Another Christmas is possible



Understanding the “other” is feeling like this “other” in the flesh

Today I'm going to return to a Christmas topic: a Christmas spent on the island of Tenerife, in the Canary archipelago.

We keep talking about the need to understand “the other”, defend “otherness”, the “voice of the other”, etc. When we say this, we always think that it is the “me” and that the “other” is someone other than us, a “different”, an “other”. A very important lesson is, on the other hand, to feel like this “other” in the flesh.

I've felt this way, for example, when I was teaching in Côte d'Ivoire, in Africa. But the feeling was counterbalanced by the fact that “I” was the “Teacher”. I have an undying photo of this moment: “me”, in a jacket and tie, among the students in their bright and colorful African costumes. Of course: it can be said that there “I” was an “other”. But with the professorial aura maintaining the security of my “self” in the face of “others” and “others”.

What happened in Tenerife was something completely different.

My partner Zinka and I spent Christmas in Tenerife, the birthplace of Father Anchieta (whose family home still exists), to escape the cold and darkness of Berlin. Soon after arrival, we spent a few nights in the city of Güímar, where there is a museum of Heyerdahl's expeditions to the Americas in reed boats to prove that the crossing from there was possible before that of Christopher Columbus.

We spent a very pleasant 24, with tours, visits to museums that were still open, etc. On the morning of the 25th we went for a ride in a rented car, with material for a snack. We make use of the sun and the mild temperature.

But on the way back to the city… we were surprised. At the hotel, the restaurant was closed. The reception, ditto. We had the key to the front door and the room, but this doesn't satisfy our hunger. Car stored, we left on foot. Outside, the markets and grocery stores, also closed. The restaurants, all closed. The city, everything and everything, closed. And we, the improvident travelers, with nothing, not even a loaf of bread, not even a cookie, to eat. Night falling, and hunger rising. We had a couple of bottles of wine and water, but this is for drinking, not eating. The nearest city was thirty, forty kilometers away, going down the mountain, and then coming back, going up again: no way.

We weren't pregnant, but it was inevitable to think of a certain couple: this mythical and mystical one, condemned to the indifference of the street, then to a manger; we are just prosaic mortals with no chance of redemption, and already entering a critical state of food shortage, not to say hungry despair. In the streets filled with the wandering mists (poetic, readers will think – but with great hunger there is no poetry that can handle it) there was not a soul to welcome us. The houses looked at us indifferently and closed, with their dark, overhanging windows looking like judges condemning us with their gazes without condescension or mercy. The city, before so happy and welcoming, with its bustling fairs, now seemed to us like a hostile and threatening desert, without a shadow of compassion.

It was then that we encountered a late passerby. He had his destiny, but we asked him about ours. He said, somewhat doubtfully, that perhaps there was something open in the same square where the traveling buses occasionally stopped. It wasn't far, and we went there.

Good luck! Where that something was, there were open doors, light, voices! We went in looking for the warmth inside that mix of pub, bar, joint, whatever, but with the smell of food!

We come across a scene worthy of Breughel or Bosch. Who was there? Let us, dear reader, leave half-words aside. It would be what a novelist of Victor Hugo's stature would call “the most plebeian plebs” in the city: they were whores, drunks, ruffians, unemployed people, abandoned people in the middle of Christmas, people in patched, threadbare, poor clothes, police officers on duty fleeing from the your shift. The people at the bar made up a family: the owner, a mix of bouncer and chef in that kitchen without a threshing floor or waterfront, children, a woman who was several months pregnant, another elderly woman, certainly a grandmother of the little ones, but visibly the matriarch of the bar. chunk. A raucous radio was playing and saying something.

Totally, those and those were the outcasts of that Christmas night when everyone else was confined to their more or less bourgeois homes with their “selves” absolutely safe. Anyway, there was that collection of people lost in the night. Yes, and we are no less lost. Yes, we, “the foreigners on the border of this bar”, to describe the well-known tango sung by Nelson Gonçalves, one of my father’s favorites. We, the “entirely others” in that corner of, let’s say, “rejected”, the “others” on Christmas Eve. We were “more-than-others”, “others of those others”.

However, after a brief hesitation necessary for mutual recognition, we were welcomed with open arms. For each and everyone. We were offered the best table. While the police and the beggars, the whores and everyone socialized with us, the children brought the menu. Menu? There was little choice: some sandwiches, beers, soft drinks, house wine. We ask. We were served with extreme dedication. Grandma brought us the sandwiches. We were asked interesting questions: who we were, where we came from, what we were doing there, where we were going… Brazil?! Our! How interesting. Do you live in Berlin? Everything so far and so close...

The food came: poor. The bread was stale. The ham, the cheese, completely simple. The wine also came: Balzac would call it “mediocre”. But the human warmth was such – from everyone – that the dish took on surprising flavors, starting to seem, if you'll pardon the expression, divine. The most divine of all our Christmases. And questions and more questions came, whether we were feeling well, whether we needed anything else... Within a certain time we stopped feeling like foreigners, and started to feel at home, as much as this was possible. And it was possible.

We, the children of inclement weather and unpredictability, have found our shelter. We ordered more wine. We fraternize. We toast. After all, we were as “other” as they were. We made up an unexpected, fraternal, warm, densely human “we”. I remembered a samba by fellow countryman Túlio Piva: “People of the night/Who don’t care about prejudices…/They have stars in their souls/And the Moon inside their chest…”

After the meal, we remained in the place for a long time, drinking the suddenly wonderful house wine and enjoying that welcome that surprised us in all the best ways, proving that human solidarity can leap over the most irreducible borders, those of soul and prejudices, of which we can all be impatient patients. And victims.

We said goodbye, already missing that unforgettable place.

We returned happily to the hotel. We started to glimpse something about the celebration of Christmas that we didn't know until then. Or we would forget.

Another Christmas was possible.

And it is possible.

Praised be the divine human embrace.

Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). []

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