February 22, 2004 8:08 PM

"Roasted or fresh vegetables?", he enuciated strongly. I hadn't understood him the first time. I wanted the vegetables roasted. He told me to take a seat.

So went my first dialogue with a Canadian citizen -- an Italian. An Italian who owned an Italian café. I glanced to my left. Ruth Orkin's American Girl In Italy, 1951. A few stills of Pacino from Scarface. A bit disconcerting. But completely unrepresentative, I found after the delicious soup and salami sandwich.

"You from Japan?", the other Italian fellow lightly inquired.
"No, Washington."
"Ahhh, I have been to Seattle twice," he smiled.

The conversations of this café typified the two basic facets of my experience of Canada -- fright and wonder. Though I have to say it was mostly wonder. The fright is simply credited to the slight seediness of Vancouver: its graffittied alley-ways and storefronts, its conspicuous homeless who you're not sure if you should first pity or first avoid (when you're walking alone, everyone scares you). It was the night that dredged these up into exaggerations.

Wonder came mostly from the hum of the city.

A father: "Do you want to go to the new big library?"
His orbiting kids in unison, exultant: "YEAHHHH!"
The father: "I don't know, it might be too big..."
The kids: "NOOOO!"

A man struggled to kiss a resistant woman on the busy sidewalk. I sure hope he was just an overenthusiastic first date.

Figuring out their currency, and calculating how much I'd be saving in American -- $8 Canadian for student entrance to the Vancouver Art Gallery means $6 American! And the Vancouver Art Gallery was very great.

Their strident crosswalk signals (you'll see what I mean when I develop my film).

The city, by most standards, appeared American. The differences weren't strikingly apparent. I was initially confused as how I should respond, or if a special response was necessary at all. I felt obliged to behave differently, being a foreigner. And referencing the typical "here" instead as "America" certainly added to the strangeness.

There was also a beggar in Chinatown, alone in the flowing sidewalk crowd, pink-cheeked, kneeling, suppliant, a limp-wristed hand outstretched. I was immediately saddened.

A few sketches I did in the course of the trip:

It's a girl. I ended up sharing a room with 3 others, but with 2 beds. I slept on the floor. I understand "personal space", but I don't see it as a problem in sharing a (very spacious, not to mention) bed. It's a bed, not a contract for sex. I only complain because I got cold, being without a blanket.

I just realized how disproportional the cup looks to the cream. It was small...maybe not that small, though.

I'm going to get a sketchbook, since I've been doing more drawing lately. One of those fancy bookbound sort.

I also wonder how I'll handle riding a train for a full day if I indeed travel to San Francisco. 4 hours in a bus was enough.