Mário Vitória’s mossarium

At the end of the 19th century it became fashionable to create living collections of mosses in gardens or backyards, including botanic gardens. They became known as mossariums. Mário Vitória has revived this tradition and here he presents us with his mossarium.

Over time, tastes for different types of mosses have changed. And also their uses. In the first decades of the 21st century, ruderal mosses (from Latin: rudus, ruderis, ‘rubble’) became fashionable. These are the mosses that grow in run-down urban areas, with poorly paved streets and neglected kerbsides, rubble dumps, landfills, houses or shacks with cracked walls and roofs on the verge of ruin. Ruderal mosses are a sign of life in the midst of desolation, static swallows announcing spring in the midst of wintry times. They have many stories to tell about everything they cover, but their language has long ceased to be understood by humans. They are constantly stepped on, but they always bounce back. Those who understand them best are the children who play in the ruderalised places hidden from their parents. And what wonderful storytellers they are! Apart from the children, only the mossarium weed addicts (an invisible crowd because they only use the IHS, intimate health service) and the absence collectors pay them
any attention. The latter are precious as they are very rare. You see, a moss collector has to learn the language of mosses and translate what he hears into a language that ignorant humans can understand. It is very difficult to find this kind of intercultural translator precisely because the culture of nature and the nature of culture are incommensurable.

All my life I have studied ruderalised urban areas. My first work as a sociologist was carried out in one of these areas, a favela in Rio de Janeiro. There I saw a lot of moss and I confess that I would often lay down on it to rest and enjoy a beer. But I never heard anything. And if I did I certainly confused what I heard with the noise of the patrons of the bar or the commotion of children playing in the rubbish. Besides, in all my life I had never met a moss collector. As I am interested in things that do not exist, one day I asked in a museum whether they had any moss collections. Perplexed, the employee said she did not know of one nor could she even imagine such a thing. She asked me to wait a minute, went inside to see someone and came back accompanied by the director and a security guard. The director, in a stern voice, invited me to leave the museum and asked the security guard to show me to the door. I meant no offence, but perhaps in the eyes of the director I looked like a person who was less strange in the head than usual in this mind warped society.

In light of this story, which I am telling for the first time and with trepidation that I may be misunderstood, you can imagine my joy at meeting Mário Vitória, the only moss collector I have ever known in my entire life! There is something selfish about this joy because the existence of Mário Vitória shows that I was not crazy when I questioned the museum employee. She was just moss deficient. And the museum was too.

Mário Vitória’s impressive collection has another essential characteristic. In the pandemically unhealthy times we live in, the collection is above all an enormous recipe book, a self-help manual, such is the wealth of advice and benefits we find in it.

In the past, moss was used to protect humans from the harshness of the climate and to make things as comfortable as possible. It had uses as diverse as making beds and cushions, covering cracks, creating insulation, cleaning fish before drying them, slow roasting meat and even making bread in times of famine. Mário Vitória’s moss revives this tradition, but unrestrainedly expands its possibilities for use, its healing possibilities. Mário Vitória’s moss can be used to develop immunity against known and unknown viruses, to heal the wounds of nature and alleviate the pains of the universe, to scream in silence from the top of a depressive hole, to visit a cemetery at dead hours, the only time when the cemetery comes to life, to do drawings for children because they are the only ones who take them seriously, to enjoy a pleasure however trivial in order to hate everything else, to make the definitive decision to procrastinate, to cook spring in winter restaurants, to talk to nature without insulting it, to impose a lockdown on sadness and take happiness for a walk, daring not to use a leash or pick up poo, to recite a poem to an assembly of pine trees without a mask or social distancing, to ask Saint Eustace not to let us give up and Saint Christopher to carry us on the shoulders of immunity, even though we know we are heavy and are not the children of anyone important, to use the remains of what we still have with pleasure, to listen with great attention to the last lesson of nature, to put on the glasses of seeing ruins-seeds, to venerate the virgins who give birth to more lasting entities than us, like flowering stones, to inhabit trees with inner stairs that lead to childhood.

It is not as though it comes with a leaflet with instructions on how to use it. We have to limit ourselves to the evidence of witnesses. I have used it in deep silence and contemplation. As we live in units of intensive neglect, even the slightest ventilation allows us to breathe better. In my case the improvements were swift and consistent.

, December 2020