Chapter 8 - Of Schooling and Slander

1959 Anastasia on her trip to Europe

Of Schooling and Slander

Anastasia 1959

Chapter 8 - Of Schooling and Slander

“In early childhood you may lay the foundation of poverty or riches,

industry or idleness, good or evil, by the habits in which you train your children. Teach them right habits then, and their future life is safe.”
– Lydia Sigourney

 

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

George Washington Carver

 

"Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

 

Period of time covered: 1949 to 1963.

Location: Mostly Belo Horizonte.

 

            I loved my home. It was an environment of peace and happiness, so, when I first went to school at the age of five I hated every moment of it and could not wait to go back home each day. My only pleasant memories of early schooling are of kindergarten, where we used to sit under mango trees and do embroidery.

            On Saints Days, or special Jour de Congé at Sacré-Coeur de Jesus, we used to have processions in which the girls were classified according to their everyday demeanour. The best classified wore white veils and carried a flower, and the least would have neither. I always hovered somewhere in the middle, without the right to a flower in my hand, and I wondered what I had done wrong. Most of the time I did not dare utter a word to practically anyone! I wondered whether this might be the reason.

            I found it difficult to make friends, and as a result my solitude in the midst of children playing was immensely disturbing. When I got home I wanted to forget the pressures of the day and hardly studied at all. Consequently I soon lagged behind in class and this made me hate school even more.

            That first school was the famous Sacré-Coeur de Jesus, run by French nuns. Their headquarters in Paris are housed in the beautiful white building at the top of Montmartre, which can be seen on the skyline of the city. In Brazil, Sacré-Coeur’s main school is in Rio de Janeiro, but in 1949 they also set up a school in Belo Horizonte. I was the 38th student enrolled at the new establishment, and this was the number used to mark my things to take to school. I studied at the Belo Horizonte Sacré-Coeur for seven and a half years, but never really liked it and just managed to scrape by the final exams each year. 

            In the 1950s the cars in Brazil were all American, and the streets looked similar to those in modern day Cuba, with the same vehicles type of about, and we loved them. At home, we sequentially had many of such vehicles everywhere. And we loved them. At home we had a succession of many such vehicles, such as as a light blue and white Cadillac, a brown Nash, in which the back sears could be reclined to make a a large bed, and I loved playing inside it. But the one that caused the biggest sensation, or revulsion, in the town was a convertible yellow, or egg yolk,  Cadillac. My little cousins and I enjoyed jumping up and down on the back seat on the way to school, much to the horror of the nuns at Sacré-Coeur, who thought such a car was a vulgar display of wealth.

            At that time students spent most of the day at school, where lunch was provided, and the nuns righteously insisted on teaching us French etiquette. This involved eating fruit with cutlery, which I found interesting and easy to accomplish and not far removed from what I was used to, as my mother liked proper manners.

            The fare we were offered at lunchtime was not a problem for me because I am not fussy about food, but my cousins Marcia and Helena, who also studied there, complained bitterly about everything that was served. One day one of them found a worm in the black beans, or so she said. I did not see it, but they repeated this claim at home ad infinitum, and consequently it was decided that our chauffeur would bring us lunch every day from home in the yellow Cadillac. We were then given a separate table in the refectory, and what was worse was that it was assumed to have been my fault as the car belonged to my father. I could not then fail to notice additional reproving looks that came my way from the nuns.

            My anxiety at school increased and I started complaining of headaches, so I would ask to go to the lavatory to soothe my burning forehead with cold water, but the nuns soon thought that I was asking to go too often, and would not always let me.

            Meanwhile at home I tried to invent all sorts of reasons for being off school. But my mother was not often convinced, especially after she found a notebook of mine in which I methodically listed strategies for convincing her that I should miss school. I remember one of these, which went like this: Hit your head on a hard surface to better pretend to have a headache.

             I started secondary school at the age of twelve, but at the end of the first term it was decided that I should leave Sacré-Coeur as my complaints of unhappiness at school did not abate, and my headaches were too frequent.  I spent the next school year in 1957 attending a small private tuition establishment run by a woman know as Dona Cleonice, where the teaching was tailored individually to each of the pupils.

            This small school, situated in the pleasant residential area of Lourdes, specialised in children who had fallen behind in their schoolwork. There for the first time I met some boys other than my cousins, but I was very shy and hardly ever dared speak to them. I very much enjoyed the individual teaching at this little school, but by the end of the year I wanted to get back to the mainstream.

            In March 1958 I was enrolled at the school attended by my cousin Helena. This was the Colégio Assunçao, also a nun’s school for girls located in an area called Serra. I was there for a year and a half and had great fun following Helena and Madalena Renault around, who were related to me. But as they were both dilettantes I still did not pay much attention to my studies.

            It was near Madalena’s house where I met my present husband Albert Ovid Freyer de Gondin Gouthier, the Norse god of sunshine and fair weather. He was a well-liked youngster about town, whose good looks and blue eyes had earned him the nickname of the Alain Delon of town. Albert and I had a passing and innocent relationship, but the memory of him was forever imprinted on my mind. Was it the colour of his eyes, reminiscent of the skies on a sunny day, or the gentleness his smile that so much impressed me? I am not sure. But soon enough the strong winds of fate blew us apart into different worlds, not to meet again for half a lifetime.  

            I always enjoyed learning languages. First there was French, taught by the nuns of Sacré-Coeur, and Spanish, learned in the summer holidays in Uruguay and Argentina. But I always also had private English and French lessons. My French teacher, Mme. Gilberte Colomb, who had lived in Brazil for many years, told me that a young lady of my status should study in Switzerland. And, with my enthusiasm for foreign travel and learning languages, I wholeheartedly embraced the idea.

            At the beginning of August 1959 my mother and I joined some relations on a tour of Europe. They were the three daughters of Aunt Francisca, known as Tia Nenem, Cléa Dalva Faria, Helena Maria Dias  and Beatriz Vieira, who were traveling with their husbands, Aluisio Faria, Edson Dias e Jose Felipe Vieira.  Together we visited Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and Florence, and from there my mother and I went to Geneva and Lausanne. Our aim was to visit the Pensionnat Riant Rive, to decide if I would study there for a year. I did not like it, so we headed to Paris to join our relations again, and arrived back in Brazil just a month after we had left.

            During this trip I was fascinated by the diversity of Europe, and happy to practise languages. I remember looking longingly at other teenagers, wishing I could speak to them. This desire to meet and talk to people from other countries stayed with me throughout my life and I never missed an opportunity to talk to people in the various countries I visited.

 

            The Pensionnat Riant Rive was where a princess and future queen of Siam studied in 1950. And below is a photo of this royal princess, shortly after she left Lausanne. So, when we visited this school, they proudly showed us photos of the Thai Princess, taken while she was studying there nine years previously.

            But I was not impressed, even by this fine establishment. None of it fitted the picture I had in my mind of an American College, which was what I really wanted for myself.

 

 

            Back in Belo Horizonte, in September of that same year, I was enrolled at the Colégio São Paulo. It was again a school run by nuns, where I was to complete my second year of secondary education. However, having however, missed one month of classes while travelling in Europe, I had to extend my studies into the summer holidays, and could only sit my exams in February, just before the new term started in March.

            That was the only Summer I can remember when my family did not travel, and I spent every minute of it in intensive private tuition in preparation for my upcoming exams. I learned more in those two months than I ever did in the previous years of schooling. But best of all was that I learned to enjoy studying, and this changed my life forever.

            I was sixteen when I became a good student, moving swiftly from bottom to one among the top of my class, and I also learned to love school. In March 1960, when I started my third secondary academic year with all my summer studies fresh in my head, I began to notice a certain deference in the way my teachers and colleagues treated me, which I had never perceived before. They now respected me! I liked the feeling so much that from than onwards I became obsessed with studying. I finished that year second in my class, and in December 1961 I was the top of my class. I finally won a gold medal with a ribbon in the colours of Brazil, which I treasure to this day. But my victory weighed heavily on my friend Genice Vieira, who had always been previously at the top of class.

            In Brazil then, it was fashionable for young men to ride Lambrettas. I yearned to drive one, but my father only agreed to give me one on condition that it would not have a licence plate and therefore I could not go out into the streets. That was fine by me and I rode it happily and incessantly around the grounds of the house, much to my mother’s exasperation!

            On one occasion, however, my father allowed my Lambretta to be taken in a company truck to the refinery, where I would be able to drive longer distances. I thought that was great fun, and was joined there by my cousin Ebbe Rezende, who usually lived in Sao Gotardo. We went on an adventurous ride all the way to the town of Lagoa da Prata. August is a dry and dusty month and on the way, I did not see a wide crack on the surface of the road. The Lambretta fell into it and turned over and the two of us flew into the air. I only hurt my knee, and Ebby scraped her arm, but soon some people helped us and pushed back into shape the front of the Lambretta that had been bent. Precisely at the moment we were thanking our saviours, my father arrived in a Willis Jeep with his local manager, Oswaldo Damaceno.

He stopped and asked what we were you doing there.

“Nothing”, I answered, “just resting a bit”.

My father just accepted this and drove away.

            I said to Ebby: “Why does he always manage to arrive at the wrong moment? “He must not know that we had an accident, otherwise he will take my Lambretta away from me.” So Ebby concealed her scraped arm and I made sure I did not hobble in front of my father for the next few days.

            Back in Belo Horizonte I was at last allowed to go occasionally in the evenings to my friends home, as long as I was back at home at ten o’clock. And soon had my attention taken by another handsome beau by the name of Marco Antonio de Morais Fonseca. But Marco suffered from extremes of jealousy, which was strange to someone so attractive. But after an unpleasant episode when the sound of him and friends arriving at a party in Lambrettas caused the owner of the house to be alarmed and have a heart attack, his family moved to Rio to escape the torment that the notoriety of the case brought upon them.

            My next interest was also amazingly handsome but lasted even less. José Carlos Alves dos Santos was fond of fibbing, but these being too obvious made me think that he was not excessively bright. One day moved to Brasilia, where he eventually became involved in a nasty case of corruption and murder.

            I then met a nice boy from a good family, though I always thought that they gave themselves too much importance, due to their mother being of a socially famous family of Rio. My relationship with Marcio de Moura Castro lasted longer, or until I moved away to university in America. And Marcio’s brother, Claudio de Moura Castro became famous as an expert in education, though he suffered from a degree of arrogance and cynicism which was tiresome.  

            Though I have always been a strong-minded person, I was also a very obedient girl. I obeyed all my parents’ rules because they were sensible. Only once did I dare drive into the streets in with the family car before I got my licence. It was one afternoon when with my school friend Laura Ciruffo I drove out of our gate in my mother’s car, a red and white Chevrolet Impala. We soon returned home as we were very frightened by our adventure, though Laura thought I was very brave because I had the nerve to switch on the radio for some music.

            Now that I had become a good student nothing was impossible for me. Whenever I wanted to be accepted into another institution my school records paved the way for me. And from then on I never stopped short of full time dedication to my studies. Having concluded my secondary education, in 1962 I began what was then known as scientific preparation for university at the Isabella Hendrix Methodist School, also in Belo Horizonte. In September 1963 I was accepted into Rosemont College, near Philadelphia, solely based on my superior results in Brazil. But as my dream was to study Business Administration, after a year at Rosemont I transferred to Boston University.

            I have framed detailed copies of my poor results at primary school, as well as my excellent results at secondary school. These clearly confirm my dates and academic records. I will explain later why I found it important to dwell upon my early education in detail. But this tale will first take us to an event that happened more than thirty years afterwards.

            My cousin called Sandra Giffoni is less than a year younger then I am, and we were constant companions from babyhood until I went to university in America. Even now we devotedly keep up with each other’s lives, and are still very close. Sandra told me that in the early 2000s she was approached by someone related to my immediate family with some strange questions about the time when I was in Switzerland. He justified himself to her by saying that he was at the time in charge of my defence against an absurd accusation. He asked Sandra if it was possible that I had gone to Europe in 1959 to hide because I was pregnant. Sandra was horrified by his imputation and told him it had no basis, and that I had remained in Europe only for a month!

 

Slander

 

My feelings shocked,

My mind disquieted,

Righteousness hurt,

Sensibility numbed

 

By dreadful falseness,

Hurtful slander, which

Wounded my heart,

So young and pure.

 

Unmerited attacks

Against one so chaste

Of an unsullied past,

Left scars of sorrow.

 

Slander, never forgotten,

Caused me to mistrust

All, and yearn to depart

For distant shores.

 

© ALP Gouthier, 2015

 

            How can such a pure and innocent life be so doubted, or such perfect youth be so repeatedly questioned? I never understood why I was so often the victim of slander in the city of my birth, for I had never done anything to deserve it, nor had anything ever happened to me to justify it.

            When I was still eighteen years old and sexually undefiled, as were most of us in those days, I was very deeply hurt by the character defamation that was circulated about me. As I understood it, my only guilt was to be my father’s daughter. At the time I was studying at the Colégio São Paulo and one day a girlfriend told me about a conversation she had overheard between two shop assistants while she was paying for her purchases at a local bookshop called Livraria Rex.

One asked the other if she had heard that Dr Luciano’s daughter had again gone abroad to have another child.

I listened to this speechless, ran home to tell my mother about it and cried for a long time in her arms. But we were both helpless in the face of these personal and malicious insults.

"Upon my tongues continual slanders ride,
The which in every language I pronounce,
Stuffing the ears of men with false reports.”
William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

1961 - Anastasia and Jose Carlos Alves dos Santos

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