Sunday, October 3, 2010

Victoria yards

Suddenly, the leaves are changing. Lots of green on the trees still, but not for long. So it was a treat to have a day like yesterday, a day to store up in the memory banks to call up when the dark days close in on us. I gravitated toward Willows Beach as I often do on a beautiful day. My idea of a beautiful day is warm sun and cool air, and that's the way it was on Saturday. Cool enough to discourage sunbathers but warm enough for walking down Estevan Street and along the beach. There's something about Willows Beach that I like. Victoria has lots of beaches but I always end up there. It was warm enough for kids to splash in the water and dig in the sand, too. A breeze off shore was enough to fill the spinnakers for the crowd of sailors racing around the pylons.
There was a model railroad show at the Cedar Hill Rec Centre last Sunday, but my favourite model railroad is outside a house on the corner of Estevan and Cadboro Bay. I haven't seen it running for quite a while. Here's hoping the gentleman who built it isn't ailing.
Culture is a word that has taken on a number of meanings. It might refer to arts and literature, or it might be a semi- scientific description of all the traits of a society. One has to tip-toe around such descriptions nowadays or one could be branded a racist. But it's true. Whether you are German, Ibo, Mexican, Korean or Navajo, there is something about your place of origin, your membership in a particular group, that sets you apart from someone from another group. It's the society itself that has something about it unlike other societies, something subtler than the type of government it operates under, or what it reads. Culture in this sense is to a society what character is to a person. A person is born with a certain character, but it isn't exactly genetic. If it was than all brothers and sisters would be exactly alike, but everyone who has lived in a large family knows that isn't the case. Nevertheless, every family has its own character.
One thing I notice about the Canadian character is a certain fondness for yards. The gentleman with the model train in his yard is an example, but just about any Victoria yard, even the yards of run down old apartment buildings may display some botanical flourish, or a remnant of one. In the 500 block of Discovery Street across from the Sports Traders I spotted a clump of rhubarb. Some yards are truly extraordinary. One I particularly remember belonged to a Ukrainian lady in Dean Park who I had just driven from the airport. Her front yard was nothing short of extravagant.
In the Willows Beach Village at Musgrave is a mini Arc de Triomphe intersection where Estevan, Musgrave, Hamiota and Thompson converge. And in the pie shaped lot formed by Thompson and Estevan is a tiny little park. Enclosed by a hedge and surmounted by a few tall trees it forms an island of tranquility where someone can sit quietly on a bench and read... or compose a blog. Victoria swarms with such places, and this is as much a part of Victoria's character or culture as the Empress Hotel.
A desire to preserve such places is, in my estimation, a conservative value. It's also a value held by the type of person who thinks of himself as liberal. Unlike the liberal, I do not think that government programs are the way to preserve these spaces. Government regulations and rules will never replace the cultural values that move people to create such places in the first place.
The public spaces are continuations of the private spaces Victorians create on their own private properties, and private property depends on a political culture that believes its citizens should retain the fruits of their own labours. As government grows bigger it gets greedy and eventually chokes the private property owner to death. At the same time it chokes out the incentive to create and contribute to one's community. This is really what private enterprise is all about. It's not complicated at all, as some conversationalists at the Cook Street Serious Coffee hangout this morning seemed to think.
Besides gardens, another thing Victorians are serious about is beer, and we are extremely lucky to have watering spots like Swans where a man can refresh himself with an IPA after an afternoon at the beach.

No comments:

Post a Comment