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dkny

I have arrived safely back in Canada – at the beautiful home of my wonderful friends, Al and Jean Bair – we are all in shock realizing that the last time I was here was for some of the final games of the last World Cup (futbol mundial – soccer to the rest of you) three summers ago.  Time is an amazing thing, especially when it races away from you. We now have four days to spend together – catching up on our Monteverde friends (where I met Al and Jean in 1995 when they had a house there) and our own busy lives and travels – these conversations will be augmented by Al’s delicious food, lively political discussion and visiting family and friends.  It is like coming home to one of the warmest and most enjoyable places I know of on the planet (and surrounded by bush – how happy am I?)

with-lloyd

Last I wrote I was preparing for my Pendle Hill presentation in Philadelphia – in 90 degree weather, the sun blaring down, on that beautiful campus filled with lovely Quaker folks.  I am still thanking Wolf’s nephew Lloyd, the groundskeeper, for his invitation and warm welcome.

lunch-group

Instead of my usual power point presentation (actually, none of them are usual because they change each time), I told the story of Wolf, Monteverde and writing Walking with Wolf and read a couple passages while people ate lunch in the reading room and then we all talked.  Afterward I sold and signed books and continued to have interesting conversations with a number of people, some of who knew Monteverde, many who didn’t but were very interested as Quakers in that community. I also made some good contacts for future book presentations. All in all, it was a wonderful few hours of book business at Pendle Hill.

dinner-with-memo

I then left Philadelphia and headed up the New Jersey Turnpike to Noo Yawk! There was a huge traffic back up for many miles heading south – I was very happy to be going north. I got to my friend Memo’s in New Jersey just in time to meet a bunch of his very friendly neighbours (mostly Brazilian ex-pats) over grilled food and wine before we headed out to the gigs he had that Saturday night in the big city.  His wife, Wendy, and his boys Sebastian and Estefan, continued on eating while we took off.  I had told Memo that I needed to be headed over to the Bronx as early on Sunday morning as possible so getting home at an earlyish hour would be a good idea – HA! Musicians! Early is a relative thing…

memo

Memo Madriza is a hot sax player I’ve known for probably fifteen years – he was a young guy when he came up to Monteverde with the earliest version of Sonsax, a high energy quartet of saxophones which then added a percussionist.  I can remember these boys, guapos all, and how they not only played smoking music but became like superstars in the community, all the girls following them around. In 1999, Memo met and quickly married Wendy and moved to New York and Sonsax continued on playing, their members changing every couple of years – the last time I saw Memo was at the Montreal Jazz Festival in about 2002 or so when Sonsax played there. 

at-dance-academy

Now he is in New York and plays with a variety of Cuban timba bands – and we got to see three of them that night.  The first version was a six piece playing at a top dance academy right next door to Madison Square Garden.  I’ve danced all my life but never taken dance classes and still wouldn’t, though no doubt could learn lots about how to follow. I like to dance with strong leaders (you find them in Costa Rica) who know how to direct me and that I love.  It was great watching the variety of dancers and listening to the cookin’ band – there were two other rooms, one with a band playing east coast swing and another with western swing as well as a variety of dance performances. I danced with a few dancers but mostly with Memo when the band took a break. I actually almost ripped the arm off an older guy who had asked me to dance but he was obviously a little too soft for me (I told him I’m used to dancing with strong young Latinos who could stand up to the abuse – I don’t think he appreciated the comment as he walked off holding his sore arm.)

la-cubanita

When that gig was over, we were joined by the Cubana pianist, Ariacne Trujillo, whose addition to the night was her high energy and raucous laugh.  We went on to the drom Lounge in the East Village of Manhatten where Memo played with the Carlos Boys Band – a very feisty Cubano band of two brothers with another female keyboardist playing all sorts of Cuban rhythms…and danced our little hearts out until about 3 a.m. 

carlos-boys-band

Jose, a friend of Memo’s, a Costa Rican who works on a private yacht and had just arrived that evening in New York to get his visa for Morocco, joined us. So now I was surrounded by guapo Ticos and high energy Cubanos! What more could a Canadian girl ask for in Noo Yawk City!

oliva-in-sojo

When that gig ended, I’m thinking that, well, okay, if we leave now I can still be in bed by 4 and get a few hours of sleep.  Of course for musicians, when the gig ends, the night just begins, so we now headed off, joined by the second Cubana pianist, to Oliva’s, a little corner bar in Soho.  Soho!!! Memo drove us around the city like a crazy taxi driver – I don’t know how he doesn’t have each corner of his car smashed in but I looked and there wasn’t a mark. At 3 a.m. on an April night as steamy as mid-July, the streets were filled with partiers, the cabs were flying by, the  cacophony of lights were flashing, and  music blared everywhere. 

I was spouting effusive thanks to Memo for how he was providing the perfect night in the Big Apple for this out-of-towner who has never been here before (except for a few hours changing trains in Penn Station a few years ago.) The only thing that would make it more special (besides that beautiful rasta Roberto being there with me or my friend Cocky who had hoped to join me but had to cancel) was actually bumping into someone I knew…a pie-in-the-sky dream but hey, I know alot of folks and couldn’t help but think the thought. Whenever there are alot of people about, I always think I should know someone.

danny-rojo

We walked into Oliva’s and there is another Cuban band playing, this time sitting in the corner of this very tiny bar – the Danny Rojo band made up of another six Cubanos.  Memo told me later that the music was kind of Cuban porn music (the lyrics anyway).  There was a friendly little crowd sharing the small sweaty dancefloor.  I looked at the band and noticed the guy in the corner playing the timba, hat on his shaved head, and realized that I knew the guy! When I asked Memo about him, he told me that his name was Marvin and he was from Cuba but had indeed lived in Costa Rica for a couple of years, playing with Ramses Araya. Ramses is very talented Tico percussionist now living in Los Angeles, who had studied in Cuba and had a  salsa band, Timbaleo – well, Marvin, this musician I was recognizing, had been with Ramses in Monteverde several years ago, and I had indeed met him. Now that’s a small world…

noo-yawk

The music all night was super hot, the company extraordinarily friendly and the dancing satisfied my soul – and the Latin talk and rhythms kept my Cana-Tica soul satisfied as well. As I watched a clock up on a tower turn to 5 a.m., I was still standing but was starting to think that I really didn’t mean to do this, stay out till dawn the morning of my book presentation.  Memo then drove us over to a hole-in-the-wall famous joint called Joe’s Pizza in the West Village – there was a testimonial by the actor Ben Affleck on the wall that this was his favorite pizza in the city – and Memo told me that he had sat in there when Leonard DiCapreo had been there late one night. The place was packed inside and out, and really had the best straight-up cheese pizza – and after about seven hours of dancing, we needed this energy in its simplest and most delicious form.

I finally crawled into my bed at ten minutes to six in the morning, thinking that I was going to be suffering later that day.  I got about four hours sleep and as soon as the others heard me showering, knowing that I had to get going, they were up making gallo pinto (Costa Rica’s famous breakfast rice and beans) and strong coffee and sent me off with a “mi casa es su casa” – and believe me, I’d go back in a heartbeat to New York!

I headed over to Marian Howard’s, a resident of the Bronx and Monteverde, who taught at Bank Street College of Education in the Bronx. She had invited me to come and present the book at her house.  So a small group of her friends, family and neighbours came – including Edna and Linda, two teachers who taught in the early 90s at the Monteverde Friends School who I had known but haven’t seen since. 

at-marians

 

It was a beautiful summery day and we sat outside and ate Monteverde cheese that Wolf had provided for me when I left a month ago, drank wine and Imperial beer, Costa Rica’s famous beer that Memo had provided me with cold out of his fridge that morning. 

skype Marian and I managed to download Skype so that we could contact Wolf and Lucky who were at our friend Alan Master’s home in Monteverde and we all visited through that miracle of modern technology. I gave a slide presentation and we had a lively discussion – it was a wonderful afternoon, sold a few books, ate tasty food, and speaking with Wolf and Lucky was the icing on the cake. And I was surprisingly energetic and lucid and happy – not bad for a fifty-year old who had been out hard-core dancing all night.

I send a huge thanks to Memo and Wendy and to Marian for their invitations and hospitality and support on the grand finale of my northeast US tour.  I maybe sold enough books to balance the cost, maybe not, but I had a lot of fun (my mama and the Dalai Lama say..), met great people, finally made it to Pendle Hill in Philadelphia and, even crazier, Noo Yawk Noo Yawk!  I had the best 36 hours possible in that big city, and I drove through it and found out that it really is quite doable. Nothing to be shy of…so I won’t ever be again.

in-canada

Yesterday I awoke refreshed after a good night’s sleep, got in my trusty rental car and drove back to my homeland to spend this week visiting friends and enjoying the Canadian countryside before heading for the jungle of Cahuita in two weeks…but I did the urban jungle just fine, leaving a little of my shoe tread on some dancefloors and copies of Walking with Wolf on bookshelves. Ciao chicos!

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It is a warm evening here in Philadelphia. Today the sun was shining brightly enough to raise the temperature up close to 80 degrees (or 25 Celsius) – I returned to wearing the shorts I had been living in down in Costa Rica. I find myself in the heartland of the Quakers, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and it isn’t just the air that is warm here. I’ve met a lot of friendly Friends over the last three days, kind-hearted souls with questioning minds.

 

morning-new-hampshire

When I left Maine on Tuesday, I stopped for the night at Carlos and Lidieth Guindon’s in New Hampshire. Carlos is getting near the end of translating Walking with Wolf.  It is very exciting. When he is done, his hard work will be passed on to an editor and we will be another big step closer to seeing Caminando con Wolf become a reality. The poor man is not exactly translating English to Spanish – he is translating Canadian and Alabamian to Costa Rican. Carlos is not a professional translator, just a very smart man with a big heart who wants to see his father’s story made available to those Costa Ricans who don’t read English. It was a very enjoyable evening, discussing details of the book and catching up on our lives. It was particularly great to see Lidieth, who I knew back in the nineties when they were still living in Monteverde but who I haven’t seen in at least a decade. No matter where I go, when I run into Monteverde folk there is a strong connection, a common thread that binds us – our mutual love of that community and culture and remarkable natural landscape. And when they are Guindons, it is that much sweeter.

 

cemetery-nyc

 

I left early in the morning from New Hampshire to get to Philadelphia for an evening talk. It was a very easy drive, right through New York City, on I-95, across the George Washington Bridge. The only bad traffic I ran into in eight hours of driving was the bottleneck that occurs on the east side of that bridge – there seems to be eight lanes of traffic on four different ramps all merging – it took me an hour to get onto and over the bridge, much of which I spent sitting beside this cemetary –  not a particularly peaceful resting spot I’d say.

 

gw-bridge

It gave me a chance to look around and snap pictures – I was sorry that I was moving too fast while on the bridge that I couldn’t take a good shot of the Empire State Building that I could see in the distance along with the rest of the famous skyline. Now that I have passed through the Big Apple, I am not at all intimidated for when I return there this weekend – maybe I’ll manage to get some good skyline pics this time.

 

garden-westtown

I arrived mid-afternoon at my first Philadelphia stop, Westtown School.  A Quaker school started in the late 1700s, this beautiful campus sits out on the west side of the Philadelphia area, incorporating some of the last farmland as part of its grounds – much in the area has been eaten up by development, apparently in just the last ten years – McMansionland, as someone called it appropriately.

 

whitney-quincy-and-nora

Whitney, Quincy & Nora

 

My contact there was Whitney Suttel, a teacher who taught a few years ago at the Monteverde Friends School. She arranged a beautiful room for me to do my slide show and present the book – and a room in the Farmhouse, the overnight accommodation for Westtown.  I was amazed at the size of the buildings of Westtown and the chimneys!

 

main-building-westtown

I’m not sure how many topped the high roof of the main building but they are so proud of their chimneys that they are spoken about in the school’s literature. Westtown is just one of many Quaker schools in this area – I’ve heard of so many Friends’ elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, I’ve lost count. There is no doubt that Philly must be the epicenter of earthQuakerism in the United States. 

 

the-south-room

The talk was attended by a few students but being their free time, they were more tempted to be elsewhere. But each time I talk, there is always lots of enthusiasm by those who know Wolf and Monteverde and the others pick up on it. This was no exception – Whitney told her own stories of her experiences of walking with Wolf and there was also a student, Laura, who had lived with the Guindons when she did an exchange with Wolf’s granddaughter Noelia last year. And the biology teacher who has taken a number of groups to Monteverde and stayed down at Eladio’s in the Peñas Blancas valley – everyone has their own tales of their times spent with Wolf. There could easily be a second and third volume added to our original book, Walking with Wolf.

 

greene-st-school

Early the next morning, I had to make my way into the Center City to Greene St. Friends School.  The Spanish teacher, Sandra Rodriguez, had asked me to come and speak to the grade 7s and 8s – she goes to Costa Rica each year with the grade 7s – so all of these students had been in Monteverde.  I started out from the bucolic countryside of Westtown, leaving in plenty of time and should have been able to arrive easily half an hour before I was to talk. However I ended up getting horribly lost, driving in the morning rush hour traffic, following cars up and down the wooded hill and valley roads, past the mansions and numerous academic institutions housed in big old stone buildings surrounded by big old hardwood trees.  It would have all been lovely except for the fact that I was starting to think I would miss the whole class time and would be doing all this driving for nothing and leave Sandra very disappointed wondering where I was.

 

I finally drove past a corner store where I could ask directions and when I found out that I basically had to return to the point where I think I had gone wrong in the first place – by a different way, but still, miles backward it seemed – I was sure that I would never make the school in time. The traffic was thick everywhere and I was still not really sure how far I was and time was passing quickly. But just as I was truly feeling forlorn, I somehow miraculously came across one of the roads that I recognized as being where I was to turn to get to the school – and pulled into the parking lot with about 15 minutes to spare, enough time to set up the projector, get the power point in position, and wipe the sweat from my brow. 

 

As it would happen, that was one of the nicest audiences I’ve talked to – maybe forty kids from diverse backgrounds, all who understood Quakerism, all who have been to Monteverde, many of whom have aspirations to write themselves.  So when I finished my talk, there were lots of great questions and enthusiasm on the part of these young students. I always tell kids (well, anyone) that if I can write a book, anyone who can construct a good sentence and has a good story to tell surely can write their own book. It was a message that a lot of these kids seemed to want to hear.

 

philly

When that was over I bravely faced downtown Philadelphia and headed to the University of Pennsylvania to drop off a book at the office of Dan Janzen, the famous biologist/conservationist who wrote the Natural History of Costa Rica.  He has agreed to write a blurb for the back of the Spanish edition and I thought that dropping the book off at his office would be cheaper and easier than mailing one – ha! After driving up and down the busy streets then walking through the maze of university buildings for close to an hour trying to find his office, I once again questioned my reasoning.

 

pendlehill

I took the slow road out of the center of the city toward Pendle Hill, the Quaker spiritual and educational retreat. I have heard of this place from people in Monteverde but really didn’t know what to expect. It is a beautiful collection of old stone buildings on grounds full of native trees, with the magnolia flowers just fading, the redbuds shining brightly, the daffodils nodding happily and the leaves starting to appear throughout the canopy.

 

trotter-hall-swarthmore

I spoke last night at Swarthmore College – originally a Quaker college made up of more large stone buildings on beautiful grounds very close to Pendle Hill.  Mark Wallace, another former visitor to Monteverde, had invited me. Unfortunately the crowd was super small – Mark and a student and Sybil, a woman I know from Monteverde but haven’t seen in a few years. She was thrilled to come out and get a copy of the book and we all engaged in a great discussion about our experiences in Monteverde. It turned out that Mark and his children had been on the same hike that Whitney from Westtown had been on with Wolf, doing his crazy Tapir Trail in 2004, the year that he wasn’t able to complete the trail. I made the connection when Mark started talking about how his daughter had seen a fer-de-lance while on that hike – and remembered that Whitney had told the same tale, of a young girl seeing a fer-de-lance. It is a small world – they don’t know each other but had actually spent a few days in the wild and wooly cloud forest of Monteverde together and now work only miles apart from each other here in Philadelphia.

 

dawn-redwoods

Here at Pendle Hill, Lloyd Guindon, Wolf’s nephew, is the groundskeeper and today, under that sparkling sun, he took me on a tour – telling me the history of some of the trees – such as the Dawn Redwood, a native tree that completely disappeared in this area until some were found in China and brought back – they are meta-sequoias, similar to the California Redwoods but not the same, and were just leafing out like the Larch or Tamarack trees (as we call them in Canada) would be doing. 

 

 

champion-beech-tree

There is also the State Champion American Beech tree on this campus – I always remember the beech trees at our cottage and how the smooth yet wrinkled grey trunks looked like elephant legs – this big ol’ tree was no exception. It is humungous – one has to wonder how much longer it can spread its big branches out but perhaps being recognized as the biggest in the state will keep it going for awhile longer. As do most of the staff here, Lloyd and his wife Robin and their children live in an old stone house on the campus. He is obviously and justifiably very proud of his work, taking care of this partially forested, partially meadowed land with a big organic vegetable garden and numerous flower beds, mostly filled with native plants and perennials.

 

the-forest-pendle-hill

At each meal I talk with some of the people studying and working here. There are several writers about and I find myself being the “published author” and sharing my own experiences – when did this happen? I often wonder to myself. When did I become someone who knows something about writing and publishing a book? I amaze myself – enough to think I can write another one.

 

the-main-house-pendlehill

Tonight I dined with Lauri Perlman, the director here at Pendle Hill.  She explained some of the history of the place to me – how a small group of Quakers decided that they wanted to start this spiritual retreat as an alternative to Swarthmore College – and made the decision to go ahead back in 1929, four days after the big stock market crash that brought on the Depression.  As she said, what a courageous move they made, and obviously a smart one as Pendle Hill is thriving eighty years later.  She said that she uses that as an example when people are so concerned about going forward in these times of great economic worry – if that group of visionaries could stick with their plan to expand the small meeting at the time into something of this relevance and make it work during the Depression, then maybe we shouldn’t be so worried about taking risks in these troubling times either. If you have a smart plan and work at it diligently, you just might find success despite the fears that rain down from the doomsayers that abound, in our neighbourhoods and in our media.

 

ambassador

Tomorrow I will be reading from the book and hopefully having an interesting discussion with folks over the lunch hour.  I’ll then be set up to sell and sign books for a couple of hours in the bookstore.  It is supposed to be getting close to 90 degrees – I’ll no doubt be wishing I was swimming in the ocean. As soon as the work is done, I’ll be getting back in my car and driving a couple hours north, back to New York City, to go hear my friend Memo play with a Cuban band in the city and do a book presentation on Sunday afternoon. I am very thankful to Lloyd, Mark, Sandra and Whitney, the folks who brought me here to beautiful Philadelphia. I leave with very warm memories of the Friends, their stone houses and the rich green life that flourishes around them.

 

 

 

 

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