A recent study by John P. A. Ioannidis and others, published at the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, seems to indicate that stay-at-home orders and business closures do not work or make little difference in containing the spread of COVID.

This together with the Chinese study showing that asymptomatic transmission is low or inexistent should put the final nail in the authoritarian measures taken in the name of health. I say should, but of course this won’t happen, and methods such as the “vaccine passports” such as the ones provided now in Israel are the way that will be chosen.

So now, besides masks and lockdowns, you will also have to be vaccinated, but even the vaccine won’t stop lockdowns and masks for a while.

“Educação para todos” (Education for all) is the first book in Portuguese published by Contrarium. Focusing on education in Brazil, the book discusses success stories from Germany, China and the United States in both schools and universities, and how they can be applied to Brazil. It also discusses several important themes such as IQ, research and publishing.

The author, G. J. Creus, studied at Yale and has been an Engineering professor ad UFRGS and ILEA for more than 40 years. The book is a very valuable contribution to an important theme. It can be purchased on Amazon for a very cheap price of 0.92 USD for the Kindle version, or 4.99 USD for the print version.

The first edition of our literature and art magazine, “Geist”, is just out, and you can read it for free. A multilingual magazine with texts in English and German, Portuguese, French and Italian translated to English, and artworks by several international artists.

Poems, short stories, photographs, paintings and illustrations – it’s all there. Please check it out here: Geist Magazine.

Martin Scorsese has just published an article about Fellini at Harper’s magazine, but which also discusses a bit the current sad state of cinema. Today, he says, everything has become merely indistinct “content”, and the magic of cinema and its artistic auteurs has been lost.


I tend to agree. When I was a teenager, I used to go to the now defunct street cinemas, or to specialized art cinemas, to watch films by Fellini, Truffaut, Renoir. Granted, in the 80s and 90s this was already a culture in extinction, much farther from the golden age of the 1960s and 1970s that Scorsese mentions, but there were still a few remains of that era.
Then the local cinemas were replaced by the multiplexes, which would show mostly super-hero movies or other blockbusters. Auteur or art cinema became an even smaller niche. And then cinema was replaced by television and streaming.

Going to the cinema is a social experience, closer to going to the theatre or to church; watching a film on television or VCR reduced this experience to a smaller screen and the familiar unit. People no longer paid so much attention to what was on the screen, it became a sort of mere background for other activities. Fellini was already very critical of television; he mentioned it in several interviews, and his “Ginger and Fred”, one of his last works, from the 80s, is a satirical view of the medium.

Today, of course, it’s even worse in some ways. Television was replaced by streaming, and the familiar unit was further reduced to an individual, watching it most likely on a cell phone screen. The reduction of the screen size and of the viewing public reflects the growing social atomization that took place in the last decades, culminating in the current “corona” lockdown where people are “social distancing” and locked in their own homes.

It was the final nail in the coffin of cinema as a social spectacle, and who knows if it will return? Even if the lockdown is lifted and people start going again to the cinemas, it is unlikely that the auteur era will return. This doesn’t mean that cinema as an art is dead, but its golden age seems long past.

The last book release by Contrarium is “Dark Fairy Tales”, a wonderful collection of lesser-known fairy tales. We chose stories that were a bit darker in tone, but not all are tragic and some are humorous too.

The volume includes three melancholy and not so well-known stories by Hans Christian Andersen, two darkly humorous stories by the Grimm Brothers whcih you may or may not have heard about, a fairy tale from Giambattista Basile’s wonderful and unfortunately not so well-known collection called “Pentamerone”, and a story by Charles Perrault that you’ve probably read before, although perhaps not in the original version. This last story is the only one that is probably more famous, but it was unavoidable to include it in a collection of “dark fairy tales”. Although, of course, many other tales could have been included.

For the illustrations we used colourized stills of German expressionist movies. It might seem an unusual combination, but the images surprisingly match the tone of the stories. This full colour, 64 page book is a real treat for both adults and children.

I personally always loved fairy tales, and even as an adult I still love to read them. I particularly like Andersen (The Snow Queen is one of my favourites), but Basile was a great recent discovery. Even though Perrault is considered the “grandfather of fairy tales”, Basile came before with his collection of folk tales published in 1634. Perhaps because it was written in Neapolitan it didn’t get so much attention; even today not so many people know about him. A recent movie by Mateo Garrone, “Tale of Tales” (2015) is based on his works, so perhaps this will help to popularize it.

The book can be purchased in both digital or print form at Amazon, or at our site shop.

I read this initially about a year ago, and thought it was quite interesting. A bit earlier I had read several of Strindberg’s plays, and also his novel-memoir “The Inferno”, so I was naturally interested in it. Now, I should say that what I read originally was called “Zones of the Spirit”, which was an excerpt of “A Blue Book” published in English in 1913; then I found out that the original work is much larger. And so, since then, I thought that I wanted to publish a larger selection of its contents.

August Strindberg’s “A Blue Book” was written between 1906 and 1912, the final period of his life, when he was influenced by his readings of the mystic Immanuel Swedenborg. During this same period he also wrote some of his best plays, including “The Ghost Sonata” .

“A Blue Book” was published in Sweden in four volumes. What we are publishing with Contrarium is a selection of volumes I and II with many texts never published in English before.

It is difficult to summarize “A Blue Book”. Many texts in the Vol. I take the form of a dialogue between a pupil and a teacher. Some interpret the pupil, sometimes also called Johann Damascenus, as being Strindberg himself, and the teacher as a proxy for Immanuel Swedenborg, the Swedish visionary who influenced Strindberg in his later years. However, since both pupil and teacher eventually make references to Strindberg’s own life, perhaps it would be more correct to understand the discussion between the pupil and the teacher as a discussion between the younger and the older Strindberg – or, at least, that’s another possible interpretation. The texts in the second volume abandon the “teacher and pupil” motif and simply consist of digressions by Strindberg himself, but basically in the same style as before, discussing themes such as love, human psychology, religion and mortality.

It is a fascinating work, which can give further insights about many of Strindberg’s later plays, as well as about “The Inferno” (1894), the narration of his previous spiritual crisis. While “The Inferno” is interesting in its own right, we believe that this book, which is in a way the solution to the preceding crisis, shows a much more serene Strindberg, a man coming to terms with life, Christianity and his own past, and offers many illuminating thoughts that can be interesting not only to scholars or those interested in the Swedish writer’s work, but to all general readers interested in religion, philosophy and human behaviour. August Strindberg (1849 – 1912) was one of the best playwrights of the modern era, author of “Miss Julie”, “To Damascus”, “The Dream Play” and many others.

Few know that Strindberg was also an excellent painter and photographer. We included here some of Strindberg’s own paintings and photographs, including his experimental “celestographs” on the cover, and also a few drawings or prints by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, who was a friend of the author.

This is the last book I finished, just about a week ago now. It was the first novel I’ve ever read by the German writer Heinrich Boll, who received the Nobel Prize in 1972. I’ve read it in English (an excellent translation by Leila Wennewitz), since my German isn’t worth a Scheiße (pardon my French).

I won’t say much except that it is a beautiful and very touching book about a poor married couple who is forced by circumstances to live apart. The period is immediate postwar Germany (the book was written in 1953). The prose style is very beautiful and lyrical and at the same time very easy to read, although I can’t say for sure how much is the merit of the writer and how much of the translator.

The story is written with alternating chapters, always one narrated from the point of view of the husband, and the next one narrated by the wife. It is an interesting device that makes us go deeper into the psychology of each character and, at the same time, it helps to mark their separation, the impossibility of their full union as a couple.

Of particular resonance are the character of Kate, her thoughts about her children, her love, her neighbours and her despair, as well as the character of an angelic young girl who works at a cafe booth at the station.

The book abounds with religious references (Böll was Catholic), including the title that alludes to a religious song – actually a Negro spiritual or African-American slave Gospel song, lyrics here, and a version of it can be heard here. But the focus is on the crisis and dissolution of the marriage despite (or because of?) the mutual love of the couple.

As the husband says to the wife at one point, in the scene which is the emotional center point of the story, as she lies with his back turned to him in the bed of a decaying hotel room:

“The lucky ones”, he said, “were those who did not love each other when they got married. It is terrible to love each other and to get married”.

It took me a while to start reading this book, or rather, this series of four books also called “the Neapolitan tetralogy”. I had heard about it the first time around 2009, of course, when it became a surprising best-seller all over the world. But I was a bit suspicious of it, maybe even a bit prejudiced. First, because it was a “best-seller”, and second because it was written by a woman. Not because I don’t like women writers in general, but because the themes that they tend to be more interested in (love, relationships, female psychology) tend to interest me less than other themes…

But I was, of course, wrong. The books are actually very well-written and engaging, what one would call “page-turners”. They might even a bit soap operish, but in a good way: lots of drama and surprising twists, and usually very easy to read.

One possible problem of the book, although I am not sure if it is necessarily a problem, is that the character of the friend, Lila or Lina, is (for me, at least) so much more interesting than that of the narrator and protagonist. But during a lot of the time the story focuses more on “Elena” and her mundane problems with her family, her lovers, her writing career, etc, while Lina sort of disappears into the background.

Also Elena, contrary to Lina, does not seem to be the type of character that is always particularly very perceptive about her own reality: she is convinced that she’s a “good mother” when she takes extremely dubious decisions, or is sure that her relationships are “going well” when the opposite is quite clear.

Of course, as the story progresses, one feels more and more (and especially in the last part) that Lina, more than just a character, works really more as a sort of “dark alter ego” of the author, or as a symbol related to the city of Naples, an unstoppable force that somehow embodies the energies of the city.

And Naples, or more specifically its poor periphery (an unnamed “rione” or neighbourhood) where the two friends grew up is perhaps the main “character” of the series. Even if the protagonist Elena also wanders through Pisa, Rome, Florence and other parts of the world, the focus is always in the “rione”, which Lina never leaves.

The Naples that the story shows is a quite violent and sometimes very depressing environment. It is very different from what you may read or see in Eduardo de Filippo’s Neapolitan plays, for example. De Filippo also shows poverty, drama and occasionally violence, but he is almost always humorous and focuses more on the humanity of the characters, even when they are poor or desperate or make bad decisions. But Elena’s Neapolitans almost totally lack humor, and most characters, even when “friends”, have very harsh or complicated relationships with one another. There is not one family relationship or friendship in the book that seems to work even remotely well; everybody seem to be constantly fighting or trying to get their way with each other, or changing from friend to enemy on a whim; even Lina’s and Elena’s “friendship” is full of misunderstandings and aggressions.

Another observation: even though the book constantly mentions the “Neapolitan dialect”, it has very little of it. It mostly uses the standard Italian language for all of the dialogs (I’ve read the book in Italian; this wouldn’t apply to the translation), and maybe just a few local expressions (‘zoccola’ or slut is one that appears quite often). Now, if you’re even just a bit familiar with the Neapolitan dialect, you can see that it can be very colourful and characteristic, even if it can become impossible to understand, even for Italians (for an example, check the aforementioned plays by Eduardo De Fiippo, or the work of Neapolitan actor/director Massimo Troisi.) So while I understand why the author chose not to use it, sometimes it seems that it could give more life to the speech of at least some of the characters, who wouldn’t speak in formal Italian anyway. I don’t know; it’s a minor thing, and does not compromise the book.

I could go on, but I don’t want to give any spoilers. If you have the chance, read the book, it’s worth it. There is also a recent series based on it, but I didn’t watch it, and don’t plan to (I have my own image of the characters and I feel that the visuals chosen for the series might ruin it).

P. S. “Elena Ferrante” (not to be confused with “Elena Greco” which is the character of the book) is a pseudonym, and it is not clear who the real author is, as she has not come forward officially. Some say that she is actually the translator Anita Raja, which could or could not be true. Does it matter? Does it change the book in any way? I don’t think so. She has a new book now that just came out, not related to the tetralogy (“La vita bugiarda degli adulti”); I haven’t read it and not sure I will.

When you get to a certain age, which can vary according to the person’s temperament, you start to live more in the past than in the present, if only because you have more years of “past” behind you that you will likely have a “future” in front of you. Of course, being mostly a melancholic (see previous post about the temperaments), I tended even in my youth to focus more on the past than in the future (Pascal observed that humans rarely focus in the present, but either in the past or in the future).

But one thing that happens, I think to everyone, independently of their temperament, is the cementing of their musical taste, at least in what refers to pop music, and the preference for the music of the past, or more exactly of their youth.

For instance, nowadays I tend to listen mostly to classical music, but, if not, to rock/pop from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I know very little about, and have even less interest, in current pop music. The little I’ve heard of it seems awful, vulgar and stupid, but of course, I am not the target audience.

I hate rap and hip hop, which seems to be the most popular genre today, and I am not the greatest fan of electronic music either, with a few exceptions. Rock, for all practical purposes, seems to be basically dead. I mean, the era of the great rock bands finished in the 90s, really. If I think of the country where I grew up, Brazil, there were many great rock bands in the 80s and 90s (Legião Urbana, Ira!, Capital Inicial, Camisa de Vênus). A few of them, following the example of the geriatric Rolling Stones, are still active, but there are basically no new rock bands that are very popular. Most of what is popular are variants of synth pop or hip hop, usually extremely vulgar (i.e. what’s called “funk” in Rio).

Of course, even if there were great rock bands today, I probably wouldn’t listen to them, since Youtube and similar services basically allow anyone to find any song that they used to listen in their youth.

One of those songs, which I listened recently for the first time after decades, was a song by the Brazilian band Camisa de Vênus (which is a poetic name for condom – “Venus’s shirt” – but of course I didn’t know that when I was 13 and the song came out). It was popular in the 80s, and had a chorus like this: “Lena veja o que o tempo faz / com as pessoas que não querem perder o gás”, which could be translated literally as “Lena, see what time does / to those who don’t want to lose their gas”, but meaning really people who don’t want to lose their youth, but end up looking like pathetic middle-agers pretending to be still young and thinking that the things they enjoy and know are still cool, etc.

I don’t think I had this problem, because I wasn’t cool even when I was young… Nor did I care to, very much. Youth is fickle and superficial. Nelson Rodrigues, a famous Brazilian journalist and writer, once was asked what was the best advice he could give to the young, and he said: “Get old .” And that’s what they all did.

* * *

The photographs below (the photographs of photographs) were taken at a shop window in Altenburg, Germany, a few weeks ago. I don’t now what’s the context of the pictures, but I found interesting the juxtaposition of the images of the group of ladies dressed all the same way with aprons (workers in a factory?) with the vintage erotic photograph. The pictures seem to be from the beginning of the 20th century and of course all those people are long dead now.

It was said that certain primitive tribes of the Pacific didn’t like their photographs taken because they believed that “photographs can capture your soul”. Maybe they were right about that… There is something eery about mirror-like images that freeze your aspect in time and can last even beyond your earthly life. But of course, in those initial times of photography (early 20th century), taking a picture was a special event, you didn’t take one every day or every hour to post online as we do now. But what to think of the thousands of images that each of us now will leave for posterity, or at least to the limbo of the digital realm in the “Cloud”…?

I am writing a longer article for publication elsewhere about the “four temperaments”, but for now, this brief introduction will have to do.

The classic theory, coming from the Greeks, was that there were four basic personal temperaments: choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlegmatic. They were related to the “four humors”: blood, yellow bile, black bile, phlegm.

While the biological aspect of the four humours has lost relevancy, I don’t think that the “four temperaments” did. In fact, recent personality theories are pretty much in agreement with the basic division, except that they are more complicated and call them something else (INTP, INJP, etc), or “The Big Five” personality types.

I don’t know, the old system seems much more intuitive. Also, four makes numerically and symbolically more sense than five or other larger numbers — and it makes it much easier to organize them in a square matrix, such as this one.

The Sanguine personality type is described primarily as being highly talkative, enthusiastic, active, social, and a bit superficial. Quick and shallow excitability – they always look for something new and keep changing their point of view).

The Choleric tend to be more extroverted, independent, decisive, goal-oriented, and ambitious, but also violent, vengeful, and short-tempered. Quick, but long-lasting excitability. They react rapidly and with energy to stimulus.

The Melancholic are introverted, analytical and detail-oriented. Deep thinkers and feelers, creative, but also reserved, indecisive, fearful and often anxious. Slow and deep excitability. They don’t react immediately, but impressions last long and can mark them deeply.

The Phlegmatic individuals tend to be relaxed, peaceful, quiet, and easy-going; they like mostly to eat and sleep and are not anxious at all, but also not so extroverted or filled with lofty ideals. Slow and shallow excitability. They forget things easily and don’t get worked up by most stuff.

A good and more detailed description of each type can be found here. For those too lazy or too phlegmatic to look into it, Wikipedia has the basic info.

According to the classification, I would obviously be a melancholic (although the system allows for a combination of types, so I could have elements of others, too). Melancholics are associated with autumn, with the Earth element, with the color blue (or black), with cold and dry qualities, with introversion and emotional instability, and with “black bile” (the bodily humor). Tendency to insomnia, dark dreams, pessimism, rheumatism. Also generally thin — body type is ectomorph. (More about the health aspects here).

It doesn’t seem to be possible to change your temperament, although you can train or educate yourself to reduce its most negative aspects.

I will shortly publish a longer article about all this, probably in our own magazine that is coming up.