“Come to Brazil, if you want to understand the problems that affect developing countries,” writer Jorge Amado said to Sartre, in one of his trips to Paris.
And so he did. On September 2, 1960, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir landed at Congonhas airport, in Sao Paulo. The couple visited Recife, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Araraquara, Fortaleza and the Amazon and Sartre’s existentialism left its mark on the Brazilian culture of the time.
One clear influence is Tropicalia, a movement launched by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in 1968. The idea was to promote “full freedom of expression” and to melt tradition with innovation.
“Geopolitics of Sartre”, Gil in Paris
Now it was the turn of the Ecole Normale Superieur to invite Gilberto Gil to come to Paris and draw its views of Sartre’s ideas but also to talk about his political experience as minister of culture during the first administration of President Lula.
“Nada no bolso ou nas mãos” (Nothing in the pocket or in my hands)
Gil remembered Caetano’s song “Alegria Alegria”, which has a quotation of Sartre’s book: “Les Mots”.
The conference was about Sartre in Brazil, but turned to be also about Africa and its influence in Brazil and America. A guitar appeared and turned the conference in concert… to the audience’s delight, Gil sang “Renaissance Africaine”.
“On peut se tutoier?”
A Brazilian student asked Gil if he could address him as “tu” instead of the formal “vous”. Of course, he answered. When, in France, would a student dare to “tutoier” a minister? Voilá the Brazilian informality leaving its mark in the French culture. Probably a the theme of a conference in another 50 years.
A room packed of students and authorities
Among students from The Ecole Normale and La Sorbonne, I spotted Ambassador Lecourtier, president of the CCBF.