Off the back of the little three-wheel ladybug-shiny truck in front of the house, parked under an exuberant tree to which one of the neighbors had attached a washing line, early this morning I bought two yellow melons, three kilos of Muscat grapes, two kilos of late, hillside peaches, a kilo each of plums and persimmons, a large head of lettuce, a dozen lemons, six pears of some unknown variety the size of a sheep’s head, and a handful of fresh walnuts, still in their involucres of roughly polished emerald. I paid $18 for the lot, and from the eyebrow raised by Carmelo as though up a flagstaff of fiscal prudence, I understood that I may have overpaid. Eighteen dollars represents one tenth of my liquid assets at the moment, and I will bear his tactical signal in mind when I do the week’s shopping again next Saturday. Carmelo is the owner of the local bar, who launches my mornings with a ten-percent discount on a 70-cent cup of coffee.
A few days ago I was in London, where an old friend—whose divorce from a Russian tycoon, some years ago, had made her a woman of substance, without, however, inducing her to forget that it is usually the poor who make one laugh—took me out to dinner at an expensive restaurant in Mayfair. Expensive means something like my total assets per person, excluding the wine, the tip, and the cab fare. We would be six at dinner, and hence the aggregate outlay for the meal could keep me in ripe local fruit and garden-fresh vegetables for well over a year. If you include the wine, I could probably have my apartment repainted into the bargain. Knowing perfectly well that she would be the one paying, my friend had chosen the venue without consulting me; though so blunted, in the course of more than a year’s absence from London, had my social intuition and my instinct of self-preservation in the metropolitan jungle become, that I wouldn’t have known what to say to her if she had. In any event, it was only as I arrived at the door that I heard the word fusion tripping merrily off the tongue of a fellow diner.
Certain words, such as patriotic, holocaust, revolutionary, atrocities, media, capitalism, prostitute, and, most recently and spectacularly, terrorism, are almost entirely political constructions, transparently ill made and somehow working-class Victorian, like those blind houses of grimy pale-yellow brick one glimpses from the window of a local train, thinking, “I just can’t believe that anybody would actually live here.” In an equally dispiriting, though perhaps less important way, the word fusion has insinuated itself into the vocabulary of gastronomy in what is now the First World, with the political aim of confusing everything and misleading as many pallets as possible.
Like Esperanto and the numberless language reforms mooted in their day, or the rampant chimera of European unification, fusion is power without responsibility. The people are the putative speakers, voters, or diners, yet their passivity is nearly absolute, gradually relegated as they have been to the position of voiceless animals ingesting amorphous, homogenized, mysteriously nutritious pap handed down from the inscrutable above. Swine reared on pigswill is as apt an image as any, I reckon. The realization that here the smug diners were paying through the nose for their place at the trough only made the image more gripping, inescapable, Orwellian.
Mass travel, cheap tourism, and the whole airport phenomenon have played an important part over the last few decades in defining the practice of global fusion. Fluorescent lights, obligatory trainers, cardboard lunches, plastic knives, body searches, arbitrary regulations, uniformed myrmidons, serpentine lines, and the plausibly porcine idea of going somewhere one can, have all contributed to the trough mentality on which politicians rely to cajole their electorates aboard northbound cattle trains whose alleged destination is the Promised Land.
That the specter of Islamic terror is a welcome boon to the nascent, specifically Western, variety of totalitarianism, which I would describe as paternal, proprietary, or better yet, husbandmanly, has long been obvious. I saw it in action again on the way back from London. I was travelling in the company of a young woman, admittedly of great intellect and talent, whose external form, in my hopelessly antiquated mind, conjured up some suitably antiquated notions of femininity. This was a mistake. She should have worn a burqa.
The harpies representing the state, the law, the airport authority, the harpies’ and myrmidons’ malevolent union and pension fund, the supranational provisional government of all progressive mankind for the duration of its strategic exodus to the Promised Land, stopped my companion to search her head to exquisite foot, size 37 Italian. Plainly, theirs was less a war on Islamic terror than the greater jihad, waged now and always and from the beginning of time, on class, on beauty, on nature, on dignity, and on distinction. At length, they found in a coat pocket, and gleefully confiscated, a tiny perfume atomizer. “Aha!” one of the guards said, throwing it in the wire basket that served to contain weapons of mass destruction.
She had three lipsticks in her purse, and these were taken away, “to ask the supervisor if you’re allowed more than one lipstick,” behind the sort of makeshift curtain where the Wizard of Oz could be imagined hiding had the children’s classic been set in the Sylhet district of Assam in Bangladesh before independence. “You are the terrorists, you know,” I could not restrain myself from telling the guard. Of course, in retrospect I realize that this was unfair to the terrorists, to the people who don’t want to go to the Promised Land and would rather become suicide bombers. She was just a husbandman like the rest, doing her job, making sure the swine behaved as they should. And getting paid for it of course so that in her turn she too could go out to a fashionable restaurant and treat herself to a bit of fusion.
No, I don’t think I’ll take Carmelo’s hint and quibble with the man in the ladybug-shiny truck about the price of pears next Saturday.