I know I promised I would send you the text before the deadline, but starting this essay has been extremely difficult and putting such a strain on the way I engage with everyone around me… I have been doing my best, taking an enormous amount of notes and articulating a few, apparently good metaphors about what seems to be going on, but the sight of my laptop’s keyboard just brings me to an odd state of intellectual numbness…
Also, I would like to thank you for the tips on the local gastronomy and traditional customs. However, and despite how charming and entertaining the combination of exquisite food, extraordinary wine and local hospitality may be (the chef from the Structural Hotel really is incredible…), this city has the uncanny ability to puzzle me over and over again. Being the capital adds of course a whole new vibrant set of distinctive features to the cultural bearings of this place… for instance, new life seems to have been bred into the cultural scene with the opening of the brand new wing of the Museum of Obsolete Strategies, right next to the relocated Monument to Circularity. Dedicated to collecting, archiving, displaying and researching on obsolete (the vernacular word here for obsolete is somehow connected to a transitory and reversible state of “memory”, which in turn shares an intriguing etymological connection with the word “lapse”…) ways of thinking, doing and making, the museum constitutes a renewed reason for modest pride amongst the more cosmopolitan of the city dwellers.
Not far from the museum, across the square, is something that also caught my eye, and that I will have to visit urgently: the Centre for Fictional Studies. The building, next to the Angled Promenade (which is, by the way, a crowd pleaser, always packed with people going up and down the 45º incline), isn’t at all exciting from an architectural point of view but the main entrance has an inscription that I was told translates into “All that is solid melts into air”. If I immediately enjoyed the “Marx quoted by Berman quoted by this academic research institution” aspect of such an inscription, what really interested me was the few words grafitted before and after the inscription. Obviously unable to read them, my temporary host/guide/translator, the Director of the Centre himself, explained that those graffited words changed the entire sentence to the amusing “If all that is solid melts into air, why are we still here?”. I’m sure that knowing me like you do, you can imagine what it produced in my quasi-delirious imagination…
Apparently these two institutions, one cultural and the other academical, have been collaborating in what seems a sort of ideological re-purposing of the cultural and historical landscape of the city and country at large… I haven’t been quite able to perceive in which ways they’re doing it, or how, and no-one really knows how to explain it precisely or without contradicting each other, but they all accept it as a matter of fact… I’ve only been able to understand, again through the Director of the Centre for Fictional Studies, that a fairly literal reading of Borges and Calvino was the departure for this endeavor, which is aiming at completely institutionalizing the idea of very different narrations of collective history being the result of diverging perceptions of events as they take place. These gaps render reality discontinuous, fragmentary and multiple, to the point it becomes fiction… The willingness to digress seems to be at the core of the whole urban renewal strategy now taking place.
Anyway, I’ll be busy a few more days visiting these institutions and trying to make sense of this gap-driven, fictional wave departing from the centre of the city and already spreading across the nearer neighborhoods. Hopefully I’ll get back to you no later than Friday with the first draft of the article. Is this OK with you?
All my best,
Vera Cortês (press release)