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In Flight: Vancouver

There are LOGS floating downriver. Admittedly, there’s not many and they’re guided by tugs, but I half expect Huck and Tom Sawyer to hop off one. They’re the impingement of Vancouver’s looming hinterland on the carefully-gridded suburb.

When the Sikh cabbie drives me out of the airport, it smells like America. Hot tarmac and grease and petrol. But soon we’re whizzing past candy-dream houses of all styles and pastels shades and the place is GREEN, in a totally English way. An incidental, haphazard greenness, of garden plants spilling over and untrimmed lawns and mossy old walls. The sort of thing you’d associate with cobbles and gents doddering glacially from the cricket field to the pub. Perhaps it’s just the gentle sun but the place is a Cotswold suburb, somewhere the be-snouted denizens of Kensington retreat to bring up the kids (before packing them off to Harrow). Nowhere I’ve been in the US has had that feel.

There’s a lot of spillover from America though – the strip malls are there, but not so egregiously, and there isn’t a hell of lot of ‘taste’ in the building styles, even to colour-blind eyes. Here a the granite apex of a roof stretches to the ground, there a pink and yellow wooden house protudes its porch towards the road.
Yet, the mountains feel like Salt Lake City and the riverside apartments feel like Cologne and the city streets like San Fran. This doesn’t feel like another country, visually, just a continuation of America – the superimposition of Puritan-turned-glutton values on what seems like limitless land.

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And those mountains. We’d already seen the glaciers of Greenland calving thousands of icebergs into the ocean, so our sense of perspective was newly awry, but these were straight out of the Mountains of Madness.
Flying Westward over the Atlantic, water births icebergs that pull themselves into the great icesheets which turn into glaciers, which crawl up the mountain gullies like immense translucent slugs and rapidly bury the mountains so there is only endless whiteness. Glance away and back and you may be looking at the clouds or the ice, so confused is your perception.

I dozed off. When I woke, the mountains were of Canada, but to me they were the same mountains two hours and a thousand miles earlier. Brown rock pushing through snow, unfathomable scales, then, creeping in, pockmarked lakes, not of water but of shiny mercury, silver and with a heavy meniscus, and trees like dyed sawdust, which gradually take over, so that, as the pilot announces the descent, you’re flying over a great mountain-abutted lake-sea. No animal life visible. A solitary farm running along a valley floor. And then Vancouver, bursting into life on the far shore of the lake, an endless sprawling plain of fields and gridded suburbs to the horizon.

Which is a quite a contrast with the urbane smoothness of my hotel. Fizzy wine on arrival, iPad in the bedroom, exclusive bar… I escaped across the road to another restaurant that was obsessed with provenance, all locally-sourced ingredients and modern, rich combinations. King Prawns with fried sage leaves and pinenuts on Butternut squash ravioli. Posh Bloody Maries with a small skewer of pickles on top.

I’m just getting a feel for this town. I’ve only spoken to service staff so far. But as a location, as a combination of intercontinental influences, as an affluent immigrant city, it’s just stunning.

Image by Grant Mattice

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