Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vancouver 2010

I'm sitting in Waves coffee shop Main and E. Pender. I like Waves and Blenz coffeeshop because they have free internet and their coffee, pastry and paninni's are as good as everyone else's. The increased traffic and increased numbers of people are apparent on the street. I've just ridden on my Honda 230 enduro motorbike from North Vancouver to St. James Anglican Church in East Vancouver and the Nooner meeting on Davie Street in the West end.

There's a mist rather than rain and no one has broken an umbrella. It's mild. I think of the rest of Canada this time of the year and know I'd not be riding a motorcycle about the city streets there. A woman walks by with short skirt, no stockings and her jacket open exposing a low cut blouse, lots of skin. In winter in the rest of Canada orthodox Muslim women would feel right at home, the women are dressed head to toe in parkas with wool scarf veils any time they're out of the home. Not here in Vancouver though. No wonder some Eastern Canadians call it 'sin city'. Exposed flesh without frost bite, year round!
I was talking to a Newfoundlander comparing our experiences of home towns, mine being Toronto and Winnipeg, "I don't miss the cold, slush and snow." I don't miss the indoor living. I miss the relationships nurtured in captivity from the environment but I do like living outside.

Friday I encountered the first traffic jam. They'd closed the lanes for express travel through the city and on to Whistler. Caught unaware the traffic was backed up. "I felt like I was living in San Francisco again, any day of the week." We are spoiled here. In contrast to many big cities in the US and Europe our cars actually move on the freeways. Tire sales are greater in Canada than other developed countries as a result.

A report came out saying that Vancouver was the most expensive city to live in. It certainly seems like that but then a few hundred were camping for free in Stanley Park last year and there are 'shelters' galore with food for everyone provided by countless charity services.
"I wouldn't be able to be a drug addict if I had to pay for my food and housing," he told me, "I can barely live in Vancouver." In Winnipeg every year there are those who die from exposure because they didn't go inside when the drugs and alcohol kicked in.

I remember the lack of running water in so many places I've been around the world. It comes to mind when I fill my water tank with the hose. Earlier this year the hose froze and for a few weeks I was bitching and complaining about hauling my own water. Probably a few billion in the world don't have clean water let alone indoor plumbing. I have to shake my head about when I get too critical and forget to have gratitude for all I have.
Today I'm seeing Vancouver with eyes of wonder. I think it was Marie pointing out the buds on the trees. Last week Laura showed me a bulb sprouting in the ground. Soon there will be crocuses. In weeks the cherry blossoms will be out. Spring in the air. Makes all the difference. Like the coming of dawn after a long night. This winter of poor government and the economic crisis of their poor decisions, greed, theft,corruption, war. I stopped reading the news for weeks at end to improve my digestion. It always makes living easier for a while. Earthquakes, tsunamis, epidemics, povery, disease and the ghost of Malthus laughing. All the while the media doesn't tells us how much better it is for everyone collectively. Not individually but collectively.

And not just in the west, but everywhere. We're living longer and having better lives. If they'd spend more money on health and education rather than war and terrorism, if they'd care for clean water and better waste disposal…….if….they're doing the best they can, just like I am in my little world. I cleaned the dishes today and Canada addressed a problem of an old nuclear reactor. Think in terms of microcosms and macrocosms. Criticize a politician only as much as you would criticize yourself. I laugh when I hear the greatest debtors individually objecting to government spending and high taxes. It begins at home…..I say the serenity prayer again. Alot of days I say the serenity prayer alot. I think it's mostly because I have to deal with people who don't even know it, let alone know what it means. Not that I do. But I'm getting the idea. Another slow learner.

Riding around Vancouver I can't help but appreciate what a glorious and beautiful city it is. The train stations and streets are clean relative to other places I 've been. There's no dead bodies in the street. How quick I am to forget what I've seen when I judge. A song says that child poverty is high in BC but poverty here isn't the poverty of elsewhere where poverty means hunger and no shelter. Here it's relative but that said, I'm upset with all the cuts. All week I'm overworked because of the stigmatization of the mentally ill and diseased in Vancouver. The government is talking euthanasia. With all the anti semiticism and racism and feminism people forget that it was the old, the diseased and especially the mentally ill that first died in Auschwitz. They were the first to go down at the hands of the Pol Pot. Doctors die early too, succumbing to the diseases that they treat or dying alongside their patients when they get wasted.
I'm living on borrowed time. When I started the life expectancy of male country gp's in my area was 55. Most of the psychiatrists I know have been injured at work. The saddest case was a colleague who took a head injury in training. It manifested years later when he crossed a sexual boundary with a female patient. He was supposed to be God. Perfectionism is what we talked about at the meeting. How much society expects of us, especially those above us and how much we expect of ourselves. It takes it's toll.
Every day I hear of another resource that once served the mentally ill, the brain damaged, having it's funding cut. I'm asked to give more and more medications to address the rage and frustration of the individuals deprived so much already and then deprived some more. Yet I'm thankful for what we can do, knowing that here we do as much as we can compared to elsewhere. I'm too old for utopias. That's for the young and those who are so far from the front lines that they know what we should have done. Like the armchair quaterbacks in the courts. Out by the face of the abyss we're just chucking sand bags and putting fingers in holes.

I see some of the immigrants in workmen's compensation cases and ask what would have happened to them in the country they came from,"We'd be let go," they say. "There's no help for the worker there. Life is cheap. There's always someone to take your place. The leaders don't care either." I sometimes tell my patients with head injuries or mental illness they might do better to wrap their heads in white gauze or wrap a white bandage around their chest where their hearts have been broken. They're the walking wounded but so often their injuries go unseen and unheard of so are easy to forget.

Vancouver is said to be protecting one of the greatest criminals of China's history. "You break a few eggs to make an omelette" , may as well have been his motto. From peasant to kingpin of an international racket in decades. Bribes and bodies. Now our lawyers join the fray. It's hard to understand the law and business these days. Apparently everything has a price. I still don't think love can be bought or any of what really matters has price tag on it. But it's a facsimile world. "There's no difference between a life of marriage and a one night stand," she told me. I'm tired of arguing. More and more I feel like a prophet from the old testament. Right is wrong. Black is white. It's all relative. My truth , your truth.
"I go back to St. John's and see my friends who are really poor compared to alot of us here in Vancouver but they're rich in friendships and family. I think they're happier than we are." he said.

Yet here it's all possible. Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city. Its full of churches, synagogues, temples, brothels and crack houses. Restaurants advertising the best of pastries stand next to gyms promising grueling work outs. Everyone seems to be doing bikram's hot house yoga. I would have been cross country skiing or snowshoeing on Cypress were it not for the Olympics and the weather. Nothing stops me running the sea wall. Al met a beautiful woman she 's had him running the sea wall just to keep up with her. He's happy running in the rain. What some will do for love.
Some birds have landed on the sidewalk and are cleaning up a rice spill. We need to genetically engineer birds to clean up oil spills. Listening to CBC I heard that the Mafia trucking companies had the contracts to dispose of toxic waste so they dumped them in the Italian country side near schools and rivers. Italians are now desperately in need of another Fellini. Who else could make sense of Italy.

Canada has its Margaret Lawrence's , and CBC 'As it happens', Bates and Group of Seven, Emily Carr, the Guess Who, Bare Naked Ladies, and host of movie makers but the best of Canadian comedy had to to go south of the border to Saturday Night Live. Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell come from here. Sarah McLaughlin is certainly Vancouver. But where's our Fellini. We need him even more than Italy.

The police are out in force. Lots of road blocks and re direction of traffic. They had these lime green psychedelic signs "police" signs on their backs. I thought only on the West Coast would the police choose an LSD colour to declare themselves. The other canary yellow jackets remind one of 'trippy' flight. The police presence is disconcerting in a way. It's the uniforms and the functional belts and age old police boots. Para military symbols. But then you look at the faces. Classic Canadian. They're smiling. Besides they're wearing these psychedelic signs. Friendly helpful but competent and caring. They're the best of the best. Terrorists would be stupid to mess with them. I see them and I feel safe.
Police presence offends me in principle. I want to be in San Francisco again in 1970 wearing flowers in my hair and seeing the naked girls and boys with bodies painted. I want to be dancing in the streets at a love in and know we're safe. That was before the Rolling Stones and the Hell's Angels. That was before hard drugs and Carlos. I wasn't comfortable at the Bob Dylan concert with the marijuania smoke mingling with beer fumes filling the arena just a few years back. I was glad he was cool as U2 because increasingly concerts can be like English soccer matches. Some people aren't coming for the fun.
Back then we were mostly white and middle class college educated. We were unwinding from super tight religions and parents who had been through the wars to make their homes safe. It was before multiculturalism. It was before people brought their conflicts with them to their new lands. We had a common enemy back then. Polarities were so easy. Nixon, despite his genius, was such an easy target. Bush was too loveable a buffoon to be sinister. And with Clinton you just didn't know what his mind was on or where his hands had been. Obama is at least as present as Reagan while Our Harper sure has Joe Who beat but makes Chretien at times look better than Brian Mulroney. What choice is there between lawyers and beaurocrats?
Vietnam was a bad war. Even the French had given up on it. Today it's corporations and they're good or bad like the players in the United Nations. Shifting targets and allegiances. It's scarey stuff. The drugs are methamphetamines, cocaine and psychedelic pot not the near pot of our beer and wine generation. We wanted to slow down and now the kids want to catch up. That's crazy. Everything at computer speeds and the latest one isn't fast enough.

I remember the football game here and the ambulances being rocked as the falle boy died unattended. The police are necessary today. Fewer and fewer people have parents these days and so many of the parents want to be the kid or can't be parents because the state says it's their job but still hold everyone else accountable. The schools are day care and the lawyers say you can't teach but are ready to sue you if the children don't learn.
"If you say your mom's boyfriend sexually abused you, you can get a new bicycle in the foster home." The boy told his friend waiting for the bus, each holding skateboards worth a months pay in a third world country.

The teacher told me the perfectionism in the uptown school he taught in was amazing. The expectations were unbelievable. At the same time a third world immigrant told me, "All we did was go to school and go home and study. I was lucky even then to get into college. Only the very best get advanced. I was lucky to come to Canada. I can send money home for my brothers and sisters. My sister is alive because I paid for her medicine. "

I talked to a Vancouver police officer yesterday. He was controlling traffic. I saw the fear in the eyes. I'm trained to see it. He has a heightened awareness. I remember when I was a life guard and the pool which normally had only 50 kids one day had 200. It's like that for him. He's probably picking up extra shifts too. These are halcyon days of money for the security forces. They're be out of work next month. Canada is just not a place where security is a big industry. Not like the high pay in Iraq, France or the US. I like to think that the most amazing recent Canadian development for the war was the top notch light weight bullet proof vests that everyone wants to have. Canadians think in terms of defence.

A tazer death of a man who didn't speak English, didn't know what the police were saying and resisted has tied up the news all year. When I was in LA I got off the beaten track and everyone was packing a pistol. Like the knives I encountered in Morrocco. Even Mexico the police have to shoot first. Mistakes happen in Detroit and Paris all the time. The mistakes of Moscow and Bei Jing just don't ever get heard about. Only in Canada where we're still mostly good. The bad goes on but at night in back rooms and it's sophisticated. Not out on the streets like in Rwanda. The policeman I spoke to was helpful. I was thankful after talking to him. Didn't want his job this week.

But the stores are doing well. The economy must be turning around. That and the tourists. Vancouver is thriving. It's in the air, like spring. A lot of money has been put out and now it's coming back in. I saw some team members walking together in their uniform jackets smiling and laughing. They looked good. Families and friends are coming out to see them. The hotels are all full. There's still bed and breakfasts. Just the big hotels are full up. Those ones with internet adds. The smaller hotels are still taking people in. I laughed to see an enterprising street person offering to share his sleeping bag and space with a tourist for money.

It's really bustling. Vancouver is usually laid back. It's almost New York with motion today and it's been building. People have places to be and things to see. I passed Irish House and a few other pavilions. The last touches are being put on before they open. There's new signs up on museums. I'd never seen we had a Police Museum but it's right there beside the Firehouse Theatre . Art galleries everywhere are advertising new exhibits. Local painters and sculpturers are going to be well represented. Every pub is highlighting local bands and some places are bringing in the big hitters.
It's a whole different world. The party scene. I'm over in the 'complaints and repair' section of society so no doubt will see my work increase after this event. Right now it's fun to see the joy of those who are directly benefittiing from the games. All the construction people who have worked these last 2 years to get the city and province ready are no doubt the ones buying the new suits and dresses and getting ready to celebrate their well earned windfalls. The deal makers and the shakers are gleefully backslapping each other as it all comes together. It's been a big project and they are right to be pleased that it's all coming together. We forget that this is a huge project, akin to lauching a war, but a good project, and all the logistics and traffic and housing and such that go with a war have all been done for this 'peace' event. It's a party but a peaceful party and quite frankly I'm glad that the folk who could just as easily bring us a war have this time round brought us these games and entertainment.

Vancouver 2010 is impressive. I'm impressed and we haven't even had a ski jump or hockey game yet. It's a week before the action begins and it's already exciting.

No comments: