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It has been a glorious autumn here in Ontario. I wasn’t here in the summer, having been down in Costa Rica, but by all accounts it was literally a wash-out. Autumn’s warm sunny days, served up with a minimum of moisture, have helped to bring a bit of balance to 2009. In just over a month, we’ll be in 2010 and though I guess I shouldn’t be counting my chickens before they hatch, I can already hear a busy year crowing.

This is my last weekend here – Monday I’m on a plane bright and early and by mid-afternoon I should be sweet and deep in the arms of Roberto in San José. A few days to chill in the hammock in Cahuita, to check up on the state of the papayas I planted in July, to get my calypso mojo working. Then I’ll be up in Monteverde, working on the history of Bosqueeterno and waiting to hear the first CO-CO-RI-CO of the new year (no doubt supplied by Mr. Wolf.) 2010 is a World Cup year but unfortunately Costa Rica lost her chance to play soccer with the big boys in South Africa. She’s a bit of a deflated hen, her tail feathers dragging. There’ll be some serious consoling to do.

the divine Lori Yates

As I’ve been preparing to leave my Canadian home for about six months, I’ve gone out to hear as much local music as I could fit in, most of it within walking distance of my house. At The Saint’s Tuesday night singer/songwriter gathering last week, my good pal Lori Yates gave an impromptu thirty minutes of new and old songs with an inspired, hilarious monologue. It was perhaps the best half hour of performance that I’ve seen this year.

Carolyna Loveless, Rae Billings, Greg Briscoe, Paul Reimens, Lori Yates

The other singer/songwriters who were out that night – our affable host Paul Reimens, Rae Billings, Shelley Adams and Carolyna Loveless – also rose to the bar Lori set. It was my first time hearing Carolyna and she kicks it. After having a conversation with her over lunch a few days later, I realized that not only has she got big talent but she’s also got this outrageous energy and over-active mind -she could probably take over the world with if she was so diabolically-inclined. I’m ready to see more of her – maybe even in the 11th hour Sunday night when she is performing again at The Saint. Trying to convince myself that I can go out and still get up at 4:30 Monday morning to get to the airport. I can always sleep on the plane. 

Another night I headed out with friends to see local blues guitarist Steve Strongman in a new venue outside of town known as The Barn. Music producer and drummer, Dave King, built this as a place for him and his friends to play and record music and now he has started a concert series. Steve was the first show and it was an beautifully intimate place to see a great performer. The backdrop for the stage is one of the phenomenal metal creations by local artist, Dave Hind.

Mike McCurley

We finished off that night with a trip back to our local pub, Fisher’s, who was celebrating their 16th anniversary with the regular band, the Sugardaddies. It’s lucky to have such a friendly crowd and hot band guaranteed for dancing only two blocks from home.

Dallas Good

 

 

The grand finale to these rocking episodes of local music happened last night when I went to see a band from Toronto, the Sadies. The Sadies are in part the sons of one of my favorite bands from many years ago, The Good Brothers. The fathers, uncles and friends played a high-energy bluegrass and I spent a lot of time as a teenager at local bars and festivals dancing to them. The next generation has moved the bluegrass into a punky rockabilly lotsa riffs and a rock wall sound. I can see that the Good family’s musical genes haven’t been lost, just amped up.

Andre Williams, Trevor Good

In 1999, the Sadies recorded an album, Red Dirt, with a cat from Alabama,  André Williams. Mr. Williams has been making music since the fifties, R & B, punk blues and something called sleaze rock. He’s in his 70s and still has a cool stage presence. His stylin’ shiny blue suit and shoes fit the Sadies’ metallic blues that accompanied him. They performed songs together from several decades, including some great raw numbers from the 40s. I doubt that a song called Jailbait, one of Williams, is politically correct these days, but the men in the crowd seemed to identify as Andrew growled out the lyric about the temptations of the forbidden underage fruit. It was a night to shake yer money-maker and I did.

I spent a couple of days down in the Kingston area. I took Walking with Wolf to the Kingston Field Naturalists and had a wonderful evening with them. Told Wolf’s story to an interested crowd, sold a few books, was treated to a beautiful dinner at Aroma’s Café (highly recommended) and visited some friends in the area.

It’s necessary for me to get out in the Canadian countryside, balancing out the gritty urban life of my home in the industrial wasteland.

James Isaac Hendricksen

Here in the Hammer, I ran into my friend, Isaac Hendricksen, a musician from the Caribbean island of Nevis who lives locally. We had coffee one afternoon with Larry Strung, the brilliant photographer behind the Hamilton 365 project that I have written about before – he shared with me this photo that he took of us. Isaac writes songs of peace and love, lullabies for the soul. It was wonderful to see him, and absorb some of his wisdom regarding the intricacies involved in balancing the cultural weights in my relationship with Roberto. It’s a challenge to put together two genders, two histories, two cultures, and make it stick, even with the soldering glue of love. But I gotta tell ya, I’m anxious to be taking up that challenge again soon.

The three months since I returned here have gone by quickly. What a beauty season too – the glorious fall, the finale of the year. The Hammer continues to amuse – the music scene expands, the James Street North art crawl explodes, a new creative energy has taken over from the dying steel pulse that has driven this city for a century. I have a lot planned for the coming months in Costa Rica, but hope to spend next summer here in my home, in the fiercely proud north end of Hamilton. I’ve got to get control of the jungle that has consumed my yard during the last two summers . While I’ve been hanging out with the monkeys and the Rasta and the Wolf in Costa Rica, the vines have taken over. Even though I hate leaving my Tico friends behind when I get in that northbound plane, thank goodness I don’t ever mind returning here. If the key to a good life is finding a happy balance, then smokestacks and strangler figs, black leather and brown skin, punk guitars and tribal drums – these are but a few of my favorite things, all taken in equal measure.

k reflects

 

 

 

 

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),

jerry treeman

 

 

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.

mixed mediaThis 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. venturaIt 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.

print studio

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.

James North Gallery

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.

old silk

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 freda & susie

 

 

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. 

blackbird studio

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. 

olinda

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. 

olinda's

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.

clay studio

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.

artists inc

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.

tribal window

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. 

flowers

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.

the truck of books

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.

yard with tree

 

 

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.

full yard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lori

 

 

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.

molly

 

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.

July 2020
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