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More Mile End Magic

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The picture on the left is of a tarot card parlour with "a reading and astrological consultation" already in progress. Notice the candle burning and the woman's boot at the centre of the picture. The parlour is located underneath an Asian restaurant close to the St-Joseph and Park Avenue intersection. The reflection of the stairs down to the parlour in the front window gave the picture a ghost-like quality.

I wanted to talk to Duncan, the Mile End's premier tarot card reader, to see how business was going in light of our recent recession. He was able to talk to me for a few minutes between readings this afternoon. He has been in the Mile End's "intermediary with the spirit world" since 1999 and has reportedly said that the midnight appointment slot is his favourite time for a reading. Duncan told me that business was good but had to run because he had back-to-back appointments for the rest of the afternoon.

I noticed that he used a Mac to help him with the astral alignment portion of the astrological consultation. Perhaps an employment prospect for an unemployed Mac user.... But the candidate would have to have recent and significant experience reading tarot cards too.

I had some more pressing questions for Duncan. I wanted to know some of the most common questions that people ask him to answer, the age group of his clients and if he has a mentor. I'd also like to hear about some of his other worldy experiences. That is, if he can pencil me in....

Related posts:
Imported Afro-Cuban Magic
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S.W. Welch: The Nikolski Coincidence

Just last week a fellow translator mentioned the CBC's annual Canada Reads literary competition. She told me that the winner, Nikolski, was penned by Quebec writer Nicolas Dickner and translated by another Quebecer, Lazer Lederhendler. I was impressed because I had heard that both Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees and Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony were in the running, and these were two books that I adored.

The next day, after dropping off my circa-1975 pink bike at the repair shop on Bernard, I popped in at the S.W. Welch used bookstore on St. Viateur. I have never actually gone into this store and left empty-handed, but this day looked as though it was going to be an exception. As usual, I had a chat with the owner and told him that I had visited his facebook page where he regularly posts a stack of his new arrivals. I was surprised by this undertaking, as the owner has openly expressed his opposition in the past to any kind of online book sales.

Just as I was about to leave, a 1994 bell hooks classic caught my eye, and then right next to it, I spotted what appeared to be a brand new copy of Nikolski.

"Someone just mentioned this book the other day," I said to the owner, as I flipped through it, looking for underlined words or the particularly abhorrent doodling in the margins. Then I noticed a note in red pen.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Oh, the translator, Lazer Lederhendler, signed that copy. He comes in here sometimes. He also translated that book," said the owner, pointing to a book by Gaétan Soucy on the shelf behind me.
"You'll also see that the book refers to my bookshop when we were on the Main, but the author changed the name to S.W. Gam," he said.

This was not a hard sell by any means, but I still found the price, $10.00, a little steep for a used book. But the coincidence won me over, and I was anxious to see how the bookstore had been immortalized.

The former digs on St-Laurent Boulevard were older, stuffier, dustier and a little less organized than the current location, but it nonetheless had its charm. From the street, one would invariably see a fat cat sleeping in the front window, and the owner sitting behind the cash with his head tilted back to make optimal use of his bifocals. For many, the cat was the main attraction, much to the owner's annoyance. He eventually put a stop to all question's related to the minutiae of the cat's life by posting a terse FAQ in capital letters and taping it to the front window. It answered all the commonly asked cat-related questions and warded off any future inquiries.

When S.W. Welch first moved to St. Viateur, I asked him how his new location compared to the old.
"Well, business was brisker, but at least there aren't any panhandlers coming in here with $20.00 in nickels and asking for two tens," he said.

Yes, I couldn't agree more. The difference in neighbourhoods, which are a 20-minute walk apart, is like comparing apples and oranges. Business may have been brisker, but the quality of books has improved tremendously.

In Nikolski, the bookstore owner is not a man, but a woman, Mme. Dubeau, who incidentally is a woman Dickner thanks by name at the end of his book for her merciless review of his grant application. S.W. Gam is the place of employment of one of the book's three main characters who are all tenuously tied by common DNA. Dickner makes no mention of the cat or the dust, but instead focuses on the sheer volume of books.

The S.W. Gam Bookshop is one of those places where humans long ago relinquished any control over matter. Every shelf holds three layers of books, and the floorboards would vanish altogether under the dozens of cardboard boxes, but for the narrow, serpentine paths designed to let customers move about. The slightest cranny is put to good use: under the percolator, between the furniture and the walls, inside the toilet tank, under the suitcase, even the dusty closeness of the attic.

Now, there are more than a few passing references to the S.W. Gam bookstore in Nikolski and some other Montreal landmarks, such as the Shamrock fish store at the Jean-Talon Market, but I won't spoil the book for any of you who, like me, enjoys visiting actual places that live on forever in the pages of bestsellers.

FYI, I will be giving this copy, signed by the translator, to the first person who either signs up for an e-mail subscription to my blog or who leaves a meaningful* comment in the comments section. Winner to be announced FRIDAY, MARCH 26.

*Meaningful means potentially leading to a discussion.

Mile End-Related Posts:
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard
Images de femmes 2010
Mile End's Longest Flower Stand

Mile End Adjacent Post:
Imported Afro-Cuban Magic
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Commodification: Rinse, Fold, Stack Him, Mr. Perfect

As many of you know, my husband works in advertising. His input often helps me take a step back from my initial interpretations and look at how the crafty advertising team is trying to get my attention and etch a visual into my memory. Apparently, the greater the emotional response the advertising vehicle or message elicits, the greater the chance the consumer will remember the product being advertised. For instance, a fast-food restaurant will use a brightly coloured clown and collectible toys as its vehicle to attract children to its restaurant.

Lately, I've noticed that commodification has become a more popular trend, or using human beings as a commodity that can be purchased, consumed and discarded. As a feminist, I feel that the advertising industry has long commodified and objectified women with impunity, but yesterday, I was surprised by my husband's reaction to men being commodified.

While running some errands in the car together, he said, "I can't wait to show you this Norwegian advertisement I saw. It was really harsh and sexist."
"Oh really," I said looking at a billboard of a topless woman on all fours pretending to be a table.
"Yes," he said, "If they treated women with this kind of violence, the feminists would be up in arms and with good reason. It was shocking."
Needless to say, I was intrigued. He later sent me the link to a 46-second public service announcement (see below) that encourages people to assist recovery efforts and recycle used packaging materials in Norway. The advertisement is entitled, "Rinse, Fold and Stack Him, Mr. Perfect."

I agree that this advertisement commodifying men as empty milk cartons, which are to be rinsed, folded and stacked before being tossed with some other "used men" under the sink, is disrespectful and tasteless, but shocking? No. Women have been commodified and objectified in advertising for as long as I can remember. Part of me wants to ask, "So how does it feel?", while another part just wants to dismiss it and say "Oh it's just advertisers trying to get people to rinse their recyclables. Nothing more, nothing less." But this would make me no better than everyone and everything I abhor in the advertising world. Bottom line: Men and women have to work together on this to get rid of all forms of sexist advertising...Am I dreaming?

Readers: How does this ad make you feel? Would you feel the same way if the woman character had been the empty milk carton? Would you call this a clever way to get people to recycle? Do you find this ad shocking?

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Images de Femmes 2010

I recently made a trip to the Mile End Library at 5434 Park Avenue to see the Images de Femmes art exhibit in celebration of International Women's Day. Fifty Mile End women artists are displaying their work from March 6 to 21 both at the library and at a few other venues throughout the Mile End. Unfortunately, I missed the opening event or vernissage on March 6, but was informed that fun was had by all. The work on the left, entitled Goddess of Love by Shola Doumma, is one of many works you will see.

This is the 17th year that Images de Femmes has been running, and it's a great opportunity to see the work of the many talented women living in the Mile End.

In addition to this exhibit, I also popped in at 5319 Park Avenue at Artistri, a boutique offering original handcrafted gifts and accessories from both local women artisans and women artisans from the developing world. To celebrate International Women's Day, Artistri was presenting Beyond the Silk Road: Glimpses of Contemporary Textiles in South East Asia. It features 14 interpretations of contemporary silk weaving by Cambodian and Laotian craftswomen. Owner Jennifer Lonergan, who recently returned from South East Asia, told me that Artistri was also taking part in the Images de Femmes project and showed me the work of a Mile End weaver displayed prominently in the front window.

Although Images de Femmes will be wrapping up shortly, there are still two cultural events not to be missed this weekend: the Prayer for the Women of Juarez on Saturday, March 20, (To find out why the Women of Ciudad Juarez need our prayer, click here) and Dance and Song from the Orient on Sunday, March 21.
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Imported Afro-Cuban Magic

This past fall, I stumbled upon a very unusual shop at 5757 St. Hubert with a sign that read Botanica, Los Orichas. From the street I could see the back of a large mannequin in a long white cape and yellow and pink cap with three little dogs and a basket for change at his feet. This creepy valley mannequin was a replica of Lazarus, the begging saint. About 10 years ago, I came across a Botanica in a strip mall in Miami and was intrigued by the beautiful candles with black saints on them. I learned from a Floridian that Botanicas can be found wherever there is a large Cuban population. Apparently, when the Spanish brought slaves from West Africa to Cuba, they forced them to convert to Catholicism. The slaves pretended to worship the Catholic saints using orishas from their own religion that most resembled the Catholic saints. For instance, Lazarus was worshipped as the Yoruba deity Babalu Aye. This fusion of Catholicism and Yoruba, the African religion, is known as Santeria and is still widely practised in Cuba today.

I visited this tiny store last week on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Unsure of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to see a gathering of 10 young people in their 20s and 30s having fun at the back of the store. The botanica sells Afro-Cuban religious statues, amulets, oils, herbs, candles and books on Santeria, spells and incantations. And if you ever have to get rid of an evil eye, this is the place for you. It was also emphasized that this was white magic and not the black variety, as practised on some other Caribbean islands.

The young shopkeepers were very helpful and took their time explaining the various religious icons and uses for the herbs imported from Cuba. I decided I would take an envelope of the herbs to eliminate bad energy, not because I had spent too much time with negative people, but because I liked the envelope. Double click on the picture to read the instructions at the bottom. I highly recommend this shop for an entertaining 15 minutes. BTW, they even sell love potions and spells.
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Long-Gun Registry: What's Going On?

This morning, practising what I preach, I began writing letters to MPs as part of the Canadian Labour Congress's Keep Our Communities Safe campaign. It took only about 15 minutes to contact 17 MPs to ask them to vote in favour of maintaining the gun registry in Canada. However, I came across some very unsettling information in the process.

Other related posts:
Long-gun: A Change of Heart

As you may be aware from my previous posts, the Conservative government is moving towards abolishing the long-gun registry through Bill-C391. This odd term, "long gun," refers to shotguns and rifles, as they are the most common type of weapon used in Canada. If the Conservative government succeeds, the nearly 8 million firearm records consulted daily by law enforcement and police will simply be deleted. As I pointed out in my Hypothetical Society post, this firearm database is consulted 10,000 times a day and has reduced the spousal homicide rate by 50%. Please also bear in mind that women are 4 times more likely to be killed by their spouses than men.

In order to stop Bill-C391 from becoming law, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has urged voters to contact the opposition MPs who voted with the Conservatives to persuade them to change their vote. The CLC states that we need only 14 more MPs to change their vote to defeat this bill in its final reading. I started by e-mailing these people this morning and learned incredulously that MPs Ashton, Allen, Angus, Cullen, Bevington, C. Hughes, Gravelle, Hyer, Maloway, Raferty, Stoffer, and Thibeault are all members of the NDP, a political party that I had always believed advocated and supported measures to end gun violence and violence against women.

The long-gun registry was implemented in the early nineties in response to the Montreal Massacre. On December 6, 1989, gunman Marc Lépine walked into the École Polytechnique and shot 28 women killing 14.

Below you will find the list and contact info of opposition MPs who voted with the Conservative government to abolish the long-gun registry. I've put an asterisk beside the NDP members.


Allen, Malcolm - Welland - 60, King Street, Welland (Ontario) L3B 6A4
T: 905-788-2204 F: 905-788-0071 Email: Allen.Ma@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Angus, Charlie - Timmins-James Bay - 20, Duncan Ave. South C.P. 276 Kirkland Lake (Ontario) P2N 3H7
T: 705-567-2747 F: 705-567-5232 Email: AngusC@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Gravelle, Claude - Nickel Belt - 203-2945, route 69 Nord Val Caron (Ontario) P3N 1N3
T: 705-897-2222 F: 705-897-2223 Email: Gravelle.C@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Hughes, Carol - Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing - 20 Prince Edward Walk Elliot Lake (Ontario) P5A 1Z7 *NDP member
T: 705-848-8080 F: 705-848-1818 Email: Hughes.C@parl.gc.ca

Hyer, Bruce - Thunder Bay—Superior North-69, North Court Road, Thunder Bay (Ontario) P7A 4T7 *NDP member
T: 807-345-1818 F: 807-345-4752 Email: Hyer.B@parl.gc.ca

Rafferty, John - Thunder Bay—Rainy River- 409, rue George Thunder Bay (Ontario) P7E 5Y9
T: 807-623-6000 F: 807-623-6001 Email: Rafferty.J@parl.gc.ca*NDP member

Rota, Anthony - Nipissing—Timiskaming - 133, Main Street West, North Bay (Ontario) P1B 1T6
T: 705-474-3700 F: 705-474-6964 Email: RotaA@parl.gc.ca

Thibeault, Glenn - Sudbury - 103A – 40, rue Elm Sudbury (Ontario)
P3C 1S8 T: 705-673-7107 F: 705-673-0944 Email:Thibeault.G@parl.gc.ca *NDP member


Ashton, Niki - Churchill 307-83, prom. Churchill Thompson, (Manitoba) R8N 0L4
T: 866-785-0522 Email: Ashton.N@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Maloway, Jim - Elmwood—Transcona 4-1600, Regent Avenue West Winnipeg (Manitoba) R2C 3B5
T: 204-984-2499 F: 204-984-2502 Email: Maloway.J@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Newfoundland & Labrador

Andrews, Scott - Avalon 944-956, route Conception Bay Kelligrews, Newfoundland A1X 3H1
T: 709-834-3424 F: 709-834-3628 Email: Andrews.S@parl.gc.ca

Russell, Todd - Labrador C.P. 1401, succursale B, 69, Hamilton River Drive, Happy Valley-Goose Bay (Newfoundland) A0P 1E0
T: 709-896-2483 F: 709-896-9425 Email: RusseT@parl.gc.ca

Simms, Scott - Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor - 61, chemin Elizabeth, Gander Newfoundland, A1V 1G4
T: 709-256-3130 F: 709-256-3169 Email: SimmsSc@parl.gc.ca

Northwest Territories

Bevington, Dennis - Western Arctic 4908-49th Street CP 1986
Yellowknife North West Territories X1A 2P5
T: 867-873-6995 F: 867-920-4233 Email: BevinD@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

Nova Scotia

Stoffer, Peter - Sackville—Eastern Shore 2900, route 2 Fall River Nova Scotia B2T 1W4
T: 902-861-2311 F: 902-861-4620 Email: StoffP@parl.gc.ca *NDP member

New Brunswick

D'Amours, Jean-Claude - Madawaska—Restigouche 71, rue Saint François Edmundston, New Brunswick E3V 1E5
T: 506-739-4600 F: 506-739-4607 Email: DamouJ@parl.gc.ca

Prince Edward Island

Easter, Wayne (Hon.) - Malpeque C.P. 70 Hunter River, Prince Edward Island C0A 1N0
T: 902-964-2428 F: 902-964-3242 Email: EasteW@parl.gc.ca
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Glass Ceiling: Smashed or Cracked?

Kathryn Bigelow's winning the Best Picture and Best Directing Oscars last night indeed made for proud moments not just for women working in the film industry but for women everywhere. And although I loved the moment just as much as the next, I wondered whether Kathryn Bigelow had crashed through Hollywood's glass ceiling or had merely put a crack in it.

According to Melissa Silverstein on her Women and Hollywood blog, it would appear that women still have a long way to go before they will be crashing through Hollywood's glass ceiling. Take a look at some of the statistics posted on Silverstein's blog:

In 2008, women accounted for:
  • 9% of all directors
  • 12% of writers
  • 16% of executive producers
  • 23% of all producers
  • 17% of all editors
Another important fact: 6 of the 50 highest grossing films in that year starred or were focused on women* (Think Chick Flick). Therefore, not only were women underrepresented on film crews, but they were also underrepresented in terms of the focus of the films that were the biggest box-office hits.

But these discouraging statistics have not stopped women from finding other means to get their films made. In a pre-Oscar interview with Sarah Seltzer, Silverstein commented on a trend she had noticed when predicting what the major Oscar moments for women would be,
There are several women nominated for documentary feature. One thing I've noticed, a trend in writing and directing in the documentary category, is these pairs: a man and women. . . . One way for women to get funding and to get noticed is to partner with a guy. Only one documentary is directed by a woman herself. Three others done in partnerships.
My concern with Kathryn Bigelow's victory last night is the perception that the battle of the sexes in Hollywood is over--women are in. Few people will question how hard Bigelow had to work in this male-dominated industry to get where she is today. I am also not very optimistic that other women's problems working in Hollywood will end with Bigelow's awards.

That perception, however, may still have some positive repercussions. Bigelow's win might push girls and young women to pursue their passion and become filmmakers, and more parents might now encourage their daughters to become directors. Although Bigelow and many other women have been pushing against the glass ceiling for decades, at least now there's a crack, and with a lot of hard work and drive, it will be easier for other women to push through.

*Melissa Silverstein's statistics come from the Center for Study of Women in TV and Film at San Diego State University.

Women and Hollywood
A Feminist Guide to the 2010 Oscars

Related post:
A Hypothetical Society
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In a Hypothetical Society

International Women's Day is a wonderful occasion for raising awareness about some pressing women's issues around the world. What better way to do this than by taking part in Gender Across Border's Blog for International Women's Day and address the United Nations' Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity: Progress for All theme. In order to decide what equality meant to me, I imagined a hypothetical society without gender or racial barriers in several essential areas of life.

In a society where equality reigns...

I would tell my friend that she should pursue a PhD with a view to becoming a full professor. According to Statistics Canada's 2005 Perspectives, men with doctorates are twice as likely as women with PhDs to hold full professor positions.

I would have equal opportunity and access to blue-collar jobs, which are often unionized and pay more than pink-collar administrative, and sales and service jobs. Today, only 7.7% of Canadian women hold blue-collar positions (Statistics Canada, 2006).

I would have equal opportunity to become a top earner in Canada, earning more than $181,000 a year. Today, of the top earners in Canada with an annual income of $181,000 or more, 79% are men.

I would live in a society where women had bridged the gender wage gap. Today, women in Canada working full-time, full-year earn just 70.5% of that of men. Women of colour earn only 64%, while Native women earn a measly 46%. Moreover, in the part-time and part-year (seasonal) employment category, women earned just 64% of the pay of their male counterparts (Income Trends in Canada, Statistics Canada, 2007).

I would have a government that was made up equally of women and men representatives. Although women constitute 50.4% of the population, they account for only 22.1% of the Canadian Parliament. Canada ranks 49th in the world in terms of women's representation in parliament.

If I were a single woman over 65 years of age, I would not live in poverty. Some 17% of single senior women live in poverty.

If I were an incarcerated youth, I would find that the inmate population was representative of the population overall. Although Native youth represents approximately 6% of the total population, Aboriginal youth represents 33% of youth imprisoned in sentenced custody and 21% of youth on probation (Statistics Canada, 2007-2008).

If I disappeared or were murdered, the police would investigate promptly and thoroughly regardless of the colour of my skin. The Native Women's Association of Canada has reported that the families of missing or murdered Native women have encountered "a lack of responsiveness, disrespect, confusing or incorrect information, poor adherence to policies and protocols, and an overall discounting of family information." In the last 30 years, 520 native women have disappeared or been murdered: 43% of the cases remain open, while 53% have resulted in charges or were deemed suicides.

My government would not abolish the long-gun registry (shotguns and rifles) as a measure to end violence against women. Since the Canadian government has implemented a long-gun registry, nearly 8 million weapons have been registered. The police across Canada access this database 10,000 times a day. Since the registry was implemented in the early nineties, spousal homicide has decreased by 50%. According to Statistics Canada's 2009 Family Violence in Canada Report, women are four times more likely to be killed by their spouse than men are.

The first step in moving towards a society where equality reigns is raising awareness, and I would like to thank the Canadian Labour Congress and The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action for their amazing report, Reality Check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fifteen Years On. This report steered me towards to a wealth of resources.

The second step towards equality is taking action. Join the Canadian Labour Congress and take action to prevent the current government from abolishing the long-gun registry.

Related posts:

National Day of Remembrance and Action On Violence Against Women
Doc Review: Finding Dawn by Christine Welsh
Participatory Video: Wapikonimobile
Book Review: Violent Partners by Linda G Mills
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Mile End's Longest Flower Stand

On the spring-like day that I visited the Georges Riddell Fishing and Tackle shop, I also visited another "boutique" foiling the Bernard Street gentrification process, a very long flower and plant shop. Five or six years ago, it was a sight to behold. Interspersed with bamboo furnishings, this beautiful colourful flower and plant display lined the sidewalk for an entire block. Convinced there was something even more beautiful to see on the inside of the shop, I tried more than a few times to venture inside, but strangely the door was locked. One day, I managed to enter only to find the owner and two of her children. They immediately stopped what they were doing and looked up. The inside was dusty and dirty. There were articles stacked floor to ceiling, and packaging was strewn across the floor.

"Est-ce je peux vous aider?" asked the thin young woman with a frown and crossed arms. This was the owner who is believed to be from Hong Kong.

Her children resumed their noisy, aggressive play. The oldest one was relentlessly hitting the younger one on the head in front of the woman I presumed to be their mother. But her eyes were fixed on me, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. That was my cue to leave. As I'd discovered, these stores were merely where the plants were stored during closing hours. The real show was outside on the sidewalk.

I've bought a few plants at this shop over the years. One might get the idea that it would be hard for just one woman to monitor an entire block of plants and flowers and more than a few children, but no so. I had no sooner picked up a plant when I saw the owner quickly walking towards me. Initially, this appeared to be a place that would quickly run out of change, as many of the items cost under $20. Again I was wrong. The owner had an impressive money belt. In fact, she jingled as she moved towards me. Figuring I had some haggling room given the sheer volume of her merchandise and the fact there was no sign indicating a price, I mistakenly suggested an amount I was willing to pay.

"Je vous donne $4.00 pour celle-ci," I said.
"Non, c'est $6.00," she said shaking her head with her arms crossed.
"$5.00 alors," I countered.
"Je fais pas de prix. The price is $6.00," she said firmly in English without any trace of an accent.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the shop had closed its block of stores and moved across the street. Although smaller, the flower display on the sidewalk was no less impressive. I was attracted to the strange but beautiful blue and green flowers. As I got closer to the door to take pictures, I could hear the owner's boisterous children and their usual fighting, but I had no intention of going in.

Dear Reader: I must confess that when I chat with people in my neighbourhood the majority of the time the conversation is in French. In this post, I've tried to sneak in a little bit of French conversation just to give you a better feel of what my neighbourhood is really like.

Related posts:
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard
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Things Are Definitely Looking Up

I returned to the Diesel Surplus store on the Main on Monday. I wanted to find out more about our South Asian underwear models. As I looked in the window, I was surprised to see that the light-skinned doll had been knocked over by a careless shopper. I asked a sales clerk about the dolls, but all he could tell me was that Diesel had sent them for window dressing because this particular store sold Diesel briefs. He had no idea if they were part of a particular campaign. When I told him that one of the dolls was doing a headstand in the front window, he ran over, picked him up and said, "If you hadn't told me that he had blue eyes, I never would have noticed."

I wanted to ask him a few more questions about Diesel's Be Stupid campaign but then thought I should ask someone else, like you reader. Aren't there enough people in the world doing stupid things without being instructed to Be Stupid. Isn't this just as bad as the 1970s adage Let it all hang out? Too many took the maxim literally and accosted our aesthetic sensibilities for decades to come. Can you think of any other sayings, slogans or maxims that have caused us lifelong regrets?

Related posts
A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words
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Today's Smile: Tight Spot

Making the most of this beautiful spring-like weather, I went for a long walk with my camera. I found this sign particularly funny. The threat of being towed was lost on me. After all, who could possibly park anything next to this yacht? Obviously, the 1972 Lincoln Continental wasn't going anywhere and probably hadn't gone anywhere for quite some time. What's more, it was parked so close to the rusty truck next to it that the passenger door couldn't be opened. The only minute space left was taken by a motorcycle crammed into the back. I foresee a clean paintless line on the Lincoln after the motorcycle driver tries to take his bike out.
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The Lure of Fishing on Bernard

The Mile End has been in the throes of gentrification for the past decade, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Bernard Street where high-end clothing shops and international eateries abound. There are still, however, a few holdouts in the neighbourhood. The flower and plant shop that used to take up an entire block has cashed in and reduced its holdings to just one store. Then there is the very odd, fishing and tackle shop. Because of its outdated appearance and obvious signs of neglect, many passersby would assume that this business had gone the way of the dial phone. Not so, my Mile End sources tell me that the business still sells a lure or two and is the setting for some tall fishing tales. Unsurprisingly, the 82-year-old owner, Georges Riddell, is a raconteur of sorts.

I arrived on this warm spring-like day at about noon, but the shop was still closed. I had a good look at all the objects in the grimy display window while I waited. In the left window, I saw plenty of sinkers and lures in no particular order, several fish heads and skeletons, weights, bobbers, driftwood, some bull rushes spray-painted red, an old yellow fishing net, a life preserver, an anchor with rusty iron chain, a tree stump, a lobster shell, and propped up in the corner was a piece of white birch with fungal rings growing around it. Not exactly the type of things to attract the ladies.

From what I'd seen so far, I gathered that Mr. Riddell was probably single, as his first love was obviously fishing, and housekeeping didn't appear to be his strong suit. I was looking at the stuffed birds, dried flowers and masks in the right window when I noticed the stuffed head of a fox whose eyes had either fallen out or had been forgotten altogether. Why would anyone put something so hideous in a display case? Sentimental value I suppose. In the centre of this display case was a bronze statue of a woman sitting at a small table with "Modern Woman Shop" written on the side. Well, I thought, at least our owner has a sense of humour.

There were many pictures of Georges over the year on the front door showing off his catches. No need to embellish the size of these fish. They were big. I looked between the pictures on the door and noticed a light was on. Then I heard someone behind me. It was a short dark-haired man in his fifties.

"So what are you doing here?" he asked.
"Waiting for the store to open," I said, thinking that he was some relation to the owner.
"He doesn't always open. Sometimes, he doesn't open for days. We worry about him," he said.
"Does he have any family?" I asked.
"No, but I think he had a girlfriend in the 80s," he said, as he stepped forward and looked between the pictures on the door.
"He's up now," he said, as he tapped on the glass.

A tall elderly and dishevelled man came to the door. As I introduced myself, I walked in and started to look around, but I quickly realized that this was only an occasional place of business and served mainly as the owner's home.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I just woke up. I was up late watching the Olympics last night."

I suddenly felt like an intruder. As Georges settled back into his chair and continued to watch the View on a portable 1970s TV, I decided to make my visit as brief as possible so that I wouldn't disturb him.

As I stood on the bare cement floor, I noticed that the shelves, cabinets and telephone were all older than I was. For a few seconds, it was hard to believe that I was in a shop on Bernard Street in the middle of the city. I felt as though I was in a fishing cabin or hunting shack in the woods.

"Do you still fish?" I asked.
"Oh no," he said, "My balance isn't quite what it used to be."
"That's quite a cabinet you have there behind you," I said.
"Bought that in Côte des Neiges for fifty bucks. Must have been 40 years ago. I'm here for 50 years. Opened in 1960," he said in typical Montreal English.
"You have quite a collection of curios here," I said.
"Oh, this isn't even half of it. I got rid of most of it a little while ago," he said.

There were so many interesting items of days gone by that I had trouble focusing on just one thing. I asked if I could take some pictures.

"If you like, but just don't take any pictures of me," he said "I don't look so good today."

This wasn't the case. He did look like he'd just woken up, but he still had good posture and didn't look anywhere near his 82 years. I knew that it was pointless to tell him that. He would think that I was just fishin' for a picture.

The store had a strangely familiar feel to it, but I couldn't figure out where it came from. Was it all the familiar objects from my family camping trips or the everyday objects in our basement that just seemed to vanish over time? Or was it the soft-spoken polite owner? As I came across a Montreal 1976 Olympic sticker, I smiled. This was a lot more than a store. It was an overview of someone's life.


Although I couldn't take a picture of Georges, I did manage to get a photograph of him in the picture below (Double click on the picture to enlarge it. Georges is at the centre). To be honest, I didn't even notice the camera and tripod in front of his chair when I was taking the picture. My eyes were trained on the African mask.

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