Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Visiting Vancouver

I went to Vancouver for the first time in 1975, back when I was 12 years old. It was my first trip out of the country. I have a few memories of that trip: driving over Lions' Gate Bridge into North Vancouver and the terrifying Capilano Suspension bridge --I've never recovered, and remain scared of heights.

But I remember the food more. A dinner out at a Greek restaurant--where the friends we were visiting, whose last name was tricky to pronounce with its-ough ending (did it rhyme with cough, rough, or dough?), gave their name as 'Smith' with such nonchalance that I still remember it. In fact, I keep meaning to come up with an alias to give at restaurants and cafes (Giovanna being too hard to spell). Perhaps 'Laura' after my favorite childhood author, or 'Cecile' after the character in Shadows on the Rock. (Suggestions will be happily accepted).

We also ate at a Native American restaurant, I believe called Mukluk (later it was Liliget, now sadly gone), where we sat on the floor with so many First Nations' masks watching over us, and ate fiddleheads and smoked ooligans. Don't ask me how I remember that--but I do.

I like the bustle of today's Vancouver. One reason we ate at the izakayas on this trip was to partake in Vancouver's excitement. It's a cosmopolitan city, with so much to offer on so many levels. The first time I came here, I don't remember all the skyscrapers; when I drive in now, I always think of that old TV show, The Jetsons. Vancouver today, with all its rounded green and white skyscrapers looks to me like what we thought 2009 would look like back in the 60's and 70's.

When I visited as a child, Vancouver seemed very European. Today when I walk down Robson Street, I pass a building that I remember from that first visit. Inside I had bought a Mozartkugel, which then was a very exotic candy. Each time I've visited as an adult, I've passed that building, and each time I remember the thrill I felt as a 12-year-old, exploring a bigger world for a first time.

Today Vancouver is like the whole world. With the changeover in Hong Kong, there was a huge Asian influx to Vancouver. There is Little Italy, Greektown, and Punjabi Market (where would Vancouver be without Vij's?). According to Wikipedia, 52% of the city population have a first language other than English. It's exciting.

At some point, I heard about the West End's Sylvia Hotel.. Maybe my parents stayed here once when I was a kid? In the 1990's, I stayed there with my family. We had a kitchenette apartment, which looked as I imagine it must have in the 1940's. There's even a kids' book, Mister Got to Go ,that takes place in the Sylvia.

At the end of the day, after window shopping, lunch at a Japanese noodle shop, and plenty of walking, you can still amble into the Sylvia. Everything seems to slow down. There, overlooking English Bay, you can sit back and drink a beer or a cup of tea. The waiter will chat just enough, and the couple next to you, surely both retired, rest in each others arms, and look out the window. It might seem like a staid place, but I guess it's not--in 1954, they opened a cocktail lounge here. It was Vancouver's first. Imagine--in 1954.

I like it that for a few dollars you can journey back to an earlier, quieter Vancouver. Today's Vancouver is exciting and fun, but it's nice to have a respite.

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