The quiet that exists in European towns the day after Christmas is both eerie and peaceful, alternating between them both in ways that made us feel as if everyone had disappeared from the planet, and then grateful to be experiencing the town as the solitary travelers.
In the somewhat grim, darkened streets, the cold and damp was even more penetratingly chill and then, suddenly, a beam of light slipped out from under the cloud bank and struck home, and then was gone in barely the blink of an eye.
I don’t know if Aixienne is used as the name of those women who live in Aix-en-Provence, but the old costumes, and those faces, brought to memory some 19th century paintings of women from Arles, L’ Arlesienne, if I remember correctly, maybe it was van Gogh, in any case when I passed by the 2 women in Aix and took in the hair styles, and garments, I had a flash of how it must have looked when everyone wore clothes like this, and how each town or region in the back country must have had their own specific identity.
How different from our contemporary esthetic where ‘branding’ is the force that unites all towns, cities, and even members of a generation. And how in every town today we find the same fashion names on the shopfronts along the streets.
Sometimes I long for the mom and pop stores of the past with all their individuality.
Looking down on a small town often lets me feel the ‘sense of place’ that gives a locality its identity. Bonnieux has that quality; the butcher, the bakery, the newsstand, the market, the city hall, the church, all these basics set in an almost storybook perfection in a landscape of simple beauty. It is immensely fulfilling.
Not every day has interesting photographs in it. Some days it’s just a record of being alive and seeing something curious in a familiar place, even if it’s of minimal interest, like this street in the small town, Buonconvento where we live. During that week the town held its annual Sagra Festival, where all 4 quarters of the town cook for the whole town and any visitors who wish to come. On the last night of the festival they held a ‘fashion show’ in which the young kids paraded down the street trying to be glamourous. The town threw itself into the event and set up this ‘runway’ in the middle of the street. What appealed to me was the vision of modernity set inside a place built a 1000 years ago.
There is nothing the Italians enjoy more than eating. And when they can gather at some long communal table and be eating outside on a summery evening, they love it! It’s a way to meet new people, or be with old friends, or simply take a chance on whatever life throws their way. It’s a custom that goes way back and small towns all over Tuscany, and I’m sure all over Italy, continue the tradition.
I always find something to shoot when I’m there, portraits of my table companions, the behavior of the young kids who are doing the serving, the musicians who stroll on through, the dancing later on, and sometimes fireworks.
Night time, and the variety of color temperatures of street lighting, often make ordinary places into theatrical spaces. This back street in a tiny town took on a richness of color that made me go back after I walked past it, and take a real look. And we are all fortunate today in what the digital capacities of our cameras allow us to see and to render. But it’s the going back that counts.