The Olympics concluded, Vancouver and its inhabitants settled down into a more regular, modest tempo, the kind flush with a persistent anti-climax, made fragile by the knowledge of all that went before. I complied also, the urgent need for new accommodation and new employment dispelling any lingering nostalgia for that fantastic February. My situation straightened out with my existing landlord, I readied myself for the move away from my spartan, solitary existence in the basement, into a student house in the Dunbar neighbourhood, some eighteen blocks south of my small hovel and on the same street. In the frantic climax to that raw January, when my position in the basement remained far from certain and I had desperately sought out alternative options, my good friend Aja had been one of those who answered my call. Since meeting back at the end of November, when she had succeeded in dissuading me from moving into the room that she was vacating in another house (on account of terrible house-mates), she had been living, very happily, with two other University of British Columbia students and they had a spare room still available for one further person. Sharp is the word, swift the action: no sooner was my final month in the basement concluded than I had my bags packed and a lift staked from Mike to carry myself and my belongings to my new abode.
This situation in the Dunbar house could not have been any further removed from that previously experienced in the basement suite, even before I found myself bereft of all house-mates. Here in Dunbar, there were open, welcome individuals, happy to share a drink, a bite and a chat, provided that their studies afforded them the opportunity. I found myself, quite instantaneously, much more contented here, much more confident and much more optimistic towards my Canadian life in general. I adjusted quickly to the Dunbar tempo, rising a little later than is my custom (much later than was my forced custom during my days on the Olympic job) and breakfasting at the communal dining room table downstairs. Quite often, I would find myself eating alone, my house-mates either already embarked upon a day on campus or (no names needed here) still yet to rise, Lazarus-like, from their quilted lair(s). This solitary meal became a pleasure in itself: my new abode pertained to the main floor of the house, rather than the basement as before; this new aspect welcomed in mellow, early morning sunlight, streaming through the many (single-glazed) windows. Birds sang heartily from the sun-dappled foliage that crowds in on the house, wrapping the structure in a comforting cocoon of myriad colours and concertos. My hunger sated, I would switch on the small laptop, so graciously lent me by Mike and Jenna, to check my messages and the news of the day back home. I might spend my morning engaged in earnest correspondence with loved ones physically removed, reunited through the electronic ether. Time was also transacted upon the search for potential new places of work: I trawled diligently through job-postings, alighting not only upon positions that seemed to be a good fit, but others also in an attempt to distill some rough estimate of earning potential and even to shake my senses somewhat; to challenge my accustomed expectations as to what I might like to do and where I might like to labour.
I found many distractions from this work, not all of them disadvantageous: often, especially though not exclusively if the weather was favourable, I would don my running gear and head out onto the local trails, criss-crossing a beautiful local woodland and reached after a brief section of pavement-pounding. Once the walls of green tranquility have been breached and the grey concrete of the material world has receded into the past, then am I among my happiest moments in this wonderful city. The dull thump of my footfall upon the soft carpet of bark and earth below, the beatificent melodies emitting from the branches above and the strident, faithful pounding of my blood within converge to produce the most magnificent of symphonies in my mind. The trails wend their way through the forest, climbing and descending past an ever-changing kaleidoscope of greens and browns, calls pitched high and low, paths of earth and wood. My entry-point into the forest, along its eastern flank, sees me first conveyed along trails hemmed in on both sides by trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. My path meanders through dense thickets, punctuated by the occasional, warming patch of open sunlight. Eventually, as the trails carry me further into the pacifying embrace of the forest, my way drops slightly and the thick vegetation opens out into the most fabulous vista of towering, ram-rod tree-trunks, standing stately in uniform, companions along the trail. The leafy canopy gathers far, far above, pierced often by lightning bolts of Helios, his rays alighting upon the majestic trunks, catching the spiralling swirls of steam evaporating from the lush undergrowth below. This is my favourite part of the forest, where tired legs and ragged breath give way to heightened amazement afforded by the marvellous sight that surrounds me, gathers me in. The trail sweeps around, directs me homeward along punishing ascents that leave me gasping and all-too-soon I am ejected out onto wide highways of blinding sunlight and blazing heat. I race for home, carrying with me the precious heart-beat of nature deep within, my senses relieved yet restored by the beauty so freely and so abundantly given.
Such marvellous activities contributed to and still contribute to a lighter, more holistic spirit. Thus empowered I have carried myself forth into new challenges and opportunities, not least of which held to becoming better acquainted with my new house-mates. In the early days, before exams arrived to chase away the lingering vestiges of carefree capering and fancy frolicking, the house was often alive to the buzz of conversation, fuelled by drinking and game-playing. Some of my favourite nights in the house, in the whole Vancouver experience, have amounted to little more than sitting around the dining room table, drink in one hand, playing cards in the other, surrounded by good company and hearty cheer. The friendly faces of my house-mates Aja, Ryan and James, joined by Aja's partner John and our good pal Chris crowd in upon my mind as I recall these happy hours. Other times, we would commence the evening's entertainment at home, before loading into a bus and journeying into the heart of downtown to revel into the early morning, Aja generally enjoying more success with the ladies than any of we single chaps; the shame.
My favourite trip out with the gang was saved for just before the onslaught of exams, as we trooped out to the UBC campus to attend the infamous, yearly 'Bloc Party', at which copious quantities of alcohol are consumed, great live music is played and all manner of shenanigans indulged as students riotously celebrate their final remaining hours of freedom before the inevitable arrives in the form of example sheets, haughty invigilators and oppressive clocks. We rocked up at the party just as the momentum was beginning to build. Ryan and I immediately displayed our superior intelligence and good sense by joining the far shorter of two lines into the event, thus ensuring that we had enjoyed one leisurely drink and were onto our second before James and Chris had even joined us, sigh. Thereafter, extreme merriment ensued as we drank, cavorted and - in my case at least - danced to the excellent live music accompanying the general debauchery. The final band to hit the stage was the much-loved Canadian group 'Bare-naked Ladies'. I had previously heard a handful of their songs and was therefore convinced that their set was one that I did not want to miss. Thus it was that I became separated from the rest of the gang as I dived into the swirling mass of bodies, to make genial acquaintances and to thoroughly enjoy a superb live performance from a great band, playing awesome songs. My favourite experience from the whole day was jigging along to the headily addictive 'If I had a million dollars', which gently mocks the attainment and use of material wealth in a very healthy manner. The gig concluded, bodies disentangling themselves and drifting away from the stage, I cast glances around me to realize that I was alone: wherever the rest of the gang had taken themselves, they were not among those whom had hung on to the brilliant end of this final set.
I had just about given up, after roughly twenty minutes of searching, finding anyone familiar and was on the verge of departing from the Student Union Building after grabbing a quick snack and setting off for home, when my mobile finally rang. I answered to a very upset and very drunk Ryan, who had apparently just enjoyed a narrow escape from the erstwhile clutches of a very determined young lady displaying very unrequited advances to our poor Romeo. I found our champion at the entrance to the building, shivering and in quite the hurry to depart the scene. Whilst his speech was not entirely assimilated to his usual brand of logical clarity, Ryan was at least unequivocal in his desire to exit stage right immediately. With little else to occupy me at the after-party, such as it was, anyway, I demured and chaperoned young Cassanova to a waiting bus. We made it home via a carbohydrate-fest at the local 'Tim Hortons' and - almost - via an interesting altercation with some particularly unsavoury characters on the bus, in time to enjoy something of an interrogation from the delighted and highly studious Aja, who had foregone the party in order to study for the first of her exams the following day. Clearly in need of a short break, Aja could not quite believe her good fortune in stumbling across a semi-conscious Ryan, wrecked upon our couch and myself, in a much better state I hasten to add, sat playing a music on my laptop at the communal table. Cue a couple of probing remarks, which clearly raised all manner of disturbing memories for my upset comrade, who lost little time in excusing himself and heading off upstairs to his room, leaving me to fill Aja in on the larger picture, such as I understood it.
Aja returned to her room to study, Ryan missing in action upstairs and myself utterly engrossed upon the computer, James and Chris stumbled in some hours later, having enjoyed a rather unexciting time at the local night-club on campus. Thus it has been possible for me to traverse the lofty heights of this area's most beautiful natural scenery to the despairing lows of its least appealing circumstances through the medium of this new, ever-interesting Dunbar abode and its fascinating inhabitants.
Best wishes to all!