“History repeats itself”.
- Karl Marx
“Making money is art and working is art
and good business is the best art.”
- Andy Warhol
“The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell upon it forever.”
- Psalm 37:29
Period of time covered, from 1930.
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 named 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.
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, with signed 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
The sad mariner
In his land a memorial,
And takes with him hope
And his regrets.
So, in these pages
If in the waves of life,
The 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 twenty-one years old and just a poor medical student living in what was called a ‘republica’. This was the name given to a type
of inexpensive accommodation for young students whose parents lived outside town. And my mother was eighteen years old at the time my father wrote or transcribed this poem, and still finishing off her secondary education at the Colégio Santa Maria,
a local traditional establishment.
My mother 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. And they were married in 1938 when 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
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 as hard as I could to remember the rest of the story, but I was too young, probably less than three
years old, as I can see in 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 the summer at
Mid-day; dreams of love,
Virile thoughts; with
Amid the silence,
To act, fight and win.
At last old age.
Forgetfulness. Solitude alone
Or a couple. A cloud that
Fades, a 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. 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. And this is, therefore, his real self, a caring, sensitive and emotional person.
But this was not always the
way others saw him. And these may have been just acquaintances or relationships that he kept away 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. But 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 towns people 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. But I must remember 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 in the South American Continent. And again, most people will not know how or why in the 20th century we became locally notorious.
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 inheritance, 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 town, as I found our noticeability 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:
Anastasia’s Ode ‘In Defence of Truth’
I shall not be vanquished!
The words I use in my battle
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 eighteen and fifteen years old respectively. My father was then a medical student, whose family and his going through a period of hardship due to the economic crash of the 1930s in Brazil, when the price of coffee
As mother attended the same school as my father’s sister Naytres, and 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 in
my generation, were mostly chaste and innocent.
In the 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 in life.
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 and 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.
White as the moon
Shadows and colours
Of the aurora.
And Magnus personae.
Your love is a tale,
The words of Arrian,
Sounds of enchantment.
Hear my voice!
At the end of each day
In the tranquil silence
To which I will return.
Antonio de Luciânia, 1936.
My mother’s 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 childrens’ birth, a book on the life of Arrian, the Roman writer, and military commander, was published and became a best seller in Brazil.
Arrian of Nicomedia - circa AD 86 – c. 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.
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 other various 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 break 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 air space 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, so, he composed a message of dismissal to be handed to his employee, in poetry!
This is particularly difficult to translate into English because it is amusing precisely because of the simple and repetitive rhyme in which it was created. But I will try,
though I must explain that poetry is usually not translated, but rewritten:
Grown so plump
Bulky and weighty,
As well as awkward.
From my plane, and
Far remain, thus
My view not to regain.
Zeus de Luciânia, 1965
How about 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. So, 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?
So 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 are almost entirely iron ore. The 1693 discovery of veins of gold caused an influx of new settlers into the area, where precious stones also found, very especially diamonds in the region’s itacolumite rocks.
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 early as the 17th century.
The Fernandes de Oliveiras and the
Baptistas came from Portugal at a time when great fortunes were being made from the discoveries of gold and diamonds. The hustory 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 grandmother, born Teresa Dayrell, lived to see at her grandmother’s
house the remnants of the old wealth of the Fernandes de Oliveiras. But at the time of my mother’s birth in 1916, the local mines had long exhausted, and the town was well past its period of wealth and opulence.
In the 1920s the Dayrell Catta-Preta family decided to move to Belo Horizonte, the new state capital. They settled themselves comfortably in 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 incline 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, as sometime after the 1560s there was an increased influx of people from Portugal to the colony, as a consequence of the setting up of the first General Government.
In Salvador, in the last decade of the 16th century, I found records of the birth of Antonio Pereira de Azevedo from 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. And this was the name of my paternal grandfather’s family until the mid-19th
But it was still a long time 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 footsteps, directly connected to my family.
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, known as the Sesmarias, being offered in the New World and sailed to Rio de Janeiro. From there some of them moved inland to a site in
the state of Rio, which bears their name, 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.
Pereira de Azevedos are, therefore, among the early arrivals after the Portuguese invasion in 1500. And now, having discovered a Botocudo woman of the Krenac people in the bloodline on my father’s side, I realise that this has been 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 town people 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 the English say:
“He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day”.
- Unknown author.
these days need no longer be permanent dislocations, condemning people to a departure from every aspect of the lives they knew before. And as I did not want to abandon my past, I often returned to my home. So, by taking positive action to protect and enhance
my quality of life, I expanded my horizons into a larger world.
“The present is not just a potential past;
it is the time of choices and of action”.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986).