The How-I-Spent-My-Summer Thing: Trading Times

My summer was a winter. It always happens to me.

My wife and I spend most of our summers in Brazil. As everybody knows, the world is upside down there, and if you trade you time here for a vacation in South America you end up missing your summer. Well, not so much. In Campinas, where we have a little apartment, winter can be quite nice: days in the upper 70s, evenings in the mid 60s. If it’s below 60 F, people think they are freezing.

I always believe I will have enough leisure to relax while I’m there. Not this time, though. Colloquia, conferences, and even a graduate seminar taught at the University of São Paulo: everything was on my my agenda. But I can’t complain. The ties between Princeton and São Paulo are stronger than ever, and we have a solid bridge connecting us to the warm winters of Brazil. It’s there, I can feel it.

The bridge is a metaphor I like. As my friend and colleague Bruno Carvalho likes to say, doors separate and connect at once. The same thing can be said about bridges: they are an invitation to cross boundaries, while they also remind us that the boundaries do exist, and that a world without borders is just a phantasy – a good, if silly one.

Why am I talking about boundaries? Perhaps because the seminar I taught at the University of São Paulo was about how far we can go when we forget that there are boundaries that separate people. What if the individual cannot restrict him/herself to the space of her own interiority? What if he wants to cross the imaginary boundaries that separate him from other people? It’s just a caricature, for sure, but it’s true that Brazilians are known for being “warmer,” which is just a nice, perhaps misleading way to characterize people who cannot contain themselves, and who are always jumping on the neck of whoever passes by. I miss that kind of boundless, sheer cordiality. That may be the reason why I cross the bridge so often. I want to fit into the caricature.

Books and FoodHow strange is the life of those who left their country: when you’re there, happy and relaxed, you suddenly feel you want to come back. But this is what bridges are for: coming and going. They remind us that we are always losing something, and that happiness, more than a “warm gun” (as John Lennon would put it – and what a sad resonance this has right now), is just a passage in front of us. You can go through it, but you never know what you’ll be missing then. The wish to go back persists. And it does so because there may be a home on the other side.

This brings me to a last, not so happy, but timely question: what if there’s no home on the other side? It was my birthday when I joined Mauricio Acuña’ proposal committee at the University of São Paulo. When I arrived, the room was filled with the best possible presents: food and books.

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