One of the liveliest sessions of Flipside, was created by the presence of Will Self. Having been asked about their books, Bernardo Carvalho and Will Self shared their thoughts on identity. Will explained that he enjoyed exploring women characters “as he is not a very manly man”. “It is like shape shifting to explore the female persona”. Will read from his book “Umbrella” and the whole text came alive, as he made us hear his London 1930′s character’s voices.
Bernardo Carvalho read from his novel “Nine Nights” and said that in contrast to Will’s novel, he felt his writing lacked description. Will contradicted this observation with examples of description from “Nine Nights” and then made some profound statements about how Carvalho had written about Brazilian identity. “It is about the other in Brazilian culture, the looming otherness, darkness, that lies behind Brazil”. Carvalho seemed to enjoy the banter.
This last event at Flipside, was introduced by Liz Calder, as a celebration of some of Brazil’s writers. Everyone attending the workshop was given the book “Other Carnivals – New stories from Brazil”. This is a book of 12 short stories and four of the authors, were not only present, but they read parts of their stories. The artwork in the book is the work of Jeff Fisher . He also created the colourful and distinctive artwork for the Flipside stage. The Suffolk Chair Collection should perhaps also get a mention as the classic wooden chairs were a feature of the stage.
First, Ariana Lisboa read from her short story “That year in Rishikesh”. It explores the nature of imagination and the making up of stories, such as a memory of meeting John Lennon – stories acting as an anesthetic to block out reality. Next, Bernardo Carvalho, read from “The language of the future” his short story that explores the language of prejudice. Next, Ferréz shared the background to his story called “Neighbours”. It is an in your face story of living with watching neighbours. It was read by Ángel Gurría-Quintana, who chaired this session and also edited the book.
Milton Hatoum was the last of the four writers to read his short story “A burial and Other Carnivals”. It’s a story which recalls Carnival in Manaus, as the storyteller attends the burial of Dona Faride. The language and description is quite beautiful. I just have to share a couple of sentences. “There were also mermaids, hoarse from all the singing, semi nude and tousled-haired odalisques, dethroned princesses, carnival celebrants dressed in rags, paupers who were given a bowl with banana porridge or jaraqui fish”. ” The drunkest revellers dived into the river to soothe their hangovers, others argued with vultures on the beach or tried to find the girlfriends they had lost at some point of the merrymaking, when no one belonged to anyone and carnival was a hallucinatory miracle”. The story ends with a memorable proverb. “A mother is worth a world” and “Soon it will be Carnival……..”
The 12 stories in the book present snapshots of Brazilian life, past and present. It is imaginative, vibrant, a mix of the funny and the tragic. The book reveals, subverts and delights.
The sun and smiles came out for the 3rd day and final day of the Flipside Festival. Identity was the theme that permeated the day yesterday and dislocation and exile is the undercurrent to the first session today. Adriana Lisboa and James Scudamore both shared aspects of their novels that delve into this rich source of inspiration. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Adriana Lisboa has many awards, including the José Saramago Prize for her novel, “Symphony in White”. Her new novel “Crow Blue” is one of the many Portuguese/Brazilian books that Bloomsbury has published in translation. This book was launched today at Flipside.
This event was chaired by Daniel Hahn , the Director of the Centre for Literary Translation. He started the session by asking Adriana Lisboa about what it means to be Brazilian. She now lives in the USA and reflected on how few books are read in translation there. She also questioned the popular cultural view of Brazil of carnival and football. Daniel then turned to James Scudamore, who talked about the novel as an exploration of the inner life and Scudamore said “we are not in the business of writing tour guides”. I write a novel because I am reacting to my surroundings, its a test. It is not a determined attempt to define those surroundings.
Daniel asked Adriana about whether there is a pressure to represent Brazil. She said “she challenges that”. I wrote because a Brazilian guerrilla character presented itself and it makes a link to Brazil, but I write about Japan, so do I represent Japan? no.
She said, that since living in other places, her viewpoint about Brazil has changed. “I have a different perspective. I now wonder if I am now seen as the writer who no longer lives in Brazil but writes about Brazil. I think its good to see it from the distance”.
James Scudamore said he had stuff that he needed to address and he could NOT write about Brazil. He then read from the opening of his book Heliopolis, set in contemporary São Paulo which was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. The reading he chose is an amusing account about helicopters, gated communities, and a man who wants, his lover Melissa’s husband, Ernesto, to discover his presence. He then moves onto the terror of being found in Melissa’s bed, by Melissa’s father. He ends the passage with “colour is a matter of context”. Quite a haunting statement. He was asked why he did not name São Paulo as the city he chose to write about and he replied he decided to just call it the city and let his imagination play with that.
Adriana then read in Portuguese and English from “Crow Blue”, about her character’s childhood in Copacabana in Rio. The character remembers the light, “and each child seems locked into their own architectural creation, on the beach”. “the intimacy of the sand was so far from the Popsicle sellers”. The drama of the city did not even figure in the drama of the ocean floor. She ends with the line “the sun was for everyone”. Daniel asked her about the translation calling it a “perfect translation”. She laughed and said “sometimes the translator improves the text”.
Daniel asked the writers, “who in Brazil is reading Brazilian literature”. Adriana said “people mostly read books in translation” and “yet more and more people are beginning to read Brazilian writers”. James reflected that perhaps this weekend is important because now, we can start to read about Brazil and not with the intention of learning about Brazil, but to experience Brazil. “We all have our own understanding of place”. He said he was asked once by a Brazilian taxi driver “if Margaret Thatcher is still Queen”. He reflected, “You fuel your imagination by reading stuff and you can train it well”.
Adriana said English has precise words, more so, than in Portuguese. The language explain things easily, so she likes the way her book “has been simplified”. The discussion followed the questions of the audience, looking at the cordiality of Brazil. Adriana reflected “Its very easy to make friends in Rio, but it seems shallow, whereas in the USA to have a friend seems to have depth”.
In the lunchtime event on Sunday at Flipside, the author Alex Bellos talked to Susie Nicklin from the British Council, about the Brazilian defeat in the 1950′s World Cup to Uruguay. As old footage was shown, Bellos commentated and explained the coverage which focused both on the pitch and the animated and excited crowd. He told the audience at Flipside, that after the defeat all aspects of that game were considered, even the fact that the team wore white and there was a thought that this was the wrong colour for a Brazilian team. This prompted a competition to be developed with the condition that all four colours of the Brazilian flag should be used to create a new strip. When researching his book “Futebol, the Brazilian way of Life”, Bellos, contacted the winner of that competition and was shown the image that had been sent in that eventually became the winning strip. He talked about the role of politics and corruption in Futebol and recalled that President Lula´s first act was to introduce 2 laws to avoid perceived and real corruption in football. Bellos argued that because Brazilian football lacked rules and organisational structure, this introduced an original slant to the game, that made Brazilian football much more exciting in the 1960′s.
Bellos was asked about Pele. He recounted the story of two heroes of the game, Pele from São Paulo and Garrincha, from Magê, who was much more a man of Brazil, a man of the people, albeit, a drinker and womaniser. “Even today no one ever says a bad work about Garrincha”. He said he thinks people are slightly disappointed by Pele because he appeared to be a black guy who wanted to be white. He reflected on how Brazilian players can talk and talk, unlike British player who sometimes struggle to make even one sentence when interviewed.
What is so refreshing about Flip and now Flipside, its English new born baby, is the opportunity to see and feel the contrast of cultures. The first encounter of the day was a discovery and sharing of inspiration between Milton Hatoum and Ian McEwan, two masters of their craft. They explored how different political and cultural traditions influenced their work, but they also found common ground in literary experiment. Milton, of Lebanese heritage, gave a very thoughtful explanation of what it is to be Brazilian, the melting pot, that is only one part Portuguese, perhaps in its food. Milton was born in Manaus, the wild town, that is the gateway to the Amazon. Although leaving, in his teens, he said Manaus is always him, like a spectre, the Holy Ghost. He is the author of Ashes of the Amazon, The Brothers, Tale of a Certain Orient and some short stories. He talked about his recent novel Orphans of Eldorado, which Ian McEwan said is a playful book which reminds him of Tristram Shandy. Ian McEwan shared his love of Brazil and Flip, but also read from Sweet Tooth, his latest work, a spy novel and love story.
A discussion that explored culture and identity was cleverly brought together by the journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Lang. Some of the questions from the audience, concerned fear, fear of the decline of culture. Ian McEwan cleverly put that fear to bed with a one liner, “UKIP will not be determining our reading”. What became clearer in the discussion was the role (and lack of real influence) the CIA had in determining Brazilian culture. Ian was asked about writing for “Encounter” which was funded by the CIA. His response was “just because the CIA thought it, does not mean it was not true”. He said “Many writers and poets contributed to “Encounter” and the magazine later received other funding”.
The second event was a privilege and a pleasure to attend Patricia Melo, Ana Maria Machado, (both authors) and Misha Glenny, shared their experiences and extensive knowledge of Brazilian culture, not least the urban underworld of crime. Ana Maria Machado, who lives in Rio, is one of Brazil’s leading writers for children. She brought spirit to the stage, as Paul Heritage, chaired, what could have been a overly complex collision of thought and experience between these writers.
Misha Glenny is developing a programme for Radio 4 called “The invention of Brazil”. He said having worked in Dubai, where no one wants to share information, Brazil was a place where everyone talks. Of the Portuguese, he said, “they arrived, put out their deck chairs and that was that”, unlike the Spanish Colonizers that did not venture far into the interior. I asked him later about the role of the Portuguese in Brazil and whether the Radio 4 programme will consider “What the Portuguese did for us”.
The first two programmes will cover Portuguese involvement in Brazil and it will explore more than fraternizing with the natives and producing babies.
Patricia Melo read from her book Inferno, researched in the late 1990′s, a collection of short crime stories. She reflected on the changes in Brazil since the writing of the book. What all three writers had in common was the positive outcome there will be to the World Cup, as Brazilians know how to thrown a party. More photos and coverage of day one to follow.