Friday, November 28, 2014

A Fool's End

On Wednesday, I said I would tell you more about Joachim Foikis and his donkey cart. A report from the Vancouver Sun states:

“Downtown rush-hour motorists Friday were the first to experience coexistence between horse-powered engines and donkey-powered carts when Foikis went out for a test drive, They rested – sometimes after only a few hoof-clops – in bus zones, intersections, and in any lane they happened to be travelling.”

Is it any wonder motorists were getting angry? What a mess that would have been! Foikis tied the donkeys to wherever he could and gave rides to anyone who asked.

The cart's maiden voyage was to the steps of City Hall. A bystander gave the newspaper The Province the following quote:

“Take them up into the council chambers, they wouldn’t know the difference.”  So some people did have a sense of humour about the situation.

The donkeys were impounded four times due to a city by-law, which prohibits the keeping of livestock within city limits. Foikis remembers one such time.

“Sir, your donkey is polluting my city,” the magistrate said. Fokis replied, “Sir, your city is polluting my donkey.”

Around the middle of 1969, Vancouver's town fool began to change. He gave up his fool's attire for street clothes and began to let his hair and beard grow. He depleted his grant and began to live on welfare. His staged events happened less and less as the novelty wore off.

His wife left him, returning to her native England with her two children. Foikis' last recorded interview was in December of 1969. He was tired of urban life, of Vancouver and wanted to try the 'poverty trip'.

For the next fifteen years, Foikis lived in self imposed poverty on Lasqueti Island, living off the land. Sometime after that, he was found working as a clerk for the Ministry of Environment in Victoria. It is rumoured he went to the Vancouver Public Library and demanded his file of clippings be destroyed but, when he reappeared a few months later, was relieved they were still intact.

He was said to be shy of the media yet eager to reappear. The last known media with Joachim Foikis was a 1990 interview with Monday Magazine. Then he seems to have dropped out of sight. In 2007, Joachim Foikis, Vancouver's Town Fool, fell from a wall while dancing to a band playing in Victoria's inner harbour. He was 72.

In a 1968 interview with Weekend Magazine, Foikis said:

 “It was something to get outside myself,”

“I was too introverted. But now I have met so many people. And I have helped quite a few in their folly, I think. The time will soon come when I will no longer be a fool. I would like to go back to my books. Maybe I would study at university again. Maybe there would be someone to take my place. There will always be a need for a fool.”

So that's the story of Vancouver's Town Fool. I want to thank The Dependent Magazine for the information.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

Loved the driver of this vehicle!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Fool for a Celebrity

Monday, I introduced you to Joaquim Foikis, Vancouver's town fool in the late 60s and today I am going to tell you more about him.

Foikis began to spend a lot of time down town. He would hitch hike to the city centre and wander the streets, stopping wherever people gathered. He tried to start a 'Fool of the Month' contest but the large amount of mail he received, forced him to reconsider this action. Foikis went to a public meeting concerning education at the Point Grey Secondary School and announced education was a waste of time. (Remember, this man has two university degrees) The town fool thought the doors to the school should be locked forever.

His reputation was growing. Profiles appeared in The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, and in 1969’s Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook. Foikis appeared in the Province and the Vancouver Sun so many times the Vancouver Public Library has two separate clippings on him. He received an invitation to meet Secretary of State Gerard Pelletier (which he turned down). He was profiled on CBC, and received accolades from noted journalist Richard Needham. 

“The biggest fools always get lots of publicity,” Foikis said.

Not everyone was happy with our local 'fool' though. Especially now he had the blessing of the federal government in the form of a $3,500 grant.

"When I read about it this morning, I saw red,” griped Mayor Tom Campbell “An old-age pensioner, who’s worked all his life for his country, gets $1,200 a year. Here’s a fellow who refuses to work and they give him a $3,500 young-age pension. Couldn’t we use it for public housing for senior citizens, retarded children, pensioners, deserving students?"

Many people were upset with Foikis receiving the grant. In fact, Peter J. deVooght, a lawyer, sought a writ of prohibition to prevent the Canada Council for the Arts from awarding the grant.

“We have to get by on $1,200 a year,” griped Vincent Yates, president of the B.C. Old Age Pensioners’ Organization. “He’s too damn lazy to get a job and do some work.”

A 1968 editorial in the Vancouver Sun newspaper disagreed.“Of course, the charge that the Fool is lazy and does no work is totally false and is based on a misconception as to the nature of work,”

“The Fool goes to the young people and to the Indians on Hastings Street, not with lectures or charitable handouts or demeaning welfare payments, but planning parties and happenings to restore their lost sense of self-respect. Who is more enlightened, we or the Fool? [...]The fundamental objection to the Fool goes far deeper than the charge (which we have seen to be erroneous) that he does no work. It is based on an unreasoning fear and hatred of anyone who dares to ridicule our obsession with material goals. We tolerate – even encourage – people who speak scornfully of God or Religion, or Canada, or Love, but let someone poke fun at money and our penchant for status-seeking and the cry immediately goes up, ‘Burn his donkeys!’ Unlike the hippies, whom he superficially resembles, the Fool stands for imaginative involvement in the problems confronting society."

Throughout 1968 and 1969, the town fool continued his activities with a newfound resolve. He staged a dance-part at the corner of Granville and Broadway (he was arrested for disturbing the peace); toured Ontario lecturing on the advantages of folly (again, arrested for disturbing the peace); bought musical instruments for the homeless in Pigeon Park so they could have a musical event. Then there was the donkey cart he bought on Vancouver Island. That I will tell you about on Friday.

Thanks to the Dependent Magazine for the information above.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

This is one of my favourite things about Commercial Drive - the fresh fruit and vegetable stands. You can get some really good deals. In 1985, I lived in this area and I shopped at this store for my fresh produce. I don't know if it was called Norman's then but it sold the same stuff. There was also a bakery next door where I would get freshly baked bread. That place is gone now.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Town Fool

Do you remember your history lessons and learning about the town fool in Elizabethan England? You know who I mean. The court jester - dressed in 'fool's motley', a tricornered hat, red-and-blue outfit, and bauble - whose purpose in life was to remind the king he was not God. Vancouver had its very own town fool.

It was April 1, 1968 when 35-year-old Joachim Foikis received a $3,500 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts in order to finance Foakis' mission of being the town fool.

Joachim was an educated man. He held two university degrees - one in economics received from the University of Berlin and one in literature from UBC. However, his goal in life was “to spread joy and confusion”, while at the same time to “mock the four pillars of society: money, status, respectability, and conformity.”

Foikis spent his days in the courthouse square. There he would talk to anyone who was willing to talk with him. He petitioned the city council to establish a fool's tax - one cent for every ordinary citizen and two cents for every politician. He held street parties for residents of Vancouver's down town east side - the poorest postal code in Canada. He went to the annual general meeting of the Architectural Institute of B.C. with a group of mimes and a loaf of bread. He had a wagon drawn by donkeys and would drive it along Cambie Street during rush hour. Foikis was dedicated to playing the fool, angering some and delighting others while promoting discussion. And he would disappear as suddenly as he had appeared.

Our town fool first appeared at the city's 1967 Canadian Centennial celebrations. There he was threatened with a knife by a sailor who thought he was a communist.

“Vancouver’s Town Fool disturbs you,” a 1969 editorial in The Vancouver Sun stated. “He is warm and friendly, easy to talk to, almost always cheerful. Yet he challenges. Not only in what he says but by being who he is, he insults your rat race – the business of working for a living or for a reputation or to acquire things. Joachim Foikis has opted out with style. What he’s saying is that we’re caught up in the things of this world more than we want to admit to.”

Joe's Continental Cafe has been on The Drive since 1974.

Joachim Foikis was a father of two and a husband. He had a few careers such as social worker, labourer and was partway through training to be a librarian when, in early 1967, he decided to become the Town Fool. He announced his decision to his wife and the two rushed off to get material to make his costume.

“Our needs are slight, so I can work for a year at a good salary, then take a year off to read,” Foikis explained, in a 1968 interview with Weekend Magazine. “It is foolishness that man should be the servant of money. Money should be the servant of man.”

“The trouble with many people is that they can never reach a threshold for what they think are their needs,” Foikis said in an interview with the Vancouver Sun. “They keep escalating their needs up and up, and they can’t keep up with them. I don’t want to spend more time than necessary making money. I want the freedom to study and philosophize.”

Wednesday, I will tell you more about Vancouver's Town Fool. I am getting my information from The Dependent Magazine.

I hope you find the beauty around you.