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In spare moments between customers this pizza shop owner writes novels. His latest explores the 1998-99 conflict in Kosovo

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Perparim Kapllani opens his Toronto pizza shop every morning at 11 a.m. and closes it every night 12 hours later. He’s been doing it seven days a week for the past decade, not counting brief vacations.

There’s nothing unusual about immigrants working hard. But Kapllani, who arrived from Albania in 2000, juggles a second job at the same time in a rather striking way.

Between serving customers and making pizzas, Kapllani squeezes into a backroom office no bigger than a broom closet. He sits at a tiny desk and shifts his focus “like a rabbit” between two screens: on one he can see when the next customer walks in; on the other, connected to his desktop, he writes the next sentence of his novel.

“There are little moments when I can write something,” Kapllani says.

Since opening his west-end shop in 2008, Kapllani has stolen enough little moments to write a play, a collection of short stories, and two novels. His most recent novel, The Thin Line, was published in November by Mawenzi House.

Were it not for the pizza shop, “I might publish a novel every year,” Kapllani quips.

He comes from the Balkans, a peninsula in southeastern Europe that has been carved up by empires and regional powers for centuries. The 1998-99 conflict between Serbia, a largely Orthodox Christian state, and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian Muslims is the backdrop to Kapllani’s latest work.

It’s based on a true story about a 10-year-old boy in Kosovo, the sole survivor of a massacre by Serb forces in April 1999. The boy watched as 20 ethnic Albanian women and children were shot to death in a house, including his mother and three sisters.

The boy was wounded, but survived by playing dead. He eventually came to Canada with his father as a refugee.

His horrific story is well documented — he testified years later at a United Nations tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. But Kapllani asked that the survivor’s name not be published because his novel fictionalizes his experiences.

“It’s a story of very slow healing,” Kapllani, 52, says of his novel’s main character.

“The ghosts of the loved ones, of the dead, they follow you — they chase you. What are you going to do?”

Kapllani’s book was edited by M.G. Vassanji, a novelist who twice won the Giller Prize. Vassanji says it reflects the traumatic experiences refugees bring to Canada, and the Canadian values that help most overcome feelings of revenge.

“You cannot forget the fact that you lost your mother and three sisters right in front of you, but you can put the past to rest and you can start again,” Vassanji says in an interview.

“It says something about the quality of our society that you can do that,” he adds, “that you’re allowed to be who you are and are given the space to grow and to find yourself.”

Kapllani wrote about the boy when he worked as a journalist with Albania’s biggest newspaper, Shekulli, in the capital Tirana. The boy was one of an estimated 900,000 Kosovar Albanians expelled by Serb forces, and Kapllani met him while he recovered in a military hospital. He identified with the boy’s pain.

Kapllani grew up in Elbasan, a city in the middle of what at the time was communist Albania. When he was 10, his father was found dead in the street with a fractured skull, after years of struggling with mental health issues. The circumstances of his death were never determined.

The municipality found Kapllani’s family a room in a building known as “the fish palace,” because of the fish shop on the ground floor.

“There were 28 families living there and five washrooms outside the building,” he recalls. “It was a nightmare.”

With the help of a locally connected man, Kapllani entered a military school at the age of 14 and graduated as an artillery officer. He became a journalist with the department of defence and, when the communist system collapsed in the early 1990s, got a job at Shekulli.

He covered crime, and once went into hiding after exposing local mobsters laundering money in construction projects. He also witnessed the terrifying brutality of the Kosovo war.

“To myself I said, ‘How can this happen in the middle of Europe, just because they have a different religion or nationality?’” Kapllani says.

He came to Canada as a landed immigrant with his wife and son. His wife is a chemical engineer who works for a company that produces medication; his son graduated last year from the University of Toronto with a degree in industrial engineering.

After working in pizza shops for years, and getting entrepreneurial tips from the non-profit Toronto Business Development Centre, Kapllani opened his own place on Lansdowne Ave. near Dundas St. W.

A small man with an easy smile, he says he learned quickly that in Canada, ancient ethnic grievances find no foothold.

“My son, his best friends are Serbians; two Serbian brothers. They came to my house one day — a little boy with a (T-shirt) that said, ‘Proud to be Serbian.’ I said, ‘What! Who is this guy?’” Kapllani says, laughing.

“Canada is a miniworld,” he adds. “When everybody comes from somewhere else, diversity becomes the culture, not ethnic or religious nationalism.”

He’ll continue to explore those themes in literature, right after he wipes the flour from his hands and serves up his “deluxe” pizza, with pepperoni, mushrooms and green peppers.

Sandro Contenta is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @scontenta

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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