During lunch, the conversation eventually and inevitably turned to the political situation in Brazil. Voldemort, as my guide calls Bolsonaro, would set the country back to the middle ages. He’s like Trump – but with a military background. He’s candidate for vice president is a former general. In most countries in South America this would be a terrifying prospect even if he hadn’t also openly celebrated the use of torture and the dictatorship. And Pinochet, for good measure. But the Bookseller also told me about the typical Brazilian way of dealing with disaster: “We laugh at things so we don’t cry about them”. This has lead to a number of amazing initatives on Facebook, such as: “Cookies against Bolsonaro” or “Colour blinds against Bolsonaro” or, my favourite, “Sea turtles against Bolsonaro”.
Both the humour and the seriousness of the situation was also discussed during the two first talks of the book festival. The festival takes place in an old theatre. Someone told me that Sarah Bernhardt had once perfomed there. Someone else told me that it had at one point been a strip joint. It had also burned down, so the inside is completly new, but they kept the old facade. Because Ivander has to talk to me constantly to translate everything that’s being said, we were allowed to sit on the balconies upstairs. So the writers on stage talked, Ivander translated, and I listened, fascinated.
Diógenes Moura had written a book about the invisible Brazil. For years he photographed and wrote about the homeless people he met on his way home. His view of the country was ruthless: “The barbarity is the same in the entire country. The misery is real. The people abandoned”. He added, completely unnecessarily: “It is not a book to make you happy.”
In the next talk, professor Elias Thome Saliba told us about his research on the history of humour: “Brazil is a country of involuntary humorist”, he said. He had also studied some 160 different national anthems. Brazil’s was the only one that mentioned the word “smile”. Twice.