Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


Josette still feels the earth move beneath her

Tetchena Bellange says that following the Haitian earthquake, it was as if the world stopped for several days.

At the time of the cataclysmic event, the documentary film director’s aunt Josette, 71, was in Haiti, taking care of her son who had been ill. The family heard from her, then lost touch. “Watching the news, I felt like dying,” Bellange said. “It was awful, a feeling in your belly pinching everywhere. We couldn’t eat or sleep.” In an act of inspiration and desperation, she sent an email to everyone, individuals and any media she found on the Net, pleading for news of Tante Josette.

“The images seen on TV are terrifying, some powerful Haitian symbols just collapsed. Is it at last the end of the Haitian people’s suffering? I hope so with all my heart. And I do my best to believe that my aunt and her son are safe and sound. I stay near the phone in case they call.”

Tante Josette arrives safely in Montreal

After four days, CNN reporter Gary Tuchman called to tell Bellange that Tante Josette was with him. Tuchman was one of several people, including members of the media and the military, who guided Josette to safety, battling the crowds to get her through the embassy doors and taking her to Montreal on a Canadian military airplane.

“It was heartbreaking – at first, when the CNN reporter and the Canadian army came to pick her up, she stayed. She didn’t want to leave her son. The following Monday, she had no choice but to go since her health was deteriorating.”

Josette is still reliving the horror, Bellange says. “It was a nightmare. She says she never saw anything like it before, surrounded by death everywhere. She says she still feels like the earth is moving beneath her.” Because she knew to stand in the doorframe of a house, Josette escaped death. “She went to the entrance, the more solid part of the house, made of metal. The house fell, but the door remained standing.”

Bellange describes the atmosphere at the Wyndham Airport Hotel, where refugees were taken when they arrived in Montreal, as surreal.

“People didn’t talk to each other. Everyone stayed with their own families and a weird silence took over. We were in a state of shock, except for kids, who were running everywhere. Some came off the plane in shorts and sandals and the Red Cross gave them blankets right away.”

Sun Youth is partnering with Red Cross and several other organizations to provide immediate relief to new arrivals.

“We’ve been at the airport since the beginning,” Sun Youth executive director Sid Stephens says. “We’ve helped more than 3,000 people. For some it’s a stopover before going to other cities, but they all come here first and we have to put them in a hotel and provide proper clothing.

“They’re very touched and emotionally drained,” he says. “There are kids – one- or two-week-old kids newly born – coming off the plane. It’s very sad, very heart breaking. Of all the fires and other tragedies we’ve covered, nothing comes close to this.”

While Sun Youth is appealing primarily to manufacturers for new clothing and supplies, individuals may help as well.

“We are in need of hygiene products, diapers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and other hygiene products, if individuals want to make a difference.”

Used coats may be dropped off at any Bellingham Cleaners, which, with Manteaux Manteaux, is collecting, sorting and dry-cleaning them. This is the beginning of a massive long-term relief effort, Bellange believes. “Some say it may take 25 years to rebuild.”

Everyone in the Haitian diaspora seems to have been affected, Bellange says.

“There are cousins we know are alive but lost everything. We know friends who are dead. Everybody knows of a story where people lost a whole family, where someone is dead or missing.”

To find a Bellingham Cleaners near you, call 514 733-4444. Sun Youth: 514 842-6822.


Heritage, talent at the forefront

What do Mary Ann Shadd, Nathaniel Dett, Portia White, and Elijah McCoy have in common? Discovering that these famous Canadians who have made a difference were once young, gifted and black is interesting and illuminating to most people. But if you’re a young black kid yourself, just starting out, this knowledge could inspire you to reach, just a little higher, for the stars.

This is why the Oscar Peterson Concert Hall was the first and only venue considered for what has become an annual Montreal celebration kicking off Black History Month. Young, Gifted and Black showcases the talents of black youth through drama, music, dance, and spoken word.

Kevin George is organizing the sixth edition of Young, Gifted and Black photo: Kristine Berry

“The name Oscar Peterson is something that instills pride,” says Kevin George, the community organizer who first made the show happen, six years ago. “There are not too many venues in this city where young black people can go and say: ‘This incorporates me.’ [The choice of venue] sends a powerful message.”

The vision for the event sprang from tragedy. In 2003, the shooting deaths of four young men shook Montreal’s black community. As a community organizer who works with kids “from all over,” George was acquainted with three of the four young men and says they were basically good kids. “It was a feeling of desperation,” George recalls, explaining how he felt the need to balance the negative news coverage with the reality of many kids he knew.

“I said: ‘OK, what about the positive things?’ There are so many young kids doing wonderful things.”

Inspiration came in the form of a song, Donny Hathaway’s rendition of Young, Gifted and Black, as George was sitting in his car listening to the radio.

“It was an emotional response. I booked the hall right away. By December, I was in a panic.” The responsibility and expenditure created some anxiety, which George shared with Rev. Darryl Gray, then minister of Union United Church.

“At this point, it was an individual initiative. I went to Rev. Gray and expressed my anxiety. He said: ‘Well, you have to do the show.’ ”

The show did, and continues to go on, with new and returning performers of all backgrounds bringing Montrealers a message of cultural diversity and non-violence.

“This year, the proceeds were to go to DESTA, a black youth network that provides education,” George says. “But what happened in Haiti was unimaginable. We spoke and felt that we’d really like to support that cause 100 per cent.”

Haitian-born Vox Sambou

The show seeks to entertain as well as inform. The performers are challenged to integrate their gifts within the context of black history.

“We give them a theme. In the past it was ‘African Kings and Queens.’ This year, it’s ‘My African Roots.’ The performance must speak to the theme.” The kids may dedicate their interpretation to someone they admire in the context of black history or create an original piece, explaining what their performance means to them. The process takes artist and audience on a journey of discovery into glorious ancient Africa.

“You start thinking about great African empires – all of this predates current history as taught in school. I believe it’s everybody’s history, because science says the cradle of humankind is in Africa.”

While slavery is acknowledged as something to be transcended, George says the scope of black history is far greater: “Black history does not start with slavery. Black History Month is an attempt to undo hundreds of years of oppression and lost knowledge of the black community and its contribution to society. The reason you have Black History Month is the same reason you have Young, Gifted and Black. The show is uplifting, like a breath of fresh air.”

Young, Gifted and Black starts at 8pm, February 6, at The Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, 7141 Sherbrooke W. Tickets: 514 848-4848 or 514 790-1245.


The living history of Union United

An English Lit graduate and fiction writer, Maranda Moses admits history is not her main subject.

Yet a chance meeting in 2005 with then-Union United Church minister Rev. Darryl Gray led to Moses completing Proud Past, Bright Future. The book tells the story of Union United Church, which is, for many, the physical and emotional centre of Montreal’s black community.

“They wanted a book that would chronicle the church over 100 years,” Moses said. “There was a small book written in the 1970s and Union is cited in different publications, but there was never anything in book-length format.”

Union United celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007 and commissioned the book as part of a series of events marking that centenary.

Gathering, assembling and editing material spanning so many years was a daunting task. But Moses recognized that this commission was a pivotal event for her. “I was shocked and elated and thankful to have been considered for the project.”

For two years, while working at another job full time, Moses did research and interviewed more than 40 people.

“There was a lot of work involved in looking up archival information. I had to pretty much start from scratch. I didn’t want to rely on what was already written, that was just scratching the surface.”

Moses began by speaking with the oldest members of the clergy and congregation, the keepers of the most memories.

“They turned out to be my favourite interviews, they had so much to talk about,” she said. One lady in particular, the late Mrs. Maisie Dash, left a strong impression on 33-year-old Moses. “She was amazing. Her recollections of Rev. Este were really magnificent – she captured the joyful essence of Rev. Este that other people talked about. There were conflicts, but generally people just had a genuine love for this man, a special attachment to him.”

It’s not possible to talk about the history of Union United Church without mentioning Rev. Charles Este. Coming to Montreal in 1913 looking for work as a porter, which didn’t come through, Este found work only as a shoeshine boy at La Corona hotel.

“He wasn’t allowed to use the front entrance, he had to enter by the back,” Moses said. “But he was so charismatic, people told him to go back to school and make something of himself.”

Este’s clients brought him books, and one man arranged an interview with McGill that opened the doors to this institution, though Este only had an elementary school education.

Este served his congregation for 40 years as an ordained minister. A lover of the arts and literature, Este continued learning all his life and received a doctorate in literature at the age of 63.

Known as “Rev,” Este tirelessly advocated on behalf of the members of the community.

“He used to go door to door visiting the sick, championing on behalf of black nurses who wanted to work in Montreal hospitals, fighting for black men to join the military, for everybody, even those outside the church. He had strong friendships with people in the Jewish community, the Catholic community. Este could be at a meeting with Hydro-Québec, and Bell, and they would listen to him. So that definitely broke down barriers for them and brought awareness to the plight of the black community.”

The systematic racism and exclusion faced by the black community in the early 1900s and described in Moses’s book are painful but should be mandatory reading, since many say forms of it still persist. Black people wanting to go to white churches were not welcomed and on occasion charged “pew fees.” Menial jobs were the only ones available and black workers were “last hired, first fired.” If you were hired, usually it was out of sight of clients. Finding housing was difficult.

It’s important to understand the climate of those times if one is to understand the significance of Union United, an institution that gave rise to such people as musicians Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones, the first black Quebec judge, Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, and bestselling author Mairuth Sarsfield, who wrote the foreword to Moses’s book.

Maranda Moses chronicles 100 years of Montreal institution.

“The church has overcome so much, but has been around 100 years. The next challenge is to be more high profile, to bring more history outside their doors, to involve youth [of the wider community]. I don’t think the youth are getting their proper dose of black Canadian history. In general, what they know is very Americanized.”

Working on this project has given Moses focus and strength. She plans to provide further exposure to the book by having excerpts published on Union United’s website and making the book available on Amazon.

“It was a life-changing experience. I walked away with a feeling of pride and also knowing it’s your duty to excel if you have a passion or a dream. People have overcome so much, there is no excuse for failure.”

Proud Past, Bright Future is available at Paragraphe bookstore, 2220 McGill College.


HIV/AIDS 'epidemic' crosses generational borders

When most people think of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), they most likely associate it with young men and women. However, a new phenomenon is starting to emerge, raising the question of whether HIV in those over 50 is on its way to becoming a major problem.

According to an HIV/AIDS infection study released by researchers at the University of Waterloo, persons older than 40 are the fastest-growing segment for new cases of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. A 2004 study by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) found that the largest increase in prevalence of HIV since the peak of the AIDS panic from the mid-1980s to 2002 was among those over 50.

In the university study, which was presented at a conference on HIV research in Toronto last November, graduate student Katie Mairs and gerontology professor Sandra Bullock focused on rising rates of HIV/AIDS among older residents of Florida. The prevalence of AIDS among those older than 50 was found to be highest in that southern U.S. state, where many Canadians spend part or all of the winter. The researchers warned of the potential consequences for snowbirds who travel south each year from Canada to spend their winters in Florida.

In their analysis, they found that fewer than one in five Canadians older than 50 who spent at least a month in Florida had been tested for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Because there is no chance of pregnancy, the 50-plus set is less likely to use condoms. As such, the sexually liberated Baby Boom generation could be unaware of the danger to which they are being exposed.

Dr. Judy Gould, a project leader with the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation in Toronto, cited some basic statistics on HIV and older Canadians produced in 2007 by the PHAC. In 2006, more than 13 per cent of all reported positive HIV tests were for individuals 50 years or older, and a third of those arose from contacts that were heterosexual.

Although not alarming, Gould suggested the numbers might provide useful information to older people “who may need some prevention reminders or just having HIV on their radar.”

Linda Farha, volunteer president of Montreal’s Farha Foundation, which raises funds for research on HIV/AIDS, was more direct. She has no doubt that the heterosexual population exposed to HIV/AIDS patients is growing, while noting that Baby Boomers are rediscovering what it is like to be single. She pointed out that there are about a million divorced Canadian boomers. Since this segment of the population wasn’t directly affected by the first waves of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and 1990s, which heightened safe sex awareness, “it’s not something that enters their minds,” Farha said.

Monique Doolittle-Romas, executive-director of the Toronto-based Canadian AIDS Society, said that preliminary studies on HIV/AIDS among the aging in Canada are underway.

“Presently, there are more unanswered questions than there is knowledge in this area,” she said. “The HIV epidemic is clearly evolving and we need to change our focus along with it. We need to focus on developing campaigns to study the sexual behaviours of older Canadians and research their attitudes and awareness level about HIV/AIDS.

“We also need to develop awareness and prevention campaigns targeted specifically to this new group of people affected by HIV/AIDS.”

Another important area of study, she added, relates to how HIV interacts with other conditions common to aging, such as depression, cardiovascular disease, menopause, prostate cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, and hypertension. “We need to understand how treatment for these age-related illnesses will react with ARVs (antiretroviral drugs) and if the onset of these illnesses is brought on earlier for those infected with HIV,” Doolittle-Romas said.

Adapting HIV-101 for seniors
AIDS Community Care Montreal, a group dedicated to helping those with HIV/AIDS while promoting community awareness and action, has started focusing on the impact of the disease on seniors by adapting its information programs for seniors.

“At the moment, we have what’s called HIV-101 and we have another workshop called Safer Sex,” said Doug McColeman, the group’s director of education and prevention.

“They were initially written for youth, but we’re still adapting them.”

Info: 514-527-0928 or


Dans la Rue kids once on the street back to school

Marlee, 22, came to Montreal from Halifax two years ago with a friend to take advantage of the city’s artistic opportunities. She is studying animation while attending Emmett Johns School, part of the Dans la Rue organization that helps youth in need.

“I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t find work because I only speak English,” says Marlee, who kept her last name private. She and her friend tried to play music on the streets to collect money, but it wasn’t enough to pay for food and shelter.

Dans la Rue was founded 21 years ago by Father Emmett Johns, known as Pops, to help kids like Marlee. “Pops bought a second-hand van and went around the east end of Montreal stopping at corners, feeding kids in need,” says Dorothy Massimo, the director of Development and Communications at the organization.

“The hot dog van saved my life,” Marlee says.

Over the years, the hot dog van has been a vital part of Dans la Rue. Dave Crockart, the organization’s accountant says: “It’s one of those things that works. It’s simple, it doesn’t require a lot of management, people know the routine.”

The menu has stayed the same. “Hotdogs and veggie dogs with Kool-Aid in the summer and coffee or hot chocolate in the winter,” Crockart says.

The van goes where kids congregate.

The van works on the same principals it did 21 years ago, only it is bigger with better equipment. The van, comparable with a mobile home, has a kitchen, a dining room table, a bed, and benches.

As the organization grew, kids on the street became more aware of it. “Every kid on the streets of Montreal knows about Dans la Rue,” Massimo says.

Marlee says she even heard about Dans la Rue while she was living in Halifax. As Dans la Rue expanded it added a school where kids could get a free education starting from high school.

“It’s not your traditional school,” Massimo says. It adapts to the needs of the kids on the street who want to finish school and get their act together.

The school is on the second floor of the day centre and it is essentially one “great big classroom” with two teachers and 35 students, she explains.

Emmett Johns school is there for mentoring, tutoring, and support, but it also helps kids make the transition to university.

“One girl is studying law at Université de Montréal,” Massimo says. Dans la Rue helped her put together funding and apply for bursaries.

“Dans la Rue and Concordia’s Fine Arts department have a longstanding relationship,” she adds. Marlee, who gets support and tutoring at Emmett Johns School, is taking classes in animation at Concordia in hopes of one day being able to create a cartoon series for television.

Marlee is a regular, meaning she attends all her classes and does her homework. Others at the school miss classes because of issues they may be having, Massimo says.

“The organization is set up to meet the needs of the kids, and not the other way around,” she says, explaining that the kids have the freedom to do as they please. “We won’t give up on them, though.”

Dans la Rue typically helps kids on the street who have “many other issues,” Massimo says, such as drug addiction, prostitution, alcohol addiction, and a history of abuse.

“I was never on the street,” says Marlee, adding that she doesn’t struggle with any of these problems. She lives in an apartment and says she’s “pretty civilized” and that she has a decent relationship with her family. There was a point when Dans la Rue helped her with her basic needs because she struggled financially, but now they’re helping her with her life goals. The organization helps her buy groceries and a bus pass, but other than that, Marlee doesn’t seem so different from anyone else her age.

“Every kid’s story is different,” Massimo says. “Some kids started out in normal homes. You would never know that kid would end up [needing help from] Dans la Rue.” That is why Dans la Rue has the prevention program, to talk to high school students living seemingly average lives, she says.

“We talk to the kids about what it’s like living on the streets and let them know that they don’t have to end up like that,” Massimo says.

“In every group we meet, there are one or two kids from abusive homes who were contemplating leaving. They turn to us and we help them.”

“They genuinely want to help you,” says Marlee about Dans la Rue. “Someday I want to volunteer here because it’s such a wonderful place.”

To donate, phone (514) 526-5222 or visit


Montreal pain researcher honoured in the U.S. for his achievements

A Montreal scientist who broadened the understanding of how we experience pain, along with the ways it can be controlled and relieved, has been honoured for the second time in less than year for his lifetime’s work.

In December, Ronald Melzack, psychology professor emeritus at McGill University, was chosen for the 2010 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Psychology.

Last spring, Melzack was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in recognition of his pioneering research into pain mechanisms and pain control over the past 50 years.

Melzack’s principal claim, which was first proposed in a groundbreaking scientific paper in 1965 written with neuro-physiologist Patrick Wall, is that people feel pain not at the point of injury, but instead in their brain through a pathway that travels through the spine. His “gate control” theory of pain suggested that people can change or control their suffering by using emotional and personal processes to block, increase or decrease the feeling of pain.

"You feel damn good when [the pain] stops and you know you're getting better." Ronald Melzack Photo: Martin C. Barry

Building on the theory, he concluded that pain is subjective and multidimensional because several parts of the brain contribute to it at the same time.

He also examined the “phantom limb” pain often experienced by amputees and found that the neural network we are born with generates our perception of body, self, and experience. Melzack’s studies have led to innovative treatments for people who feel chronic, incessant pain.

Patients now taught to manage pain by redirecting their focus through such techniques as meditation and distraction.

“All the chronic pains interest me and had an impact on my thinking,” he told The Senior Times. “Pain is generated in the brain, and not only by physical inputs. Obviously when we burn our hands or when we break our leg, those are sensory inputs and pain is a reasonable thing to feel. But when you have terrible pain repeatedly over years and you can’t find anything wrong, then along comes the idea that it is generated in the brain.”

While “No pain, no gain” is an expression to denote working out while ignoring physical pain and suffering, Melzack’s view is that pain has no inherent value beyond its potential to alert the sufferer of disease or injury.

“I think the only thing we gain from pain is if it’s due to an obvious physiological cause like an infection or something is broken, and then you feel damn good when it stops and you know you’re getting better.”

Melzack began teaching psychology at McGill in 1963, after teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1959 and at the University of London since 1957.

While at McGill, he co-founded and was research director of what is now the McGill-Montreal General Hospital Pain Centre and was a consulting specialist in that hospital’s neurosurgery division.

At the Royal Victoria Hospital, he co-founded the Pain Control Clinic and was an associate member of its anesthesiology department and a medical scientist for its psychiatry department.


13-year-old shows how children can help children

Torontonian Bilaal Rajan, 13, has accomplished more in his short life than most will in a lifetime.

He is a UNICEF ambassador, youth activist, fundraiser and author of Making Change: Tips From an Under­age Overachiever.

Rajan’s latest challenge is to get students to raise money for Haiti. He will shave his head in honour of the school that raises the most money, “just for fun,” he says.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what kinds of fundraising ideas young people come up with and how much money they can raise. Am I looking forward to going bald? Not so much.”

This latest venture challenges each Canadian student to raise $100. “I think the potential students have for raising millions of dollars is overwhelming.”

Bilaal visits schoolchildren in Malawi in 2007

Rajan began fundraising at 4, when he sold oranges door to door to raise money for the victims of the 2001 earthquake in India. By 7, he had founded an organization called Making Change Now. Its goal was to raise awareness and funds for children in the developing world.

At 8, he launched his first UNICEF fundraising challenge, which raised $1.8 million for those affected by the tsunami of South Asia.

He is hoping that the generosity he saw in 2008 will be matched for Haiti. All proceeds are donated to those affected. The Canada International Development Agency will match the contribution.

“The challenges of the Haitian people won’t go away overnight,” Rajan says. “But I know that students throughout Canada will step up to the plate and make every effort to help those who are suffering in the country.”

UNICEF 1-800-567-4483


And now for a little Canadian History

Canada, built by people from so many backgrounds, is a rich, ever-evolving cultural mosaic. To mark Black History Month, The Senior Times highlights the contributions of black Canadians who have made a difference to our society in their respective fields.

Portia White, born in Nova Scotia, was a world-class singer who performed internationally.

Referred to as Canada’s Marian Anderson, the great contralto sang European classical music as well as spirituals, excelling at both. She died in 1968.

Harry Jerome, from Saskatch­ewan, was Mr. Canada, and a great athlete who set a world record with his 10-second 100-metre sprint. The runner won a bronze medal at the 1964 Olympics and a gold medal at the 1966 Commonwealth Games.

Elijah McCoy, son of escaped American slaves, studied engineering. In the 1870s, McCoy invented a device to oil machinery while it was working. Soon nothing but the real McCoy would do.

William Hall, a Nova Scotian, became the first Canadian sailor as well as the first black Canadian to receive the Victoria Cross. He served in the Crimean War and was decorated for bravery.

Mary Ann Shadd published the Provincial Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper, in 1853, and was the first female publisher in North America. She opened an integrated school in Canada in 1851.

After the American Civil War, she returned to the U.S. and was the first woman to enroll in Howard law school.

Nathaniel Dett, born in Ontario in 1882, earned an MA from the Eastman School of Music and attended Harvard. He was a conductor, composer and pianist. His music continues to be performed. Learn more about black Canadians at


New level of compassion shown in Haiti relief efforts

There used to be a billboard just outside the airport in Port-au-Prince that read: “Mon père a fait la révolution politique ; moi, je fais la révolution économique.”

Loosely translated, Haitians understood this message from then-president Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier to mean: “My father (dictator François Duvalier) persecuted, jailed and forced his political opponents into exile; I will milk the public treasury.”

As the world focuses on yet another natural disaster in that unfortunate land, it should be understood that the misery of the majority of its people is in part the result of self-serving leadership that has dominated the world’s first black republic, the product of a successful slave revolt that lasted from 1791-1803.

An impoverished nation

When this nation of 9 million people – poorest in the Americas, with a per-capita income of $1,400 – suffers an earthquake in the capital, home to an estimated 3 million people, the suffering is immediate and brutal.

It is estimated that four in five Haitians are impoverished and undernourished. Those who do have work, including for such Canadian firms as T-shirt maker Gildan, earn $2-$3 a day.

Slums like Cité Soleil in the capital have grown exponentially as a result of massive deforestation. Haitians cook with charcoal, the only fuel they can afford. The erosion caused by deforestation and the flooding of the country with cheap U.S. rice has combined to devastate farming, drawing more rural dwellers to the city, where they are housed in sub-standard cement dwellings. Most of these homes collapsed when the earthquake struck.

A debt unforgiven

While Port-au-Prince’s unfortunate location atop tectonic plates is problematic, foreign debt and neo-colonialism are other underlying problems. France never could accept being defeated and outmaneuvered by a bunch of slaves. In 1825, in return for a pledge not to reinvade, France compelled the Haitian government to pay 90 million gold francs (about $22 billion) as restitution to France and French slave owners. It took until 1947 to erase that debt.

The U.S., under slave-owning president Thomas Jefferson, feared the revolt would spread to its shores. It cut off all aid and tried to isolate the second independent entity in the Americas. U.S. Marines invaded in 1914 to remove Haitian funds in a dispute over American firms building Haiti’s railway system and stayed until 1935. American racism contrasted with the invaders’ improvements to the country’s road, bridges, schools and hospitals, but Haiti’s debt increased. In September, the International Monetary Fund pegged Haiti’s external debt at $1.8 billion. Many say that with this debt, compounded by a series of natural disasters, Haiti never had a chance. We disagree and strongly urge Montrealers to continue responding to its cry for assistance.

Helping to clear the debt

Canada is to be commended for its leadership on the crippling debt issue – and that includes the Harper government. Forgiving $2.3 million in loans last September brought the total of Canada’s debt relief to Haiti to $965 million. We join our voice to the worldwide movement calling on major lending nations to forgive all of Haiti’s debt as 19 members of the Paris Club of creditor nations have already done. We urge the Marshall-Plan effort to rebuild houses, hospitals, schools, government institutions and infrastructure, to assist in reforestation and restoration of agriculture. Canadians, especially Quebecers, home to a 100,000-strong diaspora, have been generous. While the U.S. telethon last month collected $61 million, Canada, with one-10th the population, gave $20 million in response to two telethons, which was doubled to $40 million by the federal government.

Bravo to the credit card companies

Even MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, responding to criticism for charging up to three per cent of charitable donations for transaction fees, suspended these charges on Haitian relief donations to the Canadian Red Cross, Médecins sans frontières, UNICEF Canada and World Vision. Bravo!

Israel and Cuba lend a hand

We were also gratified to see the rapid dispatch by Israel of a 218-person search-and-rescue and emergency medical team, fully equipped to go into action from Day 1, and still rescuing survivors on the seventh day after the earthquake.

Cuba, with its remarkable medical system, also stepped up to the plate. In addition to the 344 doctors and other health professionals working in Haiti under an agreement with the government, Cuba sent 30 physicians, with food, medicine, plasma and other supplies.

They opened makeshift clinics in their residences because local hospitals were destroyed, reopened the Social Security hospital and began treating the injured when they reopened the national hospital in Port-au-Prince. Cuba has also allowed the U.S. to use its airspace for relief efforts. Perhaps Haiti’s tragedy, shocking as it is, can lead to a new spirit of co-operation, even rapprochement, in the Caribbean.


Redefining an understanding of pita

In a picture, on the menu of Carveli Restaurant, a grandmother bakes in her stone oven a piece of bread the length of your forearm.

It’s traditional Greek bread and it is called carveli.

Though Carveli did not have this amazing loaf on its menu, their pita bread keeps the homebaked freshness that the image calls to mind. I can honestly say Carvelli’s fresh-baked pita bread, made as soon as you enter the door, redefined my understanding of pita. When I received the pita, buttered with margarine and grilled until crispy, I polished it off and wanted more.

As we looked at the lunch menu, I imagined myself sitting in a Greek house on a cliff, looking out to the Aegean Sea through the painting behind the fake windows. The décor is quite convincing, one of the greatest features being the ancient Greek-style painting on the wall of a woman holding a bird, as if taken right off an amphora.

Carveli offers pasta, a grill menu, entrées, and even omelettes. You can order traditional Greek bean soup alone or with a meal for $3. It was creamy, with carrots and vegetables so soft they practically dissolved in my mouth. For extra enjoyment, dip your pita in your soup. I ordered the Linguine alla Primavera ($7.45) to get the flavour of Carveli’s Italian food while my friend Jodie had the chicken brochette in a pita, a grill favourite ($8.45). Some of Carveli’s Greek food options include tzatziki as an entrée (a full portion for $3.45), Carveli salad, which has chickpeas, mozzarella, and a whole egg ($7.45), butterfly shrimp ($12.95), lamb brochette with pita ($6.95 plain, $7.95 with pita), and Greek Moussakka ($8.25). And if that isn’t Greek enough for you, you can top it off with baklava for dessert ($2.65). If you feel like Italian for dinner, there is penne Arabiata ($6.95), eggplants Parmigiana ($7.45), or simple spaghetti with meat or tomato sauce (6.75), which can be served with linguine or rigatoni.

Our food was served quickly, since it was just after the lunch rush. Both the Primavera pasta and the chicken brochette sported vibrant colours, the red and green of peppers in my pasta and the grilled tomatoes of Jodie’s salad.

I smelled the peppers in the pasta and added more hot spices and cheese. I had the pasta with chicken, cooked just right. Jodie enjoyed the grilled vegetables with her brochette. She said the tzatziki was “tasty.” She had golden French fries thick with genuine potato fluff. Our waiter was nice, the food was good, the pita original, and the fries excellent, so if I am ever in the area again, I shall certainly return to this little Greek island.

Carveli: 6860 Côte St. Luc Rd. corner Rosedale. 514-489-7575


An advanced doctor at an advanced age

When Dr. John Schmidt began his medical practice, there were 48 states in the Union, Ike was president, and Southern drinking fountains were still labeled “White” and “Coloured.” There was no vaccine for measles, mumps or rubella, and the world of medicine was still adjusting to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.

Today, at 80, Dr. Schmidt administers the H1N1 vaccine and examines MRIs delivered to him electronically. Much has changed in the 50 years of his medical career, but Dr. Schmidt still has the patience and bedside manner of a man who made house calls at local farms.

Growing up in rural Illinois, Schmidt’s inspiration for becoming a physician was the doctor in his own small town. “Dr. Roberts was the only doctor I knew,” Schmidt recalls. “He was the idol of everybody—very highly thought of.”

When he was only 12, John’s mother died of a brain aneurism and when he was 22, his father was burned alive after the basement furnace erupted. John went to live with his eldest sister, Dixie, who was like a second mom to him. Dixie went on to study nursing at the University of Chicago. Seeing her work and hearing her stories only gave his medical enthusiasm a shot in the arm.

John studied human biology at the University of Illinois. He graduated in 1951 and married Barbara Crawford as soon as he was accepted to medical school at the University of Chicago. After graduation, John and Barb moved to San Bernardino, where his sister Dixie was a nursing supervisor at San Bernardino County Hospital. There, John got a plum internship, where he could experience a full range of medical training.

“In one year at a smaller hospital you may not be able to work in orthopedics or get to deliver a baby,” he explains. “My whole idea was to have a well-rounded internship.”

After his one-year internship, rather than having his studies interrupted by the Korean War draft, John enlisted in the navy. Stationed in San Diego, he practiced orthopedics at the Naval Hospital and eventually spent six months at sea on a destroyer.

After the war, John and Barb prayed for an opportunity to return to California. John received a call from an old friend from his pre-med days when they waited tables together at a girls’ dormitory. The friend had settled in Fullerton, Calif. as a pediatrician. A colleague asked if he knew any doctors interested in practicing in nearby Yorba Linda. He called John. “I hopped a plane,” John says, laughing, “came out here and decided, out of the blue, that this was the place we needed to go.” At the time, Yorba Linda had only one doctor who had been practicing 50 years and was ready to retire. In 1959, John and Barb set out for Yorba Linda.

“I was the only doctor in the area,” he says. We didn’t have freeways and the nearest hospitals were in Fullerton. I used to make rounds starting at about 5:30 a.m. to get all four hospitals there attended to.” For a year, he didn’t take a single day off and built his practice by being available when doctors typically weren’t—making house calls at any hour, any day.

John continually adapted to huge technological leaps in response, diagnosis, and treatment. “As time went on, transportation became more available, house calls became less needed, and there was a greater dependence on technology—blood studies, X-rays, EKGs, and so on. Technology became the cornerstone of our profession, and, really, it still is.”

Eventually, because of the growth of the community, it was essential for Dr. Schmidt to take on partners and form a medical group. “As I observed other doctor groups in the area, ones that had one doctor as the boss usually failed. So my philosophy was to make my new partners equal with me—I didn’t get any more salary than they did, and they had equal voice when making decisions. And that philosophy made my career very successful compared with running the show.”

Looking back, John finds much contentment while also looking forward; he has no intentions of retiring. He still drives daily to his Yorba Linda clinic. He still sets broken arms, stitches up split chins, and hits knees with a rubber hammer. And he still treats every patient like a neighbour. “As long as it keeps working up here,” he says, tapping his noggin, “I’ll keep working.”


Cine Gael Takes its cues from the Emerald Isle

Cine Gael, Montreal’s Irish film fest and the biggest in the world outside Ireland itself, kicks off its 18th edition Feb. 12.

Opening night features His & Hers, a 90-year-old love story, through the collective voice of 70 women.

Closing night, April 22, highlights The Trotsky, the N.D.G.-set film by Jacob Tierney, who will be in attendance. His producer (and father), Kevin Tierney, is also expected.

George Bernard Shaw once quipped: “A world bereft of both its Irish and its Jews would soon become a tame dull place indeed.”

Apropos, Cine Gael has included the short film Shalom Ireland on its program for February 26. It opens with the son of Robert Briscoe setting the scene. His father, the former Jewish mayor of Dublin, was the only man to have been guest of honour in both New York’s St. Patrick’s Day and Purim parades.

The Boys of St. Columb’s, a co-production with Concordia’s Irish Studies program, shows how the introduction of free secondary education for northern Irish in 1947 led to the development of important cultural figures, including Seamus Heaney, Seamus Deane and John Hume. Admission to this special screening on February 24 is free.

The Cine Gael festival is unique in having its presentations spread out over three months instead of squeezed into a 10-day package.

Showings are at Concordia’s Cinéma de Sève, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

While non-members can attend individual evenings for $7, $10 or $20, depending on the evening, the best deal is to join for the year for $60, which includes all seven screenings as well as special receptions and events throughout the year.

For complete festival programming, please visit

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Wilde had nothing to declare but genius

This February, Lakeshore Players invite audiences to discover the vital “importance of being earnest” from the man who, upon entering the U.S. in the 19th century, claimed that he had nothing to declare except his genius.

Famed wit Oscar Wilde and director Kevin John Saylor will keep audiences in stitches with the classic comedy of “marriage, moralism, and mistaken identities.”

In this comedy of manners, two bachelors dissatisfied with their respective urban and rural social milieus forge new identities to be able to do as they please and pursue their objects of affection under a name that seems to inspire confidence among all women, only to find that their good-natured deceit has caught up with them – as has the formidable and daunting aristocratic prospective mother-in-law, Lady Bracknell.

The play is downright hilarious. I have seen people roll in the aisles. It’s marvelously witty, with brilliant dialogue, and the breadth of the manipulation of the intricacies of the English language is incredible.

As we appreciate the hilarity of the situations the characters find themselves in, we pick up aspects of the social subversion that would make Wilde an easy target for censorship and imprisonment.

Wilde mocks, and we laugh, at the class system:

“Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?” Current fashion: “The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present.”

The battle between the sexes: “In married life three is company and two is none.”

The social life: “London society is full of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained 35 for years.”

Literary censorship: “Oh! It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read.”

Victorian literary morals: “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily; that is what fiction means.”

Fearsome mothers-in-law insistent upon heredity: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

The play is rife with elegant and laugh-out-loud witticisms; these were just a few. Audiences are invited to watch Oscar Wilde declare nothing but his genius until February 13 at John Rennie Theatre, 501 St. Jean Blvd., Pointe Claire. Tickets: Orchestra $22, balcony $18, students and seniors $16. To reserve: 514-631-8718.


Voices from the past speak through Polly to narrate the journey of ancestors

I am the first to express regret at my own alienation from my roots.

It is often a by-product of being a fourth- or fifth-generation immigrant. One is staunchly rooted in the tradition of the city to which one’s ancestors immigrated and the experience may be nearly forgotten.

I have often wished to trace the history of my family and regain for myself the great crossing that we made. And so it is with great pleasure that I introduce a book that is not only a lively and enjoyable read, but also, even if our own family recollections have long since vanished, allows us to retake our ancestors’ journey through the eyes of a young girl who endured a similar voyage.

The universal experience of migration is celebrated across cultures, and Polly of Bridgewater Farm: An Unknown Irish Story allows complete strangers to connect with the voices of their own past.

One woman, through meticulous research, lengthy investigation and skilful narration, has reconstructed a family history, focusing her narrative on the life of one girl, her great-aunt and honoured ancestor Mary Ann (Polly) Noble.

Montreal resident Catharine Fleming McKenty is a former research editor for Pace magazine, speechwriter for the Ontario minister of education, and employee at Reader’s Digest. She is co-author, with broadcaster husband Neil McKenty, of a best-seller, Skiing Legends and The Laurentian Lodge Club.

Several years ago, she set out to trace the life of her great-aunt, from her childhood in Ireland to her emigration and settlement in Canada.

“In moments of crisis,” McKenty writes in the author’s note, “I felt I could reach back into Aunt Polly’s strength, even though I had never met her.”

In 2002, she’d journeyed to the family farm in Northern Ireland.

“As I was leaving the farm, walking alone down the lane, I heard voices talking,” she writes. “It was suddenly clear to me that these were voices from the past, as though an invisible curtain had been pulled aside for a brief moment. I had to find out what these voices were saying. This book is the result” of that search.

The novel opens with two young people witnessing the burning of Montreal’s Parliament by disgruntled Tories (a part of our city’s history that many seem to have forgotten), destroying its chances of becoming a capital city. These are Polly Noble and her future husband, John Verner, and the year is 1849.

The narrative suddenly shifts to Ireland, nearly 15 years before, and we are introduced to Polly’s family and village.

We are then treated to a vividly imagined Irish childhood of the early 19th century, replete with youthful misadventure, natural disasters, family power struggles, religious tension, and farming.

McKenty has found the fine balance between historical detail and intimate family anecdotes: Polly’s tender relationship with her fragile storytelling sister and her youthful rebellion against a domineering matriarch are as compelling as the accounts of the famine and the “Great Wind” that swept across Ireland, destroying everything in its wake.

As Polly and her family set off on the journey across the Atlantic to escape the dreaded famine, the reader knows the horrors that await them on Grosse-Île, and yet is comforted by the promise granted at the beginning of the novel that Polly would settle in Canada and leave a legacy that would make her the subject of a biography two centuries later.

The book is a swift and pleasant read, the prose at once lyrical and accessible, the pages rife with illustrations, photographs and maps.

It is a journey immensely worth undertaking.

Polly of Bridgewater Farm is available at Paragraphe, Nicholas Hoare, and Westmount Stationery>.


What's Happening February 2010

Till February 27 Beaconsfield Library exhibits mixed media art of Beaconsfield High School students, 303 Beaconsfield. Info: 514-428-4460 x 4486

Wednesdays, February 17 to March 24 from 7pm-9pm, Jewish Public Library hosts a course on Zionism at 5151 Côte Ste. Catherine Rd. Cost for six sessions: $65 full-time students, $75 library members, $85 non-members. Info: 514-345-2627 x 3006

Tuesdays and Thursdays until February 18 from 10:30am - 12pm, Côte St. Luc Public Library offers Intro to Computers for beginners at 5851 Cavendish Blvd. Register at the main desk. Info: 514-485-6900

Friday, February 19, and Thursday February 25 10am - noon, South Shore Community Partners Network presents Healthy Eating in 2010. Susan Rousseau, a nutrition consultant and professional cook, will present information on good eating habits, nutrition, quick easy recipes, kitchen safety aids for older persons, meal tips for caregivers and special diets. Cynthia Coull Arena, 195 Empire St. Info: 450-466-1325

Thursday, February 18 12:30pm, Atwater Library Lunchtime Series features Frank Mackey, who will discuss and read from his new book, Done With Slavery: The Black Fact in Montreal. 1200 Atwater Ave. Info: 514-935-7344

Saturday, February 27 from 8am - 11am, South Shore Community Partners Network hosts a Black History Month Breakfast at St. Margaret of Antioch Church, 4955 Montee St. Hubert. $10, children $7. Info: 450-676-8580

February 20 at 7:30pm, Côte St. Luc hosts a Winter Carnival Dance featuring Oldies but Goodies, at 7500 Mackle Rd. $18 in advance. Info: 514-485-6806 or

Monday, February 15 at 7pm, AMI-Québec holds a support group for those living with mental illness including caregivers, family and friends. 4333 Côte St. Catherine Rd. Info: 514-486-1448.

Monday, February 22 at 7pm, AMI-Québec hosts a roundtable discussion called The Double Whammy of Mental Illness and Addiction, 5253 Decarie Blvd. Registration in advance: 514-486-1448.

Wednesday, February 17 from 11am-2pm, the Helvetica Seniors Club will host a lecture by Salvation Army officer Marilynn St. Onge on missionary work in Tanzania and Mexico followed by a luncheon at Monkland Grill, 6151 Monkland Ave. Info: 514-481-2928

Thursday, February 18 at 7:30pm, Mary Soderstrom leads Atwater Book Club in a discussion of Master Pip by Lloyd Jones. 1200 Atwater Ave. Info: 514-935-7344

Saturday, February 20 at 9:30am, Montreal Urban Hikers Walking Club will snowshoe in Oka Park. Transportation by bus from Lionel Groulx metro. Confirm before February 13. $20. Info: 514-366-8340

Tuesday, February 23 at 9:30am, Beaconsfield Bookworms will review The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, 303 Beaconsfield. Info: 514-428-4460 x 4486

Mondays starting January 11 at 7pm, Chorale Cantabile invites new members to sing in their choir. St. Johns the Baptist, 233 Ste. Claire Ave., Pointe Claire. Info: 514-449-8765,

Tuesday, February 16 at 1:30pm, Beaconsfield Library hosts Jen Mitchell, a graduate student of religious studies, who will discuss the main ideas of Islam in a lecure titled The Basics of Islam. 303 Beaconsfield. Info: 514-428-4460 x 4486

Wednesday, February 17 from 5:30pm - 7pm, the Jewish General Hospital will host a lecture titled What’s New in Radiotherapy. Dr. Louis Souhami, radiation oncologist at the McGill University Health Centre, will discuss radiotherapy with a focus on bladder cancer. Reservations required. Info: 514-340-3616
Saturday, February 13 from 2pm - 5pm, St. George’s Anglican Church hosts the St. Lawrence Choir singalong to Faure’s Requiem at 1101 Stanley St. $15. Info: 450-679-2368 or POETRY Thursday, February 11 at 7pm, Yellow Door hosts a poetry and prose reading with host Ilona Martonfi and readings by Jon Paul Fiorentino, Rana Bose, Ralph Alfonso and others. 3625 Aylmer St. $5. Info: 514-939-4173 Thursday, February 11 at 12:30pm, Atwater Library Lunchtime series hosts poet Ian Ferrier, who will explore whether love really does make you crazy. A refresher course on how to survive and thrive on Valentine’s Day. 1200 Atwater Ave. Info: 514-935-7344 Thursday, February 18 at 6:30pm, Paragraphe Bookstore hosts a “talk and sign” for two new poetry books: Girouard Avenue by Stephen Morrissey and Blue Poppy by Ilona Martonfi. 2220 McGill College Ave. Info: 514-935-7344 Thursday, February 18 at 7pm, Atwater Poetry Project hosts Jason Guriel and Soraya Peerbaye, who will read their poems at Atwater Library auditorium, 1200 Atwater Ave. Info: 514-845-5811 Tuesday, February 23 from 7:30pm to 9pm, The Lawn Chair Soiree will take place in Le Parc des princes, 5293 Parc Ave. Poets reading are Michael Mirolla, Abby Paige and Erika N. White led by Lesley Pasquin. Open mic time. Info: 514-721-8420 Wednesday, February 24 at 7pm, Visual Arts Centre hosts a poetry and prose reading at 350 Victoria. Hosted by Ilona Martonfi with John Asfour, Sandra Sjollema and David Bourgeois. Info: 514-488-9558
Wednesday, February 17 at 7pm, Cineclub and CinemaSpace present Sense and Sensibility (directed by Ang Lee, 1995), $8/$6 students and seniors. Info: 514-739-7944
CLSC Rene Cassin needs volunteers to help in their annual tax clinics, to prepare income tax reports for low-income residents. Other positions to be filled include appointment schedulers and tax clinic greeters. Training provided. Info: 514-488-3673 x 1351


Tough cuts are best cooked low and slow

I’m cold this winter. Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s me, but it seems to take longer for heat to reach the extremities. Fingers and toes chill faster. I can’t believe that I consider spending as much on mittens (not gloves) as I might on shoes and that I find myself lusting for those thick SmartWool socks. That’s why cooking is even more of a treat in the winter. Having the oven for a long time at a low heat makes for great food and a warm me.

The real question is, how low can I go? Our gas range is about 25 years old. It cooks surprisingly evenly for what was a fairly inexpensive model. We talk of upgrading. Something with more insulation and an oven handle that doesn’t fall off would be nice.

Below 200F, the oven is fitful and I’m never sure whether food is cooking. Above 300F and I might as well go into roast mode. There really isn’t a middle ground.

Either I want my meat seared outside and rare within or I want it to cook low and slow. 425F for 15 minutes and then lowered to 325F to 350F is fine for chicken or a roast.

Tough cuts like chuck or shoulder are best cooked low and slow. Heat a Dutch oven or cast-iron frying pan with a little oil, cut the meat into cubes, then sear at high heat to brown the meat.

Remove the meat, cook chopped vegetables (onions, garlic, carrots, red peppers, parsnips, and celery are all good), deglaze the pan with chicken stock and red wine, put back the meat, cover and put it in the oven for several hours at about 200F. The same goes for chili (brown the ground meat, remove, add veggies and spices, deglaze with stock, add the meat, and cook at a low heat for a long time).

Just before serving, I might make a roux or mix cornstarch with water and add it to the gravy or just use tomato paste to thicken the sauce.

This gives me a hearty meal, probably one that will last several days.

The next day, I can add leftover stew to more stock and make soup, or take the remnants and mix them with rice or pasta. More than that, this approach to cooking gives me a toasty room to walk into even as simple food is transformed. This is what changes a house or an apartment into a home. It is the existential element of cooking and you can’t get this kind of nourishment from takeout.

If I am what I eat, then what I am cooking reveals my character. These days, I am content to go low and slow, to sleep in, to enjoy winter. I’ll wait for warmer weather before I get out the BBQ and aim for a little more of that hot and fast.

And here’s a little extra warmth: Grandma’s Potato Kugel.

My mother-in-law would have grated by hand, but it’s the food processor for Celina. This makes one 8” round pan. Use a spring form if you can.

Preheat oven to 350º.

• 5 med. potatoes, peeled & quartered. Cover with water until ready to use.

• 1 med. onion, peeled & quartered

• 2 eggs

• 1/4 cup oil

• 1tsp. lemon juice. (This keeps potatoes from discolouring.)

• 1tsp. salt

• 1/2 tsp. white pepper

• 2 tbsp. flour

• 3/4 tsp. baking powder

Coarsely shred the potatoes and onions in a food processor. Remove the mix from the processor. Add the lemon juice to the potatoes and onions and put them back into the processor bowl and reprocess with a steel blade until the mix is medium chopped. Remove this mixture to another bowl.

Add everything else to the food processor and mix till smooth with the steel chopping blade. Remove this from the processor and mix it into the potatoes and onions with a large spoon or spatula.

Spray the baking pan with Pam.

Transfer the kugel mixture to the baking pan and bake for one hour.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. Email him at


Respect wishes of cognitively impaired when addressing them

Alzheimer’s and related dementias rob a person of many abilities but should not rob them of being treated with dignity and respect. While some Alzheimer’s behaviours may seem childlike, the disease does not turn adults into children.

We often affectionately greet children as “sweetie,” “cutie pie,” and “my lovely,” but these are not approriate names for adults, no matter what their mental capacity. It is disturbing to hear paid home caregivers and residence staff use such childish endearments for their patients. When introducing a client to the head nurse of a residence, she greeted my client with: “Aren’t you a cutie pie?” My client’s daughter looked horrified and I half expected her to grab her mother and run. The following week I overheard a nurse call her Alzheimer’s patient “lovey.” I was sitting in my doctor’s office patiently, or not so patiently, waiting for my name to be called. “Mrs.” was called in, then “Mr.” and after a few more people had their turn, the physician called out “Bonnie.” I do not have a personal relationship with this doctor but was not offended by his calling me by my first name. I am just not sure why he used my first name while he called the other patients “Mr.” or “Mrs.”

I call him Dr. X and even though I know his first name, it would never occur to me to use it. Could it be that I was the youngest person in the waiting room? Does age give a signal of what to call someone?

I believe that all senior citizens, including those with dementia, should be asked how they would like to be addressed.

Recently I helped move an 85-year-old woman from an autonomous residence to a care facility because of a decline in her cognitive functioning. The care manager respectfully asked her what she would like to be called. She replied “Mrs. White” and went on to explain that in her previous residence, everyone had called her by her first name and she had hated it; she had never been asked for her preference.

Alzheimer’s patients have a full life history that the disease cannot erase. The woman who taught school for 40 years and had her students call her Mrs. X may feel uneasy when caregivers, sometimes as young as her students, call her by her first name without her permission.

Alternatively, others may find comfort in the informal manner of being called by their first names.

Caregivers working in this field should know the life history of those they care for. They should begin their relationship with them by respectfully asking what name they would prefer to be called. It’s all about maintaining respect and dignity.

Questions and comments can be sent to


Preparing your home for sale in a hot market

The Montreal Real Estate market is booming. Low interest rates are generating lots of buyers. Furthermore, during the first quarter of any given year, the highest sale volumes occur as buyers look eagerly. If you are thinking of selling, 2010 will be no exception. Here is some advice to help you to prepare your home for sale.

It is important to make your home appealing to as many buyers as possible, so remove personal and religious items, photos, trinkets, and memorabilia.

Buyers need to visualize themselves in your home, so remove clutter, re-organize and clean your home from top to bottom.

Odours must be eliminated. Clean the cat litter box; deodorize and disinfect surfaces; throw out old cigarette and cigar butts and the garbage. You should prepare yourself for living in total cleanliness for the time your home is for sale.

You might want to consider renting additional storage space for excess items. Rooms need to be functional and clearly defined.

Redistributing what you have can work, but consider renting furniture if a room is empty or if you have nothing appropriate. Be creative with the themes of your rooms and set a mood. Everyone loves a light-filled room. Make sure the blinds are open and the windows are cleaned. Let in as much light as possible.

Consider adding lights in a dark room that has poor sun exposure or has no windows. Light and neutral paint colours help reflect what light enters a room. Consider repainting.

Complete minor repairs and inexpensive touch-ups. This will place buyers at ease toward what they fear most—that which they cannot see! Buyers feel more comfortable purchasing a well-maintained home. Don’t give them reasons to not purchase. This includes wading through deep snow on their way to view your home. Shovel the laneway and walkways often.

If you feel that you must renovate, talk to an agent to find out what is popular in your area. They might save you from spending money on unimportant renovations. An agent might also help you with staging your home. I offer home staging advice or the services of a home staging consultant. Other agents do the same.

Examine your home as though you were the buyer and be scrutinizing.

Make the best use of what you have and spend as little money as possible. Talk to an agent to get sound real-estate market advice and to get your home staged for sale.


when in rome, have a romance

“Wise men say only fools fall in love/but I can’t help falling in love with you.” (Lyrics from Can’t Help Falling in Love, written by Weiss, Peretti, and Creatore) Falling in Love, Falling in Love Again, Why Do Fools Fall in Love, When I Fall in Love … The song titles featuring the act of “falling in love” are seemingly endless. But hold on a second, lovers. Isn’t “falling” a bad thing to do?”

My friend David posed this dilemma to me recently and he inquired whence came the expression “falling in love.”

So I checked the OED to see if it could provide an adequate lexicographic answer to David’s query. The phrase “falling in love” is first cited in 1423. At first, though, one didn’t merely tumble “in love” but rather into “love’s dance.” The citation comes from James 1-The King’s Quire and states, “So fare I falling into love’s dance.” It took at least 100 more years for the phrase to be shortened to “falling in love.” This phrase has endured ever since as the quintessential expression of the dizzy loss of control of the lovestruck.

By the way, the concept of a fall into love is hardly restricted to English. In French and many other languages, love also causes a tumble and in the case of Icelandic, it captures you. The OED has many definitions of the word “fall,” but two in particular are instructive of the sense implied in “falling in love.” Fall (noun) is defined as “a succumbing to temptation, a lapse into sin or folly.” It is first used in this sense in 1225. Fall (verb) is defined as “to yield to temptation, to sin.”

Legend has it that the romance associated with Valentine’s Day descends from a custom in ancient Rome. On the eve of the Feast of Lupercalia, which began on February 15, the names of maidens were written on pieces of paper and placed in a jar. These slips were then plucked by young men who would partner with their selection for the duration of the festival. Valentine’s Day owes its name to Saint Valentine who was beheaded in the 2nd century A.D. for marrying couples counter to the orders of Emperor Claudius II.

Etymologically speaking, when a young lover is imbued with romance, the debt isn’t to love, but to Rome. The word “romance” comes from the Old French term Romans, a derivation of Romanus, “Roman.” The term was used to refer to the local dialects of Latin (which later became the Romance languages) and was used to differentiate them from official Latin. The practice arose in France of writing entertaining stories in the more popular spoken language and the term romans was used to refer to these adventurous tales. It was in this sense that the word was borrowed into Middle English. Because many of these stories in both English and French dealt with courtly love, “romance” came to mean simply a “love story” and eventually developed the sense of a “love affair.”

Seeing that Shakespeare is the greatest word progenitor in the history of the English language, it is not surprising that several love words are associated with the Bard. He seems to have coined the term “love affair” in Three Gentlemen of Verona in 1591, where Valentine says: “I part with thee, confer at large of all that may concern thy love affairs.” There is an obscure reference to “love letters” in the OED in 1240 but Shakespeare popularized the term in Merry Wives of Windsor when Mrs. Page asks: “I ‘scaped love-letters in the holiday-time of my beauty, and am I now a subject for them?”

Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe is credited with the first usage of “love at first sight” in Hero and Leander in 1593: “Where both deliberate the love is slight; who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?”

Happy, Valentine’s Day, everybody. Enjoy the dance.

Howard’s book Strange Bedfellows: The Private Life of Words is being published in March 2010.


Protecting yourself and your money from scammers

Every time I open my email it seems I have won money from a far-flung country or my co-operation is desperately needed to retrieve a long-lost fortune that only I am capable of delivering, if I send some huge amount to untangle the bureaucracy and liberate the funds. Sound familiar?

The sad part is that these offers play on our emotions and inherent goodness and we may become entangled in them and cheated out of our hard-earned money. How do you protect yourself?

No matter how enticing or genuine the offer may seem, make sure you delete the email and resist engaging with the sender because once you respond, you will encourage them. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is.

You should also be wary of phony bank emails. Fraudsters have become more sophisticated and developed techniques that make their emails look like they are official requests from your financial institution.

Remember, banks will never solicit you online and more importantly will never ask you to verify personal information online.

Think about it. They already have your personal information.

The best thing to do is delete these emails. Financial institutions do not take kindly to people who fall for these scams and are under no obligation to reimburse you for fraud committed on your account under these circumstances. Never click on any links within these emails, as they may contain viruses or keylogging software that will record PIN numbers and passwords that the scammers can use to empty your bank account without your knowledge. It is your responsibility to protect yourself online. Make sure you have quality antivirus software running at all times and that it is up to date.

What about all those nuisance calls from credit card, cellphone, alarm or utility companies? These calls may be fraught with more danger than is apparent. It seems we are constantly being bombarded with offers and upgrades that are only clever ways to maintain our loyalty.

These calls are designed to get you to reveal information without your realizing it. Answering questions like: “Do you currently have an alarm?” can be more trouble than you realize. My personal favourite is when they ask me to confirm my address or credit card information. Last time I checked, they were calling me.

Don’t give out any personal information over the phone unless you know who you are talking to. When in doubt, disconnect. It may not be polite, but it could save you a lot of grief down the road.

Simple tips to protect yourself

• Never give credit information to strangers.

• Change your PIN numbers online frequently.

• Change your bank PIN numbers frequently. Go to the bank to do this.

• Shield the keypad when keying in your code. Eyes are everywhere, especially at stores. When you use the bank machine, look around to see who is behind you.

• Never leave your PIN numbers in your wallet or store them on a computer; commit these numbers to memory and absolutely do not write them on the back of your bank card.

• When setting PIN numbers do not use birthdays, sequential numbers (i.e. 1, 2, 3, 4), or one digit in repetition.

• Be careful about where you use your bank cards. If in doubt, pay cash or use credit.


Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes?

No. Sherlock Holmes is not in the movie Sherlock Holmes. I’m surprised no one has noticed. John Griffin of the Gazette gave it five stars and seemed thrilled by it. It is thrilling as an action film, but Sherlock Holmes is not in it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t do action films.

Let’s get basic. Sherlock Holmes is a gaunt, sharp-eyed detective who depends on applying his superior reasoning ability to elicit subtle clues he alone is able to observe. His style is super cool, his demeanor smooth and almost silent, his face angular, with a long nose that he sticks into everything with the aid of his round spyglass.

He wears a “deerstalker” hat, made of tweed, with flaps, which may be lowered over the ears when it’s cold or windy. When he has a free moment, he is puffing on his pipe, which is no ordinary briar, but a calabash, a kind of squash that forms a curved yellow bowl that goes tawny when the pipe is smoked for a while. At the short end of the calabash is the bakelite mouthpiece. Seated on top of the calabash, sealed in place with a ring of cork, is a meerschaum insert that contains the bowl for the tobacco. This type of pipe ensures a very cool smoke because there is a chamber between the bowl and the calabash.

I know because I’ve owned one for many years.

Another characteristic of the “real” Holmes is that he is very non-PC, for he is a dope addict, his drug of choice being cocaine. To complete the picture, he is not much of a dresser, favouring bland clothes that allow him to blend into the background.

Contrast this description with how he is portrayed in the film. Robert Downey Jr. is a handsome lad, no question. But he is much too pushy for the role, sporting a modern mop of thick hair teased up a storm, with a fashionable three-day growth on his chin and moustache. His clothes are stylish and much too “Flash Harry” for the role.

As an action hero he’s marvelous; as a Sherlock Holmes, he’s a complete dud.

Now how about the love interest? Both male leads have female friends. They are superbly dressed in the bustles of the period. They both appear to think that’s enough, so they come over as modern American women in fancy dress.

Holmes’s sidekick, Dr. Watson, is similarly badly drawn. Admittedly as an MD, one expects him to be elegantly attired, but they went over the top again, making him look like a toff or a fashion model just off the runway. And he had no presence. He should be renamed “Whatson?” or “Whereson?” or “Witlesson.”


Property concerns: be an honest seller and a cautious buyer

The time has come to sell your house. You find a real-estate agent, she finds a buyer, you negotiate price, decide on the date of transferring possession, and finally the offer to purchase is signed. Now only the appointment at the notary’s office remains and all will be done – or so you believe. However, this may not be so.

As a seller, you are bound to guarantee the buyer that the property is free of latent defects. A latent defect is one that is not apparent to a prudent and diligent purchaser and is such that the buyer would not have bought or paid the price had he been aware of its existence.

In a case where potential purchasers noticed some window repairs and the seller told them there had been water leakage but everything had been fixed and there were no more problems, the sale took place. After moving in, they noticed a smell in the house. An expert was hired, a few holes were drilled and evidence of animal excrement, insulation deterioration, and mould was found. Also, water leakage was noticed near the roof and exposed wires were discovered between the garage and the house.

The buyers went to court claiming a diminution of the sale price equal to the cost of effecting repairs, the cost of their expert, and $10,000 for their trouble and inconvenience. The court held that the pre-purchase visual examination of the property did not permit one to see inside the walls. Moreover, there was no obligation to open the walls. The existence of rodents in the walls constituted a latent defect. Furthermore, because the seller had created a false sense of security for the buyers by telling them that the problem of water infiltration had been remedied, the judge held that this reassurance had the effect of changing an otherwise apparent defect into a latent defect. The buyers were granted damages to repair the water leakage, the situation inside the walls, and their expert’s fees. They were also granted $4,000 in damages for trouble and inconvenience on the ground that the seller could not possibly have been unaware of the existence of the rodents.

In another case, the seller advised the potential buyers that he had experienced sewer backup a couple of years earlier and had installed a pump and trap. He also told them that he had noticed a small trickle of water in the basement and bathrooms when it rained and when the snow melted. He also said that the property had never been flooded.

The buyers had the property inspected by an expert twice before signing the deed of purchase early in the summer and neither expert found any significant defect. A week after moving in, they noticed water coming in through the drain in the room with the hot-water heater. About a month later, they noticed mould and moisture between the floor and the wall of a bedroom in the basement.

A specialist was called in and concluded that the basement drain had to be replaced and that underground water flowed toward the floor. It was now late summer and the buyers wrote the seller, putting him in default to make the necessary repairs. Between the spring of the following year and the beginning of January of the next year, the new owners experienced four water infiltrations in the basement when there was heavy rain or melting snow. They claimed a substantial reduction in the purchase price for the property as well as damages on the ground that they had been misled by the seller, who had given them false information to reassure them. The seller said they had failed to act as prudent and diligent buyers.

The court accepted that the basement had important water infiltration and flooding problems, which could not have been discerned even by diligent inspection of the property. Furthermore, there was proof that the seller knew the main drain in the basement needed to be replaced and that there was a problem with water flowing toward the house. He also knew that water infiltration occurred regularly.

The judge stated that the seller is obliged to reveal completely and exhaustively to the buyer all the facts of which he is aware that pose a risk to the buyer’s peaceful or useful enjoyment of the property. The lack of a system of drainage under the floor, the ineffectiveness of the pump and the flow of underground water, which caused humidity and mould, constituted latent defects sufficiently serious to validate the buyer’s action against the seller. The buyers were awarded a substantial sum for repairs, an amount to pay their expert’s fees and the sum of $5,000 as damages for trouble and inconvenience.

In the two cases presented above, the seller was obliged to pay damages for trouble and inconvenience as well as for repairs. These extra damage awards are given when a seller is aware or could not have been unaware of the defects. Where a seller had effected aesthetic repairs that had the effect of blocking access to the attic and camouflaging rot marks, she was ordered to reimburse part of the sale price as well as for experts and a portion of the buyer’s extra-judicial legal fees.

So we see that failure to be completely open and honest about problems concerning the house you are selling can lead to headaches in the future.

Quebec law does not contain a “buyer beware” provision, at least with regard to latent defects, and a seller can find himself responsible for latent defects that exist at the time of the sale even when he knew nothing about them prior to the sale. However, the purchaser also has certain responsibilities. We will look at those next month.


With children, love is ground zero for change

Love makes all the difference.

Chocolate hearts and lingerie! Let me dispel the notion that February is mainly for lovers! Some of us may recall an incident when we felt ignored, unloved or even unwanted. As children, there may have been nights when we went to sleep without the words “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bugs bite.” There may have been school mates who did not want to play with us because they perceived us as different.

Teacher, Rebecca Blinik and her students during Cook It Up

Too many sad days and lonely nights occur for children and teenagers who do not receive a kind word or an affectionate hug from family or friends. Alternately, what a difference your concern and compassion – and three little words: “I love you” – can make in their lives and your own. To make matters worse, some Montreal children go to sleep hungry and arrive at school hungry. Their parents may face financial or emotional crises. As a result, the children’s needs are forgotten and teachers may find them lethargic, unreceptive or asleep at their desks. Some teachers even bring snacks for them at times, so they welcome Generations Foundation’s role to alleviate this situation. In one high school, the principal saw a student alone in the corner at recess and asked: “Are you hungry?” The student admitted sadly: “Yes, sir, I am.” He had eaten his snack for breakfast.

At cooking classes, the students will eat their cooked creation before heading home because there is no home-cooked supper or there isn’t enough for the whole family.

Generations maintains that with proper care and nourishment, these students will not only survive, they will thrive. Compassionate people and their love of children can help Generations do what must be done each day throughout the school year: To be there with nutritious breakfasts, hot meals and quality snacks. Beyond the school year, we sponsor hundreds of school-age children to experience summer camp in the country.

With your love and understanding, we can see the promise of tomorrow. Think of those three little words and say them: “I love you!”

P.S. Good news! Just in! We want to congratulate Dominic, a “Cook it Up” student, for his new position as a part-time cook at Loblaws.


Obamamania may be fading, and he's not invited to the Tea Party

There is one difference between Canadians and Americans that is not much remarked on: the difference in their attitude toward government.

By and large, Canadians view government as neutral or even benign. It tries to establish a level playing field and provide a social safety net. For example, Canadians have no big problem with the government running a single payer health care system. Especially one that covers all citizens at about half the cost of the American system. Generally, Canadians are willing to pay higher taxes so that those most disadvantaged in our society may have access to health care and other services, such as low-cost drugs.

Not so Americans.

Many view government as the enemy. They cling to the view once expressed by President Ronald Reagan: “Government is not the solution, government is the problem.”

This view is rampant at the moment. It finds its strongest expression in the Tea Party movement, which finds its inspiration in the anti-government sentiments of the Boston Tea Party.

So far, the tea-partiers are a movement, not a political party. They want fewer taxes, smaller government, and more money on security and defence, which already costs almost $2 billion a day.

Both major political parties have reason to fear the Tea Party movement, the Democrats because the movement paints them as big government and big spenders, if not outright socialists, the Republicans because the Tea Party movement is driving the GOP farther to the right. They are demanding virtually a loyalty oath from the party’s nominees: lower taxes, lower deficits, no abortion, and more money for national defence.

Tea Parties began cropping up around the United States in February of last year, responding with anger to government bailouts of banks and car companies. They then took on the task of defeating Barack Obama’s plan on health care, showing up last summer to disrupt political meetings.

Democrats and some Republicans dismissed them as “Astroturf,” or false grass roots. Few in either party now doubt their influence.

In fact, a recent poll revealed that more people viewed the Tea Party movement favourably than they did either the Democrats or the Republicans. That influence was brought to bear in the fight for the Democratic Senate seat held for 47 years by Senator Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts. It’s true the Democrats had a weak candidate and the independents moved heavily to the Republicans, but the Tea Parties were in the thick of the fight. The result was a surprise win by the GOP candidate who ran around in a pickup truck, inveighing against big government and the health bill.

The result of the election defeat in Kennedy’s old seat was a wake-up call for the Obama administration. Obama and his brain trust were advocating more entitlement programs and bigger government at the very time the voters wanted less governmental intrusion into their lives. Should he have been pushing so hard for a health care bill when the real need was for more jobs in the private sector? It’s the economy, stupid, not socialized health care.

There’s no doubt there is considerable anger in the country against Obama and his poll numbers are dropping. I met several people here in California who don’t think he will win a second term. One retired businessman with whom I played golf in Palm Springs said he couldn’t wait for the 2012 election so he could run Obama out of Washington on a rail.

But hold on for a minute. The next national election is all of three years away. Obama’s personal approval ratings are still sky high.

His policy ratings not so much. In the president’s first State of the Union address, he pivoted hard from health care and climate change to the economy and jobs.

And there’s something else. For all its growing influence, the Tea Party movement is a leaderless, ramshackle group whose only unifying plank is to attack big bad government. Is that enough to change a movement into a political party? Hardly. What’s more, the fact that it has no leader means that demagogues like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck become its loudest voices—not exactly a plus.

But what about Sarah Palin? Wouldn’t her brand of grass-roots populism and mean invective be tailor-made for the Tea Party movement? She is scheduled to be the main speaker for the tea-partiers at their first national convention, in February—although various factions are squabbling about her $100,000 fee.

But if you think Sarah Palin could be leader of a national party and a serious candidate for the presidency, please read Game Changer, the new page-turning book on the 2008 election. It recounts in electric detail how John McCain’s senior advisers became concerned that Palin was mentally unbalanced. Her manic mood swings, her stubborn refusal to prepare for her interviews, her scalding rage against the press, all suggested Palin had a screw loose. They were almost relieved when their candidate lost and Palin would never be a heartbeat from the presidency.

I don’t think Obama has much to fear from Sarah Palin. Nor, for that matter, from the likes of Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. When some guy tells you Obama will be a one-term president, ask him who will beat him, then listen to him stammer and stutter.

* * *

As many expected, President Obama used his first State of the Union address to pivot from health care (which he still wants) to the economy, and jobs. Jobs will be the four-letter mantra for the second year of Obama’s mandate. Other populist issues will include coming down hard on Wall St. and reducing the billowing deficits.

Just imagine the Republicans voting in favour of the bankers. The folks out there—including the tea-partiers—will crucify them.

Three years from now, Obama will not be running against Superman. He will be running pretty much against the same rag-tag bunch that lost the last election. Don’t bet he won’t beat them again.


Quake survivors get warm welcome in cold Quebec

Since Haiti was struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake, Montrealers have reached deep into their pockets to help the victims. In an instant, millions of people lost what had taken a life to build. Up to 200,000 people lost their lives in the disaster, while more than 250,000 were injured. The government has put measures into place to bring Canadians home.

It is estimated that 6,000 Canadians were in Haiti when the tragedy occurred. When these people started to return to Canada, many of them arrived in Montreal.

They were aided by the Quebec division of the Canadian Red Cross and by Quebec’s civil security upon their arrival. Sun Youth appealed for warm clothing to apparel companies. New coats, boots, hats and scarves were needed, as well as socks and underwear.

Sun Youth established temporary quarters at the Wyndham Airport Hotel in Dorval, where the organization’s volunteers meet with the earthquake survivors to evaluate their immediate needs. People were given water and food as soon as they disembarked the plane.

Some quake survivors will be staying with friends or relatives, and some are in transit. More than 40 companies have offered or pledged their support to Sun Youth. The needs are growing every day and we continue to do our best to meet them.

Clothing companies wishing to make a donation can contact Stéphanie Rocheleau at 514-842-6822 for more information.

The organization is not making an appeal for used clothing at this time. We will advise you if the needs change.

Sun Youth helps those on their way to a new life in this country.

Most of them will need to start from scratch and our organization will be there to support them in this process.


That paper on your doorstep every morning? It's a miracle

Publishing a monthly newspaper like The Senior Times sometimes requires a bit of divine assistance, but putting out a daily newspaper in today’s environment requires The Daily Miracle.

And that is indeed the title of a new play at Infinitheatre’s Bain St. Michel outpost. Written by David Sherman, a former critic and copy editor for the Montreal Gazette, as well as a playwright in residence at the Centaur, it has the ring of truth.

While Citizen Kane and The Front Page portray the newspaper industry for cinema, there are surprisingly few stage efforts with that theme.

The Chinese were the first to print a newspaper in 740 A.D.; the first newspaper in Europe did not appear until 1536, in Venice.

By 1702, England caught up, with the first English paper, The Daily Courant. It still wasn’t until 1783 that the first U.S. daily, The Philadelphia Evening Post, emerged.

So it wasn’t so long ago, only about 200 years, that the daily papers we grew up with and assumed were part of the fixed landscape grew and flourished. Today, with the advent of the Internet, we see many established brands closing or reverting to digital only. Reporters no longer schmooze together at pubs, and don’t always work in the office, sending in their stories by keyboard clicks from home.

The cover story of the Jan. 25 issue of The Nation, “How To Save Journalism,” highlights this problem.

The harried characters in The Daily Miracle have to balance syntax and accuracy with deadlines. The excellent cast includes Ellen David and Arthur Holden. The Daily Miracle runs till Feb. 14. 514-987-1774


Jack Kerouac’s On The Road became the literary Bible of a generation. An imaginary meeting in Florida between Quebec playwright superstar Michel Tremblay and Quebec–American Jack forms the basis of George Rideau’s miraculously posited play at the Centaur, Michel & Ti-Jean. Set in 1969, the use of an imaginary trip smacks a bit of What Happened After, Ray Robinson’s award-winning 2008 novel imagining Jack’s aborted trip to his ancestral province. This is a must-see, especially for fellow Kerouac freaks. How can you go wrong with Alain Goulem as Jack in a Sarah Stanley-directed play? A personal plea: Don’t refer to Jack as “king of the beats,” a media term he disliked. Michel & Ti-Jean runs till March 7. 514-288-3161


Constructed in 1172, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has miraculously not toppled yet. Nor has its fellow Italian city of Venice sunk into the ocean yet. These construction problems are joined by human relationships gone askid in Geometry in Venice at the Segal. Written 20 years ago and based on a Henry James novella, “The Pupil,” it is an opportunity to see the work of Michael Mackenzie. His Cirque de Soleil show KA is playing in Las Vegas. His The Baroness and the Pig won 2008 MECCA awards. National Theatre School wunderkind Chris Abraham returns from Toronto to direct. Geometry in Venice runs till Feb. 14. 514-739-7944


Gods can perform miracles, but cannot escape the ravages of time. That is the conceit behind The Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus, the latest musical offering at the Mainline. Written by Fringe Theatre Festival managers Jeremy Hechtman and Patrick Goddard, with original music by multitalented Nick Carpenter, this promises to be literally a romp with the gods. Patrick also acts in the play, as does emerging star Paul Van Dyck.

The Mid-Life Crisis of Dionysus plays from Feb. 16 to March 6. 514-849-3378

Ed Note: No divine assistance was required for this edition of The Senior Times.


Marrakesh's Jemaa el-Fna: madly marvellous and mystical

click here to view a slideshow of images from Marrakesh

Our minivan driver Ahmed got us to Marrakech, Morocco, around 11pm after an eight-hour scenic ride from Fez that included stops in Sefrou and Bhalil, a small town in which some of the homes are built in caves. We stopped for tea in one such cave, home to an 80-something widow who not only served us tea but danced for us with a jug on her head. But I’ll save more tales of this day-long adventure for an upcoming issue.

Marrakesh, a city of more than one million with a strong Berber influence, sits almost in the middle of Morocco. Sipping tea in its famed square, Jemaa el-Fna, one literally feels in the middle of the country.

We were exhausted and hungry when we checked in at our hotel, the Ryad Mogador, which we had booked online on At first they didn’t seem to have our booking, but in the end they found it. This is sometimes a problem with but usually the paperwork goes through smoothly – and the price is always better than when you book on the spot or through an agent. We paid the equivalent of about $60, which included a modern, comfortable and cozy room as well as breakfast.

The Ryad Mogador is in a fantastic location. It’s in the newer part of town, facing a huge bus station just outside the walls of the Old City. It’s right next door to a supermarket, so we were set, especially when I needed ice for my knee, which Irwin got in the fish department. The first day we slept in and at noon got a taxi for $1 (for a 15-minute ride) that took us straight to the entrance of the centre of Jemaa el-Fna.

In retrospect, we realized there was no other place to be in Marrakesh than this teeming square that spans a full kilometre. Our sojourns to the new city paled in comparison and we inevitably felt disappointed with the restaurants and atmosphere in that part of town.

Irwin remembered having been in Jemaa el-Fna in 1968 and said it ­hadn’t changed all that much. He pointed up to one of the rooftop cafés and told me he remembered sitting there for hours watching the people go by.

This is exactly what we did for the next couple of days – except we chose a street level café because my knees could never have made it up the narrow steps to the rooftops.

From Jemaa el-Fna one can take any lane into the maze of the medina and the melech (the old Jewish quarter) and discover smaller souks (markets). It’s hard to get lost. Just ask around and find your way back to Jemaa el-Fna.

Among the souks you can explore are Souk Addadine (metalwork), Souk Chouari (basketry and woodturning), Souk Smata (slippers and belts) and Souk Kissarias (clothing, fabric and leather goods.) I’m not sure if there’s a connection between “Smata” and “Shmata.”

The most colourful market is the berber souk, which sells just about everything.

We spent most of our time with our books and camera, soaking up the atmosphere and appreciating the array of workers, strollers, and shoppers. And then there were the snake charmers, musicians, women selling henna tattoos, and the unfortunate monkeys on leashes doing tricks for a few coins, which the tourists avoided.

It was a 10-ring circus, something like Barcelona’s Ramblas except all in one square. I’m not talking about one monkey or snake charmer, I’m talking dozens!

It was in Marrakesh that I first began to appreciate the beauty and versatility of women’s clothing in this liberal Muslim country. What I love about the Moroccan lifestyle is that virtually every code of dress is accepted. You often see women walking together arm in arm, one wearing traditional garb and the other in jeans with no head covering. The only thing you’ll never see on a Moroccan woman is shorts and skimpy tops. Most tourists are respectful and cover their arms and legs to some degree.

On our first visit to Jemaa el-Fna we decided to take one of the small paths into the densely crowded souk to scout out a place for lunch. We chose the first “eatery” we found, a rather primitive place with three pots cooking on an outdoor fire. We pointed to the pot of our choice and were served rich and flavourful stews (mine was vegetarian) with bread and soft drinks that came to about $3 each. The warm hospitality of the owner/waiter gave us strength to attempt some of the longer market trails, but I was so overwhelmed with the sheer colour and variety of … well, everything … that I eventually agreed with Irwin that stopping for a mint tea at a café facing the square would be a fitting end to the afternoon.

Two or three mint teas later I had taken the pictures you see here. As twilight approached and the food vendors came out into the square to offer their wares, cooked on open fires at their stalls – there seemed to be hundreds of them – we decided we had had enough and headed to the new town to eat – a big mistake.

It was May when we visited Marrakesh, a perfect time of year to travel in Morocco. When we returned to the country in July for three more weeks, we confined ourselves to the north.

But I still look forward to more of those souks and sipping tea at the Jemaa el-Fna.

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