The Montreal Gazette

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A little more than a year after he passed away, the jury is still out on Simcha Leibovich. Some liked him. Some disliked him. Some were indifferent. But almost all agreed Simcha made one dynamite dill pickle.

Proprietor of Simcha's Fruit Market, a mainstay on the Main for 40 years, he was a man of mystery.

Some say he was a visionary who struck it rich on the gold market. Others say he was gruff because he had to toil seven days a week at his store.

A Romanian-born Holocaust survivor, Simcha moved to Montreal after the Second World War and established himself on the fruit and veggie front. He kept company mostly with his wife Fanny, who worked by his side and died shortly before him, and he mostly kept his own counsel.

Montreal filmmaker Ezra Soiferman pays homage to the man but mostly to his pickle in the quirky, appropriately salty Posthumous Pickle Party, making its world premiere tomorrow at the Rendez-vous du cinema quebecois.

Almost as mysterious as Simcha are the origins of his pickle, a delicacy that could be as biting and as sour as its enigmatic maker.

In fact, one of the greater puzzles surrounding Simcha is why he chose to call his place a fruit, in lieu of a pickle, market - although insiders suggest he took that liberty because of the penchant he had for pickling watermelon.

While Simcha's legacy will live on among some of his devoted customers, his vaunted recipe for pickles, of the cucumber variety, won't. He took it with him. Actually, he never wrote it down.

As the title suggests, Posthumous Pickle Party is a gathering of Simcha acquaintances, who marvel over the man's pickle while chomping down on the last known barrel of them in the back of the store, three weeks after Simcha's death.

Recently deceased sculptor Stanley Lewis (another mainstay on the Main), klezmer/hip-hop musician Josh "Socalled" Dolgin, Pop Montreal's Dan Seligman, artist/organic farmer Sofya Raginsky, resto owners and Simcha's neighbours Miro Corrcea and Joao Marques, and food writer Barry Lazar may have all had issues with Simcha, but none can dispute the quality of his dill.

"Simcha's is one serious dill," says Lazar, after wading through brine and watercress in the barrel, then selecting and finally devouring a pickle. Greater praise most mortals will never get.

For his part, Dolgin pigged out on three dills and paid the price with a pickle headache. Best to stop at two, it seems.

As for Simcha's last barrel of pickles, they ended up at the Old Brewery Mission, served up with smoked meat to hundreds of appreciative homeless men.

And as for the eccentric Soiferman, his veggie odyssey continues. His last major documentary foray, Man Of Grease, focused on another Montreal original, the "God of Potatoes," Tony Koulakis, a.k.a. Captain Cholesterol, founder of the legendary Cosmo Coffee Bar in N.D.G.

But where to go from here? Parsnips? Peas? Pears? Pomegranates? "None of the above," insists vegetarian Soiferman, who swears the budget for his latest doc was roughly the cost of a barrel of Simcha's pickles.

"And I already did a film on pork production called Hambone."

Actually, Soiferman plans to move down the alphabet, but remain in the food chain for his next production. He hopes to pay homage to hemp and discourse on its myriad uses other than food.

"You can also make soap, shampoo, clothing, medicine and fuel out of it," he enthuses.

"You can even try to smoke it, but you won't get high." Because hemp is the non-psychoactive part of the marijuana plant.

Soiferman recently handed out bags of hemp to the homeless at three Montreal shelters. "Hemp could be the solution to so many problems," says Soiferman, who plans to power his smart car with hemp bio-diesel. "If Simcha were still alive, he'd probably be pickling it, then stocking it."

Posthumous Pickle Party is being screened tomorrow at 7:15 p.m. at the NFB Cinema, 1564 St. Denis St. Call 514-526-9635 or visit www.rvcq.com.


© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007

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