Back to the Roots: some background

Barbara Ganley’s (the bg from bgblogging) invitation to take part in the Guest Series: Food Stories: Memory, Culture, Perspective of her Open View Gardens project took me back in time and roused me from blogging torpor (slow-blogging would be an overstatement), challenging me to mobilize my almost forgotten composition skills.

I first met Barbara online around 2003, in the early years of edublogging and followed her journey from a distance, through her photographs  and thoughtful posts. Six years later, in the spring of 2009, she gracefully hosted me at her cosy home in the spectacular Green Mountain State.

She had just stopped teaching contemporary creative nonfiction at Middlebury College and was launching the Digital Exploration project, whereas I had gone back to teaching EFL at high school after a sabbatical year and was traveling in the US following my keynote “Beyond Bits, Bytes, Pixels and Sprites” for the 56th NECTFL conference in New York.

In her garden, in the kitchen, at the table and around the fireplace, we exchanged our stories and perspectives. Her sense of gardening as a cultural endeavour is strongly revealed through the mission statement of her blog:

Growing food grounds us in the relationships between earth and nourishment; preparing food brings us into relationship with our culture and community; sharing meals brings us into close contact with those gathered at the table with us. What better way to build healthy inclusive communities than through growing locally and cooking globally?

Now, two years later, I see that Barbara successfully integrated her diverse interests:

I’ve discovered how to weave together the various strands of my interests and abilities as I grapple with the relationship between the local and global: through a new LLC, Open View Gardens, I’ll be combining writing, photography, storytelling,– and my two other creative passions: cooking adventures and gardening.

While Barbara and I share the same name, pursue many of the same interests, and have embarked on a similar quest, our cultural context, experience and past trajectories are very different. I have not yet been able either to bring together all these bits, bytes and sprites and connect the dots.  Her call, however, gave me the opportunity to focus, try my hand at some creative nonfiction, which I had been contemplating for some time, and reflect on the process.  The result is the brief essay and video “Back to the Roots”.

The text depicts a garden, a season, a perspective, an awareness, a soupçon of Brazilian culture and introduces the reader to a national staple food: cassava.

The “Back to the Roots” video, which I uploaded to YouTube, illustrates and complements the text with images and sound. It is an iMovie collage of my own still photographs taken before and after the frost,  displayed with slow zooming and panning effects (Ken Burns), and combined with a short video I shot of Clarice, our housekeeper, who dug, washed, peeled, cooked and fried the cassava you see in the film. I used the the Olinda Original Style  font for the titles of the cover and credit slides to evoke the idea of back to basics.

While I was searching on Jamendo for free music to go with it, I was very lucky to spot Tata Accioly, DJ and percussionist, also known as TataOgan. Coincidentally (and appropriately) the song I found is called “Exodo Urbano” (Urban Exodus), from her first solo project Da Raiz ao Chip (From Root to Chip). Tata’s sound experiments incorporate an eclectic mix of regional Brazilian folklore, Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous elements and ancestral drums combined with the synthetic beats and grooves of electronic music. [She reaches] the “electronic roots”, like a jam session of farmers using their shovels, axes, and knives as musical instruments, or even indigenous rituals harmonically programmed with computerized beats.

Here are some bits and bites of a Brazil so large and culturally diverse that an attempt to connect the dots and communicate its hybrid nature, landscape and people must necessarily come through juxtapositions and mash-ups.

Many thanks to Rudolf Ammann for his tips on language, layout and design.

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