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Ecléa Bosi

Ecléa Bosi: Sensitive narratives about vulnerable groups

Léo RamosEcléa Bosi, emeritus professor of social psychology at the University of São Paulo (USP), deals with research topics that are not among the most studied within Brazilian academic circles: the readings of female workers and the memories of the elderly, for example, to cite only two of the areas on which she focused in her research. Often Bosi shifts her focus to vulnerable social groups: poor, low-income working women; seniors who, immersed in the ongoing transformation of the metropolis, are grudgingly losing the references of their familiar, daily routes, and entering a time of fading awareness of their identity. From the objects chosen to the individuals encountered during the research process, both alluding to the precarious and the vulnerable and based on solid theoretical grounds, she built a strong, unique body of work recognized in her field.

Part of this uniqueness has been her ability to express the force of her findings and reflections softly and delicately, which helps give Ecléa Bosi’s narratives a particularly literary dimension. Empirical research reports and theoretical essays are often expressed in beautiful poetic prose. But, at the same time, they seem to be part of the vigor, the vital force of Bosi’s research, its spillover into the field of institutional activism and politics. That is why it is easy to understand her efforts towards establishing and developing the USP Senior Citizens Program which, after 21 years in operation, has served more than 100,000 senior citizens on the campus of the largest Brazilian public university, most of whom had deficient formal education. Or even her eco-activism, which includes a special focus on pregnant workers who may be unaware that they are being exposed to toxic agents at the factories where they work.

Social psichology; Memory and society
University of São Paulo (USP): undergraduate degree (1966), master’s (1970), PhD (1971) and promotion to associate professor (1982)
Institute of Psychology, USP
Academic production:
8 books, 36 book chapters and 16 articles published; 10 master’s students and 14 PhD students advised

Married to Professor Alfredo Bosi, a respected critic and historian of Brazilian literature, mother of Viviana Bosi, a professor of literary theory, and José Alfredo Bosi, a professor of economics, and grandmother of two, Ecléa Bosi, who continues to work despite being formally retired, agreed to this interview with Pesquisa FAPESP on a overcast morning illuminated by conversation at the USP Institute of Psychology, with the principal sections published below. With books and some old articles on the desk in front of her, she stated that she had always been well-treated in her professional career, but one thing that touched her greatly was having her book Memória e sociedade—Lembrança de velhos (Memory and society—Memories of the elderly), the book she worked hardest on, included on a list published by the Ministry of Education of the 100 books sent to thousands of school libraries all over the country.

I see in these printed keepsakes memories of your work, struggles and awards.
Yes, I think that I strove a lot in my life. Here are things related to my eco-activism.

An activist in addition to your academic work.
I was involved in the creation of the Chico Mendes Ecological Park. This here is a souvenir of the two successive years of the Ecology Week I organized at USP, before the establishment of the Environmental Sciences course in 1974. I appealed repeatedly to congressmen, senators, important people, to help in the fight against a nuclear power plant, but they did not respond so I decided to write to someone I really admired: Carlos Drummond de Andrade. He studied the matter and wrote a beautiful article entitled “If I were a congressman,” published in the newspaper Journal do Brasil. More recent is the struggle against the Angra 3 nuclear power plant.

And this book here?
It’s something I did with great pleasure, the last book I wrote, Velhos amigos (Old friends), true stories for children and adolescents. This other document is an article I wrote about a former, deceased USP professor [José Severo de Camargo Pereira]. He was feared. One day, I saw there was some confusion and a line at the door of the USP building on Rua Maria Antônia. There were people everywhere. The school was a sounding board for national politics. Cuba had been invaded and people were there to sign up to fight and defend the island. These people had never used weapons and wanted to face the United States Army.  Can you imagine?

Was it the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961?
Exactly. Then I heard a voice behind me saying that he knew he was old, but wondered if they would let him participate. It was Professor Pereira. But I want to show you documents related to a program that I have been involved with for 21 years [the University Senior Citizens Program]. The covers of the course schedules almost always depict a person who suffered greatly in life, who started with almost nothing, and here they are shining on campus.

And on the cover of this other memento, an elderly man rowing…
My work began with Leituras de operárias (The Reading of Female Workers). Why reading and why workers? Then came Memória e sociedade —Lembrança de velhos; Tempo vivo da memória (Living memory); Simone Weil: a condição operária (Simone Weil: the condition of the workers); and Velhos amigos.

We will try to cover this, but first I need to ask: where are you from?
From the city of São Paulo. I spent my childhood in the Pinheiros district. I was born at Maternidade São Paulo, on Rua Frei Caneca.

Were your parents educated?
They were very simple, but I remember that they both wrote poetry. My father was a civil servant, my mother, a housewife. They had very little education. And I had two younger brothers.

What was your childhood like?
I was a voracious reader. Books were not given to me, I was not surrounded by books, they were treasures I acquired. How? By walking. A book cost the same as 12 bus passes. I studied in a large house in the Campos Elísios neighborhood, so I had to walk the length of Av. São João, and then the length of Rua da Consolação and Av. Rebouças on the way back, to arrive at Rua Mello Alves, where we lived. And by walking instead of taking the bus 12 times I could buy a book. So I obtained my books through sacrifice.

Who were your favorite authors?
By 13 or 14 I was already immersed in Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, but also in Romain Rolland and Emily Brontë. Then I read Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, a lot of poetry. Later I translated Ungaretti, Leopardi, Montale, Rosalía de Castro (for newspapers and books).

Did you go to a public school?
No. It was a school named Stafford, surrounded by a park, but it no longer exists. It was in a huge house located on Alameda Nothman. During my walks between home and school I learned about social inequality. I saw mansions, simple homes, and thought about social inequality without anyone telling me anything. I also learned the city intimately. Later, when I started studying at USP, we students lived in bookstores, libraries, bars. The city was very close to us.

You started studying at USP, back when it was located on Rua Maria Antônia, during some turbulent times. What was it like, living those years in that environment?
Most importantly, there were great professors. We loved our professors: [João] Cruz Costa, in philosophy, Ruy Coelho, a distinguished professor of sociology, Gioconda Mussolini, in anthropology, Dante Moreira Leite, who was my advisor in social psychology, an extraordinary person, and Anita Castilho Cabral, who established the psychology major.

How did you decide to study psychology?
It might have been because of literature! For someone who read what I read… Dostoevsky seeks to look inside human beings, and this led me to become interested in looking within us. And these great teachers I had were a great inspiration. It is important to realize that USP has to be understood not through its institutions, but rather through its great professors. It has spiritual families. The presence of a beloved teacher is in our work, it directs our views. We are talking about the golden age of USP. Mário Schönberg, Florestan Fernandes, and Antonio Candido were all there …

How did you decide what path your studies would take within Psychology?
I went into social psychology because it was a very politicized time, with an enormous political density. My class was small, about 12 people, and was almost completely decimated by the dictatorship. I was a classmate of Iara Iavelberg [an activist killed during the dictatorship], and this greatly affected me. I remember her as a very intelligent, beautiful girl who sang very well. She liked Ponteio, by Edu Lobo, and Disparada [by Geraldo Vandré]. She was very good in statistics, taught by Prof. Pereira, and we would go to her house to study. Everyone remembers the story of Iara, but it was more personal for me and I saw how much my class suffered because of her loss. I also remember Aurora Maria do Nascimento Furtado, Lola [an activist who was tortured and died at the hands of the dictatorship]. She was an unforgettable student. When General Fiúza de Castro wrote his memoirs, he was asked if he remembered the subversives that he had captured, and he said yes. He said he remembered a very brave girl named Aurora. She died from the “crown of thorns” [an instrument of torture], with her head in a vise, crushed, a heroic death, because she never opened her mouth. She was arrested in Parada de Lucas, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1972. I never forgot her, nor can I. In the Institute of Psychology, I established an “Aurora room,” with photographs of her and with this statement by the General on her bravery. And I would like to mention that Professor Castilho invited Iara to be a professor of social psychology and she was even hired, but soon had to leave to live in hiding. I remember her analyzing the content of Fidel Castro’s speeches. She never finished that work, because she then disappeared. But she left us a nice article about language and communication that came out in a SBPC journal, and I had the pleasure of giving it to my students for them to read.

So, your proximity to the political struggle had some influence on your choice of social psychology?
Yes, it deeply affected me. And what did I choose for my PhD dissertation? Female workers. Why reading? Because it is a problem area. Female workers, and indeed all of us, are entrapped by the flow of television and other mass communication media. But reading requires will, a choice. It is a minimal act of will, but it is a step that must be taken. And, in the case of workers, it requires great personal commitment, as there are no bookstores in poorer neighborhoods. What prevents workers from reading? The long, extensive workday, the double shift as worker and mother of a family, with all the housework. The distance between work and home, the lack of cultural centers, the salary that just barely covers the essentials.

Although the workers interviewed in your dissertation were younger and various unmarried women and dreamers were among them.
You touch on something that I find remarkable. The single worker has one kind of mentality, the married working mother another: she is a fighter. She is always there when someone needs to complain or take political action. She is always in front.

Probably due to her commitment to her children.
Yes, her salary is very important to the family. I collected testimonials from these workers. Otto Maria Carpeaux wrote the preface to the book and said, “what a bleak survey, what seduced, exploited minds.” But I wanted to go one step beyond: I discovered what female workers read and tried to understand what they liked to read. I entered the world of the possible.

And is there a big gap between what they read and what they like to read?
No, but the two are different. Mass communication is twofold: in the realm of propaganda, it attempts to show what is most advanced in technique; in the field of the imagination, it exploits a pre-industrial mindset that survives in the culture of the poor man, namely serial literature. What was it like, this serial literature that female workers liked so much? In general, it addresses the situation of women and children who suffer societal violence.  The woman suffers imbalance, victimhood. This is the type of novel that working women read. And equilibrium is restored when the story has a happy ending, through marriage, the intervention of destiny.

In books or in magazine stories?
In magazines and in serialized books, in the romantic plot the woman and child are victims not of society, but rather of destiny. And these stories are not dated, they are eternal: they carry the sentiment of exclusion from the world, avoidance, the compensatory fantasy that Freud worried so much about… Umberto Eco has a beautiful expression for this: structures of consolation. And Gramsci calls it the social inferiority complex or compensation daydreams. Gramsci regrets that intellectuals do not study popular literature. Because of this, they do not establish a modern humanism capable of reaching the most humble.

Between Carpeaux’s, Gramsci’s and your vision, I see a clear difference, among others, in the true closeness with which you treat the group you study.
First, let me tell you what these romantic novels are about. In my view, working women are impressed by fundamental questions of justice, guilt, punishment, transgression, revolt, and undeserved punishment. But isn’t that what great literature addresses too? The themes are the same. The reader’s eyes reach and follow this human drama. The classics tackle this and the manual laborer who reads, if she had the opportunity to read the classics, would probably feel right at home.

In this sense, between what they could read and what they actually read, rather than a chasm, there is a distance.
Think about it, are there bookstores in working class neighborhoods? I saw that the workers bought books from vans that made the rounds of the factories. I interviewed the booksellers—and Carpeaux would cry if he could hear them—and they told me that they went to the bookstores and publishers, bought the rejects and bound them beautifully (or at least they did at the time I did the study). The worker who devoted hours and hours, sometimes days, to buy such a beautiful book will put this volume in the living room and save it for her children. The books are expensive, very expensive. You can see how decisive a step it is to read.

How much time did you spend doing the research for your dissertation?
I spent two years conversing with 52 women. Only one of them was in school but, exhausted, she was about to abandon her studies. I must mention here some prior studies on what women workers read: the French writer George Sand [1804-1876] interviewed workers to learn what they read and concluded that the official history, the culture, would not be complete if it did not include the fantasies and desires of those readers. The writer and philosopher Simone Weil [1909-1943] recounted the tragedies of Sophocles to the female workers of a steel plant. They were thrilled by the narrative and Simone Weil realized that fiction could be an escape, avoidance, but also a revelation.

In your opinion, did the workers’ reading have more to do with escape, or with survival strategies, maintaining a certain degree of sanity?
This is a triumph of mass culture over the working culture—which is part of both popular culture and mass culture, but they’re different. When the worker escapes, by reading, and seeks fantasy, he is not creating a working culture because this has to have an element of activism. The working culture asks: who are we, who are the people like us? What is the meaning of our work, the value of our work to society? This is why Gramsci wanted to create universities for workers in Turin, where he taught. This is why Simone Weil, who had been a metal worker, taught classes for railway workers and miners. I think Weil, Gramsci and others belong to a deep-rooted vanguard, an Alfredo Bosi expression that I accept and admire.

And what is the meaning here of the word “deep-rooted”?
To be rooted is to live the popular culture intensely. Mariátegui, Simone Weil and Gramsci lived the popular culture intensely and their studies fed off it. There is no greater joy in the world than doing a study for a university and seeing that it has had an effect on public policy. In the case of Leituras de operárias, I had the joy of working at City Hall during the term of Luiza Erundina [1989-1993], at the Department of Public Works, with Lucio Gregori, at the Department of Culture, with Marilena Chauí, in establishing public libraries—she was very interested in forming communities of readers—and I was also invited by Paulo Freire to work in the Department of Education. It was a time of activism that resulted from Leituras de operárias. But the most important thing I did in my life, related to public policy, was go to the International Labor Organization (ILO), at the UN in Geneva, and denounce the following aspect of the working conditions of female workers: every year new, harmful chemicals appear, and no studies are done on their effect on women. In the case of factories that use radiation, this affects the embryonic tissue in the first three months of pregnancy, a stage in which the worker usually does not know she is pregnant. The child will suffer the effects of radiation on his or her health years later. And the guilty go unpunished. What must be done? The harmful agents have to be studied in the factories in which women work.

Did your complaint have some practical consequence in terms of general policies?
Back then, many people complained about asbestos and many nations there prohibited it. Brazil did not want to sign.

Before discussing memory, given that I was intrigued by the expression “deep-rooted vanguard,” I would like to ask you if you think that many intellectuals use an excessively condescending tone—to the point of sounding irritating and even offensive—when examining the habits, behavior and ways of life of representatives of the poorer classes, etc., when they have no effective tie to these communities.
When an intellectual goes to the outskirts of town to gather information, he is receiving. And the donor is the poor person. He gathers information to support his thesis, climb the academic ladder, and the people who gave him the information continue living precariously, without hope. And the intellectual rises at the expense of those donors, without forming with them—using an expression that is dear to me—a community of shared destiny. Indeed, their destinies are divergent, and he cannot but be aware of this. Moreover, in research it is essential to realize that it is one thing to record information and something else to listen. If the researcher has the gift of listening, the word “gift” already includes the friendship. There is no such thing as temporary friendship. There is no easy sympathy for the subject of the study, for the underclass. There is responsible, lifelong engagement. This is friendship.

Now we can go back to the thread of our discussion from the readings to memory.
Every year I teach a course on memory and I also provide orientation for students who want to study memory. In my Memory and Society study I collected biographical memories, but memories of time, space, politics, work and culture also came out. What were the characteristics of these older respondents? They were sensitive to urban transformations. They realized how the city had been changing and how this was reflected in every step of their biographies. Urban planners have to listen to these memories, understand what this city means and what the city’s transformations have meant to the lives of its citizens. What did these elderly people tell me about their cities? They told stories that we heard from our grandparents, the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1910. They all described Halley’s Comet, Oswaldo Cruz’s mosquito-killers in the neighborhoods along the rivers, the Spanish Influenza, the wandering of the thief Meneghetti, who was a very nice thief, who robbed the rich to give to the poor. Indeed, the stories about Meneghetti are extraordinary. He bought opera albums, because the workers’ districts like the Bixiga [a neighborhood in the city of São Paulo] were Italian neighborhoods, and since he was the one who had a victrola, he would play them loudly for everyone to hear. They were all crazy about opera. But the memory of the elderly swims against the tide, because the city does not allow the elderly to visit one another. They have lost the group with which to remember and share memories. This group is the witness and interpreter of these memories. When this is lost, the memories disperse and great effort is needed to collect them. The anarchism of the early twentieth century, Isidoro’s revolution, and how many children were baptized with the name Isidoro afterwards … The Prestes Column, the revolution of 1932, the two world wars, Vargas and laborism, remembered poignantly. On the death of Vargas, one old man told me, tear gas was used to prevent workers from gathering, but they still gathered and wept because of the gas, only later understanding why. I interviewed a communist teacher who climbed scaffolding and threw stones when fundamentalists demonstrated, and I interviewed an old fundamentalist who had had stones thrown at him when building the Cathedral. The viewpoints are different, but the assumptions are both part of history, no matter our point of view. Another interesting memory is from the youths and adults who remember the nights, during the dictatorship, when they heard whispers, beds being moved, makeshift places. This domestic confusion was to hide activists who were taking refuge in these homes. We understand that hundreds of families hid revolutionaries, whether they sympathized with their ideas or not. I think it is amazing. How many housewives hid youths persecuted by the police? They saved their lives, without knowing their ideologies. Memories of space and political and historical events begin, first, in the family home, which is the geometric center of the world. And that is where the city starts, before expanding in all directions. It begins on the streets, on the sidewalks where life unfolds. I collected the cries of vendors, the calls that rang out in the neighborhoods. I recorded the musical score of the neighborhoods and learned that the city is not just a visual map, it also has a soundtrack and is part of our identity, our integrity. If you think about it, the street has a soundtrack. If you start recording, you note doors opening, a broom sweeping the sidewalk, stores opening… It’s beautiful when a São Paulo resident describes the city, because he says “there in Penha” and points to the palm of his hand.

He has the city in the palm of his hand.
It is an emotional map of the city. Which places are in the memory of the residents of São Paulo? The Viaduto do Chá, the Cathedral, Penha, because children who were baptized were taken to Penha and newlyweds made a pilgrimage to Penha after getting married. The Ipiranga Museum, the Luz Gardens, Cantareira and the Municipal Theater. The elderly would say “I descended the 84 steps…” as if everyone knew that it has 84 steps. The people in the Brás and Mooca [Italian] neighborhoods would dress in their finest and wait near the door of the Municipal Theater. The elite of the city would pass by, continuing inside to their seats. Afterwards, the ticket taker selected the best-dressed people waiting and let them enter. And what did they do? They sat in the seats farthest from the stage and clapped at the right places, because they knew the operas. When they started to clap, the elite knew that it was an important part of the opera. If the tenor sang off key, for example, the Italians remained silent, said “stonato il tenore,” (the tenor is off-key, in Italian), and did not clap. And there was an extraordinary individual in São Paulo, a black man who had an unforgettable laugh. So he was always invited to enter for free, of course. When he laughed, his contagious laugh spread across the entire auditorium. I had an uncle who was a paid applauder, and he taught me how to clap properly, creating an echo. And the soccer fields: in Barra Funda, Glicério, Limão, Casa Verde, how many soccer fields were there in the city? We only began going to stadiums when the factories took over the fields to use the rivers to dump their waste.

Are all these memories from the first half of the twentieth century?
Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t continue fighting until the end. I will tell you in a bit about Jovina Pessoa, a great activist who I interviewed. The neighborhoods of São Paulo, when described by the elderly, have a biography, just like us. They have a childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age. And the last stage is the most beautiful of the neighborhoods, because you can see the memories. The physiognomy of the neighborhood matures, following the maturing of its residents. Our stories mix with the history of the neighborhood, and we see on the street that which we never saw, but were told about. When the physiognomy of the neighborhood becomes humanized and mature, it may continue living, or it could die.  It could be killed by the real estate developers and urban planners who have no interest in memory, in the survival of the residents. A familiar route between home and the most visited locations is not a privilege of humans, but of all living beings. A neighborhood is a structured whole, common to all that we perceive little by little, and which gives residents a sense of identity. It’s horrible to lose the way home, it is the return of the familiar route, if it still exists. The elderly feel trapped when neighborhood blocks are razed. Where do they go? They try to resist, but they usually lose. Moving and death are the same for people. Urban planners should listen to old residents who know every street, every neighborhood. Do the neighborhood councils have the right to veto decisions? Theoretically, yes, but are they heard?

Your work on memory followed Leituras de Operárias, so the interviews with the elderly took place in the 1980s?
That’s right. And after that work studies on memory flourished in Brazil, there were many. There is a deep need for them and I believe this is because of the need for roots.

After all, we lived in a country that was trying to delete a piece of memory for political reasons, right?
The studies on memory and society have a taste of nostalgia, a bittersweet flavor. Because individuals, when recalling their lives and the city, perform one of the most difficult operations for the human brain, which is to accept the irreversible, that which was lost. When they tell their stories, they consent to this loss with grace and freedom. Instructed by the reminiscences of these brave individuals, I thought about them and about growing old in our industrial society. This society is so bad for the elderly! Due to accelerating historical changes, a person’s sense of continuity is broken.

And that’s when your idea for the University Senior Citizens Program arose?
Yes, we opened the university. After all, isn’t it the taxes of the old workers that sustain us? So it is natural that they take part. And who participates? People with no schooling. And they sit together with undergraduate students. For most of our students, it is the first time they are studying alongside a manual worker, a mason or a maid that is not working for them. These people are participating because they have a passion for knowledge and some have to take three different buses to get to USP. Sometimes one of them washes all the clothing in the tenement where she lives in order to buy a specialized magazine that the professor said they should read. I speak of manual workers because they are the stars of the program, but sometimes participants are more knowledgeable than the professor, such as Mrs. Neuza Guerreiro, a biologist, who is very cultured. But, in general, they are people who were unable to study, and they raise the level of the classes because they were witnesses to history. Students do not know what a person exiled and persecuted by the dictatorship suffered, and the senior citizen student sitting next to them could be that person. And the youngest do not always have the most progressive views. Let me give you an example. A student who never had a college education is the mother of two architects designing a new house. She turns to her children and says she does not agree with the plan, although it is very beautiful, because the size of the maid’s room is tiny and, she explains, in her social psychology course she learned that the worker’s space needs to be more respected. So the architects redid the plan. The University Senior Citizens Program goes far beyond an academic project because it brings the elderly back into the community.

But couldn’t they become victims of prejudice on the part of the students?
Soon the prejudice dissolves. An old laborer, seeing the class complaining of too many books to read for an exam, got up and said he was a manual laborer all his life, but now, because of his age, he can only work when the workers leave and he washes the machines and the floor. He comments “that is hard work,” then asks a classmate to hand him a book, shows it to the class and says “this book is so light!”. This moves the whole class. The book is really light compared to the work of a metal worker discriminated against because he is old! Unforgettable things.

How many senior citizens study at USP each year?
It varies, but in the last few years there have been about 10,000. More than 100,000 have enrolled over 21 years. They come from everywhere and disperse to the different majors and departments. The non-specialization of the elderly also corresponds to the non-specialization of the professor. So the professor of mineralogy teaches folk dancing. The chemical engineering professor teaches cinema. Because the professor has an enormous responsibility, teaching a student who was already asking questions before the professor was even born. The professor is aware of the student’s past and thus prepares much more to teach the class.


What were the first students who participated in the University Senior Citizens Program like?
Very timid. I want to mention Mrs. Santinês, a peddler and cook, who had a very hard life. I was giving a lecture, saying how time passes differently depending on a person’s social class. The class had difficulty grasping it and she—who could barely read, and had only read the Bible—stood up and began quoting Bible verses she knew by heart. She said “all things have their time under the Sun.” A time to be born and to die, a time to plant and a time to reap, a time to weep and to smile, a time to tear and sew, a time to seek and a time to lose, a time to embrace and to separate; a time to be silent and a time to speak.” The students understood immediately and were touched, because she herself had arrived at her time to talk, to talk in public, to express herself.

Hearing about your academic career makes me feel that there is a very powerful, more intimate thread running through it. So let me ask you, what led you to a generous view of social inclusion?
Perhaps the environment in which I lived my earliest years. And the immense sympathy that I have for these humble people who gave me everything, this makes me think that I should be at their service as long as I live. Actually, I provide support for the University Senior Citizens Program, I would not like you to say that I established it or that I direct it—I provide support.

I ask because of your long career, marked by this sense of service to others. I see in it the expression of Christian action, or something similar in a different religious field, the expression of a utopic dimension in the practice of daily life, so… Generous people are very moved by deep beliefs.
And you want something more beautiful than service? What was Jesus Christ’s first miracle? He turned water into wine at a party, to drink with his friends. It was a very human first service, and then he went on from there.

Which social psychologists influenced you the most?
I will mention those who were nearest, and very present when I wrote my works. In Gestalt theory, Anita de Castilho Marcondes Cabral, in theories about time, Henri Bergson. Also Maurice Halbwachs [1877-1945], to whom I dedicated my book, a social psychologist who died in the Buchenwald concentration camp. And in relation to interpretation, my ties are to Adorno, Marx, Hannah Arendt… I especially like the founder of political ecology, Andre Gorz [1923-2007]. He was great. And his latest book, Letters to D., which are love letters written to his wife, was translated at my request. The Brazilian edition is more beautiful than the French edition.

What is your daily routine at the university?
I advise students doing research on memories. I encountered Simone Weil along the way, and I have been coordinating the Simone Weil Laboratory these last 11 years. It is interdisciplinary and brings together researchers who study just the works of Simone Weil. Admirable research based on her idea of rootedness arose from there. I coordinate the University Senior Citizens Program and I teach undergraduate and graduate classes. And I planted four orchards.

Tell us the story about the orchards.
The inhabitants of São Paulo are urban migrants. I interviewed about 140 people and only one lived in the house in which she was born. I also moved from house to house, and in each house in which I lived I planted an orchard, but I never stayed long enough to harvest fruit, except in the house in Cotia, where I lived for 40 years and which I left a few months ago. I really miss my trees. Life is a bit like this, planting fruit trees, asking God that someone in the future appreciate the fruit.