Last night I had dinner with some friends at Acqua52, a new Italian restaurant that’s opened a couple of blocks from my house. Why the new owners think they can succeed in a space where the previous tenant was a short-lived Italian restaurant, in a strip of stores where there are at least five other Italian restaurants (this isn’t an Italian neighbourhood!), rather puzzles me. But that may not be a problem for them. The place was packed last night.
After dinner the owner, Pasquale, came to our table with complimentary shots of grappa (yummmm!) and chatted with us for a while. Pasquale’s a big, friendly guy, one who looks like he hasn’t deprived himself of the better things in life. His restaurant has a warm, comfy, somewhat self-indulgent feel, as does the food. Exactly what you want in an inexpensive neighbourhood place.
Fast forward to this morning. I was sitting sipping a coffee waiting for Seth’s gym class to finish. And I started to think how last night’s dinner would have been different in the 1920s under prohibition – no shiraz, no shrimp in a wine sauce, no grappa – at least if we were at a legal restaurant. If it had been an illegal place, we wouldn’t likely have had the same range of wines to choose from, and the grappa surely wouldn’t have been so silky-smooth. My understanding of prohibition was that it fostered booze-cans selling cheap, nasty whisky – the stuff that can be made on the sly in basements.
But we do have some kinds of prohibition in place. At one point most of the people at the next table stepped out of the restaurant for a few minutes, so they could smoke.
If the notion of prohibition were to come back, it wouldn’t likely be from do-gooders wanting to prevent alcoholism. My shiraz and grappa are likely safe from zealots. But the prohibition of smoking in public places seems to have taken hold (which I think is a good thing), and it isn’t too much of mental stretch to imagine the wearing of perfume in public also being banned (which I’d also think was a good thing).
I got to thinking about zealotry, and the potential for new prohibitions. The pressure for new forms of prohibition comes from at least three places: people like me, who don’t like cigarette smoke and who sneeze at even expensive perfumes; religious people, ranging from the religious right in the US wanting to ban abortion and motley other things to the Islamists wanting to ban the education of women and all sorts of other stuff; and extreme environmentalists, who argue against everything from the use of fossil fuels to the resources it takes to put a steak on a dinner plate.
There’s a story in there somewhere, perhaps “Pasquale versus the zealots.”
I’m increasingly surrounded by vegetarians: nice polite vegetarians who would never dream of telling me what to eat and what not to eat, but who clearly get a bit squeamish if I chow down on a lamb shank. Many of the same people are strong devotees of public transit and bicycles; a couple of them are none too comfortable with the fact that I rarely ride my bike and actively dislike Toronto’s transit system (though I’m happy to use the much more extensive systems in places like London, Paris and to a lesser extent New York – Toronto’s dinky system is slow and expensive and rarely goes conveniently to where I want to go). These people are hardly zealots, and they are for the most part very polite about their preferences.
But such things can change with time. What happens to Pasquale and his restaurant if society moves in the direction of banning meats and the automobile? I think it might well take very much the same course as the prohibition of alcohol did last century: the prohibited meats would go underground, and eventually public pressure would overturn the system. Or would it? You can’t exactly drive cars around and not be noticed. (Especially with Google Earth – if that went to live images, it would be possible to see any automotive activity pretty much anywhere. What other changes would a live version of Google Earth cause? The end of many forms of privacy, especially if it were coupled with pervasive use of GPS.)
Anyway, I’ve started plotting out a novel, tentatively titled “Prohibition,” where Pasquale’s restaurant is closed down by environmental and vegetarian zealotry. It might be fun to think through how he’d fight back, how it would differ from last century’s prohibition and how it would be the same. I can borrow an environmental zealot, Gina, from an earlier unfinished novel. It might be fun to pit her against Pasquale and see what happens.