From Basel to Rivera

When I was last in Europe, my sister was there with me. She’s a big fan of tennis, Roger Federer being her favourite player. She’s also a bit of a stalker (love you!), so we ended up renting a car and driving from Paris to Basel as she wanted to visit Federer’s hometown. Now, this is relevant because this is where “The FlavNav” comes from – we are cheap and decided to forego the rental car’s satnav, resulting in me yelling directions that had been googled the night before and jotted down on a notepad at my sister while she drove. As perfectly sensible people would do. It is also relevant because Basel sits on a triple border, and this theme has been recurring in my life and inevitably influential in my work.

I found it fantastic that I could say I’d walked from Switzerland across to Germany, then to France and back before breakfast. It shouldn’t have impressed me much, as I was born and grew up on a border town, Santana do Livramento, in southern Brazil. It is joined by the hip with Rivera, in Uruguay. There are no bridges, no rivers, no border control stations here. The two towns are one, and everyone can move freely between them. Now, in addition to the physical differences stated above, our Mercosul doesn’t quite work as well as the EU (as much as they try), and politically and economically speaking, Uruguay and Brazil are 100% separate countries. People turn a blind eye to A LOT that happens here, endless allowances are made because the place simply can’t be regulated like the rest of both countries. Yet, bureaucracy always manages to get in the way. I could go to school in Brazil in the morning, for example, and then to my English class in Uruguay in the afternoon (which allowed me to say for years that I studied English abroad, much to my own amusement), no problem. If I wanted to set up a business in Uruguay, however, I’d need to go through a silly amount of paperwork. Things like that, you get the picture. The freedom of the border is rather unique nonetheless. So much so that locals say the border means nothing to them – we don’t realise there IS a border until we’ve been to other places.

So last year I had the chance to bring my theatre company over and explore this border, its features, peoples, languages, relations. We were supported by Creative Scotland, a Brazilian university and many other local organisations and companies both in Brazil and in Uruguay. We had an excellent time and I’m very proud of what we achieved. We’re hoping to release a documentary about it this year, and will also feature in a book about performance pieces that happened in Portuguese-speaking territory between 2010 and 2013. If you want to know more about this project, please check out our blog on that.

Anyway, the point is, to this day I struggle to wrap my head round less amicable borders. Brazilian writer Donaldo Schüller said that “beyond a border, there’s threat and seduction”. I’ve spent most of my life being seduced by the other side, but now after the experience of the past few months, I’ve started to get a taste of the threat. I confess I would like to visit some of the most extreme bordering areas in the world so I have the whole spectrum. This was the idea of Fronteiras Explorers (the aforementioned project), but now my own border-crossing has come to a standstill, when I’m no longer allowed to hop over to the other side where I used to live.

Tomorrow I’m speaking at a local university in Santana do Livramento as part of a panel discussing the construction of a border-specific culture and art. Maybe part of it is to fully exploit this tension between the threat and the seduction. I’m sure it will be a thrilling debate.