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 Last night the northern winds of October suggested that the plane and I blow south rather than north, but instead of following my instincts, I returned home. As it happened it was to perfect cool, sunny and colorful autumn weather. It is warmer here than what I left in London – where it snowed!! on Tuesday night. That was a treat for a Canadian who never minds the first snow of the season and knowing it was a strange event for that city and I felt that it was a wonderful white thing to witness. 

I had arrived in London two weeks earlier to cool autumn weather and quickly left for Barcelona where my friend Chrissy and I stayed for several days, before returning for three days to the land of the queen who was surely wearing her woolies this last week.

 So I thought I’d share some photos and some impressions, but just to show that I was still on the job, here is a picture of me about to take Walking with Wolf into the Quaker Book Store on Euston Road in central London where it is now for sale.  I also took the opportunity to talk with a nice fellow at The Friend journal office about doing a review.  I must admit that was the only book related work I did for the last couple of weeks.

 

  We only had time in London to visit the Abney Cemetary Trust in the Stoke Newington area where I was staying at Chrissy’s. We walked around what is the largest wooded area in the central area of London, 32 acres of overgrown trees, lichened tombstones and moss-mottled monuments. It was perfect to be there on the gloomy day we were, that alone being there in the spooky season. Turns out that it was at one time used by a Quaker girls school and also is home to the remains of the Booths, the founders of the Salvation Army. We wandered the paths between the granite monoliths and creeping vines, England’s history slowly seeping into my chilled bones.

 Chrissy, who I met eighteen years ago on the beach in Montezuma, Costa Rica, has invited me to visit her in England since that first year. I haven’t made it over before, initially due to dealing with cancer, then to my parents’ final years, then to the book.  So it was important that I go.  She has a cozy flat in the Hackney area of northern London but also a walk-up in downtown Barcelona.  That was where we headed, to usually sunny Barcelona, though while we were there the rain in Spain didn’t just fall mainly on the plain, if you know what I’m sayin’. Fortunately even when it was raining, we could sit at the open terrass doors of the flat, sipping wines, eating chorizo and cheese, playing scrabble and watching the tree-lined social scene below us. One of the main beauties of Barcelona is the constance of people out on the street – all day, all night – Chrissy says it is because so many live in dark flats and the nice weather makes it conducive and nicer to be outside. It is also obviously the social nature of the Spanish and the pleasure they take in eating, drinking, talking and participating in life.

 From Chrissy’s flat in a rare moment with few people

 

 

 

 

Besides the extreme gregariousness of the people and the balminess of the climate, the other outstanding feature of Barcelona is its architecture and outdoor art.

 

 Everywhere you look there aren’t just really old or really new buildings, big and shiny or organic and stony constructions, but this city is filled with whimsical and inspired, rule-bending and extravagant creations. Much of this is due to Antoni Gaudi, the architect who was behind the design of a great number of intriguing complex colorful  buildings incorporating nature’s idiosyncratic forms into each. His work is a warped form of gothic  – Gaudic you can call it – and ventures into Art Nouveau.  

 

There is the Park Guell where he lived the last few years of his life (before being struck down by a trolley – poor guy) surrounded by ceramic-tiled pillars and sculpted railings over cave-like bridges, a number of casas commissioned by wealthy families, and the notoriously unfinished Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia – which looks (to this American-influenced chica) like someone plopped Disneyland in the middle of this already gothic city.  There are building cranes still suspended all over the rising twisted spires which have been worked on since 1882 yet people don’t hold out hope for it being finished in this life time. 

Each building is more ornate and magical than the last.  There are various other examples of modern architecture throughout the city as well as medieval and gothic, with countless large works of art and designed gardenscapes interspersed throughout. Any city that would let an obviously obsessed, child-like, brilliant designer like Gaudi rule their skyline and build these non-traditional creations is a city that I have to love.  Dali and Picasso also played here – well, the influence of the city on the artists or the artists on the city leaves behind a trail of magical genius for the rest of us.

 

Outdoor art – and stainless steel kiddies slides in a garden park

 

 

I guess a big turn around in the city came with the Olympics in 1992 when architects reworked the beachfront, landscape designers built artistic garden parks and artists were commissioned to fill spaces with large installations. The waterfront became miles of beach along the Med and cafes and bars put up their umbrella-sheltered tables to cater to the happy sunbathers.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding our bikes we got to cover a great part of the city, winding through the back alleys and through the cafe-strewn boulevards. Although I ride my bike everywhere here in Hamilton, I’m seldom in this kind of density of pedestrians or on as busy streets, but I just followed Chrissy, who is a very experienced cyclist in both London and Barcelona. I enjoyed the days when we walked, as I could actually see more without having to keep my eye on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 We took the metro as well as the exterior escalators that climb up the elevations that surround the city – where Park Guell sits and Montjuic, home of the big art gallery and the football stadium where the Olympic programs took place. Everywhere there was art, everywhere there were people, and everywhere there was food – as long as you understood the hours when lunch was served, when shops were closed so people could eat lunch, and when other bars were open or not…it took a bit to catch on to what was open and when, when we were supposed to be eating and what, but it was always worth the effort to be in the right place at the right time…and the menu lunches – about ten euros for three courses of fresh food off a changing menu, with a glass of wine and a cortado (little cup of coffee), was always a great deal. And we had a great sushi lunch at Cirkus – part clothing store, part excellent sushi in a very cool environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food and its presentation took alot of our attention, as it is prone to do anywhere in the world. We also spent a lot of time checking out music – from choirs in old monasteries and big cathedrals, to street musicians playing intriguing instruments, to smoky jazz clubs – the Harlem and Soul Jazz Clubs – and the best night – LaRumbe, a Catalonyan/South American fusian rumba band with Violeta, their flamenco dancer, three drummers and hot guitarists – I’ll go looking for that gang again somewhere in the world.

Choirs singing in spectacular places

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left, a mournful digeridoo player 

On the right are Swiss Hangs echoing in the stones – a recently developed percussive instrument

 

 

This looks worse than it is – they were preparing for a movie shoot – but it looked real, the police going after the illegal sellers on the street – great thing to come across.

 

 

 

We spent one day taking a train an hour away to Montserrat. Here a mountain of rounded rock spires rises up out of the otherwise pretty flat land and a huge monastery sits protecting the quiet lives of the monks and welcomes the feeding frenzy of the tourists. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chrissy and I spent the day hiking through the wooded rocks and once we got away from the very loud group of out-of-control kiddies and the chatty womens’ hiking group, we found ourselves walking in silence…the first true quiet I had heard since arriving in Barcelona.  Although I live in a small city and love to be surrounded by laughter, chatter and music, I also seek out peace and solitude – we both felt the privilege of finding some private space up close to the blue sky, hidden from the crowds by a couple hours of walking. It reminded me of the canyonlands of the southwest of the US or the mogotes of Cuba – I’m not sure if Dan Brown put Robert Langdon in these hills in Da Vinci’s Code, but he could have.  A beautiful peaceful day.

 

 

 

 

 

The time flew, and so did we, back through a very clear sky, above the Pyrenees and over France to cloudy cold England.  We did get a couple chilly days of sun – one we went biking along the River Lee and the canal to the Quaker bookstore to drop off the books; the last day I went alone through central London – arriving at Buckingham Palace in time to see the changing of the guards which I didn’t stay for as there were already thousands of people ahead of me and that wasn’t on my personal list of must sees.  Instead I walked and walked through the huge old buildings, marveling at how big London is; through the free Tate Art Gallery, marveling at how huge it was; and returning to Hackney on the buses, marveling at just how big this whole city is.  I was constantly amused and impressed with the wall art and graffiti – some samples:

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT? Oh you Brits – lighten up!

Then it snowed, as it would be, the first time since 1934!  And it was time to go home, in time for a book-signing in Westport on Saturday followed by my friends’ big Halloween costume party. And to anticipate the outcome of the American election on Tuesday!  November will be spent working at getting Walking with Wolf out further – still chipping away at media, at reviewers, and making plans for next spring.  But going to Europe was inspiring – I think I will have to return soon. Particularly to Spain –  I like a country where people love people, where men look you in the eye, and life revolves around eating, talking and dancing. And even though the language of the area, Catalan, was difficult to understand, my Spanish held up fine.  Gracias Chrissy, nos vemos!

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It is the day after I got home from my little all-American roadtrip and the day before I set off on my quickie Euro-tour to London, England and Barcelona, Spain.  How lucky am I?  When I read my own words, I get a chill, a good one, down my spine.  I have never been “across the pond” and now that I’m within a few hours of leaving, I’m very excited.  I am going to visit my friend Chrissey Ansell, who I met eighteen years ago on a beach in Costa Rica, who has come to Canada no less than five times and visited me, and has consistently, patiently invited me to her homes in both of these fantastic European cities. I’ve always had an excuse why I couldn’t go – usually something to do with cancer or book-writing – but finally just bit the bullet and bought the ticket.  I’ve always thought I’d find a two-month period to do Europe properly, but in the end decided that I better just go while I still have some money in the bank (international economic crises make me want to spend not save) and while I have my health and the world is in a lull between international catastrophes.  As I’ve said in past blogs, I tend to plan for the future but live in the moment but here the moment has met the future and tomorrow I’ll finally be on a plane and headed over the Atlantic to take advantage of this long-standing invitation.

So I’m taking this opportunity – now that I’ve unpacked and repacked – to write about the last few days that took me from Ontario, across the border at Niagara Falls through Virginia to Ohio.  The first important piece of news was that I bought a new camera so I can post photos again.  I suppose the next important piece of news was that the weather was autumnally-beautiful – truly summerlike – we watched the treeline become more colorful as the days went on and actually sweated on occasion.  Shirley and I traveled the interstates more than anything because of time. I wanted to do a secondary highway between Staunton, Virginia and Wheeling, W. Virginia but Shirley, my dear older & anxious friend, got thrown off by the CAA recommendation to stay on the interstates. Shirley has gone with me on backroads through northern Ontario and Costa Rica and always loves the back country but as she gets older, she gets more anxious (I believe that as we age, we are simply more condensed versions of our former selves) and got it in her head that this particular highway 250 that crossed the mountains would be somehow more dangerous than the truck-laden interstate.  I tried my best to change her mind but in the end gave in and followed I-64 around to Charleston and up I-77 to Barnesville.  I don’t mind racing the transports and getting into the interstate groove but it is truly much groovier on the backroads. Next time, I’m doing that Highway 250 (I wish somebody reading this would give me a good report that I could convince Shirley, next time we visit her relatives in Virginia, that this is a road worth traveling).

So that is where we went first – to Spotsville, Virginia, where Shirley’s kindly kinda-aunt Louise lives on a farm with her black angus cows munching the grass on the rolling fields and her hard-working, lovely family close-by.  Louise is 84 years old (I think that is right) and still helping her son Warren unload the corn silage into the silo, cooking up delicious meals, and tending to the needs of her family, cows, neighbours and church.  We visited her 94 year-old neighbour, Nellie, who also seems to have a firm hand on the running of the farm there. 

 

For the couple of days we were with these warm friendly Virginian folk, I observed that though the men were hard-working, the women seemed to still run the place! Age un-important! Shirley, who I have known most of my life originally as a friend of my parents and always as my friend, has her roots in this country.  She was born in England but was sent here in the second world war to be safe and far away from bomb-blasted London.  She and her brother Tony lived in an “orphanage”, which was actually more like a home for wayward children, and benefited from being around her extended family.  Shirley is now 76 and not willing to drive to Virginia on her own so when I invited her to accompany me to Ohio, I offered to drive her to visit her kinfolk on the way.  Of course, I benefited for the experience.

 

So we stayed in this big ol’ farmhouse, ate way too much good food, fed the young angus cow who was being weened but was still happy to slobber all over the bottle, went to all of Shirley’s touchstones in the area and enjoyed the  Virginian hospitality.

 

 

 

 

 

We went to the graveyards that house Shirley’s grandfather and Louise’s husband, Charles, who I met here in Canada many years ago. 

 

 

 

 

We visited the McCormick farm, home of the reaper (not the grim one, but the pragmatic farm implement). There is also an old grist mill on the site.

 

 

Louise’s son, Warren, and her son-in-law, Lenny, both work at the nearby Hershey’s factory which is non-unionized.  They often are working seven days a week for weeks on end, besides running the farm and tending to their families.  If they complain, there are many others who will take their jobs, so they just go to work.  It is a hard life, making those Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and Almond Joy bars that we take for granted as “candy” – although I tended to stay out of political discussions with these kind, country folk, we did talk about the value of unions and the need for socialized health care in the US.  I shared my experiences of having cancer which brought so many worries to my life – as in “will I survive?” – but didn’t involve worrying about who would pay for the treatments since we have socialized health care here in Canada.  Louise’s family – Warren Bradley and Linda Lou, Lenny, and Christy Phillips- were all interested in the concept of having medical insurance provided by the government and I was able to share my own experience. When Barack gets in, may he follow through and get the support from the Senate and Congress to implement his promise to provide medical insurance for all Americans.  It seems to me to be the most basic of human rights in a civilized society. Perhaps – just a suggestion – cut the military spending and provide for a little nationalized humanity.

When people talk about how politics doesn’t affect their lives, I always shake my head.  Next time you eat a chocolate bar, remember the guys who are working seven days a week, months on end, to keep the line going – limited medical insurance provided, no job security, tired, but unable to complain. I guess I’ve lived in Canada too long.

So after the lovely warmth of Virginia, we headed out in the morning through the fog that eventually lifted to reveal  the coloring leaves, through Virginia, West Virginia, and across the Ohio River into Ohio.  This is very idealic countryside until you see the big smokestacks – I have to admit, I’m not sure what kind of fabrication or energy plant this is,  but I have seen the scene often when passing close to the gracious wide Ohio River, and shudder at the sight of the monolithic cauldrons.

 

We arrived on Friday afternoon at Olney Friends School just outside of Barnesville, Ohio.  Anyone who has read Walking with Wolf will know that this is where Wolf grew up and then returned to for high school.  He also met his beautiful wife, Lucky, there, who had come from Earlham, Iowa. It was Homecoming weekend at Olney and Wolf and Lucky managed to come up from Costa Rica, as Shirley and I came down from Canada. 

 

Everytime I see this wonderful couple, even after all the years of working on the book, I get a warm rush of love that passes through my body straight to my heart. To have managed for us all to get to Olney for this occasion, for the weather to have cooperated as if it were a fine June day, for the extended family and friends of both of them to have shown up en masse for the occasion – well, it all added up to a beautiful weekend filled with laughter and tears and memories and friendship.

 

I find it quite amusing that when Wolf and I get together now, we are like a couple of business people, discussing marketing possibilities, exchanging publicity stories, sharing accounting information. Understand – we have been playing around at “writing a book” for years and now we are actually selling it!  Wolf has continued to visit the stores in Costa Rica who carry our book, replenishing the stock on the shelves but most likely selling the best while sitting in the parking lot at the Monteverde Reserve waiting for the tourists to finish their guided tours in the forest.  I will return to Monteverde in January and we will try to find ways to pick up the pace again, but I know that Walking with Wolf will continue to sell to people who come to Monteverde and are interested in the soul of the place. I believe that is what we managed to convey. What with all our words and history and recollections, Wolf represents the soul of this beautiful, dynamic community and we, luckily, managed to capture it in our tomb.

So here we now were at Olney Friends Boarding School, the place where Wolf met and wooed Lucky, a Friends school that has been teaching young people about reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, life and Quaker values since 1837. On Friday night there was a concert by an energetic a capella group of men from Ohio’s liberal arts Kenyon College (Paul Newman’s alma mater) called the Kokosingers. I think there were thirteen of them – taking turns as the solo guy upstage, providing harmonized, finger-snapping, renditions of both popular and classic songs and a few obscure tunes.  They are going to be opening for Miley Cyrus (I won’t get into who she is, but if you already know, you should be impressed at least as far as the size of the audience) in a couple of weeks. Maybe I was as impressed by their male beauty as their talent (I digress…) but it was truly entertaining.

Saturday was filled with alumni reunionizing, students taking part in the annual run/walk and field hockey and soccer games (alumni 4/students many more). Bit by bit the alumni, many of them relatives of Wolf or Lucky’s, arrived and I could now hear that Guindon/Standing laughter ringing out amid the stately buildings and hardwoods. I have to say that the food at Olney was excellent – having worked for several years at a canoe camp, where the food was great, I was truly impressed with the quality and variety of the food at Olney – I’m not sure of the cook’s name but she was well aware of her responsiblity of feeding an international student body with a variety of taste buds and obviously loves to try new recipes. That kale soup was excellent.

Wolf and I presented the book on Saturday night to a packed house – somewhere between 150 and 200. Wolf spoke very clearly and lovingly, and I followed, proud of myself for sticking to my new program which involved slowing the slide images down to fit the readings from the book. We sold all the books I brought and received a lot of great response from those who had already read it.

 

I met a bunch of people who I’ve heard about over the years from Wolf and Lucky.  Shirley and I lingered with Herbie Smith and Marie Bunty for a long time after the program and exchanged stories – mine of knowing the Guindons in recent times, theirs of sixty years ago.

 

 

 

On Sunday Shirley and I went to the Friends Meeting in Stillwater which was both the same as Monteverde – silent – but more verbally Christian than is Monteverde.  The benches weren’t in a circular style and the way things proceeded was a little different. My personal Quaker experience has been consistently in Monteverde. When people stood and spoke I was naturally awaiting the Spanish translation that occurs in Monteverde. When we got to the afterthoughts and announcements, I was listening for Wolf’s son, Benito, in the background, his low voice simultaneously translating the english to the spanish. In Monteverde there is often an orange trogon – a relative of the beautiful resplendant quetzal – perched on a branch outside the window, perhaps hooting, perhaps silent like the Quakers, its orange breast and striped tail shining. In Monteverde, when the wind is blowing and the tree branches are snapping against the building, I often feel that I am in a tree – if that is so, then here at Stillwater, I was among the roots.  I could feel Wolf and Lucky’s past all around me and knew that this was where the miracle happened, the life force rising from the seed that germinated into the roots that became the family tree that is Monteverde.

I saw other folks who I have met before – Roy Joe and Ruthie Stuckey, Susie Roth, Sylvia who is Lucky’s cousin. Following meeting there was a picnic nearby at Wolf’s nephew’s, Don Guindon’s.  Guindons and Standing relatives gathered to celebrate the presence of Wolf and Lucky and to visit with each other. 

                       Sylvia, Rachel & their Aunt Lucky

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lucky’s oldest sister, Helen, 94 years old and laughing up a storm. I met a multitude of extended family and unfortunately don’t remember the names of many of them unless I had managed to meet them on a previous occasion.

 

 

One of the most touching conversations I had was with one of Wolf’s nieces. On Saturday night, she had implied that she wanted to talk with me but we didn’t have the chance until just before I left on Sunday afternoon.  What she wanted to share with me was that in the Guindon family there have been chemical imbalances – mental illness – and yet they haven’t talked about it. 

In Walking with Wolf we do talk about this. Wolf’s manic depression was a puzzle to me when I met him, but in the three years after meeting him but before returning to Costa Rica and continuing our oral history project, I bumped into people with this malady a couple more times.  Then I lived with a man with a mental disorder for a number of years while I was working on the book. Mental illness is as common as any other illness but has carried a stigma that makes people keep their mouths shut about it.

This lovely woman (and I apologize for not remembering her name) has lived with depression herself, as has one of her two daughters – the other lives with Aspergers syndrome. Wolf’s daughter Helena’s son, Silvio, also has this affliction yet last year he was awarded as the top scoring student graduating from a Costa Rican high school.  The niece had only just bought the book but had heard from sisters and cousins that we discuss the depression that her grandmother experienced and Wolf’s own manic depression. The book also includes Lucky’s story about living with Wolf in the years before he was properly diagnosed and prescribed lithium. 

When I met Wolf and saw some of his behaviour, it was both comical and mystical to me. However, over the years, as I met various other people with a variety of mental illnesses – including my ex-partner who I shared struggles with for eight years – I realized the difficulty of living with this. It was important to me that we talk about it in the book, as it was a very real part of Wolf and Lucky’s life.  Even though perhaps it was me who insisted we talk about this, it was Wolf and Lucky who provided the honest, candid details of their experience.  And neither one ever suggested that we hide it. It is now out in the open and makes it possible for the family – who can share many examples and experiences – to start and continue the dialogue.  There is no place for shame in this, only room for love and understanding.

Rich Sidwell and the staff at Olney – Mary, Leonard, Cleda, Ela & my Canadian-cohort Jaya – provided the opportunity and the backdrop for this wonderful weekend.  Their invitation helped us sell books, connect with family and link to the broader Quaker community. Olney itself is a very special place with a student population from all over the world. When we sat down for meals, the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural aspect of the place was apparent.  For me, a non-Quaker but someone who has lingered among these peaceful, considerate, simple people who are encouraged to be seekers, Olney provided a place to rejoice with a community that was honoring Wolf and Lucky and that very special community in Costa Rica – Monteverde. Every path that this book takes me down allows me to breathe deeply, smile widely and hold my head proudly – to have participated in any small way in this community is a true privilege. The roots and the branches of this large tree of humanity have spread far and wide in my own life and I’m very thankful for that. Today being Canadian Thanksgiving, that will be my grace.

If one must travel, one should at least try to make it worthwhile.  Now sometimes, for some people, for their sanity – which is something that affects all those around them and therefore the world – a trip to the Caribbean for a week of sun, endorphins, rest and relax is worth the footprints.  If you must spend them then you should try and trade them off by good ecologically-sound behavior at other times.  I think that the fact that I gave up my car four years ago, don’t have an air conditioner, very seldom use my dryer, turn off my lights, control my general consumption – well, that will have to balance out the fact that in the next while I’m going to be doing a lot of traveling.

Tomorrow I head to northeastern Ontario (in a small rental car).  This is where Temagami is, which is a small community and large lake I mention a few times in Walking with Wolf.  It is also the area where I lived from 1982 until I left my husband in 1990, on my way to Costa Rica and a changed life. Might I add that I lived without electricity or running water for seven years – kaching! in the carbon bank for me.

I worked at Camps Wanapitei and Keewaydin through the 1990s, two canoe camps on beautiful Lake Temagami.  At Wanapitei, where I worked for six years,  I would stay at the camp the better part of four months of the year, two of those while camp was in session and two when there was only a handful of us enjoying our isolation in the bush at the northeast end of this huge body of water. I then worked at Keewaydin, an all boys camp at the time, for one summer at the end of my canoe camp career, cooking for a dining room full of grateful boys who would come to my window and sing for extra pieces of dessert – how cute was that.  Life at both of these camps allowed me to spend the summer in the north, on water, with groovy people.  It all involved a lot of work and chaos, but I loved it.

I am going to be an hour north of there in New Liskeard on Friday night, presenting Walking with Wolf at the Chat Noir Bookstore.  Because I lived in the area, I should know alot of people there – it is the third presentation (after Monteverde and Hamilton) where I feel I’m bringing the book home.  My friend Dave Patterson, of the Wabi Delta Band,  is playing a set before and after my little book talk.  It’ll be great.

Then on Sunday, I go a bit south to Mattawa.  Friends own a colorful new cafe there and I’m presenting the book in the afternoon – at the Moon Cafe at 2 p.m. Once again, I know enough folk in the area so will be happy to see friendly faces.

On Tuesday September 16 in the evening, I do one more presentation at HIbou Boutique in North Bay.  I have never been there but friends tell me it is a good space and community with sound eco-practices so I look forward to that.

After the Pearl adventure, the rest gets easier, and really, that was an easy night.  Traveling and talking is what I do best.  I’m not shy and I’m proud of the book and privileged to tell Wolf and Monteverde’s story, so this is fun for me.

I have October booked up but I’m running out of time and will write when I’m through this northern tour.  But coming up:  Barnesville, Ohio; London, England; Barcelona, Spain; Kingston and Guelph, Ontario. Did I say carbon footprint? – maybe a coalmine worth of bootprint is more like it.  Sorry about that.

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