Books & coffee: Paraty’s FLIP

Everything began in 2003. It was the first year of FLIP – Festa Literária Internacional de Paraty (Paraty International Literary Festival) – and despite the lack of pretensions on the part of the organisers, who were afraid of a huge fiasco, the event brought around 500 people to the historic and cobbled streets of Paraty.

During the eight editions of FLIP, the number of visitors has increased, reaching 20 thousand people in 2010. The tourist city of 35 thousand inhabitants became packed and the promoters’ profits reached the record height of £2.26 million. But what exactly is FLIP? Well, it’s an opportunity to see and listen to your favorite writers close-up. If you are lucky, they won’t follow the example of songwriter Lou Reed who cancelled last-minute. If you’re even luckier, the authors may take part in a panel, led by a good chairman that won’t pose irrelevant questions or make unnecessary remarks, and then the experience will be a very interesting one. However, if the chairman isn’t as good, you can also try a tête-à-tête with the writer. You just have to brave the enormous queue for autographs and pray that the security guard will allow you to have a brief chat with the writer, sat with a yellow and bored smile after so much autograph signing.

Of course to be fair there is more to FLIP than just this. It’s also a festival of promotions and advertising. Free coffee and papers from Folha de S. Paulo, the biggest Brazilian newspaper. A big band plays in the corners of the historic centre sponsored by the beer Bohemia. Free internet access in bars full of people, supported by Vivo. Publishing houses promoting parties every night – but only for authors and journalists.  And at FLIP there are many “writers” who, left out by the main market and the organisers of the event, place themselves at strategic points of the city and along with a few hippies try to sell their art to passers-by, an art which is not made out of PVC pipes, clay and copper wire, but rather ink on pages bound in small booklets of photocopied sheets, financed by themselves and sold for however much you can- or want – to pay.

Does FLIP deserves its ‘I’ for “International”? Well judging by the lineup it does. Big names like Julian Barnes, Don DeLillo, Eric Hobsbawm and Hanif Kureishi have already appeared at previous editions of the festival and this year Isabel Allende, Terry Eagleton, Robert Crumb – who left Paraty asking himself why he was invited to the event – and Gilbert Shelton join the list. On the other hand, if we take into account the way the panels are organised, the question has another answer. The main tent has a capacity of 850 people. There is another across the river Perequê-Açú which has a big screen and capacity for 1400 people, where all the foreign writers are simultaneously translated into Portuguese. Whoever pays to watch the discussions in this tent may be lucky enough to find a headset with the original audio. If not, the remaining 17,350 spectators (given that the organisers announced they were expecting 20,000) are obliged to stay outside the tent, sitting on small cardboard seats sponsored by Itaú Bank, listening to a typically erring and boring voice translating what is being said in the main tent.

However this is not actually a big deal. After all, the majority of the few foreigners that go to FLIP do so without great purpose. They just happen to be in the interesting and beautiful town of Paraty during the days of the event. The other visitors are journalists; FLIP is almost like a matchmaking network. One out of five people you see on the street displays a press badge – people who are or want to be part of the publishing industry -, there are true lovers of literature and also the residents of Paraty taking advantage of the opportunity to make some money selling anything to the wealthy visitors. After all, everyone who goes to FLIP wants exactly this: profits, be them financial or intellectual.

By Morena Madureira

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