Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Prawns and Papaya, accompanied by steam clock

I was invited to lunch at the Water Street Cafe in Vancouver's tourist-drenched gastown, with the appropriately named Patricia Chew of West Coast Environmental Law.
Although I've now lived in Vancouver for 18 years continuosly after several years intermittent residence in more distant decades, this was only the 2nd time I'd dined in gastown, named for pioneer tavern owner Gassy Jack. Instead of gas, steam emerges from the clock outside the cafe on a regular basis, enchanting tourists who cluster around it with their cameras. "Looks like they're practicing Fa Loon Gong," observed Patricia, who also commented they must come from someplace where there is Nothing To Do and a steam powered clock deserves rapt attention. My Papaya and Prawn salad deserved every bit of attention I gave it, as Ms Chew told me about her worthy organization. I love the idea of mixing fruit with seafood and meat, and have fond memories of drinking papaya juice in my childhood. The bits of papaya were like buried treasure amidst the lettuce and enough prawns to fill me up in a thick sauce, sweet but still light enough for lunch on a hot day. Patricia had another salad, a Lui of some nature with crab, small shrimp, eggs and probably some lettuce down there somewhere. Her sauce (dressing?) came on the side so as not to drown the tiny shrimp, perhaps.
Watching the tourists and enjoying the splendid salad, I was reminded of my first meal in gastown, at an Indian restaurant whose name I've forgotten and indeed it may no longer be there. This would have been 1989, at the dawn of Adbusters, a magazine I was involved with since before the beginning. My fellow editor Kalle and I were lunching with people from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee which has its offices nearby on the appropriately named Water Street. In those days, Adbusters was primarily trying to bust the ads of the provincial forest industry, and WC2 was the main source of our information and indignation. Although I frequently encounter people who are familiar with Adbusters, it is rare to meet anyone who is familiar with its beginnings. Patricia was surprised that the magazine had ever been an ecological periodical. West Coast Environmental Law is twice as old as Adbusters, and another Vancouver organization I joined when it was starting up in the early 70s, Greenpeace is older yet. All this ecological activity in our beautiful city for decades now, and how much good has it done, we pondered between bites of succulent salad. We spoke of Al Gore's new flick, a fine piece of film making but how much good will it actually do? Apprarently GW Bush was so persuaded by a Jean Michel Cousteau film that he declared a protected zone outside of Hawaii, something that was in apparent contradiction to everything he's done since becomming president. Look at all the good Rachel Carson's Silent Spring has done. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Dickens' tales of British poverty actually helped rescue people from it. Tom Paine's Common Sense brought forth the birth of the United States far more than the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the usually cited founding documents of that country. I'd rather have a lawyer on my side than a writer, in the coming battles, but we need both.
Although this "working lunch" reminded me of that long ago Indian lunch at the dawn of Adbusters, I can still recall how good that fish was. I dont normally think of Indian food as fish dishes and that novelty for me may be why I remember it. What causes something to be so deeply imbedded in memory? Patricia spoke of a gloomy future, if the ecology movement is no more successful than it has been, when the generations that come after us will never taste fish. What meals will they remember?


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