Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Trailblazers from the Caribbean had a dream

Loleta Johnson (front row, left), Lyndall Hunte (front, second from left) and Eda Tyrrell (back row, fifth from left) in a photo taken in spring 1955 at the Negro Community Centre on Coursol

Armed only with a youthful sense of adventure and a passionate desire to make a difference, sixteen young women from Barbados stepped off the plane on a wet snowy night in November.

The year was 1955 and Canada had begun the Domestic Immigration Program, offering single women age 21 to 34 from Caribbean countries permanent residency in return for one year’s work as “household helpers” in a Canadian home. Once this obligation was met, they would be free to pursue their dreams of a better life in a new land. The women had no way of knowing then of the strength of character, endurance and courage that would be required of them to realize this dream. They most likely had no idea that Canada’s immigration policies had been hostile to people of colour, deeming them unable to adjust to Canadian society and the cold weather.

A tiny Gazette article heralded their arrival the following day. It described the girls as “shy” but “vastly amused” by the reception they got from then-prime minister Louis St. Laurent and a bevy of journalists and photographers. In part it read: “For many years now, the demand for domestics has exceeded the supply in Canada. But if Canadian girls are not attracted to the job of helping with the housework, the National Employment Service found a different attitude to advertisements in Barbados.”

Loleta Johnson had heard that Canada was a place of opportunity. “I wanted to know the world, and heard on the radio that girls were wanted to work as domestics. I put my name down and got a call. They sent us to take a course in cooking and household management, which, at 23, I already knew how to do.” At the Housecraft Centre, she and other girls were timed performing chores such as cooking, washing and ironing. There she met two other women, Lyndall Hunte and Eda Tyrrell, and lifelong friendships were formed.

Domestic work, with its endless hours and low wages from which air fare (over two months’ salary) and various other items would be deducted, proved to be challenging. “When guests would come for dinner, you’d be in the kitchen long hours then up at 6:30 with the kids. I wasn’t accustomed to this big elaborate house, upstairs and downstairs, cleaning the basement, waxing and polishing and picking up all the toys.” It didn’t help that one little boy she had to pick up from school used to run away from her. “There weren’t many black people around then,” Johnson said.

The women soon discovered the Negro Community Centre, directed by Owen Rowe. It was a place that provided comfort, acceptance, entertainment and social activities difficult to find for a newcomer all alone. Some Montreal restaurants simply didn’t serve black clients and just waited until they “got the message” and left.

Looking for housing wasn’t easy in those days, Hunte recalls. “I walked the street up and down and though there was a sign for a room for rent, they told me there was no room.” Eventually a Jewish man rented her a room, Hunte said. “He was an immigrant too.”

When, after saving carefully for years, Tyrrell made an offer to purchase a house, her real estate agent counselled her not to disclose her tiny annual salary, or she would “never get” the mortgage. “I told a white lie, and got the house,” Tyrrell said of the downtown house she still lives in.

Much of the experience of the women depended on the goodwill of the families they were sent to, since there were no measures in place to protect them from being exploited, says historian Dr. Dorothy Williams. “[Domestics’] labour was owned. Between being an employer and being someone who can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to someone’s future, there is, implicit, the threat of deportation or sexual violence.”

All three women left domestic service early, eventually finding work they enjoyed. Hunte remembers what it was like looking for a job back then. “Eaton’s was not hiring black people. Simpson’s was, but had them out of [the clients’]sight. Years later, they hired [black] girls behind the counter. Many black people worked behind the scenes – you would never know.”

The Domestic Immigration Program lasted until 1967, by which time, in part thanks to Donald Moore and the Negro Citizenship Association, Canada’s restrictive immigration policy had become more open.

Antonia Sealy, a trained librarian, came to Canada in 1961, to further her education. She found it impossible at the time to find employment commensurate with her qualifications. “I was warned by my family it wasn’t going to be a bed of roses,” Sealy said, and it wasn’t. “[Working as a domestic] was the only way you could come here. They promised that you would spend a year with a family and after that you could go and work according to your qualifications. But most jobs I applied for I was told I was over-qualified or I had qualifications but not the experience in Canada. People with high expectations did not do well.”

Some women left domestic service fairly quickly; others stayed with families for decades. Hundreds sent for their fiancés and families, sponsoring and sustaining them, often doing double duty as housewives and breadwinners.

Fifty years after their arrival, these women were honoured by the NCC, the High Commissioner of Barbados, and the Canadian government. As MP Raymonde Folco wrote: “Barbados’ initiative in beginning the discussions, at a time when broad-based immigration from non-white countries was biased, paved the way – today, people from Barbados continue to make significant contributions to our country’s social and economic development.”


What’s Happening February 2009


Saturday February 7 from 10am - 2pm, St. Clement’s Church will hold a book sale at 4322 Wellington. Info: 514-769-5373

Saturday February 7 at 6pm, St. Aidans Church will hold a chicken stir-fry supper and penny fair at 6250 Hamilton. $10. Info: 514-762-9912

Saturday February 14 at 6:30pm, the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch #94 will hold a St. Valentine’s supper and dance at 205 Empire. $13. Info: 450-466-0308

Saturday February 14 from 10am - 2pm, St. Clement’s Church will hold a Valentine, St. Patrick, and Easter sale at 4322 Wellington. Info: 514-769-5373

February 17 and 20 from 9am - 8pm, St. Charles Parish will hold a flea market at 2115 Centre. Info: 514-937-5576


February 21 at 8pm the Single Person Association will hold their Singles Mix and Dance Party. Free line dance lessons will be held at 7pm before the dance at St. Catherine Laboure Church, 448 Trudeau, corner Clement in LaSalle. $12. Info: 514-366-8600

Tuesdays at 7:30pm, The Carmina Choir meets at Unitarian Church of Montreal. New members are welcome. Audio aids are provided to supplement rehearsals. Info: Keith Robinson 514-931-9028 or Brian Brice 514-843-6497


Saturday February 7 at 8pm, Young, Gifted, and Black will perform at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke West as part of a black history showcase. Info: 514-848-4848

Saturday February 7 at 3pm Alaya Sting Quartet will perform at St. Clement’s Anglican Church. Recitals are open to everyone and free of charge. Donations welcome. 4322 Wellington. Info: 514-769-5373

Sunday February 15 at 8pm, Eyal Golan will perform at 8 pm at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall. He was named the best Israeli singer of 2008. $50-$80. Info: 514-941-4450

Thursday February 19 at 7pm, the Yellow Door will host a poetry and prose reading, 3625 Aylmer. $5. Info: 514-939-4173


Mondays in February take the grandkids to meet Caillou and the Innu! at the Biodome. Activites incude storytelling and expeditions through ecosystems and a chance to take a picture with Caillou. 4777 Pierre-de-Coubertin. Info: 514-868-3000 or

Until February 15 Mile End gallery presents an exhibit of art work on the human body called Le Corps Humain. 5345 Parc. Info: 514-271-3383


February 11 to 21 at 8pm, Theatre 314 will present Alan’s Search for the Best Girl in Montreal at 10 des Pins W., Suite 314. A dark comedy full of sex and aesthetics. Alan seeks the ideal woman, but with Mom living under his bed, will he find her? Adults $17 / Students $12. Info: 514-501-3232

Until February 14, Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, Tuesday Night Café Theatre presents Never the Sinner at Morrice Hall, 3485 McTavish. Set in 1920s Chicago, the play focuses on the murder trial of Leopold and Loeb. $8/students & seniors $6. Info: 514-398-6600

Tuesday February 24, McGill Programs in Whole Person Care will screen The English Surgeon, followed by a forum with members of the McGill medical community to discuss the meaning of healing and wellness in daily life. The film will be shown in Moyse Hall, 853 Sherbrooke W. $10/students and seniors $5. Info: 514-398-2298

February 27 to March 7, Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, the Lakeshore Light Opera will present The Gondoliers at the John Rennie Theatre, 501 St. Jean. $16 - $25. Info: 514-804-4900


Gazette labour dispute affects us all

The contract dispute at The Gazette pitting editorial and reader sales and service employees against the paper’s management affects us all. Our community depends on our only English daily for news and commentary on the issues that affect us. Contract talks, however, have reached a stalemate. The main obstacle is the outsourcing of work that local employees have always performed. Canwest Global Inc., the newspaper’s owners, faced with the need to pay the interest on their $3.6 billion debt, want to maintain revenue, and they see centralization as a possible answer.

Last spring, The Gazette transferred much of its reader sales work to a Canwest call centre in Winnipeg. According to customers who have used its services, it is a work in progress.

The paper, without consulting its union, has started the same process in its editorial department by outsourcing over 100 pages a week for pagination, as well as such editorial work as headline writing and picture processing, to a Canwest-owned non-union shop in Hamilton, Ont.

Union fears that the paper will outsource more editing – and even reporting – were exacerbated by a January interview with Bernard Asselin, vice-president marketing and reader sales, by CBC Daybreak’s Mike Finnerty. Asked which jobs Canwest wants to ship outside Quebec, Asselin first said: “It’s not someone from outside the province going to city hall to cover Mayor Tremblay’s press conference.”

Finnerty: That’s not going to happen?

Asselin: Well, not at this point.

Finnerty: Not at this point, or not ever?

Asselin: Not at this point. But you know what? The business model is broken right now in the newspaper industry. We need to look at all the options and be flexible.

The fear is that decisions on the content of our local newspaper will be determined by people who do not reflect our unique anglo-Quebec culture.

We urge readers to express their views to Gazette management.


LA in two days

With the recession in full force, travel is a luxury fewer and fewer of us can consider. This past holiday season I opted to stay home in Los Angeles, which has an average of 263 sunshine days a year. Many of my travelling friends passed through our little house, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, to explore the City of Angels. Five of them visited us, each for no more than two days.

How could I show my friends this massive and sprawling 1,291-km2 city in just two days? We would hit only the must-see attractions – in a very sporty car, a rental of course.

Many people don’t equate LA with beautiful hikes, but the locals take full advantage of them. The trendiest hike in LA might just be the one in Runyon Canyon Park, located in the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains, in the celebrity-rich Hollywood Hills. The easiest and shortest hiking trail opens in the centre of the hills on Mulholland Drive and takes you through breathtaking views of the city from the Pacific Ocean to downtown, about 30 kilometers away.

We zipped through the hills and down Lauren Canyon Blvd., which used to be (and still is, to some extent) the heart of counterculture activity in the 1960s. The street twists and turns down the hill, passing the former houses of legends like Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Wilson, Cass Elliot and Neil Young. It is rumoured that in the late ’60s Jim Morrison lived just behind the Canyon County Store. Not to be missed is the Houdini mansion, which is said to be haunted by Houdini himself.

The Griddle Café on Sunset and Fairfax is where the locals go to see and be seen. A line forms on Sunset Blvd. as early as 9 am on the weekends with people eager for the café’s trademark gigantic buttermilk pancakes. Gluttony is the trend in this diner-style Hollywood breakfast joint. Epic portions are served by gorgeous actors – oops, I mean waiters. The “Yellow Brick Road” pancakes, filled with butterscotch, caramel, and walnuts, are a crowd favourite, while I always enjoy the Chocolate Chip Cookie Crusted French Toast, filled with cookie dough and sprinkled unsparingly with cookie crumbs.

Strolling down Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica

The Hollywood sign is one of Los Angeles’ most famous landmarks. On a clear day it is visible all the way from the beach. We drove up Beachwood Canyon into the winding streets with several “No Access to the Hollywood Sign” signs that seem to be put up just to confuse and deter the tourists. From up close the Hollywood sign looks surprisingly small.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame at Hollywood Blvd. and Vine was next. The walk, with 2000 blank stars embedded in it, was formed in 1953 as part of a Hollywood “facelift.” Now those stars are filled with the names of celebrities, in honour of their contributions to the entertainment industry. Some of the most visited stars are those of the Beatles, Mickey Mouse and Britney Spears.

The Walk of Fame took us to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The theatre is nice, but the real reason tourists flock there is to find out how their hands and feet compare to those of their favourite celebrities. The forecourt holds about 200 sets of handprints, footprints and autographs, along with such prints as George Burns’s cigar and Whoopi Goldberg’s dreads. Some of my favourites are the prints belonging to Shirley Temple, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and ’60s heartthrob Paul Newman.

We bought a Map of the Stars for $6 in a souvenir store along Hollywood Blvd. In my five years in LA I had never seen one before. The map not only indicated famous celebrity houses, but also

locations of famous celebrity scandals, landmarks and even burials. How exciting to find out that William Shatner is my neighbour!

Catching a wave

Next, we drove down Sunset into Beverly Hills. We felt like paparazzi as we took photos of Ringo Starr’s house, Madonna’s house, the Playboy mansion and, of course, the public restroom in Will Rogers Memorial Park where singer George Michael was arrested in 1998 for performing a “lewd act” in front of an undercover policeman – always a crowd favourite.

On Day 2 we headed west. Our first stop was Rodeo Drive, the epicentre of luxury fashion. It spans three blocks from Santa Monica to Wilshire. We began at Santa Monica, hitting Crumbs to indulge in the trendiest treat to hit LA since frozen yogourt – cupcakes. A stroll along the street and you’ll rub shoulders with Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli and Yves Saint Laurent. Make your way south and you’ll end up at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where Julia Roberts worked her magic on Richard Gere in the penthouse suite in Pretty Woman. The $5 hot chocolate at the hotel’s patio café is worth every dollar as you watch the hotel guests return with their Gucci and Prada shopping bags.

West of Beverly Hills, just past UCLA, on a hilltop off Sunset Blvd. with one of the most spectacular views of the city is the Getty Center – a free museum filled with paintings, sculptures and decorative arts. The building is a work of art in itself. It is an architectural landmark made from travertine imported from Italy. Vincent Van Gogh’s Irises is one of the museum’s most famous possessions.

We then drove west to the ocean. Venice Beach, aka Muscle Beach, is a tourist hot spot famed for its circus-like boardwalk filled with street performers, fortune-tellers and tattoo parlours. I, however, opted for a more relaxing walk down Ocean Ave. in Santa Monica.


Congratulations, you’ve outlived your money

As investors belatedly clamour to reevaluate the risk exposure in their portfolios, it may also be time to rethink just how long retirement will actually last in the 21st century.

“You do hear people say ‘I didn’t expect to live this long,’” attests Montreal Financial Security Advisor Stephen Laing of Sun Life, who’s had to put more than a few sobering forecasts into clients’ hands. “The sad fact is that people are already outliving their money.”

Sadder still are those who’d be in good shape were it not for chasing “top performers” – but a serene and evenhanded approach isn’t always an easy sell in a bull market, he contends: “Greed gets in the way of good decision-making – somebody else is getting a better return, grass is greener, plans get put aside...” And as rosier and rosier projections compete for attention, he notes, people start ignoring the proviso that “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Laing takes issue with the way statistics are used to market some securities. “People have to be very careful when they read that kind of information,” he says, pointing out that it’s taken from numbers that represent a snapshot in time – the choicest slice of the performance graph.

A sound and durable strategy, he maintains, will use “very conservative numbers” as a baseline, and map out alternate scenarios, including (especially) dire ones. “Sometimes people need to look at extenuating circumstances, and see what impact it’s going to have on their income or their asset base. Using software we put the dots together, and do a projection, and work out a cashflow for the year. There’s nothing set in stone,” he says. “It’s theirs to do with what they want. But they can see, physically, in their hands, whether they need to worry or not. Sometimes it will mean looking at going back to work to maintain your standard of living.”

The demands on the client are “not too complicated,” he professes, “other than the fact that one should have some idea of how much one needs to live on.” Some arrive with expectations skewed by inexperienced, starry-eyed advice – the kind that says next year’s growth will make up for this year’s capital depletion – and actually have to be reminded: “If you’re taking out money, and not replacing it, over time, when you need it most, naturally, it’s dissipated.”

Investors in this situation, he maintains, need to consolidate into “products that hedge against the downside” with less stock market exposure.

For investors with the opposite problem – too much taxable income from pensions, savings, and other assets – Laing touts a new tax change for RRIF recontributions, allowing investors to put back up to 25% of the mandatory minimum they have to take out for 2008. This government-mandated percentage, based on age, is required to be withdrawn and taxed annually, which he argues “can add up to a substantial amount on income you’re not using.”

The paperwork isn’t ready-made, and Laing advises “writing a letter of direction to the institution, indicating the amount being recontributed, and the certificate or fund or account that’s receiving the money, signed and dated with a cheque,” before the deadline of March 1, 2009.

Stephen Laing can be reached at or 514-866-5811 x 2212.


Church fundraisers unite NDG ‘village’

Several committees are working together to create a haven in NDG, with green space and acivites for all members of the community.

“We want the whole world to be as excited as we are,” says Margo Welford, who is on the honours committee for the restoration of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce church. “The church was one of the central points to bring the community together. We really want to bring it back to what it used to be.”

Welford explains that they want the church to be available to the entire community, not just Catholic parishioners. “We want people to feel like it belongs to them,” so they plan to create events that reach out to everyone – concerts, arts sales and sporting events, among many others. “The sky is the limit,” she says, noting that NDG is a very tightly knit community. “I find that it’s like a little village. I get that feeling at the NDG church.”

“The big thing was growing melons here.” In one of the committee’s brainstorming sessions they decided that it would be fun to have a melon patch on the church’s land. “That’s really bringing it back to its roots. I think that some of the older people who have been here for generations would really get a kick out of that.”

Currently such projects are serving as fundraisers for the renovation and restoration of the church. The government is covering 70 per cent of the money needed, but according to the budget, the committee still needs to raise $100,000 a year, for three years. “We need to do the restoration work, but we want it to stay alive for the future, not just for three years.” In other words, the church is going to continue organizing these events long after the restoration has been paid for.

The work includes fixing the doors, restoring the stained glass windows, recovering the fresco on the ceiling and getting the church to look the way that it did in its prime. “Unfortunately, they’ve covered a dome inside that has artwork underneath. This is something that we would love to bring back.”

“There are three facets to the value of the church,” says Alain Mignot, President of the organizing committee. “The historical value, the architectural value and the environmental value.”

Alain says that the church is an important historical landmark. “It was the first church built aside from the Montreal Parish.” The bones of the first mayor of Montreal are buried in a crypt in the back of the church.

“The architecture is very unique. The stained glass windows were made by Guido Nincheri [1885-1973].” This famous artist specialized in stained glass windows and frescoes. He constructed artwork for churches all across North America.

As for the environmental value, the church has a large terrain. The government is converting the green space into a park that will still be owned by the parish.

“It’s really such a beautiful place and a fun thing,” Welford says. “I’m very excited to be part of this project. I’ve taken it to heart.”


Labour voices lay blame for crisis

While conventional wisdom blames a momentary lapse of reason for the subprime mortgage debacle, Canadian labour is taking aim squarely at the banking system as a whole, characterizing the crisis as simply the latest speculative bubble created by a financial sector run amok.

Canadian Auto Workers economist and Globe and Mail regular Jim Stanford’s latest book launch at the Atwater Library drove the point home with a lighthearted slideshow and Q&A, and no shortage of solutions for the politically brave. The big idea of his new tome Economics for Everyone – bringing banks under state control – may not be new, but it is newly popular.

“The myth is that the profit motive always leads people to do things that are efficient and useful,” Stanford insists. “But it leads people to do things that are profitable, and that’s an entirely different question. We’ve outsourced credit creation to the private banking system, and it’s their aggressive, irresponsible behaviour that created this bubble and previous bubbles.”

“All the regulations that limited how much credit could be created, and what it could be used for, were dismantled over the past 20 years,” he laments. “That allowed banks to securitize debt, which is this very creative process of inventing new forms of assets, like bundled subprime mortgages, where the banker only wants to sign up the borrower, then turn around and sell the debt to someone else. Then globalization spreads each end of the transaction even further apart.”

“It’s mass psychology that drives the whole thing forward,” he contends. “When the banks are too optimistic, we risk having them create too much credit, and when they’re too pessimistic we risk them creating too little.” These factors, he says, and not so-called business cycles, are behind the “speculative bubbles” that have been popped time and again in the past two decades. “The current one was rooted in US real estate, the previous one in dotcom startups – it can be anything. In the 1620s it was Dutch tulip bulbs. Same reason – people simply assumed they could sell them for more than they bought them for. Then when the bubble pops, the whole thing shifts into reverse: all the people who came in to make money because the price was rising, they panic and run for the exits.”

In both cases private lending institutions are prone to irrational overreaction, doing greater and greater economic damage over time due to their inexorably expanding share of economic “activity” – something Stanford and other left economists call “financialization,” referring to the spread of speculative activity (flipping the same assets over and over) at the expense of productive activity (such as issuing a corporate bond to finance new infrastructure).

So is Canada ready for state-owned banks? Stanford offers an unequivocal yes: “The government’s already taking an equity stake in the banks, so it should exercise its rights as a shareholder, for starters.”

Buzz Hargrove, retired CAW head and newly minted part-time professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management, agrees. As with the auto sector, he observes, the Tory government is in the habit of handing over cash to big business with no strings attached. “I’ve been around bargaining a long while and if you give up everything to start out, there’s no pressure to agree to anything. They’ve already got the money.”

Once outside the pale of polite political debate, a state takeover of the banks now sees mainstream media coverage on a regular basis compared to just a few years ago, when right-wing think tank commentators seemed to dominate the airwaves. “You see people like Jim on media panels now, and people from the Center for Policy Alternatives, which definitely wasn’t the case before, so that’s a change,” says Hargrove. But he sees little chance of that shift transferring to Parliament as long as the left remains split.

“If we educate ourselves and organize ourselves,” asserts Stanford, “and we demand change from the system when the system is broken, like previous generations did, we’ll have the means to socialize at least some of the process of credit creation, so we’re not held hostage to the mood swings of the banks.” If it seems like a tall order, he stands unfazed. “I’m a labour economist,” he jokes, “so I’m perpetually optimistic that the right graph can start the revolution.”


Where do 1.6 million stray cats go during the winter?

Catherine Mann’s outdoor cat shelters are reusable

Catherine Mann isn’t just a cat lover, but a cat

activist who’s decided to do something herself to address the never-ending population of stray cats that make Montreal home. The Concordian Online estimated in 2007 that Quebec had an

astounding 1.6 million stray cats, and there

doesn’t seem to be any decline in sight.

“When a cat shows up suddenly looking for food, I know it’s a pet that’s been abandoned,” Catherine says. “It’s not normal for an indoor house cat to be suddenly expected to hunt for food and survive outside.”

Students come and go and leave their cats behind as do neighbours who are relocating. Unlike other feral animals, cats do not make nests or search for housing in preparation for the winter months. Those that do survive reproduce at an alarming rate as females are polyestrus, meaning they can come into heat again and again throughout the year.

“It’ll take a huge combined effort to tackle the abandonment issue here in Quebec,” Catherine maintains. “Providing outdoor shelters and hooking people up to low-cost spay release programs is just one small effort in the process.”

One effort entirely her own is a simple lightweight winter shelter she has designed to be

completely waterproof. “I’ve been building them for eight or nine years,” she says. “I started out with cardboard boxes taped together and covered them with shower curtains for waterproofing.”

Her design has evolved over the years into the present model, which is reusable over multiple

winters. The styrofoam walls are an inch thick and the front panel isn’t glued, making it easy to remove for spring cleaning and refurbishing. All other walls are glued on and secured with drywall screws.

A narrow corridor leads to an interior living space filled with hay. The shelters measure either two or four feet all around, accommodating two or four cats each, although Catherine can make custom orders of any size. They only come in blue, since “pink is the only other colour the styrofoam comes in and it’s very noticeable against the white snow.” Most people prefer them to be inconspicuous, normally keeping them on or under their balconies.

She has fifteen regular customers, and last year sold a total of 50 shelters. “I have customers all over – they come from as far away as the West

Island and the South Shore. I charge people to cover the cost of material only,” she says. “The labour is free.” The small shelter sells for $25, the larger one for $40.

For more info or to place an order, contact Catherine at


Caring for the whole person

We read so much about the isolation and loneliness of the caregiver. Friends tend to disappear, social activities are dropped and the world of the caregiver shrinks. Professionals encourage caregivers to join support groups, a safe place to share difficult experiences. Programs exist to provide respite relief to allow the caregiver to have time outside the smallworld of their home.

But what about the person with Alzheimer’s? Many will argue that home care is the preferred choice and that placement should be avoided if possible. However, in planning to care for a loved one at home, attention must be given to the person’s spiritual, physical, emotional, mental and social needs. Isolation and boredom must be addressed. I see too many people being cared for at home whose physical needs are well attended to but whose other needs are neglected.

Some individuals will sleep more than usual due to the disease, while others oversleep due to boredom. Interests and hobbies of earlier times are no longer appropriate and need to be replaced with meaningful activities. Think about the person’s interests pre-diagnosis: their occupation and hobbies. Incorporate new activities using this information. Someone who handled money may be content to sort coins; a housewife who was often busy doing laundry may find comfort in folding towels. It doesn’t matter whether these tasks are performed well, and activities can be repeated, since the person may not remember them.

I often suggest an activity table. I see beautiful homes in perfect order without anything of interest for the patient. An activity table, with puzzles, large blocks, coins, wool to be rolled, etc., should be on display for easy access. Caregivers may have to deal with having their homes look like day centres, but if a loved one is to stay at home, adaptations become necessary.

Busy caregivers may not have the time or patience to spend one-on-one quality time with their loved ones. Even paid caregivers are kept busy with cooking and cleaning – necessary tasks that take valuable time away from interacting with their client. Physical activity, from simple walking to chair exercises, is vital to keep the body limber. Soft touches like sharing in a game of cards or singing a song together are ways of caring for the “whole” person. Caregiving is an overwhelming job, but keeping up with the activities of daily living is not always enough. Everyone needs to feel meaning and purpose in their day.

If all of this is too much for the caregiver, and it often is, a day centre can be a great solution. Not only does it provide respite for the caregiver, but its trained recreational therapists will also keep your loved one active and stimulated. Day programs provide social interaction not always available at home, where care is often one-on-one. Isolation can lead to depression and apathy.

There are a host of wonderful day programs in Montreal worth looking into. A call to your local CLSC or Alzheimer’s association is a good place to start.

Asking the patient if they want to attend will usually receive a negative reply, so it’s worth presenting the plan in an exciting way, without discussing it too much in advance. Be prepared for some resistance beforehand and take the feedback with a grain of salt. When your loved one reports that they hated their day, did nothing, and didn’t have lunch, get feedback from the group leaders. You’ll likely find that the person participated readily and happily throughout the day.

Comments and questions can be sent to


Flora MacDonald's high altitude humanitarianism

In her two decades since retiring from Canada’s political scene, ex-Progressive Conservative minister Flora MacDonald has not just taken her pioneering expertise abroad, but taken it literally to new heights.

Recently featured in the CBC documentary Flora’s Mission for her development work in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, the now decidedly ex-Conservative MacDonald – who opposed the Harper merger, and recalls having last voted for the Green Party – was on the ground before NATO and before the War on Terror.

“During the civil war, after the Russians were driven out,” she says, “when you had all the different groups fighting with one another, something like two million – mostly men – were killed. It meant a large number of women left behind in the villages. When I went in there at first, it was with CARE Canada, providing food to those many, many widows.”

At the same time, MacDonald was working with Future Generations International, a group specializing in delivering aid to some of the world’s most remote frontiers. “We were working in places like Tibet, Northeast India, and Peru, and I began to appreciate what could be done in these high altitude areas, where not many other NGOs work,” she explains. In her personal effort to expand the group’s reach into Afghanistan, she recruited Afghan-Canadian Abdullah Barat, who features prominently in the documentary story. His roots in Bamyan Province’s Shahidan Valley made it the center of that expansion. “So that’s where we started,” she says, “and we’ve taken over that whole area of work from the international group.”

MacDonald believes the most crucial part of her current project is building the democratic institutions that make development durable.

“We got all the villages we were working in to elect their own local council,” she explains. “Before, everything was run by warlords, or run from the capital. This new approach involves the people in a way they never have been before. Where we find it most important is in health and education, that they have something to say about it.”

“We started with one village, and others saw what this council was doing, and they began to copy it,” she recollects. “Eventually every one of the 72 villages in the Shahidan Valley had their own council, and that system spread to other valleys, so what we got was the basic structure of governance chosen by the people themselves, and that’s very important.”

“Whether it’s getting electricity for a village by installing solar panels, or building aqueducts, or bringing in school programs,” she says, each community setting its own priorities is key. Logistical obstacles often dictate. “To look at some of the photographs I’ve taken for my PowerPoint presentations, you’d wonder how we ever get over the roads,” she marvels. “The flight time from Kabul to Bamyan is 20 minutes. The drive takes 10 hours, down into deep valleys and over high mountains.” She still has to climb in the back of a four-by-four to get around occasionally, and sees firsthand how “one major requirement is road building. Once you build the infrastructure of good roads, you can get a lot more done.”

“One of the first things we had to encourage,” she recalls, was a fundraising drive for a vehicle capable of getting Abdullah and his gear through the harsh terrain. “There are very few trucks of that nature in that province,” she notes, and once found and pressed into service, it became the workhorse of the operation. “So that’s been our vehicle for getting around to take all the supplies that we’re able to deliver,” she says, “whether it’s seeds, notebooks or pens, or whatever we’re able to help out with.”

Besides lacking transport and infrastructure, the communities that Future Generations reaches have their own kind of energy security concerns. “One of the things we desperately need is wood for home heating,” she says, “but we have to grow the trees to do that, so since 2002 we’ve planted about 850,000 trees – fast growing trees like willow,” that are harvestable in three or four years. “It changes the lives of the people when they have greater access to wood. There’s nothing else for fuel. So when I drive into Bamyan Province and see row after row after row of these trees growing it’s great.”

While some progress comes quickly, MacDonald sees other things taking time. There’s a sensitivity required “not to upset the kind of practices they’ve had traditionally,” she says, observing that at social events, for example, separation of men and women is the norm, “and that is not going to change easily. But when they have their councils and begin their planning it’s important – when we’re talking about birth control, for example – that men and women talk about it together.”

“At first it wasn’t easy for Abdullah to get in and answer questions about birth control,” she says. “But, he’s since been married, and has two lovely children, and he’s showing them that two children, if well spaced, is perhaps enough. He’ll talk to them about the things he and his wife talk about. It was difficult for him in the beginning but since he’s gone back to Bamyan he’s really become a leader in making sure that people open up and talk about things.”

If gender divisions are softening in Bamyan Province, the region has coincidentally been as much at the forefront of pioneering women’s leadership roles as the former leadership contender herself. “A year and a half ago in Bamyan Town, when they elected their Shura, for the first time they elected a woman to head it,” recalls MacDonald. “That hadn’t happened before in the whole history of Afghanistan.”

In a country where religious violence is still a lurking threat for every female, she says, “it wasn’t easy for that woman starting out. But when other women in other villages saw what she was doing they began to say ‘we can do it too.’ So now we see more and more women being chosen to be members of the local councils, and they become role models for other women.”

While the relative success of Bamyan is heartening, not every part of Afghanistan is so lucky. “Unfortunately, at the present time the Taliban is spreading. It hasn’t come into Bamyan Province, but it’s in the provinces that you need to pass through” in order to get there, MacDonald attests. “There are about ten provinces in the South and East where the Taliban is a force to be reckoned with. What I’d like to see in the other provinces is more of the kind of work we’re doing in Bamyan, because that’s providing more security – the people choosing what they want to do. It’s a stronger base.” And, she adds, more adapted to the scope of the task: “the Canadian troops in Kandahar and NATO elsewhere, they’re doing a good job, but they’re up against a much bigger force. The kind of work we’re doing with the people, so that they’re not lured away by the Taliban, is equally important.”

She sees that poorly understood in Ottawa. “I’m not happy with the current government,” she says, maintaining “there has to be a lot of change in the way that CIDA [the Canadian International Development Agency] operates. We don’t seem to have any strong ministers in charge, and the government doesn’t seem to be paying that much attention to it.”

When Canadians think of the situation, she says, “they should understand the length of time that these people live,” noting that the average Afghan woman lives to 49, with men just reaching 47.

“Anything we can do to help correct that – to help change that to a much longer, fuller life,” she says, “is worth doing.”

Info on Future Generations Canada is online at


Why can’t I see my grandkids?

Grandparents are sometimes refused access to their grandchildren when their relationship with the children’s parents becomes strained.

The law provides that every decision concerning a child must be taken in the child’s best interests, and protects children’s right to a personal relationship with their grandparents, maintaining that parents must not interfere with that right without establishing a “grave reason” to do so.

However, it also stipulates parents’ duty to protect their children and children’s right to that protection. Where the child’s right to protection comes into conflict with the right to the relationship, a judge must decide what constitutes enough of a “grave reason” to justify parental interference.

When a grandmother petitioned for access to her 11-year-old granddaughter and newborn grandson, the judge interviewed the granddaughter and found her sufficiently mature and intelligent to end the relationship if necessary. In order not to subject the child to a loyalty conflict, the judge fixed exact times of visitation and telephone contact. He also found the new baby too young for contact with the grandmother to be permitted. The factors in rendering this decision were the child’s wishes, age and maturity level, and past relationship with her grandmother.

In another case when a mother stopped the relationship of her 4-year-old son with his grandfather who walked around the house naked with his girlfriend, and occasionally used drugs and could become aggressive, the court decided it was not in the best interest of the child to stay in this milieu, even for a few hours. The decision was that the grandfather’s behaviour constituted a sufficiently grave reason to deprive him of physical contact with the child. The court did however permit limited and specific telephone contact and ordered the mother to refrain from interfering with those calls. This way the judge protected the child while preserving his right to a relationship with his grandfather.

Every case is different, every case is special – but every child has a right to know his or her grandparents.


Plays explore lost worlds at The Segal

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then truth, or one truth, lies in experience. In Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child, now playing at The Segal Centre for Performing Arts, a long lost grandson returns to his grandparents’ home – a rundown farmhouse in Illinois – in search of his past. His family does not recognize him, and the audience is drawn into a web of memory, myth and invention where truth lies in diverging perceptions.

“What’s so interesting in Shepard is the idea of conflicting realities that are equally opposing and both legitimate, rather than “good and bad,” director Peter Hinton says. Describing the work as “Gothic American Midwest drama and part absurdist comedy not unlike (Edward) Albee,” Hinton emphasizes the importance of language in theatre. “Lately we’ve been obsessed with image, on film and television. We have a fascination with images. I’m interested in theatre that returns power to language, that acknowledges myth. I love the idea of keeping your brain really alert and keeping your emotions really engaged. We live in a culture where we’re not asked to be engaged; you can turn off television; but for theatre you have to be really there in the room.”

That Buried Child follows Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is a fortunate coincidence, Hinton says.

“Shepard was a writer who flourished in the ’60s and ’70s in the tradition of Arthur Miller, Williams and Eugene O’Neill, chronicling family life in North America. The audience gets to see the progression of American drama; Shepard is of the next generation with similar issues. “Big Daddy” and “Dodge” are related in some way. You get to see how a different generation handled the “American Dream,” the shortfalls of it and some of the cracks in the exterior of that dream.”

Buried Child by Sam Shepard runs until February 22. Info: 514-739-7944.

Also at The Segal later on this month, Haunted House by Endre Farkas will be presented in a world premiere. The work celebrates the life of A.M. Klein, one of the most important modern Canadian poets.

Born in the Ukraine 100 years ago, Abraham Moses Klein came to Canada fleeing the rampant antisemitism in his country. Though there were no pogroms in Montreal, prejudice shadowed him, even in the Plateau, where he had to endure insults such as “Jew Boy.”

In this portrait of Klein, Farkas explores Klein’s poems, fiction, journals and editorials. Interweaving his own text with Klein’s, Farkas recreates the evocative multi-layered world Klein inhabited.

Haunted House plays from February 18 to March 5. Info: 514-848-9696. The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is at 5170 Côte-Ste-Catherine.

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Comfort food: sin, guilt, lardoons

I write this as I push through a head cold. The appetite is dulled. The diet leans towards liquids and thin flavours: soup over steak, tea instead of coffee, and, above all, comfort foods.

Each of us has a comfort level established long ago. Mine starts with a thick Swiss cheese sandwich on freshly buttered pumpernickel. This brings me back 50 years to the Snowdon Deli, where my father got our weekly Sunday brunch to take home. It took a while because his routine required a long schmooze with the Marantz brothers, who owned the deli, while I was hived off to my own table with a glass of milk and my sandwich.

What else? Oreo cookies, rice pudding, even congee, which is a Chinese rice gruel with pieces of fish or meat and bits of preserved salty vegetables. Some, but not me, revert to Spam or Marmite as comfort foods. Each of us has a couple of dishes to get us through a rough day.

The ultimate comfort food has to satisfy basic requirements. It must be filling. Celery sticks don’t qualify. It must be gratifying in the sense that we are grateful to eat it, which means we probably don’t enjoy it everyday. We save comfort for solace. This also means that it is, perhaps, a private sin. “This is really good,” we think as we eat. “I need it.” It might not be good for me, in terms of nutrition (how much ice cream do I need to feel good?) but it is good for me in the sense that it reaches a deeper level. Comfort food is, at its essence, soul food.

Comfort food is rarely a pure food, in the sense that an apple, a piece of toast or a slice of chicken is a food by itself. Comfort food involves preparation. It brings together different textures and flavours. As we eat slowly,we move through one level to another. While a slice of chicken does not rate high on the comfort food scale, a piece of last night’s roast, still with a crackling skin, warmed just a little,maybe with a bit of grease, salt and garlic to chew on, is much more comforting.

This brings up another point. Comfort food must have fat – melted cheese on toast, the buttery flavour of a good cookie, a dollop of whipped cream on hot chocolate. Fat does two major things: It spreads the flavour around and it helps us feel full. Then there is the sin quotient. If you want a little comfort you might feel a little guilty. Fat gives us that reassurance as well. “I shouldn’t but…it tastes so good.” This is important: Something that tastes good makes us feel better, which is why we seek out comfort foods in the first place.

As the Flavour Guy, my ultimate comfort food keeps changing. Currently it is a Tartiflette – a dish made with cheese, onions, potatoes, cream, and lardoons or bits of smoked bacon. You could layer it, bake it in the oven and present it in a casserole or onion soup dish, but I like it best the way it was recently served to me, ladled from a huge cauldron that was stirred constantly. Here’s a home version: Use a large fry pan, wok or deep cooking dish. For each person, take two medium-sized boiled potatoes (you want them soft but not crumbly), a small to medium-sized onion, and Reblochon cheese. It’s available in Montreal cheese shops, but if you don’t find it, use a good Emmenthal and add a little grated Parmesan.

Heat the pan over medium heat and add enough butter to give it a coating. Add the bacon bits and the sliced onions and cook them until they are soft. You can throw in some finely chopped garlic, too, if you like. Slice the potatoes moderately thin, add them to the pot and cook until they break easily. Add a thick slice of cheese and a tablespoon of table cream (about 15%). Grind a little black pepper over this. Stir slowly until the cheese is completely melted.

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Helping African grandmothers cope with pandemic

When NDG artist Thérèse Lambert heard about the struggles of her fellow grandmothers coping with the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, she didn’t just send a cheque and good wishes.

During the 2006 World HIV/AIDS Conference in Toronto she was inspired by a group of Wakefield grandmothers traveling to raise awareness of the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign. Launched that year, the nationwide effort mobilizes Canadian grassroots support for projects to help African women raising grandchildren on their own.

Given pause at the scope of the crisis, Lambert decided to get involved hands-on. “There are 20 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa,” she relates, “and the grandmothers are left to bring them up because the parents have died of AIDS. It’s appalling, disastrous.” On contacting the foundation she was put in touch with two volunteers who helped her organize a local group. After an initial meeting, the effort garnered some press coverage, “and from then on people started calling,” she says. “So now we’re 16 members. They come once a month and we do fundraising for the foundation. Altogether there’s over 200 groups, and they’ve collected more than four million dollars.”

Among this veritable army of Canadian grannies, Lambert’s team is distinctly energetic. “My girls are terrific – I call them my girls because they’re all younger than me,” she jokes. Besides promoting the campaign they keep in touch personally with the grandmothers they support, sending necessities such as blankets collaboratively hand-knitted in Quebec and assembled in Africa, she says, while trying “to show them solidarity, that we know what they’re going through.”

Their correspondence with the villages they help is sobering. In some areas up to ten percent of children are orphaned by HIV/AIDS, and a whole generation of women have had to take on parenting a second time after having nursed and then buried their own children, often amidst a climate of ostracization and denial.

“They’re afraid to tell people they have HIV – even the kids,” says Lambert. The stigma associated with infection, in a region where transmission and treatment are poorly understood (the recently departed South African Health Minister, for instance, was infamous for denouncing antiretrovirals in favour of beetroot and garlic), ends many patients’ economic lives before the disease takes hold. In areas reliant on subsistence farming, refusal to trade with known infected persons means an even greater burden on grandparents.

“Imagine at that age, having to take care of your children as they die, and then look after your grandchildren, with nothing,” Lambert reflects solemnly, noting the stamina required. “When you get to this age, you still think you’re young. You forget. Sometimes I get up to get moving and I realize, my God, slow down, you just can’t do it! But in my heart I’m still able. It’s not easy to accept it,” she admits. “A lot of people do accept it, they say, but I don’t believe them. It’s such a change in mentality.”

Besides the physical challenges, she sees women of her generation facing similar struggles for respect and recognition across cultures. “Other generations are born and have other ideas, and your way is the way of the past – what you say doesn’t count, it doesn’t apply. People say, ‘things have changed, that was years ago...’ and they stop listening before you finish, and they miss important stuff.” Fighting to assert their voice and visibility is one bond they share, she says. Another is the long-term perspective to maintain the hope and certainty that attitudes can change over time.

Ever on the lookout for new recruits, she’s currently organizing her semiannual “Play Your Own Game” fundraiser – a day for folks to bring their favourite game, socialize, and talk about practical ways to help.

“We’re very active,” she says, “and there’s lots that people can do. I think we’ll have a great turnout.”

The Play Your Own Game fundraiser for the Stephen Lewis Foundation takes place Saturday, April 25 at 4400 West Hill in NDG. Info: 514-487-0258. For more info on Grandmothers to Grandmothers regional groups visit


Westmount theatre group lets loose

“It’s often the most unlikely of people that come,” says Lois Dellar, a working actress who teaches theatre classes at Manoir Westmount. “You give them something to say besides their own words and they’re playing a character so suddenly they’re allowed to do anything and the inhibitions drop away.”

But it goes beyond fun. Dellar saw an NBC news feature on two psychologists who have been doing theatre classes with seniors for 14 years. “They’ve proven it helps cognitive skills, problem solving, self-esteem, and socialization.”

Of course amusement is still the primary objective. “For some of them, it’s the highlight of their week,” Dellar says. “We laugh a lot.”

“Fun doesn’t have to stop because you’re past 21,” Yvonne Moody interjects. Moody is a regular at the Friday class. “Everybody works together well, and Lois is always full of brilliant ideas, so we’re never short of entertainment,” she says.

The class always begins with icebreaker games, which lead to plenty of laughter. The objective of these games is “to keep them thinking on their feet to get the brain and body working,” Dellar says. The warm-up includes memory, improvisation and problem solving games.

Dellar explains that it’s important, when teaching seniors, to cater to their diverse needs. Some of the students are not mobile and others don’t have the capabilities to memorize all of their lines.

“It’s like readers theatre,” she says. “They come on for their entrances and they go off for their exits.” They have their scripts with them throughout the performance but the actors are so animated, you forget that they have the script in front of them.

Her own experience spans theatre productions, movies and TV shows. Recently she was in a movie called Taking Lives with Angelina Jolie. Dellar played the part of a store clerk. “I do a lot of small parts with big stars,” she says. She has also been on TV with main roles in Dead Zone, Millenium, 21 Jump Street, Neon Rider, and The Outer Limits.

Dellar graduated from the Dawson College professional theatre program in the 1980s. Her first role outside of school was in a movie called Jack Knife, where she was in a scene alongside Robert De Niro. “I played a waitress. I come and serve his table. He’s there with Cathy Baker.” Dellar managed to score a picture of herself and De Niro,which apparently was nearly impossible to get. In those days, he refused to have his picture taken.

“Right now we’re working on some skits my husband wrote.” Dellar says the great thing about having original scripts is being able to tweak them. “They’ll say, 'Oh that’s funny!' or 'Oh that’s a little too risqué. Maybe we should tone that down a little bit.'” The other up side of having Her husband, James Melvain, writing the scripts, is the flexibility to add a character if a new resident joins the group. Because Melvain takes the time to come to class and get a feel for the personalities of the actors, the parts are tailored to each individual.

Dellar can’t help but brag about her husband’s success. “He’s an up and coming writer and he writes all my stuff!”

Moody also likes Melvain. “Lois’ husband is quite clever. He writes really amusing sketches. He sees us working so he knows our personalities.”

John Byers, one of three men in the group is fond of the characters that he plays. He’s happy that the group only performs comedic plays. “Last play, I was an adventurer. I was trying to address everybody on the ship and somehow I couldn’t because they kept interrupting me. I was so interesting but they wouldn't let me talk!”

Dellar says he had one of the best lines in the play. “And then you decided to go after the woman who was the tennis champion because you figured she had millions in sponsorships. And he said, ‘I think I’d like to million you—I mean marry you!’”

Byers enjoys the residence activities but he does have one complaint about his accommodations. “My problem is that there are 112 women and 13 men. So I’ve got to defend myself. I got a new battery for my pacemaker so that’ll give me the strength to ward them off!”

Dellar says that she loves acting but also has a passion for teaching. She says she laughs all the way home. Moody also laughs throughout the class. She believes this is a chance to break the ice with her fellow residents provide a place where they can let loose. “I suppose we’ve all got a little bit of exhibitionist in us.”

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Unplanned stop in Thessaloniki kicks off Greek island hop

We arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece, at 7 am, and had expensive cafés au lait ($5) while waiting for the travel agencies along the port to open. We thought we’d hop a cruise to some Greek Islands the next day.

At 8:50, one travel agent opened her doors to us. Early bird Christina Jeirani of Overseas Travel greeted us with a sleepy smile and began to process our desires, travel wise. We had decided to loosen the purse strings and try our first cruise.

After years of avoiding cruises, we resolved that sleeping on a ship and cruising around the islands would be just what we needed after the walk into Macedonia from Albania, and all those buses, trains and ferries. We wanted to have a few days without worrying about where we were going to sleep and eat.

Christina found a seven-day island hop with Easy Cruise that included Bodrum, Turkey, as well as several Greek islands, for 500 euro (about $800) with half board. Later we discovered we had probably over paid a bit because this was no luxury cruise. But that’s a story for the next issue.

We actually breathed a sigh of relief at the price, thinking it would be much higher. Not so easy! Cruises don’t leave from Thessaloniki! We would have to get to Athens and depart from Piraeus (the port).

Christina booked us a hotel in Thessaloniki, the Mandrino, for 65 euro. After checking in, we took a bus three or four stops to the railway station, where we were informed that the only seats available to Athens 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 asked Christina to get us a hotel in Piraeus, which she did – for another 89 euro. But better safe than sorry in Athens at 11:30 pm, right? This is the downside of last-minute plans, but we wouldn’t trade such freedom for the world – of bookings.

We then asked Christina for an interesting restaurant, since we hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. She, after a giggling session with her friends, sent us to Ouzo Medathron. Everyone knows it, she said, because the food is exquisite. And it was! It’s in a fun courtyard full of hungry, happy Greeks, downing every imaginable variety of mussels; sardines, not the canned variety; anchovies, the real thing; all sorts of meats and truly marvelous Greek salad. It was all topped off with ice cream and strawberry or chocolate syrup on a bed of baklava strings sprinkled with honey and espresso, for – nothing! “Well,” Irwin says, “The dessert and coffee are complimentary!” What a joyful experience – especially when we got spritzed with the mist that was ingeniously connected to a fan, for a little relief from the stifling heat.

The next morning we waited for the Jewish museum to open and when it did we spent an hour and a half marvelling at the growth of the wonderful community of up to 70,000 Jews who first settled in Thessaloniki 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, seniors’ homes, libraries, orphanages – until the Nazis brutally and systematically devastated the community, transporting all but a few Jews to Auschwitz after destroying the cemetery and humiliating and tormenting the men. We saw the deportation order telling the people there would be food waiting for themand to pack all their jewellery and valuables. The museum has a small library and bookstore with several publications about the community.

Thessaloniki, as we discovered during our unplanned 24-hour stay, has a charm all its own. It was our introduction to a bustling Greek city, which was full of friendly shoppers. We discovered cheaper and nicer hotels on the same street as the Mandrino, and we’ll stay in one of them next time. No reservations seem to be necessary in this city – just the way we like it.

That evening, after packing burekas and tomatoes purchased from a nearby grocery, we got on the train for Athens. The next afternoon we would board our “Easy Cruise” and begin an adventure like none we had ever known, starting with the Greek island of Kalymnos.

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X marks the spot in chiasmus

“People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power.” – Bill Clinton

“A lawyer starts life giving $500 worth of law for $5, and ends giving $5 worth for $500.” – 19th century U.S. Attorney-General Benjamin H. Brewster

Welcome to the symmetrical world of chiasmus. Chiasmus is defined by The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as “a figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of two parallel clauses is reversed in the second. This may involve a repetition of the same words (“Pleasure’s a sin, and sometimes sin’s a pleasure”– Byron) or just a reversed parallel between two corresponding pairs of ideas.”

Chiasmus (pronounced kye-AZ-muss) is named after the Greek letter chi (x), indicating a “crisscross” arrangement of terms. One can literally mark many chiastic expressions with an X. Take Mae West’s contribution to this genre:

It’s not the men in my life

It’s the life in my men

Certain chiastic statements such as “all for one and one for all,” and the shortened Cicero quote “eat to live, not live to eat” are word palindromes. The rhetorical elements of chiasmus are always rendered in palindromic order, seen in the above Mae West quote. In Genesis 9:6, we have a longer structure: “whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed.”

Chiastic statements appear to reveal hidden truths and are thus popular in Biblical writing: Aside from the Genesis 9:6 quote, other examples include “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18) and “many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30). According to The Literary Guide to the Bible edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, chiastic structure is built into Biblical Hebrew.

Physicist Nils Bohr said: “There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.” Rhetorical devices are useful in exhibiting Bohr’s point. Oxymoron is sometimes erroneously defined as a contradictory expression. A true oxymoron, such as Shakespeare’s “sweet sorrow,” or Milton’s “darkness visible” is a rhetorical device, where the seeming contradiction involves a point. Chiastic transpositions can be similarly employed. Take the French proverb “love makes time pass, time makes love pass,” or Ernest Hemingway’s fondness for asking people which of these two statements they preferred: “Man can be destroyed but not defeated,” or “Man can be defeated but not destroyed.”

Chiasmus can also be employed as a form of wit. Humour that uses incongruity often uses chiasmus, especially with implied statements. Oscar Wilde was a master at this type of transposition. Some of his classics are: “work is the curse of the drinking class” (parodying “drink is the curse of the working class”) and “life imitates art far more than art imitates life,” and “the English have a miraculous power of turning wine into water.”

Other implied chiastic quips include Mae West’s “a hard man is good to find” and “a waist is a terrible thing to mind,” Groucho Marx’s “time wounds all heels,” and the amphibian philosopher Kermit the Frog’s observation that “time’s fun when you’re having flies.”

This type of transpositional humour can also be used in defining matters. A hangover has been described as “the wrath of grapes” and a critic who provides a harsh opening night review is said to have “stoned the first cast.”

The rhetorical elements need not even be whole words. Two of my favourite examples of chiasmus are of this genre. There’s Randy Hanzlick’s song, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than have a frontal lobotomy” and an Edwardian toast that went “Here’s champagne for our real friends and real pain for our sham friends.”

It is only appropriate that Bill Clinton should utter a great chiasmus, as he was the subject of one in a contest held some years ago by The Washington Post. In reference to the Monica Lewinsky debacle, here was the winning entry:

Bill Clinton before: “I don’t know how I can make this any clearer.”

Bill Clinton after: “I don’t know how I can clear this with my Maker.”

Howard Richler's latest book is Can I Have a Word With You? He can be reached at


Holiday efforts keep Sun Youth busy

Many volunteers, including the Coutu family, helped Sun Youth during its annual Holiday Hamper distribution this season, which saw 18,000 people receive non-perishable food baskets and new toys.

While most staff and volunteers got some well deserved time off, the Sun Youth Emergency Services first responders (along with the Red Cross) were called to fire scenes 18 times over the holidays to provide food, medication, and other assistance to victims, a vast majority of whom lose everything they own with no insurance.

In other seasonal efforts, Sun Youth has been working in collaboration with the Quebec Heating Oil Association (AQCM) for the past 17 years to provide free heating oil to families who can’t afford to fill up their tanks. After a financial evaluation, Sun Youth contacts one of the participating oil distributors to send a delivery truck to fill half of the family’s oil tank, free of charge. In the first week after the launch of the program, six families had received heating oil and thousands of litres had been donated by the various oil companies.

On a different note, the Sun Youth Food Bank will be kicking off its Senior Food Supplement programs starting in February. Senior Food Giveaways will take place February 2, March 2, April 6, May 4, June 1, September 7 and October 5. Senior Kosher Food Giveaways will be on February 5, March 5, April 2, May 7, June 4, September 3 and October 1. In December, we will hand out Christmas and Chanukah hampers.

From everyone at Sun Youth, thanks to all for your support and all the best for 2009!


Go stuff your new model

It’s hard to go through a long Montreal winter without a break. The short days, lack of sunlight, traffic congestion, and alternating snow storms and ice storms have turned me into a bad-tempered monster.

The never-ending news of a devastated economy, steadily rising unemployment and scary wars hasn’t helped. To keep this winter of discontent from getting the better of me I treated myself to a new turntable and immersed myself in my beautiful collection of LPs, CDs and hardcover books.

What a difference there is between a CD and an LP! A CD, sophisticated and perfect as it may be, is a cold and impersonal object. An LP on the other hand emanates warmth – just taking it out of its jacket, placing it and watching the needle move to the first track is more pleasing than shoving a CD into its slot. It’s fun to catch what’s written on the label while it turns. The imperfections on my LPs do not bother me because I remember where to expect them.

An early recording of Pavarotti and Freni performing in La Bohème conducted by Herbert von Karajan is a gem. Pavarotti had just sprung onto the scene with that magic voice. Among my opera LPs are many that include beautifully illustrated libretti by famous artists.

Some chamber music and symphony recordings contain scores and histories, comments and critiques by musicologists. Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro is another one of my cherished treasures – and my favourite opera. But there is also Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Glenn Miller, Louis, Ella and others to revive the “good old days” when popular music was less noisy and more romantic.

The first supposed innovation after the LP was the cassette tape, not much of an improvement, for one thing because tapes have a tendency to stretch and slacken. The CD, I was recently informed, is already outdated – downloading on iPods is the in thing now. I once held one in my hand and knew I’d never manage to handle it, nor do I want to. If I understand it correctly it means that everything now happens in cyberspace: Just plug in and that’s it! Objects plugged into my ears irritateme, even earrings. I have enough trouble with those gadgets on airplanes and get them regularly entangled in the crevices of my narrow seat.

My LPs are as precious to me as are my hardcover books. The print is better and larger than in paperbacks. I like to handle a hardcover book and feel the superior paper it’s written on, even if it takes up more space on my shelves.

My grandsons can fix my gadget problems in two minutes flat. I hate to ask them because it makes me feel foolish. Before they leave my house they ask “are there any technological problems to be solved before we leave?”

I hope to get away without having to study further technological improvements that only seem to frustrate me and waste my time and energy. I want to sit back and relax, enjoy myself, and not complicate my life with the latest models of anything, including the phone!


Rendez-vous a veritable cine-feast

Those who missed the touching love story Adam’s Wall by Michael McKenzie the first time around will get another chance at the 27th edition of the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. Beginning February 18 and ongoing until the end of the month, many cinematic genres will be showcased, including feature fiction, documentaries, animation, short films and more.

The mission of the Rendez-vous is to promote Quebec film within the province, the country and internationally, creating cultural bridges to audiences while stimulating the local film industry. Of the hundreds of films that will be screened, over 150 will be in English or with English subtitles.

The documentary Black Wave, The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez, chronicles the 1989 massive oil spill and what happened after the media went home.

Mohawk filmmaker Tracey Deer looks at culture and identity in her film Club Native while Korbett Matthews treats us to beautiful desert images and a hypnotic soundtrack in The Man Who Crossed the Sahara, the story of Canadian filmmaker Frank Cole and his attraction to the sea of sand where he was eventually murdered.

Screenings take place at six venues: the Cinémathèque Québécoise, the NFB Cinema, Cinéma Beaubien, Cinéma du Parc, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and the Grande Bibliotheque. Whether you go to the movies to learn or to be entertained, this celebration of Quebec cinema, the grandest to date, will not disappoint.

Info: 514-526-9635 or

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Fear versus free speech

During the bloody Gaza invasion, despite broad support in Israel, several voices in the Jewish community questioned the scope of the operation, with estimates of up to 1,300 Palestinian casualties.

The exact figure may never be independently verified but its horrific nature brought many thoughtful Israelis to question Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. One of these is Jeff Halper, co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, who was booked by Independent Jewish Voices – a coalition of Zionists, non-Zionists and anti- Zionists – before the incursion began.

Three days before the speech was to be held, Federation CJA cancelled, saying another group that heard about the talk had asked to hold its meeting at the same time in the same centre. Concerned about possible conflict, all Federation CJA President Marc Gold had to do was say the group could hold its meeting on another night. Instead he cancelled the Halper talk, which was rescheduled at the Unitarian Church of Montreal. Gold said that with the community on heightened security alert, there were no resources available to beef up security.

This decision was wrong. There is considerable debate in Israel and here about what is in the state’s best longterm interest to come to terms with its neighbours. These views deserve to be heard. The Gelber Centre should be open to all viewpoints of Jewish interest, especially during times of crisis and by an Israeli whose topic was “Peace in Israel? Peace in Gaza? Yes We Can.”


Retrospectives for the future

Lifelong biography aficionado Christian Aubert has lived to see technology revolutionize the accessibility and longevity of his work.

“I grew up before TV,” he recalls. “We spent a lot of evenings around the table, with me always asking my mom and dad and grandparents what it was like when they were kids.”

Curious about the predecessors he never got to know, he’s long regretted the loss of family stories and memorabilia to the ravages of time.

“Most people probably don’t even know the names of their great-great-grandparents,” he laments. “A lot of people do family trees, and put in a lot of effort... but in the end there’s names, places, dates, very little in between. A lot of time is spent preparing photomontages set to music and that kind of thing... but within a couple of generations, they’re just people – you don’t really know who they are.What I like to ask people is: what if those people could talk to you?What would you like to know about your own great-great-grandparents? We like to say we give life to that family tree.”

It wasn’t long ago, he notes, that “only the most fortunate” had the means to produce and archive a video memoir of their own, while the traditional written memoirs and photo archiving prove “too daunting for most people,” according to his experience. But now, technology has put the tools within reach of everyone. “I started about seven years ago with biographies, and shifted more and more to video,” he says. Aside from the logistical improvements (interviews are typically filmed over a full day or half day), “you literally see who the person is – you transmit more than the words.”

He stresses the value of shared characteristics that are lost on paper: “You see their essence, pick up their body language, hear their voice. Also, we find it’s important to do [the interview] in their mother tongue – with subtitling if necessary – so besides helping communicate we can maintain a bit of the cultural heritage.”

Finished bios run mostly between three and five hours,with the longest clocking in at over seven, according to Aubert’s recollection. Of the editing process, he says, “So far, everybody leaves in everything.”

“This isn’t an interview that has to fit into an hour for the Biography Channel,” he jokes. “You get the whole thing.”