Art School: Semester 3, Week 3

This last week saw a few things happen.

First of all, it was a long weekend here — apparently referred to as “May long” or the “May long weekend.” (I find that an interesting phrase. “May long.” They shorten things differently up here, and it catches me off guard. It’s fun, though.)

Anyway, the long weekend is the celebration of Victoria Day, which was originally on her (Queen Victoria’s) birthday, May 24, (and Wikipedia tells me this holiday is sometimes thus also called “May Two Four” though none of my classmates have heard that term) but it has been moved to the last Monday preceding May 25th. I guess even royals don’t get to celebrate their birthdays on the actual day unless they happen to extend a weekend.

In Quebec, being a bit different, they celebrate National Patriot’s Day on the same day. It is a federal holiday so I guess they had to do something.

I also did my civic duty in the US and voted in the California primary election. Well, technically I mailed the ballot in. The election isn’t for a couple of weeks yet, but I did my part.

Going through the ballot was interesting given my perspective, living outside the country. And yes, for those wondering, ex-pats do get to vote. Basically you pick a location you have some connection with and register to vote in that place. We were still registered at our old home in California, so I called the registrar there and asked what to do. He pointed me at a state website that let me reregister and deal with being out of the country. It was pretty easy. We could have registered where we have family, or probably even where we have a PO Box. Just so we have a single geographic location to lock in as our voting place. Or so it appears.

As with all voting in the US, every area has it’s own rules about how the vote is actually handled, even for international voters. We get our ballots via email, print them, mark them, and mail them back. We could also FAX them back if we wanted, but that’s just too stone age for my taste. (FAX is a technology that should not be in use anymore. Ever. By anyone.)

Anyway, as I was saying, my perspective on the ballot was interesting. I did my usual job voting, with all the usual questions about its efficacy and what not, as well as questioning the wisdom of California’s idiotic habit of putting everything and the kitchen sink into the state constitution, but it felt different this time. A bit removed, perhaps. Still important, but less interesting, or something? It’s hard to explain.

Obviously I am not telling anyone how I voted, but I will say there are some odd wrinkles in California politics this year. Here’s one to ponder for the curious: look up who the California Democratic party endorsed for various statewide offices. It’s a bit strange.

In comparison, Canadian politics is still a mystery to me. I listen to the radio and read news articles and still haven’t got a clue about parties and policy up here. And most of what I hear and read is about provincial or national level politics. There is also city level politics that I know basically nothing about. As an amusing example (at least for my US friends) it appears that there is a “Progressive Conservative” party up here. From a US perspective that’s absolutely laughable, but Canadian politics is different, and the history is different, so I guess it makes sense. That said, the Wikipedia article on the PC party makes it sound like it’s gone, but I know it figures in conversation on the CBC at times, so it’s clearly still around at some level.

And that pretty much summarizes my overall knowledge of Canadian politics. I know some of the words, but not how things actually work. Even if I could vote here, I don’t think I would. I have no clue what I’d be voting for, and I’d rather not participate if I don’t understand the system.


English this time around consisted of reading two stories, one power point presentation, and taking a quiz about the two stories. (The stories were Griff! and Simple Recipes, both of which will be mentioned below.) The quiz was an online thing basically designed to confirm that we’d actually read the stories. Did we know enough about them to prove we’d done the homework? If so, good.

Next week we’re going to read two more stories (the last two listed below), two more power point presentations, and take another quiz. Also, we’ve now got the assignment description for our first paper, due June 15th. I’ll have to get started on that at some point as well.

I was asked for a list of the stories we are reading for this class. Seems like a good idea, so here they are. Note that (as far as I know) these are all Canadian authors, some who were born here, some who immigrated.

  • The textbook is title A Method for Writing Essays About Literature, by Paul Headrick. I do not recommend it.
  • The Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin. Originally published in 1894. This was really good, particularly given how long ago it was written. Very short. If I wrote a sentence or two about the contents, you wouldn’t have to read it, so it stays a mystery.
  • Sputnik 2, by Steven Harvey. 1957. OK. Also very short, but less focused than The Story of an Hour, and not as interesting.
  • The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gillman. 1892. This wasn’t actually assigned, but the textbook refers to it, and it’s included there, so I read it. It was… ummm… not good. It drags on and on and on and on and, well, you get the idea. Apparently it is a classic of some sort, and is assigned in many Canadian lit classes. I was not impressed.
  • Griff!, by Austin Clarke. 1985. I had a hard time with this one. It’s about a black man who left Barbados for Britain and then Canada. As a result there are multiple levels of cultural difference here that I don’t have a personal understanding of, and the story’s ending is particularly unpleasant. Not my cup of tea.
  • Simple Recipes, by Madeleine Thein. 2001. I enjoyed this one, even though there are also cultural differences at the heart of it. It also has a dark turn, but it’s less arbitrary in some way than Griff! and felt more relatable (at least for me) as a result.
  • One Good Story That One, by Thomas King. 1993. A first nations man tells a story to some white ethnographers. The story is effectively how Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden, but reset in something of a First Nations way. And it appears he’s telling it to these people as a joke. I need to read this one again, as it can be difficult to tell who is speaking or being spoken about, given the way it is written, but it’s fun, and funny, and I’d really like it to be true.
  • Queen of the North, Eden Robinson. 1996. A dark, violent, and difficult read about a young woman of Haisla descent. Robinson is apparently Canada’s first Haisla writer. I hope some of her other work isn’t quite this dark.

Many of the short stories in the class come from The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English, selected by Margaret Atwood and Robert Weaver. A few (so far, at least) have been given to us with the class materials.

We also had a video chat session about Griff! and Simple Recipes. I think I am not particularly good at looking for deeper meaning in literature. That is going to make this class a bit rougher, but I’ll work it out.


This week we only met once (see above discussion of Victoria Day) so our time was limited. But we were split into groups and my group has collectively decided to attempt some improvements to an odd spot. In East Vancouver, Main St runs north and south, and at the north end it is a bridge over the railroad tracks that feed the port, and it pretty much ends at Crab Park. The park itself has some history, or so I was told. Apparently it was something of a victory for the people to get this bridge and park built, so the people of East Vancouver would have a nice, largish park to visit.

But to get there on foot, you have to walk up the rather steep sidewalk on the south side of the bridge. It’s steep enough that there are several sets of stairs in it, and those with wheeled devices need not bother trying. Except that someone decided to fix that. They put in a set of ramps to let you climb the same hill without stairs. Here’s that ramp, viewed from Google Maps:

That’s 12 legs, or hairpin turns, to get up the slope, in something like 25 meters.

And to make matters worse, it’s ugly. Really ugly. Metal railings. Concrete walkway, and concrete with embedded rocks in the triangular sections in between. It’s hot in the summer sun, and nasty to look at. And they spent a LOT of money making this ugly thing. The upper portion is cantilevered out over a driveway, so they could make the ramps longer, and the wall on the west side has some portions that are scalloped, rather than simple, straight concrete wall.

My group is going to work on some mitigations to cool it down and make it a bit more inviting. With luck, we can make it nicer to use, and perhaps entice more people to walk over to the park itself on the other side. This weekend will see me sketching up ideas, and next week in class we’ll be building models and trying to figure out what our best options look like.

It should be fun. Whether or not it will actually get improved is an open question, but the city has budgeted money for our class, and I suspect what we want to do won’t cost that much. Time will tell.


  • You need to see this cartoon. Really. It’s just one panel.
  • And now, to turn away from humour, I give you the latest song from Amanda Palmer (one of my favorite artists, who performs Punk Cabaret) and Jasmine Power (who is new to me, but has a lovely voice). Given the MeToo movement, this is very appropriate, and it’s more than a bit dark.
  • Continuing the dark theme, this is a must read. Seriously. A very thorough analysis of trends and realities in America. The fabulous wealth of the 0.1% is not the whole story, it seems. I am not optimistic about the future, and this only drives that point home. The US is heading down a path that has resulted in disaster throughout history. I hope it can be avoided, but so far I don’t see how that will happen.
  • The usual index of art school posts and other things here on Medium, because Medium’s display isn’t chronological, as far as I can tell.


Some of you may remember last week’s post, in which I included this photo:

Remember me?

And I asked what those gouges in the prow of the ship are. I’ve had one suggestion so far — about removing barnacles — but I looked up barnacle removal and it doesn’t take gauging into the steel like that. A video I found showed someone power washing them off the rudder of a ship in dry dock, so just pressurized water is enough to accomplish the job, apparently.

Early this week we had this join the Golden Crown in the harbour:

Another bulk carrier

The photo doesn’t help a lot, but there are no similar gauges in the prow of this ship.

Later — on Friday morning, in fact — I found two other ships in the harbour: The Lowlands Prosperity and the ND Thelxis. Here are the photos I was able to get:

The middle shot shows the cross hatching on the prow of the Lowlands Prosperity, very similar to that on the front of Golden Crown. The third shot might indicate there are similar marks on the ND Thelxis, but it’s not certain. I couldn’t see it any better with the naked eye than that photo indicates, so I really can’t be sure.

I decided to ask one of the people that works for the SeaBus about the marks on the ship. She didn’t know, but the conversation was fun, and I learned two new, nautical terms in the process: “deadhead” and “hull puncher”. Those refer to the same thing: a log floating vertically in the water, instead of horizontally. They are hard to see, and thus can get hit and damage a hull. Interesting, eh?

Someone is probably going to ask how I know the name of the ND Thelxis given how blurry it is in the above photo. Google to the rescue.

The proper search for a vessel in Google appears to be of the form [ vessel <ship name>] or in this case [ vessel Lowlands Prosperity ], which gives you links to sites that specialize in information about ships, very similar to sites for birders and train spotters, I suspect. You can get size, draught, type, location, speed, ports of call, name changes, and a lot more for free. Most of the sites also have paid services that I assume would let you learn more.

“But,” I hear you cry, “you don’t know to search for [ vessel ND Thelxis ], so that doesn’t help.” And you’re right, but the search for information about Lowlands Prosperity (whose name I could read) took me to a site called, and that site has a button to get a list of vessels near the one you’ve searched for, which is really handy. And, as you might expect by now, ND Thelxsis is one of the vessels listed as being near the Lowlands Prosperity, and that name is the only one on the list that could match that blurry bit on the photo.

Interestingly, the page about ND Thelxsis — — is actually about a ship named Canary K, but the fine print says: “(Ship name as reported by AIS: ND THELXIS)” and the photos on the site makes it pretty clear this is the same ship. Oddly, though, doesn’t list ND Thelxis among the names the ship has had. But there are other sites, and at least some of them do show a name change. [Lesson: check multiple sites… you never know who is going to have the right information. Or additional information.]

In the process of all this searching, I also figured out that bulk carriers are pretty specialized. They tend to move one kind of cargo around. Note the grey towers on the Ultra Villarrica and the ND Thelxis. Those are cranes for lifting the cargo out of the holds. Whatever they carry, it is moved around with cranes. These days that probably eliminates shipping containers (since those are moved much more quickly with the huge gantry style cranes at the ports). It also implies they probably carry something dry, whereas the Golden Crown probably carries something liquid, that can be pumped. (I could be wrong, of course. I have no hard data about any of this.)

And since I have never mentioned it, Vancouver also gets a lot of cruise ships. They dock at Canada Place. Here’s today’s:

Viewed from the SeaBus as we approached the dock. That’s the Celebrity Millenium, and while she’s not small, she’s not the largest cruise ship I’ve seen at that dock. But honestly, I find the cargo ships more interesting. I did the cruise thing on a large boat once. Not something I want to do again. Boring.

Another thing to share this week, particularly with Carol W:

That’s pretty pricey, and it’s new at the nearby liquor store. I find that pretty amusing, as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is generally available in the western US, at least. And at the current exchange rate, that’s something on the order of $12.40 USD a six pack. Expensive!

On a semi related topic, one of the interesting things about moving to someplace unfamiliar is that you spend a lot of time observing things around you. Sometimes you are surprised by things that could have been perfectly ordinary wherever you came from, but don’t happen to be for you. Here’s an example:

Cruzer observing the “snow”

The cottonwoods are going to seed, and apparently we have a lot of them in the area. The “snow” in the photo above is cottonwood seeds, drifted up in a parking lot near our house, and collecting on the bank as well. It’s a very impressive display, and at times it really does look as if it is snowing. Lightly, I admit, but it’s still surprising.

I can’t recall living anywhere with cottonwood trees, though clearly they are common in parts of the US as well. But here, in North Vancouver, there must be quite a few, and they definitely make their presence known.

And In Conclusion…

I was supposed to get a photo of us & the dogs this week, but that didn’t happen. Sorry Amy. Maybe next week.

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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