CittaSlow: Hail Segonzac’s Snail
Go slow, made a lifestyle virtue by Italians, has arrived in France where Segonzac, pop 2200, is first in the country to gain a CittaSlow (say “CHITTA-Slow”) snail award, a close cousin to Italy’s Slow Food crusade.
Segonzac, in the cognac heartlands (Charente region, 16130), now wears the burlesque jibe of Rabelais’s Pantagruel as a badge of honour.
For Rabelais, the famous 15th century satirist, described the gonzacais (as the townspeople were then known) as “slow-pokes” in his comic masterpiece Gargantua and Pantagruel (“The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes”)*.
The town’s tourist authority however prefers to define its inhabitants as “reflective and determined”. Its website says: “If they (gonzacais) have chosen the escargot (snail) as their emblem it is because this little mollusc moves forward slowly but surely without a backward glance!
Despite its modest size, Segonzac prides itself on its liquid legend. From its terroir emerges Grande Champagne (1er cru) which, say the locals, was pioneered in Segonzac in the early 17th century by the Chevalier de laCroix Marronin, landed gentry of the area, which lies west of the Charente département , close by Cognac.
In Segonzac then life revolves around cognac. Segonzacin, is produced by local wine makers who distill it to obtain cognac (more often than not in traditional Alambic stills on their farms). The brandy is aged in oak barrels to develop its aroma. Growing the vines and processing the cognac takes a long time, much patience and absorbs a large part of the life and work of the farmers in the area! Clearly the pace and style of life are well adapted to the “CHITTA-Slow” snail now worn proudly by the townsfolk.
Apart from cognac other local products include Pineau des Charentes and Charente wine, and more recently, truffles and saffron. Traditional craftsmanship includes the town’s barrel-maker and saddlery. But it’s not all rural and bucolic. Segonzac has one of the smallest universities in the world, and the only one that awards degrees in the law, management and marketing of spirits and eaux-de-vie. Segonzac is home to the Technical Institute of Vines and Wine for the Charente département and hosts the International Centre for Eaux-de-vie (CIEDV) as well as a ‘spirithèque’.
(*In French, Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel Roi des Dipsodes, fils du Grand Géant Gargantua)
Small though Segonzac may be, it has a significant place in some turbulent periods of French history: Despite being sacked several times through the centuries, the local reform church stands as witness to a tumultuous past. Its 12th/13th century Romanesque tower and gothic apse are classified as historic monuments. The existing protestant church (Temple) is the third to be built since the Edict of Nantes. It is the largest in the département – testimony to the importance of the reform church.
History: Several archaeological digs have uncovered a Neolithic settlement, dated from 5000BC, on the sites of Biard and Font Belle. After the Gaul conquest, the Romans colonised the area establishing villas. The name Segonzac comes from ‘secundus’ (Latin for second) and ‘ac’ designating a villa in the land of ‘Oc’. Gallo-Roman villas were ransacked during successive invasions by Huns, Francs, Visigoths, Arabs and Vikings and a massive intermixing of population occurred. The proximity of two major roads, much travelled at the time – the ‘Chemin Boisne‘ a Roman road linking Saintes to Périgueux, and the road called ‘le Saint Fort‘, an ancient Gaul north-south axis – appears to be a contributing factor in the survival of the town’s ancestors who apparently indulged as much in highway robbery as in more legitimate toil! The 100 Year War was extremely violent in the area leaving it devastated and its inhabitants wiped out. Repopulation began at the end of hostilities. The many hamlets beginning with ‘Chez’ date from this period. The ‘segonzacais‘ were predominantly Protestant. A Reform church was founded in 1558. The religious wars of 1562 saw the burning down of this parish church.
The CittaSlow award means France has now firmly joined the ranks of the Italian-backed crusade for slow cities and slow food.
Both — CittaSlow and Slow Food — are a reaction to fast-lane, homogenised globalisation and the spread of the “Global Village” which has led to so much urban uniformity. Slow cities, ideally, have less traffic, lower noise levels and fewer crowds.
According to the rules, a CittaSlow is one where the community chooses to: – nurture distinctive features of the town and its hinterland focusing on recycling and recovery; highlighting environmentally-friendly land use; identifying, preserving, protecting and maintaining historical regional patrimony; using technology to improve the quality of town life; promoting growing and use of organic food; preserving and protecting products rooted in local tradition and folkways; encouraging awareness of food and its local origins; extending genuine hospitality towards town visitors and guests.
So for Segonzac the CittaSlow award means town and hinterland have identified their unique selling point and will introduce strategies to preserve unique qualities improving life for everyone.
“Slow” as in Food and Cities was conceived by an Italian, Carlo Petrini, who founded the Slow Food Association in 1986 to oppose the growth of US-inspired fast food outlets in Italy.
Today the two networks are closely associated with cultural heritage and the Slow Food movement itself concentrates on traditional ways of preparing, serving and consuming local foods and ingredients using traditional recipes with a deep connection to place, people, and culture.
CittaSlow was set up in 1999, to capitalise on the success of Slow Food, and uses the snail logo to extend the Slow Food philosophy to all facets of life. CittaSlow involves a reflection on local traditions of land use, mobility, hospitality and well-being.
The CittaSlow network now spreading around Europe, is based on a manifesto of 70 recommendations and requirements. Find out about the movement on this website.
Despite his earlier jibes Rabelais, who in The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua mocked Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, and his imperial design for world conquest, would surely nowadays approve of Segonzac’s stand on globalisation.
Contacts: Cittaslow Segonzac Mayor : Mme Véronique Marendat Cittaslow representative : Colette Laurichesse Mairie de Segonzac Place Frapin, BP 1016130 Segonzac. Tel : 33 (0)5 45 83 40 41 fax : 33 (0)5 45 83 37 96, firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: Ken Pottinger
Best described by the movement itself here: “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment.
“A non-profit member-supported association, Slow Food was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.
“Today, we have over 100,000 members joined in 1,300 conviviums – our local chapters – worldwide, as well as a network of 2,000 food communities who practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality foods.”