Vancouver, August 2011

The brief reading of the guides, and some earlier conversations, suggested that the area known as ‘Gastown’ could be a bit edgy – not advised after dark…

We were staying on Davie, and the little of Vancouver we had seen was, to me, constrictingly orderly – if safe and polite.

We had taken a very circuitous bus route through Highlands, and then the SeaBus back south to Gastown. SeaBus? Passenger ferry.

Well, we walked around the tourist, arty and fashion outlets of Gastown, checking the gewgaws, trinkets, and maple syrup, and finding some gifts. Then a stop for refreshments; Maudite in my case. After this, we walked further, taking ourselves along West Hastings and through East Hastings, and on to Chinatown’s night market.

And it is in this unmarked border, between Gastown and Chinatown, that we passed through the most troubling part of Vancouver, on Hastings and on Cordova. The people there inhabited a kind of no-man’s-land: their marginal status, and – I would guess for many – their marginal states of mind reflected in the geography: not Gastown, not Chinatown. I cannot recall meeting such a concentration of people who appeared so grim, so wasted.

The following morning, the experience still squatting in my mind, I rechecked our route on Google maps… It seemed to me that as I confirmed our path on Streetview, those same faces were there, un-blurred. Is it that Google had no need to anonymise these people? Are they already nameless? They are unlikely to log on and demand this. Or perhaps I just felt angry.

Looking again, I am less sure. The pictures are grainier, but the feeling persists.

At the time, I found myself recalling several posters I had seen round the city, pictures of missing persons. All, I think, of smartly-dressed young men. There seems a contrast here, of the Missing and the Lost. Those people I had seen on Hastings, and later on the street view, they are not missing, but they may be lost. No-one, I supposed, was seeking them. No-one was missing them.

And what is this strange adjective “missing”?

Those left behind are missing the Missing, and what they have left is, oddly, their face.

And the faces of those we passed, they aren’t going to be on anyone’s missing poster, are they?

The drink I had had for refreshment was a Quebec ‘Belgian-style’ beer, which I enjoyed. I chose it in part because of the name, recollecting the phrase ‘Poèt Maudit’, though I later had to check on its meaning. Maudit is French for cursed, or perhaps ‘accursèd’ is better.