Sunday, June 15, 2008

Rain, rain go away, please! i'm begging you.

It's been 3 months since I returned from Vancouver and I still don't know what to say about it. Disappointed? Confused? Sad? Maybe all of the above. And then some. My lack of enthusiasm about the city could be the reason that I've not hurried to finish this post. 

I can't blame Vancouver wholy. I was there for work. I came straight from London - a city I love. And the weather was crap.

I left London at 3:30pm. I arrived in Toronto at 5:30pm. Adrian met me at the airport so I could hand over my dirty laundry, dry cleaning and trinkets that I wouldn't need in Vancouver. And so I could give him the black bin bag full of proper British goodies that had caused me so much grief to and at Gatwick. We had dinner at the Swiss Pigeon at the airport - ah romance. Then I boarded my 8:30pm WestJet flight to Vancouver com - 5 hours of a baby that didn't just cry it wailed, something seatback television can't fix. 

By the time I got to the Opus Hotel and checked in it was midnight and I had been awake for 24 hours. The room was lovely. The bathroom however was not for the faint of heart. It ran the width of the room overlooking the street and I do mean overlooking the street. One wall was floor to ceiling windows. Needless to say, I kept the shades down the entire stay. That wasn't the only odd thing about the Opus. On weekends, the lobby turned into a nightclub complete with bouncers who made us show our room keys to get into the hotel. But it wasn't a cool nightclub - instead it seemed full of suburbanites with too much money and not a lot of sense. And gang members. In fact one night while having a drink, my co-workers and I found ourselves surrounded by 7 police officers in windbreakers with "gang task force" written on the back. Soon they zeroed in on two guys and removed them from the bar. Weird, very weird.

Vancouver was full of oddities like that. Despite being surrounded by beautiful mountains and the sea, the city itself is downright ugly. Most of it seems to have popped up in the last 20 years. All concrete and glass condos devoid of any personality or redeeming features. When combined with the constant drizzle this did not make for a happy trip. 

I did some Lonely Planet walking tours that took me from Yaletown where I was staying to Chinatown and Gastown. Most of the downtown was more of the concrete and glass condos except for Granville with it's numerous neon theatre signs. And then I noticed that the streets went from retro to rundown. Dear old LP neglected to mention that they were taking me to Main & Hastings until I was at Main & Hastings. This is the poorest postal code in Canada and the New York City of heroin addicts. Although it was the weekend, the streets were heaving with junkies wandering aimlessly. Occasionally, men in a reflective vests would weave through the crowds sweeping up syringes from the sidewalk. I wish I could say I was exaggerating. Once I realized where I was I put the camera away - this wasn't a zoo and these people weren't attractions. 

I escaped from the blight in the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden  - a quiet classic garden and oasis downtown. I checked out Chinatown that seemed too orderly and not stinky enough to be real. I walked across Gastown in about two seconds and saw the steam clock that doesn't run on steam. 

Between the constant drizzle and the various disappointments on the tour, I was about to write Vancouver off when a co-worker texted me to meet up. When we met at the old train station, my sightseeing had put me in a foul mood leading the ever-cheerful Cheryl to dub me the crusty traveller. She'd spent the day driving around Stanley Park with a friend. She'd actually seen the mountains and some of the super-natural stuff that makes people think Vancouver is beautiful. When I told her where I'd been, she made it her mission to improve my impression of the city by taking me to Robson via the business district. Sure it was nicer than the boarded up east side but not enough to change my first impression. We walked to the Burrard Street Bridge and along the sea wall back to the hotel at which point our feet were numb. 

Unfortunately, the weather never improved while I was in Vancouver. Unfortunate not just because we were trying to shoot some sunny summer ads in the middle of daily downpours but also unfortunate because it thwarted Cheryl and I's plans to bike out around Stanley Park or go whale watching. Instead we settled for quick trips to Granville Market (meh, probably much cooler if you like shopping and aren't trying to save your money for The Big Trip™) and the Vancouver Art Gallery or what Cheryl insists I call the Vag. The Vag was actually my favourite site in the city. It's the perfect size for an afternoon and the exhibitions were really well thought out. Finally, something I could give thumbs up to in Vancouver.

Actually, there was something else I enjoyed about Vancouver. Thanks to an expense account and my production company, I did get to have some fantastic dinners. Vancouver is known for it's food. And while I wouldn't say it's a worth the flight, it was definitely a highlight.
One night we were taken to Zen - a chichi Chinese nouvelle cuisine restaurant in Richmond. It is supposedly the best Chinese restaurant outside of China. And our dinner consisted of a 9 course tasting menu - foie gras, curried whelk, shark's fin soup, lobster, shredded chicken, sea bass, pork cheek. Interesting and decadent but a little over the top. 

Another night we went to Glowbal. The food was good but the best part was the trick we played on our producer, Meghan, with the help of the great staff there. Producers are the accountants of a shoot (as well as den mothers, nurses, travel agents and all round asskickers) and this job was on a budget. And Meghan was feeling a bit of pressure to keep the spending low. When she called us just after we'd ordered to tell us she'd meet up with us, we decided to test her. With the help of a couple of waiters and a bus boy, we littered the table with empty champagne bottles, and carefully decorated the table cloth with wine glasses and water marks. So by the time we were done, it looked like Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and the rest of Hollywood AA had just relapsed at our table.  When Meghan walked in, she eyed the debris took a deep breath but said nothing. The waiter handed her a wine list and we suggested more champagne. She cautiously said "okay" while she started counting the bottles and the bill. When she asked how much, the waiter casually threw out "It's just a buck fifty a bottle". It was about then that her mental tally finished totalling and the normally calm cool and collected and sweet Meghan lost it. The colour drained from her face before switching to a deep crimson. Screaming at the top of her lungs she let loose on us. "What the f*ck have you guys done?!? I told you, you had a budget! $100 per diem - that's it. What the f*ck have you done!?! Are you serious?!?!" She didn't notice the entire wait staff standing behind her doubled over in laughter and mistook the tears of laughter on our faces for drunkenness. It took a few minutes and a stiff drink to convince her it was a joke. The good sport even picked up the tab leaving a lovely tip for the awesome staff.

We had the biggest plates of Italian food ever at Cafe Luxy.
We had too much sangria at Lolita's
We enjoyed super service and japanese tapas at Guu
We went fancy for sea food at the Blue Water Cafe
We enjoyed doughnuts from Deep Cove.
And many other meals I didn't mean to forget. 

This almost made up for getting soaked to the bone while shooting in Lynn Valley - a park that quickly transitioned from beautiful to horror film when dense fog rolled in. The cast and crew were real troopers and made sure we got what we needed. But I wasn't sad when it was all over. Finally after 2.5 weeks, 8 time zones, 17,000 km, 10 days straight of rain and one lost umbrella, I was back home.