This week I went to Sao Paulo to renew my visa. It was a good trip, and I did a ton of things, except for renewing my visa (through my own incompetence: I forgot to book an appointment, and the next one would be for mid-November).
After crying a bit over the spilled milk, I decided to do something useful with the trip. I took the opportunity to pay a visit to the Paulo Freire Institute, where his archives are (http://www.paulofreire.org/).
It is an very unpretentious building in a very unpretentious neighbourhood. The people inside the building are also very unpretentious. I asked the secretary if I could take a tour of the building even though I hadn’t booked an appointment. She called to a guy next door, and ask him if he could do it. He said sure, and asked me take a seat around a table in tiny room filled of books. Both people’s clothes and manners were very plain and simple, as was everything in and about the room.
He said that the Institute was founded in 1991 when his father came back from a lecture at UCLA. I had no idea who his father was. Then he said that in the first five years his father was very active in the life of the Institute, until he passed away in 1997. Then I started to have a strong suspicion of who his father was. Then he said that after his father passed away, all his books were taken to the room where we were. At this point I was filled with goosebumps.
Turns out he is the youngest of Paulo Freire’s children, and the books in the room belonged to Paulo Freire’s personal collection, going back to the 40’s. I found a copy of Karl Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” from 1959, and another from Jaeger’s “Paideia” from 1963, all filled with marginal notes and a summary at the end, in Freire’s own hand! Interestingly enough, I cite both these books in my thesis, and on the back cover of Popper’s book Freire makes a reference to Jaeger, which is extra cool! In the other couple of minutes that I perused the library I also saw Russell and Freud, and many others. Definitely have to go back for more.
Lut, Freire’s son, gave me a brief tour of the archives, and introduced me to everyone he saw, telling jokes and stories along the way, as if we were childhood friends. Then he offered to give me a tour of the offices upstairs, but remembered that he had to rush to pick up his daughter from school. He asked the secretary to continue the tour, and asked me if I could go back the next day, so he could show me a school nearby where they develop some of their programs. I nodded enthusiastically.
Lizeth, the secretary, took me upstairs, where all the administrative offices are. Everywhere she’d stop (treasury, communications, publishing department, distance learning, kitchen, international relations) she’d introduce me almost solemnly, and they would welcome me again as if I were a family friend, and my interrupting them were part of the script. And it wasn´t like I had booked a time or anything, nor even said much about what I do or come from.
I was sad not to have taken a camera, but decided to go back the next day, before returning to Brasilia in the evening. Unfortunately, Lut wasn´t able to come, which frustrated me a little, because now that I was expecting to speak to someone so close to Freire, I had a lot of personal questions to ask. But this only last a couple of seconds: I already felt too lucky about how available he´d been the previous day, when I had no appointment nor the vaguest expectation to speak to anyone like him.
Besides, there was plenty to do at the Institute, and Lizeth made sure I was never bored. I was shown the school all the same, saw many interesting things (including a copy of the manuscript of the 1968 original of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”!!!) and spoke to many interesting people, from people in the board of directors to researchers from across the Atlantic.
It was one of those trips where the detour is so much more memorable than what you had bargained for!!! But I´ll still have to bargain for a visa… Such is life!