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It is snowing outside. The rooftops are cold enough that the snow is turning them white. Lucinda Williams is on the stereo and singing about snow covering her streetlamps too but she’s talking about Minneapolis in December. This is Canada in April, the spring bulbs are out of the ground and shivering, and you just gotta love it. I should have known that the weather I came home to last week was too good to be permanently true.

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One of my favourite Canadian pastimes – helping someone else stack their firewood…

I’m a few days away from heading to Maine. I hope the weather smartens up so that the highways and turnpikes and interstates are dry and quasi-sane. At the same time I’m preparing for this trip, I am also contacting people on the west coast for the book tour out there in July. If you are reading this and living between British Columbia and California and have a good idea of a Quaker meeting, naturalist group or bookstore who would be interested in hosting a Walking with Wolf evening, please send me a comment to this blog. I’m also making a few corrections to Walking with Wolf, preparing it for a second printing of the English edition to be done in the next weeks. And I’m helping with the details of the production of the Spanish translation in Costa Rica. I’m also making my plans to return there in May. I think I’ll be home about one week a month all summer. It’s a busy time.

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With Lauren Schmuck and her mother Patricia Reynolds and Grandma Reynolds

I did a presentation of the book to the McMaster University Biodiversity Guild – a nice group of people, mostly with biology backgrounds. There was a good little crowd and it was a nice evening. One of their members, Lauren Schmuck, put it together – she has a burning desire to go work or volunteer in Costa Rica and I expect I’ll see her down there one day. I told her that any volunteer work I have ever done has paid off in spades – and it is true, many of my lasting friendships and most valuable contacts have come from being a voluntary grunt worker with a smile on my face (that last part is important.) 

I’ve managed to hear some great music in the week I’ve been home – por supuesto. I went out and danced away a night when some of the top musicians in town (Jesse O’Brien, Brian Griffith, Joel Guenther et al) got together for a great gig of blues, funk and reggae tinged music to make ya dance. Love those guys.

with-the-boys

My four dates for the night – Randy, Pete, Kevin & Jeff (taking photo)

The other night I went and saw Lori Yates, backed beautifully by Brian Griffith and Lisa Wynn, break our hearts with her tunes and that honey voice – she writes some hurtin’ songs, but she is very funny and irreverent and outrageous and she makes us cry as much with laughter as pain. Then Tom Wilson did a great show, fitting this hometown concert in amidst a very busy tour from coast to coast in Canada and the US – it was a Hamilton proud night. Followed by Jesse, Brian and Mark LaForme keeping it moving at the Westtown. I need those nights of music – my soft little soul is feeling all aflutter and music always soothes me.

I also saw the great Charly Chiarelli – a Hammer-boy with Sicilian roots who also happens to live down near my friends, Kingston way. I’ve heard him play his harmonica and tell great stories over many years. He has written a trilogy of plays about growing up Italian here in Hamilton and Sunday afternoon was the last performance (at the good ol’ Pearl Company) of the third play, Sunamabeach. He is a very talented, funny, charismatic actor/musician/story teller – and the local crowd of Italian offspring were loving it. So were we who have not a drop of olive oil in our blood. Charly got in trouble with the Sons of Italy (no doubt the daughters too but that would be a different story) in the United States over his last play, Cu Fu. They felt he was negatively stereotyping Italians when really he was just telling stories from his life with great passion and amusement.

I also saw, at the same ol’ Pearl, a rehearsal for their next play, Tobacco Troubadour, written by the art director of Artword Theatre, Ron Weihs. It is about local musician, songwriter and music producer, J. Paul Reimens. When Ron heard Paul’s songs, he decided he needed to write a play around the stories that Paul tells in them. I had gone out on Thursday to see Paul playing at a local pub (with Brian Griffith – how lucky was that, hearing the best guitarist in town play four times in a week) and we got to talking about this play, written about his life growing up in the tobacco country of southern Ontario and just wanting to play the guitar. Since I won’t be around for the performances, I went and sat in at the rehearsal and am truly sorry I won’t be here for the real thing. It is going to be a very poignant and entertaining play with Paul’s sweet songs throughout.

troubadour

This all takes place at the poor ol’ Pearl Company, where my book launch was back in September. Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne have poured their energy, soul, money, and heart into creating this very alive art center in an old three story brick factory building that once was home to a costume jewelry business.  They also run the popular Art Bus that takes people around to arts events throughout the city twice a month. They both received Arts Hamilton Awards last autumn and Barbara just received a Woman of Distinction award recently.

Against this very successful backdrop, sits the big purple elephant of stubborn and stupid bureaucracy that is attempting to close them down due to zoning. For many years this old neighbourhood was zoned commercial, sitting about four blocks outside of the downtown core. It then went residential, but the commercial use of the building (along with paying commercial taxes) continued for decades. Now the city is issuing a new zoning plan and one of the biggest problems is parking spaces as well as a very expensive re-zoning application process. Considering that the Smart Plans and Green Plans or whatever plans that cities issue these days do a lot of talking about minimizing the use of automobiles and promoting public transit, the requirement of parking spaces to allow an arts center to exist is mind-blogging – and the spots do exist, just not in a neat parking lot adjacent to the building. The Pearl folks may have to take their struggle to keep this center going to the national press if the city doesn’t step up here soon and support what is such a happening community place. The Pearl Company drives a big part of the cultural scene of Hamilton. Anybody who wants to read more and support their cause can go to their website at www.thepearlcompany.ca

In late great breaking news, the local newspaper, the Hamilton Spectator, has finally put a small article in about the book. Jeff Mahoney, a real nice journalist who writes an always interesting column about local people and cultural things, interviewed me last November. He also read the book and told me he loved it. I had asked that they don’t print anything while I was away in Costa Rica – so today there was a small piece and picture about my presentation to the Biodiversity Guild and singing the praises of the Canadian embassy’s financial support. Jeff told me that he’ll try to get his review of the book in the paper in May. I’m very appreciative that the local, under-staffed and over-worked newspaper finally found a couple of inches of space for Walking with Wolf.

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I feel like I’ve mostly been sitting in front of my computer, contacting people, working on book stuff, feeling lovesick, but when I read what I’ve just written here, I realize that I’ve been enjoying myself too, taking advantage of being in this very dynamic, culturally-rich city lovingly called the Hammer, formerly known as Hamilton the Steel City. I continue to sing its praises wherever I go, invite my friends here who inevitably fall in love with it, and try to get out and support as many arts events while I’m here as possible.

In a moment of extreme stupidity, I managed to erase all my photographs off of my laptop – all the more stupid because, yes, I do have an external hard drive in which to download everything but, no, I didn’t do it since I got home. I then decided to make room on my laptop by taking out the photographs from one program – and they disappeared off all programs and I emptied my recycle bin and well, it wasn’t pretty. I paid a man to recover them and have them all on DVD in messed up files but at least I have them for when I need to access the photographs for my power point presentations or my blog!

That was definitely a low point.robertos

 

The rest have been high, except for the cabanga, which will go away as soon as I go back to Cahuita in May.

It is a joyous occasion when your hard work and your good friends come together to create an event that is exactly what you want.  This was what happened on Saturday night at the Pearl Company here in Hamilton – the official Canadian launch of Walking with Wolf was a magical evening. Just like the first presentation that Wolf and I did for the book in Monteverde at Bromelias, it was a full house, very positive, fun, successful – yes, magical.

It took place at the beautiful Pearl Company, a three-story brick building that originally housed a coffin factory and later a costume jewelry business which left pearls inbedded in the cracks between the wide pine floorboards.  The bottom floor is a stunning art gallery space with a boutique that sells locally-produced art and books, including Walking with Wolf; the second floor is this large acoustically-live performance space; the third floor is the studio apartment of Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners.  They bought the building about three years ago and have restored it to the glorious gem that it is now, and have started spreading that renewal around the neighbourhood with an association they got started to bring some unity to this rather marginalized city barrio. 

Recently they joined forces with Ron Weihs and Judith Sandford, who are transplants from the Toronto theatre scene.  They are now the artistic directors of the performance space.  They helped with the physical set up of the room for our event.  They are introducing a whole new program to the Pearl, regularly scheduled theatrical, musical and spoken word evenings.  The Pearl continues to grow into a great cultural community situated in this grand old building which deserves this chance at a renewed life.  There was never any doubt in my mind that this would be the perfect place for a book launch and it truly was.

With the help of my friends – Cocky who was here visiting me and helped me get my act together; Freda and Mike Cole who did almost all the food (I threw in a bean dip and some marinated mushrooms, but otherwise Freda, as usual, fed the masses her delicious creations); Kathryn and Bob Johnston who took care of the sales table – the evening went off without a glitch. 

People estimate that there were maybe up to 130 people there – we charged $5 at the door to cover expenses, and it did!  The important thing is the building was filled with friends, old and new, all enthusiastic and supportive – there was a lot of love in the room that night.  How lucky am I? I ask that, but I know that this book project has been surrounded by love and support since it started, particularly in the last year of getting the book done and now getting it out to the reading public. 

My wonderful friends Al and Jean Bair (on the left in the photo), along with their daughter Sandy and her husband Bruce and their sons Ben and Jacob, came from Petawawa.  A long time ago I asked Al if he would do me the honor of introducing me when the day came to present the book. I met Al and Jean in Monteverde in 1995 when they had a house in the area and, like me, spent a lot of time there each year.  Our friendship grew here in Canada.  I love this couple and admire how they live and most of all the strength of their family-bond.  They have five very successful children, who with their spouses and the grandchildren, make a very tight unit with Al and Jean.  It is one of the most dynamic, smart and colourful families I have known (like the Guindons, but different).  Al and Jean are not like parents to me, mentors is a better word, friends is the best. When my parents died in the late 90s, Al and Jean provided great comfort and guidance, but most of all made me laugh and made me feel that everything would be okay. When I have the chance to spend time with them, whether in their home or traveling together somewhere, the conversation is always interesting and honest and hugely entertaining. 

Al gave an introduction that brought me to tears with his kind words about how we had met, about our travels together, and how I am almost more Costa Rican than many Costa Ricans he knows.  I sure picked the right person to introduce me – as many people said to me later in the evening, that man sure loves you.  The feeling is very mutual.

 

 

 

 

There was a small technical glitch with my laptop as the room was filling up and I was wanting to start the images on the screen.  Thankfully the computer geeks in the crowd stepped in and took over, including Bruce who has helped me every step of the way with the book, and Al’s grandsons. I stayed calm, kept greeting people, and believed everything would work out, and it did.  One must love their geek friends.

Ben and Jacob, the Bair grandsons, geeks of glory

 

The crowd who came out represented many periods of my life and communities that I’ve been part of. Doug Agnew, who was my teacher from Grade 5 to Grade 8, and his wife Janice came.  I reconnected about ten years ago with them and stay in touch, having dinner together once every couple of years.  Doug was my absolutely favorite teacher from all my schooling years. It was just a huge shock when we reconnected and got talking and found out that this man, whose word we took as law, who we looked up to as our guide when we were about ten years old, was only 21 himself when he started teaching us! Twenty-one! And we thought he was this wise old man!  I have always felt that his four years of teaching played a huge part, along with my parents, in my formation and so I have to give some credit to him for who I am and what I do now.  That may or may not please him (depending on what he thinks of who I am now), but it is meant with the greatest of respect and affection.

Christine Carleton and I took a couple of creative writing classes together at Mohawk College back in 2001 when I was prepping myself for writing the book.  We then joined with Joanne Levy and Kelly White and a couple of other aspiring writers to form a writing group, to read and critique each other’s writing.  Although eventually our group fell apart, I did receive some great feedback from them on the early chapters in the early stages.  Christine and Kelly came to the Pearl – we all just shake ourselves, me included, that one of us has actually published something! Christine particularly was a very supportive writing mate and has offered much encouragement over the years. It was great to see her.

Besides Cocky from Maine and the Bairs from Petawawa, there were friends from Toronto like Deb Holahan and Tory Byers and Lynda Lehman from Guelph brought my editor Jane Pavanel down. She came all the way from Montreal (via Guelph) for the occasion and wo-manned the entrance, extracting $5 out of everybody without exception – good work Jane! She also brought me six of the best butter tarts in the world! It was wonderful to see her, to have her there to celebrate this book, as she played a huge role in its creation.  The relationship between editor and writer is a difficult one, as they just want to mess with your words, throw them around, throw them out, but the end product has as much do to their diligence as the writer’s. So Jane deserves much credit for the flow and clarity of the writing in Walking with Wolf.  And I’m very happy to call her a friend and that she was able to come to Hamilton for the book launch.

Ken Kroesser, who did the cover and maps, and Bruce MacLean, who did the index, and prepared the photographs and the copy for the printer, also came from Toronto.  I am in awe of these men.  I can’t say enough about how much help they have given me in all aspects of designing, finishing and now marketing the book.  Ken lives in anonymity (he worries that my blog will bring him undue notoriety) but is a very successful designer and brand-man – and a very recently married man – and brought me a belated birthday gift of Walking with Wolf bookmarks – my new calling card.  How lucky have I been to get to know these two and benefit from their knowledge and professionalism.  I just adore them and was thrilled that they too came out. I was only sorry that the last person in the team who helped me turn my manuscript into a book, Laurie Hollis-Walker, couldn’t make it.  She should have been there to receive her share of my praise.

It was wonderful to see friends from the Bruce Trail – Bill and Barb Cannon, Barbara and Ian Reid, Ivor Mansell, and of course Shirley Klement. They were good friends of my parents who became good friends of mine.  Also the Poag and Johnston family – besides Bob and Kathryn, her mom, Doreen, and their daughters Marianne and Sarah (along with Joe, the about to be husband), came out in support.  They are as close to family as anyone can get without having a drop of genetic blood in our veins.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Lois, along with my cousins Barbara (in the picture with me) (and John) and Stephen (and Laurie) showed up, coming from Mississauga and Fergus.  I haven’t seen any of these Chornooks in a long time and I was sorry that I didn’t have more time to actually chat, but I was very touched that they would all come and support me – they had already bought and read the book this summer, but I was able to sign their copies.

  

Wendy and Robert E. Ross showed up. Robert is a very established painter in Hamilton who I met many years ago and happened to run into recently.  I had invited him to the launch and was very happy that he and Wendy showed up.  Receiving support from people in the arts community here is important – and I try to go out and support people in the various arts myself.  There were also a number of people from the musical community, including JP (Paul) Riemens, a great singer-songwriter and music producer in Hamilton. He is a friend of Lori Yates, of the Evelyn Dicks, who performed that night at the Pearl, and I’ve met him a couple of times.

Judith Sandford, JP Riemens, Edgar Breau

 

On Thursday night Cocky and I went to see him play at a local bar. We got into a discussion about house parties that hire musicians to play – there is a whole circuit across Canada that musicians get linked into.  He was telling us about playing a house concert in northern Ontario near Sudbury, which was put on by Laurientian University professors to celebrate people who were receiving honorary degrees that day.  As he said this, Cocky and I both piped up “Jean Trickey” – our friend from Little Rock (refer to blog: 50 and Kstock 2008) – and sure enough when she was in Sudbury to receive her honorary degree, she had ended up at this party that Paul and his band the Barflies played at.  He had talked with her and told us how the whole tour could have ended right there for him, that was the highlight, speaking with this civil rights icon and fascinating woman.  When he found out that she had just been in Hamilton last week for my birthday he was disappointed that we hadn’t had this conversation a week earlier, as he could have seen her again. It’s a big big country, our Canada, but it’s a small small world.

My former primary nurse from my cancer days, Trish Haines, came as well – another person who is thanked in the book, along with my doctor Dr. Ralph Meyer, for the great care they provided during my cancer-fighting days. I’m proud to call her my friend still and was very happy to see her.  Another Patricia, the one I go to for the occasional facial or massage – actually now she comes to me with her Beautiful Needs mobile spa – showed up with a lovely flower arrangement that she had made, full of best wishes and kind thoughts.  This is her with Mike and Freda Cole, taking a break from the food table

Cocky, who has been staying with me (she has fallen in love with the Hammer and is looking for excuses to come here now), and I managed to get everything together, along with Mike and Freda, and got to the Pearl on time, but managed to leave my cheat sheets at home.  I don’t have a problem talking in front of a crowd, and I always wing it, never read it, but I am sensible enough to write down a few points on a paper, in case I lose my way.  But since I left the paper at home, I was on my own.  People were very kind with their praise afterward, so I guess it all went well enough. I only stumbled once, when I looked up and saw my friend Wendy reacting to a picture on the screen behind me, but other than that I pretty much said what I wanted to. 

I read from a couple of chapters in the book – the end of the first chapter that introduces Wolf and how this project began, and then a couple pages about snakes.  As I do book events and readings, I like to read something from both my own narration and Wolf’s dialogue but also like to add one of the stories that other people provided me with.  It gives a fair representation of the book, an idea as to how it is composed. I figured that in this urban crowd, many people would be icky about snakes and I was right. So I read Gary Diller’s great story about Wolf bringing a fer-de-lance out of the jungle and setting him up for a fall in front of his clients as well as a number of Wolf’s stories about snakes. Well, what better way to take the city folk on a literary trip to the jungle than by talking about snakes! I could hear people squirming in their seats, just the reaction I wanted. 

Well, as I said there were well over a hundred people there, I can’t mention them all, but suffice it to say that the room was filled with friendly faces, supportive souls and classy characters.  We sold 39 books and I signed others that people had bought elsewhere.  Did I feel like a queen? You betcha! It was a wonderful feeling to celebrate in Hamilton with all these people. 

 

And when my little talk was finished, that irreverent band of Hammer superstars, the Evelyn Dicks, stepped up and blew the roof off the building. Their songs are all written around the notorious Evelyn Dick, serial murderess of Hamilton’s past, femme fatale.  Lori Yates and Lynn Buckshot Beebe, dressed the part – femme fatales themselves – in classic red and black vintage dresses – the boys in the band, Chris Houston, Cleave Anderson and Jimmy Vapid, provide the rockin rhythm section to these two front women (and Chris steps up and growls out a few songs as well). But the attitude that exudes out of these ladies, and the humor they toss around like balls looking for a bat, amused the audience and kept those of us who are keen to be dancing on our feet.  Lori gave me this band as a gift for the night – my abundant appreciation goes out to her for topping off an already successful literary-type evening with the Dicks brand of musical mayhem.  The Dicks rocked the house, sent some folks right out the door, but thoroughly entertained those of us who stayed on.

My new friend Larry Strung, who has been documenting the faces of Hamilton, one day at a time, each day of 2008, and creating a photographic record on his website http://hamilton365.com also showed up and took some photos, including this great shot of the Dicks in all their glory.

When the party was over, a number of us moved on to a local pub, The Cat and Fiddle, to hear JP Riemens bandmates, Linda Duemo, Brian Griffith and friends, playing rockabilly kinda music that kept us all dancing.  They had to kick us out. The musicians were all tired, having played at the Locke Street Festival that was also on that day.  But it didn’t show in their music and no doubt the infusion of this gang of happy post-book-launch celebrants helped spike their energy back up. 

Cocky, my friends Shirley, Jeff and I came home by 3 a.m.  Cocky decided we were hungry and she would make us an omelet.  Now I have to say that we were all fine from a night of minimal drinking and maximum dancing, but my pal Jeff was slightly inebriated unlike the rest of us.  When he saw that Cocky was cooking, he decided that he would step up and take over.  He has fed me many great meals, I know that he is a good cook, but I was a little concerned that he should be driving that frying pan in his condition. Shirley and I sat back and watched the two of them negotiating in the kitchen, Cocky (very unlike herself) letting him take over, bringing him ingredients.  I wondered how long it would be before he was kicked to the curb and she took control of the frying pan.  The three of us women were rolling our eyeballs wondering what he was going to concoct, and I must say without belief that he was going to be able to prepare much of anything.

And then, as we sat in our silent cynism, that man picked up that great big frying pan and did the most perfect flip of a multi-egged omelet that I have ever seen! WOW we all blurted out! Anyone who could make that great big omelet do a perfect back flip in the air and back into the pan can drive my frying pan any day! We lost our disbelief immediately and a couple minutes later bit into the best omelet I’ve had in years.  So here I publicly apologize to Jeff for doubting him and thank him for his culinary prowess.  And Cocky for being so mellow in her old age and letting him take over.  We ate our omelet breakfast at 4 in the morning and then went to bed, beyond satisfied at the perfection of the whole night.

I’m very proud of Walking with Wolf, and the great response to it affirms my own belief in its value.  I can’t really express, even though I guess I’m a writer now and should be able to, how thankful I am that people are liking it.  I can’t imagine all the years of work Wolf and I put into it ending with a sub-standard result, when people wouldn’t be able to look me in the eye after they’ve read it, if they even had. But now I can look people in their eye and talk about my book and know that it is as good as I could make it.  Not only was I given the privilege and pleasure of getting to know Wolf and telling his story, but I managed to do it right, and I get teary every time I even think about that (I am teary now).  I am so thankful that this is how this project turned out, as I said, I can’t even begin to express my amazement and my gratitude.

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