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Maine in the springtime – what a lovely thing. It’s still cold, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining as bright as a lighthouse beacon warning us of summer approaching.
Peter and Alpha the wonder dog
Have some time here to write something so thought I better do it. I’m reworking my powerpoint for tomorrow night’s talk to the Maine Audubon Society in Falsmouth. My lovin’ family here, Cocky and Peter, have put a lot of time into make this work and inviting people and trying to get local media attention…we will see how it goes. As usual, I approach it all the same – think of who I’m talking to and do the best I can to entertain them, hopefully sell at least one book (that makes it worth it and keeps my expectations real low) and enjoy the experience. You never know what might happen or who you might meet. Each presentation gives me the chance of having something wonderful happen…and minimally enjoying myself. And gives me the opportunity to spread the story of Wolf and Monteverde a little further.
Before I left home, I went to Toronto to slurp oysters with my book boys, Ken and Bruce, and was getting interesting cellphone information from my pal Sol, when I ran into my cousin on the street. I guess that often happens to people, meeting up with relatives you rarely see on the busiest street (Queen West) of one of the busiest Canadian cities, but when they are on a gigantic horse and dressed out in full winter police wear, it adds a new twist. What an imposing sight they were. Stephen has been a policeman in Toronto for years and a cop-on-horseback for maybe eight years or so (probably many more and I just don’t remember.) It was great to see him, chit chat while standing in the heat of the horse’s breath, realizing how little I see these relatives of mine from nearby Mississauga and Fergus – that it is more likely I will run into Stephen riding a horse through downtown Toronto than in one of our houses is crazy.
On Saturday I got my rental car and drove to the border listening to JP Reimen’s new CD, Love is a Dog – the first song, the first of this roadtrip, is Troubadour and its lines about spilling wine and leaving my troubles behind was an appropriate send off. Nice songs again from the boy from tobacco country.
I got through the border but did get processed and so I guess I will have to talk to a customs broker before I cross with books again. The border guy – I have to be glad he was a nice one – let me through but warned me that since 911, boxes don’t just travel around the country, big brother needs to know what they are and who they’re with. Yeah, well, books. With me. Whatever.
I got to Ithaca, New York, near the Finger Lakes, where my friend Manuel Monestel is teaching a course in Music Industry and Society – the state of contemporary music in society and its relationship with the music industry and market. I’m betting it’s a fascinating course. I stopped for the night at his nice rented home in the pretty town that sits in a valley below Cornell University (a small city in its own right). I had come to not only see my friend (a Tico being only four hours from my Canadian home is well worth the trip) but it was also a good stop on my way to Maine and I had a favour to ask of him. Manuel has agreed to write a new endorsement blurb for the back of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf – Caminando con Wolf. I’m honored that this well-known musician, author, professor and all-round wise and talented man is going to put his name to the book. So I dropped one off for him to read and managed to get a full night of music in the process.
I did find out from Manuel, who has written a book on the history of calypso music on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is very knowledgeable about not only the history and culture and music but the dialect there, that the term I’ve been using – cabanga (read former posts) – which Roberto taught me, does indeed, as he insisted, have Afro-Caribbean roots. It is in the Spanish dictionary and the Ticos know it but it comes from the southern Caribbean. It meant that you should be sharing something – and that kind of worked its way around to feeling that you lost something – and that further got fused with the idea that you are feeling a loss, melancholy, the lovesick blues. That’s what I’ve been feeling – and with a capital K – Kabanga – all the more apropos. Roberto will be happy to know he was right, the proof in a book on Afro-ethnicity.
There was a Peruvian celebration going on at the university, and the great Eva Ayllon, the beautiful star of Afro-Peruvian lando and festejo music, performed in the nice small room with her hot jazz band. That was a very sweet treat to arrive to a show like that – she took the chill off the wintery night.
A dance and cajon band from New York City, Carabumbe, also performed, including an Afro-Peruvian dance workshop (that I of course joined in to sweat a little). It was powerful to hear six of those wooden boxes being beaten together. There was also a typical dinner served. Viva Peru!
Afterward we went over to the house of some grad student friends of Manuel’s – Marcela, a Costa Rican and Juliana, a Columbiana, both who know Monteverde well and bought a couple books (always working I tell ya.) Manuel and Juliana, along with friends from Chili, Mexico, Uruguay, Tennessee (and of course Canada), played guitar and sang till the madrugada, a variety of political, social and romantic latin songs (stirring my poor little tender soul again). Juliana had a powerful expressive voice and Manuel is always butter in your ears (or that would be buttered rum in this case.)
By the time we got back to the house, I was lucky to get a few hours of sleep before getting back in my car and driving seven hours east to Freeport. I was flying on the highway but without any sense of incident – it was Easter Sunday after all and the roads were relatively quiet as everyone was home eating turkeys and rabbits and pigs and things. So here I be in Maine, preparing, relaxing, visiting, happy to be on the road again.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.