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Baci Carlos

When I told Carlos I didn't know whether I could go to Paris to his Vernissage because of the foot-and-mouth disease (the epidemic in the UK that is destroying the farmland and countryside tourism). I was afraid they may closed the frontier between England and France he answered with this sweet and amazing e-mail, saying " you have to come because the borders between the two countries are closed for young and adult goats and sheep but, as far as I know, YOU ARE NOT ON THE LIST?!"

He is one of the world's greatest photographer but he also has a huge sense of humour which I love. When I read the above message I had a good laugh.Together with his wife Heloisa Novaes, I find them a most jovial and energetic couple who are really pleasant and worthwhile friends. So I decided to get the Eurostar in this wet and cold English Spring only to find it raining in Paris! And some parts of France still having floods as I had seen in the newspapers.

I have know Carlos Freire since our teens in Rio de Janeiro and he spend his childhood playing football in the street of Rio in a district called "Saude"(Health). I think this experience of street life - this open freedom - is what has made him such a kind and giving person, human and genial yet such a formidable photographer!

When I came to live in London at the end of the '60s, although he was living in Paris we did not lose contact. In fact, I met him when he came to London with another Brazilian photographer to take photos of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They gave me a set of slides (where John and Yoko were wearing whitesuits) - which I still have today.

So I went to Carlos' exhibition on 27 March 2001 featuring his universal achievements, he is an extremely creative photographer.Previously I had seen his exhibition "L'Esprit des Liex" at the Espace AGP in December 1989.
The catalogue for that exhibition had the most incredible photo of Congonha do Campo-Brazil, the light giving the sense of time's eternity. The exhibition also featured photos of Venice and every other place where Carlos has
been.It was to celebrate the Bicentenary of the French Revolution and 150th Anniversary of Photography.

I have also been to Naples twice for Carlos' exhibitions. The exhibition in 1992 was called "Naples, Royaume du Peuple". However, the first exhibition was one of portraits of intellectual, cultural people from all over the world, I personally think portrait is his forte, it was at Inst.
Grenoble-Via Crispi. The 1992 exhibition was about Naples at Villa Pignatelli. It was the first time I could walk in the streets of Naples without worry as Carlos accompanied me. Because of the work he was doing in the city, he and those with him gained great respect. So he could walk anywhere take whatever photos he wanted.

I remember him at a stall where he ate some tripe (uncooked belly of sheep). It was considered a delicacy! In England - not so much nowadays - but years ago tripe and onions was a delicacy among the London Cockneys the music-hall star Albert Chevalier sang a song about Cockney food and some lines mentioned tripe and onions). It was also popular in the North of England.So the stall-holder cut a piece of tripe, put some lemon on it, and Carlos devoured it with great joy. The stall-holder was very happy that such a famous man was enjoying his tripe! Carlos tried to make me eat some but I said "Are you crazy?" I was horrified!

We walked around and he introduced me to various people. He also took me to an amazing bookshop which had a library specialising in magic with artefacts,'devil' sculptures and fortune-telling cards, skulls. The people of Naples seem to be obsessed with death and devil. I was fascinated.
By coincidence in 1992 in Naples an artist, Pignon-Ernest a mural painter was in Naples, he did Pucinella, skulls, charms to ward off bad luck, the people of Naples are very superstitious. He painted them in his studio but, at night, would go around the city pasting them onto walls.
There is one street (SpaccaNapoli) sells purely Nativity scenes, sculpted in all sizes. One shop intrigued me - it was a stationers selling pens - but if you needed anything you had to hunt among his stock all on the floor, all piled up. I went into the shop with Carlos, Giuseppe and Silvia Palombi, editor of the Naples exhibition catalogue Charta from Milan.They bought two painting by the brother of the Parliamentary Deputy Onorevole De Mita, a very powerful man at that time. I was speechless at finding such painting in such a shop.

Carlos, of course, was staying at an Hotel in the heart of Naples' "Kingdom of the People" , he was actually living with the people as well as photographing them, as he always does when doing his work in order to capture the true atmosphere of the place. When Heloisa Novaes, his wife and an artist, came for the vernissage of the Naples exhibition we went for the best pizza in the world as well as the best coffee - no doubt about that! He took me to the Church of Saint Janvier, (San Genaro), the patron Saint of Naples where his statue is said - at certain time of the year - to cry blood. I remember a girl on a motorcycle giving as much gas as possible and lifting in the air the front wheel, a familiar sight in Naples, Carlos said "she thinks she's riding a horse." In this current Paris exhibition he has a section on Naples which reminds me of our time there. The Naples exhibition also went to Paris and Rio de Janeiro.

His most important exhibition of the last few years took place in 1996 in Paris called "Regards de Francis Bacon", featured photos of Francis Bacon taken in 1977, kept for 20 years and never before shown in public.

Another exhibition was called "Marguerite Youcenar, le Denier Voyage", of photos taken in Paris, London and I'Ile du Mont Desert, in 1989 at Centre Pompidou.

Yet another exhibition was "Lumiere de L'Inde", magnificent photos of India. You really get the atmosphere of the beauty of the people, from this series he choose one picture to feature on the cover of this current exhibition's catalogue: a portrait of a beautiful but poignantly-sad girl.

Another very important (they are all important), exhibition was "Alexandrie 'Egyptienne" in 1998 at the Musee du Petit Palais; a huge success of both public and critic. To realise this exhibition he took 10 years working and living in Alexandria in Egypt. This exhibition takes you through Alexandria and includes photos of his friends there. My favourite photo of this exhibition is of the "Hotel du Nil", a closed door which seems as if has been closed for a very long time, a sense of abandonment which seems to pervade Alexandria's buildings in spite of the many people that live there.

You have to think you are walking "in the steps of..." and almost that Cleopatra just might turn up round one corner; an incredible country with an history and culture that Carlos through his magical photos has managed to portray - a sense of "time stops still". He gives us the opportunity to walk in his footsteps in Alexandria.

Returning to the current Paris exhibition "TOUT DOIT DISPARAITRE", you can see nearly his lifetime's work from all over the world. There were also pictures of the new work he is doing about Monte Athos in Greece, that will be made into a book and an exhibition in the future.

The text of the catalogue's introduction by Alain Jouffroy , is about his friendship with Carlos and the emotional way in which Carlos approaches his subjects.The catalogue is beautiful produced and printed. Carlos told me he was very happy, was exactly what he wanted!!!

The part of this exhibition dedicated to Brazil fascinated me. Carlos used to have a book shop in Ipanema Theatre, where Glauber Rocha, the film director, Anecy his sister, D. Lucia their mother lived on the top floor.
All the intellectual figures used to congregate there. Some of this people were featured in the Brazilian part of the exhibition. Antonio Dias, painter a friend in common and the touching photo of Glauber Rocha's funeral!

The vernissage was a great success at the Maison de l'Amerique Latine, 217 Boulevard Saint- Gercontent, ( a rather wonderful place in the heart of Paris. All his friends from all over the world were there, diplomatic, political, cultural figures of France and Latin-America, celebrity and a dog, gathered together for the vernissage of this huge exhibition of 150 photos on two floors. The most important person present at this vernissage was, of course, ME and the President of Musee du Louvre.

Amongst all this mix of people I met a beautiful charming Argentinean singer. Valeria Munarez told me she started in Argentina as an opera-singer but made her career in Paris with Tango and Bolero, she was thinking of buying a portrait by Carlos Freire of Jorge Luis Borges,the Argentinean writer, as she had recorded a work of Borges. They were talking in French, English, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Spanish; the same person could change from one language to the other without a problem as did Carlos and Heloisa.
What a cosmopolite people!!!!

Carlos signed the catalogues and gave them to his friends, books,photos,poster.
A few months ago Carlos gave me the photo he took of Orson Welles-Paris-1982. It is, of course, my favourite and I was very emotional at being given such a lovely magnificent work!!!

The dinner after the exhibition was a delightful social, cultural event - the event of the year! The meal was superb, an entree of king prawns and salmon. The content course was chicken with rice followed by a perfect sweet of pear tart topped with nuts. The red wine was the best - French of course! I ended up sitting with the ex-French Ambassador to Brazil and his wife who spoke very good Portuguese. They were completely in love with Brazil, their son was born in Rio in a district called Botafogo. They were very close to Aloisio Magalhaes, a Brazilian figure. I could tell they really missed him and Brazil. I liked them so much that I have invited them to be my guests in Rio. When they left Carlos took me to another diplomatic table, where I met a Peruvian who was destined to became a Government Minister. He was continually drinking red wine, hardly spoke, just nodded at appropriate points but he did have a very nice expression.

Then to my delight, to the table came a very cool poet, Francois Cheng, the translator of Proust into Chinese. I, as well as everyone else, was hanging on to his every word, all agreeing with his impressions of the exhibition. Francois was saying how the actual positioning of the rooms made everything perfect - they enable one to get the atmosphere of each section work. Carlos was receiving compliments from everybody. Then we moved to Heloisa's table (I particularly liked the way she looked; she had a very glamorous pink-silk top on, a very charming Lady).

Alain Jouffroy, a French poet, stood up and read a poem from the book of Francois Cheng. everyone was filled with emotion, clapping at the end. Francois, recited a poem dedicated to Carlos; more claps, wine.

Jouffroy, was a friend of Andre Breton, finished up talking to me - can you imagine, one of the last of the Surrealist talking to me!!!! Much to my joy he said "you are a belle femme" and kissed me, held me around the waist, repeating again "you are a beautiful woman". I love the way French are such gallant seducers of woman but, in his case, his wife was present. I know he had a lot to drink but he made my day! I felt incredible happy. I did not argue with him, I felt great , I was disappointed that my platonic gentleman with the fantastic bushy eyebrows didn't come with me.

Anyway, from that moment Heloisa took great care of making myself comfortable in bed at their flat. What a great brilliant day - full of emotion, splendid photos, being hugged, charmed by poets - I felt blessed by being in their company!!!

I recommend to anyone this exhibition, almost a history of this GREAT "Parisian-Brazilian": a citizen of the world.


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