ANTONIO BIVAR, 1939–2020
The article below is an extended version of a blog post published shortly after Bivar’s death. I would be pleased to hear from anyone with further information, anecdotes or photographs that could be used to extend it further: firstname.lastname@example.org
ANTONIO BIVAR 1939-2020
Antônio Bivar Battistetti Lima, better known as Antônio Bivar or simply Bivar, died in São Paolo of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) on Sunday July 5th. He was an old and dear friend to many people in England as well as in Brazil, having first come to this country in 1970. His most recent visit was in 2019.
Bivar was born in São Paulo and moved with his family to Ribeirão Preto (in the interior of São Paulo state) during his teens. His background was working class: Wikipedia records that he worked as an office boy and as an office assistant. He would describe his proletarian origins himself by referring to a period when he worked in a drinks warehouse, carrying crates of beer and soft drinks.
In the early sixties, following his dream of living the life artistic, he moved to Rio de Janeiro. He had got a place first at the Fundacão Brasileira de Teatro, and then at the Conservatorio Nacional de Teatro, and he studied performing arts whilst working as a stage hand. On one occasion Rudolf Nureyev came to the theatre to perform, and Bivar told the story that the great man actually spoke to him: he said, “Put that fag out, boy”.
As part of the 'New Drama' movement that emerged in Brazil, Bivar worked as a playwright through the sixties and into the seventies. His work in the theatre earned him the disapproval of the Brazilian military government, although in 1968 he also won the Moliére award as best young Brazilian playwright of the year. His plays Cordélia Brasil and Abre a janela e deixa entrar o ar puro e o sol da manhã (Open the window and let in the pure air and the morning sun) were the theatre pieces that earned him this award.
He was a pioneer of the counter-culture in Brazil, and at one time was responsible for bringing LSD into the country. As a result he fell foul of organised crime as well as the government: he was once taken up to the top of the Sugarloaf overlooking Rio de Janeiro, and threatened with being thrown off if he didn’t leave drug distribution to the professional criminals.
The Moliére award financed his first trip to Europe (1970-71). He spent time in London, Dublin and Paris (and New York), as well as at the Isle of Wight festival, and he visited Worthy Farm near Glastonbury whilst the 1971 Glastonbury Fair was in preparation. Most of the time he was based with the Brazilian ex-patriate community in Notting Hill Gate; his contemporaries there included the musician Gilberto Gil who later became Minister of Culture in Lula’s Brazilian government of 2003-2010.
This trip was the basis for Verdes Vales do Fim do Mundo (Green Valleys at the End of the World), a book that he very much believed in himself, as an original and new piece of work, though he had great trouble convincing editors. By 1980 he had spent eight years looking for a publisher without success, and he decided he would have to completely re-write the book, tightening it up and reducing it to half its length.
One publisher did give it to an established novelist to comment on. This was Ignacio de Loyola Brandão, whose own novel Zero had been banned in the '60s by the military regime (and eventually published in 1979). He slated Verdes Vales as being a first draft and unfit for publication as it stood. He did however appreciate Bivar's work as a playwright and encouraged him to re-write the book. In fact Bivar was already doing so, along similar lines to those suggested by Loyola. It was eventually published in 1984, and re-published, with further revisions, in 2002.
Longe daqui aqui mesmo, which Bivar described as a 'Side B' to Verdes Vales (and which had to wait until 1995 to be published), grew out of a return visit to Britain in 1972-73. He made further visits intermittently over the following decades.
Back in Brazil, he would describe the '70s as the most difficult decade to get through. The 'New Drama', it seemed, had gone out of fashion. He was commissioned by the Polish impresario 'Zimba' Ziembinski to write a 'warholesque' play to celebrate his (Ziembinski's) 50 years in theatre, but Quarteto proved to be a disaster. Federal censorship stopped the debut performance in 1976, which only raised expectations of the play, but when it was eventually performed it was slated by the (mostly anti-government) critics.
It was during the seventies that he began contributing articles to various magazines, including Vogue-Homem (Vogue for Men). He also returned to his early success in student theatre as an actor, appearing as Riff-Raff in a production of The Rocky Horror Show. Then he received a prize for a theatre script at the Paraná Festival of Humour, which enabled him to return to England at the beginning of the eighties.
It was during that year that he received what he described as "a year of training at the most modern school that life offered at that time", which set him up for various new projects when he returned to Brazil. The military government had come to an end, and the time was ripe for a new wave of creativity.
London, he once said, was his favourite city in the world. He had already seen the birth of the Punk subculture in London, and his first published book was O que é Punk? (What is Punk?) in 1982. He also organised O Começo do Fim do Mundo (The Start of the End of the World), Brazil’s first Punk Rock festival, held in São Paulo in 1982. He was the Brazilian correspondent for the San Francisco Punk Fanzine Maximumrockandroll for several years.
Also, in collaboration with the poet Celso Luis Paulini, he wrote a three-part History of Brazil for the theatre. For this he received a number of awards, including the Moliere award for the second time.
He established himself successfully as a freelance journalist in Brazil, having worked in the 1980s for the magazine Gallery Around, where his job was described as 'Style Editor'. According to Paula Dip, who worked with him there:
"He was the chef, the creative person, who invented delicious flavours and characters, such as Aurore Jordan and Jacintho de Thormes, amongst other fun pseudonyms that he used to multiply the team of collaborators on the magazine. He invented words, knew everything and everyone, mixing slang and people from the most sophisticated to the most common, always with the greatest simplicity and in several languages. His Bible was the traditional English magazine Tatler, which he knew by heart. He created amazing covers!"
Over the years he contributed to magazines and newspapers including the Folha de São Paulo, one of the largest papers in the country. He worked on a number of assignments with his close friend, the photographer Vania Toledo; they visited such places as the Pantanal in south western Brazil, the world's largest tropical wetland area, and islands in the Caribbean.
More books followed as well, mostly biographies and memoirs of his travels. He is remembered in Brazil as one of the ‘Beat Generation’ and his books include James Dean and Jack Kerouac, o rei dos beatniks, though his early time in London coincided with the height of the hippy movement in Britain. Besides Punk, he was a lifelong admirer of the Incredible String Band.
He was also an enthusiastic reader of British literary classics, and he particularly enjoyed Virginia Woolf. He was the first – and perhaps the only – Brazilian member of the International Virginia Woolf Society. In 1993 he went to the former home of Bloomsbury luminaries including Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and David Garnett: Charleston Farmhouse, near Lewes in Sussex, where he studied Bloomsbury Art and Literature.
There he met Jenny Thompson, who was to be his partner until her death in 2008, and he began writing the book Bivar na Corte de Bloomsbury which was published in 2005. He returned to Charleston Farmhouse each year from 1993 until 2004, and became a close friend of Vanessa Bell’s son Quentin Bell, and his wife Anne Olivier Bell.
He stayed in touch with Jenny’s family after her death, and was made ‘honorary grandfather’ of her grandson, born in 2013.
In Brazil his output was considerable during this period, including his best-seller Yolanda (2004), about Yolanda Penteado who was something of a Brazilian folk heroine during the 1950s. New editions of several of his earlier books were also published; nevertheless he still had to write a monthly column for what he described as a ‘glamorous’ magazine in order to pay his bills.
In 2014 Mundo Adentro Vida Afora (World Inside Life Outside) was published. This was written as a prequel to Verdes Vales and Longe Daqui, telling the story of his life up until he first travelled to Europe. Although he had trouble finding a publisher, because it was at first considered not to be ‘commercial’, this was the book that he himself felt was his best.
In London in 2014, Bivar suffered from a serious chest infection, the impact of which may have been crucial six years later. He died of ‘complications brought on by Covid-19’. Vania Toledo also died, though from different causes, eleven days later. Bivar will be remembered widely in Brazil, and also by several different communities here in the UK. Again quoting Paula Dip:
"At 81, when he died, Bivar was at least thirty years younger in soul than all of us, in the most diverse ways one can be young. He never imagined that his life would be cut short at that moment."
With thanks for providing material to Angela Watts, to Andrew Lovelock, to whoever put up the Wikipedia pages – in Portuguese and English – the day after Bivar's death, and of course to Bivar himself.
Below are links to extracts from Bivar's writing, translated into English, that describe episodes from his travels in England. They are mostly taken from the original (unpublished) first draft of 'Verdes Vales do Fim do Mundo'.
* BIVAR'S ARRIVAL AT THE HOUSE
* CHURCHILL GARDENS, SALISBURY
* LIFE AT 63 ST ANNE STREET
* LETTERS FROM SALISBURY
* MEETING UP WITH TRIP IN LONDON
* RETURN TO SALISBURY
* IN LONDON WITH BRUCE
* WORTHY FARM AND GLASTONBURY
* BACK AGAIN TO SALISBURY
* ANDREW & JANE
* THE CATHEDRAL CONCERT
* BIVAR'S 'PRECOCIOUS AUTOBIOGRAPHY'
'FLASHES' DO VERDES VALES
A 3-minute film, made in Super–8 in the '70s in London by friend Andrew Lovelock, in which Bivar appears very young, always smiling, free, light and loose in Kings Road and hanging out with friends in one of those huge London parks. Hamsptead Heath? Kew Gardens? [Paula Dip]
When publishing the film the author commented:
"Antonio Bivar, a very special old friend of mine from Brazil, died of Covid-19 on Sunday. We met in Salisbury in 1970. He was a famous playwright, actor and author, and a fascinating, irreverent, thoughtful, inspiring, kind, gentle, crazy person that I loved dearly.The last time I saw him he left me a DVD of four years of random Super-8 clips he had taken in the US and UK, between 1970 and 1974. I made a 3 minutes movie from Bivar's clips of us and our friends in London in 1971 with a soundtrack he liked. I am so glad to share it, it was good for my heart to make it. I wanted to express some of the joy of knowing and loving Bivar."
I first met Bivar in Salisbury during the autumn of 1970, when I was barely 18 years old. He had travelled from London with his close friend, the poet José (‘Zé’) Vicente, attracted by the medieval cathedral and the Neolithic stones of Stonehenge. The two of them reached a difficult place in their friendship and after visiting the Stones, Zé returned to London but Bivar remained in Salisbury.
Sitting in the cathedral close, he met ‘the most fantastic creature’. This was my friend Roger, who took him to a house where he would meet ‘some nice people’. 63 Saint Anne Street was a classic hippy house, with people sleeping all over the place and drifts of rubbish and broken down furniture everywhere else. I was one of the people.
On a further spontaneous whim, he asked if he could stay with us for a while. He seemed to find us both interesting and friendly, and this was the beginning of several deep friendships that lasted through the years. We would connect here in Salisbury, in London, and later in Glastonbury.
The resulting wild, though innocent and sometimes trippy adventures were a theme that appeared and re-appeared through his books Verdes Vales do Fim do Mundo (Green Valleys at the End of the World) and Longe Daqui Aqui Mesmo (Far from here and Here as well), which he was writing as he travelled. They were eventually published, in much edited form, in 1984 and 1995 respectively – and they brought him a cult following in Brazil.
Bivar gave me a hand-typed manuscript copy of his early draft of Verdes Vales. I already had a place at University to do Latin American studies; inspired by meeting him, I elected to study Portuguese rather than Spanish, with the intention of translating the work of Brazilian writers into English. Life worked out differently, which I don't regret; nevertheless it is part of my grief at his passing that I never translated his work, not even for the benefit of friends who appeared in his early books. This section of the website is intended partly, and to some extent, to put that right.
BG, August 2020