The City with a Fur Coat and A Black Eye

Reflections of passersby glisten and slant as they scoot past sheer cliffs of glass and steel. The tall buildings stand with arms crossed glaring down at us, and I feel like a mouse. On another morning, though, when the sun peeks through the gray net of clouds overhead, I think “All this silver reminds me of a great river,” and I marvel at the way the glass glints like gold atop splashing waves.

It’s my first time in Vancouver, British Columbia and we’re staying at a hostel on Granville Street, the main artery of the city center. Outside our little room, the streets pulse and thump with activity. Fashionistas strut their catwalks, and us Oregonians watch wide-eyed. I find myself trying on a purple designer dress and tall heels, imagining life on the fancy side.

We eat sushi and crepes, explore the various neighborhoods and chit-chat with a young shop owner. It becomes clear there is a gap in the city between the wealthy Vancouverites and the large population of homeless, who wander blurry-eyed and desperate, grinding their teeth in unnatural directions, jaw bones jutting out of concave cheeks. They ask for money at the crosswalks and weave through the crowds with palms outstretched. We spend a lot of time dodging these grimy and heartbreaking characters, but they seem to be everywhere: tucked under eaves of decrepit buildings and lying in bundles of blankets on the sidewalk. They’re mostly harmless, but I find myself uneasy when they approach. It’s clear many are under the influence of hard drugs, and it makes me feel sad.

On another day, we take a hike through Stanley Park and are dazzled by views of misted mountains hovering above steel-blue sea, while the city’s montage of glass condos stand stoically to our right. The colors – blues, greens, silvers and grays are stunning like the scales of a fish under sunlight. The air is fresh and the breeze smells like salt and rain. We both agree it’s quite beautiful outside the city center.

The hostel we stay in is outfitted like a hotel with white crisp towels and starched sheets. We sleep in a bunk bed and brush our teeth over a little sink in our room. The shared bathroom is up the hall. I hear a strange cooing sound and look out our second-story window. There, beneath a tiny awning, is a family of pudgy pigeons sitting in a row. Out beyond their stoop is a grimy apartment building that looks like it might collapse if there were a strung gust of wind. Directly to the right of it stands a tall, upscale building made out of modern brown and black bricks. Each morning when I pull back the curtain and look up, I see a young woman with long black hair wrapped in a red-checkered blanket smoking a cigarette on her brick bordered balcony, gazing off into the gray, misty distance.

The nightlife on Granville Street is international, and the clubs are swanky. We hear a handful of languages on the dance floor and truly feel like we’re outside the U.S. It’s a matter of minutes until we’re surrounded by young gyrating men wearing button-down shirts and hair gel. It smells like cologne and booze, and everyone is a little too handsy. I close my eyes to listen to the music and tune out the unwanted attention. When I open them again, I’m surprised to see an exotic dancer on stage. My friend and I give each other the look and head to a different room in the club. We end up meeting a friendly and raucous group of twenty-somethings visiting the big city for a night on the town. We decide to join forces and the festivities continue until dawn.

In all, Vancouver is a wonderful city, and I enjoyed my visit. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that beneath all its glitz and glam lies a sizable bruise, like a black and blue shiner glistening in the bathroom mirror.

But that won’t keep me from coming back. After all, what’s a city without a little underbelly?

IMG_1237 Where city, sea and trees meet.

Looking back at the cityscape from Stanley Park. Looking back at the cityscape from Stanley Park.

Trust, Trekking, and Chilling Out in Edinburgh

Before I departed for this trip, I knew the key theme and perhaps, ultimately, the lesson, would be to trust both myself and the universe. My first night in Europe, sitting on a street corner at a pub in London, I met a girl with a message written on the inside of her left bicep, confirming my intuition was correct about the theme of this journey. Between sips of cider and enthusiastic conversation, I glanced over at the same moment Sabina lifted her arm to tuck her hair behind her neck, and saw a beautifully intricate tattoo of the word ‘Trust’. I was so thrilled with the synchronicity that I told her about the theme of the trip. Her reply was deeply validating: ‘ah yes, you must always trust.Everything is going to be alright!’ I feel both the gift and the challenge of trusting as I continue on well outside of my comfort zone.

 

switching topics, I have newfound respect and compassion for travelers and anyone who has to trek up cobblestone hills or miles of stairs with all their crap on their back. I had to have that compassion for myself today as I was completely worn out trying to find my hostel and finally arrived red-faced and sweating, desperate to get my pack off my shoulders. l arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland with a hangover and lack of sleep. I got lost multiple times, climbed several uneven hills unnecessarily, and got tripped up weaving through a crowd of drunk tourists but with perseverance and the reminder that ‘you are doing the best you can under the circumstances,’ I made it and promptly zonked out for a well- earned nap.

 

 It has been raining on and off tonight and i am cozied up in the hostel lounge surrounded in interesting travelers from all over the world. I am aware that I am alone, but it is comforting to be around others who are also far from home. I have heard at least six languages being spoken as i write this entry. So cool! Next stop: pittenweem, a smallfishing village on the Fife Coast. I will be couchsurfing with a couple from New Zealand…and they happen to be blues dancers! Yay! 😀