Period covered, from 1930.
Locations: Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro - Brazil.
After my mother’s death at the beginning of 1987 I was the only one of her three children who had the courage to sift through all her
things. I, Anastasia, carefully examined all her keepsakes which filled many drawers in her room in our home known as the Chacara. Just being in the place where we had always lived was like being with her again, and so helped me fill the emptiness her death
had left in me.
How many times in the past had I done this ― looked through her things? I remember on various occasions I asked
mother if I could look through her mementos, which invariably provoked another volley of questions about her memories. She would sit beside me and answer me with the usual calm, which was so characteristic of her. I always loved navigating through the past.
This must have been a latent sign of the writer I have become.
Mountains of Minas Gerais, Diamantina & Map of
Minas Gerais locating Diamantina.
On this occasion, when my mother was only there in spirit, I found an old notebook with her name on it ― Clara Demeter Cattapreta. The entries on it were dated from 1932 to 1936 ― four years of her early life. This was when she had collected poems from the
age of sixteen to twenty, two years before she married my father.
I surmised that mother used to ask her friends to transcribe
their favourite verses, as the various poems were written in different handwritings and signed with names that I did not recognise. In many cases I was unable to trace the authors of the poems, while a few were well known.
The last two entries in the notebook were written in my father’s handwriting, signed by him, and dated 1934. I would recognise his writing anywhere – like
a doctor’s tiny script, if there is such a thing. I read my father’s poems with great interest and to my surprise one of these reminded me of a story my father used to tell me at bedtime when I was very little. This tale always made me cry because
I thought it was very sad. I have no idea who originally wrote this poem, though I have tried to find out, and I record here my translation of it.
The Mariner’s Song
In his land a memorial,
Takes with him hope
And his regrets.
So, in these pages
I leave my name.
If in the waves of life
wake of my barque
Is lost along with me,
When you read these words
Recall the lost sailor
And say farewell.
It was dedicated to Clara Demeter, then his girlfriend, and signed Antonio Zeus Rezende de Luciânia. Father was then twenty-one years old and just a poor medical
student living in what was called a república. This was the name given to a type of inexpensive accommodation for young students whose parents lived outside town. My mother was eighteen years old at the time my father transcribed this poem,
and still finishing off her secondary education at the Colégio Santa Maria, a local traditional establishment.
and her parents lived at a fashionable address in the Avenue João Pinheiro, near the Praça da Liberdade where the State Governor’s Palace is located. My parents had by then known each other for about two years according to the stories my
maternal grandmother Teresa told me. They were married in 1938 when my father’s business career had not yet started. This was for them still a time of illusions and dreams.
My keen memory is a wonderful tool for the writer’s trade. I remember so many things. The good and the bad all remain in my conscious mind as an organised history book, with little details, emotions, images and sounds exactly as they happened.
My father told me that story about the sailor more than sixty years ago and I still react to the memory of listening to it in the same way I did then. I feel upset over the parting of the sailor from his family. That was always our trouble. Father and I were
so similar! We were both overly emotional!
Little girls are often fascinated by their fathers, as little boys are by their mothers.
My son spent years looking at me adoringly saying, “Maman you are beautiful,” which he would pronounce ‘boroful’ before he learned to speak properly.
Even as a baby I was madly in love with my father and when he told me the story of the mariner my mother would say to him, “What a strange habit you all have in your family of telling children sad stories that make them cry!”
As far as I remember the story went like this: Once there was a sailor who was in the habit of singing while he worked on his boat by the banks of a
large river. His little daughter, back at the house, always felt very reassured by the sound of her father’s voice in the distance. She heard this each day in the early morning and again before sundown when he returned. One day he did not return and
there was silence evermore. Something had happened to the mariner and he never went back home.
When I listened to this story I naturally
associated my father with the sailor, and got terribly distraught and would say, “Oh papa, never go away!”
I clearly remember my mental picture of the story in which the port where the
sailor kept his boat was at the bottom of a cliff and could not be seen from his home, but his singing voice kept him linked to his beloved daughter. I tried to remember the rest of the story, but I was too young, probably less than three years old judging
by the photos of our family holiday in my grandparents’ country house, the Guaritas. For it is there that I remember my father telling me that story.
Though I had not thought about it for a long time, when I decided to type the little poem I found in my mother’s notebook I cried once again because the sailor had been kidnapped, or because I miss my father.
My father, Antonio Zeus, was born in 1913 and grew up in that lovely old country house known as The Guaritas, near São Gotardo in Minas Gerais. Another poem he inscribed
in my mother’s notebook is rich in the imagery of his youth.
What is life?
In youth it is a dawn
Of flowers with the song
Of birds; restless children,
Later, in summer,
Midday; dreams of love;
Amid the silence,
and fight and win.
At last old age.
Alone, or a couple,
A cloud that fades,
screen of smoke,
Regrets, night, death!
In this book I paint a portrait of my father as I saw him, similar to the way he was seen by most of our family, grandparents, uncles and cousins. My father was also respected and admired by those who worked close to him at the office and in the refinery or
around our country houses. His true nature was, therefore, that of a caring, sensitive and emotional person.
This was not always
the way others saw him. They may have been just acquaintances or relationships that he kept apart from us, or strangers who had only heard about him as a person well known locally for his affluence or his womanising, so my portrait of him differs greatly from
the myth created around him by word of mouth or by the press. Most of the people who spoke ill of him did not really know him, yet were eager to judge him.
When I write about the ill feeling that existed between my father and many of the townspeople I notice that I tend to write in riddles. I really wish I did not have to write about unpleasant things as it does hurt me to do so. I must remember, however, that
many of my readers will be strangers, some of whom may not even have heard of the city of Belo Horizonte, located in a valley on the South American Continent, and most people will not know how or why in the 20th century we became locally notorious
in that area. They will ask what caused this persistent and incommodious notoriety.
My answer is that I believe it was a combination of factors such as my father’s affluence, his unfortunate
tendency to womanise, the fact that so many women wished to be impregnated by him so that their offspring would have a share of his estate, and perhaps a touch of eccentricity. But never any crime. No, my father was not a criminal.
I did love my father and my mother, but I soon found it very difficult to live in that city, as I found our notoriety irksome. Traditionally the children must pay for
the father’s sins of the father. It is unavoidable, but I found the burden too heavy, and eventually after university I chose not to live there anymore. Yet now I return to play in writing the role of my father’s defender!
The prodigal daughter who chose to make her own choices in life comes back to defend her father’s reputation by relating his life story from the point of view of
his own family. This is what I refer to in my theme poem:
The Warrior’ Song
I shall not be vanquished!
The words I use in my battle
Will live forever and people
Will hear my voice until
The victory of Truth.
© A.L.P. Gouthier, 2013
I embrace this mission with love in my heart for all the memories of the good times we had, and my recollections of the devotion and care given to me by adoring parents. All the poison in the world cannot change that!
My mother and father met in 1930 when they were fifteen and eighteen years old respectively. My father was then a medical student, whose family was going through a period
of hardship due to the economic crash of the 1930s when the price of coffee plummeted.
As my mother attended the same school as
my father’s sister Naytres it is very likely that they first met there when my father came to collect his sister from school. Their courtship was the usual innocent relationship typical of youngsters of respectable families at the time, and they were
married in 1938. Nowadays people forget that sensible young ladies, even of my generation, were mostly chaste and innocent.
1990s Globo TV made a serial entitled Hilda Furacão. This was a woman from Belo Horizonte who at the end of the 1940s abandoned her old life to become a famous courtesan in the local red light district. As a side story, they portrayed my father
as a wealthy and eccentric man who kept an ocelot in his office when he was courting my mother. Their version of my parents’ story was wrong in timing and context. By that time my parents had been married for more than ten years, and it was after their
marriage that my father progressed financially.
It is true that Globo TV tried to contact us in the 90s about their plans, but I
do not know if they would have been interested in correcting their story which was based on a book by Roberto Drummond in which the story was not truthful. We certainly refused to speak to them. Sordid news sells best.
Going back to my mother’s poetry notebook, I found another poem in it in my father’s handwriting and signed by him. It was the unfinished verses entitled
Clara. I have finished them, and here I present my English version.
Clara so pure,
as the moon,
Darkness at dawn,
Shadows and colours
Of the aurora.
A sibling of Blanche
And Magnus personae.
Your love is
The words of Arrian,
Sounds of enchantment.
Hear my voice!
At the end of each day
In tranquil silence
To which I’ll return.
Antonio de Luciânia, 1936.
two sisters were called Branca and Arria, and one of her brothers was called Magno. In my quest to find out why my mother’s sister was named Arria, such an uncommon name, I also found out why her elder brother was named Magno.
My maternal grandfather, who died before I was born, was a cultured man and a great reader. I discovered that at about the time of his children’s birth, a book on the life of Arrian, the Roman writer, and military commander, was
published and became a bestseller in Brazil.
Arrian of Nicomedia - circa AD 86 – 160, whose name was Lucius Flavius Arrianus,
also nicknamed the Xenophon, was a Roman of Greek origin. He was a historian, public servant, military commander and philosopher of the 2nd century Roman period. Arrian was also the author of ‘Anabasis of Alexander’, which is perhaps
his best-known work, and is generally considered one of the best sources on the campaigns of Alexander the Great, or Alexander Magnus. Would this indicate the source of the names of my mother’s siblings? Possibly.
Map of Minas Gerais, highlighting São Gotardo and photo of the town.
In the early 1950s my father already had businesses in many parts of the state of Minas Gerais, and he had small planes he used to fly mostly by himself to his sugar refinery, and to various other country houses. He also had a pilot known as Geraldão
who was in charge of the general care of his small fleet of aircraft.
From what I heard, this aviator was a person with a very expansive
personality, prone to breaking the strict codes of radio communications when he contacted the towers of the various airports he approached. For instance, on one occasion when arriving in Rio, or perhaps it was Brasilia, he simply announced to a very baffled
control tower that he was Dr Luciânia’s pilot and was coming in to land. This he apparently did without waiting for the customary permission, just manoeuvring his plane into the first available slot without further ado. Not surprisingly,
my father and Geraldão eventually fell out. He probably decided that he could no longer put up with the aviator’s histrionics, but the notice of dismissal he wrote, which was duly handed to his employee, was a poem!
This poem is particularly difficult to translate into English as it is amusing precisely because of the simple and repetitive rhyme in which it was created. I will try,
though I must explain that poetry is usually not translated, but rewritten:
Grown so plump
Bulky and weighty,
As well as
Remove your hands
From my plane,
Stay far away,
Well out of sight.
Antonio de Luciânia, 1965
being fired in poetry! It shows that both of them were unconventional. When I started doing research for this book I tried to find Geraldão, thinking he might have some funny stories to contribute to our family saga. Unfortunately I was informed
that he died many years ago. Life goes on.
Now, Anastasia the narrator distances herself from the present, and tries to visualise
her tale as seen by a reader in the future: Who were these people? What was this world in which they lived? I will place our land in time and in space.
Located in the interior of south-eastern of Brazil, the state of Minas Gerais is mostly hilly, and some of its mountains consist almost entirely of iron ore. The 1693 discovery of veins of gold caused an influx of new settlers into the area where precious
stones were also found, especially diamonds in the itacolumite rocks of the region.
My mother’s family lived in the
town of Diamantina, located in the mountains of the western part of the state. I was able to find traces of her paternal ancestors in Minas Gerais as far back as the 17th century.
The Fernandes de Oliveira and the Baptista families came from Portugal at a time when great fortunes were being made from the discoveries of gold and diamonds. The history of their families through the years followed the same pattern, from great riches
to stagnation. Whether the name Cattapreta came from Portugal or was created and adopted locally from the name of a mine is still not absolutely certain, but I believe it originated from a gold mine in the region of Ouro Preto – (Black Gold), where gold
was found encased in black volcanic rock.
It was mostly in the first half of the 19th century that families from other
countries were allowed to enter the rich mining districts. Families then present in the region were: the Dayrells who came from England, the Brants, originally Brandt, from Germany, and the Dumonts and Renaults from France, among many others. Members of these
families eventually married into local families of Portuguese extraction, thus diversifying the cultural make-up.
My maternal grandmother,
Teresa Dayrell, lived to see at her grandmother’s house the remnants of the old wealth of the Fernandes de Oliveira. At the time of my mother’s birth in 1916 the local mines had long been defunct and the town was well past its period of wealth
In the 1920s the Dayrell Cattapreta family decided to move to Belo Horizonte, the new state capital. They settled
comfortably into one of the lovely old townhouses of colonial architecture situated in the Avenue João Pinheiro, where the wide branches of Flamboyant trees shade the gentle slope with their confetti leaves fluttering in the breeze. It was my grandmother
Teresa who told me the stories about her family back in Diamantina, and also of their life on the sloping boulevard of Belo Horizonte where red flowers bloomed in spring.
Meanwhile, I found signs of the Pereira de Azevedo family as far back as the first half of the 16th century in the northern Portuguese town of Porto, where they were prosperous merchants. More precisely, the Azevedos were a noble family in the locality,
and the Pereiras, most likely wealthy New-Christians.
Some of the Pereira de Azevedos moved to the New World as early as the middle
of the first century of Portuguese occupation. Sometime after the 1560s there was an increased influx of people from Portugal to the colony as a consequence of the establishment of the first General Government.
In Salvador I found records dating back to the last decade of the 16th century of the birth of Antonio Pereira de Azevedo who belonged to an already prominent Bahian family.
This Antonio became known as the Bahiano, or as Antonio the Great, and participated in the Bandeiras, or flag expeditions, into the unknown parts of the new territories. This was the name of my paternal grandfather’s family until the
It was still a long time, however, before the Pereira
de Azevedos ventured into the west of Minas Gerais where I, Anastasia, on a day in the distant future would find traces of their footprints directly connected to my family.
Guaritas, the house where my father was born in Minas Gerais,
near São Gotardo, Photo collection A.L.P. Gouthier.
The other half of my father’s family, or the forebears of my paternal
grandmother, Olympia de Rezende, were much easier to trace. In 1939 their story was fully documented by a member of the family, from the end of the 17th century in the Azores all the way to Brazil.
In the early 18th century the Rezendes took advantage of land grants being offered in the New World, which were known as Sesmarias, and they sailed to Rio de Janeiro. From there some of them moved inland to a site which bears their name
in the state of Rio, and others trekked on to Lagoa Dourada in the state of Minas Gerais.
In the mid 1800s a branch of the family purchased the old house, known as the Guaritas, located in the fertile
valleys of the state ― an area replete with Botocudo Indians and escaped slaves living in quilombos.
The Pereira de Azevedos
were, therefore, among the early arrivals after the Portuguese invasion in 1500. Having now discovered a Botocudo woman of the Krenac people in the bloodline on my father’s side, I realise that this has been, by extension, my land by right for many thousands
of years, long before the arrival of the Portuguese. The Krenac are thought to have arrived in what was to become Brazil 12000 years ago.
Yet the day came when Anastasia, your narrator, felt oppressed by the animosity of the townspeople where her family lived. She chose to seek peace of mind in anonymity in England, the land of her maternal grandmother, thus completing a full migratory circle.
As it is said:
“He who fights
and runs away, may turn and fight another day;
But he who is in battle slain, will never rise to fight again.”
Fortunately, migrations these days need no longer be permanent dislocations, condemning people to a departure from every aspect of the lives they knew before. As I did not want to abandon my past, I often returned to my home. However, taking positive action
to protect and enhance my quality of life, I expanded my horizons into a larger world.