The absurdity and the magic of borders

A few weeks after my latest visa rejection, I was invited to a meeting as a guest member of my hometown Cultural Policy Committee. The Brazilian government are trying to implement some big changes to cultural policies nationwide, and it’s meant to start locally, with each council electing a Cultural Policy Committee, which is meant to act as the midfielder between the official Cultural Secretariat and the citizens. As you will know if you know me personally or if you’ve been reading the other posts on this blog, my hometown sits on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, so in addition to the local Committee, border towns should also appoint a Bi-national Cultural Policy Committee. Ours is a bit all over the place, but that is not the point of this post.

The point is that I was invited to integrate a small group of representatives travelling to another border town further south for a 2-day seminar on the cultural integration between Brazil and Uruguay, which was very interesting. Lots of relevant issues were discussed and it was enlightening to hear about projects going on along the border line. One of the most intriguing aspects of the exchanges, however, was to notice how things function in a different way within one single stretch of land. The Culture Secretary of Jaguarao, the town that hosted the seminar, told us how jealous he was of Livramento, my hometown, for having a much easier time organising their book festival. Because Livramento and Rivera (Uruguayan side) merge together and share the International Park, where the festival happens, there is no red tape to go through regarding book sales. Uruguayan and Brazilian publishers can exhibit and sell side by side without any import, tax or exchange faff. Now, there’s a river between Jaguarao and Rio Branco, and a checkpoint on the bridge, which makes it a hell of a lot harder for the Uruguayan booksellers to go through and take part of the festival on the Brazilian side. Instead of just walking up to the spot and setting up shop, they need to deal with paperwork, licences and documents months in advance to be able to cross the bridge with their merchandise, which has resulted in some people loading their books on a dinghy and rowing across to the other side and back, unnoticed under the bridge (but I didn’t tell you that).

That sort of thing made me think of the arbitrary element of borders – the difference a river makes. We are talking about the same two countries here with their respective policies unaltered, but a completely different way of functioning on different spots along the same land boundary. That’s why the relevant agents have been calling meetings like the one we had in Jaguarao: to try and find ways of making our exchanges easier by listening to logic and negotiating.

I agree with Brazilian sociologist Fabio Regio Bento’s argument that a “world without borders” is a utopic and romantic notion, which isn’t necessarily better or more exciting than the world we currently live in. He says that most human experiences happen on the threshold of something – like the ultimate one, between life and death, for example. Liminal places never cease to amaze me, I just would like to see what they can do with fewer restrictions imposed on them.


Livramento reps at the seminar