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Illustration School

Over the past months, through friend’s conversations, I often heard Karen’s name: Karen Lacroix. I didn’t know anything about her at the time, except for her name, which was kind of mysterious. But quickly after, the mystery was solved and I got to know that she lives in Porto with her family for some years now, that she loves food, and that she, most importantly, founded a project called Illustration School. So, I wrote down her name intending to, some day, approach her and invite her to be part of Alento.

In early July, when I met Inês Neto dos Santos (who is the focus of another piece), I crossed paths with Karen. She was then hosting Illustration School at her home, and Inês, who was one of the tutors of this year’s edition, was cooking in Karen’s kitchen.

I thought to myself: this is exactly what Alento is about! People sharing their homes, their food, and their time with others. Congregating around a table, sharing rather than dividing. Much of the cooking process involves separating, dividing, cutting, removing. And yet, the result of cooking is quite the opposite.

From the balcony of Karen’s kitchen, I peeked through the leaves of fig tree, and I watched Lexi Smith and participants kneading bread. A comunal table, a few jars of flour, and a sticky dough in everyone’s hands. They discussed how bread is not only sustenance, it is also a political tool.
I spent a few mornings and afternoons in the company of the tutors and participants of IS. Curiously enough, this year they were all women, all from different places. I spoke to a few in private, listening to what motivated them to apply to IS. Most of them mentioned feeling uninspired with their jobs, needing a break from their daily routine, or just yearning something more hands-on instead of just digital.
On a Thursday morning, tutors and participants had a brain storming session about things and stories they had collected over the week, some of which they related to on an emotional level. One girl, whose name I can’t seem to remember, shared her surprise and excitment when she saw a lemon tree for the first time. In her country, Romenia, lemons and oranges are not locally grown, but they are part of several Christmas recipes that people make on the holidays. We then discussed what “local” means and its legitimacy: is it something like portuguese lemons growing in people’s backyards, or is the imported lemons necessary for the holiday sweets that every single household will have at their christmas table? Discussing the physicality of “local” versus its historical and emotional dimension led to an open discussion about the current vocabulary used in food.
Then, someone wrote this little three word sentence: “Perfecting the perfect”, and it struck me how much of a metaphor food was for our everyday lives. Our relationship with it, how much thought we put into it, an obsession, a soothing companion, a necessity and nothing else.