Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 22:10:38 +0100 (CET)
From: "zoé inch" <firstname.lastname@example.org> View Contact Details Add Mobile Alert
Hello from Paris. I’m a filmmaker working with fiction and documentary and wanted to make a quick and late contribution to this complex topic. It’s a difficult one to focus in on and really intriguing. From the angle of personal experience, here’s one reaction. There are many others and I shall take this as an opportunity to investigate them further. Mieke’s posting jogged off many thoughts re a contemporary environment so full of “things”.
As a child of the 1970s I am conscious of growing up in a somewhat de-ritualised background. I attempted to create my own customs inspired by those I perceived in a conventional society (Conservative Britain), exterior to that of my upbringing where official rituals were ridiculed, or ignored. I would thus draw up my own protocols. Taking my grandmother’s Queen Elizabeth style handbags down to my dungareed mother’s vegetable allotment where I would brood moodily, clutching the plastic wonder bag like an umbilical cord to normality. Arranging tiny collected toys and objects into housewifely neat groups and themes, including Royal Wedding ephemera.
Marriage, baptisms, Christmas trees, traditional gender roles etc defined the outside world, while the domestic sphere referred to an alternative system of anti-conformism with the intention of creating a free environment. I am trying to think of some of the rituals we may have had despite ourselves and am finding it difficult. One may be the organised paint stripping of all the wooden doors and floors in the house to give them a natural finish (this was in line with fashionable “Habitat” interior design of the time). Another could be the regular solo flights my parents arranged for me at the age of seven. These catapulted me into the very organised universe of the airport with its expensive perfumes, stylish uniforms and delightful etiquette.
Perhaps one of the reasons I became so attached to my Grandmother’s house in France was precisely because there were banal routines there and they fitted neatly into a cliche image of French extended-family life – wine in the wine cellar, cupboards full of handmade provisions, the floor swept thrice daily, the washing up done after a meal of traditional cooking, home grown green beans top and tailed in preparation for their garlic and parsley garnish, floral wallpaper in the bathroom. Above all, to my unconventionally experienced eyes, it seemed a respectable and presentable surface, and a constant unchanging existence.
I would disagree with my mother over these things. She seemed to be repeatedly attempting to turn rules and rituals around, exposing their underside. Thus, in her own way, she was paying them respect and certainly instilling in me a form of rebellious conservatism. Before their separation, my parents’ gifts of woodwork benches and footballs only reinforced my desire for high heels, dolls and miniature sets of feminine clothing to dress them in.
I would say that common popular rituals have provided me with certain stabilising references and I do not believe them to be trite. Rather, I see them as an attempt to classify and attend to human stress and difficulties, to provide a framework within which emotional needs and confusions can be considered communally. Quite a radical thing... Traditional customs can include throwing a large party, paying close attention and respect to the body, sharing states of embarrassment, grief, anger, happiness, fear. Although it may feel uneasy to fit these rituals into contemporary society, they often provoke events that leave a trace against which freer experiences can be calibrated. For me, a strategy for self-preservation could include an awkward reappraisal of the most traditional customs and rituals that have existed for aeons.