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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.

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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.

 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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