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dimanche 13 septembre 2015


While I was a post graduate student at Jackson Memorial Hospital of the University of Miami,  the southern cone of the Americas was always within my world  vision. Pablo Neruda represented Chile; Jorge Luis Borges his favourite Palermo was Argentina for me. Brasil had occupied a magical space ever since that distant afternoon, when I first watched Orfeu Negro, and Brasilian music has been part of me.
My adventures into Brasil at first was limited to touch the Border town of Puerto Iguazu/Porto Iguassu, with its magnificent water falls. Sao Paolo and Paraty followed on another trip. With Brother Eliyahu, explored Rio de Janeiro and Salvador do Bahia.
The Jewish connection to Brasil was never forgotten. Had the pleasure and luck of meeting Moacyr Scliar who had written many novels, including one about a Jewish doctor working among the Indians?, while working in the Public Health Sector of Porto Alegre. The oldest synagogue in Brasil was in Recife, now abandoned. Many of the merchants along the vast Amazonia and other port towns were Jews from Morocco. And one of the two people on the expedition of Pedro Alvares Cabral who claimed Brasil for Portugal , was a Jew with connections to Goa and Cochin, he was known was Gaspar da Gama.
The magical realism of Jorge Amado was well present in my heart, having devoured his Bahia novels, during our visit to Salvador do Bahia. Anyone who has seen the film Fitzcarraldo, would remember the magnificent Opera House at Manaos which I was to see later as well as the ship used in the filming of Fitzcarraldo, now moored at the wharf at Iquitos, Peru not far from the shop, once famous, Cohen Brothers .

On one such trip I met Lygia in Sao Paolo. University of Sao Paolo was what we had in common, at that I was very interested in the Japanese culture of Brasil, and she introduced me to Libertade, and also I met brasilians of Japanese ancestry including a memorable elderly lady who was a magnificent potter.
(faculty of Law, University of Sao Paolo)
Lygia was an architect, artist with special interest in Islamic architecture. She had presented me a sketch of the mosque of Isfahan, which decorates the Blue House of the Omaha in Walthill, Nebraska.
When I met Lygia, a documentary film festival was on and I remember seeing a documentary about the notorious prison (carranduru?) and also one about Jacques Derrida. At that time, DeLeuze and Foucault had not entered my life. She also talked a lot about Iranian film makers, such as Makhmalbouf. All these information were to come in handy when I began teaching at the University of Havana about Disease being a Metaphor for Society.
I stopped going to Brasil in 2005 ( even though I had two delightful trips with lovely friends, one to the North, to Boa Vista where I crossed into Guyana and another to the Magnificent Iguazu falls, crossing from Buenos Aires and Argentina.)

10 year absence from Sao Paolo. In 2015, I had visited border towns of Tabatinga and Manaos in Brasilian Amazon.  I had a procured a good ticket on Etihad Airways from Sao Paolo to Johannesburg via Abu Dhabi and I decided to get in touch with her.
I found the email address of Lygia from the entrails of the computer. She now had a 7 year old son, and continued to lead, after the completion of her P.hD, an artistic, intellectual and academic life.
We met at Avenida Paulista and went together to USP, very emotional for me, since it was where Claude Levi-Strauss had arrived in 1934 to open the first department of Sociology at USP. France ( Emile Durkheim, considered the father of French Sociology was a son of a Rabbi and his nephew Marcel Mauss had written a book which influenced my ways of behavior with the indigenous people, and of course Claude Levi-Strauss and Musee de Branley) had entered my life  with all its glitter and lights and intellectual glamour and my vision had altered a bit.
At USP, I had a wonderful conversation with Eduardo Goes Neves, a professor of Archeology interested in Amazonia, afterwards we went to see two exhibitions at USP.
As I left Lygia at Butanta metro station, to get back to Maksoud Plaza, to catch the bus to the airport, she said:  Now that you have more friends here at USP, you will have to come back. I had a feeling I might be coming back.
As an aside, while I was at the Colombian Amazonian town of Leticia, I talked to the Brasilian Consul general who said he could arrange to get me a ten year tourist visa to Brasil! In Miami or elsewhere the process may take up to 21 days, but he promised it wont take more than three days! Isnt it worth that extra trip to Leticia, Colombia?
There is an epilogue to all these:
Lygia asked me, would you like to read my thesis, it is in Portugese and I am sure you would find it most interesting.
The title was:
Diálogos da arquitetura no Cairo entre os séculos X e XIII: a sinagoga de Ben Ezrá e o contexto da cidade islâmica
Dialogues of architecture in Cairo between the X-XIII centuries: the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the context of the Islamic city
I couldn’t believe the coincidence. It was at Ben Ezra synagogue that jewish traders deposited their papers of travels and histories and jewish connections in the Malabar coast, at the Geniza of Cairo. I had written somewhere else about Abraham ben Yiju who prayed at Ben Ezra synagogue before he left for Malabar and after he came back, nearly two decades later. Our Illustrious philosopher Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides was a regular there, while writing the Guide for the Perplexed.
 inside Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo
 childrens book from 10th century to practice Hebrew alphabet! in the 10th century of the common era most people in the world were illiterate including the Pilgrims and the Conquistadores and Immigrants to the New world (all came later) and the colonialists and traders
(door of the ark where torah is kept, from Ben Ezra synagogue, 11th century}
Summary of Lygia's PhD thesis, first in English and then in Portugese.
In studies of Islamic cities, there are few that deal with buildings that belong to other faith groups other than Muslims, in the sense of analyzing them as agents in the evolution of the urban configuration of the cities that were under Islamic government. The existing studies about these buildings always follows the line of analyzing them inside their own elements, in other words, a Christian or Jewish building within their own context, which is to serve its own confessional community. The thesis shows that the synagogue is an element that also builds and participates in the dynamics of the city, and its study helps both in the comprehension of the Arab-Islamic metropolis, but also in understanding the dynamics of society between the X-XIII centuries. By analyzing the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, located just in the context of the Islamic city, not only in its aesthetics or stylistic aspects, aims to understand how the building dialogues with the city in the sense of the construction of its territorialities. And also, in reverse: how the city and a kind of Islamic language dialogue with the Jewish building. The big geographic extension conquered by the Islam produced a multiplicity of forms and loans and, at the same time, due to the facility of coming and going of the people and the new conquests forged a certain unification in the language. The exchanges and the assimilations not only were and are inevitable, as they are part of the relations and living together among the groups at any time. The Ben Ezrá Synagogue was since its foundation, an organizing element of the urban space around, organizer of the distribution of the inhabitants linked to the jewish community not only the rabbinic of Palestine but for others jewish communities babylonic and Karaite, between the X-XIII centuries. And it played a role of articulator of multiterritorialities. This analysis comes to enlarge the knowledge about this building, and mainly, of the relations among the communities Judaic, Islamic and Christian - between the Fatimid conquest of the Egypt (969 e.C.) and the end of the Ayyubid dynasty (1254 E.C)

Nos estudos sobre as cidades islâmicas, poucos são os que tratam dos edifícios que pertencem a outros grupos confessionais que não o dos muçulmanos, no sentido de analisá-los como agentes na evolução da configuração urbana das cidades que estiveram sob governo islâmico. Os estudos existentes sobre esses edifícios seguem sempre uma orientação em analisá-los dentro de seus próprios elementos, ou seja, um edifício cristão ou judaico dentro do seu próprio contexto que é o de servir a sua própria comunidade confessional. A tese mostra que a sinagoga é um elemento que também constrói e participa da dinâmica da cidade, e seu estudo auxilia tanto na compreensão da urbe árabe-islâmica, como também no entendimento da dinâmica da sociedade entre os séculos X-XIII. Ao analisar a Sinagoga de Ben Ezrá localizada no Cairo portanto no contexto da cidade islâmica e não apenas sob seus aspectos estéticos ou estilísticos, busca entender como o edifício dialoga com a cidade no sentido da construção de suas territorialidades. E também, no sentido inverso: como a cidade e um tipo de linguagem islâmica dialogam com o edifício judaico. A grande extensão geográfica conquistada pelo Islã produziu uma multiplicidade de formas e empréstimos e, ao mesmo tempo, devido à facilidade de ir e vir das pessoas e as novas conquistas, forjou-se uma certa unificação na linguagem. As trocas e as assimilações não só foram e são inevitáveis, como fazem parte das relações e convívio entre os grupos em qualquer momento. A Sinagoga de Ben Ezrá foi desde a sua fundação, um elemento organizador do espaço urbano ao seu redor, organizador da distribuição dos habitantes ligados à comunidade judaica, não apenas da comunidade rabínica da palestina mas das outras comunidades judaicas babilônica e caraíta, entre os séculos X ao XIII. E desempenhou um papel de articulador de multiterritorialidades. Esta análise vem ampliar o conhecimento acerca desse edifício, e principalmente, das relações entre as comunidades judaica, islâmica e cristã entre a conquista fatímida do Egito (969 E.C.) e o fim da dinastia aiúbida (1254 E.C.)