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Swanky lunch at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Our main focus for today was to get our visas for China sorted. We headed into town to get passport photos done, bemused when we were asked what size we wanted as I thought they were all the same. Seems that Canada photos are about twice the size of what we call “standard” passport photos. There was no sitting in a booth and getting blinded by the flash here. We were in a photo shop and they take your picture with a digital camera and let you decide if you are happy with it. Each picture gets stamped on the back with the name of the company who has taken it and the date it was done – most unusual!

We knew we had to get to the visa section before one and as usual time was not on our side. We hopped in a cab, driven by an Indian guy that I could not understand. He assured us he was taking us to the right place but we both knew he had not when we turned up at a house out of town. He seemed peeved that he had to take us back somewhere else. Stef by this time was well and truly boiling with frustration. He had been twitchy enough when the photos were being done that we would run out of time but now we only had ten minutes before the visa office shut.

A quick stop at a shop with lots of signs in Chinese on the door pointed us in the right direction and we made it in time. We filled in our forms, attached our photos and handed them over. I think we had both expected to be met by very stern and bureaucratic people but the lady behind the desk was very friendly and laughed at our attempts to say hello, thank you and goodbye in Lonely Planet Mandarin. Hopefully all will be OK and we will get our visas by Wednesday next week.

We stopped for a coffee at a café just down off Broadway before heading back into town. At Chapters we added to our book collection with dictionaries of Mandarin and Vietnamese, Stef being convinced that these will be more helpful than phrase books. It is going to be quite a challenge being in a place where the language not only sounds different but also looks different. Before we left we bought a small book full of pictures of every day items that you can point at to make yourself understood if language fails you and I think it will finally come into its own over the next few months.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Vancouver’s Art Gallery. We had been attracted by the current main exhibition of works by Picasso but compared to exhibitions we have seen in Europe it was for us a poor relation. The exhibition was mainly etchings and sketches rather than paintings and sculptures. They seemed to fall into two broad categories, those of, for the most part, naked ladies and those where he was making a personal statement.

Without doubt his talent shone through but neither of us walked away feeling inspired. We both left feeling that he hungered to fulfil his own primeval desires and Stef in particular did not find the works intellectual enough. I struggle to understand how the mind of an artist works who produces what to me is a visual jumble of images and yet to them portrays a clear message and meaning.

Unusually for me, most of the rest of the collections in the gallery also left me cold (or perhaps I was just in a non-receptive frame of mind). The other main exhibition focussed on the different ways that people archive and store information. The gallery’s information leaflet ha d a very fancy description which basically said that some people like to go through the process of archiving and storing while other try to make meaning by accruing material.

Some of the exhibits were interesting to look at, like the vast array of paper cut outs collected through a project in China. One exhibit was responses to a questionnaire given to school children from a town not far from Vancouver. While I now know that even at eighteen their spelling and handwriting is bad, they are all bored where they live and that most kids drink, smoke, do mushrooms and other drugs I struggle to understand how a collection of responses individually framed and stuck on a wall constitutes art. Perhaps I simply need to broaden my own definition!

On the top floor was an exhibition of paintings by Emily Carr, a Canadian painter who focused heavily on the local landscape and also First Nations culture. I am sure she is a very talented artist but again I was left cold as her style does not appeal. I think the best description of a work though was for Neil Campbell’s “Base”. He is described as having an interest in a “phenomenological approach to art making – an inquiry into how we perceive the world”. Essentially, the windows on one side of the gallery are lit up in different colours at night. This is Campbell activating “… the building as an abstract perceptual field… to stimulate a consciousness of the physical site of the passer by”, or, perhaps in lay terms it is just a way to make people see the building.

As we pondered what to do for the rest of the night, neither of us feeling like going back to the campsite and cooking, a local man stopped to see if we needed help. He cautioned us against going to Gastown, the old part of town, at night as some bits are dodgy, and pointed us instead to Robson where there are lots of restaurants and bars to choose from. We popped into the Keg Steakhouse for a drink and to think about where to head for next but ended up staying there for a very tasty and filling steak dinner.