Earth Day in a working class neighborhood

imageVille Emard is a struggling enclave of working class, welfare and small businesses in the South West corner of Montreal.  Seems M. Emard was a great city counsellor back in the day and so his borough was named after him.  I wonder what he would think now of the boarded up storefronts on Monk Blvd.  The only really thriving merchants are the tattoo parlour and a few dodgy bars.  The Siri Lankan grocery store does pretty well on suspect produce and discount cheese and the dollar store seems to be staying alive.  There have been a few attempts at gentrification based on hopes that a hideous superhospital recently opened not too far away would bring new residents and  prosperity to this little backwater.  The subsidized housing block has a long waiting list, however, and the new block of condos is yet to be filled.  The problem is that the superhospital sits just out of reach behind a tangle of overpasses and highways, now being demolished.  This is going to be an agonizing process dragged out over several years.  We can hardly blame the employees of the hospital for not venturing through the miles of orange cones and bumpy dirt tracks to discover what lies below their leggo-block design facility.

The old-time residents of Ville Emard are Italian, Poles and French Canadian.  Now Koreans, South Asians and immigrants from the Maghreb are more likely to be my neighbours.  I love my “hood”.  It has an air of evolving nostalgia with its huge church now converted into a theatre, its library named for a young Quebecois poet (Marie Uguay).  I love my little duplex with the lush city garden.  I am lucky to live on a “green lane” , one of the “rouelles vertes” fostered by the city of Montreal.  We even made a mention in the New York Times once.  That is about as Earth Day as we get around here.

And yet, on my way home yesterday I noticed this new installation, a charging station for electric cars.  I have been considering selling my own little car.  My frequent stays in Northern Ontario make it more of a nuisance than a convenience these days.  My typical city row house  has no garage and so quite often I have to find a place to park for extended periods.  Most of the time I use the Metro to go downtown as parking is an expensive nightmare.  I was looking into the communal auto scheme that operates in Montreal.  I still have to do the math but it looks like it might work.  Just seeing the slender pole with its long cord made me hopeful for Ville Emard.  if we can do it, surely there is hope for freeing ourselves from our slavery to the auto.  Next project – having a chat with someone who is actually charging their car there!

Spring Days

I was invited  to Passover dinner last Tuesday.  This dinner is called a Seder and for the first time I learned that this word means “order”. Certain foods are always served and theses olds have a symbolic meaning.  The picture shows a decorative ritual plate put in the centre of the table.  On this plate are pictures of the pharaoh of Egypt because this feast celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery under the Egyptians.  Spots on the plate are reserved for an egg, bitter herbs, a shank bone of lamb, a wonderful chopped dish of fruits that symbolizes the mortar used in the building of the pyramids.  Many of you know these traditions and I will not go into the prayers, songs and toasts that go on through the meal.

The point I want to make is how much of these beautiful traditions are carried into Christian celebrations.  This year many of us are celebrating together.  Jews and  Western and Eastern Christians are all remembering, repeating and modifying the traditions passed down to us over thousands of years.

Today, Holy Saturday, I was so happy to be with my daughters and my beloved grandchildren to dye these lovely Easter eggs.  Spring is here.

All is in order.  The moon that determines the dates of our festivals is beautiful these days.  Birds have begun to sing and to search for mates, buds are swelling on my lilac tree.  There is love in my life and for all the chaos, for just a day or two, Spring has brought order.

She’s Here!



Spring, I mean.  So happy, so relieved, so invigorated! My snowdrops are out.  My crocuses are out and the bees are out.  I was amazed to see three busy bees hovering around my little purple crocuses.  We’ve had terrible rainy and grey weather for at least a week so I wonder where on earth they were holed up.  Today, being Palm Sunday, of course, things are pretty Springy and hopeful  Now comes Holy Week with its many long and beautiful services to sing.  Right in the middle of it is Passover too and so I will be enjoying a nice Seder on Tuesday evening with my dear dear friend.  Every season is beautiful and I usually love the one I’m in, but Spring really is special.  Hmmm.  Winter is good but a bit of a hanger on.  He should learn to leave on time. Bees, chase him off for good!

Japan in Brazil

Yes, you read that right.  There are about a million and a half people of Japanese descent in Brazil and most of them live in Sao Paulo province.  We were lucky enough to be taken to the Japanese section of the city and we enjoyed the atmosphere, the food and the shopping.  So, how did this special population come to live in Brazil?  Well, at the turn of the 19th to 20th century slavery had already been abolished in the country and there was a great shortage of labor for the coffee and sugar farms.  There was a large influx of Italian workers in the 19th century but living conditions and salaries were so poor that eventually the Italian government forbade subsidized immigration to Brazil.  By this time the feudal system in Japan had collapsed and there was great poverty and unemployment. The economy was faltering  and Brazil looked like a solution for many workers.  Unfortunately, the plantation owners still maintained a sort of “slave/worker mentality” and the Japanese workers had a very hard time.  More problems arose when Brazil declared war against Japan in 1942.  As we saw in Canada during the Second World War, naturalized citizens of Japanese origin were suspected of being spies and interned in many cases.

Fortunately the second and third generation have been able to emerge from the social and economic shadows of the past.  We know that many countries that present an image of tolerance still maintain racist currents. However, the vibrancy and size of the Japanese sector of Sao Paulo is a sign of the health and prosperity of the population.  We enjoyed shopping at the kiosks and shops and eating a delicious lunch of traditional food.  I feature a picture of an artist who was sketching work at an outdoor kitchen.  We even saw him the following day in a popular park where we went for a bike ride!  What were the chances of that in a city of about 20 million people?

Costa Verde, Brazil

Between Rio and Sao Paulo lies a protected coastline known as the Costa Verde.  There is limited coastal roadway and the main way to visit the spectacular islands and beaches of this area is by boat.  A range of mountains covered with tropical greenery rises almost from sea level.  Tiny coves and beaches and islands dotted along the shoreline offer countless opportunities to swim and walk.  The sea is clear and full of life.  A crust of bread dropped overboard attracted hungry and curious fish who then got their treats.  I was happy that they were not too attracted to my toes when we swam from the boat.  It is something of a leap of faith to jump into the greenish water that is as calm and inviting as any pool.  The temperature was perfect , not too cool and yet not that cloying bath tub warm I experienced once in Florida. When we wanted to explore the empty beaches we just swam to shore or paddled in the little dingy attached to the boat.  I was very careful to wear a big white hat most of the time and even to swim with a white cotton shirt as I have experienced some pretty bad sunburns in the past.  My days of coveting a tan are done.  I just want to be comfortable.  At one of the beaches we visited there were two little shacks with tables set in the shade of a vine-covered cliff.  Two young boys got out of a boat carrying several silvery fish and ….in a few moments, lunch was served!  Desert was watermelon just cut from a patch out back.  As we ate, a boy of about six climbed up one of the massive rocks on the beach, grabbed a rope attached to a tree branch and swung out over the water.  He let go and plunged down into the waves. Under the indulgent eye of his grandmother he told us his name was Kaiki and that next year he would go to school.  Later we found the aquatic version of the school bus moored in our night harbor. His grandmother told us she never left home and that she had no desire to go to the city.  Who could blame her? She was bone thin, had not a tooth in her head and was clothed in a faded sack of a dress.  Yet she was surrounded with beauty, her family, her strange city visitors who came to bring her a little money.  She smoked her pipe, tended her garden, saw the waves come and go on her pristine beach.

Later over supper that night we wondered if we could live in this paradise forever.  Would we get bored?  Was that perhaps the problem with the first paradise? It was enough to have seen and experienced this beauty and to know that it still exists.

Next day I refused to look through the binoculars to see the new nuclear power plant a few miles away.

Brazil, part two – far from the city

It took about four hours to get from Sao Paulo to the little colonial town of Paraty on Brazil’s Costa Verde (Green Coast).  The distance is not really that far, about 250 km, but going on the ring road around the great metropolis was pretty time consuming.  Our intrepid host, Adolpho managed the truly amazing descent to the coast very well.  The last stretch of the trip featured about half an hour of tight hairpin bends bordered by lush green foliage and some very beautiful white lilies growing wild along the edge of the road.  This is a fairly new road that has frequent safety bays for vehicles that get into trouble.  In view of our earlier problems of overheating in the city, I muttered a few prayers to the god of “turbos” and somehow we made it down.  It was quite funny to see the many brake and transmission shops set up at the bottom of this mountain road.  Well, funny because St. Nicholas, among others, had intervened on our behalf and we managed to get down without incident.  In the back of our minds was the ascent to follow in a few days but – what the hell – we would worry about that later!

The boat that would take us out into the beautiful waters off southern Brazil was to be picked up in the little town of Paraty.  This is a perfectly preserved Colonial town that was founded in 1597 and the name is derived from the indigenous name meaning River of Fish.  It is very pretty and one of the most unusual things about it is that when the tide rises, lots of the main streets are filled with salt water. In one of the pictures you will see a horse drawn carriage at the end of the street.   It was quite charming to paddle around until we remembered that we had parked our car quite close to the jetty.  A mad dash to retrieve it from the rising salt water reminded us that time was fleeting and that we had better get aboard our craft before sunset.

My experience with boats is limited and with one foot on the jetty and one foot on the boat, I remembered all those ridiculous moments on reality TV shows where funny and not so funny catastrophes befall novice sailors.  However, there was no turning back and when all was stowed in the neat but tiny quarters below deck we set off towards the bay where we would set off and spend the first night “at sea”.  It was wonderful to see the little town retreat as we sped over the beautiful sea towards our safe harbor a few kilometers away.   We prepared a tasty supper in the cramped galley and ate on deck in the still air of evening.  I admit to a little claustrophobia in the sleeping quarters as the vessel was secured against “pirates”  All right, then! Toilet facilities were not for the faint of heart or muscular prowess as vigorous pumping was needed to dispose of “black water”.  After all, even though there were two “heads”  – that’s what you call toilets aboard – one must think of the others and deal with this properly.

I woke up early and managed to open up and go up on deck.  The water was still and calm and the tropical vegetation came down to the shore.  A tiny beach was to be our destination for the morning although I had no idea how we would get there.  It seemed a good long way to swim.  However, I was sure that Adolpho and Marie Angeles, our wonderful hosts (they are Joe’s brother and sister-in-law) would enlighten me.  Sipping my coffee I was thrilled to see a school of fish break the surface of the see and flutter along for a short time.  Then I remembered this was not a show for my benefit but probably flight from a predator.  More tomorrow