Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

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Syros and Athens

From Mykonos, which we found touristy, arrogant, and over-priced, we sailed to what we both now call our favourite island of the cruise -- Syros. It's a small, old-fashioned kind of place. As we walked straight off the ship and onto the port, we noticed many older Greeks sitting all along the homey cafes having coffee or sharing food they had ordered. We immediately felt at home. We bumped into a book shop with an English stand and bought another of Ian McEwen, who we both like, as we have almost run out of novels on this trip. We found a cafe playing soft Greek music and eventually bought a CD of the female singer, whose name I will have to tell you next blog.

We visited the Apollan Theatre, a small replica La Scala in Milan, a cosy site that represents the town, which is on a hill. The streets are so scenic as is the harbour, that I had to click away every few minutes. For lunch we found a women's collective self-serve, run by 28 women from the district. The food definitely tasted like it came straight from their kitchens. I had eggplant stuffed with feta. They do a lot of feta stuffing here.

We took a local bus to the nearest beach, which was clean and reasonably quiet and had a wonderful and relaxing time cooling off. We had Greek coffees, rather like Turkish coffee, played game or two of chess overlooking the beach area and made our way back in a crowded bus to the town, where we reluctantly boarded the ship for our last night on board.

We are now in Athens in an area called Plaka, which has pedestrian streets filled with market-like shops and pricey cafes. We found, with the help of the young woman who manages this internet spot, a reasonably priced Greek restaurant filled with locals. How to describe it? A cross between Shwartz's Deli on St. Laurent, though 10 times the size, and a typical Montreal Greek eatery. There was little for vegetarians. Irwin had an excellent order of Kebab and shared my spicy cheese, hot green grilled chili peppers,and tomato and cucumber salad. The name of the place is Thanassis. It seems to go on for blocks and is very popular. Right next to it is an equally popular but slightly higher priced Bairaktaris, also recommended by our internet manager. We had lunch there today and they had more to offer a vegetarian. We shared a Greek salad, zucchini croquettes, and sweet red peppers, grilled and stuffed with feta. I have to try those when I get home, but will they taste as good?

It's hot, very hot and hard to get away from it. July is definitely not the time to visit Greece. And now, I've left the most important for the end. As soon as our ship docked in Piraeus, we dropped off our bags at our hotel, which we had reserved the day before our cruise departed, the Phidias (50 euro a night for a lovely and spacious double) and made our way, with the same friendly taxi driver to the Acropolis. We wanted to get there before 9 because we had heard it would be teeming with tourists. And it was! Alas, they don't take VISA and we had to walk all around until we found a taxi driver who would change our dollars. US dollars are quite unpopular here. Finally we managed to buy tickets and were soon climbing (and I mean climbing) the steps leading to the Parthenon. It was my third visit. I was 18 the first time, 22, the second time and now, well it's certainly changed. The first time, in 1968, I remember touching those famed columns. Now, you can hardly get close enough to take pictures without heads in your way. It was Irwin's first time and for him it was "dramatic."

We are spending our day in Plaka since it's Sunday and little else is open. It's a lovely place to relax if you don't mind spending over $5-6 for a latte and the same for ice cream. It seems that since the euro has become part of the Greek scene, we Canadians are at a bit of a disadvantage, financially. But all in all, Greece is a place we are growing to love, and we will be back!

We've already decided to book a cruise next summer with Easy Cruise Life and see four or five more islands. What a comfortable, low-key and interesting way to travel!

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Panos and Mykonos

Yesterday we docked in Panos at 2 pm and were told we had to take a "tender" boat to shore as it was windy. Windy my foot! We noticed the more luxurious cruises were right near the dock. The tender filled to capacity and more. It was not in our estimation the safest mode of transportation, especially on the way back to the ship at 10 pm. There were few if any lifejackets, with children and more people sitting on the roof of the boat, but when we complained about the safety, we were told by the cruise director, Anita, that these boats weren't under "their umbrella." Of course they are! What would happen if someone fell off? There would be no way I could last in that water more than 2 minutes!

Panos was lovely. It was small enough to walk around. The houses and streets are blue and white — lots of paint on these islands! We found an Internet cafe but couldn't connect our laptop so we used theirs for free. Just had to purchase expensive drinks! I didn't stop taking pictures of the narrow streets with their colourful doors and balconies. Every twist and turn brought a new photo op. Since we had our lunch on board (we have one meal a day, lunch or dinner plus breakfast included on our half-board plan), we started looking for a restaurant around 7 pm and found one right on the beach, from where we could watch the sun set in style.

We asked for a mixed platter of our Greek favorites, including grilled peppers stuffed with feta and tarmosalata. I was the one stuffed by the end of it, and then I made the mistake of ordering "little fishies" — grilled sardines — and could finish only half. Oh well! The thin kittens had a great time delicately eating whole fish! During dinner we met a single male high school history teacher from Calgary, very charming. Forgot to mention we also had a nice swim at a public beach with bamboo umbrellas. A bit dirty but okay for Irwin!

Today we are in Mykonos! What a difference! Made pricey and crowded by the "rich people who live here," we've spent the day wandering the picturesque streets looking for Internet cafes such as this one in which we can cool off. The heat is getting to me. We Canadians aren't used to the sun being so strong, even now at 5 pm! In these cafes we use their laptops (ours doesn't seem to work on these two islands) and pay big prices for small non-alcoholic drinks. But it all works out in the end.

Tomorrow is our last island: Syros. Then on Saturday, it's back to Athens. Don't be surprised, dear readers, if you see one of the photos I've been taking on the cover of our August issue! We must confess that we didn't take the 47 euro tour to Delos today to see the home of Apollo! We're just not up to the heat and having to do anything in a group.

And now we're off to the city beach for a short swim before finding our shuttle bus to the new port and climbing aboard our tender to take us back to our ship.

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Kos

We are now in Kos, a Greek Island only two hours from Bodrum, Turkey, where we spent yesterday. Bodrum was touristy but it was a joy to be back in Turkey, which we visited four years ago. Prices have definitely shot up but we enjoy the people and the ambiance. There's a huge market there, a small Grand Bazaar (which exists in Istanbul). We had a fish lunch by the sea and strolled along the busy streets looking for a "bathing suit" since I'd unwittingly left mine in the cabin, thinking I'd spend the entire day touring around. It turns out that many of the restaurants and bars offer free swims, complete with deck and lounge cars and umbrellas, in exchange for a pricey drink or coffee at $5. We had to shop for a change of clothes and buy a bathing suit for Irwin, but in the end we managed to climb into the cool and refreshing water and have a short swim.

Our ship left at 8 am this morning and less than two hours later, we were strolling along the port of Kos, an island that suffered an earthquake in 1913. There is still a castle here that looks something like the one in Bodrum which we are not ashamed to say we missed. We are into "hanging" not touring more castles. The temperature yesterday was over 40 degrees and today it reached 38. So sunblock is essential. Still the heat takes it toll. We are not young anymore and there's only so much walking in the heat we can stand. Irwin is now falling asleep in his car at this lovely wireless cafe so we must make our way back to the shop and look forward to dinner, which tonight is "sole." We hope it has more soul than the past meals on our half-board plan, which have been underwhelming. If we have any energy we will return after dinner and check out the action.

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Kalymnos Island

We arrived in Piraeus very late after a comfortable train ride and made our way by taxi to our hotel, sharing the ride with a young geologist who lives near the city. The taxi driver tried to charge us for two trips and after a long argument, he left angry with a nice tip for one trip.

Our room was underwhelming, especially for 89 euro, a measly breakfast included. The next morning we walked around the picturesque yacht bay and thought we would try to find a more reasonably-priced hotel for our return July 26 (from our cruise). Happily we found and booked a nicer hotel, better situated, for 55 euro, which will be our base for visiting Athens and the Acropolis when we return.

Our hotel manager told us we could walk to the port. Unfortunately it took an hour and by the time we arrived, I was a wreck! Irwin was fine. We discovered that our cabin had a window, a substantial upgrade from our booking of an inside cabin. It’s actually meant for four people so it’s quite spacious.

We have since learned that we probably paid more than we should have because we didn’t need the meals and we booked at the last minute, probably paying a hidden agency fee. Other cruisers told us that they got good deals by reserving early online. Still we feel content. And we’ll know for next time.

Today we docked at Kalymnos Island, which is approximately 100 kilometers square. The island is so beautiful that I cried when I disembarked and saw the terraced pastel houses built on the mountainside. Future paintings?

We had a mediocre lunch, quite pricey, in a portside resto, but we got good advice from the British retiree who served us and suggested taking a bus to the other side of the island to a beach town called Misouri. The water was clean, calm and cool — a pleasure to swim in. And though there were many hundreds of Sunday swimmers, it didn’t feel crowded in the water. The town is simply exquisite. How nice it would be to spend six months there writing a novel. Getting the bus back was an adventure. We waited over an hour and finally it came and was packed all the way back to Pothia, the main town where the ships dock.

Tomorrow — Bodrum, Turkey. One of the nicest surprises is that our cruise ship leaves in the wee hours so we lose no time on land — exploring and enjoying the scene.

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Thessaloniki

A walking bridge connecting to the new city of Skopja to the Old Town

We spent our last night in Skopje trying to get some sleep so we could get up at 3:15 am to be picked up in our mini bus to Thessaloniki. Our driver arrived on time and picked up a very interesting man and a student who had just finished her university exams. He was a guide who supplements his income importing used cars from Germany to support his son in Santa Monica. He told us about the conflict between Macedonia and Greece, which is not only jealous of the name used by “non-Greeks” but also, according to him, wary of future territorial demands on the fertile northern part of Greece, from which thousands of Macedonians were expelled, their property confiscated, ostensibly because they were part of the Communist rebellion, put down with the help of the British after World War II.

We arrived in Thessaloniki at 6 am our time, 7 am theirs and looked for coffee while waiting for the travel agencies along the port to open. At 8:50, one did. Early bird Christina Jeirani of Overseas Travel greeted us with a sleepy smile and began to process our desires, travelwise. We’ve decided that we’d loosen the purse strings and try our first cruise, yes, you heard it here first, cruise!

Christina found a 7-day island hop including Bodrum, Turkey and Mykonos for 500 euro with half board. We breathed a sigh of relief at the price and accepted. Not so easy! Cruises don’t leave from here! We have to go to Athens, Piraeus (the port). So after finding our hotel, booked by Overseas, and called Mandrino (65 euro), we took a bus three or four stops to the railway station to be informed that the only seats available were on the express leaving the next day at 7 pm for 48 euro each! Okay, we said, rather hefty but what choice did we have! We then went back to the tourist office and said “Get us a hotel near Piraeus please,” which Christina did for a hefty 89 euro! But better safe than sorry in Athens at 11:30 pm, right?

We then asked her for an interesting restaurant since we hadn’t eaten for 24 hours! She, after giggling with her friends, sent us to Oysoy Meaaoopon in Greek, or Ouzo Medathron. Everyone knows it and the reason is that the food is exquisite. It’s in a fun courtyard full of hungry, happy Greeks, downing mussels in every imaginable way, sardines – not the canned variety, anchovies – the real thing, and various meats and truly marvelous Greek, yes Greek salad. They top it all off with ice cream and strawberry or chocolate syrup on a bed of Baklava strings sprinkled with honey and Espresso for — nothing! Well, says Irwin, the ice cream and Espresso are complimentary! What a joyful experience especially if you get shpritzed with the mist connected to a fan.

This morning we waited for the Jewish museum to open and when it did we spent an hour and a half marveling at the growth of this wonderful community of up to 70,000 Jews, who first settled here as Roman slaves, augmented later by Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and other points across Europe. It was a thriving vibrant community with over 20 newspapers in Spanish and Ladino, full of scholarship, schools, over 30 synagogues, hospitals, senior homes, libraries, and orphanages until the Nazis brutally and systematically destroyed all but a few, transporting them to Auschwitz after destroying the cemetery and humiliating and tormenting the men of the community. We saw the deportation order telling the people there would be food waiting for them and to pack all their jewellery and valuables. The museum has a small library and bookstore, and many publications about the community now and then are given out.

In three hours we will be leaving on our train for Athens. Tomorrow at 2 pm we will board our ship. This is one town we would like to see more of. We’ll be back!

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Crossing the Macedonian border

We took a taxi from Pogradeci to the Macedonian border (5 km), said goodbye to Albania and walked the 100 meters to the border police. We showed our passports and they welcomed us, telling us in sign language to walk ahead, either 30 or 300 meters (I’m not sure which) and that there would be taxis to the town called Ohrid, pronounced Okrid, on the other side of the lake that Albania and Macedonia share. We walked and walked and walked. No sidewalks. No cars. No buses. Just a two lane highway. I told Irwin I wanted to go back. He said “I don’t go back. It’s uphill.” I was worried. Here we were in the middle of nowhere with our two knapsacks on wheels, our money, and our baby laptop. After about 30 minutes, a red car came up behind us. We put out our arms. Were we actually going to hitchhike?

The gentleman stopped and we asked for a ride to Ohrid, not knowing how far it was. He invited us in, threw our bags in the back and started to drive, and drive and drive. He spoke no English but we managed to convey that we were Canadians. He called his wife on his cell and she told us in perfect English that he would gladly drive us to the bus station to get the bus for Skopja, the capital city.

Ohrid is a touristy, more sophisticated version of Pogradeci. We stopped at a large bus station, where he insisted on purchasing the tickets in Denar. We returned the amount in euro later. Then he motioned for us to get back in the car. What did he mean by this, we asked, but by this time he felt like a long-lost cousin so we climbed in knowing our bus would leave from the station in half an hour. He drove faster now, obviously heading for somewhere. Suddenly, after 10 minutes he stopped abruptly and turned in to a ground floor apartment with a small porch. He was taking us home — and we would meet the bus across the road on its way to Skopja.

His wife Fiona was lovely and so were her two children, Victoria and Michael. Victoria and her cousin were playing with their new kitten. We posed them for pictures, and sampled some of Victoria’s homemade blueberry juice and coffee. Then we hugged the entire family, especially our saviour and his mother, who had so graciously welcomed us to Macedonia, and made our way to the bus with Fiona.

The bus was hot and stuffy but we finished our books and four hours later were walking away from the bus station looking for a hotel. Finally we found one for 35 euro, 5 extra for necessary air conditioning, across from the Greek Embassy, about a 15 minute walk to the great square in the centre of this somewhat eclectic city of 700,000. Our room is tiny but we feel safe across from the embassy manned by a burly policeman at all times.

This morning we walked in all directions looking for the elusive post office, hidden in a circular building that looked like the inside of a flower. Inside after much negotiation we decided to only send home the heavy books for the special rate of 5 euro rather than the books and t-shirts for 40 euro! We headed out towards a medieval fortress across the bridge and inside we found the Old City. Its narrow stone streets, somewhat resembling the Old City of Jerusalem, including the fortress, beckoned to our yearnings for small old-fashioned boutiques and cafes, and lo and behold, we stumbled upon the Honourary Consulate for the State of Israel. We rang and were immediately let in and introduced to the assistant to the Honourary Consul, his son, who greeted us warmly and served us coffee. We talked about the history of Macedonian Jewry. He told us 7,148 or 98% were deported during the Holocaust, all to Treblinka. Only 200 are left here in Skopja, some having emigrated to Israel.

We were invited to visit the foundations of the new Holocaust Memorial Center of the Jews from Macedonia. Inside the new building that is the Foundation for the Center, we met Victoria who runs the day-to-day operations. Victoria spent three years in Israel with her family ten years ago but they returned, fearing “the wars.” We spoke Hebrew and she then showed us a few restaurants below her building that we could choose for lunch. Alas she wasn’t allowed to accompany us but we will be meeting her this evening with her boyfriend.

Our lunch of kebab, yogurt soup, Greek salad and roasted peppers, and Macedonia Riesling was a treat, but we are not ready for much more than a nap right now. Tomorrow we visit the Jewish community centre one minute from our hotel.

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Pogradeci

As promised, our congenial host at the Parlimenti Hotel drove us in his slightly worn Mercedes-Benz (almost everybody drives a Mercedes in Albania) to the lot where mini-buses were waiting for passengers to drive to Pogradeci. The cost for the almost four-hour trip was $14 each. We started on a reasonably good road but suddenly the driver made a U-turn and drove back to where we started and ended up on a rocky unpaved track through some construction area that seemed to go on forever. We never found out what the detour was for.

Once we got back on a paved road, the trip was uneventful, if hot, until we climbed up several mountain ranges — and for the queasy, it was harrowing, since the road was narrow and the cliffs steep and potentially deadly. We stopped more than halfway (after 2 hours) at a “café” where the owner tried to stiff us 10 Euro for two pieces of cheese and a simple salad. We eventually settled on 500 lek ($6) which according to us included a hefty tip.

We thought we would stay at the Lunhidas Hotel, a “tourist centre” with a swimming pool. We noticed the lake was crystal clear, but it was too far from the centre of town, and we always stay in the centre of town. Our driver dropped us off at the first place on the hotel strip bordering the lake (Lake Orhid). We like the looks of the hotel, named Enkelana, and especially the price ($34 CDN with breakfast) for a modern room with a balcony overlooking the lake, TV and a bathroom. The bed however could use a few less metal rods.

We strolled along the boardwalk and decided to rent a paddleboat ($2.60 CDN) for an hour. The odour of excrement was too strong to go swimming near the shore. We paddled out toward the middle of the lake, where the water looked clearer, and Irwin jumped in. One of four sturdy lads in a neighbouring paddle boat, hearing us conversing in English, begged to interrupt. A conversation ensued and continued after the two lads boosted Irwin onto the boat. Irwin’s current physical condition, being what it is, (chess, jazz, wine, pizza) made it impossible to do it on his own.

After inviting the lads for coffee on the boardwalk, the English-speaking one told us a bit about Albanian youth and his own difficult circumstances. He is the son of poor farmers from this area and is completing a compulsory year in the army, which he hates. He won’t go to Afghanistan or Iraq because the $10,000 for six months service is insufficient compensation for having to kill and risk being killed. He complained that the senior officers won’t even talk to him and the class system in the army prevents him from getting recognition and training. He told us that the university system here is corrupt and that one can buy grades for money. He has no hope of going to university because of lack of funds, even though he is bright and articulate. The boys are embarrassed by the condition of the lake and told us that when the dictator Enver Hoxha lived here in the summers, polluters risked severe punishment. Our lad would like to get out of Albania but he has no marketable skills.

We stayed at our hotel for dinner where we were the only couple on the second floor overlooking the lake and it was charming. We chatted for a few minutes with the daughter of the waitress, a graduate in psychology who can’t find a job in her field because “Albanians don’t recognize the need for psychologists yet.”

Irwin ordered steak with garnishes and we shared three or four salads, a fish soup, a glass of Macedonian wine, and Fanta — the bill coming to $23. We strolled on the main street, bought a small watermelon and ate it in our hotel room, keeping the balcony door open all night for the breeze.

The music continued well into the night, taken over sometime in the early morning by the howling of dogs, followed by the call of the Muezzin, summoning the faithful to morning prayer.

So far today (Sunday), we've sat outside here on the terrace — with a “borrowed” Internet password (top secret) that the waiters will not divulge but will gladly punch in — reading and soaking up the breeze by the lake, and gone out to buy cookies for two withered ladies sitting on the street across from the hotel and a stash of croissants for the gypsy children who beg at our table intermittently.

Tomorrow we plan to take a minibus to the Macedonian side of the lake and make our way from there to Skopje.

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In love with Tirana

On our way to Albania

Today we arrived in Tirana, Albania. Our ferry from Trieste was no cruise, but it was a pleasant 24 hour trip.

We met a German Jewish journalist-photographer off to an assignment in Kosovo. His editor had asked him to do a travel book on Kosovo! We also met a young couple from Vienna traveling to Albania to see her family. Luckily, her brother was picking them up and we were offered a ride to Tirana from Dures, where the ferries dock. A bus ride would have taken 2 hours or so, for what is a 30 minute trip.

Our new friend's brother Gazi insisted on taking us out for coffee and found us an affordable and centrally-located hotel for 35 Euro. Our room is huge compared to the one in Italy and down the hall we have a bathroom bigger than our own at home.

Reflective Muggia

We're still hoping we have Wifi here. The owner’s son assured us we did before he left for parts unknown. His mom doesn’t seem to know a thing about it. If not, there are Internet cafes every three minutes.

Gazi recommended a fish restaurant that we tried for a 4 pm lunch. It was fabulous! We had two whole fish, grilled, two Greek salads and one mixed salad. With fries and toast, and complimentary watermelon for dessert, the bill came to about $30. We finished the afternoon with a stroll around our area, which includes a food market and many many gold and silver shops.

A gorgeous twin view along the canal

We’re in love with Tirana already. We haven’t heard English yet except from the waiters and shopkeepers. Everyone is helpful and polite, except perhaps the boys who greeted us in our hotel and asked for money twice, not giving us a receipt until we insisted. At that point we got a handwritten note with the name and address of the hotel. The mother of course asked if we had paid when we returned. We hope the son hasn’t run off with our money to one of the casinos we saw not far from here.

If we do have Wifi, we’re bedding down in this town for a while!

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First post from Trieste

Our first stop on this summer’s adventure is Trieste, Italy at the Northeast point of the Adriatic Sea. Trieste has all the best qualities of Italian cities — accessible on foot, the best tomatoes in the world, marvelous mozzarella, fabulous fish and seafood that tastes like it came out of the sea yesterday. Then there’s the gelate (multi-flavoured Italian ice cream in its various forms — yogurt, sorbet and rich cream) at every corner.

Our hotel, Alabarda, two star, is friendly and has 30 minutes of free Wifi from the room. This is the first time we've taken a laptop. It’s nice to not have to find the local Internet café, which is usually smelly and crowded with teens. We bought a $10 adaptor, which simply attaches to the plug, which then goes into the wall. I found out from a nice man at Bureau en Gros that more expensive converters are unnecessary for laptops, which already have the ability to run on 110 or 220 volts.

We arrived on a Saturday and spent most of the day catching up on sleep and walking the streets that run around the Grand Canal. We’ve had three meals so far and the average bill is about 30 Euro for two including one entrée, ¼ liter of wine and sparkling water. The service is always friendly and accommodating.

The first afternoon, I walked across the street to the Supermercado and purchased some succulent peaches, nectarines, tomatoes, and cheese, as well as a perfectly-sized orange melon resembling a cantaloupe but tasting like the real thing. This morning we enjoyed a wonderful café latte at one of the spots on the canal. Fancy coffees are the only thing cheaper than in Montreal, apart from the wine and the gelate.

The music in the bars and restaurants is awful — loud and aggressive. We asked the waitress tonight to change it and she happily obliged.

The hotel gives out a special menu for this restaurant, two streets away (Ristorante Pizzeria O-Scugnizzo). For 20 Euro you get Primi (first course) which is pasta, Secondi (second course) which is fish, Contorni (salad or grilled veggies), and Bevanda (beverage) — either mineral water or ¼ liter of wine or beer. We weren’t that hungry or willing to splurge yet again so we asked if we could share. We could and did! Irwin had the spaghetti with fresh mussels and clams (in the shell too) and I had the Secondi of grilled squid. After three meals here, one could say the food is exquisitely prepared and fresh. So fresh! The olive oil is better than anything I’ve tasted in Montreal.

Today we visited the port and decided not to take the cruise going to the Greek Islands for one week. Why be packed in like the grilled sardines I had for lunch listening to loudspeakers and unable to stay in a place longer than a few hours? For a minute I wanted to try it just once. But Irwin quickly nixed the idea and instead we boarded a chug-a-lug boat to Muggia, a half-hour away (6 Euro return) and toured a lovely little port town, ate more gelate and had more delicious coffees. You get the picture!

What a beautiful little town! We would have inquired about the apartments for sale at 140,000 Euro if it hadn’t been a Sunday.

Now that we’re back in Italy, we remember why it’s one of our favorite countries in the world!

Tomorrow we want to look into ferries going to Croatia. Our intention this time is not to miss Sarajevo. If we can, we’ll take a ferry to Zadar on the coast of Croatia, and then move on to Split and maybe the island of Hvar before making our way to Sarajevo by bus or train! We like not knowing exactly where we’re going. The cruise wouldn’t have been our cup of coffee!

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A smorgasbord of summer festivals

Festival de Lanaudière - Bernard Labadie and Violon du Roy players

Whether you plan to go out to the country or stay in town, there are plenty of musical events to celebrate the summer season. Choices abound, from festivals in bucolic settings that give “country music” a totally different meaning to urban festivals a metro ride away.

Running July 5 to August 3 just a short distance from Montreal, the 31st year of the Lanaudière Festival has a rich offering of first-rate classical musicians, both local and international, from medieval to contemporary, throughout July and early August. Featuring Kent Nagano and Yannick Nézet-Séguin, pianists Alain Lefèvre and Valentina Lisitsa and the Baroque Orchestra of Freiburg, the festival offers a healthy fare of music with dinner, encounters with musicians and cruises on Lac St-Pierre. There is also a special sound installation of bird songs taking its cue from the works of Olivier Messiaen.

Francofolie crowd

Music of a different ilk can be heard north in the hills of the Laurentians, with the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival running from July 4-13 and featuring Johnny Winter, Paul James, Keb’ Mo’ and a tribute to the recently deceased Jeff Healey.

Along the breathtaking views of the lower St. Lawrence just south of Rimouski, the Parc du Bic presents its Concerts aux Îles du Bic chamber music festival from August 1-10. Yuli Turovsky and I Musici of Montreal perform intimate classics. The varied chamber music formations deliver the calming repertoire of Mozart, Debussy and Poulenc.

Festival international du blues de Tremblant

If your summer promises to be an inner-city affair, there are scores of festivals to choose from. Besides the well-known Montreal International Jazz Festival, there’s Nuits d’Afrique, which runs from July 8-20, and features African musicians with both free shows, at the Place Émilie-Gamelin, and ticketed shows. There’s also Francofolies, from July 24 to August 3, which serves a wide range of music by francophone artists, in the same setting as the Jazz Fest, this year featuring homage to the great Félix Leclerc.

Urban and bucolic at the same time are the events known as Les Weekends du Monde held at the Parc Jean-Drapeau throughout July. The program features daylong activities with music from the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as Classical Thursdays.

The Celtic Music Festival, held on the beautiful grounds of the Douglas Hospital in Verdun ran until a couple of years ago. It featured wonderful music from North America, Ireland and Britain, Celtic France and Spain. Hopefully this festival will see the light of day once more, although not likely this summer. Perhaps in 2009?

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To drive or not to drive

All too often when I ask families about their loved one’s driving abilities after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, I’m told there’s no serious concern. After further questioning it’s not unusual to learn the individual is “only” driving close to home (where accidents never happen?) – or only lost their way a couple of times, or scratched the car in the garage. Yet when I ask whether they would allow their children to be in the car, the answer is a firm no.

Who is protecting the neighbours’ children? I’m not insensitive to the significance of driving to someone who has been driving most of his or her life. Having car keys taken away can be devastating. But driving demands good judgment, skills, reflexes, concentration, and sensory abilities.

The burden of this decision should not be left to family members. In California, physicians must report a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s to the health department, who in turn passes this information to the motor vehicle bureau. The Quality Standard Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology recommends driving tests be conducted every six months for those with AD.

Why don’t we have a similar process in place here? I suggest that doctors be obligated to report a diagnosis of cognitive impairment to the SAAQ, who should mandate frequent driving tests. This would relieve the family of having to decide where to draw the line. Caregivers have enough on their plates without having to play the enforcer in this respect.

In the meantime, these signs should help families know when it’s time to schedule a driving test:

  • Driving too slow or too fast
  • Unable to find the way to a familiar place
  • Slow in reacting to a new situation
  • Not observing traffic signs
  • Hitting curbs
  • Agitation when behind the wheel
  • Confusing the gas and the brake pedal
  • Scratches on the car
  • Trips taking longer than usual

Above all, safety is not negotiable!

Contact Bonnie at bonnie@theseniortimes.com.

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Whose word is it anyway?

Who owns a word? Recently, three residents of the island of Lesbos laid claim to the word “lesbian,” filing suit against the organization Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece for using the word “lesbian” in its name. The litigants claim the organization’s name “insults the identity” of the people of Lesbos, who are also known as Lesbians. One of the plaintiffs, Dimitris Lambrou, claims that the global dominance of the word “lesbian” in its sexual context violates the human rights of the islanders of Lesbos and causes them world-wide humiliation.

This case brings to mind a 1998 protest that occurred in England over the name Mecca Bingo for a bingo hall chain. Muslim protesters felt insulted that the name of their holiest city be associated with gambling and this led to some violent demonstrations, although to my knowledge no legal action was launched claiming a proprietary right to the word “Mecca.” It’s also interesting to note that as Mecca Bingo Ltd. was established in 1884, the protests about the use of the name were hardly immediate.

These actions prompt the question of who owns a word. While the first OED usage of lesbian in the 17th century refers to people living on the island of Lesbos, by the end of the 19th century the term lesbian referring to same-sex female couples entered the dictionary and was entrenched in the English language. Similarly, by the middle of the 19th century, the word “Mecca” was often used for a place which attracts people of a particular group or with a particular interest.

The aforementioned contentions are by no means the only litigious possibilities. So far, no protests have been heard from the residents of Bohemia over the usurping of the word “bohemian” by artsy-fartsy vagabonds who lead irregular lives. Nor have I heard any murmurs of dissent from the residents of Donnybrook, the former Irish suburb of Dublin, that the word donnybrook has come to refer to a riotous brawl.

And where will it all end? Shouldn’t Bulgarians take umbrage that the word “bugger” comes from Bulgarian? The OED relates that it was “a name given to a sect of heretics who came from Bulgaria in the 11th century, afterwards to other ‘heretics.’” Perhaps Slovenians will come to feel that the word “slovenly” casts aspersions on them, notwithstanding the word does not derive from Slovenia, but merely sounds as if it could?

Personally, I’ll be astonished if the courts in Greece rule in favour of the Lesbos litigants. An etymological close precedent, the word gay, has long been usurped by the homosexual community. Along with merry folks, people whose first name or surname is Gay could well be upset by puerile people who ask “are you Gay?” Also, who can listen to the lyrics “don we now our gay apparel” and not be prone to a vision of cross-dressers? The reality, however, is that “gay” to refer to a homosexual is now an entrenched meaning – like it or not, words do acquire new meanings.

On the other hand, some will argue that politically correct society has decided not to use certain terms like the verbs “to jew,” “to welsh” and “to gyp” as they attribute certain traits to the Jews, Welsh and Gypsies, respectively. Clearly, these are seen as a different situation from the “bohemian” and “donnybrook” usages because there is a consensus in society that stereotyping certain groups by supposed negative traits is offensive. The Lesbians’ strongest legal argument seems therefore to rest on the fact that they are being negatively tarred and this at a time when society is largely tolerant of sexual preference. Not a compelling argument.

So, given the entrenched and acceptable nature of “lesbian” to refer to same-sex female couples, I have a suggestion for the Greek litigants. Why don’t you demonstrate largesse, and compromise by adopting the word “Lesbonians” as an English term to refer to the inhabitants of Lesbos?

Howard Richler’s latest book is Can I Have a Word With You?
He can be reached at howard@theseniortimes.com.

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Literary, musical fundraiser a success

The 3rd annual summer solstice literary and musical cabaret at the Atwater Library on June 27 successfully raised $411.50 for the library’s fund to acquire and maintain a piano. These proceeds were from voluntary donations.

Over 80 people attended the event, which was organized by Senior Times contributor Byron Toben and included performances by Senior Times music columnist Paul Serralheiro’s trio. The evening included a play reading, Irish story telling and music, folk music and a tango demonstration. Jack Todd of the Montreal Gazette donated an autographed copy of his new best seller Sun Going Down as a door prize.

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Music events July 2008

Orgue Et Couleurs presents the 44th season of “Concerts populaires de Montréal” under the artistic direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, at Centre Pierre- Charbonneau, 3000 Viau. $18 to $27.

  • Wednesday, July 9 at 7:30 pm, Tango Spotlight features spirited tango music with the warm sounds of the bandonéon, an authentic voice and other instruments.
  • Wednesday, July 16 at 7:30 pm, Backstage At The Orchestra. Classics and comedy go hand in hand.
  • Wednesday, July 23 at 7:30 pm, Land of Love features works from the Classical and Romantic periods.
  • Wednesday, July 30 at 7:30 pm, At the English Court promises one royal evening, two eras: the 18th and 20th centuries. Orchestre Métropolitain Du Grand Montréal, conducted by Julian Wachner.
Info and tickets: 514-899-0938 or orgueetcouleurs.com

The City of Beaconsfield presents its summer line-up of free summer concerts and activities in the park.

  • Sundays at 12 pm, bring a picnic to Centennial Park for free activities and concerts. 288 Beaconsfield.
  • Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, six outdoor concerts are presented in collaboration with Sunrise Senior Living. Rain venue: Beaconsfield Recreation Centre, 1974 City Lane.
Info: 514-428-4480 or beaconsfield.ca

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Vermont events July 2008

Saturday, July 12 from 10 am – 4 pm, Vermont’s Children’s Aid Society’s Annual Antiques & Unique Festival features 120 antique vendors, pottery, paintings, jewelry, collectibles, toys and quilts. Feast on bake sale goodies and enjoy Trinity music. Info: 802-655-0006

Sunday, July 13 to Saturday, July 19, Vermont’s Village Green hosts its 30th annual Festival-on-the-Green. Marta Gomez and group perform original compositions based on Latin American rhythms. Street dance closes the Festival on Saturday. Info: 802-462-3555

Thursday, July 17 to Sunday, July 20, the 7th Killington Wine Festival features wine tasting, educational seminars, live music and a gala wine dinner. Info: 800-337-1928

Friday, July 18 to Saturday, July 19, the Vermont Brewers Festival in Burlington’s scenic Waterfront Park is perfect for enjoying Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains. Info: 802-244-6828

Friday, July 18 at 8 pm, Cracker Barrel Fiddlers Contest offers an evening of music, food and family fun. Foot stompin’ toe tappin’ and knee slappin’ tunes await. $6. Info: 802-866-5580

Friday, July 18 to Saturday, July 19, the Stowe Street Arts Festival in Waterbury features Phill ‘n’ the Blanks Friday evening from 7 – 10 pm after the Congregational Church’s Chicken Barbeque. Info: 802-244-8300

Saturday, July 19 to Sunday, July 20, participate in a Weekend Ballroom Dance Workshop with dancing and lessons with world-renowned dance instructor Ian Folker. Champlain Club, 20 Crowley, Burlington. Info: 802-598-6757

Friday, July 11 to Sunday, July 13, see hundreds of top breed dogs at the Vermont Cluster Dog Show at Champlain Valley Fairgounds, 105 Pearl, Essex Junction. Info: 902-878-5545 or cvexpo.org

Sunday, July 20 from 10 am – 5 pm Billings Farm & Museum presents its 25th Anniversary Celebration for free ice cream and cookies. Performances by the Vermont Fiddle Orchestra, Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and Robert Resnik & Friends. Route 12 North at River Road, Woodstock. Info: 802-457-2355

Tuesday, July 22 at 7 pm, the 10th Old West Church Folk Concert features Peggy Seeger, Deb Flanders and Pete Sutherland. The Calais Concerts, organized by Deb Flanders, highlight the traditional music of New England in honour of Deb’s great-aunt Helen Hartness Flanders, one of the pioneers of folk music history in the US. Info: 802-863-5966

Tuesday, July 29 to Saturday, August 9 at 8 pm with a Saturday matinee at 2 pm, Pump Boys and Dinettes - the Musical celebrates the simple pleasures and good folks at the Double Cupp Diner. Saint Michael’s Playhouse, 1 Winooski Park, Colchester. Info: 802-654-2281

Saturday, August 23 to Monday, September 1, the Champlain Valley Fair presents entertainment, agricultural competitions, arts and crafts, horse and oxen pulling, shopping, Reihoffer Carnival and Midway, Coca-Cola Grandstand concerts, motorsports, music, Vermont Talent and food. Champlain Valley Fairgounds, 105 Pearl, Essex Junction.

  • Monday, July 21 at 8 pm, Elton John plays the Coca-Cola Grandstand. Four ticket limit.
  • Saturday, August 23 at 8 pm, Vermont Public Radio presents Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion.
  • Sunday, August 24 at 7 pm, 95 Triple X presents Daughtry as part of the Bud Light Concert Series.
  • Thursday, August 28 at 7 pm, US Marine Corps band performs.
  • Friday, August 29, 106.7 WIZN presents Ted Nugent.
Info: 802-878-5545 or cvexpo.org
Tickets: 802-86-FLYNN or flynntix.org

Saturday, July 26 NAS Green Mountain Strongman Challenge benefits the American Lung Association of New England. Tickets on sale through the American Lung Association of Vermont. $5 person, $15 family of four, 8 and under free. Champlain Valley Fairgounds, 105 Pearl, Essex Junction. Info: 802-876-6500 or lungvt.org

Friday, August 15 to Saturday, August 16, Vermont Dressage Days Horse Show benefits Women Helping Battered Women and the Vermont Humane Federation. Champlain Valley Fair­gounds, 105 Pearl, Essex Junction. Info: 802-878-5545 or vtddatcve.com

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My Vegas: 30 years of memories and Elton

Elton John singing Candle in the Wind at this 200th concert in Vegas

Most people I know who haven’t been to Vegas have little desire to experience it. They have no connection to the place. They see it as crass and glitzy.

But for me, Vegas means a lot. It holds 30 years of memories — of family, love and loss.

My first time was with the father of my daughters just before we married in 1975. I was smitten — with Vegas.

We never left the Tropicana: the food was free or close to it, the orange juice freshly squeezed, the lox abundant and succulent. It was my first encounter with the starry glitter and tinkle of the slots. Not that I’m a gambler, but I’ve always liked the nickel machines.

My mother lived in Vegas for ten years. She moved there to be closer to Paul Anka. Once at a show we saw together, he asked her to dance, recognizing her from her many fan letters. She still has his autographed pictures on her walls: “To Eva, Love Paul.”

On the Strip: Flamingo Hotel bathers

On my visits during those years, Mom and I would sit for hours in the piano bar at one of the Strip’s cheaper hotels and watch Angelo, the singer-piano man, belt out our requests — hers being Nat King Cole and Paul, and mine, Elton John.

My sister Melanie moved to Vegas to live with my mother. Melanie had a tough life and in Vegas she felt like a somebody. She loved the Strip, the slots, the lights, the free drinks, the buffets, the music — and most of all, Neil Diamond.

Melanie died in Vegas in December 2000. She was 48. Her funeral was in a room at her favorite hotel, the famous Golden Nugget.

I remember walking along the Strip the day of the funeral, having come from Melanie’s apartment carrying our grandmother Molly’s wine glasses wrapped in our grandmother Laura’s embroidered tablecloth.

Melanie had no children, just a dog. I remember taking her aging Pekinese to have him put to sleep. She would have hated me for that, but I just couldn’t take him on.

On this trip, I see Melanie everywhere.

I’ve come to Vegas to visit my daughters and accompany my husband on business. I am staying at the Hilton Star Trek, just off the Strip. Gone are the days when you could stay at the Aladdin or the Hilton Flamingo for $17 a night. These rooms cost $160. Alas, the laid back Aladdin was blown up to make room for a glitzier hotel, which is the fate of most Vegas hotels.

The slots have changed. Now you slide your bills in and if you win, the coins don’t come pouring out. I miss that sound. Now it’s a fake jingling and you get a slip you can exchange in another machine. The drinks at the slots are still free and are they ever strong! They still do everything to get you to gamble.

There are no bookstores in sight. And I’m the only one this morning at the Hilton Buffet with a laptop. People are looking at me like I’m weird.

The buffets are still good and plentiful, but prices are up. Today’s brunch is $14. It’s a better deal than the restaurants; the fresh fruit grown in California, just two hours away, is divine.

They now have penny slots in every hotel but the thing is you have to bet at least 25 cents if you’re going to win more than a few pennies. I still love to watch the high rollers bet $25,000 a shot. But I don’t dare try my hand at Black Jack anymore.

Now for my jackpot! Amy, Molly and I took in the Elton John show at Caesars. Tickets start at $100 and peak at $250. We opted for $115 in the first row of the second balcony. We all agreed the concert was the best we had ever seen. I cried every second song, seeing 40 years of my life and Elton’s career pass before me in a flash, watching the big screen images of the sixties, reveling in the memories and the present. Holding my daughters’ hands and swaying back and forth, we waved the black and red boas we had been given in the lobby to celebrate Elton’s 200th concert in Vegas.

What a show! The stage was an ever-evolving magical place with massive inflated breasts, red roses, a lipstick and other overtly playful phallic parts. I was thrown back to the days when sex was less serious and more innocent. I cried during Candle in the Wind, Rocket Man, and most of all, when he sang his finale — Your Song, in honour of his two bodyguards who had just tied the knot in California! I laughed when he lovingly referred to Celine Dion as “that skinny bitch” who never has to worry about her weight as he does.

Amy, Mom, and Molly in our boas after the concert, taken from Amy's iPhone

He looked just lovely to me in his longish appliquéd jacket and the glasses, more muted than I remember – the whole Elton aging gracefully into a less raucous show-off, his virtuoso piano playing more beautiful than ever, his voice strong and robust, having lost none of its sexy, smooth tone. My girls and I knew all the words, sometimes singing along. This is the sign of a star — to last more than two generations.

Molly and I walked over to the Riviera in the heat and were blessed with a stunning rendition of Your Song by a house crooner, the talented and friendly Mark.

To cap off our stay, we saw Menopause — the Musical, a zany slapstick look at “the change” through the eyes of four icons of “our age” — the professional woman, the fading soap star, the Earth Mother, and the Iowa housewife. The songs are takeoffs of tunes from the 60s and 70s, with themes ranging from the ever-present hot flashes to ever-present need for food to the ever-present need for sex from hubby. The best performance of the show was a very risqué dance rendition of My Guy sung to a huge red vibrator. (I just can’t bring myself to use the D-word).

All of us who have gone through the change were invited onstage to do an aging can-can and receive buttons: I’ve changed.

I don’t have much change left as I leave this town. If you go to Vegas, I recommend staying on the Strip. You can take the monorail (at $11 a day) to get around but you’ll still have some walking to do. It’s much more expensive, more crowded, less accessible, and you get a lot less “bang for your buck.”

Vegas has changed — a lot since 1975! Little is free in this town. It’s not the easygoing place I fell in love with 30 years ago. Yet, all in all it was a slice. Thanks Elton for playing my songs!

So, everyone, get off your high horses and live a little. You won’t find high culture here, but it’s a breath of not-so-fresh air in the city that never sleeps.

Elton John plays the Champlain Valley Fair in Vermont July 21.

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House & garden tour for the Piggery

Thursday, July 17, the Piggery Theatre holds its biggest fundraiser of the year. From 9:30 am - 4:30 pm, wander through six homes and two gardens in and around North Hatley and Ste-Catherine-de-Hatley, chosen for their architecture and prime views. $50.

Info: 819-842-2431 or piggery.com

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Molly's Istanbul sparks reader's memories and reflections

I was deeply touched by Molly Newborn’s June travel article Istanbul – the magic, the madness & the mosques. I was in Istanbul in 1958, exactly 50 years ago, my head full of Pierre Loti, taking a summer course in Turkish for foreign students at Istanbul University. It was the most beautiful city I had seen, at least its skyline of domes and minarets.

By the way Bosporus is a strait between two seas, not a river (Mr. Richler, please correct me if I am wrong) although it may look like a river if you don’t taste its salt water.

Ms. Newborn’s first impressions were bitter. She was hassled by peddlers offering to sell her a carpet and by cavaliers hoping to date her. They could tell she was a tourist. Maybe the way she was dressed in jeans or her typical tourist behaviour, looking around with curious starry eyes the way no local would. Judging by her photo we would expect her to draw admiring glances not only in Turkey, though we can’t expect her to accept an invitation for a date, especially a crudely formulated one from a stranger. She goes back to her hotel room to cry for the rest of the day. She is obviously a sensitive young woman. It may be her weakness as a journalist, but it is her strength as a writer.

Well, carpet sellers or other peddlers did not run after me. I was a student, and students, even foreign students, were not expected to have much money.

Ms. Newborn is rescued by Ahmet, a former Turkish classmate from UCLA, who gives her a guided tour of the city. She is “stunned” by the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. I remember how excited I was, as a Christian, seeing what was perhaps the most beautiful Christian church ever built. Mehmet the Conqueror had transformed the church into a mosque, adding the first of the four minarets. The secularist President Ataturk turned it into a museum.

A house of worship has a soul that a mere museum cannot have. Something Ms. Newborn missed. She shows us a photo of the Blue Mosque, illuminated at night, displaying the inscription “DONYA AHIRETIN TARLASIDIR” (“The world is the ploughed field for after-life”). Yet, one of the wonders of the Hagia Sophia is its Christian mosaics which had been plastered over during the four centuries when the building was serving as a mosque. The subject matter may not have been objectionable to the Muslims who venerate the Prophet Jesus and his Mother but a mosque may not contain any pictorial representations, viewed as idolatry. To most if not all Turks, it would have been tantamount to a symbolic surrender of the city to the Greeks, a nightmare, which had almost happened at the end of World War I. Ataturk’s victory over the Greeks and their British and French allies saved the city for Turkey and for Islam.

When visiting the Blue Mosque, Ms. Newborn feels “uncomfortable” at being asked to cover her head. Come on, young lady! Haven’t you ever wrapped your head with a scarf to protect yourself from Canadian wind? I don’t remember whether Western women tourists were asked to cover their heads when visiting mosques in Turkey in my time. I remember that we all had to take our shoes off.

Ms. Newborn is not much impressed by the Islamic call to prayer, appreciated by so many non-Muslims, including Byron who had fought against the Turks in the Greek War of Independence:

“’Twas musical, yet sadly sweet...” (The Siege of Corinth)

On her own Ms. Newborn takes the train across the Galata Bridge to the Dolmabahge Palace. A train across the Galata Bridge? I am sure the “train” here is a misprint for tram, or is it an innovation since my time?

After her guided tour of the city Ms. Newborn spends the night partying with Ahmet and his friends in the bars of Taxim (her spelling). That is quite in character with the society. Unlike most Muslims (Arabs, Iranians, Pakistanis) the Turks drink openly, without inhibition, even taking pride in their drinking prowess. Except that those were strictly men-only sessions. It was not considered dignified for Turkish ladies to drink raki. I wonder if there were Turkish girls partying that night?

Please note the spelling: Taksim. There is no X in Turkish. It is an Arabic loanword meaning “division” or “partition.” Taksim Square is the centre of Pera or Beyogiu, the formerly “Frankish” suburb of Istanbul with more bars than mosques.

In the end Ms. Newborn forgets her initial disappointment and is won over by the city: “Istanbul is magical. There is no other place that compares.” I haven’t been back to Istanbul for 50 years.

Ms. Newborn has captured the spirit of the place and brought back precious memories of my youth.

Thank you, Molly!

Çok tesekkür ederim!

– Jan Witold Weryho, NDG


Dear Ms. Weryho,

You are so very welcome! I was delighted to learn about your experience in Istanbul 50 years ago. It seems as though things haven’t changed too much.

We were asked to take off our shoes and cover our heads upon entering all mosques. Taking off my shoes made me as uneasy as covering my head. There were water fountains outside all mosques where the men washed their feet (and face and arms?) before entering. I found a crowd of about 30 women jammed into the ladies’ restroom with three sinks outside the Blue Mosque washing their feet. As a foreigner it is not my place to complain, especially since entering the stunningly beautiful mosque negated any uneasy feelings.

Ahmet presented me with my first glass of Raki during our lunch under the Galata Bridge. The first of many. There certainly was no shortage of alcohol for the ladies in Taksim! There were girls in Ahmet’s circle of friends who joined us in the festivities, and they could have easily passed as Americans. This took me by surprise since I was advised to “cover up” while traveling around Turkey, but when it came to Istanbul the girls definitely weren’t shy to be sexy. This is a far cry from Urfa, which I will be writing about in a future issue.

I did come to enjoy the Islamic call to prayer. It was a bit of a jolt when I heard it for the first time without  warning. It was a constant reminder wherever I went, saying “Listen! You’re in Turkey!” And I certainly appreciated it when it woke me up to catch my flight.

Thanks again for your reply! I am so happy we were able to share our stories with one another.

– Molly, Los Angeles

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The enchanted world of Cappadocia

If you have ever dreamt of traveling to the moon and then realized that the 384,403 km, eight million dollar space shuttle ticket might be a bit out of budget, might I recommend a trip to Cappadocia? Located in the center of Turkey – the middle Anatolian region spanning five cities – you will find this lunar-like landscape.

After a grueling overnight bus from Antalya, my tour group of 14 was deposited at what at first looked like a boring little Turkish town. I rubbed my eyes as we walked down the empty street at 5 am and realized this was no ordinary place. It looked like some of the houses were built right into mysterious and unearthly looking rocks. Look a little closer and this bizarre scene stretches for miles and miles.

Volcanic eruptions, erosion and winds from millions of years ago somehow created the wondrous rock formations of Cappadocia. The Fairy Chimneys – the most common and absurd looking structures – are natural cone formations made from the volcanic eruptions smoothed over time by wind and rain (good thing this article comes with pictures because otherwise you would be lost).

Houses carved into the stone

The Hittites were the first known civilization to inhabit the volcanic rock structures of Cappadocia about 3800 years ago, followed by the Persians and the Romans. They discovered the volcanic rock was easily carved and shaped yet sturdy enough to hold permanent structures. Whole towns were carved into these rocks with houses and tunnels and churches with frescos. People still live in houses carved into the stone, and some lucky tourists can even book a room in one of the pricey carved rock hotels.

After a short 30-minute hike through the landscape, our tour guide took us to the old deserted town of Zelve. Zelve was inhabited until 1952. In 1967 it was turned into an open-air museum. I felt like I was 6 years old again climbing up the cliffs to the caves (or houses), exploring each room and tunnel, ima-gining the lifestyle of the cave dwellers while admiring the views as I climbed.

Fairy Chimneys

We then piled back into our rented minibus and headed to a town called Avanos. This is a town famous for its colourful pottery made from the red clay of the Kyzylyrmak River – the longest in Turkey. We visited a shop that allowed us to watch and learn how the intricately decorated pots were made. We were all so impressed with the show and the artwork that each of us bought a souvenir pot. As we explored the tourist kiosks that seem to be around almost every Cappadocia corner we realized that they were selling the same pots at a half to two thirds the price we had paid in the shop.

Our next excursion took us to one of Cappadocia’s 36 identified underground cities (only four are open to the public). It was like climbing through a giant ant farm, crawling through holes and tunnels and more holes. These cities were actually fully functioning civilizations equipped with communal kitchens, ventilation systems, and common rooms. These cities were built to live in during invasions and could sustain hundreds of people for up to six months! They are not for the claustrophobic. The tall might emerge with a bit of back pain. Our tour guide – about 5’3” – appeared to be standing comfortably in the rooms while the rest of us had to hunch. I did however get a kick out of crawling down the maze of tunnels and rooms carved eight levels down into the earth!

Whirling Dervishes

Our final night in Cappadocia was spent watching the mesmerizing prayer dance of the whirling Dervishes. The Dervishes belong to the Sufi sect of Islam. The whirling they do is a type of prayer to achieve a meditative trance state, connecting with the ever revolving motion of all existence – from the protons and electrons around the nucleus, to the planets around the stars. Their long flowing angelic white skirts seem to send them soaring into mystical flight. The “show” is incredibly beautiful and relaxing. Sweet cinnamon tea is served to the audience to conclude the show. My sweet tooth couldn’t get enough of it. It cost 35 lira (about $35). I stumbled across more Whirling Dervishes a week later near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. That show was free and it did not skimp on the tea.

Although I opted out of the $250 hot air balloon ride (apparently a must see), and may have fallen into a couple of tourist traps, my Cappadocia experience was nothing short of extraordinary. From the giant ant farm to the towering Fairy Chimneys, Cappadocia took me to another world, and back to the playground.

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Contactivity inter-generates song

Students and seniors sing together

Hosting their annual Picnic in the Park would have been a lot easier if it hadn’t rained. But instead of letting a little rain spoil their day, Montreal’s Contactivity Senior’s Centre took their festivities inside the Westmount Park United Church.

About 120 seniors and children gathered to celebrate those born in July and watch the Interlink Inter-Generational Choir perform. Led by Ian Lebofsky and accompanied by Steve Corber, the choir sang songs that according to Lebofsky, “everyone can enjoy.” These included The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Do Re Me.

Bridget Polidoro and Rashale Johar

The soprano-alto choir was a concept that started 13 years ago to “break the stereotypic ideas each may have of the other generation,” said Lebofsky. The two generations – Grade 4 children from Westmount Park School and seniors from Contactivity – start as pen-pals and after two months meet as an ensemble.

“Sometimes these pen-pals carry on for years,” says spokesperson Ginny Thomas. “It becomes like a mentoring.” For more information on upcoming events, call 514-932-2326 or visit contactivitycentre.org.

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Shortage of food, abundance of spirit

Sun Youth volunteers gather around former Seniors Club president Mary Murphy at a recognition ceremony

Summer is a season of firsts: the first time you ride a bicycle, the first time away from your parents at summer camp or the first time you move into your own apartment.

At Sun Youth, this summer brings something new. Our food bank is short of food. For the first time in 54 years, Sun Youth has embarked on a summer non-perishable food drive to replenish its almost empty warehouse shelves.

A number of factors are responsible for the shortage. An increase in food prices is affecting our purchasing capacity and that of our donors. We purchase less food with the same amount of money. Soaring gas prices aren’t helping either, adding to the financial burden of our clientele, mainly low-income workers who need their vehicles. This means more people come to Sun Youth for assistance.

Food donations are less of a priority in summer. With an increase in demand fuelled by these realities, we are forced to contemplate reducing quantities of food given to our clients.

With 2,500 families assisted every month, Sun Youth desperately needs donations of non-perishable food. They can be dropped off at Sun Youth, 4251 Saint-Urbain. Call 514-842-6822 or visit sunyouthorg.com to make a monetary donation specifying that the donation is intended to buy food.

On a more positive note, Sun Youth recently honoured its volunteers, many of whom are members of the Seniors Club. We paid tribute to the former President of the Sun Youth Seniors Club, Mary Murphy with the unveiling of a painting.

From all of us at Sun Youth, pleasant summer wishes. Enjoy the pleasant weather but keep us in your hearts.

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Uncovering the rest of the iceberg

In early January, a Montreal senior took a fall and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance, where a nurse stitched up her wound. However, the cut soon began to bleed and though it was re-stitched, it did not heal properly.

In a letter to The Senior Times, Lisa N. (not her real name) describes several encounters with medical professionals at various clinics and hospitals where her pleas to have her injury looked at went unheeded. She was scolded, “patted on the head,” told to check her blood pressure and sent to another institution. At one clinic, she writes, “the doctor was very rude and did not even look at the wound. I was embarrassed that the doctor would ridicule me and not even look.”

It was not until two weeks and several visits later that a nurse responded to her request to have her injury seen. “She finally checked the wound and told me that it was smelly and infected. She cleaned it and had me come back the next day to see the doctor, who put me on antibiotics. I’m very upset that the nurses and doctors would not take me seriously.”

Treating seniors like children and ignoring their specific requests is one subtle form of elder abuse. Other forms may be more dramatic, as expressed in a collective formal complaint by family members of residents in a long-term care facility: “The caregiver-resident ratio reflects chronic understaffing. It appears that the residence is aiming to provide the lowest-cost care for the least amount of care time. Bells often go unanswered. Residents are left sitting for hours in front of the dining room. Residents wait for food, wait for toileting, go un-bathed and are isolated and neglected because of inadequate staffing. (One of our ill parents had to call his daughter in Toronto to beg her to phone the staff on his unit so that they would reply to his call bell, as his need to urinate went so long unattended).”

The letter goes on to say that the facility is “a terrible place to die” as the inadequacy of medical care causes “preventable pain” to the palliative care patient.

Though the situations described in these testimonials are dire, the fact that they were expressed is reason to feel hopeful, says Helen Wavroch, executive director of the Réseau Québecois pour contrer les abus contre les ainés.

“Because of public awareness campaigns, people are talking about it more and we hear of more cases. Statistically, we’ve had 150,000 cases a year. We’ve always said that that was just the tip of the iceberg, those who come forth. But how many are too afraid, or shy and don’t want to deal with it publicly? If now we have 200,000, I think it’s the same 50,000 that were silent the year before.”

The National Seniors Council on Elder Abuse estimates that in Canada 4-10% of seniors experience some form of abuse, with financial abuse being the most prevalent and much unreported abuse taking place in the home.

Which is why, in June, to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2008, the CSSS Cavendish (Health and Social Service Centre), NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse, NDG Senior Citizens’ Council and Extra Miles Friendly Visiting Program organized activities to entertain, inform and empower seniors. The event featured workshops on telemarketing fraud, Alzheimer’s Disease and the Impact of Elder Abuse on Society.

CSSS Cavendish includes the CLSC René Cassin, CLSC de NDG–Montréal-Ouest, the Richardson Hospital and the Henri Bradet Residential Centre, a long-term care residence. It serves 117,650 people and has the highest percentage of people over 65 on its territory, 19.2% compared to 15.3% on the island of Montreal.

The CSSS features several programs and services for seniors such as homecare, the Elder Abuse Info line, and the Care-Ring Voice tele-workshops for caregivers. It must also provide front-line services to the rest of the population.

Francine Dupuis, Executive Director of the CSSS Cavendish, says that since the government stated that homecare is a priority, things have been easier, but that essentially the organization is underfunded. “You want people to stay in the community for as long as possible, but there is never enough money to meet the demand.”

Part of the problem, she explains, is that her organization does not get to keep all the funds it receives. “With the new budget we receive a little more but 50% goes to other areas outside Montreal because historically they were receiving less. It will take several years until things even out.”

Dupuis says the government doesn’t allow for the complexity and uniqueness of Montreal’s problems. “It may be true per capita but in Montreal there are complex problems that are more acute, and we should be allowed to keep every penny of development budget that we are allocated.”

A recent study by the Agence de la Santé et des services sociaux revealed that of 10,808 respondents, including those living at home or in a public long-term care centre and their caregivers, 95% were satisfied with the services they received from Montreal’s 12 CSSS.

Meanwhile, the waiting lists get longer and the variety of services offered decreases, notes Dupuis. “Do I give more services to a few or less to a larger number of people? It’s not easy to decide because you’re always penalizing someone. We make these decisions every day.”

If you experience or suspect elder abuse, call the Elder Abuse Info Line at 514-489-2287.

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Love letter for the Times

Six years ago, a reader met a gentleman through our Meet a Friend column. They dated for six months and then married. Sadly, two years ago, her beloved husband passed away.

Our reader writes that he was the most gentle, wonderful, patient, kind man she had ever known. She vows that she will never meet another like him but she would like to meet a friend. They really loved each other, she writes. Our reader, let us call her ‘Mary Ann’, would like us to start up Meet a Friend again and in tribute to this loving relationship, we have decided to do just that.

Mary Ann is in her 70s, independent and in search of a friend for coffee, movies or driving.

If you wish to contact her, send your letter with a recent photo to Mary Ann at Meet a Friend, 4077 Decarie Blvd, Montreal, QC H4A 3J8.

Would you like to Meet a Friend? Send your bio of 25 to 30 words and a cheque for $20 to the above address or call Rachel at 514-484-5033 or email your bio to editor@theseniortimes.com and call to give us your credit card number. We reserve the right to edit for clarity and brevity. No phone numbers will be given out. You will be assigned a number and all your mail forwarded to you from our office.

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Search out local food and drink

Excuse my wine-ing… but did someone make a decision that liquids and solids are no longer to be consumed at the same time? Am I a better person if I detect the herbal notes from a high-priced “extra virgin” (which means low acidic) olive oil? Have I failed to achieve a level of wine-aficionado satori because I can’t tell my Gris from my Albarino? When did food start being work and stop being fun?

The Flavour Guy likes food, likes to eat, likes to chew the fat and then some. The Flavour Guy likes going into an Italian grocery store and having the clerk advise him that the $39.99 bottle of olive oil is actually pretty tasty and would work nicely with whatever salad or meat marinade is going towards dinner. Sure a $39.99 bottle of olive oil is sharp, earthy, buttery, grassy, peppery (choose your adjectives here) and tastes pretty nice on its own – just like that magnificent 1998 Pomerol makes for ambrosial sipping and self-satisfied inhaling – but few people make a dinner of a mere chunk of bread dipped in olive oil and washed down with a glass of wine.

Food tastes best when it’s enjoyed in the company of other food (and other people). Even Château Dépanneur is acceptable in the right company – hamburger for instance, or almost any strongly flavoured dish. The more garlic in the main course, the less likely the Flavour Guy appreciates a sincere Sancerre.

Here’s how to do it: eat some food, drink something refreshing, pause and then do it all over again. Repeat as often as necessary until either the plate is clean or the stomach is full. After a little practice you are likely to be able to achieve both conditions at the same time. The idea is to enjoy what we eat and not be cowed because we don’t know what Angus beef is (it’s a popular breed of cattle).

Why are we looking outside – and feeling ill at ease inside – because we can’t choose the perfect liquid to go with our solids? We live in a region blessed with great beer, superb apple cider, and frankly, lousy wine – however we ignore our natural riches and spend fortunes on imported wines and olive oils (often at the same price). The Flavour Guy favours searching out local foods and supporting indigenous agriculture: PEI mussels steamed with a St. Ambroise blond and later, maybe a slice of mignon de Charlevoix cheese with a small glass of very cold Pinnacle ice cider on the side.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy: flavourguy@montrealfood.com

Mussels for two

  • A tablespoon of butter
  • A cup of finely sliced Quebec seasonal vegetables (all or some of onion, tomato, leek, garlic, celery, red peppers, carrots)
  • Lots more chopped garlic (make sure it’s from Quebec, it’s worth it).
  • A half bottle of beer (I’m afraid you’ll have to drink the rest).
  • A ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • A kilo bag of mussels (if the mussels come in a 5 pound bag – double the other ingredients). Make sure the mussels are tightly closed when you buy them.
  • A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Melt the butter and cook the veggies over low heat until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the beer, salt and mussels. Bring it to a boil and then quickly reduce it to simmer. Cover. Stir the mussels once or twice. It’s ready when the mussels are open. If a few don’t open, discard them. Sprinkle parsley over the mussels. Serve with a baguette, Quebec cheeses and a green salad.

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Crosby, Stills & Nash look backwards and forwards

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s performance at Place des Arts Tuesday, July 22 brings more music and less politics to the stage than their 2006 Freedom of Speech tour with Neil Young, which bitterly divided critics and audiences over its focus on the Iraq War.

Renowned for its three-hour marathon shows, the group tested the limits of its unity and stamina during the tour – choosing to include large chunks of Young’s Living With War album, noted for its single Let’s Impeach the President – and drawing the ire of many fans. The turmoil is captured in the tour’s documentary CSNY: Déjà Vu, slated for theatrical release in 15 cities the weekend after their Montreal show, with a simultaneous video-on-demand release and streaming video via Netflix. The DVD comes just in time for November elections in the US.

Premiering to mostly positive reviews in January at Sundance, the film features ex-ABC News Iraq reporter Mike Cerre “embedded” on the tour bus and showcases both sides of the critical reaction, including one infamous judgment that “the huddled sixty somethings look like they’re comparing prescriptions on stage.” Besides strong lyrical content, the tour featured backdrops of war scenes, casualty counts and clips of the Bush administration’s finer moments. Reception in some cities, particularly Atlanta, was openly hostile. The strain on the foursome’s solidarity, and the resulting internal political struggle, is documented cinema-verité style in moments backstage. Produced by Young, the film was judged by one critic as “not so much the chronicle of a newsworthy tour as a committed political artist’s sincere attempt to get to grips with an America whose mood seems to have changed utterly since the band’s debut.”

The current tour, minus Young, picks up some elements from 2006 and introduces new ones, notably sharing one microphone on some acoustic numbers for the first time. “It screams of how much we’re getting it on together,” Nash said in a recent interview. “Instead of our sound man trying to blend three sources, we’re doing it ourselves. It’s not easy to sing so close to each other. But it sounds great.”

A feature of the 2006 tour sure to be repeated is its compelling example of eco-responsibility. Pioneering the modernization of the notoriously messy touring business, they achieved a zero carbon footprint by using 100% biodiesel for the entire convoy of vehicles and offsetting 100% of the tour’s greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing and permanently retiring credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange – a “registry, reduction, and trading system” similar to the Montreal Climate Exchange, that allows emitters to “neutralize” their carbon footprints through large-scale sustainability projects.

Reviews of the current tour have been favourable, often commenting on the trio’s newly trim physiques and lauding their unabated vocal form, impressive musicianship and wise musical choices. Setlists are partly chosen by fans – the group has been soliciting requests online for upcoming shows at crosbystillsnash.com – and Nash has found “some surprises” from this, noting “we’re doing about four or five suggestions of stuff we haven’t done in years.”

Special VIP seats are still available online through two charity beneficiaries of the tour, the Guacamole Fund and World Hunger Year.

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SPCA: too many creatures, not enough humans

Chopin and Mozart, brothers, born March 24, abandoned June 2 due to allergies

The SPCA’s foster program has been working hard to save the lives of animals for 20 years, but is currently experiencing a severe shortage of volunteer help. With facilities in Laval, Jean-Talon and the Plateau, there are hundreds of animals that need a home.

“Some animals are abandoned on the streets and our drivers pick them up and bring them to our shelters,” says SPCA worker Dominique Montreuil. “We have the best variety of animals here – young, elderly, male, female, lactating, pregnant, and cats with the flu, all in need of foster homes.”

The foster family’s job is to nurse the animal back to health. Sometimes that means giving medication or force-feeding cats to stop them from becoming anorexic. Though volunteers’ efforts are not always successful, Montreuil says that just having people care enough to try is a reward in itself.

Beige, 2½ years, found on street pregnant

Those who choose to take in a pregnant cat must care for her through pregnancy and labour. Afterwards, the kittens must be cared for until they are two pounds and eight weeks old.

“Fosters have the first choice to adopt,” Montreuil said. “Sometimes they form a bond with the pets and want to keep them.”

Foster care can last from two weeks to two months, depending on the condition of the animal and whether it returns to full health or not.

2 years old, abandoned June 13 due to allergies

“Some people adopt because they want the animal for the long term, but others travel or work, and they prefer to foster,” Montreuil said. “It’s a rewarding experience helping these animals.”

Those interested in fostering can fill out a form at the Montreal SPCA at 5215 Jean-Talon W. One bag of food, a cat or dog book and medication, if necessary, are provided.

Besides fostering and adopting, the SPCA is in acute need of volunteers as counsellors, drivers and officers.

Next issue features the new SPCA and how it’s changed.

Info: 514-735-2711 or spcamontreal.com

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Can you go the Extra Miles?

Developed by the Montreal West United Church following the 1998 ice storm, the Extra Miles program offers companionship and support to housebound seniors living in NDG and Montreal West.

In NDG/Montreal West, seniors represent 16% of the CLSC area’s 67,000 citizens. Reports indicate that although some seniors may suffer from common disabilities affecting mobility, agility, hearing, seeing and speaking, most suffer from loneliness.

Program Coordinator Christine Laberge says, “Extra Miles volunteers bring the outside world into the homes of isolated seniors.” The program is now recruiting new volunteers.

Info: 514-482-3210 or mwuc.org

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Intergenerational oasis

On June 20 le Centre des Aînés Côte-des-Neiges held the 15th Marchethon, its main annual activity aimed at bringing CDN youth and seniors together.

Frederic Back, award-winning Canadian film animator and illustrator of the children’s book L’Homme qui plantait des arbres (The Man Who Planted Trees) was on hand, along with Robert Lebeau, president of the centre, Mayor Michael Applebaum and CDN city councillor Francine Senecal.

Over 50 seniors from the centre and 50 kids from École Felix Leclerc unveiled a plaque and planted an elm in Kent Park, establishing a symbolic meeting space for seniors and youth.

Info: 514-344-1210

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Obama or McCain: who’s best for Canada?

If Canadians were allowed to vote in the American election the result would be a landslide.  According to a Harris-Decima poll, 55 per cent would vote for Barack Obama, only 15 per cent for John McCain.

At first glance, this seems curious. On the one issue that makes many Canadians nervous, Obama is on the wrong side. The issue is the free trade agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and the junior Senator from Illinois has threatened to tear it up. Subsequently Obama has backed off from his tough talk, telling Fortune magazine that some of his trade rhetoric was “overheated and amplified.”

But John McCain’s record in favour of free trade is not something he contrived for the campaign; he’s always held that view.  When he addressed the Economic Club of Canada recently in Ottawa, the Senator from Arizona attacked Obama’s position: “Demanding unilateral changes and threatening to abrogate an agreemement that has increased trade and prosperity is nothing more than retreating behind protectionist walls.”

Almost all Canadians would agree with McCain’s views on trade. So why would almost all Canadians refuse to vote for him even if they could? For one thing, McCain seems to have espoused “voodoo economics” which the current president’s father once accused Ronald Reagan of peddling.  At the same time as McCain wants to increase the size of the armed forces and spend billions to modernize their weaponry, he is also promising to cut taxes – a surefire recipe for more deficits.

McCain’s tax policy illustrates another McCain trait – his ability to flipflop. He opposed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 arguing rightly that they would lead to deficits and were tilted toward the rich. His fellow Republicans attacked him for this so he caved in and now favours making those cuts permanent – and adding to them.

How does McCain propose to spend more and cut taxes at the same time? He says he will do it by cutting “earmarks,” those items of pork that US legislators add to money bills. But they amount to a tiny proportion of federal spending.

Even if McCain’s economic policies made more sense, he would have a hard time. After eight years of Bush lying the country into war and tapping his countrymen’s telephones illegally, 2008 looks like a Democratic year. And the party has nominated a candidate who has the wind in his sails.

Obama is the most engaging and attractive candidate nominated by either party in my lifetime. He epitomizes the multiculturalism so valued by Canadians. As John Ibbitson writes in the Globe and Mail, Americans are thinking seriously about electing a Kenyan-American who has an Indonesian-American half-sister who is herself married to a Chinese-Canadian doctor. So Obama has a Canadian connection.

Perhaps at an intuitive level Canadians understand that the United States (and Canada) need Obama. Recent polling shows that 80 per cent of Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction, a higher number than at any time since polling began.

Whether or not Canadians grasp the specifics of Mr. Obama’s platform, they seem emphatically to buy his message of hope and change.

And so do I, especially after I heard Obama deliver his message at an historic unity meeting in the village of Unity (population 1707), New Hampshire, by the Vermont border.

After driving from Montreal, my friend Jim and I got into the unity rally, where a crowd of 5,000 on a hot sunny day enthusiastically waited the arrival of Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton.

They did not disappoint. Senator Clinton promised that she would help Obama and the Democratic ticket in any way she could. Some of her female supporters, seated around us, nodded their heads when she urged them to back Obama and forget any foolish notion of fleeing to Senator McCain.

Senator Obama reciprocated by assuring the former first lady how much he needed her help and that of her husband too. As the two leading Democrats embraced each other and raised their clasped hands high, the crowd went wild. Their party is now solidly united for change.

There was only one incident that left a bad taste in the mouth. A few yards from where we were sitting, a minor disturbance broke out. I looked around and saw a state trooper hustling away a fiftyish man wearing a National Rifle Association T-shirt. That didn’t bother me but the expression on the man’s face did. It was a narrow face, lips compressed and red with anger. A face to raise apprehension.

After the speeches I got myself down to the rope line and managed to shake hands with Barack Obama. His handshake was firm, his hands rough.

It was a satisfying way to end a splendid day.

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Art Events July 2008

Until September 21, Espace Creation Loto-Québec presents an exhibition by Claude Le Sauteur, who died last year. Curated by the Musée de Charlevoix of La Malbaie, the exhibit features 70 selected works, including a 911S Porsche, which Sauteur used as a canvas. 500 Sherbrooke W.

Until Sunday, September 14, the Museum of Costume and Textile of Quebec presents the exhibition The Bag Knows Why… with numerous loans from museums, private collectors and contemporary creators. The evolution of this accessory is linked to the development of women in society as well as major historical and ideological currents. 349 Riverside Street, St-Lambert, accessible via Highway 132 exit 6 or by bus 6, 13 or 15 from metro Longueuil. Open Tuesday to Friday 10 am - 5 pm and weekends 11 am - 5 pm. $4. Info: 450-923-6601 or mctq.org

Monday, July 14 to Friday, August 15 from 11 am – 7 pm the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery at Concordia presents three concurrent exhibitions. Jake Moore works with images drawn from the natural world to reflect on western culture. Maskull Lasserre’s work addresses notions of class, culture and crafted artifacts. Lasserre’s sculptures resemble, and function to some degree, as mechanical musical instruments. Holly Tingley shows seven paintings that deal with personal identity. 1515 Ste-Catherine W (metro Guy-Concordia). Info: 514-848-2424 x 7962 or fofagallery.concordia.ca

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