Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Advances in joint pain treatment

Reduced joint mobility begins around age 35, as natural fluids lubricating our cartilage become more scarce. For as many as one in seven of us, this is compounded by the inflammation of osteoarthritis. As new treatments to diminish pain and extend mobility emerge and compete with established ones, healthcare providers have faced the choice with caution, typically favouring the approach with the longest track record except in more severe cases.

Where oral anti-inflammatories fail, steroid injections (cortisone) have been standard treatment since the 1950s, targeting directly the inflammation of the joint lining that eventually leads to cartilage and bone damage. Where cortisone fails, the waiting list for joint replacement has often been the next recourse.

Hyaluronic acid injections, marketed as Synvisc® in Canada by Genzyme since 1997, are a “viscosupplementation” treatment aimed at replacing the naturally occurring molecule hyaluronan, secreted in diminishing quantities over time by our cartilage. Derived from eggshell membrane proteins, it offers the possibility of delaying the need for joint surgery. Its use is also widespread as a filler for scar reduction procedures, replacing shorter-lived collagen injections, and as a scaffolding material for cutting-edge tissue cloning and organ regeneration from stem cells.

Because of its widespread use in surgery and its mimicry of naturally secreted molecules, hyaluronic acid’s safety is not as much of an issue as its effectiveness versus cortisone or placebo. Clinical studies have been mixed, but a systematic literature review for the journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, looking at five case series and thirteen randomized controlled trials, concluded that hyaluronic acid “appears to have a slower onset of action than intra-articular steroids but the effects seem to last longer,” and that higher concentrations showed more consistent results in terms of pain relief and improved function. Effects of hyaluronic acid begin after one to three months and last up to a year, compared with cortisone injections, which act more quickly but lose effectiveness after three months.

Biologic Response Modifiers (BRMs) are a class of drugs whose novelty is discernible from their generic names – Enbrel (etanercept), Remicade (infliximab), Humira (adalimumab), Kineret (anakinra), Orencia (abatacept), and Rituxan (rituximab). They aid the immune system with fine-tuned targeting of molecular pathways involved in inflammation. Early results are promising, but by virtue of their newness, long-term studies of their efficacy and side effects are still over the horizon and many healthcare providers won’t yet have clinical experience prescribing them.

Small trials in Europe and the United States are frequently touted to show efficacy for the dietary supplements glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate, but have been criticized on methodological grounds. Most physicians won’t recommend supplements for osteoarthritis treatment, though few discourage patients from taking them if they have normal liver and kidney function.

Non-pharmacological approaches rely largely on weight control and exercise, which can reduce wear and tear on the joints. Low-impact exercise of affected joints can be of varying benefit among individuals, but it can’t hurt – the balance of evidence shows that it will not increase the development of osteoarthritis. Physical activity correllates strongly with greater and longer lasting mobility, and low-impact exercise classes for seniors are available in several community centres around Montreal.

  • YMCA: swimming, stretching, pilates
    514-486-7315 or centresymca.ca
  • YMYWHA: aqua fitness, yoga, outdoor walks
    514-737-6551 or ymywha.com
  • Cummings Centre: chair aerobics and fitness
    514-343-3529 x 7329 or cummingscentre.org

Further reading

Hyaluronic acid injections for knee osteoarthritis - Systematic review of the literature
Anita Aggarwal, MD, CCFP Ian P. Sempowski, MD, CCFP(EM)
College of Family Physicians of Canada

Osteoarthritis: Current Concepts in Diagnosis and Management
Nisha J. Manek, MD, MRCP, Nancy E. Lane, MD
American Acadamy of Family Physicians

Explore Plastic Surgery - Archive: Hyaluronic Acid
Barry L. Eppley, MD, DMD

SEC Info - Genzyme Corp

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The physical stuff, the kids, and relationships at 64… or is it 66?

Talking to Susan Freedman is like talking to an old friend. The last time we spoke was just before the Montreal Fringe five years ago. At the time we spoke about her second play Sixty With More Lies About My Weight, titled after her first play in 1999 entitled Fifty-Seven and Still Lying About My Weight. Now she’s back with less of a vengeance in her third installment, Sixty Four and No More Lies, and as she put it on the phone from her home in Vancouver, she’s “a bit more thoughtful and vulnerable.”

“After my other shows, people would say, ‘she has no problems,’ but after this one, they’re going to say, ‘she has problems.’”

Freedman has just turned 66 but kept the title because she wrote the play two years ago.

Although we are seven years apart, Susan and I share the same worries. “Physical problems are definitely a part of aging – and a part of the show,” she said. And then, there are “the kids” (actually in their 30s) and how they talk to us and “react” to everything – or over-react.

“They can only act like kids with us,” Freedman says. “They do it when they’re 30 or 35 because, in lots of cases, they’re still single and at their age, we were probably married and had a kid. This generation is very different.

“You can’t say a goddamn thing because everything you say is wrong,” she says. “If you say things that upset them, they respond, and everything you say upsets them.”

In her third 45-minute one-woman show coming to the Fringe this June, Freedman will “ruminate on life” in the context of feeling chest pains.

After blood work and X-rays, being angry at her husband and kids about not being there for her, and rationalizing about how the pain must be from something she did at the gym, her character reminisces about her life and makes “strong references to the rocks in the path.”

What does this theatrical expert on aging say about other relationships such as marriage?

“I’m an incorrigible optimist,” she says. “I’ve been married three times. You realize it’s about letting things go. Not reacting to everything.”

Like our kids do.

Sixty Four and No More Lies is at the Fringe June 13 to 22 at Geordie Space, 4001 Berri. Tickets are $9.

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One of the prettiest villages in Quebec

Knowlton scenery (photo: Jessie Archambault)

Part of the Association des Plus Beaux Villages du Québec, Knowlton is 100 km from Montreal and is mostly English-speaking. Loyalists from New England founded the Victorian-style town in 1821. This explains the village’s British flavour, notable as soon as you get there.

On Knowlton Road we see the town’s three churches – Anglican, Catholic and United – which were all built soon after the town’s founding.

In the summer, outdoor and indoor activities take over the town. There are band concerts at the Gazebo, painting exhibitions, English plays at the Lake Brome Theatre, a wedding dress exhibition, from Sunday, June 1 to Tuesday, June 3, and a tractor pull competition from Friday, July 18 to Sunday, July 20.

The local theatre will present Intimate Exchanges Saturday, July 5, Richard Donat reads Stephen Leacock Saturday, July 12, Let’s be Frank Saturday, July 19, Woodswalker Friday, July 25, The 25th Century Belongs to Canada Saturday, June 28, and The Dik and Mitzi Anniversary Show Friday, August 8.

Each Labour Day weekend an agricultural fair established in 1856 takes place near Knowlton over four days. Brome Fair has talent shows, horses, cattle judging, attractions and rides, a magician, local band shows, and a 4x4 truck pull contest.

The major outside activity is the Brome Lake Duck Fest during the last two weekends of September from 11 am – 5 pm when the town closes its two main streets to celebrate. The festival welcomes visitors from Quebec, Ontario, Vermont and New York for a total of 50,000 people over the two weekends. They can taste the duck, special dishes and local products like jams, wine, cheese and honey. Duck-related souvenirs are available in the majority of the stores and outdoor stands.

The Auberge Knowlton Inn starts at $120 per room, with two country-style breakfasts for just $15 more. The inn offers its guests 10% off at its restaurant Le Relais. Attached to the inn, it has an old-style ambiance, looking like a decorated barn with wooden tables and chairs. The menu consists of steak, chicken, seafood, and of course duckling, with prices varying from $18 to $30. All the wine served is locally made in vineyards around the Lake.

Downtown is comprised of Lakeside Street and Knowlton Road where the stores, cafés, restaurants, antique stores and accomodations are found.

Knowlton changes depending on the season in which you visit it. In the spring, multicoloured flowers hang everywhere and in the summer everyone is outside. Autumn gives a magnificent view of the colourful trees, and in winter they’re lit up by lights and Christmas ornaments.

Knowlton is a perfect escape for a taste of the country, boasting a great deal of diversion on a reasonable budget and is well worth a visit any time of year.

Jessie Archambault is a Dawson student.

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Liberal leader Dion and the carbon tax

There must be a federal election by October 2009, or sooner if the Harper government falls on a confidence motion in the Commons.

In most Canadian federal elections there is no big issue. The major parties dive for the centre ground, leaving not much substantive difference between party platforms. Canadian voters, I would guess, make their decision on what they think of the leaders. Are they trustworthy, fair, competent, comfortable in their skins? Charisma is not a factor in current federal elections because no leader has much of it.

There hasn’t been a big issue in a federal contest since the Free Trade election of 1988. Could the next federal election be decided on a big issue?

It might well be. The issue currently being weighed on its pros and cons in party backrooms is the carbon tax.

The rationale behind a carbon tax is quite straight­forward: that we should tax less the things we want more of (work, savings, and investments) and tax more the things we want less of (pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, smog and waste). The intention of a carbon tax is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and slow global warming. Such a tax can be implemented by taxing the burning of fossil fuels – coal and petroleum products such as gasoline, aviation fuel and natural gas – in proportion to their carbon content.

This direct taxation is transparent. It can be popular with the public if it’s revenue-neutral – in other words, if the revenue from the carbon tax is returned to voters by reducing other taxes.

Could this be the defining issue that decides the next election? Indeed it could. And the man who is thinking of putting a carbon tax at the centre of his platform is Liberal leader Stéphane Dion.

Recently Dion ran the carbon tax up the flagpole for a Toronto business audience. “I’m prepared to fight an election on a richer, greener, fairer Canada, and I’ve said that for the last two years.”

Harper’s Conservatives are equally prepared to fight an election against the tax because they claim it would hurt our economy.

Other critics of the plan, including those in Dion’s own party who are nervous about any tax hike, especially on gasoline, say the proposed tax – to be officially unveiled next month – is confusing, expensive, and politically risky because many voters will see it as a money grab.

But Dion responds that his new tax, estimated to raise about $16 billion, will be revenue-neutral. “What can be clearer? We need to make polluters pay and put every single penny back into the hands of Canadians through the right tax cuts.”

Dion said jurisdictions like British Columbia, which will bring in the first carbon tax in North America this summer, have taken the lead in a movement he hopes will “sweep the nation.”

The latest polls show that 72 per cent of Canadians would support some form of carbon tax.

The Liberal leader also praised Quebec, which imposed a carbon-based tax last fall that pumps revenues back into programs supporting green technology.

The bigger fear among his own caucus members is that Mr. Dion, who at the best of times is not a great communicator in either official language, will be unable to sell his idea in 30 seconds at the door during an election campaign. One caucus member put the problem this way: “Voters do not want to hear how to build a watch, they just want to know the time.”

But the Liberal leader is planning his carbon campaign carefully. He has already dispatched 30-year-old rookie Ontario MP Navdeep Bains to sell the idea over this summer to young people.

One of his staff members, Nick Gzowski – son of the late broadcaster Peter Gzowski – has produced a TV ad about climate change inspired by the Make Poverty History campaign, in which film stars are seen snapping their fingers. In the carbon ad, Liberal MPs are featured clapping. Dion says, “We’re up to the challenge... Are you?”

There’s no question that Dion and the Liberals are playing a high-risk game. There’s also no question that a bold pol­icy to improve the environment and become a world leader in climate change could well engage the imagination of the Canadian voter, and be a political winner to boot.

It depends whether the Liberal leader can clearly explain the time, and not get bogged down trying to build a watch.

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One man’s veranda is another woman’s gallery...

During a recent party at a friend’s summer home overlooking the St. Lawrence, I commented that the “veranda commanded a magnificent view of the river.”

This anodyne declaration drew the rebuke of another guest who insisted that we were standing on a “porch” not a “veranda.” The hostess then said rather firmly, “you’re both wrong. It’s a gallery.”

A spirited discussion then ensued. Some people were insistent that a veranda must be covered, while a porch need not be. To complicate matters even further, one person averred that since the said veranda/ porch was built well above the ground, why couldn’t it be referred to as a balcony or a deck? Here at last we reached some sort of consensus and most of the attendees felt a balcony was something quite different and a deck was at ground level, similar to a patio but built of wood. Another person declared that it depended on your origins and that while Ontarians tended to opt for the word porch, Quebec Anglos were prone to say gallery. Veranda was thought to be a word from India, thus the insistence on it being covered and possibly screened.

It was an interesting albeit incon­clusive conversation and I am happy to say it ended without too much rancour having been unleashed. Since I had started the controversy by my initial innocuous declaration of it being a veranda, and since I was the supposed “language expert,” I was given the burden of investigating this semantic debate.

Here are my findings:

I feel confident asserting that the assembled revellers were not revelling on a balcony. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (COD) describes balcony as a “usually balustraded platform on the outside of a building, with access from an upper-floor window or door” and the Encarta World English Dictionary describes it as “a platform projecting from the interior or exterior wall of a building, usually enclosed by a rail or a parapet.”

But after eliminating balcony, matters become fuzzy.

The Oxford Guide to Canadian Usage (OGCU) has this entry for porch, veranda, patio, deck: “A porch can be large or small, covered or uncovered. Thus the term porch can be applied to the structures that some people call either verandas or stoops. Veranda usually labels a structure that is quite grand, attached to a large, elegant house. Patio and deck are newer terms, describing more recent additions to domestic architecture. Unlike porches, they are generally attached to a back or side entrance; neither is normally roofed. A patio is usually stone or cement, while a deck is made of wood; both are large enough to allow several people to sit in a group.”

However, this entry does not address the regionality of these terms. The COD defines veranda from Hindi varanda, from Portuguese varanda, “railing,” as a “usually roofed porch or external gallery along one or more sides of a house, especially the front,” but it adds that in Australia and New Zealand it refers to “a roof over a sidewalk in front of a shop.” If that isn’t confusing enough, the COD’s first definition of “porch” is “a covered shelter for the entrance of a house,” but its second definition adds, “North America, a veranda.” Also, a porch originally only referred to a covered entrance affording protection, but in many North American locales the term would be widely used to refer to all but the largest verandas.

Excluded from the OCGU variety of porch was the term gallery. The COD states that in North America, particularly Quebec, Newfoundland and the Gulf States, this is “a veranda, especially one surrounding a building on all sides.”

In conclusion I will say that one man’s veranda is another woman’s gallery is another guy’s porch…

Howard Richler will be attending the Ruth Richler Memorial Lecture, Aging Gracefully and Gratefully, Sunday, June 8 at 8 pm at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom. He can be reached at howard@theseniortimes.com.

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A gift horse should not be looked in the mouth

June is bursting out all over… How clever of my parents to have let me enter this world in June, the month of roses, strawberries and romance.

As a little girl I loved my birthdays, couldn’t wait for them, and counted the days. My unwrapped gifts, carefully displayed on a white damask tablecloth, with a big bunch of sweet-smelling garden roses in the middle – the special gift from my father – are an unforgettable memory. I would have birthday parties for my friends in the afternoon with hot chocolate and fancy little cakes, and quite often my father would come home from work early to celebrate. After everybody had left I’d preserve some of the soft cool rose petals in one of the books I had received. It was all about fun and gifts then. Now I know I am celebrating the gift of another year of life.

It’s gifts I want to talk about. So often it’s hard to find the right one, even for one’s best friends. My mother habitually exchanged every gift she ever received – it was a family joke. Her presents were handed over with a grin and the comment, “You can exchange it.”

I have given the wrong gifts from time to time and one instance stands out with some discomfort. I thought that a friend who collects shells and loves them would enjoy Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book Gift from the Sea. I was wrong. She obviously didn’t like it. “That’s not my kind of book at all,” she commented. It upset me because it happens to be one of my favorite books. I had ordered it well in advance and it took weeks to come. She couldn’t know that, of course, but the experience taught me to give book gift certificates instead. One Christmas, I put a selection of fancy teas together for someone else. It didn’t hit the spot either. “You should know we do not drink tea” – I probably should have. In England hostesses are supposed to know who among their friends take milk and even remember how many teaspoons of sugar are required, if any.

Chocolates are a reasonable choice but the recipient had better not be on Weight Watchers. It’s tricky to give Eau de Toilette to anyone – too personal. Scarves and belts are neutral – that is, if you know the belt size. Gift certificates for movies or a spa may be a good choice but could cost you more than you planned to spend. A new gadget perhaps? I hate gadgets I have to study unintelligible manuals for. A colourful umbrella makes a nice present but not for a superstitious recipient, as they might with opal stones if not presented in October. What about vases, cushions, or photo frames? Perhaps boring but fairly safe. Of course there are always flowers or lunch or dinner out, or an invitation to a concert or a well-reviewed play.

The nicest present I ever received was from my children for my retirement: a shiny tiny Scottish terrier wrapped in a Scottish blanket with a large silk bow on top, resting in a cardboard box. I loved that dog on sight but he was a biter. He followed me around wherever I went and at news time we watched together. Sadly one day he bit a child… I still miss him! Hopefully, when I can no longer travel, I’ll make myself a present of another dog for unconditional and reciprocal love. In the meantime, I enjoy other people’s dogs.

From all the staff at The Senior Times, Happy Birthday to our dear Ursula.

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Enjoy the moment: embrace the experience

Caregivers tell me about shared laughter and special moments with the person they’re caring for. But most articles emphasize the stress related to caregiving. What about the tears of laughter and warm loving times?

Caregivers will be more likely to find these special times if they learn to balance their lives, are members of support groups and are able to ask for help. Overworked and exhausted caregivers who insist on doing everything themselves will be less likely to experience these times. How sad. Stress robs us of our ability to be clear-headed and make smart choices.

The spouse who feels committed to care for their loved one without any outside help, whether it be out of love, loyalty or obligation, will often end up burnt out and unable to enjoy special moments. They have the least to offer their loved ones with regard to quality of life. They tend to the necessary tasks, but they deplete their energy by not enlisting help. This leaves them with little if anything to offer in terms of love, kindness, understanding, and warmth.

I have met many cognitively-impaired individuals who have a great sense of humour and interesting stories to share. They communicate through touch and facial expressions, beautiful music and art. Although Alzheimer’s robs the person of many of their abilities, their essence is still present.

The individual may respond inappropriately to situations, but a good caregiver may be able to find a way to make the most of an awkward experience. Alzheimer’s is a long and difficult journey and different stages will bring different behaviours.

A friend told me that her mother now enjoys singing old crooner tunes with her and eating ice cream cones – experiences they haven’t shared in years. Yet clothes shopping, which they used to love, has become a bore. As a caregiver you need to be flexible enough to adapt to new experiences.

Those of us with most of our cognitive abilities intact find living in the moment a difficult if not impossible task. But a person with Alzheimer’s lives mostly in the moment – their memory impairment prevents them from remembering yesterday, and tomorrow doesn’t exist for them. How many of us are able to do this? If there’s no concern about what others think about us, that’s truly living in the moment.

Someone with Alzheimer’s may start singing or dancing in the middle of the street while people stare. This is a joyful time for them. The question is whether the caregiver can join in or try to stop the behaviour out of embarrassment. A good moment shared is a joyful time. Allow yourself to enter the moment. Remember who the person you are caring for was before the illness and get to know the person he or she is now.

Tips for finding joy in caregiving:

  • Don’t do it all by yourself
  • Find time for yourself
  • Continue with activities you’ve always enjoyed
  • Join a support group
  • Educate yourself
  • Don’t fight the disease
  • Forget the shame, go past it
  • Do not allow others, ignorant of your journey, to judge or advise
  • Surround yourself with people who care about you and understand your situation


Comments and questions can be addressed to bonnie@theseniortimes.com.

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Protector, provider, paymaster

While traveling on a cruise holiday a few years ago, I noticed that one of the most popular T-shirts for sale was a simple stylized kind with the slogan “Bank of Dad” boldly emblazoned on top of a bank machine. I thought it to be quite amusing, however my 12-year-old daughter was even more amused and insisted that I purchase it.

It amazed me how she understood, although in jest, the significance of the traditional male role of providing for a family and the expectations that her needs would be met. Granted, that role has changed somewhat over the years but still, for most of us men, it is a reality. That role often continues even when our own children are grown and still depending on us financially for one reason or another. When hardship comes calling who else can you depend on but good old Dad?

Unfortunately for some of us, the role of provider can be seriously impacted due to an unexpected event such as illness, accident, or in the worst case imaginable, death.

Fortunately there are some very simple solutions to ensure that everything will be covered should the need arise.

It is always a good idea to have adequate disability, critical illness, and life insurance. As we go through life our needs change and we should periodically review each component to ensure that the family’s well-being will be looked after. In fact, as we approach the retirement years, there are some new innovative products that take all the worry and risk out of whether you will outlive your retirement money, thus ensuring that the “Bank of Dad” never runs out of cash!

As Father’s Day approaches, sit back and enjoy how much you are appreciated by others and what impact your efforts have made in the lives of your children and significant others, and don’t forget that this is a day to relax and treat yourself.

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Daou family serves up Lebanese cuisine with flair

My companion and I drove to Ville Saint-Laurent for a late afternoon lunch at Daou and found an oasis of calm. Upon entering, we were greeted by Gladys, one of four co-owners of this family establishment.

She led us into the dining area, a spacious room flooded amply by daylight thanks to large windows topped with draped valences. Smartly appointed tables, covered in green and cream tablecloths, were set with fine china sporting D for Daou. The cushiony upholstered chairs signalled the Daou family’s aim to ensure patrons the utmost comfort. Artistic photographs of Beirut, nature and an Egyptian goddess graced the room, whose ceiling bore a wooden trellis, reminiscent of a garden patio. Soft music of Middle Eastern strings allowed easy conversation.

Daou offers an equal opportunity menu: there’s no need for a magnifying glass to read the English explanation of classic Lebanese dishes. For the modest budget, three-quarter of the dishes listed come in half orders; for the smaller appetite, there’s a pita sandwich or ½ plate of salads; and for the vegetarian, there’s a large selection of salads and cooked dishes such as Foule médamas (fava beans) at $7.50 or Falafel (fried balls of crushed beans and chick peas), half order at $5.50 or full order at $7.95.

The menu features grilled meats and fish, and the restaurant is completely licensed, offering aperitifs, spirits and liqueurs, or beers from $5.25 to $7.25.

As we perused the menu, our waiter, Bassam, brought us a little dish of pickled turnips of a lovely deep pink colour and green olives with a basket of fresh soft pita bread on the house. According to Bassam, Daou is a good place to work. He feels like he’s part of the family, having served at their restaurants for 16 years.

Under Gladys’ guidance, we were treated to plentiful half-orders of cool and warm appetizers:

Fatouche is a mixed vegetable salad of diced tomatoes, lettuce and parsley, onions, lemon and oil, at $7.50. Chopped parsley is visible and texturally integral to the salad. A chopped baked pita, the Middle Eastern version of the French crouton, provides added crunch to the fresh crispy vegetables, lightly tossed with oil and lemon. “It’s like spring in your mouth,” my companion said. Bassam explained that all the ingredients are freshly sliced and chopped for each new order.

Hommos-Tahineh, a chick pea dip with sesame juice, garlic and lemon, at $5.75, was the silkiest I had ever tasted.

Rakakat are slim hot cheese rolls, crispy on the outside with lovely smooth but not too salty fetah cheese on the inside, at $7.95. Scrumptious!

Yabrak are warm little fingers of rolled vine leaves, at $6.75, stuffed with rice and beef. The vine leaves have a nice tart and spinach-y taste, but it’s the mix of textures, the smooth lemony vine leaf joined to minced meat that makes this appetizer so delightful.

For the main course, Bassam brought out the “pièce de resistance”, the Grilled Chicken Breast with generously cut fries at $13.95 for the half-plate, or $20.95 for the full plate, garnished with a special mayonnaise of garlic, lemon and oil. Grilled to perfection and seasoned with a touch of oregano, the breast was succulent and plump. Not a morsel was left.

To end the feast, we treated ourselves to Katayef, a fluffy crepe stuffed with whipped ricotta cheese and crushed pistachio in syrup perfumed with rose water at $4.75. All desserts are reasonably priced, so leave room.

Gladys told us that since 1975, they have served loyal customers at their older establishment at 519 Faillon East (near Berri). After opening in Ville Saint-Laurent 14 years ago, they now have weekly returnees to 2373 Marcel Laurin. “When the family was in Lebanon,” she said, “they had cooked, but just at home. They decided to open a restaurant when they came to Montreal.”

The Daou family continues to grace Montreal’s culinary landscape with Lebanese fine cuisine. My companion decided she would bring her whole family to Daou next time. I suggest you do the same.

2373 Marcel-Laurin, Ville Saint-Laurent.

Info: 514-334-1199

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Vegging Out - the fast-food experience

After five years of being a vegetarian, I’ve learned a thing or two about eating meat-free ─ especially how to maintain my lifestyle while out and about.

At first, I avoided restaurants. I was skeptical about finding meatless meals to eat.

As it turns out, vegetarian options are not as elusive as I once believed. In the first of a series on meat-free restaurant dining, I tried popular fast food joints for their green alternatives to good old hamburgers.

The first veggie burger I sampled was Burger King’s Veggie BK, which resembles the standard fast-food burger – lettuce, tomato, onion and ketchup on a white bun. The only difference is the soy-based, meat-free patty.

A Veggie BK trio ($5.49) includes a drink and a side of fries, onion rings, baked potato or salad.

Burger King is the only fast-food restaurant I’ve encountered that offers veggie burger kids meals. These are perfect for little vegetarians or for those with smaller appetites.

At Harvey’s, customers can personalize their veggie burgers trios ($5.85) with their choice of sides, and a variety of vegetable toppings and sauces for their burger. My favorite is the pickled hot peppers.

The choice of sides are limited to fries or onion rings. Athough Harvey’s veggie burger easily satisfies fast-food cravings, it isn’t exceptional. In fact, I enjoyed the onion rings more than I did the burger.

A&W’s Veggie Swiss (the most expensive trio at $7.09) features a Portobello mushroom patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, Swiss cheese and a ranch-style sauce on a whole wheat bun.

The Veggie Swiss is one delicious burger − well worth its price. The difference lies in the Portobello patty, which is juicier and more flavorful than the soy-based alternative.

Lafleur offers both veggie burgers ($6.57 for a trio) and tofu dogs, ($6.93 for a trio) topped with ketchup and mustard, make a great midnight snack. For more substance, try the veggie burger.

Thanks to these restaurants, Montreal’s vegetarian community need not deny their fast-food cravings. Even the meat-eating population can profit from these healthier alternatives.

Next month, I’ll let you in on the Asian vegetarian experience.

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Community events June 2008

Monday, July 7 Beth Zion holds their fifth annual golf tournament to benefit the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Donations and sponsorships are encouraged and appreciated. Info: 514-620-4489 or 514-212-0812

Thursday, June 12 from 7:30 pm – 9 pm, Temple Emmanuel Beth Sholom presents Professor Benjamin Perrin, Canada’s leading expert on human trafficking. 395 Elm, Westmount. Info: 514-937-3575 or faculty.law.ubc.ca/perrin

After the Fringe is over, theatre buffs who need further entertainment can head to the Atwater Library Friday, June 27 for Byron Toben’s third annual Summer Solstice week literary and music cabaret. It begins at 7:30 pm and features talented local jazz, Celtic, and bossanova musicians. The centrepiece is a dramatic reading of George Bernard Shaw’s witty and snappy one-act play about travel and marriage, A Village Wooing. Readers Pierre Lenoir and Laura Mitchell will appear as well as Paul Serralheiro, music commentator for The Senior Times. Admission is by voluntary charitable donation. Past beneficiaries have included Breast Cancer Action Montreal and Meals on Wheels. Info: byron@theseniortimes.com

Saturday, June 7 and Saturday, June 21 from 12 pm – 4 pm, Cause 4 Paws Feline Rescue holds adoption days for stray cats of all ages. All cats are sterilized, vaccinated and tested. Multi Cafe, 9760 Gouin W, Pierrefonds. Info: 514-684-4810

Saturday, June 14, Animal Rescue Network will hold an Adoption Day at Pawtisserie on 4932B Sherbrooke Street at the Westmount Street fair. The new SPCA staff will be on hand to introduce themselves. Info: 514-488-4729

The Faculty of Dentistry at McGill holds its annual Summer Dental Clinic for adolescents and the disabled Tuesday, July 8 to Thursday, July 31. The clinic treats over 1000 patients at its undergraduate facility at the Montreal General Hospital. The goal is to reach out to those who do not have access to dental services. The clinic offers services such as cleanings, examinations, X-rays, sealants, and fluoride applications carried out by senior dental students supervised by McGill instructors. Info: 514-934-8441, 10 am – 12 pm and 1 pm – 3 pm

Sunday, June 8 at 8 pm, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom presents this year’s Ruth Richler Memorial Lecture, Aging Gracefully And Gratefully with Dr. Michael Dworkind. The lecture will start at 8:45 pm.

Tuesday, June 10 at 7 pm, Professor Alain Deneault, author of Noir Canada speaks about Canadian mining in Africa at Concordia, room 760, 1455 de Maisonneuve. Info: 514-846-0644

Friday, June 6 from 1 pm - 3:30 pm, Catherine Booth Hospital holds its osteoporosis information day. Topics include nutrition, bone health and more. Limited space. 4375 Montclair. Info: 514-481-0431

Saturday, June 14 from 9 am - 12 pm, West Island Advocacy holds its garden tour and fundraiser. Info: 514-694-5850

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Library events June 2008

Atwater Library

Wednesday, June 11 at 12:30 pm adventurer Tony Robinson-Smith reads from Back in 6 Years about traveling the world without boarding an aircraft.

Wednesday, June 18 at 12:30 pm author William Weintraub reads from Crazy About Lili, set in Montreal in the late 1940s.

1200 Atwater at Tupper.

Info: atwaterlibrary.com

Côte Saint-Luc Library

Wednesday, June 11 at 2 pm, Teresa Anuza presents the latest on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Thursday, June 12 at 2 pm, Barbara and Jack Rosenthal discuss their journey to the ancient synagogues in India. $3.

Thursday, June 19 at 7:30 pm, Bowser and Blue perform behind the library. Free. Rain date Sunday, July 6 at 4 pm.

Thursday, June 26 at 7:30 pm, Thomas Corriveau speaks about his role in the Graff-Hyperliens exhibition.

5851 Cavendish.

Info: 514-485-6900 x 4205

Jewish Public Library

Thursday, June 19 at 8 pm, the Yiddish Café convenes Israel@60, a celebration of Yiddish poetry and song. The event is sponsored by the Yetta Feldman Chmiel Endowment. Admission $10, $5 members and students. 5151 Côte-Ste-Catherine.

Info: jewishpubliclibrary.org

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Club events June 2008

Saturday, June 7 from 12:30 – 3:30 pm, St. Mary’s Church holds British Afternoon Tea with a bake sale, raffle, and door prizes, $10. Tea is in support of the Walk to End Breast Cancer at 735 Miller in Greenfield Park. Info: 450-923-4879 or 450-672-8442

Sunday, June 8, the Zoological Society of Montreal leads a field trip to Johnville Bog and Forest Park. $55. Info: 514-845-8317 or zoologicalsocietymtl.org

Sunday, June 8 at 9:30 am, the Beth Zion Men’s Club presents Dr. Mitch Shulman discussing Everything you ever wanted to know about the Emergency Room but were afraid to ask. Breakfast and lecture follow morning services at 5740 Hudson, Côte St-Luc. Info: 514-489-8411 x 24 or bethzion.com

Saturday, June 14 at 1:30 pm, Branch 94 of the Royal Canadian Legion holds its monthly Cribbage Tournament at 205 Empire, Greenfield Park. Registration from 11:30 am – 1 pm. $10. Limited space. Info: 450-465-0845

Saturday, June 14 at 4 pm, the Royal Canadian Legion of Verdun holds its Pub Night serving fish and chips, with games, music and door prizes, at 4538 Verdun (métro Verdun). $6. Info: 514-769-2489

Tuesday, June 17 from 7:15 am – 10 pm, Concordia’s Centre for Canadian Irish Studies holds a group field trip to The Irish Memorial, with an island tour by noted Irish Quebec historian Marianna O’Gallagher. $65 covers bus and ferry. Info: 514-848-8711 or cdnirish.concordia.ca

Tuesday, June 17, St. Patrick’s Society holds its 13th Annual Golf Tournament at the Bellevue Golf Club. $120 covers green fees, golf cart, dinner and wine. Info: 514-481-1346

Thursday, June 19 at 11 am, Helvetia Seniors Club holds its “All Swiss” lunch at Monkland Grill NDG. Info: 514-481-2928

Saturday, June 21 at 9:30 am, the Montreal Urban Hikers Walking Club invites walkers to explore l’Ile de la Visitation Park. $15. Confirm before June 14. Info: 514-366-8340

Thursday, June 26, the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada travels to Quebec City and Thursday, July 3 to the Hudson Village Theatre as part of their summer trip festival. Info: 514-733-7589

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Music events June 2008

Tuesdays in June at 12:30 pm, hear organ concerts at St. James United Church, 463 Ste-Catherine W. Info: 514-288-9245 or 514-739-8696

Wednesday, June 11 at 8 pm, Temple Emanu-El presents Joshua Nelson, a singer who mixes Hebrew text with Gospel melodies. Seniors $18. Info: 514-937-3575

Saturday, June 14 at 2 pm and 7 pm and Sunday, June 15 at 2 pm, the West Island Student Theatre Association presents the cabaret A Salute to the Music of Disney at the Karnak Shriners Hall, 3350 Sources, DDO. $15. Info: 514-636-4603 or 514-333-3325

Tuesday, June 17 at 8:30 pm, ten singers and musicians perform at Cabaret du Casino. Reservations before Friday, June 13 at 5 pm. Info: 514-985-4472 x 2135

Every Wednesday from June 18 to August 27, from 12 – 1 pm, Les Midis Financière Sun Life holds concerts at Dorchester Square. The first concert features blues singer Angel Forest. Info: 514-523-9922

Saturday June 21 from 1 – 10 pm, Festival Folk sur le Canal at St-Ambroise Terrace takes place rain or shine, 5080 St-Ambroise. $20, free for kids under 12. Gates open at 12 pm. Info: 514-524-9225 or hellodarlinproductions.com

From Friday, June 27 to Saturday, July 5, The Segal Centre presents Houdini as part of the International Jazz Festival. Info: 514-739-2301 x 8324

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Art events June 2008

Saturday, June 7 at 9 am, Art Deco Montreal guides an Art Deco day trip by bus to the Eastern Townships, returning via the Ste-Agnes Vineyard in the Sutton Mountains of southern Quebec for a tour and dinner. Reservations required. Info: 514-931-9325 or artdecomontreal.com

Until Sunday, June 15, Mile-End gallery presents an exhibition of visual art by Catherine Burry. 5345 Parc. Info: 514-271-3383 or ame-art.com

Until Sunday, September 14, Shashin, Japanese Canadian Studio Photography to 1942 is at the McCord Museum. 690 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-398-7100 x 262

Until Thursday, June 26, Beaconsfield Cultural Services exhibits woodturnings by Rohit Kent. 303 Beaconsfield. Info: 514-428-4460

Until Sunday, October 12, Pointe-à-Callière presents exhibition France, new France, birth of a French people in North America. 350 Place Royale. Info: 514-872-9150

Until Tuesday, October 13, McCord Museum presents Inuit, an exhibition to connect cultures and communities. 690 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-398-7100 x 262

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Istanbul - the magic, the madness and the mosques

The Blue Mosque

Europe’s most populous city is split by the Bosporus River into two distinct regions. Half of it lies in Europe and the other half in Asia. The Black Sea is to the north and the Marmara Sea to the south. Istanbul is the only metropolis in the world that lies on two continents, and over 10 million people call it home.

I arrived at Ataturk Airport at around 6 am with several men asking me if I needed a lift to my hotel. I ended up having to haggle over the taxi fare to my hostel. On arrival my hostel room wasn’t ready so I decided to take a walk around the neighbourhood to acquaint myself with the city I’d call home for the next few days.

I was staying at the Bauhaus Guesthouse. It was ranked #1 in the world at hostelworld.com and I would soon learn why. It’s located in an area called Sultanahmet, aka Tourist Town, with almost all the main attractions within walking distance. There is an area of about a one-mile radius packed with hostels and boutique hotels, each of them with beautiful rooftop terraces with views of the Bosporus, the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia.

My little walk didn’t last long. It seemed as though every Turkish man I walked by called out to me, either for a date, or to buy a carpet. This was a culture shock I wasn’t expecting and would be forced to get used to if I wanted to explore and enjoy this city. I hurried back to my hostel, wrote an email to my Turkish friend, Ahmet, telling him how scared I was, and hid and cried for the rest of the day in my room. I was going to be stuck in this town for a while.

I met a Columbian guy on the rooftop. He’d been there for about a week and was about to leave. He said Istanbul was magical, though I was unable to see the magic at that point. I didn’t like having to bargain for my taxi ride, nor was I amused by men who hassled me everywhere I walked. Ahmet, a man of few words, wrote back simply that everything would be okay and that he would pick me up the next day at 10 am to be my personal tour guide for the day.

A room in the harem of the Topkapi Palace

I hadn’t seen him since the summer of 2002 at UCLA. When I left I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again. There we were, five years later on his home turf. He looked more distinguished and notably comfortable, since I was used to seeing him on the UCLA campus like a fish out of water. I supposed it was my turn to play the fish.

After a brief stop for a cup of Turkish apple tea, we headed straight to the Topkapi Palace. This massive palace, which at the height of its existence was home to about 4000 people, is not to be missed. Topkapi was home to the royals from 1465 to 1853, including Sultan Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after drinking too much champagne. It was occupied by the Valide Sultan (mother of the Sultan), who ruled the harem, plus the Sultan, the Sultan’s wives, up to 300 concubines and their children, and their servants.

The royal residence is an exquisite display of Ottoman architecture, housing beautiful displays of antique porcelain, weapons, and murals. We spent about 3½ hours strolling through the four courts. The murals are masterpieces by themselves. Don’t miss the treasury. There I found a seemingly endless array of treasures including gold and diamond candlesticks, jewel-encrusted swords, a throne made of mother-of-pearl, the Topkapi Dagger – decorated with three enormous emeralds – and the pièce de resistance, the Kasikci, aka Spoonmaker’s Diamond. The Kasikci is a teardrop-shaped 86-carat diamond surrounded by 49 smaller diamonds. It is the fifth largest diamond in the world.

Steps away from the Topkapi Palace is the world-famous Hagia Sophia. Originally built as a church in 537, Mehmet the Conqueror had it converted into a mosque in 1493, as it remained until Ataturk proclaimed it a museum in 1935. As we walked into this massive structure, I must have looked pretty silly with my head tilted back and my mouth open wide. I was stunned at the indescribable grandeur of this building but it must have looked like I was trying to catch raindrops in my mouth. Oh well, I assume many others looked as I did.

Both famished, we took a two-minute taxi ride down to Eminounu (I guess we could have walked). From there we walked along the Galata Bridge, an experience in itself. Hundreds of fishermen line the top of the bridge, where restaurants lie underneath. I asked Ahmet why all those men were fishing. He answered simply, “to catch fish.”

We ate at a nice Turkish restaurant with lots of vegetarian options for me. Turkish food seems similar to Israeli food, or maybe that’s just the Middle East. Loud singing from speakerphones suddenly interrupted our lunchtime conversation. What was that?!! Where was it coming from? I looked around and nobody seemed to take notice. I didn’t see any police and Ahmet continued eating. Should I be concerned? No, because once you’ve been in Istanbul for more than a day you’ll notice these loud prayers from the mosques penetrating the city 5 times a day. I was not pleased with the first one, which was at 6 am.

From there we walked up through the 350-year-old Spice Bazaar. There I found Turkish delight, spices, nuts, teas, lotions, potions and trinkets for tourists. A bit overwhelming at first, but it’s a mere warmup to our final destination, the Grand Bazaar, aka paradise.

The Grand Bazaar is no simple task. Take the advice from the master – moi – who after the first time, with Ahmet, conquered the labyrinth three times thereafter. Put on your bargaining hat, take out the compass and map, hold your bag and brace yourself. There are over 4000 shops, with every shopkeeper trying to lure you in. From the carpets and pottery to the jewelry and the belly dancing costumes you’ll be sure to find what you want! I found the perfect belly dancing costume, but $400 was a bit out of my budget, so I settled on a beautiful turquoise and silver bracelet. I bargained down from 120 lira to 50 lira, and included matching earrings. I suppose the carpet wouldn’t have fit in my suitcase.

We spent the night partying with Ahmet’s friends until sunrise at the bars and clubs across the Galata Bridge in Taxim, the hip place to be.

Assortment of spices at the Spice Bazaar

Ahmet was right. Everything was okay. I adapted to Turkish culture and was soon roaming around the city on my own. Most people speak English and the public transportation is fast and simple. I even impressed myself by taking the train from Sultanahmet down and across the Galata Bridge to the Dolmabahce Palace, which served as the imperial residence between 1852 and 1922. The palace was also home to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. It was Istanbul’s first European-style palace. It displays the world’s largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat chandeliers, with the world’s largest chandelier hanging in the center hall. Fourteen tonnes of gold were used to decorate the ceilings, so once again I looked like I was catching raindrops.

A good friend from Israel, Liron, flew to meet me. We decided to visit the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque). The women are asked to cover their heads, which made me uncomfortable, but after some time in Turkey I accepted this rule. We stood in front of the mosque in awe. Liron told me how strange it was to be so close to a mosque without feeling scared. The mosque is decorated with tens of thousands of blue tiles, giving it its unofficial name.

On my last night in Istanbul, on the rooftop of the hostel with some new friends overlooking the Bosporus, I remembered my Columbian friend. He was right. Istanbul is magical. There is no other place that compares. I was so unhappy when I arrived in Istanbul, and now I was so unhappy to leave. I slept through the three alarm clocks I’d set to wake me up in time to catch the shuttle to the airport, and if it weren’t for the 6 am morning prayers, I would have missed my flight.

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Redemption through foolishness: The Wise Men of Chelm

Long before the rise in popularity of alternative medicine, it was known that laughter is good for the soul. In Jewish culture, humour has been more than therapeutic – in a very real sense it has been a lifesaver. Perhaps the suffering that underlies the humour that makes one laugh from the depth of one’s soul – the kind of laugh that draws tears and provides an incredible feeling of relief and rejuvenation when it’s spent – is also the source of its strength.

In Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious he notes: “The occurrence of self-criticism as a determinant may explain how it is that a number of the most apt jokes… have grown up on the soil of the Jewish popular life. They are stories created by Jews and directed against Jewish characteristics… I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.”

From Wednesday, June 11 to Thursday, July 3, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre will present The Wise Men of Chelm, a collection of stories culled from Eastern European Jewish Folklore, set to music by Eli Rubinstein and directed by Bryna Wasserman. Chelm is a mythical town populated by foolish people and thought by some to be the home of the famous schlemiel, that stock character of Jewish anecdotes. While the main characters are foolish, they convey the lasting wisdom of being able to laugh at oneself.

Supertitles make the original Yiddish easy to understand for everyone.

Showtimes are Monday to Thursday at 8 pm, Saturdays at 9:30 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm (except Sunday, June 15 at 1:30 pm). $25 - $47 (group rates available).

Info: 514-739-7944 or segalcentre.org

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Festival Lanaudière - music and so much more

Festival performers (photo: Baptiste Grison)

Montrealers must count their cultural blessings. Just as the greatly anticipated Jazz Fest winds down, another international music festival dedicated to classical music opens, less than an hour away from the city.

Now celebrating its 31st season, the Festival Lanaudière has presented indoor and outdoor concerts performed by international artists in its spectacular Amphitheatre and beautiful heritage churches, some of which date back to the 17th century. Though the festival’s program has blossomed from eight concerts in 1977 to 26 this July, the organizers’ vision – to create “a place where a large audience can listen to beautiful music performed by the greatest musicians” – remains intact.

This year an array of activities are geared toward young people making the festival an ideal opportunity for families to spend time together and build a lasting love of music in their youngest members.

The festival begins Saturday, July 5 with a resounding rendition of Carmina Burana, Carl Orff’s greatest masterpiece that grandchildren will recognize as the unmistakable inspiration for the soundtrack of the video game Final Fantasy I. The score calls for four choirs and a symphony orchestra – 200 musicians performing together.

Opera lovers won’t want to miss the 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth, which the festival will honour with performances of his great arias, from La Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot on Friday, July 11.

Fledgling ornithologists will enjoy learning that the great composer Olivier Messiaen loved birds so much that he actually recorded their songs and wove them into his music. All the music performed on Saturday, July 12 will be devoted to birds, and will include Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Saint-Saens’ Le rossignol et la rose. Afternoon activities are free and will include a sound installation by Oswaldo Macia, an open rehearsal of the night’s concert with commentary, and an onsite exhibition of birds of prey. The evening concert will be accompanied by the winning entries in the bird photo contest organized by the Festival and the Regroupement QuebecOiseaux.

Little astronomers can be fascinated by projections of NASA photos on a giant screen on Friday, July 18, accompanied by Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets, with Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducting the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal.

Starting Sunday, July 6, outdoor concerts for the whole family include the famous London vocal quartet Cantabile, swing from the 40s by The Easy Answers, and Romeo and Juliet in the passionate universe of the Tango.

On Saturday, July 19, a day declared by Festival Artistic Ambassador Alain Lefèvre as “a day of piano and youth,” everyone under 25 will be admitted for free to hear Lefèvre and his confrères push the limits of piano playing in performances of concertos for two, three, and four pianos with eight virtuosos taking part. To engage the “pianistically reluctant” free hot dogs will be served, compliments of Maple Lodge Farms.

Other treats include tourist outings along the St. Lawrence, featuring a boat trip to the Lac-Saint-Pierre Archipelago, a unique nature reserve recognized as a biosphere by UNESCO on Sunday, July 7, and a dinner cruise on Friday, July 11, going from Montreal’s Old Port to the pier in Saint-Sulpice, where guests will board a luxury coach for the Amphitheatre.

For those who don’t want to drive, a shuttle service to the Amphitheatre, the Festival Express, leaves from downtown Montreal.

Info: 450-759-7636 or lanaudiere.org

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Train ride to Hudson Village Theatre

Carolyn Flower (Director of Marketing & Promotion), Clint Ward (Director – A Little Music in the Night), Andrew Johnston (Artistic Director), Irene Arseneault (Director – All Grown Up), Rick Blue (Playwright – Campbell’s Sutra), Mary Vuorela (Director – Campbell’s Sutra).

Saturday, June 21, Les Aliments M&M and Hudson Village Theatre offer an express train trip to the premiere of the musical All Grown Up, kicking off the theatre’s 16th Summer Season.

Written by Leslie Mildiner, Lori Valleau, Ellen Kennedy and Bonnie Panych, directed by Irene Arsenault with musical direction by Rob Burns, All Grown Up features songs that tell the story of a generation, weaving in and out of the lives of three very different women.

The express train leaves Montreal Saturday morning, stopping in Beaconsfield and continuing on to Hudson, with a return trip in the evening.

The $50 ticket includes admission to either the 2 pm or 6 pm show, with time for shopping and relaxing, and must be reserved by contacting AMT at 514-287-7866 Monday to Friday from 9 am – 5 pm or escapadesentrain@amt.qc.ca.

For all other Hudson Village Theatre tickets and Flex Passes call 450-458-5361 or visit villagetheatre.ca.

Regular showtimes are Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm, with matinees Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. 28 Wharf Road, Hudson. $29 - $34.

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Byron’s picks for the 18th Montreal Fringe Festival

This year the festival runs from Thursday, June 12 to Sunday, June 22. Fringe goers can get a free copy of the program to decide which of the 37 free events and 89 paid events they wish to see. It’s best to buy the six-show Gold Card for $50 or the 10-show Platinum Card for $80. Both have a $2 service charge. When the credit on the card runs out, it can be exchanged for a beer at the Fringe Central tent on the corner of St-Laurent and Rachel. The average cost for individual tickets doesn’t typically run higher than $9, plus a $2 service charge.

Fasten your seat belts:

Three Old Bags, featured in this issue, stars accomplished British ex-pats Emma Stephens and Mary Harvey.

T.J. Dawe, a Vancouver based fringe circuit veteran, is involved in three shows this year. He performs a 90-minute monologue about personal mythology in Totem Figures, and also directs Teaching The Fringe, written and performed by Keir Cutler from Westmount. The show, part of his award-winning “teaching series,” depicts a Fringe audience member reporting Cutler to Manitoba authorities. The subject of the play was a teacher harassing a teenage student and the complainant confused the fictional character with the actor. Rather than suppressing the event, Keir made a show out of it. Dishpig, also directed by Dawe, is a one-person show featuring co-writer Greg Landucci. Landucci portrays 15 restaurant employees during a summer spent scrubbing dishes.

Songs of an Immigrant, written and performed by Marni Rice of New York, tells the story of an American woman who moves to Paris with her accordion to perform “old style” chansons. Those in need of an Edith Piaf fix should make a beeline to this act.

The Beekeepers, a Toronto production, brings back some of the people from last year’s popular King of 15 Island, plus hundreds of new but flighty friends. Please, no jokes about Fringe buzz.

Between Takeoff & Landing, written and performed by Michael Walsh of New York, recounts his experience of being stranded with 6000 passengers in Gander, Newfoundland on 9/11. His flight was from Dublin, so if you’re stuck for four days, who better to be stuck with than a bunch of Irish folk? Walsh was here last year with the popular show If Tap Shoes Could Talk.

The Tricky Part, a true story of trespass, forgiveness and redemption, comes all the way from South Africa. Running close to 90 minutes, it is one of the longer Fringe performances, so it is a bargain.

Wonderbar, of Winnipeg and Toronto, stars Britain’s one and only Alex Dallas who is fondly remembered here as one of the Sensible Footwear femmes, a hit from the early years at the Montreal Fringe (during a time when the New York show High Heeled Women reigned there.) This show explores the world of glamour and international fraud.

Find Me A Primitive Man, from London, England, has a British beauty tutoring minor members of the Royal Family in a “scintillating cocktail comedy and drama.”

GREED, from Perth, Australia, is the tale of four lives influenced by unbridled big G, in 1987. Sounds like they have been influenced by Gordon Gecko’s creed, ‘Greed is Good.’

Jem Rolls: How I Stopped Worrying And Learnt To Love The Mall has been described as “dynamic” and “innovative.” Jem, of Edinburgh, Scotland, performs his rapid-fire wordsmith performance as he starts his annual trek across the Canadian Fringe Empire. If you haven’t seen his show, you should. If you already have, you’ll want to hear his new material.

Sixty Four and No More Lies brings back Susan Freedman of Vancouver, with her series of shows inspired by advancing years. Remember Sixty and More Lies About My Weight and Fifty Seven And Still Lying About My Weight from previous years? This funny girl has a sinecure here as she marches into her 70s, 80s and, we hope, beyond. She is worth seeing and that’s no lie.

Mating Rituals of the Aging Cougar stars Toronto’s Andrea Thompson, as she takes the art of the spoken word back to its roots. Fans of spoken word may want to see her as a bookend to Jem Rolls.

Barry Smith’s Baby Book will have its premiere at this year’s Fringe. It’s based on Smith’s obsession with documenting every detail of his existence. He presents a multimedia show of his own Fringe hits, Jesus in Montana and American Squatter.

Boom is a one-person show about people and bombs. Andrew Conner, from Seattle, portrays a multitude of characters as a sentimental returning prodigal with a dangerous plan to revive a small town. His voice and body change at a dizzying pace.

Info: 514-849-FEST or montrealfringe.ca

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Sun Youth teams up with the Montreal Police

Sun Youth’s new partner in crime… prevention! The Montreal Police’s new mascot Flik! surrounded by Inspector Sylvain Lemay, Nina McGregor, Director of Sun Youth’s Crime Prevention Helio Galego and Polinours, the former SPVM mascot.

Since its inception in 1954, Sun Youth has always worked hand in hand with the Montreal Police to make our community safer for everyone, young and old alike. In 1984 our organization started its Bike Patrol Unit, comprised of 6 patrollers working with the officers of one single station, the old Montreal Police Station 17 (which has since then become the Firefighters museum).

Now 24 years later, 30 patrollers will once again act as the eyes and ears of the Montreal Police in the city’s parks and playgrounds, on bike paths and on main streets. Throughout Montreal Island, patrollers will work in teams of two, with each team assigned to a different neighbourhood police station in a total of 11 districts. For 6 of the patrollers, whose ages range from 14 to 17, this will be their first working experience. Hired as part of the “Teens on Patrol” unit, each will be paired with a senior patroller in a mentor-to-tutor relationship.

The entire crew will be introduced to the public on June 4th at the official swearing in ceremony. Distinguished guests will be in attendance, including Inspector Marco Carriera and Commander Alain Larivière, as well as govern­ment representatives and city officials. Prior to the ceremony, patrollers will receive CPR training and a bicycle safety course from a longtime partner of Sun Youth, Sergeant Pascal Richard.

The Sun Youth patrollers will be supporting the 100 members of the Montreal Police Bicycle Patrol. In this photo: our patrollers surrounded by Agent Cédric Lafrenière (left) and Sergeant Pascal Richard (right).

For the second summer in a row, the Sun Youth bike patrol will work in partnership with the CN Police to evaluate the number of people crossing over the CN railway outside of designated areas, a dangerous behavior that CN Police officers are trying to eliminate. Bike patrollers will also have a mandate to keep a close watch for people using their wireless phones without hands-free devices while driving. As of July 1 this will carry a $115 fine plus a penalty of three license demerit points.

Throughout summer the patrol will represent Sun Youth at many public events. Génie Vélo, a series of bike safety workshops for children, will be presented in association with the Montreal Police, with Sun Youth patrollers taking part in different crime prevention projects.

Patrollers Vanessa Di Tullio (left) and Rubens Ernest (right) pose alongside Montreal Police Chief Yvan Delorme at an event highlighting National Police Week.

As in past years, the Bike Patrol will pay special attention to senior citizens. Visits will be made to residential and long term care centers, bringing company and conversation to residents. During heat waves, the patrollers will give advice to seniors on how to stay cool. Patrollers will also be dispensing home safety tips.

Sun Youth and the Montreal Police recently introduced a new member of the Force. His name is Flik! and he is the new mascot of the SPVM. He is replacing the former mascot, his father Polinours, who is retiring after 30 years of loyal service. The name of this new furry friend was chosen in a contest won by 9-year-old Nina McGregor, a student from the Gerald McShane School in Montreal-North. She has been rewarded by Sun Youth with a brand new fully-equipped mountain bike, in addition to being named Police Officer for a Day. As for our patrollers, they will once again be using Schwinn bicycles donated by Dorel Industries. All patrollers are equipped with a first aid kit, blanket and Sun Youth teddy bears. Each team is also equipped with walkie-talkies to communicate with the Sun Youth headquarters and with one another. The Sun Youth Bike Patrol will be active until August 15.

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Space chief's "got the fire"

Dr. Marc Garneau

Westmount–Ville-Marie Liberal candidate and former Canadian Space Agency chief Dr. Marc Garneau is back in the fray and there’s no stopping him this time. Wooed back to the fold by Stéphane Dion after his 2006 loss in Vaudreuil–Soulanges, he’s taken the lessons of his political baptism philosophically and during a recent visit to The Senior Times offices, proved still earnest and passionate enough to give a frank opinion where more battle-hardened veterans will stick to their talking points.

“You can’t go to school and learn how to be a politician,” he says of the experience, which pitted him against a sitting Bloc MP who lived in the riding and made headlines when he suggested Gilles Duceppe and André Boisclair might have a change of heart after seeing the world from space. But after the trials and disappointments of political life he’s still “got the fire” and insists his party is “ready financially and organizationally” to fight an election. Tomorrow? “Yes, tomorrow.”

Yet the party’s post-2006 regrouping and reorganizing is still ongoing with a policy convention set to take place sometime before the end of the year and a new Commission of Regions just recently created to tackle their situation outside the cities. Pressed for specifics on whether a Liberal strategy to win back the regions exists yet, Garneau says, “There’s no question that we have a challenge,” and asserts that an issue-by-issue approach targeted to each riding is key to winning. “I’ve been involved in helping my colleagues in the regions – Saguenay, the Outaouais, the Eastern Townships, Rimouski – and people want to talk about specific issues, whether it’s regional disparities, poverty issues, or job losses in forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing.” Falling back on broader distinctions, he believes that “explaining Liberal philosophy and values” in contrast to those of the Conservatives will turn things around because Liberal values are “closer to what the majority of Canadians feel they want from their government.”

Foremost among those contrasts is environmental policy, where the debate over a carbon tax looms large in the media, but Garneau is loath to let it take on a life of its own. “It’s not that this is a Liberal policy on taxing carbon… the use of a carbon tax is an acknowledgement, supported by Canadians, that we must put a price on the use of fossil fuels… what Mr. Dion has been careful to say is that this is a revenue-neutral package focused on fiscal responsibility and revenues generated from this carbon tax will be reallocated specifically to lower income taxes and also to lower corporate taxes. He talks about it alongside the 30/50 plan – our plan to reduce poverty in five years by 30% among the general population and by 50% among youth. So in that sense it’s bigger than just addressing the environment.”

But where Garneau’s experience and enthusiasm truly come to bear is in science and technology. “We’re not optimizing our ability to innovate in this country. Right now we have a relatively mediocre standing, about fifteenth in the world in terms of how innovation is measured. We put money into research and development and we provide incentives to the manufacturing sector, but we haven’t focused on our weakness – taking the fruits of research and turning them into viable products and services. There’s a weak link between the two.

“I think there is a role for the federal government because the whole thing needs to be managed coherently. A lot of the research is in universities or in hospitals or in government labs or at larger enterprises like Nortel and Bombardier. Smaller companies don’t put necessarily enough into it.”

He cites the example of Finland, transformed over the past 50 years from a largely agrarian economy to a technological leader through free post-secondary education and business incubators that focus on taking research to market. “We’ve taken a less focused approach. The federal government certainly can play a much greater role in helping to emulate the best practices and models that other countries have adopted, and we also need to strengthen our intellectual property laws.”

The Westmount–Ville-Marie byelection has to be called by July 25 and is expected to be held in the fall. The Conservative nominee is Guy Dufort and the Green Party has nominated Claude Genest. Candidates for the Bloc and NDP have yet to be announced.


Jet-set golfer takes a swing at painting

Side by Side (photo: Peter Smith)

Peter Smith can’t recall which came first – swinging a golf club or dabbing the paintbrush. But one thing is certain: the precision of his putt is at par with his painting.

Both have played an integral part in his life for the past 35 years. His pursuits of the perfect landscape to paint and the perfect golf course to play on have led him to the four corners of the world. Combining both while traveling, he claims that the game of golf is not that far removed from the art of painting.

“I’m always looking for perfection whether it’s in the stroke on the golf course or the stroke of a paintbrush on canvas. Inevitably, I rarely find that perfection, yet I know it’s there. In both, I have to envisage and imagine what I’m striving for,” he says, having golfed and painted landscapes in 37 countries. He has produced hundreds of paintings now hanging in galleries and private collections all over the world, but you need not travel far to enjoy the picturesque views he has captured – his paintings can be seen in various store windows on Monkland and of course in his studio, where private collectors gather.

Although he is an award-winning golfer and writer – having published 15 books on golf and 14 on travel, plus countless articles – Smith is far more intent on talking about the challenges of painting.

Peter Smith

“A painting is not like a photograph, which represents what the eye sees. A painting is what the heart sees. I try to capture that sense of enjoyment rather than a mere photographic image.”

He succeeds exquisitely. His paintings have a striking quality of tranquility and timelessness. His vast azure skies are as interesting as the demure trees that give way to the powerful horizon above them. Nothing goes unnoticed by Smith – just as his eagle eye helps nail a nine-iron, so too does it hone in on the minutest of details destined for his landscapes. Look at his leaning boats in the painting Side by Side. It all seems effortless, yet every shadow, texture and colour is filled with detail. No matter the scene, each has an inherently neat, almost manicured look. The effect is calming.

“For me, painting is a very peaceful activity that at the same time demands concentration, just like golf. Interestingly, both involve strategies. With golf, I have an end in mind and to get the score I want, I need to use different tools and a plan according to the terrain and weather conditions. Similarly for a painting, I know how I would like it to look. The art is in achieving that end, through technique and feeling without compromising spontaneity.”

Peter Smith is online at peterdsmith.net.

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Breaking the silence on elder abuse

The NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse is raising awareness about the abuse and victimization of seniors, a subject many people consider taboo.

“With elder abuse incidents continually on the rise, there is an absolute urgency to raise awareness and prevent this phenomenon from escalating further,” says Maxine Lithwick, Head of the Elder Abuse Prevention Program at the Centre de santé et de services sociaux Cavendish.

From neglect and emotional abuse to financial exploitation and physical intimidation, elder abuse takes many forms and West Island community groups are coming together to bring greater vigilance and attention to the issue.

Elder Abuse Awareness Day will take place at the Cavendish Mall Wednesday, June 11 from 1 - 4 pm in collaboration with the Centre-West Seniors’ Committee and the Elder Abuse Consultation Team of the Centre de santé et de services sociaux Cavendish.

Workshops will cover telemarketing fraud, challenges of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the impact of elder abuse on society.

The day’s activities include entertainment by The Policeman’s Band and the Benny Farm Idols, and feature information kiosks on resources in the community to spread awareness and empower seniors.

Info: 514-484-7878 x 1478

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Here Be Monsters at the Château Ramezay

The love-hate relationship between people and the sea from the 15th century is the subject of the exhibition Here Be Monsters, presented by the Château Ramezay Museum until October 19.

Adapted from an exhibition created by La Corderie Royale Centre International de la Mer in Rochefort, France, Here Be Monsters takes you on a voyage that plummets to the depths of human imagination and the deep blue sea. To early explorers, the sea was a world without landmarks and inhabited by monsters, threatening tempest, sickness and piracy.

The first obstacle settling the Americas was when the sea put its stamp on the cultural identity of Quebec. From the shores of Europe to the banks of the St. Lawrence, maps, charts, travel accounts, cutlasses, and figureheads reveal the secrets of this hostile universe.

The Château Ramezay Museum is in Old Montreal, east of Place Jacques-Cartier and across from Montreal City Hall.

Info: 514-861-3708 x 225

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It's all in the bag at the Fringe

Three old bags (photo: Robert Ménard)

What is there about bags and ladies, especially old ladies, that go together? Three women “of a certain age” explore this theme in their play Three Old Bags, playing at the Fringe Festival this month.

“We all knew each other and we wanted to do something together,” said Gissa Israel, one of the three actors/writers, from her home in Knowlton. Israel and her contemporaries, Pina Macku and Emma Stevens, all in their 60s, performed the play at Theatre Lac-Brome last summer. The characters they play are in their 80s. Could this be because these actors don’t see themselves as “old bags?” Only the director, Mary Harvey, is a “young bag,” Israel said.

“We carry our life in our bags,” Israel said of the double-entendre theme, which includes the notion of bag ladies. But Israel doesn’t see the connotations as negative.

The message is hopeful, she said. “These three characters never give up. Each one has a situation in their lives that would make her want to give up.

“The hope is that there’s a renewed interest in life. It’s about renewal and it’s about friendship.”

Bring your bags to the performances Saturday, June 14 to Sunday, June 22. For the full performance schedule call 514-849-FEST or visit montrealfringe.ca.

Three Old Bags will also be “in the bag” at Piggery Theatre from Wednesday, July 2 to Thursday, August 14. To reserve call 819-842-2431.

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New Hope open house

The New Hope Senior Citizens’ Centre, now entering its 29th year, is recruiting members and volunteers and will be holding a barbeque and open house Wednesday, June 18 at 11 am.

Currently 150 members participate in weekly art classes, discussions, trivial pursuit and bingo.

Mandated to alleviate seniors’ isolation, the centre, with a staff of three, currently has 85 senior volunteers. Meals on Wheels is New Hope’s largest outreach program in NDG, delivering 70 hot meals three times a week.

Community lunches are also served three times a week. The volunteer chef cooks four days a week, serving 125 hot meals each day.

“New Hope is like home to everybody,” says Gerry Lafferty, the centre’s Executive Director. “I’ve been here for two years and this is such a positive place. It’s like a big family.”

New Hope Senior Citizens’ Centre is at 6225 Godfrey. The barbeque will be partially sponsored by Les Aliments M&M on Somerled.

Info: 514-484-0425

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Fifty years in the band still isn’t enough

Marshall Allen (photo: Alan Nahigian)

Montreal will be awash with jazz in the next few weeks, with a total of four festivals going on. There’s not only the International Jazz Festival that everyone around the planet knows about, but also two equally appealing festivals (if not more so, for hard-core jazz fans) following in short order, plus the festival Bryan Highbloom has been offering at the Jewish General Hospital. That spells a lot of music.

As usual, veteran musicians are a big part of the draw, whether they are jazzers, like pianist Hank Jones, or jazz-related like the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who is still belting it out. Locals like drummer Guy Nadon and pianists Oliver Jones and Vic Vogel are also in on the fun. All of these performers are appearing at the high-profile Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. The two other festivals, the Suoni Per Il Popolo (run by the Casa del Popolo) and the Off Festival (run by and featuring Montreal musicians), have an equally interesting lineup, and this year they are teaming up to present a couple of events, the most prominent being the Sun Ra Arkestra.

Led by Marshall Allen after Sun Ra’s passing in 1993, the Arkestra follows the big band tradition but with an avant-garde twist, as likely to play When You Wish Upon a Star or There Will Never Be Another You as they are to revisit Sun Ra’s quirky themes like We Travel the Spaceways or one of the many tunes Allen has penned. Formed in the 1950s, the Arkestra is still thriving. I spoke to Marshall Allen, who still lives in the Sun Ra house in Philadelphia, a couple of days before his 84th birthday as he was preparing for a celebration in New York at Sullivan Hall.

I asked him about his long association with the band and about his long life in music. “It contributes to my well-being and in my 80s, that’s what I’m doing,” he said. “When you’re younger, you’ve got adventure, you’ve got a strong drive to move forward and get something down. Now I’m not that youthful, but there are still things I want to do, and I don’t have to go through a lot of that stuff like when I was younger. Now I have more time to stay with the music and more time to concentrate.”

He went on to tell me about life before Sun Ra, playing in Paris, Germany, and England, and spending time in the Army until he met Sun Ra in Chicago. “He lived a few blocks away from me and he rehearsed his band, and I went to rehearsals and listened and his other band in New York was breaking up and I got into the new band.”

That was 1958, and Allen waxed enthusiastic when he realized that this year marks the 50th anniversary of his joining Sun Ra. “Back in those days I didn’t think I’d still be playing in the band in 50 years,” he said in his endearing Kentucky drawl.

He has a simple answer to what keeps him committed to the band: “It’s the music! Sun Ra was a good teacher and that was like a gold mine. All I had to do was put in the time.” The time, in this case, has meant a whole career devoted to the Arkestra, which has required a lot of study, given the founder’s unique vision.

But there are also more practical issues: “Through the years, music gets displaced, songs are there with no names on them. It’s quite a thing to try to get the parts back together. It’s like a puzzle.”

He also still studies the challenging music: “Sometimes there’s time against time, or different times together. He always had a large band and a lot of stuff going on. So I just do the main thing and sometimes rework some of the music. He has about a thousand pieces, some of which haven’t been played yet. He would write for different people, change things, chords, melodies, depending on the person who would be playing… tailor made. So I still got some challenges, interpreting the music.”

The audiences are still coming to the concerts and include lots of young people. “We make a little story with the band going way back and coming right on up, so it’s like a music lesson for those who weren’t born. We show them what they were doing in the 30s and early 40s and what they’re doing now.”

The Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen will perform at the Sala Rossa Sunday, June 14 at 8:30 pm.

Info: casadelpopolo.com

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V-E Day in Côte St-Luc

Veterans in attendance (photo: Max Rams)

More than 300 people attended the annual V-E Day commemoration at Veterans Park May 18. Wreaths were deposited by Côte St-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather, D’Arcy-McGee MNA Lawrence Bergman, the consuls general of the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and other invited guests.

The V-E Day event was organized by the Brigadier Frederick Kisch Branch 97 of the Royal Canadian Legion and the City of Côte St-Luc.

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Infringement Fest and Craft Mafia

Until June 29 from 6 pm - 11 pm, Montreal’s Infringement Festival celebrates its fifth anniversary in the Plateau and Mile-End. An interdisciplinary critical arts festival, it features theatre, music, street performance, culture jamming, film, multimedia shows, dance, visual arts and more, with many local, national and international artists.

Info and schedule: 514-699-3378 x 3378 or infringementfestival.com/montreal

A local Mafia is getting down to business. They will make an offer you can’t refuse! The Montreal Craft Mafia invites you to discover a living community of independent local artists June 21 and 22 at the Fringe Bazaar 2008, a craft fair to be held at the Montreal Fringe Festival in the basement of Saint Enfant Jesus Church at 5039 St-Dominique. Sixty exhibitors will sell their handmade soaps, toys, jewelry, art, magazines, clothing, ceramics, recycled goods, handbags, and accessories. To participate in the draw, download the participation coupon on the website and drop it at the Fringe Bazaar.

Info: 514-807-5641 or craftmafiamontreal.com


Pension splitting's nasty surprise

Chris Charlton, NDP critic for Seniors and Pensions, went after the Tories during Question Period June 4 over their promotion of pension splitting for seniors as a way to increase after-tax income.

“I don’t think they ever really thought this program through,” she says, citing one example of a couple who saved $2000 on their taxes by pension splitting, but ended up paying $5400 more for one spouse’s nursing home care as a result of the adjustment in their disposable income.

This scenario is, according to Charlton, not uncommon, and costly to redress. “To add insult to injury, they’re being made to pay a 5% penalty to re-file for an adjustment to their return. I’m asking the government, at a minimum, to waive the penalty, since seniors can’t afford accountants to save them from the government’s false advertising.”

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Dealing with a rent increase

If you live in an apartment or a rooming house, you have the right to be treated according to the law and with dignity. Therefore, it is imperative that you know your housing rights.

When a lease is up for renewal, the landlord can send you a rent increase notice, which must be in writing. A landlord may not request more than one rent in­crease per year.

If the landlord does not send a rent increase notice, your lease will be automatically renewed at the old rent unless you send a non-renewal notice by registered mail. The time limit for you to send a non-renewal notice or for your landlord to send a rent increase notice is the same and depends on the length of the lease.

For a 12 month lease, notice must be sent 3-6 months before the lease renewal date. For leases of an indeterminate length or under 12 months, notice is required 1-2 months beforehand. For leases of rooms, the requirement is 10-20 days.

To refuse an increase or leave at the end of your lease, you must inform the landlord by registered mail within 1 month of receiving the rent increase notice (a form letter is available at Project Genesis), otherwise the lease will be automatically re­newed with the rent increase. If you refuse, the landlord has one month to apply to the Rental Board for a ruling. The Rental Board will set the new rent taking into account changes in the landlord’s costs, typically taxes, insurance, maintenance, and heating.

Project Genesis offers free information on tenant-landlord law, welfare, pensions, family allowances and other income supplement programs, immigration issues, access to public health insurance, and more. Services are free and accessible with no appointment necessary.

Call 514-738-2036, visit genese.qc.ca or drop by at 4735 Côte-Ste-Catherine.

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Remove the crucifix from the National Assembly

There is a recognizable shadow in the elaborate wood paneling in the main courtroom of the Quebec Court of Appeal on Notre-Dame. Because it was until fairly recently covered with a cross, the wood paneling has not aged at the same rate. A crucifix-shaped outline is clearly visible.

This central icon of Christianity has been removed from the courtrooms of Quebec. For the same reasons, the crucifix should be removed from behind the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly and placed elsewhere, among other artifacts that recall Quebec’s heritage.

We were extremely dismayed when, under the “leadership” of Premier Jean Charest, the National Assembly voted unanimously to reject the recommendation of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation almost as soon as it was made public. We heartily support the idea that, to underline the secular nature of our most important political body, the artifact be moved from where it  was set in the mid-1930s. After all, separation of church and state is basic to any liberal democracy.

The commission, among its 37 recommendations, said it should be relocated in the legislature building to a place that emphasizes heritage value. That is where it belongs.

Nobody is denying that the first Europeans to colonize Quebec – and subdue the native inhabitants in paternalistic, abusive and often inhumane ways – were from France. No one is denying the role played by the Roman Catholic Church and its religious orders in providing some education and health care.

But Quebec has changed and the roles have changed. The Quiet Revolution recognized the inadequacy of this system. And since the 1960s Quebec has become the most secular province in Canada, with a massive rejection of the Church, in part because of the abuses some of its institutions and clerics inflicted on innocent believers.

The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms has replaced religious dogma as the guarantor of each individual’s standing in society. Quebec was a leader in granting women the right to decide if they want to go ahead with unwanted pregnancies. Quebec pioneered gay-marriage rights. Quebec has the highest rate of common-law unions in Canada. Retaining the crucifix is an anachronism that contradicts of all of these fundamental changes.

But more importantly, today’s Quebec is a diverse community of communities. Maintaining a religious icon in our legislature sends the wrong message to our lawmakers. With our need for continuing high levels of immigration, the time is coming when there will be a Muslim premier. Or a Jew or atheist or agnostic may fill that role. Future leaders and legislators should not have to face a religious icon when making decisions that affect a multi-faceted and diverse population.

The unanimous vote in the National Assembly was an obvious pitch for old-stock Quebecers’ sentiment. The front-page story in La Presse on a recent Saturday featured a smiling farmer beaming beside a dairy cow. “The Quebec we love,” said the headline. But we know that this bit of happy nostalgia is largely mythical. That Quebec was a place of limited education and opportunity, banned books, misogyny, ostracism for what used to be known as unwed mothers, xenophobia and economic and cultural stagnation. The quarter-century spent under strongman Maurice Duplessis, who had the crucifix installed, was known as the Great Darkness.

The new Quebec is one of openness to the world, of safe haven for immigrants, of individual rights and freedoms, a rainbow of beliefs and respect for all. It is unfortunate that, among all the recommendations made by the commission, the first thing our politicians did was to pounce on the crucifix-removal recommendation and reject it. It does not bode well for the other proposals, such as speeding up steps to recognize foreign university diplomas so that qualified physicians don’t have to drive taxis while our emergency rooms continue to be overcrowded and understaffed.

The commission suggested the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms be amended to ban public incitement to discriminate, and urged “exceptional initiatives” to fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and discrimination faced by all racialized groups, particularly Blacks. We urge the Quebec government to get on the case and in doing so pay homage to some of the lessons we should have learned from the crucifixion.

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New York events June 2008

Tuesday, June 10 to Thursday, June 12, the Heart of the Park Antique Show & Sale features Adirondackania items, plateware, jewelry, furniture, framed prints and lithographs at Long Lake Central School, Route 30, Long Lake. Info: 518-624-3077

Thursday, June 12 to Sunday, June 15, the Lake Placid Film Forum offers film screenings, discussions and master classes. Info: 518-523-3456

Saturday, June 14 to Sunday June 15, LARAC Arts Festival takes place at City Park on Glen Street in Glens Falls. The event is wheelchair accessible. Info: 518-798-1144

Friday, June 20 to Sunday, June 22, the 4th Adirondack Birding Festival celebrates the Boreal Birds of the Adirondacks in County Wide, Lake Pleasant, featuring canoe trips, walks, outings and seminars. Registration required. Info: 518-548-3076

Friday, June 27 to Sunday, June 29, Lake George Summer Fest presents music, food, crafts, boats and more at Shepard Park on Canada Street. Wheelchair accessible. Info: 518-668-2688

Friday, July 4 to Sunday July 6, The Great Adirondack Days with fireworks and Adirondack Jazz Band at Riverside Park. Info: 518-891-1990

Tuesday, June 24 to Sunday, June 29 and Tuesday, July 1 to Sunday, July 8 at 8 am, the Lake Placid Horse Show Association holds the Love New York Horse Show with riders competing at the North Elba Horse Show Grounds. $2 weekdays/$5 weekends. Free for children under 12. Info: 518-523-9625

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Shelburne Farms in Vermont

Shelburne House (photo: John Harwood)

Shelburne Farms is a 1400-acre working farm, National Historic Landmark, and non-profit organization committed to teaching sustainability and the conservation of natural and agricultural resources.

The property is open until October 19 and welcomes visitors to enjoy the eight-mile network of walking trails, its Frederick Law Olmsted-inspired landscape, daily tours of the property, and activities for children of all ages at the Children’s Farmyard.

Guided tours, offered four times daily, visit buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Info: 802-985-8686

The hospitality of the Gilded Age lives on at the beautifully renovated Shelburne House, now a seasonal inn with 24 bedrooms, open until October 19. The Dining Room showcases the best of Shelburne Farms and Vermont produce, open to the public for breakfast, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Info and reservations: 802-985-8498

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Vermont events June 2008

Until June 27, at the heart of the Art’s Alive Festival of Fine Art is the exhibition at the Art’s Alive Gallery at Main Street Landing’s Union Station, on Burlington’s scenic waterfront. The exhibition shows work by festival artists and is the location of the opening reception and awards ceremony on Sunday, June 7. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 am – 8 pm and Saturday from 9 am – 4 pm.

Tuesday, June 17 to Saturday, June 28, Saint Michael’s Playhouse presents the high-flying Broadway musical Barnum about Phineas Taylor Barnum, directed and choreographed by Keith Andrews. With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Michael Stewart, and book by Mark Bramble, this Tony Award winning tale of the legendary showman promises thrilling circus performers, slapstick clowns, circus-ring staging and buoyant songs. Saint Michael’s is located in the McCarthy Arts Center on the campus of Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, only minutes away from downtown Burlington. Info: 802-654-2281 or 802-654-2617 or saintmichaelsplayhouse.org

Saturday, July 5 from 10 am – 4 pm, artists will display work and give demonstrations on Main Street in Newport. Members of the Memphremagog Arts Collaborative and visiting artists celebrate the 4th of July during the Annual Downtown Chowderfest on 167 Main, Newport. Info: 802-505-1265 or memphremagogartscollaborative.com

Sunday, June 22, The Green Mountain Opera Festival stages La Traviata at the Barre Opera House, 6 North Main, Barre. Info: 802-496-7722 or greenmountainoperafestival.com

Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28 from 11 am – 9 pm and Sunday, June 29 from 11 am – 6 pm, Vermont holds its favorite family-oriented feeding frenzy. The 23rd annual Green Mountain Chew Chew Food and Music Festival features 30 restaurants, caterers and Vermont food producers. Each will serve three of their most tantalizing taste treats. The festival is held in downtown Burlington’s magnificent waterfront park, right on the shores of Lake Champlain. Info: 802-864-6674 or greenmountainchewchew.com

Friday, June 27 and Saturday, June 28 from 9 am – 6 pm and Sunday, June 29 from 9 am – 3 pm, it’s New England’s oldest and largest quilt event, the Vermont Quilt Festival at the  Champlain Valley Exposition, 105 Pearl, Route 15 in Essex Junction. Enjoy over 400 beautiful quilts on display, shop in over 80 booths brimming with quilts, fabrics, gift items and more, and choose from over 80 classes and lectures. Take part in the contest awards ceremony and the Champagne and Chocolate Preview Thursday, June 26 and have your treasured quilts appraised on Saturday. Info: 603-444-7500 or vqf.org

Until Sunday, June 29, Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 am - 6 pm, the Westbranch Gallery presents Be There Be Square, an exhibition featuring square works at 17 Towne Farm Lane. Info: 802-253-8943 or westbranchgallery.com

Thursday, June 12 to Saturday, June 14, the Vermont International Choral Festival features choirs from across the United States, Canada and Europe. The performers will present individual concerts in various community settings. Saturday, June 15 at 7 pm, Robert de Cormier directs The Massed Sing performance, at the Stowe Church. Info: 802-862-2200 or 802-863-5966 or music-contact.com

Friday, June 13 from 12 pm – 3 pm, the Burlington Garden Club presents Growing Together, a National Garden Club Small Standard Flower Show, including designs created by Federated Garden Club members. Learn about perennials, bulbs, arboreal and house plants grown in the area. Show takes place at the Faith United Methodist Church, 899 Dorset St. (south of I-89 overpass) in South Burlington. Info: 802-658-4061 or 802-373-4058

Thursday, July 17 to Sunday, July 20, a four-day wine tasting event takes place at Killington Resort. Sample wines from around the world. Events include educational seminars, live music and a gala wine dinner. Info: 800-337-1928 or killingtonchamber.com

Open 7 days a week year-round, Dakin Farm on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh and 100 Dorset in South Burlington offers Vermont’s finest cob-smoked ham, aged cheddar cheese, and pure maple syrup, with free samples and ongoing exhibits. Info: dakinfarm.com

For more listings of events, attractions and useful lodging information, visit vermontvacation.com.

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