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Banknotes stacked on the vinyl player

Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits 2: Banknote Project 1970 (Part of Tate Modern's permanent collection)

I was seven years old in 1990 when I arranged my pocket money on top of the acrylic lid of the vinyl player. Folded banknotes stacked up high in a precarious tower. I stared at it thinking of the sweet shop. Of every time I had been there with my younger sister. Of all the chocolates, lollies and chews she had enjoyed while I contented myself with licking the wrapper. Thrifting away. Sacrificing my sweet tooth for a future Barbie doll.

Little did I know that all the money I had saved over a year or so wouldn’t buy even the stick of a lolly. With prices pretty much doubling every month in Brazil, money lost value as soon as you touched it. It had to be turned into consumption quickly. Or invested in bricks and mortar or foreign currency which was hard to get hold of. All this I would only understand later. At that time I was more intrigued by the dynamics in the supermarket, with aisles patrolled by sales assistants armed with price tag guns ready to put them to use at a moment’s notice. One needed to grab the milk quickly before a swift move of the gun changed its price again. It was scary. And expensive the speed at which prices changed.

The economic environment might not have rewarded me for saving but my mother did. And that’s probably why I remained a saver. She bought me the doll and made a bonfire of the banknotes. You see, not only had inflation eroded the purchasing power of my savings, but a change in the Brazilian currency a few months into 1990 had rendered most of it completely worthless.

The Barbie doll incident did teach me a few lessons in Economics (I did become an Economist fifteen years later) but it also taught me street smarts. Once I learnt money needed to be spent as soon as it hit my pocket, I decided to spend it on something less ephemeral than sweets. I would go to the stationery shop and admire the intricate pencils and pens on display. Once I decided which one I wanted to buy I would ask the shopkeeper if she could hold the price while I went home to get my money. And she always did.

#touchthepainting #cildomeireles #tatemodern #shortstory


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