There's a whole city to love beyond the tourist's-eye-view of the 'City of Glass,' just ask Charlie Demers
Mark Jones of the Telegraph may have a bit of a hard-on for Vancouver. At least that’s what his recent travel article would indicate: Vancouver guide: the world's greatest city?
From the people and the multi-culti diversity (in faces, food and amenities) to the city’s modern urban design and European scale, Jones waxes poetic about one of "the most livable cities in the world."
It seems he’s been stricken with that same crush that got many of us to resettle here—the one that induces so many to profess “Vancouver is awesome!” and “I love Vancouver!” ad nauseum to the cringing faces of our native Vancouverite friends.
Vancouver’s 'super' lifestyle
Citing Vancouver’s “buttocky power-walkers, iron-pumpers in vests and aerobic dog-walkers exhaling louder than their pets,” he calls us the “super-citizens” of a “supercity,” speculating that Vancouver’s multi-national, transplant population is “fitter, healthier and taller than the people back home”—a product perhaps of the orderliness of our public spaces, where even cyclists get their own lane.
“This is organized leisure at its most efficient,” he writes.
Who that has moved here from elsewhere in North American can’t relate? I don’t know anyone who didn’t upon relocating drop a couple pants sizes—whether intentional or not. It’s that active lifestyle everyone talks about; it’s contagious and indeed ingrained in the local culture. Those who never even owned a pair of sneakers go on to become marathon runners, backcountry skiers and epic hikers. In fact, the word “epic” was probably coined by an Ontario-born Vancouverite as a way to describe his “epic” sea-to-sky day of snowboarding in the morning and beach barbecuing in the evening.
(As an aside: I'm pretty sure I can blame that same dude for normalizing the use of the word "brutal" to describe anything less than "epic." Calling a 15-minute wait for a table at Diamond "brutal" kinda seems unfair to anyone who's ever been disemboweled, experienced heroin withdrawl or been made to watch a full episode of "Robson Arms," for example.)
Coupland not the only Vancouver author
Jones obviously is just reading Douglas Coupland's City of Glass; he quotes it enough.
But I wonder if he might on his next visit pick up another book and break out of the waterfront lifestyle of the typical tourist and Vancouver newbie—sticking only to False Creek, Granville Island and Yaletown—and check out the city’s other side. The side that’s less obviously spectacular, more raw, more provincial and indeed more interesting. While I too enjoy the Irish Heather, which his Dubliner guides call "the best Irish pub in town,” if not the world, there's more to this city than Gastown's simu-Old World bistros and recent crop of charcuteries.
Beyond “Coupland's City of Glass: a shimmering glade of aquamarine windows, curves and towers, grey steel and white tower blocks, coupled with sparkling water and swaying trees,” is a vibrant, thriving collection of diverging neighbourhoods—some wealthier than others—whose residents are rare to travel the bridges into downtown or the Public Market, let alone ride the little aquabus Jones is so taken by.
I'd recommend he do a read of local writer/comedian Charlie Demers’s book of essays, Vancouver Special, which offers a break down of the city by neighbourhood, vice and historical challenge. As a transplant myself, on a mission to take in as much as I can about Vancouver’s history, culture and relevance, I appreciate the perspective Demers’s book engages. He looks at the city in all its many parts and considers its past in bringing context to those green glass towers that have become so iconic.
As Sean Cranbury, producer of the recent Literary Death Match event at which Demers was a competitor, told the Vancouver Courier, "Vancouver Special is one of the best [books] ever written on the city."
Throughout the book, the author balances sharp critique—often of the sort of glossy persona that blinds Jones to the realities of this city that exist beyond the hard bodies and shiny boats—with background about the peopling of Vancouver, often noting the tension between the consumptive civility of the city's priviledged and the earnest untidiness of the under classes, hippies, activists and "weirdos."
But Demers is not bitter. Rather he seems endeared by it all. Vancouver may be awesome, but it is also not so awesome sometimes, too, and that's okay—great, in fact, wonderfully, hilariously great—because it’s ours, and just like people its flaws make it lovable. Its complexity keeps our attention.
That's not to say I'm not grateful to Jones for his breathy little love letter to our city. It is great to be reminded of our blessings, to again look upon all this beauty through the eyes of a tourist, to get that new person’s perspective on the city—the one that reminds us to visit Stanley Park, toss a Twoonie to the seawall buskers and admit, "shit, you’re right, we do have some amazing pubs!"
Updated: October 20, 2010