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I’m coming to you from Hamilton Ontario, my northern nest that’s woven together with maple leaves and pine needles. I’m running around like a squirrel trying to remember where she stored all her nuts months ago. Everything seems familiar and
though I haven’t quite acclimatized yet, I can see that it’s all coming back to me (or the nuts are starting to reveal themselves).
Each day I meet up with my Canadian friends, great people I missed during my ten months in Costa Rica. Now it’s tropical breezes that blow through my mind and my Costa Rican loved ones take their turn licking my heart. I’m still starting my sentences with “bueno”, and I’m missing fresh sweet mangoes and the seductive smell of coffee being roasted, not just brewed. Waiting until after 9 p.m. for the sun to set and the sky to darken seems unnatural after a 6 to 6 light/dark ratio that has barely changed in ten months. I always find that day/night transition difficult when I return to the north.
I’m thinking of my southern friends, those left to fend in the rainy season – Roberto in
Cahuita where the rains are warm and the river is known to rise; Wolf in Monteverde, no longer able to set out on muddy trails through the soggy forest, but still holding his own against sudden storms; Lorena and Edín in San José, shiny happy people making music and cupcakes that will keep people smiling despite the cloudy skies and grey days of a Costa Rican winter.
Along with these and so many more two-legged friends, I also miss my four-legged friends, of which there are
a few. I’ve become very attached to the five felines in the city apartment, to
the semi-wild Miel in the jungle rancho, and the mellower Miel and his sidekick Olly at the Monteverde Study Center. There is also the lovely white husky Tyra and the old farm dogs on the Guindon farm.
My favorite canine of course is Wolf. After all these months of poor health and our vigils at his hospital bedside, I feel very secure in leaving Wolf for a few months. He seems to be stronger every time I return to Monteverde, and I know that he had very good reports when he visited his doctors last week. I trust that he will be okay until I get back there.
A few days before I left the green mountain, in a room packed full of scientists and students, there was a very touching tribute to Wolf. On the occasion of
celebrating the International Day of the Environment, the Costa Rican chapter
of the Mesoamerican Society of Biology and Conservation thanked three men for their contribution to conservation and the advancement of scientific knowledge in Costa Rica. Besides Wolf, they acknowledged Dr. Richard LaVal, who lives in Monteverde and is the Batman of Costa Rica, a living encyclopedia about those flying mammals; and Dr. Jorge Cortés for his work with mangroves.
The present Director of the Monteverde Reserve, Carlos Hernandez, brought tears to many eyes as he thanked Wolf for his leadership, inspiration and dedication. Don Carlos expressed how he learns something new about the forest and the history of the community in every conversation he has with Don Wolf. He also expressed for the many employees of the Reserve how Wolf will always be their spiritual leader. There were many university students who were deeply touched by meeting the grandfather of Costa Rican conservation as we all have been upon our first meeting with Wolf. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s commitment and contributions being celebrated especially at a time when he is feeling like his usefulness is diminishing. In his lifetime, Wolf has contributed more than most to the country he adopted, the community he helped develop and the forest that he dedicated himself to protecting. Although he is entitled to a rest, Wolf’s restless nature is frustrated within his worn down body – hopefully he will find some activity that will engage him and satisfy his altruistic soul.
The Spanish edition of our book – Caminando con Wolf - should be in the hands of the editor at the Editorial de Universidad de Costa Rica. I wish I could push the process forward, but now I must wait with patience and Wolf must get stronger while he waits. As I said, I think Wolf will be okay, even though life isn’t necessarily easy for him and the family, but he is determined to see the book in Spanish and that helps him stay focused on doing the things that he needs to do to get better.
As for the English version, Walking with Wolf, I took a third order of books to the Café Britt headquarters the day before leaving Costa Rica. Juan Diego, the buyer for the company, came down to the receiving desk to see me and told me that the book was doing very well at the airport stores.
When I went through the San José airport on my way to Canada it was the first time I was in
the airport and saw our book there. I went in one of their stores and saw the book sitting proudly in a center book display. I took a picture with the young clerk and was satisfied that the book was given a prominent position on the shelf. I then visited the bigger of the Café Britt stores that was closer to my departure gate and was thrilled to see that familiar picture of Wolf wrapped in the big leaf staring down from the Best Sellers wall! Walking with Wolf was number five on their most sold list, after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series but above a book titled “I Hope They Sell Beer in Hell”.
I spoke with the staff who seemed as excited to meet a real life author as I did to see my book on that wall! Of course we took more pictures and made quite a commotion. It was a super way to leave Costa Rica.
Those ten months in paradise unfolded in ways that I couldn’t predict. I didn’t expect to spend months helping to care for an ailing Wolf; I thought I’d get the papers for my property in Cahuita together quickly, but only just managed to get everything in order before leaving; I had planned on building a small house on that property but between being distracted by Wolf’s situation and not having the legal papers in my hand, I put that off.
Roberto was very supportive and patient with the fact that I was busy elsewhere most of the
time. I’m sure he thought that when I bought the property I would be staying closer to his home but things didn’t work out that way. Well, when you love a gypsy, what do you expect? When I was there we enjoyed the sea, the monkeys, coconut-flavored food and as much dancing as
we could squeeze in.
I also hoped that the Spanish edition of the book would be released, but that didn’t happen -
yet it is bound to be soon! I made a new friend with Lester, the editor of the Spanish translation. I certainly didn’t expect to spend months living in San José and if I had been planning on it, I would still have been surprised as to how much I enjoyed life in the big city especially that time I spent with Lorena
and Edín and the cats.
They were generous and kind and constantly creative. We talked life and politics and music, and the power of kindness, the craziness of life – laughed until we cried and cried until we had to laugh. I tried to repay their good hearts by cooking and helping wherever possible. I can’t thank them enough for giving me an urban home and family.
It was a very emotional ten months, with super highlights like my trip to Guatemala with EDITUS and the Dance Fusion show in Monteverde. I will never forget Wolf in his mania talking non-stop for a month, nor the love of his family rising like soft bread dough around him in his time of need. I will miss so many friends, and special ones like Barb and Deb in Monteverde who are two of the most loving spirited gals on the planet. And always look forward to returning to see Zulay and her big family in every corner of that little green country.
So I dedicate this blog to all those, big and small, furry or not, who have become my family
in Costa Rica. I expect to be back by November, but if Caminando con Wolf is released sooner, there I will be for the fiesta! In the meantime, I’m loving my
Canadian home and friends and forest. Maple trees, palm trees, no matter what
the leaf – as long as there is love in the soul, food in the belly, and friends
under the sun, life is a gift.
I’ve been up and down the mountain to Monteverde several times over the last ten months – this is my last stay here for awhile, as I fly back to Canada next week. Last minute tasks are at hand, getting book business in order, saying goodbye to friends, and making
the first plans for what should be several months in the north.
I wish I could say that we will be celebrating the release of Caminando con Wolf, our Spanish translation, before I go, but sadly I can’t say that. I hope, for Wolf’s sake, that it will be soon…for my sake, later is better as I don’t want to turn around and make a costly return visit here within a couple of months. Alas, the timing is out of my hands and I will just adapt to whatever happens. I know Wolf is very anxious for that book to be in his hands so he can share it with his Costa Rican neighbors and friends who couldn’t read the English version, Walking with Wolf.
Wolf is doing okay, his spirits mostly high and stable, his physical state showing slow steady signs of improvement. He does his physical therapy twice a day with Stefany, his nurse, or with Lucky when Stef isn’t there, and he does the exercises quite willingly. However, as you can see by the picture, he does get bored with the process and often drifts off when he should be putting all his
strength into each movement. The hand with the damaged nerves (from being tied to the bedrail in the hospital) is reacting well to the exercises and bit by
bit Wolf can use it and it doesn’t seem so swollen. It is a long hard road to
This coming Saturday, the International Day of the Environment, Wolf will be receiving recognition for his lifetime of work in protecting the cloud forest. There is a
symposium happening here in Monteverde, and the various groups involved,
invited by the Costa Rican chapter of the Mesoamerican Society for Biology and
Conservation, will be gathering for a daylong event focused on the science of biological
corridors running from the mangroves at sea level to the cloud forest close to
the sky. It is wonderful to see Wolf’s work still being acknowledged by
colleagues and those on the frontline of conservation in Latin America. I know
it means a lot to him.
The MonteverdeFriends School’s campaign to raise funds – Monteverde 60th: Friends
in the Canopy – was very successful. My last blog post was mostly written during my 17 plus hours on a platform in the canopy. Many people in the community took part by climbing up a variety of tall trees, sleeping on platforms in various locations, painting, photographing and writing while in the trees, even performing music. The school raised about 2/3 of what they had hoped to gain money-wise, but as importantly, they excited the whole community to go out into nature and breathe in its magic. Most then shared their experiences with the world through the internet. There was also an art auction, with stunning work contributed by many of the very talented artists of this community. Bravo to the fundraising committee who oversaw this great month-long event – I hope they repeat it.
The tree and pics I’ve posted here are of Wolf’s son, Benito, climbing up to his hammock that he tied at the top of this big tree on the farm. He spent a few nights
there, happily swaying in the breeze, enjoying his solitude and the nighttime
sky. Like Wolf, Beni never fails to amaze us with his physical endurance and
the unique ways he employs it.
Many came out one Saturday afternoon for a goodbye dance party for our friend AA Leath who is leaving Monteverde to live in the United States after twenty years here. AA was part of the San Francisco post-modern dance scene in the 1950s, a collaborator of Anna Halprin, well known as a creator of this dance genre. During AA’s years here in Monteverde, he has treated us to many impromptu dance performances and enthusiastically supported both the arts and the artists.
Now, in his mid-eighties, AA has had knee replacements and other health difficulties, but
the worst tragedy has been the number of times his cabin was broken into. A year or so ago he moved and then he was attacked and robbed on the street – a total of seven times the punks have stolen from AA. Yes, this is true – in Monteverde – that an old man was assaulted for what little money he had while walking on the main road. And he isn’t the only one. (with Mary Stuckey Newswanger and Lucky Guindon)
Fortunately people came out to give him lots of love before he left, as it is horrible that he would leave this community with the bad taste of abuse on his mind and a lingering fear in his heart. Not only did we all dance together, but AA and neighbor Mills Tandy treated us to an improvised dance routine, dedicated to a dance instructor they had both happened to work with years ago.
I hope that AA will keep the lovely images of this day and the people who love him here foremost in his mind, replacing the negative ones that have been bothering him for the last couple of years. He is already truly missed in Monteverde.
Unfortunately, AA left just days before Monteverde had its first major dance event. Over the years, many professional dancers, besides AA, have visited and performed, but never has someone taken community members, young and old, and worked with them on original choreography in preparation for a grand night of performance. And the community must have been starving for it, because well over 200 people came out, so many that we couldn’t all fit into the room.
Marie Chantal Nadeau, a beautiful woman originally from Quebec, Canada but living here many years now, who is well known for the stunning jewelry she makes, has been working with a group of dancers for months. Her principle male lead dancer is Daniel Vargas, a multi-talented, much loved local, soon heading to the US and college. Marie and Daniel performed a stunning piece of modern ballet to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which was sung by the amazing Riley Walker. Daniel and Riley both lost their mothers to cancer about a year ago and Marie’s father also succumbed to the scourge a few years back. They dedicated this lovely piece of art to the parents they are all missing and it was truly moving and beautifully manifested.
There were colorful performances of folkloric dance by Costa Ricans, there was an enthusiastic South African gumboot-slapping number, acro-yoga dancing, a mother and son from Montreal doing a structured improvisational dance… something for everyone. Most numbers were accompanied by live music played or sung by locals. The night ended with fire dancing outside, and Marie, who had danced in two of the numbers and choreographed many of the others, left us with the image of her joy twirling in flames, no doubt with post-performance relief and contentment. The community is still thanking Marie, Daniel and all those who participated, for this spectacular evening.
The huge turnout, including a bus of tourists that we had to turn away, demonstrated that this community has been waiting for a show like this and if you give it, they will come. It also showed the necessity of a new community arts center for Monteverde and area. As Monteverde continues to grow in population, it continues to attract more artists and performers, and we need a place not just for performances, but studio space dedicated to each of the artistic disciplines. Originally these kinds of activities took place in people’s homes, then got moved to restaurants and hotels, and then there were private venues such as Bromelias Amphitheatre or the Centro Cultural Galeron where this dance evening took place. But these places aren’t fully equipped for this big of an event to be held in any kind of weather. Monteverde has grown beyond its small rural roots, and is bursting at the seams with people who appreciate the arts.
I came up the mountain specifically to help Marie with the show as the on-site keeper of the
keys and guardian of the gardens and animals who live here on the property of the Galeron. I am real happy to spend time with Marlene, who works here, and Tyra, the gentle white husky who takes over my bed when I stay. It was an easy decision to come right now as I wanted to have time with Wolf before I leave for Canada, to be present at his award ceremony, and I also had an upholstery project waiting for me.
As you can see, the chair got pulled apart, much to the pleasure of the cats Miel and
Olly, but due to technical difficulties – as in having very poor toolage – I’ve put off its completion until I return in a few months. Monteverde will still be here, and so will the chair – hopefully so will the trees, the birds, the wonderful people, and the howling Wolf of the mountain.
It seems I’ve only had minutes here in the Hammer before it’s time to head out again. I truly lucked out in having a week of glorious summer weather since arriving from Costa Rica. The blue skies and sunshine just won’t quit. I’ve unpacked and am now repacking to go to the northeastern US for a couple days – heading to a Quaker retreat in Vermont on a lake, so I sure hope this weather will follow me there and make the lake swimmable. Will then visit again with Cocky and Peter on the coast of Maine and stop in to see Carlos Guindon, who is moving forward with the final details of the Spanish translation of Walking with Wolf.
Between preparing to head out, juggling my book event schedule (have just added a talk on November 19 for the Kingston Field Naturalists), and meeting up with friends who I haven’t seen for a few months, this week has flown by as quickly as the planes that keep appearing above my house as part of the Hamilton Air Show. As is usual when I’m here in the Hammer, I’ve managed to catch a lot of live music this past week.
There is a new music venue that opened up while I was in Costa Rica, just a two minute bike ride from my house. I can see myself becoming a regular here when in the city. What used to be the old Copperhead Bar on James Street North (or the Copper John or Copper Corner or something like that – a place I’ve passed for years but never really taken notice of) has been given a new life as “This Ain’t Hollywood” – more affectionately known as The Saint. Hammerheads Lou Molinaro, Glen the Hamilton Kid and Gary Daly have taken over this ancient beer hall (slinging beer since 1893), done a few smart renovations and added a big sound system. The new stage is filling with rock, punk and alternative acts passing through the area as well as regular open mic nights where local musicians and their friends and fans gather.
Local singer-songwriter-music producer, JP Reimens, has organized a songwriters’ soiree at The Westtown over on Locke Street for a few years, but last week moved his Tuesday night gathering to The Saint. I’ve managed to catch the shows. It is a real nice room to see musicians play with good sightlines and there is a full clear sound. There is so much great talent around and you never know who will show up to perform or just drop by to see what’s going on: from the sultry sirens Ginger St. James, Lori Yates and Buckshot Bebee to guitar wizards Brian Griffith and Dan Walsh to the city’s songwriters with attitude Tim Gibbons, Linda Duemo and Dave Rave.
Last weekend was “the biggest Ribfest in the country” on the Burlington waterfront. With my friends Jeff (no last names please – the CIA is watching) and Heather, we went over to hang out on the beach in the late afternoon and have a barbeque, waiting for the sun to go down before heading up to the biggest pig-out in the land.
It’s a very different beach than the Caribbean shore in Cahuita I just spent the last two weeks on – chilly Lake Ontario sipping at its sand, just as often lashing it with serious waves. But the lake was calm and the full moon was rising and the city startled to sparkle as a gorgeous night came on.
We rode our bikes up the waterfront path to the big rib-affair to see Tom Wilson, another of my favorite musical beasts of Hamilton, along with some great musicians, including Jesse O’Brien, keyboardist extraordinaire.
Tom’s son Thompson and friends have a band – Harlan Pepper – as well as a big self-promoting father who gets gigs and press, so these four young guys are getting some exposure (opening for Tom’s show as they did on this night.) Some talent, some good songs, but still young and could do with some attitude. But the papa-musician, Tom, rocks as always and is guaranteed to be playing with hot talent no matter who he is at the moment – Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond, or he himself with an assembled band.
That big full moon continued hanging over us the next night when I went to Sonny Del Rio’s birthday party. Sonny’s the father of the sax here in the Hammer – been playing forever and at 66 is playing more than ever and loving it.
There was a backyard full of musicians and they stepped up to the mic, including Gord Lewis of Teenage Head who played a few with Sonny and friends. It was a real nice evening spent with my good friends Mike and Freda as well as Dean and Gary Duncan and his brother Randy, folks I love but I don’t get enough chances to see.
It is so great to come back to this happening little city where good friends reside and I never need be bored – not a word in my vocabulary anyway. Yet it is all on a scale that makes you look at the central core of Hamilton as truly down-town, as in the backbeat of a town, not the staccato of a big city.
Now I’m hanging my sign on the door of this blog:
GONE ON ROADTRIP…THE DOOR’S OPEN…MAKE YOURSELF AT HOME…BACK SOON
The last several months have been filled with love and wonder, but it would seem that the cross-cultural, cross-countries relationship between Roberto and I is being put to the test. We have taken a break and today he headed back to his home on the Caribbean coast. I am here in Monteverde with my three dog friends to keep me company. Relationships are hard to make work and sometimes you just can’t. Despite the many things that we have in common, the chemistry and the cooperative effort, we may not be able to get past some basic differences. In the meantime, we carry on…
As I write this, the earth just shook, another tremor, and thunder is rolling around the sky. I awoke with a troubled heart, but the day arrived with an almost clear blue sky and the hot sun consoled me. At some point, layers of cloud drifted down through the trees and the whole world turned white with a green base. And now the gods are rocking the joint and showering us with yet another deluge. The world around me seems as unsettled as I do.
I have taken on a contract with Bosqueeterno S.A., the organization that owns the original Watershed Property that the Quakers set aside in 1951. It would be the original “Reserve” in Costa Rica and became one of the first pieces of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve puzzle in the early 1970s. In more recent years, BESA has amassed some money and is considering ways to spend it such as local eco-projects that it can support. They have hired me, largely due to the fact that I wrote Walking with Wolf, to write a history and description of this beautiful primary forest that sits at the top of the mountain, skirting the Continental Divide and protecting the spring waters that furnish the community to this day with its clean, clear water.
As with all historical accounts, there are varying versions on the flow of events, the participation of different people, and the roles that were played. My job is to search for the common details which all can agree make up this story of visionary-planning by the community. Many of the original players have died and in some cases it is the second generation – some who were very young children when the Quakers founded Monteverde in 1951 and others not yet born – who are interested in telling their family’s involvement.
In my travels with Walking with Wolf, I have seen the need to publicize Bosqueeterno and tell about this example of forward-thinking, as many people don’t know that the present day Reserve was started with this 554 hectare piece of land as a major part of it. Many confuse it with the Bosque Eterno de los Niños (BEN), a much larger (22,000 hectares) piece of protected land that is managed by the Monteverde Conservation League and was largely funded, back in the late 1980s, by schoolchildren and the government in Sweden. The Swedish kids named it Barnens Regnskog which translated to Children’s Eternal Rainforest and became another “Bosque Eterno” when translated into Spanish, thus causing confusion in the public mind. Due to the League’s websites and higher public profile, BEN is known internationally by tourists and rainforest conservation groups whereas Bosqueeterno S.A. is not nearly as well known, even here in the community.
I have been hired to collect the stories, write the history and then create a website, or more likely a blog, that will increase the public profile of the land and the people behind its conservation. Local nature guides and environmental education teachers will also have this information so that visitors and school children can understand how that early group of Quakers, hardly aware in 1951 that there would be deforestation and water shortage issues within a few decades, was inspired by God (as one of them told me) to protect this forest that in turn protects the headwaters of the Rio Guacimal.
This was the nineteenth year that the Monteverde Institute has run its Sustainable Futures course. It brings interested university-level students here for ten weeks to look at the issues of planning and functioning in a community in a sustainable way. This year’s participants gave their presentations a couple of days ago and I went, specifically because a friend from northeastern Ontario, Kevin Fraser (son of Susan and Doug, he being a great biology teacher as well as one of Al Gore’s disciples) was part of this. Kevin and a couple of his classmates created a design for an ecological garden on a piece of land directly behind the large Institute building right here in the center of the Monteverde community. This land had pine trees and cypress on it that the Institute harvested a couple of years ago to use for lumber, and so the lot has been sitting waiting for a brilliant idea to come. The students presented their plan for a small interpretive building and trails running throughout a multi-faceted garden.
This would be planted with a variety of organic, native and diverse plantings that would cover everything from food crops to a heliconia collection to bird and butterfly attractions. Having lived near and walked through this empty lot for the last couple years, it was great to see this intelligent and creative design. One can only hope that it will be implemented by future groups, volunteers and community members. That would be a wonderful cooperative project that would give us a beautiful place to wander, learn, sit and even eat from.
In my last blog post, I spoke about not worrying about the possible calamities awaiting us at Roberto’s in Cahuita until we got back there. As it would turn out, they happened here – first I lost my wallet with my VISA and bank card, which I was able to cancel before any damage was done, but it makes getting money from Canada impossible. Secondly, Wolf and I found out that the local bank, where we do our book business, was mixing up our book accounts with his and Lucky’s personal accounts. We were able to rectify the situation and get their money back to them but it drained our business accounts. Sigh. Noone ever said that I was writing a book to make money. Or that Wolf, Lucky nor I were good book-keepers!
Then Costa Rica lost (but almost won) against Mexico to go into the finals of the Copo d’Oro, a major soccer tournament that Mexico eventually one. Roberto and I went in to Santa Elena and Bar Amigos to be part of the festivities – always joyous when winning but quickly subdued, even funereal, when the score goes wrong. But I love being around the passion of the Ticos in their favorite sport.
And then of course Roberto left. Another sigh. I will miss him and his great humor, warmth and vitality, but fortunately I have learned something about love in my life and am relatively calm about the whole thing – or at least philosophical.
As in all relationships, there are tensions and hopefully through discussion, respect and compromise, consensus will be reached to the mutual benefit of everyone. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but one must continue working in that direction. Personal relationships can be ended, but communal ones will continue even when the individual participants change. And cooperation is important to our collective well-being. When there are good examples of positive community-work, they need to be recognized and then can hopefully be repeated. Just as you hope that sometime in your life, you will stop repeating what doesn’t work. There is always hope that with time, effort and love, we will learn. One last, but not least, sigh.
I am writing from a hotel room in Puntarenas, the funky little port city on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. I came here yesterday to visit Wolf, who is in the hospital. Last Thursday, after spending the morning in the Reserve, he was walking home mid-day, heading through the magical bullpen. No one knows what happened yet, but he got nauseous and fell over and then had a hard time to get up. He managed to crawl to a tree and support himself up to his feet, but it wasn’t long before he fell again. As far as he remembers, this happened three times until he finally, hours later, managed to get home. The emergency doctors brought him oxygen and then in the morning he had two more episodes of passing out. The ambulance brought him down to Puntarenas hospital the next day and he has been here since (it is now Wednesday).
So they aren’t sure what happened to him. He is going into San Jose to see a heart specialist on Thursday and for some tests. I got word on the weekend and came yesterday. His son, Ricky, is here at the hospital and he doesn’t know much more than that either.
I sat for a couple of hours visiting with Wolf yesterday and don’t see any lasting effects. His mind is lucid, his speech is as clear as he gets, and he is tired but in great spirits. I think he is a little scared but is taking things patiently. And he has a beautiful view out of the hospital room, over the Pacific Ocean and the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, with boats and clouds floating in and out of view. So although he has obviously gone through a rough spell, this just isn’t his time and he is making the best of the situation.
Wolf and I did manage to get the books last Monday morning out of customs. I have no idea why, but the tariffs were almost twice what we paid a year ago for a slightly smaller quantity. However you pay the piper and he gives you the goods. So a fresh crop of Walking with Wolf is safely in storage at the Center for Peace in San Jose. Our customs agent, Eliecer, seen here at his busy desk, helped us and although it was a long, frustrating and ultimately expensive process, we managed.
In the middle of the days of waiting, Wolf and I decided we needed to get out of the city and go up the mountain to Monteverde for a couple days. I got a lot done while I was there, saw many friends, confirmed the contract with Karen Masters and the Bosque Eterno SA as their information officer which will bring me some badly needed money, spoke with Pax about the computer art work for the Spanish version of the book, and did a little contra-dancing at the Friends School house.
We arrived on the Friday night and walked into one of those special nights in Monteverde when young and old bring out their talents and the community gathers to celebrate. This night was no exception, with songs and dance and funny videos made by students at the local schools. These occasions always make me appreciate this special place called Monteverde.
I also saw Veronica and Stuart and the three little dogs where I lived before. We’ve arranged that I will head up late June and again in early August and live in their house and care for the puppies while the human folk go to the US for awhile. They’ve moved houses, into a smaller abode close to the cliff edge, a place I’ve never lived in before but really look forward to staying at. Roberto will come and is determined to help Wolf do some cleaning on the trail that goes around the Guindon farm. As Wolf said, he may have to sit on the sidelines and watch Roberto work, but that will be fine too.
In the meantime, we now await word on what has vexed the Wolf. By the time I left today, Lucky, Melody, Helena and their families were all there and we took turns going up to visit Wolf (the hospital has a strange one visitor at a time system that takes a lot of coordination.) Lucky told me that in true form for Wolf, the morning that they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, she made him a small cup of coffee. He then proceeded to pass out and she tried to pry his fingers off the cup so that he wouldn’t continue spilling it down him but his fingers gripped that cup like a lifeline. When he came to, the first thing he said was, “Hey, where’s my coffee?”
Wolf spent today sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, enjoying the great view towards the clouds over Monteverde and receiving the line of visitors who had come. He seemed to be quite normal to me. I trust that the doctors will figure out what went wonky and help him to avoid it in the future. I’m happy that I was here in Costa Rica and able to so easily go and see him. I’m very thankful that I left him in good spirits with a strong mind and his usual laugh ringing down the hall as I walked away.
I’ve started writing this while laying in the hammock – it’s early morning and the heat is beating down the slight coolness that accompanied us in the night. If I try to count the number of types of leaves I can see without moving my head, face turned skyward, I reach twenty shapes and quit counting, the effort a little too much. Or if I try to isolate the sounds – the voices of the creatures, the frogs, the morning birds, the cicadas – what are all those other insects anyway? – and the sound of a big bushman chopping firewood to get the coffee brewing – well, I get lost in the various layers of songs coming out of this steamy, verdant landscape. The only sound that could be deemed intrusive is the occasional passing of a vehicle on the highway a couple hundred meters through the bush. No matter how jungle-bound one may feel, civilization is never really that far away.
It has been about a week since I last wrote (now two I admit as I finish this), thus my blogological clock is ticking and telling me to write. The time has gone by in a haze of lazy jungle love. From the moment I saw Roberto’s tall dark silhouette outside the airport doors, I felt myself breathe deeply again and knew I had come back to where I should be. When we arrived in Cahuita the next day and walked up the bush road, down the jungle path, crossed the now quiet (yet often fast-flowing) moat that encircles the place, and settled into his rancho nestled beneath the tall Guanacaste trees, I felt like I had come home.
We’ve barely left the place except to get food and to go dancing a couple of nights. The Quebrada Suarez, the twisting stream, provides enough sunning and cooling time that even taking the twenty minute walk to the beach seems like too much work.
A woman moving into a man’s domain always shakes things up, so we’ve been “remodeling” – making space for my things, increasing the comfort level, Roberto building rustic furniture as we sense the need – assemblage art it would be called back in Canada.
I brought a minimum of “stuff” with me, being very selective, simple living being one of the things that I truly appreciate about this place. The two most important things are my coleman stove which needs a different connection for the gas tanks here - in the soggy tropical forest cooking with wet firewood can be a full-time affair, not always a bad thing but often a frustrating one - and the components to hook up a solar system. My pal Chuck lent me a small solar panel and I bought the power inverter and now just need to buy a boat battery to get it all working. With a bit of effort , a few dollars, and a little luck, I should soon be able to write directly on my laptop being powered by that free and easy big ol’ sun, the same beast that keeps us moving slowly and conserving our own energy – unlike the bustling hummingbirds who are zipping about me and the butterflies of all colors who don’t stop their fluttering all day long.
However, we haven’t got around to getting the stove or the solar stuff working – as I said, it’s been hard just getting out to buy food.
Instead we’ve been watching the howler monkeys fearlessly leaping about the tops of the fifty meter high trees. There are moments here – mostly at daybreak and sunset – when the cacophony of jungle life swells to a crescendo before settling back down to a background buzz. It is often the male howler monkey who officially starts the day with his lazy roar – if he is in one of the closest trees it is as subtle as the engine of a Harley Davidson revving outside your bedroom window.
A pair of green and black poison dart frogs lives in the hammock tree (along with at least four different kinds of herps – geckos, lizards et al.)
Other constantly noisy neighbours are the oropendulas, tropical relatives of the orioles. Like ecstatic percolating coffee pots, they bubble away while getting food in the treetops and building their long dangling nests. The last couple of days the squawking parrots have taken over – it seems to me that there is a domestic dispute going on high up in the trees and those loud green birds are really having issues with each other. Not everyone can be so content in the jungle it would seem.
The other afternoon we spent time watching a King Vulture, a strange sight here in the vibrant green forest – they are more usually seen around open places or where there is rotting food of some kind or circling high in the sky. This guy came and sat down on a branch in the cool jungle, as if pretending to be an exotic quetzal seeking a quiet refuge from its adoring fans. We were laying in the hammock watching him watching us when a weak rope holding Roberto and I finally gave out and sent us to the ground. I swear that vulture had a smile on his waiting beak, always happy to see an accident in progress.
As it turned out, he had his eye on the corpse of a large toad, laying dead in the foliage on the far bank. Who knows what killed it or when, but that vulture knew its worth and struggled to lift it up. This was one of those big cane toads, big enough to fill a coffee pot. It was a fight for the vulture, and he was under pressure when he realized that I was chasing him with my camera, but he managed to get that big carcass up and away before I could get a decent picture.
The humidity has been building around us, night skies are filled with lightning and thunder rumbles in the distance, but not more than a drop of rain has fallen in the now two weeks I’ve been here. The rest of Costa Rica has had wild storms and deluges – the one night we went half an hour down the coast to Puerto Viejo to go dancing where it was pouring – but it remains dry and hot and steamy in Roberto’s piece of jungle paradise.
The country is waiting in anticipation of a big earthquake on the Pacific side and last night the Caribbean coast of Honduras suffered a significant earthquake. One never knows what one will be dealing with here in the tropics – it isn’t all pretty.
I’m now in San Jose with Wolf, awaiting the arrival of the shipment of the second printing of Walking with Wolf – we have all our ducks in a row, the Reserve truck is coming to get us, the money is in the bank, our customs man, Eliecer, is on the job – and the books seem to have got hung up in the same highway closure I did last night on my way here from the Caribbean. So our ducks are about to get scattered again and we will all be winging it.
As I made my way to the city yesterday, having left on the 11:30 a.m. bus, the highway from Limon was closed for several hours, the result of at least ten landslides from the heavy rain. The workers wouldn’t clear the rocks and earth and trees while the rain was still pouring down and so the traffic sat – me in a dry bus so in no discomfort – but we pulled into the city about five hours later than usual, at 8 p.m. in the dark. And I expect that is what happened to the books – slowed down by the forces of nature. Like our ducks.
Once we have those books we’ll be heading up the green mountain and I’ll stay a few days in Monteverde talking book business and visiting friends. It’s nice to be out of the mosquitoes and humidity, but I am already looking forward to getting back down to the jungle next week. After all, love awaits and that is worth a little sweat.
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),
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.
This 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. It 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another week has passed – finally, time is going quickly. I’m less than a week away from heading back to Costa Rica. Although I’ve been super busy, these two months seemed to have passed very slowly. I think the pace picked up in New York City – since that great night in the Big Apple, time has been on my side. Now it is working against me as I try to take care of book business, prepare my house for Ben, who is going to come and live in my house this summer, and cut the vegetation in my urban jungle back as much as possible, including a rotten tree that has been dropping big limbs over the last year. What seemed like it was taking ages to get here is now around the corner and I’m rushed.
The pear tree is blanketed in blossoms, the tulips are kissing, the young leaves are stretching, and so the great summer growth has begun. Although I’m appreciating springtime in all its beauty, my heart is elsewhere and so I’m thinking more about what is happening with the sticks of ylang ylang and croton that I put in the ground back on Roberto’s land in Cahuita – he’s told me they are coming along slowly. For a gardener, planting in the tropics and planting in the temperate zones of Canada are total opposites, although here in the Hammer, it isn’t anything like the north where I lived for years. But the north is the north – while the temperature is just heating up here, I’m packing clothes for the constant warmth and humidity of the Caribbean coast.
Last week I left Philadelphia and New York City in temperatures hovering around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (that night out in NYC was like steamy mid-July), by the time I got to Petawawa and my friends the Bairs, it was much cooler, and there was still a big pile of snow trying to melt at the end of their driveway. It was warm enough to walk without a jacket in the daytime – but I feel like I’ve spent the last two weeks changing clothes, adjusting layers and looking out at blue skies that mask the chill in the air. Soon I’ll be where hot is just…hot.
While at the Bair’s beautiful home, I managed to sell a few books to visitors – among them my good friend Fretz, who I worked with for years at Camp Wanapitei on Lake Temagami in the 90s. It seems to get harder and harder to see each other, but she came for one of Al’s great dinners and we caught up – that will have to do for awhile. I’ve lived and worked in a lot of places throughout my life and hang on to my friends. I return to visit them when possible, love to see them when they come and visit me wherever that may be. Once in awhile you either lose touch or give up on friendships that are no longer working, but for the most part, if you have loved people, it is always wonderful to reconnect. Although time may change your situations, it doesn’t need to change the spark that made you friends.
That last week of my road trip was made up of visiting friends like that – people I have loved for years who live in eastern parts of Ontario – as I wound my way home to the Hammer. Al and Jean Bair are on the top of the list. I met them in 1995 when they had a home near Monteverde in Costa Rica.
They have a fascinating, dynamic, purely positive large family who I also adore – I was meant to be from a big family but missed my chance in this life. So I grasp onto large families like a street mutt – if they will take me in, I’ll love ‘em forever. And the Bairs are one of my favorite. Al and Jean came into my life right at the time my own parents died and although I don’t think of them as surrogate parents, they have been part of my Costa Rican life and my Canadian life and have dispensed great advice and supported me emotionally. And we constantly laugh and discuss serious politics and philosophy – Al’s favorite line about me is that I have a serious speech impediment – I have to stop talking to breathe once in awhile. I’d say he suffers equally but I’m not sure he’d agree.
We had four wonderful days together catching up on my travels and their recent trip to southeast Asia. They listened to me moan on about my kabanga blues, and sent me off down the road with renewed vigor, as if I had just spent a week at the spa. Love those folks.
Next stop was in Westport where there is a whole whack of friends who I can’t get enough of. I’ve seriously looked at property there a couple of times in the past ten years but never made the move. If things truly happen for a reason, perhaps I wasn’t meant to be there so that I could make this move to Cahuita – it would be much more difficult if I was in the middle of developing a beautiful piece of property in eastern Ontario.
I went and visited my friend Paul McKay – musician and investigative journalist extraordinaire. He has written several books, most recently on the scandalous marketing of nuclear reactors by the Ontario government at a time when the rest of the world is taking to the alternative technologies – wind and solar – that are available and functioning well. Speaking with people of great knowledge and intelligence like Paul always gives me great hope for the future – his optimism points to the good things going on in the world, advances that you don’t hear about in the media. Paul lives in the bush, where he picked wild leeks (one of my favorite Ontario bush foods – makes the best French Onion Soup) for our dinner, and then we passed the evening doing what we both love – listening to a wide array of fantastic music, dancing, talking.
This particular evening was augmented by his strange pilates machine I spent a long time exercising on (kinda gym-dancing) while I listened to the music – by the time I got off of it, my poor legs, atrophied from close to three weeks driving a car, were cramped from top to bottom, but a little more dancing was the cure. Although I expected to be crying out with cramps in the night, it didn’t happen.
I went into Kingston the next day to see Turid Forsyth’s beautiful artwork in a show put on by the Kingston Field Naturalists. I’ll be speaking at their October meeting (third Thursday in October) about Wolf and Monteverde. Turid lives near Kingston but also in Monteverde – and so I see her in both countries and it is always an interesting time. She is a very talented writer, gardener, artist and photographer. How lucky am I to know these people?
The night was a big fiesta for Carolyn – her 50th – played out at her and Chuck’s home on Faeries Hill. This is a house totally off the grid – a wind turbine was reeling in the stiff breeze, the solar panels were cooking in the sunshine, and the power came in to fuel the rockin’ band of Spencer Evans, the Cowen brothers and Bunny Stewart, a hot sax player from Kingston.
I’ve talked about these guys before, playing at the Cowen family’s bed and breakfast, The Cove in Westport. Spencer puts on a great show with his incredible array of tunes and sometimes it gets kinda “shticky” for the crowd at the restaurant – but those talented twins, Seamus and Jeff Cowen, just keep the whole thing going as a tight jazz duo behind whatever Spencer decides to do with his piano, clarinet and voice.
However, for this occasion, they lowered the “shtick” and raised the bar, and along with the smokin’ saxophone, performed a very funky show that kept us dancin’, dancin’, dancin’. This is always a dance floor that is full of spirit and joy and beautiful people.
So big happy birthday to Ms Carolyn – take it from your slightly older fifty-ish friend – it only gets better as long as you got the right attitude (and good health and a little bit of luck on the side) – and honey, you got it!
And just throwing in a plug for all the hard work Carolyn’s been doing with everybody’s favorite Basenji dog, Zig – he can now jump through her hooped arms – we made him do it a quadrillion times as I tried to capture the movement in the right moment on film…he was exhausted by the end of it (already worn out from a night of partying) but just kept jumping. Love that Zigmeister.
I carried on to Toronto, still heading home – to catch my friends Donna Akrey and Janine Miedzik’s show on the Danforth – “Oh”. Donna lives in Montreal where she teaches art at Concordia so I rarely get to see her anymore. Over the years I’ve gone to many of her art shows which usually involve documenting or collecting junk off the streets and creating installations and bizarre scenarios. Recycling and reusing with a fine arts degree. I’d say a great use of higher education. Oh yah.
The last night of my road trip was spent with my pals Jamie and Tory (along with Jamie’s mom, Joan, and their houseboy, Chris) in Toronto – dining outdoors, throwing toys for Mazie the beagle and enjoying the last night of these three weeks on the road with wonderful friends. It really has been a fantastic time. I put off returning to my house as long as possible – a full day in TO with Sol buying a Blackberry for a friend in Costa Rica was really pushing the limit on avoidance – as I knew that the moment I got in the door the work would begin, and now it has. So enough already, there is a tree to come down, a garden to seriously weed, and a blue sky to enjoy. And only six days left before my heart starts to sing again. Oh yah!
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!