Gentrification Watch 

The run-down apartments near Howard Park ,  above , are reminders of the hopes and dreams of the working class, from the Jewish immigrants of the sixties to the current ones from Asia .  They ,  along with so many other similar units ,  have been affordable havens for people who can’t afford more . Above all ,  they bring richness to a neighbourhood .  Just try and find soul in the West Island. I agree that there are slum lords that often run these places. But by hook or by crook ,  people have been able to live through this and overcome ,  wiser than before through the experience and empowerment attained from the knowledge they were forced to pick up . 

There are unique neighborhoods that the so -called enlightened artsy types want to be a part of . The solution ? Buy the old buildings ,  demolish them ,  and build condos . And Park Extension is rife for the picking.

In the above photo , you have a typical working class scene . A bus stop with people actually waiting and needing to take the bus , another property that needs a small upstart business to rent its locale , and old apartment buildings. Paradise ?  No . But it’s full of life and teaches empowerment . I keep harping on empowerment ,  but it is the single most important lesson to be learned in life . And it is certainly learned here . Usually through the struggle to retain one’s dignity . 

Yesterday I wrote a post on LA Place Commune ,  which brought about some backlash , telling me that they are about gentrification .  And I am questioning my initial post . As I state in it ,  there are hardly and locals in the café and the management is very lax about reaching out to the community . While this is not gentrification per se ,  it is a sign of a burgeoning class moving northward from the plateau Mont Royal to find more affordable housing and in turn more disposable income .  Maybe to buy a condo with ? 

Wouldn’t this be a great place for a condo ? Developers look for excuses all the time . Revitalisation is a common catch phrase . Meanwhile , it’s revitalized for the newcomers and out of reach for the ones who used to live here . 

People in St Henri have been through this and they’re pissed The condos in Mile Ex are too close for comfort.

It’s also bad for local businesses . And here’s a left leaning example of gentrification. And here’s a slightly more generous version of it.

 Let’s not lose our neighborhood and watch it turn into condoville . 

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La Place Commune 

Communities are built on the will of the people . They should never be built on the backs of the people .  Empowerment is the only effective way to make a community prosper . 

I was walking in the drizzle of a cool October afternoon in the rough underbelly otherwise known as the heart of Park Extension on my way to La Place Commune , a community organization that just celebrated its 1-year anniversary in August . I had an appointment with one of the managers there,  Ana Paula Duran ,  a Park Ex resident . It was 2.30 on a Saturday afternoon and it was nearing the end ofthe weekly Saturday brunch.A 3-piece band was in the middle of the café playing some experimental jazz .  I noticed a big bass ,  a flute , and an unidentified instrument .  I realized who Ana was by the way she seemed to be involved in the whole rhythm of the running of the place . I waited for her and she brought her black bean lunch to a table in the middle of the café . It was loud and we went back to sit by the side of the kitchen . Ana is such a friendly person ,  and she brings this positivity to everyone in the place . The staff seem dedicated and the patrons ,  if you will ,  look content. I’m taken back to a time when I was neck deep in the community stuff .  The patrons looked like they were not from the area . As Ana admitted ,  only part of her target audience is taking advantage of the organization . 

Park Extension is a marginalized and segregated place , where people need community projects . This didn’t exist when I was young and growing up here . Ana explains that financing is almost non -existent, but she wouldn’t turn down anice donation from someone with the means . The idea of the community outreach involved here is focused on collective gardening . Thisis different from the city -wide community gardening in that it is communal .  People all participate in the growing of the vegetables and use them together .  They share where in the community gardening they just have a plot of land to themselves . The collective promotes sustainability. Whereas the community promotes solely individual empowerment, the collective is,  ironically,  focused on community sharing.  As Ana states,  the purpose is to empower people by making them feel like they have contributed to the project. To me,  this is the bona fide cause and effect of Empowerment 101. The café is also a way of eating great local food and not relying on packaged and processed foods . As I found out a while back , it is very fulfilling for the soul as well as the palate to be able to sit down to a wholly natural meal you helped create .  

But the local population ,  made up heavily of immigrants ,  whether older European ones or newer Asian ones ,  seems to be aloof or even unaware of the existence of the place . Some see it as a coffee shop that has nothing to do with them . And therein lies the challenge of getting them involved . They are the heart and soul that Park Extension is made of .  They also need to be part of the empowerment process .  It’s time to get the word out . 

The picture above is of the burnt Greek Orthodox church a few meters from the collective .  It is where the Greek community was gathering to feel empowered in the 1960s and beyond . The people need to see the collective as an extension of this .  We need to fulfill out soul as well as our body and mind . A sense of community belonging is paramount as opposed to trying to fit in as a square peg .  

The show ended and the flutist ,  a native Californian ,  came to say goobye to the gang and my talk with Ana was over. His name is Mike and he’s an experimental musician .  We spoke of the Chicago Cubs and his love for Montreal . I got up and slowly greeted everyone goodbye . 

Associated with the collective is the art hive, an art collective bringing communities together through art. The collective is also available for other community activities . 
In short ,  people in the area need to support the organization that they are fortunate enough to have in their community that provides them with alternatives and new ideas .  Above all ,  it offers a sense of achievement.

Art in My Eye 

Art is one of the most important things in life .  It releases you from whatever degree of rigors you may be experiencing and lures you into a state of creativity removed from the bland and the ordinary .  Art is a freedom of expression that transcends the mundane and becomes more believable and desirable than reality .  It is ,  in fact ,  reality .  There can be no denying the apple of your eye ,  ears ,  and mind is real . It is the release of our inner psyche and goes a step beyond what can be seen by the fleeting glance of the passing eye . 

There is art in song ,  poetry , writing ,  painting ,  and so many other forms . Art never stops happening .  It’s just waiting for you to notice it . The easiest example is the art of song . Not the pop songs that are forced upon us , but songs from the heart that the artist writes to express themselves in hopes ,  perhaps ,  that someone will be touched by them . If no one is ,  then at least he has done a service to himself .  When forced to write ,  he winds up faltering .  This explains the fall from grace of many artists .  Mick Jagger can no longer write songs . It’s been decades since he wrote anything fruitful . 

The above image to me is art . It is a restaurant table  on the beach at night . It represents a romantic co-existence between people ,  nature and ,  in some weird way ,  the commerce of food .  And all this from a picture I took from my smartphone. Art is easier to capture nowadays when anyone can be a movie director ,  yet it is as difficult as ever to find something striking because of the simplicity of it .  The ease with which we show varied pics on social media makes us more difficult to please . 

Foodie Confessions 

I thought it fitting that now, with the  weather getting colder and the apple pies in the fridge with pumpkin pies waiting to be cooked, to look back at the last half year in food before posting anything food -related on this blog . As a foodie ,  I savour the ambiance as much as the ingredients . And this year I will have so many memories of so much good food in Greece . 

Above is stewed octopus with risotto at Koukounari Beach Bar at Romanos beach . This was the best presented dish I had . And it was delectable . 

While in Athens , I stayed at the Stanley Hotel near the Mataxourgion metro station only 4 metro stops from the Acropolis. Below is a view from the hotel roof terrace .It’s a nice hotel at a great price. But the area around the hotel consists of a bunch of hotels in the middle of a barren wasteland of urban sprawl surrounded by a ghetto .  The only place to get something to eat within walking distance that looked non -poisonous was the Bread Factory ,a labyrinth of great food ,  pastries , and Gelato .  I had the μπακαλιάρο πλακί ( flattened cod ? ). It was cod fillet stewed in vegetables . Delicious , especially having it on a small crooked table in front of a kiosk next to the subway entrance . 

 

The biggest employer in Messinia is the world renowned resort of Costa Navarino. Above is the delicious simplicity of ravioli stuffed with lobster .  Below is the eclectic and somewhat spicy lobster bisque risotto . For something billed as a Greek restaurant ,  there’s not much Greek about it . 

The best sign of a culture’s taste is the depth and richness of its comfort food . And in the southern Peloponnese , the home cooked meals that pass as comfort food can be found in any of their traditional restaurants .  No restaurant in Methoni fits the bill of family -run with great food and service more than Sapienza restaurant.

Only a couple of hundred meters from the beach , Θεία Άννα , Thanassi ,  Giota ,  and the whole family offer great food at good prices . Aunt Anna obliges all of her customers to come into the kitchen to look at her half dozen or so freshly cooked offerings and choose for themselves .  If you can’t pronounce it , just point at it .  Below is a picture of me and my niece at the restaurant before my cousin’s family had to go back to the grind of Athens . 

Above are 2 of my favorite local foods .  The first picture is one of stuffed squash flowers (usually with just white rice although I like it with minced veal mixed in as well ).

The last picture is of wild boar with potatoes in the oven . 

In the Fall of Our Existence 

FROM THE ON THE SPOT 5 MINUTE POETRY CHALLENGE 

Participe and make a difference in people’s lives.

This poem was somehow inspired by this song by Sinead O’Connor.

 

IN THE FALL OF OUR EXISTENCE 

Two lone red leaves on cold cement 

Laying alone 

Remembering all that always is at this time 

All there was

All that will never be again 
One couple in the autumn of life 

Hand in hand 

Alone in thought 

Alone and warming up by the fireplace on a ski hill

Joints aching 
There is the beautiful young lady 

The attractive young man 

Carefree 

Yet bothered by the inadequacies of their lives 

Bothered by the lack of wisdom to decide 

The man eats ,  sleeps , shits ,  and walks around being crude 

The lady diets , tries to look good ,  is neurotic ,  and often rude 

They writhe in obscurity 

Then get together 

And live a life in the spring of their lives 
It is in between somewhere 

That the middle aged man by the fireplace wants to be 

A tear in his eye 

And pain in his gut from too much gluten 

It’ll be a long night 

And the mistress is asleep already 
The young man tells the young woman he loves her 

As he looks at her face 

She looks good in the new pyjamas 

He’ll try to be faithful 
The couples watch the hail 

Hug each other 

Having gained one more piece of wisdom 

As they fall sleep 

To the sound of the rain 
Two lone red leaves 

Blown away 

In the light of night 

#poetryjam 

My Park Extension Foliage Experience 

http://montreal.about.com/od/seasonalattractions/a/quebec-fall-foliage.htm

Finally, after a very late autumn ,  probably due to global warming , the red leaves are here . Sure there’s enough foliage in Vermont and outside the Montreal metropolitan area , but the city was just teasing us with plain ordinary yellow leaves . Real Canadians want red leaves .  Don’t believe me ?  Just look at our flag . And to make it worse , Park Extension was way behind most of the rest of the city . 

This brings me back to my high school years , when Betty told me to meet her at the train tracks behind Beaumont Street where there was a tree with lovely pinkish red leaves . The day was much like it is today ,  intermittent thunderstorms . But who was I to miss an appointment with Betty ? I took my umbrella and walked the few blocks to the tree I couldn’t locate today . She was waiting , under a makeshift shelter she seemed familiar with . It was cozy and she even had room for a small comforter in the middle . The rain started ravaging the soil ,  but it was so relaxing as Betty and I didn’t talk much . After the expected had taken place , it was awkward yet comfortable to be sitting and just looking at and listening to the rain . The train passed and it caused her to talk .  She asked me if I liked her . I said everyone liked her . She said , “no , but not the way Steve and the others do . Do you like me because I’m more than that ?” She looked pathetically sad . She waited with mouth agape . I told her I liked her in both ways ,  just to cover my bases .  She started kissing me and took out a doobie . I declined her offer and just continued to sit there as the rain could be heard and seen again . 

We left and went outside the building in the picture below . There was so much foliage that we buried ourselves in it . It had been a nice walk to there ,  focusing on music and why we both liked Morrissey http://www.biography.com/people/morrissey-21415641 .  It seemed to make the mundane more attractive. And we both had  the same favourite song.

 

Betty and I went out through the winter . I had gotten the best of Steve again . You all remember Steve , right ? 

The pictures above were taken today in between thunderstorms .  It’ll soon be pumpkin season . 

Meet You in the Lane

https://slummingunslumming.wordpress.com/tag/parc-extension/
The above link shows the progress of the community as one group of immigrants coming in,  prospering,  and moving to make way for the next group.  

The above picture is of a lane thatis still one of the defining features of the area. 

The infamous Park Extension lanes were somewhere we spent a lot of time as kids.  They were a sanctuary between 2 streets that kids hung out where there was no danger of cars running us over.  Each pair of parallel north -south streets has a space between them that’s big enough to play and just wander about in. It’s safe because cars hardly ever venture there. It’s great for a pickup game of hockey or basketball. Neighbours you’d only see from your back door window now become closer than your neighbours across the street. 

It was a windy mid -afternoon in October and the basketball felt cold as we were playing 21. We knew it would be one of the last times. School was well under way and the snow would be coming soon. Our bikes were locked up because it was too cold to ride them and we were too lazy to look for our gloves.  We decided to give it up and go have some chipati at Jamie’s place. I liked the smell of his house. I had learned to really enjoy the spice smell and the mini Sikh shrine his mother had built in front of the antichambre had a nice soothing smell resonating from it. We ate the bread with some spread I’d never had before and proceeded to go out again.  There was less life in the home. His mother was constantly praying and still hadn’t gotten over her husband’s death. 

Outside was Peter.  We knew his sister had a problem with her nerves. He carried a big bag of roasted almonds. We took some and started talking about Markham. Jamie would be moving there. His uncle had set them up. Peter told us to go over to his yard to see this nest that he had discovered. 

Lo and behold,  there was half of the neighbourhood,  all waiting to tell Jamie goodbye. It was a feast for hours in the lane.  

This is something that sticks out in my memory. But there are many more. 

Neighbourhood Art 

You can tell the character of a neighbourhood by its art. These days,  most neighbourhoids’ art consists of little more than well -trimmed lawns or perhaps a rock garden. The parks are all the same and everything is so perfectly planned. Then we get to places where the people need to express themselves beyond the politically correct and mundane. On my walk today, I noticed this garage door near the corner of St Roch and Champagneur in Park Extension. I was looking for autumn leaf colours but realised it was still a bit too early to get anything more than yellow ones.

The above piece of art is what I was looking for. This is by far the best painting I’ve seen in the neighbourhood and am wondering who drew it. I assume by its vastness that it was a community effort. I would appreciate if anyone can tell me what they know about this. 

Finally,  I’d like to show you fire hydrant as art. 

A Victory for Sinclair Laird School 

http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/montreal/park-ex-sinclair-laird-park-1.3795937
Sinclair Laird Elementary School was where I went to school after coming to Canada from Greece at age 7.  It was where I learned to speak proper English.  It was also where I became a true Greek -Canadian.  I learned many life lessons here,  some not so easy or nice. I was teased and bullied for my sticking out like a sore thumb and for being so sensitive. Two years in,  in fourth grade,  I’d completely lost my accent and was competing in spelling bees representing my school.  I was in Ms. Stokes’ choir and I remember singing at an old folks’ home for Christmas. Even back then, I appreciated the look in the eyes of the seniors. I still have the image of a Mrs. Wyndham in my mind. Clear as day. The delight she got out of it. 

I remember my naivete.  I hadn’t learned what the N word meant until grade 5.  I was at something called free flow, where students taught younger students how to read better. We’d sit on the floor in pairs during class hours and let our ‘pupil ‘, as  Ms. McMahon said,  choose the book they wanted to read.  This was done 2 pairs at a time. I remember the teacher asking who wanted to volunteer for free flow and ‘Steve’ putting up his hand.  Steve was not an advanced student, to say the least.  Yet there he was raising his arm in the air like he wanted it to grow an inch.  The teacher picked the 2 of us and we went to meet the 3rd-graders.  Steve picked the book he and the little blonde girl were going to read. Ms. McMahon smiled at me and introduced me to Wayne,  a Jamaican boy. Steve had taught me a tune that had stuck to my head that was popular with the tough boys; those cool boys you wanted to hang out with for some reason. It was a tune that included the N word. Steve,  a stupid and violent boy,  looked at Wayne and then at me. He asked me where I’d learnt that song and I said from him. He reddened, smiled, and told Wayne that the N people are really fast and can even climb trees. Wayne looked unaffected. He smiled and shook his head. Steve looked at me and rubbed his right fist in his left palm. He was going to ‘give me the beats’. The bell soon rang and Wayne told me not to listen to Steve. I only found out the next day why Steve wanted to beat me up.  He wasn’t in school. In fact, he’d missed school for a week.  He never gave me the beats. But a lot of kids were shaking their heads after finding out what had happened with the only black boy in the school. Some patted me on the back but most told me I was an N lover.  

I know Wayne to this day. 

The park connected to the school on the north side made the school span for a whole city block. It was going to be bought by a Montessori school and eliminate the green space. The citizens in the area petitioned it away. Sinclair Laird is the only English school in the area. When I was there,   there were a few more. It has survived the insurgency of the Quebec government into slowly eliminating English -language schools out of any immigrant area. Although this failed development had nothing to do with this,  it’s important that a community landmark defining the lives of former and current residents of Park Extension stay intact and untouched. 

EDIT: 10/16 /2016. Here are pics of the area to have been dimolished .  For those who remember a bit in the past ,  at least in my time , the park was just grass and a baseball diamond where we would use it primarily for soccer baseball .  If anyone has a pic of it back then , I’d love to add them on here . 

Review : Caffè Neo 

Caffè Neo at 690 St. Roch St. West 

Deep in the heart of Park Extension in north-central Montreal is a quaint little café/daytime sports bar called Caffè Neo,  playing on the Greek word for coffee shop  (καφενείο). It is where I came on this rainy and cool Sunday afternoon to have a nice cold coffee and get some inspiration for my waning creativity in what should be the most creative part of the year. 

Park Extension was a mostly Greek immigrant part of town when the wave of Greeks came here mostly in the 1960s and 70s.  With most immigrants using Park Ex  (so called by the locals) as a stepping stone for bigger and better things,  the heart of the Greek community still lies here,  even if the Greeks living here are among one of many minorities.  This is where the Greek Independence Day parade takes place for the entire Montreal metropolitanarea every end of March.  Indeed,  our Prime Minister calls this his district.  But more of that in a future entry. 

The run down street of St Roch is home to a café that serves more as a meeting place for younger Greeks or Greek -Canadians than the ones that have been here for decades.  Most of them live in or near the area.  The picture above shows that the neighborhood has been neglected by the city. What’s PM Trudeau doing about his district? 

Across the street is a place the owner refers you to if you want a τυρόπιτα  (cheese pie). It is owned by a Turk,  a once -hated rival. But it’s good to see there is harmony. Youcan even bring it to the café and have it with your coffee. 

The array of coffees is great.  There’s the ever popular Greek coffee as well as the better known cappuccino and espresso.  I have tried to find a good Greek coffee in Montreal and, outside of senior centres and hangouts,  this is the only place that actually makes a more than decent one.  Please let me know if you know of another.  

The cold choices are Frappé and Freddo.  The Frappé is my favourite, although I’m told it’s becoming passe.  Both are delicious,  and easily distinguishable from other imitators.  I was told illy coffee is used,  which is a more than decent brand. 

The service is always courteous and with a smile with actual Greek girls serving you. It looks like the immigration has picked up again. 

AThe popular games on Sunday afternoons are the direct soccer feeds from Greece. The NFL fans would be disappointed that their 1 PM game would not be playing. There may be a need for more TV screens. 

The café has almost as many women as men and it’s a warm place to be. The service is great and the ambience is relaxing with its acid jazzy background music. The snacks are fine and the coffee’s excellent. 

PROS: Great ambience and coffee 

CONS : Too few TV screens and the snacks need an update 

OVERALL : 4/5