I have many friends who live out west, especially on the Prairies. When they see fit to visit Toronto, I've heard more than one say in admiration, "The buildings here in Ontario are so old. Everything out west was built in the last 70 years."One of these days somebody should take them to Venice, Italy. I and my buz'gem (Ojibway for someone who lets you know when it's time to cut the grass) were in Italy for a conference and couldn't pass up the opportunity to tour the famous city.
The more I saw of Venice, the more it made me think of home.
On the canals, besides the famous gondolas there are boats more the equivalent of floating pickup trucks. When the motorized vehicles slowly pass by, the sound of water lapping against the wall, the roar of the outboard and the smell of exhaust remind me of crossing Buckhorn Lake back home. Without all the Italians. And no cappuccinos.
Another slice of aboriginal heaven? Everywhere you turn, there's pasta. But search as I may, nowhere is there anything resembling the aboriginal manna from heaven -- macaroni and tomatoes (and, for those more upscale aboriginals, some ground beef for texture), the building blocks of the native nation. Venice is pasta paradise, but there's no elbow macaroni to be found.
Then there are the unusual bathrooms in the restaurants -- very few familiar toilets, just a porcelain hole in the ground. You stand, lean or squat over a large ceramic something -- it looks like a roasting pan. I never thought I would see anything to make me nostalgic for my childhood outhouse. Without the spiders. Or catalogues.
Most ironic of all, we discover that John Cabot, the repercussions of whose travels are known to all native people, was born in Venice.
Cabot found his way west to "discover" Newfoundland in 1497, part of an Italian conspiracy to flood the world with pasta. Or maybe these intruders were just after our tomatoes, unknown in Europe at the time, to revolutionize their cooking.
But as fabulous as Venice is, there's one other town we feel a primal, First Nations urge to visit.
The mecca of the native culinary world is in Italy, and we're only a few hours away. But try as we might, the gods don't provide us with the opportunity to worship at this sacred site. Every native person dreams of making a pilgrimage to the holy town of Bologna. And, god willing, someday we will return to that altar. To pray.