For the past 25 years, for me the beginning of autumn has meant the back-to-school scramble. New backpacks, runners, pens, and pencils. Endless forms, new teachers, waking up to realize there are packed lunches needed but no bread in the house. Always the same and yet, somehow, always a last-minute surprise.
This year brings a new chapter. As I write, I have just returned home from dropping my youngest son off to start university life at McGill. Three enormous suitcases were jammed full-to-bursting (as my Scottish grandmother would say), but still there was endless shopping needed in Montreal: bedding, towels, extension cords, teapot, mugs, lamp….
The stores were, predictably enough, packed with new students and their parents clutching the same lists. Twin bedding sets were thin on the ground. Desk fans were disappearing faster than store assistants could unbox them. We parents gave each other knowing looks brimming with pride and anxiety, aware that our kids couldn’t wait to get unpacked and then pack us off.
I looked at my son’s tiny dorm room and, after recoiling at the drab walls and grimy floor, forced myself to recall the equally tiny and drab room I moved into almost four decades ago. I’m sure my mother was appalled, but to me it spelled freedom. It was glorious. With that firmly in mind, I helped as much as he wanted me to, finished up the shopping list by adding a mop (oh, those floors), bought him a last non-dining-hall lunch, and headed to the airport, knowing nothing would ever be the same.
The night before we left for Montreal, it happened to be my birthday. Usually, I throw a big party on my deck, but the timing was not aligned this year. Instead, I booked several tables in a pub in Kitsilano and invited my friends along to celebrate. The pub—The Painted Ship—is relatively new but notable for its commitment to live music. The night of my birthday was its first jazz night. The place was packed, and I will definitely be back. Live music spaces are constantly in flux in this city, something we address in this issue with a look back at the history of one of our greatest venues, the Commodore Ballroom.
Another name synonymous with the best of Vancouver is Arthur Erickson. As we reach the centenary of the architect’s birth next year, one of his first projects—a house built for the late artist Gordon Smith—has been restored to its former glory. It hosted many gatherings of the arts community over the decades, and our story details how it has been lovingly renovated for generations to come.
The Japanese artist Manabu Ikeda draws incredibly detailed, complex scenes of nature overwhelmed by disaster. Years in the making, his pieces are maximalist masterworks depicting the symbiosis between humans and nature. In the Kootenays and elsewhere, that symbiosis is made corporeal by a group whose mission is to build mountain biking trails on Indigenous land, giving youth a new way to explore their own territory.
We travel to Switzerland to test the natural spa waters, to France to explore the relative merits of cognac and armagnac, and to China, via a new cookbook, to investigate the numbing sensation of Sichuan peppers. Closer to home, we visit an incredible orchard on Bowen Island, where hundreds of varieties of apple have been carefully cultivated and a thriving cidery now operates.
Home means different things to different people, but for British author Zadie Smith, her pocket of northwest London is not just her physical neighbourhood, it has been a creative canvas across her novels. With her new book, The Fraud, she ventures farther—to Victorian England—and this fall to B.C., where she appears at a Vancouver Writers Fest special event on September 23. We are delighted to feature her on this issue’s cover.
Read more from our Autumn 2023 issue.