Chapter 2 - Aggression Trees
has the effect of eliciting talents
which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”
Horace (65 BC – 8 BC)
must evolve from all human conflict to a method
which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I'm for truth, no matter who tells it.
for justice, no matter who it's for or against.”
- Malcolm X
Period of time covered: 1926 to 1930.
Locations: Diamantina, São Gotardo, Belo Horizonte.
Vila Rica, or Rich Village, later known as Ouro Preto, meaning Black Gold, was founded at the end of the 17th century. It is located deep in the mountains
of Minas Gerais, in an area which was the focal point of the Brazilian goldrush. It was also the capital of the state from 1720 until 1897, and for a while the most populous city in the New World, with approximately 80,000 inhabitants, which was at the time
twice the population of New York City.
By the end of the 18th century the government of Ouro Preto perceived that the
town’s topography posed an insurmountable impediment to its further growth. So it was decided to move the capital to a more favourable location, which was the site of the two-hundred-year-old village of Curral Del-Rey, or King’s Corral. This town,
situated in a wide valley, had been started as a trading post along the road that led from the coast to the mining district.
the second half of the 19th century, on site of the old Curral, the republican city planners started building their imposing new capital. And as a result of their plans, few of the old constructions were allowed to remain standing; an exception
was made for an old farmhouse, now a museum. This destructive zeal was directed principally against the name that honoured the old political regime. So they renamed the site Belo Horizonte, and decreed that the counting of time itself would not include the
previous two hundred years of human occupation of the area.
The length of habitation of a particular site elsewhere in the world
is usually the sum total of the years the location has been populated under whatever name. One example of this is the city of London, which includes in its timeline the period when it was just a settlement by the name of Londinium. But in the case at hand,
the first two centuries could not be added to the history of Belo Horizonte. The city therefore recently celebrated one hundred years, instead of the three hundred years presence on the site.
Machado de Assis a great writer who lived during the latter half of the 19th century, expressed his displeasure at the name chosen and deemed length of existence of the new capital. But it must be noted that he considered himself a liberal
monarchist due to his admiration for the last Emperor, Dom Pedro II, and had no sympathy for republicanism.
At the beginning of
the 20th century, a great number of people coming from their country estates built their own townhouses in Belo Horizonte, while others sold their homes in the smaller towns and bought or rented existing properties in the capital. And in this wide
valley they all established their families, taking advantage of what a large and progressive city could offer.
have been very exciting times if we are to judge by the splendid government buildings erected, most of which fortunately survive to this day. Excellent schools abounded in the area, theatres and museum soon appeared, and parks and lovely squares bloomed.
By the second decade of the century, less than thirty years after the inauguration of the metropolis, my parents’ families moved into
the city of the Lovely Horizon, where they started their afresh, while carefully nurturing their links with their pasts and regional origins.
My paternal grandfather Totônio, or here the Colonel Antunes bought a large piece of land in the Santa Ephigenia district where he build a townhouse for his family, and also a
separate residence for his second daughter who was about to be married. The main house became a large and imposing edifice, graced with an imposing frontal staircase and shaded by tall trees that grew along a wide and pleasant street.
While previously his children had to be sent to boarding schools, now those who were still studying could enrol schools in town and live at home during term time.
And in the summer most of the family would reconvene in Guaritas, their ancestral home.
The house called Guaritas, meaning gateways,
was built in the early 1800s and is located near the town of Sao Gotardo. The region was first inhabited by members of expeditions in search of new agricultural lands. And due to a high elevation, combined with a tropical latitude, the region enjoys a mild
climate propitious for farming and pasture for cattle.
But returning to the early 20th century, the end of the 1930s brought
hardship to all coffee planters, as the price of the commodity drastically dropped in the international markets. The causes and consequences of the Great-Depression around the world are well known, and they were no different for the world’s largest coffee
As a consequence my paternal grandfather, the Colonel Antunes, sold his home in town to cover his immediate commitments,
and went back to live in the country house. By this time, both of the daughters the family were married, and the three sons were old enough to remain in town to continue their studies and live in alternative accommodation.
Back at Guaritas, grandfather Antunes spared no effort to work and save to recuperate his losses and to support his children in town. And Grandmother Olympia industriously
helped the family finances by organising a little home produce, whatever she could think of, for sale in the nearby town.
sugar cane came the rapadura used to sweeten coffee and for the confection of various desserts, such as goiabada, made from the natively grown guava; green papayas, finely sliced, became a delicious dessert, and lemon peels another; pounded quince semi-solidified
into a kind of marmalade, which is traditionally savoured with Minas cheese. And on the large sized wood-burning stove in the kitchen doce de leite, similar to condensed milk, slowly simmered for days on end.
This produce was taken every week to the nearby town of Sao Gotardo to be sold, along with other farm produce such as the much-appreciated Minas cheese, fresh meat and milk, and various
commercial crops, apart from the many vegetables grown about the farm. Meanwhile, the rest of the world also skimped and scraped to survive the Great-Depression.
It was in 1930 that my father started studying medicine in Belo Horizonte. As he had to contend with limited funds from his father he lived as simply as he could. But Antonio Zeus soon found ways to raise additional funds to support himself. His ingenuity
and ability to raise money, combined with the habit of living frugally, were instrumental in the building of his fortune.
start of each school term grandfather would give Antonio funds to take to Belo Horizonte, in order to cover his commitments. But before departing, father would use these funds to buy jewellery from local people in the country, which he had previously negotiated.
He would then take this little hoard to the capital, where he would sell it at a profit, thus regaining the funds to carry out his father’s orders. And the difference he would lend to his fellow students at a suitable rate of interest. Thus, little by
little, in this way and with other schemes, my father raised the capital he needed to realise his long-term ambitions.
father finished his studies in 1935, instead of going into medical practice he chose to concentrate his efforts on what he did best, which was the business of making money. With his natural shrewdness Antonio Zeus bought real estate in town, and through the
years expanded into many other types of business. But his cumulative successes did not pass unnoticed and caused him to be much resented. Years later he was sarcastically nicknamed the owner of Belo Horizonte.
My father should really have been admired, but what I think damaged his image was that he developed a reputation for a very active sex life away from home. It is difficult for me to
discourse about this because it is an aspect of his life so removed from the father I knew at home. He was a good father, very dedicated to his family. My parents were both really very conservative, and propriety within the home was tantamount. So they dutifully
kept all stories of his irregular behaviour away from us children for as long as they could, but eventually we heard about it all.
I, Anastasia, must have been about thirteen years old when I was told by strangers about my father’s other life. I was shocked and hurt and it made me feel he had betrayed our family. And then it was then difficult to look at him without showing that
something had changed. Because it had. He was no longer the perfect person I had imagined him to be.
In truth, from the time when
I was still a small child, my father had already achieved an unpleasant local notoriety, which was to follow us for the rest of our days. For me it always felt as if I was being observed, and I could not understand why. And much later some of the things I
heard or read about in the press were too horrible, and nothing will make me write about them. But I did wonder if what they said was all true. I do not know, but I doubt it.
My father’s business success and possibly licentious habits proved to be either too boundless or too eccentric to be tolerated by an impolitic and persistent media, epitomised especially by some scandalmongering tabloids, which hounded us throughout
our lives. They never tired of publishing damaging articles, irrespective of veracity, and not satisfied with the vilification of the perpetrator of the alleged sins, this aggression was also aimed at all the innocent members of his family, of whatever age.
I did not take this lightly. I could not. And I continually said that I wished to be far from the place of my torment. My father would not
hear of my suggestion that the family move to São Paulo. They all remained. I wonder if I was weaker or stronger than them. In time I discovered how much happier I was when anonymous, unobserved by prying eyes so full of malice. I fled the town, to
my family’s chagrin. But this is a long story, which I will tell as we go on.
The reality is that life in Belo Horizonte for
the three children of Antonio Zeus was always very difficult and it only changed through time as a matter of degree, certain times being worse than others. But in 1989, our inferno became worse than ever, for as soon as my father fell seriously ill with cancer,
even while he was still alive, some of his offspring outside our family lost no time in attacking us in the courts for their legal rights to his estate. This was soon followed by an attempt to declare him mentally incapable, a most cruel thing to do to a person.
I was there on the day when he had to answer questions to prove his sanity, and it was very offensive. He survived the ordeal, but about a year later succumbed to his cancer.
One of the most devastating aspects of this inheritance war was an odiously defamatory campaign fed to the press by those who wished to discredit us. And this immoral bombardment went on with great ferocity for over twenty long years. Meanwhile, we hid ourselves
away in horror and spent fortunes on lawyers to defend us.
And what was the real purpose of this campaign? I am not sure. It must
have been to satisfy some people’s anger for reasons unknown to us. But as soon as it could be done we settled what was legally due to whoever had the correct DNA, which of course we would have had to do any way. And life went on separately, as it had
gone on before, for there was nothing that bonded those strangers to us.
However, this slanderous and amoral attack did not confine
itself to my father. The accusers also persecuted each other with stories that were quite absurd, and the most horrible story of all was about a plot to obtain false-positive DNA and thus earn another share of my father’s inheritance, through the
insemination of a young woman by her half-brother.
As if this were not enough, I was the next victim. To my horror, people also
conjured up an immoral tale involving me. I do not know if the original motive was to attempt blackmail, or if it was just another expression of hatred. But knowing this to be a fabrication that would eventually be proven false, I thought that the purpose
of the exercise was just to upset me, as well as ruin my reputation.
This is a very painful subject and I do not like to discuss
it, as it is so far from the reality we lived at home and also because I loved my parents. But I at times used to think if my father’s story would have gone so viral if we lived in a larger city, where we would not have been so much the centre of attention.
They say that people who live surrounded by mountains have little opportunity to vent their frustrations except on each other. The central and eastern parts of Minas Gerais are indeed hilly and rocky, with little vegetation on the iron mountains that surround
our horizon, but it is beautiful.
The west of the state in the region my father came from consists largely of a type of savanna
known Cerrado. This includes the wooded savanna and the gramineous savanna, which have a severe dry season during the southern winter, but are wetter though the very hot summers. And there they could plant crops and raise cattle with which
to feed the diamond district.
In the north, around Diamantina where my mother came from, and beyond towards Bahia, the land is arid
and subject to frequent droughts. Their only wealth has been in diamonds. Many of the plants of the region are fire resistant, exhibiting characteristics like thick corky bark to withstand the summer heat. The vegetation of the Cerrado is believed to be ancient,
stretching back perhaps as far as the Cretaceous period before Africa and South America separated, and these soils were often infertile.
The Aggression Trees, about which I will discuss, thrive in the red iron rich soil of these General Mines. Taking the colour of the earth about them, they are reddish all over, from their dark trunks to their leaves, or perhaps they are coloured simply by
that coat of powdery iron that hangs in the air.
Contrary to the usual order of nature, many of the flowers of the Cerrado
bloom in autumn, displaying deceptively enchanting hues, reminiscent of a smile on the face of an enemy. After the summer rains, their fruit sprouts slowly into reddish or yellowish pods that by late spring nourish for the local inhabitants, both human and
This harsh metallic soil breeds people attached to it, as if
magnetised. This is the home of the famous Terrae Rossae or the powerful Iron Quadrangle. As a result the natives mostly seethe with antipathy to strangers with the same natural aversion of a magnet to its opposites.
As the owners of the greatest concentration of iron deposits on earth, Mineiros logically fear that the excessive extraction of their metallic and magnetic wealth, and its
transportation to the northern hemisphere, will eventually cause the world to turn upside down. Thus, mindful of the importance of maintaining the northern hemisphere far away, up north, where it is supposed to be, they endeavour to keep foreigners at bay,
where they belong.
The Fruits of Aggression are unique to this environment. Nature has jealously impeded their propagation elsewhere
by allowing these fruits to keep their secrets to themselves. For instance, the seed of the rare and delicate mangaba will only germinate if eaten and defecated by wolves. What analogy could we draw from that for the local humans ― a precious fruition may
come out of unusual circumstances? It might, if gently and carefully nurtured I suppose.
Then we may mention the little pitangas.
These are the essence of red fragrant drops of iron, which give them a most uncommon flavour. But for the privilege of partaking of this delicacy we must compete with natural scavengers, the hungry birds. And only afterwards, once they have fallen to the ground,
may snakes and other earthbound creatures feast on these nutritious iron-drops.
Another exotic and strictly local fruit, to complete
my presentation, is the pequi. This grows encased in a thick green protective shell, but when ripe it opens up to show its bright yellow segments, the colour of envy and spite. Its strong and distinctive smell announces its presence from a distance. It is
known to be much appreciated by the snakes that there abound, hiding among the foliage, imitating the hues of nature, with a guile it has transmitted to the local people, who do their best never to show their true colours.
For human consumption, the pequi must be cooked and the pulp carefully scraped with the teeth, just as snakes do, and never bitten into to avoid the mouth being pierced
by minute thorns. In the core of this fruit, beyond a thick layer of thorns, hides a surprisingly delicate nut. Might this be indicative of the deep interior of some Mineiros, very deep indeed, where lies a gentle heart? But handle with care!
red soil tinged with iron
Nurtures passion, envy and spite.
Intense and devastating to
Though nurturing to friends.
Colourful fruit invites folly
And overcomes those unaware of its
Of its power or its strength to disrupt
The heedless unwisely distracted.
Be careful stranger for bright sights
Indicate the need of attention.
Keep distance, listen and be silent.
Signs I failed to heed or understand.
As a native I should have known
To be aware and
But did not, and became a victim
Of the fruit from the red soil.
© ALP Gouthier, March 2014.
Why do I write about what upsets me so much? Sometimes I wonder. But then I remember the falsehoods spread about us. If I do not tell my version of our story, nobody else will. And the lies will become true if there is no other version to challenge them.
Whatever my father did away from our home, he sensibly concealed it from us, as was demanded by the famous traditional families of Minas. I
have read it was also the norm among English Victorians, who chose to have a double life. So why should we his family be guilty of anything?
My father’s only transgression, as far as I personally was concerned, was to expect me to work in his office, as by then I had heard that it was staffed by many involved in his other life. At home we had been taught to ignore this subject deemed inappropriate
and reprehensible. So how could I all of sudden become liberal! But above all I had by then found an alternative life elsewhere to which I could always flee.
At the time of my father’s death in the 1990s, I had to go back to live in Belo Horizonte for a long time. I was then shocked by the permissive liberality that had descended upon my city. Indeed, the flower power revolution of the 60s changed mores around
the world, but I was surprised to observe that my city had attained a level beyond what was acceptable in Europe.
that shocked me very much was how certain people actually tried to talk to me about the scandals that were being fed to the press concerning my father, as if this was an acceptable topic of conversation. This subject would invariably make me go mute and withdraw
from their company in horror.
At home we had learned never to speak about anything morally inappropriate, and I also learned that
it is rude to speak ill of people’s parents to their face. So why did they think it was acceptable to speak to me about scandals concerning my father? Did it mean I did not deserve respect?
I went once to a cocktail party in São Paulo at the house of some acquaintances from London. I thought I was safe there, being so far away from the town of my birth. But suddenly a total stranger making casual conversation said to me, “I was reading
recently about that scandal that happened in your town, about that man who had lots of children outside his marriage, who are now raising bloody hell about their inheritance rights. Isn’t that hilarious?” My blood must have drained from my face,
and I detached myself from the conversation in silence, and quickly from the party.
This pernicious talk soon became unbearable.
In those bleak years we could not escape derision, scrutiny and suspicion, as if we were criminals. It has taken me a long time to heal and may never do so completely. I felt so humiliated that I am still highly uncomfortable when I sense that I am being observed.
Was this aggression an attempt to destroy all that my father had built through the years? If so it did not work. We survived and
thrive. It is futile to wish that the past could have been different because it has happened. Unfortunately it is still very much alive inside me and in my memories of the city, and it haunts me every time I go there. But to tell our story properly I will have to go back to the beginning of my own life so that I can relate what I saw and what I perceived happening to those who were part of my world.
To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.
– Herman Melville