Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

Columns

Still going strong though stage opportunities are few for seniors

Geraldine Doucet never thought she’d live long enough to be an octogenarian. Her mother, father and younger brother all died prematurely and she is now the oldest living member of the Pisacano family.

She was on stage in all her glory last month at the Decarie Square Dollar Cinema, singing and dancing at her 80th birthday bash.

“Trust me,” she says. “Life begins at 80.”

Among older Montrealers, Doucet has been a fixture for nearly five decades. Appearing in numerous stage musicals and local television productions, she has belted out broadway tunes and danced her way into thousands of hearts. Although Geraldine got her start in showbiz during the 1950s, her career didn’t really take off until her husband, Roger Doucet who sang O Canada during Canadiens games at the Forum, died in 1981.

After her husband’s death from brain cancer, Doucet, who had put aside work as an entertainer to pursue a career in business, rediscovered her talent. “That’s when it opened up,” she says. She had met Roger in New York City, where they both attended the New York College of Music. While her career had always been secondary to his, she says her big break came “when he left me. I would rather have had him, but that’s the way God meant it to be.”

Geraldine was born in New York City’s Chelsea neighbourhood. “My mother had a wholesale/retail fish business there, and my father was a gambler,” she says. “He went to the track, he was a bookie and a good time charlie.” She became interested in showbiz because of her involvement in activities at the local church. “I was always in all the church plays, in the church choir.”

Doucet is best known for a series of stage musicals such as Nunsense, which played in Montreal at the now defunct La Diligence supper club on Décarie across from Blue Bonnets, and her participation in CTV Montreal’s long-running annual fundraiser for sick children, the Telethon of Stars. She appeared in a run of shows at the Centaur Theatre and the Saidye Bronfman Centre.

She also had success with her half-hour show, Geraldine, which ran for 39 weeks on CBC-Montreal.

Since 1999, Geraldine has been a “snowbird” who spends her winters in Florida. “From a health point of view, I think it was a really good move. From a career point of view it was a disaster,” she says. “Everything happens here. This is where the movies are made and you can’t fly back for an audition. The flight is $500 and then you don’t get the part.”

Geraldine Doucet celebrated her 80th onstage Photo: Martin C. Barry

She is somewhat bitter that opportunities in show business are so few for seniors. “More and more young people are coming in and there’s less desire for old people to be seen. I’m going to say this out loud: I have been told that in some cases they prefer not interviewing older people. You have to say to yourself, ‘It’s time to do something different.’”

This year, she had a leading role in a short dramatic film called The Perfect Vacuum. The six-minute movie, produced with the assistance of a grant from a CTV Television foundation to promote Canadian talent, also stars Quebec vocalist Natalie Choquette.

“A lot of my scenes involve vacuum cleaning,” Geraldine says about the movie, which tells the story of a singer (Choquette) who decides not to perform again until there is world peace. “We dance with her while we help clean.”

Since 1994, Geraldine has been married to Ben Linds. In her spare time, she paints colourful canvases, many of which are displayed in their home in Côte St. Luc.

Geraldine’s new venture involves giving talks to seniors about their aspirations and how they could be achieved beyond the age of 80. Next summer she will start making the rounds of senior residences with this project.

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Rebel for societal change

When David Woodsworth, a Professor Emeritus, retired from his job as director of McGill University’s School of Social Work decades ago, he decided he wanted to work with senior citizens. A colleague who had taught courses on gerontology suggested Woods­worth’s knowledge of the elderly was limited.

“This was true, but I learned,” says Woodsworth, 91. In 1986, he became a founding member of the NDG Senior Citizens Council. Prior to this, there had been no organization looking after the specific interests of seniors in the area.

“I don’t think the average person understands what it means not being able to hear,” he says of the types of infirmity that typically beset the elderly. “Hearing and sight are a couple of the major physical problems. And then there’s the increasing immobility.

“You cannot go into the Metro, you cannot go up and down the Metro stairs, and so therefore what do you do? You have to take a taxi everywhere, but you can’t afford a taxi.

“If you’re ill and you need attention, no doctor will come to the house. You have to go the doctor’s office somehow or to emergency, which is an impossible task for almost anybody at six hours [wait time] or more. Access to a physician’s care is a very significant issue.”

Woodsworth comes from a family for whom social consciousness is a tradition.

His uncle, J.S. Woodsworth, was the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), which became the New Democratic Party. David Woods­worth’s grandfather, Rev. James Woodsworth, was a senior Methodist missionary in western Canada. His father was also a Methodist minister, as was another uncle. Strong faith would become a powerful factor in determining Woodsworth’s social convictions. Woodsworth acknowledges that all this led him into social work. Despite his politically activist heritage, he insists he isn’t partisan and will usually vote for the party whose policies he favours. While he says he has voted for three of Canada’s leading political parties, he admits he never supported the Conservatives. But he says he admired Tory prime minister John Diefenbaker because of his stance on human rights.

As a social worker and commentator, Woodsworth says he feels compelled to warn others in his field of a tendency brought on by public policy, which leads them to accept bureaucratic and legalistic requirements to bring about changes in individuals.

David Woodsworth is a founding member of the NDG Senior Citizens Council Photo: Martin C. Barry

“It’s the fault of the individual; in other words, it’s not the fault of the society,” he says, describing the mindset. “I would rather emphasize the fault of the society.”

Acknowledging that this professional framework corresponds to a rightward shift in politics that started in the 1980s, Woodsworth adds, “I think there is a class difference related to that. The people who manage things, the movers and shakers, are out to protect their own interests. They come to believe sincerely that that is the way to do it. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the prime minister of Canada. I think he believes what he says and does. I just think it’s wrong.”

Woodsworth is cynical about the direction our society has taken in recent decades.

“The dominant politics in modern times is the politics of private enterprise and ownership. That has been greatly supported by the demise of the Soviet Union. So all of these things contributed to a great victory.”

Woodworth blames George W. Bush for furthering the interests of private enterprise as a way to deal with societal organization or problems. “The consequence of that has been a whole range of errors, omissions and suffering, which were avoidable had there been different politics. “But you couldn’t have a different politics because the people who own the power thought otherwise,” Woodsworth adds.

“So it’s basically a power struggle. The Soviet Union was a prime example of authoritarianism in the name of doing good for the people.

“It was probably more repressive than what we’ve got. But it doesn’t make our system the right one.”

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Margaret Trudeau speaks out on mental health awareness

Margaret Trudeau is living proof that mental illness can be successfully treated and that people afflicted with it can recover and live happy, productive lives. The former wife of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister, was in Montreal last month as honorary chairperson for the first annual Montreal Walks for Mental Health.

The five-kilometre fundraiser was sponsored by CSSS Cavendish and several local community groups involved with mental health. The walk began and ended at Côte St. Luc’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park.

“There are a lot of people who suffer, and they suffer in quiet desperation; they don’t reach out for help,” says Trudeau, who revealed three years ago that she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“There is a lot of help for people who suffer from mental illness. I suffered from bipolar all my life and it wasn’t until I got treatment that I recovered. I live a wonderful life, which I didn’t think was possible. My news is that if you get help and you follow your doctor’s orders and you exercise and you eat well and live a good life, you can recover from a mental illness.”

Trudeau was asked why no one seems to want to discuss mental illness. “Because they don’t understand the brain,” she says.

“We understand all the other organs in the body and how they function, but not the brain. The brain is like the last taboo. … More and more research is needed to find remedies for mental illness. For those who are suffering from a mental illness it’s such good news. There is help and it’s good help and you can have a good life.”

“I chose sanity,” says Margaret Trudeau, who has bipolar disorder Photo: Martin. C. Barry

Trudeau says she finds it easier now to speak out about her own problems than in the past. “One out of five Canadians is suffering with their emotional and mental health,” she says, “either with depression or anxiety or stress or insomnia or different types of behaviour that are not normal and don’t allow them to live a whole functioning life. So it’s something that affects every family. It affects every group of friends.

“The more information you get, the more you get an understanding of the workings of the brain, of the problems of chemical imbalance, of the need for medication, of the need for therapy. Then you can be an advocate yourself, and that’s what I’m trying to be as an advocate for the mentally ill. I suffered terribly from mental illness and I haven’t for a long time because I got help. Now I live a balanced life — I chose sanity.”

Trudeau’s stopover in Montreal was part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of mental illness issues. She has been involved for three years and has accepted speaking engagements all over the country.

“One in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness,” she says.

It’s hard for people to be honest about mental illness because of the stigma attached, she says.

While pharmaceuticals are commonly prescribed for mental illness, Trudeau said the range of treatments is much wider. “There’s everything – meditation, yoga. Certainly medication is important with a doctor. But then you have to have a very good attitude toward life through eating well, getting your vitamins, your Omega fish oils and getting exercise.

Of course, sleep is the most important. To get a good night’s sleep. That’s the first sign that you’re starting to get into trouble emotionally or mentally. You lose your sleep pattern or you sleep too much.”

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Cashless system of food delivery a necessity

You could call what happened to Gabrielle unfortunate. Or you could say it was a misunderstanding. But when Daphne Nahmiash heard of the incident, she called it by its true name: elder abuse. “Calling the police on a 94-year-old woman is excessively ridiculous and also punitive and scary,” said the chairperson of the NDG Community Committee on Elder Abuse.

The fiasco started one afternoon when Gabrielle, who uses a walker, is hard of hearing and legally blind, needed to order some food for guests who were visiting following a death in the family. Usually Gabrielle relies on her son to do her shopping, but this time she took the initiative. She called her local supermarket and placed a telephone order, believing the store would accept a cheque at the door. She had been told this would be possible both by the clerk at the store and by someone at the store’s head office, who assured her he would call the NDG store and let them know. “I called the store and they confirmed they had received the call,” Gabrielle said.

When the delivery man arrived, he dropped off one box but had to go back to pick up a second box he had forgotten. “When the delivery man came to my door my cheque was all ready,” Gabrielle said. “But when he came back, he said, ‘they won’t accept your cheque. I have to take back the order’.”

Meanwhile, Gabrielle had put the groceries away and didn’t want a stranger going through her cupboards. She told him to leave or she would call the police.

Instead, the delivery man did so, even though he had just seen Gabrielle’s son enter the home. “He could have asked me to pay, but didn’t bother,” recounted Mark, her son, who asked not to be referred to by his real name. “I could have settled the whole thing right there.”

Though the police were polite, the incident left Gabrielle shaken. “Being a heart patient I get out of breath. At 94 you’re more fragile; everything affects you very badly, even small things,” she said. Mark was also worried about his mother. “What would have happened if she had a heart attack? That night she had to take a bunch of tablets because her heart was racing.”

Mark went to the store to pay the bill, and the owner called Gabrielle to apologize. Still, the experience was very hard on the family.

Seniors want grocery stores to do more for their older clients. Discounted rates or free delivery on special days are of course important, but there must be a system in place that allows seniors to place phone orders and pay through some cashless method, since keeping large amounts of money at home is dangerous.

Luckily some stores do have systems in place, though most are reluctant to take cheques.

“We used to take cheques, but we lost hundreds of dollars every month,” said Maléka Khetani, co-owner of Le Marché du Village in Côte des Neiges. “So now clients give their credit card number over the phone, we enter the information manually into the machine and the client signs to approve the payment at the door.”

The Senior Times would like to compile a list of senior-friendly grocery stores for our annual Resource Directories. If you have a favourite store that will bring you food when you’re snowed in and let you use your credit card at the door, let us know at editor@theseniortimes.com

PA Supermarket, 1420 Fort, downtown 514-932-0922 Phone orders: 7 days/wk, 8am-9pm Over $25 for seniors, $1 delivery charge Under $25 for seniors, $3 delivery charge Credit card: Provide number on the phone and produce card on delivery. Manager: Lucie Desantis Delivery area: West to Décarie and north to Queen Mary

Provigo, 2300 Lucerne, TMR 514-735-0731 Phone orders: Call Linda Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before 11 am Delivery charge: $5 (no minimum) Credit card: Provide no. on phone and produce card upon delivery and sign for it Cheques: must apply in the store for this right Manager: Amandine Nicolas Delivery area: TMR and some parts of Ville St. Laurent

Metro, Sherbrooke and Victoria Westmount, 514-488-4083 Phone orders: Tuesdays and Wednesdays before 11am No delivery charge for seniors for minimum $35 order. Credit card: provide no. on phone and produce card upon delivery and sign for it Manager: Graham Fletcher Delivery area: in and around Westmount

Le Marché Du Village, 5415 Gatineau Côte des Neiges, 514-735-3611 Phone orders: Monday-Saturday 8am-9pm Delivery charge: $3.25, minimum $25 order Credit card: Give number over the phone, produce card at the door. Manager: Nizar Khetani Delivery area: TMR, CDN, NDG, CSL

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Ste. Anne’s veterans recall WWII experiences and horrors of battle

Martin C. Barry

Although they both served their country with valour during the Second World War, the wartime experiences of two Canadian veterans differed widely. Olier Déry was 15 in 1940 when he started hanging around the relatively new Dorval Airport, where military aircraft were being prepared for transport to the battle front in England. In those days, it was easier, it seems, for a young guy with a taste for adventure and military life to get his foot in the door.

“I started in the canteen,” says Déry, 85, a former CP Rail brakeman who now resides at Ste. Anne’s Hospital for Canadian veterans on Montreal’s West Island. Soon pilots taking aircraft aloft on test runs were inviting him up for a spin. By the time he was 18, he had enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, where he was designated as an LAC, a former ranking for aircraft maintenance personnel.

“I got to see my aunt,” he says of the time he spent near London. Called upon to take part in night-time surveillance from rooftops, Déry recalls seeing the bright trajectories of “tracer” ammunition fired from British positions at German aircraft flying in during air raids.

From a distance, he saw the effects of the many V-1 flying bombs that rained down on London, taking thousands of lives and causing untold damage. In the end, he avoided becoming a casualty himself. “It’s stupid,” he says of war. “You’re destroying everything, you’re killing a lot of people, and when they come out of it, the ones who survive are in really bad shape. It makes a lot of people suffer.” Gerry Hemlow, 91, a retired factory worker, served in the Royal Canadian Engineers, a branch of the Canadian military’s land force. Much of their task was to put into place the many bridges that were necessary for the Allied forces to penetrate Nazi-occupied Europe. Hemlow, who was in his early 20s, endured the stresses of being under artillery attack in Holland and France.

WWII veterans Gerry Hemlow (left) and Olier Déry

“A lot were killed and badly wounded,” he says. Fortunately, the only service-related injury he suffered was a hernia, sustained during training in Canada. However, he acknowledges that for a while he was affected by the carnage he witnessed.

“When I came back from overseas, I didn’t want to speak of it. But now many years have passed and it’s much less on my mind. The war is over 63 years and a person forgets. I never helped to build the Bailey Bridge across the Rhine River, but I stood guard there and did maintenance work on the bridge. I wasn’t there, but there was big loss of life right there in the engineers.”

More than 400 veterans, most of whom saw service in the Second World War and the Korean War, live at Ste. Anne’s Hospital. Many other veterans receive medical treatment on an out-patient basis. Several hundred Canadian veterans of more recent conflicts in Bosnia, Rwanda and Haiti also receive treatment at Ste. Anne’s. For Veterans’ Week, Nov. 5 to 11, the hospital is staging or taking part in a number of activities, some of which will be open to the general public.

On Friday, Nov. 6 at 10:45 a.m., a Souvenir Ceremony, organized in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Legion, is being held in the hospital auditorium. (A special pass is required). On Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 10:30 a.m., veterans from the hospital accompanied by dignitaries will attend a Remembrance Day ceremony and wreath-laying at McGill University. This event is open to all.

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Pastoral volunteers provide spiritual care for those at home

Every Sunday, Inez Macaulay watches Mass on TV.

Inez cannot drive or walk to church on Sundays. She can only go to church when she manages to get a lift, but most of the time she has to stay home. After the televised Mass, a volunteer comes in and brings Holy Communion to her. “I appreciate it very much,” Macaulay said. “I find it’s a big help.”

The volunteer is a Pastoral Home Care (PHC) volunteer from St. Monica’s Parish in NDG. PHC is a service with wide and increasing need because of the rising senior demographic. According to volunteer Louis McAnany, many people who are home-bound risk feeling disconnected from their church communities. “They are not forgotten,” he said. “They are still members of the community.”

Priests and lay volunteers from PHC provide a service that meets the spiritual needs of seniors who are physically unable to attend Mass. When McAnany, who has been a PHC volunteer at St. Luke’s Parish in Dollard des Ormeaux for many years, visits seniors and the disabled, he is mainly there to listen to them and “go with the flow.”

Inez Macaulay, a pastoral home care recipient, at daughter Cathie Macaulay’s home Photo: Matthew Rettino

The pastoral volunteer’s role is to listen to the spiritual needs of the person and to provide non-judgmental care and support.

“We’re not social workers,” McAnany said. “We are not there to cook meals or look after the sick and elderly. We’re here on a strictly pastoral basis.”

The elderly generally need accompaniment and simply to talk about things going on in the world and in their lives, McAnany said, adding that getting things in return “is not in line with the pastoral visit.” McAnany said he does appreciate prayers from those he visits.

While PHC can be provided for people of all faiths and even those who do not practise Catholicism, McAnany administers Holy Communion for Catholic seniors. He says simply giving them Communion is impersonal. “They need emotional, spiritual ties as well to feel part of the community.”

He said he can see the joy on the faces of those he visits. “They tend to grow more sociable with others.

“A visit opens them up and gives them a desire to get back into life.” To McAnany, that is the greatest reward.

Cathie Macaulay is the Pastoral Homecare Coordinator for the English sector of the Archdiocese of Montreal. Her job is to encourage small groups of pastoral volunteers in each of the 35 English Catholic parishes of Montreal to organize volunteers giving spiritual support to the sick and homebound. “In the English sector, we have over 170 volunteers,” she said. “In the whole diocese, there are over 600.”

Part of her role is to teach visitors or volunteers how to listen deeply, how to help seniors reach a deeper understanding of aging in a spiritual context, and how to accompany others dealing with issues such as grief.

“The first step is to train,” Macaulay said. Several English parishes are training new visitors, she adds. “We’re glad to have well-trained volunteers,” she said. With the dwindling number of priests and increase of the elder population, she says that the need for volunteers is increasingly important.

Fr. Gilles Surprenant is pastor of St. Luke’s Parish, a Dollard des Ormeaux church. “Since Vatican II, the church has made more room for lay people. There was a time when there were many priests (to administer pastoral care). A long time ago, people would care for their neighbours. Now people do it for strangers as volunteers.”

On the parish level, the PHC team sends other volunteers to connect with people in their homes or in seniors’ residences. According to Surprenant, the duty of the pastoral visitor is to assist the pastor with caring for the old and sick. The PHC service is being reorganized to better serve the community, Surprenant added. Once the service is reorganized, it will be easier to receive accurate statistics.

With fewer people going to Mass, it is always a challenge to find people willing to sacrifice their time to this ministry. According to Surprenant, there are parishes that work together to meet the growing demand for volunteers, but more are necessary to administer the service to those who need it.

As for Inez Macaulay, mother of Cathie Macaulay, she has always appreciated the service.

“One lady reads stories and books that have a religious background and we discuss the books, how they refer to the Gospels,” Inez said. “A couple of times a week someone coming in to have religious discussions brings me back to a feeling of having some religion in my life. Seeing Mass on TV is not the same.” To receive Pastoral Home Care or to volunteer, contact PHC services at 514-931-7311, ext. 354.

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Sheri McLeod: senior in training

After nearly 20 years with the NDG Senior Citizens Council, Sheri McLeod has come to the conclusion that retirees today increasingly are viewed through a “wider lens,” instead of on the basis of an “illness” model that dwells mostly on vulnerability.

“There’s a greater appreciation of later life as an extension of one’s entire life experience, and that’s slowly seeping into people’s consciousness,” says McLeod, who has been the council’s executive director for the past decade.

“Older people in general are being provided with more options in everything from accommodations to vacation packages, lifestyle magazines and leisure opportunities that I think 20 or 25 years ago people would not have thought about.

“Also what we’re seeing is the beginning of awareness of adapting the workplace to the needs of the older employee,” McLeod adds. “Something that’s been shown in a number of studies is that some people would quite willingly return to part-time work if they had the opportunity, because people’s vitality exists for a much longer period of time now; I think that’s starting to change things. It’s no longer about being 65 years old, so here’s the gold watch, it’s over. It’s more where do you see yourself in your life?”

Aging is “a journey everyone is on,” says Sheri McLeod Photo: Martin C. Barry

Declining health and the eventual loss of a spouse or close friends are inevitable, and for seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to depression. However, for transportation to doctor’s appointments, help with income taxes, hot meals, or just much-needed companionship, the NDG Senior Citizens Council continues to meet the needs of about 1,100 seniors in Montreal West and Notre Dame de Grâce.

This year marks the council’s 35th anniversary. While its services have been a mainstay of Montreal’s west end community for decades, it now also provides new programs, such as a grief support group for people who are having difficulty adapting to life’s changes. Community lunches and social interaction facilitated by the council also help seniors make friends and maintain a social network.

McLeod, 45, describes herself as a “pre-senior” or a “senior in training.” She joined the NDG Senior Citizens Council 19 years ago as a volunteer coordinator, before graduating from McGill University’s School of Social Work and taking on a heavy load of the council’s case work. The council operates on a budget of about $330,000 per year, which comes from grants from various sources. The council’s offices were until recent years located on Terrebonne in NDG. They are now in the Montreal West United Church.

Since two-thirds of the NDG Senior Citizens Council’s funding comes from Centraide as well as from the government, there are some strings attached, such as an increasing pressure to work more closely with other groups, with whom the council is sometimes encouraged to sign agreements. “It’s a big machine and we’re not,” says McLeod, adding that her group tries to remain independent. “We try to have a certain amount of autonomy, while still respecting that a lot can be gained for the general population through certain types of involvement.”

While there is a tendency among people to view advancing age with a degree of dread, McLeod says, “I think everybody who works here is ironically a lot less afraid of being old than other people. You would think it would be the opposite, because we have all seen so many times how incredibly resilient and strong people are.

“Often people fear what they see as unknown, and for us it’s not really. Collectively it’s a journey everyone is on and so we’ve seen thousands of examples of people who’ve overcome so much. And regardless of what you get handed as you move through your own aging, there are a lot of things you can do and put in place to optimize your own experience.”

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Students gather on Parliament Hill demanding environmental action

Thousands of students from across Canada stood on Parliament Hill in the rain last month demanding that the federal government take action at the upcoming UN environmental summit in Copenhagen. “When we go to Copenhagen, Canada has to choose: Are we going to lead, follow or get out of the way?” said Gracen Johnson, organizer of Fill the Hill, the demonstration that took place on October 24. “It’s got to be one of those three.” Students at the rally were advocating for “mitigation, adaptation and a green economy.”

Mitigation is the science-based emission reduction targets, Johnson said. Adaptation is the students’ demand for a fair climate deal. “To have a green economy, we need green jobs. We need just transition for workers, we need to rethink the way we plan our cities, and we need urban transportation that’s so much better than it is. “We have the resources available here and it’s just not being utilized and I think that’s criminal.”

Approximately 3,000 students attended the rally.

“Everyone was together and we were all rallying but there’s so much negative information floating around,” said Jordie Cumber, a student at the University of Ottawa. “The energy could have been better. ‘Here are the positive things we can do,’ instead of, ‘We suck. We don’t do anything’.”

Johnson said she thinks the message was received. “It is very loud and clear. If you look on the news today you can see all of these people, worldwide, millions of people asking for the same thing. “For the message to be ignored, it would be astounding. We’ll see what the leaders do with that.”

Thousands of protesters gathered on Parliament Hill October 24 Photo: Peter Dudley

Most of the effort was organized on the web, with Johnson communicating with volunteers via Skype (a long-distance video calling system) and e-mail for the past 10 months. “I have 70 more hours a week of my life to enjoy now that it’s over,” Johnson said, adding that it’s going to be odd having so much free time.

“It’s been so much work, but totally rewarding. In our debriefings at the pubs tonight, we were talking about how it’s going to be like withdrawal. This issue is so important. To not be organizing and mobilizing would be impossible for me.” “World leaders are going to decide the future of humanity,” she added. “I guess we’ll see what happens.”

The UN environmental conference will take place December 6-18 in Copenhagen.

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Justin Trudeau tells youth they must be leaders today

When Justin Trudeau went to Dawson College October 23 to talk about politics and youth, he quickly dispelled the notion that students are apathetic.

“Young people in general get a pretty bad rap for being disconnected, disengaged and apathetic,” said Trudeau, who is the Liberal member of parliament for Papineau. But this is the wrong assumption, he said. “More young people than ever before are getting involved in non-governmental organizations.” Among the organizations he cited are Greenpeace, Amnesty International, local community groups and student groups.

“They’re out there fighting an issue, voicing their concerns. They just don’t think that politics is a particularly interesting use of their time.”

The electoral strategies of the political parties based on slander and short-term goals are not overly inspiring, he said. Canadians of all ages are becoming more cynical about politics and are “tuning it out or turning it off.”

“Take on responsibilities and shape the world,” Justin Trudeau told students at Dawson College last month Photo: Martin C. Barry

He said it’s hard for anyone to see how stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors for this blue team, orange team, or red team is going to change the world in a positive way.

“It seems ludicrous, particularly when we see that more and more politics are [...] just figuring out a way to get a little more power.

“It’s easy to get elected. Pick a group with enough votes and completely marginalize another group and brush them aside. You’re going to get yourself elected. Stephen Harper is proof of that. But it’s no way to govern a country or be responsible.”

He said that politics have fallen into easy sound bites full of superficiality, headlines and attacks. The goal should be to unite everyone for a common goal, and that can be done, he said, by having conversations about the direction we would like our country to take as a united front.

“[Short-term political goals] are no way to pull together all of our extraordinary diversity. It’s always easier to divide.”

He said the days of a political party or leader being able to change things is over. He cited the United States as an example.

“As extraordinary a leader as Barack Obama is, he’s not going to be able to do it alone. He cannot succeed in turning the enormous juggernaut that is the United States onto a more balanced and prosperous path without the input, mobilization and action of hundreds of millions of citizens, because they are part of the solution.”

He explained that the future of democracy and politics relies on the citizens being engaged and active. He told the students that they are not the leaders of tomorrow, even though they are told that in the hopes of inspiring them.

“Being the leaders of tomorrow is conditional. If you do your homework, graduate from college, get a good job and a promotion, then maybe you can be a leader.”

He says this mentality is false and detrimental.

“You’re leaders today. That’s what we need you to be. It’s how we need you to act. Take on responsibilities and shape the world around you.”

Unless young people do this now, the next century is going to be a depressing one, Trudeau said. “We need to collectively and individually step up.”

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A just sentence for crimes against humanity

It was a first for Canada: Desiré Munyaneza, scion of a wealthy family in the former Belgian colony of Rwanda, was sentenced in Montreal last month after a lengthy trial for crimes against humanity during the genocide of 1994. He was not the first alleged war criminal to enter Canada, but was the first to be convicted under Canada’s War Crimes Act, which allows Canadian residents to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All who believe that nobody who commits crimes against humanity should be given impunity will rejoice. Yes, Rwanda, tucked away in east Africa, is far away, but in the global village we are all Rwandans. Until the 1980s, Canada was among many countries that were guilty of inaction in failing to prosecute those who lied on their applications for refuge after the Second World War in failing to mention that they had served the Nazi killing machine. This “let-bygones-be-bygones” attitude flourished in France with regard to Vichy régime collaborators, until such courageous citizens as Beate Klarsfeld tracked down Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, in Bolivia and compelled his return to France to face trial.

In his landmark judgment, Justice André Denis of Quebec Superior Court sentenced Munyaneza to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Munyaneza not only incited genocide, he led a team of Hutu murderers as part of the systematic killing of at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He was arrested in Toronto in 2005 under the new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

The evidence showed that Munyaneza’s family had stockpiled machetes just before the attacks began. The evidence showed he killed dozens himself in a deliberate and premeditated way, justifying the toughest sentence under Canadian law.

In his trenchant ruling, the judge wrote that Munyaneza “chose to kill, rape and pillage in the name of the supremacy of his ethnic group,” reminding us that “every time a man claims to belong to a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger.” As for the accused denying guilt, Denis wrote, “Denying genocide is to kill the victims a second time.”

“There is no greater crime than genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he continued. “History has shown that what happened there could happen anywhere in the world, that nobody is safe from such a tragedy.”

Meanwhile, at The Hague, the genocide and war crimes trial of ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continues, even though he claims he needs more time to prepare his defence. He was branded the “undisputed” leader of Serbs involved in the ethnic cleansing campaign from 1992-95 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The prosecutor in his opening statement said that, “In the course of conquering the territory he claimed for the Serbs, his forces killed thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, imprisoned thousands more in squalid and brutal camps and detention facilities, and forced hundreds of thousands away from their homes.” He quoted Karadzic as saying before the war that Serb forces would turn the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, into “a black cauldron, where 300,000 Muslims will die.” The charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and other atrocities include allegedly organizing the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and youths in Srebrenica.

What a contrast between these horrific episodes of planned mass murder with those who throw around notions of “war crimes,” such as in the recent Goldstone Report, when it comes to Israel’s actions in Gaza last year. Israel acted in response to years of unprovoked rocket attacks from that territory against civilian targets in Israel. As the report said, “The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens.” Yes, innocent victims died, on both sides, as they always will in armed conflict. But with Gaza ruled by Hamas, dedicated to destroying Israel and allowing or directing rocket attacks and other acts of terror against it, there is no denying its primary responsibility for the deaths that occurred.

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H1N1: Hopefully, this too shall pass

Since the flu-de-jour has monopolized headlines, the smallest cough or sneeze can elicit dirty looks in a bus or supermarket. As passengers or shoppers sidle over to a hopefully less infectious spot, their “bubble” invariably reads: “I hope it’s not H1N1!”.

The perception that H1N1 is to be feared has created what one pediatrician has called “H1N1 psychosis,” as worried people swamp emergency clinics and vaccination sites.

The fact that the virus has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization is, in itself, not a reason to panic, says Eric Toner, senior associate with the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Quoted in Bioworld Today, Toner says, “ ‘Pandemic’ means a global outbreak of an infectious disease … But the word ‘pandemic’ doesn’t relate to severity of the illness. So we have a pandemic of a virus that causes mild illness, apparently much like we did in the last influenza pandemic.” Dr. Toner predicts that H1N1 will replace the seasonal flu we know starting next year.

Experts say that in most people this virus will resolve on its own, what makes the H1N1 strain somewhat sinister is that it sickens healthy younger people and there is no sure way of identifying yet who is more susceptible to severe illness. If complications develop, they are severe, especially in people with underlying medical conditions. Healthy people born before 1957 are less at risk.

Although the symptoms of a cold, the seasonal and swine flu (H1N1) are similar, here’s how to tell them apart: A sore throat, runny nose and a cough indicate a cold. The same symptoms with fever and fatigue so overwhelming that bed rest is required likely indicate the flu. H1N1 differs from the seasonal flu in that sometimes there is no fever, but vomiting and diarrhea may be present.

If the illness worsens it’s important to seek medical help, as the H1N1 virus tends to attack the cells deep in the lungs, causing rare but serious complications requiring hospitalization in about 1 out of 1,000 cases. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, warning signs are: fever over 39.5C, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain, bloody sputum, dizziness or confusion, persistent vomiting, bluish or grey skin colour, and low blood pressure.

“We know that this is now the dominant influenza virus transmitted around the world,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, director of global health programs for the McGill Medical School and senior advisor for the International Society for Infectious Diseases. “The good news is that since this virus has been recognized, in April, it has been stable, not become more deadly. Most people have mild disease and do well. A very small percentage of people get very sick and it’s even a smaller percentage who die.”

Since Canada’s unprecedented mass vaccination campaign started, people have flooded flu clinics and stood in line for hours waiting to be immunized. However, some are concerned about possible side effects of the vaccines. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 38 per cent of U.S. parents said they were unlikely to allow their children to be immunized. The adjuvanted Canadian vaccine, manufactured by Glaxo Smith Kline, contains squalene and thimerosol, two substances anti-vaccine activists are worried about.

In the NFB documentary film Silence on Vaccine, Lina B. Moreco focuses on families who believe their children have suffered adverse reactions to vaccinations. “I did three years of research and met people who suffered from side effects,” Moreco said. “When I finished the film, the NFB hired a lawyer from outside and from the film board and someone to check the archives I used to make sure I didn’t play with the information.”

Vaccine fears may originate in a 1976 swine flu vaccination campaign when there was an increase of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a neuro-immune disorder. Experts still debate whether it was coincidental or causal that during the campaign 500 fell ill and 25 died in the U.S.

Since then, Dr. Brewer says, studies done on the seasonal vaccine have shown no increase in Guillain-Barré. As well, there are unprecedented tracking systems in the US and Canada to monitor possible adverse reactions. “We’ll have to look and follow after people start using H1N1 vaccines. It’s the only way we’re going to know for sure.”

To date, the vaccine has been tested in more than 40,000 people globally. NDP health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis says the vaccine seems to be effective and safe. “We continue monitoring, but based on everything I’ve seen and heard, the risks from serious illness are greater than problems you might get from the vaccine.”

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Why we shiver and don’t complain

Why do many tenants suffer in silence in inadequately heated apartments during our coldest months of the year? Here are five common misconceptions about apartment heating issues that often act as roadblocks to resolving heating problems.

1. A cold apartment automatically indicates a cold-hearted landlord. Not necessarily. A landlord living away from the property may be unaware of the problem, or a novice landlord may be ignorant of how to most effectively operate your building’s heating equipment. Before any landlord can deal with a heating problem, it has to be clearly and accurately communicated to him or her by tenants.

2. Landlords are only obligated to heat apartments during certain months of the year. The City of Montreal Housing Code states that if heating is included in your lease, your landlord must maintain your apartment’s temperature at not less than 21 degrees Celcius or 71 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.

3. My landlord says the building is warm enough, but I’m shivering. I can’t prove my apartment is too cold, because it’s his word against mine. Start keeping a temperature log, over a number of days, of the temperature inside your apartment and outdoors. Such a written record can be a useful form of evidence at a rental board hearing. To obtain an accurate indoor temperature reading, locate a thermometer near the centre of a room, one metre off the floor. Send your landlord a registered letter explaining your heating problem and noting his responsibility to honour the heating requirement of your lease. Include your temperature log. Should your landlord fail to rectify the problem you can forward a copy of your letter to City of Montreal inspectors, who will visit your apartment building and advocate for adequate heat on your behalf. Any reliable witness can help provide evidence at a rental board hearing.

4. The rental board is far too busy and overloaded with cases to help me with my heating problem. It’s true that tenants can wait a long time for rental board hearings to be scheduled, but if your apartment is extremely cold you can ask that your case be considered urgent and heard at an earlier date. Additionally, the existence of a City inspector’s report can be mentioned in your application, and this will speed up obtaining a hearing.

While waiting for your hearing, consider purchasing space heaters as a temporary heating measure, and the rental board will require that your landlord pay for the extra electricity consumed. A word of caution: Space heaters may place a serious strain on the wiring of older buildings, posing a fire risk. Inspectors from the Régie du batiment du Québec will come and examine the wiring of older buildings to determine if electrical equipment is up to standard to allow the safe use of space heaters. This service is free. Finally, the rental board can award a rent decrease for the months you were without adequate heating. 5. My landlord is aggressive and I fear he will take reprisals against me if I complain to authorities.

Aggressive people have a way of making others feel isolated and vulnerable. But as a tenant you are not alone. The following community organizations and offices can provide you with the information and support you will need to take a proactive and assertive stance in negotiating with your landlord for adequate heating.

Arnold Bennett’s Housing Hotline: 514-990-0190

City of Montreal Permits and Inspections, Borough of Côte des Neiges / NDG: 514-872-5160

Elder Abuse Info-line: 514-489-2287

NDG Senior Citizens’ Council: 514-487-1311

The Organization for Housing Education and Information of Côte des Neiges: 514-738-0101

Project Genesis: 514-738-2036

Régie du batiment du Québec: 514-873-0976; rbq.gouv.qc.ca

Régie du logement (Rental Board): 514-873-2245; rdl.gouv.qc.ca

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A show worth seeing – again

Byron Toben

In a fall season of many fine plays, three have been outstanding. Haunted, by local wunderkind Paul Van Dyck, closed October 31; Inherit The Wind closes November 8; and Till We Meet Again returns to Montreal from its successful tour of Ontario for three performances November 21 and 22.

Many of us are happily haunted by the golden age of ’40s songs, 30 of which are featured in Till We Meet Again.

This entertaining and lively play is based on a radio show of the fledgling CBC during World War II, broadcast from the Normandy room of the downtown Mount Royal hotel (now a shopping centre and apartment complex) from 1940 to 1946. Besides the songs of the day, the show, dubbed “Music of the Stars,” features the corny commercials of the time, heart-warming stories of men at war and letters from home.

During the play’s stopover in Mississauga, one Ray Lank showed up in the audience. Lank, it turns out, handled the live remote transmission of the prototype of the program from the Normandy room in 1945.

In Ottawa at the National War Museum, veterans of more recent military actions attended, as well as a few survivors from World War II.

In Montreal during the show’s October run, Edna Lee, 90, traipsed in from her Lachine home – at night, against the wishes of her children – to relive the days of tears, humour and hope she had heard on the radio back then.

A suprising number of younger viewers have shown up, revealing that the show is not only coasting on nostalgia, but also on good entertainment value honed by the talented and professional cast.

Conclusion? Don’t wait to see – or see again – Till We Meet Again. Till We Meet Again is on at the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall at Concordia University’s Loyola Campus November 21 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and November 22 at 2 p.m.

Tickets are available through Admission: 514-790-1245. Inherit the Wind continues until November 8 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Info: 514-739-7944 or segalcentre.org

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Geordie presents: Could your grandchild be a Tiny Tim?

Wandering through legions of increasingly desperate shoppers as the holiday season nears is a tradition in most North American cities. Montreal is no exception: you need only to venture out of your door on December 23 to be confronted by the reality that Christmas is an extremely profitable time for shopkeepers. Luckily, there is another proud tradition in Montreal that serves to remind all generations of the true message of compassion and generosity of the holiday celebrations: theatre.

This December Geordie Productions presents Charles Dickens’s classic Victorian tale A Christmas Carol, adapted for the stage by Alexandria Haber, in co-production with Concordia University’s Theatre Department. The story of Scrooge, the cruel miser who is transformed into a caring and compassionate man by his journey through time with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, is one of the most enduring holiday tales of the genuine meaning of Christmas.

“It’s essentially a play about love and the true spirit of Christmas,” says publicist Siu-Min Jim. “We need to be reminded of that as Christmas becomes more and more commercial, and there’s more of a collective tendency towards the selfish desires represented by Scrooge in the play.” According to Jim, this Christmas story appeals to all ages because of the themes of kindness and redemption.

“The story is still the highlight in this adaptation,” Jim says, “we tell it funny but touching. We also have a great team of designers, including Ana Cappelluto, for set and lighting, and James Lavoie for costumes.”

“This production brings out the best of what theatre is,” Jim says. “It gives you just enough so that imagination can take over. Imagination is not limited to children. We need to remember that today and open ourselves to the magic.”

Geordie Productions is also offering a rare opportunity: they are searching for a Tiny Tim, the young, frail, but generous and loving son of Scrooge’s employee Bob Cratchit. The search began November 1, and Geordie invites aspiring young actors of both genders to seize the opportunity to perform in front of up to 400 people! No acting experience is necessary. Tell your children or grandchildren to send in:

· A recent head-to-toe photo

· A letter telling Geordie about the best gift they’ve ever received or given and why?

· A short paragraph about themselves (including their favourite subject at school, extra-curricular activities, hobbies, favourite books or writers.)

· A completed entry form signed by a parent/guardian/grandparent.

One of up to 26 participants will be selected to perform onstage in a single performance of A Christmas Carol. All entries must be received by November 20 at auditions@geordie.ca or Geordie Productions, 4001 Berri, Suite #103, Montréal, QC, H2L 4H2. A Christmas Carol runs December 4 - 13: Fridays at 7pm; Saturdays at 4pm; Sundays at 1pm & 4pm. Single Tickets: $20/ $15 children/ $18 seniors.

All tickets cost $13 if purchased as part of a Season Pass. Info: 514-845-9810 between 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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Ton Koopman among international names coming for Bach Festival

Inspired by the tradition of European Bach Festivals, the Montreal Bach Festival brings international classical musicians to Montreal.

“The timeless genius of Johann Sebastian Bach laid the foundation for every composer and musician to follow,” says festival founder and artistic director Alexandra Scheibler. The festival will partner with Kent Nagano and the OSM. J.S. Bach’s masterpiece St. Matthew Passion launches the festival Nov. 24 and 25 at Place des Arts.

Featuring the OSM chorus and international soloists, the performance is preceded by an interview with Scheibler by Espace musique’s Mario Paquet at 6:30 pm. A day-long symposium on the work will take place Saturday, Nov. 21 at Conservatoire de musique de Montréal. Tenor Christoph Prégardien, performing the role of the Evangelist in St. Matthew Passion, offers a master class at 2pm followed by a discussion moderated by Kelly Rice of CBC Radio. Registration is required.

Dutch conductor, organist and harpsichordist Ton Koopman, founder of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, performs The Art of the Fugue, a duo harpsichord recital with his wife Tini Mathot, Nov. 29 at 7:30pm at Marianopolis College and an Organ Advent Nov. 30 at 7:30pm at Immaculée Conception Church.

Young Belgian organist Els Biesemans, winner of the Bach Prize at last year’s Canadian International Organ Competition in Montreal, is featured in recital Nov. 28 performing Bach’s Clavier-Übung, Volume III at Immaculée Conception Church. Russian pianist Evgeni Koroliov is featured Dec. 4, performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations at Marianopolis College. Another performance of the Goldberg Variations, this time in Dmitri Sitkovetsky’s arrangement for String Trio on Nov. 29 at Ex-Centris features cellist Matt Haimovitz, violinist Jonathan Crow and violist Douglas McNabney.

On Nov. 26, Boris Brott and the McGill Chamber Orchestra perform the complete Brandenburg Concerti at St. Irénée Church, featuring Matthias Maute and Sophie Larivière, recorders; Thomas Gould, violin; and Luc Beauséjour, harpsichord. The Juno Award-winning Ensemble Caprice performs a chamber version of Bach’s Mass in B-minor Dec. 3 at the Darling Foundry. Led by artistic director Matthias Maute, the work features sopranos Shannon Mercer and Marie Magistry, alto Pascal Bertin, tenor Michiel Schrey and bass Harry van der Kamp.

Closing the festival Dec. 5 is the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, performing at Telemann and Bach at Notre Dame Basilica.

Tickets are free for 16 and under for some recitals. For the complete schedule and information, visit montrealbachfestival.com. or call 514-581-8637.

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November brings chills, thrills and lots of music to stages around town

Three theatre pieces have now opened here, too recent to review, but with great credentials so I don’t hesitate to list them as must-sees.

Swan Song of Maria stars the incredible Ranee Lee exhibiting her acting chops to supplement her well-known singing and dancing skills.

In this show, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Black Theatre Workshop, Lee portrays a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s and memories of love. Actor-teacher Joel Miller is the husband. Dance and music (with a Latin twist) are integrated into the performance. Tyrone Beskin, fresh from his key role in Inherit The Wind, directs this “tragic fairy tale” by the award-winning Carole Cece Anderson.

Swan Song of Maria is at MAI, 3680 Jeanne Mance, until November 22. Info: 514-932-1104, ext. 226. *** Death and the Maiden brings back former Centaur director Gordon McCall in this proven political thriller by Chilean-born Ariel Dorfman. It deals with memories of torture and demons from the past, all told in a tight, gripping manner. Death and the Maiden is at Centaur Theatre, 453 St. François Xavier, until December 6. Info: 514-288-3161. *** Be My Baby deals with teenage girls giving up their babies for adoption in the ’60s. Directed by MECCA winner Gabrielle Soskin, this touching story features music from the period and a cast of six, including the versatile Nadia Verrucci. Be My Baby continues at Monument National, 1182 St. Laurent, until November 14. Info: 514-871-2224.

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Adaptation of 12 Angry Men touches modern themes

Many people would prefer to avoid jury duty, but even the most politically negligent cannot avoid this civic responsibility that is central to our legal system. With a jury composed of peers, ordinary citizens are the arbiters of justice, and the effectiveness of democracy rests in their taking the trouble to engage in their duty to listen, discuss and decide on guilt or innocence.

While political analysts despair over public apathy, there remains a hope of life mimicking art as in a new production by the Lakeshore Players.

In 12 angry jurors, written by Reginald Rose in 1954 and adapted for the stage by Sherman Sergel, a group of strangers cast off their lassitude to assume their juridical responsibility.

The jurors are summoned to pass judgment on a young Puerto Rican man accused of his father’s murder. When nearly all of them quickly resolve to condemn the boy to death, a lone dissenter votes “not guilty”, obliging the others to discuss the matter further to reach a conclusive verdict. His forcing them not to act for the sake of expediency or bias results in their gradual awakening to the responsibility conferred on them and an examination of the prejudices that would have allowed them to commit a grave injustice.

The play, which has been produced both as a teleplay and as a film, is directed by retired John Abbott theatre professor Murray Napier. This is his second production with Lakeshore, the first being David French’s Silver Dagger from the 2007-2008 season.

Napier says he is impressed with the organization of the Lakeshore Players and the dedication of their volunteers and actors. “I proposed this play because I was struck by their talent,” Napier says, adding that the play “is a showcase for talent. It’s a terrific cast.”

This is Napier’s third time directing 12 angry jurors. The previous productions were at John Abbott. “These actors are the right age,” Napier adds jokingly. “I don’t have to encourage them to be more mature in their portrayals.”

Rose’s teleplay was originally called 12 angry men and later changed to 12 angry jurors.

“I’ve always done it with mixed casts,” Napier says. “It’s interesting to see how the female actors have made the play their own.”

“In theatre departments, you often have to turn men into women,” he adds. While the title of the play might have become more gender-neutral over the decades, the emotion that typifies the characters remains unchanged.

“Anger is the central energy in the play,” Napier says. “There’s the anger of someone who will fight for justice, whose battle is aimed at getting to the truth, and there’s the personal anger of the jurors getting in the way of justice. In the beginning, the anger is directed at this one relentless juror. Then, as they start to ferret out the truth, the anger changes direction.”

Despite the near unjust conviction at the beginning of the play as a result of the jurors’ prejudices, Napier asserts that his play is very supportive of the justice system: It only requires that the role of the individual to ensure justice be taken seriously. “The system is susceptible to mistakes,” Napier admits, “but that comes with a democracy. Democracy is vulnerable, but also a defense against tyranny. You look at recent injustices – Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo – and you realize how that system needs to be preserved. Especially in a time of war, you don’t throw away the values you’re committed to. True values persist,” Napier insists. “The jurors’ hearts are in the right place. It’s exciting to see whether or not they’ll do the right thing.”

According to Napier, the jurors undergo a catharsis, a self-realization only encountered through the renewed pursuit of justice. “You’re moved by the way they deal with the conflict,” Napier says. “What you enjoy is to see that good will survive the onslaught of obstacles, to watch justice and understanding triumph.”

“This play gives a hopeful message,” Napier says. “It gives the audience a sense of the good side of what America wants to be.”

12 angry jurors runs at John Rennie Theatre, 501 St. Jean, Pointe Claire, from November 5-7 and 11-14. To reserve, call 514-631-8718.

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“Oh, had I but followed the arts!”

The lament of Sir Andrew Ague­cheek from William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night finds no resonance among the halls of Royal West Academy. There are a variety of ways to get involved in theatre, including the Bardolators, the student Shakespeare group that mounts two of the Bard’s plays every year, a tragedy and a comedy.

This year’s fall production, Shake Up Shake Down, is an assortment of scenes from Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. While the students normally perform two full-length plays a year, they recognize that the highlighting of choice scenes from different shows gives the cast a chance at larger roles and the opportunity to discover works of Shakespeare that they had not yet encountered.

Doug Floen, the longtime artistic director of many shows at Royal West Academy, is a staunch supporter of the students being exposed to Shakespeare outside the classroom setting.

The Bardolators on their trip to England a year and a half ago, at the London Eye

Sidney Westlake a teacher and Royal West and is the producer and treasurer of the bradolater plays. She agrees with Floen on the point of active student involvement with Shakespeare.

“Teenagers should be exposed to the genius of Shakespeare as he truly understood human nature.” The recognition of Shakespeare’s perpetually relevant insight Mrs. Westlake hoped for seems to have materialized itself in the students.

“Shakespeare’s themes were pertinent then and they’re pertinent now,” said Emma Pask, a fourth-year Bardolator. “You can always relate to what’s happening in his plays.”

Rebecca Kaiser-Reiss, in her last year at Royal West, explains the empathy evoked in students by the Shakespearean characters. “I didn’t notice until recently but lots of Shakespeare’s plays deal with teenagers, and the inner workings of their minds.”

She offers the example of Hamlet, a young man who’s “stressed and depressed.” Not to be overly dramatic, she says, but she can appreciate how he feels. While the students admit to being sometimes overwhelmed by the large workload and number of rehearsals required to put on a show, they are quick to share their favourite thing about being part of the theatre group.

“Being onstage – It’s the greatest feeling ever,” said William Lapin, a grade eight student. Kaiser-Reiss interjected, “Doing Dinner Theatre. Everyone’s been eating and drinking and there’s really good vibes. It’s so much easier to get onstage and just go crazy because the people looking up at you just want it.”

Pask credited acting as being responsible for her boost in confidence when it comes to speaking and writing as well having helped her better express her thoughts to her teachers.

She said there is a great sense of accomplishment when a play closes.

Sidney Westlake, shares Emma’s pride in being involved in such a large production. Floen said one reason for his long commitment to the promotion of theatre at Royal West is, “the joy of watching kids grow and explore characters and parts they wouldn’t normally be able to do in the classroom.” Floen has been amazed by the talent demonstrated by students.

“Some of the most pure and honest acting comes from novices who bring a fresh spirit to it,” he said. Shake Up Shake Down runs November 23-26 at 7pm, Dinner Theatre November 27 at 6pm. Admission: $10, Seniors $7, Students $5. Advance Tickets for Dinner Theatre $25. Tickets can be bought at the door or by calling 514-489-8454 for reservations.

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More than food on the menu at holiday benefit breakfast

On Friday, November 27, the La Stanza Buffet & Grill Restaurant in St. Leonard will host the Generations Foundation Holiday Benefit Breakfast. La Stanza staff will arrive at 4am to prepare the buffet. When 92.5 The Q begins its broadcast at 5:30am, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee will be wafting through the air.

Volunteers from high schools and CEGEPs, board members, friends and acquaintances play an integral role in this labour of love for children. They will don their Generations aprons and be ready when the doors open at 6:30 am. When you walk in the door, Adrian and I will be delighted to meet and greet you, along with our team of volunteers and an assortment of 50 brunch delectables.

We are very thankful to La Stanza owner Peter Bakos and his family for their generosity and support over the years. They have helped to shape the lives of precious children and their families by helping us raise $1,195 million dollars over the last decade.

Global Quebec’s This Morning Live, terminated over a year ago, contributed to Generations Foundation’s success. The show was broadcast live on location at 21 La Stanza breakfasts. The loss of This Morning Live and what it did for us tugs at my heart. Many Global TV personalities played a role in shaping Generations Foundation including the Asper family, Maureen Rogers, Jamie Orchard, Andrew Peplowski, Tracey McKee, Richard Dagenais and Ken Bodanis.

Adrian and Natalie Bercovici with the group from ING, a big supporter

Last year, Corus Québec’s 92.5 The Q and AM940 stepped up to the plate. Aaron Rand, Ken Connors or Natasha Hall will host our November breakfast live on location.

Bring your autograph book. We are often treated to visits by surprise guests. At recent breakfasts we were fortunate to have our pictures taken with former Expos Ron Piché and Denis Boucher as well as the Club de hockey junior de Montréal. Thanks to Hasbro, we will have many toys to give out to children who attend. We encourage everyone to come and enjoy the festivities.

Tickets are $10, and proceeds from the event will support Generations Foundation’s breakfast, lunch, and snack programs for needy kids.

If you can’t attend the breakfast but would like to contribute, you can mail in a donation to Generations Foundation, C.P. Elysée 89023, Laval QC H7W 5K1.

La Stanza Buffet & Grill Restaurant is at 6878 Jean Talon E. in St. Leo­nard. The breakfast runs from 6:30 to 10 am. Tickets are available at the door.

*** To reserve a large table, or for more information, call 514-933-8585.

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Irish vote puts new Europe on horizon

After Ireland recently ratified the Lisbon Treaty, Europe has moved one step closer to being a full-fledged federation.

The potential significance for Europe of Ireland’s Yes vote in the Lisbon Treaty referendum may not yet be fully clear, but it is of major import. If the Lisbon Treaty now comes into force, the Irish electorate’s rethink will have rescued the viability of European unity, probably for a generation.

If the No side had prevailed in the referendum (as it did in the first one) the European Union would have suffered a massive, morale-sapping blow. Not only would the Lisbon Treaty itself have been killed off, but so, too, would the prospect of reforming the EU for years, given that this time next year David Cameron and the Tories – a party and a leader both sceptical to Europe – would be in power in England.

With a Conservative-ruled UK vetoing every attempt to improve the EU, it is more than likely that Europe would be divided between states advocating further integration and states opposing it – a disaster for the continent.

However, the Lisbon Treaty is not quite a done deal. Two other states have not yet ratified: Poland and the Czech Republic. Both countries’ parliaments have voted approval but their Eurosceptical presidents have withheld their signatures.

Polish president Lech Kaczynski, however, promised last July to consent to ratification if Ireland voted Yes and he has now done so. This leaves Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who more than once said he would try to keep the treaty from coming into force.

Some have speculated that he wanted to delay signing until after the general election in Britain, in the hope the Conservatives would win and call a referendum on the treaty.

Now Mr. Klaus admits he cannot wait for a British election. “They would have to hold it in the coming days or weeks. However, the train has now travelled so fast and so far I guess it will not be possible to stop it or turn it around, however much we would wish to.”

The treaty was designed to streamline the EU’s decision-making process following its expansion from 15 to 27 members. Critics, including Klaus, have described it as an attempt to create a European superstate that would rob individual nations of their sovereignty.

Some months ago, Klaus said he he would be the “last politician” in Europe to sign the the Lisbon Treaty. This has come true – but ironically his signature will now be the one that enables the treaty he despises to come into force. That leaves British Conservative leader David Cameron.

Gavin Barrett, a senior lecturer at Trinity College, Dublin, specializing in European Union law, asks what Cameron’s chances are of blocking the treaty by calling a referendum in England once the Conservatives achieve power. “The answer, very simply,” Barrett writes, “is that it will end them. Once the Lisbon Treaty comes into force it will be irreversible. The new institutional architecture will be there to stay.” Part of that architecture might well be Tony Blair, considered by many to be the front-runner for the new position of EU president.

Much to the chagrin of the more Europhobic supporters, Cameron will have to abandon a now legally pointless referendum on Lisbon in favour of a concerted effort to repatriate certain powers to Britain – in social, employment, justice and home affairs. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen, although the UK could threaten to block the accession of new member states if it does not get its way.

Cameron’s hardest job will probably be managing Europhobia within his own party: An astonishing 40 per cent of Conservative supporters favour leaving the EU altogether. Be that as it may, Ireland on its second try has broken the logjam preventing a new Europe.

“The train has now travelled so fast and so far I guess it will not be possible to stop it.” Czech president Vaclav Klaus

“Once the Lisbon Treaty comes into force it will be irreversible.” Lecturer Gavin Barrett

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If you don’t have a will, your loved ones may inherit complications

A will is a formal document that specifies how you want to dispose of all or part of your assets upon death. In order to be valid it must be drawn up according to specific provisions found in the Quebec Civil Code. A will can only be signed by one person; it cannot be shared.

You can go to a lawyer or notary for a will or you can write one yourself, called a holograph will.

A lawyer’s will is called “a will made in the presence of witnesses.” It must be signed in the presence of two witnesses who cannot benefit under the will. In order to take effect after death, it must be probated. This is a process by which the will is deposited into and examined by the court, which can take a few weeks. The original of the will is retained by the court and certified copies are issued upon request.

A notary’s will does not require probate and can be used immediately after death. Copies are provided by the notary upon request.

The holograph will must be hand-written in its entirety and signed by the testator himself. It, too, is subject to probate after death.

The principal provisions of a will are those in which you state to whom you wish to leave your property. One or more people may be designated, as well as charitable organizations. You may want to leave everything to one person or a certain portion to each of several people. You may wish to make specific bequests. In certain situations it might be advisable to set up a trust fund or to delay the payment of a legacy or to bequeath capital to one person and let another benefit from the interest. In some cases these are easy decisions to make, but in others they can be more complex, such as when there is property in another country, when matrimonial laws limit property ownership, when minor children are involved or in cases of combined families or common-law relationships.

Sometimes it may help to discuss the situation with a lawyer, notary or accountant as there may be tax implications involved as well. In your will you must also designate someone to carry out your wishes. In Quebec that person is called a “liquidator.” In other places he is usually referred to as an executor. You can name one or more persons, a trust company or both. The person you name can be an heir or not. You can provide for payment of your liquidator and for his replacement in the event he can no longer act. You can give your liquidator greater power than he has in law. For example, if you own an apartment building, the law permits him to operate and maintain it, but not to sell or mortgage it unless you give him the power to do so. Everyone with any assets at all should have a will, especially those with family responsibilities.

Wills should be reviewed whenever your family or financial situation changes. Changes in your situation do not necessarily mean your will must be redone. It can be altered with a codicil, a document that alters a small part of the will and leaves the balance untouched. It, too, must follow one of the forms indicated above.

If you do not have a will, the laws of intestate succession will be applied to your estate when you die.

Your heirs fall into categories: your spouse, which means the person to whom you are legally married and does not include someone with whom you are living common law; your descendants, which includes all children, even those from an earlier marriage with whom you have had no connection for many years; privileged ascendants, namely parents; privileged collaterals, namely brothers and sisters, and ordinary ascendants and collaterals, in other words, distant relatives. Contrary to popular belief, if you have no will, your spouse does not automatically inherit your entire estate upon your death. It is only in cases where you have no descendants, privileged ascendants or privileged collaterals that your spouse inherits your entire estate. If you have a spouse and descendants, your spouse inherits one third of your estate and your descendants inherit the balance. If you have a spouse and privileged ascendants or collaterals, your spouse inherits two thirds of your estate. If the surviving relatives are more distant, the rules become more complex. And remember, if you have a common-law spouse and distant relatives whom you haven’t seen in years, the latter will inherit unless you have willed it otherwise.

There are other problems as well when no will exists. Namely, who will act as liquidator? Who will find those distant relations? Who will administer or wind up your business? What will happen to the person with whom you’ve been living as husband or wife for many years? As a last resort, if you have no will and no relatives, the Minister of Revenue steps in and winds up your estate. Your assets and possessions may ultimately become the property of the Province of Quebec.

Correction: In last month’s column on leases an editing error altered the following paragraph, which should have read: “Two problems can arise here. First, is the delay provided in the notice to be counted from the day it is sent or the day it is received? The current law is from the day it is received.”

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New York’s capital city a capital choice

If you don’t have a lot of cash to spend and want to get away for the weekend, a good choice would be New York State’s heritage region, Albany. The state capitol building has free tours, the state museum has free entrance and offers eclectic options for each member of the family to enjoy, Grandma’s is the perfect pit stop for home-made food (even if you’re just passing through this exit) and the uniquely designed Desmond Hotel is a fun place to rest your head.

The New York State Capitol building, finished at the end of the 19th century, is a combination of renaissance, gothic, and medieval styles, and was built and carved by hand. When you take the tour you can see the difference between the assembly and senate chambers (notice the 23-carat gold leaf “wallpaper” and think of it as tax dollars stuck to that wall) and note the $1 million dollar staircase. Find out about the whispering fireplace, the resident ghosts, and ask to see the carved face of 4-year-old Lucretia (lovingly carved by her proud grandfather - one of the sculptors who were allowed some artistic freedom after their required list was finished).

Nearby, The New York State Museum covers the gamut, from a passing art exhibit on American attitudes toward race to permanent ones on the Adirondack wilderness, archaeology, the Cohoes mastodon, and Harlem in the ’20s. Other attractions include real-time displays of earthquakes in New York and around the world, a fire engine hall, birds and an enormous mineral collection. Do not miss the exhibit on the rescue after the World Trade Center September 11, 2001, attacks, including the recovery operation at the Fresh Kills landfill and the public response to the attacks.

You can ogle the governor’s collection of contemporary Native American crafts, while the kiddies will love visiting the original set of Sesame Street (secret: my dad helped build it), as well as the full-size carousel built between 1912 and 1916.

The restaurant called Grandma’s is a misnomer, as it’s run by a grandpa. Joseph Danaher opened it in 1976 as an alternative to fast food. He stuck to such basics as pot roast or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, hot open turkey sandwiches, spaghetti and meatballs, quiche, roast chicken, lasagna and delicious homemade soups.

As at all grandmas’ homes, you must leave room for dessert. Heirloom-recipe pies are the specialty here: wild blueberry, tart cherry, coconut custard, swiss chocolate almond, four kinds of apple, lemon meringue, pumpkin and even five sugar-free choices.

Even sleeping can be fun in Albany, as the Desmond Hotel was planned by a local family to mimic a Philadelphia street. When you are inside the complex it feels like you are outside. Rooms have balconies overlooking landscaped indoor courtyards, back doors with tables and chairs, and some of the rooms have two floors, with circular staircases leading up to your canopied bedroom (you can see a photo at www.drivei95.com/ plogger/plogger.php?level=picture&id=634)

Before you go New York State Capitol, Washington Ave. and State St. Take NY Thruway Exit 23. Walk-in tours Monday-Saturday. Info: 518-474-2418; www.ogs. state.ny.us/visiting/cultural/tourscapitol.html.

New York State Museum, Madison Ave. across the Plaza from the State Capitol building. Open daily from 9:30am-5pm. Info: 518-474-5877; www.nysm.nysed.gov

Grandma’s Restaurant, 1273 Central Ave. Take I-87 Exit 2. Info: 518-459-4585

Desmond Hotel, 660 Albany Shaker Road (Exit 4). Info: 800-448-3500; 518-869-8100; www.desmondhotelsalbany.com

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Oh Canada! We stand on cars and freeze

Growing up in the drug-hazed ’60s, I pondered the identity of the enigmatic Leslie referenced in the popular song “Groovin” by the Rascals:

“You and me and Leslie”

Leslie, however, was not a member of some threesome but rather a figment of my imagination, or more precisely of my imagined hearing. The lyric, I found out in later years was, “You and me endlessly.”

I had been “mondegreened.”

The term “mondegreen,” which is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, was coined by writer Sylvia Wright in 1954. As a child she had heard the Scottish ballad “The Bonny Earl of Murray” which she interpreted thus:

Ye Highlands and Ye lowlands

Oh where have you been?

They hae slay the Earl of Murray

And Lady Mondegreen.

Wright was wrong in thinking a double homicide had occurred. “Lady Mondegreen” was a projection of her febrile imagination, for the last line in fact was not “Lady Mondegreen” but “laid him on the green.”

Children are particularly prone to this type of mistake, where an unfamiliar word or phrase is changed into something more familiar. This process has created some memorable “religious” personages such as “Round John Virgin” (instead of “round yon Virgin”); “Harold be thy name” (instead of “hallowed be thy name” and “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear” (instead of “Gladly, the cross I’d bear”).

Many a familiar phrase has been mondegreened. A “dog eat dog” world has been rendered as a “doggy dog world”; “for all intents and purposes” has become “for all intensive purposes”; “duct tape” has turned into “duck tape”; and “no holds barred” has been phrased as “no holes barred.”

The majority of mondegreens seem to occur in the lyrics of songs. Word maven William Safire years ago cited an American grandmother who interpreted the Beatles’ lyric “the girl with kaleidoscope eyes” as “the girl with colitis goes by.” The lyric “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze was interpreted by some as “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” Hendrix was aware of this misinterpretation and sometimes during a performance he would help perpetuate the misunderstanding by kissing a male associate after saying the line.

The obscure lyrics and indistinct pronunciation of many songs facilitate misinterpretations. On a website dedicated to misheard lyrics, I noticed that in Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery,” her lyric “you strut your rasta wear and a suicide poem” was interpreted as “you stretched your ass to where in a suicide home.” In the Aerosmith song “Dude looks like a lady,” the titled lyric is somewhat squealed. I always thought the line was “Do the funky lady.” This website confirmed that I was not the only confused listener. Others had misheard this line as “Do the shockalayley”, “Do the rock-a lady” and “Doodoos like a lady.”

Some song lyrics are almost impossible to decipher. I suspect few people know that the lyric that follows “Willie and the Poor Boys are Playin’ (by Credence Clearwater Revival) is “bring a nickel tap your feet.” Small wonder that someone at this website reported hearing the lyric as “singing pickles can’t be beat.” Also misinterpreted by this musical group is the lyric “there’s a bad moon on the rise” which has been heard as “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Unilingual troglodytes claim to have heard the Beatles’ “Michelle, ma belle, sont les mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble” as “Michelle, my bell, some day monkey play piano song, play piano song.”

Some mishearings are somewhat incredible. Dylan’s line “the answer my friend” in “Blowin’ in the Wind” has apparently been interpreted entomologically as “the ants are my friends.” A Crystal Gayle song years ago was heard as “Doughnuts Make Your Brown Eyes Blue” and at the aforementioned website somebody claims to have heard the lyric from Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” “no dark sarcasm in the classroom” as “no Dukes of Hazzard in the classroom.”

Montreal-born Stephen Pinker in The Language Instinct says that the “interesting thing about mondegreens is that the mis-hearings are generally less plausible than the intended lyrics. He relates the anecdote of a student who heard the Shocking Blue song “I’m Your Venus” as “I’m your penis” and thus was amazed that it wasn’t censored.

Howard Richler’s latest book Strange Bedfellows: The Private Lives of Words will be published in March 2010 by Ronsdale Press.

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You say vegivore, I say tunatarian

In the beginning was the lamb, and it was good. Also the chicken. I didn’t know that I was part of a trend until someone asked me if I was a locavore. I had to think about that. I do consider myself a carnivore (i.e., someone who eats meat) but when someone asks “are you a vegetarian?” I usually reply “no, I’m an omnivore” meaning that I eat just about anything. (And why isn’t it vegivore or omnitarian? Cue the Howard Richler column, please).

Locavore is the buzzword for someone who eats food grown locally. If you spend more time shopping at the Atwater or Jean-Talon Markets than you do at Loblaws or Metro, you may qualify as a locavore. Of course, it’s hard to be a locavore and a tunatarian or a pescivore (which is what I call someone who chews fish but eschews meat) since most locally caught fish would be from the St. Lawrence.

It turns out that I’ve been a trendy food eater for years, but I didn’t know it. It started with Phil. He’s a friend who lives about 60 kilometres from Montreal. He farms, sells antiques, and keeps lambs and chickens. His lambs are raised in fields or on hay, depending on the season. Over the years I’ve learned to distinguish the autumn cull, which have an herbal flavour after spending a summer in the meadows, from the more earthy spring lambs wintering on hay.

When they are about a year old – past lambhood but not yet mature or gamey enough to be called mutton – Phil trucks them to market. The routine that follows is always the same: a rushed phone call that the lambs are ready and a scramble among friends to see who would like one since I have to drive anyway. Finally, a trip over the Ontario border to Phil’s butcher in L’Orignal or to the farm if I don’t get to the butcher in time. In that case, Phil keeps it frozen and I return home with “lamb in a box.” When I visit the farm in the off season I make it a point not to get friendly with the animals. I don’t want to know my dinner’s name.

I’ve learned a lot from eating Phil’s lambs. I’ve watched a whole lamb get divided into meals and worked with the butcher to cut it the way I like. I’ve learned to savour both the tough but tasty shoulder chops and succulent tender ribs. Chunks are bagged for brochettes. Leftover bits get ground. Bones are set aside for the seder table. I used to keep everything – until I opened the freezer a while ago and found a half dozen heads looking back. I had kept them for years thinking that eventually I would make a Greek lemon soup I once had at Meracles, a steam table restaurant on Park Ave. Now both it and the heads are gone.

I’m also learning that each part of the animal yields its own bounty. I never knew what to do with the shanks, the tough narrow part of the legs. Recently, I found shanks served as a $20+ special in some of our better bistros. Why not make this incredibly flavourful slow cooking dish at home?

Here’s a version from The Good Cook series: Take 4 lamb shanks and 20 unpeeled garlic cloves. Brown the shanks with a little olive oil in a pot just big enough to hold them. The pot needs a thick base and a tight-fitting lid. A Dutch oven is great. Add the garlic cloves and cook everything slowly, over the lowest heat possible. Cover the pot and turn the lamb occasionally. It cooks in its own juices. After an hour or two (the longer the better) the liquid evaporates and the lamb sizzles in its own fat. Add some salt, pepper and a dusting of dried herbs such as marjoram, thyme, or oregano. Add a little water. Cook another hour or so. When the meat is falling off the bones, remove it to a platter and scrape the caramelized bits from the pan as you stir in some dry white wine. Pour the liquid through a strainer. Force the garlic through the strainer into the liquid. Skim fat from the sauce and reduce the liquid in a small pan until it thickens. Pour the sauce back into the pot, stir in the shanks, and reheat. Add a squeeze of orange or lemon and chopped fresh parsley just before serving.

This meal goes great with garlic toast, good wine and winter. Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com

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Adjusting to changes improves daily living

Physical abilities decline with age. There can be deficiencies related to hearing, vision, mobility and balance. Thankfully there are aids to assist with these challenges.

Many of my clients, even those in their 90s, stubbornly refuse to admit to these changes and resist using any kind of aids that would improve their daily living. I am not speaking of those with cognitive impairment, but rather of otherwise healthy seniors who are fighting to retain their independence and refuse to acknowledge changes in their functioning.

When I try to converse with someone who is hearing disabled, I invariably ask about hearing aids. I get all kinds of answers including: “I hear just fine and don’t need any hearing aids” or “I tried them and they are bothersome.” (I understand that some people find them disturbing with regard to noise) or “They are expensive and I manage fine without them.”

Spending a couple of hours with a hearing-impaired client who refuses to consider hearing aids results in a sore throat and exhaustion for me. If the interaction is in a public place there is no doubt that others will stare, likely wondering why the person is not wearing a hearing aid. Hearing aids are no longer cumbersome-looking; technology has changed over the years and is quite sophisticated now. A person wearing a hearing aid will go unnoticed, as opposed to hearing-impaired people who think their hearing is okay and have others speaking loudly to them.

Certain medications and illnesses affect balance, as do postural changes in the elderly. Those who suffer from chronic back or leg pain may have difficulty walking, but many still refuse to use a walker or even a cane. Suggesting a walker to some people is akin to using foul language. After all, they tell me, walkers are for old people. What would others think?

Instead, their worlds become smaller because they avoid physical activities that include some degree of walking. When you see someone leaning against a wall as they walk, holding on to someone for dear life, wincing in pain as they walk awkwardly and with difficulty, do they look young and physically able? It is the people who walk confidently with a walker, or even scoot around on their scooters – those who have taken control of their lives – who are not stared at.

Resistance to adjust to the changes in your body as you age will reduce your quality of life. Making those adjustments and using the necessary tools to assist you will allow you to continue your usual activities as well as making it easier for your loved ones to be in your company. Making use of aids will not make you look sick or older. Canes, walkers and hearing aids are not only used by seniors – they help everyone who has difficulty with mobility and hearing. Those who refuse aids, often causing frustration in loved ones, stand out more than those who make healthy choices by adjusting to the changes in their bodies.

Send comments and questions to b.sandler@sympatico.ca.

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The Montreal real estate market home stretch

December 2008 marked the end of a record- breaking year in the Montreal real estate market.

Average sale prices of single family dwellings, condominiums, and revenue properties all increased from one to four per cent despite a 6.6 per cent reduction in the number of sale transactions. This reduction signalled the initial effect of this year’s economic downturn.

By the end of the first quarter in March of this year, the average sale price of single family dwellings, condominiums, and revenue properties had fallen as a result of the slump in the economy.

I wrote two articles earlier this year predicting that the real estate market was going to stabilize.

By the end of the second quarter in June, the market began to recover, despite the fact sale transactions were down 1.8 per cent over the previous year. Sale prices increased by 2.3 per cent for single family dwellings, 2.7 per cent for condominiums and 6.1 per cent for revenue properties. An increase in consumer confidence – generated by the government’s economic stimulus package, implemented to reduce interest rates and generate jobs – stimulated the growth in both sale price and number of transactions. Never before had mortgage interest rates been so low. At the end of the third quarter in September, sale prices continued to increase by one to two per cent over the same time last year.

It is likely that 2009 will be another record-breaking year for average sale prices in Montreal. Were it not for the initial sensationalism of the poor economy in the first quarter, 2009 sale transaction numbers would probably finish above those of 2008. Sale times are reducing, however. It now takes about eight fewer days to sell a single-family dwelling and five fewer days for a condominium. There has been no change in sale duration among revenue properties.

Does this indicate that the market is now balanced? It is too early to tell.

Traditionally, there are two peak real estate periods: one beginning in February and the other in September. December, January, July and August are slow real estate months because of the Christmas season and summer holidays.

Currently, there are lots of buyers available and banks are making it easier to qualify for mortgages. If you are thinking of selling or buying, now may be a good time.

Comments and questions regarding this column? Call 514-941-3858.

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We’re gearing up for the holidays

November will be a busy month at Sun Youth. As each day gets us closer to the holidays, we are getting ready to assist thousands of people with food hampers and toys. Hopefully, they will have something to smile about at this time of year, despite the economy.

We would never be able to bring holiday cheer to so many people without the assistance of those who have been instrumental to Sun Youth’s ability to make a difference in the lives of many Montrealers. We recently had the chance to welcome the executive director of the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation, Lyne Lavoie, who generously presented our organization with a $20,000 cheque.

The weekend of November 7 will see the return of the annual Recyc-a-Bike (Recyc-Vélo) collection. For the third year, Sun Youth will collect used bicycles to be distributed to families in need next spring. This initiative is the brainchild of Michel Houle, general director of Houle Toyota. The bicycles collected during this weekend will be geared up by one of Houle Toyota’s mechanics.

People are invited to bring their used bicycles to one of the four collection points on November 7 and 8 between 9am and 4pm. Sun Youth will accept bikes at its headquarters (4251 St. Urbain); in the East End, bicycles can be taken to Houle Toyota (12305 Sherbrooke E.); North Shore residents can go to Collège Saint-Sacrement (901 Saint-Louis in Terrebonne); on the South Shore, bikes can be taken to Collège Jean de la Mennais (870 Saint Jean in La Prairie).

Lyne Lavoie, executive director of the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation, presents Tommy Kulczyk, Sun Youth’s assistant to the executive vice- president and director of emergency services, with a cheque for $20,000 Photo: Nicolas Carpentier

Sun Youth thanks everyone involved in this event. The end of November will mark the return of the annual live broadcast of CHOM and CJAD’s shows from the sidewalk in front of the Sun Youth building to launch our Christmas Basket Campaign. On Thursday, November 26, the morning shows of the two stations will air from 5:30 to 10am, the drive home show will be between 4 and 7pm.

People will be invited to give monetary donations or non-perishable foods for our holiday food hampers. Again this year, we will give baskets to about 18,000 people. In addition, more than 10,000 new toys will be handed out to the children whose parents are registered for baskets. As usual, these toys will be hand-wrapped by members of our Seniors Club.

There is still time to register for a Christmas or Chanukah basket. Come to Sun Youth from Monday to Friday between 9am and 4pm with proof of address, proof of revenue and the medicare cards of everyone living at the address. The baskets will be handed out from December 18 to December 24. For more information, contact Sun Youth at 514-842-6822.

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It’s time for annual beauty and fashion sales

This week I’m going to tell you about NOT shopping in stores. Just as we have garage sales, there are many manufacturers or distributors in the city that have annual or semi-annual clearance sales. Sometimes it pays to wait for a certain time of year to buy.

These businesses must clear out their warehouse space to make room for next season’s merchandise. They sell off samples or liquidated items they are no longer producing, leftovers from last season, seconds or lines that never sold well. Whatever it is, the price is always right.

The products vary as much as retail varies: toys, bowling balls, golf equipment, pianos, flatware, china, crystal, duvets and linens, home electronics, makeup and skin care products, perfume, Halloween costumes, winter jackets, lingerie, Quebec designer fashions, casual clothes for men and women, and chocolates. When you attend a sale, ask if you can be put on a mailing list for future sales. If you can’t make a sale, you can try to leave your name with the receptionist at the company for notification. Some have online mailing lists.

November is a good month for makeup and skin care sales and I’ve thrown in one fashion sale, too:

Marcelle makeup and skin care products were developed for women with sensitive skin. The company, whose products are manufactured and designed in Quebec, also produces the Annabelle line. If you would like to buy their discontinued and liquidated goodies, now is the time, since the next warehouse sale won’t be held until spring.

All Marcelle colours are $2.50, Annabelle colours are $1.50, and creams or lotions cost $8 to $24. It’s a good time to stock up on gifts, as there are usually gift boxes for sale. You can be put on a mailing or phone list for future sales. Location: 9200 Côte de Liesse at 43rd Ave. Phone: 800-387-7710. Dates: Thursday and Friday, Nov. 5 and 6 from 4-8pm; Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 and 8 from 9am-4pm. www.marcelle.com

The Clarins Groupe has skin care, fragrance and cosmetic brands under its umbrella, so when its warehouse opens to the public, look for your favourites among such names as Burberry, Thierry Mugler, Escada, Azzaro, Puma, Le Couvent des Minimes, Anna Sui, Annick Goutal, Nuxe, Christina Aguilera, Brumisateur Evian, Occitane, Quicksilver, and, of course, Clarins. Location: 815 Desserte (Autoroute 13 service road) at Notre Dame in Laval. Phone: 450-688-0144. Dates: November 13 from 10am-9pm and November 14 from 9am-5pm. us.clarins.com

Lise Watier, Quebec’s own cosmetics queen, has semi-annual clearance sales of last year’s discontinued lines or slightly damaged packages of makeup, perfumes, and skin care products. The sale lasts two days for two or three weekends in a row. The next one will probably be in March. You can sign up on the website to be notified of future events by e-mail.

Location: 5600 Côte de Liesse. Phone: 514-735-4959, ext. 840. Dates: November 21 from 9am-5pm; November 22 from 9am-4pm; November 28 from 9am-5pm; November 29 from 10am-4pm; December 5 from 9am-5pm; December 6 from 9am-4pm. www.lisewatier.com

For years, those in the know have slid in to the entrance at the rear of the Tyfoon building in the Blue Bonnets area to rummage through the sample racks of upper-end brand name clothing.

The hunt is worth it, for men’s and women’s shoes and accessories from such names as: Kitson LA, Inkslingers, A.B.S., Cezer New York, Parish, aka Stash House, Triko, Coogi, David Brooks, Pastry, Akademiks, Crown Holder, Marithé François Girbaud, Levi’s, Black Sheep, Pellepelle, and European lines Nienhaus woman, Frank Walder and Brandtex.

Location: 5540 Ferrier at Devonshire. Phone: 514-731-7070 Dates: Friday, Nov. 27 from 9am-9pm; Saturday, Nov. 28 from 10am-5pm; Sunday, Nov. 29 from 12-5pm.

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Online brokerages offer independence, low fees

I would like to talk about investing in the market and more specifically share some thoughts about using discount brokerage companies available primarily online.

Like most investors, I hold my portfolio with an established broker at a reputable firm. About two years ago I decided to open a self-managed trading account with one of the discount online brokerages owned by the bank.

We often hear that we need the advice of a professional, that we should leave it to the experts. In some respects this is true, but there is so much information available online regarding stocks that with some concentrated effort, we can become more educated and take more of our investment decisions into our own hands.

One of the advantages online brokerages offer are extremely low fees on transactions, generally between $6.99 and $9.99 per trade. They also offer different platforms for a monthly fee whereby you can have access to accelerated information. And there is full access to option trading and bonds. One of the most important criteria in trading online is to set up very strict parameters of when to buy and when to sell. Educate yourself and implement strategies that appeal to you. You are responsible for all decisions that you make. However, the experience can be very rewarding.

If you are looking at setting up an account shop between financial institutions, some will offer promotions such as free trades. Start with a small sum. Many people will practice or set up mock portfolios prior to making their first trade. Research the market well. If your strategy is to trade shares, study and pick companies that have some volatility and volume. Get to know a few of these companies intimately. Examine their trading patterns and make sure you understand all the key ratios. The more knowledge you possess the more likely you are to succeed. It is a wonderful way for retirees to self educate and understand the challenges of the market.

Do not forget to keep track of your gains and losses and report them annually in your tax return.

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Florence: a city filled with treats for the eyes

click here to view a slide show of images from Florence

We had been in Italy for a week, but it wasn’t until we arrived in Florence, or “Firenze” in Italian, that I suddenly felt unfashionable and underdressed. The first thing I noticed was how chic and elegantly dressed Italian women were. My friends and I were backpacking around Europe, and coming from three weeks on the laissez-faire beaches of the Greek islands. We were not quite prepared to blend into the fashion-filled streets.

Florence is a classic Italian city – dainty cafés, narrow streets, glorious museums, medieval castles, a romantic river, gelato, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Gucci, Prada and Valentino. It has a population of about 367,000 and is the capital city of the northeast region of Tuscany.

The first sight we visited was the famous Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore. We made our way through a maze of unidentifiable narrow streets, stopping for pizza along the way and asking locals for directions. While nobody spoke English, they pointed us in the right direction. Suddenly, from what seemed like out of nowhere, the street opened up into a huge piazza with a massive and beautifully neo-gothic decorated Duomo. However I’m reluctant to admit that after witnessing the grandiose exterior, the blandness inside was somewhat disappointing, with the exception of the decorative 100-metre-high Brunel­leschi’s Dome, named after the architect who designed it. The interior of the dome is painted with a scene of the apocalypse. During its construction, Brunelleschi built kitchens, dorm rooms, and bathrooms between the two walls of the cupola so the builders would never have to descend. We climbed the seemingly endless old, claustrophobic staircase to reach the top with its beautiful 360-degree view of the city.

Across from the Duomo is the Baptistery, famous for its tremendous bronze doors depicting scenes from the Bible.

After an overpriced dinner in a mediocre tourist trap, we ended our first night watching the sun set from the Ponte Vecchio, the 14th-century bridge lined with shops on stilts over the Arno river. The bridge is filled with hundreds of locks placed there by lovers. After locking their love during the romantic sun set, they throw the keys into the river to show their commitment. Locking your love on the Ponte Vecchio is illegal, and if the police find you doing it you can be fined. City workers painstakingly cut the locks off one by one, but before long they are replaced by new ones.

If you are in Florence and only have time to visit one sight, make it the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno to relish Michelangelo’s David. We waited in line for 20 minutes to enter this small museum filled with sculptures. The masterpiece of Renaissance marble depicting the biblical King David contemplating his upcoming battle with Goliath stands 5.17 metres high. David looked magnificent: strong, yet soft and angelic. We all appreciated the semi-circular bench placed around the back of the statue, where many women sit and enjoy the view of David’s perfectly sculpted derrière.

We then walked to the Piazza della Signoria to tour the Palazzo Vecchio, which from the outside looks like a castle straight out of a Disney movie. We waited in line for half an hour to tour the extravagantly decorated old rooms of this crenellated fortress. Michelangelo’s David once stood at the front entrance, before it was moved to the Accademia dell’Arte in 1873. A copy now stands in its place. The Palazzo now functions as a museum and the town hall of Florence.

The great Uffizi museum is right next to the Palazzo Vecchio. It is one of the oldest and most famous museums in Europe, displaying works by such artists as Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Despite this, we were not inspired to stand in line for four hours to get in.

After my friends and I decided to venture off and explore on our own, I found the synagogue – Tempio Maggiore, built in 1874-1882. The synagogue, of Italian and Moorish design, is extravagantly beautiful. Unlike most of Italy’s Duomos, which you can simply walk into, I had to go through a thorough security check before entering. There is a small but vibrant Jewish community in Florence that maintains the temple, which was almost destroyed during the Second World War. The Italian resistance defused the explosives and saved it. I stopped at Ruth’s Kosher Vegetarian Restaurant for a quick bite before heading back to meet my friends.

I got lost, of course. But that is what you do when you travel in Europe – lose yourself to the city. It was getting dark. I stood in the middle of a piazza, opened my map and within seconds a nice young man who spoke no English approached me to offer his help. That trick works every time. Fillippo escorted me back to the Piazza della Signoria, passing several kiosks selling inappropriate postcards of David “parts” along the way, where I met my friends. I introduced them to Fillippo, and for the rest of the night they joked about my new Italian “boyfriend.”

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what's happening November 2009

ART

Until January 10, a series of paintings by Jean-Claude Viau and Manon Chouinard will be exhibited at the Denise Larocque-Duhamel Library, 12a Maple in Stanbridge East QC. Mon. 11am - 1pm, Wed. 6:30 - 8:30pm and Sat. 10am - noon. Info: 450-248-4662

Saturday, November 14, Shirley Moscovitz will exhibit her work at Restaurant Shodan, 1425 René Lévesque. Info: 514-733-2655 or shirleystreasures.com

BAZAARS

Saturday, November 14 from 9am to 4pm, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 85/90 holds a Christmas Bazaar. Tables for rent: $15. At 10am there is a snooker tournament $15 per player. Info: 514-637-8002

Sunday, November 29 from 9am to 5pm, Temple Emmanu-El-Beth Sholom holds a Big Bazaar at 4100 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-937-3575

CLUBS

Sunday, November 15 at 9:30am, Shaare Zedek Congregation Men’s Club hosts Kathleen Weil, MNA, Justice Minister of Quebec. Sunday, November 22 at 9:30am, Joe Schwarcz will discuss Science Sense and Nonsense. 5305 Rosedale. Registration required for Nov. 15. Info: 514-484-1122

Wednesday, November 18 at 12:30pm, Claude Joli Coeur, assistant commissioner of the National Film Board, will discuss the 70th anniversary of the NFB at the Atwater Library. Info: 514-931-6770 x 248

Saturday, November 28 at 9:30am, Montreal Urban Hikers Walking Club will take a guided tour of the Christmas Underground City. Metro Place des Arts, eastern ticket booth. Stairs to navigate. Bring water and comfortable shoes. Info: 514-366-910 CLASSES Literacy Unlimited is recruiting students who have difficulty with reading or writing. Info: 514-694-0007

Wednesdays from 2pm to 4pm, Beginners Computing offers workshops for the 50+ on how to use a computer at St. Johns United Church, 98 Aurora. Registration/Info: 514-631-1456

November 10 at 8pm, Rabbi Ira Ebbin will lecture on Jewish Time Travel including The Hasmonean State and Anti-semitism. Beth Zion Congregation, 5740 Hudson. Info: 514-489-8411

EVENTS

Wednesday, November 11 at 2pm, Place Kensington will host a Remembrance Day Ceremony to commemorate those who have given their lives in wars. A Flag Party mounted by Air Cadets from 1 West Montreal Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron will be held as well as an Honor Party comprised of representatives from Royal Canadian Legion - General Vanier Branch 234, Canadian Air Force, Air Cadet League of Canaada and Honor band from Royal West Academy. The ceremony will be in the Winter Garden. Info: 514-935-1212

Thursday, November 12 at 7:30pm, Yellow Door presents a poetry and prose reading, 3625 Aylmer. Info: 514-939-4173

Saturday, November 14 at 1:30pm, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94 holds their monthly crib tournament. Registration: 11:30am-1pm. $20/team of two. 205 Empire.

Monday, November 16 at 7:30pm, Coracle Press hosts a book launch of two poetry books, Blue Poppy by Ilona Martonfi and Girouard Avenue by Stephen Morrissey, at The Word, 469 Milton. Info: 514-845-5640

Saturday, November 21 at 8pm, SPA Montreal hosts their Mix and Mingle dance for 35+ singles at Ste. Catherine Laboure Church, 448 Trudeau. $12. Info: 514-366-8600

Monday, November 30, Ami Quebec hosts a free roundtable discussion, Anger: Does it Control you or do you Control It? at 5253 Decarie, office 200 and Wednesday November 25 is a free teleworkshop. Advance registration required. Roundtable info: 514-486-1448 Teleworkshop info: 1-866-396-2433

Saturday, December 5 from 9:30am to 11:30am, Salvation Army hosts a 55+ Christmas Continental Breakfast at 1655 Richardson. $5 at the door. Registration required: 514-288-2848 x2245

LECTURES

Monday, November 9 at 7pm, Dr. Alexandra Heerdt, surgeon, former Director of the Special Surveillance Breast Program in New York presents a memorial lecture about Genetics and Breast Cancer at the Jewish General Hospital, Block Ampitheatre, room B-106, 3755 Cote St. Catherine. Info: 514-931-6770 x 248

Until November 27, Cote St. Luc library hosts a lecture series. Nov. 17: The revolutionaries, Lenin, Trotsky and the Rise of Political Vanguardism. Nov. 20: The Anti-Revolutionaries: Mussolini, Hitler, and the Conservative and Social Democratic Opposition to Left and Right Vanguardism. Nov. 27: The Synthesizers, from Franklin Roosevelt and James Burnham to the Neoconservatives and the Obama administration. $6 per lecture. 5851 Cavendish. Info: 514-485-6900

Until December 8, Westmount Y hosts a free lecture series. Nov. 10: Third World Debt. Nov. 24: Skin Care. Dec. 2: Humour as a Survival Mechanism. Dec. 8: Green Living, . 4585 Sherbrooke W. Info: 514-931-6770 x 248

Wednesday, November 11 at 8pm, Beth Zion Sisterhood presents a book review with Rabbi Ira Ebbin discussing The People of the Book by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. 5740 Hudson, Beth Zion Congregation. Info: 514-489-8411 x24

Wednesday, November 11 at 8:30pm, School of Canadian Irish Studies presents a lecture by Dr. Claudia Kinmonth, Through Artists’ Eyes: Irish Farmhouse Interiors as depicted in Nineteenth Century Paintings, in rm H-1220, Hall Building, 1455 DeMaisonneuve W. Info: 514-931-6770 x 248

Thursday, November 12 from 7:30pm to 9pm, JGH Hope and Cope Wellness Centre presents a lecture and discussion, Cancer in the Family: Helping Your Children Understand a Cancer Diagnosis in the Family. Panel includes two families with children who have experienced a cancer diagnosis and Yvonne Clarke, an experienced therapist specializing in families, cancer and grief. 4635 Cote St. Catherine. Info: 514-340-3616.

Wednesday, November 18 at 7:30pm, Jewish Public Library hosts an illustrated book talk on The White Space Between with author and Jewish book award winner, Ami Sands at 5151 Cote St. Catherine. $5/$10 non-members. Info: 514-345-6479

Thursday, November 19 from 11am to 2pm, Helvetia Seniors Club hosts a lecture on the End of Life Reflections by Gillian Fisher followed by a luncheon and meeting at the Restaurant Monkland Grill. Info: 514-481-2928

Friday, November 20 from 10am to 11:30am, The South Shore Community Partners Network presents Living Longer and Keeping Fit, with Janice Burdon, a McGill certified fitness trainer and motivational speaker at the Cynthia Coull Arena, 195 Empire. Info: 450-466-1325

MUSIC

Saturday, November 21 at 3pm, St. Clements Anglican Church presents a concert with Paul Stewart on piano. Saturday, December 5 at 3pm, Jonathan Tsay will perform Berg - Sonata, Op. 1; Liszt - Sonata; Medtner - Three pieces, Op.31 on the piano. 4322 Wellington. Info: 450-769-5373

theatre

Till November 15, Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, Altera Vitae productions presents Bent, a play about acceptance, tolerance and love in the wrong place and time at Espace 4001, 4001 Berri. Info: 514-287-8912

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