Conversations with Rattapallax: Snapshots of NYC healing through food and art

Throughout history, people have turned to the Arts as a way of understanding epidemics and other natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced its fair share of unique and creative takes. Rattapallax, a film company based in New York City, took to the streets early during the city’s reopening and visited restaurants as they welcomed back their customers. At the same time, they filmed poets based in the city reciting their work in a glorious swirl of words and emotion. The short film, Food Is Like Poetry, provides an uplifting snapshot on a city in the early stages of healing. Ram Devineni set aside some time to discuss his project.

Where did the idea for Food Is Like Poetry come from?

I was influenced by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s Noble Laureate speech in which he talks about “poetry is like bread.” Society does not live on food alone, but also needs art and culture. This is where the idea of merging poetry and food came together.

How has your COVID-19 experience in NYC been up to this point?

It has been a challenge for everyone. With the Bowery Poetry Club, I was able to produce a series of videos featuring poets at their favorite restaurants talking about what they missed and bringing attention to the eclectic food in the city. I felt it was critical to help revitalize the city and its rich and diverse food culture.

Food and poetry is a brilliant pairing. Can you explain how they are similar?

Many poetry readings and hangout spots for poets are restaurants, cafes and bars. The coming together around food and drinks are vital for the creative process. Both culinary and poetry are an art form, and stimulates the imagination and senses. Many poets write about food and odes to their favorite dishes — especially true with Pablo Neruda.

How did you select the poets featured in the short?

The selection of the poets was done through the Bowery Poetry Club, and everyone featured in the videos had to follow strict guidelines set forth by the city and state. Luckily, we received a grant from Citizen Diplomacy Action Fund for U.S. Alumni sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Partners of the Americas. This grant allowed me to pay the poets and also give a stipend to the restaurants for making their delicious dishes.

How did restaurant owners react when you approached them with the idea?

All of them loved it. We were some of the first customers they have seen since re-opening, and producing original and high quality videos to promote their restaurant and food was very important to them. All of these restaurants are vital to their neighborhood and are a place for community.

While you were out — uptown, downtown, crosstown, Outerboroughed — what were your impressions of NYC? How have things changed up to this point?

The city has changed dramatically both economically and culturally. Many places were and are still shutdown — some will never re-open. It’s very empty, but there is spirit in everyone who is here, and hope for the future. The city will revitalize — it may take a while, but it will come back.

What did you learn about NYC and its inhabitants while working on Food Is Like Poetry?

Going from the Bronx to Harlem to Brooklyn to the East Village was a treat, and seeing the diverse cultures was wonderful. A neighborhood is made up of both the residents and the business that reside there, and the poets have truly captured this beautiful symbiosis.

Finally what do you want your audience to take away from the short?

Economic revitalization is critical, but so is cultural rejuvenation And i think both can work together to bring back NYC. Its important to support your neighborhood’s small businesses — we are all in it together.

For more information about Rattapallax follow them on Twitter – @rattapallax.

Be sure to visit The Bowery Poetry Club.

IMAGE SOURCE: Rattapalax

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