Friday, 27 May 2016

Of Sugar Cane and Snakes

It is dawn as we set off from the fazenda on our first exploratory walk. We walk from the house across the meadow, an uneven meadow of long grass with all sorts of trip hazards – unexpected holes and bumps and clumps. The horse at the end looks at us with mild curiosity. On our right, as we emerge from the bumpy meadow, is a rubber tree plantation. I’ve never seen rubber trees before. I know that rubber comes from trees, and I know that you have to cut the tree to get the rubbery sap out, but I had never really thought about how that works. And here we have it: rows of tall, straight trees, each with a little black plastic flowerpot tied to its trunk, and the white rubber slowly descending from the scratches on the trunk. When I say slowly, I mean too slowly to actually see. We know it is moving, but it seems to be still. The white gum – oh, it looks like glue, of course! – caught in suspended animation. A frozen drip poised over the pot, like a tiny stalactite. A butoh-esque dance of infinitesimally small movements. The sun has now risen, and is slanting through the tress, creating beautiful striped patterns on the forest floor – a floor that is covered in lacy skeleton leaves, tiny broken twiglets that look like Twiglets, and mottled rubber tree nuts.

Onwards, past the sugar cane. Lots of sugar cane. More sugar cane. Once, I am told, there used to be lots of different crops on this farm. Oranges and clementines. Avocados and mangos and passion fruit and limes. Tomatoes and corn. Before that, coffee. Of course, coffee – the whole of Sao Paulo was one big coffee plantation once upon a time. Now, sugar cane has taken over. Not just because sugar is big business – cana is also the basis for bio-fuel, which is very popular in Brazil. Many cars can swap between regular petrol and ‘álcool’ as it is called. So this is now what is grown. The old farmers in the local bars tut-tut. Bad for the biodiversity, they say, all this sugar cane. Also, instead of the big plantation owners renting out areas to be farmed by locals, the fashion now is for the cane to be harvested by transient workers brought in just for that job. 

And on we trek, now on a path near a river that flooded earlier this year, hence the muddy straggle of mushy grasses and battered bushes across and to each side of the path. We pass tall, grand trees, young and strong. We pass ancient, strange shaped, intertwined trees. One is growing almost horizontally across our path, its gnarled grey limbs covered in moss. We call it the Lizard Tree. We scramble down to the river, and here is another sideways tree, growing right across the river. We call it the Ponte de Macacos – the Monkey Bridge. The temptation is too strong to resist, so in we go. The current is ferocious, so we have to cling to the monkey bridge, or to the Tarzan-ish strands of stringy foliage dangling down into the water, for quite a while before we get to grips with how to work against the pull of the water. 

Home for breakfast, and a discussion on what we want to do and where we want to do it. Already on the cards: a performance-installation at Pedro’s bar in the local village, Cachoeirinha, that evening (Friday). A trip to the Santo Expedito festival at the local church on Saturday evening. Creating a version of Paraladosanjos’ Strange Fruits installation, using silks hung from a high tree. Meeting local men and women to talk to them about their lives. A trip to the ‘represa’ – the local reservoir, a key geographic feature of the area. This is already a lot, but now we’ve really seen where we are, there’s a lot more we want to fit in.

What has emerged, following on from the morning walk, includes: a desire to do some form of ensemble performance piece in the rubber trees; a performance to camera piece at the Ponte de Macacos, which should include rigging over the water and filming from above and below; an ‘Indian in the forest’ solo performance to camera amongst the rubber trees, reflecting on colonialism and the rubber wars; sound recording of birds and other wildlife at dawn; a desire to work with the extraordinary ploughed fields of red earth, perhaps using Butoh-esque minimal movement; a decision that as the sugar cane is so important to the region, we really ought to do something in the cane fields. It emerges in conversation that a lot of us find the sugar cane fields a little ominous… 

For the rest of the day, we work solo or in small groups – walking, thinking, recording, photographing, filming. Some go off in search of people to interview about their life here, including tracking down a woman called Rita who has made the lovely cheese that we had for breakfast. Some are more focused on making sound recordings in the fields and amongst the rubber trees. In the afternoon, I travel with Marilia (from Paraladosanjos) and Renata (our producer and community gatekeeper here – although she is also a talented performer and is thus also part of the artistic team) to Pedro’s bar to make plans for the evening. 

The bar is an unassuming place, on the corner opposite the church – which is quite an ordinary Catholic church, other than that it has an enormous blue neon cross on its steeple. We’ve considered pinning down the priest to ask if we can project onto the side of the church, but once we are there, decide that even though the road isn’t terribly busy, it is rather wide, so best to keep everything together at Pedro’s. The bar has concrete benches outside, stencilled with dedications, such as ‘Oferta Armando Ferrari e Familia’. On the dull green exterior wall, another stencil: ‘Nao Entre Sem Camisa’ (no entry without a shirt). Inside, an ancient mushroom-beige and chrome fridge, a bar with a map of Sao Paulo pinned up behind it, and a shrine to the Virgin Mary bearing a little electric light (the Catholic Church is holding on here, defying the Evangelist movement sweeping Brazil’s countryside). There’s a stack of yellow chairs, and photocopied signs, ‘Ele’ and ‘Ela’, pointing out the toilets. Pedro is wearing a polo shirt that has seen better days, shorts, and a baseball cap. On his feet, Blundstone style workman boots. Everyone wears boots here – cowboy boots are popular. I’ve been kitted out with a pair in tan hide. This is snake country, so traipsing around in Havaianas is not recommended. One of Pedro’s regular customers, a rather smartly dressed man called Vino (crisp blue shirt, white fedora, belted grey trousers) tells us gleefully about all the snakes. There are the cascavéis (rattlesnakes), which mostly avoid people, other than one nasty one that ‘will stand up and run after you’. He talks knowledgeably about the three types of urutu. There’s the urutu de papa amarelo (yellow-throat), the cruzero which is black and white like a crossword puzzle, and the dorado, which is golden. I can’t remember which is the most dangerous, they all sound vile. Gosh, I think, I’ve been in Brazil almost three months and haven’t seen any snakes… then start touching wood and crossing myself to chase the thought away. No snakes, please – not in my last few days.

As if all this talk of rattlesnakes is not enough, there are also – apparently – the anacondas – great big things that run off with puppies (and probably small children given half the chance). Why are there anacondas here when they are not native to these parts? Well, says Vino, replying to his own question: someone brought them in to eat the baby capivaras. This is all too much. Capivaras are lovely docile creatures, a little bit like Moomins, although brown rather than white. Why would anyone want them killed? Apparently they harbour leeches, which get passed on to farm animals, so they are not liked by the locals. The men in the bar seem to be enjoying our distress – city girls, hey ho! Some of these caipira (hillbilly) men really do look like cowboys – one is in a brown leather hat that matches his boots, and like the other men in the bar he sports a belt that has a kind of Leatherman knife pouch attached to it. Who knows what the knives are for. Cutting cane, spearing snakes?

As we stand outside the bar, a sugar cane truck goes by. It is an enormous double-barrelled thing, triple-barrelled if you count the cab, its sides a dark blue metal pitted with rows of tiny holes. A Juggernaut – it is ancient, primeval, eternal. It roars as it passes us. In its wake, an enormous cloud of dust. Later, at dusk, I’m standing on the edge of a ploughed field of big red earth clods next to a road that is little more than a dirt track. One of the sugar cane trucks comes thundering by. The dust cloud this time is all enveloping. The smoke is a thick rusty red, and I’m inside it. I stand coughing. I wait for the dust to clear, and wait, and wait. I can’t see my companions. All I can see are the rear lights of the truck as it moves on ever deeper into the sugar cane plantation, two great animal eyes, penetrating the thick fog of smoke and dust, but that’s all. It feels like forever, but I suppose it is only takes a few minutes for the air to clear enough to see. The rusty haze stays on the horizon, providing an enigmatic veil for the setting sun. My companions are now black silhouettes against the extraordinary reds and rusts and oranges of the tropical twilight sky.

Later in the evening, we return to Pedro’s bar, driving towards a moon so big and full it looks like a theatrical prop – as if someone has hung a massive great electric lantern in the sky. It is hard not to stare and stare and stare, like rabbits. Or like the owls who keep scuttling out of the sugar cane gangways and flying straight across our path. There are lots of different sorts of birds in these parts. There are Urubu, vultures, who sit in pairs on high branches. There are the Quero-quero, who lay their eggs in nests set in the grass, and circle around squawking to frighten people off who walk across the meadow. There is the João de Barro bird who builds his nest out of clay, then imprisons his wife in it. But for now, it’s owls, owls, owls all the way.

The moon leads us onwards, and we keep a look out for Saci, who apparently lives in the sugar cane fields. He is a one-legged black or mulatto boy who smokes a pipe and wears a magical red cap that enables him to disappear and reappear wherever he wishes. He is not really malicious, but he is a prankster and trickster: if your cream curdles, or your rice burns, that’ll be Saci’s work. He hides children’s toys, teases dogs, and sets the chickens loose. He’s a shapeshifter, and sometimes changes himself into a dust-whirl, or into a matitapere bird.

As we drive along the deserted tracks, Renata tells us these stories, and tells us her own stories of living on the farm with her small children; and before that, her memory of walking these dirt tracks heavily pregnant, determined to get herself home to the farm at night from the village. A brave and feisty young woman who had lived in Sao Paulo and Paris, amongst other cities, and who had never felt at all afraid to walk anywhere alone by night, but now had to brace herself against the hoots and howls and rustlings of these spooky dirt tracks through the cane fields. 

We arrive at Pedro’s and it turns out the whole village is there to greet us. Renata, Raquel and I set up our installation. There are lace tablecloths to go onto the tables, fishing nets, rocks and stones, and walking sticks brought from Bonete (the isolated fishing community on Ilhabela that was our last stop). We buy cahchaça to put on the tables – or try to. Pedro doesn’t want to take money from us. His bar has never been as busy. There are old people here, he says, that he hasn’t seen in decades. A posse of grannies has got here early and they are occupying the two tables at the front, where the films will be projected onto a handy stone wall. They get through a lot of ice-cream tubs throughout the evening. There are also young women with babies, including a new-born wrapped in a lemon-yellow blanket; couples standing holding hands on the edge of the space; and gaggles of teenage girls in jeans and crop tops eyeing up young men in the inevitable football shirts and shorts. Everyone is here, including a sad-eyed droopy-eared dog who hangs around hopefully. 

We’ve decided on Friday night because Saturday night is a feast day, with an evening mass and a procession planned. The church is our only rival for entertainment in these parts. There is no cinema, no theatre, no community centres other than this bar and the football club next to it. So we are it – the entertainment. Renata introduces us. She is well-known and well-loved in these parts, and she gets a rousing welcome. She tells everyone how honoured she is to be working with Marcos and Marilia and everyone else from the Paraladosanjos company. I’m worried that she’s singing our praises a little too loudly and raising expectations – but I needn’t have worried. They love everything we present to them – video projections, physical theatre scenes, interactive performance moments. No one has told them that this is cutting edge, multi-discipline performance – they see people who have come to share stories from other places with them, and they appreciate this greatly. They join in, clap, laugh, and give us a rousing ovation at the end. 

Afterwards, we open up the floor to anyone who wants to share something with us, and for the next two hours the house is alive with poems and songs – ranging from traditional countryside ditties sung by trios of old men accompanying themselves on cavaquinho or 10-string ‘viola’, to would-be Beyoncés warbling the latest hit from the US charts. There’s dancing too – including a clapping and stamping country dance called the Catira, done by two lines of men in cowboy hats and sturdy boots. Somehow, as I’ve been announced as a dancer and choreographer, I get an invite to join in. An honorary cowboy. Luckily I’m wearing my tan hide boots. Once people learn that I’m from England, I get a whole stream of people coming up to me to congratulate me on the Queen’s 90th birthday, which apparently was the day before, 21st April – an anniversary I’d missed, but which they hadn’t.

Pedro is too busy serving people to perform his poems that night, but when we go back on the next night, after mass at the church and the Santo Expedito procession (a petition for hopeless cases and lost causes), he doesn’t take much persuading to give us a few renditions of his spoken-word versions of the local ballads, a lot of which circle around sugar cane plantation stories, and particularly about the the making and drinking of cachaça – the Brazilian national alcoholic drink, which is made from sugar cane. As we had discovered in other countryside parts, the caipirinha cocktail is viewed as an abominable city-dwellers’ aberration. Cachaça is to be drunk neat and pure, not messed up with the addition of chopped limes and sugar and crushed ice and the like. When Pedro recites his lyrics, he gazes ahead in a kind of trance, speaking in a steady rhythmical voice, as his wife Isobel looks on with a supportive smile. As we stand at the bar listening, people come in to be served, but he ignores them until he is done. At one point a rather agitated old vagabond comes in – skin like a walnut shell, no teeth, torn shirt, battered boots. He doesn’t look too happy about having to wait for his Brahma beer, but he just about manages to hold out until Pedro has finished his recitation. 

Cachoeirinha is one of many small towns in Brazil with the same name – it means small waterfall, and there are a lot of those. This one is in the Itápolis region of Sao Paulo, in between Guariroba and Nova América. We’ve driven here from nearby Ribeirão Preto, a dry and sunny city with a high altitude, built on the crater of an extinguished volcano. Near to where we are staying, on the Fazenda Sao Francisco, is a represa, or reservoir. As we drive up to where we need to park before descending through the paths to the water, we pass a number of deserted buildings – apparently from the days when there was a quarry here. As we scramble down the steep paths, we see the reservoir – a great wide lake banked by red earth. It is only when we are in the water – which is warm on the surface and surprisingly cold below – that I’m told that I’m swimming in a bottomless lake – or at least, a lake so deep no-one knows the exact depth. Apparently below me is a kind of Atlantis. The quarrymen were digging through the rock in the valley when they hit an underground lake. The water from the lake below the rock gushed up, covering the buildings and machinery and tools. People fled for their lives, and the water carried on rising – 300, 400, 500 metres. The abandoned quarry is forever buried – some say it is now kilometres rather than metres below. It’s an odd story to contemplate, whilst swimming in silence through cold, dark waters, as the setting sun casts beams out across the water from behind the trees. On the shore, a group of teenage boys pack up their fishing gear and the remains of their barbecue and head off. The only creature remaining on the shore is the black labrador that belongs to our host on the farm, Roberto, who is currently diving deep below the surface to enjoy the silence and stillness of the depths below. The dog, Nietzche, has had a swim but is now on dry land – and looking rather mournfully out to the ripples that mark out where his master is in the water. 

This is such a beautiful part of the world – but there is something haunted about it. A sense of things below the surface, waiting. As we climb back up the slopes from the water, parting the long grasses as we go, I stop for a moment to take a photo of the reservoir on my phone. Let’s not stop, says my companion Lorenzo. Oh, are we in a hurry to get back, I say. It’s just best not to stand still at this time of the day, he replies. Apparently this is the ‘snake hour’. The river, too, which we return to, creating some pretty amazing performance to camera, some of which is filmed underwater. There are stories here too – of floods, of a suicide. A stone sculpture that Roberto had made in the environment a year earlier is still standing, although the stones are a little bit dislodged. The pull of the river current is just as strong as it was the previous day, but now I’m learning how to move through it. It is a very odd sensation, swimming at full strength and basically getting nowhere. I follow Renata, who knows which side to move to, and back from, to make her way upriver. We always swim this side of the Ponte de Macacos, she says, never the other side. I take her word for it.

On our last morning, we get up early to return to the cane fields. Marilia is dressed as a bride  – we’ve been creating a series of images across Sao Paulo’s beaches and countryside of the ‘bride of nature’, exploring the juxtaposing of the wild and the tamed, nature and high society. We are dressed in our red evening wear for an improvised performance and photo shoot, with fascinators and feathers and gloves – although we’ve eschewed the high heels in favour of cowboy boots. Because – yes, you’ve guessed – of the snakes. It is also because the snakes that we have the dogs with us – the trusty labradors, Nietzsche and Florabella. The dogs go in before us, running up and down the narrow strips of earth between the rows of cane. Then it’s our turn. As we enter, it gets darker. The cane is taller than us and forms a criss-crossed canopy above us. Some of the canes are green and full of sap, some are brown and dry. We snap them off and taste them. They are nothing like as sweet as I’m expecting them to be – probably because they have some more growing to do before they are harvested. It’s a relief to emerge out of the gloom and into the sunshine. In my head, I’m reliving horrible moments from Latin American novels and films. Sugar Cane Alley. Junot Diaz’ The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It is hard to stand in a sugar cane field and not feel the weight of centuries of colonial oppression, slavery and abuse. It is hard not to think of curses or dooms. And snakes. It is hard not to think of snakes. Somehow, miraculously, I leave the fazenda two days before my flight back to Europe without seeing one snake. I give thanks to Saci, and to the labradors – and in fact, to the snakes for leaving me alone.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

All Creatures Great and Small

The sea, the sea…

We leave the town of Ilhabela, which is on the island that is also called Ilhabela – by boat. Two boats, to be precise, to transport our party of eight artist-researchers, which includes two theatre-makers from Paraladosanjos (instigators of the Pontes Integradas project), another performer-director from the renowned Lume Teatro, two film-maker/photographers, a multi-instrumental musician-composer, a producer, and me. I’ve given myself the title of project dramaturg, as that seems to best fit my role. An inside eye rather than an outside eye, but a different point of view as the only non-Brazilian in the party.

We are headed for Bonete, which, as I am told that we are travelling there by boat, I assume to be another smaller island. But no – Bonete is on the remote side of Ilhabela, an island off the coast of Sao Paulo that was ‘discovered’ by Americo Vespuccio, who christened it Ilha de São Sebastião (although at the time it was occupied by the indigenous Tupi people, who called it Ciriba, ‘tranquil place’). It is inaccessible by land  – by the likes of us, anyway – as the island is mostly made up of high, deeply forested mountains. The way in is by boat, around the coast, although I later learn that there is one mountain path that can be negotiated by the fleet-footed. But no roads, hence no cars. Apparently there was once a campaign to get a road built from Ilhabela town to Bonete. But then the tight-knit fishing community of Bonete changed track as they realised that they liked their splendid isolation, keeping control of who and what enters, rather than being inundated with visitors and their cars.

Bonete has a permanent population of just 250 people (100 of whom are from the same extended family), augmented by a moderate number of tourists. As there are no roads, just a small bay at the mouth of a river, surrounded by mountains, anything needed – from building materials to beer – has to be brought in on a motor boat, like the ones we are now travelling in. My boat is called Beatriz and the ‘captain’ is called Washington. His father, Americo, runs a bar in Bonete called Mac Bones (yes I know – the names, the names), where we will be creating a small performance-intervention cum installation that very evening.

This has been arranged by our community gatekeeper ‘Pingo’ – the director of the Pés no Chão theatre and community arts centre in Ilhabela, where we have just spent two madcap days delivering workshops in dance, theatre, and circus, with a cabaret event at the end of the process. Fifty kids, and a show to create and deliver in two days? Hell yeah! But that is now behind us, and here we are in the small, noisy, bumpy speedboats. 

The first part of the journey, as we whizz through the channel of water between the island and the mainland coast, is a funfair ride – we squeal as we ride the waves, and enjoy the race with our colleagues in the other speedboat (they are called Lancias here, presumably because that is the favoured brand). We past rock formations, and cave entrances, and note the follies built on the hillsides rising from the water – a Chinese pavilion, an Art Deco hotel with  plate-glass windows, a number of Portuguese-style colonial mansions with ornate wrought-iron balconies. On the other side of the channel, we can see the port city of São Sebastião, and the ferry terminal and big ‘bausas’ that bring cars across the seven-kilometre stretch from São Sebastião to the town of Ilhabela.  There is also an odd-looking bridge that I ask about. It’s not a bridge, I’m told, it’s an oil pipeline that runs from nearby Santos right through Brazil and up into Colombia. Thousands of kilometres long, this enormous fat pipeline, which is at times exposed and at times below ground… 

As our motorboats turn away from the Brazilian mainland, things change. There are no more houses to be seen on the Ihlabela side – just giant rocks with densely packed trees rising above, the jagged bare mountain tops above them jutting out into the jewel-blue sky. A squat red-and-white lighthouse is perched on an outcrop of black rocks. On the other side, there is nothing but the open sea. The Atlantic Ocean, that is – next stop Africa. Nothing to buffer the waves, in other words, so we are tossed like a toy boat as we ride one great surge after another. We are no longer joking and taking photos; we are sitting quietly, bracing ourselves for each enormous bump. Is this usual? I glance at Washington to see how he’s responding. He looks calm enough, so I presume we’re safe, even though it doesn’t feel it. Our clothes are wet, and I’m glad our bags are tightly wrapped in oilskin. An awareness of what a namby-pamby city girl I am will be a feature of this expedition...

The Bonete community live entirely from fishing, with a dash of tourism. There are no shops other than the bars that also sell a few tinned or packeted provisions. We note one clothes shop which looks like it’s been shut for a long time, the dusty window display boasting a couple of forlorn looking half-dressed mannequins. There is no farming here – neither crops nor animals. Apparently there used to be some agriculture. The men would fish and the women would climb the steep hills to sow a few crops. It was a lot of effort for not much return. That was in the days when the only way in and out was by canoe – a three-hour trip to either Ilhabela city or São Sebastião on the mainland. The motorboats that almost everyone has now can do the trip in 50 minutes, so trade is easier. The community lives by selling fish to those two places, bringing in necessary provisions and/or tourists on the return trip home.

Electricity is a rationed commodity here on Bonete – you get a couple of hours in the morning, then 6 to 11pm in the evening. If you are out and about after 11pm, then it's moonlight or starlight or flashlight to see your way down the dirt paths full of trip hazards (stones, waterpipes, tree roots). I’m so unused to darkness that I feel completely disorientated and need an arm to lean on to make my way around in the dark. Yes, a city girl through and through. I’m grateful for the vagalumes (fireflies) lighting the edges of the paths.

There’s no phone signal for our mobiles – Bonete inhabitants use a public telephone outside Mac Bones to make and receive calls. We’ve been issued with this public phone’s number as our only point of contact with the outside world whilst here, should we need it. As we walk past the phone for the first time, it rings. It’s for Clara, whoever she might be. We learn just before we leave Bonete that there is also one wifi spot near to the phone. Both this and the phone connection working via satellite I presume – there is TV in some houses, which have the traditional 'broken umbrella' Brazilian satellite dishes perched on the roofs of their houses.

The children and dogs of Bonete run free, on the beach and through the dirt paths. There are no cars, so it is a safe terrain – other than the rolling waves and strong drag of the sea. I presume the children learn know how to swim and how to judge when the water is safe to swim in when they are very young. In fact, I think the dogs also learn to swim when puppies, as I see more than one dog in the water, perfectly happy. At sunset on the first day – a glorious picture-book tropical sunset – a group of dogs gather on the beach to sniff and scamper and duck and dive into the waves. The kids roam around in twos and threes, the older boys hanging out by the boats at the point where the river mouth meets the sea. When a motorboat arrives and needs to be pulled onto the beach so visitors can step out safely, they rush into the waves to help, and the dogs race in and out of the waves too. 

So boats are the normal form of transport here, there’s nothing much else. One young boy has a bicycle, but it’s the only one I see. Some of the younger fishermen have beach buggies which they also drive along the dirt tracks, pulling carts. And there are wheelbarrows. Do not underestimate the humble wheelbarrow as a form of transport – I don’t know where we would have been without the two we borrow to get our possessions, which include not only our personal effects but also computers, a projector, musical instruments, and our supply of food – up to the house we are staying in, a 15 minute walk away from the sea, uphill. Everything away from the sea is uphill here, steeply uphill. If you carry on far enough you reach an idyllic waterfall and a deep pool of clear cold water. Further still is a mirante I never made it to, but those that did feel that the long walk uphill in the intense heat was worth it for the peace and quiet and beautiful vistas. I also miss out on the midnight trip to the beach to see the glowing plankton that turn the sea into an organic display of dancing phosphorus patterns.

It’s a pre-21st century life here. Old women sit on porches. Old men gather in bars that are little more than makeshift shacks with plastic chairs and wobbly tables covered in lurid oilskin fabric. Seu Benedito, the oldest man in Bonete, (a mere 92 years old – his mother lived to be 115, so perhaps he has a few more years left in this world) takes a daily walk at the same time each day – 8.30am – from his pretty blue-and-white house to arrive in the ‘village square’ which bears a sign saying Praça da Conversa Mole (which could roughly translate as ‘the place of small talk’). The sign promises fishermen and hunters who are all big liars. There, he holds court for an hour or so before ambling back home again. When we talk to him, we ask about local music, and he mentions a song-form called Quebra-Chiquinha, a kind of fandango (called a ciranda in these parts) that has many variations amongst the ‘caiçara’ (coastdweller) communities. He also tells us about the ‘pasquim’ a local form of poem that is a succinct summary of a story or thought, rather like a limerick or a haiku, and treats us to a few examples. Seu Benedito also mentions a local dance that is a type of quadrille, but sadly doesn’t demonstrate that… 

The fishermen that gather in circles in this square or in the bars swap practical information on nets and fishing techniques, and exchange stories. It’s hard to separate truth from fiction – and of course, all the best stories in the world have truth at their heart but are embellished with each re-telling. Seu Benedito tells a story of a ship from Europe that sank filled with hundreds of cans of prime Portuguese olive oil. The Bonete fishermen got their boats out and rescued the booty from the ocean floor. In a rather more extraordinary tale, a man who is one of three brothers dies, and his body is being taken across the water to the mainland (there are no cemeteries in Bonete). Halfway across, where the sea is at its wildest point, the coffin is jostled in the boat by the rough waves, the lid comes off, and the dead man sits up. The terrified fishermen jump overboard – although it turns out that the coffin’s occupant is neither ghost nor zombie, just someone prematurely pronounced dead. There are also stories of the pirates that have turned up on the island in the past – including, apparently, one or two from Devon and Cornwall. The island was also a post for the notorious English explorer Thomas Cavendish, who made many an excursion to the beautiful island, using it as his base for raids on Spanish ships, relieving them of their bounty. 

The younger generation of fishermen are less inclined to storytelling and more interested in surfing. Surfer-fisherman is a fairly common label here. Whilst the younger men and women surf, the older fishermen patiently sort and repair the nets. The Japanese fishing method is popular here, say the men cutting and tucking and sewing their nets. Nets inside nets, that’s how it’s done. Tightly woven nets are thrown, which gather everything in to one big pool, then a net with wider gaps is used to circle the fish, the tightly woven net then whisked away, so that the baby fish can get out through the big holes but the bigger fish stay trapped. That way, you don’t deplete the fishing stock. We get to taste the fruit of their labours at every meal – fish is the only fresh food product available here, other than wild herbs, and mandioca (this root vegetable, popular across Brazil, is called tapioca when made into flour, and is eaten fried into pancakes for breakfast – it can also be baked or fried, like a potato – so a pretty versatile food). Twice a day we purchase whatever fish is available from the catch. This includes the garoupa, which is common in these waters – it’s the fish featured on the back of Brazil’s 100 reais banknote.

On the first evening we plan to go to Mac Bones, but are told it is shut (although this turns out to be a jest, as it is ‘joke day’ – April 1st). So we arrange to take our short performance-installation piece to a bar on the beach, where we are told that older people come to play cards until the 11pm electricity curfew. When we arrive at 7.30pm as arranged, there’s no one there – so we make our way back to Mac Bones which is indeed open, and Americo is very happy to have us, especially as we buy beer or pinga for everyone in the bar. 

The name of Paraladosanjos’ project, Pontes Integradas, has multiple meanings. It is, in essence, about bridging the gap between ‘caipira’ and ‘caiçara’ communities, finding what is unique and what is shared; it highlights the human communities’ relationship to water (or lack of it), whether inland or coastdweller; and also reflects the intention and action of bridging the gap between our field trips by bringing an essence or taste of one place to another. So here in this fishing community, we bring bricks, charcoal and ashes from the oleria of Bragancia, placed on each of the bar’s tables, and bowls of oranges that are cut and distributed. Plus little vignettes that combine storytelling with physical action, photos displayed in kitsch vinyl albums, and performance-to-camera film edited in with Cinéma Vérité portraits of people we met on our last big trip, including ‘red earth’ man Ademir. As is often the case with people who have very little exposure to conventional theatre, immersive and interactive work presented in a public space is not seen as ‘arty’ or ‘weird’ but just accepted as the interesting diversion that it is. The all-male audience of fishermen are delighted to sit with Raquel and I, complementing us on our finery (we are dressed in red satin and velvet evening wear, replete with fans and flowers in our hair). When Marcos and Marilia take the stage (well, floor anyway) in their tattered ‘cinders’ clothes, telling and showing tales of earth and fire and bricks and ash, they are given full attention. At one point in the piece, the whole audience happily joins us in standing on our chairs, so the bar is a mass of swaying bodies. People passing by stop to look in the open-fronted bar. Americo stands grinning behind the counter, his small granddaughter perched on the bar, also totally attentive and happy. As we end, there is a big round of applause and an invitation to come back the next night. Which we take up, returning to present the same material to the same people – but of course this is live performance so the second showing has a very different vibe, and if anything the audience are even more appreciative on second viewing, and afterwards are happy to exchange stories with us. For a crucial part of the Pontes process, which all the key collaborators have agreed on, is that this process needs to be a fair exchange. We have talked about how, in both England and Brazil, there have been numerous art projects that go into a community in order to acquire material, without giving anything back. In Pontes, we offer what we have, and we ask what they’d like to give – an object, a song, a dance, a story. ‘What would you like to leave in the fishing net?’ we ask. People in Mac Bones are keen to tell us their stories and ask us ours. 

We learn that Americo’s family are long-established on Bonete, and that his father used to be the messenger who ran the 20 kilometres through the mountain pass to get emergency medical help. There is still no doctor in Bonete: 'if a snake gets you we'll have to get an air ambulance' someone tells me. Still, at least that’s one up from a desperate run through the mountains to get help. People use natural plant remedies, and often live to be 110 or more. They seem to drink a lot, and smoke, and there's no sign of any fresh green veg anywhere. Just saying. Seu Benedito’s grandson Marcio is typical of a trend here: as a young man he went off to find construction work on the mainland (at the time there was no schooling beyond age 14). He lived away from Bonete for many years, but has now come back, to continue the family tradition of working as a fisherman. 

I am starting to worry slightly that all the stories we are hearing are from the men of Bonete, particularly the village elders like Seu Benedito. What about the women, I wonder. They are harder to find a way in to, as they are mostly home-based. But in answer to our wishes comes an introduction to Dona Rosaria, who lives in a beautiful green-and-blue house on the beach. She is married to Seu Paxion, a second marriage for both of them. She was widowed in her sixties and met him then – she lived on the mainland, and he took her to Bonete and showed her the pretty house on the beach. Whose house is that, she asked. It’s yours, he replied – and they have been together there ever since, 25 years. As we talk to Dona Rosario, Seu Paxion leaves us to go and prepare lunch. We sit on the porch, which boasts an assortment of chairs, a faded Persian rug, and a table with a Christmas tablecloth – the design of red Santas and cheery snowmen looking surreally out of place here on this tropical beach. Through the window, a large TV screen blasts out a football match. On the wall, a crucifix and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. Dona Rosaria tells us about all the local fish – most of which, other than the atum (tuna) and the previously-mentioned garoupa have names I can’t even begin to recognise or translate. She talks about her grandchildren – she and Paxion have 19 between them – and says that her only sorrow is that with her advancing age has come a failing of her sight. She can’t tell one grandchild from another, she says, and that makes her sad. But her life on Bonete has been blessed. Her home, the pretty little house with the picket fence, facing the almost-deserted beach, with the boats bobbing on the water, and the mountains rising above, is idyllic, a paradise.

But even paradise has its dark side! For a start, there are leeches in the waterfall pools, and millions of nasty insects, the dreaded silent borrachudos – a type of highly aggressive gnat that adores human flesh and blood. People born and bred here seem to be immune to them – everyone else is bitten to pieces. When we arrive we notice a number of women in tights and long-sleeved dresses, despite the heat, and men wearing socks with their sandals. How odd, we thought – but by the next morning, as we nursed our inflamed bites, we dug around for clothes that could cover our exposed skin – marking ourselves as outsiders.

To be honest, I find Bonete slightly spooky. This, I know, is the city girl speaking. For a start, it is a tightly closed community, with almost everyone related to everyone else in some way, which feels a little scary. There are some people here who have lived their whole life on the island, and have never even visited the Brazilian mainland. In bleaker moments, I imagine it as a kind of Dogville that is kind on the surface but which could turn nasty. How would it be to be born on Bonete and to grow up gay, or vegetarian, or atheist, I wonder? Religion is big on Bonete. This tiny community now has three churches with two new money-grabbing Evangelical churches (the new missionaries) arriving to rival the small Catholic church. Some of the older fisherman tell us that their sons have turned to the Evangelists, but that they are resisting.

There is a feeling of being hemmed in – literally, as there are impenetrable, deeply-forested mountains all around, and the wild waves of the South Atlantic to negotiate to get away. At least they now have motor boats – until relatively recently it was just canoes between here and the rest of the world. But with no roads, it is the Bonete community who choose who gets ferried here on those boats. 

There is a strong resistance to outsiders invading the community – which  on one level is fair enough, as much of Brazil’s coastline and idylllic islands have been taken over by rich foreigners (or rich Brazilians) in what I’ve heard described as ‘the new colonialism’. On the other hand, you feel a bit of outside influence from someone other than the Evangelists wouldn’t be a bad thing.

The islanders attitude to the dreaded borrachudos sums things up nicely:  Imagine Bonete without them, they say – they guard us. They keep people away.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Red Earth

Red earth. Banks of red earth rising up from each side of the road, veined with tree roots. The foundations of a a house dug in a terracotta plot, the pots and tiles there, ready for the making, in the ground. Everywhere the earth is a deep Moroccan red, or a rich salmon pink. There are burnt reds, and rust reds, and clumps of ochre-streaked reds or umber reds. When the rain comes, the water mixes with the earth to form sludgy rivers of red clay oozing down the narrow hillside lanes and farm tracks. The cars grind their way up and down the hills and valleys, forcing their way through, tyres coated in clay. Local caipiras – dressed not in rustic farmers’ clothes but in brash pink T-shirts and football shorts – sit on their porches and watch with curiosity as we weave our way through the countryside, looking for a house owned by the local village elder, Seu Geraldo. Most of the houses we pass are not plain terracotta, they have rendered walls painted anything but earth red. Aqua. Lemon. Lilac. Primrose. If they are red or pink, they are magenta or rose. Anything but terracotta. We are overtaken by a group of young people driving squat open-top buggies with enormous tyres – vehicles that would look at home on the lunar surface.

Seu Geraldo, do you know him? Heads are shaken. Things are different around here these days. People don’t stay put in the same farmhouse for generation after generation, like they used to. People move away. New people come. Eventually, a smiling woman in a flowery dress tells us where we’ve gone wrong. We need to go back, and drive up an almost hidden track, and there he’ll be. 

He’s very welcoming of these eight people who turn up unannounced at his gate, in two cars, inviting curiosity from the wire-fenced run of chickens, and a skittish ginger kitten. He invites us in to sit on the inbuilt stone bench that runs the length of his yellow house, facing the Serrinha dam and reservoir that is the distinctive geographical feature of the region. There it is, stretching across the valley, banked by the rich red earth that the hills are made of, with the lush green vegetation rising above, and a ridge of higher, indigo blue hills behind. Geraldo is bent and shaky and stands at his doorway with a worried look, facing in to the kitchen. We can tell that he’s thinking he should offer us coffee, but isn’t quite up to the task. Then, inspiration strikes: he finds a packet of mint-flavoured sweets on a worktop, and offers them to us instead. There are orange trees in the front garden, and we help ourselves; big, bitter oranges with yellow-green skins, peeled and quartered. He watches us, pleased to have offered some sort of hospitality without the need to do anything. 

Seu Geraldo used to work the land. He sits with his hands clasped in his lap, fingers curled and bent into a leathery brown ball. His right hand is more gnarled and work-worn than his left, with a damaged yellowing thumb. He describes the way he and his brother tilled the soil as boys. He copied his mother’s way, right hand forward, and his brother copied his father: different ways of holding the farm implements, so that side-by-side his brother and he were mirrors of each other. My left arm was ‘forgotten’ he says. He worked planting corn and beans. Not sugar cane, which is one of the main agricultural industries of Sao Paulo, nor coffee, the most common crop in these parts once upon a time – until demand for Brazilian coffee grew less. I remember an old joke someone in Rio once told me, years ago: Where do you go to get the best Brazilian coffee? Colombia. 

The history of the dam is the history of the work patterns in this region. Before the arrival of the dam, it was all farmland. Then, the dam was built and the valley flooded, taking away the farmers’ livelihoods. My land is under the water, says Seu Geraldo. He had two hectares, but the water board took the land under a compulsory purchase order when the dam was built. Bought for almost nothing, he says. He was left with just 100 square metres. A large garden rather than a farm. 

Some farmers became fishermen. Drought years reversed out the situation again. The past couple of years in Sao Paulo state have been very wet, mother nature making restoration for the dry years, and the lake made by the dam is brimming full and sparkling blue in the sunshine. Out of sight, there is apparently a marina, and the rich of the area use the lake for water-ski-ing. If you try to get to the water, it is almost impossible as most tracks end in private property, with the lakeside behind the generous gardens fenced off. In the drought years, when the lake had mostly dried out, a surreal beach of cracked earth materialised, an odd other-wordly terrain patterned like a giant turtleshell. Perhaps the shell of the very turtle that was the world’s genesis, according to Native American creation myth. 

Seu Geraldo talks about his working days as a farmer, and about his family, but won’t be drawn on much else. No, he doesn’t know any songs. No, he doesn’t like to dance. Would we like to read the bible with him, he asks. That’s his main interest – he’s a Seventh Day Adventist and he likes to pray and read his bible. So far, I’ve resisted adopting Google translate’s offering of ‘redneck’ for the Brazilian-Portuguese word ‘caipira’ but perhaps it’s not so far wrong. 

There’s a touch of the redneck in some of the lyrics of the local caipira songs sung to us by another elderly gentleman we meet, the eponymous Cilinho of Bar Cilinho. Octacilio, to give him his full moniker. But only a touch… 

We drive past the ‘bar’ twice in our search for it. It’s a house with a corrugated iron roof and a big porch behind a wire fence, on which a big black dog lies tied with a metal chain to a stake, its food bowl tilted at a rakish angle. To the side of the house, a duck pond, with a cluster of mallards on the pond, and a straggling gaggle of honking geese walking the edge of the water. On a battered blue sofa on the porch, two young men in mis-matched sportswear sit drinking bottles of beer. Next to them, a pool table. Do you know where Bar Cilinho is, we shout from the car window. This is it, they say. We park up, they open the gate for us, and there’s Seu Cilinho himself, tucked away in the dark behind a pair of ancient fridge-counters, which are fencing him in so that we only see his head and shoulders. 

We feel we should give him some custom, but there’s not a great deal of choice: crates of Krill beer stacked up next to the fridges; forlorn looking packets of peanuts and ‘chips’ on the counter; a bunch of bananas on a shelf behind, next to a row of trophies and some faded Kodachrome photos of a long-dispersed football team, their youth preserved behind sheets of yellowing plastic. And cachaça: there is of course cachaça – Brazil’s sugar-cane spirit, which is used to make caipirinhas. Not that you’d get a caipirinha here: cachaca is drunk neat in the countryside. The famous Pinga is made in this region. We order a few glasses. Cilinho puts his cigarette in the side of his mouth, takes down an enormous great jar, and pours the clear white spirit into tumblers that are filled to the brim. There’s around 300ml in each glass.

Behind the bar is a cluster of stringed instruments – regular guitars, and a number of 10-stringed ‘violas’, versions of the Portuguese Viola de Braga, which is strummed and plucked like a guitar. Traditionally, viola players would team up with a guitarist to form a two-man band to play the bars and local dances. 

Cilinho takes down his favourite, a beautiful instrument with five mother-of-pearl inlays on the neck, which he shows off proudly, and takes no persuading at all to give us a tune. His body is slow, but his hands are fast. When he speaks, he mumbles, but when he sings, his voice is full of character, if a little shaky. He doesn’t consider himself a singer, but will do if need be. Don’t any of these girls sing, he asks, waving a hand casually at the females in our group. We join in (in my case, with a lot of la-la-la-ing). He pre-empts each offering with a description: This one is a happy / sad / funny song. The funny ones include one about catching birds by the roadside with an ‘arapuca’ (a type of net for hunting birds). Sometimes you catch women too, the song says, including the married ones. Sometimes you catch an old one, but you let her go. One day, the song goes, I came by to find a big black man caught in my net… There are also songs with rather less risqué lyrics: Galopeira is an old favourite in the region – although it is not so much about the caipira life, it is a more general ode to the joys of music and dance, with a lyric about going to Paraguay to seek out the capital Annuncion’s famous players. It features a chorus with the ‘eir’ of the Gal-op-eir-a held for as long as the singer can manage it. Which is not exceptionally long in Cilinho’s case – but as he says himself, it’s the playing not the singing that is his forte. It’s a pleasure to hear him play – and a pleasure to see the pride and respect afforded him by his compatriots in the bar. One man, dressed in canvas work trousers and cap, says almost nothing, just stands or sits close to Cilinho the whole time, like a protector, nodding approvingly. Another man sits smoking by the bar, also nodding his approval and joining in the choruses. Younger, Honda motorcycle driving customers come and go. Occasionally, someone else picks up a guitar and joins in. At the rear of the open-sided building, a man paints a wall, skudding his brush along the wall percussively, sometimes in time. The geese join in too, and a smaller black dog sitting on a second sofa wags its tail sleepily. 

There are waltzes, and jaunty polka-esque and maxixe-like tunes in 2/4. One sounds very much like a countryside paso doble. A few of us dance around the edges of the porch – Cilinho looks up approvingly, a faint and slightly flirtatious smile on his face. He’s dressed down in loose trousers and a wool cardigan, both in a nut-brown colour that is only slightly darker than his skin – but the silver necklace and matching bracelet, the neat little moustache, and the twinkle in his eye, all hint at another life as a dandy-ish ladies’ man. What we do know for sure about his former life is that he used to perform regularly and teach caipira-style guitar and Viola de Braga. We also presume, although not told specifically, that when he felt the need to retire, he opened up his house as a bar so that he could continue to play when it suited him.  

It’s hard to leave, but it’s way past lunchtime, and needs must. Time to settle the bill. He apologises for the cost – Pinga is expensive, 3 reals a ‘shot’, if we can use that word for such a generous measure. That’s around 60 pence. He wants to give us a discount, but we insist on paying the going rate. The two young men are back, now playing pool. Both black dogs, the big one and the small one, have fallen asleep. The geese are still honking at anything and everything. Cirilho is once again sat behind the bar in the dark alcove, cigarette in hand, guitars and violas back on the wall. The man with the paintbrush carries on regardless – when there’s work to be done, the work must be done.

Working hands still, but work of a different sort, can be found not far from Cirilho’s gaff, at the oleria (brick foundry) run by Ademir Gomes. Should you forget his name, just glance down at the metal templates that form and stamp the bricks – a wheel of words. B Gomes, B Gomes, B Gomes, B Gomes. Like his father and grandfather before him, and perhaps one of these is the 'B", Senhor Gomes – an ' A', Ademir, which is almost Adam, the world's first man, who was formed from clay – earns his living turning the red earth all around us into those familiar little oblongs that we use to build our houses. The machine that forms the bricks into shape – he turns it on for us, and it clunk-bangs into action, a perfect example of found Industrial Music – is backed up against a wall, open at the top, with a great mountain of earth banking up behind it. More and even more earth is thrown on top by the bulldozer. Once the bricks are formed, they are baked in one of the numerous ultra-hot ovens that are inside – yes – red brick buildings dotted around the site. Once cooled, they are stored in neat rows, forming a great field of walls in parallel lines, covered over with white or blue netting. Also breaking up the sea of red all around is the family house, which stands at the front entrance, painted a bright mint green. Other than that, almost everything else around us is brick red. The outhouses and ovens. The baked bricks waiting to be stacked. The storage huts. The mountain of earth awaiting processing. The ground. Ademir himself, whose brown skin and beige trousers are smeared in red clay. His dog Muttley, who is a light brick brown labrador, also mud splattered. When we first drive into the front entrance, it takes me a moment to distinguish the two figures from the brick house background – Ademir and his dog are well camouflaged, and it is only as he walks forward that the man of clay can be clearly seen. As he shows us around, it’s clear that this is a man with pride in his work. He talks us through different styles of brickmaking, showing examples acquired from other parts of the country, and from other parts of the world. It’s not an easy life – but it is skilled labour, and there is satisfaction to be had from doing the job well. 

As he’s been talking, the sky has clouded over, and now the heavens open. It rains, and rains, and rains. Torrential rain has been typical of these late summer days in Sao Paulo state – the heavy rains of this year and last very welcome after the previous drought years. The red earth paths around the site turn to sticky clay rivers. Walking through the paths, our feet become coated, looking as if henna-painted. Back in our cars and out on the roads, we have to swerve the avoid the potholes filled with surging, cloudy water, whilst also being careful not to get the tyres stuck in the clay.

Earth. Water. Clay. The story of clay – alumina – is the story of human civilisation. Or at least, depending how you define civilisation, the story of the shift from the hunter-gatherer, eating from their hands, to the story of the agriculturist, raising crops, and cooking and serving them in earthenware pots and vessels. When did people first discover that by baking clay you could create a ceramic material that didn’t dissolve when you put soup or water into it? It was at least 14,000 BC as shards of pottery from this date have been found in Japan. Clay tablets were the first known writing medium. Clay balls (to be fired from slings) one of the earliest examples of arms manufacture. Fired clay went on to become not only the vessels food was cooked in and eaten from, but also the source for the bricks that would build houses – permanent residencies hard to destroy. I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down, said the wolf – but it got him nowhere with the brick house, he ended up sliding down the chimney straight into the cooking pot. Native American and South American Indians discovered that clay could be used to make pipes, for sharing tobacco or other substances. Clay can even be fashioned into a musical instrument, the ocarina. It is also a medicine – the parrots of Brazil discovered many years ago that clay (or ‘bole’ as it is sometimes called in Europe) can cure digestive problems, and humans followed their lead.

Clay is one of the oldest building materials on Earth. Fired bricks have been used to build houses in China and other parts of Asia since around 5000 BC; sun-dried bricks are even older, going back to around 7500 BC, according to archaeological finds in the River Tigris area of what is now Iraq. Nowadays, bricks and blocks for constructing buildings can be made from many other materials – yet clay-based brick remains the most common building material across the world. According to Wikipedia: ‘Between one-half and two-thirds of the world's population, in traditional societies as well as developed countries, still live or work in a building made with clay as an essential part of its load-bearing structure.’ In hilly clay-soiled regions like inland Sao Paulo, the manufacture of bricks and terracotta tiles – sourced from the very earth that its people walk on – is intrinsically linked to the economy of the region. The Caipira life might be changing, and new ways of living and working emerging, but the brickmaker and the farmer still live and work side-by-side, entertained by the music-maker.

Bringing all these elements together is the Fazenda de Serrinha. Once (like some many old farms in the state of Sao Paulo) this beautiful terrain was a coffee plantation. The story of the coffee farms is also Brazil’s history of slavery and immigration. When the slaves that worked the coffee and sugar cane plantations were emancipated by law in 1850, many farmers in the region refused to employ them, setting them free with no prospects – so a large number of the Afro-Brazilian former slave population of the country’s south east set off for the newly-burgeoning cities, creating the enormous favelas that still ring Sao Paulo and Rio. In their place, the land owners encouraged the immigration of desperately poor Europeans (often Italians) to work the land. From 1877 to 1903, almost two million immigrants arrived from Europe and the Far East. An Immigrant's Hostel (Hospedaria dos Imigrantes) was built in 1886 in São Paulo, setting up speedy admittance and recording routines for the throngs of immigrants arriving by ship – people of more than 70 different nationalities were recorded. Hence, the Sao Paulo region now has a very large number of residents who are of Italian, German, Eastern European, or Japanese heritage – amongst many others.  

The Fazenda de Serrinha (Serrinha Farm) has only operated under this name for just under a hundred years, having previously comprised a number of smaller fazendas or ‘sitios’ as they are called. Benedicto Moreira, Paulista politician and abolitionist, bought several neighbouring ‘sitios’ to create one large coffee plantation – a grand 113 hectares. It thrived for a while, but in the mid-twentieth century, the immense plantation suffered various crises, and eventually closed. For a while, there was an oleria (brickmakers) on-site. Now, it has been taken over as an artists’ centre, with residential accommodation, a sculpture trail in the landscape, and an annual arts festival that attracts artists from all over the Sao Paulo state and beyond. 

Yet the land tells its own stories, and all this land was previously, and all it ever will be, is written on its body. There are the occasional coffee plants growing wild, here and there. In the wooded parts, you can find eucalyptus, which the land owners planted when the coffee failed – although no doubt often regretting it, as eucalyptus is now viewed almost as a weed in Brazil, as it spreads so rapidly, killing all in its path. If you’re keen-eyed you can spot the monkeys high up in the tall trees. A cacophony of birdsong erupts day and night. The maritacas (a type of parrot) are the loudest, outshouting everyone else. At night, there is the sound – the loud sound – of frogs and toads in the lake and the streams. By day, the long grasses hum and click with the sound of crickets. There are big clumps of bamboo, used by the artists-in-residence in the studios to build sculptures that will be in, and of, the environment. By night, everything fades into shades of back and grey, other than the sky, which becomes a riot of white light, the Milky Way spreading across the heavens – so so many tiny bursts of light. Oh, and the fireflies – the vaga-lume – darting about in the bushes.

The ground here in the Fazenda is the same red earth to be found all around the area. Here and there along the paths are small chips of old bricks laid into the ground, perhaps remnants from the former onsite oleria. As the rain takes hold, the earth turns to clay, coating our feet once again. Artist or artisan, farm-worker or labourer, musician or bricklayer: we are all children of Eve, walking the world. We arrive, we stay, we go – leaving nothing but our footprints in the earth.