Requiem for a city

There’s a fantastic article in Vanity Fair on One Hyde Park. It’s the most expensive residential building on earth and a metaphor for a new London.

Here are some great quotes:

“Knightsbridge is an un-English activity,” says York. “The former gratin [upper crust], a combination of old toffs, Knightsbridge Americans who wanted to be old toffs, plutocrats who wanted to know The Form, people who weren’t here for funny-money reasons: all those things have been completely obliterated by a mad kind of very, very gauche overseas money. It’s absentee money: the kind of money that has bodyguards. It is the world of Maybachs and absurd-looking Ferraris in absurd colors, and kids who buy them straight out of the shopwindow. These people have no substantive relationship with anything British at all. It’s everywhere: I can’t emphasize enough how everywhere-ish it is.”

Many in London are uncomfortable not just with the flagrant display of super-wealth but also with the rising number of absentee residents who are based in foreign countries. “Those people who do buy these houses, particularly the bigger ones, in many cases don’t buy them to live in permanently: they are part of a portfolio,” said Bendixson. “That doesn’t add much jollity to your street: houses with the shutters down and nobody there.” Edward Davies-Gilbert, of the Knightsbridge Association, sees the area gaining the flavor of “a ghost town, peopled by ghost blocks.”

What I find interesting is that with many of the paragraphs you could substitute “London” with “Vancouver” and you’d have a similar story.

Down & Out on the DTES

I’ve been in Vancouver for a while now and one of the things I am simultaneously ambivalent towards and shocked by is the Downtown East Side.

The neighbourhood is a whirlpool that attracts broken people from across Canada (and I don’t mean “broken” as an insult; the horrors that these people have faced are arguably unrecoverable; read here). Since I work here, I’m regularly exposed to scenes of deprivation and wretchedness that are unimaginable elsewhere in Canada (hell, in most of the world…).

But the truly scary thing is that you become immune to it; you simply stop being shocked by the truly bizarre things you see on a daily basis. Things that would cause civic outrage elsewhere simply being the banality of everyday life.

Here’s a snapshot of different events I witnessed in August alone. I almost lose track of these things. How would your city respond?

  • A tourist family is walking down Carrall trying to find Dr Sun Yat Sen Gardens. They look down the alley and see two men in the midst of a drug deal. Money is changing hands; pipes, pills and weed are arranged like a shop on top of a dumpster
  • My tech partner and I go for a coffee. As we pass a doorway we notice the junkie slumping in it. His hands are covered in blood and he’s injecting a needle in his hands (presumably the only place he can find a vein); his hose lies on the ground. It’s 11 am on a weekday.
  • A man walks across Cambie so high that he can’t move in straight line. His feet have become lead and he’s lost the ability to talk; all he can do is moan in ecstasy as the heroin courses through his veins; we pedestrians hope he won’t walk into traffic.
  • A woman stands over a man on Hastings. She repeats her refrain over and over again like a prayer: “Can you hear me? Do you need me to call an ambulance?” He’s lying on the concrete, visibly intoxicated this Tuesday afternoon and possibly in danger of rolling in front of a bus.
  • The man stands in the middle of the sidewalk clutching his crotch but it’s too late. He’s soiled himself. Urine streaks his pants and trickles out his pant leg, meandering towards the gutter. He groans a low curse to himself.
  • The buzzing noise is piercing and out of place. This is, after all, a park and war memorial. Glancing around I notice the source: a thin angry-looking man is having a tattoo applied to his face; his friend wields the needle and for some reason they’ve chosen to do it in the public space.
  • Four police cars litter the intersection – but there are no police to be seen. Further down the block another four squad cars have jumped the sidewalk; a line of police tape cordons off two buildings. An office attempts intimidation with an enormously overpowered machine gun. An hour later they’re all gone and it’s as if nothing ever happened.

This happens literally every day.

Pizzeria Farina

A few months back I found myself running along Main Street in early evening and noticed that a new pizza shop had opened.

Except that it was closed. They’d run out of dough.

The business guy in me was furious. How could you run out of dough? That’s your damn job as a pizzeria – to sell pizzas and you need to have enough dough to meet whatever demand you get.

I was totally wrong.

I had no idea how seriously these folks took their pies. Every day they make a certain amount of dough and sling pies until they run out.

I needed to come back and check it out – and yesterday I finally made it.

Here’s what it looks like from the outside:

The space itself is incredibly narrow and long. Tables are off to one side and in the window; another wall is lined with their house-made oregano-infused and chili-infused olive oils.

At the end is the counter, with its massive pizza ovens just behind. Take a look: everything is made fresh before your eyes.

(As an aside, I felt sorry for the counter girl. Some joker walked in and stared giving her hell about Farina’s website. I mean, come on, do you really think that she’s sitting there with a laptop, just waiting to change it the moment you request something?)

Next to the counter is the list of the day’s pizzas:

I was tempted to get the finocchina (I love fennel sausage) but asked what the special was. And I’m glad I did: fresh mozzarella, salami and…pistachios. I’d never heard of pistachios on a pizza before, but now I’m hooked:

The pizza was incredible. It had an ideal thin crust: a little bit crispy but still chewy. Lots of bubbles in it.

The pistachios added a richness and texture to the pizza that I’d never had before – but hope to get again.

Highly recommended for a fun pizza dinner.

Here are a few closing shots, including the over-the-top hall on the way to the bathroom:

The Jade Seafood Restaurant

Jade. Seafood. Restaurant.

The name sounds like a cliche of a Chinese restaurant. All that’s missing is the phrase “golden dragon” and it could have been created by a magic eight ball.

The premises don’t look promising either. A low-slung building combining the best of concrete and stucco; scraggly weeds grow unrepentantly.

Entering into the foyer reveals that, curiously, the restaurant is on the second floor (it never actually is revealed what’s on the ground floor…). The combination of chandelier and blinds in the foyer brings back memories of bar mitzvah’s and bad conventions.

But then you’re upstairs into a bustling, massive room – and it still has too many chandeliers and, oddly, televisions – but you also get your first hints of the food.

There are dozens of massive tables, so there’s little wait, and then you’re at the table. It was lunch for us and the dim sum menu took a while to make it to our table; we whiled our time looking at the 10 person dinner tasting menu:

$498 for 10 people – serious eating here. You’re looking at lots of king crab – baked and steamed; roasted rock salt chicken in a hot pot and fried buddha’s delight amongst others. There were also several delicious-sounding dishes based where food was wrapped in tea leaves.

But, as mentioned, we were here for lunch and dim sum. We quickly ordered several dishes: fried rice rolls with shrimp, century eggs and pickled ginger.

Steamed pork buns and prawn dumplings:

Bitter melon stir-fried with olives:

And this gorgeous mushroom-filled dish:

The food was possibly the best dim sum I’ve had in the city. The shrimp was incredibly fresh and had just the right  resistance – almost rubbery but not. The bitter melon was unlike any dish I’d had before; a mix of extreme bitterness and extreme savouriness. And the deep fried balls; perfectly done – gooey on the inside and crispy on the outside; perfectly cooked.