La Niña Barro in Riveramento

After crowdfunding through the 24-Hour Trilingual Poetry Marathon, we managed to fund our mini tour of La Niña Barro to Brazil and Uruguay. As a thank you to the community of my hometowns of Rivera and Santana do Livramento, we did one free performance of the show at the old Livramento railway station, no longer used.

The railway station building dates from 1910 and is a gorgeous example of the architecture of that period. The station was an important link along the international railway connecting Sao Paulo to Montevideo and Buenos Aires between 1943 and 1954, but as a result of the Brazilian railway crisis in the 1980s, the station was one of many being deactivated.  The derelict building was restored in 2012 and re-opened as a cultural centre, hosting films, exhibitions, and music gigs, but it had to be closed again at the end of 2014 due to water damage. The roof was being re-done while we were there and the top floor wasn’t the safest space to be with a large group of people, but the council agreed to let us use the main hall for the performance.

They were also kind enough to let us rehearse at the station during the week and lend us lights and ladders. Throughout the week, in-between rehearsals, we were going to TV and radio interviews on both sides of the border to promote the show. I got increasingly excited and anxious as the week progressed, as this was going to be the first time my family and my birthplace saw a piece that I directed. I mean, we had done Fronteiras Explorers two years before, but that was a different kind of project.

The day of the performance arrived and we were good to go. I was really unsure what to expect… we had a list of confirmed guests put together via facebook, but I wasn’t convinced everyone would turn up. It was a rather chilly night and we didn’t have a foyer/waiting area, so we closed all doors and as Alex and Eli used the last half an hour before the show to get ready and focus, I went outside to wait for the audience. The first person to arrive, very early for our relaxed standards, was this sweet elderly man. He travelled there by taxi and I helped him get out of the cab when I noticed he had a zimmer frame. He was alone and I couldn’t possibly leave him outside waiting in the cold, so I explained that the house was not open just yet, but he was welcome to sit in the security guard’s office near the heater. Other people began to arrive in their own cars, and following the true tradition of the border, when instructed to wait until we could let them in, remained in their cars drinking their mate and chatting to their friends. A nice long queue began to form, and before long, it was clear that we would have a full house.

We opened the doors to an audience of around 80 people, some of whom had to stand in the back or sides, as we didn’t have enough seats. We did not turn anyone down at the doors, but once we closed them and started the performance, there was a handful of latecomers that could not come in. If I had known that the event would be so popular, I would have considered doing two nights.

The number of people attending wasn’t my only pleasant surprise. The reaction was actually incredibly positive. I wasn’t sure how this audience of non-theatregoers would receive a piece which had been censored in Edinburgh and was very different from everything they were used to. I heard complete silence during the piece and saw many tearful eyes at the end. We offered a post-show discussion and were there for another hour. It was so refreshing to have a mature audience (I reckon the average age was later 30s to mid 40s) of regular punters – apart from a couple of arts teachers and local theatremakers, the majority of the people there were not involved in the industry. There was a blind woman who was very touched by the performance, as well as a lovely girl with Down’s Syndrome who told us during the post-show discussion how much she’d enjoyed it. My siblings and my mother were there and were also moved. But the one unforgettable comment, of all the comments and questions we had, was of that sweet elderly man who’d arrived before everyone else and stayed until the very end. He approached me and said he had followed the 24-hour poetry marathon on the radio, as he did not leave the house much due to his mobility problems. When he heard that we had managed to bring the show, though, he said he knew he simply could not miss it and found a way of getting down to the station to watch it.

These are the moments that will always serve as anchors for me to keep doing what I do. It is hard, it is incredibly frustrating at times, but then something like this happens and it suddenly makes everything worthwhile. Thank you Riveramento for this experience.

 

Advertisements

No place I’d rather be

Back in 2005, when I started planning my escape to Scotland, my first plan was to go to Glasgow and study at the (then) RSAMD. My first attempt was neutralised by a rejection letter after a terrible audition tape – bitter as it may sound, I didn’t fancy myself as an actor anyway and only applied to that because it was the only course I had knowledge of at the time. The good thing about being rejected was that it prompted me to expand my research to Edinburgh, which led me to a course that sounded more like what I was after (and turned out to be pretty shit, but that’s another story). I also found out I was allowed to apply to up to 6 courses through UCAS and spread my wings across Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberystwyth and somewhere in England that I can’t remember. Second time round, I get unconditional offers from all of them. I quickly dismissed most of those, giving myself a couple of weeks to decide between Aberystwyth and Queen Margaret University, and although the Welsh course sounded more convincing, I accepted QMU’s offer because of Edinburgh. I had never been to Edinburgh before in my life, I didn’t know anyone who had lived or been there, but I had a good feeling about this place. Also, I’d read about this Edinburgh Fringe Festival thing, “largest performing arts festival in the world”, and for someone wishing to pursue a career in theatre, it just sounded like it was the right place to be.

I arrived in Edinburgh for the first time on 31st August, 2006, just in time for the fireworks concert. I did not experience the Fringe until the following year, when I was invited to be stage crew for a couple of my lecturers’ show. I was there for the first 10 days of the festival only, as I had booked a trip to Brazil to attend a cousin’s wedding, but it was enough to give me a good taste of what the Fringe actually was and I promised to myself I’d be there for the whole thing next year. In 2008, I got a flyering job with a company producing mostly Irish comedy shows. That was the year I decided that, no matter where I were living or working, I absolutely HAD TO be in Edinburgh every August and enter this magic interdimensional portal that opens in the city every summer. Cue 5 consecutive years of mad parties, indulging in theatre from all over the world, A LOT of hard work and stress, fringe flings, ridiculous amounts of fun, the best show I’ve seen and been part of ever, very little or no sleep at all, and wonderful memories which will get re-told endlessly until the day I die. And then September 2012 came and, as you know if you have been following this blog or if you actually know me in real life, I was forced to leave the UK and was subsequently refused an Exceptional Talent visa to come back.

When the Fringe programme was out in 2013 and I was in Brazil, I had a huge breakdown. It was the first and only time in my life that I needed to be given tranquilisers. For a week, I felt I could do nothing but sit and watch TV, from early morning to bedtime. I avoided the internet for a few days, as I couldn’t bear my friends’ updates about the Fringe that year. Then, I realised there was nothing preventing me from just coming to visit as a tourist. My best friend from home would get married in Portugal in September that year, and I was one of her bridesmaids, so I’d be travelling to Europe anyway. May as well go a month earlier and experience the Fringe as a mere audience member for the first time (I wrote about that here), and that was actually quite nice. With re-invigorated stubbornness, I returned to Brazil after that, applied for the Exceptional Promise visa and was refused again, but I had such a great idea for a show. Determined to not back down, I started working on La Niña Barro with Eli, Alex, and Marta over skype and email and boom – we had a show in the 2014 Fringe. We had our problems with it, but it felt good to be back in the game.

Fast forward to the Fringe 2015. I wasn’t planning to put on a show of mine, but I offered my services to a couple of theatre companies I know and was very excited to be invited to work with both during their Edinburgh run. Only problem: the new student visa I was about to request would only be valid from 30 days before the start of my course, or the end of August. But I had a cunning plan. If I could get my new visa before August, I would travel to the UK and enter under a Visitor Entertainer stamp to work during the Fringe, then come September hop across the water to Spain/Portugal to check on my girls for a few days and return to the UK once the validity of the student visa started. I wrote to the Home Office asking if this would be acceptable, and they confirmed I would be ok to do that. Sorted. But this is me and nothing would be easy, right?

Right. So, due to a much more complex and unnecessarily roundabout system now, my student visa application was delayed (I will write about this part of the saga on another post), making me miss the Fringe for the first time in 9 years! I can’t even begin to tell you the level of rage and frustration I achieved when I realised this was happening. It wasn’t a sad meltdown like the one I had in 2013, it was an angry one this time. Although the companies I had committed to had been warned that this might happen, it was still embarrassing to have to tell them they couldn’t count on me to help with the run. This is what this immigration policy does, ultimately: it generates angst, frustration, shame, stress, self-doubt. If I hadn’t already received an offer and confirmation of a research studentship at the RCS, this would have been the point of throwing in the towel.

I felt the need to vent about this and wrote a long email that sat in my drafts folder for about a week, as I didn’t even know who to send it to. Eventually, I fired it in all sorts of directions: politicians, journalists, arts organisations, bloggers, education councils… I received two replies agreeing that yes, it was terrible. There, there. That was it. Powerlessness wins.

There is no definite conclusion to this post. I am writing this 8 months after the events and it still makes me bitter. I can only cling on to the ridiculous glimmer of hope and optimism that I don’t know why I still have deep inside that things will change for the better eventually.

 

The 24-Hour Trilingual Poetry Marathon

It’s June 2015. On my way back from Sao Paulo to Porto Alegre, I get two pieces of good news:

  1. I have been accepted on the Drama PhD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, studentship included, and
  2. La Niña Barro has been invited to perform at Perimetral, a showcase of international theatre in Uruguay.

I will write about the PhD on a different post, this one is to focus on item 2 above.

After an eventful opening at Edinburgh Fringe 2014, we have been trying to get the show to as many places as possible, and this was a great opportunity for a wee South American gig. Only problem was, the festival would cover accommodation and food, but not the flights. We wouldn’t receive a fee for the performance either, so we needed to find the cash to offset the travel expenses. Think quick, what can be done?

Our timescale was very tight – only a couple of months to raise the money. This means that we wouldn’t be able to apply for any sort of public funding, in Scotland, Spain, or Brazil. My first idea was to try and find a private sponsor. I feverishly wrote to as many organisations with links to Spain as I could think of in southern Brazil and in Uruguay and finally got a reply from one – the Basque Association of Rio Grande do Sul. I was invited to one of their board members’ office and had a lovely long chat with her about the project. She seemed open and excited about it, but she said the Association itself could not afford to sponsor us. To her credit, she fired some emails around to other friends seeking help, but unfortunately, we didn’t get anywhere with that. Two weeks lost and back to the drawing board.

In the meantime, this idea was brewing in my mind. I have certain reservations when it comes to crowdfunding for theatre, but I was getting desperate and therefore becoming more likely to go against my own principles. It was the only thing we could do at that stage, so I decided to risk an Indiegogo campaign to help us fund the project. We needed to offer something extra to make the campaign appealing, though, and I decided to run with my idea of sitting in a cafe for 24 consecutive hours reading poems in the three languages I can speak. The rationale behind this was simple: I’m good with languages and poetry and at staying awake.

Cue a mad dash to find a venue, find someone to stream it online, promote it like mad, and curate enough poems in Portuguese, English, and Spanish to last me one whole day, which was much harder than I thought. I was so happy to see all the support this stupid idea got from friends all over the world, from my family, and from local businesses in my hometown of Santana do Livramento, where I decided to do it. Lovely folk at Costa Café agreed to host me and stay open overnight for the event, and local newspaper A Plateia provided an excellent streaming service and helped me with the PR.

It was a massive challenge, but so worth it. I was never alone during my marathon – there were no customers in the cafe between 3am and 5.30am, but the staff were there and there were enough people watching and interacting online, via facebook, email, and whatsapp. I had well over 1,000 poems in my selection, but I was flooded with requests, which just made it better. I had a handful of poems written for me, too, and some really emotional moments, including special dedications to dear people who passed away (like my dad and a couple of uncles, and my Brazilian literature teacher), and this sweet old lad who presented me with a book of poems that had been gifted to him by his Latin teacher when he was at school in the 50s. There were also funny moments, like the young girl who was incredibly taken with the whole thing and decided to just stand next to me for a good half hour or so, and the “cursed session”, which started roughly at 2am and went on for a couple of hours, with horror and erotic poetry.

I didn’t feel sleepy at any point and my throat/voice were ok – I had been preparing for it for a few weeks, through a vocal and physical exercise routine and reducing my intake of gluten and dairy. I only had two coffees and one energy drink during the event, but I drank LOADS of water. The only thing I didn’t expect was an incredibly sore tongue! All in all, it was such a great experience, which still resonated for days in the community after it ended, and I am grateful for that.

We kept the Indiegogo campaign going for a few more weeks after the event and managed to raise the money we needed, thanks to our very generous families and friends. Finally, I’ll leave you here with some interesting stats:

* Accesses to the A Plateia WebTV live broadcast: 126,000

* Poems read: 426 (233 PT, 109 EN, 80 ES, 3 IT, 1 Tupi)

* Poets read: 238 (170 M, 60 F, 8 Anon.)

* Most popular poets: PT – Vinicius de Moraes/Florbela Espanca ** ES – Pablo Neruda/Gabriela Mistral ** EN – William Shakespeare/Sylvia Plath

24hcafeepoesia

 

A Fringe to Forget

I really look forward to the day when I will come here to write about something good that has happened to me, I do. That day hasn’t yet arrived, though, so please bear with my hopelessness for the time being.

I love the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s the reason why I moved to Edinburgh in first place, and it’s an event that has left me with many fond memories before. I was hoping this year’s Fringe would bring me some joy amidst the stress and pain resulting from the latest visa rejection. I was so proud of what we achieved with La Niña Barro so far – I remember sitting on a beach in Spain with my new friend Josep (Ale’s boyfriend) and telling him that for the first time I felt confident about a show. (Please note: if you have worked with me before, this is no assessment of the quality of your work, but of mine). I felt it was good enough to be seen by the “important people” and I was unashamed of sending out invitations to top journalists and industry representatives, as well as submitting the show for awards. I thought this was a real chance of getting enough attention to help me either get a job after the Fringe or more solid recommendations to try the Exceptional Talent visa again.

Now, performing at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a very expensive business. Great part of the cost will come from hiring a venue, and this was money that we didn’t have, so I was happy to go with the Free Festival as I had done a couple of times in the past. There are a few types of “freefringefestival” out there, but I chose Laughing Horse as I had previously worked with them and I liked the experience I’d had. This means we’d be performing in the basement of a pub, slightly off the main Fringe area, with limited tech resources, and we would not be able to charge for tickets, only taking donations at the end of the piece. This also meant we did not have to pay through our noses for a venue and got to meet cool people who share our ideas on what the “Fringe at its purest” is like. That decided, I sent in my application, was offered a venue and then it occurred to me I should ask if there were any restrictions regarding nudity in the piece. This was back in February, when the show was still being devised. The first answer I got from the Free Festival was that they didn’t know, but would ask the venue. Shortly, I received another reply saying that nudity would be unlikely to be allowed. I then discussed this with the performers and we started thinking of alternatives. However, as our creative process progressed, it became very clear that we needed the nudity to make our ideas work. It was not gratuitous and it was not sexual, just organic nudity. When I eventually arrived in Spain, Eli took me to see Paco, a local costume designer, so we could explain the situation to him and see if he had any suggestions. Paco then designed a see-through bodysuit for Eli with a gusset to cover up the “most distracting” parts. Paco did a great job in terms of the general look of the outfit and its flexibility, but as we rehearsed with it, it simply did not work with our aesthetics for a number of reasons:

1) The character was made of clay. The clay was supposed to be gradually washed off her skin until she became “human” and was finally put in a dress, which could be read in a variety of ways. This effect did not work because the clay would not wash properly of the fabric of the bodysuit, and because it killed the contrast of the moment when she finally gets dressed – if she wasn’t naked to begin with, it looked kinda silly;

2) On a visual note, it didn’t look as good under the lights, and the quality of both performers’ movements was affected;

3) It felt like self-censorship. General audience members would probably not care much, but I could tell that reviewers and awards judges would see it as a lack of courage of going all the way.

We went commando for the preview in Alicante. Everything went well, and apart from Eli’s dad and husband, no one felt uncomfortable or offended by the nudity, including the two small children in the audience and their parents.

Photo by Sandra Navarro

Photo by Sandra Navarro

All that considered, I thought it would be worth to have a chat directly with our venue upon arriving in Edinburgh, and that’s what I did. I went in on the day I arrived and spoke to a duty manager, explaining the situation and asking if, seeing as the show would be performed downstairs, behind a closed door, we could put up warning signs on posters and on the door and therefore forego the bodysuit. This DM said he would have to double check with his boss, but he didn’t see a problem with it. Excellent.

I went in the next day to check some tech stuff, and I spoke to another DM about our circumstances. This second person repeated what the first one had said.

Eli and Alex arrived and we went in the day before we opened to do a full run. That’s when the third DM walked through the space while we were rehearsing, saw the nudity and called me outside, in complete shock. I found it rather curious that this one was a girl, whereas the other two were guys. She told me that this wasn’t acceptable, I explained the whole situation to her from the start, and then she relented a little and said she’d have to run it past her top boss. I agreed and waited. Until ten minutes before we opened the first performance the day after, no one had got back to me.

That’s when one of the pub staff came running downstairs to tell me he was just off the phone with his boss and he’d said we absolutely could not have nudity on stage – and this was the first time someone mentioned licensing to me. I pointed out that we were about to open and the performer was ready to go, and we wouldn’t have time to clean her up, dress her, and muddy her up again. He agreed for us to perform like that on that day, but insisted that we have the suit from the second day onwards.

I e-mailed the director of the Free Festival explaining what had happened and asking about the possibility of seeking an alternative venue. This email had no reply.

With a sunken heart, we went on the next day with the bodysuit, but I felt the need to apologise to the audience before the show and explain that the outfit was not an artistic decision, but something imposed by the venue. On day 3, this was picked up by a journalist.

What ensued after the article was published was a week-long licensing-off between me, the venue managers and the Free Festival. I have to say I was really disappointed with the way the Free Festival handled this, completely turning against us. Their website states that “Free to us is not only a price point, it also means creative freedom for performers” and goes on about how supportive a community they are. I found this true in the previous years that I’d worked with them, but I had never encountered a problem that needed support before. So, I sought support elsewhere and found it on fellow theatremakers, other critics and Equity, who assured me we were not doing anything illegal, as the licensing the venue and the Free Festival claimed we were breaching simply did not apply. They were under the impression the venue needed an Adult Entertainment Licence for this, which was not the case, as the content we were offering was not of a sexual nature (i.e. lap dancing, strip-teasing, etc).

My first chat with the pub landlord had been quite decent and polite, but this quickly escalated to an aggressive exchange of emails, in which he refused to come and watch the show but sent me a still image from a CCTV camera downstairs showing one of our rehearsals and saying that a naked woman with her legs spread apart was definitely sexual content in his opinion. I sent him this review and asked if that sounded sexual, titillating or arousing to him (words used in the Licensing Acts being thrown about), and that seemed to be the last straw. As the pub owner, he stated that it was still his ultimate right to refuse our access to his premises, so we had a choice: either to continue performing there with the bodysuit, or find somewhere else to go. At this stage, I reckoned it would be more detrimental to us to change venues, so we decided to yield and stick with it.

There are a number of things that worried me about this whole stooshie, going beyond the administrative. Further discussions could be had about what is regarded as sexual – is a nude woman automatically seen as a sexual object? Did it cause so much offence because Eli is a big girl? Was I treated with disrespect by the top lads because I am a (foreign) woman? (I didn’t want to play the I iz Latin card here, but I was told “you don’t know how things work in this country” – even though I’ve been working in this country for 8 years). However, it was evident that we needed to drop it if we wanted the show to go on.

Unfortunately, we only managed to do another two shows after that and had to suspend and subsequently cancel the rest of the run, as one of the performers’ dad’s illness got worse until he sadly passed away in Spain.

So yes… this wasn’t the Fringe we all had envisioned and hoped for. Fair enough, illness and death are two of the very few things no one has control over or take the blame for. But the one week we did perform was unnecessarily stressful and exhausting. It wasn’t all lost, though. We did have a couple of good reviews (in addition to the previous one, these can be read here and here), and excellent audience feedback.

The show is now touring Spain, around the region of Valencia. It has been performed as part of a small festival of experimental music and performance, and back in Las Cigarreras, where it started. We have gigs booked for January and February too, and are still trying to bring it back to the UK.

 

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

.DSCF5277

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!

The City of Lights

Don’t you just love it when you find a well-hidden gem in a familiar place? Well, I had one of those discoveries a couple of months ago.

I’m telling you, one of the best distractions when you’re waiting for important, life-changing decisions, is visits from friends. This time, it was Sophie who came to visit from the US. I first met Sophie back in our beloved Edinburgh in 2012, when she was out busking with her smokin’ squeezebox. I loved her rendition of Lady Gaga and Queen songs so much I invited her to perform live as part of my Fringe show that year. As it happens, both Sophie and I had to leave the UK shortly after that, going back to our respective native lands. But another thing we both have in common is the complete inability to spend long periods of time in the same geographical position, so I received an email from her saying she was planning to travel around South America  for a few months and would like to come see me. Yay!

So after trekking across the continent from Ecuador to Peru to Chile to Uruguay (apologies if I’m missing out any countries you’ve been to), Sophie arrived in my border hometowns for a few days of relaxed fun. I’ve got an already established tour route to show people round Livramento-Rivera, but I always try to find something new and exciting (which can be really hard sometimes). This time, I thought we could just tweak the route a bit and take her to a vineyard that no one in the family had been to yet. We have quite a few vineyards around here, so there are plenty to choose from. After doing a bit of research, my sister and I opted for this small, family-run place on the Uruguayan side.

We had a quick look at the map, shoved Sophie in the car and set off. And this is how we found out that the FlavNav does take wrong turns occasionally. The road signs were unclear, and we got to a dirt track ending at a crossroads. I suggested going left, we did. After driving for a few miles of nothing but empty fields, we spotted something to our right side. We were driving right on the border line and this thing was on the Brazilian side of the road. As we approached, we could see it looked like some sort of newly-built condo. It was fenced off, which wasn’t surprising as it’s a common thing to do around houses and flats here. What was unusual about it was that each corner of this isolated area was *ahem* decorated with a red spike with a cow’s skull, also painted red with black horns, on top. We slowed down to have a better view of the place. We passed a few houses and a small gatehouse with something written in German across the top. We continued on until we saw a large gateway with a futuristic-looking tower flying the Brazilian flag, and an arch which read “City of Lights” in Portuguese (Cidade das Luzes). The strangest thing was the last big building we saw near the other end of the fence, which looked like a temple, or place of worship. Its architecture seemed to mix and match Islamic and Judaic characteristics, but it also featured a cross in there somewhere. And outside on the porch and all around it, there were hundreds of garden statues of everything you can think of: gnomes, happy frogs, Snow White, saints, Orishas…

Anyway… we figured out the vineyard was NOT there, took a u-turn and eventually found the right way. We got there and woke up the poor owner’s son, who had decided to hide in his car for a siesta and was startled by seeing three random girls wandering into his wine-making sanctuary (he’s probably trained to identify alcoholics), and ended up giving us a lovely tour. Word of advice: book your vineyard tour in advance if you’re ever in these parts. People like to be prepared for visitors.

No, we never found out what the “City of Lights” actually was. Not even after the wine. Suggestions on a postcard.