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I’m back down in the hammock in Cahuita sharing my last weeks in paradise with Roberto. We are in talks with the neighbors about buying the property across his moat, the Quebrada Suarez, a process that is a little confusing, a little frustrating, but we survive knowing that in the end whatever happens, we’ll be fine. I returned to the Caribbean last week after close to three weeks in Monteverde, taking care of the apartment and Miel the cat, spending time with Wolf, and listening to as much music as that prolifically melodic mountain could provide.

When I first arrived in Monteverde in 1990, I lived for a few months with the Villegas family – Yolanda and Mario and their kids Sylvia, Johnny, Diña, Dana and Daniel – even though half of them weren’t born yet -as they were beginning to build their Pension Manakin in Cerro Plano. This year, I needed a place to stay for a few nights before the apartment was ready, so I got a room at a great rate and witnessed firsthand what the family has done in twenty years of work.

The Manakin Lodge is a friendly modern large-roomed pension, with one balcony facing the forest, another facing the community where one can witness what has grown up around it in these last two decades. Their prices are very reasonable and the family continues to offer warm service, delicious breakfasts and a comfortable ambiance. Why anyone would stay at the large Hotel Establo when they can stay in a cozy family-run lodge I will never truly understand. The Establo has spread like an out of control disease up the hillside and you can now see its lights burning all night from as far away as the Pan American Highway. It has four restaurants within its borders – as close to an all-inclusive-type resort as Monteverde will ever get I hope. It doesn’t feel like sustainable tourism to me. 

While in Monteverde, I did four slide presentations for the community about Bosqueterno S.A. I was honored to play a part in sharing this incredible history of what I believe is the first nature reserve in Costa Rica, (http://www.bosqueternosa.wordpress.com), a country now internationally known for its national parks, biological preserves and wildlife refuges. In many places, this little country seems to be a great big untamed jungle and it feels that perhaps there is still land that doesn’t “belong” to anyone; however, as Roberto and I work out the deal with the neighbors here, one is reminded that every inch of this earth is “owned” by someone who probably has plans for it. The family who is selling their inherited land next door told us that another big chunk of their property, just a couple hundred meters away from Roberto’s isolated homestead, is expected to be bought by a man who wants to put in a large hotel and golf course! Karamba! That’s a scary thought. They paved paradise…and we all know the rest of that song.

 If you’ve been reading this blog, then you know that I indulge in as much live music as I can manage. Everywhere I live, everywhere I go, music is there. From a community stage in a shady park, to a smoky room with tortured souls uttering sorrowful lyrics, on the streets of a foreign town of gyrating dancers, or in fine halls echoing with hundreds of years of choruses of hallelujahs – it doesn’t matter, music is alive and well and keeping us connected. The last month in Monteverde, I was blessed with a huge array of great music and lots of opportunities to dance.

It was the season of the Monteverde Music Festival. The community always made its own music and supported visiting artists – the Trostle family built the Casa Sunset and intimate gatherings were held there. The Music Festival began as a community-run event back in 1992 when Margaret Adelman (a multi-artistic Canadian with many years living in Monteverde) began a four-month festival, bringing classical musicians from San José to the Villa, a building with a stunning view over the Nicoya. Three nights a week the music-loving community would make the trek up the steep hill to hear these concerts and watch the sunset. The next year, Margaret moved the concerts to her nephews’ hotel, the Fonda Vela, where it stayed for a couple of seasons. As the years went by, different people took over the management of the festival and the venue continued to change. Any money gained from the festival was used for music programs and instruments in the area’s schools.

Patricia Maynard and her son Mark

In ‘98 and ‘99, Patricia Maynard took over the direction of the festival and brought in a wider range of music, reflecting the tastes of Costa Ricans and younger foreigners who weren’t as interested in classical music. The concerts were held in the Monteverde Institute’s new building. I worked with Patri for those two years, managing the home that housed the musicians. We ran close to seven weeks of nightly concerts each year. I describe my job as doing everything or anything for the musicians during the 22 hours that they weren’t on stage – then I could just enjoy the music. It was a lot of work, but also the best investment in volunteer hours I’ve ever given. I became friends with many of the talented musicians and their families and feasted on a wealth of delicious music – both Costa Rican and international. One of the highlights was when Ruben Blades came up the mountain with Editus – an interesting, dynamic man with a gift for gab, a sharp political mind, and a soul for salsa – and he did his own dishes!

In 2000, the Monteverde Music Festival ended up in the hands of a committee organized by the Monteverde Institute and eventually petered out. In the early years of the new millenium, Gloria Waissbluth., a former director of the Costa Rican symphonic youth orchestra now living in Monteverde, held concerts in the Galerón Cultural Centre, a small hall in Cerro Plano. At the same time, Patricia Maynard built Bromelias Café and Amphitheater, an outdoor acoustically-lovely stage set inside the flower of a bromeliad’s bloom, and continued holding concerts as well. She also has an intimate indoor stage in the cafe. The Galerón is now closed, but the Amphitheater continues to burst with live music. So the Monteverde Music Festival continues – even though its direction may change, its purpose of bringing top quality music to Monteverde remains.

Machillo and Ricky

Alan Calvo

 

This year, Patricia had a great roster with a variety of musical genres. She was aided by her son, Mark, home for a few  months from studies in Argentina and his friend Ricky. I’ve watched Mark grow from a little kid and always been impressed with his ability to help…he is now a young man with the ability to multi-task while smiling and has become a stage technician not only for his mother but for large concerts held in the big city. The sound team for the festival was mainly Mechas (a musician who plays regularly in Monteverde) and another guy. Patri also gets perennial help from her sidekick Alan Calvo, another sweet human being who can do just about anything and maintain that smile on his face.  

Kumary and Johnny

From Miami, our rasta friend Johnny Dread returned with his Tico-musical friends and brought some roots reggae back up the mountain. It was a windy cool wet night, but Johnny warmed us all with his sweet soul and truth speaking. Kumary Sawyers, the singer from Costa Rican reggae band, Kingolovers, and Sergio Camacho of Unity joined him as they have before.

I had a chance to see Martha Fonseca, a singer with a large repertoire, who has traveled the world and sang with many. As with so many of the Costa Rican musicians, she has a Tico humility about her with a voice as diverse as the land. Nice woman, lovely voice. 

My friend Veronica Zumbado came with the group Alma Gitana – flamenco guitar, sorrowful lyrics, contagious hand clapping and Alejandra, the sharp-heeled flamenco dancer. A hot night that brought your blood temperature up. The neighbours told me that they didn’t hear the music, but the staccato sound of the dancer’s shoes kept their hearts pounding.

A couple of nights later was a show with Humberto Vargas followed by the Latin-American Idol runner-up, Maria José Castillo.  I’ve met Humberto before – he is a humble, amusing, and talented singer-songwriter as well as guitarist. He played with percussionist Chinny, charming the audience and reminding me of why I like him. The amphitheatre was full this night, testament to the commercial appeal of Latin American Idol just like the big brother Idol in the north. I can’t say I was overly impressed with Maria José – she sang with a soundtrack, not live musicians, and only brought four songs to Monteverde – then when the crowd demanded an encore, she was at a loss for what to do. Of course, I think she’s only eighteen.

Humberto joined her for the last song of the evening which was a well known song though not by me – he played it on the guitar and she sang and finally I saw a bit of her natural talent, unfettered by production. The machine of the monster called Idol was apparent, but it brought the local Ticos to the show, and if that’s what the people want….

Me, Milton and all

There were many concerts that I didn’t get to see but the last two of the series were both spectacular. One was Maestro Milton Mascriadi – a professional contrabassist from the University of Georgia who plays internationally and was visiting Costa Rica. He arrived with a professor from the University of Costa Rica and eight of their students from both schools. It was magical seeing eight huge double basses on the stage – one of them a 320-year old beauty from Italy. El Maestro was charming and very talented, his fingers playing over that big bodied bass as if it was a tiny violin. The encore of the show was a piece for bass and violin, played by two of the students, and it was memorable. The night was gorgeous, though a little damp for the stringed instruments, with mists wafting through the open amphitheatre. Pure magic.

That evening the music continued inside with Parque en el Espacio, the acoustic version of a latin rock band. With a bonfire outside, Bromelias is a great place to spend an evening, especially when the music is fine. The highlight of Parque for me was the “hang”, the inverted steel drum instrument from Switzerland – I heard them played in a back alley in Barcelona last year – a haunting sound with a versatility that relies on the player’s prowess. 

The last night of the Festival was Costa Rica’s Celtic band, Peregrino Gris. Frequent visitors to Monteverde over the years, these multi-instrumentalists never fail to move the crowd. They are extremely likeable gents with big talent on a variety of instruments. Rolando, their violinist, was out of the country, but Rodrigo, Carlos and Eduardo with his bagpipes played their jigs, reels and soulful instrumentals with the same heart as always.

Costa Rica has a wide range of music and the Monteverde Music Festival has always been a great showcase for it. The schools have benefited both from the festival and from the arrival of excellent teachers who bring their talents with them. Right now there are three teachers at the Friends School – Jonathan Ogle, Heather Gosse & Tricia Wagner – who have added to the musical celebration through theatre, music and dance. Tricia’s latest big production was the musical Grease, performed by the Grade 7 and 8s at the Friends School, but she can be heard singing and playing guitar and reciting poetry all over the community, including at Bromelias open mic nights.

I once said to Heather that she probably never imagined when she took the job teaching here in Costa Rica that she would have such a big opportunity to play her violin with a variety of professional bands. With her husband, Jonathan, a cellist, she can be found not only playing, conducting the Kitchen Sink Orchestra, and singing, but the two of them have led the English country dances on alternate Saturday nights when it isn’t square dance night at the Friends School. I grew up square dancing but these elegant dances with delicate steps and lovely movements were new to me. Following the very organized and clear instructions of Jonathan and Heather brought order to a room full of many debutantes and brought a whiff of Jane Austen to the room. Jonathan also proves that you can keep order by speaking in a “small voice” – everyone stays very quiet just to hear you – a technique I need to try some day.

It isn’t unusual for Monteverde to be visited by touring groups and choirs, and Yale University has supplied a few of these over the years. This year is was a female acappela group called Proof in the Pudding who gave a couple of performances for the community. The chance to travel up that beautiful green mountain and perform for very appreciative audiences must be as great a pleasure for the visitors as it is for those of us receiving them.

Doug, Tucky, Ron and Arden

And lastly, there was the flowing of honey while I was in Monteverde. I was visited by my friend Tucky, whose daughter is married to a man named Honey in Canada. I was also visted by my friend Ron Honey and his wife Arden and their friend Doug – we all had a great time, and the two Canadian Honey families were joined over dinner, trying to make connections around this rather unique family name though they aren’t sure what the relation is. The next night, Martha Honey, a journalist (famous for a book written with her husband about La Penca bombings in Nicaragua back in the 80s) and expert on eco and sustainable tourism, arrived to show a couple of short documentaries on the perils of corporate tourism on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.

I enjoyed spending time with all these Honeys – and appreciated the underlying message that Martha brought with her – as in so many other things in life, small is beautiful, community is sacred, a healthy environment is irreplaceable. Costa Rica still has it all, I hope they never lose the green magic nor the music that is a big part of that.

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over-nicoya 

Here I am writing from my familiar perch in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The winds up here on the green mountain are furious as they will be at this time of the year – whipping away the dust that had settled over last year and shaking the trees as we try to imagine what this new year will bring us. Of course in another week or so, the big promise of change in the United States – Mr. Obama and the Democrats – will be blown in, inaugurated, feasted on, and then analyzed to death – and the poor man will have to take the wheel of this crazy ship that is tossing and turning in a very churned up sea.

 

I have to admit to getting out of touch with the bigger world while here in Costa Rica. I don’t see television or listen to radio very often.  Newspapers come to me sporadically. I am happy to re-immerse myself in all things Tico so I generally don’t mind losing touch with the rest of the world. Bad news travels quickly and finds me – I can always find good news from home on the internet when I need the tranquility of old friends and a peaceful snow-covered northern winter scene. The wild winds here keep my head rattled although I know that I’ll eventually get used to them, about the time that they quit in early March or so. It has been two years since I was here in this season, the beginning of the dry period, having spent last winter getting Walking with Wolf to press in Canada, so I’m finding myself all the more affected by the dervish breezes, dancing shadows, clacking branches and fleeting clouds. The wind brings voices through the air that may be real or may just be forest music. It was only six months since I’ve been here but that was in the dead calm of the rainy season (except for the phenomena of the Pacific-influenced hurricane on the day of the book inauguration last May). Thankfully I tend to adjust to changes relatively unscathed so I’ve learned to just let these winds do what they will with me.

bus-accident 

I came up the mountain on December 31st and had my first bus accident experience. If you know this road, twisting and turning its narrow self up the rough slopes to the clouds at the top, you’d think that accidents were common. But when the French tourists in a rental car came flying around the gravelly corner and couldn’t pull over in time and the big CRUNCH came, I was actually quite shocked, not just by the impact but by the fact that after eighteen years the obvious had finally occurred. Fortunately nobody was hurt, just the car, and of course the big ol’ Monteverde bus barely registered a scratch on its aged and hardened metal skin. We sat in the middle of the road for about three hours till the insurance guy and transit policeman came, took pictures and measurements, all the while cracking jokes with the very relaxed bus chauffeur. They eventually let us clear the way so the cars that had come along and couldn’t pass could finally get on their way to their New Year’s Eve celebrations. The only highlight was a fruit truck getting caught in the traffic line, which meant we were able to buy some juicy watermelon to sustain us as we waited out the procedure in the hot sun on the side of the dusty road.  

 

beatles-strings

I got to Monteverde in time to help my friend Patricia who was preparing for the big Beatles tribute concert at her Monteverde Amphitheatre at Bromelias. I sold tickets at the door, a handy thing, giving me the chance to say hi and pass out New Year’s kisses to a lot of local friends. Over one hundred and fifty people were there, packing the place, and the music was joyful as it should be on such an evening. Robert Dean (on the far right in the pic), a Brit who now lives locally and is known for his book on Costa Rican birds, put together about twenty singers and musicians (backed by the Chanchos de Monte, his local band, as well as a string section and flutes) and they covered a wide variety of Beatles songs in an acoustic set followed by a rocking electric one. Robert’s musical reputation in Monteverde is built on the fact that he toured with Sinead O’Connor as her guitarist and his projects are always impressive. In the case of the Beatles, how can you go wrong? The audience sang along and danced – the spirit was great and it made me very happy to be back in this engaging community.

 

beatles

It all took place outside, under the canopy of the magical amphitheatre, accompanied by a smiling slip of a moon, those seasonal gusty winds and lluvisna – the light misty rain that is as normal in Monteverde at this time of the year as the howler monkey’s roar. It can spit moisture here when there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky and rainbows often seem to come out of nothing more than promises. 

 

k-and-wolf

The rest of the night was all about dancing at Moon Shiva – with our pal Fish behind the tunes we couldn’t stop till the roosters were thinking about crowing. I’d say that 2009 arrived in perfect style. I happily met up with Wolf first thing on the first morning of 2009…we have plans for a renewal of marketing books, which are selling well. We are awaiting the publication of a couple of reviews, an article and an interview in some Quaker journals this month (Friends Journal and Quaker Life out of Philadelphia; Quaker Monthly out of London) Wolf is well, happy, only a little grumpy about his aches and pains, but always warm and enthusiastic. It always touches my heart, this friendship I have with this wonderful man.

 

 

Veronica and her son Stuart, folks from New Jersey who I had met briefly on my last trip here, offered for me to live with them in the house they are renting. It is the Cresson house, one I am very familiar with from my first years in Monteverde when I’d come to the Sunday evening pot lucks held by Osborn and Rebecca Cresson. They were a lovely Quaker couple who have been gone from Monteverde for many years and passed away since. Their son Ozzito, has a small casita next door which I had just moved in to back in September 1990 when I quickly decided to return to Canada – partly because a friend offered me a great contract working on northern forestry issues with local First Nations, partly because I knew something was terribly wrong with my health. Three months later I would be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease and begin the chemotherapy and radiation treatments that took me out of the forest project and delayed my return to Monteverde, but ultimately saved my life.

 

the-marks

Stuart, Kyle & Mark (one of my editors) at the first community potluck of 2009

 

So coming back to this house is a return to an interrupted dream that I was living at the time – my first year in Monteverde, collecting Wolf’s stories, learning Spanish, falling in love with all things Latino. There are three other residents at the Cresson house now who go by the names of Chiqui, Cutie Pie, and Betsy – three little dogs rescued by Veronica at different times. Chiqui came from the US with her when she decided to move here a few months ago and put Stuart in the Friends School.  Cutie Pie really is the sweetest little thing, taken off the streets of Monteverde – and Betsy, found in a box in the middle of the road, is named for her slight resemblance to a Holstein cow, though on very short legs. I am their nanny while Veronica and Stuart head back to the US for a few weeks.

 betsy

Betsy the lucky dog

It was a serious decision for me to take on the responsibility, as I am a wanderer and generally don’t stay put in Monteverde long before I head off visiting friends in other parts of this beautiful country. But the offer was generous, Veronica and Stuart very friendly and kind, and I love dogs, so I decided quickly that having a commitment to keep me in Monteverde for a few weeks wasn’t a bad thing. It will give me a chance to visit with local friends, work with Wolf on our continuing book-selling efforts, help take care of the belongings of our friends Inge and Andy who are in a struggle with cancer over in Austria, and get started with my next writing project.

mactinsel 

In the week before my duties began, I did take advantage to go down to the city with Wolf and get the boxes of books I had shipped out of customs. With our friendly customs man, Eliecer Alfaro, all went well and painlessly (after awhile, the kaching doesn’t hurt so much). We also took more books to the two big book stores in San José that carry them – Seventh Street Books and Lehmans – and I made contact with the company that buys for the airport stores. I had been in touch back in June but then didn’t hear back and had thought that they weren’t interested.  I decided to call them to see why that might be. As it turned out, the woman hadn’t received my last email (no doubt lost to the spam gods) giving them the information they needed to place the order, and since I hadn’t followed up, they hadn’t either. I am still learning the fine art of marketing – always follow up on contacts! So we begin the process again and with any luck (and tenacity on my part) I will see Walking with Wolf in the busy gift stores of the Juan Santa Maria airport when I leave the country at the end of March.

tinsel-head

 

 

 

While in downtown San José, I took some pictures of more fine examples of Christmas tinsel art – if you will remember from my Guatemalan posts, I am always fascinated with what people do here with a little aluminum foil.

 

 

 

 

 

wolf-and-mercy

We made a plan to do a book presentation at the Quaker Peace Center in San José on March 12 (who are also hosting a conference in early March on the eradication of depleted uranium weapons – check it out at amigosparalapaz.org).  I have also just been talking with our good friend Mercedes at the Monteverde Reserve who thinks we may be able to do a presentation in February to a group of visiting Japanese tourists. Our friend Takako, who accompanied us on the hike to Arenal that makes up the last chapter of the book, is bringing this group and will be available to translate – that could be a very fun evening – hope they bring the sashimi!

 

roberto-on-sea

I then took advantage of the few days I had before my dog duties began to head to the Caribbean to see my friend Roberto before he leaves for Australia. If you have been reading this blog, you will know the story (East Coast Pleasures; The Power of the Blog). He was working when I bumped into him but decided to follow me a few miles down the coast to Manzanillo for a couple of days to escape the craziness that can be Cahuita. He is still in the middle of the extensive paperwork necessary for a visa to Australia and I’m not sure how it will all turn out. He is older now and the work it takes to travel is much more complicated than the last time he went somewhere (before September 11th happened and security issues created a tiresome worldwide bureaucracy). I gave him another copy of the book, since his was washed away in the flood that took away his home a couple months ago and he had been enjoying reading it. He is slowly rebuilding and, in true Caribbean style, not too worried about anything much.

 

manzanillo

I hadn’t been to Manzanillo in years and expected changes, but except for several new cabinas and an expanded restaurant at Maxi’s, the business at the heart of the community, Manzanillo was pretty slow and peaceful like I remembered it. Maxi’s has a roaring business in the day and evening – they make great food served generously on big platters – rice and beans with fish or chicken in coconut-rich sauces, refreshing ceviche, rich flan.

 

img_1382

At night the place was very quiet in comparison to Puerto Viejo and Cahuita, both hot night towns. Nonetheless we got in some great soca dancing – and the days were spent on that beautiful Caribbean Sea, soaking up the sun, floating in the embryonic turquoise waters, talking life with my Rasta friend.

 

foliage

On the day that I left San José, headed for the coast, I left Wolf in the city with his plan to head to the bus station to catch the Monteverde bus at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was a couple days at the beach before I heard the catastrophic news that there had been a major earthquake (6.2) just outside of San José and Alajuela at 1:20 that day. Bit by bit the news filtered to Manzanillo, the newspapers showing the tremendous landslides that took the lives of no less than thirty people. When I realized the timing and proximity, I called Wolf’s house and Lucky assured me that he was fine, but had certainly seen the buildings move around him while waiting for the bus. As of today, five days later, they say that eighty-two people are still missing and dozens are injured. The pictures show the extent of the damage, particularly a powerful series in one paper showing the exact same scene of the Catarata de la Paz (Peace Waterfalls) at Poas a few days before and a day after; a small restaurant, the Soda de la Campesinita, standing humbly but proud a week ago, now all gone except for a couple of poles that were the doorway.

 

beach-dread

It is tremendous, the force of the earth, the fragility of life, the heart-wrenching immediacy of disaster in people’s lives. In a moment, change comes. And in so many other ways, change takes forever. Or is it that bad change happens quickly and good change demands time and effort? The wind blows it all past our door, leaving us shaken in its wake, sometimes in celebration, other times left to pick up the plastic garbage impaled on the bushes, wondering where in the world all this stuff comes from, and what are we meant to do with it anyway?

 garbageday

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

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

bromelia-fire

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

 

four-beatles

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

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

Well, how things change…

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

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

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

canadian_bacon1

 

 

 

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

 

 

brent

 

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

 

brent-k-2

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

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

tiny-bill

 

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

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

 jungle1

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

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

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

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

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

roberto-letter

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

I am writing this as the mist swirls – the day started out sunny, but it’s feeling like rain could move in.  That’s okay with me because I’m headed to the beach.  The Caribbean this time – Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Punta Uva – check up on friends, get some sun, do some swimming, do a little reggae dancing and eat fish cooked in coconut – they way they prepare it on the Atlantic coast.

 Looks like a leguminous plant to me

But I’ve had a great few days here in Monteverde.  I’ve been sleeping around – no, don’t get excited, one way or another – I mean that I’ve been staying in a series of houses – since I came back from the city, I spent a night with Wolf and Lucky, then a night with Canadian Margaret Adelman in her beautiful house (where I’m going to take up residence when I return next week), a night with Patricia Jiminez in Santa Elena, and a couple nights in the apartment at Patricia Maynard’s Bromelias.  I’ve finally consolidated all my various bags and stuff to Margaret’s house while I’m gone. I’ve had some great evenings with friends, chitchat, music and dancing – and a wonderful day down in San Luis, the community that sits directly below Wolf Guindon’s farm. 

On Wednesday evening, at Margaret’s house, Wolf’s son Benito came over to play the recorder.  Well, I can read music and learned the recorder back in about Grade 7, and haven’t played in probably twenty years, but said I’d give it a try.  The photo shows the fear in the my face – although it wasn’t that bad – and the other photo shows the bit of biology that was taking place at our feet – a spider had a scorpion spun in her web and we watched this little drama as we played, trying to remember to keep our feet away from the base of the music stand so we didn’t get either in the way of the spider or too close to the angry but doomed scorpion. Benito and Margaret told me that they started with a group of about fourteen recorders a few years ago but it has dwindled down to the two of them.  And when they play, they just keep moving quickly through the music for duets, not repeating or trying to work out anything to sound a bit better (Margaret is a very accomplished pianist as well as artist and writer; Benito is accomplished in everything he does).  However, my thing was to play a piece at least a couple times to try to  make it sound like something – so we actually played one or two pieces not badly.  I’d say it was great, considering how long since I played or even read music and was actually quite the physical workout.

On Thursday evening, I visited with my friend Patricia Jiminez in the big city of Santa Elena.  She is another phenomenal artist as well as a poet.  Her friend Sandra came over for dinner – it was supposed to be poetry night but other members of their group didn’t show so we just talked about things women talk about – men, writing, men, love, men, politics, women.  It was a great evening which must have left several men’s ears burning somewhere in the world.

The next day, I took a book over to the lovely Miss Martha Moss – 88 years and glorious.  I came upon her laying down with her three kittens. She has been the human mother to many cats and kittens over the years and has a theory that the cats she has shared her house with are related to wild cats that have become domesticated.  She is putting together an article to send to the National Geographic or the NY TImes (I don’t remember which one) who has featured stories on these cats from around the world – hoping that the magazine will take interest and maybe send somebody to come and check out her cats’ DNA.  Nothing would surprise me.  Martha has written books for children as well as others – at 88 she is going strong, but needs to take rests, so you must drop in when it isn’t her nap time.  I had heard that she wanted a copy of Walking with Wolf, so I took one to her and signed it with – “For Martha – you have been inspirational, informative, entertaining and a great pleasure to know – I hope this book is some of that for you”.  It is so true about Martha – any of us that have had the great privilege of knowing her are indeed fortunate.

Wolf and I spent Saturday down in San Luis with our friend Luis Angel and Rosario the chauffeur from the Reserve.  We wanted to go and visit Dona Alicia, the widow of Miguel Leiton, who we talk about frequently in the book and there is a picture of him with Wolf that I took about a year before he died.  I can remember the day I took that picture, outside the beautiful new house they were then building and that Dona Alicia is now living in.  Wolf and Don Miguel, both in their seventies and slowed down due to illness from the speed that they lived their earlier lives at, talked like a couple of teenagers about their adventures in the forest – and kept urging each other to get back out on the trails – VAMANOS! It was the last time I saw Miguel who died a year later from cancer – and a wonderful memory for both Wolf and I.  Having the picture in the book has received great reaction from people in this community.

Dona Alicia and Luis’ sister Cristina served us rice pudding and rich San Luis-grown coffee and we talked about Miguel and the beauty of his passing – that he had his many children and grandchildren around, there was much love for him, not just from his family but from people all over the area.  He was a well-liked and well-respected man.  Unfortunately, on Friday, the night before we headed down to San Luis, there was a murder in Santa Elena – one of the first anyone can remember. A nineteen-year old boy (the son of friends of mine) stabbed and killed a girl who he was jealous of.  It seems to be not really a crime of passion, but more of obsession and jealousy and I can only think that he just lost it.  A very very sad occurrence here in this small community – and I know his parents, who I haven’t gone to see since this, must be beyond devastated, as would be the family of the poor girl.  Down in San Luis, we talked about the different ways we die, and what luck and privilege it is to die peacefully with those we love and who love us around.  Otherwise, there is often too much sadness.

These pink bananas aren’t for eating – when they are mature, they open into this beautiful ball of white seeds and flesh that the birds love…the flesh tastes like very unsweet and less flavorful bananas.

We went down to the Reserve’s Biological Station in San Luis and visited with Edgar and Betelina who stay there.  Luis, Edgar and I walked down to the river where Edgar showed me a sunbittern’s nest they were monitoring.  We had the great fortune of having a beautiful sunbittern fly across the road in front of us just before we got to the station – with its intricate wing design spread out in full, we had a perfect view as it glided past us.  What luck!  We stayed for lunch while it poured rain outside and then we headed back up the mountain to get Wolf back home as they had visitors coming from the US, arriving that afternoon, and Wolf was going to be in trouble if he didn’t get back to help Lucky with preparations.  It was a perfect day in San Luis. I’ve never lived down there but am very tempted to take up the different offers I’ve had to stay and work for awhile.  This tiny little farming community is growing – the University of Georgia now has a small satellite campus there – but so far it feels much like it always has – rural, humble, friendly, surrounded by stunning scenery. 

 

 

 

 

 Wolf with Betelina and Edgar at their home in San Luis

 

Friday and Saturday night I helped my friend Patricia Maynard prepare food for a group of twenty-five students.  Her place, Bromelias, which has been a series of things over the years from a beautiful art gallery to a store to restaurants as well as a concert venueand finally her home – I’ve had the use of an apartment in the tree tops there for many years – is still beautiful although she has less going on after moving her store to Santa Elena and changing its name to Ritmos, where she sells a great selection of music and books.  We prepared vegetarian lasagna, vegetables in vinegrette, garlic bread and arroz con leche – even though I blew a fuse in a major way putting the microwave and toaster oven on at the same time (this is what we were cooking all the food in) and we lost all power in the kitchen and had to move the microwave to another room – we still managed to get the food out to the crowd.  Then Eduardo and Chela, a couple of Argentinians who have lived here for about eight years, came with some friends form Uruguay, and drummed and fire-danced and got this group from Long Island University in New York up on their feet.  We danced and sang and clapped around the fire – it was a beautiful night, no wind, no rain, just abunch of stars in the sky and happy people on the ground.

Luis invited me to participate in the bird count that they will be conducting down in San Luis on Monday and Tuesday – he was so kind to arrange to take Wolf and I down, and I’m sorely tempted to go play in the forest of San Luis again – but I’ve got the beach on my mind, and my time here is going by fast, and there are many things yet to do…so the birds will have to wait, but the sun can come out tomorrow as I head out to the Caribbean.

August 2019
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