Anna Hezel on the slow and steady charms of watching bucolic chores on YouTube. As her dad describes: “Chickens, turkeys, dog, flowers, man cutting firewood, old woman with the interesting chopper, table cloth, and cherry drink.”
My dad recently got hooked (and as a result got me hooked) on a YouTube channel called Country Life Vlog, made by two elderly people who live on a farm in the Qusar district, in the northernmost part of Azerbaijan, on the slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. All of the videos are ostensibly focused around cooking particular dishes, but the footage itself is more like an atmospheric chore montage: a slow-moving assemblage of all of the planting, hauling, and preserving that’s necessary for a life somewhere beautiful and remote.
One video is called "We Stewed Huge Thigh of Beef for 5 Hours in Glass Jars." Over the course of those five hours (of which we only see about 28 minutes), so much more happens. The man chops wood, builds a fire, boils water, and makes chamomile tea to fuel the marathon beef-stewing session. The woman competently breaks down the huge beef thigh into bite-sized pieces and transforms a mound of onions into slivers with a cleaver. Some type of hardy adult son figure stops by to help the man build a greenhouse from wire arches and clear plastic tarps.
“Caucasian Dessert With Just One Ingredient” is a riveting several-weeks long marathon of chores condensed into 17 and a half minutes. Wheat is sprouted into lush chartreuse grass, ground through a hand mill into a soggy pulp, and then stewed for many hours with flour to make a sweet pudding called samanu, a traditional staple of Nowruz celebrations.
Every cooking project, however ambitious, has its down time for feeding the poultry that bob in and out of frame, or preserving various fruits and nuts for the winter. No task is hurried, but every day is efficient. The food necessitates chores, and the chores necessitate food. This intermingling creates some poetically misleading titles: A good portion of “Planting a New Flower Bed for Our New House” is actually focused on roasting cheese-filled chicken breasts.
My dad relayed in an email what he likes about these videos (or “features,” as he calls them): “I love the scene — chickens, turkeys, dog, flowers, man cutting firewood, old woman with the interesting chopper, table cloth, and cherry drink.” It’s just a glimpse into another person’s ecosystem of objects — the machinery that makes their day go by.
Some of the appeal, after a year of working, eating, exercising, and vacuuming in the same living room, is that it’s easy to romanticize a different set of daily tasks for survival. It’s part of the reason why a deluge of New Yorkers bought fixer-uppers upstate in the middle of the pandemic without quite grasping the fortitude needed to clean gutters and ward off bears. And it’s a piece of why every 30-something I know lost their minds over Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow when it came out in early 2020. There’s never been a better year in history to sit at home, watching two guys milk a cow and sweep a tiny shed.
The escapist fantasy is always at the back of the mind: What if I traded in my relentless routine for a more aesthetically beautiful relentless routine? What if I swapped the sounds of my neighbor’s Peloton machine for the sound of wind cascading over snow-capped mountains or 55 pounds of strawberries thudding into a pot? All the pleasures of self-sufficiency could be mine with the right regimen of planting, watering, harvesting, feeding, killing, and stewing. — By Anna Hezel