A Spanish Preview and a Nervous Flight

We reached the end of our rehearsal period and scheduled a preview of La Niña Barro for family and friends at Las Cigarreras, to run the show in front of an audience before taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe. After much negotiation with the venue and a tad stressful tech run, I’m happy to inform it went rather well. It also went very fast. I think we were all inevitably anxious about test-driving this piece we’d been working on for months, working through broken limbs, family illness and immigration problems, and all that bottled up energy suddenly came out on stage and the girls rushed a bit. It still went well.

The day after our preview, I was even more of a nervous wreck. I would be flying to Edinburgh that afternoon, a few days before Eli and Alex. I also spent an extra £90 on my flight to go directly from Alicante, avoiding a London stop. You see, all the horror stories I’ve heard happened at London airports, so I avoid them if I can. In my experience, Edinburgh immigration officers are much more polite and understanding (i.e. they will treat you as a human being). Besides, if I have any problems in Edinburgh, I know all it takes is one phone call to have half the city at the airport to help me (I’m not being smug, I just honestly know A LOT of people).

Despite taking measures to curb my anxiety, I can’t help feeling massively nervous every time I fly to a different country now, and I think this feeling will linger for a long time. But flying to Scotland, back to Edinburgh, is so meaningful to me that it provokes butterflies akin to those you are meant to get at the most special moments in your life: your 15th birthday party (if you’re a Latin American girl – if you’re not, wikipedia explains what this means), getting your exam results, your graduation, your wedding, that sort of thing. So I am in this state of mind when Carlos and Eli drive me to the airport in Alicante, on a very warm Sunday afternoon.

I’ve done the online check-in but need to take my suitcase to the counter. Before they can check in my luggage, however, I need to go to Jet2’s sales counter so they can start verifying my authenticity before I even leave the Schengen zone. The attendant asks to see my reservation and my passport and then, flicking through the pages, asks me: “just to confirm – you don’t have a visa for the UK?”. I say I don’t, but that I’m coming as a tourist, so I don’t require one. He looks me sideways, types stuff into his computer, looks at my passport again, asks me how long I’m going to the UK for. I reply that I will be there for 2 months and offer to show him my return ticket from Madrid to Porto Alegre, explaining that I just haven’t booked my return from Edinburgh to Madrid yet because I’m waiting to hear back from a couple of events I might be attending. He finally agrees to stamp my boarding pass and let me finalise my check-in. Eli just shakes her head in awe that I have to go through this.

I say goodbye to Eli, go through security and finally board the plane, but the pressure on my chest only gets worse. The plane lands and there I am, completed landing card, passport and my folder with a stack of paper to prove that I have no intention of illegally settling in Scotland. The queue wasn’t too bad, I got to the counter much more quickly than the last time – maybe because this time I arrived a few days before all the festival malarkey kicked off. Now, I wasn’t sure whether my passport would make the alarm bells sounds or not this time. My old passport expired at the start of the year, so this was a new one. I’d been refused a visa on my old passport, but I didn’t get to apply for the actual visa on this one, having only been refused the Arts Council endorsement. Turns out the refusal is actually attached to your name, not to your passport. The lady who served me at the immigration desk looked at her screen for a few moments while flicking through the pages and then smiled and asked if this was my first time in Edinburgh. I said no and proceeded to telling her my potted life story and visa saga, showing documents as they were mentioned, including the letter from the Fringe office confirming I was bringing a show this year. This allowed me to ask for an Entertainer Visitor visa, which differs from a Tourist visa only in the sense that I was allowed to take payment for the performances we did at the Fringe. She took all the paperwork from me and went into the back room, asking me to wait. She came back in less than 10 minutes and stamped my passport, explaining that I was allowed to stay for up to six months. She then asked me if I would be looking for a job during my time in Edinburgh and I said I intended to, but did not have ay interviews lined up yet. She stressed that it would be fine for me to go to interviews, but I was not allowed to take up employment on this visa, I would then need to change to a Tier 2 or Tier 5. I reassured her that I was well aware of that and had no intention of working illegally. She gave me my stamped passport back and wished me luck with a smile.

NB: Preview and pre-flight nerves aside, this was a fast and pleasant experience, if compared to last year’s visit, or to this story of a Malaysian photographer who was in a very similar situation but wasn’t so lucky – arriving in London two days before I arrived in Edinburgh this year

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Moors and Christians

Growing up in the “colonies”, we have to study the history of the coloniser. That means that when you go to school in Brazil, you learn about European history before your own, mostly that of Portugal and Spain. I remember studying the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, and seeing their legacy when I first visited this part of the world back in 1996 with my parents. I was impressed with the stunning Moorish art and architecture of the Andalusian cities, fortresses and gardens.

What I did not know until this visit to Spain was that the tug-of-war between Moors and Christians that extended for centuries is now celebrated with large festivals in Alicante and surroundings, which happen at different times of the year in towns, villages and neighbourhoods. Eli had been talking about it since I arrived and her parents had very proudly shown me photos of their latest participations in their local festival. Paco, who helped out with the costume for La Niña Barro, makes most of his living out of fashioning outfits for the Moors and Christians parades. Everyone that I came into contact with seemed to be involved with these festivities somehow, but I only began to understand them better when I witnessed the Moros y Cristianos parade of San Blas, the Alicante area where our lovely photographer Sandra is based. See, the people behind the festival organised a shop window contest in the neighbourhood and Sandra decided to enter. In order to create an exciting window display for her studio, she wanted to dress up a model as one of the Moors, photograph them and then arrange the photos with props borrowed from the Christians. And this is how I ended up being a Moorish Queen for a day (make-up by Eli):

moros6Sandra came 2nd in the competition and won tickets to watch the street parade from the VIP stands. She would be working, photographing the event, so she gave me and Eli the tickets. We went with Eli’s dad and watched as people paraded their fantastic costumes to the sound of exciting live music, each club, group, and association looking prouder as they went past. It reminded me of the Brazilian carnaval, and I was surprised that I had never heard of something as big. The festival generally happens over two days – one dedicated to the Christians (which we saw) and the other, to the Moors. There are battle re-enactments and a model castle is built to be invaded by the Moors and then taken back by the Christians. The whole celebration is really interesting, not only because of its historical background, but also because of the way history and culture gain new interpretations. You don’t need to have Moorish ancestry or necessarily identify with Christianity to choose which side you want to be on. Instead, people gravitate towards whatever aesthetics takes their fancy, and although there are some clear symbols that must be respected, creativity and imagination are highly encouraged when creating costumes, make-up and floats.

It was yet another enlightening experience of diverse cultures coming together quite nicely, and the use of art to transform a rather gory past into a beautiful and more tolerant present.

Alicante: Politics, Desert and Theatre

I arrived in Alicante, but my suitcase did not. Not a great start. But ok, at least I had made it this far, I was back in Europe and felt one step closer to get things back on track. No stress. I was also lucky enough to be staying with friends that could lend me clothes for the first few days until the luggage arrived. None of that was a problem.

Alicante is an interesting city. Of all places in Spain, I thought it was hilarious that I ended up in the one that kinda looked like Edinburgh, with a similarly shaped castle on top of a rock towering above the city centre:

Edinburgh Castle, by Duncan Smith, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html.

Edinburgh Castle, by Duncan Smith, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html.

Castillo Santa Bárbara, Alicante, by Juan Carlos Soler, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html

Castillo Santa Bárbara, Alicante, by Juan Carlos Soler, lovingly stolen from http://www.lastminutecottageholiday.co.uk/visitedinburghscotland.html

The two cities are also about the same size, even though Alicante has a slightly smaller population but looks slightly more like a big city with its shiny shopping centres and beach resorts. Alicante is also a popular spot for Brits, so it’s common to hear English spoken on the streets and see English menus in bars and restaurants. Similarities end there, and the biggest difference is: it NEVER rains in Alicante!

In fact, when you get out of the city and go to the surrounding towns or villages (like the one I was staying in, San Vicente de Raspeig), what you see is a desert with dunes and mountains of red earth that are much more akin to a Moroccan than to a Scottish landscape. It is still beautiful, in spite of all the problems caused by the constant state of drought in the region.

Politically speaking, Alicante is part of the Generalitat Valenciana, and therefore somewhat removed from Madrid-centered politics. Most of the people I spoke to were very much in favour of a Spanish Republic, a feeling strengthened by the recent abdication of King Juan Carlos. However, there didn’t seem to be an organised enough pro-Republic movement there, and even less so a movement for independence like in Catalunya. Curious thing I learned: Valencian and Catalan are pretty much the same language (which I can sort of understand when spoken and written, but haven’t learned to speak).

So it was in this new context that I was reunited with Eli and first met Alex in person, the two performers working on my (now itinerant, but still officially Edinburgh-based) theatre company’s new piece, La Niña Barro. Sociopolitical and cultural contexts shaping artistic creation is a rather obvious thing, but less discussed and perhaps more intriguing is to analyse how a geographical context can influence devising a piece of theatre (that is not site-specific). We hadn’t thought about that until the three of us got together in real life – Eli and Alex were born and bred in Alicante and therefore stopped noticing their surroundings. I had never been there before and therefore couldn’t have a clear idea of what the place looked like. Inevitably, the sensations gained from long, warm, dry afternoons spent on the porch of Eli’s house gazing up at the mountains and arid land of red clay around them, made their way into the aesthetics of the piece and helped us define colours, movement and sound.

This might be the best argument against the digital/virtual, theatremaking that we initially used, flagged by a few peers as a potentially detrimental thing to our art, and something that could easily become a good excuse for the issuing of even fewer artist visas. There are, of course, many successful theatre productions that make use of technology, and in our case, it was the only possible way of getting the project started, but I agree that it shouldn’t be seen as a suitable replacement for presential work. After all, this is theatre/performance’s “unique selling point” against film – it is the live experience that makes it so special.

The Spanish Adventure part 1 – flying

The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 was the first Fringe I attended as a mere audience member. It had a good side to it, it was nice being able to see everything I wanted for a change, and not having to stress about flyering, get-ins and reviews. It felt very strange to not be a participant for the first time in 7 years, though. So I decided that despite the difficulties of my immigration status, I would bring a show to the Fringe in 2014. I hoped I would get a new visa and be a resident by then, but I knew that I would need to take advantage of technology to actually put the show together. With that in mind, my friend and collaborator Eli agreed to be directed via internet on our new piece, La Niña Barro.

Eli recruited Alex, another talented Spanish performer, to join the project and we were kindly given a free rehearsal space in the form of an artistic residency at contemporary culture centre Las Cigarreras, in Alicante. For good part of a year, the girls received tasks and notes from me via email or facebook, worked on them in the studio and filmed themselves doing so, dropboxed the videos to me and I would send more tasks and notes each week. We would also have skype meetings regularly to discuss things. It wasn’t an easy task, but an interesting challenge at the same time. We worked like this between January and June this year, and then the time came for me to go to Spain and work with them in person.

Many Brazilians, particularly in the southern regions, have European passports due to their Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German ancestry (these are the most common ones), so I have often been asked this question by people sympathetic to my visa drama. Although it is quite obvious that I have European blood (being white enough and having a string of Iberian last names), I can’t trace my family tree back to whichever great grandparent would make me eligible for double citizenship. I have, however, done a bit of research into potentially moving to Spain as an alternative to Brazil (where I don’t want to be) or Scotland (where I’m not allowed to be).

Spain would not be too bad an idea – I can speak the language, I have friends and professional contacts there, it’s close enough to allow me to visit Scotland more often, and although I still require a visa/work permit to live there, the process seems to be far easier and cheaper than the UK (€ 160 for a Spanish work permit application that can be done in Porto Alegre X £850 for a UK Exceptional Talent visa that has to be done in Rio or Sao Paulo). I just needed a job offer, and my goal was to try and find something in Spain during the 5 weeks I was going to be there rehearsing with Eli and Alex. And thus on the 22nd June 2014, I travelled in the opposite direction of all those mad keen international tourists flocking to Brazil to celebrate one of the ugliest forms of nationalism shaped as the FIFA World Cup.

It’s funny how traumatised you can get once you’ve had a visa application denied. I now feel paranoid that I will be interrogated every time I try to board a plane or arrive somewhere. At the check-in in Porto Alegre, I had my new passport thoroughly checked by the lady behind the desk. She was suspicious because I didn’t have a visa and my return flight was on the 22nd September, exactly three months after departure. Problem was I would leave Madrid on the 22nd, but have an overnight stay in Lisbon to catch an early connection back to Porto Alegre, and that would mean that I would overstay my Schengen tourist visa for OMG SHOCK HORROR  7 hours. After reassuring the airline attendant that I was well aware of regulations, that I wasn’t actually going to be in the Schengen zone for 3 consecutive months (I would nip to the UK for a bit), that I was allowed to be in transit for those extra hours if I didn’t leave the airport in Lisbon, and that I had no intention of doing anything illegal, she agreed to check me in. And all that was BEFORE even leaving Brazil.

I flew from Porto Alegre to Lisbon, where I had no problems getting my Schengen tourist stamp (see older post on my Portuguese experience) and managed to spend a lovely afternoon with one of my best friends ever (who has also had her fair share of immigration drama) before flying to Madrid. But I’ll leave it there now, as I will expand on the Spanish adventure that ensued in future posts. ¡Hasta luego!