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Feb '10

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Grandmothers unite to help African orphans

December, 2009

It’s an unusual gathering of activists. The room is warm and comfortable, the walls adorned with paintings, picture frames, bookshelves. The lighting is soft, and gentle murmurs rise and fall in volume. The guests are seated around the room, forced to the walls in an effort to make space for the others.

Through the whistling of the kettle comes the delicate but firm tapping of a teaspoon on porcelain. My grandmother, Thérèse Bourque Lambert, summons everyone as the whispers abate. It is time to start the meeting of the West Hill Grandmothers Group for AIDS in Africa.

The West Hill branch of Grandmothers to Grandmothers was started in October 2006.

Grandmothers in Mnjale

There are 18 million AIDS orphans in Africa. When their children die, grieving parents are forced to take up the mantle of parenthood again and raise their grandchildren, some of whom have HIV/AIDS.

The West Hill Grandmothers to Grandmothers fundraise and give AIDS awareness speeches at schools, residences, senior centres, churches and universities on behalf of the Stephen Lewis Foundation for AIDS in Africa. They host Play Your Own Game Days and luncheons. They recently participated in Stephen Lewis’s Dare campaign, in which loved ones sponsor you for fulfilling a challenge they have set. My uncle dared to run the New York Marathon and managed to raise $3,000 for the cause.

In addition to the work they do for Stephen Lewis, the West Hill Grandmothers are encouraged to undertake individual projects; theirs support families in South Africa and Malawi.

In July, the grannies in the village of Mnjale, Malawi, encouraged by Canada Fund, applied to their government for NGO registration in order to get further funding. Having expanded beyond their village, they needed to elect a new name for their fledgling foundation: They chose Theresa, after my grandmother.

The November 28 meeting was held in honour of a visitor from Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty grandmothers, one grandfather, one student and a daschund gathered to greet her and pepper her with questions.

Rose Letwaba is a nurse specializing in psychiatry who works for Sparrow Rainbow Village in Gauteng, South Africa. The village, which can accommodate 300 patients, houses a hospice for adults and children with HIV/AIDS as well as a Children’s Home and Creche for orphans. They offer education, training, and counselling as part of their Outreach and Grannies initiatives. Like the Montreal grannies, they support grandmothers who care for their AIDS-orphaned grandchildren by providing food, medical care, and emotional support. Seventy per cent of the staff are former patients, and some continue to receive care.

The name Sparrow comes from the Gospel of Matthew: “His eye is on the Sparrow, I know he watches me (Matt., 10:29).” For every person that died at Sparrow the group used to nail a small metal bird to the tree. “We don’t do it anymore,” Letwaba said. “It was too depressing. The whole tree would be filled with sparrows.”

The West Hill Grannies have shared solidarity with Letwaba’s group for three years.

“Nina has a bathtub full of squares,” my grandmother proclaimed eagerly. “Jan has a basement full. I have a cupboard full and another big bag.” These squares are to be knitted together into blankets on their arrival in South Africa. Blankets, especially in winter, are not only used for sleeping. They are to be worn continually throughout the day, a perpetually protective garment. “What you’re doing here has gone beyond the group you support in [the township of] Alexandra, Johannesburg,” Letwaba told us. “Now the grandmothers over there are meeting together and making blankets for those with HIV.

Therese Bourque Lambert, sitting in the middle, surrounded by the West Hill grandmothers

“What we have seen with the knitting is that it has really promoted a sense of togetherness, making them learn about teamwork. It’s not just a matter of keeping them warm, but of bringing them closer to each other. You might think it’s a piece of wool, but it goes beyond that.”

During a visit to a preschool, Letwaba saw the children napping after lunch. “There were 50 of them in a hall,” Letwaba said, “all covered in these little squares.” She told them that the squares had come from across the Atlantic Ocean. They ­didn’t believe her.

The West Hill Grandmothers presented Letwaba with a colourful wrap composed of knitted squares. “I’ve seen a style like that on models!” someone said.

One member worried the gift was too colourful. “My grandmother wouldn’t have worn that,” he said – and received scandalized looks.

“We’re bright, we’re funky,” came the reply. “We’re free spirits!”

Originally Letwaba worked at a clinic with the grandmothers as a psychiatrist. She now does managerial and support work when necessary at Sparrow, which continues to support the grandmothers of Alexandra, or Alex. Sparrow offers them free transport, the use of its chapel for funerals, and food from their gardens.

The West Hill Grandmothers will continue to send the squares to Sparrow and lend their voices in support of the organization’s bid to receive funding from the Stephen Lewis Foundation in 2010.

“I look around and I see how people have started to become more alive and involved. Whenever we meet, someone says this is uplifting. More grandmother groups have to be spawned,” Nina Minde said.

January 13 from 2 to 4 pm at the Westmount Library, a panel of four will speak about the movement and try to raise awareness among families in the area. The panel will include Thérèse Bourque Lambert, Nina Minde, Jan McConnell, and Biatha Kayitefe, the daughter of a woman caring for 18 orphans in Rwanda.

February 20 a meeting of all the Montreal grandmothers groups will be held at West Hill. March 13 the West Hill group hosts a Celtic Concert at Westmount Park United Church. Info: 514-487-0258 or theresebourque@gmail.com

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Kensington Knitters do it again

December, 2009

Carefully lined up on the improvised sales counter, the merchandise looked like toy soldiers preparing to go forth on their mission. Cozy and colourful, the knitted hats stood proudly on islands of rolled up matching scarves, meant to warm regular, little and very little heads. Baby blankets and doggie sweaters completed the tableau.

Within seconds, a whole faction of the army was gone, destined for grandchildren who were “just turning 40” and great grand-children “just now being born.” The clock was just creeping up to 11 a.m. and the Kensington Knitters’ Famous Hat Sale hadn’t even begun.

The sale is an offshoot of the knitters’ raison d’être for the last nine years, the production and exhibition of blankets, toques and all kinds of knitted goodies created for the street kids of Dans La Rue, an organization founded by Father Emmett Johns. This year, as every year, there was a fashion show and Pops had come to collect the gifts in person.

Miriam Berger, founder of the knitters, was busy waiting on staff and residents who had come to browse, try and buy the lovely items at the sale. But veteran Knitter Elinor Cohen explained that the Knitters had a triple purpose: to help kids directly and by raising money (proceeds from the sale and an upcoming raffle are earmarked for the Montreal Children’s Hospital), to involve the residents at whatever level they choose, and to create the very special community that the Kensington Knitters has become.

From left: Elinor Cohen, Pauline Ouimet, Libby O’Brien, Jewel Poch, Miriam Berger Photo: Kristine Berey

“It keeps us involved,” Cohen said. “Each one makes something they’re capable of doing. One lady makes just baby blankets. Some do one square, then they bring it to me and I crochet around the edges.” Including both autonomous and assisted living, Cohen estimates there are 30 participating knitters at Place Kensington.

You don’t have to be “big on knitting” to be a Kensington Knitter. Anna Tencer, 103 next April, says that though she knows the craft, her mom was the real expert. “She used to knit and I used to watch,” she recalls. Along with her visiting daughter-in-law Beverly, who is “more like a daughter,” she got drafted some time ago into the knitters’ army and winds the yarn, making sure people have different colours to work with. “Somebody has to prepare the wool,” says the six-time great grandmother. “Any good that you can do is important.”

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It takes lots of love to share the warmth

December, 2009

The delectable scent of freshly baked muffins fills the air. Nearby, people browse through racks of clothing. The sounds of lively chatter and music are audible. But this isn’t a typical day at a shopping mall – it’s a Thursday afternoon at Share the Warmth, the multi-faceted organization that’s been helping Montrealers in need for 20 years.

Share the Warmth was founded by Judy Stevens and her sister-in-law Linda Hodes in 1989 after the two women received a visit at their old business place from a woman who told them she was going out onto the streets to help feed the homeless. “My sister-in-law said, ‘You know what, we’ll get some warm clothes and we’ll meet you on the street,’” Stevens recalls.

Viveka Anban, with keyboard teacher Suzanne Larose Photos: Scott Philip

After Linda made a phone call to The Gazette, their actions on the streets were given a full-page write-up the following day. “I went into work the next day and the phones were ringing like crazy,” Stevens said. “People were calling saying they wanted to volunteer. … so many people wanted to help.”

Stevens and Hodes started out collecting clothes. Then, after a house in Pointe St. Charles was donated, the two started a second-hand shop that sold clothes and provided free clothing to those who could not afford any. At the time, they were still using their cars to drive around and distribute food and clothing to those in need, but they later acquired a truck so they could increase their efforts.

It wasn’t long before Share the Warmth became incorporated. “I always think that we were meant to do it,” said Stevens of founding the organization. “It sort of came from the back door. Nothing is static. Everything evolves and changes in life and so did Share the Warmth.”

The organization kept growing. It moved from the smaller house to its current location – a large church in Pointe St. Charles – in 2005. The church has room for all of its functions: second-hand clothing shop, food bank, youth group and after-school centre.

Fiona Crossling with founder, Judy Stevens

A youth group for inner-city children meets 6:30 to 8 pm twice a week. “The turnout is great,” Stevens said. The group lets children socialize and participate in such activities as arts and crafts. “Last time we had almost 40 kids. They really need it.”

Share the Warmth also hosts community events — spaghetti suppers, dances, and after-school tutoring. The organization has music rooms on the second floor, where musicians give children keyboard and guitar lessons. “It’s fantastic. They’d otherwise never get an opportunity to do this,” Stevens said.

Daniel Jannack, 17, has been taking weekly guitar lessons from Philippe Blanchette, a St. Laurent College music student since October. “I learn how to play and soon I might become a great musician,” Jannack says. “I listen to heavy metal a lot.”

In another room, Viveka Anban, 11. is having her keyboard lesson with Suzanne Larose. They are preparing for a recital, Stevens explains.

Twice a week, food is distributed to the unemployed and those on government assistance. The always-busy kitchen staff works daily to prepare snacks for hungry school children.

“We prepare sandwiches and muffins for schools all across the island,” Stevens said. After preparing the snacks, volunteers at the organization pack them up and deliver them to daycares, elementary and high schools. Susan Mingo is head of the kitchen staff. “We make 500 to 700 muffins a day for kids in schools,” she says proudly, “and 1,000 tuna, egg salad and cheese sandwiches. ” In the fall, Share the Warmth runs a back-to-school program that provides school supplies to students in need. The organization also provides scholarships to about 25 gifted students from low-income families.

Susan Mingo rules in the kitchen

New ventures are in the works. “Our latest program involves working with the students in the scholarship program, the music program, the youth group, and offering them tutoring and mentoring,” Stevens said. “If we can help them in feeling that they want to learn more and they want to be involved in life, they can create a positive destiny for themselves.”

Share the Warmth is able to do all this thanks to the generosity of over 200 benefactors. “We get donations from corporate foundations and individuals. We’re not funded much by the government,” said Fiona Crossling, the associate director of the organization.

To keep everything running smoothly, Share the Warmth needs more than just financial aid. Even though the organization has six full-time staff members, they still need lots of willing volunteers to keep their many programs going. The kitchen is often filled with volunteers, many of them seniors, preparing snacks for the School Food Program.

Seniors are just part of Share the Warmth’s varied list of volunteers. “Instead of staying home, students on suspension can come here and work for the day,” Stevens said. “We also have volunteers who are young offenders.” University and high school students often visit and help out with the day-to-day work.

Volunteers also help with the more menial chores. “We have partners for a day, where people from a company or school come help out with cleaning or renovating,” Crossling said. Recently, the youth group meeting room and music room were given facelifts.

Philippe Blanchette teaches guitar to Daniel Jannack

Everyone is welcome to volunteer in this lively atmosphere. Application forms let people choose whatever interests them: deliveries, working in the kitchen or food bank. “Things just wouldn’t work without volunteers,” Crossling said.

Share the Warmth accepts financial contributions as well as donations of food items, school supplies and gently-used clothing. Boxes filled with non-perishable food items will be delivered to families over the holidays this winter. The organization also sells homemade jams and a teddy bear named Fortune that make great gifts.

Because volunteering and donations are what Share the Warmth depends on to “awaken hopes and dreams by overcoming poverty,” every bit of help counts.

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Validation: a special understanding

Kristine Berey

The Alzheimer Groupe has been helping Alzheimer’s patients and their families for 25 years. In her work as director of support services, Marva Whyte has had to evaluate different ways of dealing with the challenging behaviours typical of the illness. “We experience what works and what doesn’t work five days a week,” Whyte said. One of the most effective approaches she uses in support groups is the Validation Method, pioneered by Naomi Feil in the 1970s. At last month’s educational conference, Vikki de Klerk-Rubin, Feil’s daughter, was the keynote speaker.

“Mom [Feil] was a social worker and started working in the nursing home where her father was the administrator and her mother head of social work,” de Klerk-Rubin said. “They lived at the back of the nursing home.” Feil, who wrote Validation: The Feil Method in 1983, had a very straightforward philosophy. “As human beings, we are connected to one another in a way that has nothing to do with religion, race or culture,” she said. As dementia sets in, Feil said, people still have issues to resolve, but become terribly isolated as a result of the illness and worseneing condition. “It’s not only a physical deterioration, but a psychological need to die in peace.” Feil says that at all stages of the illness there is a desperate need for human connection and the person needs to be reached on an emotional level. “If a person is left alone, that human being will deteriorate and will become a living dead person,” Feil said.

There are four levels of training, given by the Validation Institute in Cleveland and one that de Klerk-Rubin oversees in Europe, where the method is better known. (Feil’s book has been translated into several European languages.) But anyone working with the elderly with cognitive problems can benefit from learning some of the techniques and the philosophy of Validation, de Klerk-Rubin says. “Validation can be practised in the course of your other work. … It’s about communication.”

Key to Validation is the ability to enter the person’s reality while reserving judgment. “The goal is to accompany the person in the resolution of their issues. We never finish it; it’s a process that goes on until they die. We just don’t want them to be alone in it. Also, we believe that even very badly deteriorated people in the back of their minds know the truth.”

De Klerk-Rubin said that most caregivers want to make the client happy but they apply a definition of “happy” that is their own reference. “By trying to get them to be that way I’m trying to change them, not accepting them the way they are.”

Whyte gives an example of something that happens all the time. “Someone is asking for their parent, and says ‘my mother is waiting for me’, when the reality is that this 85-year-old’s parents passed away a long time ago. To say ‘your mother is dead’ would be totally cruel, but to say ‘you miss your mother’ gives the person a chance to talk about their mother, and by talking you are providing the person with the caring, the love and the attention they needed.”

There are learnable techniques, such as mirroring gestures, adjusting one’s tone of voice to the client’s, special ways of touching the person, which help this process.

The Alzheimer Groupe team Photo: Susan Gold

By looking at behaviour in the context of the client, it takes on meaning that makes it easier to understand and deal with. “That’s where we have to be careful with judgments,” de Klerk-Rubin says. “Maybe [that behaviour] is the perfect thing for [the client] to be doing at this point. And if I walk with her on this arduous path, she feels understood and maybe feels a little better. What we find is that if at least the basic attitude and most important principles of Validation are used [in an institution] you will see a significant reduction in burnout, sick days, and it will reduce staff turnover.”

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Risqué calendar aims to change Cummings Centre’s grey image

Martin C. Barry

December, 2009

Taking their cue from the hit comedy film Calendar Girls, volunteers at the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors have decided to mark its 50th anniversary by issuing a commemorative calendar of their own with a special twist – the models are all au naturel.

But don’t get your hopes up too much. It’s all been done with the tastefulness of a photo session in the boudoir. (As it happens, one of the consultants on the project was a professional boudoir photographer.) And while there’s lots of exposed skin, just enough is deftly exposed so that the end result teases more than it reveals.

However, there should be no doubt about one thing: With this calendar the centre is out to change its “grey” image while at the same time trying to alter the preconception that seniors can’t engage in a bit of risqué fun, something that not long ago would have been considered taboo.

Calendar Girls was the true story of a group of British women who produced a nude calendar to raise money for a medical cause. The women hit upon the idea of printing a calendar featuring some of them posing nude while engaged in everyday activities, such as knitting and baking. In the movie, their project is greeted with initial skepticism, even though the calendar quickly sells out and the women become media celebrities.

About a year ago, a committee that was set up to examine ways to celebrate the Cummings Centre’s 50th birthday had been wondering out loud at its first meeting “how could we celebrate this anniversary and have fun at the same time?” executive-director Herb Finkelberg said. “So I remembered about the Calendar Girls. I suggested it and the committee loved it.”

Among its many supporters, the centre was fortunate to have two photographers – Rina Friedman, an amateur, and Morty Benedik, a retired professional – who volunteered their services. As for models willing to be photographed in their birthday suits, there were so many they had to start turning people away.

“It was not only not difficult to find volunteers to get involved, it was difficult to restrict them,” Finkelberg said. “Even as the calendar came out, I had people coming into my office saying, ‘Now remember, you said I could be in it next year.’ That’s the kind of response it got.”

Each month in the calendar shows different volunteers in the area of the centre where they work. Shots show the lobby, exercise areas, the course registration department, an art room, the woodworking shop and the cafeteria. Because of technical problems, the lobby photo had to be taken in two stages: the models were first photographed in a studio, and then their image was superimposed on a photo of the lobby.

Finkelberg maintains that the reaction to the calendar has been positive. “I think I was somewhat concerned as to how this was going to be received. Generally people call me not so much with compliments, they call me with concerns. But since the calendar’s release, it has, without a doubt, increased the excitement and the mood of the entire agency.”

Friedman, who photographs events at the centre, was faced with the challenge of making sure her subjects felt comfortable while fully exposed. She and Benedik worked out a method: “If it was a man, I would turn around or go out of the room,” she said. “He would set it up and then we’d shoot. If it was a woman, I would set up the shot.”

Pearl Grubert, past president of the centre who helps run its boutique, is featured with Gloria April in the calendar spread for February.

“When you get to be a senior, you lose a lot of inhibitions and so you say who cares?” she said. “Why can’t seniors have fun? Why can’t people see us as enjoying life?”

In their scene, the two stand behind the boutique’s counters scantily clad in little else but tissue paper, ribbon and large bows. The caption reads “We also gift-wrap.”

Also featured in the calendar is Gladi Gubitz, whose husband, Irving, chaired the calendar committee. “The buzz in the centre has been amazing,” she said. “It put a smile on people’s faces. They felt good about it. Here was something that was alive and kicking. From my perspective it rang a bell that seniors can have fun and have a laugh. That’s really what it was all about.”

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Gimme shelter: seniors face bans on Tempo carports

Martin C. Barry

December, 2009

With snow and wind bearing down mercilessly on even the young and hardy, winter in Montreal has always been a challenge for senior citizens. But in some areas of the island, municipal officials don’t seem very interested in the needs of seniors, even preventing them from erecting temporary car ports or doorway shelters to break the wind.

In Côte St. Luc, Jay Rubinstein, a 76-year-old McAlear resident, appealed to city council recently on behalf of himself and a neighbour for special permission as seniors to be exempted from a Côte St. Luc bylaw that forbids Tempo car shelters in driveways if there already is a garage.

Rubinstein has lived in the same home in Côte St. Luc for 54 years. During a city council meeting, he said he had a “wretched basement garage and whether I hire a snow removal firm or clean the driveway myself it is difficult to go up the driveway because of slippery conditions after a snowfall.” In addition, he added, snow removal contractors will not remove the accumulation of snow on top of cars.

Photo: Martin C. Barry

Rubinstein told Côte St. Luc mayor Anthony Housefather how he and the neighbour, who is recovering from cancer surgery, have two cars parked in their driveways without any shelter. “There is no solution for us, other than to erect a Tempo shelter,” he said. “We are an older population … there’s got to be a solution.

“We are just as deserving of the right to have one as someone who has no carport or garage. … If you don’t want them at all for aesthetic purposes it’s one thing. But why suddenly are the people without carports allowed them and why not me?”

While acknowledging that Côte St. Luc generally discourages Tempos for aesthetic and other reasons, Housefather said the city allows residents without garages to put them up. However, he insisted, “the way the bylaw is currently constructed, the city council has no discretion in the matter to grant you an exemption for hardship or any other reason. I don’t have the power to do it, the council doesn’t have the power to do it. We’d have to change the bylaw.” Housefather said he would take Rubinstein’s request for a change in the bylaw under advisement, “but I can’t grant you an exemption.”

In an e-mailed response to a question from The Senior Times, the mayor confirmed, “We have no power to exempt anyone from a bylaw. It (the Tempo bylaw) has been in force for over 20 years and we will review his request at a future date to see if we are interested in amending the bylaw.”

In Park Extension, until two years ago homeowners, many of them seniors, erected improvised doorway shelters, often fashioned from plastic sheeting and scrap pieces of wood. While they were regarded by some as “visual pollution” and there were safety concerns as well, seniors grew to appreciate the tunnel-like structures, which provided an added measure of protection from the elements on cold and blustery winter days.

In 2007, the borough of Villeray/­St-Michel/Park Extension stepped in with a new bylaw cracking down on the use of polyethylene, particle board or other materials with an unfinished look in the construction of the improvised winter shelters. While pre-fabricated Tempo shelters are permitted by the borough over driveways, shelters over front walks have now virtually disappeared. While some of the rationales for the ban were fire safety and crime prevention, it came into force with at least some complaints from affected seniors.

“The main concern was to have visibility,” says Park Extension City Councillor Mary Deros, noting that the new bylaw also made it mandatory to have windows to prevent undesirables from lurking inside. While effectively placing a ban on covering balconies, the borough still allows shelters on front walks as long as they’re built on a metal frame and are anchored securely. “We have an aging population,” Deros says.

“A lot of them come out to wait for a taxi or adapted transportation. The last few winters we’ve had a lot of snowfall and they don’t have the means or strength to shovel the snow.”

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Righteous Gentiles honoured at Segal Centre

Byron Toben

December, 2009

In The Human Condition, Masaki Kobayashi’s nine-hour film epic about the Japanese occupation of Manchuria — called by some the greatest film ever made — Kaji, a liberal intellectual drafted into the army to supervise starving Chinese prisoners, meets their leader, an aged spokesman.

The prisoner, sensing a sympathetic soul in Kaji, urges him to help the prisoners. When Kaji queries how he can do that, the leader replies “When good men are confronted with evil, they will find a way to act.” Later, when the brutal Kempei-Tai (Japanese military police) seek to chop heads for fun, Kaji intervenes, at the risk of his own head.

This powerful episode flashed into my head as I attended an event called When Decency Met Heroism during its final Canadian stop at the Segal Centre. The event honoured a group of Righteous Poles and Holocaust survivors.

L to R: Marian Golebiowski, Marianna Krasnodebeska, Ewa Juczyk-Ziomecka, Secretary of State Joanna Sobolewska; chancellery of the president of the Republic of Poland, Tadeusz Zylinski; Consul General, Janina Rozecka Photo: Anna Ronij

In tandem with the construction in Warsaw of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is an archive inspired by the tribute to Righteous Gentiles at Yad Vashem in Israel to over 6,000 individual Poles who risked their own lives to shelter Jews. It is inspiring to remember that, in addition to famous diplomats who issued escape visas to thousands – Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden and Chiuga Sugihara of Japan, for example there were a myriad of ordinary people who, like Kaji, did the right thing when confronted.

The Polish ambassador to Canada accompanied Marianna Krasnodebeska, 86; Janina Rozecka, 87; and Marian Golebiowski, 90 as they were honoured. In a handsome book issued in 2008 for the tour, which was attended by Barack Obama in Washington last spring, the stories of 65 Righteous are related in detail. An amusing anecdote told how Jews were taught the rosary and the sign of the cross to pose as Catholics. But Magdalena Grodzka, 84, relates, they signed too reverentially and slowly, closing their eyes. “Who’s ever seen such a thing?” she asked. It was a tip-off to the Nazis. She explained, one should “wave your hand around quickly, without touching: one-two-three.”

After the tributes, the joint started swinging with Yiddish songs by the dynamic Theresa Tova, last seen here in concert during the Yiddish Theatre Festival in June. Matt Herskowitz pounded the ivories with the fervor of Oscar Peterson, and Bryna Wasserman led viewers, including the amazingly spry honorees, in a concluding hora-like dance finale.

Visit the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at www.righteous.pl

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Legislation keeps veteran out of Ste. Anne’s

December, 2009

In November 2006, Greg Thompson, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, inaugurated the newly built Remembrance Pavilion at Ste. Anne’s Hospital, the last federally regulated veterans hospital in Canada.

“Canada’s new government stands up for its veterans by making sure they have the state-of-the-art facilities that truly meet their needs,” Thompson said about the structure especially designed for elderly patients with cognitive deficits. “This Modernization Project demonstrates our commitment to provide high quality care to our veterans.”

As well intentioned as these words may have been, they ring hollow to Sharyn Cadot, wife of Allied veteran Dennis Vialls, who at 84 is fighting his last battle, with Alzheimer’s disease.

From her perspective, though her husband landed in Normandy on D-Day and fought for democracy, he can not make a dent in bureaucracy.

“Presently there is legislation that prevents Allied veterans from admittance to Ste. Anne’s hospital,” Cadot said. According to policy, veterans who served with the Canadian forces have immediate access to long-term care at Ste. Anne’s should they require it. But Allied (British) veterans are placed in facilities in the community as long as their needs can be met there.

Cadot feels that Ste. Anne’s hospital is the best possible place for her husband, who is now in urgent need of long-term care. The hospital is in her community, where four of their five children reside. She says the care provided there is the best for her husband who already attends the day centre twice a week and is happy there. The choices she has been offered include a private facility that she can’t afford, another residence available immediately but requiring hours of bus travel, and a public facility where she was told the wait could be up to two years.

To be placed on the waiting list for Ste. Anne’s hospital is not an option at the moment, even though Vialls has been a Canadian citizen for 43 years and has five children born in Canada.

Allied veteran Dennis Vialls last Remembrance Day Photo: Kristine Berey

As primary caregiver, Cadot, 62, is nearing burnout and has had to take sick leave from her job last May. In a letter dated November 20, Thompson informed Cadot that “Department of Justice officials were consulted on this matter and they have confirmed that there is no legal authority, and thus no policy basis on which to admit Mr. Vialls to Ste. Anne’s Hospital.” Cadot asks why – when the number of living veterans is declining so dramatically that the hospital is considering bringing in civilian patients – are all veterans not treated equally?

In one of her many letters to elected officials, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, she pleads for an amendment to the legislation. She says that Allied veterans should not be sent “to public care when it is not their wish. A better evaluation plan needs to be in place for Allied veterans. Why are benefits different for Allied veterans?”

Lac St. Louis MP Frances Scarpaleggia agrees that Allied veterans should have priority access. “I’ve written to the minister asking that Allied veterans get the same treatment as Canadian Forces veterans. If the government wanted to do that in the first place, it would require regulatory changes that wouldn’t happen overnight.”

Social worker Bonnie Sandler, who works extensively with the elderly, says the policies of Veterans Affairs are complicated. “It’s very hard to understand the different criteria as they apply to different people. They give different amounts of money based on whether you were hurt, not hurt, whether you went overseas. You need a special degree to figure out who gets what. Spouses of veterans are all receiving different services.”

Regarding the care given at St. Anne’s, Sandler is unequivocal in her praise. “The care there is exceptional. It’s very sad that not everybody can go there who deserves to be there.”

Currently there are 14 names on the waiting list at Ste. Anne’s, said communications officer André Bou­dreau. Renovations on the 14th floor of the main building have been recently completed and there are 33 available beds. The Remembrance Pavilion, which features 116 bedrooms, has no empty beds. “They’re all full,” Boudreau said.

Cadot, a formidable fighter in her own right, plans to send a letter to Prime Minister Harper every day until Christmas. She has also started a petition asking for a special derogation for Vialls and has collected “hundreds of names.”

A recent letter to Harper reads: “Our families continue to be very saddened by the silence from your office and are hoping that you will be more lenient toward veteran Dennis Vialls and our families on December 25, 2009, as a gesture of goodwill and grant him his derogation.”

She adds, “Please grant us his derogation, as his health and the health of his wife continue to deteriorate.”

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Students and seniors share stories and geography savvy

December, 2009

Vista residents and Grade 5 Willingdon pupils came together this November to share personal experiences that span four generations.

The residence and the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) have organized the program that brings students from across the city to participate in activities with the Vista residents. The first event was a geography game similar to Trivial Pursuit. Residents and students were placed in groups where they answered questions together; in their downtime, they shared stories and ate snacks supplied by the children.

“We were talking about my experience during the war in England and the gas masks,” said Mrs. Ricketts, a resident. “I said I was sorry that they took the gas masks back at the end of the war because I used to use them for cleaning up. I was trying to think of things that would interest [the children] or make them laugh.” “The kids started to realize, ‘Hey, Mrs. Ricketts lived through the war’,” said Joanne Kennedy, vice-president for strategic communication.

Mrs. Ricketts told the students about the bombings that she experienced in England. “Oh yes, when the sirens went, we used to run down to the shelters.”

“And [the students] were shocked that bombs could have dropped on a city,” Kennedy said. “They had no comprehension of that.”

Mr. Pesner, another resident who participated in the activity told the kids stories about his experience being a pilot in the Second World War.

“The kids think that all of the soldiers have passed away,” said Ronald Brunet, general manager of the residence. “They were so captivated by the stories. It was pretty amazing to see everyone realize that this is for real.”

Chidren from Willingdon School with Vista residents during the “Canada Games”

Some of the participants were shy at first, but icebreakers were enmeshed in the game — soon everybody was laughing and talking.

At one point everyone had to pull out a card with an action on it and they had to perform that action. Mr. Pesner got “do the Charleston,” which had his entire table laughing, Brunet said.

The game was reminiscent of Trivial Pursuit in the sense that they had to move their pieces across the board by answering the questions correctly. “Some of the kids knew the answers better than I did,” Mrs. Ricketts said.

They named the activity Canada Games. The children were telling everyone about the places they had visited. Discussions and memories were sparked by the questions.

“I think it’s just reaching out and hearing everyone’s story,” Brunet said.

“It’s an inter-generational project and it’s within the community. It hit a lot of elements that are important to this community at Vista.”

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Good news for caregivers

Kristine Berey

December, 2009

According to the Care-ring Voice Network, there are more than 500,000 caregivers in Quebec who provide 80 per cent of the care needed by loved ones with health problems. Over 60 per cent of these people juggle work and home responsibilities. Many are in danger of burnout and 25 per cent suffer from depression.

Help may be on the way as early as next year through a newly created fund designed to help caregivers in a private/public partnership that is said to be unique in Quebec’s history.

On November 23, family and seniors minister Marguerite Blais and André Chagnon, philanthropist and owner of Sojecci II Ltd., launched the $200-million fund, of which $150 million will be financed by Quebec, and $50 million by the Chagnon family. The money will become available over 10 years and will be managed by an administrative council made up of five members named by Quebec and five by the Chagnon family foundation. Three quarters of the funds are earmarked for caregivers helping loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive deficits while one quarter will be used to help caregivers of people with other incapacities.

André Chagnon and Marguerite Blais photo: Kristine Berey

According to the Quebec Federation of Alzheimer’s Societies, 120,000 Quebecers are affected by the illness, and 140,000 might develop Alzheimer’s or a related impairment within the next five years.

Caregiver resource centres, based on a British model, will be set up across the province, with the aim of providing quick and easy access to services already established in the community. The money will not go to caregivers directly but rather to organizations already in place that support them. “We’re not going to invent new structures,” Blais said. “We will check all the projects that exist.”

Herb Finkelberg, director of the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, welcomed the news. “We are seeing a dramatic increase in individuals who are cognitively impaired. The caregiver is at risk of compromising their health because of the incredible amount of energy caretaking requires. The idea here is to prevent this kind of deterioration from taking place. This is much-needed funding for a problem of which we’ve seen only the tip of the iceberg.”

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Former radioman Sid Margles joins broadcasters Hall of Fame

Martin C. Barry

Retired Montreal broadcaster Sidney Margles, whose name and voice were synonyms for late-breaking news on CJAD Radio during the 1960s and ’70s, has capped his 40-year career by being inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame.

As is the case with so many fruitful careers, Sid started at the bottom. While attending a teen audience ­participation program on CJAD in the mid-1950s, he was selected to read a commercial for the show’s sponsor – Coca-Cola – and more opportunities followed. In 1959, during his third year of university, Sid seized the opportunity to join the CJAD news department as a full-time writer.

In 1960, CJAD provided Sid with a transmitter-equipped mobile unit – a veritable studio on wheels that could put the listener at the scene of a fast-breaking or major news event virtually anywhere in the Montreal region. From fires to politics, celebrations to crises, civic issues to public demonstrations, Sid Margles was there, on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As such, he is recognized today as a pioneer of Canadian on-the-spot radio reporting.

Among seasoned journalists in those days, Sid was known for his knack for turning up at the scene of newsworthy events before anyone else got there. While some speculated he had a highly developed network of insiders to keep him clued in, Sid attributes his success to the technological tools he was using, including a mobile phone in his car, a helicopter with a two-way radio link that often provided assistance, and a scanner radio for monitoring police and fire activity.

A high point of Sid’s reporting career included coverage of the 1968 St. Jean Baptiste parade and the disruptive riot, during which Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau sat steadfast as other VIPs around him sought cover. It was also during the troubled times in Montreal, from 1962 to 1970, when bombs were planted in several areas and there were many demonstrations and riots. But by far, his most memorable experience began on a stormy Friday, November 29, 1963.

One evening while he was preparing dinner, a call came in about an “explosion” in Ste. Thérèse, north of Montreal. Possessing news intuition, Sid sensed a disaster and was on his way even before he learned it was an Air-Canada DC-8 that had crashed moments after takeoff with 118 people aboard. He was the first newsman on the scene. With microphone in hand, he was able to immediately confirm the crash and describe the tragedy. Sid remembers it this way.

December, 2009

“I received a phone call from Vince Rowe, news editor on duty. Being a hunch player, I said I was on the way and to call me in the car to give me more information. I was on my way to the Laurentian Autoroute, which in those days was a toll road, when he called to say the explosion had been several miles into Ste. Thérèse.

“I told him to call the police and tell them I wasn’t stopping at the toll gate. As I travelled up Highway 11, I saw there was this one policeman standing in the middle of the road with a flashlight trying to direct traffic, and there I saw on my left all the flames. I ended up moving in to observe what I would describe. I had to walk in about half a mile from my car because it was in the fields. And I came back out and was able to report from my car.”

For Sid, one result of that experience was realizing the limitations faced at that time by radio reporters on location. So he consulted with CJAD’s engineers about developing a mobile transmitting unit. In conjunction with Motorola, they produced what became known as a Carrier Operated Relay System, a portable unit enabling a radio reporter to transmit back to a car, where the signal could be relayed to the station.

“At that time, the unit they developed for me was the size I’d say of a huge suitcase, which sat in the trunk of the car, and the portable was a five- or six-pound handheld unit. It was, of course, a lot larger than what you see today. But in those days it was quite a development.”

While Sid’s career in radio news came to an end in 1984 when he was appointed president of a division of Standard Broadcasting (CJAD’s parent company), four years later he embarked on a career in politics when he was elected to the first of three terms he would serve as a city councillor in Town of Mount Royal, where he, his wife, and three daughters lived at the time. Sid has lived in Côte St. Luc for the past four years. He spends his winters in Florida.

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December 2009 editorials

Tory attack flyers backfire

Conservative MPs have upset many Montrealers with their scurrilous attack ads, mailed to people with Jewish-sounding names in ridings with significant numbers of Jewish voters.

There is much that is abhorrent about the tactic itself and the content. Many of those who received the flyer are furious that the Conservatives assume, falsely, that Canadian Jews base their vote on support for Israel, over and above the community members’ long-standing preoccupation with social justice, health care, the environment and a host of other issues.

While most Montreal Jews do support the federal Liberals, for a variety of historical and policy reasons, they do not vote as a bloc. Even more egregious are the statements in the flyer, which Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler has denounced as “close to hate speech.” The pamphlet accuses the Liberals of “willingly participating in the overly anti-Semitic Durban I – the human rights conference in South Africa that Cotler attended in 2001 along with a Canadian delegations. In fact, Cotler, along with Israeli government encouragement, showed courage and leadership by staying on, along with representatives of major Jewish organizations, in an effort to combat and bear witness to what turned into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate fest. The flyer also falsely accuses the Liberals of being opposed to “defunding Hamas” and asking that Hezbollah be delisted as a terrorist organization. In fact, the Liberals in 2002 took the lead in branding the two Islamist groups as terrorist organizations, making financial support illegal.

If the Conservatives think they will make inroads with Montreal voters with these untruths and sleazy tactics, they are sadly mistaken.

Spectre of Vietnam looms in Afganistan

US President Barack Obama’s announcement of a 30,000-soldier surge to counter the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, bringing to 100,000 the United States’ military commitment to the region, is bound to fail. The parallels with Vietnam are only too obvious. The only possible positive thing we can foresee at this point is that the boost may take some of the heat off Canada’s 3,000-troop Afghanistan contingent, which is to end its combat role in 2011.

On paper, one can wonder how it is that the Taliban, with an estimated force of about 15,000 poorly armed soldiers, can manage to hold out against a coalition of 43 nations equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and communications capability. The short answer is that, much as in Vietnam, there is a fierce and ingrained determination among the various Afghan peoples to reject foreign interference in their affairs, going back to the British withdrawal more than a century ago and up to the more recent and disastrous attempt by Russian forces to sustain the unpopular Communist regime. The rugged mountainous terrain is an ideal staging ground and hiding place for insurgents. That is among the reasons why US troops failed to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in December 2001.

In Vietnam, US and allied forces were propping up a hated and corrupt regime. Military expert Anthony Cordesman recently told the Washington Post that the regime of Hamid Karzai is “a grossly over-centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-­traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.”

The ballot stuffing that was a feature of Karzai’s recent re-election is but a shadow of the deeper problem. The Afghan version of what was called the “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s is training more Afghan soldiers and police. That is hardly reassuring to Afghanis who know that a uniform there is carte blanche for extortion and abuse. The arrival of 30,000 more Americans can only mean more riches for the Afghani elite whose assistance and cooperation will be needed to provide the infrastructure necessary for their health, safety and security. Let us not forget how deep is the cultural gap that separates that country from our liberal democratic values. Take women’s rights. The recent compromise on family law, after the international outcry over the initial draft in which married women could not refuse sex with their husbands, is this: A husband may deny food to his spouse, even until death, for refusing to have sex with her husband. A wife is now allowed to work outside the home, but only with her husband’s permission.

Thomas Friedman, the respected New York Times columnist, warns that the idea the US and its allies can transform Afghanistan is problematic at best, and deepening the commitment with limited prospects of anything like a victory is “a prescription for disaster.” We say prepare now for some kind of compromise by encouraging the Afghan regime to reach out to the insurgents. Afghanistan will not in our lifetimes adopt our value system. The best we can hope for is to lay the groundwork for building schools, training teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers and inculcating the essence of our traditions and the rule of law to a new educated elite. Maybe a decent life will be possible in at least parts of the country, justifying to some degree the sacrifice of more than 132 Canadian soldiers since 2002. Ultimately, and sooner than some may think, it will be up to the Afghans to fashion the framework of their society.

Tremblay, Bergeron step up to the plate

While only 39 per cent of eligible voters turned out for last month’s municipal elections, Montrealers voted wisely in re-electing Mayor Gérald Tremblay, but with a reduced majority.

The alleged scandals in construction and water-meter contracts had a lot to do with it, but voters appeared to agree that the mayor himself was not involved. They seemed to say, however, that he should have been more vigilant. With that in mind, he has added the chair of the executive committee and the role of Ville Marie borough mayor to his responsibilities.

Voters also indicated a desire for change by choosing Richard Bergeron’s Projet Montreal to run Plateau Mont Royal borough, and electing to the central city council former Gazette investigative reporter Alexander Norris. Mayor Tremblay has acknowledged this important breakthrough by giving Bergeron responsibility for urban planning. This is an opportunity for him and his party to show whether they have what it takes to persuade Montrealers in four years that they should be in charge.

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One man's skunk may not smell bad to another

December, 2009

“Niggardly” was a politically incorrect mishap in the offing. In 1999, Caucasian David Howard, a top aide to Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, announced to a black colleague during a committee meeting “I will have to be niggardly with this fund because it’s not going to be a lot of money.”

Notwithstanding that “niggardly” means “miserly” and has no etymological connection to the N-word, Howard was forced to resign for uttering this nine-letter word, but subsequently reinstated and shifted to a different department. Howard wished he had used a different synonym such as “stingy.” He later stated, “I should have thought, this is an arcane word, and everyone may not know it.”

In a recent article in The New York Times, Jack Rosenthal called words such as “niggardly,” that look as if they have a particular meaning but mean something quite different, “phantonyms.” He cited members of this club: “noisome,” which doesn’t mean “noisy,” but rather “offensive,” “enormity,” which doesn’t mean “enormousness,” but “monstrous wickedness,” and “fulsome,” which does not mean “very full,” but rather “offensive to normal tastes.” Rosenthal says that “when careful writers … confront a shadowy phantonym, they’ll resist.” Hence Barack Obama’s use of “fulsome accounting” to mean “full” was both erroneous and sloppy.

In a similar vein, lexicographer Bryan A. Garner in Garner’s Modern American Usage linguist states that “when a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another – a phase that might take ten years or a hundred- it’s likely to be the subject of dispute.”

An example of such is the word “effete” that traditionally meant “worn out” or “barren” but increasingly is used by some people to mean “snobbishly sophisticated.”

Garner adds that “a word is most hotly disputed in the middle of the process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers.” He characterizes these disputed words as “skunked” and best avoided.

The reality of what qualifies as a “shadowy phantonym,” or a “skunked” word is not as clear-cut as Rosenthal or Garner pretend.

Can anyone say definitively when a word has been “skunked”?

Garner includes in his list of skunked words, “decimate” and “hopefully,” whereas I regard the use of “decimate” to mean “kill one-tenth” and the exclusive use of “hopefully” to mean only “in a hopeful manner” and not “one hopes,” or “it is to be hoped,” to be hopelessly moribund.

Similarly, some language purists argue that the word “dilemma” should only be used to refer to a choice between two unpleasant alternatives and not a plight or predicament, but most dictionaries allow for this latter sense.

And who is to be the sine qua non arbiter on what qualifies as proper English? According to Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and other US dictionaries, “infer” means the same as “imply,” “peruse” means not only to “examine carefully” but to “read over in a casual manner,” “disinterested” can mean “not interested” as well as “impartial” and “enormity” can mean the same as “enormousness.” Alas, these liberal positions are heresy to some language observers.

Recently deceased language commentator William Safire started out as a rigid prescriptivist but even he acknowledged in his book In Love With Norma Loquendi that the masses represent the final arbiter of language: “The rules laid down by elites are to be respected … but in the end democracy, which goes by the name of common usage, will work its will. … When the population challenges the order over a period of time, Norma Loquendi – the everyday voice of the native speaker – is the heroine who changes the order and raises a new standard.”

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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Adjusting to ambiguous loss a lasting struggle

December, 2009

We feel “ambiguous loss” for people who are physically present but psychologically absent. You might feel this way for someone who is in a coma, or someone who has Alzheimer’s.

They remain family members, but in an altered state; they are no longer the people they once were. Unlike in the case of the death of a loved one, there is no closure and there are no rituals to follow. You, their loved one, are left in a state of confusion, dealing with a physical body and an absent mind. Families dealing with such loss are often overwhelmed.

Because there is no death, there is no opportunity to say goodbye, and support systems often fall by the wayside. Friends and families may be uncomfortable with the situation and unsure how to respond. This results in fragile families who don’t receive much-needed social support. Many of these ambiguous losses last for years and leave families in a state of perpetual grief. Friends and family do not know how to deal with life cycle events. Does one call on the birthday of someone with dementia? What about a couple’s wedding anniversary? The worlds of families dealing with Alzheimer’s begin to shrink, leading to their isolation.

Different family members will respond differently to the introduction of Alzheimer’s into the lives of their loved ones. Some will be in denial, some will feel shame and want to keep the disease a secret, adding greater stress to the family, while others will readily educate themselves and seek support.

In dealing with Alzheimer’s, families have the added burden of the stigma. They are often unwilling to share their intimate stories with those in their social circle, and end up withdrawing from a potential source of support. The person with the disease undergoes traumatic changes that in turn affect each member of their familial and social network.

Reactions to psycho-social loss may include guilt and depression. Anger is a common side effect when dealing with Alzheimer’s in the family. Disappointment with non-supportive friends turns to anger that can be directed at the affected person. Another cause of frustration is the false belief that people with Alzheimer’s have the ability to control their own behaviour. In later stages, caregivers can become exhausted and angry, feeling that they have lost much of their own lives in the years of caring for someone who is emotionally absent.

In the case of a spouse of a person with dementia, the role and definition of “spouse” becomes unclear. How can you be married if your spouse no longer knows your name, no longer recognizes you and can no longer fulfill any of the responsibilities one associates with being a husband or wife? If you find yourself wanting to find companionship with someone else, you may feel confused and guilty. This confusion is likely to spread, as friends may not know how to react to someone who is technically married yet begins a relationship with a new person. Support can be sparse in such a case, as people may be quick to judge you as disloyal since your spouse is still alive.

Support groups can help people in such situations deal with the adjustments they will have to make because of the profound losses presented to them on a daily basis.

Questions and comments can be directed to Bonnie Sandler at b.sandler@sympatico.ca.

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The Vatican continues its move to the right

December, 2009

This has been a year when the signs from Rome suggest the Vatican is moving steadily to the right.

One of those signs is Rome’s investigation into American nuns. This inquiry is concerned with the lifestyle of the nuns and their attitudes toward such issues as female priests, gay marriage and the relationship of the Catholic church to non-Christian religions.

It is curious indeed that Rome should launch a full-scale investigation into American nuns. After all, nuns had virtually nothing to do with the paramount problem in the American church – the child abuse scandal perpetrated by Catholic priests and brothers and aided and abetted by Catholic bishops.

Rome has launched no investigation into either the priests or the bishops. In fact, Cardinal Law, one of the main culprits, was summoned to Rome and promoted. Yet it is the nuns who are under the gun. One reason is the precipitous drop in the number of American nuns. Forty years ago there were 180,000 vowed sisters in the United States. Today there are fewer than 60,000. Yet the number of priests has also dropped sharply during the same period, leaving more than 10 per cent of parishes without resident priests. Why isn’t the priest shortage the subject of an investigation?

During this same period U.S. bishops presided over a sexual abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic community more than $2 billion and the episcopacy much of its moral credibility. So why no visitation for the bishops? One might also ask why virtually no bishops have resigned.

The religious women that Rome is targeting are members of congregations that have taught in Catholic grade schools and high schools, academies and colleges. They are the sisters who have staffed hospitals and worked to relieve homelessness and to develop low-cost housing.

Naturally, American nuns are extremely upset at Rome’s vote of non-confidence in their lifestyles and ministries.

One of them has expressed her disappointment: “There is simply no way of getting away from the fact that in the Catholic Church it is men who tell women how they should understand themselves as women. Rome wants women religious to accept such understandings, not merely without dissent, but without comment. The Vatican does not want independent-minded women theologians or biblical scholars and seemingly won’t read or quote them unless the women mimic the Vatican’s – and that means men’s – voices and views. But we are not ‘men’ or ‘mankind.’ We are persons with minds and hearts and voices who have lived lives of integrity and loyalty and who remain loyal to this church even when it treats us as second-class citizens.”

It will be interesting to see whether this crackdown on nuns will manage to force the toothpaste back in the tube and develop a more docile, conservative sisterhood. The Vatican’s attempt to entice more Anglicans to cross the Tibre also seems to be a move to the right. Those Anglicans who oppose gay marriage and female priests and bishops are the ones most likely to accept the pope’s invitation. This means the most conservative elements of the Anglican church would become Catholics. This development will make the Catholic church more conservative and the Anglican church more liberal.

At the same time, an influx of married Anglican priests into the Catholic church will raise in a dramatic way Rome’s insistence on celibacy for its own priests. It is also interesting to note that on its initiative to reach out to Anglicans, particularly in England, the pope made no effort to consult his English bishops or, for that matter, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. This is just one more instance of a further conservative trend in the church – to centralize all authority in Rome.

At the same time, Rome is in discussions with the bishops and priests in the Society of St. Pius X, which rejects the liberalizing teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It was one of those bishops – who denied the Holocaust – that the pope welcomed back into the church.

It is difficult to understand how Rome could sit down and negotiate with a group that rejects most of the teachings of Vatican II, including the Council’s reaching out to the Jewish faith. A former head of the International Council of Christians and Jews, Professor John Pawlikowski, has warned that the pope may be confronted with the negative consequences of his efforts to try to reconcile the ultra-conservative Pius X Society when he goes to the synagogue in Rome on January 17 because many rabbis intend to boycott the visit. He added that Christian-Jewish dialogue is now “in a serious crisis.”

However, this move to more conservatism in the church has just sustained a major setback in Ireland, one of the most conservative Catholic countries in the world.

After a three-year investigation and a 700-page report into the crimes of priestly sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, the conservative Irish church is reeling. The report on priestly sex abuse in the Dublin Archdiocese reveals that for almost half a century about 50 Irish priests have sexually abused hundreds of innocent children. What’s more, a series of bishops in Dublin aided and abetted this abuse.

Some senior political leaders in Ireland are demanding that these bishops resign. This sexual crisis marks the end of the authoritarian church in Ireland, an authoritarianism that has held sway for centuries and is comparable in some ways to the Quebec church in the times of Maurice Duplessis. Of course, the suffocating grip of the Catholic church in Quebec has long since collapsed. It will be interesting indeed to see if church authority and practice collapse in Ireland.

It will be also interesting to see whether in the coming year the Vatican continues its move to the right. I should think so. Rome seems prepared to live with a smaller conservative church as long as the adherents who remain are docile and obedient.

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Transform your food, then let it transform you

December, 2009

Fundamentally, cooking is about transformation.

I was thinking about this while eating lunch. Lunch, chez nous, is invariably a transformation: last night’s roast beef, sliced thin and served cold with salad, or an omelet wrapped around day-old cooked vegetables and freshly grated cheese.

More often, the transformation is in the guise of soup. The process begins several meals back. For the first, I focus on the freshness of the market – vegetables simply prepared and fish or meat, dashed with salt and pepper and broiled or fried quickly to sear in the flavours. Next day, the cold salmon gets chopped into salad or the chicken supplements pasta. The day after that, I heat up broth and serve chicken noodle soup, or with the fish and salad I might add stock plus Thai seasonings or Vietnamese fish sauce and head in an oriental direction.

Today’s lunch brought together chicken broth, itself a reduction of water, vegetable ends and bones from last week’s roasted chicken, with leftover fried rice and frozen shrimp. The fried rice was initially served steamed, so it has now gone through two transformations. With each version I add a new dynamic. It could be soy sauce or a curry, a spicy tomato sauce, perhaps highly seasoned bits of smoked meat, a can of lentils or chick peas. We are now into the realms of stews, gumbos, chowders and chili. If I want something more refined, I throw everything into the blender. Then I heat up the slurry, sprinkle chopped herbs (celery, chives, parsley or marjoram are all great) and spoon on a dollop of yogourt or sour cream at the table.

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Gordon Hamersley’s Bistro Cooking at Home. When it comes to home cooking, there are approaches more comforting than Hamersley’s, which leans toward gourmand rather than gourmet. Here is a version of his bistro-style steak, which we made recently with a small piece of prime rib (1.5 kilos or about three pounds – perfect for two) we got on sale at Metro.

First, make garlic butter. This will have a dozen uses, so it is worth the effort. Mash two or three cloves of garlic with some salt, pepper and thyme. I use a mortar and pestle for this, but a food processor works well, too. Mix this into a softened stick (8 tablespoons) of unsalted butter. Mold the butter into a log and wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Take a thick steak (or, in our case, the roast) and let it come to room temperature. Dry any moisture with a paper towel and pat it liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Melt half the garlic butter in a small pan. Heat the oven to 425F (about 220C). When the oven is ready, take an oven-proof frying pan big enough for the meat, pour in several tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat until the oil is very hot, but not smoking. Put the steak in and cook it for five minutes on one side. Be sure not to move it – it will from a beautiful crust. Turn the meat over, brush the crust with some of the melted garlic butter then put it in the oven for five to 15 minutes more, depending on the thickness. Remove it every few minutes to brush it with more garlic butter and check the temperature. If you are using an instant-read thermometer, take the meat from the oven when it reaches 130F (about 55C). If you are not using a thermometer, insert a sharp, thin knife into the meat. If the blade is cool to the touch, the meat should cook more. It is ready (and rare) as soon as the blade is too hot to touch. Let the meat rest for five to 10 minutes on a warm plate before carving. This ensures that the juices stay in the meat when you slice it.

While the meat rests, pour the fat from the pan, add the rest of the melted garlic butter and a half cup of red wine or chicken stock. Heat the sauce, scraping any caramelized bits of meat from the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid to a quarter cup. Pour this over the meat while serving. Eat slowly. It’s a transforming experience.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. E-mail him at flavourguy@thesenior times.com.

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Great Can-Lit picks for all ages

December, 2009

Former Governor General’s Literary Awards finalist Budge Wilson, author of several novels, short stories, and a prequel to Anne of Green Gables, once said she never liked the “young adult” category in fiction writing. This label implies, she says, that such a book is less worthy as literature. “Yet, all it means is that the central character is a child or that the story is told from a child’s perspective”.

This year’s GG award winner in the category of children’s literature, Caroline Pignat’s Greener Grass, is a case in point. The book recreates perhaps the most painful period in Irish history, the 1847 potato famine, when conditions were unimaginably inhumane and thousands were left to starve. The story, told by young Kathleen Byrne, is one of heroism, courage and survival.

In Sister Wife, also nominated in this category, Shelley Hrdlitschka recreates a polygamous community, here known as Unity, where young girls are married off to older men and where a strict code of behaviour overrides individual human rights.

Still in Children’s Literature, Tim Wynne-Jones’ The Uninvited takes readers on an eerie journey to an enchanting country house. The setting’s quaint charm merely adds to the sense of uneasiness throughout this gripping thriller that is also a family drama.

Alice Munro’s short stories have been compared to Chekhov’s work. In Too Much Happiness, nominated in the fiction category, Munro brings us ten stories that display her mastery of short fiction writing. Though a GG finalist this year, Munro is a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Awards.

Munro was a primary influence on a young emerging writer, Deborah Willis, whose first short story collection, Vanishing and Other Stories, was nominated this year.

Willis is an exciting and original voice in the landscape of Canadian fiction. Her handling of form is almost musical, as she sometimes tells her stories in more than one voice, in multiple time frames or alternative scenarios.

“The emotional range and depth of these stories, the clarity and deftness, is astonishing,” commented Munro on this debut collection.

Those who want to escape this reality and enter another world will be entertained and enchanted by Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mean. In a bold leap of the imagination, Lyon explores the relationship between the philosopher Aristotle and his 13-year-old student and future conqueror of the Ancient World, Alexander the Great.

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A taste of Slovenia – without the airfare

December, 2009

Walking on Ste. Catherine St. past the Pepsi Forum, you may spot the terrace of a fine café and bakery, with its name displayed in earthy colours near the door. Pekarna’s tour-de-force is the cake display with its impressive diversity of flavours including chestnut, carrot, apple, cherry, mocha, and triple ganache. I had the strawberry cheese cake and was surprised that it had a hint of lemon zest. The cakes come in two sizes, and the bakery also makes children’s birthday cakes, wedding cakes and caters celebrations.

Other bakery foods include generously sized gingerbread men, strawberry tarts, apple pockets and chocolate chip muffins that are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. There are European candies, a range of gelato flavours and some chocolate confectionery.

Pekarna also serves large wrap sandwiches that have a distinct Mediterranean flavour. You can order just one or, if you’re feeding a crowd, a deluxe platter. To drink, you can get coffee – try the Viennese coffee – or tea, hot or cold. A lesser-known beverage on Pekarna’s menu is Euro Soda, a combination of club soda and flavoured syrup, served to the rim.

This is an authentic Slovenian pastry shop you can enjoy without having to travel to Eastern Europe. Pekarna is located in the Pepsi Forum, 313 Ste. Catherine W., Suite 103. Info: 514-228-5222.

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Daou delights with delectable delicacies

Barbara Moser

December, 2009

When you dine at Daou, be sure to go with a group. That way you can sample a selection of the restaurant’s delicacies.

This authentic Lebanese restaurant has two locations: 2373 Marcel Laurin in Ville St. Laurent, and the one we visited, at 519 Faillon E.

We went on a Thursday evening with our friends Avrum and Marnie, their daughter, Hardial, and her boyfriend, Addison. We constituted a rather large and demanding bunch of hungry and eager diners, which meant we got to sample many items from the long and luscious-sounding list of cold and hot appetizers. Most come in two sizes, and we opted mostly for the larger ones, which more than satisfied our pangs and palettes.

We sat in the centre of the sleekly decorated, airy room and were immediately greeted by our waiter, who served us complimentary pickled turnips, green olives and pita.

We were a somewhat complicated group and full of questions, but the waiter was calm as he walked around answering all our queries. He was obviously used to diners who don’t know their fatouche from their foule. We kept changing our minds about whether we wanted large or small portions and whether we wanted to order the chef’s suggestions of grilled meats ($25.95), a vegetarian platter ($18.95), combined platter ($21.50), and appetizer platter ($25.95). Two such dishes might be perfect for a couple, but for a group of six, sharing larger portions of appetizers seemed like a better option. Here are the dishes we finally settled on, in no particular order:

The feisty fatouche salad ($11.95 for the large size) was an entertaining mix of veggies, oil, lemon, small pieces of pita and Middle Eastern herbs that tasted like zatar or oregano. This was yummy and fed us all at regular intervals. It was indeed much bigger than it looked on the plate.

Ground chick peas with pine nuts (Hommus & Snoubar in Arabic; $10.25 for the large size). This is one of my favourite dishes, and at Daou it’s fresh, lemony – and hard to stop dipping your pita in. Marnie described it as not sticky, but light with texture as well as flavour.

Red pepper & walnut dip (Muha­mara $6.75). It’s an original and another of my favourites. It’s tangy and spreadable, but I wouldn’t advise too much spreading or you won’t have room for the other dishes.

Pressed cream yogourt with garlic (Labneh $6.95). You’ve never had it so good, except maybe in the Druze village of Daliat-el-Carmel, Israel.

Fava beans with oil, lemon and garlic (Foule $7.50). This filling, vegetarian Lebanese comfort food was done to perfection with just the right amount of garlic and lemon, although some in our party found it too salty.

Cooked meat stuffed with minced meat (Kebesanieh $9.95) This pie was a favourite with the meat lovers.

Cheese rolls (Rakakat $7.95). We gobbled these up fast. They’re wrapped in a flaky filo dough and filled with soft white cheese. A favourite of Addison’s. Lebanese sausage ($5.95 for a small portion) is done up in a rich tomato sauce. Irwin’s favourite.

Spinach pie ($2.25) and Thyme pie ($1.75) are not-so-little morsels meant for individual diners. The thyme pie was a puffed-up pita loaded with thyme, which Marnie thoroughly enjoyed. I dipped my spinach pie in a few dips.

Babaganoush ($8.95 for the large size). This blend of eggplant, sesame, garlic and lemon, was a masterpiece of smooth, mouth-watering goodness.

Of the stuffed vine leaves with either meat or rice, most of us preferred the vegetarian ones, although Irwin was a fan of the meaty ones. Even our $37 bottle of Lebanese wine was divine.

For dessert, we shared Daou’s homemade Ricotta Cheese Crêpe with pistacchio and rosewater – a medley of textures and flavours. Avrum and Irwin ordered Baklava, “like my mother never made,” Irwin said.

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Clean up on toys as warehouses clean out

December, 2009

For years there was a dearth of places to get deals on toys – and believe me, I looked.

But suddenly this year we have not one, but three places offering warehouse sales to the public for incredible bargains on toys.

While you may not find this year’s hottest “must-haves,” you will find such basics as cars, dolls, books, bath toys, crafts, and puzzles at prices that should fit into your budget. Some of these same toys are being sold elsewhere in town at full price. Think of these sales as garage sales by businesses who need to clean out this year’s merchandise to make room for next season.

A homegrown company, Mega Brands just had their seasonal sale in the warehouse at their headquarters, but don’t despair because they now have a permanent toy outlet.

Besides their well-known snap together Mega Bloks, they also sell arts and crafts under the RoseArt brand and MagNext building sets, King Arthur construction sets, Mickey Mouse clubhouse construction sets, wagons, trucks, Triazzle puzzles, High School Musical and Hannah Montana crafts and Board Dudes.

Location: 4505 Hickmore, Ville St. Laurent. Hours: Tuesdays 12-6 pm, Thursdays 12-8 pm, Saturdays 10 am-4 pm. Info: 514-333-3339 or www.megabrands.com

Danawares offers a one-week sale of seasonal ornaments, puzzles, games, plush, toys, crafts, shovels, place mats, baby items, room accessories with such brand names as Princesses; Cars; Toy Story; Fairies; Winnie the Pooh; Dora the Explorer; Ni Hao, Kai Lan; Thomas; Max & Ruby; Backyardigans and more. This is a small space, but the prices are excellent. Location: 7010 Côte de Liesse. Hours: December 5 to 12, 10 am-4 pm. Info: www.danawares.com

Every fall, JRC toy warehouse opens to the public with deals of up to 70 per cent off. The company holds another sale in May. The warehouse has items by such brands as Barbie, Crayola, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, Hot Wheels, Little Tikes, Mattel, Mega Bloks and VTech as well as books for as low as $1.

Corporations, day cares or anyone holding Christmas events can buy in bulk and have the gifts wrapped.

Location: 5589 Royalmount at Devonshire. Open daily until Christmas. Info: 514-342-6979 or www.jrctoys.com

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Two bar seats at the three Tomatoes Trattoria

December, 2009

It was a coolish Saturday evening in downtown Burlington, Vermont and we decided to try out Three Tomatoes Trattoria, right in the middle of the Church St. pedestrian mall.

This Italian restaurant is located in a basement quite a few stairs down from the street entrance, but you’d never know it once you reach the bottom.

The place is huge and on this Saturday at 7 pm it was packed with merry diners, families with children, dressy-looking couples out for a date, and at least one older couple from Montreal hoping for a table.

We were told there would be a half-hour wait at this, their busiest time, but we were invited not only to wait and drink at the bar but to eat there too! We chose the two end seats in front of all the wines and spirits and were greeted by the cocktail server who was also, we discovered, our food server. Another long food bar behind us was half filled with diners who also hadn’t reserved a table.

We both felt like sharing some comfort food, meaning it had to be meatless. We chose two pasta dishes, one with penne and one with linguini: Pesto Basilico, $13.95, sautéed broccoli, spinach, diced tomato, with basil – pine nut pesto and pecorino Romano with Linguini; and Spicy shrimp fra davolo, $17.95 – imported olives, garlic, white wine, spicy tomato basil sauce with penne. We decided to share a large Caesar ($7.95) which arrived immediately and which we thoroughly enjoyed. This may be the best Caesar salad I’ve tasted in a very long time with its hearts of romaine lettuce, very tangy with nice large pieces of anchovies, which we divvied up and two pieces of “Crisp Red Hen Bakery Garlic Crostini.” No bacon – we checked.

When the salad arrived, our server was ready to grate fresh romano cheese and grind fresh pepper onto our plate. The portion was generous. If I’d had my own, I would have had little room for the pastas, which were also generous. We each tried one dish for about five minutes and then switched dishes to try the other. Back and forth we went, relishing every morsel. The linguini was full of medium pieces of sautéed broccoli and spinach and the pine nut basil pesto gave the whole dish a zesty, slightly spicy flavor.

I was hard pressed to give it up to taste the shrimp penne, but once I started on the latter (or platter), I was smitten by the large shrimp, tails on, sitting among the penne covered in a spicy tomato sauce and sprinkled with big black olives.

Although we were quite full, Irwin insisted we share a dessert. We ordered cappuccinos and lemon mousse cake. ($6.95) Lemon was the flavor of the evening. I love all that is made of lemons and this was no exception. A fresh mousse atop lemon pound cake, it was the perfect ending to this Italian feast.

So next time you’re in Burlington, don’t let those stairs deter you. Once you’ve sampled the fare at Three Tomatoes, you’ll know why you may have to sit at the bar on a Saturday night. Or you can try making reservations at 1-802-660-9533.

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All generations prepare for the holiday season

December, 2009

The realities of our new economic situation mean food and fuel prices are constantly increasing, there is a rise in the number of children needing basic necessities, and a proportional rise in requests for aid. Generations Foundation staff and volunteers are poised to provide cheer – today, tomorrow and especially at Christmas.

Adrian, Natalie and Westmount High students at last month’s Holiday Benefit Breakfast at Buffet La Stanza

We shop carefully to maximize purchasing power. We watch for sales so that we can fill our orders for breakfast, lunch and snacks to over 6,500 children in 72 schools and learning centres. This helps families on fixed incomes who worry about the next meal, about whether or not they will have enough money to pay the rent, and about finding the resources to buy winter clothing for their children. Our phones are ringing off the hook with requests for turkeys. Meanwhile, volunteers do an amazing job of planning Christmas lunch at the schools, and donors have supplied us with four new freezers and a forklift to hoist items to the second floor.

We welcome donations of food items to ensure our pantry is well stocked with such holiday items as turkeys, cranberry sauce, stuffing, gravy, vegetables, fruit, meats, Christmas cakes and egg nog as well as canned salmon, tuna, pasta, sauces and juice.

Volunteers have transformed our boardroom into Santa’s workshop to ensure there are plenty of toys to go around. Volunteers have been busy wrapping them for delivery to schools and other learning centres, churches and synagogues. They also help wrap food baskets.

Board members and police officers deliver these baskets to needy families and group homes for children who might not otherwise receive any gifts. American Women held a gathering at our location to bring lovely gifts for intellectually and physically challenged children.

Lower Canada College students prepared our food orders for delivery to the schools we serve. The students also folded letters and stuffed envelopes for our winter campaign.

Throughout the year, board members and entrepreneurs pitch in to donate their time and expertise in fundraising projects.

LCC student volunteers wrap toys

Our knitters creatively outdo each other with beautiful hand-made knitted clothing and lap blankets to keep the children warm. We are grateful to all of you. Adrian and I cannot wait to see the children’s smiles and excitement when we visit the schools and centres.

What is needed most at this time is to satisfy hunger, to fill hearts and minds with joy, hope and encouragement for the future.

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

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A seductive education by a questionable character

December, 2009

You have to see An Education. I’ve gone twice and would see it again. The film is set in post-Second World War Britain, beautifully evoked by director Lone Scherfig. (I can vouch for it for I was a British university student at the time.) It’s all very convincing, yet it is a total fabrication, a believable fantasy based on sleight of hand.

To begin with the title: It is not the story of a winsome teenager’s education, but of her seduction by an obnoxious predator twice her age. His interest in Jenny is purely carnal, as revealed the tasteless production of a banana as a deflowering instrument. Yet Jenny is not a simple innocent led astray; she is well aware that David, beyond the charm, is a liar and a cheat whose “fun” lifestyle is based on defrauding vulnerable old ladies, but turns a blind eye to it anyway. Her parents exhibit human frailty in too easily being hoodwinked by David’s charisma. We, the audience, are initially charmed by him also and only latterly recognize how obnoxious he is.

It’s a great film with impressive casting: Alfred Molina as the weak but heavy father; Cara Seymour as the mum; school teachers Olivia Williams and the formidable Emma Thompson; Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike as Danny and Helen, friends of David (Peter Sarsgaard), the antagonist; and Jenny (Carey Mulligan), the enchanting protagonist.

As good as this film is, there is room for criticism. Mulligan, who is 24, does not come across as a teenager. Her gestures and demeanour are far too well developed for the role. In a way, this is necessary for the plot, for if she looked too young, we would immediately recognize David as the sexual deviant he is, which would show the filmmaker’s hand. While her home in the suburbs is convincing, one has to wonder whether this bright and wide awake girl could be a product of such a stultifying environment. Furthermore, even though David only used his house in the same suburb as a stopover between his serial seductions, one would imagine he would be far too sophisticated to have chosen such a house in such a suburb.

It is clear that David’s wife was fully cognizant of his philandering, and the fact that she remained with him is hard to believe. Perhaps she is a product of a pre-feminist age. It is also clear that David’s friends Danny and Helen were aware of Jenny’s seduction, but while they say they do not want her to be hurt, in actuality they encourage David to groom her for her role.

Finally, to live in Oxford to attend the university (the parents’ goal for Jenny) is extremely expensive, and Jenny’s family is far from rich. The cost of living would have put it out of reach. One of the many good but less prestigious universities in Greater London would have been more realistic – but would have done less for the story.

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Online brokerages offer low fees, independence

December, 2009

How much do you know about your spouse? Are you prepared should the unforeseen occur? Too often, upon the death of a partner or loved one, people are left scrambling. Much of this could be avoided with advanced planning.

Locating and centralizing your important papers is a priority. It should be easy to find bank accounts, investment accounts, wills, safety deposit boxes, real estate holdings, and life insurance.

Make sure that your wills are up to date and notarized. Many people neglect to do this. It is particularly important if you are in a second marriage and there are children involved. Your wishes may not be respected and the fallout among family members can be devastating.

Verify that the beneficiaries on your life insurance policies are correct. Generally the life insurance proceeds are paid directly to the named beneficiaries and bypass the estate completely. If minors are involved such as grandchildren, make sure you appoint trustees on the insurance contract and that you specify to what age.

Consider prearranging your funeral. This simple task ensures that things will be done according to your wishes. This avoids unnecessary acrimony among family members and siblings. Consider purchasing a small life insurance policy to cover final expenses such as funeral and burial costs. By doing so, you know the money will be available.

Appoint trusted executors who can look after your estate. Keep in mind the many tasks such as filing a terminal return, applying for death certificates, transferring RRIFs and RRSPs, pensions, real estate, and assets in general. You want to make sure that the value of your estate is maximized and not compromised by foolhardy decisions.

The best advice is to get good advice. Death is not a topic that most of us want to face; however, acknowledging its impact on your loved ones will go a long way toward easing the burden.

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On the prowl for the elusive specialist — another ode to the MGH

John Udy

December, 2009

Although all other encounters with the Montreal General Hospital have been positive, this is a record of my bizarre introduction to this establishment.

I had been given an appointment with the specialist who heads up a research program dealing with my medical problem. Thus I approached the hospital’s information desk to inquire as to his whereabouts. No one there had even heard of him, so they invited me to use their information phone. I was given a quick response so I headed off to find the person. As it turned out, she knew nothing of my specialist, but bent my ear explaining to me what she did know. When I was finally able to tear myself away, I high tailed it back to the information desk and its telephone appendage.

I explained my need again and was given new directions. The elevators in the hospital are confusing. They perversely are either going in the wrong direction or not to the floor or wing you need, but I soldiered on and finally found the unit I’d been sent to – a wide desk under an impressive canopy. The receptionist ignored me until she had finished a long private telephone call, then told me I would have to go to the waiting room and wait my turn. This I did and eventually my name was called, to be served by another receptionist at the the other end of the impressive desk. This person was far more cooperative and wanting to help, but she also had not heard of my specialist. It was suggested that perhaps he was associated with another hospital – Saint Mary’s and the Royal Vic were named as possibilities. I was beginning to believe that she was right, when entirely by chance a woman passing by, overhearing the conversation, broke in to tell me exactly where his research unit was located! But for her, I might still be wandering the corridors of some hospital looking for the elusive unit.

But now, at last, I knew where I was going, so down the corridors to the accursed elevators I went. My initial attempts to find one going my way failed miserably, but finally, the one I needed was just opening its doors, so I made a dive for it. Unfortunately, at this very moment, along comes a worker with an empty, hand held forklift. Taking no notice of my mad dash, he plowed on ahead and the long metal blades slipped under my feet. I fell with a thump and my elevator escaped me once again. He made no attempt to help me up nor did he say he was sorry. (Perhaps he thought that to do so might make him liable.) Nor did any of the three or four people waiting in the area stoop to help me up. I think they were in shock, as was I. With a groan, I painfully rolled over and got up on my own.

I finally made it to my specialist. I had started off 20 minutes ahead of my appointment, having been driven by my daughter, Helene, but ended up 20 minutes late. He could not locate my blood test, made at a CLSC two weeks before, perhaps sent to Saint Mary’s by mistake, so he made use of the tests previouly done for my GP. In a few minutes he was able to tell me to continue with the drug I was already taking. He had nothing to say about my aching back, for as a specialist he knew nothing about what ailed me. I was a bit sore but able to get around with minimum pain, so forgot about it until I got home. Helene was a bit frantic, for she had assumed I would take about 10 minutes instead of 40. She couldn’t leave the car, in fear that we would inevitably miss each other wandering the vast corridors of the hospital.

When I got home, my back problems began to appear– drastically! I could neither get up nor sit down without assistance. I could not even tie my shoe laces and sleeping in my bed was out of the question. Fortunately I had a broken down easy chair in the bedroom that was comfortable enough for me to sleep in. This went on for many days until, gingerly, I was able to sit up, stand up and lie down with a degree of comfort, but every transition took my breath away.

I will probably have these twinges for the rest of my life, and all because somebody had forgotten to put the doctor’s room number on my hospital form. I should have been able to go to the information desk and be instantly given the correct directions instead of misinformation. Is this not why, after all, it is called an “information desk”? Why this was not so was and still is a great mystery – and misery – for me.

Editor’s Note: I met John Udy in the ER of the MGH Friday, November 27, which led to his contributions to this and future issues.

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Educating Pygmalion time and again

December, 2009

Long ago and far away, Pygmalion of Cyprus, a slave revealed to be of Royal blood and restored as a king, decided what he really wanted to be was a sculptor. And what better inspiration than Galatea, the sea nymph, who, carved from ivory, then came to life.

Like the Cinderella story, this ancient tale has been the template for numerous retellings dressed up in contemporary garb. W.S. Gilbert made a lot of money with his 1871 verse play called Pygmalion and Galatea and that was before he teamed up with Sullivan.

The most famous version, of course, was Shaw’s 1913 play (later movie) called, well, Pygmalion, which was turned into the hit musical (and movie) My Fair Lady. The 1990 movie Pretty Woman continued this theme. In these earlier incarnations, the Pygmalion figure improved the diction or status of the female object. However, the 1980 British play Educating Rita (later, yep, a movie) put a spin on this plot, whereby the jaded Pyggie professor finds that he has a lot to learn from the spunky student, Liverpuddlian hair dresser Rita (nee Susan).

Although not stated in the script, I suspect that Susan/Rita is Irish, like many from Liverpool (the Beatles). Where else did she get that spunk?

You can see this role reversal with witty repartee at the latest in a string of hits at the Segal Theatre Centre. Ric Reid is pitch perfect as the prof and NTS alumna Carly Street as the charming lass, all against an impressive set designed by award winning John Dinning. The director, Marcia Kash, has herself played the role of Rita several times so she had added insight in sculpting this proven comedy drama to our eyes and ears.

Educating Rita continues at the Segal until December 13. Call 514-739-7944

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Cool notes played for Atwater library

Byron Toben

The evening breeze caressed the trees on a fine November night for Atwater Library’s annual fundraising cocktail benefit. Jazz pianist Oliver Jones opened with a medley of classic tunes to entertain the 300 guests.

When Oliver, who grew up near the venerable institution, was not playing, Concordia prof Dave Turner and his trio provided cool notes to the chatter and tinkling. The whole was m.c.’d by the amiable Dennis Trudeau who is busy these days as he also performed such duties at the Cinemania French film fest and the RIDM (Rencontres Internationales de Documentaire de Montreal) film fest.

Westmount mayor Peter Trent and City Councilor Martin Rotrand were among the minglers. A silent auction, including popular Aislin original cartoons, raised $72,000. Atwater Library receives only 10% of its funding from government sources.

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Staying connected with those we’ve lost

December, 2009

When we lose a loved one, the pain of loss is accompanied by a feeling of disconnection: “I will never see him again. I won’t be able to talk to him, tell him about my day, share news with him.”

However, it is not only possible but healthy and normal to maintain a sense of connection with those we love, even after the loved one has died. Close bonds, especially those forged and enriched over many years of shared experiences, are altered by death, but not necessarily severed. I’m not talking about ghosts, spirits or any specific religious beliefs, but rather about the reality that loving human relationships are enduring and continuous.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to a friend whose sister had died after a long illness. She was grieving this loss and commented that the most painful part was that she could no longer pick up the phone and talk to her sister. I commented that, although this was true, she could certainly write letters to her sister and maintain her connection that way. (I happened to know that this woman enjoys writing and is accustomed to sharing events, thoughts and feelings through writing.) She was initially stunned by the suggestion: many people would regard writing letters to a deceased person as “crazy.” She quickly warmed to the idea and has found both comfort and value in “staying connected” this way. It may well be that being encouraged to do this by a friend who happens to be a psychiatrist made it easier to see this as perfectly reasonable behaviour: if the psychiatrist doesn’t think it’s a sign of mental illness to remain in touch with my sister this way, I guess it is ok.

Not everyone is a writer, but everyone can maintain these important bonds. Certainly, death changes our relationships with our lost loved ones, profoundly and, at least within our usual understanding of day-to-day life in this world, permanently. However, we don’t stop loving a person just because he or she has died. Similarly, we don’t stop feeling connected with our loved ones. We can respect both the need to stay connected and the reality of enduring bonds, altered but not severed by death.

Michael Eleff is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba.

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Black Theatre Workshop honors Bertrand Henry

Teacher and mentor Bertrand Henry will be honoured with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award Saturday, January 30 at Black Theatre Workshop’s 24th Annual Vision Gala Awards.

Henry, whose contribution to the arts and English theatre will be celebrated, is one of the original founders of Dawson’s Dome theatre and has been devoted to young people for over 25 years.

Cocktails, dinner and dancing will follow.

Info: 514-932-1104 ext.226 or blacktheatreworkshop.ca

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A haunting exposé of immigration

The Montreal Theatre Ensemble presents A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller’s haunting expose of the havoc compounded by jealousy, self-deception, and distrust upon a closely-knit 1950’s Italian-American community.

Bill Fletcher, who plays the narrator Alfieri, believes the play talks to the timelessness of human situations. “What happens today is what happened 500 years ago and 500 years before that.”

A View from the Bridge runs at Casgrain Theatre January 14-30, Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8 pm, Sundays, 2 pm.

Info: 514-515-9140 or mtlt.com

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Sikh congregations contribute to holiday campaign

December, 2009

Sun Youth launched its Annual Holiday Campaign October 28. This year, the goal will be to feed some 18,000 people for the holidays and to provide 10,000 new toys for children under 13. To accomplish this mission, Sun Youth is relying on the generosity of individuals, companies, and foundations.

For this Holiday season, Sun Youth received a generous boost from the Montreal Sikh community. Every year, this community supports various charities to underline the birth of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of the Sikh faith. This year marks the 540th anniversary of his birth. Guru Nanak taught that people should share with and help those in need. This is one of the three basic principles of Sikhism.

Two congregations decided to lend a hand to Sun Youth and offered us their support through various initiatives. On November 8, members of the Gurudwara Sahib Quebec congregation in Petite Patrie / Little Burgundy welcomed Sun Youth representatives to their celebration of Guru Nanak’s birthday. This marked the 23rd consecutive year that this congregation donated to Sun Youth. They presented Sun Youth with 200 $10 food vouchers that will be distributed to victims of fire assisted by the organization over the Holiday period. In December 2008, Sun Youth assisted 39 families that were victims of a fire.

The West-Island Sikh Community (Guruwara Sahib Greater Montreal) presenting their generous contribution to the Sun Youth Holiday Basket Campaign. Photo: Nicolas Carpentier

The following weekend, the Montreal West-Island Sikh community also commemorated the birth of Guru Nanak at a special in their temple: Gurudwara Sahib Greater Montreal in Dollard-Des-Ormeaux. On this occasion, the members of this temple donated 10,000 food items to Sun Youth as part of our annual campaign to help 18,000 people during this Holiday period.

This temple was founded in 1999 and counts a growing community of a few thousand members. We wish to thank the members of the Montreal Sikh Community for their renewed support this year. Together, we are confident that we will reach our goal in helping those who need it most.

There was also a lot of giving going on at Sun Youth on November 26. The CHOM and CJAD radio stations were doing the annual live broadcast of their shows from outside our St.Urbain headquarters. From 5:30 am to 8 pm, listeners were invited to drop by with a food or cash donation. Dr. Alain Leduc from Centre Dentaire Paris Loft, 83 Rachel St. E came by early to bring the annual contribution from the centre as part of their commitment to give a percentage of their profits to Sun Youth. The doctor came in with a $10,000 cheque to purchase milk and eggs for our emergency food bank.

The street collection was very successful and brought in $10,157 for a total of $20,157. We would like to thank Dr. Leduc, everyone at CHOM and CJAD, as well as their station’s listeners for their support this year. From all of us at Sun Youth, happy holidays to Senior Times readers.

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Alone in magnificent Rome and not so fancy free

December, 2009

click here to view a slideshow of images from Rome

I heard it over and over again: Beware of child pickpockets at the train station in Rome.

I took the train from Florence to Rome. Paranoid, I clutched my bags as I walked through the train station and the few blocks to my hostel. The area around the train station was not the nicest. The sun was disappearing, and what was soon to be one of the worst migraines of my life had begun.

I woke up in a room, with 14 other young visitors, in the largest and most populated city in Italy and realized that throughout my Italian adventure I had never felt so alone. I started to regret having left my travel friends in Florence and wondered why I had ever thought exploring Rome solo would be fun.

I had to snap out of it. I was in Rome! Italy’s capital! This bustling metropolis, rich in art, culture, history, fashion, cuisine and religion was waiting for me.

I got to my feet and ventured out, straight to the colosseum – Rome’s most defining landmark. I took the subway, again clutching my bag. The Colosseum was colossal, and easily spotted from far away. Opened in 80 AD, this travertine theatre once held 50,000 spectators. The closer I got to the Colosseum, the more street vendors I saw trying to sell cheap bracelets to unsuspecting tourists. There are many costumed “characters” at the entrance. They charge tourists $20 for a picture. I joined a tour group and waited in line to get in. While climbing the steps inside I looked down into the labyrinth of walls on the floor that once had elevators that transported the animals from the cages to the arena level. I couldn’t help but feel the pain of the thousands of people and wild animals that perished for the amusement of the Roman crowd.

Rome is crowded with ancient ruins – and with tourists. I tagged along with some of the tour groups to hear the stories and learn some history. I walked around in awe of the massiveness of the city. The buildings were titanic; the Renaissance and Baroque architecture is glorious, breathtaking and dramatic. I was overwhelmed, and in an attempt to find the Jewish Ghetto and the synagogue – which I never did – I got lost. I felt bad about that because my mother had told me they were definitely worth a visit. I turned a corner and found myself in front of one of the most spectacular water fountains in the world: the Trevi Fountain. The largest Baroque fountain in Rome, it stands 25.9 metres high and 19.8 metres wide. Legend has it that the traveller who throws a coin into the fountain will soon return to Rome; two coins and you will fall in love in Rome.

Next to the fountain is the Baroque Chiesa dei Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio. Built in 1630, the crypt preserves the hearts and lungs of popes from 1590 to 1903. Many tourists are likely unaware of the decaying organs behind them as they snap pictures and marvel in the beauty of the fountain.

I walked along streets lined with chic cafés and boutiques and stumbled onto another glorious landmark: Scalinata di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps.

The Scalinata is the longest and widest staircase in Europe, with 138 steps. Built from 1723 to 1725, it begins at the Piazza di Spagna and leads up to Piazza Trinita dei Monte with the church of the same name. Next to the staircase is a pink house where in 1821 John Keats, one of the most famous romantic poets of all time, passed away when he was a mere 25 years old.

As the sun started to set, I made my way back to my hostel. It was not easy. As a young woman walking around solo in Rome I felt like a lamb in the forest. An endless number of Italian men approached me, followed me, and went on and on trying to seduce me in Italian. I made it back to the hostel safe, with purse intact.

The next morning I joined a tour of The Vatican City, the walled enclave within Rome. Home to the Pope and the Catholic Church, it is the smallest country in the world by both population (about 900) and area (0.44 square kilometres). Postage stamps, tourist mementos, and fees for admission to museums support the entire economy. It issues its own coins and even has its own bank, Vatican Bank, containing the only ATM in the world with instructions in Latin. Within Vatican City are Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Apostolic Palace and the Sistine Chapel. The Swiss Guards roam the streets and guard entrances. These personal bodyguards to the Pope look like charming Disney characters in their colourful uniforms.

The immenseness of Saint Peter’s Basilica is indescribable. As one of the holiest sites in Christianity it spans 5.7 acres and holds 60,000 people. Constructed from 1506 to 1626 it is the burial site of Saint Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus and of great importance in the founding of the Christian Church.

The Sistine Chapel is the chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope.

The frescos in the Sistine Chapel are among the most famous in the world with works by Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Botticelli. Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment covers the entire wall behind the altar. I spent most of my time there with my eyes on the ceiling in awe of Michelangelo’s works depicting stories in Genesis.

I went to the post office and sent a Vatican postcard with a Vatican stamp on it back home to my mother in Montreal and wondered if she’d appreciate its value.

Rome is a spectacular city, and despite all its beauty and history, the stress of all that a big city entails wore me out. I was ready to leave and return to the calm of northern Italy.

I returned to my hostel, once again successfully dodging the men and the child pickpockets.

I stopped at a small pizza joint next to the hostel and ordered a slice of cheese pizza in broken Italian. A young man approached me and asked if I was American. He sighed with utter relief when I said yes. He too was American and said he’d spent the whole day without speaking to anyone in English. He asked me if I wanted to get a coffee with him.

We found a small café and ordered some pastries, coffee and tea. He was a 26-year-old US soldier stationed in Iraq on his two-week vacation, which he chose to spend in Rome. That night was his last night before he returned to Iraq. We could not have been more different and yet we could not get enough of each other. The café closed and we walked around and found another that was open all night. We sat there, eating a cheese platter with tea, and shared our stories. He told me about his life in Iraq and his decision to join the army. I shared my experiences travelling around Europe, and my life in Los Angeles. We talked politics, religion, culture – everything we could think of. We sat at the café until the sun rose. We exchanged e-mails, said our goodbyes and we never contacted each other again. I suppose we both wanted to preserve the perfection of that night and our connection in Rome.

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Making friends in the ER: an ode to the Montreal General

Barbara Moser

December, 2009

In some respects, it was a productive and relaxing day. I lost some weight, made three new friends, corrected 30 of my students’ poetry essays, read The Gazette cover to cover, and got editing help for articles in this issue.

I spent the day – the entire day – at the Montreal General Hospital emergency waiting room. Like many who waited with me, I had little choice but to appear at the ER at 9:30 am. We all had problems that could not wait or could not be tended to by our family doctors.

After being told, when I arrived, by the triage nurse that there was an eye clinic at the MGH that day and that I wouldn’t “have to wait long,” an ER doctor directed me, nine hours later, to take a taxi to the Royal Vic and to make it snappy because the eye clinic there was about to close. I raced over and was examined first by a resident and then by her teacher, a retinal specialist, to determine that my retina has not detached. I was treated exceptionally well by these doctors and am grateful for their care.

Back to the MGH at 9:30 am. There was a line up to register and see the triage nurse. Then we had to find a chair in the waiting room while watching a new smaller waiting room for H1N1 patients go up before our very eyes, complete with plate glass windows. If you had an ear problem, the three hours of drilling and banging certainly didn’t help.

At one point there were four stretchers in the waiting room and little room to walk around them! People were getting called in once or twice an hour, but these same people were coming back to the waiting room to wait for the next step in their diagnosis or treatment or for a test result.

To get to the café, the closest place for food and water, one had to go outside and through a set of doors. No one alone and in pain, and certainly those on stretchers, could manage it, so those of us who were able bodied, helped by going to buy these poor people bottled water. It can’t be healthy to go without food for an entire day!

Try not to go alone to the ER if you are in pain. You absolutely will need someone to tend to you while you wait… and wait …. and wait.

Arriving in an ambulance does not always ensure you will be seen right away. One of my new friends had been having a root canal earlier that morning. Suddenly she had a severe reaction to the codeine her dentist had given her. It seems he hadn’t read her allergy list. Probably because he didn’t want to take any chances, he sent her by ambulance to the hospital. But when she arrived, she was told her problem wasn’t serious and she had to wait with the rest of us.

My new friends, Norma and Jack, waited longer than I did. We kept each other company editing articles for The Senior Times, sharing chocolate bars Norma brought from her car and doing crossword puzzles. We got to know each other.

In nine hours you get to know someone.

Norma and I discovered we both love garage sales. Luckily we were well enough to carry on a conversation.

Masks are in the entrance for anyone who… well… I’m not sure whom they are for. One woman sat with a mask on all day even though she had no flu symptoms. Another guy coughed a few times into the air of the waiting room until I reported him to the guards who promptly brought him a mask.

One poor man lay on a stretcher in the middle of our small waiting room for hours. Finally he was called in. An hour later he came out, found a chair and started moaning. He pointed to his side. It was some kind of sciatica, which can be brutal. He cried and writhed till three of us walked up to the registration desks (there were no nurses around and when they rushed through and someone nailed them, they pulled away, one stating “I’m not here.”) In any case, after three or four of us complained about the inhumanity of his plight, a nurse approached the man and loudly asked him why he was breathing so heavily. He was obviously in panic from the pain. She finally found him a stretcher and one of us helped him walk into the newly built H1N1 waiting room, where he remained alone and in pain for quite some time. He was still there when I left for the RVH.

At 6 pm, Irwin showed up, and brought miracle upon miracle — fresh strawberries, apples, bananas, small juices, cheese and crackers. I began to serve all my friends and then lo and behold, I heard my name called. I was in shock.

Was I really the Barbara Moser whose name was being called?

Thank goodness Irwin was there to accompany me in the cab in the rain to the RVH a half hour later. I quickly said goodbye to my friends promising them each a free subscription to The Senior Times for their editing help.

Suggestions for changing the emergency room procedures at the MGH in case anyone’s listening:

If there is no specialty clinic or if it’s moved, why not inform people when they arrive so that they can move themselves to another hospital where there is such a clinic?

Why can’t people not in life-threatening situations or in pain get a number like they do in a bakery or at the SAAQ? Then they could go home or sit in a cafe and come back at a certain hour. Of course they never know because of the number of ambulances that come in, but with more than 20 people waiting more than nine hours, surely, they have some idea. They seem to thrive on giving out as little information as possible. Whom does this benefit?

Could they at least put a vending machine with water and sandwiches in this waiting room or have someone selling drinks and snacks from a cart like they do on the train? If patients are alone on stretchers for hours in the waiting room, a nurse’s aide should come every so often to check on them and get them water if they need it or help them to the bathroom.

The waiting room is just too small. There are not enough seats for everyone. So expand the waiting room and put in more chairs. Why can’t we afford a few of those recliners? If you have H1N1 symptoms, go to a special clinic set up to diagnose and treat you, not to a hospital emergency room! Please! The triage nurse should be sending these people back to these clinics unless they are having serious respiratory problems. If they are, a 12-hour wait could kill them!

And yes, we already know we shouldn’t go near an ER unless absolutely necessary, but couldn’t the triage nurse let us know if it is absolutely necessary?

Postscript: Norma and John waited until 1am to be seen — another six hours after I left.

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