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.

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