I've been reading a book about the Slow Food movement, and about slowing down our lives in general. I agree that the clock, industrialization, and the digital age have upset our biological rhythms and our relationship to the natural world. And I believe with all my heart that a return to a slower pace of life would make us healthier and happier, and would help the environment.
What I cannot quite see is how all this is going to come about. By reason of age and national origin, I have had direct experience with both slow food and slower living, all of which was predicated on, a. a servant class and, b. women staying at home.
Though my family was by no means rich, we always had a live-in maid. (This was in 1950s Spain.) We lived in a large apartment in Barcelona—my mother, my father, a couple of my mother's unmarried sisters and I, and the maid. My father, a musician, worked long, irregular hours. My aunts also had jobs. I went to school. My mother administered things and told the maid what to do.
In the morning, dressed in my uniform, I would tiptoe into my parents' bedroom and my mother would lean over and braid my hair. The maid would take me to school.
Later in the morning, food shopping would be done, either by the maid, or by my mother if it was laundry day (the maid washed our clothes by hand). My mother did most of the cooking for the midday meal, for which we all came home. After that, the maid would take me back to school and return to wash dishes and sweep the bread crumbs off the dining room floor. My mother would go to art openings, or window shopping, or if it was raining, would stay home and read a book. The maid got to go to her room and have a rest in the afternoon.
At six, the maid would fetch me from school. My mother would supervise my homework, and we would have a simple dinner (an omelet and a piece of fruit) when my father got home, before he went to his evening performance. The maid would wash the dishes and go to bed.
In the summer we would all, except for my father, who could only afford to take a month off, go to my grandparents' farm for three months.
It was a slow time. I remember long conversations at the table, after the dishes had been removed, while I dozed on my mother's lap. I remember being told stories, long ones, by whatever adult was available. I remember, in summer, the wine bottles cooling in a bucket in the well, and long walks under the stars to the village fountain—the grownups talking, always talking—to fill the water jugs for the next day.
Does anybody live that way anymore? Where have all the maids—the dishwashers, child-minders, floor-sweepers—gone? Where are the ladies who dressed up to go shopping for a length of lovely woolen fabric to take to the dressmaker for next winter's dress? Where are the mothers who kept things running, who brushed their husband's hats and welcomed impromptu guests and visited old relatives?
I hope that the daughters and sons of those long-gone maids are happier than their mothers were. I'm not sure about the happiness levels of the children of the maids' mistresses. I know that for all of them, rich and not-so-rich, food and slow living are things of the past.
Now we're trying to recapture that way of life, and I'm all for it. I just don't see how we're going to do it.