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k reflects

 

 

 

 

Aah, my last week in the Hammer. She’s been an attentive hostess this last week, our fair city. Blue skies, warm sunshine, no pollution (well, maybe that’s a relative thing), the bursting of bulbs and buds – all a perfect backdrop for getting my house and yard ready to be abandoned (well by me, not my house guy Ben),

jerry treeman

 

 

assisting my pal Gerry to take down the rest of the crumbling poplar tree in my back forty, spending some last precious moments with  friends, doing my taxes to the tune of a good return, gathering things for jungle living, and spending the second Friday of the month on the ever-fascinating James Street North.

mixed mediaThis once maligned street – the original road up into town from the harbour of the Port of Hamilton – has traditionally housed all kinds of storefronts, bars, and restaurants as well as the Canadian Forces Armoury and the original train station which is now a large dining room and conference center.  There’s also a whack of Portuguese and Italian mens’ clubs and cafes which is where I went to watch games with the old European men during the last World Cup in 2006.

I’m sure at one time the street would’ve drawn sailors off the big boats pulled into the harbor – I’ve met a sailor or two at Fisher’s , my local eatery & pub at the most northernly end of James Street North. When I grew up, across the bay in Burlington, and for most of its existence, the neighbourhood had a reputation for a mafia presence. venturaIt certainly has always had a tough spirit and a working class energy.

 

 The original Portuguese restaurants, the Wild Orchid and Ventura’s amongst others, have continued to thrive and the little Gates of India restaurant that consistently gets great reviews is still here. There are still a few long standing family-run businesses, Millers Shoes and Morgensten’s Department Store, that have survived the years. Now a larger variety of cultures are represented, East Indians and Koreans and West Indians included. But the biggest new crowd in the area has to be the arts community.

print studio

Sometime around the turn of the century (this last one), people starting buying up the old, now fading buildings, and turning them into  art galleries and studios. Torontonians with dreams of owning their own gallery or studio could actually do it here in the Hammer as the prices were hillbillyish compared to the over-inflated costs of the Big Smoke  which is only about 45 minutes down the highway.

So bit by bit the face of  James Street is changing – to the point that one is beginning to wonder where it will all end (besides at the bay to the north and the steep climb up the mountain to the south. ) As in, how long till Starbucks realizes a good thing? James Street South, which cuts across the upper “mountain” of Hamilton, has already filled with car dealers and is working on collecting big box type stores. Lower James Street, here in the heart of the city, holds the life of the Hammer.

James North Gallery

There are many characters responsible for the most recent turn of events – Bryce Kanberra, Dave Kuruc, Cynthia Hill, Jim Chambers – who first saw the possibilities for the street and were smart enough to take advantage of the cheap prices involved in renting and buying. Once people started coming to their galleries and shops – the You Me, Mixed Media, the Blue Angel and James North Gallery – they were intrigued by the possibilities and, well, the rest is modern history.

old silk

On the second Friday of each month, the street opens its doors for the Art Crawl.  I think this has been going on for four or five years. In the beginning there were maybe ten small galleries, mostly simple renovated spaces created within old funky buildings with an abundance of red brick and ubiquitous white drywall backdrops to hang paintings. In the last two years, there have been many other artist-held spaces opened and you could no longer do the street at a crawl – you now have to scurry to get through all the openings and exhibitions. This last Friday night saw the opening of about five new or renovated spaces – and the bar keeps getting raised each time with the effort people are putting into their new ventures. 

The street was teeming – I mean, I was recently in New York City on a Saturday night in July-like weather and, well, okay maybe there were a few more people wandering the streets of the Big Apple, but in a relative kinda way (NYC – 10 million people – Hamilton 500,000)  James Street North was packed and the atmosphere was exciting.

with freda & susie

 

 

With my friends Freda and Susie, we wandered through the galleries and couldn’t believe the buzz on the street. I’ve always found it hard to catch everything:  the art openings, the occasional busker or performance artist, the friends you bump into, and now add the local fashion designers’ studios as well which could demand trying on clothes! Sheesh, you need a weekend to do the whole street anymore, not just the evening. 

blackbird studio

I have talked before about Blackbird Studios, just off of James North on Wilson Street – Kiki and Buckshot have a dramatic line of clothing that has a sense of humor as well – it was one of their hot dresses that I wore to the Hamilton Music Awards last November. I stopped by their shop and was amazed at the racks of clothes and the new styles – and Kiki told me that it was empty compared to a few weeks ago before they had a big sale.  Prolific gals these two, charged with dressing the hard rock Hammer girls, and obviously starting to attract good attention. 

olinda

Just down James North, there is a new clothes designer who also does alterations and custom tailoring – Olinda, a young woman from El Salvador. With her extended family present, she had the grand opening of her shop, Olinda’s, with  free pizza and cake and a beautifully redone shop. 

olinda's

This building used to house a tattoo parlour and now it has a rose-coloured paint treatment and curtained dressing rooms. The care that Olinda and her family have put into this is a good sign for the quality of work she must do.  I doubt that she will be a direct competition to Blackbird – these are two very different styles with Olinda bringing in that Latin flair – but hopefully they will augment each other’s business and bring in women looking for original designed clothes (and in Olinda’s case, tailoring and alterations) that aren’t outrageously priced.

clay studio

Another changed space, just across the street, is The Clay Studio.  Grazyna, who does fine and interesting ceramic work, has moved down from a large space on the third floor of the building into a more reasonably-sized room that incorporates her studio and gallery. I have spoken with this friendly artist before, and am happy to see that she has moved into this space and it looks to fit her just right. She’s bound to get much more attention at street level whereas the galleries that lurk in the upper floors of these buildings take awhile for people to discover yet are always worth the walk up.

artists inc

In a short two blocks there was a bit of art theatre going on at Artists Inc, one of those bizarre scenarios that you have to watch for awhile.  There was also Gord Lewis, of Teenage Head, and Chris Houston, another Hamilton rockero, accompanying a photography retrospective of punkers and rockers at the Sonic Unyon building – I think Gord was going to play but we had to leave.  There was also a duo singing at the James North Gallery and an intense anti-smoking display at another new space put on by a group of university students . With a pig’s lung hanging in the window, they were intent on making a harsh point, but I got the impression it was mostly non-smokers hanging around anyway. The street is nothing if not eclectic.

tribal window

There is a new boutique selling  African and Indonesian art and imported items, the Tribal Gallery, just two doors down from the Woodpecker, which seems to me to sell basically the same stuff. It is wonderful to see a mix of cultures here though I don’t know how two such stores will survive in the same neighbourhood but I wish them both well.

Barbara Milne, at the Pearl Company, runs the Art Bus, taking people to openings around the Hamilton area on the first two Friday nights of each month.  The second Friday the tour visits other local galleries in the central city with openings but also takes in the James Street North Art Crawl.  I truly appreciate the Art Bus service – if you are in Hamilton on one of the first two Friday nights of the month, pay the $15 and leave your car at the Pearl and join the bus with Barbara’s enthusiastic commentary – it’s always a real enjoyable evening. 

flowers

The warm summer evenings have always been busy on James Street North. Now that there is more and more to experience during the Art Crawl, and each new business brings in a new mix of followers, these Friday night events will be just that – big events.  I hope that it spills over into bringing in good business throughout the month to the shops and galleries that line the street. Many of them offer locally produced items – like Mixed Media which is an art supply store but also carries local artists’  and writers’ work (including Walking with Wolf.) I have barely touched the list of artistic endeavours going on. I can’t imagine what James Street North will be looking like when I return in September. I hope it doesn’t outgrow its grassroots and start getting a corporate, chainstore effect going on. It’s magic is in the individual personalities of the businesses, their enthusiastic, energetic and talented owners, and the historic, funky character of the buildings that have come back to life on James Street North.

the truck of books

On a book related note, I received the new shipment of 2nd edition Walking with Wolf books.  The truck was supposed to arrive on Friday – a day calling for pouring rain that had me worried – but there was a knock on my door Thursday morning (luckily I was home) and a trucker telling me that his great big tractor trailer wasn’t meant for my narrow residential street.  Well, I coulda told him that if someone had asked me. When he opened the doors, there was my lonely little skid of boxes in an otherwise big ol’ empty trailer – carbon neutral be damned. My neighbour Bev came out and helped and we got those boxes of books into my house lickety split under a blue sky with no threat of rain. There’s a shipment of books headed to Costa Rica as well and Wolf and I will soon be visiting our old pal Eliecer, our customs man in Alajuela, to get them out of customs purgatory.

yard with tree

 

 

I’ve been working on my yard – the before and after pictures show my progress – and because of the tree that went down, it has now turned from a shady to sunny space. My yard consists of a terrace, beach, gardens, campground and work compound – it’s an oasis in the city and keeps me sane whenever I’m forced to be here and live like an urban animal.

full yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lori

 

 

I’ve had some real nice visits with friends who’ve come to say goodbye and know that I will be missing them soon enough.

So now I’m on my way, floating down a sweet stream and letting the current have its way with me. I am truly excited to be heading back to Costa Rica and Cahuita and Roberto and his jungle home. And to see Wolf again and take care of details involved in Caminando con Wolf, the Spanish translation of our book. The next time I write I’ll have monkey songs in my heart and wolf howls on my brain.

molly

 

But I know I will be thinking fondly of the humble but hot-headed Hammer, wondering how she is doing – like a ragged mutt who has finally found love in a new home and is starting to shine with the  attention. The prolific growth of creativity that is happening here  is taking the Hammertown down her own stream (not the way of the Red Hill Creek I trust) – hopefully to an interesting and bright future. Shine on my Hammerhead friends! See you in the fall.

It is snowing outside. The rooftops are cold enough that the snow is turning them white. Lucinda Williams is on the stereo and singing about snow covering her streetlamps too but she’s talking about Minneapolis in December. This is Canada in April, the spring bulbs are out of the ground and shivering, and you just gotta love it. I should have known that the weather I came home to last week was too good to be permanently true.

happy-with-wood1

One of my favourite Canadian pastimes – helping someone else stack their firewood…

I’m a few days away from heading to Maine. I hope the weather smartens up so that the highways and turnpikes and interstates are dry and quasi-sane. At the same time I’m preparing for this trip, I am also contacting people on the west coast for the book tour out there in July. If you are reading this and living between British Columbia and California and have a good idea of a Quaker meeting, naturalist group or bookstore who would be interested in hosting a Walking with Wolf evening, please send me a comment to this blog. I’m also making a few corrections to Walking with Wolf, preparing it for a second printing of the English edition to be done in the next weeks. And I’m helping with the details of the production of the Spanish translation in Costa Rica. I’m also making my plans to return there in May. I think I’ll be home about one week a month all summer. It’s a busy time.

with-lauren-family

With Lauren Schmuck and her mother Patricia Reynolds and Grandma Reynolds

I did a presentation of the book to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild – a nice group of people, mostly with biology backgrounds. There was a good little crowd and it was a nice evening. One of their members, Lauren Schmuck, put it together – she has a burning desire to go work or volunteer in Costa Rica and I expect I’ll see her down there one day. I told her that any volunteer work I have ever done has paid off in spades – and it is true, many of my lasting friendships and most valuable contacts have come from being a voluntary grunt worker with a smile on my face (that last part is important.) 

I’ve managed to hear some great music in the week I’ve been home – por supuesto. I went out and danced away a night when some of the top musicians in town (Jesse O’Brien, Brian Griffith, Joel Guenther et al) got together for a great gig of blues, funk and reggae tinged music to make ya dance. Love those guys.

with-the-boys

My four dates for the night – Randy, Pete, Kevin & Jeff (taking photo)

The other night I went and saw Lori Yates, backed beautifully by Brian Griffith and Lisa Wynn, break our hearts with her tunes and that honey voice – she writes some hurtin’ songs, but she is very funny and irreverent and outrageous and she makes us cry as much with laughter as pain. Then Tom Wilson did a great show, fitting this hometown concert in amidst a very busy tour from coast to coast in Canada and the US – it was a Hamilton proud night. Followed by Jesse, Brian and Mark LaForme keeping it moving at the Westtown. I need those nights of music – my soft little soul is feeling all aflutter and music always soothes me.

I also saw the great Charly Chiarelli – a Hammer-boy with Sicilian roots who also happens to live down near my friends, Kingston way. I’ve heard him play his harmonica and tell great stories over many years. He has written a trilogy of plays about growing up Italian here in Hamilton and Sunday afternoon was the last performance (at the good ol’ Pearl Company) of the third play, Sunamabeach. He is a very talented, funny, charismatic actor/musician/story teller – and the local crowd of Italian offspring were loving it. So were we who have not a drop of olive oil in our blood. Charly got in trouble with the Sons of Italy (no doubt the daughters too but that would be a different story) in the United States over his last play, Cu Fu. They felt he was negatively stereotyping Italians when really he was just telling stories from his life with great passion and amusement.

I also saw, at the same ol’ Pearl, a rehearsal for their next play, Tobacco Troubadour, written by the art director of Artword Theatre, Ron Weihs. It is about local musician, songwriter and music producer, J. Paul Reimens. When Ron heard Paul’s songs, he decided he needed to write a play around the stories that Paul tells in them. I had gone out on Thursday to see Paul playing at a local pub (with Brian Griffith – how lucky was that, hearing the best guitarist in town play four times in a week) and we got to talking about this play, written about his life growing up in the tobacco country of southern Ontario and just wanting to play the guitar. Since I won’t be around for the performances, I went and sat in at the rehearsal and am truly sorry I won’t be here for the real thing. It is going to be a very poignant and entertaining play with Paul’s sweet songs throughout.

troubadour

This all takes place at the poor ol’ Pearl Company, where my book launch was back in September. Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne have poured their energy, soul, money, and heart into creating this very alive art center in an old three story brick factory building that once was home to a costume jewelry business.  They also run the popular Art Bus that takes people around to arts events throughout the city twice a month. They both received Arts Hamilton Awards last autumn and Barbara just received a Woman of Distinction award recently.

Against this very successful backdrop, sits the big purple elephant of stubborn and stupid bureaucracy that is attempting to close them down due to zoning. For many years this old neighbourhood was zoned commercial, sitting about four blocks outside of the downtown core. It then went residential, but the commercial use of the building (along with paying commercial taxes) continued for decades. Now the city is issuing a new zoning plan and one of the biggest problems is parking spaces as well as a very expensive re-zoning application process. Considering that the Smart Plans and Green Plans or whatever plans that cities issue these days do a lot of talking about minimizing the use of automobiles and promoting public transit, the requirement of parking spaces to allow an arts center to exist is mind-blogging – and the spots do exist, just not in a neat parking lot adjacent to the building. The Pearl folks may have to take their struggle to keep this center going to the national press if the city doesn’t step up here soon and support what is such a happening community place. The Pearl Company drives a big part of the cultural scene of Hamilton. Anybody who wants to read more and support their cause can go to their website at www.thepearlcompany.ca

In late great breaking news, the local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, has finally put a small article in about the book. Jeff Mahoney, a real nice journalist who writes an always interesting column about local people and cultural things, interviewed me last November. He also read the book and told me he loved it. I had asked that they don’t print anything while I was away in Costa Rica – so today there was a small piece and picture about my presentation to the Biodiversity Guild and singing the praises of the Canadian embassy’s financial support. Jeff told me that he’ll try to get his review of the book in the paper in May. I’m very appreciative that the local, under-staffed and over-worked newspaper finally found a couple of inches of space for Walking with Wolf.

hamilton

I feel like I’ve mostly been sitting in front of my computer, contacting people, working on book stuff, feeling lovesick, but when I read what I’ve just written here, I realize that I’ve been enjoying myself too, taking advantage of being in this very dynamic, culturally-rich city lovingly called the Hammer, formerly known as Hamilton the Steel City. I continue to sing its praises wherever I go, invite my friends here who inevitably fall in love with it, and try to get out and support as many arts events while I’m here as possible.

In a moment of extreme stupidity, I managed to erase all my photographs off of my laptop – all the more stupid because, yes, I do have an external hard drive in which to download everything but, no, I didn’t do it since I got home. I then decided to make room on my laptop by taking out the photographs from one program – and they disappeared off all programs and I emptied my recycle bin and well, it wasn’t pretty. I paid a man to recover them and have them all on DVD in messed up files but at least I have them for when I need to access the photographs for my power point presentations or my blog!

That was definitely a low point.robertos

 

The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.

It has been a very busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post. If people are going to keep reading, I feel a responsibility to keep writing. And, as the title of this post hints at, I’ve witnessed first hand the power of putting information out on the internet. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

The next two weeks promise to be crazy as I leave on December 15 and won’t be back till the end of March.  I’m headed to Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to spend Christmas with my friends Treesa and Rick at their winter home in the community of San Pedro.  I’ve wanted to go to this enchanting country as long as I can remember,  specifically to this lake since my sister went there in the mid 70s. I saw the pictures and heard the stories and am already  captivated by its beauty. So in my quest to go to the places I’ve been putting off over the years of working on Walking with Wolf, and despite the economic downturn – my view is I better spend money while I have it because I could be working at Tim Hortons splashing coffee down people by next year – I am making a stop in Guatemala on my way to Costa Rica. 

bromelia-fire

I will be in Monteverde for New Year’s Eve when the locals put on a big Beatles show which I’ve heard about but have yet to experience. That is just the beginning of the evening and I know that the night will be filled with more music, dancing and mayhem.  One of the best New Year’s I spent was the year of the millenium when we started the night under a starry sky around the firepit at Bromelias, my friend Patricia’s home and business in Monteverde. If the weather cooperates, I like to think that’s where I’ll be on December 31st.

 

four-beatles

I spent a night last weekend listening to a variety of local musicians here in Hamilton, organized by the stupendous Christopher Clause, performing the Beatles White Album. They raise money for a shelter for the homeless in the basement of the church where the concert is held. Many of their covers of the songs from this great album were truly inspired. The energy that Saint Clause must put out to organize all of these evenings (he’s pulled together many musicians to do other Beatles albums in the past) is remarkable along with his own enthusiastic singing and skill on the guitar. The Beatles night in Monteverde will have a lot to live up to – the bar has been set high.

Here in Canada we are in the middle of a very wild ride in our parliament.  You’d think that we had enough excitement this fall with the American election of Barack Obama…the huge collective sigh of relief that went around the world the day after his victory was palpable.  Here in Canada we had our own federal election about a month before where nothing really changed. We had a minority government with the Conservative party in control and they were returned to office with only slightly altered numbers. Following the election, the buzzword was “cooperation” – as in there was a new air of a cooperative spirit in Ottawa and the four parties with elected members would work together and get on with running the country. This of course means dealing with the economic crisis that has basically smothered us with its dire predictions, pocketbook panic, and totally inconceivable amounts of cash buckets that are bailing out the barely floating ship of commerce (protected by the ever-bouyant corporate powers-that-be).

Well, how things change…

As the Conservatives launched their economic package last week, they seemed to leave out their version of a bailing bucket except for the part where they removed the funding to the other political parties. This sent the other three parties to the backrooms to make a deal to bring down the government and organize themselves to step in as a coalition government.  Our constitution and parliamentary system allows for this – when the Prime Minister loses the support of the majority of the House, he can be defeated. The politics involved in all of this seems very schmarmy, the strategy is polarizing, the result is extreme.  We are now sitting listening to the pundits and party purveyors – trying to figure out the constitutional aspects of what is going on, the hidden agendas – but the speed in which we fell into this only serves to point out how fragile this new government was and how truly uncooperative the air was in Ottawa between the Conservatives and the others. Basically the opposition has had enough of dealing with the very right-wing agenda of the minority Conservatives who proceeded like they had a majority.

I’d be thrilled to see Stephen Harper and the Conservatives go – I’m obviously not a C/conservative, never have been, never will be (one of the few times I would let myself utter “never”) – and I rarely agree with any of their policies concerning taxes, social programs, the environment or war.  I was saddened when they got in again, although the way our election system works there was as much support for the other parties collectively as there was for them – which only goes to support the argument for proportional representation where the numbers of elected members in parliament would truly reflect the voting numbers.  I heard Michael Moore say the other day on a radio show that after all these years of telling Americans to try and think more like Canadians, it is funny that when they finally took the step in a new direction with Obama, we Canadians supported (or half of us did) the more conservative agenda here.  

I have no problem with the idea of a coalition government.  Canada is this huge country with so many different cultures, climates, histories and social requirements, that it only makes sense to me that our government needs to reflect all of those diversities and give them all a voice. There is this huge cry over the fact that the party that represents the majority of Quebecois, the Bloq, known for its sovereignty plan for Quebec, is now in the position of being part of the sitting government (if the coalition goes through). Which I don’t think is true – they are not actually part of this coalition, they just support it.  I think the only way we can continue in this country is by having representatives of all sectors of our huge country represented.  And the Bloq is voted in and represents much of Quebec.  Perhaps the scariest and saddest part of this is the polarization that will likely rear its ugly head again (having only been a big napping ostrich) between the west and east of Canada, the French and English, and the left and right.  Spirit of cooperation indeed!

canadian_bacon1

 

 

 

The amount of anger on the airwaves is reflecting how unhappy and unhomogenous we truly can be in our big land of bacon and beavers. At a time of the year already fraught with darkness, coldness and pre-holiday stress, I don’t know if this political adventure is a good distraction or a bad omen.

 

 

brent

 

Speaking of across-Canada-cooperation, a few days ago I took part in a CBC radio show.  This is our national public radio and the GO show airs across the country on Saturday mornings.  The GO crew, with host Brent Brambury, taped the live show here in Hamilton at the famous-on-my-blog Pearl Company. I got free tickets and went with my friend David.

 

brent-k-2

The theme of the show was “If Hamilton were a country song…” and the musical guests were Garnet Rogers, Kim and Frank Koren (who I have written about before), Thomas Wilson (not the original Hammerhead, but an import from Winnipeg who must tire of having to share his name with the larger-than-life native son Tom Wilson), and Tiny Bill Cody. The challenge was for the songwriters to write a country song about the Hammer.  The songs were truly brilliant, incorporating local legends and features of the city, and hilarious. We put out a lot of energy in laughter in that room for so early on a Saturday morning.  I was asked prior to the show to be the audience plant who they would call on to be part of their trivia challenge and of course I said yes.  So here I am at the mic, answering the silly questions that Brent threw at me though I had to correct him on my name (he called me Faye, I said, “That would be K! Brent”.)

The question that stumbled me was about Michael Moore’s film – Canadian Bacon – which was filmed here in Hamilton but I remember many of the scenes were in Niagara Falls – unless one of Hamilton’s 100+ waterfalls subbed for the big one.  And Brent talked on the phone with Michael Moore (this is where I heard him say that thing about Canadians/Americans – somehow this blog just keeps tying it all together, no?) who has a love for the Hammer too!

tiny-bill

 

A couple of days after that, Barbara Milne (who I thank for a couple of these photos) and Gary Santucci, who own the Pearl Company, won a Hamilton Arts Lifetime Achievement Award – which they totally deserve for years of supporting the arts community, as the boundless energy behind the Pearl Company as well as the Art Bus – and Tiny BIll Cody (aka Tor Lukassik Foss), a brilliant songwriter, musician and visual artist, also won a Hamilton Arts Award.  (This is a wonky pic of Tiny Tor waiting to sing his song about our notorious Sheila Copps)

Now I want to tell another tale, one that began on this blog back in July.  In the post “East Coast Pleasures”, I wrote about my friend, Roberto Levey, who lives in the steamy tropical forest near Cahuita on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica – okay, if you want to go and read that now, I’ll wait for you…..or you can pick up the story here…

 jungle1

About mid-August, when I was back in Canada, I received a comment on this blog from a woman in Perth, Australia.  She wrote how she and her daughter, Gabriella, had read with interest the story about Roberto (and his father Bato) as Gaby was Roberto’s daughter.  Debra and Roberto had been together for awhile eighteen years ago and she had returned home to Australia to find that she was pregnant.  Debra decided to stay in Australia, always imagining that she would return to Costa Rica one day.  Roberto had stayed in touch for many years, offering to do his share of parenting if Gaby was to return to Cahuita.  But father and daughter never met and as the years went by, Debra eventually lost contact with Roberto.

As Gabriella is now at an age when her interest in knowing her father and visiting her Tico roots on the Caribbean is intense, Debra had plans to take her, along with her younger sister Angelique, to Cahuita.  However, despite her attempts to contact him, Debra was unable to get any news about Roberto. Perhaps he wasn’t picking up his mail – I know he had gone through a rough period following a collapsed relationship a few years back. I had seen him in that period, but then had seen him again in July and he was more like the man I have known for fourteen years.

Debra had tried to get information about Roberto’s whereabouts from the police, the school, a variety of hotels in Cahuita – but either she was contacting new people who didn’t know Roberto (who has lived there almost all his life) or those who did know him were keeping their information close.  People aren’t quick to give out information to foreigners in Cahuita – it can get you in more trouble than it is worth. So even as Debra went ahead and booked their tickets and proceeded with the plan to make this big trip via the United States to Costa Rica with her two daughters, she truly had no idea what they would find – thinking that it was even possible that Roberto was dead since he hadn’t returned any of her letters in a long while.

Then in August, a couple months before the proposed trip, she googled Roberto Levey’s name one more time – and this time it kicked to my blog.  She wrote me that she and her daughter had cried reading my descriptions of both Roberto and his father – Gaby’s grandfather – and filled with relief knowing that Roberto was truly still alive. Debra and I began a correspondence then that continues today. I put her in touch with a friend in Cahuita, Inger, who actually uses her email once in awhile and was able to help Debra  contact Roberto and tell him that he was about to meet his daughter after eighteen years.  roberto-gaby

In October, father and daughter met. Debra, Gabriella and Angel spent two wonderful weeks in Cahuita.  Father and daughter got to know and love each other and all of Roberto’s family welcomed them as well.  And, of course, Debra and Roberto’s own love was re-ignited, not a surprise at all to me. Roberto is easy to fall in love with, it was bound to happen.  At the end of the two weeks, Debra, bit by both the coastal mosquitos and the bug of love, returned to Australia, a long long way from Costa Rica.  I’m sure Roberto was also suffering in Cahuita with his heart stirred up again. Debra wrote me that she couldn’t decide what to do about the situation. Should she return to Costa Rica – where she really didn’t have any interest in living except for being with Roberto – or did she help him to go to Australia and be part of his daughter’s life there? Everything sounds good in the short term, but would he really be happy, this beach and bushman living in the suburbs of Western Australia? He had lived elsewhere before and always returned to his home, where his roots run much deeper than the shallow root systems of the tropical trees. Debra was letting herself take some time to figure out what to do, weighing her options, seeing if her feelings are strong enough for such a big commitment, looking for a sign.

roberto-letter

 

 

Debra and I continue exchanging letters. She appreciates that I understand her feelings and the great dilemma she finds herself in. I have been in love at a distance and know how it feels to leave it behind. Because I know Roberto, I share her feeling that he is a good man but I also have watched international relationships fail quite regularly. I find myself in this very personal conversation with a woman I have never met, though have grown fond of, about a man that we both love. (They have permitted me to share this story with y’all by the way.)

 

 

robertos-shack

Then, about two weeks ago, the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica was hit hard by torrential rains from a near cyclonic condition that moved in and just sat over the area, causing serious flooding with extreme damage to thousands of people’s homes.  Roberto, who lives just outside of town in a little shack nestled in the elbow of a stream, was at home when a huge head of water came down the creekbed without warning.  His home was taken away in an instant and he had a struggle just to get himself across the now raging river. He was lucky to not be washed away himself, hit by floating debris, or drowned. He lost everything he had, taken by watery force down the creekbed and out to the sea.

The last thing I heard from Debra was that they were trying to get him a visa to go to Australia.  Roberto has had his little world rocked several times these last few months. I’m sure at this point he’s just grateful to be alive. The opportunity to spend time with his daughter and Debra came just when his waters were seriously shifting. I don’t know how long the visa process will take but I selfishly hope that he will still be in Costa Rica in January so I can visit him before he goes down under. Roberto would survive just fine somewhere around Cahuita – people begin again after these disastrous storms and carry on – but if Debra was looking for a sign that they should try to be together, this was it.

I was astounded when I read that first letter Debra sent me, amazed at what a small world cyberspace encompasses. I wonder if I hadn’t gone to see Roberto in July and written about him on this blog, how differently things may have happened. I’m happy that I was able to bring joy and relief to Debra and Gaby, this teenager who was wondering if her father was even alive so she could one day meet him. Through the miracle of google-dust, my blog helped the women in the suburbs of Western Australia connect with the rasta who lives his very simple life in the Caribbean jungle. Love endures despite distance, time and really bad weather.  It makes me feel like … Kupid!

It is a joyous occasion when your hard work and your good friends come together to create an event that is exactly what you want.  This was what happened on Saturday night at the Pearl Company here in Hamilton – the official Canadian launch of Walking with Wolf was a magical evening. Just like the first presentation that Wolf and I did for the book in Monteverde at Bromelias, it was a full house, very positive, fun, successful – yes, magical.

It took place at the beautiful Pearl Company, a three-story brick building that originally housed a coffin factory and later a costume jewelry business which left pearls inbedded in the cracks between the wide pine floorboards.  The bottom floor is a stunning art gallery space with a boutique that sells locally-produced art and books, including Walking with Wolf; the second floor is this large acoustically-live performance space; the third floor is the studio apartment of Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners.  They bought the building about three years ago and have restored it to the glorious gem that it is now, and have started spreading that renewal around the neighbourhood with an association they got started to bring some unity to this rather marginalized city barrio. 

Recently they joined forces with Ron Weihs and Judith Sandford, who are transplants from the Toronto theatre scene.  They are now the artistic directors of the performance space.  They helped with the physical set up of the room for our event.  They are introducing a whole new program to the Pearl, regularly scheduled theatrical, musical and spoken word evenings.  The Pearl continues to grow into a great cultural community situated in this grand old building which deserves this chance at a renewed life.  There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be the perfect place for a book launch and it truly was.

With the help of my friends – Cocky who was here visiting me and helped me get my act together; Freda and Mike Cole who did almost all the food (I threw in a bean dip and some marinated mushrooms, but otherwise Freda, as usual, fed the masses her delicious creations); Kathryn and Bob Johnston who took care of the sales table – the evening went off without a glitch. 

People estimate that there were maybe up to 130 people there – we charged $5 at the door to cover expenses, and it did!  The important thing is the building was filled with friends, old and new, all enthusiastic and supportive – there was a lot of love in the room that night.  How lucky am I? I ask that, but I know that this book project has been surrounded by love and support since it started, particularly in the last year of getting the book done and now getting it out to the reading public. 

My wonderful friends Al and Jean Bair (on the left in the photo), along with their daughter Sandy and her husband Bruce and their sons Ben and Jacob, came from Petawawa.  A long time ago I asked Al if he would do me the honor of introducing me when the day came to present the book. I met Al and Jean in Monteverde in 1995 when they had a house in the area and, like me, spent a lot of time there each year.  Our friendship grew here in Canada.  I love this couple and admire how they live and most of all the strength of their family-bond.  They have five very successful children, who with their spouses and the grandchildren, make a very tight unit with Al and Jean.  It is one of the most dynamic, smart and colourful families I have known (like the Guindons, but different).  Al and Jean are not like parents to me, mentors is a better word, friends is the best. When my parents died in the late 90s, Al and Jean provided great comfort and guidance, but most of all made me laugh and made me feel that everything would be okay. When I have the chance to spend time with them, whether in their home or traveling together somewhere, the conversation is always interesting and honest and hugely entertaining. 

Al gave an introduction that brought me to tears with his kind words about how we had met, about our travels together, and how I am almost more Costa Rican than many Costa Ricans he knows.  I sure picked the right person to introduce me – as many people said to me later in the evening, that man sure loves you.  The feeling is very mutual.

 

 

 

 

There was a small technical glitch with my laptop as the room was filling up and I was wanting to start the images on the screen.  Thankfully the computer geeks in the crowd stepped in and took over, including Bruce who has helped me every step of the way with the book, and Al’s grandsons. I stayed calm, kept greeting people, and believed everything would work out, and it did.  One must love their geek friends.

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

The crowd who came out represented many periods of my life and communities that I’ve been part of. Doug Agnew, who was my teacher from Grade 5 to Grade 8, and his wife Janice came.  I reconnected about ten years ago with them and stay in touch, having dinner together once every couple of years.  Doug was my absolutely favorite teacher from all my schooling years. It was just a huge shock when we reconnected and got talking and found out that this man, whose word we took as law, who we looked up to as our guide when we were about ten years old, was only 21 himself when he started teaching us! Twenty-one! And we thought he was this wise old man!  I have always felt that his four years of teaching played a huge part, along with my parents, in my formation and so I have to give some credit to him for who I am and what I do now.  That may or may not please him (depending on what he thinks of who I am now), but it is meant with the greatest of respect and affection.

Christine Carleton and I took a couple of creative writing classes together at Mohawk College back in 2001 when I was prepping myself for writing the book.  We then joined with Joanne Levy and Kelly White and a couple of other aspiring writers to form a writing group, to read and critique each other’s writing.  Although eventually our group fell apart, I did receive some great feedback from them on the early chapters in the early stages.  Christine and Kelly came to the Pearl – we all just shake ourselves, me included, that one of us has actually published something! Christine particularly was a very supportive writing mate and has offered much encouragement over the years. It was great to see her.

Besides Cocky from Maine and the Bairs from Petawawa, there were friends from Toronto like Deb Holahan and Tory Byers and Lynda Lehman from Guelph brought my editor Jane Pavanel down. She came all the way from Montreal (via Guelph) for the occasion and wo-manned the entrance, extracting $5 out of everybody without exception – good work Jane! She also brought me six of the best butter tarts in the world! It was wonderful to see her, to have her there to celebrate this book, as she played a huge role in its creation.  The relationship between editor and writer is a difficult one, as they just want to mess with your words, throw them around, throw them out, but the end product has as much do to their diligence as the writer’s. So Jane deserves much credit for the flow and clarity of the writing in Walking with Wolf.  And I’m very happy to call her a friend and that she was able to come to Hamilton for the book launch.

Ken Kroesser, who did the cover and maps, and Bruce MacLean, who did the index, and prepared the photographs and the copy for the printer, also came from Toronto.  I am in awe of these men.  I can’t say enough about how much help they have given me in all aspects of designing, finishing and now marketing the book.  Ken lives in anonymity (he worries that my blog will bring him undue notoriety) but is a very successful designer and brand-man – and a very recently married man – and brought me a belated birthday gift of Walking with Wolf bookmarks – my new calling card.  How lucky have I been to get to know these two and benefit from their knowledge and professionalism.  I just adore them and was thrilled that they too came out. I was only sorry that the last person in the team who helped me turn my manuscript into a book, Laurie Hollis-Walker, couldn’t make it.  She should have been there to receive her share of my praise.

It was wonderful to see friends from the Bruce Trail – Bill and Barb Cannon, Barbara and Ian Reid, Ivor Mansell, and of course Shirley Klement. They were good friends of my parents who became good friends of mine.  Also the Poag and Johnston family – besides Bob and Kathryn, her mom, Doreen, and their daughters Marianne and Sarah (along with Joe, the about to be husband), came out in support.  They are as close to family as anyone can get without having a drop of genetic blood in our veins.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Lois, along with my cousins Barbara (in the picture with me) (and John) and Stephen (and Laurie) showed up, coming from Mississauga and Fergus.  I haven’t seen any of these Chornooks in a long time and I was sorry that I didn’t have more time to actually chat, but I was very touched that they would all come and support me – they had already bought and read the book this summer, but I was able to sign their copies.

  

Wendy and Robert E. Ross showed up. Robert is a very established painter in Hamilton who I met many years ago and happened to run into recently.  I had invited him to the launch and was very happy that he and Wendy showed up.  Receiving support from people in the arts community here is important – and I try to go out and support people in the various arts myself.  There were also a number of people from the musical community, including JP (Paul) Riemens, a great singer-songwriter and music producer in Hamilton. He is a friend of Lori Yates, of the Evelyn Dicks, who performed that night at the Pearl, and I’ve met him a couple of times.

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

On Thursday night Cocky and I went to see him play at a local bar. We got into a discussion about house parties that hire musicians to play – there is a whole circuit across Canada that musicians get linked into.  He was telling us about playing a house concert in northern Ontario near Sudbury, which was put on by Laurientian University professors to celebrate people who were receiving honorary degrees that day.  As he said this, Cocky and I both piped up “Jean Trickey” – our friend from Little Rock (refer to blog: 50 and Kstock 2008) – and sure enough when she was in Sudbury to receive her honorary degree, she had ended up at this party that Paul and his band the Barflies played at.  He had talked with her and told us how the whole tour could have ended right there for him, that was the highlight, speaking with this civil rights icon and fascinating woman.  When he found out that she had just been in Hamilton last week for my birthday he was disappointed that we hadn’t had this conversation a week earlier, as he could have seen her again. It’s a big big country, our Canada, but it’s a small small world.

My former primary nurse from my cancer days, Trish Haines, came as well – another person who is thanked in the book, along with my doctor Dr. Ralph Meyer, for the great care they provided during my cancer-fighting days. I’m proud to call her my friend still and was very happy to see her.  Another Patricia, the one I go to for the occasional facial or massage – actually now she comes to me with her Beautiful Needs mobile spa – showed up with a lovely flower arrangement that she had made, full of best wishes and kind thoughts.  This is her with Mike and Freda Cole, taking a break from the food table

Cocky, who has been staying with me (she has fallen in love with the Hammer and is looking for excuses to come here now), and I managed to get everything together, along with Mike and Freda, and got to the Pearl on time, but managed to leave my cheat sheets at home.  I don’t have a problem talking in front of a crowd, and I always wing it, never read it, but I am sensible enough to write down a few points on a paper, in case I lose my way.  But since I left the paper at home, I was on my own.  People were very kind with their praise afterward, so I guess it all went well enough. I only stumbled once, when I looked up and saw my friend Wendy reacting to a picture on the screen behind me, but other than that I pretty much said what I wanted to. 

I read from a couple of chapters in the book – the end of the first chapter that introduces Wolf and how this project began, and then a couple pages about snakes.  As I do book events and readings, I like to read something from both my own narration and Wolf’s dialogue but also like to add one of the stories that other people provided me with.  It gives a fair representation of the book, an idea as to how it is composed. I figured that in this urban crowd, many people would be icky about snakes and I was right. So I read Gary Diller’s great story about Wolf bringing a fer-de-lance out of the jungle and setting him up for a fall in front of his clients as well as a number of Wolf’s stories about snakes. Well, what better way to take the city folk on a literary trip to the jungle than by talking about snakes! I could hear people squirming in their seats, just the reaction I wanted. 

Well, as I said there were well over a hundred people there, I can’t mention them all, but suffice it to say that the room was filled with friendly faces, supportive souls and classy characters.  We sold 39 books and I signed others that people had bought elsewhere.  Did I feel like a queen? You betcha! It was a wonderful feeling to celebrate in Hamilton with all these people. 

 

And when my little talk was finished, that irreverent band of Hammer superstars, the Evelyn Dicks, stepped up and blew the roof off the building. Their songs are all written around the notorious Evelyn Dick, serial murderess of Hamilton’s past, femme fatale.  Lori Yates and Lynn Buckshot Beebe, dressed the part – femme fatales themselves – in classic red and black vintage dresses – the boys in the band, Chris Houston, Cleave Anderson and Jimmy Vapid, provide the rockin rhythm section to these two front women (and Chris steps up and growls out a few songs as well). But the attitude that exudes out of these ladies, and the humor they toss around like balls looking for a bat, amused the audience and kept those of us who are keen to be dancing on our feet.  Lori gave me this band as a gift for the night – my abundant appreciation goes out to her for topping off an already successful literary-type evening with the Dicks brand of musical mayhem.  The Dicks rocked the house, sent some folks right out the door, but thoroughly entertained those of us who stayed on.

My new friend Larry Strung, who has been documenting the faces of Hamilton, one day at a time, each day of 2008, and creating a photographic record on his website http://hamilton365.com also showed up and took some photos, including this great shot of the Dicks in all their glory.

When the party was over, a number of us moved on to a local pub, The Cat and Fiddle, to hear JP Riemens bandmates, Linda Duemo, Brian Griffith and friends, playing rockabilly kinda music that kept us all dancing.  They had to kick us out. The musicians were all tired, having played at the Locke Street Festival that was also on that day.  But it didn’t show in their music and no doubt the infusion of this gang of happy post-book-launch celebrants helped spike their energy back up. 

Cocky, my friends Shirley, Jeff and I came home by 3 a.m.  Cocky decided we were hungry and she would make us an omelet.  Now I have to say that we were all fine from a night of minimal drinking and maximum dancing, but my pal Jeff was slightly inebriated unlike the rest of us.  When he saw that Cocky was cooking, he decided that he would step up and take over.  He has fed me many great meals, I know that he is a good cook, but I was a little concerned that he should be driving that frying pan in his condition. Shirley and I sat back and watched the two of them negotiating in the kitchen, Cocky (very unlike herself) letting him take over, bringing him ingredients.  I wondered how long it would be before he was kicked to the curb and she took control of the frying pan.  The three of us women were rolling our eyeballs wondering what he was going to concoct, and I must say without belief that he was going to be able to prepare much of anything.

And then, as we sat in our silent cynism, that man picked up that great big frying pan and did the most perfect flip of a multi-egged omelet that I have ever seen! WOW we all blurted out! Anyone who could make that great big omelet do a perfect back flip in the air and back into the pan can drive my frying pan any day! We lost our disbelief immediately and a couple minutes later bit into the best omelet I’ve had in years.  So here I publicly apologize to Jeff for doubting him and thank him for his culinary prowess.  And Cocky for being so mellow in her old age and letting him take over.  We ate our omelet breakfast at 4 in the morning and then went to bed, beyond satisfied at the perfection of the whole night.

I’m very proud of Walking with Wolf, and the great response to it affirms my own belief in its value.  I can’t really express, even though I guess I’m a writer now and should be able to, how thankful I am that people are liking it.  I can’t imagine all the years of work Wolf and I put into it ending with a sub-standard result, when people wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye after they’ve read it, if they even had. But now I can look people in their eye and talk about my book and know that it is as good as I could make it.  Not only was I given the privilege and pleasure of getting to know Wolf and telling his story, but I managed to do it right, and I get teary every time I even think about that (I am teary now).  I am so thankful that this is how this project turned out, as I said, I can’t even begin to express my amazement and my gratitude.

Any minute now the phone will ring and it’ll be Pierre, at Transcontinental Printers, giving me the final amount of the bill that I need to pay before they release Walking with Wolf.  Thanks to the power of VISA, that little transaction can take place instantaneously and very shortly after, a skidload of books – 1280 to be exact – will be sent by truck down the highway to my home in Hamilton. I am trying to visualize how many books that is – one skidload doesn’t sound like so much, but in the confines of my small house, it might just seem like a mountain. I think I’ll make furniture with the boxes, throw a few blankets over the cartons, and rearrange my home to be a functional and comfortable book warehouse.  Some of those books will go with me on the plane to Costa Rica so that we can get right to the celebratory launch shortly after I arrive. I have considered and reconsidered the numbers – how many to ship where – another in a long line of decisions that, at the time, seem extremely important. In the end, I’ll live with whatever I’ve done. So the other 720 books are heading down on a leisurely boat cruise to Limon, hopefully arriving a few weeks after I do, to be sold around Costa Rica.  I’ve had to make arrangements to store them in “dry closets” – in the humid land of the rain forest, you need to keep a lightbulb burning to keep the moisture down or I’d be the proud owner of a buncha musty books in short order.  The Hammer is a pretty humid place too, but nothing like Monteverde, up on the wet, green mountain, and here, dehumidifiers tend to do the trick.

One of the details I’ve been consumed with before I leave Canada is to decide on when and where to have the official book launch when I get back.  At this point it is looking like Saturday, September 6 at the wonderful Pearl Company.  A grand old three-storey brick factory building close to downtown Hamilton, it has been renovated with love & spirit by Barbara Milne and Gary Santucci and now houses not only their loft living space but a stunning art gallery, art shop and performance venue.  The couple also runs a fantastic service – the Art Bus. It heads out on the first two Fridays of the month when, for a very reasonable $15, you are driven from gallery opening to gallery opening in the greater Hamilton area, exposing curious art-lovers to a wide range of studios and spaces, local creations and culture. The bus leaves from the Pearl Company, and it was when I went on the bus back in January and saw the beautiful old building that I first thought what a great place to have a launch party for Walking with Wolf.  So I went the other day to talk to Barbara and we came up with the September 6 date. I’ll actually be having a trial run at my 50th birthday party on August 23, but that’s a whole other story.

Last night I went to the Lionshead Pub to see my friend Lori Yates play along with her friend Lynn Buckshot Bebee.  Heart-grabbing voices, irreverent spunky women, great great songwriters. They played a set together, along with Chris Houston, as the Evelyn Dicks – named after a notorious murderess from Hamilton’s past – and blew me away.  And this was only part of their band that I saw. I immediately got the idea that this would be a great band to play on the night of the launch – some real hometown Hammer hustle, with lyrics full of literary story lines and surprises, and rocking women (Mistah Houston was the exception). By the end of the night we had a plan, to collaborate on a great night in September, celebrating Walking with Wolf, and cranking up the steel city attitude with the Dicks.  Lynn started her last set with a song that ended with the line “Going to read a good book” and I gasped.  She later told me that she just finished writing that song the night before – and I found it totally prophetic.  I hope that this all works out – Walking with Wolf - Book Celebration with the Evelyn Dicks – Musical Event at the Pearl Company – Community Center – in Hamilton, September 6, 2008.  Many more events will follow, but I’m feeling like this is the just the best way to introduce the book in the Hammer.

Suggestions are coming in from friends further afield: the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, Gullivers Bookstore in North Bay – if I can line up some local music to augment the book presentation in each case, my work will be done! In my little world, you can never have too much music, and no night is complete without at least a little shimmy on the dancefloor. Dave Patterson of the legendary Wabi Delta Band in the Temiskaming area has offered up his services for the New Liskeard show. I’m loving the generosity and enthusiasm of people towards the coming out of Walking with Wolf. For my part, I plan on creating a multi-media kinda presentation while I’m in Monteverde.  It will feature images from the tropical forest, video of Wolf and a variety of Costa Rican music.  I hope to add a little colour and character to your typical book-reading.  I believe so strongly in the value of telling Wolf’s story that going out in the world and talking to people about the book is easy.  If I can make a connection between the book, the past and the future of conservation, be it in Costa Rica or anywhere else, while plugging the book, then it will be even more satisfying.

Now why hasn’t that phone rang? 

 

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