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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

A fair warning whenever I get into the kitchen.

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.8 of 16 weeks)
Week 41 of World Tour

Montreal/Ottawa Trip

NDG Barter Network
After participating in Tom Kennedy’s seminar 5 weeks earlier, Tom invited me to share my message in Montreal and Ottawa as well. So on Thursday, March 4, Kit drove me to Montreal where we met up with Wendy Lloyd-Smith, co-ordinator of the NDG Barter Network. And even though it was 11.30pm, Wendy stayed up to talk to us about how things were going with her small group. I was extremely impressed with the LETS Information Kit she’d designed and could see much potential with her newly formed network.

Wendy had organized a treat for us the following morning. A few NDG members arrived early to meet me over breakfast. And what a feast it was, with bagels, croissants and crepes aplenty, all through LETS, and much more than we could eat.

Old City of Montreal
At 11 am, Roseanne, an NDG member, took us for a drive around the city of Montreal. Unfortunately it was a very wet and foggy day, so the view from the city’s hill was simply a sea of murky grey. But once we got out of the car and into some buildings, everything was fine.

That's a bloody big moose head!

As we searched for somewhere to have lunch, we came across a very interesting tourist shop. Inside were an assortment of Canadian giftware with the typical Indian and Eskimo content, but also featuring some very impressive stuffed animals. The size of the moose head was astounding, and the polar bear, selling for $24,000 hardly seemed like a bargain to me. Raccoons, wolverines and a lynx (bobcat) were featured as well, and I was impressed to see the famous Australian Akubra hats and coats being sold as well.

With the framed bugs collection at a shop in Bon Secour Market.

The Bon Secour Market, across the road, was like an up-market flea market, and I spent all my time in a shop that sold African handicrafts, musical instruments and framed insects. Some of the insects were 20cm (8 inches) long, and the Tarantula spiders were another favourite of mine. Unfortunately, as I was traveling without money, I would have to be satisfied just with a photo rather than taking the real thing with me.

We stopped at Notre Dame Basilica to light a candle. It’s one of the most magnificent church interiors I have ever seen. But they wanted a $5 entry fee.

“Can’t I just light a candle?” I asked.

“Of course there’s no charge if you just want to light a candle”, the attendant replied, “but you cannot take any photos unless you pay the entry fee”.

The framed print says Charles Dickens in Montreal 1842.

Finally we had lunch at the L'Usine de Spaghetti Parisienne (273 St. Paul Est, Vieux Montreal) which is in a building built around 1650. Our table was in Place Dickens which has historical significance because it’s where Charles Dickens wrote his notes for his book, Tale Of Two Cities.

This is what the framed notice wrote ...

DID YOU KNOW... In May of 1842, Charles Dickens visited Montreal and wrote the notes for A Tale of Two Cities in the back room of this very restaurant!!

But what it didn't mention was that he didn't publish his book until 17 years later, in 1859!

The Olympic Tower and Olympic Park in snow.

Olympic Tower
On Saturday, we went to Olympic Park with Lorraine. Lorraine is an Australian lady from Cobram (3 hours north of Melbourne) who’d been studying in Montreal since last year. Wendy introduced her to us on the previous night when she came to see me perform my play, The Glory Of Athens, at Wendy’s home. She enjoyed the play so much that she was pleased to accompany us on our second sight-seeing tour of Montreal.

Olympic Park is the home of Olympic Tower, the largest leaning tower in the world, which was built for the Montreal Olympic Games back in 1976. It’s a unique structure with an outdoor elevator car taking tourists to the lookout on the top floor. But it’s had some very bad, and justifiable, criticism in the past. The Olympic Tower is annexed to a giant enclosed building, with a massive roof, without interior supports. Unfortunately, the designer hadn’t calculated the additional stress that several tons of snow would have on the roof, and some years ago the roof collapsed. So today the roof is cleverly supported by dozens of strong wire supports hinged uniformly around the roof and clamped to the top of the tower, which fortunately leans towards the massive building.

Opposite Olympic Park is the Botanic Gardens, home of the Live Butterfly Enclosure and also the Insectarium, both of which we wanted to see on that day. As we queued up to buy tickets, I noticed everyone talking in French. Of course, I thought, we’re in Quebec now, Canada’s French province. In fact, the language laws in Quebec are so strict that it’s illegal for businesses to use English in their offices (and literature, promotions, etc.) as their primary language. This has caused some of the English speaking businesses to relocate their offices just across the border in Ontario.

A Morpho lands on a book about butterflies.

Butterflies Go Free
We were told that waiting in the queue to see the Butterflies Go Free exhibit would take about 40 minutes. Fortunately, the queue meandered through the Cactus and Bonsai exhibits of the Botanic Gardens and so we casually glanced at all the plants as we snailed our way closer to our goal. Dozens of very different cactus plants amazed me, as did the ages of the bonsai plants, one of them displayed as 75 years old.

Then, 43 minutes later, we were in with the butterflies. The temperature was set at only 24 degrees Celsius, whereas the Butterfly Display at the Melbourne Zoo is set at 40 degrees. The area was packed with people, hence the long wait. And the predominant butterfly was the large bright blue Morpho butterfly. Most of us were hoping to have a butterfly land on our clothes, head or hands. But only the people with light and bright coloured clothes were so lucky. Then they became even more popular than the butterflies, because now they were ‘the chosen ones’.

Getting close to the giant moths and their cocoons suspended on ropes.

Sugared water dishes, on tall poles, were scattered amongst the flowering bushes and trees, where the butterflies could display themselves to the public while satisfying their hunger and thirst. Butterfly cocoons were displayed in warmly lit pupae boxes, while large moth cocoons clung to large knotted ropes suspended from a cave-like opening, giving it a waterfall appearance. Nearby signs offered us hope that we may get to see a young butterfly emerging, wet and wrinkled from one of the cocoons, but we had no luck during out 45 second wait.

But what I did see was a a dead morpho being quietly removed from a flower bed.

Looking at the giant beetles display.

As we entered the Insectarium, the wall-mounted glass displays showed hundreds of large and unique insects from all over the world. This was so much like the ones I’d seen for sale in the Bon Secour Market, but on a scale 100 times larger. Horned beetles about 10cm (4 inches) long. Stick Insects about 20cm (8 inches) long. And a Carpenter Bee about 4cm (2 inches) long. That’s definitely one insect I wouldn’t want to be stung by!

But then I noticed some live insects in a glass display case. And then I noticed live insect displays all over the place. Wow! This was amazing. A large enclosure with a couple of trees inside, was crowded with those massive stick insects, but it took ages to notice them, sometimes when they were only inches away.

Holding a live stumpy stick insect at the Insectarium.

A crowd of people gathered around a staff member who was showing them one of his favourite exhibits. It was a live stubby stick insect about 15cm (6 inches) long. And he had it sitting on the palm of his hand. It had a firm grip on his hand because when the guy turned his hand upside-down, the insect just clung on. At one point he picked the insect up with his other hand and moved it closer to the crowd who baulked as the critter got closer. So, seeing an opportunity, I reached out toward the guy with my palm upturned. He seemed a little startled with my offer and asked me something in French. I just nodded, hoping it was the right answer, and he placed ‘Stubby’ on my hand. I smiled for the camera and happily returned Stubby to his master.

“They used to sell chocolate-coated ants here”, someone said.

LETS Presentation and The Glory Of Athens
Nine NDG members turned up for my LETS Favours presentation at 4pm. It always excites me to see members being inspired to become more active within their LETS group after hearing my presentation. Then afterwards I put on another performance of The Glory Of Athens to a small but very appreciative audience, rounding off another great day of events.

Early the next morning, we left for Granby, arriving 75 minutes later at my next host’s home. We were getting further into French-speaking territory, but luckily my hosts, Pierre and Johanne, both spoke very good English. Their 3 acre home was semi-rural, with only a couple of small herb gardens still hidden under the deep snow. From their warm dining room I watched some chickadees eating seeds from the bird-feeder hanging close to the window. I couldn’t help but think of W.C.Fields and Mae West in their movie, My Little Chickadee, whenever I saw those birds. A harp grabbed all the attention in my make-shift bedroom. Johanne is an accomplished harpist, though I wouldn’t be fortunate enough to hear her play during my stay.

At La Maison, giving my LETS Favours presentation to a French JEU audience.

Pierre had organized quite a few events for me during my stay, and the first one was a Sunday brunch at 11am with the JEU group. So we all got into his car, getting there a little after it had commenced. The first couple of hours were allocated to socializing, so we knew we wouldn’t be late for anything.

JEU translates into English as GAME, but is an acronym for Jardin d’Echange Universe (Garden of Universal Exchange). This form of LETS group is typically French, with many other groups in existence. It is unique in that it is a network without any administrative office. Each member is given a trading book which records all of their transactions. And after each transaction the members note the details in the other person’s trading book. Their trading unit is the Minute, so 60 units are traded per hour, with 60 units being equivalent to $10. I can understand why some groups choose to use time as their trading units, but when I see it related back to a dollar value, it just makes the calculations that much more complicated. (More information about JEU can be found at www.jeu-game.com).

The venue for the brunch was La Maison, a former boarding/reception business, now owned by 7 individuals determined to keep it out of the commercial arena and equally as determined to have it serving the local community. Hence their association with JEU, and happily accepting JEU minutes as payment for services.

Ghislaine Saint-Pierre Lanctot is one of the La Maison owners and also a JEU member. She is world renowned for her expose of the medical industry in her book, The Medical Mafia, and has more recently written a book about life called, What The Hell Am I Doing Here Anyway? It refers to LETS, JEU and other community currencies, and she kindly gave me a copy of her book with the following inscription.

To James, Thank you for traveling and spreading the desire to create heaven on earth! (love heart) Ghislaine

I was the featured speaker for the afternoon, and seeing half of my 32 audience didn’t understand English, Ghislaine offered to translate it into French. So from 3 – 5pm I gave a shortened version of my LETS Favours presentation, ending my session with a performance of my Homer monologue (from my play, The Glory Of Athens) which was also translated into French.

JEU Meeting Report (received April 19) Hello James, ... I want to take a minute to tell you about the impact of your presentation in front of the JEU group in Stukeley Sud. I went to a follow-up meeting that was planned the day of your presentation. All the people that were there voiced their appreciation of your presentation. They all felt energized from it. I told them that although they felt your enthousiasm they missed on the practical means you provide to ensure activity in an exchange network. I told them about the roles that can be assume by some motivated people and right away one person proposed herself to assume the role of membership contact and get in touched with all members and revitalised their offers and belonging interests. They agreed to charge all the members' account 100 JEUs to pay that person to do this work wich they call 'Spring clean-up'. They also realised that they should perceive a certain fee to have a proper news letter that would motivate members to exchange and that these fees should go into an account belonging to the network. So the structureless network is seeing the need for some structure. À suivre... Pierre Lazure, Réseau d'Échange et d'Entraide Local

Feeding The Birds
Having breakfast the next morning was very enjoyable. Even though it was still very cold outside and covered with snow, the birds still frequented the bird-feeder. Blue Jays, Cardinals, Redpoll Finches and Juncos took it in turns to feed, mostly from the feeding box, but also from the ground below where much of the seeds had fallen.

Réseau d'Échange et d'Entraide Local (RÉEL)
Pierre and Johanne were just starting a new LETS group, with only 5 members and no trading so far. So they were very excited about having me give my LETS Favours presentation to 20 prospective members on Monday night. And as an incentive for the guests to join, the $5 entry fee was fully refundable to anyone who joined their new LETS group.

Luckily almost all of those attending spoke English, so I was able to give my normal presentation without the need for a line-by-line translation. And the 3 guests who needed my talk translated joined Pierre at the back of the room where he quietly interpreted my presentation live.

Part way through my talk, a newspaper photographer came into the meeting room and took several photos before leaving and without saying a word.

And after my presentation, nobody moved! Not a word. They just sat there. I was used to getting lots of questions or people getting up to leave, but they were all fixed to their seats, motionless. Pierre eventually thanked them for their attendance and finally they showed signs of interest. One of the members was so excited she immediately offered to take on the very responsible role of Membership co-ordinator. This thrilled Pierre and Johanne who were glad to see some help coming from someone apart from themselves. I thought I could continue to be of help in the future, so I also joined their group.

For the first couple of days Pierre had asked me lots of questions about how he should run his new LETS group, and he listened attentively. This is an email I got from him a few days after I returned to Kitchener.

Hi James,

It was very nice to have you James and I learned a lot from your experience that you so willingly share. I need your middle name as you know our member codes are made of three letters. I thought Edward would suit you well as it would make your code JET. What do you think? We also changed the name of our network, it is now called 'Réseau d'Échange et d'Entraide Local, RÉEL for reality. So welcome to the RÉEL. Our money will be Faveur for favors (learned my lesson well didn't I?) …

Have a nice day in Toronto!

Pierre Lazure

My largest Audience For The Glory Of Athens
The next day we went to CEGEP de Granby, a French-speaking college, where I was due to perform my play, The Glory Of Athens, at 11.30am. Johanne’s daughter was a student at the college and had arranged with her English teacher, Jennifer Hanna, for my performance.

The students, who all spoke relatively good English, were aged 17-19, similar to the Year 12 class I’d performed to a couple of months earlier at the Confederation High School in Welland. Their response was equally as enthusiastic, but this event stood out by being the largest audience I’d performed to with 70 students in the audience.

And I got a great testimonial from Quentin, who also talked to me straight after my performance.

James ? Ghia sou! I told you I’d write. My name is Quentin, we met after your presentation (great presentation if I may) at the Cegep of Granby [College near Montreal, Canada]. Just wanted to say, what you did and what you are doing is marvelous. The way you brought your ideas with humour, «good» humour as I call it, intelligent humour, is simply amazing. I’ve been trying to write plays of my own, and I must say, I never even came close to what you did! I hope everything is going well for you, mustn’t be that easy to travel the way you do. But keep it up, I think you shouldn't stop until everyone has witnessed The Glory Of Athens! ... Quentin

Sugaring-Off Exhibition
Later in the afternoon, Pierre, Tom (who had also accompanied us to the college performance) and I drove to La Maison De Cultures Ameridiennes at Mont St. Hilaire (American Cultural House at Mount St. Hilary) to see the Sugaring-off Exhibition. Along the way we saw a couple of white-tailed deer, one of which watched us from the middle of the road until we got to within about 30 metres of him.

Our entry fee included dinner and entry to the Indian Masks Exhibition. The Indian masks exhibition was a mixture of very colourful modern and traditional masks made out of wood, leather and hair. These covered the long walls of the exhibition room, and as we were the only people there, it looked very deserted and empty.

The Sugaring-Off Exhibition was tucked away in the far corner, and had a cozier feel about it. But all the display boards were written in French! I’d never seen that before. Even in China they have their signs translated into English for the benefit of their tourists. And here I was, in Canada, where most of the population speaks English, and I couldn’t understand the exhibit! Fortunately, there was a TV monitor in an adjacent corner which had a 15 minute show (spoken in French with English sub-titles) on the traditional way in which maple syrup was made, a process called sugaring-off.

Basically, when the overnight temperatures are below zero (-5 Celsius is best) and the daylight temperatures are above zero (+5 Celsius is best) maple trees can be milked. In modern times, maple trees are linked to each other using a very elaborate piping system, which draws the sap out of hundreds of trees and collects them into a common barrel. But in the good ol’ days it was very different.

It takes 30-40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of maple syrup, so the process is a long one. And this is how they did it.

A cut is made in the side of the maple tree using a knife or an axe.
A flat wooden wedge is tapped into this cut to act as a spout.
A bucket (made of woven birch bark) is placed under the wedge to collect the sap.
The sap is collected and poured into a large metal pot.
The pot is heated until it turns into syrup.
Additional heating makes it even denser and forms a toffee, which is spread over a bowl filled with snow, and peeled off, seconds later, after it’s cooled.

The House Restaurant had a traditional and delicious Indian menu.

Entre – squash soup.
Main - chicken thighs cooked in maple syrup served with rice and corn.
Dessert - maple sugar pie without crust, served with ice-cream.

We were all very warm and tired on our drive back home, though we all woke up with a jolt when Pierre had to swerve to avoid running over a raccoon on the road which had been hypnotized by the car’s headlights.

Man Of Greece
The next morning at 7.30am, Tom and I left Granby bound for Montreal. Tom wanted to have breakfast at the famous Cosmos Café, so we picked up his son and girlfriend along the way, and then went to enjoy the café’s famous mish-mash meal, which it had perfected over it’s 35 year history. As I waited for my breakfast, I looked around and noticed the walls were all covered in paper currency from all over the world.

Tony had owned the business for all of those years and now ran the tiny little ‘hole in the wall’ with his son.

“My customers have been sending me money from other countries for many years”, Tony said, “I don’t even know where most of these countries are. And I’ve got stacks of it inside as well”, he added, venturing into the back and emerging with wads of foreign notes in his hands.

Most of the notes were from third world countries where each note wasn’t worth much more than a cent or two, but it was quite a conversation piece.
Recently Tony had also been featured on a TV documentary, Man Of Greece.

“Did you see my film?” he asked, pointing to a poster as we were about to leave.

Fat Cat
Soon we were in Ottawa. I was staying with Margaret and her 3 cats. But I’ve never seen such big cats before. Even though Brutus had been put on a diet by his vet, he was still 26 pounds (11.5 kilos). I watched him as he walked across the floor. His rear legs were buckled and angled outwards for support. And his steps were short and jerky. And once he’d staggered 10 metres he’d just collapse onto his side, taking a break to catch his breath.

Ottawa LETS
Pierre had called his sister in Ottawa to let her know there’d be a meeting there, and we bumped into her just as we got to the meeting venue. Ten others turned up as well. Ottawa LETS were going through some hard times, so my audience were quite happy to see some hope for the future after I shared some of my ideas. One of the members, Mike the Orthotherapist, was so pleased he offered to give me a free massage at 1pm the following day, in appreciation for sharing my LETS presentation with the group. And seeing we had to be out of the building after only 2 hours, 5 of us went out for drinks and continued our discussion in a nearby café.

The Passion Of The Christ Research
While I was an early riser, Margaret was not. So while she was fast asleep I browsed through her library of books. There were lots of books on history and also on religious topics. I’d seen Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion Of The Christ, when it premiered in Canada 3 weeks earlier. And even though most of the storyline had been confirmed in the bible, there were a couple of questions I still had which focused on the brutality of the film.

The bible says that Jesus was given 39 lashes, yet I counted over 70 lashes before the sounds were faded out, giving the impression that Jesus was given more lashes than that.

And there was no mention in the bible of Jesus being whipped with a metal barbed cat-of-9-tales.

But within minutes I had my answers. After looking up Crucifiction in the 16 volume Encyclopedia Of The Bible, I learned that it was common to add pieces of metal to the ends of whips. And 39 lashes was the standard punishment for minor offences, with gentiles suffering up to 300 lashes for major offences. So, as Jesus’ offence must’ve been regarded as much more than minor, it is very probable that his punishment was more than 39 lashes.

When I shared this information with Margaret, she acknowledged that she also had done a lot of research on the subject. In fact, she’d tried to contact Mel with some important additional information but she couldn’t get a mailing address to send it too. (If someone can find Mel’s address, please let me know so I can pass it on to Margaret.)

American Embassy
Yesterday, Tom and I had had gone to the American Embassy to see if I could sort out a visa query I had. Unfortunately, the Embassy was closed on Wednesdays, but it was suggested I return the following day (today) between 10am and 11am to have it sorted out. The American Embassy was barricaded with concrete barriers all along the edge of the sidewalk, very much like a fortress, obviously to thwart any suicide bombing attempts. Were they getting too paranoid? I don’t think so. As I walked passed the information booth set-up outside the embassy, I nudged Tom and pointed to the window. It had a gunshot hole right in the middle of it.

Anyway, they told me to come again on Thursday, so there I was. But when I asked to enter they wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have an appointment.

“You can make an appointment for tomorrow”, the security guard told me.

“But I’m leaving tonight”, I said. I then explained what I’d been told on the previous day. I guess the guards just needed to be sure I wasn’t a security risk. And having an Australian passport must’ve helped. So they listened to reason and let me in. But I had to walk through the metal detector frame, and they checked my personal bag, and I had to leave my boots and my camera with them. Then I was escorted to the next guard who questioned why I was being allowed in without an appointment.

“He’s OK”, the other guard told him before returning to his post outside.

I’d been to embassies before, so I knew how busy they got. So now all I’d have to do would be to wait in line until someone was free to see me. The other guard walked me to the enquiry booths.

“Go to booth number 7”, he said.

I looked around to see 8 booths with absolutely no-one in line. And in the waiting area with 30 seats, sat one solitary lady. Hardly a peak-hour working day.

And once I got to the booth, my problem was handled both quickly and politely. So I actually spent more time trying to get into the embassy than being served while inside.

Orthotherapeutic Massage
Margaret picked me up from Chapters bookstore (opposite the embassy) and we went to Moe’s for lunch. Mike joined us for a pork souvlaki and Greek salad with rice. Mike’s massage was going to be the last thing I’d get a chance to do before Tom came to pick me up at 3pm and take me back to Kitchener.

Mike’s massage clinic was across the road, and for the next 75 minutes he gave me a very professional massage. I was particularly impressed by his foot massaging technique, where he started by prodding my feet and then continued by stroking, knuckling, stroking again, and finally slapping them!

“The slapping is a Swedish touch”, he said as my feet continued to sting.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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