Saturday morning at Museo del Traje, Madrid
This is my first trip to India. I spent two and half days in Kochi in the state of Kerala, site of the death of Vasco da Gama who had arrived in Calicut (now Kozhikode) 26 years before. In 1510, led by Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese conquered Goa and here they stayed until December 19 1961. I spent two days here, fulfilling what has been a dream ever since I was a kid. To visit Goa.
And while trying to fight whatever is left of my jet lag self, I am trying to both understand where I am beyond the imaginary place of countless life fantasies and the real place. This is, of course, an absolutely delusional ambition. How could I ever understand anything in two overwhelming days.
I always felt History was not easy to explain. Not even to thode who share it with you. There’s always a sense of invaders guilt at the back of my mind and then people tell me ” you should come to Iran and see the Portuguese fort in Hormuz” or ” you really need to come to Sri Lanka and see the Galle Fort” or maybe go to Thailand or Oman or Indonesia. And then I realize there’s nothing to be explained. It’s a common memory .
The minute I got in the car for a tour of Goa, the guide starts talking about Augustinian and Jesuit churches and nuns baking Bebinca, and reliquaries and Saint Francis Xavier and how much knowledge came together in the XV century to make all those churches and forts rise and still stand.
It is impossible, for me at least, not to feel that those stones and paintings and that relic are part of who I am. They are my cultural DNA.
The next day I decide to walk on my own through Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter of Panjim and get lost, as I normally do. Since I have no wifi I ask the girl carrying her dry cleaning carefully wrapped in newspaper where June 18 street is. She walks with me because she is going that way. Where are you from, she asks. I tell her.
Eu também falo português (I also speak Portuguese) she tells me.
This is my unfinished journey. Where my sense of belonging comes from.
One is always at home in one’s past…
In December 2001 Salman Rushdie visited Porto for one of the final lectures in a series of conferences about the “Future of the Future”. In 2001 Porto was, with Rotterdam, European Culture Capital and the discussion of a post future at the end of a year that forever changed the collective perception of our present seemed appropriate. “The Middle Ages trying to destroy the Third Millennium”, he said.
Three months after 9/11 and 12 years after the fatwa on him, Mr. Rushdie walked alone in Porto. No bodyguards. Carefree.
On the last week before Christmas shops in downtown Porto stay open at night for people like me who can’t plan their shopping in advance. As part of our mini-tradition, me and my best friend went out for some late night shopping that December of 2001. We stopped at a deserted Café Majestic for tea. In 2001 there were no lists of “the most beautiful coffee shops in the world”, there were no lines of tourists at the door, there was no Maître d’ trying to bring some kind of order to the process of sitting down. In 2001 you could actually go in and sit and be almost alone. It was late and the gentleman sitting at the far end table by the piano paid his check and got up to leave. As he made his way to the door, Mr. Rushdie walked past our table and looked at the incredulity on my face and winked and left. I was brought up in a house of books, my father is a Literature professor and meeting or just seeing one of these “giants”in person, still makes me feel as over the moon as a teenage girl coming face to face with her favourite rock star would.
In June 2010 Sir Salman Rushdie was the keynote speaker at a conference I was attending in Kansas City and spoke about freedom and the media and the power of Literature and novelists “who are able to probe the truth without being beholden to facts.” After his plenary address, I and few hundred others waited in line to have our books signed. Holding my copy of The Ground Beneath Her Feet, I approached his table and didn’t ask him if he remembered that night in December 2001. That was the fantasy conversation going on in my mind.
These line focus on Salman Rushdie because of a cold night in December 2001. They could easily be about Borges, Coetzee, Murakami, Pessoa, Auster, Cortazar, Sontag or many others. These are my superheroes. The ones with no x-ray vision but that are able to pierce into your soul and help you discover yourself. The ones that can’t fly but still make your imagination soar and plant the seed of invincibility in your heart. The fearless ones that keep fighting for their truth in a world that so many times keeps telling us that intellectualism is frivolous as if, paraphrasing Orwell, the only goal was to keep ourselves alive when the ultimate objective should be to retain our humanity. Or as Flexner, ten years before 1984 was published, questioned whether “there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.”
And because I am not superhero myself, I will keep borrowing the words
The old idea of the intellectual as the one who speaks truth to power is still worth holding on to. Tyrants fear the truth of books because it’s a truth that’s in hock to nobody. It’s a single artist’s unfettered vision of the world. They fear it even more because it’s incomplete, because the act of reading completes it, so that the book’s truth is slightly different in each reader’s inner world. These are the true revolutions of literature, these invisible, intimate communions of strangers, these tiny revolutions inside each reader’s imagination. And the enemies of the imagination, all the different goon squads of gods and power, want to shut these revolutions down and can’t. Not even the author of a book can know exactly what effect his book will have. But good books do have effects and some of these effects are powerful and all of them, thank goodness, are impossible to predict in advance. Literature is a loose cannon. This is a very good thing.
Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen
Such is the power of Literature and the super power of writers. They may not be the kind of hero that braves against the violence of the natural world but they are of the same kind of the ones that “do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky!“
George Orwell, 1984
Abraham Flexner, The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge
Salman Rushdie, The Power of the Pen
Walter Lippmann, Amelia Earhart – Herald Tribune – 7/8/37
I first started buying vintage and second-hand clothes while I was studying in England, when I moved back to Porto, after spending a couple of months in Mozambique, I met Orion (António Júlio). I remember him driving some sort of purple American convertible when I was still in high school and being mesmerized at this dark glamorous kind of Gothic urban cowboy and his entourage. Entering Amsterdam Underground, at the time on the first floor of the (now) iconic Centro Comercial Stop , I felt like an intruder arriving home. I was not Gothic, or underground but the empathy and the sense of belonging was immediate. I have spent many hours there, preparing for possibilities, sharing outrageous eccentric dreams and plans to transform a dormant city into a rainbow, checking architectural plans for his castle up North, admiring the stained glass that would decorate the windows, lusting after the Afghan rug coat that survived the 70s pilgrimage to Kathmandu and, again, missing a life that had not been mine.
In 2012 António Júlio died. Orion didn’t because constellation stars never burn out.
Being unique and unrepeatable, António Júlio had this ability to jump generations, to go against the norm, to insist, to create diversity by making our urban routes amazing, and surprising . It is the sum of lives like this, in different areas, which make the wealth of cities
Fátima I met when her store, Rosa Chock Vintage, looked like a psychedelic cloud at Rua Oliveira Monteiro, close to my former high school. I bought an amazing green 80s batwing leather jacket that still lives in my closet and gets a lot of compliments every time I wear it. “It looks so vintage” said the girl behind the counter at the coffee shop. Well, it actually is.
Fátima’s store then moved to Rua do Almada at the center of Porto’s new life but it kept it’s difference. It was never about following the retromania hype of curated new stores made up to look old and selling imaginary “retro vintage” items.
Fatima’ s store, now at Rua Formosa, is curated to the T. Curated for each individual that crosses her door and shares her love for detail and her passion for clothes with history ready to be used in new life stories. Curated for treasure hunters who enjoy the apparent chaos of the hundreds of scarves and necklaces and dresses and sequined tops and ruffles and leopard prints and stuffed animals and the old movie advertising posters bought from Orion.
Fátima is a true vintage dealer who has worked with clothes all her life. She knows what she is selling, she knows the history, the context and she knows that clothes are never just clothes. Like Gaultier, she knows that they are about “what you look like, which translates to what you would like to be like.”
A common friendship and a common sense of loss make me feel at home with Fátima at her larger than life albeit tiny shop but it is her expert eye, her understanding of how to match the right piece to what I have dreamed for myself that keeps me coming back. And this always feels like the truth.
Featured image from: http://rgp-journal.ru/users/Amsterdam_Underground/page/1
Photos 3 and 7 courtesy of Fátima Leite
All others, my own
If animals could speak, the dog would be a blundering outspoken fellow; but the cat would have the rare grace of never saying a word too much.
My beautiful Grace, Magic Twinkletoes could not fight anymore and left today.
The smallest feline is a masterpiece.
Leonardo da Vinci
I am a frivolous person and I have often felt guilty about it mainly because I fear that most people would understand that as meaning that I am a shallow person. Most of my time seems to be occupied with aesthetic considerations or concerns of some kind. Most of the space I live in is organized accordingly. Every morning I go out hoping that what I have chosen to wear will contribute to make the day a little more beautiful, a little less real (I suppose that’s where the love of vintage clothes comes from). Every evening I want to come back home to the same kind of fantasy. I watch movies and plays looking for the kind of visual and emotional grandeur that can make one forget that there’s some kind of reality out there. I read books to be seduced by the music in words and I like music because it embodies all the beauty I find in movies and books.
Form always seems to overcome purpose and content.
Except when it comes to people. Their content is what sustains their form. And still, I also tend to understand human relationships as an aesthetic ideal in the sense that they should be a pursuit of pleasure and an avoidance of pain. I like people. I like watching them, I like talking to them and getting to know their stories and I feel mesmerized by the things they know and the lives they lived.
I am terribly shy so I never start conversations with strangers but I do engage in them often and listen.
There was someone from Belgium sitting next to me on a flight to Lisbon and he told me how he hadn’t spoken to his family in over twenty years because he had taken his dad to court over child support money. There was an elegant lady in the subway in New York who collected ancient tiles and a kid from Spain who talked for over seven hours during a flight between Johannesburg and Madrid and street artists in London and drag queens in Porto and soccer fans in Zambia and the regal looking lady in Houston during intermission at the ballet. She was a widow and her son was working for an oil company in Nigeria. Maybe we could go to the ballet together the following week. I would not be in Houston anymore. And the Brazilian girl that had been left at the altar and was trying to forget that she was hurt and afraid of flying while the plane was getting ready to land.
And, if they asked me, I could go on and almost write a book with all the moments some stranger decided to confide in me. Sometimes I talk and understand how liberating it is to be your vulnerable self with someone you know will not cross paths with you ever again. And you go on for hours sitting across a perfect stranger in some Lower East Side bar after checking some independent production of Hamlet and talk about all your unfulfilled dreams and what your fear and how finding Shakespeare has changed your life.
These are the moments of bliss that truly feel they could be enough for a whole lifetime and shield me when the world just seems to hurtful to endure. I am one of those. Deeply hurt by the trivial, the rudeness and mainly by the pain of others, of strangers, by the injustice, by whatever dehumanizing force seems to be operating on any given day.
“Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.”
And my heart also got used to marvel at others, to shudder, tremble and thrill with the same pleasure and emotion it felt coming face to face with Hopper’s “New York Movie” or driving to Jarrett’s “Köln Concert”.
Works of art, Martha Nussbaum says, “give us insight into how other people live and feel, how they strive for happiness, and how conditions of many types affect them. [And] that is crucial for living any sort of decent life.”
In 1990 Cristina and her brother took me to see him live. I am forever grateful. It did change something in my life.
Daily prompt: My own photo, not my own voice. Still, it explains how I feel.
“For a long while I have believed – this is perhaps my version of Sir Darius Xerxes Cama’s belief in a fourth function of outsideness – that in every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world semi-detached, if you like, without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race; that there may even be millions, billions of such souls, as many non-belongers as belongers, perhaps; that, in sum, the phenomenon may be as “natural” a manifestation of human nature as its opposite, but one that has been mostly frustrated, throughout human history, by lack of opportunity.
And not only by that: for those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainly, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness, that disruptive, anti-social force, so that we mostly conform, we pretend to be motivated by loyalties and solidarities we do not really feel, we hide our secret identities beneath the false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval.
But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds (because we are all alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves), we soar, we fly, we flee. And in the waking dreams our societies permit, in our myths, our arts, our songs, we celebrate the non-belongers, the different ones, the outlaws, the freaks.
What we forbid ourselves we pay good money to watch, in a playhouse or a movie theater, or to read about between the secret covers of a book. Our libraries, our palaces of entertainment tell the truth. The tramp, the assassin, the rebel, the thief, the mutant, the outcast, the delinquent, the devil, the sinner, the traveler, the gangster, the runner, the mask: if we did not recognize in them our least-fulfilled needs, we would not invent them over and over again, in every place, in every language, in every time.”
― Salman Rushdie, The Ground Beneath Her Feet