The Olympic Flame livens up Vancouver

To tell the truth, I am not very interested in Vancouver Olympic Games. But I have appreciated the city’s liveliness for a few days. A long-time inhabitant told me she had not seen anything similar since 1986, the year Vancouver hosted a World Exposition.

Granville street
I have never seen so many people in Vancouver!

Yesterday I went for a walk in Downtown in order to look at the different pavilions, exhibitions and events. When getting off the bus, I saw a swarm of people walking towards Canada Place. I followed the crowd, thinking there should be something to see. And I found the Olympic Flame behind Vancouver Convention Centre. It burns at the ends of sculptures that depict giant ice crystals.

flamme olympique
( Click on the picture to enlarge it )

I like the originality of the sculpture, it is a change from the usual cauldrons. What is a pity is that you must look at the Flame from a distance and behind a fence. I had to take my picture through the wire fence after getting through a crowd of people.

Update February 18: the configuration has been changed so that it is easier to see the Flame


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Residential Vancouver

For tourists, Vancouver, BC looks like this picture-postcard scenery with mountains, sea and skyscrappers:


It shows Downtown Vancouver scattered with towers. Nevertheless, most of the city rather resembles that:

maisons à Vancouver maisons à Vancouver

Miles and miles of residential neighbourhood. A long series of facades, all similar. They must be impeccable. Lawns must be bright green and cut short. Appearance is important.

However the front door is not often used. We are in North America, in a car culture. People get around by car and you access the car via the back door that overlooks the alley.

ruelle à Vancouver

In Canada, an alley is a narrow street used by residents to drive home. This secondary street has no name. For example you can see the alley between 63rd and 64th Avenues on this satellite image from Google Maps:

ruelle à Vancouver (source : google map)

I walk the alleys and look at the backs of the houses which are less impersonal than the faces. There is a garage for the car or rather the cars. There is often a terrace.

maisons à Vancouver

The terrace is indispensable to Vancouverites’ favorite activity: the Sunday barbecue

maison à Vancouver

There is enough space to dry laundry and grow a few tomatoes.

maison à Vancouver maison à Vancouver

The back of the house is also used for storing garbage and sometimes hiding the mess.

maison à Vancouver maison à Vancouver

I look the houses and I wonder what kind of life their inhabitants live. Are they as conformist as their residences? Can a single-family house, which is a dream for many people, bring happiness? I rather imagine lives stuck in a never-changing routine. I would not be surprised if these polished facades accomodated some desperate houswives.


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Unfamiliar animals in Stanley Park

The other day I took the air in Stanley Park, Vancouver’s most well known park. While I was walking, my attention was caught by a rustle in a thicket. I thought that I would see a bird or a squirel, but instead an animal appeared that I had never seen before. It was a small black and white mammal. It didn’t stop moving so I could not take a picture of it. I felt deeply disappointed when it disappeared behind a bush.

I went on my way. A few meters further on, I realized that the place was actually full of these small animals.  They could not be very wild, surely, because they are used to stuffing themselves with peanuts given by visitors to the park. Some of them were turning around an old man with a walking stick, they seemed hooked on him. I grabbed the chance and took some pictures:





Later I saw a drawing of the animal on a board in the park and I learned its English name: raccoon. But I had to go home and consult my dictionary to know what I had met.


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From Montreal to Vancouver

I am starting my expat diary again, since we moved to Vancouver.
When we arrived in Montreal, we had 2 suitcases. Even if we did not buy a lot of things, we had an extra suitcase when leaving Montreal. We had kept many papers that we had to sort out.

Go west!

Departure Day: My partner’s suitcase handle broke just before we left. Otherwise the journey went well. Five-and-a-half hours of flight and three hour time difference. When we arrived at Vancouver airport, we bought a bus pass. We went to the hotel by bus. We looked at detached houses with flowery gardens under the sun. We booked an up-market hotel hoping that there would be no bedbugs because there are bedbugs in some Vancouver hotels.
After leaving our suitcases in the hotel, we went to a nearby supermarket. We were surprised to notice that the packagings were in English and in French.

Second day in Vancouver: We had found it difficult to find accommodation in Montreal. So my partner had answered ads before arriving in Vancouver. On our second
day in Vancouver, we had an appointment to visit a furnished apartment. We had already filled in a form and the landlord had called our previous landlord in order to make some enquiries about us. After the visit, we decided to rent the flat and signed a tenancy agreement.

Third day in Vancouver: We completed a Condition Inspection Report of the unit and moved into the house. We began to clean the flat and later did the shopping. Finally we rested and enjoyed spaghetti with tomato sauce.

photo chooyutshing (c) Creative Commons

Fourth day in Vancouver: Once we had an address, we could deal with administrative formalities: give our new address to a dozen organizations, phone, Health Insurance, driving licence… Coming from Quebec, formalities were simpler than if we had come to Vancouver from France. We also asked for information about English lessons.

On the following days, we found our bearings in the city.


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Although I cook French at home, I have adopted Montreal bagels. Bagels are not as common in France as in North America. Bagels are small ring-shaped breads. They are often topped with sesame or poppy seeds.

In Montreal, two shops are famous for their bagels: St. Viateur and Fairmount. They are mentioned in all Quebec guide books. There is a debate about which is the best bagel shop in Montreal. Some people prefer Saint Viateur bagels and some others prefer Fairmount bagels. I personally think that they are both equally good. Moreover there are other bagel shops. Some health food shops sell organic bagels but they are often frozen.


smoked salmon bagel
Luxury smoked salmon bagel


Bagel with cream cheese and walnuts
Bagel with cream cheese and walnuts


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Actions: What You Can Do With the City


This is what you can read in capital letters on the wall at the entrance of the exhibition “
Actions: What You Can Do With the City” presented by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal.

It sets the tone. There is no utopian project designed by an imaginative architect. All initiatives exist. They are projects initiated by ordinary people who want to improve the city where they live. This is a good example for defeatists who say “we can’t do anything”. It reminds us that we can’t just wait and hope that politicians change our environment, but it mainly teaches us that means exist to make our city a more pleasant place to live. 

The link between a city and its inhabitants is an interesting question. We generally endure our environment instead of influencing it. Cities organize public consultations on new construction projects but few people are informed about such consultations; very few people have time to participate, and those who take part in the debate often have a feeling that they are not considered.
Therefore, cities develop without their inhabitants taking part in it. And it is only afterwards that we see the result: ghettos that concentrate poverty, central business districts that are deserted late in the afternoon and express ways that raise barriers between municipal districts. 

How can we give more humanity to cities? First, by remembering that public space belongs to everyone; thus, it belongs to us. Therefore the exhibition shows projects aiming to make the city their own. I am amazed by these simple but effective ideas.

For more information:
Presentation of the exhibition

I have noted the initiatives that I like the most. If you plan to see this exhibition (which I strongly recommend), I advise you not to read what follows below, just to spring the surprise. If you don’t have the chance to come to Montreal before April 19th 2009, here are a few projects that find solutions to urban problems:

* I already knew Freecycle. People can publish an ad on Freecycle website to announce items they don’t want any more, because what they would throw away could be used by others. There is a Freecycle group in Paris and another one in Montreal among others.

* In New York, Green guerillas make “seed bombs”. Those little balls, mixtures of clay, compost and seeds can turn any empty lot into a garden.

* In Toronto, Urban Repair Squad makes stencils perforated with a bike pattern. You can use them to paint bicycle lanes where they are needed.

stencil perforated with a bike pattern
photo Sean Connors (c) creative commons

* Rebar covers parking spaces with grass in San Francisco. This project called PARK(ing) makes us realize the enormous place taken by car in cities. Can you imagine if all parking spaces were converted into gardens?

parking space converted into a garden
photo Stewf (c) creative commons

* At McGill University in Montreal, the “Edible Campus” project consists in planting a vegetable garden in containers. It adds green to a concreted corner of the campus and the crop is given to a charity that delivers meals to seniors.

* Santiago Cirugeda, an architect from Seville, wrote a book called Recetas Urbanas (urban prescriptions) that provides semi-legal strategies for housing and urban renovation. One idea is to temporarily occupy vacant lots waiting for a project or a building permit. Recycled street furniture is used to construct benches and playground equipment on the vacant lots.

vacant lot converted into a play area


There are other actions on the exhibition website. Everybody can submit an action so that it can be shown too.


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Newcomer to Montreal

I would like to tell a slice of life of a newcomer to Montreal (and to Canada). 


This is the neighbourhood where we set up. It is very quiet.
It was difficult to find accommodation. After several visits, we have opted for a monthly furnished apartment. It is expensive but big, neat and near a metro station. 

We have to deal with some formalities: Social Insurance Number (a national identification number), Permanent Resident Card, choosing a bank, international wire transfer, health insurance… It is time-consuming.

We must learn again everything: how to use a phone box, how to use the metro, how to find our way in Montreal, how to recognize coins…

Cranberries are not as common in France as in Canada. My partner cooks for the first time a cranberry sauce, it is delicious.

Cranberry sauce

Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Saint-Siméon
Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Saint-Siméon

Visit of the Museum of Fine Arts. The collection is of works of art of all periods and origins.
I discover works of art I did not know by asome of my favourite artists. The decorative arts and Canadian art sections are particularly interesting.


We attend a Bixi demonstration. Bixi is the Montreal’s new bike-sharing program. It is similar to the parisian Velib and it will be available in spring 2009. You will have to choose between a seasonal pass, a one-month pass or a 24-hour pass. And the first half-hour of each use will be free.

In Paris, an outdoor advertising corporation manages Velib. In Montreal, Bixi will be financed by “Stationnement de Montréal” with the revenue it earns from operating public parking. So the drivers, who are responsible for urban pollution, will pay the development of cycling and therefore pollution reduction.


vélo en libre-service à Montréal

Finally, a few reflexions about fashion. I find that women dress quite casually in Montreal. They walk in flat heels the never-ending streets. They like boots and dare to wear colors unlike women in Paris who prefer black and grey these days.