Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Porto Alegre bookfair

Is this the oldest book fair in the world? It's certainly one of the biggest. It goes on to about six weeks, as long as the Hay on Wye festival, but unlike the latter, and unlike any other book fair I have ever seen, it is entirely free -- no doubt the factor that ensures its vitality and survival.

Porto Alegre bookfair

The fact that it's supported by the authorities in this way means that everybody can attend any event, including the poorest. Many of the events are for children and schools though by no means the majority of them.

Most authors represented here South American and especially Brazilian. I was the only author from the UK, but as this that is the year of the French there were several from that country, and I found myself leaving the hotel showing the taxi with a French professor specialising in the study of urban areas. For there is a strong academic element at the book fair.

Much of the fair is also outside, despite the humidity. About half of it takes place in a couple of urban squares ringed with thronging bookstalls from distributors, publishers and other retailers. The juvenile area is on the old dock front, and venues include the old warehouses, and the opulent interiors of former Portuguese offices and halls that line the downtown avenues.

Porto Alegre bookfair

Some of these restored mansions, reminding you of the old glory when the city was founded, provided a striking contrast to dilapidated more recent 20th-century buildings adjacent to them. The town is in decline but struggling to reassert its new identity as a cultural magnet.

From the dock you can take a boat tour up the river Guaiba, actually almost a lake, a delta, and the journey takes you around islands that are protected as conservation areas - very unusual in Brazil so near to an industrial area. The Brazilian name for the body of water means 'lake of ducks', and there is much birdlife in evidence, though not much else. Some areas are less protected than others, and there houses come down to the waterfront.
Porto Alegre bookfair

The river flows swiftly but it still has 200 km left to get to the Atlantic Ocean. Porto Alegre was constructed by the Portuguese on the west side of a long isthmus, so that he could defend the river from the Spanish, so it was never an Atlantic port.

The bookfair doesn't start till around lunchtime and then in the afternoon the place is absolutely packed. Everywhere are authors signing books and street performers entertaining children.
Porto Alegre bookfair
Porto Alegre bookfair

I am introduced to the director of the book fair, and have lunch with the chief press officer, Ricardo, a wonderful, indefatigable man, who has suffered from polio since the age of nine months, and who also like me has two sons, about the same age. Unlike me he has married again and now has a nine-month-old!

I am also introduced to many other authors and illustrators, including the talented André, and Barroso and Marta Lagarta.

My session, held in a small room next to the children's library, goes well, and I use a couple of PowerPoint slideshows to illustrate my talk that I have been using at the British schools where I was two weeks before.

They precipitate a discussion on the nature of science fiction, how Star Trek and Star Wars represent the imperialist dreams of America but how dystopian fiction has sadly proved more prescient as a way of predicting or describing the reality of a least parts of the world.

And how it is the duty of writers now to provide hope to the children who will be tomorrow's adults, because it is we, the older generations, who have fucked things up so badly for them.
Porto Alegre bookfair

Afterwards, Ricardo writes it up, and this is the result:


Pretty poor but just about understandable Google translation:

I am currently in Curitiba exploring its environmental credentials, staying in the eco-hostel which is very nice, an oasis in an urban desert, and will write about this shortly.

I am feeling that I have been here over two weeks and not seen the real Brazil -- I have been in one city after another and many of them are strikingly similar to European cities. Somehow in the remaining time I would like to see some of the countryside, wildlife or forest, but I don't quite know yet how to do this.

I go back to São Paulo on Thursday morning when I have to visit DCL's offices in the afternoon and to give a talk in the evening at the University, but from Friday morning until Monday morning I am free and may go to Rio. I leave to go back to the UK on the Wednesday, and am saving Monday and Tuesday for possible more meetings with Otacilia.

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