Friday, January 14, 2011

Notable encounters

This post has been brewing for a while. It was originally to highlight some favourite cafes along my bicycle route from Vancouver to North Vancouver, but personal interactions in the midst of "big city" life became the focus as the post began to take shape.

This is Eric, a barista at JJBean on Davie Street in downtown Vancouver. Snippets of conversation, as he takes my order or carefully steams milk for my latte, tell me quite a bit. I know that he has a brother named Scott and another named Steve. I know that some of his days are better than others, and I know that he takes pride in his work. About the third or fourth time I ordered a latte, he extended his hand, and said, "I'm Eric." It was a heartwarming gesture.

The day I asked if it would be okay to take pictures, Eric was really busy. This latte was prepared for another customer. Perfect foam and a beautiful pattern can always be expected at JJ's.

I didn't learn the name of the second employee, but check out the concentration on their faces. This latte was also for another customer.

Ah. Definitely worth the wait.

The smile stays with me as I leave the shop. Thanks, Eric!

Here are Felix (on the right) and Max, the international high school students met one evening when I was struggling to capture the lights of a Christmas Tree at Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park. These next five photos were taken by Felix and sent as links in a blog comment, as promised. I hope both boys have healed from their injuries and are now able to take advantage of some good snowboarding weather before they return to Germany at the end of the month.

Felix's shot of the downtown skyline is spectacular.

This is a part of the False Creek seawall route that I take most days to school. The lights on the boat masts began to appear at the beginning of December, and I tried several times without success to capture the magical atmosphere. I was especially happy to get this one by Felix.

Here is Felix's version of the tree on Lost Lagoon. The lights have now been put away until next year, as have the ones on the tree by Beach Avenue. I haven't been able to find information on when the tradition of lighting these particular trees began, but hope it continues for many years to come.

And, a pop-art photo that shows Felix's versatility. Thanks again, gentlemen. I won't forget you.

This is Mathew Curry. I was rushing to let him get on with his work, and my photo really doesn't do him justice, but his smile, and his willingness to hold the tray of my favourite muffins over the glass give a good idea of his personality. He is at work at Brazza's by six every week day morning, and usually takes my order when I stop in on the way to school for a latte to go and more often than not, one of these vegan "crantastic" muffins. I've learned a bit about Mat. He loves running and cycling and sometimes competes in weekend races. He'll often ask how my ride was, and like the other people featured here, he brightens the day.

*If you are wondering about the time on the clock, we had a late start for the first day back after the holiday.

After Mat takes the order, I move along to Roman, who pours the brew carefully, but always takes a few seconds to ask about my day.
There is a homey feeling about Brazza and a connection to Italy that I enjoy. This Vancouver Sun article, published in 2003 when Brazza first opened, provides some background information about the owners, Tony and Lino Mastrangelo. They still have family in Italy, and Lino travelled there recently. Lino works what I suspect are crazy hours, but he, like the rest of his staff, always takes time to make sure that his patrons not only get a "beautiful, good cup" but feel welcomed as well.

I knew that my "crantastic" shot in the restaurant hadn't succeeded very well, so I stopped on Fell Street bridge, laid the muffin carefully on my pannier, and did one more photo. Bill and I love to meet our friend, Dianne, at Brazza's on weekends, and these muffins go really well with the delicious coffee.
The sun brought out the muffin beautifully, but I was glad no one walked by.
It would have been just a tiny bit embarrassing to be caught taking a picture of a muffin on a bridge.

Another place that must be mentioned is Thomas Haas. Located across the street from my school, the chocolates, pastries, coffee and hot chocolate keep our staff and students coming back for more, day after day. But, as is often the case, the people there greatly add to the experience. This is Heather, and although I missed a good focus, I did manage to capture her friendly smile. Heather often takes my order, and, even on the rainiest days, can be counted on for some personal sunshine.

As one customer noted when I explained I was taking pictures for my blog, Thomas hardly needs any advertisement. The line-ups are long in both the North Vancouver and Kitsilano locations, but it is rare to hear a complaint, since everyone knows the wait is well worth one's while. Thomas will often entertain customers with his finely honed sense of humour, and his "freebie" handouts aren't bad either. His list of awards for "best chocolate" is a long one, and like the others mentioned here, his passion for art is a large part of the experience.

Thomas Haas has a three-step process. Give the order, proceed to the cash, where again, a friendly smile is par for the course, and then, make one's way to the end of the counter, where, in my case, the latte is made. This is Marius. The day I took these photos, he had been making a lot of lattes and hot chocolates. Sometimes, I wonder how he does it. I've never seen him idle, even for a second!

Marius also takes pride in his work.

Coming up on January 15th is the first ever Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival. Marius, and a couple of the other staff members were hard at work on Wednesday, using their creative skills to produce some very exciting and unusual flavours. They offered me a small sample, and all I can say is that if you have the chance to do a taste-test, jump at the opportunity. (These photos of their standardly delicious hot chocolate were taken several days earlier.)

The above link will explain more about the festival. Six of the best chocolatiers in town and "one gelato guy" will be taking part in support of their favourite charities.

I have a variety of cups that I bring, but Marius makes an especially beautifully pattern in this one.

And, in the midst of an absolutely crazy-busy day, he still has time to smile for the camera.

Here, another barista, this time at The Wicked Cafe on Hornby Street. Her name is Taylore, and although she was meeting me for the first time, was friendly, and generously agreed to photos. As you can see by the concentration on her face, she takes her latte art seriously as well.

I tried several times to photograph the latte she made, but really struggled with the light. One version seemed dull...

and the other seemed caught in a glare. There is something about the flavour of Wicked coffee that is unique and perfectly consistent. I feel that I would recognize it anywhere.

I have posted before about The Wicked Cafe, and recently, found an article about its manager, Arthur Wynne. He is as flavourful and unique as the coffee.

Along with the lattes, Bill and I really like the oatmeal house recipe. It is full of delicious dried fruit and nuts and makes a great treat at any time of the day.

A favourite place to eat delicious vegan and vegetarian food is Greens and Gourmet restaurant. Although it is self-serve, and personal connections are not as easy to make, the staff at the cash and in the kitchen have always been very friendly and accommodating. We met our friends, Kitty and Jock, there on Sunday. We love this place because of the excellent food, reasonable prices, and tranquil atmosphere. We enjoyed conversation and laughter, and never once had to raise our voices to be heard.

One counter has all of the hot specialties. Every choice is labeled, with many wheat-free and/or dairy-free options.

This counter has all of the fruit and vegetable salad options.

Jock joined us later, but here are the beautifully colourful meals that Bill, Kitty and I enjoyed.

They advertise a vegan "cheesecake" but I'm not certain if the one shown here is the vegan one. What I can tell you for sure is that Bill has tried some famous cheesecakes at other restaurants, but counts this fresh-fruit one as his favourite.

Jock and I split a serving of this blueberry-fruit crisp. It was oh so good, and the half portion was amazingly generous.

And, for a bit of a change of pace, I would like you to meet Drexler. He is fifteen and a half years old. I met him several months ago, with his human, Rozanda, during one of my first walks with Black Jack after moving into the area. This picture was taken on Sunday, and we met again on Thursday. Drexler is always happy to accept a small treat, and he gets around very well with his Walking Wheels. In fact, he was heading off on his own, quite clearly enjoying the afternoon outing.

This is Drexler's buddy, Cisco. He is 12 years old, and they are neighbours with an Australian connection.

Here, a close-up of the set-up that gives Drexler his freedom. Each time our paths cross, I think about Scott, my last dog. For a variety of reasons, I did not choose to go with a option, but still question myself about that. The system is not without challenges, but there is light in Drexler's eyes. He is getting on with his life, thanks to Rozanda's commitment to their friendship.

It is difficult to end this post. I keep thinking of others who make daily life in Vancouver a pleasure. This is May and she works at a large Urban Fare store on Davie Street. She was a little bit embarrassed when I asked to take her picture, but I told her she didn't have to pose, and just to go on with her cashier work as normal. The thing about May is that her smile is normal. I don't think I have ever seen her without it.

I like Urban Fare a lot, and clearly, others do as well. The store is open from 6:00 a.m until 11:00 p.m. each day, and always busy. Even with a steady line-up of customers (handled very efficiently so the wait never feels long), May takes time to know a little about me. She is fun and friendly, and like each person (and dog) of this post, a few minutes with her leaves an extra dose of "happy" in the day. Thanks, May!

Yesterday, after leaving Urban Fare, Black Jack and I walked through David Lam park. The sun was just about ready to set, and I took a few pictures before turning in for the evening.

You might have to click on this picture to fully appreciate that sliver of red near the bottom. It is part of an art project called Red Horizontal and the artist is Gisele Amantea. You can read about it here.

Just as I was about to enter my building, this tree, framed by a tranquil sky, caught my eye.

A last shot taken from my balcony. A little bit of friendly pink left, as the city lights begin to twinkle.
There is a lot of rain in the forecast today, but have a good one, everybody. May you find sunshine in other ways!


  1. One might think that all you do every day is wander about your lovely city!
    I visited Vancouver once, back in the early '70s (I was considering grad school at UBC), and was struck by what little I saw--clean, friendly, welcoming. I'm not a big fan of cities, but you make it seem very pleasant.
    And you're right--it's the people that make the difference!

  2. You really “brewed” a fascinating tale of a welcoming community in the city, Carol. What an abundance of beautiful people (and pets) in your daily routine. I suspect your “personal sunshine” and appreciation of the people you meet helps makes your neighborhood friendly. I love the creative folks along your way. The latte and hot chocolate artists, Felix the photographer from Germany, the cooks who make food look delicious and the genius that helped pets survive with wheels for legs. Wonderful post as always, Carol. Hope you have a great weekend!

  3. What a way to start the day.Thank goodness my oatmeal @ blueberrys was almost ready. Then I guess I need a cran. muffin @ chocolate,then maybe even take up coffee.Our city is so beautiful @ you capture the everyday small things in such a creative way. I believe we attract what we are or put out and guess what, that's you
    happy, positive and friendly.

  4. I enjoyed a ride through your urban landscape! I know that your friendly smile helps all of the people you took pictures of have a better day!