Invisible Cities – Bernardo José de Souza

Rio de Janeiro, any old year in the future

* A city partially submerged, emptied of human presence.

by Bernardo José de Souza

Those who survived the great wave in the summer of 2074 could barely cope with the torrid temperatures which struck capybaras, monkeys and men without distinction the next year. There had never been news of such irreparable public calamity around these shores: an urban exodus without precedence, atrocious; not even Graciliano Ramos would dare to speculate about such a thing.

The outcasts headed south, in search of fresh water, a friendly shoulder, milder temperatures and any kind of mirage; but only God knows what they would find in that frenetic meridional escape, which was bound to fail as each and every human enterprise since time immemorial has.

I decided, for the sake of pure stoicism, not to leave. To stay alone, a refugee in this decaying tropical palace in the middle of the Atlantic jungle – thinner each and every day -, involved by the memories that accompanied the difficult years that I dedicated to myself and the few that would come in search of a secret embedded in the cave, the tower, the aquarium, the oca or even the Corcovado (the hill that can be seen from here, and that can be reached if you want to climb a damn slope, keep going and face Him face to face. To me, poor soul, and to my property, he always insisted on turning his back).

At the beginning, I counted the days like Penelope, weaving the tangles of my own memory, mixing a bit of fiction here and there. But I ended up losing track of the centuries that dragged on, and thus surrendered myself to the pleasure of observing the insidious natural changes, in my semblance and in the vicinities of this palace.

Things and creatures began to appear, sprouting out of nowhere, coming out of the shadows, occupying my gardens and rooms as if they were theirs. And it was always at night – or better, at the wolf’s hour – that such magic would happen, leaving me increasingly intrigued. Never before seen species, hideous creatures, unintelligible voices haunted me without rest or mercy.

I never tried to engage in conversation with them, or even smile, fearing that I would come across as a fool, incapable of communicating, like a tourist in foreign land.

But it pleased me a lot to realize how delighted they were to pry my collection. Sometimes they rearranged works, objects, belongings and fripperies with their own nonsense – because they also produced weird things, which to me meant nothing. Being as it was, this land was being exploited again. And what curiosity wouldn’t command the destiny of these people?

Rio de Janeiro, September 14, 2074

A dark cloud crosses the city’s sky in a relentless speed and rhythm – true swarms of helicopters ripping the solid blue to harass the people in this endless summer. It is impossible to say exactly what purpose guides the choreography of disaster that is enacted above my head, this violent ballet that produces a whiff of jinx in the midst of the daily drowsiness that only clouds the thoughts and pushes lucidity away.

From above the Corcovado, my actual point of view, the geography of Rio gains new and macabre contours: the soaked zona sul [1] looks more like a gigantic cemetery; buildings come out of the water like tombstones, revealing a never before noticed horizontality in this urban enclave brutally unleveled by natural reliefs or even by men in their vertical crusades towards space, always in search of distance from the soil, the lower realities of the streets and of the burning feet in firm contact with the tropical white sand.

I have been observing these strange winged beings for some time, like a biologist in a scientific manner to categorize the diverse birds who fly over the earth – some become extinct, others are lifted back to life (with Man playing God). I leant about their migratory flights, their short distance and duration: from Rocinha to Cantagalo, from Prazere to Babilônia. How ironic!

I was always amazed at how the less fortunate here live at the top of the hills with the best views of the formerly-marvelous- city while the rich were scattered along the floor, climbing some floors using modern urban engineering. In other parts of the world it has always been the opposite, the poor on the ground floor and the rich above. But not here. And by luck or misfortune when the water invaded the city without warning the first to die were the rich. Without time to flee the considerable forces of nature they ended up decimated like the fish in the red sea. The rest – the vast majority – ended up surviving perched in the favelas, but this time observing, from their private box, the sunset at their feet.

Not that something so terrible was a reason for applause, and neither that life was, in these extreme situations, faced as a divine blessing. On the contrary. What overcame the tsunami was the terror of isolation, even more hostile and astounding than the customary segregation, traced along the centuries of unmerciful white domination.

The hum of the metal wasps now frightens me like the anti-aircraft sirens of the two great world wars – at least that is what literature taught me. Contrary to the great majority of the remaining population, imprisoned at the top of their fragile “castles” on the hillside, I am not waiting for any kind of rescue. I seek to hide myself in the woods, find refuge in the centenary walls of the palace where I have lived since my childhood, right below Christ the Redeemer.

Below an almond tree, contemplating the feverish blues that numb the soul, I ask myself what the harsh shadow of destiny is projecting upon my days, over this city, over the future of human kind.

Bernardo José de Souza puts on exhibitions, writes and teaches. He was the curator of the 9th Mercosul Biennial (2013) and, between 2005 and 2013, was Coordinator of Film, Video and Photography of the Cultural Secretariat of the city of Porto Alegre. In 2015, he was part of the curatorial team of the 19th SESC Videobrasil Contemporary Art Festival (2015) and realized the exhibition A Mão Negativa at Parque Lage, amongst other projects. He currently develops independent projects, such as the research platform Prazer É Poder (Pleasure is Power) and the exhibition-game-novel Unânime Noite (Unanimous Night). He graduated in Social Communications at PUC/RS and specialized in Photography and Fashion at the University of Arts London. He was professor of the post-graduate course in Expanded Cinema at PUC/RS and is part of the faculty at EAV Parque Lage.


[1] Geographic area of where the richest neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro are located