To Take a Walk in the Countryside/ Una Scampagnata

To Take a Walk in the Countryside, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton, 2009.

To Take a Walk in the Countryside, Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town by Douglas Gayeton, 2009.

On October 8th, San Francisco’s 18 Reasons hosted Douglas Gayeton in honor of his book (an inadequate word for what he really produced) Slow: Life in a Tuscan Town. The reception was a bit more than the little 18 Reasons could handle but they welcomed everyone in nonetheless to taste  the foods we saw being made in the framed sepia photographs all around us. Gayeton spoke briefly, noting the influence of artists like Caravaggio mentioning his construction of a composition with the local characters of the bars he frequented.  Not only does this investigation of how a scene unfolds give the works their unique impact, but the content does as well. Caravaggio painted ‘genre’ scenes or scenes of a life so everyday people forgot to notice it until it was put into oils on canvas. Gayeton captured scenes of the everyday but scenes that are less and less a part of the everyday.

It wasn’t just about food as the story never really is. It was about discovering amazing plaster cast collections of works by Bellini and Pisano, learning the rules of a local game, or understanding the dynamics of a fraught political system. But there is also plenty of food. The book is filled with these spliced-up-million-moments-in-one photographs. On top of each image Gayeton writes all of the knowledge of ten years. The contrast between the singular directionality and the static nature of the text with the continuously oscillating, never fully resolved collage of moments and spaces provides an image that is both stable and evolving, documentation and narration. I could think of nothing more appropriate for a book about Slow Food, a movement that is held in the hands of families working in three hundred year old barns and in the hands of a little girl embracing her favorite chicken in a Northern California farm dedicated to making the world’s first goat’s milk ice cream. Just as 18 Reasons found a way to fit us all in, we are each part of this movement-every seemingly tiny part of our traditions, our idioms, our homemade bread, our attic full of plaster casts, are part of this movement.

So let’s all grab a camera and pencil and start recording our own traditions. Photograph that lovely garden, ask your mother and father what shopping for groceries used to mean, and let’s be able to say “conosco i miei polli”(I know my chickens). Make your own guide to Life in Your Life and pass it down through the generations, just like that old barn of memories.

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