Discovering invisible layers and painting pictures in my head
Past August, I was in Rio de Janeiro to do preparation work for PICNIC Festival. And while I was there, Gabriel came over from São Paulo for coffee, conversation, food and as a guide to show me more of the city.
Gabriel and I go back quite some time. Gabriel was a frequent visitor to LIFT Conference in Geneva, and had me on his radar since I was a speaker there. Funnily enough, it took some time to actually meet in person. That eventually happened some LIFT’s later, in 2014 when I was doing a Happyplaces workshop there.
We ended up getting a bit lost and eventually having dinner in Geneva with a nice mixed group of people. He then said that I should come to São Paulo. You know how things go — when having fun, and being in the moment, things like this are easily proposed and then forgotten. But not with Gabriel. A couple of months later, I received and email from him, apologising that it has taken so long, but that he maybe had a nice possibility for me to come and visit, namely the lauch of Draft, a project by Adriano Silva. It is an editorial project dedicated to cover the expansion of disruptive innovation in Brazil, to study it, understand it, translate it, question it, learn from it. Good stuff. So I went there and had the most amazing time meeting just as amazing people, like the taxi driver told me. And had opportunity to spend some time with Gabriel, showing me around in São Paulo.
He is a genuinely nice and incredibly humble and knowledgable person. He guided me through the invisible and hidden layers you wouldn’t otherwise discover in a city, meanwhile sharing rich stories connected to places to bring them to life. In August, when I mentioned I was visiting Rio, he instantly said that he was coming over from São Paulo.
From the moment we met again in the center of the city, we continued our conversation. Which is continuous ever since we met, not limited by time and place powered by technology. While he showed me a hidden architectural highlight, and waiting for an Uber taxi to arrive, we were submerged in conversation. Sometimes pausing the conversation to explain typical Rio things, landmarks and clarifying local context. Pure bliss.
The next day, we visited Instituto Moreira Salles. It features exhibitions, films, concerts, and it houses collections of photography, music, literature and iconography. When we visited, there was an exhibition around teh first photo’s taken from Rio. Fascinating. Rio when it was still a small city, knowing the size it is now. The house itself, the institute, is a wonderful landmark of modern architecture of the 1950s. A place Gabriel visits more often, also sharing the stories behind all the details of the place. Its rooms, its garden, its trees, funny looking fruit, its history. Revealing invisible layers of story, history, culture. Allowing you to connect to a place, feel it.
We walked and talked for hours, and about how to see things better. How to really, truly see things, people for what they are. To better grasp things, understand them better, to make sense of things. Funnily we discovered that we both had been experimenting with this. I told Gabriel that I had decided, when visiting places to sometimes just stop, and then also look back, up, around. Because when you go somewhere, hurried or not at all, you just walk into a certain direction, like a landmark, or because a map or you phone says so. Just heading into the direction you’re going, meanwhile never paying attention to what you’re passing by. Or have passed. Seeing the sides of things, its backs. Or hidden gems, fronts, landscapes. That the most rewarding was when I was in Porto, Portugal. When we were zigzagging towards the river through the city, sometimes stopping and looking back revealed the most beautiful views of the city. And that I still do that, where ever I go.
He told me that he, a while ago had booked a hotel on the opposite side of Rio, across Guanabara Bay, in Niterói. Not because the place itself is such a great place to go to. But because the ‘only thing good about it, is the view on Rio’. The view he had from his hotel room on Rio from there was truly beautiful. That he sat on the floor to see the city. Like a painter. Carefully capturing every little detail like he was painting or drawing what he was seeing, but then without painting or drawing. Taking the time to take in what he was looking at. The sea, the little boats, the mountains, the buildings. Constantly discovering new things, meanwhile recording the image detail by detail.
Now, when I go places, I do both: stop, look around, and meanwhile try to see things like I’m drawing them. Look just a little bit longer at things. Rush a bit less. Meanwhile painting a picture in my head.