Melancholy is a fascinating feeling: a sadness that arises from living through something beautiful, something good.
I came to know this nostalgic feeling as a child, when I would panic at the mere idea of having a birthday party. The idea of it ending terrified me. I feared the overwhelming emptiness after everyone left; the room cleared of friends and relatives, tables full of dirty dishes, cake crumbs scattered here and there.
This restlessness accompanied me for many years, until older, when I stopped indulging it. A professor once told me: “You have to wallow in pain. You must immerse yourself completely in your emotions even if they are sad, because only then can you understand their meaning and overcome them”.
In the wake of this teaching, one day in late September of 2020, I was near Siena having lunch in a typical local restaurant. Heavy, dark wood chairs, yellowish tablecloths faded by time, and authentic food, like at home. I remember I had a Florentine steak, surrounded by windows overlooking the Tuscan vineyards. I also remember that when I got to the dessert course I thought “lunch is already over”. I was immediately nostalgic for the happiness I had felt two hours earlier sitting at that table, hungry for good food, staring at the breathtaking landscape before me, filling my eyes with beauty.
During lunch, there was a table of three to my right. They didn’t seem very happy, but neither did they look sad or angry. They weren’t conversing, but they interacted as if they knew each other well. They ate and exchanged a few words half-heartedly, not needing to say just the right thing or to entertain themselves with dull anecdotes. After the meal, they rose in sync without attracting attention. I perceived a close, perhaps familial, relationship between them.
Their table remained as they had left it: crumpled up dirty napkins, dried up coffee cups, leftover wine still in the bottle. I stared at that “lived-in” table and although the diners were no longer sitting there, I had the sensation they were still on those chairs, in their poses, making their gestures. I felt their presence in that room.
So I picked up my phone and took a photo. I wanted to immortalize that moment of transition, of absent presence, of a memory so vivid that I could still envision those people sitting there.
I like looking at the other tables, imagining people’s lives and the kind of relationship they have with each other. I like to think about the smell inside their homes, the furniture in their living room, the food in their fridge. I spend my time capturing the conversation they are having and how interested they are in that topic. I imagine everything and sometimes I make up stories around people I don’t know.
A few days later, taking a second look at the photo, I thought I’d create something that resembled this game that I often play in restaurants.
I opened Instagram and created a new account: “siamo stati bene” (we enjoyed ourselves). A place to express a common feeling: the pleasure of being around the table.
Siamostatibene contains that sense of melancholy of the end, of the after, of the nostalgia that permeates when the lights are out and the curtain is lowered.
After creating my virtual diary, some friends showed me a line of works that Daniel Spoerri created in the 1960s: “Tableau Piege”. The artist glued the various objects present at the end of the meal to the table, and then hung everything on the wall as if it were a work. Spoerri was attracted by disorder and by what remains of everyday life; he was convinced that hidden aspects of people’s lives could be perceived in the chaos, in the rubbish and on the abandoned tables.
And then there is Paolo Genovese’s “Perfetti Sconosciuti”. A film entirely shot during a dinner with friends: 97 minutes of vicissitudes and discussions that underline the fundamental role that the table plays in our society. At the end, the protagonists leave the dining room, the shot shows the napkins and dishes still there, the room is empty but the essence of the characters is more alive than ever, it seems that they are still on stage.
The works of art that took inspiration from being at the table are endless. It is not just a question of food, nor of simply eating, but the conviviality of being at the table, because it is a sacred moment, a moment to express oneself, to understand others, to uncover cards and make things happen.
I remember one day in mid-October when I was in Nettuno for lunch and three boys were sitting near the restaurant entrance. As soon as they got up, I took a picture of their worn table, posted it and wrote:
“There were three of them.
They subtly commented on each dish; sometimes they were right, most of the time it was nonsense.
This fixation to make a (valid) point is nothing but a widespread need for the sake of vanity.
So, instead, reveled in speaking without thinking. Putting on a bit of a verbal show, while with every sip the wine in the glasses dwindled.
Time crumbles situations, it mixes up the atoms, and if you laugh about it, there’s a chance all will be fine.”