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Arts and Culture Community

For Whom the Bells Toll

Reminiscing on simpler times, Suzanne Ohana remembers the cold snap that sifted into her boutique with every swing of the door as waves of fiancées and bridesmaids filed in, eagerly awaiting their dream dress fitting. Today, those same doors appear welded shut, of use only to the shop’s owner, the rare journalist and the even rarer client. 

Until a few years ago, spring brought the prosperity and hopes of wedding season to Plaza St-Hubert, the city’s hub for bridal services. Such hope has turned to despair and uncertainty, as Montreal business owners who once felt blessed to be part of a thriving commercial district now feel trapped within it. They are struggling to justify the ends to their means as the wedding industry is seeing a structural transition. 

For over 30 years, Ohana has owned La Mère Des Mariées Suzanne Couture, a bridal boutique at Plaza St-Hubert. As a Moroccan immigrant, she moved to Montreal 50 years ago, owning several stores throughout her time in Canada, using her business ventures to make a name for herself in a foreign land. Now in her seventies, Ohana sold all her businesses except for La Mère Des Mariées, which she is desperately trying to rid herself of despite her attachment to the place. 

“I’m going to be honest. If my merchandise was not already paid off, I would have left a long time ago. Never would I stay here,” Ohana said. With over $2 million worth of products to sell and little to no customers, the boutique owner feels stuck, saying: “Even if I cut everything down to half-price, no one would come, and I would rather burn every dress I have than sell them cheap”. 

Ohana is one of many Plaza St-Hubert tenants who are feeling the pressures related to the shift in the wedding industry. For over 50 years, Montreal’s home for bridal services has been a staple of the city’s commercial and cultural heritage. Though it now offers a wide array of entertainment and culinary attractions, bridal boutiques, shoe stores, tailors and haberdasheries litter the kilometer-long strip that is home to over 400 businesses. 

Though the street’s prosperity strongly relies on the wedding industry, across the last 20 years, St-Hubert’s Société de Développement Commercial brought the plaza’s vacancy rate down to 3 per cent from a previous 15 per cent high according to the association’s executive director Mike Parente, establishing it as one of Montreal’s premier commercial areas. 

Regardless, medium- to high-end suppliers of wedding goods and services around the city are confused, as they have seen a dramatic drop in customer interaction and sales. 

According to Statistics Quebec, the number of couples getting married in the province is similar to, if not higher than, pre-pandemic numbers. 

Thomas Fresco, a Concordia University alumni, has been planning his wedding since February and came across many unplanned setbacks. According to him and his fiancée, most services, such as bouquets, pastries, and even make-up and hair, increase in price solely due to the nature of their celebration. 

“It’s ridiculous. Everyone’s trying to make extra money because of inflation. Like for [my fiancée’s] hair, she finally found a place that was cheap for the bride; it was $300,” Fresco said. “If I tell them it’s for my birthday, it’s $70, but as soon as they hear “wedding,” they jack up the price.”

Due to such increases in service prices, couples are looking for cheaper alternatives wherever they can, turning towards Amazon and other online outlets for discounts. Within the last decade, businesses of all industries have faced the threat of e-commerce, as customers can now purchase medium-high quality goods for less, which is especially threatening to small business owners within the St-Hubert plaza as the average Canadian wedding costs $30 thousand, and consumers are chasing convenient online discounts over local markets. 

“They [customers] only come to us to get their measurements taken. Or they only come to take pictures because they want the same dress but cheaper online. Others [owners] take them because they’re dumb, but not me,” Ohana shared. 

Customers are starting to feel the owners’ frustration seep through their service. A group of teenagers from the West Island were taken aback by how rude certain owners were to potential customers upon their visit for prom dresses. They shared that some owners immediately brushed them off or rushed them out of their shops since no parent with the means to pay for the dresses accompanied them. 

George Nader, owner of the Noces Royales bridal boutique, tries not to transfer his frustrations onto his clients as he understands their predicament. He states that in this day and age, consumers will do what they must to stay afloat and carry on. He instead criticizes the city for its lack of support, as he believes it taxes small businesses disproportionately compared to conglomerates. 

“We get tax increases; that’s how the government shows their support,” he said. “$2000 in city taxes is too much for a small business.”

Mayor Valérie Plante announced this January that, through its Petite et Moyenne Entreprise Montréal initiative, the city would invest $36.7 million in small businesses and their support networks.  

To promote business within the plaza, Mayor Plante and Mike Parente hosted a press conference on April 9 announcing that between July 4 and Aug. 25, a stretch of the plaza will be pedestrian-only to make the street more accessible. 

Though the initiative is promising for the local community, business owners such as Ohana and Nader have lost faith in the city. Business owners across the strip are adapting to the shifting market on their own by selling lower-quality products, pandering to different styles of merchandise and cutting staff. 

Back when the wind blew customers through her doors in droves, Suzanne Ohana recognized the value of Plaza St-Hubert as a cultural and economic anchor and saw a future within the community. These days, she sees no advantage to settling into the plaza, as inflated taxes cut new business owners at the knee, and the wedding industry drawbacks outweigh the benefits of a communal market, regardless of the plaza’s resilience and commercial success. 

“The city does nothing at all for us; they do absolutely nothing. They just want to touch our taxes,” Ohana said. “I do not have any employees. We used to be five saleswomen and two seamstresses working all day, but now I am all alone, and business is going very badly.”

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Arts and Culture

An interview with Heather O’Neill

The celebrated novelist sat down with our Editor-in-Chief to discuss her published works and an upcoming novel. 

Montreal is ripe with celebrated authors, like Leonard Cohen, Mordecai Richler, and Heather O’Neill. On a sunny Tuesday morning in March, following a win on the Canada Reads game show, O’Neill met up with The Concordian to discuss her literary journey. 

The Concordian: Thank you again for sitting down with me. Let’s start by learning a little more about you.

Heather O’Neill: I was born here in Montreal and then my parents got a divorce. My mother took me to the American South, which is where she is originally from and I lived there with her for a while. After some years, she decided she didn’t want to be a mother anymore and sent me back to Montreal to live with my father.

TC: I’m so sorry to hear that. Through all that, when did you discover your passion for writing?

H.O.: I remember it started when I was in elementary school. I remember back when I was eight or nine, I got a journal for my birthday. I started journaling and I loved doing that. It was my favorite part of the day, getting back to my journal and describing my day. It was like the journal was the only person on my side. Afterward, in grade five, I had a teacher who was very excited about my writing. I remember she gave me this little folder and she told me to keep everything because she told me I’d be a great writer.

TC: I love that. Going into your young adult life, what was the first major inspiration for your first novel?

H.O.: Funny enough, I was in a workshop at Concordia. I wrote a short story with the characters that ended up in Lullabies for Little Criminals, Baby and Jules. I noticed that story in particular got a lot of attention and seemed to capture the attention of the readers. So I sent it to a magazine and it got published. After it got nominated for the Journey Prize, I told myself, “Okay, I have something here.”

TC: How do you feel now that your written works are now being studied in courses, like an English class that I took at Concordia?

H.O.: It’s funny because it’s just starting to hit me now, that sort of appraisal. As an artist, you don’t have a sense of the outside world. Now, turning 50 this year, I think I am slowly starting to see that impact. I have so many young women writers who have come up to me and told me that they have read my books.

TC: Which of your books do you find people come and talk to you about the most? 

H.O.: It’s hard to say, but Lullabies for Little Criminals has been around for the longest. I would say The Lonely Hearts Hotel has really struck a chord in people. 

TC: What would your advice be to young writers who are just starting out?

H.O.: I don’t know what exactly my advice would be because a novel is such a strange beast. I think people just get gripped by it and you can’t stop the writing until you finish it. It’s a lot like Narnia, you get into a novel and you don’t know how much time you’ll spend on it. When you finally finish that novel it could’ve been over a span of 10 years or even six months. The madness is real for sure.

TC: What does your writing process look like?

H.O.: I write in a very rough way, where I already have the idea of the novel in my head. It always changes as I go along. When I start the novel, I write the different scenes from different parts of the book to kind of get a feel of how it’s going to look. After that, I piece everything together into a legible book. Then I send it off to my editor and it goes back and forth four to five times.

TC: Do you currently have anything in the works?

H.O.: I have one coming out in September. This novel is my first that is not set in Montreal. It’s set in this little imaginary country and in this country, they base their entire identity on the arts. They have this incredible arts culture, but then they get occupied by another country. It’s sort of how occupying forces first destroy the artists.
Fans have been eagerly awaiting O’Neill’s next novel since her last release in 2022, When We Lost Our Heads. For updates on O’Neill’s newest creation, have a look at her Instagram account, which she shares with her daughter, @oneillreads.

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Arts and Culture

From dice to devices: Exploring the digital renaissance of board games

In-person or online, gaming experiences are multiple in player perspectives.

Board games have undergone a resurgence in the digital age in the past twenty years, bridging the gap between traditional experiences and virtual platforms. For example, games like Catan (1995), which got an online version in 2005, the old and popular tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (1974), with its first digital platform came out in 2006, and even ancient chess exemplify the successful transition of classic games into immersive digital formats. 

This fusion of technology and board gaming not only preserves the essence of beloved titles but also introduces innovative elements, ushering and unlocking an era of interconnected play. The perspectives are plural. Three professionals from the gaming industry shared their perspective about the renaissance of these games and their impact in game culture.

“I play Dungeons and Dragons with my high school friends. During the pandemic, for example, most of us were living together in the same apartment, so it was a great escape from all the weirdness and great pretext to see each other,” Simon Gervais said. 

To Gervais, online board games or tabletops don’t necessarily threaten any gaming experience; they can allow people to practice when an in-person meeting is not accessible, for example. 

“Online versions truly make it more accessible for people that may not have a group of friends, or don’t have a group to play, or simply don’t want to leave their home. There’s no bad side—it’s more time management related,” Gervais said.

Stanley Gee-Silverman, who plays online chess and Catan with random people almost every day, believes that games like chess create their own desire to make time, as opposed to being a time fill. 

“It lets you play many more games than you normally could, against many different people,” he said. “It allows you to share your hobby with people around the world, who are similar to you. They are from everywhere: Brazil, Turkey, China, France, the U.S., Germany…” 

Gee-Silverman doesn’t think that these new online versions will threaten friendly gatherings. “It can make people do it more. And like most things, if that feels [playing online] like it is happening, you can evaluate your experience to keep it or not. They are two different things, two different perspectives and experiences,” Gee-Silverman said. “It’s opened, one doesn’t replace the other.” 

Faris Musallam believes that board games turning into online versions sound great. According to him, people normally want to play board games for their social aspect. If they are into the game more than the social aspect, it’s cool for them to have a way to play without finding people to play with. 

“If I don’t have real people to play with, I just don’t play them. That’s because I value the social aspect. People would only be drawn online if the social aspect wasn’t important to them, or if certain constraints prevent them from meeting physically,” says Musallam.

In essence, the shift of board games to digital platforms over the past two decades represents more than just a transition; it’s an expansion of the board gaming universe and culture, enabling a diverse range of experiences that cater to both traditionalists and those seeking the convenience and connectivity of online play.

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Arts and Culture

Montreal’s sexiest subculture: fetish & kink

A deep dive into one of Montreal’s most secretive scenes and the community surrounding it.

Poutine, the Habs, French, and Mount Royal are the things that might generally come to mind when someone from outside the city thinks of Montreal. How about chains, whips, floggers, leather, and latex? 

Montreal is widely regarded as a global kink capital, featuring one of the largest fetish conventions in the world, a secretive yet growing kink scene, and an active passionate community. In 2024, just a short time after the scene mostly shut down and reopened following the COVID-19 pandemic, it is quickly evolving. 

What was once a largely secretive and private scene is increasingly becoming open to the public. A community that struggles with fracturing and drama is adapting to new values, as kink culture increasingly begins to intersect with queer culture. Behind all this change are venues and events that have revolutionized the scene by being open to the public and relatively affordable. 

Every year for the past almost two decades, fetish culture has taken over the streets on Labour Day weekend. Attracting thousands of local and even international fetish enthusiasts from the United States and Europe, Montreal Fetish Weekend (MFW) is the city’s largest fetish event. The event consists of workshops, expos, film screenings, social dinners, cocktail hours, and scandalous parties with music, dance, kinky play, and fashion shows, that take over Montreal’s nightlife. The event finally culminates on Sunday with a photo walk that dominates the streets with lingerie, leather, and latex fashion.

The large-scale event is produced by Eric Paradis, aged 58. Paradis has been active in the local fetish scene for the past 35 years and debuted the MFW in 2004. He believes that the local scene would heavily benefit from more political and media recognition. 

“It’s healthy, but it’s very underground when you compare it to other cities,” Paradis said of the local scene. 

The MFWd will be returning for its 20th anniversary this year, and Paradis teased some ambitious ideas. A fashion show led by the attendants of the event, a welcome dinner atop Place Ville Marie, and a kinky cruise touring the city from the St. Lawrence River are just some of the things attendants may potentially expect this year.

While the MFW has been a staple of the local scene for the better part of the last two decades, it has a significant barrier to entry with its pricing. The weekend trio pass costs around $200, while the V.I.P passes are upwards of $300, pricing out lower-income fetishists from many of the weekend’s events. It is also only held once a year. Certain newer public venues and events are lowering this barrier to entry by being much cheaper and running all year round. 

A portal into the world of kink can be found in a humble doorway in Montreal’s Gay Village, with a simple sign reading “TENSION.” Past the welcome area, visitors will find a large open space with a wooden floor, often covered in Japanese tatami, adorned by a massive “rope tree” in the center, its “branches” interconnecting and knotting with each other throughout the ceiling. 

Tension is a venue with a focus on teaching shibari (Japanese rope bondage), but also offers yoga classes, workshops on rope, as well as other elements of BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism) play, social communal events that bring like-minded people together, and even occasional parties. Founded originally in late 2017 as a smaller venue, Tension moved to a much larger venue on St-Catherine Street in March 2019. 

According to 33-year-old Christophe Bolduc, one of the owners of Tension, shibari has appeals for both the person doing the tying (the rigger) and the person being tied (the bottom). This and other forms of rope bondage involve using rope to restrain someone and restrict their movement, though it can potentially be very artistic. 

Bolduc was introduced to the ex-owner of Tension and was first tied upon his visit to the venue. It was then that he realized the depth of the craft, and his interest in rope was sparked. He began taking classes in 2018 and joined the Tension team in late 2019.

While shibari offers a new form of artistic expression to those who practise it as riggers and a unique immersive sensory experience for bottoms, it is not entirely safe. Bolduc stressed that shibari could be dangerous when not done safely, with risks such as nerve compression & damage. Physical safety is emphasized in the classes taught at Tension.

Tension calls itself a “safer space,” and the team is constantly trying to improve for its community. The staff accomplishes this through various methods, including community talks, teaching classes on consent & negotiation, placing an emphasis on emotional safety, and accountability circles, where clients can contact a neutral party with issues or conflicts.

After struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic like other non-essential businesses, Tension is now finally seeing some solid growth. “It’s reassuring that the community has been managing to constantly show up,” Bolduc said. 

In stark contrast to the Zen atmosphere of Tension, a monthly event features strobe lights, lingerie, a dungeon, and the ear-splitting hard bass of hardcore techno music, LATEX is Montreal’s most trendy kink event right now. The event attracts hundreds of ravers every month and, most recently, international DJs from Germany and Iceland. It will be returning for a special edition in collaboration with the Pornceptual collective on March 15. 

Held monthly at Union Française de Montreal on Viger Avenue, LATEX has a strictly-enforced kinky dress code. The event features performances including shibari, pole dances, and other kinky performances. The event also includes a dungeon equipped with large restraints such as X-crosses, as well as sex toys like plastic floggers and paddles, allowing attendants to play.

Juliana (Jules) Schlamp, aged 20, is a regular at the event. She’s been to six events so far, having attended her first LATEX in April. She was introduced to the world of kink through a chance discovery after leaving Stereo nightclub and seeing people in their outfits lined outside the event venue. 

“Unreal,” Schlamp said of her first experience at the rave. “It was truly extraordinary. To see the level of comfort, what people were wearing… and nobody was hitting on each other, it was so consensual and such a respectful space.” For Schlamp,  the event feels like a safe space where, if ever she were ever in danger, her fellow ravers would help her. 

Former dungeon monitor, photographer, and DJ at LATEX, Ben Ohayon (known in the scene as warmrubberette), quit the event back in September. He cited safety concerns due to mixing kink with loud music, drugs, and alcohol. Schlamp expressed a similar concern, saying  that as the event attracts more people, it becomes harder to filter out bad actors, and the event becomes less safe. 

Ohayon is the organizer of Rubber Regalia, Montreal’s only latex-dress code party, as well as Dirty AF, the kink scene’s newest addition and the first-ever hip-hop/Y2K-themed kink party, hosted at Cabaret Berlin.  Dirty AF returned for its second edition in January, and Ohayon plans to continue hosting the event every few months, with the next event being scheduled for May.

As Ohayon recognizes, Kink culture in Montreal has begun to increasingly intersect with queer culture. Referring to concepts such as switching (when one switches positions from top to bottom or vice versa) that have been imported from queer culture, Ohayon said: “That makes kink even more accessible because there’s less constraints associated with it. There’s more possibilities, more labels. You can explore it the way you want to explore it without being judged.”

Organizers of the community are generally optimistic about the future of the local scene. As Paradis said: “Montreal will always find a way to express its creativity and its kinkier side.”  

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Arts and Culture Community Culture

The art of teaching yourself a new language

By creating their own strategies, these learners unlocked their skills in speaking a new language naturally.

What was the last thing you learned on your own? What motivated you to do it? Not everyone learns in the same way, and not all techniques work for everyone. However, that is the magic: creating your own learning methods and understanding why you want to learn something is a great way to get to know yourself and it  can greatly enrich your life, especially when it comes to learning a new language. 

Jessica Dewling has been into Korean music and K-pop for a few years, which inspired her to learn more about Korea, its language and its history. She is planning a trip to Korea in October and feels that learning Korean in advance would not only be helpful, but more respectful to the people she meets as she explores the country. “A lot of the culture is ingrained in the language so I felt like it was important to get at least a basic understanding of it,” she said. 

To learn Korean, Dewling decided to invest in her own methods, which are more inspiring and pleasurable to her. “I’m starting with the writing system, Hangul, which is notorious for being easy to grasp pretty fast and hopefully moving towards pronunciation and vocabulary,” she explained. “Right now, I’m using Duolingo as well as a workbook that was very popular on Amazon.” Jessica stressed that learning at her own pace using a variety of free resources is essential for her progress, once she is not being taught by an instructor.

Colt Sweetland is currently learning Brazilian Portuguese. For him, learning languages is the key to unlocking doors to cultural insights that you wouldn’t have access to if you weren’t able to hold conversations and make connections with people in their native language.

“My motivation came from a combination of friendly encouragement from friends I’ve made through both work and university and the fire inside to keep fulfilling an inner lifelong challenge of becoming more familiar with various cultures around the world,” he said. 

For Colt, total immersion has always been the best learning method. “What’s helpful for me is setting all personal and leisure electronic devices into the language you want to learn to begin being exposed to it right away,” he said. “It can be intimidating at first, but you may find that you’ll become acquainted with it sooner.”

Colt started by learning the conversational basics in Brazilian Portuguese, such as all forms of greetings, numbers and proper nouns. To progress further, he invested in learning the five most common Brazilian Portuguese verbs in the present tense and then hand-writing all the conjugations ten times each. “Repetition is a key component of memorization, and for me, writing by hand helps ensure new words sink in more permanently,” he said.

To practice listening, Colt will switch the audio on films he is watching to the language he wants to learn, but will keep the subtitles in English. Eventually, once he is familiar enough, he will change the subtitles to the new language as well. “I also personally prefer to seek out local content online such as Brazilian news and TV series if possible, along with finding some children’s books or comics that can make it more fun! I believe there’s so much that can be learned through one’s own means during spare time and for free if the willpower is there to keep going,” Colt said. 

The pursuit of language mastery is not just about acquiring linguistic skills; it’s a profound voyage of self-discovery, cultural connection, and the fulfillment of lifelong challenges. In the realm of language learning, the magic lies in the unique methods we craft for ourselves, fostering a deeper understanding of not just the language but also the rich tapestry of our own identities.

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Arts and Culture Community

A farewell to Momesso’s: Contemplating the void left in its wake

After 46 years serving , Paolo Momesso is retiring on top and closing shop on his own terms, a privilege that few restaurant owners are privy to in today’s financial climate.

“We would like to thank you all for your support all these years. Sadly, as of today, we will officially close our doors. Thank you!” Those were the words posted to Facebook on Jan. 22 by the official Momesso’s restaurant account. Just like that, a single post tore a hole in the fabric of the city’s culinary tapestry as one of Montreal’s iconic inns heralded its closure a week ahead of schedule. 

The owner of NDG’s renowned Italian eatery, Paolo Momesso, had publicly announced the restaurant’s impending closure two weeks prior, planning to serve their last subs on the weekend of Jan. 26-27. At that announcement, hundreds of hungry and nostalgic Montrealers came in droves to take one final bite of the diner’s legacy, emptying their final stock prematurely and shutting it down a week earlier than expected. 

It was at 5562 Upper Lachine Rd back in 1978 that Momesso’s Café served the first of their now culturally renowned subs under founding father, Alessandro Momesso. Forty-six years later, Paolo Momesso, the restaurant’s owner and older brother to Montrealer and Canadiens legend Sergio Momesso, attributed his age to the closure of their iconic café. The 68-year-old Momesso took over the family business after the passing of his father in 2006, upholding the family values that characterized the restaurant as a staple of NDG and its immigrant culture. 

Speaking on Momesso’s cultural presence within the area, NDG city councilor Peter McQueen said, “It’s really too bad that the family decided they did not want to continue operating it [the restaurant]. It’s just a huge loss. The Momessos are a huge part of the St-Raymond community.” 

As a prominent cultural beacon, Momesso stated that to preserve the restaurant’s legacy and memory within the city, he shut the place down rather than sell the business and brand to an outsider. 

Though Paolo Momesso closed shop on his own accord, the closure of such a symbolic institution of city culture is always cause for concern, even more so amidst the current state of the city’s economy, which has drastically affected Montreal’s culinary diaspora for over a decade, accentuated by the effects of the pandemic. 

According to the Association Restauration du Québec’s (ARQ) latest polls, the province has seen a decrease of over 3,000 restaurant permit holders since 2019, strongly affecting the city’s cultural and economic identity.

Restaurants are community anchors. For one, they are social hubs. After all, the point of wining and dining revolves around the communal element. Restaurants also allow for cultural blending as the culinary industry fractures barriers to immigrants who value cuisine and lack social connections in the city.

Despite the province heralding 22.4 per cent of the country’s culinary real estate, 66 per cent of total restaurant bankruptcies in the country occurred in Quebec in 2022. 

Additionally, the province is tied with British Columbia for having the highest chain-to-independent restaurant rates, with independent restaurants only-narrowly maintaining half of the market. 

The director of public and government affairs at the ARQ, Dominique Tremblay, believes that owning a restaurant is more difficult than it used to be due to inflation and that business owners are now facing twice the hurdles. She spoke to the current state of the culinary industry saying: “They’re feeling the effects of the increase in service and food prices, and on the other hand, they’re feeling the consumer’s reaction to inflation, as people have less money in their pockets to spend.” 

Amidst the challenges, city mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal is investing in the culinary industry to ease the stress plaguing the city’s restaurant and small business owners. Despite the city’s efforts, however, owners are still feeling the pressures of the fractured state of the industry. 

“We’re trying to keep businesses alive and well right here in Montreal so people can shop in their local neighborhood, walk to the businesses, and walk to eat out,” McQueen explained. Through the PME initiative (Petite et Moyenne Entreprise) the city has forwarded $37 M to help support local businesses on local arteries in Montreal. 

Victor Santopietro, part-owner of St-Leonard Italian eatery and culinary hub Milano’s Café, appreciates the city’s efforts yet remains skeptical of the efficacy of such initiatives. “Listen, if you don’t help yourself, the city doesn’t do much,” Santopietro said, stifling a laugh. “Do they help us? You know, you have to help yourself, that’s the best advice I can give.” 

According to him, the major hurdles that restaurants currently face are staff turnover and increased food prices, especially when trying to buy locally. 

Santopietro emphasizes the importance of not only buying local, but also the impact that restaurants have on their subsequent communities. “It’s not an easy business,” he said. “We have to understand that no one is invincible, there’s a beginning and an end to everything”. Milano’s Café is a staple of the St-Leonard community as it s a meeting ground for not only the older generations of Italians in the city who make their daily track for an espresso and a sub, but for the younger generations of Montrealers as well, who immerse themselves in the cultural wealth of the community through food. 

Eateries like Milano’s around the city have been adapting by cutting their schedule and simplifying their menu to save on labor and food costs. However, the responsibility of financial responsibility to preserve culturally significant restaurants lies on the shoulders of the consumer as much as it does the owners. 

“Is it their obligation [to help]? No. But it is nice if you support your local businesses,” Santopietro said. “We try to buy a lot of local products so we can make the economy roll instead of buying overseas, but at a certain point you try to do what’s best for yourself.”

There are countless long-standing culinary gems offering delicious goods and spreads at every street corner. Though times might be bleak, Montrealers play a key role in preserving the city’s culinary identity. As Santopietro said, “Just pass by for a coffee sometimes. Once a month, instead of going to a big chain restaurant, help out the regular Joe.”

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Arts and Culture Community Culture Student Life

Resisting the threat of cultural dissolution: Associazione Casacalendese di Montréal.

Many of Montreal’s Italian associations are disbanding due to a decline in communal participation, yet one in particular thrives amidst adversity.

On Nov. 11, 2023, sounds of laughter, clinking glasses, and gleeful reminiscing danced across the walls at Roma Receptions as a room of nostalgic  countrymen honoured their cultural heritage and celebrated l’Associazione Casacalendese di Montréal’s 99th anniversary. 

During a speech, Jon Carlo Santangelo, the group’s president, highlighted the strength of membership and attendance within the association, praising the community and wholly attributing their successes to the people’s efforts. “We are 100 percent self-financed… we’re not open to the public, and we are restrictive in membership, and there is a stigma that these associations are your grandparent’s associations. But in the last two years, we have been building ourselves up, and people are joining and coming back around after Covid. Last year was our first banquet post-Covid, and we had 120 people. We had 175 this year,” he said.   

While members of this Montreal-based Italian association celebrate their collective prosperity with food, wine, music, and good company, members of many other associations within the city have been adapting to a life devoid of such celebrations. 

Most associations in Montreal representing a specific Italian town/area were founded between the 1940s and the 1980s to financially support Italian immigrants with no ties to this city, allowing them to bond with people from their hometown. Not only do the members of Italian associations share regional ties, but many are genetically linked and discover deeper genealogical roots through the exchange of cultural insight and anecdote. 

Today, Montreal’s Italian community is in a transitional period as the older generations that have defined the community and held such an essential role in its survival are passing away. With their passing comes the passing of traditions and practices that the younger generations are not actively preserving. As a result, membership rates across Montreal have drastically decreased in the last 10 years, with eight associations from the Southern Italian region of Molise alone shutting down in a period of five years. 

While Santangelo’s association celebrated in November, Angela D’Orazio, a former member of the Grupo Recreativo Montenerodomo from the province of Chieti, Abruzzo, is still processing the demise, after 51 years, of her association that once hosted its own gathering in the basement of the Mount-Carmel Church. “We threw a last party [a few months ago] and the turnout was amazing; it was one of our biggest turnouts. You know, we used to go to halls, get dressed up, buy new outfits, gun blazing, and here we were, in the basement of a church. Everyone knew it was the last meeting, but all the old members came—they came in wheelchairs—and I was in tears,” D’Orazio said.. 

Mimma Scarola, a former member of l’Associazione Maria Santissima di Merllitto from the region of Grumo, Appula in Bari, echoed D’Orazio’s sentiments. Her association shut down 10 years ago, after participation had been in steep decline during the last five years of its existence. “My family was so involved, so our younger generations loved to go—we enjoyed it. My kids still ask me about it now, but it wasn’t like that for everyone. There were a lot of people from the association who didn’t participate as much, and you couldn’t even get them to come to the parties. When they [older members] started dying out, their kids didn’t come,” Scarola said.  

Francesca Sacerdoti, assistant director at the Congrès National des Italo-Canadiens (région Québec), has seen a substantial increase in interest regarding the Italian culture in Montreal, but not necessarily from Italians themselves. Being an organizer of the annual Italfest, a two-week celebration of Montreal’s Italian heritage in the heart of the city, Sacerdoti noted that the festival is growing in attendance every year. However, she acknowledged that members of the Italian community are generally less active than they used to be. 

Sacerdoti’s  colleague, Terry Lorito, believes the cause for declining participation is that the younger Italian generations are “too integrated into our society.”  “They’re Canadians, they’re Quebecers, and their Italian comes third,” Lorito said.

Despite the dwelling concerns, President  Santangelo has high hopes for the future of l’Associazione Casacalendese di Montréal. “As long as the Italian identity is alive, people will want to flock to it, but we need a rebirth, and I think that’s what we’re successful in with the association.” The association brings  in youthful participation through their scholarship program. They also encourage families to attend events by blending the music at parties for the young and old, marketing their celebrations across social media, and tailoring their  efforts towards the future. “I think if we can keep it real but pivot just a little bit, then I think we should be okay,” he concluded. 

Categories
Arts Arts and Culture Culture Student Life

Morocco and feminism embodied in a card game        

Two Moroccan artists share their journey through the production of a card game that transmits their culture and values.

This interview features the creators of Darone, Safae Mounsif, also known as, Sfiya, and Donia Zahir, discussing their production of a card game that offers a glimpse of Morocco through a feminist lens. The cards can be used to play any game, but they were originally inspired by the game Ronda. Learn more about their work at their website here or on their Instagram @darone.art.        

Serena Abouljoud: Let’s start from the beginning. How did the two of you meet? What made you want to start this project together?

Sfiya: So, I’m a visual artist and Donia is a web designer. We wanted to use our two skills to make a project from the beginning to the end and to share this experience together. We wanted to create a medium that will be different from a painting, something that will be more accessible to the user. In visual arts, you always have this distance between you and the artwork. You can’t always touch it or understand it. We wanted to remove this distance and use a medium that people can touch and that will create a kind of socialization. This is why we thought of a card game. People can touch it, use it, and play with it.

Donia Zahir: Before Darone, we worked a lot together, mainly on Sfiya’s projects. We worked a lot on her exposition “H’RIRA,” which was around the theme of Morocco, and one of her projects was a card from the card game Ronda. When I saw it, I felt something there, I had this image of when I was young and playing Ronda. Then at that moment, we were like, we should do a card game that represents the people from Morocco.

SA: Can you tell me more about the aspects of Morocco and the concepts that inspired this card game?

Sfiya: We got directly inspired by Ronda, which is very popular among Moroccans. Playing Ronda with the family and neighbors is something very important in our culture. In Morocco, you can’t just go karting or bowling, you have to create these activities within the house, and so cards are amazing for that since you have endless game options. We liked the idea of connecting this memory of us playing cards and revisiting it.

DZ: Ronda is actually a Spanish game, so there are a lot of white men and for me, that did not really represent our country or culture. We felt it was important to reproduce this card game using our own images of Morocco.

Sfiya: We kept the same symbols, but we replaced the old Spanish characters with Moroccan ones. We made a few changes to fit our values too. For example, this is a feminist card game—the most powerful card of the game is the queen. Our kings are babies, the children of the queens. All our knights are women with motorcycles. In Morocco, the only city where you see women riding motorcycles is Marrakesh. Each time we go there, we are just so fascinated. All these women were riding motorcycles, while still wearing their Djellabas and Kaftans. This is all coming from our version of Moroccan feminism.

DZ: We added symbols that would fit the concept of our collection too. The knives for example, are from Morocco. Our queens are also dancers. We wanted the cards to represent how we see our country every day and the power of feminists from Morocco. 

Sfiya: In Morocco, it’s called “shikhat” and up to now, they are very controversial figures because they were the first women to have a free relationship with their bodies. The first to think about politics, love, relationships and sexuality. They would sing and dance in front of a mixed audience, and they were often related to prostitution because of their relationship with their bodies. For us, they were icons, Moroccan feminists, which is why we wanted to have them as the queens of the game.

SA: Is there a piece that you are particularly proud of or that holds a lot of significance to you?

DZ: I feel like mine is the warrior on the bike with a knife, where she’s almost screaming. It’s a beautiful and powerful card. I think it’s one of our best ones.

Sfiya: For me, it’s the queen with the tea being poured on her. She looks very happy. Some people see something very sexual in it, but I don’t. When I was drawing it, I felt it represented freedom, the ability to dance and be a bit provocative. 

SA: How did you combine your artistic skills for this project?

DZ: At first, we disagreed about the style. Sfiya wanted something that looked like a painting, and I wanted something cleaner, more numeric, and refined. It was challenging for me to adapt to her style.

Sfiya: Yeah. For me, it was good exercise to try and get out of my comfort zone. Donia is also a graphic designer, so when she tells me that these colors won’t work, or comments on anything technical, I trust her opinion. We trust each other.

DZ: We did a lot of compromising as well. The first drawing Sfiya made, I redid it in a more comic-like style. I defined the lines a bit more, but she insisted I keep using painting brushes, so I tried following her style. It was hard not to have something completely clean. 

SA: Are your drawings mainly digital or did you implement other styles and techniques as well?

Sfiya: It’s all digital, but it somehow looks like a painting because I’m a painter. It was not even done on purpose, it’s just my way of doing digital art. We also wanted to make these cards different from other types of cards. We wanted them to be simple and clean, but also artsy so it won’t look too rigid as a drawing. I think the artistic brushes are what makes them unique.

Serena Abouljoud: What did the production process look like?

Sfiya: The process of creating the cards was very long. We went through two different phases. At first, Donia was waiting for me to finish the drawings, then I was waiting for her to finish the graphic design work, which is taking my drawings, framing them, and doing all the regulations.

DZ: I was in charge of the more technical aspects and printing related things. Our first tries were completely different from what we ended up producing. We changed the colors a lot. We started with lighter ones, then we decided to go with more powerful shades. It was difficult to find balance but once we found it, we immediately moved on to the production.

Sfiya: One of the most challenging parts of the production was trying to find a place to print the cards. We wanted to be ethical about it because it’s a project that meant a lot to us, we had many of our values injected into it, and so we wanted to be proud of not just our creation, but also the way we produced it.

DZ: After months and months of looking, we finally found someone. Our deck turned out a bit different because we did not use classic paper. We used a type of paper that does not exist in Canada but has much better quality.  

Sfiya: Yes, it’s better because it’s waterproof and you can’t tear it apart. We wanted it to be sustainable so that people can have it for years, and for kids to be able to play with it and manipulate it without being worried. We could have printed them in some place much cheaper, but we wanted to make sure we do it here to help local and family businesses, and with people we like and share the same values with.

SA: What is the meaning behind the name of your business?

DZ: We thought about it a lot. We wanted a name that is meaningful and shows that we are a feminist company. Darone is basically Ronda, the game we got inspired by, but in reverse. Darone is also a powerful way to say “the mother” in French: the mother of a family, a group, the boss of the house.

Sfiya: When you use the word “Darone,” it does not necessarily relate to having a child—it’s about being a powerful yet caring woman. In our card game, the queen is the most powerful figure, and the king is the child of the queen, which makes her a Darone.   

DZ: We talked about it a lot and in the end, we thought this was obviously the best name for the company and the concept in general. 

Categories
Opinions

No Living Wage? Here’s a toonie

Why we should all be tipping well.

Fifteen percent is the bare minimum. No seriously, it is.

Have you ever gone out to eat and found yourself wondering why the tip ends up costing you maybe as much as an appetizer? Well, that’s because, in Quebec, servers are not paid a living wage.

A living wage is basically a fair amount that allows you to afford the cost of living in your area. While I believe that the required minimum wage isn’t even a living wage nowadays, that’s for another article. 

As someone who works in a restaurant, I know for a fact that servers are paid below the minimum wage. The average hourly salary of a server in Quebec is $12.20 while the minimum wage is currently $15.25. Except, it’s not just servers, it’s most tippable jobs. I don’t mean the cashier with a tip jar (we’ll talk about that later) but any job where a tip is expected.

So, with inflation and the cost of living constantly on the rise, shouldn’t the people being paid less than a living wage be given a little more consideration? 

With that said, here’s my guide to tipping:

As I mentioned, 15 percent is the bare minimum. The rule I go by is, that if you can’t afford to tip at a place, you can’t afford to eat there. If you’re budgeting yourself ahead of time, the tip should be factored in. If you don’t tip, servers quite literally end up paying to have served you. It’s messed up, but it’s true. Servers are required at the end of the night, to “tip out.”

If you don’t know, “tipping out” is when the server pays out a percentage of their sales to “the house” (the house is just the restaurant). That percentage then goes to helping pay the salaries of the kitchen, bussers, and hostesses, as well as going to the manager’s and owner’s pockets. 

To recap, if you don’t tip, servers are still required to tip out to the house as if you did tip— so it ends up being money out of their own pockets. 

Now, how do you tip properly? Well, cash is usually the best way to tip because they don’t have to declare as much of it in sales. That means they won’t be as taxed on it, and they won’t have to tip out as much of it at the end of the night.

In a world where nobody carries cash anymore though, just tip well. 

Moreover, you shouldn’t only be tipping at restaurants. A general rule I follow is if I pay cash, I tip all the small change I get back. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry you know it can be soul-sucking and draining. The people in these industries deserve some love and appreciation too, especially since tips are scarce and usually split among staff.

Really, we should all be conscious of the fact that these people are running around to serve us while barely being paid fairly. Everyone deserves a living wage, and while it shouldn’t be our responsibility to compensate for unfair salaries, we do it (or at least should).

Categories
Arts and Culture Culture Student Life

Engaging Religion at 4th Space

Scholars and faculty of Concordia’s department of Religions and Cultures discuss the discipline.

Concordia University’s 4th Space hosted a panel discussion with participating graduate students and faculty from the department of Religions and Cultures to address what it means to choose religion as a field of study. The panellists included PhD Candidate Ellen Dobrowolski, Dr. Sowparnika Balaswaminathan, Dr. Naftali Cohn, PhD student Jordan Molot, and MA graduate Katrina Kardash, and was moderated by PhD Candidate Arwa Hussain. While each participant brought a unique background and perspective to the table, they were united in their passion for a department that holds space for interdisciplinary research interests and methods. Each panellist maintained that their curiosity gradually pulled them through twists and turns toward religious studies.

The study of religion can open up opportunities to engage with difficult cross-disciplinary questions. For example, Dobrowolski’s PhD research discusses how a person’s religious identity might reinforce or undermine their ethnic identity. As a scholar with both Métis and Brazilian heritage, Dobrowolski observed that their Catholic upbringing tended to complicate the acceptance of their indigeneity, while simultaneously strengthening that of their Latin background. This experience informs their research onthe life and work of Sara Riel, the first Métis Grey Nun missionary. 

As seen through Dobrowolski’s research, the department of Religions and Cultures fosters a breadth of study that is at once deeply personal and widely relevant within secular academia.  Each project is unique. Dr. Balaswaminathan’s work investigates how a community of artisans in her home country of India struggle to honour the integrity of their traditional crafts in a world that increasingly commodifies the artistic production of the Global South. Meanwhile, Dr. Cohn examines the representation of diverse cultures and the performance of religious rituals in the media. Second year PhD student Jordan Molot, on the other hand, studies the history of Jewish settlers in Canada and their entanglements with the transatlantic slave trade. Recent MA graduate Katrina Kardash unearths the intimate lives of evangelical Christian communities in order to understand the dynamics of gender within their domestic spaces. All of these projects draw from personal experience and demonstrate how our personal trajectories can deeply inform our academic endeavours. 

After sharing their own research and experience within the department, the panellists wrapped up with some advice to prospective graduate students who may be seeking to join the program. The group was unanimous on how the study of religion opens the doors to diverse experiences with people and places you may never have otherwise encountered, and anyone who is fueled by the desire to learn new languages, travel, and discover new perspectives ought to consider religious studies. In a more practical sense, prospective students should begin to flesh out exactly what questions they would like to investigate and reach out to professors to build connections, setting them on a path toward success. 

Categories
Features

The francophone dating life: a podcast by Pauline Lazarus

Originally from France, Pauline Lazarus sheds light on the cultural differences in the dating lives of French people and Quebecers.

After two months and 10 dates, Ben was convinced he was in a serious relationship. It was to his surprise when he learned he was only considered a friend. 

Pauline Lazarus launched the podcast Une Histoire à part earlier this year, where she invites francophone people to discuss cultural differences between dating customs in France versus Quebec.  

Ben was one of the first guests of the podcast.

“I go out with a guy once, twice, I let myself go up to three times, but by the third time I can tell if I like him enough to have feelings,” Ben, who wanted to stay anonymous, said on the podcast.

When he arrived in Montreal and started dating, Ben quickly understood what it is like to date someone from a different cultural background.

“After kissing a French person, the French consider themselves a couple whereas, for the Quebecers, it is really not the case,” said Noé Klein, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Klein’s research involves examining friendly and loving relationships between French and Quebecers. 

Already friends before the podcast, it was Ben’s story about coming out in Montreal that inspired Lazarus to create Une Histoire à part. She realized that people across the city have all kinds of stories to share about their dating life.

Lazarus plans to release one episode bi-weekly and sees it as a personal challenge that brings her closer to her lifelong dream to work in radio. 

“When we move to a city, we’re not all running away from something, but maybe we’re all looking to be a better version of ourselves,” Lazarus added.

Not interested in the number of listeners, she is grateful if her podcast can help people by advising on adaptation and cultural differences by showcasing stories like Ben’s, who explained how Montreal helped him to come out to his family.

“When I came to Montreal, I felt free to be myself,” Ben said.

Lazarus came to Montreal five years ago on a Working Holiday Visa.

“I applied without much conviction, I must admit, because I had never talked about Canada in my life. I know that for a lot of people, it’s their dream, they’ve been waiting to come to Canada for several years. For me, it was not at all the case, it was really almost a coincidence,” she said.

Although she didn’t plan to stay longer than the two-year duration of her visa, after four years, Canada has become her home.

“I like to connect and exchange with people, and for me, that also means meeting people,” she said.

Since starting the podcast, Lazarus has met with different people and has noticed clear cultural differences.

“It’s true that even though we’re in Quebec where we speak French, we sometimes have the impression that it’s a bit like France. In the love life, here, it is a little different,” she said.

Lazarus said French people come to Montreal thinking they will be able to connect easily with Quebecers, but this is forgetting that they come from two different continents with an important cultural difference.

One of the most important differences between French people and Quebecers when it comes to dating is the status of “seeing someone” that comes before the discussion about becoming “official,” said Lazarus. 

In his thesis, Ph.D. sociology student Noé Klein explains how the French have a vision of relationships that quickly develops towards becoming a couple, whereas Quebecers have this notion of “seeing someone,” a period when they enter an intimate relationship in which one person gradually gets to know the other. 

“It takes more time for Quebecers to see themselves as a “couple” but when they do, it is something much more defined and committed than for the French, who have a blurrier definition of the term,” said Klein.

In Une Histoire à part, Lazarus introduces dating anecdotes in light of these differences for the listeners to avoid bad surprises.

In addition to the definition of “couple” itself, Lazarus discovered that for many, the openness of the city also leads to the openness of relationships. 

“Montreal is a very open city, both culturally and in other ways,” Lazarus said.

Even though she no longer lives in France, she agrees that the trend of open relationships or poly-love is much more democratized in Montreal than in France.

Always eager to learn and welcome people, Lazarus likes to make people feel comfortable when they share their experiences.

On a late Sunday afternoon, Pauline Lazarus opens a bottle of champagne and places it on the coffee table before settling into her sofa. With two microphones and her recorder in hand, a discussion begins between two friends over a drink.

This was during the first episode of Une Histoire à part, where Lazarus invited Barbara Lopez to her apartment to talk about her personal dating experiences when she came to Montreal 10 years ago.

“The podcast is almost just a bonus, it really could have been only a discussion around a drink,” Lopez said.

Lazarus welcomes each guest to her cozy apartment to share their experiences in a place of trust.

“I don’t think I would have opened up as easily and felt as comfortable if it had been in a studio in the middle of the day, you know. I felt that I had the freedom to talk about whatever I wanted,” said Lopez.

Une Histoire à part brings together different points of view, different stories, and unites the francophone community around their dating stories.For more stories, you can find the podcast on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Categories
Arts Theatre

The radical importance of gigues in Quebecois culture

Pas Perdus | Documentaires Scéniques presented this year at the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde

The Théâtre du Nouveau Monde presented Pas Perdus from Feb. 24 to a crowded room filled with an excited public. 

The design and direction of the play was helmed by Émile Proulx-Cloutier and written by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, who also acted as a silent narrator. 

The performance was prefaced with a short reading of the Ukrainian play A Dictionary of Emotions in a Time of War to commemorate the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Theatres across Montreal read excerpts to signify their solidarity with Ukrainians. The crowd was extremely moved. 

The play centers around eight characters, who seem to at first live categorically different lives, but are in fact united by their passion for dance. They are introduced within their life stories, and how dancing gigue orients their existence. 

The Quebecois gigue was inspired by Irish stepdancing upon their immigration to Canada in the late 19th century. It is a lively dance that consists of steps, the last one being more emphasized.

It is danced alone or in front of an audience, usually in a room, each dancer revealing their steps. Most Quebec gigues dances are on a two by four tempo, while some places like Outaouais dance on three by four tempo. Gigue is a staple of Quebecois culture. 

Pas Perdus was conducted in a unique fashion, as characters did not speak, while a voiceover resonated between them, composed of excerpts from a podcast series Barbeau-Lavalette had created, centering the voices of the dancers. 

The actors were merely dialoguing through the movement of their bodies. This silence plays a symbolic role in the demonstration of dance as a language, and of spoken words as only parallel to the meaning of dance. They are introduced within their life stories, and how dancing gigues orients their existence. 

Each character is introduced separately, completing their daily tasks while the voiceover explains their lives. The first character, Réal, is from a rural town and spends his time knotting a pair of snowshoes and explains how dancing is a part of who he is, while others like Odile are presented in the workspace as the voiceover explains their life path, and what brought them to dance. 

This play questions the meaning gigue has in Quebecois culture, the shame that surrounds the dance, and the risk of forgetting it as time passes. 

The play layers on the tone of humour despite difficult times.

Barbeau-Lavalette discusses themes of shame around Quebecois culture, and how it directly produces erasure. One character talks about “collecting steps,” as she meets people within the gigues community, learns their unique steps, and is thus able to carry them with her. This prevents the steps from being erased, even when the person dancing gigue dies. 

Pas Perdus is a demonstration of the adaptation of Quebec culture to modern times, noting the importance of not constraining our history to the past. Although there are fewer people dancing gigue, culture cannot be forgotten. This play is an homage to preserving culture and steering it away from erasure. 

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