Palm Springs: Robolights Mash-Up!

While flaneuring Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood just east of their Design District we suddenly came upon three huge robot-looking creatures amongst the trees - one pink, one yellow and one orange. The pink robot was probably 30-feet high. Quickly the light bulb went on; this is the house with the bizarre Christmas light show I had read about. 

Peering over the bushes and the fence we could see hundreds of strange-looking creatures created out of recycled junk that looked like a surreal  mash-up of characters from Star Wars to Jurassic Park. Did a 21st century Dali or Duchamp live here?

We had to come back at night!

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

It is not everyday that you find front lawn ornaments like this in residential neighbourhoods.

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Kenny's idea of a reindeer?

Robolights 101 / Kenny's World

Basically, Robolights is a giant art installation with millions of lights and hundreds of giant creatures from various folklores and movies, as well as Christmas and cartoon characters that fill a two-acre residential lot in Palm Springs’ Movie Colony neighbourhood. The work of artist Kenny Irwin Jr., it is billed as the largest, most spectacular residential light display in America, perhaps the entire world.”

What began in 1986 as a 9-year old boy’s dream has become Kenny’s altered reality (he still lives in the family house year-round surrounded by his installation).  He has built on almost every available square centimeter of the homestead – his childhood sandbox, the tennis court, the pool and the even the roof of the house. 

His first piece was a 10-foot tall wooden creature with a 1940s phone coming out of its chest.  Since then, he has continued to work on the display year-round using donated junk from friends and strangers (e.g. when a local casino was upgrading the slot machines, they donated all the electronic equipment and some old machines), as well as purchasing things on EBay.

Ironically while it is called Robolights, there are no real robots in the show and Irwin doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, having converted to Islamic many years ago.

Visitors are welcome year-round by donation, but it really comes alive from Thanksgiving to the first week of January when extra lights are added to make it more Christmassy. During this time it is open from 4 to 9:30 pm, donations are option and you can also donate a toy for children in need. 

Link:  Robolights

Robolights has captured national and international attention over the years, attracting 20,000 people last year. But, Robolights almost didn’t happen this year as the City of Palm Springs was concerned the two enormous inflatables on the roof of the house could blow off and damage houses, cars or people on the streets.

 

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Somewhere in this display is the house.

Enter at your own risk?

Enter at your own risk?

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

This is not your regular Christmas light show!

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

A real mash-up of materials and figures.

What we saw!

From the outside, it looks like a Christmas lightshow “gone wild” with a Santa and his reindeer along the street at the entrance made out of an assortment of recycled materials from old car parts to shopping carts. There are countless lights and the roof of the house is graced with two huge inflatables.  There are lots of people milling about but it was not crowded this Tuesday night (nor was it on the Sunday night when I popped by again).

However, upon entering the narrow passageway you quickly realized this is not an innocent Christmas show for children, but a weird, wacky and sometimes macabre art installation on a scale I have never seen before.  This art exhibition is full of fun, strange and bizarre surprises – a mash-up of Disneyland and the Stampede midway.

Many people were overheard saying, “WOW this is amazing/weird.” Another frequent comment was “Where does he get all this stuff?” Irwin estimates he had incorporated over 1,000 tons of recycled materials into the various displays.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of things for kids of all ages to see and enjoy. There are all the things you would expect in a Christmas light show - Santa Clause, reindeer, snowman, castles, candy canes, but all with a twist.

In fact we know of one family with a two and half year old who went with friends and said they all enjoyed the show for different reasons.  And there were certainly lots of families enjoying the show the night we were there.

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

Kids love all the colour and lights. It is a magical mystery tour...

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

I think twilight is the best time to visit.

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

What's with the toilet and basketball net?

Lego gone wild?

Lego gone wild?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

What is Christmas without a Gingerbread House?

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Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

Dragons and other mythical creatures are everywhere.

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

What would Christmas be without a pirate ship? 

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Parents Beware

Parents be prepared to answer some difficult questions like “Why are those people sitting in toilets in shopping carts on the roller coaster?” Or “Why are those naked people painted yellow and have animal horns on their heads?”

There is Santa riding a military tank and hundreds of toilets incorporated into various artworks – what kid doesn’t like some toilet humor. Watch out for the dinosaur clutching a stuffie in its mouth. Fortunately, for the younger children they will be mesmerized by the lights, colour and everything going on to see the “devil in the details.”

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

You might expect this in a major contemporary art gallery in New York City or London, but not in a very conservative residential neighbourhood in Palm Springs.

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Guns, Guns, Guns.....

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

Close-up of the many figures that are incorporated into the body of the figures. You could spend hours examining the details of each piece and speculating on why the artist chose to incorporate the pieces he did for each creature.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

This is not a working roller-coaster, but still very evocative.

Why?

Why?

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

There are literally hundreds of toilets....

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Nothing is sacred....

Nothing is sacred....

Contemporary snowwoman?

Contemporary snowwoman?

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

Kids.....hang-on to your stuffies.

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

This one is for my buddy Rhys!

Last Word

In an LA Times interview in November 2015, Irwin stated  “My main intention is to provide people with immense pleasure through the work that I do. There's not really any deep meaning in my art. It's basically for the whimsy of it." He identifies four themes to his work – robots, extra-terrestrial, holidays and Islamic culture.  He has said publicly “nothing is sacred to him.”

From a curatorial perspective I loved the tension created by the juxtaposition of mythical and macabre characters. Given the number of toilets in various contexts, one can help but wonder if Irwin is a modern day Duchamp.  The monochromatic figures from recycled objects recall the sculptural work of Lousie Nevelson. Robolights is an ambitious art installation that builds on the work of the surrealist. It is a mash-up of Halloween and Christmas.

We were there for a good hour wandering the labyrinth of narrow pathways and could have stayed longer, but my camera’s battery ran out of juice. 

I would definitely go back again. 

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FFQing in Nashville: From Cupcakes to Stanley Cup?

This fun photo romp around Nashville is meant to give you a quick introduction to what we saw and recently experienced both on and off the beaten path in Nashville. Future blogs will look at Nashville unique sense of place in more detail.  This is just a teaser!

Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

Yes, in Nashville you can purchase cupcakes from a vintage ATM machine.

Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

Forget hood ornaments, in Nashville you need roof ornaments like this one.

I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

I couldn't resist Holler & Dash's biscuit with peanut butter mousse, bacon, popcorn, bananas and maple syrup. 

Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

Found this sculpture made entirely of crayons, the gallery was full of fun, colourful crayon sculpture

This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

This little girl's Dad convinced me to get the cherry dipped cone - big mistake, the sprinkles cone was the way to go. 

Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

Nashville has some quirky mailboxes in its established neighbourhoods.

Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

Can paying for parking be a happy experience? 

Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

Vintage is always fun! Pre to Post Modern store on 8th Ave was too much fun!

The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

The last thing I was expecting when I went into the Savant vintage store on 12 South was this stuffed wild boar.  There was also an albino deer, caribou, skunk and bear.

Stix  is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.  What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That."     Link:  "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

Stix is 70’ tall and made of 27 wooden poles. The poles are spaced in an irregular pattern throughout the surface area of the roundabout and the verticality of the poles varies between 0º - 15º from the center axis. The poles are made of red cedar and are painted in stripes of various heights in four different colors: red, orange, light blue, dark blue, and light green. Fifteen up-lights are embedded into the landscaping to light up the sculpture at night, which results in a vibrant display of color, light and shadow.

What is fun to me is that the artist Christian Moeller proposed a very similar piece for the Crowfoot LRT Station.  I was my first choice but I was over ruled by the other jury members who liked "Roger That." 

Link: "Roger That" says 12 year old Matt about public art

Gotta love quirky signage. 

Gotta love quirky signage. 

The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

The GooGoo Cluster is an American candy bar created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company in Nashville. The original disk-shaped candy bar contained marshmellow, nougat, carmel and roasted peanuts covered in milk chocolate.  And, yes it was marketed as nourishing lunch treat. 

While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.   

While flaneuring Belmont University campus we decided to check out the Art School when we encountered two students hauling out stacks of artworks to their car.  We asked what they were doing and were told recycling the canvases and stretchers for reuse.  We asked if we could have a look and eventually purchased these two.  

This was Brenda's choice.

This was Brenda's choice.

After purchasing our new artwork we immediately stumbled upon a noon hour steel drum concert that also featured a dancer.  It all took place in a lovely plaza with a canopy of trees that filtered the light in a magical manner. 

The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

The Eskimo Brothers were having just too much fun at Layla's on Lower Broadway.

Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

Not sure what these gadgets are, found them in a guitar store...but they struck me as fun, funky and quirky aliens.

8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

8th Ave S is Nashville's Antique vintage district, lots of good ffqing here.

In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

In fact I found this juxtaposition of Christ and Superman in the Tennessee Antique Mall - very quirky. 

I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

I loved that the theme of the children's library in the Nashville's Central Library was Nashville's iconic architecture. 

One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

One of many interesting artworks found in 21c Museum Hotel which was hosting a very thought provoking exhibition titled "Truth or Dare: A Reality Show."  This exhibition would be appropriate for any major contemporary art museum, to have it hosted in a hotel was very quirky to me.

Quirky front yard art?

Quirky front yard art?

Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

Quirky artwork found in the Union Station Hotel lobby. 

Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

Found this baby doll buried in a huge bin of shoes at the local Goodwill Store.  Seemed quirky to me?

Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

Fun little park incorporates folk art figures with bike rim sun screen. 

You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

You can hear them before you see them. These party bikes are popular with the dozens of bachelorette parties that invade downtown Nashville every weekend.  

What were they thinking?

What were they thinking?

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I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.   

I expected to see lots of different guitars in Nashville, but never expected anything like this.  

Last Word

Not sure what it is but some cities are just more fun, funky and quirky than others. I am thinking I should create criteria for a FFQ Index as another measurement of a city's vitality. 

If you like this blog, you will like:

FFQing in Montreal

Fun, Funky, Quirky Colorado Springs

Nelson BC: Fun, Funky, Quirky

 

Calgary: What's our colour...drink...animal..car...movie character?

Recently, I was invited to a focus group by Tourism Calgary, so they could pick my brain (along with another 15+ Calgarians) about Calgary’s identity and brand.  Always game to be a guinea pig (that’s how I met my wife…another story), so I quickly said, “YES!”

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Do Calgarians live in a bubble? 

Same Stories?

I was intrigued by one of the introductory remarks – “this not going to be about picking a new logo or new moniker, but more an open discussion about Calgary’s identity and unique sense of place.” Interesting.

One of the take-away ideas from the facilitator’s introduction was that almost every city around the world is telling the same stories to tourists - how great their festivals are, bragging about their new museums, parks and plazas and boasting about their culinary culture and craft beers. 

A related key message was - what cities are not doing is understanding and/or communicating what makes them different, unique or special.  Note: Something I hope I am trying to do with my blogs from Calgary or other places I visit, I am always looking for something unique.

We then were divided into three groups of about 6 people each for some group exercises.  Here are two that I found both interesting and strange at the same time.

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians young and old love to play "dress up."

Calgarians are colourful.

Calgarians are colourful.

First Exercise:

Answer this question: What would the world miss if Calgary didn’t exist? 

Yikes…my immediate thought was “nothing.”  In fact I would hazard a guess 80% of the world probably doesn’t even know Calgary exists and if they do, they know very little about us.  An obvious answer is “energy” but in reality that doesn’t come from Calgary.  Then there is the Stampede, but not sure the world would really miss it if it didn’t happen, anymore than the world would miss Carnival, Marda Gras or Oktoberfest.  I don’t think the world would miss our museums, public art, restaurants, shopping or fishing on the Bow River either.

Our group didn’t come up with anything and neither did the other groups. I am not sure how productive this question was. Love to hear from readers if there is something they can think of.

We love our public art? 

We love our public art? 

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary: Where deals are done on a handshake!

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary is made up of 200+ communities each with its own community centre, park, playground and most have an outdoor community hockey rink. 

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Calgary has some amazing festivals, but would the world miss any of them if they didn't happen?

Next Exercise

What _________ (fill in the blank with the following words - colour, drink, animal, car, movie character) would best describe your city? Again, interesting but wondered what possible insights this might reveal.

What’s OUR colour?

Two of the groups chose blue. One group picked Sky Blue to reflect the warm blue skies Calgarians enjoy every month of the year.  One person pointed out that even when is -30 degrees C in the winter, our bright blue sky, makes it seems warmer.  Try telling that to someone from Vancouver or Southern Ontario.  I pointed out that because of our clean blue skies, our downtown skyline and the mountain vistas are much more vivid than in other cities I have visited.  I remember once reading a letter-to-the-editor from an overseas visitor gobsmacked by the quality of light in Calgary, describing it as “celestial.”

The second “blue” group picked Twilight Blue, pointing out that as the sun sets in Calgary, the light becomes quite magical.  Ah yes, I miss those golden sunsets on Bankers Hall that we used to have before the rise of Eighth Avenue Place.

The third group picked red, the colour associated with all our sports teams, the Calgary Tower (20th century icon) and Peace Bridge (21st century icon).  Nobody said it, but I am sure a few thought it - many Canadians also think of Calgary as a haven for “rednecks.”

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Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary is a city of hope, where dreams take flight!

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Calgary's best public art are the surrealistic architectural reflections off of our shiny skyscrapers. 

Yes we love red.

Yes we love red.

In fact we love lots of colours!

In fact we love lots of colours!

What’s OUR drink?

Two of the groups picked “beer” which seems a bit cliché as every city in North America has been infected by the craft beer craze.  See above comment on take-away ideas i.e. “all cities tell the same stories.”

Our group picked beer originally, then talked about the Caesar, (invented in Calgary) and finally settled on Vodka. The rationale - you can drink it straight or mix it with anything.  We all immediately grabbed onto the notion that while Calgary is very clean and white, we are Canada’s third most ethnically diverse City, and an interesting mix of Canadians from East Coast, West Coast, Central Canada and the Prairies.

As I like to say, “Calgary is the most Canadian city in Canada as we are a mix of Canadians who hail from all regions of our country.”

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgarians love their beer...

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

Calgary has long history of craft brewing.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

We also love a glass or two of vino, even if we can't grow it here.

What’s is OUR animal?

I quickly picked Magpie. Beautiful and exotic upon your first glance, they become very loud and brash the more you see it. As well, magpies are considered to be one of the most intelligent animals in the world; as well they are intensely social with a strong sense of community.  I thought this described Calgary to a T.

Overruled, our group ultimately chose “dog,” for it’s friendliness and loyalty, which we all felt were Calgary qualities.  One person was even specific, suggesting a herding dog (border collie), as we love to work hard.  I have often said that Calgary is the place where Canadians come to “work hard and get ahead.”   Someone also pointed out we have some of the best dog parks in the world.  Point well taken.

The group sitting right behind me actually did pick the Magpie – I think they overheard my pitch and bought it. 

The third group picked Bison. Though, originally picking the horse, one person in the group pointed out that in a storm, horses run away while bisons charge into the storm, which is what Calgarians do when faced with a challenge.  That received applause from the entire room. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

River Park on a winter day is busy with walkers of all shapes and sizes. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

Calgarians love to horse-around on Stephen Avenue. 

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What is OUR car?

This is a great question for Calgary as our city has one of the highest levels of car ownership in the world.  One group chose the SUV, an obvious choice given Calgary’s demographics are dominated by families.  A hybrid between a sports car and a sedan, it is a good metaphor for our city that combines fast living with family life.

Our group unanimously chose the Ford 150. It is a well known Calgary is the pickup capital of Canada. One members pointed out he knows a billionaire in Calgary who drives a Ford 150.  It nicely references our rural roots, our connection with the land and our strong work ethic. 

Being the contrarian (surprise, surprise) I suggested the Car2Go smart cars as Calgary has one of the highest Car2Go memberships, pointing our it references Calgary’s growing “sharing culture” as well as our aspiration to be a “smart city.”

As luck would have it, the group behind me did choose Car2Go – I do think I was in the wrong group!

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

I went to a Ford dealership in Calgary to get a photo and found an entire row of Ford 150 trucks, must have been 50+ including several blue ones. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

How many Car2Go can you count?  I believe all of them were taking their dog to River Park, one of Calgary's best dog parks. 

What’s OUR movie character?

Two groups chose Woody from “Toy Story.”  This was too obvious as Woody dresses up like a cowboy but isn’t really a cowboy; how perfect is that.  But the references go much deeper - Woody is Andy’s favourite toy and the leader of all of his toys, but his status as the favourite is challenged.  Indeed, for much of the late 20th and early 21st century, Calgary had to fight to be recognized as one of Canada’s leading economic engines, a budding urban playground and the favourite city for Canadians to move to. 

The other group chose R2D2, however I can’t recall what their rationale was. Perhaps it reflects our position as a high tech, future-oriented city or our love of cosplay.

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Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Stampede Park sculpture welcomes everyone to the grounds. 

Kinda like R2D2....

Kinda like R2D2....

Viral Video?

Upon reflection, I wonder if Tourism Calgary was soliciting ideas for a fun viral tourist video about Calgary. 

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

Tacky cowboy icon on the Red Mile is too much fun.

I can see it now. It will have a couple of redneck cowboys in a blue Ford 150 with their border collie in the back, while two cowgirls hop into a Car2Go and suburban family all in Star Wars attire (one as R2D2) jump into their red SUV while a murder of magpies play in the trees.

The redneck cowboys head to the Red Mile’s Trolley Five (via Memorial Drive so they can pass by the red Peace Bridge (with hundreds of walkers and cyclists and then up Centre Street for a shot of the red-topped Calgary Tower) for a vodka martini with a Beltline lager chaser and a bison burger on a lively patio while their loyal dog (a blue heeler) waits on the sidewalk being admired by a parade of pedestrians (beside him, a blue bowl labelled “fresh Bow River water.”)

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Dancing at Calgary's International Folk Festival is mandatory. 

Meanwhile, the blue jeaned-attired cowgirls head to Inglewood (passing by the bison at Fort Calgary), to do some shopping and checking out the new exhibition at the Esker Foundation before meeting up with friends for dancing at the Saturday blues jam at the Blues Can hosted by Tim Williams (winner of the International Blues Competition in 2014).  

The Star Wars family heads to the nearest LRT Park & Ride in their red SUV (with a shot of some public art along the way), then hop on Little Ralph’s Train (on which, to their surprise, a couple of young aspiring singer songwriters are jamming some tunes) to the Stampede Red LRT Station where they become part of tens of thousands of people enjoying the annual Calgary Expo (aka cosplay) with huge posters for Big Rock, Village and Wild Rose breweries in the background.

It ends with a shot of the magic blue twilight sky and setting sun on the Bow River full of rafters and paddlers with Downtown skyline glowing in the background and the byline: 

Imagine Being In Calgary!

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

The Bow and Elbow Rivers become urban playgrounds in the summer. 

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Calgary's magical blue at twilight.

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Welcome everyone to Calgary!

Last Word

I can't help but wonder if this exercise will be any more successful than those that generated the "Heart of the New West" or "Be Part of the Energy." I didn’t get to pitch my idea that Calgary’s moniker should be the:

“City of Parks & Pathways.”

Rationale: We have 5,200+ parks, including two of the largest urban parks in the world (Nose Hill and Fish Creek), two great festival parks (Prince’s Island and Stampede Park), a park-like zoo, great family parks, great dog parks (e.g. St. Patrick’s and Bowness), the world’s longest elevated indoor walkway (+15), 700+km of pathways city wide and new the 133km Greenway that encircles the city.  Need I say more?  OK - Banff National Park (many tourists already think of Calgary as the gateway to Banff), Kananaskis and Dinosaur Provincial Parks are a few just hours away. 

Who wouldn’t want to visit the City of Park & Pathways? Who wouldn’t want to move to the City of Parks & Pathways for a job?  Works for both tourism and economic development, don’t you think?

Do I have a seconder?

Calgarians love their parks....

Calgarians love their parks....

Reader's Feedback

Vanessa Gagon, Tourism Calgary's Brand Manager writes:

I love how you weave photos of all the awesomeness in our city into your post! 

The response to this project has been really great, people are excited! Over the last few weeks we've conducted a residents survey (800 Calgarians - with approximately 200 from NW, NE, Central and South Calgary), 4 workshops (81 participants) and focus groups with community leaders (29 participants), that's 910 people who have been involved! Oh and we did a staff workshop so 930 people! Folks have been so gracious with their time and are eager to help in any way they can, confirms we live in the best city in Canada! :) 

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Goin' To The Hat!

While most Calgarians head west on the weekend, being the contrarians we tend to be, we headed east, on a recent Friday morning, with our ultimate destination being The ‘Hat (aka Medicine Hat).  Driving the back roads, we quickly wondered why we don’t do this every weekend – I could have stopped a dozen times to take photos.  

Here’s a sampling of what we discovered…

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

The entrance to Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park interpretive centre is both stunning and powerful. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Medicine Hat's railway underpass is a provocative street art gallery that would be right at home in Berlin. 

Gleichen, Alberta

We had to stop in Gleichen for old times’ sake – having lived there from 1981 to 1985. Not much has changed; it is as if time stood still – and a sad reminder of the decline of small prairie towns everywhere. 

Our house is still there, looking pretty much the same, though worse for wear. No evidence remains of the “Street Art For Gleichen” project I initiated – the murals are all faded away or painted over and the art park is now Beaupre Park with the historic water tower, a buffalo sculpture and a few picnic tables. 

Backstory: The “Street Art For Gleichen” project was just as controversial in Gleichen as Bowfort Towers is in Calgary today.  In fact, a key issue was one of the artists used indigenous motifs without any consultation with the Siksika Nation just across the tracks.  I was so naïve.

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link    National Historic Sites

Who knew the Gleichen water tower is a national historic site? Link National Historic Sites

Cluny, Alberta

We weren’t planning a stop in Cluny on our way to Blackfoot Crossing but when we saw Pete’s Bakery and the folk art junkyard across the street the car came to a screeching halt.  After ogling the extra large cookies, we chose Pete’s strudel, which we ate while wandering around the junkyard resisting the urge to grab a souvenir for our yard.

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Pete's cookies and strudel - WOW 50 cents and a Loonie. How could resist?

Soyopowahko (aka Blackfoot Crossing Historical Park)

Five minutes further south on Highway 842 from Cluny is Blackfoot Crossing (Soyopowahko means Blackfoot in their language), a designated national Heritage Site.  Its interpretive centre not only documents the complexity of the Treaty Seven (which was signed nearby), but the way of life of the Blackfoot people.  The setting is spectacular - on the edge of a cliff looking out over the Bow River Valley.

The building itself is also dramatic with its modern interpretation of a traditional tepee. Its grand entrance has a wonderful overhang that is made of several feather-shaped glass pieces forming a traditional Chief’s headdress that cast a playful and colourful shadow on the wall when the sun shines. The building was designed by Calgary's Rod Goodfellow and is full of references to traditional Blackfoot culture. Link: Blackfoot Crossing Architecture

Upon entering the exhibition area you encounter the entire Treaty Seven reproduced on large illuminated glass panels that form a huge circle in the middle of the exhibition space. (FYI. The original Treaty Seven document is currently located at Fort Calgary). The sheer length and “legalese” language make one wonder if the Chiefs could really have fully understood what they were signing.  It was sobering.

There are indeed some interesting artifacts, however the only interactive hands-on display we found was the display buttons you push and the Blackfoot word for various common words is played, then you repeat it and press “playback” to hear how close your pronunciation matches the correct one. Link: Blackfoot Dictionary 

My biggest disappointed was that photo taking was not allowed in the exhibition area. This  surprised me given most galleries and museums today allow photos without flashes. I realize some of the pieces might be sacred, but a significant free marketing opportunity is lost as people today love to take photos and post them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. 

We were also puzzled why the Centre is only open Monday to Friday.  With Calgary as their biggest market, you would think being open Wednesday to Sunday would make more sense.  Why not one weekend per month? We were the only ones there during our 90-minute visit. 

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

There is a short walking trail near the interpretive centre where you will find more interpretive panels and a high point for viewing. I also found what looked like old sweat lodges nearby. There are longer walking trails but most of the interpretive information was destroyed in the 2013 flood and have not been replaced. You can also book over night stays in a teepee.  

Saamis Tepee

Next stop - the world’s tallest tepee (20 storeys tall), originally constructed for Calgary’s 1988 Winter Olympics and located at McMahon Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies, is now installed in Medicine Hat.  This very impressive structure is located on the edge of the Seven Persons coulee, that includes one of the best Northern Plains archaeological sites – the Saamis Archaeological Site.  It is believed 83 million artifacts are buried at the site. I have no idea how they can make this estimate. 

Backstory: The name “Medicine Hat” is the English translation of Saamis (SA-MUS), the Blackfoot word for the eagle tail feather headdress worn by medicine men.

The white ghost-like tepee with its 10 large storyboards, explains the history of the area from prehistoric times to the present.  Several large circular paintings help create an informative  outdoor museum/art gallery.  We didn’t do the self-guided walking tour of the archaeological site.  Next time.

I couldn’t help but wonder why Calgary didn’t keep the tepee as a legacy of the Olympics. It would have been a great addition to Fort Calgary, which was an important gathering place for First Nations. It could also have been installed on Nose Hill, another important First Nations site.  It would have been a spectacular site lit up at night.  Medicine Hat's win; Calgary's loss.

Bonus: Be sure to check out the Visitor Center near the tepee - they have an abundance of great information, as well as FREE bikes.  Yep, just give them your ID information, leave your vehicle there and quickly you are off exploring the 150+ km of trails in the city.  Next time?

Downtown Fun

Medicine Hats lovely turn-of-the-century historic downtown is a fun place to flaneur.  Two of our stops were thrift stores – but unfortunately, we didn’t unearth any treasures.  However we did find the world’s largest chess set (behind the Library) and if we had more time, we would have played a game. 

We did find the patio at LOCAL (a welcome site given the 30+ sunny day) and enjoyed some local craft beer – Hell’s Basement and Medicine Hat Brewery Company beers were on tap.  My favourite was Hell’s Basement’s “Ryes Against The Machine.”

FYI: The Hell’s Basement name comes from a 1907 quote by Rudyard Kipling, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat. And you don’t even think of changing the name of your town. It’s all your own and the only hat of its kind on earth.” 

Dunmore Road SE

Most regular Everyday Tourist readers know we love finding off the beaten path spots when we visit a city.  In Medicine Hat’s case, it was a small, outdoor shopping mall along Dumore Road SE. Driving by, we spotted a window full of brightly coloured circles.  We had to stop.   Soon we were inside Rings & Things, a funky accessories/gift/home décor shop with the largest collection of UMBRA products we have ever seen. Turns out the quirky display was made of coloured Styrofoam plates – how simple; how clever. 

Also in the mall was McBrides Bakery a Medicine Hat institution, unfortunately it was closed on Friday night when we discovered Rings & Things, so we headed back first thing Saturday morning. It is famous for its giant apple fritters and tasty croissants.  Definitely worth the trip back - and a “must visit” when in The ‘Hat (not far off the TransCanada Highway, it might even be worth a stop if just passing through).

Also in the mall was an interesting home décor store Kerry Jayms Lighting and Décor and (on good authority) Dress Your Lashes Fashion Accessories is also worth a visit. 

Too much to see and do…too little time!

Not Tell Hotel Fun

The ’Hat has retained some of its mid-century motel charm along the TransCanada Highway.  We enjoyed our stayed at the Travelodge with its coloured silhouette running lights that give it a bit of a Las Vegas vibe at night.  It was very popular with families with its pool with a waterslide.

Not sure why but we got the huge family room with two queen beds and a bunk bed with double on bottom, but it would be perfect for a family travelling with a grandparent or two.

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

I was told the colour of these running lights can be changed to allow them to celebrate special events or to recognize the colours of visiting sports teams staying at the Lodge. 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Anybody know what dataport is? 

Hutterite Culture Market

Entering the Saturday farmers’ market at Medicine Hat’s Rodeo Grounds is like entering a different culture with the presence of Hutterites from several colonies selling their vegetables.  We arrived early and unbeknownst to us, we entered through a side door (we later learned it was for vendors) and had the place to ourselves for about 20 minutes.  We had no idea that there were probably 100 people lined up to get in at the public entrance.  We not only loved the great produce at great prices, but the sellers mostly young Hutterite women, with their charming demeanour and colourful dresses. 

Note: Wouldn’t it be great if the Calgary Stampede could find a way to host a weekend market at Stampede Park from after Stampede to Thanksgiving?  After all, it started as an agricultural fair.

Windmill Garden Centre & Butterfly Garden

This place is huge…would be very fun to be there in the spring when its full of bedding out plants. Still, it was fun to look at the perennials and the garden giftware.  The Butterfly Garden was a bit of a disappointment as there were only a few butterflies when we visited.  I was told they get a fresh shipment of butterflies about every two weeks with the number and variety of varying each time.  Too bad the admission price doesn’t vary with the number of butterflies on view.  If butterflies are your thing, check when they are getting their shipment and time your visit accordingly. 

Medalta Pottery

The Medalta Pottery is indeed an innovative industrial museum, art gallery and contemporary ceramic arts facility.  We arrived Saturday morning, took a quick look around and decided to come back for the 1:00pm guided tour to get a better appreciation for the history of the site.  (Note: Unfortunately, the 60 to 75-minute guided tours are only offered on weekends at 1 pm.) 

Medicine Hat had three things going for it that lead to it producing 75% of Canada’s pottery products early in the 20th century. 

  • First, a ready supply of natural gas provided a reliable source of heat for the kilns.
  • Second, an abundant supply of clay (for centuries the South Saskatchewan River deposited alluvial silt along its banks. As early as 1885 these clays deposits were tested for their brick-making potential and found to be of excellent quality. 
  • Third, the railway was right there enabling easy shipping across the country.

Though, many of the clay products factories in Medicine Hat were small businesses, two large-scale plants dominated the industry - Medicine Hat Brick & Tile and Alberta Clay Products.

Today, Medalta is the setting for a living, working museum, vibrant education centre, contemporary art gallery and 12,000 square foot contemporary ceramics studio for visiting artists from around the world.

Give yourself at least two hours to take the tour, then explore the museum and wander the site. 

If you happen to be in Medicine Hat on a Thursday in the summer – bonus! A vibrant farmers’ market (4:30 to 8:30pm) on site includes food trucks, artisans, live music and a bar. 

Medalta Historic Clay District History Link

Backstory: One of our reasons for this trip was see if we could get more information on set of vintage “Jill” pattern plates by Hycroft as an exhaustive Google search yielded no information. While we couldn’t get any help from the weekend staff, we were given a name and contact information, who provided much helpful information.
Do we keep them or Kijiji them, that is the question?

Walk In The Park

I took a walk with a buddy at the park-like Medicine Hat Golf & Country Club, with its beautiful century old trees and South Saskatchewan River vistas. While Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” I would argue, “ Golf is a good walk enhanced by 14 clubs.”

For nature walk purists, there is Police Point Park, a 400-acre natural reserve bordered on three sides by the South Saskatchewan River.  One of its signature attractions is its ancient, gnarled (the result of past floods) cottonwood trees. Great for photos and bird watching. Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, American Kestrel, Juncos, House Finches, Bald Eagles, Blue Herons and several types of owls have all been seen.

Where to Eat & Drink

LOCAL - best patio and great beer. Lots of shade - critical when summer temperatures are routinely above 30 degrees in a city boasting 330 days of sunshine.

Inspire – bright charming corner bistro / art gallery.  Good soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.  We are still drooling over the carrot cake.  

Thai Orchid Room - we didn’t make it to the Orchid but we have it on good authority (including CBC restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist) it is outstanding.  He loved the extensive, traditional, authentic menu with an extensive tea list and great service, rating it 8 out of 10.

Heartwood – located in the old Eaton’s store downtown, the soups are to “die for” (signature soup is roasted red pepper and tomato) and staff is very friendly.  Note: Not open weekends.

Station Coffee – best spot for a coffee, popular breakfast spot, good vibe, gluten free and vegetarian options - get there early.  Hot tip: try the caramel latte.

Last Word

If you live in Calgary, next time you are considering a (long) day road trip or weekend getaway, consider The ‘Hat. If you are passing through on the TransCanada Highway, give yourself some time to explore the city.

Berlin: Street Collages

One of my favourite things to do these days is to combine photographs to create fun and sometimes strange collages using the UNION app.

Over the past few weeks I have been playing with photos from streets of Berlin which has resulting what I think are some very visually intense and interesting images / artworks. 

Here are some samples. Love to get some feedback! 

Leipzig: Night Walk Postcards

Thanks to my 2-year old neighbour, who is now 3, I have become a big fan of “night walks.”  He and I have enjoyed flaneuring the streets and back alleys of our neighbourhood since he was just over a year old, but last September he started wanting to go for walks after dinner with his Papa and I got invited. 

I had never appreciated how different residential streets are in the evening. It is a great way to wind down and reflect on the day's happenings. 

I loved these walks so much I started to do my own “night walks” when on vacation in other cities.  Most recently, my “night walks” were along the historic streets and canals of Leipzig Germany which take on an entirely different look at night.

Here are a few postcards from Leipzig at night…hope you enjoy.

Montreal: Canada's Best Urban Playground?

Forget Toronto. Forget Vancouver. If you are looking for a fun urban adventure, plan a Montreal getaway.  And, not just because Montreal will be celebrating its 375th anniversary with numerous special festivities in 2017, but because Montreal’s everyday “joie de vivre” makes it a great urban playground anytime.

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click  here  for more info

In the underground of the Les Cours Mont-Royal building is the world's largest collection of Barbie Dolls - over 1,000.  How playful is that? Click here for more info

Colourful

Montreal has done a spectacular job utilizing colour to add a sense of play and warmth to their winter pedestrian experience.  The large red dot lights projected on the sidewalks in several locations and a half block-long window with its rows of neon dots that change colour as you walk distract from the cold outside.  

But the piece de la resistance is the block-long west wall of the Palais des Congres (Montreal Convention Centre) composed of 58 glass panels of yellow, pink, green and blue that really brightens up a cloudy day. And on days when the sun shines, the inside is a magical kaleidoscope of colours.  

With Calgary’s abundant sunshine and amazing collection of glass towers and +15 glass bridges, we should be a world leader in the use of coloured glass as a means of creating a unique sense of place. Instead of all the black, beige and grey facades imagine if more buildings were like Battisella’s Beltline condo, Colours.

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

The glass facade of Montreal's Convention Centre at night. 

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

No this is not the Montreal's Red Light District, it is just a way to add some fun to those who are out for an evening stroll, even in the winter.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Even Montreal's Metro Stations are colourful and playful.

Scavenger Hunt

I thought Calgary was doing pretty well with its proliferation of funky street art, but it pales in comparison to Montreal.  Wandering Montreal’s rues and avenues, I was forever pulling out my camera - over 100 street art photos in all (and I didn’t take photos of every one).  It was a fun scavenger hunt experience.

And while street art is fun with its cartoon-like characters, Montreal’s urban landscape is full of clever murals. It turns out local and international muralist transforms St Laurent Boulevard into an outdoor gallery every June during its annual Mural Festival. (I have added it to my bucket list).

Imagine how much more pedestrian-friendly our City Centre would if more of Calgary’s blank walls had murals like Doug Driediger’s “Giving Wings to the Dream” on the east wall of the old CUPS building on 7th Ave SW.  

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

This cartoon-like street art is just one of a many pieces that convert a back alley into an art gallery. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

Another playful piece of street art. 

 On The Wall

Montreal En Lumiere festival (February 23 to March 11, 2017) is one of largest annual winter festivals in the world - attendance exceeds one million every year.  

The festival’s amazing light installations create a circus-like atmosphere at the Place des Festivals (Calgary’s equivalent being Olympic Plaza).  What I particularly love about this festival is how it continues, on a smaller scale, throughout the year.  Year-round, blank walls throughout the City Centre come to life at night with changing colourful images projected on them. Imagine what it must be like when 1000 projectors and 185 loudspeakers animate their winter nights.  (Another one for my bucket list).

Old Montreal’s “Cite Memories” features 20 movies projected on the sides of historical buildings that tell Montreal’s history.  Download a free app and you can to listen as you watch or walk around.  Wouldn’t that be great for Stephen Ave, Inglewood and Kensington?

Calgary has tried to do a Winter Festival many times and failed. Perhaps it is a case of “go big or go home!” Rather than sending Calgary Transit officials on a junket to explore electronic fares systems (which they could do in Montreal), why not send our best festival producers to Montreal to investigate how to create a successful Winter Festival. (Montreal actually has two major winter festivals - Igloofest is a dance electronic music fest from Jan 12 to Feb 19, 2017).

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie.  

Just one of dozens of projections on blank walls in Montreal's City Centre.  This piece was like a silent movie. 

Millennial Madness

With Montreal’s City Center being home to 170,000 post-secondary students it has the distinction of having North America’s largest student population (including 18,000 International students).  They may be there for an education, but they also generate a “party-on” atmosphere. Case in point – I was in a 30-minute line up during a snowstorm to get into a “pop-up” cocktail lounge serving up $12 Christmas-themed cocktails to a room full of millennials. 

Might a good use of Calgary’s empty downtown office space be an international university campus? Perhaps Mayor Nenshi can persuade his alma mater Harvard Business School to open in Calgary. 

Loop   is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

Loop is a cross between a music box, a zoetrope and a railway handcar – the familiar pump-powered vehicles from Bugs Bunny cartoons. The retro-futuristic machine plays animated fairy-tale loops set in motion when visitors work the lever together. When the cylinder starts spinning, it lights up, making the series of still images appear to move. 

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

People of all ages this unique urban playground.

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

One of several Winter Markets that we encountered as we flaneured Montreal's City Centre. 

Unique Streets

While every city has its signature shopping streets, Montreal has dozens – St. Catherine, St. Laurent, St. Denis, Mont-Royal, Laurier, St. Viateur and St. Hubert to name a few.  While St. Catherine, like Vancouver’s Robson or Toronto’s Queen Streets, is full of national and international franchises, Montreal’s other streets house primarily local shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, clubs and galleries (no Starbucks on every corner).  

The number of fashion boutiques with locally designed clothing is impressive, as are the number of commercial art and artisan galleries. And Montreal has the most restaurants on a per capita basis of any major city in North America. In Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy, Little Burgundy and Griffintown, the shopping streets are chock-a-block full of interesting local shops.  Montreal is an amazing incubator of fashion designers, artists, artisans, event producers, chefs, bakers, baristas etc. 

While Calgary is spending millions of dollars creating pretty streetscapes to attract more people to Kensington, Inglewood and 17th Avenue, Montreal’s sidewalks are at best “adequate” - no designer benches, expensive lamp posts with banners, or “special” crosswalks to be found.  People don’t come to areas to look at banners or sit on pretty benches, they come to shop, dine, drink and meet friends.  A little grittiness doesn’t hurt anyone – in fact a street’s unique patina is part of its charm. 

What also makes Montreal’s vibrant streets unique is the lack of gentrification, i.e. replacing older buildings with newer buildings that in turn displaces lower income people and attracts more affluent residents. There are not a lot of new cookie-cutter condos with retail at street level except in downtown and Griffintown. Montreal makes do with the existing inventory of low-rise buildings from the mid 20th century, thereby keeping rents more affordable for “mom and pop” businesses.  

With so much to sip and savour, Montreal’s streets epitomize what Jane Jacobs, the influential 1960s urban activist meant when she said street vitality is directly linked to the number of doors that open onto the street - more doors the better. 

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Rue St-Hubert is a five-block long street with over 400 mom and pop businesses - from thrift stores to wedding shops.  A canopy over the sidewalk, protect pedestrians from the elements and creates a unique sense of place.

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

Seems like everywhere you go in Montreal there are shops along the streets. These shops create an attractive pedestrian environment. 

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

St. Catherine's Street in the downtown core is still lined with stores that attract shoppers at all times of the day, seven days a week, not the lobby of office buildings or high-end restaurants.

 Family Fun

Gobsmacked best describes my reaction to Montreal’s Desjardins Complex built in 1976. It consists of three office towers and a Hyatt Regency Hotel atop an indoor shopping centre.  From the outside it isn’t anything special, but inside the six-storey high, multi-purpose event space comes complete with a permanent dancing fountain (with lights and music) is very impressive.  

At Christmas, it is transformed into a Christmas wonderland with stage for festive performances, old fashioned carousel, mini-train for kids’ rides, face painting and yes, even a Santa Castle where kids get to meet Santa.  The place is packed with families each December.

Calgary missed a huge opportunity to create a dynamic indoor programming space as part of Bankers Hall, The Bow, Eighth Avenue Place or the redeveloped Core and Devonian Gardens.

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience    #MTLGO  , an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

This is the entrance to the elevators that get you to Montreal's observation deck on the 45th floor of the Place de Ville Marie. Once you are there you can experience  #MTLGO, an interactive multimedia exhibition, designed by Montréal-based company gsmprject°. It explores many popular city themes—from hockey to gastronomy to performing arts to neighbourhoods—through 55 videos of citizens and Montréal personalities as well as 500 photos culled from the city’s social media and archives.  You could easily spend a hour or more with this entertaining and educational exhibition. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

We nicknames Montreal's Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Fun Art given not only the fun artwork on display, but also the fun way it was exhibited. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

Montreal is home to Cirque du Soleil, which is fun for everyone. 

 Last Word

While not a fan of imitating what other cities do, Calgary developers, urban designers, planners, festival/event managers and politicians could well be inspired by Montreal’s unique and creative city building strategies. 

For the rest of us, Montreal is full of fun urban surprises.  Our best surprise was Crew Collective & Café – you have to see it to believe it! 

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Berlin: New Year's Eve Insanity

I am still in shocked 24 hours after the insane New Year’s Eve celebration in Berlin.

My girlfriend warned me about a week in advance. But to be honest, I thought it sounded a bit ridiculous, though I did notice that strangely every store starting to sell mass amounts of fireworks to the public the week before New Years.

In Canada, it is illegal to launch fireworks within a city without a license. So, I imagined perhaps a few people setting off some minor fireworks, but nothing too crazy. Well, I was wrong. Really, Really, Really Wrong.

Firework Bandits

At 10am on New Year’s Eve day we headed to the nearby grocery store (as German grocery stores close for multiple days for any reason possible) and in the span of the 10-minute walk, we heard 20+ explosions.

These we not little firecrackers. 

They sounded like missiles going off in a war torn area of the world (at least that’s how I imagine it, never having actually been to a war torn area). Massive explosions in the distance echoing, in broad daylight - it really startled me! I didn’t expect to hear explosions going off constantly.

Then I had my first run-in with some firework bandits. A few homeless people were throwing illegal-looking Polish fireworks (distinctively large and extremely dangerous compared to the ones sold in stores) that made very loud explosions.  

The problem wasn’t necessarily the fireworks themselves, but the fact they were throwing them very close to the 20 or so people at the bus stop (which honestly scared the shit out of me while walking past).

I shook it off thinking surely this must be a bit of an anomaly.

A little later, we went for another walk and a random guy, standing in a doorway, lit a firework as we passed and threw it at RIGHT at our feet. With a sparkling fuse appearing below my feet, I decided to run and grabbed my girlfriend before a deafening blast ripped behind us. 

What in the F*** is going on here? 

The strangest part was no one really seemed to care, as if this was all of a sudden ‘normal’ and allowed. It was like the movie PURGE where all violence becomes legal for one day.    The atmosphere on the streets was a mixture of fear, excitement and expectation.

After our walk, I went to the gym so we parted ways. After the gym, I got on an empty bus. Hmmm, I thought, this is weird. This bus is never empty...UNLESS IT’S THE PURGE!!! 

I couldn’t help but feel like this was so similar to that film, except this time it was fireworks. As this strangely empty bus winded through the familiar turns, I could see local convenience stores turned into full blown firework armories - stocking the mischievous with an arsenal of explosive fireworks as well as the liquor to give them confidence to set them off.

It was insane!

People didn’t seem to want to wait for midnight - from about 5pm onwards it was a constant barrage of fireworks shot off balconies and in local parks. I thought it was pretty awesome, but then I realized we were planning to go to my girlfriend’s family’s place, which meant venturing outside again. However, thanks to some “questionable” takeout we both started to not feel so well and decided to stay in.

Start the insanity

What happened is probably one of Berlin’s best-kept secrets - partly because it was one of the most insane things I have ever witnessed, partly because no one told me about it and partly because of our 10th floor vantage point.

The entire city erupted into fireworks and I mean ENTIRE.  No, no, no. Not like a Canada Day fireworks – a 20-minute grand spectacle after which everyone waits in traffic for two hours trying to get home.

I am talking about THOUSANDS of fireworks going off at the same time in every direction, from everywhere you look. So intense, the city was covered in smoke for hours. AND THIS WAS JUST THE LEAD UP. 

Finally, at midnight the city just became unhinged. Watching fireworks at the same elevation that they are exploding at is equal parts awesome and terrifying, as the people below you shoot a roman candle that erupts right out front of your window – in your face!

I have no idea how the whole city didn’t get lit on fire. During the spectacle, there were ZERO cars on the road (and we live on a major road). I am convinced this is because of the danger of driving during the hour of insanity. Sorry, I did see one car drive and he was easily going 180 km/hr. in an attempt to avoid getting shot at by multiple roman candles.

This crazy zombie firework apocalypse was awesome.

(Canmore artist, Dan Hudson's 2012 video captures the insanity perfectly. Link Hudson's website which includes work from Berlin)

Last Word

If you ever have a chance to be in Berlin on New Years Eve, do not go clubbing. Go see the fireworks - and bring a posse with body armor and a few roman candles to protect yourself.

Oh, and despite the insanity, nobody got hurt that I am aware of, no buildings were burned down and there were no complaints in the media. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. 

Guest Blog by Gaelan Taylor, a Calgary millennial living in Berlin and immersing himself into that city’s electronic music scene.

Everyday Tourist’s Note

One has to wonder if this war-like celebration of New Year’s in Berlin is an extension of Germany’s past, which includes centuries of war.  Watching Dan Hudson’s 2012 New Year’s Eve video, it would be hard not to think Berlin was under attack.  This is a classic example of the important role of travel in fostering a better appreciation of the world we share - be that beauty, festivals, history, art, architecture, food, poverty or violence.

As a Canadian baby boomer, I have no understanding or appreciation for the culture of war or terrorism and how it can becomes part of the psyche of people, communities, cities and nations. 

And for that naiveté, I’m very grateful.

Gaelan’s Retort

I disagree on your culture of war thinking. It is something you can feel when you are in Berlin - this could quite possibly be the most peaceful society in Europe and even in the west. I say this because of how INSANE people get at the smallest mention of military. Even in the municipal elections, a right wing neo-conservative group got just a few votes and you could have almost sworn the German people were acting like Hitler 2.0 was coming. Extreme sensitivity.

From my perspective, there is different sense of liberty in Berlin compared to Canada. Yes, fireworks are free to use in the city for one day. However, not a ton of bad stuff happens at New Years, nothing more than other cities.

Berliners freak out a whole lot less about “what could go wrong” and lo’ and behold, almost every time it is much less a problem than people anticipate. The result is something really beautiful, something impossible for me to put in words.

FYI….On January 2nd Everyday Tourist booked a month in Berlin.  

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MBAM: The Human Hand

When I visit an art gallery/museum, I can’t help but look at the exhibition(s) from a curator’s perspective and wonder what would I do differently.  It’s a bit of a case of “once a curator, always a curator,” having organized 100+ exhibitions over 10 years at Calgary’s Muttart Public Art Gallery from 1985 to 1995 (a precursor to what is now Contemporary Calgary). 

Questions?

Upon entering a gallery, my mind immediately starts questioning.  Is there an exhibition theme? What is the curator trying to say to the public? Why did the curator choose these particular works? Why are they hung like they are? Is there a more logical way to group the art?  Why is this work beside that one?

I never read the curator’s statement first (though it is usually on the wall at the entrance to the gallery), as I don’t want to be influenced by his/her thinking.  But often I will read it after I have reviewed the exhibition and then sometimes revisit the artworks to determine how well the art and statement connect.  Does it help me gain new insights about the art and the exhibition? Is the statement public friendly or art gibberish? As I said, “Once a curator, always a curator!”

Especially when visiting large galleries with many exhibitions, I like to make it fun by looking at all the art with one theme in mind. Maybe a colour, brushwork, shadows, faces or architecture – whatever catches my eye first.

Why Hands?

Recently, when at the Musee des beaux-arts de Montreal (MBAM), Canada’s second largest art gallery, (the largest being the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto), I decided to study how hands were portrayed in various artworks from contemporary to traditional, from photography to sculptures.

Backstory: The idea came from a photo I took of the lovely second floor columns of the historic Bourgie Concert Hall, across the street from the MBAM. When I checked the photo, I surprisingly, noticed, a cluster of fingers in the foreground where the head should be of life-size “winged figure” sculpture. 

It was only when working on this blog, that I learned the sculpture by David Altmejd’s titled is titled “The Eye.”  

 

My curatorial statement can be found at the end of the blog for those interested. I should also add that if you are in Montreal, be sure to designate a few hours to visit MBAM. 

Without further adieu, here is my curated exhibition of close-up photos of hands from various artworks on exhibit at MBAM in December 2016. 

Curatorial Statement

The images were chosen to reflect the tremendous range of emotions that can be – and are - portrayed by the human hand - from a sense of innocence to strength and power; from tenderness to love and passion.  The images hopefully also evoke a sense of individuality, human interaction and/or intimacy that strike a cord with everyone's personal experiences. 

The images were also selected to illustrate how different media - from photography to painting and artists have employed different genres from realism to primitivism - for centuries to convey a sense of the human experience. 

And thirdly, images with a strong narrative were chosen in the hope they would spark some thoughtful personal reflection and memories about the viewer's life.    

No artists’ names or artwork titles are included, thereby allowing the viewer to focus on the image and not be distracted or swayed by peripheral information. Ponder the hands based on your own experiences and ideas to create your own meaning and significance for each image and for the exhibition as a whole.

Ideally, in doing so you will have gained a new appreciation for the “human hand” both in art and in everyday life. 

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