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Letter from Vancouver: Bologna, Paris, eat your hearts out

July 20th, 2009 · 23 Comments

My first full week back in Vancouver and I am of course overwhelmed with how beautiful and lively the city is, filled with festivals and outdoor movie screenings and people walking around and sunshine and it seems, today, like the perfect perfect city.

This will pass, but it was an especially lovely weekend and the Vancouver Folk Festival, which I’m a two-and-a-half decade devotee of, crowned it. I have to admit that a teeming Italian plaza, while nice, doesn’t quite match listening to music that transports you (my weekend favourites: the Great Lake Swimmers, hypnotically mind-altering) in a place where you can see the mountains, the sea, the downtown towers glittering in the sunlight while you lie on the warm grass and let the sound wash over you.

The festival always brings such quirky moments, too, that make you glad to be alive so you can people-watch. There’s nothing quite like watching a whole crowd of secular atheists, every Sunday morning of the festival, standing up and singing songs like (at this one): “Thank you, Jesus, how sweet it is to be loved by you.”

This festival also had its first beer garden (all went exceptionally well, I heard, except for a very few customers who had to be turned back when staff thought they’d had enough), which also brought out its first police patrol. So four officers every evening got to wade their way through the crowd of dancing people. There they were in full blue uniform, making their way around the gray-haired guys in straw hats and Hawaiian shirts, the girls in their swimsuit and sarong outfits, the baby strollers, the rasta-haired and all the rest.

I heard from a friend that he asked one of them if he didn’t feel overwhelmed. The answer from the burliest one patrolling the crowd: You can’t feel overwhelmed when you’re with your people, man. I also heard they were mentally designing new uniforms for themselves for next year’s festival, but something more in keeping with the crowd — maybe a nice tie-dyed number.

The festival’s three nights were preceded, for me, by a strange and memorable night of performance art — or something — Thursday, where the local small collective of Vancouver writers had organized a little get-together in a parking lot on industrial land near the train tracks.

So there was a collection of us, drinking beer and wine and roasting marshmallows over the fire amid the chain-link fences and trucks and view of downtown Vancouver over the treetops, while poetry was read aloud on the stage constructed for the evening and there was a reading of a Brecht play that at one point entailed one of the character’s pulling down his pants to moon the audience. And then there was whack-a-mole. All delightfully weird.

It’s not so bad here.

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