip-flops and skirts year-round, islands for sale, Smart cars overtaking Hummers, the conflicting smells of cherry blossoms, red cedars and durian, sushi, nachos, Belgium fries, coffee and micro beer within one block of each other, locals and tourists mingling seamlessly and filling the air with the song of a dozen languages, cement, glass and metal sharing space with vegetation and water, every single sight in Vancouver is ambiguous and a masterpiece of duality.
For many, Vancouver was – and remains – the promised land. It was colonized from the east as the "end of the line", the reward after a long crossing of the continent, a relief to the sheerness of the Rockies, a place of eternal spring even when the country still freezes under heavy snow and violent blizzards. But there is a price attached to Vancouver; it used to be a long and perilous journey whether one came from the East or the West. Nowadays, with travels having become so easy, the price has become more literal and has been applied to the cost of living.
But there is no doubt that Vancouverites pay a hefty fee for the privilege of living here. So they are a motivated, willing people. No one arrives in Vancouver by pure coincidence. It is the result of many decisions and sacrifices. But when you have paid your dues, the city takes you in and charms you so powerfully that the sortilege will last rain or shine.
And rain, as everybody knows, is a constant in Vancouver. It rains for weeks at a time and nerves and roofs are put to the test. But then the sun shines again, the city becomes alive with joy, and people remember how deeply in love they are.
Vancouver is a portrait of life. It’s bizarre, illogical and intense. It brings out the best in people, and the worst. It’s complicated, multilayered and extraordinary. Each day brings its share of surprises. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, the city spins around and sends you tumbling down the rabbit hole.