This streetscape is one of Saint John’s treasures. The group of “jellybean” buildings are c.1860 Second Empire row houses with sophisticated carved window and door surrounds. They are colourful and quaint, old and attractive. They remind us the time when most buildings in the city centre were wood, and the fact that most burnt in the Great Fire of 1877.
A few steps down the street in either direction are modern office buildings, brick and concrete, glass and steel. They house scores of office workers, shops and businesses. They are tall enough to command a view across the city. They are not particularly notable as architecture and do not attract tourists, but they are also a vital part of the city.
The beautifully painted row houses are now locally famous because a citizen’s group lobbied — successfully — to save them from the wrecking ball. The city was concerned that they were decrepit and needed the land to build a new office building. Over time, the old wooden buildings became more expensive to maintain, and the new concrete buildings became easier to construct.
The question is always one of balance, between a city’s historic heart and its economic vitality, between something old — to keep us rooted, and something new — to give us wings.
Photo taken on January 20, 2011
Fact #1: U.S. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was shot yesterday. Some commentators are linking the shooting in Tucson to violent language on multiple websites, at least one of which showed Giffords’ congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.
Fact #2: Yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic about the cost of believing everything you find on the internet. The gullibility of the public has allowed radicals and reactionaries to succeed in smear campaigns against their targets, even when their accusations have been proven to be false, because the public loves sensational scandal and ignores the truth that is later uncovered.
Fact #3: I spent more than six hours yesterday reading news feeds and bookmarked blog posts, and catching up on the expected results of South Sudan’s referendum, participating in an online conversation about Saint John’s uptown, and reading about the advantage of planned spending over budgeting.
* * *
If I wanted to remain virtually connected at this rate, I would have to devote at least two hours per day to reading online, and that would be mostly scanning the headlines. No wonder it’s hard to separate facts from fiction and to get a balanced view of the world.
And, in case you haven’t noticed, much of the noise out there (in the virtual world) is recycled information, broken up into byte-sized pieces. Sometimes the information is whitewashed, sometimes it’s muddied. And it’s all thrown together into the great washing machine of the internet, socks and underwear, tourniquets and tennis shoes, the bleeding red bandana and the white silk shirt. The internet does not sort and weigh the information, it does not separate the world’s laundry into the sheep and the wolves.
So take care what you say online, even in jest. Check your temper at the door but do not check your brain. Take care in what you read, and especially what you believe and pass on for fact. It’s not just viruses that we need to guard against. Sadly, very little can be trusted. Everything must be washed, rinsed and hung to dry in the cool light of rational thought.
Photo taken on December 18, 2010
I am a spur-of-the-moment photographer. I tend to take ‘em as I see ‘em. That’s not to say I don’t work with different angles and compositions, and I certainly spend enough time adjusting colour, crop, contrast etc on the computer. But I have to admit that I seldom plan ahead.
Last night was an exception. I had two reasons to take photos. The first was because it was Thursday, and Utata (the Flickr photo group I participate in) always has a weekly project called Thursday walks. The second is the photo conference happening this weekend in Moncton, called Foto Expo, which is also running a contest with the theme “downtown architecture”. I didn’t get out during the daytime because I was making apple chutney, and it took longer than I expected (doesn’t it always). So that’s why I was uptown with a camera and tripod at 8 p.m. last night.
I had been wanting to take a photo of this building for a while, so last night was the perfect opportunity. Finding the puddle was a bonus. I’m really glad I planned ahead and brought the equipment I needed for this photo shoot. I spent about 40 minutes in this parking lot (my car is the 2nd from the right) and took photos of this Old Post Office building from several angles. In fact, it was so much fun, I might do it again (plan ahead, that is)!
Photo taken on October 28, 2010
After you’ve lived in one place for a while, it’s easy to think you’ve seen it all. The same architecture, the same streets, the same sprawling malls, the same old, same old. And then one day you’re walking around a corner, looking for something else, only half paying attention, and there it is: something different. Hello, says the red vine, waving brightly from its yellow wall. Hellooooo, do you see me?
On another note, I’ve decided to post entries only on weekdays. As the days get darker, weekends are getting busier and sometimes I’d rather sleep in… So now you don’t have to waste, er, invest your weekends reading my blog, but I hope you’ll keep dropping by on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And thanks as always for your excellent comments!
Taken on October 2, 2010
The sun is up, and the air feels fresh. Light is streaming between buildings, casting bright reflections from one side of the street to the other. Walking through the cool shade, you suddenly emerge into blinding light. There is a fluttering of wings as pigeons scatter through the park. Looking down King Street, you can see the sun sparkle on the open water at the bottom of the hill. A seagull calls as it soars high above the bridge. You might stop for a coffee, or maybe meet a friend along the way. The thing is, to get moving. The rest of the day beckons.
Taken on September 14, 2010
There’s no question of reconciliation. The siding is different, the doors are different, the steps are on different levels. The colours clash, the decorative details don’t match, the parking signs don’t even agree. Yet here we are: two neighbours with adjoining walls, sharing the same side of the street, the same views from the front steps, the same noises and cooking smells. Maybe it’s important to maintain some difference, and keep our separate ways, separate.
Taken on May 7, 2009
The fog had rolled in while we were enjoying supper in a pub at the foot of Princess Street. The bright afternoon had given way to a different mood, a more contemplative setting for our walk back to the car. The shops had closed, no tourists were lingering about. As we strolled up the hill, a few pedestrians walked quickly by, their heads turned toward home. It was easy to imagine this city a century ago, looking much like this, the uptown streets quiet in the evening.
Taken on August 9, 2010
There is a certain style to these 19th century apartment buildings in the South End. This photo is taken from a deck behind four adjoining brick buildings that overlook Queen’s Square. From the top windows you can see out across the harbour to Patridge Island. Some of the plaster moulding and wood floors are original, along with the lovely high ceilings and tall windows. The rooms are huge by today’s standards. In the apartment we rented for six months, the outside walls (which are shared between the buildings) had been uncovered down to the brick, revealing the original fireplaces. This was the most beautiful of any of the apartments I’ve lived in, anywhere. It would have been perfect, if it wasn’t for the long walk up the stairs!
Taken on May 2, 2009
If you went back in time, before the graffiti and peeling paint, what would you see? I try to picture what the heyday would have looked like for this small corner shop in the South End, a few blocks from the harbour. Maybe it was a butcher shop, a barbershop or a green grocer. Maybe you could buy ice cream sodas here in the summer. I imagine this little corner bustling with activity, tradesmen making deliveries or stopping to talk, leaning against the post while they smoke a cigarette. They move out of the way politely for a young woman with a baby on one hip and a bag of groceries on the other. They pass around a grubby newspaper, scanning the headlines for news of the war, or the stock market, or the horse races…
Imagining the past is not just an exercise in nostalgia. It can help us to see past the grime of neglect in order to recognize potential. It can encourage us to breathe new life into old places as we imagine the future. And I believe that if we can imagine something, we can do it.
Taken on June 12, 2009
The uptown core of Saint John is fairly low key. Aside from a small cluster of tall buildings at the foot of King Street, the majority of the central city — much of which is 19th century streetscape — is no higher than four or five storeys. And since the city core is built on a hill that climbs up from the harbour, that means there are some interesting views if you know where to look. From the deck of this apartment in the South End where we lived last year, just a stone’s throw from the uptown area, we could see fireworks and the upper decks of cruise ships at high tide. We could see sunsets and steeples. And on a clear night we could see stars. In fact, you can see stars from almost everywhere in the city. All you have to do is look up.
Taken on May 2, 2009
Walls are seldom glamourous, architecturally speaking. It’s usually the windows or doors that get all the attention, enhancing their good looks with curtains or fancy plasterwork. Not walls; you don’t look at them, you look for a way around them. But walls have stories, too. You can tell how a building has evolved by noticing different brickwork where a window has been blocked off, or a different style of decoration where a new storey has been added. The quality of stone or masonry or brick says something about the skills, material or money available at the time. I don’t know a lot about these historical details, but I can tell that this wall has been here for a long time, and that these stones would have an interesting story to tell, if only walls could talk.
Taken on May 24, 2009
Sometimes it helps to start with the bones. When the light is wrong or the colour distracting, look for the bones. Reduce the image to light and shadow, line and form, and you will see the essential structure appear, the bones which give shape and rhythm to the whole. This solitary building at the side of the road has strong bones. Whenever I go by I look up at it and wonder about its origins. I think it was once a coachhouse; I imagine prancing horses and proud carriages passing by. And now it is a place of memories, a place with strong bones.
Taken on June 15, 2010
Consider the front door to your house or apartment building. Consider how your door presents itself to strangers, how it is decorative or plain, with windows or without. Consider how inviting it is to guests and discouraging to burglars.
Consider this door, double-wide and tall, made even more impressive by decorative brickwork, raised up a few steps from the street. Consider what it would be like to walk through this door, the weight of the wood as it swings open. Consider how much work it would have been to scrape away the layers of paint that once coated this door, to reveal its marvelous woodwork. Consider what it would be like to leave through this door, pick up the newspaper, and walk to work along the shady street.
Taken on November 16, 2006
There are faces in strange places when you wander the steep streets uptown. This cat-bat-creature is only one of a whole host of grinning and gruesome faces carved into the stonework. They are so easy to miss — passersby have so much on their mind — but when you spot them, they make you smile. And they make me wonder: who were these careful carvers, and what library of art did these faces spring from? Were they caricatures of people they knew, or common symbols from gargoyle history that would be understood by the common people? Did they have a meaning to convey, or were they just entertainment? I don’t know the answers, and I suppose I love the mystery of them, the history they hint at with their weathered eyes.
Taken on June 26, 2009
These cedar shakes are the cat’s meow when it comes to siding. Cedar has a natural preservative and lasts a long time. It is local and plentiful, and environmentally friendly. But like any other type of wood siding, it requires upkeep. Many of the older frame houses have held on to their vintage wood, although vinyl is gradually covering the city. Vinyl siding is lovely to look at, at least for the first 20 years, but what happens after that? Houses aren’t being built to last 100 years any more, either — I’d be surprised if the new ones last longer than 50. They don’t build houses like they used to.
Taken on May 6, 2010
In the city’s core, many houses have no room for gardens. They line the streets, sturdy brick buildings standing shoulder to shoulder, a few steps leading up to a front door. They may have started out as single family dwellings, with kitchens in the basement and servants in the attic, but now most have been divided into apartments. The main floor is often more luxurious, featuring larger windows and decorative plasterwork. I wonder what it would have been like to live here 100 years ago when the houses were new and so much of the city was still a dream to be discovered.
Taken on June 27, 2009
Imagine a city without trees, where concrete and tar turn apartment blocks into ovens. Imagine a city without sky, where you can’t tell the weather without watching TV. Imagine a city where parking lots are the only parks, where pigeons are the only birds, where everyone spends their whole lives indoors. Now stop. Look out your closest window: do you see a tree? Do you see sky or something green and alive? Good. Now turn off your computer, go outside and play.
Taken on June 21, 2009
There are times when distractions fall away and all you see is line and colour, shadow and light. At other times, a face catches at you, a brief glimpse of an unguarded look, eyes with wordless need. When I see this little girl, watching from her tower window, I wonder is she lonely? Or does she prefer her detached view of the world, where we are always on the other side of the glass.
Taken on May 22, 2010
When I lived in Ontario, I missed the fog. There was smog, yes, but it’s not the same. The fog has life to it. It moves and hunkers down, opens up and closes in. It creeps up from the cold Bay of Fundy, cooling the air, muffling the sound of traffic, softening the shadows. It can move surprisingly quickly, slipping into town the moment you’ve turned your back. I always knew, growing up here, that a day at the beach is not complete without a sweater, because you never knew when the fog would come in.
Taken on May 31, 2009
At noon, with the sun high overhead, everything looks flat because the shadows don’t stretch out to either side. Unless, that is, there is room for the shadows to stretch down. And here in the city, in the canyons between buildings, the unexpected shadows reveal an Escher-like world when the sun is high overhead.
Taken on May 21, 2010
There is a ruggedness about parts of the city that appeals to my Maritime heart. There’s something about the way the old houses cling to outcrops of bare rock that expresses the stubborn tenacity that is part of life here. There’s sadness here, but also strength, and the two qualities spring from the same source, the same history, the same foundation.
Taken on May 22, 2010
It was noon, and the bright sun was lighting up the buildings on the other side of the alley. I turned to the shadow side, and found this symmetrical wall with its understated 19th century architectural elegance.
Taken on May 21, 2010