Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Torture is morally repugnant, unjustifiable

May, 2009

The shock engendered by 9/11 and other terrorist actions has shaken the moral fibre of Western nations and weakened the basic pillars of our liberal democracies: innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, freedom from torture, the right of any suspect to be indicted after 24 hours or released from custody. Debate is swirling in the United States about whether charges should be laid, or at least a public inquiry held in to the way the country has interrogated terror suspects. World opinion, and that of this newspaper, is clear on this issue.

As stated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it is against international law to inflict “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” to obtain information or a confession. Canada ratified the convention and allows individual complaints to the UN, while the US has signed but not ratified it.

The debate was reignited last month when US President Barack Obama released so-called torture memos, outlining harsh interrogation techniques sanctioned by the George W. Bush administration. These include: water boarding, simulating the sensation of drowning; placing a harmless insect in a suspect’s confinement box and telling him it would sting; sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours; confining a detainee in painful positions. Obama banned these practices his first week in office.

Then there is the system of extraordinary rendition, where a suspect is apprehended and transferred to another country so that “torture by proxy” can be carried out. Shamefully, Canadians are not immune to this practice. Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was arrested in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, based in part on incomplete and unverified information supplied by the RCMP about his alleged links to Al-Qaeda. Twelve days later he was flown to Syria, where he was beaten, tortured and forced to make false confessions. He has since been cleared of any terrorist links or activities, and the Canadian government has apologized for any role Canadians may have played in the ordeal and awarded him $10.5 million in compensation.

Among the painful lessons to be learned here is that detainees will say virtually anything under torture in the hope it will stop. Professionals understand the limited value of information obtained under these circumstances, and we all should be concerned about embarking on that slippery slope that erodes our values.

In Canada, nobody was singled out for blame or punishment in the Arar affair. And we have watched in amazement as Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian of Sudanese origin, has been forced for the last year to sleep in the foyer of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum– and pays for the privilege – because he’s on a no-fly list. On a visit there to see his ailing mother, he was imprisoned and tortured, apparently on the recommendation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. In spite of the torture – he has shown visitors the physical scars as evidence – and what he may have said, both CSIS and the RCMP have advised the Harper government they have no reason to believe Abdelrazik is a terrorist. He has also been cleared by the Sudanese secret service. CSIS insists it does not arrange for the arrest of Canadian citizens overseas, despite documentary evidence from Foreign Affairs to the contrary in this case.

US President Obama has absolved CIA operatives who used torture tactics, but debate is still swirling as to whether those in the administration who sanctioned these methods should be held accountable, or at least examined in a public inquiry. CSIS has offered to take part in a similar inquiry into its role in the Abdelrazik affair. We believe both are necessary. Public officials involved should be granted immunity from prosecution so the issue of aiding and abetting torture for any reason can be aired. We support giving our intelligence services in Canada the resources they need to protect our society from conspiracy to carry out terrorism. But that must not include licence to torture, which goes against the fundamental principles of rule of law, is morally repugnant and plainly intolerable under any circumstances.


Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre at 50: Le Chayim!

May, 2009

While she lived, Dora Wasserman (1919-2003), founder of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, believed in tomorrow. “She always said ‘what was – was’ and that you have to focus on the future,” recalled her daughter Ella Wasserman. Though she resides in Israel,Ella was summoned to Montreal by her sister Bryna, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of their mother’s labour of love.

“What better way to honour Dora than to assemble the five existing Yiddish theatres of the world,” said Bryna Wasserman, now artistic director of the award-winning theatre.

Dora Wasserman in 1955

In a bouquet of firsts, The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival, beginning June 17, will feature 36 events over nine days, including theatre performances, concerts, exhibits, films, and lectures. “It will be the first ever international Yiddish theatre festival that has an academic side to it, where practitioners and scholars are brought together with everyone being asked to participate in the entire festival,” Bryna said.

Invited Yiddish theatres from Poland, Romania, France, Israel and the US will each present a main stage performance as well as a second, “more cutting-edge,” production. Of special note are an anticipated reunion of Yiddish Theatre “alumni” (anyone who’s ever had anything to do with Dora’s theatre in the past) and an exciting multi-media outdoor event on June 21 in the park behind the Segal Centre, organized by the third generation of performers, the Young Actors for Young Audiences (YAYA), in a special welcome to the community at large.

Lies My Father Told Me 1984 Philip Goldig & Benji Gonshor

A larger cause for celebration, Bryna said, is that the Yiddish language has survived its “tormented” history. “[The festival] is a very strong statement of survival; we’re looking at the past with the intention of creating a future.”

In the early part of the 20th century, Yiddish, the language of European Ashkenazi Jews, was spoken by 18 million people, but it was nearly decimated by the Holocaust. Now there is renewed interest in the language that originated between 900 and 1100 C.E. and whose roots, for many, reach into the very heart of Jewish identity (the word Yiddish means Jewish). Yiddish studies are now taught in major universities, including Columbia, Oxford and McGill.

King & The Cobbler

“Yiddish is a very interesting language,” says Howard Richler, author of several books on language. “Originally it was the women’s and children’s language in the shtetl, while Hebrew was the language of the men studying in the synagogue. Virtually every Yiddish term you could think of is in the Oxford dictionary. Yiddish words are fun, very onomatopoeic [their sound evokes their meaning], and you may not have an exact word in English that would express some concepts.”

Writers like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Sholem Aleichem who write in Yiddish and performers like the young people nurtured by Dora and now Bryna Wasserman continue to make the language – and the culture from which it is inseparable – accessible outside the ivory towers.

Ben Gonshor and Elan Kunin in On Second Avenue

Like Dora, Bryna sees the theatre’s role in keeping the Yiddish heritage alive as central to its existence. “One of our missions is the survival of the language,” she says, “to keep it vibrant and in the forefront.”

Singer, a Nobel-prize winning writer, was not worried about declining Yiddish audiences. “The leaves are falling, but the trunk and roots always stay. It looks bad but our situation looked bad already 3,000 years ago,” he once said in an interview.

Preserving Yiddish is imperative now, but just as the language borrowed freely from other languages – perhaps accounting for its richness of expression – Yiddish theatre has historically adapted and produced great works of literature from various cultures. “It’s important to maintain and tell our stories, culture and song, but also to interpret literature from a Jewish point of view,” Bryna said.

Michel Tremblay’s Les Belles Soeurs was one of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre’s earliest productions. The playwright called it one of the best interpretations of the play in a foreign language.


Dora is remembered as artistically demanding and infinitely loving, doing whatever was necessary to advance the cause of her great love, theatre. “By the sheer force of her charisma, we were all her children,” one longtime participant, Shirley Gonshor, once said. Dora had no qualms about bribing (and ultimately inspiring) budding young performers with French fries and hot dogs, or adapting and staging, without permission, Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work. After meeting with her, the great writer was charmed, and gave her – the only person in the world so privileged – carte blanche to carry on.

Yiddish Theatre continues to attract non-Yiddish actors and audiences, a testament to Dora’s belief that its universal appeal extends beyond any one element. “Theatre has nothing to do with language. If language is the problem – it’s not a problem. If a play is good, you will feel it.”

The Montreal International Yiddish Theatre Festival runs from June 17 to 25. All Yiddish performances have English and French super-titles. For information, call 514-739-7944 or visit

Howard Richler on keeping languages alive.


Retirement: a time to climb to new heights

May, 2009

Donald Flam and his wife, Randi Greenberg Photo: Martin C. Barry

A 65-year-old man who is taking part this month in an expedition up Mount Everest demonstrates how some retirees continue to enjoy physically challenging activities.

“Before I made the decision to get involved in this adventure to go to Mount Everest, I didn’t really work out or do much exercise,” says Donald Flam, a Hampstead resident.

“Your choices are to stay at home and vegetate and mentally grow old fast, or do some physical activity. It’s difficult not to dream about going on such an adventure. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined not only having this opportunity, but being capable of doing it.”

Flam is going to Everest as part of a group of 25 people who are raising funds through donor pledges for the Make-A-Wish children’s foundation. He is the oldest member of the group. Make-A-Wish hopes to repeat the success of their 2007 expedition, when another group of climbers reached the summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Located in the Himalayas, Mount Everest is situated between Nepal and Tibet. A seasoned professional climber will lead the group up the world’s highest mountain. After answering an advertisement in a local paper, Flam spoke with the guide, who assured him he’d be able to endure the trek, which is only to the 17,000-foot base camp, and not to the summit of the 29,000-foot Mount Everest.

Flam is remarkably fit even though he never bothered much with physical activity till he turned 60. “I was always careful about my diet,” he says. “By nature I am slim. I was never overweight. But I guess when you get to be closer to 60 and you go to the doctor every year you start getting concerned about your health. I became more conscious of what I was doing and I did start to do some walking around. But never would I in my wildest dreams have thought that I could undertake such a venture.”

Before committing himself about eight months ago to the trek, walking was his principal mode of exercise. “I’d walk on a Saturday or Sunday for an hour-and-a-half,” he says, adding that he increased his level of activity during annual winter vacations in Florida.

“There’s no question that if you do any kind of physical activity, it’s good, not only for your body, but for your mental well-being.

“At 65 you do get some aches and pains,” he adds. He recently received a clean bill of health and his doctor’s OK to go on the trip.

While Flam had some exposure to outdoor living in his youth, he’s done nothing comparable to what lies ahead. The training he’s undergone in preparation has included a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, scaling Mont Saint-Hilaire, and climbing the back of Mont Tremblant, which took nine hours despite its minuscule stature compared to Everest. There have been five major treks altogether.

“Part or the reason you do the treks is to learn some climbing techniques,” Flam says. “The other reason for these full-day treks is to get to know your climbing companions. We’ll be gone for 21 days, of which 17 involve severe climbing up to the base camp.” He’s aware that oxygen starvation will be the greatest concern as the climbers get closer to their destination.

How does his wife feel about her husband going off on such a demanding adventure?

“I’m the athlete in the family, the one who climbs and jogs and does boot camp,” she says. “But when he decided to do this, I said ‘okay’, and there were times when in the back of my mind I said ‘he’s not going to do it.’ But slowly I saw that he was persevering and he is going to. I think it’s just great – and it’s for a great cause.”

Flam says he’ll be relying on mental strength as well as his physical prowess. He’s paying nearly $9,000 out of his own pocket for the adventure, and he’ll be raising about $14,000 in pledges for Make-A-Wish. His group aims to raise more than $250,000 altogether. For more information or to pledge a donation, visit the expedition’s website at dia/news/read/1006


The glass of language can be replenished

May, 2009

There are approximately 50 native languages in Canada and many linguists say that only three – Inuktitut, Ojibwa and Cree – are likely to survive this century.

But language rejuvenators take heart as language prognosticators enjoy a spotty record. Referring to the improbability of being able to revive Hebrew as a vernacular in the 20th century, scholar Simon Bernfeld wrote at the turn of the century: “To make the Hebrew language a spoken tongue in the usual sense of the word is … impossible. It has never occurred in any language.… A broken glass can no longer be put back together.” May 14 marked the 61st anniversary of the State of Israel, and so far the Hebrew glass shows no signs of shattering.

Bernfield was espousing “common knowledge.” Theodore Herzl, the father of Zionism, and Nathan Birnbaum (coiner of “Zionism”) didn’t believe the vernacularization of Hebrew was really possible in the foreseeable future. Time has proven these men wrong. How did this happen?

With the expulsion of Jews from Israel in 70 A.D., the everyday usage of Hebrew faded and was replaced by Aramaic and Greek. Although Hebrew stopped being a vernacular, it retained its position in Jewish communities as a language of study and prayer. Jews in the diaspora commonly used Ladino, the traditional language of Jews of Spanish descent, or Yiddish, for internal communication, and a non-Jewish vernacular for external communication. There were occasions when two Jews from different areas might meet who could communicate only in Hebrew. A Jew from Morocco (who didn’t speak Yiddish) might meet a Jew from Russia (who didn’t speak Ladino). These encounters, however, were rare.

The revival of a language that has ceased being used as a vernacular is a rare event, but Hebrew was not so much revived as revitalized. Hebrew was on the threshold of speech, having only lost its position as the language of the market place. There were several factors that influenced its renaissance. The Jews of Palestine wanted to break ties to the diaspora and a distinct national language was necessary to effectuate this divorce. Although English, French and German were common languages, none of them was dominant enough to stymie Hebrew’s resurgence. Hebrew’s main rival, Yiddish, never seriously challenged the predominance of Hebrew for many of the secular Yiddishists were anti-Zionist and didn’t immigrate to Israel in large numbers. Hebrew was thus able to fill a void by serving as a common vernacular to all the Jewish communities in Palestine. The Hebrew language was also blessed with many texts with varied Hebraic styles.

The person most associated with the revitalization of Hebrew was Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who left Europe in 1881 to live in the cramped quarters of Jerusalem. Both he and his wife shared a burning enthusiasm for the promotion of Hebrew. They established a policy in their home that Hebrew was the only language one was permitted to speak. Any visitor who could not speak Hebrew was forced to resort to gestures in order to communicate. Thanks in large part to Ben Yehuda’s zealousness, writer Robert St. John says it is now possible “for several million people to order groceries, drive cattle, make love and curse out their neighbours in Hebrew.”

Ben Yehuda coined the word et-on for newspaper by an adaptation of the phrase michtav-et, “a letter of the time.” A dictionary had previously been referred to as sefermillim, “book of words” and Ben Yehuda used the Hebrew word millah, (word) as a base and created the word millon to refer to a dictionary. The youth of ancient Judea lacked bouncing balls and when Ben Yehuda saw his son playing with a ball, the lad apparently uttered a sound like cadurr, hence a ball in Hebrew became kadur. He also coined the word dagdegan, “clitoris” from the root dagdeg,“to tickle.” Not all of Ben- Yehuda’s neologisms, however, caught on. For example, his word for tomato, badura, was rarely voiced outside the Ben-Yehuda kitchen, and Hebrew speakers’ word for tomato is agvania. Similarly, although the official Hebrew word for sandwich is karich, you’ll be probably served faster at a Tel Aviv restaurant if you ask for a “sendvich.”

Although other attempts at reviving a language, such as Maori and Irish, have been hampered by a lack of widespread knowledge of the written language, no case is hopeless. Linguist Kenneth Hale says even though there aren’t any speakers of Mohican, “you could take books and deeds published back in the 1600s, and from what we know about comparative Algonquin, you could figure out pretty closely what it sounded like. People could learn it and begin to use it and revive it.”

Israeli scholar Naftali Tur-Sinai stated, “even an artificial language which has never been alive, such as Esperanto, can be made to live, if only there is a recognized need for it and a stubborn will of people to make it come alive.”

Happy 61st birthday, Israel. Howard Richler’s latest book is Can I Have a Word With You?


Residence certification program on track at CSSS Cavendish

CSSS Cavendish is ahead of schedule upgrading professional services offered at nearly two dozen West End Montreal private senior citizens residences, in compliance with provincial health ministry regulations, an official says.

The local health and social services agency, which oversees 24 private seniors residences in its territory, has been participating in a wide-ranging certification program. The overall goal is to improve a range of measures for health and security needs at the residences by mid-June.

In the fall of 2005, Quebec announced the action plan, meant primarily to improve conditions for seniors with reduced autonomy. As of last week, a few homes in CSSS Cavendish’s territory were still in the process of completing the certification process.

“We certified some in March and April,” said Joanne Besner, a CSSS Cavendish administrator responsible for overseeing certification on two specific points at the residences. Fourteen more certificates are being issued in May and June.

“We’re going to be able to do it. We’ve made it a priority and we’re going to push ahead.”

To validate the certification, the CSSS is signing an agreement with each of the residences. Certification varies with each, depending on the professional staff at the residences. Staffing is not the same at all of them. Some employ registered nurses, while others have trained health care attendants. A re-certification must take place every two years.

An entente will be signed by CSSS Cavendish with 22 of the residences for two specific articles of certification. They concern the administration of medication and invasive care.“For anyone receiving medication or invasive care delegated to a nonprofessional, it has to be done within the program and has to have an encadrement,” Besner said. “That’s where we come in.”

Twentyfour other articles for improvement, ranging from fire safety to nutritional standards, must also be completed before the residences can attain certification. That process is being overseen by the Agence de la Santé et des services sociaux de Montréal, which is responsible for Montreal Island.

Besner said the CSSS’s role regarding those issues is mostly consultative. “In the attainment of their certification we are here to support them,” she said.“For other articles they may ask us for information and references.”

According to Besner, certification should reassure families that the standards and quality of services are higher than ever at the residences. “The great thing is that now every single residence that operates has to be certified,” she said. “They have to conform to these 26 articles. The beauty is that it’s formalized. They have to be re-certified every two years and a residence cannot operate legally without this certification.

“This is definitely a positive thing. This doesn’t guarantee the best quality, but it certainly provides a guideline and access.”


Why is abortion the issue that trumps all others?

US President Barack Obama is at the centre of a storm raging at the University of Notre Dame, perhaps the best known Catholic institution of higher learning in the United States.

The president of Notre Dame, Rev. John Jenkins, a priest of the Holy Cross Congregation that runs the university, invited President Obama to speak at the school’s commencement on May 17 and receive an honorary degree. Obama agreed. Then all hell broke loose. Conservative Catholics and leading prelates brought huge pressure to bear on the university to withdraw the invitation to Obama; claiming that he is “pro-abortion,” because he supports choice and embryonic stem cell research.

The head of the United States bishops conference, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, said the university’s decision was an “extreme embarrassment” to Catholics and added,“Whatever else is clear, it is clear that Notre Dame didn’t understand what it means to be Catholic when they issued this invitation…”

The local bishop, John D’Arcy, announced that he will not attend the graduation and an online petition by the Cardinal Newman Society against the invitation has collected a quarter of a million signatures. Pro-life groups on the Notre Dame campus have organized demonstrations. Pro-life activist Randall Terry plans to rent a house near the university for the next six weeks to mount a campaign to stop Obama from speaking. Terry’s website features a photograph of the president between pictures of Judas and a graphic photograph of an aborted fetus.

All this furor begs the question whether it makes any sense to regard abortion as so crucial an issue to relations between Catholics and a secular government that no other consideration carries any weight.

It is interesting that the question has a somewhat different answer here in Canada. The US bishops seem frustrated that their Catholic flock is not more militant on the issue of abortion. A Gallup survey of polls on religious attitudes over the past three years shows that Catholic views on issues such as embryonic stem-cell research and legalized abortion are not that different from their non-Catholic fellow citizens. (I expect the figures would be about the same here in Canada).

But Canadian bishops, even allowing for hardline conservatives like Cardinal Ouellet in Quebec City and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast S.J. in Ottawa, seem far less aggressive than their American counterparts. Canada has no abortion law at all. So far as I am aware, even though we have had a series of Catholic Prime Ministers – Trudeau, Clark, Turner, Chrétien, Martin – the Canadian bishops have mounted no consistent campaign to pass such a law. There is much less controversy about abortion in Canada than there is south of the border. Very few prelates here are threatening to withhold Communion from pro-choice Catholic politicians.

But the current controversy at Notre Dame raises questions related to abortion in both countries. The main one is whether for Catholics abortion trumps every other issue when it comes to public discourse. After all, President Obama has a political agenda that promises greater social justice and equality, more harmony between the races, environmental reforms – and he favours social measures that would reduce the need for abortion. Nobody has suggested that Obama should be silenced because he has not promised to end the death penalty – which is also part of Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life – nor that his predecessor should have been rejected because he engaged his country in an unjust war in Iraq, where untold innocent lives were lost.

Nor are all Catholic voices impugning the president. John Quinn, archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, highlighted the danger for Catholics if they adopted what he called the “clenched-fist approach.” He has urged that “it is in the interests of both the Church and the nation if both work together in civility, honesty and friendship for the common good, even when there are grave divisions, as there are on abortion.”

Father Jenkins is standing by his decision, saying the invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony “should not be taken as condoning or endorsing his [Obama’s] positions on specific issues regarding the protection of human life.” A survey of letters to the student newspaper The Observer indicated that while 70 per cent of alumni were opposed to Obama speaking at the university, 97 per cent of the graduating class approved of him speaking.

The Catholic journal The Tablet, from London, captures the central issue for Canadians and Americans in this uproar. “It seriously damages the whole Catholic contribution to democratic politics to treat abortion not only as a black-and-white issue, with no shades of grey, but as the unique black-and-white issue that trumps all others.”


Stand up for your health care rights, but don’t abuse them

May, 2009

You are wearing a hospital gown, sitting in a wheelchair at the hospital, being ignored. You probably feel vulnerable and powerless. But you are not: The law has provided you with rights. The Quebec Health and Social Services Act states its intention to protect you and ensure your recovery and return to good health. To this end, those who provide health and social services are required to respect you and recognize your rights, to treat you with courtesy, fairness and understanding and to permit you to participate in decisions concerning your health and welfare. The services you receive must be appropriate not only from a scientific point of view but also from a humane and social point of view. They must be continual, personalized (appropriate for your particular health needs) and safe. You, in turn, have an obligation to refrain from abusing these services.

Your right to care and respect and the hospital’s obligation to provide appropriate services are both deeply ingrained in our law. You have a right to choose your own physician, and you cannot be refused treatment for any reason considered discriminatory under the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, religion, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition or handicap.

You have a right to be informed of your state of health and to be advised of your treatment options as well as of the risks and consequences associated with each one so that you have the information necessary to either consent to or refuse treatment. You cannot be treated – or even examined – unless you consent.

In a recent case a very sick 62-year-old patient who routinely failed to follow physicians’ instructions or undergo treatment contested the hospital’s efforts to force her to be admitted. Although it was established that hospitalization would be beneficial and that it was dangerous to her health for her to return home, the judge held that the patient had the capacity to decide for herself and therefore the right to refuse treatment, even at risk to her life. The hospital’s request to force hospitalization was refused.

It is important to remember that a hospital’s obligations are subject to available resources, both human and financial. An institution has the right to organize its services in accordance with those resources, so a lack of resources can sometimes justify a hospital’s refusal to keep a patient.

So what happens to a patient when the institution says he must leave? The law states that the patient must leave as soon as he receives his notice to do so. However, the law also provides that he can only be forced to leave if his condition permits him to return home or he is assured of a place in another establishment that can give him the services he requires.

When a 71-year-old man requiring four hours of care daily was informed by the establishment in which he had been residing for seven years that he would be temporarily transferred out until permanent accommodation could be found elsewhere, he objected to the transfer and invoked his right to choose where he wished to go. The court accepted the fact that his current residence could no longer provide the care he required, but the judge said the reasons for his objection were reasonable and held that the decision to transfer him temporarily was arbitrary and could not be up held. The residence was ordered to keep him until he could be transferred to a place he deemed acceptable.

In another case, a 29-year-old man, almost completely paralyzed as the result of an accident, had been hospitalized for almost seven years. All his needs, physical, psychological and social, were being met and he was content. The hospital wanted to transfer him to a longterm care facility and he contested on the grounds that such a move would violate his right to obtain services from the institution of his choice. In this case the court held that his rights were not absolute and the hospital’s resources justified its putting a limit on the patient’s rights. The hospital was a short-term care institution with a limited number of beds, so patients had to be transferred to longterm care institutions as soon as possible. Another place that could provide continuity of care was available, so the court ordered the transfer.

What do you do if you feel you have been unfairly treated and your rights have been violated? Every health institution has a complaint procedure, and many have an ombudsman. You have the right, the power and the means to complain.


Napa Valley tour offers a feast for the eye and palate

May, 2009

The Kuleto Estate Winery, with owner Paul Kuleto’s home in the background. Click image to view larger version. Photos: Todd Pritchett

Our plan was to take a road trip up the California Coast, from LA where we live, along the Pacific Coast Highway. With a few destinations in mind, we took off with no reservations and no direction other than north.

Just a short 80 minutes north of San Francisco, Yountville is at the epicentre of Napa Valley – a food oasis in a valley of wines and vines rolling into the horizon. We focused our tastings in the Rutherford area and discovered that reservations were needed for most tours. We did four tours over two days. We also tried a few of the local restaurants and we found a bakery that was beyond compare.

Writer Amy Newborn and photographer Todd Pritchett. Click image to view larger version.

We started our wine tasting tour at Round Pound Estate. We drove up to the gate and called to make an appointment. A woman answered and managed to fit us in immediately. We entered through two over-sized glass doors into the main foyer area. We paid $25 each and were led upstairs to the tasting room, which had a large bar, soaring cathedral ceilings with light coming in from everywhere and an opening to the barrel room below. The terrace was breathtaking, with rows and rows of grape vines growing below. We chose a corner seat beside the fireplace.

The sommelier was extremely attentive and brought us our first tasting immediately, explaining that Round Pond is a family owned and operated estate winery that produces mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. He also brought out a trio of amuse bouche’s – with duck confit, thin dough and cheese, and a mini potato pancake, to pair with our three wine tastings. Our favourite wine was the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.

After an hour and a half of being treated like VIPs, we descended the stairs and asked the hostess for suggestions about where to go next. She was very helpful and made a few calls, managing to get us a reservation at Vine Cliff.

The Kuleto Estate Pond overlooks the infinity pool and Lake Hennessey. Click image to view larger version.

One the way to Vine Cliff, I made reservations for the next day. I called Schramsburg, a California sparkling wine producer, as well as Kuleto Estate, which the woman had recommended.

We arrived at Vine Cliff and walked into a large warehouse, which housed many barrels of wine. For $35, we tried three wines, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and a Merlot. The tasting lasted only 30 minutes and then we were off to find a snack.

We found a fancy food court called Oxbo Public Market – a fancier, smaller version of Atwater Market. We discovered a great charcuterie and perched ourselves at the wine bar. Our bartender was in her mid-20s and studying to be a sommelier. She let us eat our assorted meats and olives from the charcuterie at the bar and poured us a sparkling rosé wine for about $8.50 for a half-litre – more than enough after our two wine tastings!

We needed some fuel for our adventures the next morning so we stopped at Bouchon Bakery. They have fresh-baked pastries and paninis. My favourite treat was the nutterbutter peanut butter cookie – two cookies with peanut butter in between – like an ice cream sandwich, but better!

Cutting across from the coast to Napa Valley, we stopped to photograph some vines near Yorkville, along highway 128. Click image to view larger version.

We drove to the gate of the Kuleto Estate, and then up and up for almost 10 minutes to the top of the hill, through sprawling fields of vines. We paid $35 each and were led into a room with brown leather couches and a large wooden table near the bar, where we took our seats. The sommelier poured two glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon and led us through the marvelous 800-acre estate. He informed us that the estate was self sufficient, producing all kinds of fruits and vegetables, spices and even poultry. They also had their own charcuterie.

A brown Lab followed us through the rest of our tour after taking a sip from a fountain overlooking the river and vineyard below. We got back to the wine tasting room and were presented with three cheeses – a blue cheese that looked like it was still alive, aged cheddar and goat. All three were delicious and made to compliment the three wines we were about to taste. The wines were great but the tour of the grounds was even better and we left happily satisfied.

We got to Schramsburg with not a second to spare. The $35 tour had already started and there were about 10 other people composed of retired couples and some rich-looking forty-somethings. We were obviously the youngest ones there. The tour guide led us through the tunnels beneath the main buildings, which housed barrels and bottles of wines. It looked like there were several thousand. The ceilings were full of moss and cobwebs and the bottles shimmered in the dim light. The tour guide explained to us how the sparkling wine was made and led us to a room where we were poured four different ones to taste. They were all exquisite!

Our wine tasting experience far exceeded my expectations. If you want to live “the life” for a few days, the Napa Valley does not disappoint.

Todd Pritchett is a photographer in LA. To view more of his work:


Time to shine the spotlight on some of Sun Youth’s stars

Sun Youth’s team of regular volunteers. Click image for larger version. Photo: Nicolas Carpentier

May, 2009

From its beginnings in 1954, Sun Youth Organization has been shaped by its volunteers, eventually evolving into what it is today. From the young boys who created the Clark Street Sun, the handwritten newspaper that started it all, to the hundreds of people who offer their invaluable support through Sun Youth’s many assistance programs, volunteers have been making things happen for over 50 years.

To commemorate National Volunteer Week (April 19 to 25) Sun Youth held a casino themed volunteer recognition ceremony on April 24. The red carpet was rolled out for the Sun Youth stars – all those volunteers who give of themselves on a regular basis. There are so many that we couldn’t possibly mention all of them, but here are a few of the stars who make Sun Youth what it is:

Freda Kopyto has been volunteering at Sun Youth four to five days a week for 13 years. She is on the front lines, greeting people as they come in to get emergency food assistance. She takes care of seniors, children, single parents and families, treating them all with the dignity they deserve.

Sister Suzanne Lachapelle has volunteered for Sun Youth for nearly four years. She works two days a week, greeting clients who come in for food assistance, entering data in the computer system and doing other office work. At 79 years old she is a tough act to follow!

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart has been a volunteer for Sun Youth’s football program since 1985. He is a manager of the midget team and he takes pictures at various other Sun Youth sports events. Stewart also devotes a lot of his time to the Quebec Midget Football League. He really takes the youth to heart.

Jeanne Fournier has donated her time to Sun Youth for 15 years. She, along with other volunteers, receives donations of used clothing and sorts them out for people seeking clothing assistance. She is a full-time volunteer who always has a smile for those in need.

Léonce Simard volunteers at the Sun Youth warehouse 20 hours a week. He has been with the organization for 10 years. He and other essential volunteers are responsible for sorting through food donations and preparing the food hampers Sun Youth distributes. He is proud to say he is about to start his 11th year.

Marie Cayer is the president of the Sun Youth Seniors Club, a position she has held for three years. She takes care of the members, organizing outings and activities for them. The club is self-funded and gets its financing from such events as dinners, bingo games and bazaars. Marie reminds us that the next Seniors Club Bazaar will be held at Sun Youth (4251 St. Urbain) on Friday, May 8. Bargain hunters are welcome from 10 am to 3:30 pm.

Sun Youth would like to thank all of its volunteers for the great work they do. If you wish to become a volunteer at Sun Youth, contact Lyne Chartier at 514-842-6822.


Local artists await the Empress

May, 2009

Many who have attended theatre performances at Geordie Productions or the Black Theatre Workshop would be surprised to learn that these well-known institutions don’t have permanent homes. After all, the two companies have entertained Montrealers for decades, Geordie Productions since 1980 and BTW since 1971.

The Quebec Community Groups Network describes English-speaking artists as “a minority community which is under-funded and geographically dispersed,” leading to isolation and “ghettoization” with “pockets of people not communicating with each other.” One reason for this is a glaring lack of adequate performance venues for local artists.

But this situation may soon improve. The two theatres, along with the McGill Conservatory’s community outreach program,the City of Montreal and the Borough of CDN/NDG, have joined forces with the board of the Empress Cultural Centre. The intention is to finally get a long-simmering $9 million project off the ground, that of restoring the former CinemaV on Sherbrooke W. to its original vocation and creating a cultural centre for the local arts scene. Most of the rare art-deco building has stood empty since being ravaged by a fire in 1992.

Taking the initiative from the Bourque administration, Montreal leased the building to Empress Cultural Centre Inc. in 1999 for 60 years, with the understanding that a multifunctional performing arts centre would be created.

“It’s been a bit of a saga, but it all came together last year,” said project coordinator Christiane Loiselle, as she described navigating the treacherous path to obtain funding. Several requirements had to be met in order to qualify for provincial and federal grants. Simply wanting a cultural centre didn’t cut it. There had to be artists, programming and a community element as well.

“The Minister of Culture doesn’t give money to a developer, but to artists. The two theatres agreed to formally join the project. When McGill joined, the board acquired a very serious and professional partner. Agreements were written, and signed.”

As well, the city had already invested some money in the project and will invest more pending the response from the other levels of government. The borough was on board as well, and offered some guidance. “The borough was very helpful in structuring the application,” Loiselle said.

Overcoming each obstacle made the team stronger and more credible. “We are an entity, professional artists, with solid consistent programming,” Loiselle said. “In the end it became a better project. The moment the doors open there will be music lessons, performances – the building will be fully lived in.”

All the players are in place, set, just waiting to hear “Go!” When that happens, a 350-seat theatre will be built, with a smaller “blackbox” theatre for experimental and multimedia performances. On the mezzanine a 50-seat cabaret space is planned, as well as an art gallery, and space for studios and an office. The Montreal Chamber Music festival will continue to lease the premises as it does now in the small recently renovated space formerly occupied by the Sesame health food store.

The building will be used primarily – but not exclusively – for English-speaking Montrealers. “If individuals or organizations want to use the space at the Empress in a way compatible with our mission mandate, we would make every effort to accommodate them,” said Dr. Clarence Bayne, who is the founder of the BTW but sits on the board as a representative of NDG.

One of the reasons the project has taken so long is the reshuffling of priorities during the transition from one government to another, Bayne said. “The transition slowed things down. It brought in a new administration that had to find its own vision for the city. But now the future looks good in the sense that we’re getting tremendous support from the city – not just at a personal in-house level but in a public forum. Mayors Tremblay and Applebaum have publicly indicated they support this project.”

Community activist Arnold Bennett is on the board of directors as well. He believes the restoration of the building will benefit everyone. “A cultural centre would revitalize that part of Sherbrooke St. It’s good for the neighbourhood and good for the quality of life of its residents.”

On May 20 and 21 Geordie Productions and the Empress Cultural Centre are holding a joint fundraiser, with proceeds going toward the project. This year’s play will be Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, directed by Elsa Bolam, founder of Geordie Productions and Empress board member, who came out of retirement for this special occasion. The cast will be made up of a dedicated group of volunteers, with sets and costumes supplied by Geordie. A reception will follow the performance. The event takes place at the DB Clarke Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve W.

For tickets, information or to donate toward the renaissance of the Empress, visit or call 514-845-9810 or 514-481-6277.


Pull up to the London Bus Stop for afternoon tea

May, 2009

When you’re invited for afternoon tea at the London Bus Stop on Ste. Catherine across from Westmount Square, you might expect it to look classic and old-fashioned, but this café/teahouse is anything but conventional.

Owner Jeremy Searle, former city counsellor for Côte des Neiges NDG, describes it as “so un-cool that it’s retro cool.” Right in the middle of the room is a London telephone box. A food counter stretches across one side and fresh flowers adorn nearly every surface in well-arranged bouquets.

The transportation theme is evident. Searle drove a London bus 30 years ago and says that he is passionate about transportation. You can buy the tiny replicas of London buses and taxis that are on display behind the food counter.

There is no invasive music playing in this relaxing space. Instead there is a flat screen TV displaying beautiful, calming scenes.

Since we were invited to enjoy their afternoon tea ($10 per person), we were immediately greeted by Searle’s partner, Jeannie Oh, who took our coats and hung them up in the back saying that coats were not allowed by the tables. We were led to a round table covered in white linen, adorned with porcelain teacups.

This was the first time Barbara, my dining companion, had ever experienced afternoon tea and she was like a kid in a candy shop – or shall I say tea shop. I was also excited, because I hadn’t had afternoon tea since I was a child. We were eager to begin our adventure, especially when Searle referred to Jeannie as the “kitchen genius.”

We were offered a choice of Earl Grey or English Breakfast served in a glass teapot. Then came the lovely little crustless cucumber sandwiches with thin slices of cucumber and just the right amount of mayo and seasoning. Next came two warm scones and little plates of strawberry and lemon cake, oatmeal cookies, small pieces of brownies and four fresh strawberries. Delightful, delectable, delicious and divine all describe the desserts.

While we savoured, Searle quoted Shakespeare, told us about his children’s successes – and it turns out that I know his son. Jeremy and Jeannie also told us about the variety of people who come for afternoon tea, including birthday celebrants, grandchildren with grandparents in tow, and a pair of starstruck Dawson lovers who came day after day.

With reservations, scones are served warm with jam and cream. Or you could order them diabetic-friendly. If you are looking for something more hearty, London Bus Stop offers a full selection of somewhat British fare ranging from a very affordable $5.50 to $8.50. I arrived lunchless and before starting my cucumber sandwiches, I sampled a cabbage roll and a piece of quiche. I was offered a taste of the beef stew, but had to decline.

The generous portion of spinach and tomato quiche was a lot of quiche, rather than a lot of crust. The crust was cakey as opposed to flaky. The cabbage roll was excellent. The cabbage was crispy and created a perfect crust for the filling of ground meat topped with a delectable tomato sauce. Two cabbage rolls with veggies are $8.50. Quiche served with soup or salad is $5.50. Every addition to your meal, including coffee, soup or salad, costs a dollar.

Breakfast begins at 6 a.m. and features two slices of Première Moisson bread, two extra-large eggs, two slices of real cheddar, two slices of capicolla ham and tea or coffee for $6.20.

There is a large terrace outside which should soon start filling up as it is the only one on the block and it’s on the right side of the street, meaning it gets little exposure to the hot sun.

London Bus Stop, located at 4126 Ste. Catherine W., is an affordable and delectable addition to the downtown core. As part of the Dawson College community, we will surely frequent this fine eatery again. Reservations for afternoon tea are encouraged. Catering services are available, including afternoon tea catering. Call 514-931-5571 or visit


Confessions of a smokin’ addict

May, 2009

A confession: I’m addicted to smoking. Not cigs, not weed (OK, maybe the occasional cigar) – usually I just stick to chickens.

I love smoked food, but I can’t quite figure out why. Of course I enjoy the complex flavours with which smoking imbues meat or fish; the heady scents of apple, hickory, mesquite and maple combined with the slow cooking process that softens the textures and makes each morsel almost melt in my mouth. But if it were just for the flavour, I could throw a few drops of liquid smoke into the seasoning and rub it into anything that I’m planning to cook.

No, there is something primal about smoking that speaks to my inner boy scout. I like to think that you could drop me off in the woods and I’d survive. I’d snare a rabbit or pick off a grouse, set up a grill and build a fire.

Sure. In reality, my idea of living off the land extends to carrying a debit card into a supermarket.

And yet, there is a mythic Flavourguy in me who comes from an earlier time – and a barbecue brings him out. It’s the aroma of burning wood, of charcoal turning into embers, of a chicken or a tough cut of meat slowly becoming something ambrosial over a fire.

Smoking makes me realize how human I am. It lets me connect with a time when cooking took patience and persistence. Smoked food is slow food. It tells me I might make mistakes in a way that fast-food cooking (whether it’s frying a burger or opening up a can) does not. The heat can be too low and the meat partially raw (so I have a last minute dance with the microwave) or it cooks at too high a heat and is scorched (so I reach for sauce to smother the burnt bits). Smoking makes me remember that I can’t take food for granted, but when I get it right, there is nothing better than making it at home.

When I smoke a chicken I require three things: a brine, a rub, and heat. First, I put the chicken into a large pot to see how much brine I need. I cover the bird with water, remove the chicken and am left with the right amount of liquid. To make each gallon of brine I take a gallon of water, add a half cup each of brown sugar and salt, and various spices (bay leaf, cinnamon stick, juniper berries, pepper corns, a garlic clove and dried chili pepper or two – they are all good). I boil the water until the salt and sugar have dissolved then let it cool to room temperature. I then put the chicken in the pot and leave it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, I prepare a dry rub by mixing salt, black pepper, chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder. I drain and dry the chicken and rub the mix over the bird as well as inside the cavity. I let this sit for a few hours in the fridge.

In the early afternoon I start a small fire in the charcoal grill. Gas works well, too. In either case, the key is low, indirect heat. If this is difficult, place a pan of water between the fire and the food. Some grills allow this, or you may have to improvise a rack. I soak the wood or chips in water (use hard woods – no pine, spruce or plywood) and put some on the fire when the coals are ready. Gas grills often have a box or chamber for smoking.

Aim for low and slow, around 210F or 100C. Place the chicken on the grill away from the heat and put the cover back on. A small chicken takes a couple of hours. The lower the heat (anything above 180F is fine), the longer it will take to cook – and the tastier it should be. When a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160F (72F), it’s done.

While I’m waiting I pull up a chair and get into a routine. Maybe a good book, maybe some music I’ve been waiting to hear. Every hour, I add a little wood and some more charcoal. On a regular basis, I take out another can of beer. On a nice warm day if I have a big enough chicken and if I can keep the heat low, it might take five or six hours to reach perfection.

E-mail Barry Lazar at


Upcoming courses and workshops

This spring and summer workshops are being offered around the city. On Wednesdays from 11am to noon Centre Green holds Tai Chi based movement and stretch classes, a good way to exercise in a relaxing environment, at 1090 Greene. Info: 514-931-6202.

Thursdays at 2pm Centre Greene holds ballroom dance classes for those with stage 1 and 2 Parkinson’s. The instructors are Susan Chiasson, ballroom dance teacher and Ellen Rubin, retired physiotherapist who specialized in the treatment of neurological conditions and has been a dancer for 12 years. Bring an able-bodied partner and register in advance. Info: 514-484-2016.

The Atwater Library will offer computer workshops in the spring and summer. Topics include booking travel online, facebook, family history research, e-mail, Twitter, blogging, powerpoint, word, and excel. The purpose of the workshops is to teach the basics of computers and get your computer up and running. Info: 514-935-7344.


Quebec steps in to regulate the practice of psychotherapy

May, 2009

For decades, the prevailing view among psychotherapists was that their profession could never effectively be regulated. But Quebec’s Justice Department is forging ahead to do just that.

Newly appointed Justice Minister Kathleen Weil announced in March she was resurrecting a draft bill that diedon the order paper when the National Assembly was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The proposed legislation would modify the province’s code of professions for the mental health and human relations fields.

While the bill has wider implications, the Justice Ministry’s Office des Professions said in a press release that it is aiming first and foremost to define what psychotherapy is and who will have the right to practise it.

The title “psychotherapist” would be granted exclusively to doctors, psychologists, social workers and a few other licensed professionals such as educational and family counsellors. One of the minimum requirements will be a post-graduate degree.

Under the law, a mandate for licensing psychotherapists would be granted to the Ordre professionel des psychologues du Québec,which would regulate psychotherapy through a committee put in place for that purpose. An acquired right would be granted to anyone who was practicing psychotherapy up to the date the legislation is enacted. But the Office des Professions suggests the competency of such practitioners would hence-forth be subject to scrutiny.

While Weil said in a statement that the government wanted to be sure no one was prevented from providing psychotherapy within the scope of their abilities, she acknowledged in interviews that one goal is to protect the public.“The risks for people, who are sometimes fragile, were important,” she told Radio Canada.

As the order of psychologists noted in reaction, anyone in Quebec can practise psychotherapy, call himself or herself a psychotherapist, and receive clients who are often struggling with psychological problems. Clients currently have no effective means for verifying the credentials of psychotherapists and no recourse for making complaints.

“Any prosecution for the illegal practice of psychotherapy or for misuse of the title … will be launched by the Order,” said Rose-Marie Charest, the organization’s president. She said the system until now made it “too easy to take advantage of the vulnerability of persons in the grips of serious mental health problems.”

Quebec is not alone in imposing rules on psychotherapists. In Ontario, where a similar provincial government effort resulted in the passing of legislation, the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office (PPAO), an arm’s length department of Ontario’s Ministry of Health, wrote in a 2005 submission that “the development of an accountability framework and complaint mechanism is fundamental to the protection of consumers and the public.”

In making recommendations, the PPAO said the practice of psychotherapy and counselling “carries with it a significant potential for harm to consumers.”

In interviews with The Senior Times, two Montreal-based help counsellors said they already do not refer to themselves as psychotherapists. Howard Riback, a former gambling addict who obtained a certificate in gambling therapy from the University of Windsor, describes himself on a business card as a therapist. “I never use the word psycho,” he said, adding that he prefers to introduce himself as a motivational speaker.

“I dropped the title of psychotherapy altogether,” said Yannick McCarthy, whose card states simply that she offers “counselling,” even though the situations she deals with include depression and relationships. McCarthy’s view, with which Riback and a third counsellor concurred, is that psychotherapy is inherently difficult to regulate.

Its ancestor, Freudian psychoanalysis, from which the hundreds of psychological therapies in existence today originate, was traditionally regarded as an unrestricted and highly subjective discipline. Hence the difficulty facing the government: How do you define psychotherapy as a first step towards regulation? This might also explain why it took so long for the process to reach this stage.

Dr. Henry Olders, a Westmount psychiatrist, suggested the Order may have other motives in seeking to regulate psychotherapy. If the problem is consumer protection, there are other ways of going about it such as “voluntary adhesion of therapists to standards-setting organizations (as is done for health facility accreditation),” he said in an email.

“The doctors and the psychologists seem to be heavily represented in the conseil consultatif, and the Ordre des psychologues will have a great deal of power over the whole enterprise.

“When a professional corporation prevents people who are not part of their professional group from practicing, it might be simply to protect the public from frauds, charlatans and incompetents, or it might be to protect their market, or some combination of the two,” he added. “It may be hard for the public to know exactly whose interests are being served.”

One area of Quebec’s mental health services sector that could be impacted by the regulation of psychotherapy is alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation.

In March 2008, after the government wrapped up public hearings for its proposed code of professions changes, the Fédération québécoise des centres de réadaptation pour personnes alcooliques et toxicomanes, which represents 21 rehab centres, complained that addiction counselling was not among the professions recognized for accreditation. There are several hundred private and community-based alcohol and drug rehab centres in Quebec. While most offer psychotherapy as part of their treatment, there is no immediate word from the government as to how they will deal with regulation.


Changing roles: parenting the parent

May, 2009

I remember when I was in my early 40s reading an article about turning 50. This was described as a time of freedom: Children are established and have moved out of the home, responsibilities are fewer and financial security has been reached. I have since hit the big five-oh, and none of the above apply to me.

Now baby boomers are not only working longer, they may still have children living at home and are often caring for aging parents.

If the parent has a diagnosis of cognitive impairment, adult children find themselves assuming a parental role toward that parent. The shift from adult child to parent is a difficult transition. Even as adults, children often turn to their parents for advice, support and guidance. Children, no matter what age, continue to view parents in the role they have always assumed.

When parents lose their abilities to Alzheimer’s disease, they are no longer able to provide their children with what we view as parental care.

Pre-diagnosis is a difficult time. There are good days and bad days. Children may feel one day that there is something wrong with their parent, but then a good day comes along and they chalk the difficulties up to fatigue or simply an “off day.”

Gradually there are more signs all is not well: The parent has more difficulty covering up early memory losses and confusion. The feeling of being on a roller coaster ride begins, one day filled with worry, followed by a day of relaxation when the parent is fully functional.

As difficult as it is to hear a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, knowing there is a reason for those years of changing and odd behaviour can provide relief.

As a general rule, it takes about four years to establish a diagnosis of AD.

Some adult children get stuck in denial mode, unable to accept their parent’s mental decline. It is one thing to witness an aging parent’s physical challenges, but watching a parent’s confusion over how to use a fork is hard to digest. The child may be unable to believe that their strong, intelligent parent, once seen as a pillar of strength, can no longer eat without direction or assistance.

Feelings of resentment and guilt are added to the many other mixed emotions. Caregiving or care managing takes an enormous amount of time and energy, leaving less time for family, work and pleasure. Already busy lives become impossibly busier. Guilt over not being able to manage all these responsibilities can lead to overburdened, stressed-out adult children who may become anxious or depressed.

If a strained relationship existed before diagnosis, children can feel that their parent is exhibiting difficult behaviours to punish them. In such situations, I often suggest counselling for the adult child, preferably after they have educated themselves about the disease. Relationship issues that have not been resolved prediagnosis will never be able to be addressed directly with the parent, and it can be very helpful to work through these issues with a professional counsellor.

As parents need more assistance with their personal care, it may be best to hire a professional caregiver. Even when the parent has difficulty expressing himself in a coherent manner, there may be signs of discomfort when a daughter assists in such personal activities such as bathing. A paid and experienced caregiver is often more successful in assisting with personal hygiene. Many adult children admit to not feeling comfortable caring for their parent’s personal needs. If this is the case, the parent will surely sense the discomfort and may react unfavourably.

As the disease progresses, children will find that they will need to make more and more decisions on behalf of their parents.

Without proper education about Alzheimer’s disease, children may continue to fight the disease with anger, withdrawal and other responses that agitate their loved one.

It is necessary to understand that Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease that slowly robs people of their mental and physical abilities – through no fault of their own.

Comments and questions can be sent to


Two types of families in our two top theatres

May, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods at the Segal features an inter-generational relationship between grandparents – four of them – and their grandson. It was written by Joe DiPietro, author of such award-winning plays as the wonderfully titled I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

The title of this play comes from a song based on an 1884 poem by Lydia Maria Child anonymously set to music. The second line “to grandfather’s house we go” was apt for this play, the river being the Hudson and the woods New Jersey. A later stanza inserts a second line “to have a first rate play.” How apropos!

The grand daughter has moved to California. Nick, the grandson (Gianpaulo Venuta), is the only blood relative left in New York and he dutifully visits his grandparents for Sunday dinners.

Conveniently, both the paternal and maternal sets are neighbours so we get a lot of jokes about food and family. The Italian phrase “Tengo familigia” becomes the slogan for old-world blue-collar immigrants who love the neighbourhood they made their life in. They are devastated by Nick’s announcement that he is going to Seattle for a career promotion.

Special plaudits go to the fantastic quartet of grandparents, Frank Savino and Deann Mears (a real-life couple) and Bernie Passeltiner and Winnipeg icon Doreen Brownstone.

To the Segal, whose selection is wonderfully eclectic: We Love You, You’re Perfect, Don’t Change.

Over the River and Through the Woods ends May 10 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Call 514-739-7944.

With Bated Breath at the Centaur features fine acting and direction, but deals with broken families and dysfunctional souls.

Writer/codirector Bryden MacDonald’s play is set largely in Cape Breton. Individual musings range from poetic contemplation about cloud formations to sad reflections on missing parents and infantile play with paper bags. While the play is largely built around homosexual urges and male strippers, with three fine male actors – Centaur regular Neil Napier and newcomers Eloi Archambaudoin and Michael Sutherland-Young – the three ladies almost steal the show. Kiss My Cabaret followers in withdrawal mode should run to see Danette Mackay’s return as the booze-influenced chicken-farm owner. Her comedic talents are matched by those of Felicia Shulman as the mean-spirited neighbour. Sarah C. Carlsen’s dreamy character has to play foil to these two powerhouses and she acquits her role well.

The script cleverly juggles flashbacks and forwards, but does not establish the protagonist as a likable character an audience can empathize with before his inner journey’s ups and downs. Warning for the easily offended: Male nudity is involved.

With Bated Breath ends May 24 at the Centaur, 453 St. François Xavier.


Lyric theatre brings Gershwin to Montreal

May, 2009

The Lyric Theatre Singers, who interpret Broadway, jazz, and pop choral music are at it again with their newest show paying tribute to composer George Gershwin, directed by Bob Bachelor, at the Oscar Peterson Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W from June 11 to 13.

George Gershwin was not only a creator of the golden age of American musical theatre but also a successful composer of music for the concert hall. Songs he wrote include The Man I Love, Embreacable you and I Got Rhythm .

These concerts are an opportunity to rediscover Broadway’s best from a wide range of traditional and contemporary composers. Excerpts from hit shows such as the Lion King, Annie Get Your Gun, Spring Awakening, and Young Frankenstein are featured.

The Lyric Theatre has grown from a small group performing an annual production into a company of performers from all areas of the city, rehearsing and performing 10 months out of every year.

Concerts are June 11-12 at 8pm and June 13 at 2pm. Tickets are $14 - $28. To reserve: 514-363-3382.

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The power of one can be fulfilling

May, 2009

Sometimes we are tempted to take stock of our relationships. A common question usually targets our couple-hood. Are we “with” somebody or are we “alone”? We all know that in certain situations, the answer is both.

It can feel lonely being in a couple and it can be fulfilling being single. And, though being part of a “we” brings comforting implications, what is it that makes so many single people content?

As we grow wiser we learn how to manage life’s curveballs. We develop a sense of mastery that helps us navigate whether we’re part of a couple or on our own. So, singlehood becomes less scary, overwhelming and empty. Add to that full hearts and open minds, and we have a winning formula.

There are exceptions, of course. Take “Ralph”, for example, a widower whom I recently questioned about adjusting to single life. Despite my hesitancy to open sensitive issues, his answer surprised me. He actually gave it some serious thought before he talked about how hard it is to get a decent home-cooked meal. And he was not trying to be funny! Aside from a full plate, his minute expectations of a relationship appeared tragically bare.

Most unattached people, however, operate from a richer perspective. Happy people speak from their hearts. Whether or not they have a family, they all approach life with an expectation and appreciation of kindness. Be it a smile, a gesture, or the awareness of someone else’s feelings, there is the sense of connection that comes with empathy.

All content people refer to someone or something that holds meaning for them. In the act of giving they develop a sense of their own value. They might have a pet, adore a grandchild or, like Mary, take note of the simple details that flavor our days. “Oh, he’s such a sweetie!” she mentions about her doorman, as we leave her building. Mary collects the tiny offerings of daily life to fill her emotional pockets.

In becoming more aware of daily details, I have experienced that a full heart is there for the taking. I enter my office and count on the smell of freshly made coffee. I do my banking and chat with the tellers. And if I collect returned smiles I can have a pocketful.

We can surround ourselves by relationships that span between a second and a century. If we compile them, and allow them all a place, they weave together to form a beautiful tapestry. Like an Impressionist painting made of tiny dots, they come together to fill our canvas. And we all have relationships, a “patchwork quilt” that embellishes what no one person can give us, or surrounds and unites us in endless possibilities.


Spring into recession realities

May, 2009

In February 2009, U.S. reports showed that seasonally adjusted sales of existing homes increased by 5.1% and new homes increased by 22% compared to January; the latter increase followed 7 consecutive months of decreases.

This is good news and may signal the beginning of recovery in the U.S. First-time buyers took advantage of lower prices, interest rates and tax credits (a maximum of $8,000). In Canada, the Real Estate Market is also being affected by the global recession measured, in part, by a reduction in the number of sales and by the average sale price. Recovery is expected to be some time in 2010, but this estimate is later than first announced by the Bank of Canada. No one has a “crystal ball” that predicts with certainty.

The Canadian Real Estate Association in February 2009 announced that while all provinces reported a reduction in the number of sales compared to 2008, not every province reported a price reduction. Western provinces (-5.0% to -10.6%) were hit worst but Quebec and eastern provinces (0.0% to -0.1%) reported virtually no change. Newfoundland actually reported an increase (+4.8%).

The Bank of Canada’s efforts to stimulate the economy by lowering the prime lending rate is making it easier to obtain an affordable mortgage. According to canequity, the 5 year fixed rate is around 3.95% but the variable rate is at 2.5%. Furthermore, the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) introduced in 1992, which allowed first time buyers to use RRSPs as a down payment on a residential property, a major factor in affordability, has been increased from $20,000 to $25,000.

Despite the lower number of sales this spring vs last spring in Montreal, the bulk of sales in a given year occur during this period and like other years, this spring is no exception. Reports from the Greater Montreal Real Estate Board disclosed that the median price of a Home (+1%), Condominium (+2%) and Plex (+3%) was up from the same time last year.

The unemployment rate (+1.4%) in Montreal this year is higher than last but consumer confidence appears healthy. This year when asked if now was a good time to buy, a greater number of consumers reported yes in March (39%) compared to February (29%). But more expensive properties may be less affordable, as buyers look to compromise. It is certain that properties are taking longer to sell and there are more expired listings in the MLS. Buyers just don’t know what price to pay in this market, while sellers are holding onto their price.

For sellers: set a realistic sale price; know the market and your competition; have a good marketing plan and reasonable budget; be prepared for a longer sale; keep negotiations going; work closely with your agent; and think like a buyer. For buyers: ask yourself why you are buying and where; shop around for a mortgage estimate before looking to buy; do not think of flipping a home if you are a conservative thinker; keep negotiations going; work closely with your agent; think like a seller.


Italy’s city of water: majestic, but a challenge to navigate

May, 2009

I took an overnight ferry from Patras, Greece to Ancona, Italy with three Canadian girls I met while travelling. Our sights were set on Venice, Venezia in Italian, the enchanted lagoon of northeast Italy.

When we docked in Ancona, we sent Laura to make the phone calls to find a hotel. After 20 minutes she returned, frustrated and confused. “What does ‘Pronto’ mean?” she asked. We didn’t know. “Each time I call a hotel someone picks up the phone and says ‘Pronto,’ then I ask about the rooms and then they hang up.” We later learned that “Pronto” is simply the way Italians answer the phone, and most of them don’t speak English. During her second round of phone calls, she eventually found someone who did, and reserved us a room.

The city of Venice is composed of 18 small, interconnected islands within a lagoon off the Adriatic Sea. About 31,000 people live on these islands. The city is small enough to explore entirely on foot. Boats are the standard method of transportation, and there are no cars in Venice, giving the city a sense of calmness.

From Ancona, we hopped on the train and headed north. About five hours later we heard the conductor announce “Venezia.” My mother had given me specific instructions to get off the train, turn right and walk toward the Jewish ghetto. I took charge and led the group as we made our way. It was dark and cold. We walked and walked. Something didn’t seem right. Where was the water? Scared and confused, we asked some Italian men at a café where we could find our hotel. They did not speak English. We pulled out a map of Venice and they laughed. Clearly, we had gotten off at the wrong stop. Apparently there are two train stops called “Venezia.” Who knew?

We took a cab to a bridge, walked across, and finally found our city of water. We felt lucky to have booked our hotel ahead of time, as we met several unprepared travellers roaming the street late at night looking for a place to stay. Our hotel – Alloggi Gerotto Calderan – had big, bright rooms with high ceilings. We paid about 75 euros for a room for the four of us. The hotel was just steps away from the Jewish ghetto. The first and oldest ghetto in Europe, it is 500 years old. The original term “ghetto” refers to this Venetian ghetto, which once housed 5,000 Jews, who were forced to live there. Venice’s active Jewish community of about 1,000 maintains five synagogues (two which are operational), a yeshiva (an orthodox Jewish school), a kosher restaurant, several Judaica shops, and a Chabad (an ultra-orthodox Jewish group).

The next morning, two Chabad boys invited us all to attend Chabad’s Shabbat dinner. It was the most beautiful Shabbat dinner I have ever experienced. There were several long tables set up along a canal. About 30 people – some local Venetians and many travellers from all over the world – came together for the meal.

Our first Italian café experience was interesting. I ordered a hot chocolate, and my friends all ordered coffee. We had to pay extra for a table. The waiter brought my hot chocolate out first. The girls ooed and aahed. It looked like a melted rich milk chocolate bar. Their coffees came out shortly after – mini mugs with about two sips of coffee in them. There must have been a mistake, we insisted, but no; in Italy, a coffee is a shot of espresso. Who knew?

The Piazza San Marco is one of the most famous squares in Italy. It is home to the Basilica di San Marco, the exquisite Palazzo Ducale, several ritzy art stores, cafés and hundreds of pigeons. We took a small tour of the remarkable basilica, nicknamed “Chiesa d’Or” (church of gold) for the decorative gold both inside and outside. It has Byzantine architecture. The marble floors are uneven, like water, due to the shifting of the foundation. It’s a remarkable sight.

The Palazzo Ducale is Venice’s pièce de résistance. Built in the 14th century, it was used as the senate house, the hall of justice, an administrative centre, and a prison until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. As we walked through the great halls, each one more exquisite and extravagant than the last, filled with golden walls and grand works of art, I couldn’t help but imagine it as my home while I study at Ca’ Foscari, University of Venice.

The shopping in Venice is like nowhere else. The city is known for its glasswork and Venetian masks. I bought several pieces of glass jewellery, but the masks wouldn’t survive in my suitcase.

The four of us took a peaceful, $90 half-hour gondola ride around the city. We made sure to choose a handsome gondola driver, who sang to us in Italian as we floated through the majestic city of water.

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What's Happening May 2009


Friday, May 8 Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom exhibits and sells the work of over thirty artists in an exhibition entitled Matri-Art; A Family Affair, a mother’s day arts and crafts sale. Vernissage after services. Saturday, May 9 from 12:30pm - 2:30pm and Sunday, May 10 from 1pm - 4pm. 4100 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-937-3575.

Until, May 30 Beaconsfield Library presents mixed media by Franki Vergil and her daughter Kim Vergil entitled Mother and Daughter at 303 Beconsfield. Meet artists Sunday May 10 2–4pm.

June 1 to 3 Beaurepaire-Beaconsfield Historical Society presents Women’s Work a display from the past of needlework at the Beaconsfield Library, 303 Beaconsfield.


Saturday May 9 from 10am–2pm Anglican Church of the Resurrection holds a flea market/ garage sale at 99 Mount Pleasant.

June 6 from 9am-1pm St. Paul’s Anglican Church holds their annual garage and bake sale at 377-44th Ave. Info: 514-634-1965.


Wednesday May 13 at 7:30pm Atwater Library book club discusses Falling Man by Don DeLillo at 1200 Atwater. Info: 514-935-7344.

Tuesday May 19 Rachel Jacklyn Bilodeau speaks at 7:30 pm at Zoological Society, 1444 Union. Info: 514-845-8317.

Thursday May 21 from 11am-2pm Helvetica Seniors Club presents a workshop by Dr. Dally Dastoor on Aging Memory and Changes followed by luncheon at Monkland Grill. Info: 514-481-2928.


May 9 and 10 at 6:30pm Dorval Strathmore United Church hosts a murder mystery fundraiser dinner at 310 Brookhaven. $30/$25 for students and seniors. To reserve: 514-793-9879.

May 11 and May 25 at 7:30pm Ami-Quebec hosts support groups for people living with mental illness at 4222 Cote St. Catherine. May 13 and 27 at 6:30pm groups are held at 10 Churchill, South Shore, suite 205. Info: 514-486-1448.

Tuesday May 12 at 7pm Atwater Library will continue their poetry project at 1200 Atwater with poets Katia Grubisic, Christian Bok, Jen Currin and Christine Leclerc. Info: 514-935-7344.

Thursday May 21 at 8:30am Auberge Shalom pour Femmes hosts their 20th anniversary breakfast at the Just for Laughs loft, 2111 St. Lawrence Blvd. featuring ECS jazz vocalist ensemble and speaker M. Adelia Ferreira, attorney, and Honoree Miriam Charron, founding president. $100. Info: 514-731-0833.

Saturday, May 23 from 11am-4pm, the 4th annual Caribbean Luncheon will be held at St. Thomas Church, 6897 Somerled corner Rosedale. $20. Under $10: $5. Info: 514-484-2750.

Thursday June 4 from 6pm-8pm the Council for Black Aging will meet at Union United Church, 307 Delisle.

Monday May 11 Senator Hugh Segal, Q.C. will speak at the St. James Literary Society’s Annual Dinner. Reservations: 514-484-0146.

Wednesday May 13 from 7pm-9pm Thomas More Institute begins their spring interview series on Legacies – Reflecting on the Worlds We Inherit. $10. 3405 Atwater. Info: 514-935-7344.

Thursday May 14 at 7pm Dr. Richard Béliveau speaks on Diet and Cancer Prevention at Jewish General Hospital, Cote-des-Neiges Entrance (Pavillon A) in B106. Limited space. To reserve: 514-340-8222, ext. 3872.

Thursday May 21 at 7pm notary Kelly Woodford speaks on Legal Issues: Brainy Boomers and Beyond at Côte Saint-Luc Library, 5851 Cavendish. $3. Info: 514-485-6900.

Wednesday May 27 Athanasios Katsarkas, director of the dizziness clinic at RVH will speak at 12:30pm at Atwater Library. Info: 514-935-7344.

Saturday May 9 at 7pm Church of St. Columba by-the-lake presents Kids Helping Kids, a benefit concert featuring West-Island music students at 11 Rodney. Proceeds to orphan-care day programs in Malawi. Donations welcomed. Info: 514-364-3027.

Sunday May 10 at 8pm Segal Centre hosts a Mother’s Day jazz special at 5170 Cote Sainte Catherine. John Roney and the Silverbirch Quartet perform. Seniors $15. Info: 514-739-7944.

Sunday May 10 at 7:30 pm the Viva Voce choir will be recapping the last 10 years of their choices in music. Redpath Hall, 3461 McTavish. $30; Seniors: $25; Students: $10 Info: 514-398-4547.

Thursday May 14 at 7:30pm Conseil des arts de Montreal and the Eleanor London Library present I Musici celebrating their 25th anniversary. Works by Mozart with performances by I Musici founders Yuli and Eleonore Turovsky. $10. 5851 Cavendish. Info: 514-485-6900.

Saturday May 16 at 8pm Lakeshore Concert Band presents its annual concert Gala highlighting music from Broadway and films at Oscar Peterson Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W. $15/$10 students and seniors. Info: 514-428-0636.

Saturday May 23 at 7:30 pm Montreal City Voices, the West-Island Chorus, the South Shore Saints and the Greater Montreal Chorus present acapella music to benefit Montreal Shriners Hospital for Children at Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W. $25. Info: 514-685-1126.

Sunday May 24 at 3 pm Voices for Hope, a 65 voice community choir directed by Douglas Knight performs Broadway Plus at Cedar Park United Church, 204 Lakeview. $20/students $12. Proceeds to assist Grandmothers to Grandmothers. Info: 514-630-4636 or 514-637-7125.

Sunday May 31 at 8pm Shtreiml, a Klezmer bandwill perform at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, 4100 Sherbrooke W. $20. Info and reservations: 450-672-9788.

Cavalia is held over until June 1 at Metropolitan Blvd corner Decarie. Info: 1-866-999-8111.

May 9, 15, 16, 22, 23 Becket Players Musical Theatre celebrates 35 years of entertainment at DDO Civic Center. $25. Info: 514-465-3029.