Monday, April 09, 2007

This week's artistic experience: a visit to the school

I am heading to Vancouver for this week's artistic experience, which is a visit to my old school, the University of British Columbia, for the first time in 5 years. The 90-minute ferry ride is part of the experience: today the sky is a pale gray, the waters without color, and the islands obscured by a light mist. It is a typically drizzly day in British Columbia, and we pray for sunlight.

* * *

My journey begins at the Totem Park dormitory where I lived 10 years ago. Unfortunately I cannot enjoy a meal in the cafeteria because they do not take credit card or debit card. So I will need to press on with an empty stomach. I am reminded at least of the hunger pangs of my student days. The cafeteria retains its yellow and red banners of stripes and arrows.

At Ritsumeikan House, where I lived for a couple of years, some of the paving blocks have become dislodged. I see the old ping-pong table in the lounge. I'm reminded of after-school bible studies.

Much has changed. The Civil Engineering / Mechanical Engineering (CEME) building seems to have been replaced by a modern glass-and-steel structure. I will miss the old rusted iron of CEME.

Now walking along Main Mall - the oak-lined road I walked daily to my classes for five years.

And then I sense the smell of new construction - the smell of wood and cement, the exciting scent of iron cable and concrete, the familiar smell of a new springtime.

I tried to visit the beloved Main Library,"The Stacks", intending to pull from a musty shelf some aged tome. But alas, no aged tomes could be found - the crumbling Library was being demolished to make way for a new parking lot.

Finally I found one building with an unlocked door: the Buchanan building, of the Faculty of Arts. I now sit in one of the cramped desks, with a tiny foot-square surface on which to write. The stepped lecture theatre is edged with cross-hatched steel.

My last stop: St. Mark's Chapel, where began my return to Catholicism. But when I arrived, I could not find it. Two new apartment buildings occupied its place. Saddened, I walked past them and discovered rows of new duplexes, and condominiums. I peered into half-finished garages and imagined the happiness of their wealthy future occupants and their children. But alas, poor St. Mark's - your newly built chapel was short lived, your fledgling and aging staff unable to withstand the bureaucracy. But I was mistaken.

I was mistaken, for as I turned the corner of the last duplex, as I filed past the brand new Lincoln parked in front of it, I saw amid the construction debris the beloved sign "ST. MARK'S COLLEGE", and below it, in construction orange, "DO NOT DAMAGE SIGN". St. Mark's had been preserved; on the northeast corner of the campus, it still stood. I opened the large doors of the chapel, entered, and sat. It is here that I type this message, and here I end.


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