Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Percy Bysshe Shelley
M. bought this dress Monday morning (my time zone) and the rest of my day was spent trying to remember what seemed to have been long forgotten.
I can’t remember the last time I wore this dress, but I am sure I wore it during a chilly evening in the summer of 1997 at a concert in Montemor‘s castle. I remember who was with me and the theory that “villages with medieval castles are always cold” but I could not remember who was playing.
Trying to dig up something that you have forgotten to remember from the pre-internet era is not always easy. I tried to google what I did remember. The same artist was also a photographer who, probably in the same year, had an installation called “I could write a book” at Galeria Zé dos Bois in Lisbon. Inspired by the famous jazz standard, specifically by Dinah Washington’s rendition of it (1955), the installation featured an unmade bed, photos and diary entries and little notes from the time the author lived, in love, in Tokyo because if someone had asked him, he could have written a book.
If they asked me, I could write a book
About the way you walk, and whisper, and look
I could write a preface
On how we met
So the world would never forget
But I did forget and, as the day progressed I felt more and more irritated at not being able to recall the name. Probably C. went with me to Lisbon so I decided to send an email explaining my quasi existential doubt of the day. He thought it was absurd and called me. He had no recollection whatsoever of such installation he most probably did go but couldn’t remember. We also saw this same guy at Labirintho, I said. Remember that? We went with another friend who got drunk and almost in trouble. Remember that? I even remember where we had parked the car and that we drove away and Cake’s Fashion Nugget was playing. He could not remember anything at all. It seems like we have done really interesting stuff together in the 90s, though.
By 8 pm I could recall some Greek connection and my Google search was “Californian musician, Greek ancestry, living in Lisbon in the 90s”. There it was an article about “the greatest Portuguese talents of the 90s”, about the great “unknown”, groundbreaking talent of Portuguese Pop/Rock and the growing popularity of Dance and Hip-Hop scenes. Finally Darin Pappas, aka Ithaka Darin Pappas aka Korvowrong and the album “Stellafly”, the most powerful and consistent national registry edited in 1997. That might help explain why I seemed to have travelled across the country to hear him even if now it doesn’t really make much sense.
But then again, C.P. Cavafy’s IthaKa is the conclusion that it’s never about getting there but always about the search, as long as you understand what the Ithakas mean.
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
I texted the name and sent it to C. “wtf, who remembers that” was the answer. Right.
Now, the material trigger for all this is on its way to another hemisphere and I hope it will continue to inspire random thoughts, impromptu travels, silly theories and becomes someone else’s story.
I’m standing at the entrance of the room checking Caetano Veloso get on stage for the technical rehearsal of this evening’s show. And this is actually happening. Tropicália, one of the founding songs of the movement, echoes in the empty room and Caetano’s voice seems to hold me in a hug.
I grew up listening to Brazilian music, not specifically to Caetano whose music I only discovered in my 20s, but to the amazing voices of Elis Regina, to the powerful words of Chico Buarque and the outrageous performances of Ney Matogrosso. That music, those words, have functioned as my citizenship, like a deeper connection to a language that even though it’s my native language, I have never managed to master in an elegant way but could, none the less, substitute my passport.
I was not born in 1967, my generation didn’t actually have to create a revolution, we were born in the aftermath of insurrection and before red carnations took to the streets.
Brazil, a country I traveled to for the first time when I was 9, meant as a cliché, samba, beach and a carefree existence. Caetano’s songs showed me something else. A country that can hold the entire world in both its glory and its misery. I started paying attention to the music that makes you want to get up and celebrate life through dancing and to the words that make you stand still and think. Last time I was in Brazil was in 2000 while the celebrations for its 500 years of postcolonial history were underway. Walking through the streets of Salvador all the way up to a candomblé house made me feel thankful for paying attention. That’s where the music materialized itself, in the Roma Negra.
From Porto Seguro and Salvador, the journey ended in Rio de Janeiro and I could still hear the words, who hasn’t felt the swing of Henri Salvador. We were staying in Copacabana and took the bus to the Flamengo neighborhood to see the Carmen Miranda Museum on an amazing journey through scandalous platform shoes and outrageous costumes and jewelry. A dream closet. In all her esthetic exaggeration, the adopted icon of tropicalism was a true precursor, taking it all in, who she was, who others thought she was, Europe, America and the tropics in one flamboyant persona.
Oswald’s anthropophagy, the solution to the problem of identity, the antidote to having your mind chained to labels and to grim values of behavior and morality. Thoroughly thought anarchy and cultural eclecticism, helas, flamboyance as a beautiful form of resistance.
Movements become dated and even our music heroes get old but this evening, the Coliseu sang Tieta to the ones that still shine brighter than a million suns and Gilberto Gil, all dressed in white, danced. And I have no films, photos or recordings and yet it will be registered forever.
Photo cover to Tropicália ou Panis et Circencis by Mário de Andrade