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Blue Angel Gallery

Blue Angel Gallery

It’s been five months since I was on the monthly art crawl on James Street North here in Hamilton. Things are changing on the street at the same accelerated rate that I have witnessed over the last twenty years in Costa Rica. Down there, if I let a couple years pass before returning to a beach or town that has caught the eye of foreigners and developers, there will be no end to the new restaurants, hotels and attractions that have sprouted up in my absence.

Victoria and Deborah Pearce gallery

Victoria and Deborah Pearce gallery

I’m now watching this same change coming to James Street North. A few months means there will be a lot of new entrepreneurs – artists, shop owners, restauranteurs – taking a shot at being part of the big wave of excitement, taking advantage of what will probably be a great investment in their own future as well as in the health of the city around them. I suspect that the price of the old buildings right on James is increasing as the availability is decreasing, and some of the new businesses are around the corner or one block further down from the main part of the bustle. That just means that the neighbourhood grows a little longer and wider.  

Hotel Hamilton

Hotel Hamilton

The James Street North Art Crawl has been building its head of steam over about three years (I’ve written about it before – see post: The James Street North Art Crawl.) Now the good folk at Sonic Unyon and other neighbourhood businesses got the idea to blow a little harder and created the SUPER Art Crawl. Part of the idea was to keep bringing new people into this part of the downtown of Hamilton, the urban core having been under attack from within and without for years.

It is common to hear people complain about Hamilton in general and its downtown specifically. The city council has been either hopelessly inept or simply without a modern intelligent vision that will work in rejuvenating the urban core. Instead of bringing life back into the old buildings they are left to partially fall down so that they can then be condemned and torn down. Eventually the brick-strewn empty lot might be replaced by a shiny, new building. This might satisfy the needs of developers but doesn’t do much for the soul of the city.waterfront

What has happened on James, which is an artery connecting what should be the heart of the city at King and James to the great new waterfront, has happened because of the grassroots -creative believers who have worked hard to bring art, music, buzz and business to the street – while using the grand ol’ buildings.  Because of them, new blood has joined with the traditional Portuguese cafes and Italian businesses and now the street feels diverse and lively and joyful.

k and waterline

I arrived back in the city nine years ago, just in time to witness this change.  The waterfront development and the James Street scene is what makes me happy to be here (besides friends, local music and proximity to airport.) I talk to people in Burlington and surrounding areas, and they still talk about the downtown of the Hamilton like it is ground-zero for the plague. But I’ve had many folks come from afar – the northern bush, the US, Costa Rica, England, Guelph, even, gasp, Toronto – who have been duly impressed by what is going on in downtown Hamilton. They want to come back. Now folks are telling me that they are reading about this rejuvenation in national newspapers and on blogs (hi there) and so it would appear that the word is truly spreading.

Jeremy Fisher

Jeremy Fisher

With this in mind, the Super Art Crawl was developed. The organizers soon got Bob Bratina, our local town councillor, on board and he helped get a portion of the street shut down for the day so that tents and stages could be erected for the live music and vendors who would come out to play at night. Then one of the local music festivals – the C&C Music Festival that originated with Mohawk College and McMaster University’s radio stations – joined in. All of a sudden (and according to what I’ve read, the planning happened very quickly), there was a full roster of local musicians along with well-known national bands, playing on three outdoor stages as well as in some of the galleries and local bars, as well as the usual art show openings – all for free.

lynda and anne

My friend Lynda, who has done a crawl or two with me before, came down from Guelph, bringing her friend Anne, who decided to celebrate her birthday with us here in the Hammer even though she is more apt to head to Toronto for her cultural fixes. She went away with a huge appreciation for the steel city, her faith in grassroot collaboration renewed. She loved the gritty energy, the versatility, the diversity that she witnessed. She particularly commented on how many “normal” people there were, middle-age suburbanites, mingling with young black leather piercites or graying hippiesh artists. I know she’ll be back as, try though we might, we only saw a portion of what is available on the street and, as I explained, it will all be different next month.

hidden cameras and crowd

The gods put the Hammerheads to the test for this mid-October outdoor event, and the cold rain started falling early in the day. Such a shame as the days before and since have been spectacularly sunny. I’m sure that the gang working out on the street that day assembling stages and tents must have been pissed, but the good news is that the crowds still came. Surely not as many as would have on a starry starry night, but enough to fill the galleries to shoulder-rubbing room, while a sea of umbrellas bobbed up and down the street and a look in some of the restaurants and bars confirmed that many tables were full.

armoury

Where can you simultaneously watch cadets doing their formations in the armoury, electronic magicians playing with their instruments on the pulpit of an Anglican cathedral, and buy fresh local organic vegetables while one of the hot new bands in the land performs behind you and original art adorns every other storefront? Why, in the Hammer – may not be the most obvious answer, but it is the correct one!

cathedral

Backyard Harvest

Backyard Harvest

Marble Index

Marble Index

 

 

john ellison

A big applause for John Ellison, the composer of Some Kind of Wonderful (made famous and paying him royalties by Grand Funk Railroad.) I met him and his drummer Dean last year at the Hamilton Music Awards and they were out playing on one of the stages on Friday night. He announced that he would be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Hammies. I’ve worked backstage for the last four years at the awards but the date has been moved to December 3-6 weekend, and I have to return to Costa Rica before that. I wanted to say congratulations to this talented, gracious and eloquent man who lives locally but has written and performed lots of music all over the world. Even if that wonderful song was his only composition, with it he did his part to put some musical joy on the earth.

Hidden Cameras and raised umbrellas

Hidden Cameras and raised umbrellas

 

And more applause to all the organizers, musicians, volunteers, shop owners, artists and everyone who grabbed their umbrella and came out to play in the rain…the Hammer continues to make one proud.

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It is the morning of the book launch day here in the Hammer.  I don’t have a lot of time – in fact, I shouldn’t be spending the few hours remaining blog-writing, but I guess it is a good distraction and having just downloaded pictures to clear my camera for tonight, I thought I’d add a note.

One would think by reading my blog that all I do is travel around, visit friends, dance and party.  Well, it has been a summer of great celebration, that is for sure, but also of book busyness.  I’ve always had a way of balancing work and play, some would say I make it look easy.  I think that is why the arrival of Walking with Wolf in a form that pleases people in Monteverde also surprised many.  They thought I was just hanging around, going to the beach, dancing alot.  When actually I was working on the book over all these years…yes, it was many years, but better slow and sure than fast and furious I say. The book became what it is from the years I spent getting to know Wolf, getting his stories out of him, and gaining trust from his family and the community.  I think if I had managed to do that in a five or ten year period, it wouldn’t have been the same at all.  So that is my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.

Since Kstock last week, once my sister and friends all left, I hunkered down and started preparing for tonight’s book launch.  Over Labour Day weekend, even though I had the use of my friend Cocky’s car (who had gone west but has now returned), I didn’t even get into it between Thursday and Tuesday. Even as the sun shone brightly outside, and the days passed in end-of-summer glory, I was bent over my laptop, preparing the music and images for the book show.  I did manage to sit outside with my laptop one day, and without even knowing what bit me, ended up with a great big fat lip from some amorous bug who obviously wanted to kiss me.  I think that was Saturday and if I had any plans of going out that evening, my swollen face changed that, instead I got more sleep and got up and kept working.

  

Sunday night I did go out with my friend Jeff and some friends of his on their catamaran (nicely named My Mistress).  The Burlington Bay (which we called it when I grew up on the other side over in Burlington) or the Hamilton Harbour (which is closer to home now), was a scary piece of water when I was a kid.  The steel companies loomed over it and back in the day, they belched out pollution like a kettle making steam.  From the Burlington side of the bay, you looked over at the shoreline of factories and for me it was some kind of purgatory.  It was what sent me running to the wild north country as a teenager.  I knew that I didn’t want to live in the shadow of the smokestacks all my life.

Now that I’m back and living in Hamilton, those factories are actually sitting in a way that I don’t see them from my home nor from the Bayfront Park that is moments away.  When you go out in a boat on the water, they form an industrial backdrop, the truth being that the steel companies are only producing a fraction of what they used to and so they are starting to have a look of antiquity about them.  The bay has always been a place for boaters, including the ice boats that take advantage in the years when the ice is thick and safe, and seeing flotillas of sailboats is a pleasant sight, even with the monolithic smokestacks rising behind them.  When the smoke rises just right, it is almost reminiscent of a volcano and with great imagination, you can look at the smokestacks like old palm trees who have lost their leaves (big big imagination).

You can head out to the dark, deep, cold waters of Lake Ontario by passing under the Skyway Bridge when the lift bridge is raised.  Once on the other side, you can continue as far as you like, I guess all the way to Africa if you really wanted to. 

 

 

 

Something that I loved to do when I was a kid was fishing for smelts at the base of the lift bridge.  I think it was in the spring (tho I’m not really sure) that my dad would get his net together and take Maggie and I out at night – we would join all the other people at the end of the pier in the dark with our lanterns. We’d put our net in and pull it out, the little silvery smelts wiggling in their woven trap – Maggie and I would free them, only to put them in the pail and take them home for a great fish fry.  Maybe that’s why I had cancer many years later, having eaten all those little fish from the industrial lake. I wouldn’t touch anything from there now, but people still stand on the pier and fish, and I know some keep their catch, while others are flexing their fishing muscles or just loving the peaceful solitary activity of fishing.

Jeff has been a member of a local sailing club for most of his life and took me along on his friends’ boat for this beautiful evening sail which is really like a social club on pontoons.  It reminded me of walking around the neighbourhood,  stopping to visit the folks down the road, having a beer on the veranda, and then carrying on to visit the next neighbour.  The boats raft up, talk boats, tell stories, discuss the details of the next upcoming race, and then move on until they come close to another friendly boat and then raft up again.  Here is Mr. Jeff Glen,  known amongst the sailors as El Commodore

 

Jeff and I originally thought that we may go on the boat but later jump ship on the Burlington side, where the annual ribfest was happening and there was great music playing.  But it was too beautiful on the water, and in all honesty, the Burlington shoreline looked like an army had invaded, set up camp, and was burning down the city, the result of all those rib barbeques sending their exhaust in the air.  It seemed much safer to stay on the boat and continue the floating social soiree.

 

 

We stayed out from 5 p.m. till midnight – it was a glorious night, thanks to Dirk and Kendra and their 3-month old baby, the owners of My Mistress,  and all the other nice people we would raft up to.  Sometime near the end of the night, as I was slowly being lulled into a floating dreamland, the boat we were tied to put on a Jimmy Buffet CD – it was all so cliche I had to laugh.  The parrotheads are everywhere, and even with the steel companies leafless-palm tree stacks belching volcanic plumes behind us, it was somehow paradise.

Besides that evening, I have stayed close to home to get my work done, to be focused and in constant email contact with people concerning upcoming book-gigs.  I did two radio shows – one, a rock n roll show on the Mohawk College radio station with Lou Molinaro, who is the husband of Lynn Beebe, one of the members of the Evelyn Dicks who are playing at the launch tonight.  Along with Lynn and Lori Yates, also in the band, we plugged the book and the launch and the Dicks’ performance.  Lori and Lynn played a song at the end, called Soiled Girl, but with a line about black widow spiders – nature in the city.  It was a great half hour.  I’ve found local media very difficult to get involved – some of it is that they are short staffed, but if you watch our local television and read the paper, so much is from the wires, American-based news and entertainment.  Local musicians empathize with me, saying that getting local media to support homegrown art is difficult unless you are already well established.  So I really appreciate when Lou, or any other local media folks, take a moment to plug the book and the launch.

I woke up yesterday morning to a phone call from Bob Bratina, my local municipal councilman who also does a very popular morning radio show on CHML.  He asked if I could be near the phone in ten minutes and they’d call me and do a live plug for the book.  Well, I hadn’t even had coffee, but I shook myself, poured a cup, and was ready.  I don’t know what I said in response to the questions, but I did appreciate the enthusiasm for the book, Wolf’s work, and the promo for the launch that came from Bob and his cohost, Shiona Thompson. And I did receive an email last night from Connie Smith, a news anchor at CH, the local TV station, who said they couldn’t do anything before the launch but maybe we could put together something about the book soon.  So I am happy with all that.

I am preparing for northern Ontario next weekend, three book-gigs, at the Chat Noir Bookstore in New Liskeard, at the Moon Cafe in Mattawa, and at Hibou Boutique in North Bay.  I drove half an hour up the road to Guelph on Tuesday and set up a book event at the Bookshelf, a very dynamic bookstore, actually a whole book community, that I frequented when I went to the University of Guelph back in the early eighties.  I will be doing a book event at the Bookshelf on November 18 and am very excited about that, my friend Lynda Lehman helping me put that together.

I have my power point presentation ready, the projector that my sister and brother-in-law bought me is working just fine, and I am ready to go.  Cocky just returned, we’ve been taking care of business and managing to get out to do a little dancing in the Hammer at night, but there will be dancing and celebrating going on tonight, once I’ve finished my work at the Pearl Company and can relax and enjoy the Evelyn Dicks as well as the Costa Rican music I have compiled for the event.

Just talking about it makes me antsy – I better get going and doing something about tonight.  The next blog will be a report of the book launch.  This last picture is an alleyway here in Hamilton, close to my home. I believe it is a Portuguese woman who puts the flowers there and has provided the colour to the walls. I appreciate that I have managed to find enough beauty in this funky little city to keep me happy, even though my heart tells me I should be living in the bush. Ah, the Hammer, urban jungle, my hometown.

August 2019
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