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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

At Long Last Vancouver

When we disembark in Vancouver, we’ve got a lovely afternoon in a beautiful, young, vibrant city geared toward outdoor activities. The temperate climate allows for palm trees! That’s not something we usually think of when we think of Canada. Our suite hotel is just two short blocks to English Beach and Vancouver’s seawall that stretches along the water and gives outdoor enthusiasts delightful opportunities.

The high rise buildings create neighborhoods. Ours is an international one, and we might never leave it for the diversity of restaurants!
Vancouver Apartment Buildings

The densely populated neighborhoods leave plenty of green areas and spaces for flowers, marinas, and paths for biking and walking. We saw people engaged in every kind of sport imaginable, right down to jugglers. We watched roller hockey where one of the team members was a woman. Never forget we are in Canada.

Jugglers near Vancouver's Seawall
English Bay is full of boats, sailboats, kayaks, and big tankers and steamers. We even watched an amphibious vehicle. You can see it behind the photo of some young Canadian Huck Finns playing on the rocks.
Vancouver's young Huck Finns
Amphibious vehicle on English Bay
Kayaking on English Bay

On a promontory overlooking the Bay is a stone statue of Inukshuk, the Inuit symbol of friendship and hospitality. Lovely. Inukshuk is the symbol chosen for the Winter Olympics held here in 2010. We visited in the fall of 2009.

We also took the Aquaboat to Granville Island and its rightfully famous Farmers’ Market. My photos will give you a taste of the magnificence here.

There’s entertainment as well, and this young man’s act outshines anything we’ve seen on a cruise ship! He was a juggler, an acrobat, a skateboarder, and an entertainer who involved his audience. Truly entertaining and truly professional!

Enjoying a coffee outside the market, I spot a woman reading The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pie Society. I see her pause, look up in thought, and smile or laugh aloud. I can’t resist. I go over and we book-talk. She is visiting from England. Her reactions to The Guernsey….mirror mine, but when she mentions similarities with 84 Charing Cross Road, it blows me away. My dear friend, Mike, sent that to me as a present many years ago, and I cherish that book. Here I am sitting with this woman, and I have found a kindred spirit.

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Monday, September 13, 2010


What a strange memoir Jeannette Walls writes in The Glass Castle. Here is the extraordinary story of a family that is incredibly broken. Jeannette’s parents are impressive and abusive at the same time, and while their eccentricities may be personal choices, dragging children into these choices can be seen as nothing short of abuse. Yet, amazingly, though Rose Mary and Rex Walls emerge as villains, they are not villains the reader hates.

Through Walls’ matter-of-fact, unsentimental style devoid of pop-psychology and analysis, she accomplishes the feat of allowing her parents to be real and free of condemnation while she tells a story filled with horrific events including a hasty getaway where her father blithely tosses their cat out the window of his moving car, a severe burning resulting in skin grafts and six weeks in a hospital because at four years old Jeannette is left unattended to boil her own hotdogs, and a lack of parental concern when she is sexually molested by a neighbor and then later by her uncle The horrific and inexcusable experiences Rose Mary and Rex Walls foisted upon their children they called “adventures,” and for a long while Jeannette, her brother and two sisters believed that was the exciting truth. A reader, however, is dumb-struck with disbelief.

As horrible and unsuited to parenthood as the Wallses were, their children grew in resilience rather than in hatred. Rose Mary and Rex were educated people who chose the life they led. Though possessing a teaching degree, Rose Mary saw herself as an artist and rebelled against working to earn a living. Rex lost jobs as an engineer. When Rex’s drinking problem left the family unable to buy food, Jeannette resorted to rummaging in school garbage bins for discarded lunches. As teenagers the children formed a plan to escape to New York and to help one another escape as each graduated from high school. They worked and saved the necessary money only to have Rex steal it from them. Undaunted, they began anew, and they prevailed.

In the end the three oldest children succeeded in breaking away and making good lives for themselves. Even then they did not push their parents aside.

Jeannette Walls’ astounding recollections, her spare style, and her lack of judgmental attitude allow the reader to enter the fanciful world of the glass castle Rex Walls tantalizingly created for his children. Yet the reader also sees the horrors and abuse he mesmerized them into accepting.

I found it difficult to visualize some of the events Walls records, and I was amazed at this memoir’s resolution. Walls has also written Half Broke Horses, the story of her grandmother whom we briefly meet in The Glass Castle but whose negative influence on Rex is strongly suggested. I think the somewhere down the road, I will be traveling with that book too. There is obviously so much more to Walls’ story.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010


totem pole
Just when I think I’ve been wowed enough in Alaska, we sail into our last port, Ketchikan, located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the nation’s largest at 17 million acres. I’ve been writing about ice and snow. Ketchikan sits in the middle of a temperate rain forest. The yearly rainfall is 162 inches! It rains almost 240 days a year. In the higher altitudes there is ice, but it leads to grassy wetlands, rivers, and lush forests that are homes to a myriad of animals, fish, and birds. So abundant and fertile is this land that the original people, the Tlingit tribe, had no word for starvation. WOW!

We enter downtown Ketchikan passing under the arch proclaiming it the Salmon Capital of the World, and it is home of all five species of salmon who depend on the streams and waters of the Tongass for spawning, leaving their roe on the gravel.
With a Walking Tour Map obtained at the Visitor Center, we walk this town which essentially climbs up the mountain. The original streets were either wooden planks or steps. This is a town of people working hard as fisherman or guides catering to the tourist trade.
Ketchikan house

Ketchikan Houses

Married Man's Way
Ketchikan house

The most amazing point on our tour is the fish ladder in Ketchikan creek. As we climb so do the salmon, and there are fish ladders to help them in their struggle to get to the top to spawn. Yes, the gravel beds of Ketchikan are the end of the salmon struggle, and incredibly they are so thick in numbers that the shallow streams are black with them. Rob and I stay at the ladders a long time, mesmerized watching those who did not enter the ladders try to jump to the next level.
Salmon swimming upstream
In this video, you can see how turbulent the water is moving down the mountain while those black blips are salmon trying to go against the forces to climb up to the spawning grounds. It’s an awesome sight—very sad, I think.

At the top where the fish are thick, young boys, today’s Huckleberry Finns, are barefoot in the water with fish nets or quick hands, some even shedding their jeans to wade in their underwear trying to catch the salmon. As with all of Alaska, we’re in another world, and it’s beautiful to watch.
21st century Huck Finns
The boy in the striped shirt actually DID catch one with his hands!

We take a tour of the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center where we see how the fish are studied, bred, and released. They release more than 300,000 fish annually.
fish hatchery
This also is an eagle rescue center, and there are several magnificent and regal birds in residence.
Alaskan  Eagle

Across from the hatchery is the Totem Heritage Center, totem polea museum dedicated to the preservation of the totem poles including original unrestored examples. Many were carved by native artists in the heyday of totem pole carving in the middle of the 19th century. This center, too, is fascinating, and the self-guided tour allows us to really get a good look at the carvings and learn some of the symbols native carvers used.
totem pole

Walking back downtown, we come to Creek Street
Creek Street
which became the red light district in 1903 when the City Council ordered the bordellos to relocate across the creek from the town. At one time there were thirty-eight bordellos here. When the city outlawed prostitution in 1953, Creek Street became a mixed residential and commercial area. It was here I finally succumbed to an urge and bought a piece of the Orocal jewelry I’d seen in Anchorage but resisted. Beautiful! But I saw another example of Alaskan humor.

It was a little sad walking back to the Coral Princess knowing we were leaving for Vancouver. We’d been told that our next trip to Alaska should begin at Kodiak or Sitka where we’d see a totally different Alaska. I’d like to do that. I’d also like to come back and spend a few winter weeks in Anchorage. Just to see what it's like. You never know.

This is an awesome place. Spend as much time here as you possibly can to experience as much of the diversity as you can. America is beautiful, and you really don’t want to miss this!

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