The 2015 Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association took place April 1 – 4 in Vancouver, British Columbia. It may seem a bit odd that the American Philosophical Association would meet in Canada; but Canada is part of North America, after all.
This marked my first visit to Vancouver. It is a place that I never previously thought much about. The only reason that it was even on my radar is because it is home to the classic punk band D.O.A. Consequently, I really didn’t have any expectations built up in my mind for this visit. I knew that I wanted to eat seafood, and I was looking forward to being outdoors. That’s about it.
Well, it turns out that Vancouver is really quite a nice place. It reminds me a lot of Seattle (where the APA met in 2013), as it is situated on an inlet of water that opens into the Pacific Ocean and it is nestled in amongst stunning mountains and wilderness. During our stay, the sound of seaplanes taking off and landing in Coal Harbor was a constant, background soundtrack, making me feel like we were in a place far from home; some place way north, where salty fishermen still risk their lives on the sea and lumberjacks still work the forests. The old TV show Northern Exposure kept coming to mind. Unlike the small rural Alaskan town in that show, however, Vancouver is a big, modern, metropolis.
The city center of Vancouver looks like a simulation. Most of the skyscrapers are very new, and of a uniform style, making it seem like they were built all at once; like someone was in a hurry to complete the skyline. The buildings sit in a cluster, crowded right next to the water and demanding attention a bit too stridently. It is like the city planners really wanted people to recognize Vancouver as a metropolis. It is so polished and planned that it appears as if was intended to evoke the generic form of “CITY”. Maybe this is why it is often used in films as a stand-in for other locations.
The conference itself was fun. I’ve mentioned in previous postings that over the years, the APA has become increasingly inclusive, hosting more and more sessions devoted to continental thought rather than just being a good ‘ole boy’s club for analytic philosophers. This time around there were multiple presentations on Heidegger and Nietzsche. I participated as a chairman in a session focused on the topic of authenticity. There were a number of presentations devoted to aesthetics; the most enjoyable for me being the inaugural meeting of the International Association for the Philosophy of Humor where I had the pleasant opportunity to meet John Moreall and Noël Carroll for the first time. I also enjoyed attending sessions on the aesthetics of disgust, film and philosophy and two meetings devoted to Kantian philosophy. There were so many thrilling things to listen to and discuss that I almost felt like I was at a philosophy carnival(…and yes, there were some clowns in attendance)! Now that the APA has become so open to speakers and topics across the whole range of philosophy, I’m thinking that I may have some success at organizing a panel on nihilism for a future meeting. We’ll see how that flies.
When not attending the conference, my wife and I spent our time walking. We wandered through picturesque Stanley Park, enjoying the sight of thousands of tulips and other sorts of flowers, the choppy waters of Vancouver Harbor, and an assortment of totem poles. We also walked along the waterfront and into Gastown; the oldest part of Vancouver, which is now a hipster heaven crawling with tattooed twenty-somethings, overpriced restaurants and coffee houses. It was there that we enjoyed some good cookies (but awful coffee) at Maple Delights, a shop dedicated to all things maple. Later, at Chill Winston, I had some decent octopus on toast, brussel sprouts and a pint. My wife had a veggie burger. I thought the meal was too expensive. My wife said that’s because I’m part Scottish. Which reminds me: we also browsed the items in a shop devoted to Scottish imports called The House of McLaren. I didn’t buy anything, however, since everything was overpriced.
On another day, when we walked to Chinatown to eat pork buns, we found ourselves at one point engulfed in a sea of drug dealers, runaways, homeless kids, and other sorts of street people who seemed to appear out of nowhere. The throngs were crowded into an area of probably about 3 or 4 blocks on what I think was Hastings Street. As we passed into this area I initially thought that perhaps there was a street fair going on. Guys and girls with multicolored hair, mohawks and facial piercings lined the sidewalk, sitting on blankets spread with things for sale: books, old records, televisions sets, an engine that looked like it came out of a lawnmower, a kitchen sink. Every few steps that we took, there were people exchanging money for drugs. An unkempt man, smelling strongly of body odor, accidentally bumped into me and politely said, “Oh. Excuse me sir.” I checked my wallet. It was still there. As we continued on, I realized that there were police cars parked on either end of each block with officers monitoring the whole situation, not intervening but apparently just keeping an eye on things to be sure that they didn’t get out of hand. This, as it turns out, is the part of town that the tourist guides suggest you avoid. I, however, disagree. It was one of the highlights of our visit!
On our last day in Canada we rented a car and drove to Capilano Reserve Park, a tourist attraction that features a long, alarmingly elevated foot bridge stretching across a deep river ravine. My wife and some of my relatives had warned me about the treacherous nature of this attraction and how it would take a great deal of bravery to walk across its narrow, swaying span. When I finally did mount the bridge, however, I felt let down. There really was nothing too scary about it at all. It was wide enough to accommodate three people shoulder to shoulder, and it was so solid that I wasn’t even aware of it swaying. In pictures it looks precarious. In reality its just another walk in the park.
I enjoyed our visit to Vancouver. It is a city that has a good mix of sophistication, urban grit and outdoor beauty. I think I’d like to go back sometime to go camping and see a punk rock show.