You gave me your beans cooking pot (letter to my grand-mother)

Video. 4k with stereo sound. 8min51sec
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Performer, narration, sound, editing, camera: Anouk Verviers
Handheld camera shots: Hsiao-Chien Chiu

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Transcript of video narration:

You gave me your hundred-year-old bean cooking pot. I had never seen it before, but you knew I was attached to these traditions I’ve never known because they died before I was born. Maybe because these gestures made me feel closer to you. I still cook the pig’s feet stew every Christmas.

You told me how as a child you used to bring this pot to the baker, filled with your mother’s beans recipe, and how he would take everybody’s beans cooking pot in his bread oven overnight. He had to keep the fire going anyway to make the oven hot enough to cook the bread at sunrise. In the morning, your mother put you in charge of going to buy bread and bring the beans home.

Your generation put an end to these collective gestures. You were ecstatic to have enough money to each have your own. You took land for granted because you owned land. My generation will never own as much land. Still I understand. You were raised in survival. Farming to feed your own family. So you took the jobs and each bought your own oven.

When I showed up in this town, an hour south of where I was born, two hours from your village, I told your bean story. They talked to me about butter. How butter used to be made at home by the women on each farm.

The woman was responsible to take care of cows, milk them, harvest the cream, churn it, wash the butter, mould it, and stamp it with her own stamp. She would feed her family and sell the surplus butter and keep the money.

Creameries were being set up all over. Farmers would bring their milk to these small factories so that it was transformed in butter. A law was voted that would prevent anyone without an agronomist qualification to open or even run a creamery. Women were not allowed to study in any of the schools granting these qualifications.

These butter factories were presented as a means for French-Canadians to regroup and finally gain the revenues that we deserved. That’s how your generation used to tell this story; as a tale of empowerment. But I cannot un-see now how this has been built on an oppression of women’s knowledge and of women’s independence. And how it’s a game played within a colonial framework.

Reading these archives, I was thinking about how you chose to marry the only son of farmers from the village who was determined to get out of there at all costs. To never milk a cow ever again. How marrying him was your way to escape this legacy of having to sell the product of your farming at the lowest price for your family to survive, even though this meant you would never be able to study at university and work like you wanted to.

I cannot ask you about all this. I can only wonder about your answers. You grew up in that village, left for the city, but moved back there as soon as you could. Still I grew up hearing all of you repeating how glad you were not to rely on a community anymore. Because, to you, doing something collectively always ended up being about who was talking behind whose back. About who grabbed more power to impose its own way to others. I absorbed that somehow and ended up being scared of people doing stuff together for so long.

Now I think I know that these collective gestures had a different meaning for your generation than for ours. Baking beans in the community oven was a failure to provide your family with the right level of comfort. It was a testament to being poor. For us, baking in a community oven is a victory against an economic system that divides, oppresses, and isolates us. A system that you unknowingly contributed to strengthening because you saw the generation before you exhaust itself through physical labour.