More Vancouver


A few obvious things stood out as I crossed Canada after nearly two years abroad. One was the rampant consumerism that is part of North American life - you forget this, having simply grown up in it. There were a few moments where I was actually confused by all the choice and products before my eyes.

In Amsterdam, as in a Parisian market or Spanish supermercado, you might have a choice of say 3-4 kinds of peanut butter. Not so in Canada or the States, where your choice of 10 brands and 3 varieties of each brand is arrayed for your convenience.

I walked into a Shoppers Drug Mart in Vancouver, on the hunt for insoles. I was confronted with this:

Insoles galore

It took me about 10 minutes to decide to go with my final choice, most of which was spent weighing the benefits of gel, air pillos, sport models and barefoot (this one seems like a bit of a scam, when you think about it).

Barry Schwartz wrote a book on the over-choice-filled, over-consumption world that is much of the West, and how it actually reduces happiness: The Paradox of Choice, where he posits that some choice is much better than none, but too much is a recipe for misery.

If you don't have time to read the book, check out his TED talk. Actively limiting some choices and being content with what you have are great nuggets to take away from it. That is, if you choose to.

So one effect of being away for a while is being perfectly ok with just a couple kinds of peanut butter (the Fair Trade brand makes a beauty) and a basic insole, which is nice.

I'm not sure if Europe's reduced selection is due simply to space constraints or a concerted effort to simplify life. But it works.

Vancouver's Pointe Grey area

Incendio, a fantastic pizzeria and Italian restaurant with the best focaccia bread ever, located in Gastown

An all-book changing room, in the center of a clothing store in Gastown

Part of the seawall around Stanley Park

Vancouver is apparently a bit of a meat market



Just four days before we arrived in Vancouver, there was a riot that grabbed headlines around the world. Similar images were happening halfway around the world, except instead of the overthrow of a decades-long dictator in Syria, the catalyst for this was a hockey game.

The images were pretty shocking and painted a pretty ugly picture when juxtaposed with the kind of beauty that Vancouver offers.

Most people I know there downplayed the riots, and in most cases had to be coaxed into talking about them at all.

Indeed, walking around the city and the riot-stricken areas, it was pretty tame aside from boarded-up windows. People had come out in the thousands the day after the riots to reclaim the peaceful, friendly city that it is.

Post-riot graffitti

I got the impression it was more of a bad dream, whose images last a lot longer than anything that actually happened. Tough blow for Vancouver, but ultimately it was a real weird, ugly hiccup in an otherwise amazing city.

Kitsilano Beach




The past 3 weeks took me, as a tourist of sorts, back to the motherland. It was very interesting to view the country that was the only place I've lived (aside from a short stop in New Zealand 15 years ago) as a relative outsider, camera in hand and newly-formed Euro-goggles on eyes and brain. More on this in subsequent posts.

First off, what does it mean to go back home? It's a mixed bag, that's for sure. Kind of a cocktail of happiness, comfort, nostalgia and melancholy.

It's the place of so many personal triumphs and failures, which come back to you in equal measure depending on which street you turn down on a given day. Places and ghosts that were happily remembered or happily forgotten, until now. Each painful tweak is also offset by a great reunion with a close friend.

And things are different, no matter how much they appear to be unchanged. It hits you when parents are a little more wobbly, a little slower to move around. Nieces and nephews are way taller, a little less innocent, and you hope you haven't missed too much already.

Being there for only a few days or weeks made me appreciate everything more intensely.

I didn't realize two years ago that I'd be saying goodbye to a very good friend forever. He got very sick a year ago, and passed away in March. When I last saw Ric - one of the nicest guys ever and a tremendous dad and husband - we were on the golf course and he was perfectly fine.

To not see him ever again is unfair and still somewhat unbelievable. All the cliches are true - it's part of life, life is cruel, you never know... blah blah blah. It's simply not what you bargain for when you leave town, whether it's for a day or a couple of years.

Ric's passing helped in only one respect - I made sure that every goodbye this time around was fully absorbed and appreciated.



Hi All - and apologies for the delay in posting. Jet lag + suddenly wayward laptop = no posts for some time.

Fingers crossed for the laptop, I hope to have this rectified in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the new Guardian gig has begun.