Nuit Blanche Montreal 2013 – A Photo Essay

Nuit Blanche is one of my favourite times of the year. A night when the city is at its most dynamic and sparkling with life.

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Montrealers know that the best way to enjoy Nuit Blanche is to leave your car at home. The metro was packed with partygoers. Here, a rarely seen view of the inside of the tunnel at Berri-Uqam direction Honoré-Beaugrand.

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We started off at the Olympic park where I took a turn on the giant snow slide. Yup, that blur in the picture is me!

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The crowd gathered round to watch the tuxedoed penguins running around free at the Biodome.

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Then out came the fearsome birds of prey. As the owl stared straight into my eyes, I felt it could see into the very depths of my soul. Brrr.

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After that, it was off to the Quartier des Spectacles to watch my fellow Montrealers enjoying the Air France Ferris wheel and the Urban Slide to the soundtrack of DJs performing at 24 HOURS OF VINYL, providing cool beats for a hot crowd.

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We ended the night at the Society for Arts and Technology where patrons in bean bag chairs played old video games projected onto walls and the 8 bits/chiptune got me dancing. A perfect end to Nuit Blanche 2013.

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All pictures by Jim Royal.

Osmosis Schmosmosis

I just received an email with a deal from one of those Groupon-type companies. It offered a massage, a back exfoliation–and an ionic spa session. I had no idea what an ionic spa session was a couple of hours ago.

I decided to check out the spa’s website to get a feel for the location. (I prefer not to link to them, but you can google their name: Clinique La Source de la Santé.)

I first noticed that the spa was actually marketed as a health centre. I also found a page describing the ionic spa session that had been mentioned in the deal.

Now, what I’m about to tell you is nothing to laugh at, because people spend loads of hard-earned cash on this service and believe that it works. But when I read about this treatment, I could not stop laughing. The claims being made were utterly ridiculous.

So this is the treatment: you put your feet into a foot bath for thirty minutes. But not for the purpose of simply relaxing, or having your pods massaged with jets of warm water, which would feel great anyway after a long day on your feet.

This is how the treatment is explained (the grammar and spelling is all theirs):

Essentially, the IonicSpa functions as a magnet that helps your body to detoxify by attracting toxins! Toxic particles exit the body through skin pores buy osmosis to where they are neutralized and trapped in a charged bath of water! The IonicSpa is care for the immune system; it is revolutionary way to re-balance, reenergize & detoxify the body; treatment sessions re-stabilizes cells of the body so that normal physiological functions run at optimal levels, particularly the uptake of necessary nutrients & the elimination of unwanted waste products.

In addition, this foot bath is supposed to help you lose weight, relieve your seasonal allergies, give you more energy and increase oxygen levels in your body, reduce inflammation, take away your insomnia, reduce stress, restore the immune system and remove heavy metals from your body.

I love that last claim. Gee, what was I doing taking painful deferoxamine injections for 16 years in order to remove excess iron from my blood? All I needed was an ionic foot bath!

Their website also has absurd pictures of people’s feet in these ionic baths, with the water changing colours according to which part of the body the toxins were supposedly coming from (the liver, gallbladder and so on). The toxins were allegedly leaving the person’s body through the dilated pores of the person’s feet! One of the pictures showed coppery coloured water with reddish brown sludge-like particles in it. Pretty gross.

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Because it is just too hilarious not to share, here’s a guide explaining which parts of the body are being detoxified according to the colour and texture of the water at the end of the treatment. This information is derived directly from the website.

COLOR OR PARTICLES MATERIAL OR AREA OF THE BODY BEING DETOCIFIED
Black Detoxifying from liver
Black Flecks Heavy metals especially Iron
Brown Detoxifying from liver, cellular debris and tobacco
Dark Green Detoxifying from gallbladder
Orange Detoxifying from joints
Red Flecks Blood clot material
White Cheese – Like Particles Most likely yeast
White Foam Detoxifying from Lymphatic system
Yellow – Green Detoxifying from kidneys, bladder, urinary tract and female/prostate area
Oily Surface Fatty, lactic, oxalic and uric acids

So how often are you supposed to come in for a treatment to ensure the very best results? This health centre strongly recommends two to three sessions per week for four weeks to start. At a cost of $40 per thirty-minute session, that amounts to… a whopping $480. For. Absolutely. Nothing.

I did some research into the truth about how these foot baths actually produce colour. Livestrong.com quoted Dr. Stephen Barrett of Device Watch, who says that the colour of the foot bath water changes because of “a common chemical reaction, caused by the iron oxide — more commonly known as rust — that occurs when the electrodes in the water break down.” Dr. Barrett also notes that the water would change colour “even if a foot was absent”.

To see an ionic foot bath in action, I dug up a couple of YouTube videos in which experiments were done to see how these foot baths produce such gunky textures and colours. I also found a training video that is probably packaged with one of these ionic foot bath products.

It seems that after these treatments, the people using them believe that they have been cleansed, and that their bodies are now pure. But, as the Voice of Young Science says: “Your gut, your liver and kidneys, your lymphatic system and your skin are more than capable of dealing with everyday toxins.”

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I know of a contraption that you can acquire for less than the price of two of these treatments. You can even pick one up from your friendly neighbourhood Canadian Tire. I, myself, have had one for years! I can guarantee that it will massage your feet and make you feel relaxed and blissfully rejuvenated.

And as an added bonus, your feet won’t be sitting in a broth of rust and sludge.

Voilà!
Foot bath

Are you more alkaline or acidic?

I cannot count the number of times that someone has said to me that something is good because it is natural. Yet, in order for plants and animals to survive, they have to create all sorts of poisons. Every part of a tomato plant is poison except for the fruit. Ginseng is a natural medicine, but can be a blood thinner if taken in too large a dose. Exposure to high levels of ammonia can kill you.

People also tend to believe that naturopathy is a good thing. Well, it sounds nice.

I was recently invited to hear a naturopath speak and decided to take the time to look into this naturopath’s offerings more carefully. Out of curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism, I decided to check out her website and see what services she offered.

This naturopath offered a pH evaluation that evaluated levels of acidity or alkalinity in the body. The website warned that diseases and “imbalances” occurred when the body was in “too much of an Acidic state”. I searched the web for similar pH evaluation services, and found another naturopathy website that claimed that “balancing the pH is a major step toward well-being and greater health.”

They claim that an alkalizing diet will prevent fatigue, slow the ageing process, help you lose weight, increase your bone strength, be more energetic, and even prevent cancer. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

I looked at some more naturopathy websites and found claims that you can control the acidity and alkaline levels in your body by buying and using their products, whether it be alkaline water purifiers, alkalizing face and body cleansers, alkalizing supplements, or alkaline pH booster drops.

But is it true? Do we really need to worry about how acidic our bodies are? Can we really prevent cancer and lose weight by using products to increase the alkalinity of our bodies? I did some research.

Gabe Mirkin, M.D., who is an expert on health, nutrition, and sports medicine, says:

“Anyone who tells you that certain foods or supplements make your stomach or blood acidic does not understand nutrition. You should not believe that it matters whether foods are acidic or alkaline, because no foods change the acidity of anything in your body except your urine. Your stomach is so acidic that no food can change its acidity. Citrus fruits, vinegar, and vitamins such as ascorbic acid or folic acid do not change the acidity of your stomach or your bloodstream. An entire bottle of calcium pills or antacids would not change the acidity of your stomach for more than a few minutes.”

Robert T. Carroll, Ph.D., who wrote Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Skepticism, and Science Exposed, echoes this sentiment:

“The first clue that (an acidic) diet would be worthless as a cancer treatment is the general principle it advocates: dietary modification can change the acidity of the blood. It’s not true that the acidity of the body can be changed significantly by diet. Whatever food you eat passes through your stomach, which is highly acidic (pH between 1.5 and 3.5), making it an ideal environment for pepsin, the main digestive enzyme, to break down food. Stomach acid pH levels can be affected by the quantity of food you eat, infection, and stress. Eating foods designated acidic or alkaline is irrelevant to affecting pH in the stomach.”

Busted.

It’s easy to want to believe in a miracle, that any ailment we suffer can be healed easily without painful and cumbersome treatment, and that nature can cure anything. Over my lifetime, I’ve received over 531 transfusions. I had to give myself painful injections with an iron chelator from the age of five to the age of twenty-one, and be attached to an infusion pump overnight five to six nights a week.

Would I ever decide to end my blood transfusions and chelation therapy and rely on alternative medicine for a cure? Hell, no. After all, as my beloved Tim Minchin says:

“Do you know what they call alternative medicine that’s been proved to work? Medicine.”

Kiki de Montparnasse – A Book Review

41ygnrFdZBL._SL500_AA300_Kiki’s story touched me to the core.

Maybe it’s because of my love of Paris, a city whose art, architecture, and vibe I can’t get enough of. Or because I strongly believe that freedom is a right, not a privilege. Either way, Kiki’s story allowed me to live vicariously, thrillingly, through her.

Fresh, evocative, and raw, Kiki de Montparnasse teems with life, passion, and tragedy. The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated and puts you right at the heart of bohemian Paris.

What I loved about this book was the historical context that colours Kiki’s life. Kiki lived in Paris during such an exciting time in the history of art, as well as the darker history of World War Two.

KikiThe life of a “poor artist” has alway fascinated me; how they dedicate their lives to creating art, one day living hand to mouth, the next living the high life. Kiki de Montparnasse takes us into the wheelings and dealings of the art sellers, the jealousies between artists, their wives and the models, the scandalous parties, the raunchy cabaret shows…

The story follows the life of Kiki, née Alice Prin, a mischievous little girl born in Châtillon-sur-Seine at the turn of the twentieth century. Raised by her grandmother, Alice grows up poor, but in a house full of love and folly.

Eventually, Alice’s mother sends for her, and they are reunited in Paris. However, the teenage Alice is treated like a burden, and she is sent out to work at menial jobs to help pay the rent.

At 14, Alice is asked to model for an artist, in the nude, for the equivalent of a week’s salary. When her mother eventually finds out, there are fireworks, and the young Miss Prin is disowned. She stays in Paris, continues to model, and soon becomes a muse for various artists, as well as a singer, dancer, artist, and actress. She models for and meets her longtime lover Man Ray, and Tsuguharu Foujita, Jean Cocteau, Moise Kisling, Modigliani, Picasso and other painters and photographers of note.

A free spirit and charismatic beyond measure, Alice becomes a cabaret singer and dancer, often living hand to mouth, at times financially supported by her many lovers. She eventually becomes known as Kiki de Montparnasse, a symbol of the newly liberated culture of Paris.

Funny, heartbreakingly sad, generous to her core, swearing and drinking like a sailor: Kiki lived a remarkable life, a muse to some of the greatest artists in 1920s Paris.

Five Hundred and Thirty One

I remember the first time I came face to face with the people who were literally keeping me alive.

I’ve had the opportunity to speak at two Héma-Québec engagements in the last three years. The first was at a thank-you dinner for the volunteers who set up and run the blood drives that are held around the city of Montreal year-round. The second speaking engagement was a dinner to thank blood donors who had donated twenty-five, fifty, and even a hundred times or more.

The sense of gratitude I felt at these events was overwhelming. After all, when I receive blood every three weeks, all I see is a unit of blood with a tracking number on it. Obviously, I know where the blood comes from, but actually seeing the faces of these donors really brought the point home. Meeting the volunteers who devote their time and energy was humbling. I was given the opportunity to thank each one of them in person on both occasions.

Here’s the speech I gave on both occasions:

My first transfusion was at the age of six months, shortly after being diagnosed with Thalassemia at the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

Having Thalassemia makes it impossible to take life for granted. I have Thalassemia major, the most severe form of Thalassemia. It is an inherited blood disorder where your body has difficulty producing hemoglobin, which is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body. When your blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of your body, you have anemia. This type of severe thalassemia is treated with blood transfusions and treatment to remove excess iron in the blood. The blood keeps me alive, but because of the amount of blood I need to receive, there is a risk of extra iron accumulating on my vital organs, which could be fatal. So, I also have to use a chelating agent to remove this dangerous iron from my body.

The blood transfusions have always been a constant in my life. I still go to the same hospital that I always have. It is the only hospital in Montreal that has a dedicated Thalassemia clinic. One nice thing about always going to this hospital is that there are other patients there who I have known my whole life. The fact that there is a group of people who have the same medical condition as me makes me feel that I am not alone. Talking with others while receiving blood is a nice distraction.

When I was five years old, I started receiving a drug called Desferal to chelate the extra iron from my blood. The treatment consisted of daily injections. At least 5-6 evenings a week, my mother would gather together all the elements that were needed to mix this medicine. We needed a syringe, venotubing, alcohol, gauze, sterile water, and a needle. Once she had mixed this medicine, tapping the syringe very carefully to ensure that there were no air bubbles present, it was time to find a spot to administer the medication. You can imagine that this was my least favourite part. I would make a million excuses for why I was not ready for the needle. I would ask if I could have 5 more minutes, 10 more minutes… We would examine my stomach, my arms, my legs for a spot that was not too bruised, not too sore. Then my mom would poke me with the needle, something she must have hated to do.

As I mentioned, this treatment began when I was five years old. I had already been transfused 52 times.

The Desferal was delivered with an infusion pump that I would be connected to all night. The pump itself was heavy and cumbersome and restricted my movement quite a bit. Sometimes I felt as though I were attached to a leash. I learned not to move too much at night. Some days I woke up to find the needle yanked out of my arm and the Desferal leaked all over my sheets. Or sometimes the needle had not been inserted deep enough, and I would wake up in the morning with a huge swelling on my leg. Those were the worst days. It meant that all the pain I had gone through the night before had been for nothing. Desferal was a very cumbersome treatment, yet very effective at reducing iron in the body. My parents instilled into me the importance of using this treatment very early on. From the age of 12, I began administering the needle on my own. I also knew that several patients had not used Desferal often enough, and the excess iron had accumulated in their tissues and vital organs, leading to their death. I knew I did not want to end up like them.

When I was in elementary school, I did not have the ability to describe my condition to my peers. They knew that I missed a day of school every month, and somehow sensed that I was different from them. That, plus the fact that I was very quiet, prompted them to be quite protective towards me. I was very shy about my nightly injections and did not often have sleepovers.

By the ninth grade, I had been transfused at least 175 times. I was able to explain my condition to my classmates to a certain extent, but I would only tell my very best friends. I was afraid that if I told everybody, I would be treated like I was made of glass. I was afraid that they would pity me, and the last thing I wanted to be was pitied.

I grew up in a very close-knit community, yet to this day they do not know about my condition. When I was growing up, my mom would not talk about it with anyone in our community. It sometimes made me feel as though perhaps it was something that I needed to keep hidden.

But at home, it was because of my mom and dad’s strength that I grew up to be who I am today. My mom and dad always made sure that I had as normal a childhood as possible. They raised me to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be.

In college and university, I became much more open about it. By this time, I had been transfused at least 240 times. I was happy to discover that, even though people were at first shocked to learn that I was dealing with thalassemia, they were quite understanding and didn’t change the way they behaved around me. I also discovered that most of us are dealing with some type of problem or another— be it a medical condition, a psychological condition, a financial problem — and that I was not alone.

When I was 22, I was asked if I wanted to be part of a study for a new oral chelator in pill form called Ferriprox. Of course, I jumped at the chance to get away from the needles and the infusion pump. I had been waiting for that moment all my life. I started taking the medication and have been on it ever since. It has improved my quality of life tremendously.

In the transfusion room, patients don’t often think of the fact that an actual person gave us this blood from their own body. All we see is the bag of blood and it feels a bit disconnected. It is overwhelming when you actually do think of all the people who have made a choice to give blood, and that in doing so, they are saving your life. Blood donation is necessarily anonymous, but I sometimes wish that I could meet those people who give so generously.

I have worked full time for the past eleven years and it has its challenges. I require a transfusion every three weeks, and I receive two units of blood each time. Altogether, my hospital visits take 5-6 hours and I am quite drained by the end. I have to miss an entire day of work every three weeks, but luckily, I am at a company where they understand this and I am able to make up the time that I miss throughout the week.

In the past, I have not been so lucky. One company tried to make me use my vacation days for my transfusions. When I proposed that I simply not be paid for those days that I missed because of transfusions, I was actually accused of asking for “preferential treatment”. I actually had to say very bluntly to this person that I would die without these treatments. Another company almost reversed their decision to hire me when they found out I had to miss work so often. These companies would not have objected to make arrangements if I needed a wheelchair. Perhaps it’s because Thalassemia is not something that you can see when you look at me.

Living with Thalassemia is something that I have always done. It is a part of me. My parents always tried hard to make sure that I had as normal a childhood as possible, and when I became more independent, I, too, made sure that I never let my Thalassemia stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I grew up, I went to university, I fell in love and got married. I won’t let my medical condition be an excuse for not doing what I want to do. The fact that I am stubborn by nature has helped me well in this regard.

I estimate that I have had, at minimum, 531 transfusions over my lifetime.

I feel almost defiant. Why should I hide such a thing? It is not my fault that I was born with Thalassemia and need blood to survive. And there is no shame in it. In fact, I am just starting to realize that if I tell others that I need blood, they will realize just how important giving blood is. Being here today, talking to all of you is a great way to start.

I’d like to thank each and every one of you for the hope you give to people like me every day. Without you, I wouldn’t be here.

What I didn’t expect was the reaction of the audience to my speech, both times. There were gasps of surprise, and, as my husband observed, many tears among the audience members.

After each speech, I was approached by many audience members who actually thanked me. They thanked me for sharing my experience and for reminding them why they were giving blood, why they were volunteering at these blood drives, and why they wanted to continue doing so.

Five Years

It’s been about five years since my last post and a lot has changed, as would anyone’s life in five years. My life, my opinions, what I observe, what I find important, how I process information. We change a little bit everyday, influenced by the people we surround ourselves with, altered by the experiences we go through, and by deliberately focusing on the parts of ourselves that we choose to develop.

I was born with Thalassemia Major, a genetic blood disorder. In order to stay alive, I have been receiving blood transfusions every three to four weeks since I was a six month old baby.

I always wanted to find a way to thank those who had allowed me to stay alive and in good health by donating blood. A few years ago, the opportunity presented itself, and I grabbed it with both hands. Since then, I’ve spent a good part of my time and energy trying to turn my illness into a powerful positive, by speaking about it in public.

Over time, I’ve slowly been able to lose some of my inhibitions. At one point, I just decided to say “yes” to every opportunity I was presented, and simply ignore my doubts. Besides, there was no way I could possibly say “no” to an opportunity to be an advocate for those who depend on the generosity of blood donors. How would I live with that? I needed to reach out to donors and tell them my story so that they could understand what a powerful thing they were doing. I also wanted to tell potential donors why the need for blood donors was so great. I even decided to be in a TV commercial.

The Face of God

The face we assign to God when we are children is a well-worn cliché by now: an old white man with a wise, wrinkly appearance and a long snow-white beard. As we grow older we realize that the probability of God looking like Santa Claus or even George Burns is, indeed, very low.

As I get older (and hopefully, wiser), I realize that the probability of God having human attributes is even lower. We, as human beings, have historically had a tendency to think of God as being physically similar to us, likely because of the belief that He created us. But how probable is this idea?

First of all, if you, like me, assume that there is only one God for all peoples, what would His race be? Would He be white, black, Chinese, Indian? I think the answer is most probably none of the above.

Would this God be male or female? We always refer to God as He, likely because this is the way in which he is referred to in the Holy Books. Yet, at the same time, we are told that God is not a human being. He had no mother or father to speak of, and he cannot have a human relationship, and it follows that He cannot father a child. However, it is a distinct Christian belief that God impregnated the virgin Mary resulting in the future prophet Jesus. (This, of course, also assumes that God is a He.)

I think it is highly unlikely that God has a gender. Having said all this, the attributes we assign to God are overwhelmingly human ones: goodness, kindness, mercy, benevolence. Why do we assume that God is just like us?

I think the reason is that assigning human attributes to God simply makes it easier for us to believe in such a being. Consequently, many of us are guilty of believing in our rabbis, priests, and mullahs, as if they themselves were God.

The Art of Bise

I can’t get behind people who don’t know how to do the bise properly! In my opinion, not doing the bise properly is as bad as giving someone a cold-dead-fish handshake!

For those of you who do not know what the bise are, they are those little kisses you plant on one’s cheek as a greeting and a good-bye. Sometimes, the kiss to the cheek never actually makes it, and it turns into a cheek to cheek thing, which is fine, too. 🙂 For more information, observe these two doing the bise!

But too many times, I come across people, who, rather than actually kiss the other person’s cheek, instead kiss the air with a loud smacking sound. This is unacceptable. Not only does it come off as impersonal and ungenuine, it reeks of indifference. The whole point of the bise is to show joy at the presence of the person before you.

Mon dieu! If you can’t do the bise properly, just shake my hand!

Racism…or culture clash?

The U.K. is psycho-analyzing itself this week after complaints of racism towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty on Big Brother. I personally don’t watch reality shows (as I find my own life much more exciting). Apparently, disparaging remarks were made regarding Shetty’s entire person, including the way she carries herself, the way she eats and speaks, and her hygiene. She was also allegedly called a “dog” and a “Paki.”

The TV station, Channel 4, that carries this reality show refuses to pin the word “racism” on this, saying “We have reached the view that we cannot with certainty say that the comments directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated or whether they stem from broader cultural and social differences.” Similarly, some cautious on-lookers are calling the incident a result of “culture and class clash” (as if that is so much better!)

In order to live with one another in civil society, we have to be ready to, at the very least, accept each other’s differences. Ideally, we should each embrace the cultural richness that “the other” brings to us. I am very, very pleased that this incident has brought up so much debate in the U.K. They (and we) need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and what’s brewing underneath. The effort on the part of the U.K. to get to the crux of the matter is admirable.

The most alarming and inane comment to come out of all this (and believe me there have been many) actually came out of the mouth of a fellow Indian. Bollywood filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt in Mumbai’s DNA newspaper said: “I believe no-one can insult you without your permission. Shilpa Shetty has paid the price for trying to desperately seek the approval of the West. It is pathetic how we can go on bended knees and lick the boots of Westerners in an effort to be part of their world.”

What the…??? So rather than applaud this woman for attempting to integrate, you insult her and call her pathetic?? Way to go for solidarity (I pity your wife).

In examining all this, quotes, news coverage, etc…I’ve come to the conclusion that in addition to exhibiting racist behaviour, whether or not intentional, Ms. Goody at the same time displayed her own insecurities. The fact that Shetty is a beautiful, accomplished actress who carries herself with poise, dignity, and grace was just too much for Ms. Goody. In fact, the way Ms. Goody reacted to Shetty was a clash of class.

Shetty has class, Goody has none.