From the alley of Vila Rica

Image: Antonio Lizarraga
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By CONRADO RAMOS*

Commentary on the book by Cora Coralina

Em From Beco da Vila Rica – published in 1965 –, from Aninha ugly da Ponte da Lapa, to Anna Lins dos Guimarães Peixoto Bretas, to our Cora Coralina – a name pregnant with poetry -, the history of the vanquished finds a place: “The story of Vila Rica / is the of the poorly told city, / in poorly traced rules. / It comes from the eighteenth century, / it goes to the year two thousand.”

“Vila Rica is not a dream, invention, / imaginary, rhetorical, abstract, conventional.” But it has its allegorical materialism. “It is real, positive, concrete and symbolic. / Involuted, static. / Preserved, conservative. / And stinky.” (CORALINA, C. Poems from the alleys of Goiás and more stories. São Paulo: Círculo do Livro, 1990, p. 66).

In this place, the irrepressible presence of death is daily and indifferent and it is with it that we enter the Beco, already in the first lines of the poem, like someone leaving the State protection zones: “In the Beco da Vila Rica / there is always a dead chicken. / Black, yellow, painted or carijó. / What does it matter? / There's always a dead chicken, really. / Spectacular, stinking. / Rotting to the god-damn.” In Beco da Vila Rica, the history of abandonment has a long duration and no hope. In it, necropolitics camouflages itself as second nature, like a daily habit that death has to die; death that Beco inherited as a tradition, as a monument, without anyone else there thinking of the Beco without her: “In Beco da Vila Rica, / yesterday, today, tomorrow, / in the next century, / in the millennium to come, / there will always be a dead chicken, really. / Scandalous, smelly. / Sometimes, alternatively, there is also / – a dead cat.” (p. 65). In the alleys of the world, death composes the ordinary landscape. Subsidiary landscape of the progress and order of this world.

The chain of events that the New angel sees how a catastrophe that accumulates scattered ruins at our feet appears, like Coralina, in the way that the clustered debris takes on the alleys, like dunghills: “In Beco da Vila Rica there are / old dunghills, / collective, consolidated, / where they grow scented boninas.” (p. 65). But let's not be fooled by the poetry of the boninas, because there they are not like the flower of Drummond, which was born in the street, piercing the asphalt, boredom, disgust and hatred. The boninas of the dunghills of our Alley is the rude stubbornness of lumpensinate misery; the life that insists on its wild and uncultured sparseness, spreading out, always emigrated, between boredom, disgust and hatred; the refugee survivals of various colors that cling to the corners and alleys of the world (how many alleys in Salgado's lens exodus!…): “And the anonymous weed, / always the same, / spreading its carpet / throughout Vila Rica. / Little crawling thing, worthless. / Trampled, captive, mistreated. / Vigorous. / Firewood donkey hoof. / Footsteps of those who go up and down. / Rudeness of a vagrant boy / they never delay a fedegoso, / federation, manjiroba, caruru-de-espinho, / guanxuma, são-caetano. / Plant resistance… Where did plants come from? / From the beginning of all beginnings. / They are born for nothing. Coexists avenge. / They bloom, without anyone's support or repair. / And they only die after fulfilling their obligation: / to mature… to sow, / to guarantee survival. / And flowers… crumbs of petals, of colors. / Yellow, white, purple, solferines. / Some andaca… boninas… / An old girl's toy flower. / Alley flower, little-case flower. / Tramps, despised.” (p. 68-9). Flowers without borders and destinations, by the thousand-thousands, scattered and revived.

The most lasting legacies of the dominant classes disappear from the bourgeois landscapes and end up hidden in the passages to the doors and back gates of capitalism: “Monturo: / Spoilers of the city's economy. / Trinkets: / Old shoes. Old basins. / Old pots, pans, baskets, troughs, / and other stuffy uses / end up there.” (p. 66). All sorts of useless things – not those of Manoel de Barros, which take on poetic qualities – alive or not, accidental or imposed, end up in the alleys.

Also in the rubbish of our Beco, the enduring marriage between the legacy of consumerism and environmental violence: “There is nothing that lasts longer than an old / thrown away shoe. / It is always worm-eaten, / parched, hollowed out, / protruding over the heaps. / How much time! / What rain, what sun, / what effort, constant, invisible, / material, active, / silent, day and night, / you will need shoes, in the trash, / to decompose absolutely, / to disintegrate chemically / into transformations of a creator humus?…” (p. 67). The use of excess commas in order to pace the breathing of slow temporality is ingenious. In the back alleys of the world, a magma of commas and reticence solidifies over historical potentialities (transformations of the creator humus).

“Sometimes a loafer, / evil or charitable, / sets the dunghill on fire. / Slow, creeping fire. / Marked by the well-known smoke. / Dungeon Smoke: / Aggressive. Burning. / Smell of allergy. / Nervousness, headache. / Stomach sickness. / Monturo: / there is something impossible to burn, / it burns slowly, / in the rest of the ash, in the shroud of smoke.” (p. 67). Beco da Vila Rica also has its holocausts: reeking, reeking, smelly – even though perfumed boninas prevail there -, the smoke from the dunghills is a well-known smoke. The periphery of capitalism smells like smoke: garbage smoke, factory smoke, forest smoke, burning smoke, fire smoke, war smoke, death smoke, smoke. It is from the clouds of poverty gas that the New angel tries to wake the dead and put the fragments together. The smoky life of the back alleys seizes the body with uneasiness: what the system encounters rejection gains nauseating vapors. It is through the smoke that the alleys enter the bodies.

The bankrupt patriarchs who no longer serve the system go to the dunghills of Beco da Vila Rica: “Dungheap… / Reminds me of the Bible: / Job, scraping his ulcers. / Job, listening to the exhortation of friends. / Job, crying and complaining to his God. / The women of Job, / The daughters of Job, / they manage little things, poverty, / on the dunghills in the alley of Vila Rica.” (p. 67). (In capitalism taken as a religion, may the name of the father continue to be praised.) The heaps in the back alleys, for inner cities, are equivalent to those under the bridges of the big capitals: loci of the maximum exclusion from the social bond that occupies our bourgeois ghosts and that also haunted the traditional family of the girl-poet: “I was a poor girl, / like so many of my time. / I adorned myself with necklaces, / with wreaths, / with bracelets, / with bonnets from the dunghills.” (pp. 67-8).

With their backs to Beco, the walls and gates mimic the aristocracy, the political fragility of its outdated existence and its historically immobilized institutional safeguards: “Old closed gates. / Walls without rules, without plumb or plumbness. / (It re-enters, stresses, falls, does not fall, / bends, straightens, / embarrasses, bounces, bucks… / Doesn’t fall. / It has stone shoes guaranteeing it.)” (p. 66).

Walls and gates form the austere and avaricious border between the abandonment of Beco and the eternal private property: “They live perrengando / from old chronic old ages. / They belong to old owners / who don't forget to cut them up / from time to time. / And they hide when they talk / about selling the backyard, / building a new house, improving. / And when the old owners die a hundred years old / the descendants are also old. / Heirs of tradition / – shredded walls. Closed gates.” (p. 66).

As with the dunghills, disdain adorns the walls: “In the old age of the walls of Goiás / time plants maidenhair.” (p. 66).

But the attentive look of the girl-poet reveals that the elites are afraid of the alleys: “Vila Rica from my childhood, / from the backyards… / Immutable sentinels of the alleys, the gates. / Rigid. Very old. Woodworms. / Locked under key. / Propped up inside. / Huge buzzwords (tourists die for them). / Drill locks, heavy, square. / Unusual tongue. / Gates that were opened, / in the old days, / on afternoons off, / with the permission of the elders.” (p. 68).

But our Beco already had its romantic moment for renowned families before the gates closed: “Where did we go – combined with the neighbor, / talk, relax… spend the afternoon… / Fun afternoon, first time, in Goiás, / passed in the Beco da Vila Rica, / – the one of the biblical dunghills. / From the closed gates. / Of mosquitoes a thousand. Muriçocas. Rubbery. / And the city's poor rubbish, / spilling out of backyards. / And that burning smell.” (p. 68). And things of different kinds have already been hidden away, such as “From slaves in loom trunks, baeta shirts, / jumping over the backyard wall, / running to the jeguedê and the drumming.” (p. 65); like the visits of little misses: “These and other visits were made / passing through the gate. / Walking on the streets. Crossing bridges and squares, / the girls of that time were shy. / They were ashamed to be seen by 'the whole world'…” (p. 71). Squares, squares, fairs and avenues, places for stages, platforms, pulpits, tribunes, altars and advertisements hardly know that it is through the alleys that the truths of the city circulate: “Alleys of my land… / Coronary valves of my old city .” (p. 69). The geography of collusions, ruses and conspiracies, the map of confidences, traps and betrayals, the labyrinth of intimacies, discretions and ambushes, everything that the history of the victors hides, denies, silences, incorporates the mosaic of alleyways: “Giving remembrance, give message. / Visits with prior notice. / Women enter through the gate. / Leave through the gate. / Go around, go behind. / To avoid the streets of the center, / to be seen by all the world.” (p. 72).

The most important thing, however, is to recognize that, while the public square welcomes the procession of winners, the horrors imposed on generations of losers flow down the alleys: “Besides, Vila Rica has a horrible pipe. / Start at the beginning. / It opens its wolf's mouth / and goes to the Red River. / Poor Rio Vermelho!… / The pipe is a prodigy of wisdom, / engineering, colonial urbanism, / from the golden age. / Saved and confirmed. / Very useful even today. / Receives and transfers. / Sometimes slabs fall from the deck. / We run our eyes unintentionally. / Boys lean over to see better / what's inside. / The barrel of its spurious drag is horrible, / slow.” (p. 69). Heritage of colonialism, preserved and confirmed, still very useful today, by the pipes that cross Latin America, like Galeano's open veins, genocidal, racist, sexist, LGBTphobic horrors still run. The spur of civilization insists on breaking through the ideological sewer created to cover it up – the pipe is a prodigy of wisdom. And sometimes it overcomes slabs, erupts volcanic in the flower of the day.

But behold, the censorious torrents roar from the skies, the flood of sanitizing biopowers and the eugenic floods arrive quickly to ensure that the proletariat continues to exist free as the birds: “God finally loves Vila Rica / and one day he sends rain. / Heavy, thick, powerful rains. / Deluge of them. Goian rains. // The runoff from Rua da Abadia washes the pipe. / The inspector orders the slabs to be replaced. / And city life goes on, / so peaceful, without disturbance.”

Benjamin says in the second thesis on the concept of history that the past carries with it a mysterious index that impels it to redemption. And he also says that we have been given a fragile Messianic force to which the past appeals. And he also says, in thesis four, that, thanks to a mysterious heliotropism, the past tries to direct itself towards the sun that rises in the sky of history. In our Alley, through alchemical mysteries, history turns to gold. And there are few who, from the poetic appeal of the back alleys of the world, know how to hear the sparkles: “Says the living chronicle of Vila Boa / that, under the pipe of Vila Rica, / a lode of gold passes. / It comes from Rua Monsenhor Azevedo. / Rich lode. Big lode. / Pure vein, confirmed. / Cross the alley – hence the name of Vila Rica. / And it is swallowed by the Red River.“ (p. 69-70).

It is from the basements of the alleys of the world, from the floors that sustain, welcome and swallow the vanquished, from what is collected and condensed in them, that we can extract the precious metal from which we will make the tools of transformation.

Through the alleys of Cora Coralina, through the alleys of Goiás, “Cisco Alley. / Elbow Alley. / Antônio Gomes Alley. / Beco das Taquaras. / Beco do Seminario. / School Alley. / Ouro Fino Alley. / Alley of Cacheira Grande. / Alley of Calabrote. / Beco do Mingu. / Alley of Vila Rica…” (p. 62), would flaunt Walter Benjamin with his gaze of constellating history and seeking totality in the particular. But it was the ugly girl on the Lapa bridge who did it.

*Conrado Ramos is a psychoanalyst and poet, postdoctoral by the Postgraduate Studies Program in Social Psychology at PUC-SP.

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