A Personal Method, Or Just An Excuse For Fun?

February 6th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

One’s life can be seen as a collection of rich and colorful events that happened spontaneously, serendipitously, and sometimes unexpectedly. One may also choose to further enrich life’s fabric of events by responding to challenging events more actively; in this case, even charging the responses with a rebellious and unwilling to conform personality, or getting to the extent of discretely engineering some situations to allow him to step in and make a statement through such response.

I’m not compiling stories together in a single space – rather than reserving them for good conversation over a fine wine with friends – gratuitously. Seen together, they are thought of to conform a bildungsroman of sorts, a narrative constructed of snapshots that draw a picture of how “nature and nurture” or “DNA and environment” play a role in the construction of a personality. They are factually true, and so are the elements, cast of characters and scripts.

It would be strange however to think about life’s events as totally separated from one’s life philosophy or so I suppose.

Mine was, since birth completely entrenched in the artistic practice and thought around me. The idea of the bildungsroman comes from literature, and a kind of literature championed in the XVIII and XIX centuries, with Goethe’s young Werther and Stendhal’s Julien Sorel as its outmost champions. I don’t imply that my life has been infused with the myriad of misfortunes these two characters had to endure; merely that I can certainly see how our present character developed through our responses to certain events that demanded us to take a stand and act in a certain way .

This philosophy of not letting suggestive events pass before my eyes without my active reaction is something that I keep to this very day, and that is the main reason why these narratives are still important to me now.

Literature is not the only artistic source of the thinking behind this.

The other line of thought comes from the performing arts, particularly from the method created and taught by legendary director and actor Lee Strasberg. Some of my parents’ friends and their children were actors and movie directors, and during the 80s and 90s, when I spent my childhood and teenage years, Strasberg had already become the foremost theatre teacher and director before his death in 86. His teachings were paramount to this group I was daily in the company of, who at all times sought to infuse a sense of real life into the characters they played – and the reverse – if nothing else, for humor sake.

The foundation in this method of theatre placed a great deal of importance on the idea of experience. It wouldn’t only be the actor’s intention to instill the breath of life into the character, but also to get inside the experiences of the character before and after their curtain calls. My stories are for me like my own live studies of the Strasberg method.

Yes, I live my life as an art dealer but these stories shaped who I am outside my professional role and conditioned its direction.

So just as Werther’s voice was given to him by Goethe, Sorel’s voice was shaped by Stendhal or Michael Corleone’s turmoil was given life both by Puzo and Pacino, my own voice has been shaped by invitation from writers (and the visual artists who illustrated them) who have taken an interest in my own bildungsroman. What has been deeply interesting about this whole exercise is that they all have their own voices and identities as creatives, and have not only embraced me as a central character in their narrative, but have also managed to write in a single voice.

What follows, more than a symphony, is a lied where the poetic instance declared by these authors illustrate the existential context under the perspective of who is living.

Shakespeare in Sao Paulo – Part 1

February 1st, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Verona had its star-crossed couple. The modern megacity of São Paulo (population: almost 12 million) also had its two young lovers once. They were fugitives of the Federal Police and unwitting players in a kidnap that never really occurred.

She was the daughter of a wealthy family. Her father was part of a powerful dynasty, enriched by the profits of sugar-cane plantations in the country’s wild northeast. (Which is not to say he didn’t believe in culture: his library was lined with books, bought by the yard and with their spines intact.) Theirs was a model family: his discontented wife stayed at home, he was discreet in his visits to the local brothel, and had already found a suitably rich suitor for his only daughter, who was expected to remain as pure as freshly refined sugar until her wedding night.

I was a seventeen-year-old boy from the wrong side of the cultural tracks. In her father’s eyes, my family was of the worst sort –artists. Painters. Auctioneers. Riff-raff.

We met where most boys meet most girls –at school. Walking home after class one day, she pointed out an infamous house of assignation. “My father spends a lot of his time there,” she said. “My mother knows all about it and says nothing.” That, I concluded, must be how they do things in the northeast.

Of course, I was not in the father’s plans for his daughter. Not rich. Not from an old, catholic north-eastern family. Not good enough.

Had her father read Shakespeare, he would have known that nothing (or almost nothing) can derail the course of young love. But he hadn’t, so he didn’t. One day he took me out to lunch and made me an offer he assumed I couldn’t refuse. Fifty thousand dollars to leave his daughter alone.

Fifty thousand dollars. More money than any seventeen-year-old could imagine what to do with. I made it clear, however, that I was immune to such barbarous bribery. So he raised the stakes. He hinted that I could benefit from an open account at his favourite brothel, as long as this kept me from corrupting his daughter. “Back home,” he said, “I would have asked someone to deal with you for the price of a crate of beers. I’m making you a very generous offer. Take it.”

I did not. Instead, in a time-honoured tradition, his daughter and I eloped. What followed was part Rom-Com, part Keystone Cops, part courtroom drama. It involved police chases, secret hideaways, the complicity of friends and family, and an arrest warrant for alleged kidnap. When I was finally dragged before a judge, my accuser presented dozens of letters I had written to his daughter as evidence of my depravity.

The judge –a middle-aged woman—read them all in silence. A faint smile appeared on her face as she did so. Her fingers stroked the paper, hand-made in my grand father’s studio. Her nostrils flared almost imperceptibly as she caught a whiff of the perfumed billets-doux and the dried flowers pressed within them. Her sentence, when it came, seemed irrevocable. “I have never seen anything so beautiful. These two are meant to be together.”

So her parents relented. They even went away for a weekend, leaving us un-chaperoned for the first time. That was when she announced it was over between us. Just like that.

Which was a shame. She had always been such a sweet girl.

Where am I?

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