Transatlantic, Fraternal: Matilde Campilho’s “Jóquei”

joqueiIt is rare to find the words “best-selling” and “poetry” inhabiting the same sentence—even in Brazil, “a country where poets are taken seriously” according to the New York Times. So great was this deviation from the script, that at the launch of Matilde Campilho’s first collection Jóquei last week in Rio, talk among readers, the moderator was of that thing that happened—whisper it, a poetry book was number 1 in sales at the Flip, Brazil’s biggest literary festival. Whether the New York Times is right, but anyway, it’s worth repeating: Matilde Campilho’s Jóquei was the best-selling book at Flip.

Campilho is Portuguese, but with a strong connection to Rio de Janeiro—she lived here in between 2010 and 2013, she began writing here, she was surrounded by local poets at the mic. I know next to nothing about contemporary Portuguese writing (the connection between Portuguese and Brazilian letters is not as straight-forward as it might seem from outside the Lusosphere—the publishers are different like in English or Spanish, there are spelling differences perhaps more extreme than English, bookshops divide their shelves between Brazilian and international fiction and poetry…), but her work feels quite Brazilian, or at least cured in Brazil. This is for more than the geographical location of many of the poems: there is a freshness and lightness of touch, strong both in the prose poems and the short-lined unpunctuated free verse, that comes partly from lines or sentences are often equal to breath or thought.

The book has two overt artes poeticae, which are both real defences of poetry as an art form. From the start of the first, ‘Prince in the Rose Garden’, it comes at the reader with demands: “Listen here / this is a poem / it doesn’t talk about love / it doesn’t talk about blue / scarves…” (my translations). This is poetry that knows what it wants and isn’t afraid to ask. And what does poetry want? Contradictory things. The second poem, ‘Extinct Principality’ begins: “This is a poem / it talks about love / or fear of love / It talks about death / or the end of the amalgam / face voice soul and scent / that is death / This is a poem / be afraid”. I don’t like being bossed about, but there’s something so enjoyable being told what to do by these poems.

Read more of this post

Advertisements

Pink-Blossom Tree

Image

Botany, along with countless other disciplines, is not my strong point, so for the purposes of this blog, I’ll be calling this unidentified tree Pink-Blossom Tree. Although I have half an idea it’s something called an ipê, it could equally be something as beautiful as it is mundane, like a cherry that springs into life as the Tropic of Capricorn slouches out of “winter” and turns the heat up to scorchio.

I use those inverted commas around winter, not because there isn’t a reason, but because there is. In the popular imagination, Brazil has the perfect climate, but over the couple of years I’ve been here, I’ve come to realize the climate is pretty much like it is in most places: either too hot or too cold—but mostly more of the latter. Except, that is, when it gets cold.

Hardier Europeans might scoff from their heated apartments, but when the temperature dips below 15ºC, I slip underneath the eiderdown that one Brazilian airline was happy enough for me to pop into my suitcase for twice the price of the suitcase. But then again, twice the price of the suitcase is just a fraction of the price you’d pay for it here. So when the temperature’s below 15ºC, as they did at the end of July, there you’ll find me, shivering, and looking at photos of cities in the south of Brazil and wondering if snow ploughs were part of the World Cup budget.

But now that’s all behind us, we can concentrate on the zenith-bound sun that is schedule to arrive something overhead right around Christmas. But in the meantime we can concentrate on the beauty of a blossom fest that I would like to say covers the Marvellous City. Only that it doesn’t.

Pink-Blossom Tree is only planted in places where one might be going at speed. One of these places is somewhere I run past, so I freely admit that particular speed is relative—to the temptation to stop. But the other place where I pass by these trees, the velocity feels close to terminal.

Seen from a speeding bus—and Rio’s buses have just two speeds: speeding and stopped, which covers a variety of circumstances including at bus stop, waiting for driver to come from pee break, in traffic jam, fallen off a viaduct, etc.[*]—Pink-Blossom Tree is just a flash of magenta somewhere over my left shoulder and a mental note to come back sometime soon, in sunlight, to take photos. The sunlight part is important, as when you leave work after sunset and are far too lazy to leave the apartment with camera and the dawn, the speeding bus is the only place you’re likely to see Pink-Blossom Tree—and it helps if you’re waiting for it.

So indeed, there I was this morning in a speeding bus, phone in hand and ready to go. And then Lady Luck smiled. Not a full-tooth smile, perhaps more of a sarky grin, but there it was: the traffic jam.


[*] Speeding also covers a number of sins, but more on that some other time.

Largo do Boticário

You cross water to get there. In a city that’s buried its rivers, like the Fleet or the Bièvre or some many others, there’s magic in a bridge over open water, the brook powering away down its valley and into a tunnel somewhere out of sight, where it will call the course of the roads downhill and down to the bay where it meets the sea.

The Largo do Boticário was the place of Rio’s first apothecary—the clue’s in the way that the syllables line up. There must be a good reason why it was here, far from the centre and shadowed by mountains—Christ-topped Corcovado on one side, another thread of the serra behind. To me it’s a mystery.

Image

Set back from the road and the tunnel, it’s a forgotten-looking corner of the city, where even the police car light flash apathetically, as the mountain peels away the pastel paint and claws back its territory. Read more of this post

Rainy Rio

By Rob Packer

British beachgoers look for holidays with “sun, sand and sea”; while Spanish speakers look for “sol, brisa y mar” (sun, breeze and sea). The reason for this should be clear enough for anyone who’s spent any part of the summer staring out over the yellow plains of Castile from Madrid desperately hoping for a breeze; or, on the other hand, to any unsuspecting visitor to Brighton expecting fun with a bucket and spade. I say this from experience: I was taken, unwarned, to Brighton when I was about five and have never forgiven the place for it.

I have no idea what the Portuguese rule of three for the beach is (if you do, please put it in the comments), but what do you do in a city famous for having sol, mar, breeze, sand and everything else, when it’s a rainy day in Rio? The tourist brochures might keep quiet about it, but Rio actually does have double the annual rainfall of somewhere like London. Thankfully this is quite often fast rain, rather than northern Europe’s leisurely drizzle, but cloudy days do come around with about the frequency of, oh, Brazilian public holidays: so much so, that they almost always coincide.

So what to do on a cloudy day in Rio? Some tell me that everyone goes to the mall (true); others that no one knows what to do, stick distraught heads under pillows and stay at home (no way to check); and the hardiest will still go to the beach (they do I’ve checked).

None of these options is really as good as going up into the mountains and seeing how beautiful they are under cloud.

This last weekend added another option: FLUPP, the Literary Festival of the UPPs—an offshoot of FLIP, the Paraty Literary Festival—that aimed to bring literature to Rio’s newly pacified comunidades. The views swept 270º from Corcovado to the airport in the north of the city, but the real action was inside the tents with writers and poets like Manuel Vilas (Spain), Patrícia Portela (Portugal), Kei Miller (Jamaica), Allan da Rosa and Ferreira Gullar (Brazil).

Boats in Botafogo Bay

By Rob Packer

Yachts in Botafogo Bay at sunset.

Can Money Buy Style?

By Rob Packer

As part of the off-and-on blog series of  “tourist knick-knacks that are funny until you look at the price tag” (see this silver gorilla on a surfboard in Mexico), here are some tropical birds in semi-precious stones that Brazilian kitschmeisters Amsterdam Sauer keep in their shop at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

While the workmanship is evidently impressive, the results show—as with so much in life—that less really is more. A pink bald eagle touching down on an outcrop of quartz (or whatever it may be) might be a bold visual statement, but as far as I’m concerned it  sits somewhere on the line between bathetic and downright hilarious. Well, actually mostly hilarious and I couldn’t help wondering if the strategy behind the shop’s location is that the beautiful view numbs your credit card hand and makes you start thinking about clearing out that space on the mantelpiece for a colourful new addition.

What do you think?

Sugarloaf

Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery:
impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

from ‘Arrival at Santos’, Elizabeth Bishop

Photos from two trips to Sugarloaf Mountain this year. The best thing about a visit up the Pão de Açúcar—apart from the view obviously—is the little piece of forest that hovers at the top of the mountain nearly 400m above Guanabara Bay: it feels like spending an afternoon on Laputa from Gulliver’s Travels. Only without anyone trying to extract sunlight from cucumbers.

Read more of this post

%d bloggers like this: