Life and travel, a tribute to the Sertão and Guimarães Rosa

on Oct 1, 2019 in Hand Baggage | No Comments


At a difficult period for Brazil, when there is talk about how important it is to preserve nature – the Amazon specifically, and many indigenous tribes and more –, it is time to pay tribute to another fundamental part of this gigantic country: the Sertão and its culture.

There are countless books about the Brazilian Nordeste, however, the most well-considered is undoubtedly Grande Sertão: Veredas, by Guimarães Rosa. One of the great exponents of literature written in Portuguese.



Obviously, living is not easy. And perhaps the oldest metaphor sees life as a journey, an itinerary.

In the words of Riobaldo, one of the main characters in Guimarães Rosa’s book, as he wanders the Sertão: “We live by repetition, repetition, and, slippery, in one my minute, we’ve been pushed onto another branch”. Living is indeed 97% repetition. A repetition the following day is still repetition – repetition once more, new repetition, paradox, however, that’s the way it is: tomorrow eating again, sleeping again, opening the door again, turning the handle again, the same gestures again.

So, life as a system, at best 30 truly new things from birth to death; novelty, surprises, sudden events. Besides that, always the same feelings; normal life installs boredom into the nervous system, this functions with low-level revolutions and eyes half-closed, it is not necessary to be wide awake, it sorts life out with citizen energy. This is minimum energy, that of the citizen, as the large space where they find themselves has already sorted most problems out, days, years or even decades before. For example: where should we put the detritus that every human produces? Urban plumbing resolved that problem, or part of it, a long time ago, something that, away from cities, in an isolated system, is individual and requires action and effort from everyone. And so: the citizen’s nervous system is bourgeois, sofa and carpet and double-glazed windows to avoid catching slight colds. Living in the city is partly this. The city saves the individual effort.

However, from time to time, yes, surprise: “We live by repetition, repetition, and, slippery, in one my minute, we’ve been pushed onto another branch”.

Yes, without knowing how, we leap onto another branch. A form of changing place, of travel, involuntary.

In a “me minute”, Guimarães Rosa’s fine expression. The my minute, a minute that belongs to me like an object. Or rather: a minute that belongs to me as a feeling. A minute of occurrence outside that causes a simultaneous answer (how is it possible to answer a question as it is being asked? Exactly: living; living is the answer one gives at the same time as the question that life asks us).

Life, ever-demanding, wants the right answer at the same time as the difficult-to-formulate question; hence the difficulty of living, my friend Jonathan told me. He added: you cannot let the question be asked in its entirety because you cannot suspend the exterior nor what’s happening inside you.

True, however: we are “slippery”, we do not completely master the ground of being alive and the relation with its frictions.

In short, sometimes it is like this: one slip in the foot/ground relationship and, then, we slip up in life.

Living is this. What about travel?



Travel? An intentional way of slipping towards another place. A controlled slip.



We do not know what living is (moving, not in space, but in time); life only gives the answer too late. As Guimarães Rosa’s character says:

“if only I could guess at what I would come to know, beyond so many wonders… one is always in the dark, only at the very last moment is the room illuminated”.

Living, in the Sertão or outside it, is like moving forward in the dark – however, it is not night-time nor is there a lack of windows or electricity; the darkness is not outside, but rather in our vision.

Being alive is, therefore, being blind and not being given a cane nor companion who can indicate the dangers ahead. If there is a companion, they suffer from the same blindness, that of not knowing how the present will deal with us. Your minute and my minute may demonstrate kindness or perversity, we do not know. What is sure is that this does not depend on us.

A journey with no plan nor map.



Life put a sign up:

No parking!

And so, we do not stop, even when still.

Life, every minute, every instant, holding up a sign: “No parking”. And us, what do we do? Obey, of course.


by Gonçalo M. Tavares


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