Involuntary memories and art amongst lovers, grandparents, pacas and buritis
marcelo backes
PT EN

I’VE NEVER TRIED LINDEN TEA. I have no particular appreciation for madeleines. But for me, too, there came a day when I realized that many of my moments of true happiness are linked to recollections and events in the past, generally located in my childhood – and I would say that, at least for all those imbued in melancholy, this is always the case.

Every time I visit André Stock and Roberto Calmon’s home, I see a new work of art, and one day I realized that this reminded me of something in my past and of my grandfather, my grandfather of the Buriti Line. At one point of my childhood in the 1970s, every time I went to my grandfather’s house, there was a new tractor, a shed to inaugurate, a large agricultural facility to celebrate. And that’s why, when André and Roberto showed me Nocturnal mares by Julia Debasse, I just froze, got lost for a few seconds in thought and, as they moved on, I journeyed into the painting and soon I was riding, not the artist’s filly, but galloping freely within my own heart, diving into memories of my grandfather’s preterit paddocks. When André and Roberto called me, confused by seeing me so self-absorbed, I had just hit the margin of the Fishless river, behind some pastures, already on the Paca Line, all in a South as yet with no North.

This function of art! The best!

Oh, if only Guimarães Rosa of so many buritis and eyes like Diadorim’s, of a green from other greens, green like no pasture, had described the Iguaçu Falls, I might have found them so beautiful… It was always so clear to me why Swann only falls in love with Odette – or realizes he is in love with her – when he sees in her the image of Boticcelli’s Zipporah! And, at least once in my life, I saw in a lady of such beauty, such great beauty, the embodiment of my most sublime Italians from that same decade, the 1970s. Although Anna Karina was Danish…

Bodies, letters and a few animals gives legs to endless journeys. Some very concrete, carnal. Oh, Franklin Cassaro’s Round metallic vulva in its inviting aluminum, good for penetration, always takes me straight to Eduard Kac’s Left movement II, because that lady is so close, yet, at the same time, so far, always so far. And I also know that Brigida Baltar’s Brick powder knows how to become a wall, a wall worse than any other wall, a wall that’s inside us, in our own heads. I think it was Robert Musil who said something along the lines of: even faith and love are only states of mind, but contemplation provides them with the image of a whole world.

The Calmon-Stock Collection has always impressed me so much on a subjective level and, objectively, it represents Brazilian contemporary art so well, that I have mentioned at least two of its paintings in my novel A casa cai, whose main character is, amongst other things, an art collector, a stubborn oven-bird that has run away from life his entire life. All of a sudden loses his father, with whom he never really got along, and, without even knowing how the world works, receives a bulky, albeit murky, inheritance, which he is forced to deal with. This novel even tells the paradigmatic real-estate history of Rio de Janeiro’s South Zone: as he builds a house for his wife, in a time where no one cooks for anyone else anymore, he discovers his dead father was one of the city’s builders.

AT A GIVEN POINT IN THE STORY, this character is staked before José Damasceno’s Deambulação e divagação (Drift and Digress), which he purchases because he can’t resist it, the day he leaves to get a tank for his laundry room, stops by the nearest gallery and completely forgets to get to the store. And he says there was really nothing he could do when faced with those miniature, cut-out, colorful paper traces, thousands of Italian micro-soles, small foundations for the shoes he inherited from his father, filling up an empty frame on the wall, the empty frame that was his soul, as he roams adrift.

At another point in the story, he freezes, astonished, before Hildebrando de Castro and his series of Windows, observing in particular a red diptych. It’s the one in André Stock and Roberto Calmon’s collection. The narrator says:

Behind a red window it almost felt like Hildebrando de Castro had also been in our home, in my home, in no one’s home, I couldn’t tell whether I saw shadow or painting, whether the many layers were from the light or the art, geometry and color mixing in a maze of optical sensations that quickly became heartache, because I knew the geometrical abstraction here was masking a real façade, and that behind that window there was a house, even if I could only see another window, a visible window that faced an invisible window. I tried to look inside and saw nothing, no house, was there a house, and I saw only the shadow that wasn’t a shadow, that was color and also shadow because there was light, a window behind another window. And no house, even though it existed, it had to exist, behind so many windows.

Tantão, Cabelo, Caldas (Waltércio), Carneiro (Rafael) and Chilindrón (Marta); Barrão, Jordan and Centurión; Catunda, Espiridião and Salomão. A hell of a line-up, and I haven’t even mentioned all the all-stars, not by far, not even one of the catalogue’s coaches, de La Rocque, in my bridges to imagination. I was always like this, and art is, to me, a matter of existence more important than reality. I really like meat, I can’t live without it, but I also know that it is in fantasy that we can fulfill even our bellies. Besides, doesn’t much of our life happen in a realm beyond our reach? Aren’t the things that are going to happen to us being decided in a place far, far removed from the homely reality of the square we’re in?

Maybe I have also lived, always lived, and so many works in Bodies, letters and a few animals can testify to that, to repeat, before the petrified denizens of Rio’s Arpoador and astonished inhabitants of Porto Alegre’s Gasômetro, oh, my two cities, what Oscar Wilde before his fellow countrymen enraptured by a sunset: a second-rate Turner…


MARCELO BACKES (born October 23, 1973 in Campina das Missões, Brazil) is a writer, translator and teacher at Casa do Saber. With PhDs in German and Roman Literature from the University of Freiburg, in Germany, he is the author of the novels O último minuto and A casa cai, published by Companhia das Letras, among other works. He is responsible for organizing the collection of classics Fanfarrões, libertinas & outros heróis and the publishing of Arthur Schnitzler’s works in Brazil.