Since the days of his food column in Montreal’s Hour weekly, right up to the city column he now writes for the Star, Joe Fiorito has shown an impressive ability to aestheticize anything. Death, poverty, crime, drug addiction – whatever it is, Joe will come along with his gourmand’s touch and add a little sprig of literary parsley.
In today’s column, the second of a two-parter, we get the aftermath of the tornado that tore through Combermere, Ontario, where Joe and his “dearest” were cottaging. Surely Fiorito can suppress his bourgeois instincts with all the destruction around him?
“With no power, we had no light, no fridge, and no water except some from a jug. And I can tell you that coffee brewed over charcoal loses its charm after a cup.”
Fiorito is so annoyed, he doesn’t even tell us about the charming shop where he bought the coffee – no flavourless Loblaws crap for him, no sir – hand-ground into a small, brown paper bag that he carried back to the cottage as if it were a rare tropical fish.
Later on, Fiorito gets miffed that the people who built and who run this city didn’t think to keep it as clean and as soul-refreshing as a rural, lakeside cottage. He indulges his inner eco-warrior:
“As you know, town stinks and is hot and rude and loud and dirty and the air is bad. I wonder why all those kids who go to camp in the summer don't come back to town as militant environmentalists.
Fresh air is a right. Fresh air ought not to belong just to those who can afford to go and get it. Fresh air ought to be available all year long, not just for a couple of weeks for a few people.”
To the barricades! Fiorito then gives us a vision of his ideal, cleaned-up Toronto:
“On our return, we strolled along Queens' Quay. It occurs to me that a fellow ought to be able to get a plate of fresh local fish and a glass of wine in a little resto by the water's edge. Oh, sorry. I guess I'm thinking of some other country.”
You know, that country where you can eat fish caught right in the harbour of a major urban centre….
I’m also not sure whether there has ever been a revolution predicated on the need for more lakeside restos. “Good taste and charm” seem like a fairly thin ideological base for a movement.
Fiorito saves the best for last, however:
“Home sweet home.
There may be a man sleeping in our back lane. I have not seen him in person, but I have seen the grass flattened by his form, and also I have picked up his empty bottles.
He needs a vacation.
Yes, he did just equate living through a tornado while staying at a rural cottage up north with being a homeless wino. Note too, how Fiorito lets us know that it’s up to him to clean up after the guy. Given that the man's living in Joe’s alley rent-free, would it kill him to drop his empty bottles of cooking wine in a recycling bin? (The blue one, please?)
Combermere is disturbing close to where I grew up, and is where my wife used to spend her summers, babysitting and teaching swimming at a deranged hippy commune. We’ll be driving through there this weekend on the way to our own rural oasis. Perhaps I’ll drop by Joe’s house before we go to pick up some some smoked salmon, capers, and mineral water for all the Combermerians left homeless by the storm. They can pick up their own damn bottles, though.