Categories
Music

Musicians in the wake of COVID

 Three artists from different walks of life speak on the the effects of COVID

William Cote-Monroe treads carefully around his studio apartment filled with amplifiers and music gear. His multi-holding guitar stand shares a space with his refrigerator in the kitchen. Where you would normally find the television, you see a home studio where he spends his free time recording and practicing music. His KRK speakers stand in place of house plants. 

This is the after-effect of COVID’s wake that Cote-Monroe and so many other musicians are left in. The pandemic left many stranded without a job, livelihood, passion, and in extreme cases, a place to call home.   

When Montreal went into lock down in March 2020, starting on March 20, 2020 to be exact, Cote-Monroe was in Ontario playing as a guitar player for a group called Chinsee and the Eclipse. They had just played in London, Ontario the night before and their Toronto gig was then cancelled with their Montreal show following suit. To add the cherry on top, schools were also cancelled for two weeks.   

 “I had a feeling that it was gonna be much longer than two weeks. It just didn’t seem feasible. The two weeks was probably just to comfort us,” said Cote-Monroe. 

Faced with having quite a bit of work suddenly disappear as an artist, and the severe reduction of income, and loss of momentum that came with it, Cote-Monroe had to shift certain priorities in his life. “All these festival gigs that I was going to have during the summer which were supposed to launch my career just dried up,” he said.

Cote-Monroe plays very few shows, and the majority of them happen to be solo shows, which entail just a guitar and vocals. That’s easy. However, playing with others now chalks up to more of a task as vaccine passport limitations fell into place.  

“You have to acquire your QR code to play and it became quite frustrating to play with other people because others didn’t have their QR codes and neither did members of the audience,” Cote-Monroe said.

These audience members then get kicked out and if there were three to four bands playing at the event they all end up going home with nothing.

“It’s more worth it to bring your friends over to watch you jam,” he said.       

Cote-Monroe hopes to add a full-time drummer and bassist into his ensemble, as well as get a driving license and a van for the band in order to be on the road every other week around Quebec and Ontario. The struggle will soon reveal itself as Cote-Monroe will have to start on a clean slate when it comes to networking with other artists and finding new jobs to help him sustain his goals as a full-time musician. 

Fortunately, the pandemic led to him centralizing himself and his creative outlook. He picked up drawing for his album artwork. “I’m not some trained sketcher and I’m just drawing art that I vibe with,” Cote-Monroe said. He is currently also learning the ropes in mixing and mastering so that he can ideally release a song per week because he can write like that now. “I’m just trying to bring it back to that level of which I can release music that I like and people care about.”  

What affects artists, naturally stems from what affects venues. There has been a collective called Growve MTL which organises music shows in the form of live sessions at several locations but mainly on the Saint Laurent and Saint Denis streets, including Turbo Haüs and Blue Dog. The event’s cofounder is none other than Shayne Assouline, a jazz studies student at Concordia, alongside professional beatmaker Shem G and Marcus Dillon, a silvertongue lyricist. According to Dillon, a member of the Dust Gang community, they are both members of a band named The Many which congregated in 2018 at a pub called Urban Science, which offers jam sessions under their “Le Cypher” event. Growve MTL’s main act is The Many, who are linked with the Dust Gang community. 

Dust Gang’s goal with Growve MTL is to have musicians who are at ease with their musical skills come together, so that they always contribute something new each time. Even if they play the same song at many events, they make each show fresh in this way. For example, because of their diverse influences and past experiences, a new musician with a violin will perform differently than the other stringed musician, like a bassist. They are set to return to the local scene on March 2 according to Assouline.      

Joseph Mascis (J) is the frontrunner of the Americana suburban alternative rock band known as Dinosaur Junior. As a band, they have been active since the late ‘80s, spanning almost four decades. Before COVID, the band only stopped playing live shows once in the 90s due to conflict between members. However, the pandemic has put a new stress on the group, causing them to stop twice in total. 

“People always come up to me and say ‘COVID must’ve been great for you,’” Mascis said. “Um, well actually no, I haven’t liked it at all, I mean.” 

Emmett Jefferson Murphy, Dinosaur Jr. drummer, stated at one point that he didn’t even have a family to go back home to. He would be holed up in the house alone with nobody to converse and interact with during COVID. “It’s not easy, far from it in fact,” said Mascis.

Mascis’ famous wall of Marshall 4×12 amps crowded his living room, while the Jazzmaster and Telecaster lay pell-mell over the couch. His living space was in disarray and one can tell he is not used to it. “It was horrible, I mean, I just haven’t been home that much ever since I was a kid or something, it’s just not how I usually live my life, I’m always going places and touring, so it was tough.” 

Cote-Monroe says that “everything is temporary,” and maybe it is, as Assouline and Mascis share his sentiment on the whole COVID ordeal. As the artists wait to go back out on tour again to exercise their passion, they’ll have to overcome the main COVID hurdle just like they hurdle over the smorgasbord of equipment in their houses.  

 

Graphic by James Fay

Categories
Opinions

Where should you eat now that we’re in lockdown (again)

My guide to ordering good food in Montreal

Let me save you some time: when ordering in, the easy way out is always Dominos. When in doubt, you can always count on their thin crust pizza to be edible.

Personally, I like to be a little more adventurous when I scour UberEats and SkiptheDishes. If I’m gonna spend at least $13 on service fees, tax and delivery, I will make sure the meal is worth it. And so over the past two years (yes, it’s really almost been two years), I have discovered a few gems worth checking out.

Three different price categories will make it oh-so-easy for you to navigate this guide to ordering in  our third… or fourth? Maybe even the fifth lockdown.

 

PRICEPOINT — cheap-ish

For those who still eat meat (such as myself, as much as I hate to admit it), Cantine Emilia is the perfect spot to satisfy your Portuguese craving.

Their delicious roasted chicken is cooked and served in a spicy and acidic fiery red sauce — and you can pick what level of spice you can handle. Sides such as light and yummy green salad, rice, and obviously fries are available for your liking. In my experience, they tend to be generous with the portions. The spicy mayo that comes on the side (as an extra) puts A&W’s spicy mayo to shame; you can also find the sauce-slathered onto one of their chicken sandwiches.

Lastly, my favourite part, the natas. Please, do yourself a favour and heat those babies up in the oven, sprinkled with a little sea salt before eating.

Five different locations around the Island of Montreal make it so you can order from wherever you reside — no excuses.

 

PRICEPOINT — medium

For a slightly more expensive option, Mont Everest Masala is a great place for some delicious Indian food. The way I see it, ordering Indian food is an investment: it may be a little more expensive than what you’re ready to spend, but you will have delicious leftovers for days.

You can go the “safe route” and order butter chicken, basmati rice and naan, but why not try something different? Go for some lamb korma, palak or shahi paneer, and even some yummy mixed vegetables.

I always order extra naan and make my own rice to save cost (never enough rice in my opinion), but if you have pitas or even some frozen naan, that’ll do the trick to help u save even more!

 

PRICEPOINT — hard

Obviously, if you are gonna treat yourself, the meal to order is sushi. Cheap sushi is a miss, but good sushi is a MUST.

SOZO Sushi, located next to Metro Mont-Royal or in Saint-Leonard, is a delicious treat you can afford maybe once a semester. Why not surprise yourself and get an assortment of random sashimi and nigiri?

Even if that order doesn’t float your boat, then this place will be sure to have at least one roll to satisfy your belly. The portions are generous, and worth the cost (5 futomaki per order, 6 hosomaki per order, and 8 maki per order).

One thing I really appreciate from this establishment is the rice. Unlike most sushi shops, the rice at SOZO is nicely seasoned, not too wet, and served at the perfect temperature. Rice that is too gummy or falls apart at the touch is so unpleasant, but the worst is ice-cold rice. The rice should be room temperature, stuck together but still distinct individual grains.

Just remember — even if it may be unaffordable for must of us to order everynight, but it’s okay to indulge sometimes… right?

To help save on some of the delivery costs, maybe walk to the location to pick up your food rather than going through an app, or make it a point to try the restaurants within a six-block radius. Save some money and help your favourite restaurant make more money by disregarding a thirst party app.

But don’t worry, ça va bien aller. 

 

Graphics by @sundaeghost

Categories
News

Owning a music venue through the pandemic

An interview with Austin Wrinch of the Diving Bell Social Club

At 3956 Saint Laurent Blvd., behind a black door covered in graffiti, and three stories up a single flight of stairs is the Diving Bell Social Club. The venue opened in 2018 in a space previously occupied by the once-popular Champs sports bar.

Since their opening, the Diving Bell has acted as a multimedia performance venue, hosting concerts, stand-up comedy and drag shows.

However, the club has been closed since early March 2020, when the owners chose to close the venue in response to the then-burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic, not long before government regulations forced all venues to close. 

Diving Bell Social Club is under renovation.

Austin Wrinch is the co-owner and manager of the Diving Bell.

“We actually decided ourselves to kind of close before [the government] had fully mandated it. Basically, we’re an event space and a bar. So our activity, what we do at the space, is very much dictated by the community around us,” said Wrinch.

“At that point, we were saying, [we’d be closed] ‘til the end of the month of March 2020, which is kind of funny in retrospect.”

It’s disappointing that the Diving Bell has had to close for so long when 2020 was looking like it could be their best year yet.

“January and half of February was definitely a good time. It’s weird thinking back now … My memories of those shows don’t include any sort of COVID fear. It kind of set in like, two weeks later [that] it was just here to stay,” said Wrinch.

“If we were not hitting a stride, I would feel less confident about all this time passing and opening up again … If it wasn’t for COVID, 2020 was looking like it was going to be the best year ever for us. But it will again.”

The venue has stayed afloat thanks to rental subsidies and loans that have been made available to small businesses. Some emergency loans have been made available for small businesses, but they depend on a variety of criteria such as revenue. Some loans are interest-free while others have small amounts of interest. All of them are outlined under Canada’s COVID-19 response plan.

But, in the world of the pandemic, those loans don’t guarantee that you’ll be able to keep your business open.

“Yeah, you can get access to $20,000 or something for your business as a loan. [But] you know you have to start paying that back at a certain point, and then there’s interest after a certain point,” said Wrinch.

“When your business has been closed and it’s still unclear how long it’s going to be before you can actually be generating money with that business, it’s actually kind of nerve-racking, using more loan money, because that’s not your money. It’s all going to be paid back eventually.”

The staff at the Diving Bell hasn’t remained completely out of work.

“We had a lot of time to do a lot of things that we’ve always wanted to do in the space,” Wrinch said.

The team has been doing some renovations during its closure, which is great but can be very tricky to do when you have no idea when your business may be open again.

“It’s been definitely very tough the last year, just with the uncertainty and everything, and it’s by no means over,” said Wrinch

“We didn’t do crazy renovations, we did them all ourselves … We had to be very, very cautious on not spending too much money.”

Wrinch says the space has also been used by artists to do live streams and hybrid performances, as a way of making sure it gets some use during the pandemic. 

As restrictions are gradually being lifted, theatres and larger venues were able to open on March 26, 2021. But because the Diving Bell is also a bar and a smaller standing room venue, it will be remaining closed.

Even when restrictions are lifted, the team at the Diving Bell won’t be desperate to open up if they don’t feel it’s safe. “We would definitely stay closed if we didn’t feel like it was a good idea,” said Wrinch.

But even if the space was to reopen, their business revolves around the artists who perform there. In the summer when restrictions were more relaxed, it was difficult to get people to come out and perform.

“The general response was ‘yeah, I’m definitely down. But I want to wait and see some other shows go first, to kind of gauge the vibe and make sure that it’s not pushing it.’ You don’t want it to feel irresponsible.”

Wrinch is confident the Diving Bell will be able to reopen but isn’t sure it will be happening anytime soon.

“It’s been definitely very tough the last year, just with the uncertainty and everything, and it’s by no means over,” said Wrinch

“People have been good with supporting local businesses, restaurants and stuff. But, I think that really when it comes down to reopening live performance halls in safe ways, it’s obvious [that] it’s going to come down to people showing the actual support, going and contributing to those communities, if they want them to survive,” Wrinch continued.

The Diving Bell Social Club will be back to hosting concerts of all kinds — as soon as it’s safe — at 3956 Saint Laurent Blvd., way up the stairs.

 

Photos by Kit Mergaert

Categories
News

Riding the slopes then hitting the books: University students’ new reality

Quebec ski hills are seeing more weekday student skiers than ever

Fresh air, mountain views, and crowded ski slopes are where you can find some university students from Monday through Sunday.

With universities going forward with a complete online semester due to COVID-19, many students have resorted to a flipped schedule: hitting the slopes during the day and hitting their books at night. Students explain that it is a way to keep healthy, motivated and free during the lockdown.

Spending a day in the mountains and enjoying the great outdoors are just some of the reasons why skiers and snowboarders love their sport — but, it is also the reason for which they are currently sharing the slopes with so many more people this year.

In order to combat the influx of skiers and snowboarders, many snow resorts have adopted and implemented new policies. Les Sommets ski resort in Saint-Sauveur, much like many other resorts, has decided to suspend the sale of season passes for an indefinite period of time while reducing the number of tickets sold per day. These measures were put into place to ensure that the mountains are not too crowded, in order to maintain COVID-19 ski regulations at all times.

Stoneham Mountain Resort, located twenty minutes from Quebec city, has seen a 4 to 5 per cent increase in the number of season passes sold, compared to the 2019-2020 season, according to an interview with CTV News. As for the global Canadian market in this sector, a reported 8.1 per cent increase in the growth of the ski and snowboard market is expected by the end of 2021, according to IBISWorld.

Hannah Tiongson, a Journalism student at Concordia University, explains that for her, skiing is about more than staying active.

“Skiing helps me become a lot more motivated. I find that when I ski on a Saturday morning and I return home in the afternoon, I feel more mentally fit to start on my homework,” explained Tiongson.

For others, shredding the slopes brings a sense of liberation and freedom. Students not only feel trapped in their everyday lives amidst the lockdown but also in their personal lives, explains first-year student Kiana Gomes.

Last year I went skiing three times — this year, I go every single weekend. Since everything is currently closed, there really is nothing else to do. When I stay home, I feel trapped. So I go skiing and I feel absolutely free,” she explained.

Although, with the increase of skiers and snowboarders on the slopes, not everyone is happy. The more people there are, the longer the wait times are.

For Quebec City brothers Marc-Olivier and Vincent Jacques, who ski at the Stoneham Mountain Resort in Quebec, the wait was too long. Instead, they took the ski slope less travelled and started back-country skiing.

“We saw the waiting line for the chair lifts and knew that we would spend half our day waiting in them, so we decided not to. Back-country skiing lets us get a workout in and ski, while not waiting in line — and we can do it anywhere,” explained Vincent.

As for Marc-Olivier, he explained that the tranquillity of the first tracks in the morning and being alone on the slopes is soothing.

“It starts the day off on a good foot because you have the mountain to yourself,” he said.

Nonetheless, students are making the most of the pandemic and are keen on taking advantage of their flexible schedules to explore the variety of ski resorts that Quebec has to offer. Since the thought of an over-crowded ski resort is not for everyone, many students have decided on doing day trips to Charlevoix, Mont-Tremblant, Sutton and Quebec City to diversify their skiing activities and their routine days.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Categories
News

JMSB student starts petition to turn Grey Nuns Residence into temporary homeless shelter

In just four days, the petition collected over 3,000 signatures

After the recent deaths of homeless people in Montreal, David Desjardins, a third-year John Molson School of Business (JMSB) student at Concordia University, wanted to do more than just raise awareness about the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

Since the start of the pandemic, Montreal’s homeless population has increased from a pre-pandemic figure of around 3,000 to hundreds, maybe thousands, more. While experts have not been able to pinpoint the exact figure, the increase has manifested at homeless shelters, with staff reporting that they are operating at full capacity, though this is not enough to adequately serve the city’s increasing homeless population.

Meanwhile, several student residences in the city remain closed due to the pandemic. At Concordia, the Grey Nuns Residence — a heritage student residence and hotel building located near the downtown campus — is closed, with almost 600 beds unoccupied since the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

Desjardins decided to call on Concordia University to step in, and started a petition on Jan. 28, directed towards President of Concordia University Graham Carr, to turn the Grey Nuns Residence into a temporary homeless shelter.

Part of Desjardins’ motivation for starting the petition includes believing that “we need to act with urgency to find these people somewhere to stay, at least temporarily, or else we will see bloodshed.”

The petition, which started off with a goal of 150 signatures, currently has over 3,000.

“It’s been pretty impressive, I’m very happy to see all the support we’re getting,” said Desjardins.

In addition to it’s high occupancy rate, the Grey Nuns Residence boasts a cafeteria space, several multipurpose rooms, and 234-seat silent reading room. There are no specific plans on how this space would be used; instead, Desjardins said his petition is meant to get the ball rolling.

He believes new resources made available for the homeless during the pandemic, such as the Old Royal Victoria Hospital being converted to a homeless shelter in August 2020, “was a great first step.”

However, Desjardins believes that, in many ways, efforts to help the homeless have fallen short.

“I wouldn’t even say the government is doing much to be quite frank.”

Since enacting stricter lockdown measures on Jan. 9, Legault did not exempt the homeless population and homeless shelters from the 8 p.m. curfew. That decision not only meant that homeless people could incur fines up to $1,500 for being outside after curfew, but that shelters could no longer accept new clients past the curfew as well.

Even after the death of Raphael “Napa” Andre, a 51-year-old homeless man who froze to death in a portable toilet just a few metres away from a shelter after curfew, Legault said he would continue to refuse exempting the homeless population from curfew regulations.

“You have to understand that if we put in the law that a homeless person cannot get a ticket, well then anyone could say “I’m homeless,” explained Legault.

Severe backlash followed Legault’s stance, with politicians and community members calling on the premier to have compassion towards the homeless. On Jan. 26, a Quebec Superior Court judge reversed Legault’s regulation, ruling the homeless were no longer subject to curfew.

Following the government’s rocky commitment to the issue, Desjardins looked for new solutions to help with the homelessness problem. He believes more organizations and businesses should be willing to help.

“I think that anybody who does not take action in these times where it’s needed, are going to be guilty and are going to have blood on their hands,” said Desjardins.

If the project is approved, Desjardins thinks the university would have to find creative ways to fund the project. While he would allow a portion of his own tuition to fund the project, he believes many students would be against their own tuition being used.

“Once we have a green light, we can look at finding ways to get food, clothing, personal protective equipment … and all kinds of other things that are going to require funding for this project,” said Desjardins.

For now, he has contacted staff from the Grey Nuns Residence, and says he would be open to being involved with the project if it goes forward.

“I’m just doing everything I possibly can to make this happen at the moment,” said Desjardins.

 

Photograph by Christine Beaudoin

Interview conducted by Hadassah Alencar and edited by Adam Mbowe.

Categories
News

Protest against controversial curfew and increasing police power

Over 100 people gathered to protest against the curfew that is impacting the homeless and potentially giving more power to the police

In response to the rising cases of COVID-19 in Quebec, the provincial government has enacted a controversial curfew, which is seen to negatively impact the homeless and people in poverty. There has been public outcry and protests against the curfew.

The group responsible for the demonstration on Jan. 16, Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire, stated the protest was to push back on the increased power being given to the police.

In a press release, the organization stated they do not affiliate with right-wing groups, such as the anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests that have taken place in recent months.

“This demonstration aims to denounce the political choice of Legault’s government to impose a curfew throughout Quebec in response to the increase in cases, by hospitalizations, and deaths related to COVID-19,” read the statement. “After 10 months of a health crisis, the CAQ is again opting for the police solution.”

In a public statement, the group said that the goal of the protest was to denounce the use of police in a public health crisis, and encourage the government to relocate those funds in a more effective manner.

Let us stand in solidarity in the face of police repression, let us learn not to leave anyone behind,” said the statement.

“The police presence really affects the homeless people in a negative way, because they are trying to avoid the police,” said Jessica Quijano, a spokesperson for the Defund the Police Coalition and a member of the Iskweu Project, an initiative of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.

Quijano spoke about the recent death of an Innu man that was living on the streets. According to a CTV article, the man froze to death near the Open Door homeless shelter, which due to the COVID-19 restrictions, was no longer allowed to have clients overnight.

Quijano explained that police presence doesn’t help in a pandemic; she used the criminalization of people during the AIDS crisis as an example.

We can’t trust the police to use their discretion, because we know that the SPVM has a history of racism,” she said.

“At least offer a house to the homeless, and not just shelters, places where people could isolate and be comfortable,” she said, explaining that the best solution to the issue is giving the homeless resources. “Not giving people tickets, not to people that are already in poverty.”

Quijano explained that before the curfew was implemented, there were outbreaks in shelters and homeless people who had tested positive were walking around in public. The curfew has just added to the shelters’ struggles to serve the homeless community in a safe way.

“It makes you really question the legitimacy of the public health [association] when they are making these decisions,” Quijano said.

On Tuesday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante called for homeless people to be exempt from the curfew, but later that day during a COVID-19 press brief, Premier François Legault rejected it, as he believes people would impersonate the homeless to get out of curfew.

The SPVM said in a statement that officers have to show tolerance and judgement in their interventions with the homeless.

“Before giving a ticket, each situation is analyzed in consideration of the specific context and particularities,” read the statement. “If it’s possible, officers can also accompany these persons to the appropriate resources.”

“These are necessary measures to counter the spread of the virus,” said Marie-Louise Harvey, media spokesperson for the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, who explained that the priority of the curfew and the restrictions was to lessen strain on hospitals.

She also stated that while the ministry has no official survey of the population’s view of the curfew, “It does know that a certain percentage of the population is unhappy with the situation.”

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

Categories
News

Montrealers struggle to cope with ongoing COVID-19 measures

How the curfew and ban on certain goods impact lives, despite the efforts to halt the rise in COVID cases

As of Jan. 9, Quebec has put strict confinement measures in place such as the curfew, desperately hoping to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province. These measures also include the closing of all non essential businesses, and reinforcing the rules regarding indoor gatherings.

The imposed curfew, which runs  from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., along with the new measures requiring travelers to test negatively for COVID-19 before coming to Canada, have faced some criticism.

Many civil liberty groups have spoken out against the curfew, questioning its impact on civil liberties, as well as the strain the provincial government is dumping onto its citizens.

According to an article from CBC, the Ligue des droits et libertés has asked Legault’s government to address the more pertinent underlying causes of the hike in case numbers, rather than relying on a curfew. This refers to updating ventilation in old structures such as schools and office spaces, as well as bettering conditions for healthcare workers.

But these are not the only outcries the government is hearing. The curfew — as well as measures put in place limiting the sale of non-essential goods — has also placed significant strain on individual Montrealers.

Shanique Morris, or laveganbaddie on Instagram, owns a local secondhand shop, with a niche Bratz-Y2K aesthetic, reminiscent of the early 2000s. Her shop has seen immense growth since she started in October 2019, but the curfew has put a dent in her business endeavors.

Morris explained how in the past, she regularly made deliveries in the evenings. She would travel to a shipment centre far from her home, as well as to individual clients. However, with the new curfew, she said, “My schedule is all over the place.”

“I didn’t have the time to deliver my packages yesterday so I have had no choice but to come [to the shipment centre] this morning because you know, since curfew, [closing] times change,” explained Morris.

She’s also experiencing difficulty purchasing the necessary materials to run her shop from home. She explained, “If my printer were to break, and I needed one right away, I couldn’t just go to the store and get one. Because that’s deemed as non-essential — and obviously I do need a printer to be able to print out my labels.”

Kassidy Jordan, a second year student at Concordia, has also faced repercussions due to the new safety measures. She explained that she was recently laid off from her job; despite this, she is understanding of the situation.

She said, “In theory, if you’ve been doing what you’re supposed to be doing, none of the new restrictions … really affect you that much. It’s just, like, tiring.”

She expressed her thoughts on the curfew and its impacts on her lifestyle, and said, “It feels like you don’t have very much  control over how you want to spend your day.”

Furthermore, Jordan went on to express her beliefs on where Legault should be concentrating his efforts.

“I’ve walked past some elementary and middle schools here. And you can clearly see that the kids are just all over each other, like close together, not distanced, not doing it in a safe manner.”

 

Photograph by Kit Mergaert

One restaurant owner triumphs over the pandemic

One restaurant owner triumphs over the pandemic

Quebec’s second lockdown, which began in October, has been a devastating blow to business owners all over the province. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, restaurant owners have only been allowed to open for takeout. As much as it’s been a financial burden for many restaurant owners to be unable to offer dine-in services, it remains a question as to how restaurant owners deal with their own mental health issues — on top of keeping their businesses afloat during this global pandemic.

Dino Angelo Luciano, an accomplished chef, moved to Montreal shortly after his win on season 8 of MasterChef. Originally from California, Luciano’s journey has been quite inspiring. As a result of Luciano’s large Instagram presence, he not only uses his platform to show his cooking skills, but he also advocates for mental health awareness. In a video on his Instagram, he explained that he has struggled from a young age with OCD, paired with anxiety and depression.

In a Zoom interview, Luciano explained that he remembers dealing with OCD from a very young age.

“I think I remember being around seven years old, that’s when I was the most conscious of what I was doing, who was around me, where I was living. The first thing I was doing was turning off the waterspout in the bathtub. I would do it over and over again, flick it on and off. I don’t know why I did it, I think it made me feel good. I think my parents always thought I was just messing around.”

Luciano’s mental health struggles followed him during the taping of MasterChef.  “I had my little ticks here and there, like let’s say I had to cut something twice, like if I had to cut an onion at a certain angle. When you are cutting an onion, you’re dicing it up and you maybe get nine to 14 slices. Maybe I had a certain number in my mind, and I would cut the onion x number of slices,” Luciano explained.

After his move to Montreal, Luciano recounted that he always dreamed of opening a restaurant.

“I believe in manifestation, fate is written. I think we have the ability to control destiny and certain things happen at certain times. I came up here three years ago, October 2017. I met a lot of people, maybe not the right people at the time. They helped me build my knowledge on the culture of Montreal. As much as I wanted to open up something a long time ago, I don’t think I was mentally ready for it.”

He put his focus into his cannoli business instead, called ‘The Fat Cannoli.’ His business had done pretty well at the time however, he left this business behind and focused on his dream of opening the restaurant.

During the second lockdown in Montreal, Luciano explained that he wasn’t worried about the state of his future business.

“I could care less about my own stress at this point, the stress of opening a restaurant, ‘it might fail, we might hemorrhage money, we might not, we might fail.’ Actually, we’re doing pretty well at the moment. But even if we weren’t, the joy of making people happy with food was satisfying enough for me. I know during the first wave, I was going crazy, and I think one of the only things that was making me happy was ordering a lot of take out,” Luciano recalled. He explained that if he can offer the same joy to others, it would make everything well worth it.

No one human is perfect and everyone has their dark moments. However, who does Luciano turn to when things get tough?

“I don’t really talk about the dark thoughts too much, sometimes it manifests into my moods and makes me very grouchy and moody. My girlfriend mainly has to deal with that and she’s my number one supporter.” Luciano said that when his mind goes to the dark place, his girlfriend is able to bring him back.

“I have a secret that got me through this pandemic. You’re forced to be alone and a lot of people are watching Netflix… pay attention to those actors in those movies. When you’re forced to be away from everybody, you kinda get to develop who you want to be … By the time you go out again you can surprise people with who you have become.” Luciano says that the pandemic has been a time for self-growth and reflection, and believes that if people don’t take this as an opportunity to learn more about themselves, another opportunity will be less likely to present itself in the near future.

 

Feature photo by Dalia Nardolillo

“A clean, well-lighted place”: One Brossard library’s next pandemic chapter

Covid-19 hasn’t dissuaded the strong community behind this library.

Sept. 30, midnight: the deadly hour. Libraries across Greater Montreal were set to shut down at this time, courtesy of a fresh wave of COVID-19 sweeping the province. But the curious hum that greeted me as I entered the Georgette-Lepage Library of Brossard on the eve of closing day, after a six month self-imposed exile, both surprised and elated me.

You’d be forgiven for believing that libraries have been living on borrowed time, especially during a global health crisis. Spaces to read, eat, study and unwind — the virus does not discriminate; it upends every communal meeting ground where rest and imagination usually converge.

The future of this Brossard library, however, might not be so dim after all.

The woman on sanitization duty, a kindly, middle-aged brunette whose name I didn’t catch, showed me the gel dispenser. Books can still be loaned, she said, but I should be wary about touching the spines and pages unnecessarily.

I nodded and she let me pass. Behind me, no less than five giggling schoolchildren queued up to enter with their parents.

I took a moment to look around. Everything was bright and luminous, and, barring the closure of the butterfly display near the glass doors, all seemed to be nearly as it was.

Further right were the same tall bookshelves and children’s playing area that had always been there. The colourful, life-sized cushions shaped like classic literary tomes were not occupied, but I saw heads bobbing between the aisles.

I noticed, with grim relief, that the elderly librarians I used to know were not present to service the front desk.

A hushed electricity pulsated through the air: it was the last day to collect books, and those who were most apt to having their noses inside a page would not pass up the opportunity.

Upstairs, the spaced-out study area was packed. I spotted an older man dozing on a desk. The next chair over, someone watched a film on Netflix, while the girl across scribbled on a print-out sheet, languid.

I walked around in a daze for the next half hour, rediscovering my favourite reading nooks. I knew that the next day, they would be snatched from me again, for at least another month.

That evening as I exited the building, an Ernest Hemingway short story came to mind. I pondered how, in that “Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” everyone seemed at ease. Troubles melted under that wash of light.

Hemingway had been right: all that people needed was a space to escape that familiar, hollow feeling of “nothing.” The library’s tidy quietness provided refuge for “all those who do not want to go to bed, […] all those who need a light for the night.”

Even in isolation, there was a community.

Once the worst has passed, I am certain of finding it again.

 

 Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Sick or treat!: Halloween, pandemic edition

Wishing you a spooky COVID Halloween!

It’s hard to be festive during a partial lockdown. Though last year Halloween was cancelled because of bad weather, this year, the pandemic is the one who has set the brakes on our Halloween cheer.

I feel especially disappointed for the children whose trick-or treating-experience is going to be a careful endeavour. Growing up, this tradition was the only time of the year that my mom would allow my sister and I to raise our blood sugar levels that high. At the time, the most dangerous part of going door-to-door and meeting complete strangers for free treats was to inadvertently ingest poison, drugs, or needles just like the horror stories warned us about on the news. Part of the experience was also to show up to school the next day with all the candy we didn’t like (i.e. Tootsie Rolls) and hope to find something to our taste during the annual post-Halloween barter with our friends.

As we grew older, going out for Halloween became a much less COVID-safe activity, though we upkept the culture of spoiling ourselves for one day. I can’t say I’m not jealous of my past self who was able to see her friends at crowded house parties.

For me, it was also an opportunity to meet up with people I hadn’t seen in ages; our increasingly busy schedules are already pushing us away from our friends for longer than we would like them to.

Halloween is the first festive event that has really made me feel the effects of the pandemic on our celebrations. Christmas seemed really far away when we first started confining, and my family is too small for our Thanksgiving dinner to be a big problem. But knowing that the day after Halloween inevitably marks the first acceptable moment in the year to start playing Christmas songs, it feels weird to suddenly find myself needing to change my traditions.

I asked university students what their plans for Halloween were this year, to see if the season’s spirit will still be honoured despite our red zone restrictions. Here’s what they had to say:

Catherine Jarry, Concordia: Movie marathon, pumpkin carving, and cupcake decoration!

Alain Kalubi, UQAM: Like I’ll spend Christmas: bored in my room.

Bryanna Frankel, Concordia: Giving out candy, then going to Illumi!

Mégane Dandurand, UDEM: Cramming school projects.

Sannie Chie, University of Toronto: Gonna show up to Zoom class all dressed up.

Nanor Froundjian, Concordia: Dressing up as the devil and sipping on some boogie wine (mixed with some tears).

Marie Figuereo, Concordia: Home, baking, and movies!

Emmanuelle Morin, McGill: Might watch movies with two friends!


Hopefully, Montrealers’ Oct. 31st activities, however safe the restrictions required them to be, still celebrated the one day of the year we can be somebody (or thing) else. Happy Halloween!

 

Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

The red zone blues

This lockdown feels different from the last

Back in March, when lockdown first began, a little something called self-reinvention came into vogue. For many students, early quarantine was characterized by at-home workouts and loaves of bread baking in the oven. We video chatted with friends and family, took long walks in the cool spring mornings, and finally cracked open the dusty books we’d been meaning to read. We did anything and everything we could to make the days go by faster and to drown out the anxieties that come hand-in-hand with global pandemics. Whether this actually worked or not is still up for debate.

It’s October now, and while many things haven’t changed, lockdown feels different this time around. These past few weeks at The Concordian, we’ve been having discussions about COVID fatigue and how a lot of us are feeling burnt-out and uninspired lately. Our pandemic-induced hobbies have fallen to the wayside, only to be replaced by an incessant consumption of Netflix and the ordering of box after box of takeout (granted, we did all this back in March, too, just with more exercise and soul-searching in between).

In retrospect, the pressure we put on ourselves in those early days of quarantine was unrealistic and unfair. It turns out that worldwide catastrophes are not particularly conducive to awe-inspiring, all-encompassing self-improvement. Who knew?

As we wait out the second wave of this storm, let’s embrace a slightly different approach to personal growth. If it made you happy the first time, take up baking and yoga again, and incorporating some more morning walks into your routine couldn’t hurt. But keep in mind that not every step you take needs to be an Instagrammable moment. Sometimes improvement looks like eating a vegetable for the first time in days; sometimes it’s taking a breather on the balcony; sometimes it’s calling your grandma; and sometimes it’s asking your professor for an extension.

So, if you’ve been feeling blue lately, you can try what many of us at The Concordian will be practicing in the coming weeks: treating ourselves with tenderness and care, and trying to drink more water.

Resources:

 

Feature photo by Alex Hutchins

COVID’s silent toll on mental health

Are we equipped to address the mental health crises brought on by the virus?

The day before Montreal entered “code-rouge” I found myself running errands with my roommate in preparation for the lockdown. Under the overcast sky of a Wednesday evening, we trekked from one business to another, preparing for the looming uncertainty. From the bakery, to the kosher butcher and fish market — the mundane task of collecting groceries became a mission, not entirely unpleasant. In fact, after a few purchases we developed a system: from outside I monitored our accumulating groceries as my roommate ventured forth into each business.

But, in a quiet moment outside a fish market with a collection of purchased meats as my companion, an unfamiliar feeling crept into my psyche. As I watched the denizens of Montreal go from one place to another, some into stores, others in the metro, a devastating despair intensified.

As the gloomy clouds passed the sky, an anxiety reminiscent of the night before grade school swirled and enveloped me. The anticipation, insecurity, and recognition of a looming drastic change in daily life grew into a miserable and melancholic force with distressing fortitude. A completely foreign anxiety grew in my chest as the world around me contracted into a sea of looming and dystopian doubt.

Yet the anxiety soon shifted into a deep shame. After all, how could I complain? I live with amicable roommates and am financially stable. It felt wrong to grieve for the world before the coronavirus from my fortunate perch outside a grocery store full of food many could no longer afford. I considered my grandmother alone in her New York apartment waiting for a phone call, or the loneliness of those suffering from mental illness or trapped in the brutal cycle of substance abuse. Compared to those who lost jobs, homes, or even loved ones, I hated myself for wallowing in misery.

On a greater scale before COVID-19, suicide plagued Canada. According to Statistics Canada, over the last five years, the second leading cause of death among 20-24-year-olds is suicide — and the trend is increasing. In 2014, 267 Canadians killed themselves, and in 2018, the number increased to 336. Such disturbing figures reflect a national mental-health crisis that existed before the pandemic, and unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is exasperating the crisis.

Last June, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 25.5 per cent of Americans between the ages of 18-24 had seriously contemplated suicide within the preceding 30 days — an increase from 8 per cent the year prior. Likewise, the study revealed that 24.7 of respondents started or increased abusing substances due to COVID-19.

I refer to the 18-24 age-range because it captures the demographic of the majority of Concordia students. Although the study is from the United States, the data is beyond troubling. The isolation and mental impacts of Montreal entering code-red coupled with the looming winter ought to concern students, faculty, and the administration.

But, the mental health impacts of COVID-19 go far beyond Concordia students. Administrators and professors face similar challenges from this new world dominated by Zoom fatigue and the limitations of distance learning. Nothing could prepare our university for the barrage of health and governmental restrictions. When the computers close at the end of class, who knows what inner turmoil torments a professor or peer?

Although we can count the suicides — assign a number to each tragedy brought on by the virus — there is no system to compare the suffering of living in this new world. Undoubtedly, future historians will quantify certain aspects of our collective experiences such as the number of deaths, suicides, or days under lockdown. Yet comparing the mental toll of one individual to another is impossible.

And in this realization, a sort of comfort emerges as I reflect on that unforgettable eve of the lockdown. Grief and anxiety about the differences between the way we lived and how we operate today is not a shameful reaction. It is possible to remain grateful while remaining cognizant of the issues of our neighbours who face unique challenges. Through this balance, an inspiring possibility of compassion for the other and our own experiences comes into focus.

So, the coronavirus becomes the great equalizer. I yearn for our collective emergence from this crisis with a society built on greater compassion and understanding than before. No matter how distant, the possibility for a silver lining of a better world forged in historic and trying times, could unlock a marvelous societal bond. Losing hope for a brighter future, no matter how tempting, obscures the light of a better tomorrow, a day of a united and shared victory.

 

Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam

Exit mobile version