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Tales on two wheels in Curitiba

Meet cycling storyteller Cadu Cinelli

Photo by Lis Guedes

Imagine riding a bicycle around a city while being introduced to the bricklayers, mothers and maids who make up its tapestry – through their stories. Cadu Cinelli cycles around Curitiba recounting tender tales about extraordinary ordinary people

Just as ex-Talking Heads drummer David Byrne – who has relied on a bike to get around New York City since the early 1980s – relates his adventures in Bicycle Diaries, Cadu Cinelli gets behind the handlebars to relay human stories.

Since 2017, the actor, director, visual artist and storyteller has been taking curious locals on cycling tours around his city, Curitiba, the capital and largest city in the Brazilian state of Paraná. 

As he pedals through the city with his Percursos Afetivos (Affected Routes) storytelling-cycling project, Cadu shares the lives of people who are sometimes invisible or marginalised in the busy city through conceptual travelogues, or “literary interventions”.

The tapestry of life by Cadu Cinelli

His deep listening and fully embodied engagement with his environment crystallises in exquisite, interweaving tales that utterly charm his audiences. Cadu shows us a path to have a more loving relationship with the place where we live and the people with whom we share our neighbourhood.

His reason for creating characters within audio tales? He wants us to have a more tender relationship with the city. It’s as simple as that. 

Q&A with Curitiba’s storyteller on the move

Hi Cadu. Tell us something we don’t know about Curitiba.

Curitiba is in the south of Brazil and also is the capital of Paraná’s State. It’s a 3-million large city, and it’s famous because of the cold and rainy weather. And that’s true! But I like it anyway. It’s not as historical as Rio and Salvador, but it was very important in colonial and imperial times. At the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century, many European immigrants (Polish, Ukrainians, Italians) were stimulated to come here to work and build their lives. That’s why it’s a multicultural place, with a big focus on European immigration. Curitiba is a Tupi-Guarani word that means “a complex of pines”, but unfortunately, it does not properly acknowledge the Indigenous people’s land – Guaranis, Xetá and Kaigang.

We are also very diverse, with a population of black people who are underrepresented and marginalised. Sometimes this place can be too conservative… and sometimes creative, progressive and revolutionary. Even though we are living in dark, reactionary times, the city is made more interesting by being bike-friendly and full of cultural movement.

Over many kilometres, Michel cycles with many kilos on his back, daily, dreaming of better days, mixed with a kind of freedom. Michel makes the tapestry of Curitiba blacker. Michel reminds us that this city was also built by many black hands silenced over time. Michel reminds us that the city continues to be made by many black hands. And that some of them hold the handlebars of a bicycle, they carry and bring, and their faces are hidden by neon backpacks with brands of great global corporations.

Michel’s story, Affected Routes

Tell us about Affected Routes, your cycle tours of Curitiba.  

Affected Routes is my cycle storytelling project that I developed in August 2017. The main idea is to do storytelling sessions while cycling with an audience. I use a microphone and speaker setup, creating stories related to the places and landscapes we pass. The routes are pre-determined and the stories as well, but sometimes improvisations can be done.

Who are the people at the focus of your carefully crafted stories? 

The majority of the stories are of those people who are not in the mainstream of cities, but those who work backstage – bricklayers, cleaners, drivers, mothers, grandmas, children and workers. I don’t want to tell official stories with mayors, generals, big nation heroes as the protagonists. I crave urban stories with ordinary people and their extraordinary and resilient ability to survive and live in this contradictory world. 

On the way from Almirante Tamandaré to Curitiba city centre, looking at the landscape on the bus window, Maria rested – it was the only time she dreamed – while writing about the little things of life that fed her soul. As a wise woman, she saw poetry in every little thing, even a dust flake radiating through the ray of sunlight. Maria realised that no one was there. ‘Today I’m going to do it differently. Today I’m not going to be Maria, the maid! Ahhhh, nobody will domesticate me today! Today I will be Maria Poeta!’ She took her notebook filled with poetic sketches of  all the landscapes she saw on the bus window and started writing. And walking too. She wrote and walked. She wrote and wandered between the lines of the notebook. She walked around with her pen writing her footsteps.

Maria’s story, Affected Routes

How do you create the stories?

I cycle around the places that I’ve chosen for the route to learn about their stories, observing and talking with people and really feeling the landscapes. Sometimes I just sit somewhere and stay a while, sometimes I keep cycling and cycling until I get the leitmotif of the route’s story. 

What role does play take in your practice? 

Oh, there are many playful elements in Affected Routes. Sometimes there are some small objects that we set up in a place – like wrapping threads on a tree, or writing our names and messages on origami boats and floating down the river. The music we play in the story often sparks playfulness in me and the other riders. And natural elements that happen, like rain, wind, a flash of lightning, these spontaneous events are really welcome. They come unscheduled, unplanned and change what we are doing. 

In what other ways do you play with storytelling methods?

There is also a podcast with some short stories and chronicles, all of them about bikes, people, cities and what’s going on, and my Embroidered Cartographies project with embroidered maps, and the release of the book with the first stories. This is a complex project with different possibilities… that make me move a lot! 

What good impact can you see Affected Routes having?

It has changed me a lot because now I have different perspectives on our city. I have laid imaginary landscapes over the city for an even more tender relationship with the city. There are some big changes in some people who came riding with me. Some were not cyclists before the performance but they became cyclists forever because of it. Women didn’t feel safe before. After the performance they told me they feel brave now riding around the city. Even people who haven’t come to the performances have told me they think differently now about the city. Some places and people were invisible or marginalised. People have talked to me about those neighbourhoods and said, “Oh, you did something there! It’s possible to do something there!” People have changed their view about what can happen in those places.

I have laid imaginary landscapes over the city for an even more tender relationship with the city.

What’s your next mission?  

With the pandemic, I had to stop all the live performances. After restarting them now here in Curitiba, branching out to somewhere else could be interesting. And I’m looking forward to releasing the podcast in English – as a way to spread the voices around the world –  and for season two in Portuguese. I’m working hard to do all this! 

Who inspires you in what you do?

Many people inspire me! Many artists, geographers, workers! David Byrne’s art inspires me, especially his Bicycle Diaries; Orhan Pamuk too with his Museum of Innocence; and Eric Dardel, Paulo Freire, Stela do Patrocínio and Björk. Of course, storytellers inspire me too like Inno Sorsy, my dearest master. And children… because they remind me to keep my childhood feelings with me.

Lastly, how can readers add a bit of psychogeography to their life?

Psychogeography is a way to do geography in hand with psychology. A way of thinking and considering human geographies with subjectivity, imagination, emotions, feelings, perceptions and arts. It’s a way to observe people’s behaviours individually and collectively, as well.  First of all, reconnect to your own body, your breath, feel around you, where you are, the sensations of being alive exactly in the place we must be. Which sensations, emotions, feelings, perceptions, memories come to you when you are there? Fear? Beauty? Peace? Home? Landlessness…? Be aware that every day, in our daily geography, we are writing our very existence on Earth.

Be aware that every day, in our daily geography, we are writing our very existence on Earth.

What’s ‘psychogeography’ when it’s at home?

Asking what is psychogeography is a bit like asking what is music. People have been doing it for hundreds of years and there are lots of different ways to do it. A term invented by Marxist theorist Guy Debord in 1955, psychogeography is essentially about exploration, about experiencing places in a different way, following a path or a gaze other than the one that’s prescribed or habitual. When artists take a sideways look at their cities, they encourage us to experience places in a deeper way and have conversations we would never have had before. 

Additional photos by Doug Oliveira, Cicloativismo Fotografia, Warley Goulart, Casa de la Literatura Peruana, Dag Bach and Cadu Cinelli.

What’s so good about this?

Psychogeography has never seemed more relevant. In an increasingly apathetic society there is a need to revive the joys of discovery, play and self-empowerment. 

How does the place you call home make you feel and behave? For a simple psychogeographic experience, take a walk in silence using a pack of playing cards to determine your route (red for right, black for left). Take pictures. Along the way you’ll encounter treasures hidden in plain sight, maybe some secrets of your neighbourhood and a heightened sensory experience…  guaranteed. WARNING! You may end up grinning madly while filling your phone with photos of weeds growing through cracks in the pavement.

Meet the writer

Richard Byrne is a writer, educator and psychogeographer who wants to share the best stories that no one else is looking for. When he’s working you might find him @p_diversity. When he’s not working, he could be exploring the underworld with his kids on Minecraft or hanging out in Stardew Valley. Richard regularly spends an hour or two walking a very short distance while following psychogeographic instructions. He occasionally has euphoric experiences while walking and is trying to figure out how to have them more often.

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