Paulo Coelho Interview by Marika Schaertl @ Focus Munich

The Boy from Ipanema
 
We seem to have come to the highpoint of our house visit with Paulo Coelho around 6 pm. The author abruptly races out the door mumbling something like “I have to pray to Mother Mary.” The Brazilian bestseller supplier is a Catholic – and always good for a brief show number. The man, who has sold 95 million books around the world and who is disparaged by the book reviewers as a writer of esoteric schmaltz while being idolized by his readers as a spiritual guru, also loves to let interviewers take part in his inclination for rituals, alchemy signs and superstitions. Therefore, prayer to Maria daily at 6 pm. At 6:05 pm he once again sits at the dining table in his feudal flat in a wonderful old building in Paris. Stucco, wood paneled walls, white leather sofas, fantastic view of the Seine. Yet another cup of coffee, a Philip Morris for the man of the house. At 6:30 pm, Coelho suddenly announces cheerfully: “And now we are going to practice archery.” He grabs his mighty wooden bow and eleven arrows, takes the precaution of locking the door to the servants’ quarters, and stands erect at the end of the hall. In rapid succession, he fires the eleven arrows towards the target eight meters away – all bull’s eyes. “And now you,” says Coelho, his rosy cheeks revealing a sense of pride. The guest complies out of politeness. “To your mouth,” shouts Coelho, which means: pull the arrow back towards your mouth. The reporter lets the arrow fly and hits the dining room wall a half meter to the left of the target. It bores a deep, round hole into the fine wooden paneling. Mr. Coelho is dumbfounded. After two minutes he moans, “How did you manage to do that?” The harmonious evening mood has flown. Good thing our talk took place beforehand.
 
Focus: Mr. Coelho, in your younger years your parents placed you in an insane asylum three times because you were a non-conformist and wanted to become an artist. After one stretch of therapy, you said that you had internally come to terms with the fact that everyone must live out his or her bit of madness. How much madness is still left in you today?
 
Coelho: If madness means being other than “normal” that is fine with me. If it is threatening for oneself and society, there is a problem. My motto is: A little bit of madness is quite healthful.
 
Focus: You believe in alchemy, angels, and omens. Is it not just more for show when you say that you can remember your own birthing?
 
Coelho: That is true. I came into this world, saw an old woman and knew that she was my grandmother. Doctors say that such things are possible.
 
Focus: You also believe that you should write a new book when a white feather floats down before your feet. Are you serious?
 
Coelho: Naturally. But I am not obsessed with these things. I also play around with the universe, and it plays around with me.
 
Focus: Your books are torn to pieces by the critics but loved by esoteric readers as well as by capitalists and statesmen. Why?
 
Coelho: I have no idea. I personally don’t think of my books as esoteric. I write about sex, prostitution, and craziness. The common denominator: The essence of life. We live in a time when we do not just focus on fulfilling our obligations, retiring and dying – but rather, we look for more. I only provoke people to think about things: For the superrich as well as a small-time taxi driver.
 
Focus: You are a guest at the World Economic Forum in Davos each January – for critics, a summit meeting of the sweat-talkers. What do you do there?
 
Coelho: I am a fan of the WEF at Davos. Davos is the fantastic idea of bringing the powerbrokers together on neutral territory where they can have a dialog. This is where the magic of Davos lies. There I have learned that decision makers have the same issues as you and I.
 
Focus: People are also coddled and pampered at Davos, as was recently the case with Pakistan’s President Musharraf, who is exceptionally unpopular today.
 
Coelho: Well, he is not my type. Of course you meet people like that at Davos. He is certainly one of those who talks more than he listens.
 
Focus: Fans of The Alchemist include Bill Clinton, Schröder, and Putin. Do you really believe in the power of the author?
 
Coelho: No. For ten years, I have been a member of the Shimon Perez Center for Peace, which concerns itself with the struggle for peace in the Middle East. Has anything changed? Nothing! Before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote an essay titled “Thank you Mr. President”. Five hundred million people read it. Did that prevent Mr. Bush from bombing Iraq for one second? No. But it hit a nerve. By the way, the two countries where my books are read most are Israel and Iran. This tells me that all is not lost.
 
Focus: Do you chat with US political figures, such as Condoleezza Rice, about topics like Iran at afternoon coffee parties such as Davos?
 
Coelho: Yes. And they don’t listen. None of them. I look upon America as a corporation in which I would not buy any shares.
 
Focus: You invest your millions conservatively anyway, as you once revealed . . . .
 
Coelho: True. In something like a fixed money account. I used to have a lot of apartments. This only led to problems with the tenants. Today I only have five in Brazil, Paris, Geneva and a house near Lourdes. The stock market is like a casino. And bankers only pass on their tips after everything has collapsed. I recently called up three of them. All of them warned me not to sell my dollars. I did it anyway. The dollar was at 1.34 and went to 1.46.
 
Focus: You used to be a fan of Che Guevara, Marx and Engels before. How much Marxism still resides in you?
 
Coelho: I believe in equal opportunity. This interview is provocative, however.
 
Focus: We could talk about books.
 
Coelho: For heaven’s sake no. Don’t destroy this wonderful moment. I am constantly asked about my success. Horrible.
 
Focus: Why not tell me why you wrote about God’s feminine side in your new book about the “Great Mother”?
 
Coelho: Because we men are feminine. Our society is moving in the direction of intuition, emotion and empathy. Away from a manly, strict and powerful God with His Ten Commandments and towards His feminine side. You as a woman do not need that so much. But we men do.
 
Focus: Do you need this God for your spiritual happiness? You were once an atheist and Buddhist – and returned to Catholicism.
 
Coelho: Because it is in my blood and not because I think it is the ultimate religion. I also do not like Pope Benedict. I have tried everything that there is. All religions have the same objective. I see Christian fundamentalists, who wreak a great deal of havoc. One can still be spiritual as an atheist.
 
Focus: You rediscovered your faith while on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela 20 years ago. Today, that path is trendy and there have been numerous TV shows. Does that bother you?
 
Coelho: I think it is tremendous. Even if people set out on a pilgrimage because it is chic or they want to lose weight, they will still change their consciousness or their values while doing so.
 
Focus: A “Mr. J” haunts your books as some sort of guru. Does he exist in reality?
 
Coelho: Of course. He is a Jewish businessman, simply someone from whom I learn. He is not the guru of a sect but rather part of a group, which believes in the language of symbols. Symbols, such as the flowers in the vase behind you. There! I speak about flowers and you gently tug at the neckline of your dress. This hand movement that I follow – the language of symbols! A sign.
 
Focus: A very earthly sign for a spiritual master.
 
Coelho: I do not perceive a contradiction.
 
Focus: Let’s talk about excesses. You have tried out many: sex of every form of play, drugs, black magic. In order to impress women, you said. What are you doing in this direction today?
 
Coelho: Nothing. We grow up. Even if men remain overgrown children.
 
Focus: You write about the dramatic events of your youth such as psychiatry in your books . . . .
 
Coelho: Oh! Freud! There are two utopias which have damaged society a great deal: Communism and Freud. I consider it useless to seek the blame for one’s own failings in one’s parents. My books are not catharsis. But I do place my soul on display. There are no open wounds. But there are some pretty scars.

Comments

  1. barbara says:

    I have to say that journalist do get paid for a good interview, and they come prepared, they aim their own arrows at the person they interviewing. I have to say you mastered the art of answering their questions:)

    I am glad to see that you do not stop for no one and go on with your routines, with such calmness.

    Thank you, it’s only here that I get to read interviews as such. It’s here that I find things that matter to me, that are important, it’s here that I learn, it’s thanks to you.

    With love,
    Barbara

  2. Seema says:

    Great piece of writing about The Interview. Both the first para of Introduction segueing freely with the talks that flowed former to the arrow-shoot. Great!

  3. Mainstream says:

    That thing about men remaining overgrown children
    I found a solution for the women would you like to hear it?
    we are in a situation where these days women also wants equality rights
    So i have been thinking a bit: age is no longer a factor for women either
    it is a bit strange women and men of the same age don’t seem to have too much equality in this matter
    let me explain
    we have here two persons : a male and a female
    passed a certain age the male is an overgrown child the woman is going through the menopause (men o pause).
    the woman being equal wants also to be an overgrown child
    so here it is: the woman then is going through the (women o pause)
    Feeling like a teenager for ever both of them
    sounds nice no
    better than the original version
    Hey we both are Legends now!
    with love
    XX

  4. Iqubal Ahmad says:

    nice interview,he is really a spiritual guru.

  5. Tina says:

    Have you changed as a person since this interview was made? After all you have reached the Jerusalem way, is there anything you would like to add to this interview today?
    Great love to you and your work!!!!

  6. alex says:

    for whom are your books??

  7. Marie-Christine says:

    I like the 2mns delay reaction : “How did you do that?” :)

  8. Kealan says:

    Munich, sweet Munich, this is where I am spending the Christmas, in a sweet warm apartment not far from the Olympic stadium. We arrive late on the 24th so I will be unable to shop for two days!! I get to spend money then on all the wonderfully made clothes and munch on a few German sausages as I walk around in the freezing outside. The beer is pure as is the air in the Alps.

    It reminds me terribly of walking into a stranger’s house and breaking something, like a child, the throat tightens as you wait for the occupier to come to terms with the loss of something that until now was part of his life and did not change, it seemed unchangeable, until that moment. How it was fine for the past 20 years until somebody broke, shot, tore, it. In it’s self it is magic how the hand is guided to a specific point in a house, the target is hit, and something changes. Beginners luck goes out the window, to take its place is experience, at last. So now the crafts man can relax and know that he is appreciated for his talent at hitting the true target and not some empty space between walls.

  9. agnieszka says:

    Dear Paulo,
    I love that You are so open and calm, regardless of what the subject is.
    That shows that You are worth every minute given to You and Your books.
    This shows also that there is this LIGHT inside You, that shines through.
    You are the real Warrior of the Light!

    love
    Agnieszka

  10. Driss says:

    A well sewed analysis Monica.speaking about the arrow, it seems to me that yours’ shot the interviewer and not the interviewed.It’s obvious since you elevate Paolo to the status of god.Focus’s success lies in making Paolo reveals his inner side,his Freud.Where could we find expressions such these “no open wounds, pretty scars” if focus shosed to cover her arrow with honey and butter?.Right. she shot the wall, that wall on which Paolo tries to reconstruct man and wonan’s dream.

  11. Driss says:

    One important thing attracted me in this interesting interview:The author’s ability to cope with the stream of change. May be this is the result of the “little bit of madness”.Of course without this bit of madness ,we can’t bear the great madness of the greedy imperialists..

  12. Monika Frotscher says:

    One to zero for you, Paulo!

    The interviewer didn’t come through to irritate you! Although the lady left no room for you to guide conversation into an agreeable direction, you didn’t loose patience (utterly at least).

    I had to laugh, when you tried in the end to stop the aggressive lady with a flirt attack, talking about flowers, but she gave you no chance. She was really a tough nut to crack! It is very interesting that she switched over to another theme just in this moment – asking you about excesses, sex and women. No surprise that this conversation had to end with Freud!

    I was not astonished at all that she shot the arrow into the wall – she simply refused to have the same direction as you. No common goal! Thus this had to happen. Good luck for you she did not shot you. You have to be careful whom you give bow and arrow!

    I would really like to know, how you were feeling during this interview!

  13. Leaf says:

    This was lovely to read as it’s not about books.
    Thank you.
    Love all

  14. Kealan says:

    Munich, sweet Munich, this is where I am spending the Christmas, in a sweet warm apartment not far from the Olympic stadium. We arrive late on the 24th so I will be unable to shop for two days!! I get to spend money then on all the wonderfully made clothes and munch on a few German sausages as I walk around in the freezing outside. The beer is pure as is the air in the Alps.

    It reminds me terribly of walking into a stranger’s house and breaking something, like a child, the throat tightens as you wait for the occupier to come to terms with the loss of something that until now was part of his life and did not change, it seemed unchangeable, until that moment. How it was fine for the past 20 years until somebody broke, shot, tore, it. In it’s self it is magic how the hand is guided to a specific point in a house, the target is hit, and something changes. Beginners luck goes out the window, to take its place is experience, at last. So now the crafts man can relax and know that he is appreciated for his talent at hitting the true target and not some empty space between walls.

  15. Carmen Larisa says:

    P.S. One more thing: People don’t necessarily need religion, we need God first of all.

  16. Carmen Larisa says:

    A nice and pretty funny interview! I liked the part in which the interviewer shoots the arrow in the wrong target… :-)
    Like Tania above mentioned, I can picture the scene as I once did something similar when trying to hit a target and the instructor was shocked and annoyed but the whole scene seemed ridiculously funny…
    As far as the changes in the world are concerned I believe that it depends on how you perceive them. There are changes, not very obvious indeed, but delicate, subtle ones. The truth is that the world doesn’t change completely for the better because people don’t want to change completely for the better. We are the world, we should understand that.
    And I also believe that it depends on how you look at things, as the world is a reflection of how we are inside. For example, when I have moments of disappointment towards the others, I realize that somehow I am also disappointed concerning myself, when I am optimistic and see only the positive aspect of everything, I have a state of well-being inside my heart too.
    And I also strongly believe that talking about peace is not enough, no matter how elevated the discussions are, at what level, if the participants are businessmen or presidents. If you don’t have serenity inside, if you don’t feel peaceful, you cannot transmit and spread it outside.
    That’s why an old, simple, ordinary woman, in a remote village can be closer to God than a fancy philosopher talking about God and “-isms” because the first one can feel God in her full heart and the other one can only talk about something, thinking that he knows what he is talking about but there can be only empty talk, without substance…
    Scars heal by themselves. In time we get used to them and they don’t hurt anymore; when we forget about them, one day we’ll notice surprisingly that they are gone!
    As far as smoking and other vices are concerned I strongly believe that one day soon people will realize that they don’t need cigarettes to feel relaxed nor lots of alcohol to enjoy themselves and become numb, nor drugs to substitute reality for illusions… Love can fill all the empty spaces we feel having inside and we will be perfectly comfortable with ourselves, secure with the Spirit we all are. This can happen now, in two minutes, one hour, one day, tomorrow, who knows exactly, maybe sooner than we have ever expected.
    We all want to be loved and cherished and to love, but we sometimes have funny ways of showing our needs and desires.
    We all make mistakes, after all we are not Gods, we are human beings, but we seek Perfection, we choose to go on hopefully and the life force inside us is so powerful that if we are willing, She will guide our paths and correct everything eventually. :-)

    All my love and appreciation,
    Carmen Larisa

  17. Tania Chilby says:

    This was a good interview ,I had to laugh though at the part when the interviewer shoots the arrow and hits the wooden paneling ,and he says you where dumbfounded and said 2 minutes later how did you manage that ?He was probably a bit nerves and I suppose not every one can hit a target first go… Practice makes perfect ,but i just pictured this in my mind and the hole in the panel ,I have a sick sense of humor and see the funny side of everything!!! I wonder if he will ever be back….thanks Tania

    1. Marie-Christine says:

      About the interview :
      - I like schmaltz – sounds better than guimauve -

      - A few years ago I would have had difficulty in understanding how far you can remember things. It was because I could not remember anything.

      - I think sex, politics are 3 of the main things we are told to avoid in discussion. It is quite ironic because as you said they are the “common denominator. The essence of life”.

      - I like the sweat talkers – It’s sweet!

      - The investment bit got my attention also – I read that quote a while back ;
      “L’homme avise met tous ses oeufs dans le meme panier et veille dessus.”
      A wise man puts all his eggs in the same basket and looks after it.
      seems there is a discrepancy with what advisors are telling us… exactly the reverse. How interesting.

      - I like the non-nonsense opening of your soul. Probably, most of us want to do that, that’s why it’s appreciated so much.Thank you.

      With love

      Marie-Christine