Buskers and Beautiful Blooms in B.C.

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VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The Inner Harbour downtown is lined with sailing ships, seaplanes, whale-seeking boats and the massive ferry that brought us here from Port Angeles, Wash. The walkway along the harbor’s edge is replete with vendors and street performers, commonly called buskers. Flowers abound, bursting out of hanging pots on the streetlamps, spelling out “Welcome to Victoria” in blooms on the bank opposite the province’s stately parliamentary building. The temperature is in the 60s on a late July afternoon. I am plotting, thus far unsuccessfully, how to stay here until first snowfall. Summer in Texas is about to kill all of us.

We are here on our family honeymoon, staying on Discovery Bay near Port Townsend, Washington — my bride, brand-new teen daughter and me. Rosie the Wonder Dog is visiting in Houston with my daughter. Early in the morning we drove to Port Angeles, parked for $6 and walked aboard the M.V. Coho for the 90-minute ride across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria.

The Buchart Gardens are the primary destination in Victoria — 55 acres of breathtaking gardens created in a former limestone quarry more than a century ago by Jennie Buchart, the wife of the quarry owner. He dug. She planted. The result attracts nearly a million people annually to the garden, on the Saanich Penisula just north of Victoria. My bride, the Beautiful Mystery Companion, buys a packet of bachelor button seeds to plant in East Texas. She doubtless will wait until it is not so blamed hot.

Even the jaded teen-ager is impressed by the size and vigor of the blossoms, which thrive on cool weather and bright sun. Everything is not bigger and better in Texas. Flowers, for example.

Back at the harbor, buskers perform. There’s Dave Harris, a veteran musician and singer who sets up shop on the sidewalk with guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, a mandolin, and even a small drum set that he plays with his feet while picking on a stringed instrument and blowing on the mouth harp. Harris looks like a mountain man, with a flowing beard and matching hair vaguely tamed with a leather wide-brimmed hat. Harris has performed as a one-man band for 25 years and made a number of recordings.

Then there is Plasterman, a human statue whose clothes and visible skin are encased in white paint. He stands utterly still on a small crate with his stage title lettered upon it, on this day wearing a white visor and workingman’s clothes. Sometimes he wears a suit. Plasterman is the creation of Clark M. Clark, a former educator and “part-time thespian,” according to his website. He comes alive when money is dropped into the till, dispensing handshakes and hugs to the generous-minded. I must confess I don’t give money to Plasterman. Clowns and mimes make me uneasy. Plasterman is a mime, albeit one with a different schtick.

Speaking of different, we happen along Alex Elixir, a juggler and unicyclist with an edge that, on both occasions in which we watched, turns a bit sour. The first time, he abruptly ends his act after a couple tosses a couple of Canadian quarters in his box as they leave. He tells the nonplussed audience that he must save his voice and felt insulted. We all wander off in search of other entertainment. A few hours later Elixir sets up again with the same result. The finale is supposed to involve an actual axe with which he is going to sever the arm of a young boy.

This makes me even more nervous than the mime. I don’t think Elixir is terribly great at the power of illusion, though he is an adequate juggler and can crack wise with the best of them. The boy is willing to play along, so willing that I wonder if he is a shill for Elixir. The routine ends with Elixir glaring at the audience, dropping the axe and lying down on the asphalt. The boy follows suit. The crowd disperses after a couple minutes. End of show.

Maybe this is an example of that vaunted Canadian humor that brought us Lorne Michaels and Dudley Doright. All I know is I have no plans to get near a highly strung busker wielding an axe. We won’t be back.


The temperature is in the 50s in the mornings, rarely reaching 70 at night. It has rained a few times. For a time at least, we have escaped the baking of Texas.

More to come.

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