Things to do in Vancouver

I’ve been asked to provide a list of things to do in Vancouver, for the benefit of people visiting. For the critical reason that it is not statistics, I am going to do so now.

The first area to address is the ‘classic touristy stuff’ category. Included within it are both things worth seeing and things better avoided. I would definitely suggest going up Grouse Mountain but, if at all possible, I highly recommend doing so by climbing either the Grouse Grind or the Baden Powell Trail. Both would provide a much more authentic Western Canadian experience. Both are fairly energy intensive trails, but nothing that a young and fit person wouldn’t be able to deal with. A less strenuous option in the same area is to walk up or down Capilano Canyon, either from or to Cleveland Dam.

Also in North Vancouver is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. My advice: skip it. It’s one of those ‘drive a whole tour bus full of (probably German or Japanese) tourists with digital cameras and expose them to actors in period clothing’ kind of places. If you want to see a suspension bridge, I recommend the one in Lynn Canyon. It’s free and there are a number of nice hikes there. You can walk around Rice Lake (very easy), up to Lynn Headwaters (still easy, but longer), up to Norvan Falls (more of a challenge), or all the way up Hanes Valley, up Crown Pass, and then down Grouse Mountain (a serious day-long trek, with an interesting but difficult to navigate boulder field segment).

Among more urban attractions I would recommend: Granville Island, a kind of cultural conglomeration under the Granville Street Bridge, built on former industrial land. It features a number of good theatres, such as the Arts Club. Check what’s playing. Also located there: a number of good markets and restaurants. A good place for souvenir shopping.

Downtown is worth a bit of a wander, but I would avoid Granville Street. Instead, walk westward along Robson Street towards English Bay. That route passes some of my favourite restaurants in the city. Tropika, not far past the provincial courthouse, is an excellent Thai/Malaysian restaurant which is ideal for going to with a group. Farther along, Hapa Izakaya is one of Vancouver’s funkiest contemporary places, serving modern Japanese food in a unique atmosphere. Farther still, where Robson meets Denman, you will find Kintaro – an authentic Asian noodle house popular with the business crowd, Wild Garlic, a fun little bistro with good drink specials, and Tapas Tree, a safe option for non-adventurous diners that still offers some interesting menu items.

Once you get to Denman, walk southwards along it, possibly stopping for gelato at one of many places nearby or for a coffee at the Delany’s there. Alternatively, ask someone to direct you to the nearby liquor store and watch the sun set while sitting against a log in English bay with a bottle of two of the excellent local Granville Island Breweries beers. I recommend their amber ale and the winter ale, if it’s in season.

North and east of the central area of downtown, you find Gastown, which is probably worth a bit of a look as well. It’s right beside some of the dodgiest areas not only in Vancouver, but in any city I’ve visited, so watch out. The waterfront between the Pan-Pacific Hotel and Coal Harbour (next to Stanley Park) is also a nice walk. For something longer, you can extend it all the way around the sea wall, under the Lions Gate Bridge, and then back around into English Bay. A bit less ambitiously, you can cross the causeway leading to the bridge, walk around one side of Lost Lagoon, and reach English Bay along one of a number of nice paths.

Personally, I would recommend visiting the campus of the University of British Columbia. If you do, don’t miss the fantastic view from the escarpment near Place Vanier (ask some students how to get there). Consider walking down the wooden steps to Wreck Beach: Vancouver’s nude beach and an attractive place to visit any time of year. If you carry on northwards, along the beach, you will pass two spotlight towers installed during the second world war in case of Japanese invasion. Farther still are Jericho and Spanish Banks: really nice beaches to visit in the summer to swim, windsurf, or have a bonfire.

Another nice expedition is to catch the Seabus from its downtown terminal at the base of Seymour Street across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver. It only costs $2 or so and it gives you a nice view of the harbour. The other terminus is at Lonsdale Quay: worth a bit of a look for its own sake. A few blocks up Lonsdale Avenue, you will find Honjin: one of many cheap and excellent sushi restaurants in Vancouver.

If you want to eat on the cheap, the 99 cent pizza downtown can’t be beaten. Avoid Love at First Bite on Granville. Instead, go to either AM or FM classic (on Smithe and Seymour, respectively) or to my favourite, which is located across Seymour Street from A&B sound, near the 7-11.

Another area worth visiting is Commercial Drive. Either catch the 99 bus down Broadway or one of several buses or the Skytrain from downtown. This street features a number of art galleries, fun cafes, and a nice bohemian atmosphere. It is to Vancouver what SoHo is to New York or what Kensington Market is to Toronto.

There are lots of good theatres in Vancouver: the Orpheum downtown, the Stanley out near Broadway, the Firehall theatre near gastown, and the Chan Centre and Freddy Wood theatres on campus at UBC. Grab a copy of The Georgia Strait to see what is happening, in terms of music and live theatre. It’s free and includes the excellent column “Savage Love.” Look for it in boxes around the downtown area.

Dance clubs really don’t interest me, but the ones people seem to go to are mostly on the northern bit of Granville Street, before you reach the bridge. I would recommend The Cellar (the jazz club on Broadway, not the sleazy dance club on Granville) for some live music and a nice atmosphere.

This is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but it should be enough to get started. Vancouver is a really wonderful city: beautiful, easy to get around in by public transit, and large enough to have a good level of culture. While it can definitely get extremely rainy at times, if you find yourself with some nice weather, I strongly recommend one of the walks or hikes I mentioned above, or something else of your own devising outside.

Good day or weekend trips from Vancouver include Whistler, for skiing or snowboarding as well as general mountain exposure, or Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

Demure day

The Isis on a cold day

The possibility of having to walk through snow to reach the Library Court showers was realized for the first time today. As described on Ruth Anne’s blog, we got a dusting last night that has not endured through the warmer part of the day. Indeed, having to tramp through it in bare feet was actually proof of my waking up acceptably early. I was initially alerted to this unexpected meteorological phenomena by Tanushree’s audible jubilation this morning; my fellow Wadham inhabitant had not previously encountered snow. It’s rare enough for Vancouverites, as well. I wouldn’t mind getting a foot or so of it at some point, if only so I could zip around Oxford getting photos that look at least a bit different.

I heard, but did not see, that Abra – one of the Canadian law students here – has returned to Library Court: increasing the population by 50% over yesterday. No indication yet of where Nora is, though I am quite sure she has returned to the U.K. from North Carolina. The prospect of re-population is a welcome one, as is that of trying the recipe for dahl that Tanushree gave me today. Perhaps an upcoming New Year’s party will provide it. I’ve been a fan of lentils for as long as I can recall, and could certainly make use of some additional protein.

Tomorrow, I am making my third trip to London since arriving in the UK, as well as my second for which the city itself is my objective. In the evening, I will be meeting with ITG, but I will probably go a bit earlier and take a wander through the Tate Modern and a few other places. Perhaps there will be some opportunity to meet with Sarah Johnston, if only for a quick cup of coffee.

Having tallied up the surprisingly high cost of the Baltic jaunt, I must actively try not to further increase a credit card bill that has already become somewhat daunting. At the same time, I need to resist the urge to overcompensate by falling back on a cheese and bagels diet (which I’ve sworn off, for now) or complete social isolation. With snap peas 80% off, after Christmas, there is no need.

There was one nice thing that happened this evening, but this isn’t really the place to discuss it.

  • People concerned with putting images on the web might find this page interesting and useful. It’s about the nuts and bolts behind different image formats. In particular, the discussion of the specifics of JPEG compression is probably useful for digital photographers.
  • If you are younger than 30 today and living in the developed world, you are likely to be alive when the human population peaks: at around ten billion people, around 2050. It’s an astonishing thought, and a welcome one, given that slowing population growth should increase our ability to reduce poverty, and decrease the strain we are putting on the planet’s resources.
  • Finally, I love The Economist‘s Christmas issue. It’s full of exactly the kind of wonderful, obscure facts that prompt people to ask “How do you know that?” in astonished tones, when you relate them. If you buy only one issue a year, this is the one to choose.
  • General Sir Rupert Smith, who I saw speak in late October, has a new book on the changing character of war out: The Utility of Force. It seems to have been well reviewed, and has consequently been added to my ever-lengthening discretionary reading list.

A joyful first day in Oxford

Cactus in the botanical gardens

Today was a brilliant day. I managed to be out and about by 8:00am Tallinn time (10:00am here, but still) in order to go for coffee and a walk with Margaret. For the first time, we walked through the botanical gardens around Magdalen College. In particular, the contents of the greenhouses were fascinating and beautiful. I especially liked seeing all the edible species: coffee, peanuts, plantain, etc. I looked for Camellia Sinensis, but had no luck.

Afterwards, we went on a tour through several Oxford bookshops – all of which made me burn with the desire to read more. In the end, I bought three: all of them from the Blackwells series of Very Short Introductions. I got ‘Emotion,’ about which I know very little, ‘Hume,’ who I consider my favourite philosopher, and ‘Cryptography,’ about which I always want to know more. Blackwells bookshop is definitely among my favourite places in Oxford. It makes me aspire to days of retirement when I can concentrate on reading, cooking, and gardening – as I envision that I shall.

Margaret is now departing for the next while, leaving me almost completely alone in Oxford. If I remember properly, Nora was supposed to come back on the 19th, but I haven’t seen any sign of her. Perhaps she is in London. Claire and Emily are definitely out of town, though perhaps Bryony is around. Alex is still in New Zealand – as you would expect after travelling so far – and I don’t know where Roham is located. Bilyana, I expect, is with her family up north.

Today also brought a vast amount of excellent mail. First, and largest, was a package from my mother for Christmas. They will be leaving tomorrow for North Carolina, so it seems unlikely that they will get mine until their return. My mother sent me a blast of Canadiana. She sent Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad: the Myth of Penelope and Odysseus in hardcover, along with an elegant bookmark. Unfortunately, the book is not inscribed, as I would strongly encourage anyone who sends me a book to do. She also sent me a very nice looking red, white, gray, and black scarf and another with a very intricate East Indian red and black pattern on it. The first, I think, is better suited to wear – the second to decorate my room with. The pattern reminds me of the piece of cloth that Kate used to cover her computer monitor, at her house in Victoria. Also decorative is the Red Cross calendar with pictures of Canada on it. Finally, she enclosed a large Canadian flag, for which I shall have to find a good spot. I am not sure whether it is the flag that Kate gave me ages ago and which I left in North Vancouver, or an entirely new one. I will need to borrow the hammer and nails from the housekeeper again. Many thanks to my family for such a considerate collection of gifts.

Along with the package from my mother, I got a Christmas card from her sister Mirka and my uncle Robert. Along with my cousins Megan and Dylan, they live in Bennington, Vermont, where my aunt teaches at the university. I very much hope they will have the chance to come visit Oxford while I am here. The Magdalen botanical gardens have definitely been added to my tour route. I must remember to write them a letter in response, as well as send one to my aunt, uncle, and grandmother in North Carolina.

Another envelope came from Meaghan Beattie in Vancouver. Along with a very sweet card, she sent me a genuine passport for Hell, such as we found and were enormously amused by when wandering in Chinatown. It includes a plane ticket to Hell (from Ming Fu Airlines) and a Bank of Hades (oddly, with a ‘Heaven Main Office’) chequebook and Mastercard. I am just as bemused by the collection as when we first encountered it, wandering Vancouver’s rainy streets. Meaghan is definitely among the Vancouverites whose direct company I miss the most. Unfortunately, I can see from the return address on the envelope that the postcard I sent her from Tallinn was sent to the wrong place. It will reach nothing more than a dead letter office, since it had no return address. I shall have to send her another, from Oxford.

The last package contributed still further to my collection of reading materials. An unknown person, who I strongly suspect to be Hilary McNaughton, sent me the Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook. Whoever did send it (and the package does not identify) gets me hearty thanks. While I may need to wait for retirement in order to start learning how to garden, learning how to cook sooner is almost certainly wise.

I suppose it may have been appropriate to refrain from opening what was clearly Christmas mail until the day itself, but the thought didn’t really occur to me until now and I have no regrets about not doing so. It has successfully pre-empted any possibility of feeling lonesome in a somewhat deserted Oxford over the next little while. It’s a wonderful feeling to have such a collection of concrete evidence of not having been forgotten by people elsewhere. The sheer satisfaction of it has convinced me to send more mail. It should also help me feel less overwhelmed about all the things that crop up demanding to be done after a trip. I tend to pick a long but pleasant one as an opening task, using breaks from it to complete short and unpleasant ones. You also need to stay on guard for moments suited to tasks that can only be completed in a particular state of mind, such as writing good letters.

During the afternoon, I worked out the shared tally for the Baltic trip, as well as entered the whole collection of figures into my finance tracking spreadsheets. [Section removed, 23 December 2005] Even with cheap flights and cheap cities, these things add up. That’s a quarter of what the whole Prague / Italy trip with Meghan Mathieson cost, and it was four times as long and started from Vancouver. I would tell you how it compares with other trips, but mining the old blog is tedious since it is no longer online and Google searchable. I also caught up with the many Oxford blogs that I read. I feel like I know these people rather better now than back when I first met a group of them. Perhaps the next few months will bring another such encounter.

  • People to whom I must write: Vermont Family, North Carolina Family, Meghan Mathieson, Meaghan Beattie.
  • Some good commentary on the security value of checks and balances from Bruce Schneier: my go-to guy for information about security.
  • The new version of MSN for Mac: takes more RAM, looks a bit slicker, still crashes just as often.
  • My brother Mica has a new video out: “Little Green Bag.” It may be a mark of the changing focus of his life that it is shot on campus at UBC, instead of in North Vancouver. I think the young woman in it may be Mica’s bombshell love interest from the musical Damn Yankees, reviewed on the old blog.
  • More than ever, I want to meet Philip Pullman, the masterful author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and an Oxford resident. Anyone who knows of an event where he will be present is politely begged to contact me about it.

Nightime walk in Helsinki

After Sarah left, I took the tram up to Gabe’s apartment, making sure to mark it as a GPS coordinate before heading back into town. That proved a wise choice, since it turns out the number one tram only runs until about 6pm. With the transit map we got at tourist information, and the waypoint so as to know when to get off, I didn’t have any trouble finding my way back. In cities with unknown languages, I am often extremely grateful for quadrangulation using satellites.

Starting from the ferry terminal where I will be leaving tomorrow evening (which I also marked), I walked across a narrow section of the city that defined the edge of a long peninsula: extending out into the icy sea. Stuck in the sea ice, which was strong enough to survive a solid blow from a large stone, were a whole collection of sailing vessels, as well as other kinds of boats:

Boats in Helsinki Harbour

I traced the route shown in the photograph below, it being about one and a half kilometres along each edge of this section of town. While it was certainly quite cold, it wasn’t as bad as it was during the coldest nights in Tallinn. That said, it was only around six or seven in the evening. In the darkness, I passed at least a dozen Finnish people walking their dogs along the path that follows the shoreline. Sitting out on the ice are large domes of concrete, with a metal rod extending from the top. My supposition is that they are meant to demonstrate when the ice has become thin and weak. I wonder if and how they recover the sunken ones in spring.

Tourist map

Whereas Tallinn strikes me as an incredible historical palimpsest: rich with architectural layers partly destroyed and then rebuilt upon, Helsinki has a much more straightforward feel. A thoroughly modern city, despite the presence of many Georgian buildings, you don’t find menacing open holes all over the place, nor enormous variations in architectural style or houses constructing with one wall of crumbling stone. While that may be somewhat less interesting, it should at least increase my appreciation for the variety to be seen during my last days in Tallinn.

The Economist in Waynes Coffee

Sarah and I were both disappointed to learn that the modern art museum is closed at the moment, since they are busy setting up an exhibition for January. We had been told that it was the highlight of the city. For tomorrow, I am considering making my way to the Cable Factory: an edifice that retains the name of a role it no longer plays. The Lonely Planet describes it as: a “bohemian cultural centre featuring studios, galleries, concerts, theatre and dance performances, as well as the obligatory cafe and restaurant.” Sounds like a cool place.

Waynes Coffee

Aside from a bit of outdoor music, the only performance we saw in Tallinn was the selection of live music at Scotland Yard: an eclectic pub near the port. Watching people dancing while eating raspberry soup and eyeing the huge fish tank made for it being an interesting place – even if the service was really terrible. Having already gone to see the new Harry Potter film (problematic, but not terrible) at the Coca Cola Plaza, perhaps Sarah and I will have the chance to see something more cultural during the course of the day and a half in Tallinn we will have together once we are reunited tomorrow night.

[Entry modified, 23 December 2005]

Cowley Road, a supervisory meeting, and the Gulf Islands

Cowley Road ArtThis morning, I went to Cowley Road and got a haircut, as well as three bottles of Nando’s Extra-Hot Peri Peri Sauce. Along with Blair’s Original Death Sauce, I maintain that it is the tastiest hot sauce that is commonly available. The fact that there is a Nando’s in Oxford may considerably increase the likelihood of my brothers visiting here, especially Sasha. I have had to drag both of my brothers, practically kicking and screaming, into Nando’s and Anatoli Souvlaki: the initially alien venues that are now their favourite places to eat. Somehow, the experience never translated into genuine culinary adventurousness. Thinking back on the variety of reasonably priced and excellent restaurants in Vancouver makes for a grim contrast with my experience in Oxford, where virtually everything I have eaten has been raw and from Sainsbury’s, and where I haven’t eaten out a single time at a restaurant.

I got the hair cut for nine pounds at a place called Saleem’s: run by a young Palestinian man with a cousin in Toronto. He had an extremely aggressive style of cutting hair which, along with his very dull scissors, meant that quite a bit was more torn out than cut. That said, Nora, who actively counselled against the shortening of my hair, concedes that it could be rather worse. While shortened hair might not be the best thing to accompany cold and wet days in Oxford, I just feel better with hair that never enters my line of sight.

In the evening, I met with Dr. Hurrell in Nuffield to discuss my paper on the Middle East. Partly owing to how busy the period leading up to last Wednesday was, it was not my best work. It suffered particularly because nobody but me looked it over before it was submitted. Going all the way back to editing high school essays with Kate, I have been highly appreciative of the contribution an intelligent and critical external eye can bring to a piece of thought. Nonetheless, Dr. Hurrell and I had a good discussion. I am learning that the most important thing for writing something that will please him is clear structure and the energetic interrogation of the key terms in the question. Sloppy analysis earns a minor rebuke, at best, even when it can be defended orally. I look forward to when the supervisory relationship becomes one more oriented to directing me towards sources and methods of research, in preparation for the thesis and major optional papers.

In the next ten days or so, I am to write Dr. Hurrell another paper either on whether appeasement is a useful or defensible concept, in the context of the 1930s, or the extent to which the victory of the Chinese Communists was influenced by external powers. Since I will need to do more reading on the latter anyway, I may write on that. It’s worth recalling that the Tuesday after next, I have another paper due for the core seminar.

Tomorrow evening, all of the new graduates are invited to have drinks with the Dean of Wadham in the Old Senior Common Room. I am not sure how formal an event it is but, this being Wadham, it couldn’t possibly be worse than shirt-and-tie. It will be good to see a few of the grad students who don’t live in college and who I therefore have not seen since 0th week.

Last night, I dreamed about the Gulf Islands. Located in the Georgia Strait, between the mainland of British Columbia and Vancouver Island, this collection of small communities is both curiously isolated from the rest of B.C. and uniquely able to embody the spirit of the province.The last time I set foot on one of these islands was in the period before moving out to Oxford. Along with Tristan and his brother, I spent a day cycling from one end of Galiano to the other. I have a few photos from the trip online. The best things about it were the view of the ocean and other islands that we had from the top of the bluff where we ate lunch and the rather enjoyable dinner which we had at a small restaurant fairly close to the ferry terminal at the end of the day’s long ride.

All told, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on and between these lovely, Arbutus-strewn places. In early high school, along with the gifted program at Handsworth, I went on a week-long kayaking trip between them. Similarly, I took part in two week-long sustainability conferences organized by Leadership Initiative for Earth, each of which took place on a tall ship as it moved between the Gulf Islands. On the first voyage, I met Jane Goodall aboard our tiny, wind swept ship: The Duen. On the second voyage, I was assigned to the largest vessel: the Pacific Swift, where I met David Suzuki and got to help coordinate the movements of the fleet.

While I am not sure if Bowen Island and Gambier Island can be called part of the Gulf Islands, as they are located northwest of Vancouver, inside Howe Sound, there is much that marks them out as similar. Gambier Island is the home of Camp Fircom, where I volunteered for two summers as a leader. Almost all of my North Vancouver friends were Fircomites at some point: Nick, Neal, Jonathan, Emerson, Caity Sackeroff, Alison Atkinson, as well as scores of acquaintances. Camp Fircom was a modest place, with a far more restricted budget than some of the neighbouring camps run by more evangelical churches. It may please some and irk others to know that I was entirely at home there as a committed athiest.

Bowen Island is dominated by the bulk of Mount Gardner: one of my favourite smaller mountains in the Vancouver area. I remember with great satisfaction the time when Meghan and I climbed it together one day, in lieu of attending the drunk and disorderly Arts County Fair event which messily concludes each year at UBC. I remember looking out from the helipads on top, there to service the telecom equipment located up there. From that vantage, you can see the Sunshine Coast stretched along the mainland to the north and the mass of urban Vancouver stretching out eastwards and southwards. Bowen has also been the location of several excellent parties I have attended, at the homes of two former professors. I tip my metaphorical hat to them, in case they may be reading.

My favourite of all the Gulf Islands, though, is Hornby Island. That expression will be instantly understood by anyone who has ever spent time there. It is an almost pathologically laid-back, carefree kind of place. It’s the sort of place where sitting in the shade, inside an inner-tube, reading the short fiction of Isaac Asimov for a few hours marks that one out as a particularly productive day. It’s also where I met Kate: the fascinating young woman who walked past the cave in which I was reading The Catcher in the Rye and who I spent the rest of my time on the island in as close contact to as circumstances, and juvenile existential dread, would allow.

Like the Cinque Terre, the Gulf Islands are a place where I would like to eventually write a book. These places have no particular resources for that purpose, save the sea and the mountains, as well as the calm atmosphere. The Gulf Islands, in particular, are the kind of places that you can never entirely manage to leave: they linger like an outlier point that drags your whole understanding of the world away from its former mean.

PS. Jessica suggests that I should include more descriptive titles, as well as explanations for where links go. This I shall endeavour to do.

Stuck in a library, perhaps, but with thoughts in loftier places

The Social Sciences Library

Despite another mishap with my alarm clock, I managed to do quite well today. With two short breaks outside excluded, I was in the Social Sciences Library for the entire six hour span from opening to closing. To start with, I read the relevant half of Shlaim Avi’s War and Peace in the Middle East. While very readable, it underscored just how little I know about the region at the time. It would be quite impossible to develop a comprehensive knowledge of it by Tuesday. Actually, I have serious doubts about the wisdom of this academic approach. On the basis of no actual instruction, we are being called upon to synthesize weekly arguments on the basis of highly detailed, numerous, and academic accounts. While it’s a game that I have some ability to play, I don’t really think it is making me more knowledgeable or capable.

Despite my doubts, and bolstered by two sandwiches prepared from materials purchased at Sainsbury’s, rather than purchased directly from there, I carried on reading. I finished half of Elizabeth Monroe’s Britain’s Moment in the Middle East: 1914-71. It too was fairly good to read, though it made many references to personages and no-longer-extant political entities that I know nothing about. As with Avi, I at least maintain the gist of the argument. Once I finish reading the relevant sections from David Fromkin’s The Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East I should have enough raw material to build a decent fifteen minute presentation about.

During one of today’s short intra-library breaks, I created a Google Group for the graduate freshers in the IR program. It will be publicly accessible, in case anyone is interested. I am hoping to use it to coordinate weekly meetings with the six other members of my heptet for the core seminar. Since none of us will be able to do all the readings, it would be enriching for all of us to have a short discussion before the actual seminar takes place. Doing so should also reduce some of the stress and wastefulness associated with having everyone prepare presentations independently.

An hour after the library closed, I met Margaret outside Nuffield. Through the light rain, we wandered to a coffee shop on St. Aldate’s, which is open until midnight every day of the week. While I can’t remember the extended form of its name, it abbreviates to G and D’s. It is located quite near the music shop where Nora bought a guitar string and not far from Christ Church College, the Head of the River, and the Folly Bridge (each progressively farther south).

As before, talking with Margaret was relaxed and pleasant. I learned that we share the intention of eventually climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. As I recall, someone from my father’s firm climbed it at some point during the past few years. It’s something I would rather like to do during one of the stretches between terms, if only so that I could mildly amaze people who asked me what I did over the course of the vacation. After coffee, we wandered to Wadham and then back to Nuffield, where I left her in the company of her friend Anna.

Tomorrow morning, I am to visit the Wadham doctors on Beaumont Street for a meningitis and mumps vaccination. After that, I shall return to the scrutinizing of The Peace to End All Peace before meeting Emily at one. In case I haven’t mentioned her already, Emily is part of the IR M.Phil group, Canadian, located at St. Antony’s, and an alumna of Brown. I wonder if she knew Eva. She has kindly invited me, at some indefinite future point, to come to dinner at her college.

Other tasks for tomorrow include learning what NatWest would charge me if I simply wrote a cheque from the Bank of Montreal for the amount I want to transfer, rather than going through the bother of acquiring, signing, and mailing an Agreement for Verbal and Facsimile Transmissions to my home branch, then authorizing a wire transfer that will cost $50. In a related task, I need to go formally request an extension for paying my battles from the Domestic Bursar. They will have started charging me interest on the 14th. I also need to contact the department about why they haven’t sent me a bill for my first term tuition and the BC student loans office about why they haven’t sent me anything in months. It should be more-or-less obvious by now that the above list is mostly for my benefit, because it is very useful to have such things in places where you can find them quickly and they cannot be lost.

Looking through the glossy brochure for the Oxford Union, there is much that makes it tempting. They seem to have a fairly large lending library, which is always a valuable resource (especially when it is focused on history and politics). They regularly have excellent speakers: presidents of countries, Salman Rushdie, Terry Pratchett, and Jeffery Sacks this term alone. They have a couple of nice looking member’s lounges, complete with the availability of £1 pints. Up until Thursday of next week, I could get a lifetime membership for £156 (C$340). After that, it becomes even more expensive. At a third of the cost, I would join readily. As it stands, I think that I shall not. $340 would go a fair way towards my eventual Kilimanjaro climb.

Kilimanjaro is 5,895m tall: 4.7 times as high as Grouse Mountain, which is what Alison, Jonathan, and I meant to climb a few days before I left. While the comparison is obviously quite deceptive, in terms of the respective difficulty of the climbs, it does offer the hope that it would not be an entirely impossible thing to actually pull off. Climbing Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro requires neither rock nor ice climbing skills, the major difficulty being the need to acclimatize to prevent altitude sickness. The climb can apparently be done in as little as four or five days. Wikipedia tells me that 15,000 people a year try to climb Kilimanjaro, though only 40% persist to the summit. Seeing how eminently feasible it would be to make an attempt in the next few years, my determination to do so increases considerably. It might be a good way to celebrate the completion of my M.Phil. Obviously, it would require quite a lot of fitness training beforehand.

I should, in any event, stop wandering through Kilimanjaro sites and return to the enormously less interesting task of reading for my core seminar.

Happy Birthday Sarah Stewart

Jonathan at Mosquito Creek

Last night, I followed the link that Marga Lyall sent me to the M.Phil in International Relations reading list. Looking at the week-by-week list for a single course, I am flabbergasted. It’s an astonishing amount of reading. It includes 25 books as ‘general reading’ and a similar number for every week. Even reading 14 hours a day, I don’t think anyone could actually read all of this. There must be something I am missing.

I am happy to note that Jonathan is now on board for the hike tomorrow. I met with him this afternoon for coffee and then a walk up Mosquito Creek with their dog, Buddy. I remember that perpetually energetic black beast accompanying us on my first two trips to Hornby Island: the one where I slept in a hammock in a grove of Arbutus trees; the one where I met Kate. Jonathan has been off canoeing for the past few days and it was certainly good to spend some time with him. I learned that he just got a job at the bakery in the Whole Foods within the new addition to Park Royal. From what I’ve heard, they are an unusually good employer and I am glad for him.

After having a cup of tea with Jonathan and his father, I headed home and spent the evening reading – not from the intimidating reading list above, though that may have been wise. Instead, I finished most of this week’s Economist and read to nearly the end of The Great Fire, which I still recommend heartily to most everyone. As I walked home, I saw Sarah Stewart outside of Starbucks, learned that today is her birthday, and invited her to my farewell party. Though I’ve been mildly smitten with her, to varying degrees, since high school, this will be the first time we do anything social and not related to school or her employment at Starbucks.

With five days left in Vancouver, the few hurried hours I will have on Wednesday morning not really counting, the time has come to turn to packing and other final preparation. In some sense, the hike falls into the latter category: a symbolic traverse of North Vancouver as a prelude to my dispatch. I find the flavour of my own apprehension difficult to assess. While there is definitely a manic, racing excitement that sometimes speeds my step when walking, there are elements of uncertainty – even dread – to counterpoint it. I worry about money, about the amount of reading that must be done, about the whole academic world. The last, in particular, is a concern. While I’ve certainly read and studied a lot, I’ve never really paid attention to specific authors. I know next to nothing about International Relations as an academic discipline. My exposure to IR theory is limited to the one Crawford class, which was mostly a savaging of Realism in all its forms.

While the whole scholarly approach to things is appealing to me, not least because I am reasonably good at it, I can’t legitimately suppress the knowledge that much of it is a waste of time: thoughts just spun around and going nowhere. I think that Kerrie’s decision to go off into the world and make a practical difference is the more courageous, the more respectable course. I applaud her for it and think anxiously of when I will pay off my massive debt to chance: to the million fortuitous accidents that put me here now with the skills, resources, and opportunities I have. In a world where there is to be any kind of fairness between people, that kind of spectacular fortune needs to be paid back to the world.

These daily entries feel solid: obligatory. Blog entries like ships-of-the-line, with cannons at the ready. In my mind, the blog is no longer a place for conspiratorial whisperings or the sharing of anything but the most blue-chip of thoughts. Such intimacy was probably never suited to the internet. Still, I can’t help regretting the loss of a place where entries could be the whispered asides of an unfolding life.

Kerrie’s sendoff dinner

Silks in Vancouver

Things, Helen, the sad silly evidence of things.” He said, “We’re told that possessions are ephemeral, yet my God how they outlast us – the clock on the bedside table, the cough drops, the diary with appointments for that very day.” And the meaning ebbing out of them, visibly.” 

I spent much of today writing the executive summary for the NASCA report. It’s very difficult to do specifically because I’ve read the thing so many times that I can barely access it as intelligible matter anymore. The temptation is to procrastinate, but I really want to jump this last hurdle and finally be done with the it. It’s not that the project has been unrewarding or unimportant – merely going on for far too long. Within that context, trying to extract the gist from the broader report – in a way that’s neither too discursive nor too truncated – is a less than thrilling way to spend a packet of hours.

While it is cruel to relegate a great book to the position of an item on a to-do list, it’s a transformation that strips away the guilt of reading, rather than doing something else on that dire list. This afternoon, I finished part two of The Great Fire while avoiding the executive summary. The book is now at that dangerous point where you are tempted to push forward right to the end, gradually leaving behind appreciation as haste grows into the space it once occupied. That said, knowing that I should have the summary done before I head across town for dinner with Kerrie and Nolan puts a cap on my ability to act on such urges.

Tomorrow, I am to have lunch on campus with Meghan Mathieson. I’m not sure if I can even remember where last I saw her. How odd that someone can move from a position of absolute centrality in your life to one out on the poignant periphery. I suppose that will be a lesson frequently repeated during these last days in Vancouver: days which I am trying to mark with short visits, at least, to all those who I will miss terribly. The craziest thing, I think, is that when I come back, Sasha will be starting grade 12 and Mica will be going into his 4th year at UBC. Most of my friends are pretty well established, in terms of who they are as people. Spending a few years separated from them won’t strip me of my ability to recognize them. Moreover, I have all manner of means of staying in touch with them, whereas my brothers and I have only ever communicated in person. I wonder what the effect of this choice will be on my future with them.

An invitation

This Friday, I am planning to do a hike from the beach at Ambleside, in West Vancouver, up Capilano Canyon to Cleveland Dam, then up the road to the Grouse Mountain parking lot, and finally up the Grouse Grind and the final stretch to the summit. All told, it should take somewhere around four hours, being fairly generous about our rate of travel. Anyone interested in coming for either part or all of the hike is most welcome to do so. In the case of abysmal weather, it will probably be postponed. I am planning to leave from the beach sometime in the late morning. I am pleased to note that Alison is planning on coming along.

Kerrie’s sendoff dinner at Himalaya was quite satisfying: in the way that all-you-can-eat vegetarian curry buffets can be. After the equivalent of at least three Curry Point combos, I was very well sated. I was a bit surprised by how few of Kerrie’s friends I recognized, especially considering how many of them are in the IR program. Nonetheless, conversation was interesting and fun. The great majority of those present seem to have visited Africa, Asia, or both – all areas sadly lacking from my personal repertoire of wanderings. If I am going to continue to be serious about the study of IR, I shall surely have to visit both in the coming years.  

I am sure that Kerrie’s year or two in Ghana will provide her with more of whatever combination of experiences and insights it is that continues to fuel her. It’s always impressive to see what kind of passion that mixture can evoke, particularly when its directed to railing against stupidity or hypocrisy.

Only, from the long line of spray / Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land

Astrid on Cleveland Dam

Down the long and unlit road to Atkinson Point, along the West Vancouver shorefront, and across Capilano Dam, I walked with Frank and Astrid tonight. Initially unthemed, the night evolved into a kind of whistle-stop trip around some of the more interesting natural, but accessible, bits of North and West Vancouver.

Most poignant, definitely, was sitting on the stone shorefront south of Marine Drive in West Vancouver – across Burrand Inlet from Kitsilano. A strong wind was blowing from the Northwest, accompanied by crashing waves that sprayed us periodically with salt and moisture. Looking at the lights across the sea, as well as at the dim and indistinct figures beside me, I felt strangely whole – as though nothing in myself was lacking. It’s an odd feeling to derive from shared tranquility and communal solitude, but it was definitely the over-riding emotion.

To have Astrid arrive at my doorstep with Frank in tow was less unexpected than one would suspect. Actually, the threefold dynamic of the situation seemed somehow more stable than the experience of spending time alone with Astrid has been. At the very least, I felt less compelled to comprehend and discuss the evening as it was unrolling.

A plan is now afoot to climb Grouse Mountain at some point before my departure. To me, it seems fitting to leave Vancouver behind after walking from the sea to the top of a mountain. Hopefully at least partly in the company of Astrid, this I shall do.