Several years ago while backpacking South America something happened to me in Paraty.
Beside this coastal Brazilian town the Pacific Ocean is turquoise. To the west, mountain ranges are thick with forest. A river joins the jungle with the sea, creating a holy trinity of natural resources. For the indigenous Guaianás life must have been pretty good before the Portuguese arrived.
Since Portugal colonised Paraty in the C17th many things have followed: gold mining; Catholicism; sugar plantations; and more recently, tourism. I hear a Twilight film was even shot there.
But Paraty retains its historic centre with white-washed buildings, cobblestone streets, and a no-cars-allowed policy.
I used to be pretty ignorant about Portuguese colonial history and was surprised to learn Portugal held the most vast overseas empire. In English there is no shortage of documentaries, novels and films devoted to Spain’s colonial efforts in South America.
But why not Portugal?
And so Paraty opened me up in the way only curiosity can.
I smelled the fishing boats; the ocean. I drank sugar rum. I walked up and down the cobblestones that jarred my ankles. I spotted a horse wandering around on its own. Spied an old cannon pointing out to sea.
I found time to relax on the beach (and get rid of some hilarious tan lines I’d picked up in the Atacama Desert – think socks). There I began wondering what Brazil was like hundreds of years ago. The anthropology major in me went berzerk. What happened to the indigenous communities? How did they experience colonisation?
A story began writing itself in my head. Characters came alive.
Ok sure, I told my imagination. I’ll play along.
I bought a notebook and scribbled everything down. The therapy of pen and paper worked and I snapped out of my daze.
A few weeks later I returned home (with better tan lines), unpacked my bag, filed the notebook in a drawer and forgot about it.
That notebook sat in a drawer for about three years until I decided that it shouldn’t.
So after 18 months of research and writing, I have a novel. Provisionally titled Maresol and set in the C16th, it follows the tale of a mixed race Indigenous Brazilian/ Portuguese Jewish family struggling with their identity and searching for a safe place in the world.
I learned a lot while researching and writing this novel. Tonnes. I learned how to use microfilm and, hell, I even picked up some Portuguese on the way. I also stumbled upon some fascinating issues challenging me to stop and think at the intersection of history, culture and literature.
By now I’m exhausted from all this useless information clogging up my brain.
I need to de-clutter.
What better way than with a blog?