5 com

Montreal in the 60s by Jimmy Deschênes

Between watching seasons 2 and 3 of Mad Men recently and flipping through vintage vinyl on Monday, I can't get enough of the 1960s. In this 4-minute short, Jimmy Deschênes uses NFB footage with a Pink Floyd soundtrack to capture Montreal in the 1960s. You'll see that the team at Mad Men did their research and really got that sixties look and feel. There is great segment at the end of the Expo 67 Monorail.

The picture on the left is Buckminister Fuller's geodesic dome, which housed the US pavilion during Expo 67. It now houses the Biosphère, a museum focusing on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Related posts:
For the Love of Vinyl
A Summer Ride for Summer Weather
Mile End's New Vintage Market

For more Montreal in the 60s visit
The Expo 67 Lounge

Read more »
7 com

For the Love of Vinyl

On a warm summer morning, I rode past the red storefront of the Sound Central covered in vinyl records at 4486 Coloniale. It was closed at the time, but as I looked through the front window, I noticed that it had a type of coffee counter with vintage stools at the back. From the street, it looked like every inch of wall space was covered with rock posters, stickers, album covers and records. The store immediately reminded me of John Cusack and Jack Black in High Infidelity, and I wondered if I would be thrown out if I asked for a Barbara Streisand record.

I dropped by yesterday, but I only made it a few steps past the door when I felt overwhelmed. As everyone knows, music is intimately tied to memories, and in my field of vision, I saw posters, album covers and fonts that all transported me back to different decades simultaneously. Adding to this stimulus overload was loud music, which I erroneously assumed to be speed metal. I later learned from owner Shawn that this was post-rock sludge metal. Playing every bit the deaf auntie, I had to ask him if he'd said "sledge or sludge." A slight musty smell hung in the air, reminiscent of unfinished basements everywhere.

The first thing to catch my eye was a box of 45s, which were on sale for 10 cents each. I flipped my way to a Diana Ross single with a Motown label--something that seemed so familiar, even though I hadn't seen one in 30 years. I noticed for the first time that the label background was actually a map of Michigan with a big star marking Detroit. Next, I turned to look at the albums, and the first one I picked up was Elton John's greatest hits from the 70s and laughed at his hideous white shades. This was back in the day when we still thought he was straight. Then I spotted a few of my parents' records on the wall--Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris with just a few strands of grey hair and Henry Mancini with one undignified comb-over.

As I've said in a previous post, music still seems to be dominated by men in terms of producers, agents, promoters, managers and performers. Although there are a lot more women in music today, men still predominate and make the most money. This store definitely had a hip urban male feel to it, but the owner assured me that he had a lot of women customers too.

I continued walking to the back of the store where I saw some old turntables, stereo equipment, 8-tracks and of course, CDs and DVDs. All the store was missing was a reel-to-reel. I was happily strolling down memory lane, looking at Hot Wheels still in their packages, books and other rock collectibles when it dawned on me. Other than collectors, who would still be buying vinyl?

A lot of people apparently. In fact, according to the New York Times, today's stars Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, Diddy and 50 Cent have all issued vinyl versions of their latest releases, and rock classics have all been reissued in vinyl. In addition, more than 2.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2009, up 35% from the previous year.

So why the resurgence in vinyl records?

It was simple according to Shawn's coworker Kostas, "Vinyl sounds better."

Albums were also nicer than CDs with their liner notes, and besides, albums provided greater advertising space. Some of you may also recall that falsehood that CDs never scratched and, thus, were superior to records.

But I still had one pressing question. If vinyl had been phased out in 1988, wouldn't it be hard to find turntables, I asked, momentarily forgetting that a record store was still in the realm of cool, while my question was anything but.

Turntables, I learned, were relatively easy to find, and Sound Central actually refurbishes them and can even outfit them with a USB port.

As I sat at the counter enjoying an ice coffee, I looked up at the ceiling papered in album covers from days of yore. I saw the Bay City Rollers, Doris Day, a darn slim Ginette Reno and Tom Jones with a perfectly round afro. I'd caught my second wind and was ready to look around some more. I wanted to buy some 45s and send them to friends. On my way back, I picked up a vintage book about Vietnam in Vietnamese with an Australian High Commission stamp on it. I had just pulled out Bonnie Tyler's single "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when Kostas came over and told me that "I would have to pay for my coffee."

Somewhat flummoxed, I made my way to the counter to pay for my coffee and four singles. In the end, I hadn't been thrown out of the store for an uncool request, but I had been profiled as a potential Dine and Dash culprit.

PS: Vinyl collectors, you can find the Sound Central Record Store online at www.soundcentralstore.com

Related posts:
So Glad I'm not 18
Death of World Music Star Lhasa de Sela

Further reading:
NYT, Vinyl Record Albums and Turntables Are Gaining Sales
USB turntables raise vinyl from the dead

Read more »
0 com

200th Post: the Readers' Choice

On Sunday, we went to the TOHU, close to the Cirque du Soleil's headquarters in Montreal, to see some trapeze artists at an outdoor show. Unfortunately, in addition to being overcast, it was windy, which wrought havoc on our performers, adversely affecting their timing. Most of their tricks failed with the performers making some spectacular falls onto the net below. The job of the performer is to make everything seem easy, but on this particular day, we saw just how difficult some of the tricks were. I came away with a greater appreciation of what the trapeze artist does. I was also pleased to have an opening to show my daughter, the obsessive perfectionist, that even highly trained people do not always succeed. It was also a golden opportunity to talk about the importance of risk-taking and learning from our mistakes.

My daughter however was not convinced. She said that people would say that the performers were poche or not very good after the show. I told her that everyone comes away from a performance with a different impression.

The same can be said about blogging. When I asked some of my regular readers which posts were their favourites, their choices were not necessarily the most popular, and I was surprised that some of them had been written more than a year ago.

Do you have a favourite post? Just drop me a line, and I'll add the post and link back to your blog.

On the occasion of my 200th post, I wanted to thank all my regular readers for their support and the time they have taken to read and comment.

Readers' Choice

Eloi  Because this reader is the father of my children and the person who has listened to all 200 first drafts. He was allowed to have two favourite posts: The Lure of Fishing on Bernard and The Path of an Activist.

Paternal unit Of course the paternal unit loves everything I do, but he especially likes anything related to his grandchildren. I welcome his input; however, I relinquish all responsibility for the content on his blog. ;-) Like Riding a Bike

François B. This reader enjoys the posts related to our neighbourhood. A Sense of Humour with the Wilensky Special Please!

Lucie This reader loved the Mile End's busiest florist. Multitasker Foils Gentrification

Renata This former cycling fanatic liked all things Bixi-related.The Bixi: Success for All?

Pamela  A eulogy for my mom who died unexpectedly last August. An Unexpected Turn

Johanna My connection to Banff and a funny story about my cousin Rina. 
 Banff and a Canmore Family Yarn

Madeleine The favourite of a mother who has had her share of similar adventures out shopping with her children. The Joy of Crafts

Opinionated Ant I owe much gratitude to this reader who often retweets my posts on Twitter. She also chose as her favourite my very first post in December 2008. . . .so sweet!
Guerrilla Gardening Tips for the Novice

Read more »
2 com

In Memory of Georges

As we cycled home from the Marché la Récré yesterday, I told my daughter to stop outside 55 Bernard West at Georges Riddell's Fishing Tackle and Appliances. I was wondering how the 82-year-old fisherman had weathered our recent heatwave. I was shocked to see some withered flowers at his door and a few cards on the ground. I walked over and picked one up. Sadly, it offered condolences. Georges had passed away, and judging by the state of the flowers, it had happened more than a week ago. "Two weeks ago," the clerk told me at Montréalité, the shop next door when I enquired

I walked down to the Mile End Mission and spoke to the ladies sitting outside. Georges had apparently died on June 30, and some 20 people had held a candlelight vigil outside his shop a week later to say good-bye. He had apparently fallen down and hurt himself, never recovering.

In a previous post, I had described Georges as one of the last hold-outs in the Mile End gentrification process. He had opened his store on Bernard in 1960 and was described by his neighbours as a soft-spoken man who kept to himself. Fishing had been his life, and all the lures you see in the picture on the left, he made by hand.

I was happy to have had a chance to visit his shop and have a chat with him last March. I posted that chat on Twitter, and I had a fisherman from Lake Champlain retweet it. Georges was apparently well-known in that area of Vermont.

Georges, I wish you peace, happiness and some great catches in your next life. So many people miss you. Heather

Related posts:

The Lure of Fishing on Bernard
(My chat with Georges)
Read more »
0 com

Mile End's New Vintage Market

In an effort to avoid the midday sun, my daughter and I biked over to the Marché la Récré [the Recess Market] at Lambert-Closse school this morning. The new Saturday market was held in the school yard, and the merchants had set up their stalls around the edge, but the heat radiating from the tarmac had everyone perspiring. We could smell the merguez cooking a block away, but a merguez sandwich with harissa isn't exactly a good way to cool down.

I was surprised to discover that 70s objects are now referred to as vintage. If  I remember correctly the specs in the picture below were referred to as Dorothy Hamill glasses, after the famous US figure skater. The blue daisy pin reminded me of the kind of jewelry my grandmother used to wear. I did wonder who would want these things, as most people didn't want them in their day. But seeing things that were so familiar was strangely reassuring. My daughter picked up a purse made with bright orange phentex and snickered.

My favourite object was a scratched vintage Russian nesting doll with remnants of the CCCP stamp still on the bottom, but the vendor wanted $20 for it. Would you have paid $20? 

Pottery, mobiles, jewelry and crocheted and refurbished clothing lined the perimeter of the school yard, but the merchant whose stall seemed to attract the most attention was a man from France selling cotton pillows. They did look soft and inviting. I guess the heat has caused a lot of sleepless nights for many people. I overheard the merchant trying to sell a traversin, which in no way resembled the classic long cylinder-shaped pillow. Instead, it was shaped more like a crescent moon. He was having some problems explaining its utility to an interested couple, and for some reason, he never actually came out and said that it was a traversin.

"You stick it between your legs when you're hot," I heard him say, as I glanced up at the couple who nodded politely, trying not to laugh.

I love vintage markets, and I will return in the future, but today, it was just too hot. Besides, my daughter was tugging at my arm. She wanted to do something "fun."

Hood-related posts:

The Original Meaning of Spin
Hard Times and Used Books
S.W. Welch: the Nikolski Coincidence
Multitasker Foils Gentrification
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard

Read more »
3 com

The Path of an Activist

Riding along the bicycle path on De Maisonneuve  last week, I looked up to see a sign (photo left) dedicating the path to cycling activist Claire Morissette. Apart from Jeanne Mance, the founder of the Hôtel Dieu Hospital, the names of very few women grace our urban landscape.

On June 16, 2010, the Montreal city council voted unanimously to name the bike path after Morissette, and just one week later, the Bixi bike-share program reached its one millionth ride this season. If you remember, it took until October 22 to reach this milestone last year. Although many people will attribute the success of the bike-share program to a great product or an innovative idea, Morissette's tireless 30 years of activism to give urban cyclists their rightful place on our streets undeniably paved the way for Bixi's success.

Morissette began her cycling activism in 1976 when she and some 100 others staged a "die-in" at the corner of University and St. Catherines streets in downtown Montreal. She and fellow protesters lay down in the intersection, applied ketchup to symbolize blood and set damaged bicycle frames atop of them to protest the impact of motorists on cyclists and pedestrians. She and others also took ladders and toboggans aboard metro cars to protest the no-bike rule, which has since been changed.

Morissette went on to establish Communauto, an urban car-share program with now more than 300 parking stations in 4 Quebec cities. Communauto members can reserve a car for an hour, a day or longer at a reduced rate, which covers fuel, maintenance and insurance costs. In addition, members have access to child car seats, roof racks and other accessories and are eligible for special Bixi and public transit packages. Some 20,000 members have opted for the car-share program rather than buying their own cars, thus reducing pollution, fuel consumption and the number of vehicles on the road.

However, one of Morissette's greatest achievements was founding Cyclo Nord-Sud, a non-profit organization that ships our unwanted bikes to countries in the southern hemisphere. Since the group began collecting bikes in 1999, they have shipped over 32,000 bikes abroad. Our cycling activist has been quoted as saying that it broke her heart to see a bike in the trash heap when it could  make such a difference in the quality of life of another person, particularly women. As many of you know, women and girls in Africa spend on average 5 hours a day transporting 50 kg of water and wood for cooking and heat, and girls between the ages of 11 and 17, spend three times more time at this chore than boys the same age. As a result, girls spend less time at school. A bike is obviously a valuable resource, helping women to travel 3 times faster and carry heavier loads, freeing up time that could otherwise be spent at school or at some kind of paid employment. If you would like to donate a bike, just contact Cyclo Nord-Sud. There were 58 bike collection events last year.

Claire Morissette was an author, social activist and cycling advocate who fought for safer bike paths and better cycling infrastructure. Sadly, she died in 2007 after a long battle with breast cancer and was never able to see the Bixi bike-share program up and running.

She was more than worthy of having the bike path named in her honour.

(1) PHILPOTT Julia, "Women, Transportation and Poverty: the role of Non-motorized Transport", Perspectives mondiales sur le vélo, Conférence Vélo-Mondiale, Vélo-Québec, Montréal 1992. (2) International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), "Report Finds Severe Gender Inequities".[Cyclo Nord-Sud]

Related posts:

Fun Way to Track Bike Use and Carbon Foot Print
3 Compelling Reason For A Bike Share Program in Your City
City Cycling: Why Renting Beats Owning
A Review of Montreal's Bixi Rental Bike
Read more »
2 com

A Must-See: Cirque Éloize's iD

As parents of two small children, we're well aware of the dearth of family activities that are interesting to each one of us. However, lady luck smiled on us last Friday in the form of four free tickets to see iD by Cirque Éloize in Montreal's Old Port. Directed and written by Jeannot Painchaud, iD is Cirque Éloize's seventh and most recent production presented as part of the 2010 Montréal Complètement Cirque Festival.

Located next to Cirque du Soleil's big top in Montreal's Old Port, Cirque Éloize was not overshadowed by the experience or renown of its neighbour. The smaller space made for a more intimate performance, and in some instances, the acrobats were performing just a few metres away.The 15 performers put on an awe-inspiring show set to loud pulsating techno music. Showcasing their own strengths and individuality, the performers competed with one another in street dancing and acrobatics, continually upping the ante, making each number more spectacular than the last. The stage structure with its endless array of compartments was transformed with each successive projection, transporting us to a different urban landscape. Each performer had his/her own signature look, both funky and urban. The performers' sex appeal came from their exuberance, as it should, not their costumes. This was fairly girl-positive, as it showed women being active and feeling good about themselves. Maybe next time, they could have some girls doing some strength acrobatics and move completely away from the tired old strong man-petite beauty narrative. Now that would be inspiring.

Have you ever seen a show that has completely taken you by surprise?

This show was nothing short of mesmerizing, and when the lights came on, the four of us had huge smiles on our faces. As we were leaving, I said to my husband, "It feels like we haven't been out in years."

Mural (top left) on Prince Arthur by MU. 

Other family-related posts:
Like Riding a Bike
The Joy of Crafts
Some Not So Crafty Undertakings

Read more »
5 com

Airing Our Dirty Laundry

Finding a dry cleaner in a foreign country is not always an easy task. With my new linen jacket draped over my arm, I walked in the shade of the palm trees past the tennis courts of the Hotel Prado. The dry cleaner was at the back. In Barranquilla, I could afford to buy linen and have my clothes made by a modista, or a seamstress. I used to spend hours shopping for fabric, lining and buttons. The luxury of having clothes custom made did, however, have a downside--cleaning. Although hand washing usually did the trick, on occasion I was forced to use the services of a dry cleaner.

I walked into the shop to the hum of machines, billowing protective plastic sheets and that distinctive smell that impregnates the air at dry cleaners. In Canada, I had read that this smell was dry cleaning fluid, Perchloroethylene (PCE), more commonly known as perc. A powerful degreaser, perc is a synthetic solvent that evaporates at room temperature and has been used in dry cleaning since the 1930s. Although an effective stain remover, perc is also highly toxic. In fact, dry cleaners are two times more likely than the general population to develop bladder and esophageal cancers. Aware that dry cleaning fluid was a probable carcinogen (NB: in California, PCE is considered a known carcinogen), I was guilt-stricken about taking my clothes to the dry cleaner, and to my horror, the beautiful dark-haired woman who walked over to serve me was 7 months pregnant.

Try as I may, it's impossible to completely avoid the dry cleaner. At some point in our lives, we all own clothes with Dry Clean Only tags. What are our alternatives?
Recently, I came across a green dry cleaner at 251 Bernard West in Montreal. Owner James Bitzilos has been operating his green dry cleaning shop for three years and is one of the few Montreal dry cleaners to offer both wet and dry cleaning. Following in his father's footsteps, Bitzilos has been in the business for 20 years and knows the ins and outs of stain removal.

My first question for our green cleaner was about all the plastic he used. Bitzilos said that he opts for Oxo biodegradable plastic clothing bags, which break down in 18 to 22 months. I noticed that this type of plastic had a slightly greenish tinge. He also sells reusable garment bags for about $8.00.

Green dry cleaners usually use wet cleaning instead of dry cleaning for a large percentage of their business. Wet cleaning involves using water and biodegradable soaps.

"The only problem with wet cleaning is the turnaround time," said Bitzilos. "It takes a couple of days for the clothes to dry, and people want their clothes back before then, so to remain competitive I offer a dry cleaning service too."

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, wet cleaning is one of the safest professional cleaning methods available. Bitzilos made it abundantly clear that the dry cleaning he offers is perc-free. Then I asked him if green dry cleaning was more expensive than conventional dry cleaning using perc.

"It costs the same," Bitzilos said.

I left scratching my head. I had read that green dry cleaners used liquid C02, and because the machines required for this type of cleaning were more expensive, the cost of the service was considerably higher than that of conventional dry cleaning.

I returned a few days later wringing my hands. Once I realized that Bitzilos was not using liquid C02, I had to ask our green cleaner what kind of dry cleaning fluid he was using. He wrote it down for me: Hydroclene, a hydrocarbon solvent manufactured by Caled. On the company Web site, Caled claims that its products are "environmentally safe" for both dry cleaners and their customers. In my research, I was unable to learn whether any testing had been conducted on Hydroclene to support this claim. However, I did find some information on Exxon's DF-2000, another hydrocarbon solvent used in the dry cleaning industry.

Not all cleaning methods advertised as “green” are as environmentally benign as they may seem. For example, a solvent called DF-2000 being touted as an “organic”dry cleaning fluid is actually a petroleum product. It is indeed organic in the same way gasoline and perc are organic: it contains a chain of carbon atoms. The word “organic” has a much different meaning when it comes to food that’s been certified organic by the USDA.  Tree Hugger: "Are There Green Dry Cleaners?"

Under the U.S. EPA Design for the Environment program, the Agency advocates the use of wet cleaning and liquid C02 cleaning processes over the use of hydrocarbon solvents.

At any rate, I was still pleased to learn that we had a green cleaner in our neighbourhood that had switched over to wet cleaning, used biodegradable plastic and sold inexpensive reusable garment bags. Although many people will be satisfied that our cleaner uses perc-free dry cleaning fluid, I would rather see the proof first that this hydrocarbon is safe. Until then, I will either try not to buy any clothes with Dry Clean Only tags or eat very carefully.

Have you come across any tests on hydrocarbon solvents for dry cleaning?

Further reading:
US Environmental Protection Agency, Info on Perc
EPA Wetcleaning Systems of Garment Care

Additional source:
Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment by Sandra Steingraber

Related posts:
The Original Meaning of Spin
Hard Times and Used Books
S.W. Welch: the Nikolski Coincidence
Multitasker Foils Gentrification
The Lure of Fishing on Bernard

Read more »
0 com

Trompe l'oeil

This is the Royal Bank of Canada building at the corner of Laurier and Park in the Mile End. I loved the idea of covering construction with cloth, a trompe l'oeil if you will that banks tend to be very skilled at.  At least we don't have to look at a construction site all summer.

Just a short announcement to say that I have a lot under construction at this time, my 200th post in particular. I will be back once the heat lets up, and I promise to rip away this cloth facade and show you what I have been working on. Enjoy the heat if that's your thing.
Read more »