I have arrived safely back in Canada – at the beautiful home of my wonderful friends, Al and Jean Bair – we are all in shock realizing that the last time I was here was for some of the final games of the last World Cup (futbol mundial – soccer to the rest of you) three summers ago. Time is an amazing thing, especially when it races away from you. We now have four days to spend together – catching up on our Monteverde friends (where I met Al and Jean in 1995 when they had a house there) and our own busy lives and travels – these conversations will be augmented by Al’s delicious food, lively political discussion and visiting family and friends. It is like coming home to one of the warmest and most enjoyable places I know of on the planet (and surrounded by bush – how happy am I?)
Last I wrote I was preparing for my Pendle Hill presentation in Philadelphia – in 90 degree weather, the sun blaring down, on that beautiful campus filled with lovely Quaker folks. I am still thanking Wolf’s nephew Lloyd, the groundskeeper, for his invitation and warm welcome.
Instead of my usual power point presentation (actually, none of them are usual because they change each time), I told the story of Wolf, Monteverde and writing Walking with Wolf and read a couple passages while people ate lunch in the reading room and then we all talked. Afterward I sold and signed books and continued to have interesting conversations with a number of people, some of who knew Monteverde, many who didn’t but were very interested as Quakers in that community. I also made some good contacts for future book presentations. All in all, it was a wonderful few hours of book business at Pendle Hill.
I then left Philadelphia and headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to Noo Yawk! There was a huge traffic back up for many miles heading south – I was very happy to be going north. I got to my friend Memo’s in New Jersey just in time to meet a bunch of his very friendly neighbours (mostly Brazilian ex-pats) over grilled food and wine before we headed out to the gigs he had that Saturday night in the big city. His wife, Wendy, and his boys Sebastian and Estefan, continued on eating while we took off. I had told Memo that I needed to be headed over to the Bronx as early on Sunday morning as possible so getting home at an earlyish hour would be a good idea - HA! Musicians! Early is a relative thing…
Memo Madriza is a hot sax player I’ve known for probably fifteen years – he was a young guy when he came up to Monteverde with the earliest version of Sonsax, a high energy quartet of saxophones which then added a percussionist. I can remember these boys, guapos all, and how they not only played smoking music but became like superstars in the community, all the girls following them around. In 1999, Memo met and quickly married Wendy and moved to New York and Sonsax continued on playing, their members changing every couple of years – the last time I saw Memo was at the Montreal Jazz Festival in about 2002 or so when Sonsax played there.
Now he is in New York and plays with a variety of Cuban timba bands – and we got to see three of them that night. The first version was a six piece playing at a top dance academy right next door to Madison Square Garden. I’ve danced all my life but never taken dance classes and still wouldn’t, though no doubt could learn lots about how to follow. I like to dance with strong leaders (you find them in Costa Rica) who know how to direct me and that I love. It was great watching the variety of dancers and listening to the cookin’ band – there were two other rooms, one with a band playing east coast swing and another with western swing as well as a variety of dance performances. I danced with a few dancers but mostly with Memo when the band took a break. I actually almost ripped the arm off an older guy who had asked me to dance but he was obviously a little too soft for me (I told him I’m used to dancing with strong young Latinos who could stand up to the abuse – I don’t think he appreciated the comment as he walked off holding his sore arm.)
When that gig was over, we were joined by the Cubana pianist, Ariacne Trujillo, whose addition to the night was her high energy and raucous laugh. We went on to the drom Lounge in the East Village of Manhatten where Memo played with the Carlos Boys Band – a very feisty Cubano band of two brothers with another female keyboardist playing all sorts of Cuban rhythms…and danced our little hearts out until about 3 a.m.
Jose, a friend of Memo’s, a Costa Rican who works on a private yacht and had just arrived that evening in New York to get his visa for Morocco, joined us. So now I was surrounded by guapo Ticos and high energy Cubanos! What more could a Canadian girl ask for in Noo Yawk City!
When that gig ended, I’m thinking that, well, okay, if we leave now I can still be in bed by 4 and get a few hours of sleep. Of course for musicians, when the gig ends, the night just begins, so we now headed off, joined by the second Cubana pianist, to Oliva’s, a little corner bar in Soho. Soho!!! Memo drove us around the city like a crazy taxi driver – I don’t know how he doesn’t have each corner of his car smashed in but I looked and there wasn’t a mark. At 3 a.m. on an April night as steamy as mid-July, the streets were filled with partiers, the cabs were flying by, the cacophony of lights were flashing, and music blared everywhere.
I was spouting effusive thanks to Memo for how he was providing the perfect night in the Big Apple for this out-of-towner who has never been here before (except for a few hours changing trains in Penn Station a few years ago.) The only thing that would make it more special (besides that beautiful rasta Roberto being there with me or my friend Cocky who had hoped to join me but had to cancel) was actually bumping into someone I knew…a pie-in-the-sky dream but hey, I know alot of folks and couldn’t help but think the thought. Whenever there are alot of people about, I always think I should know someone.
We walked into Oliva’s and there is another Cuban band playing, this time sitting in the corner of this very tiny bar – the Danny Rojo band made up of another six Cubanos. Memo told me later that the music was kind of Cuban porn music (the lyrics anyway). There was a friendly little crowd sharing the small sweaty dancefloor. I looked at the band and noticed the guy in the corner playing the timba, hat on his shaved head, and realized that I knew the guy! When I asked Memo about him, he told me that his name was Marvin and he was from Cuba but had indeed lived in Costa Rica for a couple of years, playing with Ramses Araya. Ramses is very talented Tico percussionist now living in Los Angeles, who had studied in Cuba and had a salsa band, Timbaleo – well, Marvin, this musician I was recognizing, had been with Ramses in Monteverde several years ago, and I had indeed met him. Now that’s a small world…
The music all night was super hot, the company extraordinarily friendly and the dancing satisfied my soul – and the Latin talk and rhythms kept my Cana-Tica soul satisfied as well. As I watched a clock up on a tower turn to 5 a.m., I was still standing but was starting to think that I really didn’t mean to do this, stay out till dawn the morning of my book presentation. Memo then drove us over to a hole-in-the-wall famous joint called Joe’s Pizza in the West Village – there was a testimonial by the actor Ben Affleck on the wall that this was his favorite pizza in the city – and Memo told me that he had sat in there when Leonard DiCapreo had been there late one night. The place was packed inside and out, and really had the best straight-up cheese pizza – and after about seven hours of dancing, we needed this energy in its simplest and most delicious form.
I finally crawled into my bed at ten minutes to six in the morning, thinking that I was going to be suffering later that day. I got about four hours sleep and as soon as the others heard me showering, knowing that I had to get going, they were up making gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s famous breakfast rice and beans) and strong coffee and sent me off with a “mi casa es su casa” – and believe me, I’d go back in a heartbeat to New York!
I headed over to Marian Howard’s, a resident of the Bronx and Monteverde, who taught at Bank Street College of Education in the Bronx. She had invited me to come and present the book at her house. So a small group of her friends, family and neighbours came – including Edna and Linda, two teachers who taught in the early 90s at the Monteverde Friends School who I had known but haven’t seen since.
It was a beautiful summery day and we sat outside and ate Monteverde cheese that Wolf had provided for me when I left a month ago, drank wine and Imperial beer, Costa Rica’s famous beer that Memo had provided me with cold out of his fridge that morning.
Marian and I managed to download Skype so that we could contact Wolf and Lucky who were at our friend Alan Master’s home in Monteverde and we all visited through that miracle of modern technology. I gave a slide presentation and we had a lively discussion – it was a wonderful afternoon, sold a few books, ate tasty food, and speaking with Wolf and Lucky was the icing on the cake. And I was surprisingly energetic and lucid and happy – not bad for a fifty-year old who had been out hard-core dancing all night.
I send a huge thanks to Memo and Wendy and to Marian for their invitations and hospitality and support on the grand finale of my northeast US tour. I maybe sold enough books to balance the cost, maybe not, but I had a lot of fun (my mama and the Dalai Lama say..), met great people, finally made it to Pendle Hill in Philadelphia and, even crazier, Noo Yawk Noo Yawk! I had the best 36 hours possible in that big city, and I drove through it and found out that it really is quite doable. Nothing to be shy of…so I won’t ever be again.
Yesterday I awoke refreshed after a good night’s sleep, got in my trusty rental car and drove back to my homeland to spend this week visiting friends and enjoying the Canadian countryside before heading for the jungle of Cahuita in two weeks…but I did the urban jungle just fine, leaving a little of my shoe tread on some dancefloors and copies of Walking with Wolf on bookshelves. Ciao chicos!