Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh Canada!

Presently in Vancouver, staying with M and K. I arrived at the end of quite a long journey that started at 5 am in Philadelphia (or 2 am Vancouver time) and ended with getting into Vancouver on a bus from Seattle airport after 6 pm. Much cheaper, though much longer, to cross the border by land if you can afford the time.

Other than catching up with old friends, indigenous art has featured pretty high on the agenda. The Anthropology Museum has an astonishing collection of memorial (ie burial) boxes, door posts, potlach masks and totem poles. The symbolic depictions of real and mythical animals are enormously striking. Also, fortunately for my white middle-class guilt complex, they seem to have a very healthy relationship with the local first nations at the Museum; so these artefacts are largely voluntarily placed with the museum, not a monument to looting.

I've also rapidly come to appreciate Vancouver fashion sense. It rains a fair bit here and winter is long. Aboout 97% of people outdoors are wearing jeans and sneakers and either a North Face fleece or a waterproof jacket of some desciption. The other 3% are wearing jeans, black boots or slip-on leather shoes/clogs and a quilted jacket.

No wonder everyone can pick me a mile off as "visiting" in my jeans with (shock!) a red wool jumper and tan linen jacket.

Still, M and me were mistaken for a gay couple methinks by a couple of private gallery owners when we were wandering around town this afternoon. Quite amusing to be treated as serious potential buyers. Especially on my income.


My time in Philly was also brief, but well spent. Major highlights of my stay with Im the archaeologist were the local Art Museum and the Liberty Bell centre. Sorry, "center". The Musuem is a gobsmackingly impressive pile built along late-Roman empire lines, with a healthy dose of ziggurat thrown in for good measure.

The main foyer looks like the steps could comfortably lead off to an area reserved for human sacrifice, but is dominated by a huge sculpture of Artemis (or Diana or some other Roman goddess with a bow) who apparently used to be a weather vane. Weighing, I would guess, a good half a tonne. Always important to know from which direction your hurricane-force winds are blowing.

In a lovely counterpoint, a huge white Alexander Calder sculpture hung from the ceiling. I dragged Im through the French Impressionists, she gave me the medieval high-lights tour and showed me where bits of Thai and Chinese temples, along with European monastic courtyards and Japanese tea-houses, had been artfully reassembled. (Hurrah for looting!).

The Liberty Bell exhibit was really well thought through, and a good introduction to the history of the object. Among other things, I learned that it was only renamed the "Liberty" Bell when its symbolism was taken up by the anti-slavery movement.

It also struck me, for the first time, that the opening paragraphs of the declaration of independence are actually a brilliant exposition of the principle of self-determination at international law as we now understand it. (Well, more or less.) Hardly surprising, given that it was drafted by so many lawyers.

Right, nap time.

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