Writer Performing Out Loud


It felt like entering a novel from the 20’s.

Although the lighting from various hanging bulb lights was dim, the white painted tin ceiling reflects all of it, so the room seemed almost bright. The salle de spectacle at the Casa Del Populo (http://www.casadelpopolo.com) has a white painted tin ceiling. As we walked in, Kimberley Beyea was singing an old-fashioned-sounding jazz tune, while Barry Turner accompanied her on guitar and Matthew Cabana played base.

Heather greeted us dressed in an extraordinary black dress with white polka dots and high heels. Had she worn a wide-brimmed hat and long white gloves, she would have matched my vision of a performer from a fore-gone era.

The room was full of writers and literary aficionados. We sat in small steel stools around mini-round tables and tapped our heels to the trio’s jazz melodies. I recognized several, although if you asked me to say what they were, I couldn’t.

After the band finished their set, there was a short intermission when everyone chatted about how the world works as though we did such things every night. Perhaps the others do.

Then Abby Hagyard introduced Heather as someone who captures “stolen moments to find the right words.”

Then, with courage, Heather read eight poems from her recent collection, Carry on Dancing.

I was blown away. Heather has been working hard on her poetry over the last few years, and it shows. Each poem was so full of heart; it was as if you could imagine the moments she lived as they occurred.

“Sometimes I hold on too tight, sometimes I smother,” says one of the lines in the poem “On Days Like This.” We gasped as the narrative continued.

Heather read and read. Her words shared the real fears of a modern woman, mother and daughter with everyone in the room. We felt her pain, her suffering, her love. With courage, she kept sharing.

As she read the words in the title poem of her collection, we saw how she speaks to herself to make sure that she has the courage to keep creating and sharing.

“Hold your wings high; use glitter glue when required. Carry on Dancing.”

We applauded. Then went home clutching home-made chocolate flowers.

Thanks for a wonderful evening, Heather.

Check out Heather’s poetry for yourself on her blog, http://heathergracestewart.com/. You can enjoy the band this Sunday evening, Mother’s Day at Upstairs, http://www.upstairsjazz.com, beginning at 8:30 p.m.

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Farm Fresh Produce in the City

Permiculture Success

Fresh apples, fall lamb, guinea fowl plus pears, raspberries, chives and lots of picnics at a farm a couple of hours drive away.

Those are all the dreams awakened as I signed up for an annual membership in Miracle Farms, https://sites.google.com/site/lesfermesmiracle/, a permiculture apple orchard run by my neighbours Stefan and Doreen.

My membership in the farm combines with a weekly basket from the rooftop urban farm called Lufa, https://lufa.com/, a seasonal basket with a CSA farmer through Equiterre, http://www.equiterre.org/en, chickens from another farmer and beef from a third farmer to provide most of what my family of four needs.

The opportunity to purchase farm-fresh produce and meat is something that is possible for anyone living in Montreal, but it’s not enough.

I also order milk in glass bottles and lots of organic goodies from my favourite organic grocery store that are delivered to our home from http://www.ecollegey.com. Visits to my local IGA, Becks on Champlain Street occur at least once every two weeks or so.

That doesn’t even include the Saskatoon berries, rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, peas, beans, raspberries and arugula we grow in our own garden.

It takes one heck of a lot of food to feed four hungry people!

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Students Sound Educated and Knowledgeable


This morning, I attended the first hour and a half of the general assembly of the Association étudiante du Cégep Saint-Laurent (AECSL). AECSL is one of the 171 groups that are members of CLASSE. (For more information about the group, visit http://www.bloquonslahausse.com.)

AECSL has 3 500 members who are all students of the college. It has existed since students went on strike on February 20. I’m told that typical meetings last as long as seven hours, in part, because the organization is committed to direct democracy. That means that anyone who attends the school can participate in decisions. I’d estimate there were between 300 and 350 in the large room I sat in. Another 75 to 100 people sat in a second room outside. This was the biggest meeting, because organizers weren’t expecting to have to operate in two rooms. They took about 10 minutes or so to set up the technical expertise to ensure that everyone in the second room could speak to a motion and vote.

On the way in, students showed their student cards at the door to get yellow voting cards. I saw four votes in which students held up the cards so that the chair of the meeting could get a read on what the room wanted. Charest has said a lot about the necessity of these votes being secret, but I saw no reason for such a demand. Does Charest run his caucus by secret ballot?

The discussion I observed didn’t concern the actual offer that students were considering, but was instead a discussion about the procedure that led students to participate in the negotiation. Students asked all the same questions I wondered about. “Were government officials and unions prepared to negotiate when they invited you to talk?” “If you don’t have the right to make decisions on our behalf, why is the government and the media talking about a tentative agreement?”

Then members of the media arrived and the room voted to hold the meeting behind closed doors. At that point, I had to decide whether I was there as a citizen observer, in which case I could stay, but would never have the right to report on what I saw. I decided to leave. I still don’t know whether AECSL voted to accept or reject the offer. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.

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Jane Jacobs: An Icon for Citizen Action

Verdun's Jane Walk on May 6 begins here at 10 a.m.

As Quebec students prove that lots of people can make change together, it’s worth talking about an extraordinary woman who inspired a series of great walks this weekend.

Jane Jacobs was an urban activist who believed that cities are ecosystems with their own logic and dynamism that changes over time according to how they are used. She was born on May 7, 1916 and died in 2006, but her birthday is still celebrated through citizen-led walks all around the world.

In her most famous work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which was first published in 1961 and reworked in 1992, Jacob’s argued that local residents should have more say over their environment and pedestrians should be able to move easily throughout any city. She also argued in favour of reusing old buildings instead of tearing them down and said that human-sized density instead of sprawl was a priority.

Janes’ Walks are designed to make citizens more active in ensuring that they have a say over what happens in the neighbourhoods they love.

In Montreal, the Urban Ecology Centre (http://www.urbanecology.net/walks) promoted a series of 50 walks, many of which happened today. There are still 23 happening tomorrow though, including one by Véronique Landry along the shoreline of Verdun. It begins at 10 a.m. from Montreal island’s oldest country home, the Maison Nivard de Saint-Dizier, a two-storey stone cottage built by Gilbert Maillet for the Congregation of Notre Dame nuns in 1710. It ends with a picnic at 11:30 a.m. at Parc Monseigneur J.-A. Richard.


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The Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery Series, by Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming

Book cover

My favourite mystery series of all time is the Lord Peter Wimsey stories by Dorothy Sayers. I also enjoy her short stories about the crafty salesman, Montague Egg.

Despite the irritating class structure, a slightly misogynist air (chapter titles range from “A use for spinsters,” to “Lord Peter Turns a Trick) and a know-it-all main character, the Lord Wimsey stories are so appealing, the BBC made them into television shows. Sayers sarcastic humour stands out and she always manages to turn the story in a direction that isn’t immediately obvious.

The best things about reading Sayers’ mysteries, however, are her characters. They all seem like real personalities despite exaggerated traits and overblown situations.

The key character is Wimsey himself, of course, who is an honourable but eccentric example of England’s upper class who feels ugly but is extraordinarily-good at everything. Stories about this ideal man include feats showing his success at playing the piano, scoring in cricket and leading his men in World War II trenches. No matter what the situation, he knows exactly what to do, but is also charming and kind. He’s also rich and never gets angry.

Every story also includes at least one scene with the doting Bunter, Lord Wimsey’s fussing efficient assistant who manages to fill a variety of expert roles, including photography, chemistry and under-cover spying.

Only a few include the Sayers-like character Harriet Vane, who is described as a best-selling independent mystery writer and the love of Wimsey’s life.

His able old-fashioned lawyer, Mr. Murbles, handles  legal trials along the way. Particularly nice characters show up over and over, including Mary, the sister he hardly knows and an affable police detective named Parker. Unbelievable characters appear in very believable circumstances, including a ghost uncle, his fun-loving mother, his fuss-budget older brother and his brother’s wife, the super-critical Helen.

The best character of all is an extraordinary woman detective named Miss Climpson, who runs an all-lady detective agency for Wimsey.

She is my ears and tongue and especially my nose,” said Lord Peter, dramatically in Unnatural Death “She asks questions which a young man could not put without a blush…I send a lady with a long, woolly jumper on knitting needles and jingly things round her neck. Of course she asks questions—everybody expets it. Nobody is surprised. Nobody is alarmed. And so-called superfluity is agreeable and usually disposed of.”

These great characters, particularly the female ones, arise from a life of varied experiences. Born to the chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford and his wife in 1893, Sayers crossed many boundaries for women during her lifetime. She didn’t get a degree immediately after finishing studying at Somerville College in Oxford, because women couldn’t have them at that time, although she did get one five years later, in 1920.

Sayers had a son, John Anthony, “out-of-wedlock” in 1924, although she never told anyone he was her son and asked her cousin to raise him. She adopted him after marrying a journalist named Oswald Arthur Mac Fleming.

She began her Wimsey series a year later while working full-time as an advertising copywriter. She began writing full time in 1932 and died 35 years later.

Her son and his heirs kept her stories in print, which is why so many of them were published by “The Trustees of Anthony Fleming, Deceased”

Her Wimsey stories include:

  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1921
  • The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps that Ran, 1921
  • Whose Body, 1923
  • The Abominable History of the Man with the Copper Fingers, 1924
  • The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question, 1925
  • The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will, 1925
  • The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag, 1925
  • The Learned Adventure of the Dragon’s Head, 1925
  • The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker, 1926
  • Clouds of Witness, 1926, in which Wimsey’s brother, the Duke of Denver is accused of murder.
  • Unnatural Death, 1927
  • The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste, 1927
  • The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach, 1927
  • The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face, 1928
  • Lord Peter Views the Body, 1928 (12 short stories, most in London)
  • The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention, 1928
  • The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba, 1928-1930.
  • Strong Poison (1st Harriet Vane, 1930)
  • Five Red Herrings, March 1931 (Artists in Galloway Scotland) “The plot was invented to fit a locality”
  • Have His Carcase (2nd Harriet Vane, 1932, “the locality was invented to fit a plot”–walking holiday along the beaches near Wilvercome, on the south-west coast of England)
  • Murder Must Advertise, 1933
  • In The Teeth of the Evidence, 1933
  • Hangman’s Holiday, 1933
  • The Nine Tailors, 1934
  • Striding Folly, 1934
  • Gaudy Night, 1935
  • Thrones, Dominations 1936
  • The Haunted Policeman, 1936
  • Busman’s Honeymoon, 1937
  • Talboys, 1942

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