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Harvest at the De Facto Delinelle Community Park and Garden

Last week, I received an invite from Torsten Hermann to attend the harvest shindig put on by him and his gang of guerrilla gardeners in St. Henri. I looked forward to seeing if he and his crew had gone ahead with their plans to put in a patio and move their compost pit so that more neighbours could enjoy the greenery. I wasn't sure that our intrepid green warriors would go to this extra trouble after the lot owners had suddenly appeared one day last summer threatening to put up a fence and build on the site. Their pave-paradise-and-put-up-a-parking-lot rant really put a damper on the troops, who nevertheless soldiered on until harvest.

True to his word, Torsten had gone ahead with plans to move the compost. When I arrived at the gathering, I immediately noticed a poster of a young Brad Pitt in the new compost area. When I asked Torsten about it, he laughed and told me that the fans of Brad Pitt said that he was the garden's protector, while the detractors referred to Pitt as the garden's scarecrow. Those who were indifferent simply called this area the Brad "Compost" Pitt.

I arrived at the start of the party, and there were already about 20 people, complete with music, barbecues, and from what I could see, plenty of food. I was introduced to a few of the gardeners and met up with Carlos Robinson-Alvarez again. His wife Miriam had joined Torsten's gardening group this year. Robinson-Alvarez told me that he had moved to this neighbourhood 15 years ago from a very clean suburb. He said that the first thing that he and his wife saw was a women throwing her garbage out of her third-floor window onto the street on a non-garbage day. He said that his wife cried for a week afterwards. The couple, who lives very close to the lot, also had a lot of problems in the past with seasonal allergies. It was only once Torsten and Fraser cleared the lot that their allergies magically disappeared.

The gathering on this sunless afternoon was surprisingly intergenerational and multilingual. There were neighbours in their sixties and some very young children from the hood. Torsten explained to me that just this week he had been approached by a few 7- and 8-year-olds who wanted to plant something. Torsten seems to have become the go-to man for gardening guidance. I reminded Torsten that when I had dropped by for the first time more than a year ago, this had been one of their initial goals--to get neighbourhood children involved in gardening and to start a daycare. It looks like they are close to reaching that goal.

The boys' guerrilla gardening project has been a resounding success in terms of bringing people together, creating a sense of community and beautifying a neighbourhood that was indeed in need of some TLC. Torsten told me that when he moved into this neighbourhood 15 years ago, there was a strong police presence.

"Things are better now," he said, "There has been some gentrification, but in general, people want to enjoy the neighbourhood and make the most of what they have."

When I asked him what his plans were for next year, he said that they still planned to expand the existing garden if other gardeners wanted to join their group. Judging by the number of people joining the party on that cloud-covered fall day, I expect there will be a few more.

Previous posts on the Delinelle Community Park and Garden:
Delinelle Park and Garden: Adjectival Transgression
The Fate of the Delinelle Community Garden and Park
More on Guerrilla-ing in NYC and St. Henri
Trespassers in St. Henri Win City Gardening Contest

Related posts:
Liz Christy Seed Bombs and Some Not So Covert Bombing
Attention Guerrilla Gardeners: the Liz Christy Seed Bomb (a how-to)
What Exactly is Guerrilla Gardening?
Guerrilla Gardening: Tips for the Novice

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A Sense of Humour With the Wilensky Special Please!

It's impossible to write about Montreal's Mile-End without mentioning Wilensky's. This landmark light lunch eatery located on Fairmount has been serving up its signature special sandwich to the rich, famous and nostalgic since 1932. Wilensky's was immortalized on the pages of Mordecai Richler's the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and for this reason, many people flock to the site to try the famous fried bologna and salami sandwich served on an onion roll with yellow mustard.

I went for the first time 8 years ago on a frigid day in December. The most striking aspect is the decor, or the lack thereof. The nine vintage stools that line the thin counter top, the cabinets, machines, dishes, signs, even the font, give the restaurant the look and feel of 1954. There is also an endless array of laminated newspaper reviews of Wilensky's over the years and several yellowing photos of former patrons and employees along the walls. The lunch-hour crowd has access to quite a bit of reading material. There are even some bookshelves with some paperbacks from the 70s. I should have taken this as a hint.

As I ate my Wilensky special on this cold day, I attempted to find out more about the restaurant from the man behind the counter, who wasn't particularly keen on small talk. When it came time to pay the bill, I laughed at how little it cost and how ridiculous it seemed to be calculating a 15% tip. I realize that a 15% does not sound particularly generous, but given the decor, the uncomfortable stool and the server's aversion to conversation, even 16% would have been folly.

The man behind the counter asked me why I was laughing. I said, "At these prices, it must be hard to make a living."
"We don't make tips here. They all go to the heart and stroke fund," he said.
Unfortunately, this only made me laugh harder. Again, he asked me, "What's so funny?"
I was at a loss for words, but because he had asked me so directly, I thought he would be able to handle my answer.
"Well, uh, I just find it ironic. After all, doesn't the cholesterol in salami and bologna sandwiches cause heart disease and strokes?"
He said nothing. He glared at me until I packed up my stuff and left. Unsurprisingly, it seemed much warmer outside than it had in my final seconds at Wilensky's.

As I was researching the restaurant, I came across a review from Frommer's. They had this to say,

Wilensky's has been a Montréal tradition since 1932, and has its share of regular pilgrims nostalgic for its grilled-meat sandwiches, low prices, curt service, and utter lack of decor...
After reading this, I realized that I had had a true Wilensky experience.

I went back one other time with my daughter who was then in pre-school. The decor remained unchanged, but this time the server, a woman, was much warmer. This may have been because I knew better than to ask too many questions. The sandwich was fine, just as I remembered it. My daughter, however, was unimpressed and demanded to go to a "real" restaurant.
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Photo-Voice: Girl Behind the Camera

Images can give us information about the outside world without requiring us to read any words or use our imaginations. We often see photos as concrete proof of a reality and rarely read any bias into them. We forget that the person behind the camera uses his/her own subjectivity to decide what is beautiful, what is photo-worthy and what will draw our attention. We are not seeing the world, but rather the world from that photographer's perspective. This is his or her photo-voice.

A professor at the Faculty of Education at McGill University, Claudia Mitchell uses photo-voice as a methodology for gathering information and finding solutions to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. As you may know, the primary transmission of HIV in Africa is through unprotected sex, and because of the widespread belief that sex with a virgin is a cure for sexually transmitted diseases, young girls are often the victims of rape.

Working predominately in Rwanda and South Africa, two countries in the throes of dramatic change with legacies of violence, Mitchell has chosen to teach young girls how to use a camera in order to find out how they see the world around them.

I had the opportunity to hear Claudia Mitchell speak at the YWCA's International Conference on Youth, Media and Sexualization last May, and her presentation was powerful. After gaining the trust of a group of girls living in a rural area and teaching them how to use the technology, Mitchell asked them to go around their village and school and take pictures of "feeling strong" and "not so strong."

When young girls control the gaze

After viewing the pictures the girls had taken and asking them a few questions, Mitchell and her colleagues made some important discoveries. Girls had taken pictures of a broken bathroom door at their school. This was a place where the girls felt vulnerable or "not so strong." Mitchell and teachers were also surprised to see a picture of the door to the home of a local soccer star. One of the girls later spoke of a close call with this individual. There were also photos of an isolated path used to go to school and transport water. This was another place where the girls "felt not so strong." Unsurprisingly, several of the girls had taken pictures of themselves and their friends in their classroom as a place where they "felt strong" and safe.

These photos helped Mitchell and the community devise some measures to make the girls safer, such as allowing them to go to the washroom with a friend, fixing the bathroom door and having them walk to school and transport water with an adult. At the conference, Mitchell did not say whether any action was taken against the soccer star.

The next step was to raise awareness in the community about child safety. The girls' photos were posted at a central location on market day to ensure that a large number of local residents would see the pictures. At the conference, we had the opportunity to see all these photos and even a picture of the photos posted in the village.

Not only did these girls have the opportunity to learn how to work with technology, they were also given an opportunity to voice their fears without actually having to find the words. This meant that the girls were able to raise awareness about their own safety amongst themselves and the community as a whole.

This was the first time that I had ever heard of the concept of photo-voice. After some research, I learned that both photo-voice and participatory video were often used with marginalized people in order to see how they viewed the world. The information culled from the photos and video are often used to develop policies to help better integrate these groups into society.

I can easily see a number of applications for photo-voice here in North America. Investigating racism, discrimination and sexual harassment immediately come to mind. But specifically with respect to girls, I think getting them behind a camera has many educational benefits. First of all, it affords them the opportunity to use a new technology and gain confidence in using it. Secondly, producing their own videos and photos is very empowering, particularly if they learn about perspective and bias in the media. And finally, photo-voice allows young girls to become active participants in media by producing content from their perspective rather than being passive consumers and accepting the views of others.

What about you reader? Can you think of any other applications?

For further information on Claudia Mitchell and her research projects click here.
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MomActivism: In Praise of O'Sole Mio

In two previous posts, I wrote to Montreal-based Italian food maker O'Sole Mio to inform the company that I had recently bought pesto and agnolotti products that did not have recycling symbols or resin identification codes (RICs) (Click here to see an RIC). I explained to company VP Fiore Napolitano that, without the recycling symbols and RICs, recycling centre workers could not sort the plastics, and these dishes would go straight to landfill.

Mr Napolitano wrote back to me a few days later to inform me that the issue had been addressed and that the recycling symbols and RICs would appear on their products in their next production cycle. He also informed me that the plastics used were number 5 (the pesto container) and number 7 (the agnolotti dish). Partial success!

Although both of these plastics are recycled in my area, which is welcome news, I wrote back to Mr. Napolitano to find out whether the number 7 plastic used in the company's fresh pasta dishes contained bisphenol A (BPA), a hormone disruptor. In scientific studies, BPA has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, learning disabilities and obesity.* Those at greatest risk are fetuses, infants and children entering puberty.

Many number 7 plastic products are manufactured with BPA. Some are not. I hypothesized that food retailers were probably just as confused about plastics and BPA as consumers. After all, this confusion translates into success for the public relations specialists hired by BPA manufacturers, some of the largest companies in the world. To see an article published in the Washington Post on big plastic's most recent PR campaign to spin the dangers of BPA click here.

Mr Napolitano promptly replied to my inquiry. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that he had attached a technical data sheet to show that the company's pasta dishes did not contain BPA (Click to enlarge). In addition, these pasta dishes complied with the European Union's regulations, which are much more stringent than those of the US FDA.

Mr Napolitano also asked me to give him a call. He wanted to know more about my concerns. I explained that I was contacting companies whose products we enjoyed to get further information on their packaging practices. I told him that whenever possible, we try to avoid plastics that are not recycled in our area. We also avoid number 7 plastic unless it is indicated that the product packaging is BPA free. I also explained to him that his market segment was probably made up of people like us--professionals with children and busy lives.

In a nutshell, I told him that I wanted to be able to go into the supermarket and leave with products that were environmentally friendly and would not compromise my children's health.

And I got the answers I was looking for.

My first foray into raising retail awareness about eco-friendly packaging was indeed positive, and I invite you all to sing O'Sole Mio from the rooftops. I will be a loyal O'Sole Mio customer...as soon as I see the recycling symbols.

**Slow Death By Rubber Duck, Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, Knopf Canada, 2009 pp. 220, 232-235.

Related posts
MomActivism: Raising Retail Awareness About Eco Friendly Packaging. (1)

MomActivism: Reply from O'Sole Mio (2)

Plastics: Of The Three Rs, Your Best Bet Is To REDUCE
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So Glad I'm Not 18

On a recent night out, I asked one of my friends about her 17-year-old daughter. I knew that she had just started college and was wondering how things were going. We talked about the number of life changes at that age and how difficult it was to keep priorities straight. We also talked about this being the age when people met their first love. The trials and tribulations of being 17, I was told, had led to a mother-daughter argument about time management. Mother had offered her daughter some unsolicited advice, and daughter had resented the interference. My friend told me that, mid-row, all she could think about was Alice Cooper's song, "I'm 18."

The song played in my head until the next day when I looked up the lyrics. Of course, I'd remembered the music and refrain, but, I confess, not the lyrics.

I got a baby´s brain and an old man´s heart
Took eighteen years to get this far
Don´t always know what I´m talkin´ about
Feels like I´m livin´ in the middle of doubt
Cause I´m eighteen
I get confused every day
I just don´t know what to say
I gotta get away

Was it because I was too involved with being 18 to understand, or was it because I couldn't relate to Alice Cooper, an old guy, telling me what it was like to be 18?

At any rate, I may not have remembered the lyrics, but I certainly recall how important music was to me when I was growing up. Whether it was folk, new wave or progressive rock, music was my way to discover life and the outside world while growing up in a conservative small town. I was more inclined, however, to listen to the music rather than the lyrics, and I just recently discovered why.

I thought about the general theme of love and relationships in mainstream music, as they are often on the minds of young adults, and decided to research some of the lyrics to songs about hooking up when I was a teen. I was both amused and repulsed by what I discovered.

The first song that came to mind was an old folk rock tune, which probably still plays ad nauseum on classic rock stations. This song must have turned off a lot of women in search of a monogamous relationship.

Love the One You're With (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)

If you're down and confused
And you don't remember who you're talkin' to
Concentration slip away
Cause your baby is so far away.
Well, there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love
Love the one you're with
Love the one you're with

I had a good laugh at the "rose in a fisted glove." The rose, a symbol of love, but in a fisted glove. Scuse me, what's with the glove? Anyway...Correct me if you disagree, but I can't imagine a woman writing a song about a moment of weakness and it still getting airtime 40 years later. Some will say it was a time of free love...Whatever!

The other song that came to mind took me back to my early teens, and again, it received airtime for years after it was initially released in 1979-- You're All I've Got Tonight (the Cars). Here's some of it:

i don't care if you hurt me some more
i don't care if you even the score
you can knock me and i don't care
you can mock me and i don't care
you can rock me just about anywhere
it's alright
'cus you're all i've got tonight
you're all i've got tonight
you're all i've got tonight

Now, as I recall, a lot of women liked the Cars and new wave music. However, this song did not offer a very appealing picture of hooking up for either party. I'm starting to see why I remembered the music, but not the lyrics.

The next song, a progressive rock tune by the hugely popular Supertramp, was loved by everyone. Even our parents used to sing along to these songs on AM radio, but listen to the opener of the title song from Breakfast in America.

Take a look at my girlfriend
She's the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend
I never seem to get enough

Hello! Sounds to me like love and relationships were strictly male focused, and these three songs were tame AM radio material. Wait a minute? Weren't most of the musicians and songwriters male? Yep. The record producers? Yep. The people who decided how much airtime these songs received? Yep. No wonder I couldn't remember the lyrics. I couldn't relate to the point of view.

Have things changed since then? Not according to Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown, the authors of Packaging Girlhood:Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes. To counter the objectifying and degrading portrayal of women in pop music, they suggest that parents explain to their daughters that the music industry is overwhelmingly made up of men.

Point out the maleness of the world of pop music. For the most part, men own the companies and produce the artists and the CDs, control what gets airtime, and film the MTV videos. They're also overwhelmingly the ones in bands (U2, Green Day, Simple Plan, Yellowcard, Death Cab for Cutie, Maroon 5, Korn, and so on). (p.154)

Yes, there were women in pop music when I was a teen, but they were not nearly as successful or had the same longevity or amount of airtime as their male counterparts. There are, however, more women making money and enjoying success in the music industry today. The Madonnas, Christinas, Brittneys and Avrils have indeed become superstars, but how many of their equally successful male counterparts have had to sex it up, take off some clothes or go blond to maintain their market shares? Ah, none.

But this post was about lyrics wasn't it? Are there lyrics about love in mainstream music today that are written from a woman's perspective? Are these lyrics sex-positive without objectifying women? Please tell me about them. Maybe I will be able to remember them for once.

Related posts:
More Impossible Beauty Standards

What if Bill Gates Had Been Born A Poor Black Girl

Our Hypersexualized Media: How to Help Our Children

The Gold Standard of Beauty: Targetting Insecurities

Dora the Explorer: The Power of A Petition

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