The Art of Cooking March 19, 2010

on wednesday evening worldfilm held a teaser event at genialistide klubi in tartu to promote the upcoming festival. taavi tatsi asked me to say a few words of introduction for the film, which was flattering, even if i didn't quite understand why he choose me, an unknown newcomer to this fine city. i understood a bit better after watching the copy of the film he gave me, on my own with grumbling stomach at my present home in mooste. the film, by director joseph péaquin, is entitled "c'era una volta… le delizie del piccolo mondo" (in english: "once upon a time… delicacies of a small world"; or in estonian: " oli kord… maitseelamused väiksele maailmale").

my name is patrick mcginley. originally from america, i am now living here in estonia, currently in mooste, working with the moks centre for art and social practice. i am a sound artist, but i also very much like to cook, which is certainly the real reason taavi asked me to make this introduction. taavi introduced my introduction in estonian (of course; and i'm proud to say i began my introduction in my own version of estonian as well), so, although i caught several words (including his announcement that it was, in fact, st patrick's day, which i had completely forgotten) i don't know quite who he told the audience i was. he may or not have told them that i am a cook, and he may or may not have told them that i am a *good* cook, and these things may or may not be true, but i do think it is fair to say that i am an *enthusiastic* cook, and i believe cooking is one of those realms where enthusiasm is worth a great deal. you can trick people into thinking almost anything tastes good if you look like you had a lot of fun making it - i know this from experience. in any case, this film was to show us a wonderful mixture of enthusiasm, knowledge, experience and skill.

this was also a good opportunity for me to mention one of our recent endeauvours: last month moks launched the mooste toiduklubi, an opportunity for people from the local community to gather to, essentially, cook and eat together. mooste is without any public gathering point; there are no restaurants or cafés, no place where locals can meet and socialize. with the mooste toiduklubi we hope to create such a space, even if it is temporary and movable, with a hope of introducing the idea into the village consciousness. we also want to share our own traditional recipes, learn others from the area and from our neighbors, and explore what can be prepared using only local produce. each month a different cook will plan and host a toiduklubi meal, open to everyone in the village.

the protagonists of our film share many of these ideas, although while our foodclub is acting perhaps out of conscious political choice, erminio and attilia, the retired couple in the film who have lived all there lives in arnad, a small village in the aoste valley in the italian alps, live these ideas simply as a way of life. they keep animals and a large garden, waste nothing (even their dried turnip peels, which they fry with potatoes. "it tastes like tripe," one of them asserts), and gather wild mushrooms, berries, nuts, and herbs year round. they cook simply with traditional recipes handed down by their families, with all grown and gathered ingredients, often served on a bed of steaming polenta, the cornmeal porridge that, originally a peasant food, is a culinary staple in the region. the aoste valley is a politically autonomous region within italy, like the islands of sicily and sardinia and a few other regions. it is located just at top left-hand corner of the boot, bordered by france to the west and switzerland to the north. the local language is valdotain, a dialect of franco-provençal, also known as arpetan. as a french speaker i am able to recognise the occasional word, and perhaps an italian speaker would find the same, but for the most part this is an entirely independent language, spoken by a small population (the aoste valley has the lowest population density in italy) is an autonomous region. a small world indeed, something that i think perhaps we here in estonia can relate to…

patrick mcginley