Poetic debris in a Brazilian junk room


“When I go to the city, I feel like in a luxury living room. Back in the favela, I am just abandoned furniture in a junk room”: Carolina María de Jesús’ diaries starting in 1955 became a media and literary success when journalist Audálio Dantas “discovered” her in the favela and had her writings published as Quarto de despejo (Junk room) in 1960. For the first time in Brazil, a black favelada was able to produce and sell a poetic text about her daily routines and her dreams. Her diaries and poems with literary intentions and reflections about life and society focused on her endurance to get food for her children and the social relations in the favela.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth, a German documentary from 1971 about her life was shown at Instituto Moreira Salles in Gávea, Rio, followed by a conversation between the above Audálio and professor Marisa Lajolo. Were Carolina Maria’s diaries real literature if such concept exist anymore? What was the suspicious reception by the elitist literary society of the time of an outsider’s success if not a reflection of the impermeable Brazilian society condemning class and race to an illiterate junk room? Things have changed in the last 50 years and now the Academia maintains a broader and more including idea of art, but society keeps on seeing moradores de favela as disrupting elements in a personal and desired imaginary of a middle and upper class white Brazil.

What a strange sensation is to attend an 18-minute documentary in German with Portuguese subtitles and real but older and already successful Carolina Maria de Jesús playing the role of herself when picking paper 15 years before from trash cans on the streets of São Paulo. A voice in off reads her diaries; and images of the favela and their dwellers alternate with the late poet’s comments about the changes in her life after the publishing of her books.

Here, some extracts of her writings and an audio:

31 de maio Sábado – O dia que quase fico louca porque preciso arranjar o que comer para sábado e domingo […] Fiz o café, e os pães que eu ganhei também. Puis feijão no fogo. Quando eu lavava o feijão pensava: eu hoje estou parecendo gente bem – vou cozinhar feijão. Parece até um sonho! … Ganhei bananas e mandioca na quitanda da rua Guaporé. Quando eu voltava para a favela, na avenida Cruzeiro do Sul 728 uma senhora pediu-me para eu ir jogar um cachorro morto dentro do Tietê que ela dava-me 5 cruzeiros.

Camille Claudel in Rio, the Carnival of Life


Camille Claudel (1864-1943) was a French sculptress in the Paris of the fin de siècle, a woman confronting the male-oriented market of art, and Rodin’s insanely dedicated model, muse and lover.

Adriana Rabelo, Ramon Botelho and their team, after some years of touring Brazil with the play, make a personal and successful staging focusing on aspects of her personality and work such as her creativeness, the impulsivity of her emotions and the instability of her love for her mentor Rodin, which eventually sends her to a psychiatric hospital with mania persecution.

Camille’s monologue is enliven by constant leaps moving back and forth in time from different moments in her life to the lunatic asylum, where she looks back at the past to find in vain a sense for her life. Transitions are clearly and economically stated with an electroshock-like noise, a simple unbuttoning or tying up her hair, and changes in the gravity of expression, which experienced actress Adriana Rabelo masterfully achieve, switching in seconds from teenage happiness to young frustration to decay and mature desperation.

Special moments are her declaiming Rimbaud bare-breasted, the metatheatrical play with marionettes and voices to explain her relationship with Rodin and the inevitable and climactic implicit destruction of her own work.

Camille finally addresses and thanks the audience, for we are her last visitors to the asylum, where she is to end her days as a misunderstood artist.

Corazza and his boys: psychodrama and massage at Conde Duque Cultural Center


A pleasant and revealing but at the same time exhausting three-hour experience: to attend a class by reputed and controversial theatre director Juan Carlos Corazza. The bare-foot male and female students receive us emitting nasal and guttural sounds with the sight lost in the infinite, like sect members meditating in a never-ending introspection. Once the mystical music is over, 20 youngsters dreaming to become theater and movie stars come back to life and Corazza explains to the audience the meaning of this open exhibition of his school’s 4th year student’s training session.

They start performing Lorca’s Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding) in pairs. He interrupts them, correcting here and there, questions them, massages their shoulders, puts a hand on I-don’t-know-which chakra, places someone from outside of the scene in front of a promising actress to make her feel something, so that she can project her own excitement into the scene and repeat it ad nauseam. Further on, with Chekhov’s Seagull, he will confront and embrace an actor for half a minute to extract tears from his touched face.

Corazza applies Stanislavsky’s method to his own style and personality, most times flooding the stage with his huge and eager-to-be-worshipped ego, but undoubtedly getting unprecedented performances from the student actors and actresses. He makes them explore the dramatic texts’ hermeneutical nuances using their own intern conflicts, as a form of reverse psychodrama. As an expected Argentinian theater man, Adler and Gestalt practical psychology mixed with Freudian psychoanalytical delirious ideas about the trauma theory enters his professorial speech, and, the same way homeopathic medicaments cure without having been empirically proven or Scientology blends subjective science and SF to save people’s souls in the Earth, he actually improves his students’ performing quality.

From the outside, someone could argue that he plays favorites, disregarding the average and unattractive ones and promoting nasty competition, as in a theater Spanish version of Fame, but, in the end, that’s the way the world works, isn’t it?

Charlton Heston in Cisjordania: 5 broken cameras in the Planet of the Arabs


To watch Chuck Norris in an 80’s B-series movie spitting food at and insulting derogatively the whole Arab and Muslim world produces a mixture of astonishment and embarrassment. It’s one of the 1000 films that director Jaqueline Reem Salloum, American of Palestinian and Syrian descent and resident in New York, has edited to create a short film showing the generalized negative image depicted by Hollywood when it deals with the Arabs. Out of those 1000 films, 12 of them projected positive images, 53 neutral, and the rest, an unquestionable majority, negative images associated with violence and inhumanity. Supported by a metal rock soundtrack whose noise gets confounded with the unavoidable terrorists’ bullets, it is a healthy and sarcastic critical approach to a Western consolidated mirage, understood this concept as “negative and distorted opinions of the Other valuing their culture as inferior”.

The former was the introduction (in the Palestinian film festival in Madrid) to a Palestinian-Israeli documentary about the occupation in a small village, Bil’in, in Cisjordania or West Bank, which shows the human side of a community, removed of their farming lands little by little by means of a wire fence, and the complexity of Israeli politics, where many factions coexist, some of them against the illegal –even by Israeli law standards- occupation of lands by Orthodox Jewish settlers. Emad shows 5 broken cameras, each of which represents a period in his life, distributed between family and the filmed denouncement of the soldiers’ harassment to the activists claiming back their lands. Although the community eventually manages to win the legal fight in court and the fence is finally dismantled, the future of those traditional communities in a growing Israeli population avid for land doesn’t predict a peaceful future. Maybe what is require the sooner the better is an agreed land “divorce”, as Israeli columnist and writer Ari Sahvit puts it, although he doesn’t hide the difficulties of the decision: “If Israel does not retreat from the West Bank, it will be politically and morally doomed, but if it does retreat, it might face an Iranian-backed and Islamic Brotherhood-inspired West Bank regime whose missiles could endanger Israel’s security.”

“Bajo 30”: youth is not bliss


The other day, a presentation of a short-story and fragment-of-novel anthology written by authors under 30 took place at the bookstore-winery Tipos infames, in Madrid. Nowadays, most of the books collecting stories by presumably a generational group of writers, is more a marketing idea than a real entity with common literary interests, influences, themes, style and final product. And, in the end, as Guillermo Aguirre, one of the YOUNG writers said, literature is something written by a guy in underpants at home to be read by another guy in underpants at home (let’s change the male-oriented “guy” for the more politically correct “person”), and he is not interested in more; neither am I, but here I am, surrounded but twenty-many and thirty-few happy literary wannabies talking about political and cultural power and forgetting to address their own texts, as if that question were something banal. In the anthology, apart from a few jewels, like poetic and experimental Juan Soto Ivars’ text, or Cristina Morales’s perfect example of autofiction in the line of Vila-Matas, with an ironic criticism of extreme and nonsensical feminisms, many of the rest in the pack look more like an useless and uninteresting exercise of style promoted by a writing school’s teacher, funny stories by cool guys imitating the beat generation or even children literature; not the real content and stylistic literary pieces that you expect to find in really promising authors. Two other passable ones are “Romperse”, by Aixa de la Cruz, the story of a vigorexic young man vomiting blood after extensive bulimic episodes, and the unpretentious and well structured “Delfines” by Aloma Rodríguez, in which the narrator recalls her grandfather’s funeral intercalating her memories from the past with him.

Race, stage and video tapes in Brazilian ‘Miss Julie’


As in a mirror house and playing with the audience’s senses, Brazilian theater company Vértice de Teatro mixes video and stage, characters and actors. Two sliding screens and a hand video camera depicts and interfere with the story jumping from one diegetic level to another, from video to performance, from Strindberg’s story rewritten for nowadays’ Brazil to the refusal of actors to keep on playing repulsive but cathartic roles for themselves. There are constant interferences of the camera on the stage, and actors saying – [Cut!] or addressing the audience in Spanish and making fun of themselves or crying. And behind all the technical apparatus and the dilemma of which of the video scenes were recorded and which ones were live, we find the racial issue, the story of the white rich girl infatuated with a black servant and perpetuating centuries of bondage, a connection à la brésilienne with the original story by the Swedish playwright, but with an improvised ending.

At Residencia de Estudiantes with Ana Miranda


Tonight at Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes, Brazilian writer Ana Miranda shared with us the secrets of the inspiration for her historical novels, at least the ones related to poets:

She once had a dream where she was climbing a tower’s stairs to find on the top an old woman with a long white braid who told Ana Miranda that she had been Baroque poet Gregório de Matos’ lover; when a few days afterwards she found a book written by a historian about Padre Vieira’s “murder” and Matos’ support, she knew she would write Boca do Inferno in the context of late XVIIth century Salvador de Bahia, which would get her the prestigious Jabuti prize.

Still recovering from a heartbreak, she happened to re-read Gonçalves Dias’ desperate love poems and decided that she would write a novel about the Romantic poet, Dias & dias, Brazilian Academy Prize.

One day she found at a second-hand bookstore the second-edition of the only book of poems by the pre-modernist Augusto dos Anjos and, surprisingly, bought it very cheap; on her way home, a baby bird fell from a tree to the floor in front of her, dying quickly; after burying it, she thought of the similarities between dos Anjos’ short life without the possibility of writing more books and the poor baby bird losing its life ahead: that was the germ of her novel A última quimera, National Library Prize.



One week after the New Year’s Eve is enough time to recover from the hangover of bonenkais (friends and colleagues dinners), shinnenkais (New Years’s banquets) and commemorative celebrations at Christmas time in Japan; and maybe to talk about them. After a dinner with friends on Kiyamachi St. –when I found out how important is for a Japanese woman her future father-in-law’s scalp- and some salsa dancing at Rumbita, the Joya no Kane -108 tolls on the Buddhist temples’ big bells to celebrate the New Year and clean the same number of human sins- got me on Shijo Street on my way to Yasaka Jinja, the most frequented Shinto shrine in Kyoto on those days. Of course, since Japanese like to do most things together at the same time, the street was blocked by flocks of Japanese young people willing to pay homage to Shinto gods asking them for a year of pecuniary success and love or just to hang out around there. I decided not to wait what at freezing temperatures plus snow could be considered a Japanese purgatory and headed for my next destination, an electronic music club in the northern part of the city.



On my way to Metro, I happened to pass by a small tera (Buddhist temple), where a few people were eating toshikoshi soba, (buckwheat noodles, longer than usual and consumed on New Year’s Eve) around an improvised bonfire. My curiosity was stronger than my fear of finger frostbite and I stopped by to take a look at what was going on. Ipso facto I was invited by the friendly priest’s daughter to join a line of Japanese neighbors and stoically wait my turn to toll twice by myself the big bell with a heavy piece of wood. When I finally threw a few coins to a box and gave two small sticks –given previously to me by the young woman- to the very yasashii (kind) priest, I felt that neither my mistake with the name of the train station and the subsequent walk in the cold nor my curiosity-killed-the-cat peeping at the temple were accidental but with a purpose.

And I was in those high thoughts while holding the wood to hit the bell when something inside my left pocket started to vibrate like crazy. As if waking up from a mystic ecstasy, I realized that it was my cell-phone receiving a call from a dear one and decided that our dependency on technology to communicate with others is ruining our lives; but I interpreted the disrupting phone call as a sign of good fortune, hit the bell twice, thanked the Shinto priest and finally went to the disappointing, smoky, dark and noisy cave.


A few hours later I would wake up at home to drowsily connect to the Internet and have via Skype the you-know-which 12 grapes with my family in Madrid.

On January first I finally made it to a jinja, Shimogamo, where I bought an omikuji (a written fortune), just to laugh at myself because I got the worst possible one: bad luck in everything imaginable for the coming year. I refused to hang it on a pillar next to the altar in order to get rid of the bad omen: actually I just don’t believe in them; and it makes such a great memento!


Japanese Halloween, Spanish Conferences and Student Theatre Festivals



Life in Japan might sometimes look a little bit dull but there are moments when there are so many options where to choose from that it’s exactly the opposite, and you feel that your schedule becomes an elastic cord that is going to break sooner or later.

For the Japanese, as well as for the Spanish –I just learnt about the Celtic and Christian origins of the celebration-, Halloween is nothing else than a date in the calendar when they can put on a costume and go out crazy, like in Carnival. In Kyoto, a foreign and local mixed crowd of youngsters and not so young ones go to the Kamo River, to one of the three Irish pubs downtown or to more or less private parties. There are also the big clubs’ parties –World and Metro- and the healthy ones like the salsa-dancing Rumbita, where birthday parties are celebrated with a non-stop-dancing-in-costume ritual for the honoured person.

Last weekend too, the Halloween-celebrating one, the yearly Hispania Gakkai’s Spanish Language, Literature and Culture Conferences was held in Osaka, and there I went, to the University of Kansai, to listen to 20-minute presentations about Don Quijote, Pedro Páramo, Carmen Martín Gaite, Cortázar, surrealism, etc. and to enjoy a banquet with colleagues whom I only meet once or twice a year.

And Sunday was also the starting point for the three-day Student Festival at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, with super entertaining theatre plays. At 10:30, the German club presented Die Bremer Stadtmusukanten, with an almost professional staging and very clear dialogues; and at 13:30, the Spanish club performed El país de las maravillas, a funny and creative mixture of Alice in Wonderland, Red Riding Little Hood, Romeo and Juliet and Don Quixote, with some of my former students in the cast and the advice of Isabel la Católica from Palencia. Most of those students have spent the last 3 months meeting and rehearsing daily for the play and a few of them, like Rie and Eriko, cannot avoid crying of emotion and sadness now that everything is over.




Hoy hemos tenido en Kyoto Gaidai al tremendo escritor, profesor de filosofía de instituto de barrio y comunicador nato Eliacer Cansino, que además acaba de ganar el Premio Nacional de Literatura Infantil y Juvenil con su última novela “Una habitación en Babel”. Afable, siempre con la sonrisa en los labios y mostrando un interés casi juvenil por todas las cosas suyas y ajenas, en un español clarito y despacito para que se enteraran los estudiantes japoneses, nos ha contado acerca de sus creaciones literarias y su manera de ver el mundo.
Para Eliacer Cansino, la infancia es un momento especial porque en él se puede vivir el presente de forma más plena sin preocupaciones sobre el pasado o el futuro. Además, es cuando se percibe de forma más pura el mensaje de los primeros libros, sin la mirada crítica del lector adulto, que tiende a proyectar su propia vida, imagen y experiencias en ellos. La filosofía y su trabajo de profesor de adolescentes en un instituto de un barrio obrero de Sevilla le han proporcionado material o al menos la inspiración para el libro que le ha valido el prestigioso premio la semana pasada, y que trata sobre la relación entre un profesor y un joven estudiante inmigrante africano en España. Y ese es su actual método de trabajo –responde Eliacer a la pregunta de mi estudiante Satoru-: a partir de un ejemplo concreto o de una anécdota, le sale un libro, con el que intenta transmitir su propuesta moral que supone el valor de la dignidad humana y una cierta esperanza para el futuro; porque los jóvenes deben tener esperanza. Con ello, este filósofo escritor parece huir de los relativismos excesivos y del nihilismo de la sociedad actual.
Pero donde el escritor se ha extendido más ha sido al hablar sobre su obra “El misterio Velázquez”, por el que ya obtuviera el Premio Lazarillo en 1997: ahí se mezclan el trabajo de investigación sobre la época más la libertad del autor para completar los rincones oscuros que los historiadores no han logrado iluminar. Y Cansino le da protagonismo a un personaje ignorado en su tiempo, y lo rescata del olvido mediante la literatura, ya que para él, ésa es una de sus funciones (y con esto el escritor responde a Kumiko).
Su traductora al japonés, Kazumi Uno, traductora también de “Soldados de Salamina” de Javier Cercas, me comenta al final de la conferencia los retos que se ha encontrado para traducir sus libros, especialmente cuestiones de tipo cultural, ya que el público objetivo japonés que leerá esas traducciones necesitará aclaraciones acerca de nuestra sociedad e historia, aclaraciones que Uno prefiere incluir de forma natural en el texto, ya que las notas distraerían al joven lector y no le permitirían sumergirse de lleno en la historia del libro.
Un verdadero placer tener eventos como este en la universidad y poder conocer a personas tan interesantes que te hacen reflexionar sobre las cosas con la mirada de aquel niño que eras hace 25 ó 30 años.


ハーフ Hafu project was born in London and started as a photo exhibition of faces from people with different “bloods”. I remember when a couple of years ago they arrived in Japan, where one in thirty births are from parents one of them not being Japanese (in Tokyo International marriages are now one in ten). The photographic project ended up like a film project in the hands of young directors Lara Perez Takagi and Megumi Nishikura, both half Japanese, too. In June they were portrayed on an article at The Japan Times as an emerging community.

Last night, at the Institut Franco-Japonais du Kansai , there was a preview of the amount of footage they have filmed so far, along with music and a nice talk with a friendly crowd from and not from Kansai. The mini-film-documentary depicts different cases of half-Japanese and their stories of adaptation to Japanese society with more or less success: we have David, mother from Ghana and Japanese father, who was raised in an orphanage in Japan and considers this country as his actual home. At some point in his life, he decided to know his African roots, went back to Ghana and started building schools for poor children there raising funds in Japan.

There is also a relatively affluent family in Nagoya with a Mexican mother, Japanese father and 2 kids, the older one being bullied at school and too quickly diagnosed by his teachers as slow. In many cases of children raised with different languages there is this problem of keeping up with the other kids at school –at early stages there is some confusion as for languages and it has also being proved in neuro-psychological experiments that multilingual people are slightly slower at selecting vocabulary because they have more options from where to choose when speaking or writing-. If you add that to the emotional stress of being bullied, in many cases those kids drop school before even finishing high-school. These two parents have decided to send him instead to an International School in Nagoya, where he will have more possibilities of success. –But not all parents have the economic resources to send their kids to an International school –I tell my co-worker and friend Andrew, who had just strategically sat next to a beautiful half-Japanese young woman. –Yeap -he quickly replies- but those kids will never go back to the Japanese society. Once you enter an International School, there is no way back.
I think about his statement and agree with him, although maybe it’s not a bad thing to be on the edge and take advantage of the part of the society you like and at the same time have access to an International one until Japan becomes more plural and global.

This Hafu project promotes this kind of discussions, and talks about identity, hybridity and so on.
Good luck to the Hafu team.

P.D.: By the way, they are still recruiting characters for the movie. They need a half-Japanese person who looks completely Japanese from the outside but has been raised among two or more cultures.

Contradictions in China




China is, no doubt, a country of contrasts, one more mark of most developing countries in the world. You have the relatively rich coast and the poor countryside. But even in wealthy Shanghai and Beijing, you find poverty on the streets. They passed from a tightly controlled economy to an open market and frantic business after Deng XiaoPing. And now, everyone wants to be rich, everyone wants to live Western style. But they are too many, and the competition is hard. After Mao and the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals and good manners were equal to bourgeois vices, and everyone rushed for survival without paying attention to that. Nowadays, that the standard of living is gradually going up, their ways have not paired the economic development yet, and then you find people spiting on the floor in front of you, not respecting lines or pushing around, hotel clerks and taxi drivers quite rude and so on. But at the same time, a new generation of young Chinese not so limited by censorship –although it still exists, especially on the Internet, they might not be able to read these lines-and indoctrination, get little by little to adapt themselves to a more global and friendly world. I met so many families and young students willing to exchange pieces of language and culture with a foreign traveler…The hatred-love relation with the West and the complex of inferiority should be replace by one of a more mutual respect and help. And maybe they should look back to their ancient culture’s precepts of ethical standards and social norms advocated by Confucius.
As for politics and democracy, as long as people see how their standard of living goes up, they don’t care too much about it. But if the economy happens to get stuck one day, the Government will be in real trouble. Traveling around China and feeling the hugeness of the country in terms of population and territory, I understand the desire of the Communist Party of having everything tied up. If they didn’t, China would probably fall into chaos and/or regional civil wars. Now it’s a non-free but at least somehow harmonious society, and with low delinquency. But they will have to open the system; it’s a matter of time.
I think China has a real problem with pollution and should take strong measures to control it. Cities are not only sky-scrapers, factories and cars, but also people on the streets who have the right to breathe fresh air. The EXPO 2010’s theme is precisely the green cities. It’s a good and brave start, being aware of their own problems, but now they have to really face them, maybe at the cost of their own high-speed economic development. At least most scooters are electric. They should do the same with cars, if their objective is that everyone own one; and control their factories’ Co2 emissions.
As for China’s cities, the more livable and “civilized” is Beijing, followed by frantic Shanghai with its many contradictions –Pudong and the Bund vs. the slums downtown-. Mid-size cities like Nanjing can be nice in some areas, hostile in others; same as for Qingdao –good city to meet Chinese national tourists from all around China-, with a relatively well-taken care of beach front but a more abandoned downtown.
After this 2-week-trip to China, I don’t think I’ll go back in the short or medium term, but when I do, I hope I will find a better place to live.
Here you are a few videos. Enjoy:
Qingdao beach
Nanjing Kung Fu Noodles
Chinese exotic food
EXPO 2010 China’s pavilion
Traditional music at Shanghai’s Yuu Gardens
Shanghai’s storytelling
Miguelín, the Spanish gigantic baby at EXPO Shanghai 2010
Spain’s pavilion at EXPO Shanghai 2010

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Literatura, opinión y otros habaneceres, porque habanecer es una perspectiva, un estado de ánimo, un vicio de la memoria