How I Misspent My Summer Vacation, 2011 Edition: Day 4

Sunday, Aug. 14: Lavender gin and Rainxiety

Where was I? Oh, yeah: Hurricane Irene preparation, limping dog, windstorm, multi-day power outage, crazy work deadline, Labor Day weekend. So that puts us back in Vancouver, specifically the Metropolitan Hotel.

I mentioned in our last installment that I had done no research into Vancouver before the trip. So, in addition to not knowing about the French-Canadian vibe, I also didn’t reailze that our hotel was in a neighborhood similar to the high-end boutique region of midtown Manhattan. We weren’t there to shop, since we live about 30 miles from NYC, and, well . . .

As I mentioned in my last “Who Am I?” post, I started a shopping ban in early August. I decided to see how low my credit card bill would get if I went one month without purchasing books, comics, music, liquor-store gin, electronics or menswear. I was doing just fine for the first 10 days, but being in a hotel directly across from Vancouver’s high-end shopping mall was definitely a rehab-temptation moment for me. At one point on Monday, I found myself “just browsing” in the Harry Rosen store, where a Brunello Cuccinelli cashmere jacket just threw itself at me. But I managed to keep my virtue and my money.

You’ll note that I didn’t include “Tim Hortons” on that no-shopping list. I’m not crazy, after all. I got dressed Sunday morning and lit out for Timmy’s. I saw one a block and a half away on the drive in last night, and asked the doorman of the hotel if that was the closest one.

“If you’re looking for coffee, we have a Starbucks next to the hotel,” he said.

“Man, the last thing I want is Starbucks,” I told him. He confirmed that the Tim’s on Dunsmuir is the closest. I grabbed coffees for us and a maple dip donut for myself.

The morning was pretty lazy. Amy tooled around on her iPad (hotel wifi) while I finished The Soldier’s Art, which takes place during WWII. I was bummed by the sudden ending, the news that a character died during a reconnaisance flight in which he was reporting on enemy camouflage. But I was also glad to have completed this month’s Dance to the Music of Time installment, because it meant I could get started on Zero History, William Gibson’s new novel.

Gibson lives in Vancouver, so I thought it would be nice to wait on that book until I was in the city. Also, I waited for the price of the Kindle version to drop to $9.99, which it did around the same time that the paperback version came out. As I began reading, I discovered that the Macguffin — he’s moved beyond Macguffins, actually, but it’s as close a term as I’m gonna employ to describe the story — was a design for camouflage clothing. I bet I’m the only person ever to transition from Barnby’s death in the name of camouflage to Gibson’s 21st century exploration of how camo and military style inform streetwear. I don’t expect to win any sort of prize for this.

By late morning, Amy had come up with a good restaurant for brunch. The sky was overcast the weather forecast had called for cool temps and some train, so we dressed appropriately and got walkin’. Here’s a set of pix from the walk, or you can click through this guy:

Escape... from Vancouver!

In case I haven’t made this point enough, let me note that I like walking around in cities. I dig seeing neighborhoods, exploring stores, and picking up little place-memories.

For a long time, I would set my maxi-capacity iPod to shuffle and put in my earbuds when meandering around unfamiliar cities during business trips. I’d stroll through neighborhoods further and further from my hotels, with a few destinations in a loose plan. I was pretty good at identifying bad areas (and bad times to walk through otherwise okay areas) and never got mugged or otherwise messed with during my travels.

I liked the notion of having random songs in my head while I explored. That way, when one of those tunes popped up again years later, I’d be transported back to that moment in Madrid, in Belfast, in San Antonio, in Nelson, in Paris, like a geo-aural landscape. The music is like a time-bomb (or is it a land-mine, or an ICBM?).

Years ago, I drove from San Francisco to San Diego with a single Mad Mix CD to keep me company for 2-plus days. I was in a convertible, so there were plenty of stretches in which I couldn’t hear anything over the wind, but I still came to know that CD inside-out by the time I rolled into my friends’ place in South Park.

IPod tourism is a practice I’ve abandoned in the last couple of years. Maybe it’s my discomfort from those earbuds, my incipient deafness, my fear that I’ll get taken unawares by thugs. Maybe it’s my desire to hear the sounds of cities themselves, rather than my semi-engineered soundtracks.

So Amy & I walked down Howe St. toward Davie. My iPhone’s GPS-based Maps app worked just fine, although it wouldn’t be able to provide directions without getting onto the Canadian data-network, at which point I’d have gotten charged ridiculous fees. As we left the hotel, I discovered that the Vancouver Art Gallery was on the next block, and that it was hosting an exhibition on surrealism. I’m not a huge fan, but I thought it’d be nice to check the exhibit out on Monday.

We had a pleasant Sunday stroll down to the Provence Marinaside. The line for tables was long, so we sat at the bar. A Blue Jays game was on the TV in the corner, drawing my attention occasionally. An on-screen graphic noted that the Mariners’ game would be on next. I wondered which team was the “local” one: nearby Seattle or 2,600-miles-away Toronto. The latter had the advantage of being the “national team,” since the Expos had gone away. I didn’t bother asking anyone about it.

Our waiters/bartenders were off-Broadway versions of Robert Pattinson and Michael Fassbender. I ordered an amazing ham-and-gruyere omelet and then noticed a strangely labeled bottle of gin behind the bar. I had no idea what it was, and asked Team Edward if I could see it. It had a hand-scrawled label describing a lavender gin. I asked him to open it so I could give it a waft. He poured me a small glass instead, so I checked out the bouquet and ordered a G&T with it. Amy took the straight gin and gave it an approving sip. I wonder if crack-smokers have this sense of conoisseurship about their product.

After brunch, we walked among the green-glass condos of Pacific Blvd. to get to the Granville Bridge. We wanted to cross the river and check out the Granville Island Public Market. The day, I should note, was not cool and rainy. The sun had come out and it was in the mid-70s, so we were overdressed. Still, we decided to walk on to the market, despite the mild discomfort and just-kinda-sweatiness.

Of course, the bridge was longer than it looked, and of course there was no quick way from it to the market on the island. We walked through the modernist furniture shop quarter (?), past the Afghani restaurant, and into The Throng.

I’m sorry if you’ve been to the market and loved it, or if you’ve never been and want a pretty description of it. To us, it seemed like a nautical-themed tourist trap, and I spent enough years in Annapolis, MD, thank you very much. I know it probably has a lot to recommend it, but we were caught in a tide of shambling vacationers, including “Japanese Snooki,” as I pointed out to my wife.

Granville did have a pretty amazing and extensive food-market. We picked up some wonderful gelatos and made a return trip on Tuesday before leaving town to get some stuff, but it was incredibly crowded on a summer Sunday, and Amy & I both get antsy around big crowds, so we made a relatively quick exit from the market, walked down to the docks, boarded an Aquabus to cross the river and started our walk back to the hotel.

We walked up Granville St., parallel to Howe. I was expecting more of the high-end shopping found on our street and on Robson, our perpendicular, which is apparently Vancouver’s Fifth Avenue. Instead, we got a run-down street with stripperwear stores, music shops, and some cheap retailers. I was happy to see it. A few blocks up, the street was closed to car traffic. A corporate-sponsored trick-bicycle event was going on, attracting a ton of youths from whatever subset of the culture digs bike-stunts. We made our way home, cutting through that Pacific Centre mall, where I noticed the aforementioned Harry Rosen shop, and rested before dinner.

Amy was in charge of selecting restaurants in Vancouver. She’s the food-blogger, after all. Her pals recommended Cru, on the other side of the river. It would’ve been a long walk (I reconstructed our Sunday walk on Google Maps after I got home: 4.4 miles), so we got the car from the valet and drove over. I had to get change for the parking meter, so Amy went on ahead of me to the restaurant. Walking up West Broadway by myself, I noticed several bookstores and a comic joint. I know I’m in a buying ban, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look, right? In fact, I noticed that my pal Ron Rosenbaum’s new book was in a window for half-price or thereabouts!

my new book is da bomb

I also passed a place that I’m only including here because it will make exactly one reader piss herself with laughter:

IMG_1299

(You’re welcome, Tina.)

I joined Amy in the restaurant, where we had the following off the small plates menu:

  • Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio
  • Syrah-braised Beef Short Rib (with mac & cheese)
  • Moroccan-spiced Lamb Chop
  • Miso marinated BC Sablefish
  • Side Greens

The carpaccio was fantastic, the sablefish was disappointing (esp. after the awesome miso black cod dish I had at Masa 13 in DC last June). In all, it was a fine meal, with only one problem: my dad called.

I noticed a “missed-call/voice-mail” on the phone when I picked up my jacket after dessert. The call had been at 7:45 p.m., or nearly 11:00 p.m. back at home. I assumed that something terrible had happened to him or to the dogs, so I ran out to the sidewalk and called him back. No answer on his cell, so I checked the voice mail.

He said, “I hope you’re having a good time on your trip. I just want to let you know, there was a lot of rain today. At least 7 inches by JFK. I don’t know if your dog-sitter can take care of the boys with all this rain. Should I call her?”

Shaking my head, I walked back into the restaurant. “What is it?” Amy asked. “Is everything okay?”

“Apparently, it rained a lot. Dad thinks maybe he should help walk the dogs.”

“Rain.”

“Yeah, rain. Seven inches by JFK.”

“Good thing we don’t live anywhere near JFK.”

Now, I’m glad my dad was concerned about the dogs’ welfare, don’t get me wrong. But he knows that the one time something terrible happened to one of the dogs, it was when I was away traveling and a dog-walker just didn’t know which houses to steer clear of. I have plenty of anxiety every time I go away on a trip, because I have to give up responsibility for the dogs and trust someone not to make a mistake.

So you’d think he wouldn’t worry me by calling when I’m out of the country to tell me nothing more significant than the news about a few inches of rain. But then, he’s the same guy who sends me e-mail jokes about airplane crashes when I’m about to fly out for business trips.

We cruised back to the Metropolitan, had a drink at the hotel bar, and turned in early.

Back at the room, I e-mailed Dad that the dog-sitter was probably getting along just fine, but he could call her to check up on Monday.

Certainly, I could have written this day down to, “We walked a few miles, visited a tourist trap, had a nice meal, and missed a ton of rain back in NJ,” but where’s the fun in that?

Coming up in Day 5: Stanley Park Death March

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