We Have to Love Brazil: A FLIP Diary

By Kim M. Hastings and Lúcia Bettencourt

Day One: Wednesday, July 4

Precisamos adorar o Brasil!
We have to love Brazil!

Anticipation is running high as FLIP (the Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty, or International Literary Festival of Paraty) kicks off its tenth year this evening. Set in a picturesque colonial village four hours outside Rio de Janeiro and founded by British publisher Liz Calder, FLIP has grown in size and import since its inauguration in 2003. Writers and readers—as many as 25,000 according to local reports—travel from far and wide to attend the five-day event, a congregation of lovers of literature in every sense. This year’s guests of honor include Americans Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, and Stephen Greenblatt; Brazilians Luis Fernando Veríssimo, Fernando Gabeira, Luis Eduardo Soares, and Zuenir Ventura; British author Ian McEwan; Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf; Portuguese writer Dulce Maria Cardoso; Syrian poet Adonis; and a host of others (forty-three by the newspaper O Globo’s count).

FLIP 2012 also honors the one-hundred-tenth anniversary of the birth of beloved Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. His verses appear prominently painted in the main exhibition tent, are projected nightly on the whitewashed walls of the church in the town square, and float through the streets on postcards and balloons handed out to all.

Vai, Carlos! Ser gauche na vida…
Go, Carlos! Be gauche in life…

The opening lectures bring together Brazilian writers Luis Fernando Veríssimo, Silviano Santiago, and Antônio Cícero. Veríssimo delights audiences with his trademark sense of humor. Playing off a slip of the tongue he made years earlier, during which he referred to the festival as CLIP, he seizes the opportunity to characterize the occasion using the letter “c”: he speaks of community, conversation, creativity, cacophony, and culture, all conspiring to celebrate literature.

Silviano and Antônio Cícero present and reflect on Drummond’s life and work, emphasizing the passion and precision that define his poetry. Providing the historical context of Drummond’s writing, Silviano reads the twentieth century as a member of Drummond’s family—an older brother whose footsteps the poet followed closely. Cícero, in turn, interprets a single poem, “A flor e a náusea” (The flower and nausea), from the perspective of a philosopher.

The night is capped off by vibrant performances from Ciranda de Tarituba, a regional folk dance troupe, and music by five-time Latin Grammy Award–winner Lenine.

Day Two: Thursday, July 5

No meio do caminho tinha uma pedra
In the middle of the road there was a stone

Where to head first? The town’s quaint cobblestone streets lead in many directions: down to the waterfront, to local artisans’ galleries, to an array of restaurants and outdoor cafés. FLIP’s offerings run the gamut, from thematically organized panels to exhibits of photography and sculpture, from film screenings and stagings to workshops and puppet shows—the latter, part of the Flipinha and FlipZona programs to increase literacy among younger readers. The picture books suspended from trees in the main square make selecting what to read all the more inviting.

Ironically, the first official talk of the day is titled “Towards the End.” Three young Brazilian authors—Altair Martins, André de Leones, and Carlos de Brito e Mello—reflect on death as the only certainty in these fluid times. Pondering the inevitable, they write the future.

Next up are Catalan Enrique Vila-Matas and Chilean Alejandro Zambra. Their conversation considers literature’s openness, its effectiveness as a tool to probe and contemplate life’s complexities. Literature doesn’t seek to simplify but allows for experimentation encompassing new techniques and technologies.

Across town, in the Casa da Cultura, a hybrid museum/bookstore/auditorium, a third panel commemorates the centenary of Jorge Amado’s birth. Understanding Brazil, comprehending Brazilianness, is impossible without knowing this author’s work. Indeed, his language, characters, and narrative style propagated the image of a people and a culture to such an extent that to this day there are those living in Brazil who believe his novels were based on their family stories. Contemporary writer João Ubaldo Ribeiro’s reminiscences of his friend, and director Walcyr Carrasco’s comments regarding his current TV adaptation of Amado’s novel Gabriela, cravo e canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon), make for animated discussion of the permeable borders between “real” life and works of fiction.

Off FLIP, informal conversations further concentrate on the fluidity of literary genres—on the creative possibilities of combining the novel and biography; science and fiction; poetry and prose—leaving formal classification to the critics.

Meu verso é minha consolação.
Meu verso é minha cachaça
.

My poetry is my consolation.
My poetry is my cachaça.

As the sun sets, the crowds can count on having a caipirinha (or two or three . . .). Paraty, which was once synonymous with “cachaça,” happens to be one of the country’s distillery capitals. O Globo’s FLIP supplement goes as far as to suggest pairings: their recommendation to accompany the panel “Exile and flânerie” (with Nigerian American Teju Cole and Brazilian Paloma Vidal), for example, is Pedra Branca. Like the characters in the featured authors’ works, this label’s producer left his hometown and for fifteen years wandered in exile.

Day Three: Friday, July 6

Our senses continue to be stimulated. On the way to this morning’s first session, our mouths water over the array of sweets peddled on the streets: brigadeiros, queijadinhas, brevidades, pé de moleque, cocada de maracujá (loosely translated, less appetizingly, as chocolate fudge, butterballs, arrowroot cookies, peanut brittle, and coconut–passion fruit candy).

The daily panels begin with oral recitations of Drummond’s verses, including recordings in his own voice. In today’s opening talk, his poems “O elefante” (The elephant) and “Aporo” are read and lovingly explicated by two scholars of his work, Antônio Carlos Secchin and Alcídes Villaça. Both are poets in their own right and earn applause as they reveal the multiple nuances and dimensions of each and every word choice by this expert craftsman, who depicted language as a labyrinth.

Soon after, we discover the Bard is more alive than ever. James Shapiro and Stephen Greenblatt dismiss the myth that Shakespeare did not write his work. Although there is no biography from his lifetime, surviving documents attest to the author’s physical presence in London, Stratford, and the Elizabethan court. His plays and poems are testimony to his mining of traditional stories. Shakespeare’s keen sense of humanity and linguistic sensibility continue to enrich literature and the English language.

Chega mais perto e contempla as palavras
Come closer and contemplate the words

This festival celebrates words. Each panel, each discussion, each poem recited allows words to blossom, to flower, and thereby stave off nausea. Were Jonathan Franzen’s long pauses following his interviewer’s questions intentional? Revealing? Is the prevalence of images condemning us to silence? How are twenty-first-century novelists to cope with the increasing difficulty of expressing our world? The unimaginable situations of the present? How to construct narrative when fragments are all that remain? Does it matter?

Amanhã recomeço.
Tomorrow I begin again.

Day Four: Saturday, July 7

Que fiz de meu dia?
Tanta correria.

What did I do with my day?
Plenty of running around.

The day heats up fast even though it’s winter here in Paraty. By noon, the temperature has reached ninety degrees. Fortunately, the tents mounted provide ample shade; some are air conditioned.

Despite the temptation of a lazy ride from the Perequê-Açu River (one boat advertises on-board poetry recitations for those who opt to embark on their literary tour), throngs flock to see Ian McEwan and Jennifer Egan. The two read from their recent novels and share their experiences “seeing through the eyes of others.” Both emphasize the empathy required (McEwan inadvertently gives away the ending to his book, which we won’t do here) and divulge further secrets of the trade—remaining open to inspired ideas such as incorporating PowerPoint into one’s writing, for example.

A second panel focuses on the production and dissemination of literature through translation. The Brazilian government continues to create incentives for publishers and translators to make the national literature better known beyond its borders. This particular session features two rising novelists and their German translators. Topics covered include regional versus universal themes and the challenges of creating images through sounds.

Se meu verso não deu certo
Foi seu ouvido que entortou.

If my poem didn’t work
It was your hearing that warped it.

“Running in the Family” brings together writers Dulce Maria Cardoso, João Anzanello Carrascoza, and Zuenir Ventura, all of whom use this social unit as a source of inspiration. For Zuenir, reunions can undermine unity among relatives. For Cardoso, in contrast, exile ignites profound considerations of the meaning of home.

The emergence of new writers is yet another cause for celebration at FLIP. Prizes are awarded and books launched, among them Granta’s collection of twenty Brazilian novelists under forty, an anthology of classic and contemporary love poetry, comic books by Laerte and Angeli, e-books, and others. Authors are available for autographs throughout.

Later in the evening, the book publisher Companhia das Letras hosts an informal talk on the publishing industry. Why does one choose to enter this field? Is there an art to publishing? Is it possible for publishers to create classics, even as our concept and definition of the book evolves? The participants, who include editor in chief Luiz Schwarcz, publisher Jonathan Galassi of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, cultural journalist Annalena McAfee, literary agent Deborah Rogers, and Liz Calder, agree that it’s all about reading.

Day Five: Sunday, July 8

To our surprise, we wake to rain. Even winter can’t pass up putting in an appearance at FLIP. The final day’s program is again plentiful—including panels on “Imagination and engagement” with Francisco Dantas and Rubens Figueiredo, “Crossing boundaries” with Gary Shteyngart and Hanif Kureishi, and FLIP authors reading from their favorite (“desert island”) books—but attendees begin to trickle out of town, concerned about traffic and road conditions. We regret having to cut our stay short, yet are consoled by the fact that FLIP has spawned festivals all over Brazil. Although these have yet to reach the proportions or visibility of the party in Paraty, literature lovers now look forward to FLIMAR (Marechal Deodoro), FLIPIRI (Pirenópolis), FLIPORTO (Pernambuco), FLIST (Santa Teresa), FLIV (Votuporanga), and FLUPP—which aims to bring literature to Rio’s favelas and recognize the literary voices of its residents.

Tua memória, pasto de poesia
Your memory, a pasture of poetry


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