FINAL MAJOR PROJECT. WEEK 10.
I have become so aware this week of foods’ ability to conjure details of memories and places. The sensory prompts of smell, colour, and taste are so strong that they bridge physical and temporal space. I am at present gorging (pardon the pun) on Anthony Bourdain’s extensive food and travelogue TV series Parts Unknown. And even when viewing food via a screen (sans smell and taste) the evocative power is so strong that my mind is immediately triggered. Memories and connected emotions are present as if they happened only moments ago.
I guess it helps that I am the son of an Italian chef. Food for me has the capacity to resonate beyond a ‘laypersons’ appreciation of it. After all, I have seen culinary processes in detail since I was a child. The consumption of time and physical energy embedded in preparing food by hand for the edification of the consumer. And for it to to be good it cannot be done in half-measures. The best chefs truly are artists. Driven, single-minded, dedicated to a fault. Gifted with an alchemical power that the rest of us get to enjoy. Unaware of the negative fallout of their profession until it is too late.
When I lost my father (Luigi) and brother (Nick) last year, I lost two direct connections to Italy. My father was a divisive but often warm presence, exemplifying the country he came from. My brother (younger than me) was his closest son of three: one older son (Ezio) from a first marriage, myself, and Nick. Papa and Nick shared a direct, more abrasive personality. This showed itself in their shared love of football and heavy meat dishes. And, on my brother’s part, a willingness to be central to the extended family. My Italian side tuned itself to something no less powerful but quieter. The Renaissance and the diversity of arts and humanities the country produced. Da Vinci was one of my first heroes. He became a role model for what I wanted to be. Including becoming a vegetarian at the age of 16 and from which I haven’t diverted to this day. This more sensitive awareness was the opposite of what I saw in my father. Or, at least, what he showed to us. In reality, there were deep, hidden scars in there that he was unable to come to terms with. Communicating them was difficult. It was anathema to the patriarchal hierarchy. These differences and dysfunctions caused division in our father-son relationship. One that was explosive and difficult to navigate. There is no doubt that there was love, but it manifested itself in peripatetic fits and starts.
Once I entered my mid-thirties something changed in both of us. Age is a great pacifier. Mutual respect grew from the joint stubbornness. The bridges between us were narrow ones and they swayed in the generational winds, but they were bridges nonetheless. My parents had retired and emigrated to Italy. When I visited, I saw deep parallels in my father’s culinary methods with my own creative practices. I recognised the diligence and attention to detail. The obsession with providing something worthwhile for people. Something which they might not find anywhere else. Also, my vegetarianism was no longer a bone of contention at the dinner table – which helped! Eventually, my wedding was in Italy (where else could it be?) and the pride in my Papa was palpable.
So it is that, when watching Bourdain eating in Rome, Sicily, and Puglia and dissecting local culture, I am overwhelmed with a mix of nostalgic pride and sadness. A new feeling that contains the weight of history, generational depth, and loss. An awareness that what I was offered when I was younger was truly special. All those meals full of my familial and genetic heritage. Layer upon layer. So things that I ran from in the past are now seen as precious. Rituals. Words and phrases. Gestures, both refined and coarse. The shared experience of a replete table. And how central food is. Then and now. A fulcrum.
Yet how easy it is to take it for granted. Now more than ever in our over-entitled world. Where we can have what we want when we want in quantities that nobody needs. And where those that have nothing can only dream of having just enough.
In terms of my Masters photographic project work, I am recognising that all of this is what underpins the current explorations. The evocative power of food and our relationship to it especially in terms of heritage. Of the links to the self in time and space and to those who have come before. To the political power of food to define identity and development. And to the presence of food as part of our environment be that urban or rural, domestic or culinary.
As Bourdain has said: ““Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.” (Goodreads.com n.d.)
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
Goodreads.com https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1254892-food-is-everything-we-are-it-s-an-extension-of-nationalist, viewed 17th August 2020.
Parts Unknown. (2013-2018). [Online]. Directed by Tom Vitale et al. USA: Zero Point Productions Inc. [First viewed 2nd July 2020]. Available from Netflix.