The Book of Emotions

The Book of Emotions, by João Almino (Excerpt)

Translation by Elizabeth Jackson

June 6, 2022, pre-dawn

I had the habit of carrying a camera over my shoulder to record whatever crossed my path, like a writer taking notes, a forgetful historian who wanted to leave a statement or a scientist making an inventory of the world. To photograph is to see with a trained eye, to crop and keep what one sees. Up on snapping the camera, the photographs became engraved in my mind, like mirrors of what I once was. They are eternal instants, frozen in a personal museum.

I will open this museum. It shall be my legacy. With this decision, I am not announcing my death. Although it hovers around old people like me, it likes surprises. Death approached me many times without my knowledge. Now, to keep it at bay, all I’d have to do is sell myself to science and profit and exchange my old organs for new ones. They say that I could even recover my eyesight. I stubbornly insist on remaining a natural being, like wormy organic apples that rot more easily. There are those who prefer them to apples treated with radiation that stay beautiful and shiny for weeks on end.

When I left Joana and Rio de Janeiro two decades ago, I kept a photographic diary for a little over a year. It’s the most personal thing in my files. Time has rid me of its saccharine complaining style. Now, it evokes drier, more realistic interpretations in me. But I still remember it, page after page, because each one of them exhales feelings. Those photographs reveal themselves richly detailed in my memory, even more than if it were possible to see them. They’re like Stieglitz’s clouds; each one equals an emotion. My blindness reveals their essence for in the end, to best see a photograph,you have to close your eyes.

I came across the idea of using this diary as the basis for writing my book while talking to my goddaughter Carolina today. She spent the entire morning here and brought me the digital version of Clarice Lispector’s stories on Brasília so that I could listen to them on the computer.

–Godfather, if you were to win the lottery, what would you do with the money? –she asked me with the sweet voice that reminds me of her mother’s.

–Me? Nothing. If I could see, I would watch films and more films and I would start taking photographs again.

My blindness keeps me from seeing Carolina . But it’s as if I could see her. Her voice updates the face and body of the child I saw growing up. She would have the same dark, straight hair; the same black, clever eyes; the same fair complexion.

–Don’t you want to organize your files?

When a girl of twenty poses such a question to an old man of seventy, she could easily word it as a threat, which Carolina did not out of politeness, but even so I heard: « if there is anything of any value in this infinity of boxes and computer files, it would be better for you to sort it out before you die, otherwise, it’s destined for the trash. » My files are now roughly classified into landscapes, portraits, nudes, photos of former President Paulo Antônio Fernandes and of Vila Paulo Antônio, and other themes of lesser importance. Carolina is capable of digitizing whatever I need and of reordering my files on the computer. I was the one who gave her an interest in computers, as her mother once told me.

–Godfather, I have a friend who wants to be a photographer. She admires your work and she’s after an internship. It would be amazing if she could have access to your files.

I asked her to describe her friend.

–She’s dark… She sings. Plays the guitar… She’s twenty-five.

June 8, morning

In the midst of the dry season, there was a downpour, perhaps the last rain before the long drought.

I listened to Clarice’s story on the computer. In one passage, she defines the people of Brasília, the Brasiliarians:

Brasília is from a splendorous past that no longer exists. This kind of civilization disappeared millennia ago. In the fourth century b.c., it was inhabited by tall, blond men and women who were neither Americans nor Swedes and who shone in the Sun. They were all blind. … The more beautiful the Brasiliarians were, the more blind they were the more pure and the more they shone, and the fewer children they had. The people of Brasília lived about three hundred years.

I imagined that if I could live three hundred years and had not fathered a child, I would be the reincarnation of a Brasiliarian.

June 9

I mentioned to Maurício my plan to make new use of the photographic diary.

–Why don’t you record your comments about the photographs? Then we can get someone to compile them into a book.

–I want to reflect, to develop my ideas.

–That’ll only get in the way. Get right to the point. Say what you want and show the photos. No one has time to think.

Maurício told me that his whole right arm is tattooed. He had me touch the two studs in his ears and the gold ring in his nose. He has become a tall, corpulent man, even taller than I am. He reminds me of who I once was in my youth, and not just because of the studs, but mainly because of the unfinished years of education, changing from one major to another. And the love I have for photography he has for music, not classical music, which is Carolina ‘s passion. He’s heir to the old Brasília rockers and composes in a beat called rockonfusion.

June 10

I’m not going to follow Maurício’s advice. I won’t ask anyone to write for me. If Homer, blind like me, was able to compose the Iliad and the Odyssey, why wouldn’t I be capable of writing my own personal little odyssey? I enjoy hearing the phonemes of each letter and this computer’s calming voice, which I can modulate according to my mood by using this program for the blind. If necessary, I can also listen to my texts in the talking camera. I’ll only need assistance selecting and reordering the photographs in my old diary, the photographic diary. Aside from that, I still find it complicated to reorder my texts relying only on my hearing. No matter. I’ll make a minimum of revisions and keep the paragraphs in the order that they come to mind.

Saint John’s night, 2 o’clock in the morning

Both in the book that I intend to write and in this new diary, I’ll comment on what comes to mind, in the order it comes to mind. For example, just now—and out of order—my dog Marcela came to mind. There are days when she is the only presence around me, that is, if I don’t count the delivery man who brings me food. She’s a patient, honey-colored Labrador that lives with me on the third floor of a building at 213 North. She guides me from one place to another, and when she isn’t guiding me, she stays at my feet. She barks at other dogs passing by, and today, she barks at the fireworks, the sound of children, the Northeastern music, and the Saint John’s Day square dancing. The dancing is lively; I’ve been listening to the sounds of the triangle and the accordion, visualizing the colorful flags fluttering in the wind, and I’m unable to sleep.

June 26

It wasn’t hard learning to live in solitude. To top it off, I fill the time between the visit of one friend and another with my writing. Since friends are few and they almost never visit, I have plenty of time to fill. Aside from those who left Brasília, I have already lost the friends from my generation. My friends’ children and a few friendships made in recent years are all that remain. To strip truth to its essence, the only one who remains, besides Maurício, is my goddaughter Carolina .

I thought about beginning the book with portraits of them. But that would invert the order of the story. Maurício and Carolina should not take precedence over their parents. Or more precisely, over their mothers.

Still June 26, 10 pm

Reflecting on what I wrote above, I should confess that on one point , I was not sincere. Solitude is not always easy. To be exact, there are days in which I transport myself to that tree in the film Amarcord and there, perched on the highest branch, shout over and over: « Voglio una donna! Voglio una donna! Voglio una donnaaa! » Sometimes I see myself as Tiresias, punished with blindness for having seen Athena naked. I saw her nude not just once, but several times, until she finally decided to cover my eyes with her hands. The goddess was unable to restore my sight, but in exchange she gave me the ability to use writing as the means to ground my memory. I know that this gift should be enough for me, since the old must live only off their memories. But a friendly smile, a tender hand, a voice that reads me a page of a good book, and a companion for a walk in the City Park or the nearby Olhos D’Água Park would give a nobler meaning to my existence.

Besides, vicarious love fills some of love’s emptiness in me. I do what I can for Maurício and Carolina to end up together. They’re obviously fond of each other. With a little push, which I won’t fail to give, they’ll fall into each others’ arms.

June 27

The book I intend to write, based on my old photographic diary, could be considered a scrapbook of my incomplete, sentimental memories from a period in which I could see, and saw too much. I will call it The Book of Emotions. Life is not measured in minutes, and memories are not written to enumerate everything that happens before the hands of a clock. As a matter of fact, I wear a watch without hands. Like the buttons on a radio that skip to the stations with the best reception, it runs to the facts that can still make my heart beat. Parodying the poet, I blindly penetrate into the realm of images.

June 28

Today, Mauricio helped me select five of the photographs to guide me through the beginning of the book. It’s not worth using all of the photos from the old diary, and I’m thinking about adding some that aren’t there. The criteria for my selection will be the emotion I felt when I took the picture, was photographed or contemplated a photograph.

June 28, after the 8 pm telenovela

I had an idea for The Book of Emotions. The person speaking will not be me but rather another Cadu, one twenty years younger who could see and who composed the photographic diary. It’s a way of hiding my cane, as well as my slow and tired step. He sits down beside me and begins to speak with me. He carries a box full of photographs which he begins to show me, one by one.

June 29

Now that the first photos have been chosen, all I need is the willingness to begin writing.