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I’ve just arrived in Boston, riding the Greyhound bus from Montreal, Quebec to Portland, Maine with a couple of hours to kill in the bus terminal. I’m too cheap to pay $10 to store my bags and they are too heavy to be carrying around on a walking tour of downtown Boston…aah, the value of traveling light. You’d think an experienced traveler like me would know better, but when you have written a book and then need to haul copies of it everywhere you go, the weight of those pages really messes with your better baggage sense.
I arrived back in Canada a couple of weeks ago at the perfect time. Summer was just settling in after what people complained was a very wet spring. Fortunately the sky has quit its crying and happy sunshine has been the new norm. The migratory birds got here long before me, the gardens are in full bloom, and even sweet Ontario strawberries are in the markets! In the short time I was in Hamilton before hitting the road again, I squeezed in as much visiting as I could along with the inevitable springtime visit to the taxman – one must take the bad with the good.
The folks who are renting my house are happy there, thank goodness, and I’m happy they are there. For the first time in years, I didn’t return to an overwhelming jungle of a backyard in need of serious machete work. Instead I stayed at my friend Jeff’s beautiful home overlooking the marina in Hamilton Bay, facing west for perfect sunsets. It took me a couple of days just to leave this retreat and head out into Canada, the bayside balcony providing a very nice transition between tropical paradise and northern bustle.
Although I’m very good at living in the moment – meaning that I don’t usually pine for the friends, food and forests that I’ve left behind in “the other place” – I do arrive ready and excited to see my pals, taste familiar flavors and wander through different shades of green.
The very wet rainy season and the very sunny dry season in Costa Rica yielded a bumper crop of mangoes that never seemed to end – it seems we were eating juicy locally grown fruit for months and seeing millions more wasting on the ground. I arrived to piles more mangoes here in the northern markets, but resist them, as I am making the switch to local foods – those strawberries, rhubarb, fresh asparagus, salmon. My Canadian palette squeals with delight. Eating locally is not difficult at this time of the year – resisting exotic species, which I love, is a simple question of political will. I am one of the lucky ones who gets to return to the land of local mangoes, papaya, and bananas soon enough.
As always, the biggest changes I see are in the faces of my friends’ children. There are new babies to meet, children who can now ta-ta-ta-talk, others graduating from the innocent years to the hormonal ones. More and more of my friends are becoming grandparents, a role that brings a light to their eyes, unencumbered by the responsibility they felt when their own children were born. I’ve gone from Auntie K to Great Auntie K, a name I can only try to live up to.
I’ve taken the opportunity to catch live music and switch up my dancing from calypso and salsa to rock ‘n roll. Our buddy, Kevin, another music lover, came up from New Brunswick and we were the flops at Jeff’s flophouse. Our friend Randy holds house parties and one night had smokin’ guitarist James Anthony along with a band called Pop Cherry which does covers of the Stones, the Doors and Aerosmith. The singer, who I call Steven Mick Tyler, has the look and the moves of those tall lanky frontmen. It was a great night for dancing.
I also finally made it to an Island Party on Ward Island in Toronto (yes, for those of you who don’t know, Toronto has islands), where old friends Pat Allcock and Tim Bovaconti played their unique selection of covers to a raging dance floor. Tim, who has been on tour with Burton Cummings (Guess Who), plays guitar and sings harmony with the best of them but also is a ukulele king. Love versatile musicians especially when they are also real nice guys.
I managed to return to the Hammer in time for the James Street North Art Crawl (second Friday of each month) which keeps getting bigger and wilder each time I’m in town. I spent most of the time at Blackbird Studios, visiting with the gals, Lynn and Kerry, who create beautiful clothes for rock ‘n roller chicks (and dress Roller Derby Teams around the world). We stepped next door into Dan Medakovic’s studio to catch some of the great local musicians – Dan, Mike Trebilcock, Linda Duemo and the lovely Lori Yates – jamming and having fun. I have given up trying to do everything there is on an Art Crawl night, it’s impossible – better to just stay where you’re having fun and move on when you must.
There is no shortage of music, art, theatre or fashion in the Hammer, only a shortage of time to catch it all. But we try…
I also had a number of book orders to fill, but was hampered by the lock-out of the Canadian Postal Corp (thus the books in my bag which I will be mailing while here in the US at a much cheaper rate). There is a conservative corporate mentality raging in Canada that should be scaring my fellow country-folk to death – instead, enough of them voted last month to give the right-wing Conservatives even more power to deplete workers’ rights, diminish environmental protections, and continue to shift our beautiful country to a less progressive, less inclusive, less caring agenda that favors the wealthy and powerful.
We need Michael Moore to come to Canada and do an exposé on our bewildering society which he has idolized in his documentaries. What is going on? The media machine and corporate controllers have managed to get stronger despite all signs pointing to a diminishing social intelligence that is going to lead us into dark years. The amount of mis-or-dis-information about the postal situation in the media is a prime example. I think most people believe that Canada Post is still a tax-funded department of the federal government which is wasting our tax dollars paying overpaid workers who went on strike when it is actually a profit-earning distinct corporation that locked out its workers rather than negotiate fairly. The government, with their union-busting mentality, forced them back to work and the contract, when ratified, is going to take the workers backwards, not forwards. As I read somewhere, it is interesting that the work of the posties is not considered important enough for a proper negotiation of a progressive contract, but is essential enough to demand back-to-work legislation.
On my way to Maine, I passed through Montreal and stayed with my friend Donna and her partner Cem. Donna worked for the Canada Post Corp for years (when she wasn’t creating and teaching art). Cem and our friend Matt are still lugging mail up and down the twisting staircases of downtown Montreal. Like other posties I have known throughout my life, their bodies suffer from the years of hauling heavy bags of mail to homes and businesses, clocking close to 15 kilometers each day. And despite the use of the internet for personal mail, their bags are no lighter as businesses flood our psyches and mailboxes with propaganda. Not just with free flyers that we can refuse to receive, but the addressed commercial stuff that must be delivered to the person, bringing us the information that inundates our lives and begs us to consume. So knowing all this, I went out in solidarity with my friends and the other posties for their last morning on the picket line before they were forced back to work.
Not everything is as it appears. As can often be seen with the public perception of working conditions, such as happens with the teaching profession, people don’t have a clue as to how difficult the job is – for example the accumulative wear and tear on the posties’ bodies (through sleet and hail and snow…etc.) Some just see it as unimportant, overpaid union work. We now have a government in Canada who is working hard at removing the rights of workers to strike for better conditions as well as the rights of activists to assemble and protest. It comes from the same mentality that considers our health and our environment as expendable in the pursuit of more outlandish profits for the wealthy upper tier of society.
What are Canadians thinking? Exactly who is voting for Stephen Harper, a man known for his contempt of the democratic parliamentary process, his life-long commitment to reducing the taxes of the wealthy as well as lowering environmental and safety standards? He believes in and supports the economy of war, including the War on Drugs, even as experts speak against it. The WOD keeps a lot of people, including the narco-traffickers, the security forces, the courts, and the arms dealers, rolling in money while its customers roll expensive joints until they find out that crack is a much cheaper high.And they say that marijuana smoking leads to harder drugs? maybe it is just politico-economic manipulation.
Wake up! Even the United States is rethinking some of this stuff. Just as happened last year at this time, during the days of the G8/20 fiasco in Toronto, I return home and feel sick about what I see happening. Is it that people will sell their souls today, along with their children’s future, for the possibility that one day they too will be part of the elite class? Good luck with that! Is it apathy? Is it greed? Is it stupidity? All of the above?
Happy Birthday Canada! I hope you grow up to be a kinder, gentler nation. I always thought that it was your destiny, but lately I fear that you’ve been smoking a corporate crack pipe and the profits are all in the hands of the dealers. It is hard to stand on guard for a system that is exploiting everything I believe in.
Can you believe it? Almost the end of July 2010! Whether time is passing quickly or trudging slowly for each of us, we still arrive at the same place together – ten years into the not-so-new millennium, two years short of the perhaps fatal 2012, and just one month away from Wolf Guindon’s 80th birthday when I’ll be returning to Costa Rica.
Just north of that Tico-paradise, oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for three months now, poisoning the waters and smothering local life. The responsible say that they’ve perhaps capped the leak, but so much damage has been done there is little to rejoice about. With tropical storms brewing, the future remains an industrial nightmare. A few days ago, when a pipeline burst and oil poured into the waters off of China, it barely made the news. The bar for oil disasters has now been raised so high that the media – as it does with so many other issues – doesn’t linger long in the small stuff.
Here in Canada, there are still more questions than answers about what happened during the G8/20 fiasco in Toronto a few weeks ago. Somehow the government and police seem to be avoiding an inquiry into their own very questionable and abusive actions but are now daily releasing pictures of young activists assumed to be responsible for the destructive violence during those couple days of social unrest. There are many stories of police misconduct that will never be investigated without an inquiry as well as the much bigger question of our government which put this billion dollar show on in a vulnerable downtown Toronto against expert advice. Like the oil-coated fish in the gulf, the criminal records of those caught in the police nets may be the only reminder of a very troubling and twisted event.
In the past couple of months, the Canadian government tried to pull another fast one by mixing some very important legislation into a seemingly benign budget bill – in short, they tried to have the requirement for environmental assessments on new projects taken away and the ability to sell nukes broadened. I heard nothing about this, as I’m sure many didn’t, until I went and saw Elizabeth May, the brilliant leader of the Green Party of Canada, who was here in Hamilton at a fundraiser. She left early to return to Ottawa and address the committee looking at the passage of this bill but first informed us of what was going on. I believe the bill didn’t pass until they changed these outlandish aspects, thanks to the diligence of politicians such as her. I remember Elizabeth from the 1980s when she was a young environmental lawyer working with others to have the requirement for environmental assessments, along with public participation in the process, entrenched in government policy.
Meanwhile, in Costa Rica the government has recently granted permission to the United States to send 7000 marines along with numerous planes and dozens of warships to Ticolandia for an accelerated campaign on the war-against-drugs. There are very few good examples of countries allowing other country’s armies to carry out their business on their sovereign soils. Costa Ricans are in the streets protesting, being citizens of a country that doesn’t support the international drug trade but certainly doesn’t support a military presence either, having abolished their own army back in 1948. I can envision being visited by camouflage-coated creatures rising out of the swampy jungle near Cahuita, (scene from Apo-calypso Now?) with the right to question, search and detain anyone who appears suspicious to them. I’m suspicious that this is another military move being made in response to Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s oil supplies, and their less than sympathetic nature toward the Americans. It feels a lot like a military maneuver being put in a strategic place for a more serious conflict – that war-on-drugs has been a farce going on for decades, supplying the American military machine with money and an excuse for a continuing strong presence south of their own border while the drug trade continues to keep everyone high.
The world, both large and small, seems increasingly insane.
Here in the Hammer, as throughout eastern Canada and the northeastern US, the weather has been hot, record-breaking hot, frying brain cells and raising tempers. They say it is the hottest, driest July on record and is going to stay this way for a while yet. They say that the temperature of the Great Lakes’ waters is up between one and five degrees, depending on the lake, something that can cause a serious effect on lake health – increasing vegetative growth and toxic pollutants as well as affecting fish populations.
Down in Monteverde, our good friend Wolf is dealing with a variety of health issues. I will be writing about this again soon, once I’ve had a more recent update from the family. In short, he can’t have his knee operation he so desired, but needs to have cataracts remove and some other issues taken care of. And he has been taken off the insulin they started him injecting last July for his diabetes, as either the insulin is the wrong kind or the amount has been out of whack. This explains the dizziness, confusion and dangerously low sugar counts he’s been having. I am anxious to get back to Monteverde in time for his 80th birthday and hope that his new doctors and treatment changes are going to help him enjoy life again.
In the meantime, I’m packing up my house so that when I leave, renters can move in. I have been purging the past, tossing the trivial, and surrendering the superfluous. I plan on being in Costa Rica for a longer period this time, to be closer to Wolf, to oversee the renewed effort on the translation of Walking with Wolf, and to close the deal on the land next door to Roberto’s. If all goes as planned, I’ll be constructing a little casita and settling down to write. After going through what is basically a smallish house here in Canada and still being overwhelmed by the stuff I’ve tried so hard not to collect, I will build the simplest structure possible – no walls, no storage – just efficient living space and one secure area for locking things up. Only hammocks and love will make my home.
Thank goodness for music, friends and sunshine. That is what restores me after a day of filling cardboard boxes and listening to the nightly news. Amongst other sweet musical moments, I went and saw local talented wild woman, Carolyna Lovelace, rock the house here in the Hammer, during her brief stay in between international gigs. She has also been packing up a lifetime and is moving on. Good luck to you Carolyna, see you in the south.
I indulged myself with the world cup. My original prediction was only half right – Holland was in, but not Argentina as I thought. I was happy that Spain took it – especially when Holland lost its cool and went aggressive - and especially happy that little Iniesto scored the goal. I got to watch some of the games with my great friends, the Bairs, along with some beautiful Tico friends, the Solanos, who were visiting. I thoroughly enjoyed the maleness and international flare of it all. I then spent the final game with a bunch of great women in a very mixed fan crowd in Toronto and paella pandemonium reigned. Now the world can relax once again – at least as far as futbol. Oh, to be in Brazil in four years.
We each swirl in our own little orbits, each given day shining gloriously for some, while for others, they can barely see through the darkness. Re-reading this post, I find myself sounding quite melancholy. It is the heat, it is the transitional moment of my life, it is the global condition. I am much more affected here in Canada by the whacky world. Although I will miss my great friends, the groovy scene of the Hammer, and the autumn artistry in the forest, I’m glad that I’m returning to Costa Rica. Maybe things will look brighter through the green filter of the jungle and love will soothe my skittish soul.