segunda-feira, novembro 21, 2016

Joan Baez kind’a moment: Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto

“Quando, Lídia, vier o nosso Outono
Com o Inverno que há nele, reservemos
Um pensamento, não para a futura
        Primavera, que é de outrem,
Nem para o Estio, de quem somos mortos,
Senão para o que fica do que passa —
O amarelo actual que as folhas vivem
        E as torna diferentes.”
Ricardo Reis, in Odes

    So it’s Thanksgiving week, time to appreciate the harvest that fills our tables… Or so it was, in 1621. Thanksgiving now is a day to celebrate family, friends and to look with gratefulness to all blessings that help us go through life… 

    Brazil doesn’t have Thanksgiving, maybe because the Portuguese that took over our land back in 1500 were so grateful for the gold they found, they decided to celebrate back in Europe, not in Brazilian grounds, trying to keep a low profile… Being thankful for gold and all the natural resources they stole from our native indians wouldn’t be exactly well seen… Christmas has become, therefore, the Holiday to practice being grateful, even if we do it under 104 degrees while decorating a pine tree we don’t have, with fake snowflakes (which we also don’t have) and waiting for a dehydrated Santa Claus who never seems to dress up appropriately for the tropical Summer he will face.

    I have incorporated gratefulness a long time ago, when I first started practicing Yoga. Saying thanks before every practice is a very important part of the hindu culture, and it became a way for me to connect with something sacred, since I’m not religious at all. Being thankful is, to me, a way to send good energies to the Universe that has given me so much.

    I could go over a list of things and people I’m so grateful for, but I would fall into a cliche swamp I dread and a swamp is, right now, not a good place to be at… You might be drained out of it, and I’m quite happy where I am… 
    Yes, I’m grateful for my family, even if they drive me nuts at least 4 times a day… Yes, I’m grateful for my health, for my friends, for Skype and FaceTime  (which allow me to see the part of the family that does not drive me nuts 4 times a day, but mainly because they are far away) and of course I’m grateful for the amazing experiences I had in the 40 years of Earth life so far. My travels, my readings, my students, my teachers… Heck, I’m drowning in this swamp again…
    Today I want to be grateful for something different. I’m grateful for the Fall. Even more than that, I’m grateful for the four seasons. Growing up in the tropics, you end up with two seasons only: hot and cold. The nuances of change don’t happen in places close to the Equator. Living in Virginia has shown me how the ancient human beings might have felt as they watched nature taking its course. This might not  make any sense to many of my Brazilian friends, but it feels amazing to have Fall and Spring, not “less hot going into cold” and “not so cold going into hot” months. I love Fall.          
    Every day I’m in awe with the yellow leaves that contrast so beautifully with the dark brown tree trunk… In the early hours the sun cuts its way through the branches and gives us this astonishing light we miss because we are in a hurry to drive the kids to school… The red Maple leaves are my favorite Fall feature, and I love it so much for many reasons: As a kid, I would never color a tree red, and looking at a bright red tree still makes me feel like a child who broke the rules and is teasing reality with a green sky drawing. Also, the Maple tree goes dry quickly, filling the sidewalks with red piles my kids and I love to jump on… And of course, reminds me that life goes by fast, so you might as well enjoy the dry leaves pile and have some fun…

    Don’t get me started on Fall flavors… I couldn’t agree more with the Pilgrims who first had a slice of Pumpkin Pie or smelled corn bread coming from the wood oven… Harvest was to be celebrated because it’s freaking delicious. And some years (or centuries later), I thank the same harvest which opened a road to Trader Joe’s everything Pumpkin: cereal, pancake mix, chocolate, pasta, and most important, pumpkin beer! I cannot be drained off the swamp!! I wouldn’t survive without my pumpkin beer! 

    Fall brings cooler days, and slowly guides us to chilling ones… Nothing is abrupt, nothing is immediate, it’s a transition… Fall is mature, Fall is the place my journey fits, as Fernando Pessoa so well translated into words… I’m going through the beginning of my Fall in the best place imaginable, where I can have Mother Nature guide me through the years to come with the wisdom I wouldn’t fine elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the sharp tropical light that made me who I am, and I can still see the contrast between the green palm trees and the deep blue sky screaming for fried fish and Caipirinhas at ocean side, but as for now, I’m enjoying the soft Fall light mixture of red, yellow and brown, showing me where I should go…

terça-feira, novembro 15, 2016

Dad, and the most tender story of my life...

I guess I should start this one by the end. Just like Machado de Assis, author of the Brazilian classic novel “The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas”, I’ll start by the end. But, not being the literary genius he was, I will be the voice on this piece. Machado gave the voice of the classic “memoir” to the deceased narrator, who feels no shame at all to look back on his mean and selfish character, and thus, trustworthy to the reader. Who can judge him now? He doesn’t care.
I wish I could listen to my dad’s life from this vantage point. He would be sitting at a bar’s table, sipping his cheap wine, nibbling cheese and salami, as he looked back on his journey here on Earth. Maybe then, I would be able to understand him better. Or at least, I would be able to see if he understood himself, at all.
“Tatiana, bring me a little slice of guava marmelade and white cheese, please…” Romeo and Juliet, his favorite dessert…
And then, on a cold summer morning, Romeo came along. Not the cheese of his sweet and salty dessert, but his first grandson, my first child and the apple of his eyes. That little piece of human being brought up something in the old man that I never felt I, as a daughter, did. He was in love. Dad laughed as a kid at each of Romeo’s movements, each of his small achievements and when his grandson first smiled at him, I saw the most pure and bright smile I had seen in 33 years. He felt complete.
Romeo was three months old when I woke up to my husband saying “your dad is sick, we have to call an ambulance”. He was visiting for the weekend, and could not get up in the morning. The paramedics had a very hard time lifting that 6,2 feet man up the stairs, lying on a stretcher. I saw his hand trying to grab the handrail, showing me how afraid he was of falling, and I can still feel my heart beating scared and realizing how fragile my strong dad was. He was 81.
He was in and out of the local Hospital for the following 2 months, and I was juggling taking care of my sick dad and a newly born son. Both men of my life need me so bad, both men of my life needing me like little boys. 
The day he was diagnosed with Leukemia we were sitting at the doctor’s office, I was holding Romeo and Dad was all smiles. He was wearing a wool vest over his cream pajama shirt, blue sports pants and worn out shoes. My father had always had worn out shoes, ever since I can remember. He liked to say that he would happily wear old shoes so my sister and I could go to good schools. And so he did. “The only inheritance I’ll ever leave you is your education”. His shoes were a statement to that.
As I was trying to grasp the image of my old, debilitated father, the same one who used to send us to our bedrooms in fear of his enraged discussions with my mom, I heard his last wish:
“You know, doctor, I don’t want to live more than one year or so. All I want, now, is to see my grandson say “vovô”” (grandpa, in Portuguese)
My answer was just like any answer should be: “Ow, Dad, stop it, you are a bull, you’ll live to see his first girlfriend”.
He shooshed me with his hand, silently telling the doctor to pay no attention to me, I knew nothing…
That same day my mom took over, even though they had been separated for many years, and they still had a sea of hurt between them. 
“He will ruin your marriage if he stays with you, and he might live for 10 more years! You have to focus on your family, I’ll take care of him.”
He looked like a boy being dragged against his will and pride when I drove him to my mom’s apartment, but I’m sure he, too, knew that was the best option. My mom took care of him as a daughter would, yet I never felt he was grateful for that… Being a deceased narrator he might have told us how much it hurt to accept his ex wife’s help. Being I the narrator, one can only assume…
Romeo started walking, I was pregnant again, he held his granddaughter many times, and I could see him fading. To hold Iolanda I had to be next to him, and he could only keep her so much.
In September 2009, we took the kids and the grandmas to a resort hotel in Bahia, the place where Brazil is Brazil at its most. Beaches, sun, music, good food, friendly people and coconut water. And a phone call.
“Dad is in Intensive Care. He couldn’t breath and the doctors think he has water in his lungs, but so far he is doing all right.”
My sister placed his clothes (same wool vest, same rotten shoes) in a cabinet, showing him where they were.
“Take them with you, Caia, I will not be leaving here…”
He was put on oxygen mask, as I bargained for a reschedule of our air ticket. As we waited, my mom and my mother in law were trying to make Romeo say vovó, (grandma) but all he could say was vovô… That’s when I called my sister’s friend who was on duty that afternoon. She placed the phone on his year and I said:
“Dad, wait up, we’re flying home tomorrow! And I have news: Romeo said vovô!”
Ana ’s voice returned to the speaker, nervous and loud: “What did you say to him?? He’s extremely agitated.”
That was the last sentence my father consciously heard, for he went into a coma as soon as we hung up.
The following thirteen days were hard to take, especially as we saw him at that bed, languishing to his final morning, on September 23rd. I was wearing a striped brown tunic over brown leggings, doing my make up for a regular day. Eye shadow on my right eye, left one undone. My brother in law calls. It’s 8:30 in the morning, this can only mean one thing. I bend down in pain, cell phone in one hand, eye shadow brush in the other. He’s gone…
We don’t do big funerals in Brazil. We don’t wear black funeral clothes, we don’t serve food and we don’t wait for relatives who are far away. I wish we had incorporated more of the African culture we so take as ours when it comes to celebrating the passage in a joyful way, but no… In that sense, we are Portuguese to the core. Melancholic and taciturn. My father was Portuguese himself, but quite the opposite. I was so confused growing up with him because he could switch to extremes in a second, but his light side was a very funny one. 
And that’s how he pranked us for the last time. We ended up choosing  a song for his cremation in such a hurry, we never discussed if it was appropriated for a funeral or not.
“You can play this one, we don’t care…”
So there he was, rising in his coffin, to the sound of The Four Seasons, a joyful piece of classical music that was known in Brazil for being the theme of a soap commercial.
I had to laugh.

“Well, he was a soap lover after all…”

terça-feira, novembro 01, 2016

O gigante que chora

"Como alguém faz isso com uma criança? Como?"

Ele disse isso aos prantos, sentado ao meu lado, abrindo o coração (e o baú de histórias) para um grupo de escritores que ele conheceu a apenas 8 semanas. As lágrimas que começaram a aparecer se transformaram em um choro doído, alto, daqueles de chacoalhar os ombros, e que te obriga fazer algo. Alguém passou a caixa de lenços pra ele, então minha única opção foi colocar a mão em suas costas e gentilmente traçar um círculo de carinho nelas. Eu queria mesmo era abraçá-lo, mas 8 semanas são 8 semanas. Cedo pra colocar aquele homem de 65 anos e porte de motoqueiro no meu colo e ninar a criança que precisava ser ninada.

Dave é um cara grande, daqueles com voz de trovão que te intimidam de cara. Una a isso o sotaque de italiano do Brooklin e você tem desenhada a imagem de um bad boy mafioso de quem é melhor manter a distância. Humana que eu sou, na primeira aula duvidei que ali morasse alguma sensibilidade artística notável, além de talvez uma habilidade para consertar motores, já que seus dedos estavam bem sujos de algo preto. Só podia ser graxa, o que mais?
Então vi que um pedaço de papel toalha molhado de tinta preta estava ao lado de um caderno com papel grosso e capa de couro e vi que a graxa que eu julguei era, nada menos, que pingos de uma caneta tinteiro que Dave usa para escrever. Sua graxa é tinta. Quem ainda escreve com caneta tinteiro? Provavelmente alguém que escreve há anos e que dá tamanha importância pra sua arte que não se importa com o tempo ou com a sujeira que ela demanda.

Suas histórias começaram a delinear uma personalidade tão complexa quanto sua escrita, que me leva às lagrimas a cada aula. Eu não sou a única, Dave chora sem medo nenhum de chorar. De todos nós, é de longe o melhor escritor. De longe! Neste grupo compreendi que não basta ter uma história pra contar, tem que saber contá-la, conectar as idéias e usar as imagens mais adequadas. Além de tudo isso, há que se ter uma voz. Não a de trovão dele, ou a rouca que eu tenho, ou a esganiçada que uma moça tem, ou a suave, sulista e saudosa da Rosie, mas a voz literária que permeia cada página de sua escrita. A maioria de nós está ainda buscando sua voz narrativa, e a do Dave não deixa que ele fuja dela: sua voz é negra, pesada e cheia de melancolia e dor. Ele diz que não "quer mais tentar pintar um quadro bonito" e eu respondo que se ele estava fazendo isso, sua voz o estava traindo: a beleza de suas palavras está no peso delas.

Foram semanas de atalhos para que a criança aparecesse no papel. Os anos em que morou com sua primeira esposa no Vale da Morte, depois seus dias de "homem das montanhas" no Colorado, as aventuras de quem não tinha laços em nenhuma parte do país e seus anos vivendo como professor de inglês na Europa foram apenas um preâmbulo pra chegar no dia da morte de seu pai.

Ele começa falando de uma professora que, em uma fase em que ele não se sentia visto em casa, viu nele um potencial que sua mãe de luto não enxegrava. O menino de 11 anos agora está em um palco, recitando um discurso histórico que, memorizado, deu a ele a chance de intercalar o nervosismo do palco (e a vontade de agradar à freira que era sua professora e única pessoa que ele respeitava então) com a lembrança do dia do casamento de sua irmã mais velha.
Ele tinha 6 anos, e esperava o resto da família se arrumar para a cerimônia, em um fim de tarde em 1958 quando seu pai caiu no banheiro depois de passar por uma cirurgia de coração. A próxima imagem é de seus familiares arrastando o corpo sem vida de seu pai para a sala e a ordem de irem buscar um padre. Não um médico, um padre. Dave corre pelas ruas do Brooklin com sua irmã e volta com o Padre, que nada pode fazer a não ser ser Padre. Sem entender como, ele escreve que o casamento seguiu, assim como a vida, e ele, aos 6 anos, não foi à cerimõnia e dormiu sozinho em um quarto escuro na casa do vizinho, sem maiores explicações e nenhuma companhia.

O texto acaba, e ele em meio ao nosso silêncio estupefato, chora: "Como alguém faz isso com uma criança? Como?"

São sessenta anos entre um dia e o outro, e a criança ainda quer saber o porquê, ainda sente medo do escuro e muita raiva pela solidão que lhe impuseram. No dia em que seu pai morreu, sua irmã se casou, ele dormiu sozinho. Como?

A empatia que me torna humana me fez chorar, com vontade de correr no tempo e deitar ao lado do Dave menino, abraçá-lo bem forte e dizer que de um jeito meio torto, tudo ia ficar bem. Eu diria pra ele que ele não tem culpa da bagunça interna dos outros e que alguém, ao longo do caminho, ia vê-lo como ele merece ser visto. Que fosse num carro no Arizona, numa cabine nas montanhas do Colorado ou numa mesa de escritores em Richmond.

Como eu não posso voltar no tempo, eu apenas escuto, entre lágrimas, minhas, dele e de todos ali tocados pela força da escrita e da memória...