The Demise of the Past
Although you cannot hear her voice
Or see her smile no more,
Your mother walks beside you still
Just as she did before.
She listens to your stories and
She wipes away your tears;
She wraps her arms around you
And she understands your fears.
she isn’t visible
To see with human eye,
But talk to her in silence
Her spirit will reply.
You’ll feel the love she has for you
You’ll hear her in your heart,
She’s left her human body
Your souls will never part.
- Brylor Electric, Pinterest UK
Approximate period of time covered:
1987 and 1988.
Location: London, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro.
When my mother died all my youth died with her. There was almost nothing left. She was the constant, unshakeable, enduring source of love for me and when she died I was left
completely alone in the world. Almost loveless. I do not forget my faithful cousin Sandra, my childhood companion, who always believed that I was a good person, and always stood by my side.
All the others who were part of my past, had either died or turned away from me in one way or another. My father and my brother and sister had taken away their affection for reasons that are still not very clear to me. I can only think that it was because
I decided not to return there to work with the family after university, which in my family that was thought of as betrayal. I did feel very guilty for many years about my decision, but now I have come to think that it was the best thing I ever did.
Left: Mother with Anastasia, approx.1950. Collection ALP Gouthier.
Mother, Anastasia and brother, at the Botanical Gardens of Rio de Janeiro, approx. 1952. Photo collection of ALP Gouthier.
Mid-Right: Anastasia, father and sister, Av. Afonso Pena, Belo Horizonte,
approx. 1955. Collection of ALP Gouthier.
Right: Father and Anastasia, at Christmas dinner at home, December 1966. Collection ALP Gouthier.
By the end of the sixties the ambience in my home had changed from a happy and united family to a family living in hell. I could not face it
and ran away. What upset me the most though, throughout those years, was that I could not be there any longer to help my mother. So I did the best I could and went back for at least three months each year.
It was always a pleasure being with her but the others looked hard upon my choice of habitat and slowly distanced themselves from me, while keeping up an outward veneer of cordiality.
During all those years there was nothing I could do to turn back this tendency. So for almost thirty years we have played a game of appearances, which I am sure has been as hard for them as it has been for me.
I remember once being very upset at my brother when he told me that I had been unkind to my mother. I answered him that I often had to be tough with her when I thought it was her own
good. Our mother at a late phase of her life was bound on a self-destructive course. I knew her motive and indeed, she had reason to be unhappy. But I could not aid her in her actions because I knew it would take her to an early death. “You have to be
hard to be kind”, as the saying goes.
It is therefore not surprising that strange analogies come to mind each time I have
gone back to Brazil for the last forty-five years. It is said that we Mineiros, or the people from that state, never forget a slight and keep this emotion fresh in a deep freezer. So true. Would this mean that we have cold hearts or are very conservative?
The latter explains it! So I think of the poem ‘Navio Negreiro’, or Slave Ship, when I for many years envisaged travel to my birthplace, to which I was bound by unshakable and unseen chains.
This is a poem by Castro Alves that describes the plight of slaves who are transported across the seas to a life of torment. Its words and the rhythm of the verses express their feelings
as well as the movement of the waves and of the wind that takes the ship across the waters.
In the belief that poetry is best recomposed
into each new idiom to best reflect the intended rhythm of the original, I created my own translation of the first part of ‘Navio Negreiro’:
On the high seas… Mad in space
The moonlight plays – a golden butterfly;
And the waves run after it…..weary,
Like a group of restless infants.
On the high seas… from the skies,
The stars jump like golden foam…
In return the sea lessens the heat,
Like constellations of liquid treasure…
On the high seas… Two infinites
There locked in an insane embrace,
Blue, golden, placid, sublime….
Which of them is sky? Which is ocean?...
On the high seas…Opening the sails
the warm breath of maritime winds,
Sail-boat runs the surface of the seas,
the swallows brush the waves….
Where from? Where goes? Errant
Who knows the trail if so wide the space?
On this Sahara wild horses
raise the dust,
Gallop, fly, but leave no trace.
Happy those who may at this time,
Sense the majesty of the sight! Below
– The ocean, above – the heavens … and
In the sea and sky – the immensity!
Oh! What sweet harmony brings me
The breeze! The gentle music plays afar!
My God! How sublime is an ardent song
That drifts loose along the endless waves!
Men of the sea! You rude mariners,
Bronzed by sun of the four worlds!
Children whom the storms have lulled
To sleep in the cradle of the abyss!
Await! Await! Let me drink from this
free poetry. The Orchestra
Is the sea that roars by the prow and
that whistles through the rigging.
Why run thus, my swift vessel?
Why escape your timid poet? Oh!
If I could match the speed that you
Reflect upon the waters – mad comet!
Albatross! Albatross! Eagle of the ocean,
Who sleeps in the mist of clouds, shake
Your feathers, Leviathan of space,
Albatross! Albatross! Give me those wings.
- Castro Alves
by ALP Gouthier
It has been, therefore, with foreboding
that I took myself back to Belo Horizonte each time, as much as, it was with an enormous sense of relief that I departed each time. It did not use to be so in my youth. Why did it change?
I can pinpoint
very clearly the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, when things at home changed from a place of peace to a place of torment.
And I am probably guilty of not having stayed there to suffer with them and they will never forgive me for having found an alternative place to live. That made me evil and uncaring in their eyes. And there is nothing I can do to convince them that I am not
a bad person and I do care for them. It only remains for me to go on pretending that I do not see the coldness and distance in their eyes.
Thus each time I travel south I expect to be tormented, and now not only because of my family’s attitude, but also for other reasons. And sure as sure can be, an unpleasantness happens every single time I go there and has done for almost a half century.
Consequently, as the plane floats across the sky, its trembling transmits to me the remnants of regrets to come, just as the movement of the slave-ship portended future suffering to the slaves.
Their iron chains, visible, and just as strong as my imaginary links, hold us both to an unavoidable destiny. In this way drawn by the magnets in my mind, I cannot stop myself from going, over and over again. Why is it that I cannot be free? And, do I really
wish to be?
Am I unchained because my roots there are so deep? Part of my father’s ancestors have lived in these lands for
four-hundred and fifty years since the Portuguese arrived, and taking into account our Botocudo forebear, Luciana, we have been living in the Pindorama, or the land of palms, for over ten thousand years.
Strong and invisible chains
Link me to the place where
I was once happy
But later instead became
place of torment.
Of twisted reality beyond
Its original shape. Where
Vestiges love remain?
Or are they only memories
I keep in my heart, forever
Refusing to accept the death
Now only veiled glances
Shallow smiles broach lips
Devoid of real warmth.
I face year after year.
it ever change?
© ALP Gouthier, 2015
My mother was very fond of my cousin Sandra Giffoni who is the daughter of her younger
sister Branca. I can see why they got along so well as they were very similar in personality. On that fateful Sunday, the 8th of March 1987, my mother went to Sandra’s house for lunch and the two of them had a lovely time. Sandra told me that
my mother spoke a lot about me and of her worries about the safeguarding of my inheritance within the family, considering that I was not there to protect my interests.
Later in the afternoon my mother went to the bathroom and was gone a long time. After a while Sandra knocked at the door and called for her but got no answer. Alarmed, she forced the door open and found my mother dead on the floor. She called her
husband and he helped carry her to their bed. Then they phoned my brother and sister with the tragic news, which soon spread by word of mouth.
Everybody was so devastated by the suddenness of the death that no one thought to contact me until early evening when my faithful cousin Sandra phoned me to impart the news. She caught me in at home in London taking care of little Xena who had a temperature,
while Perseus lay sleeping in his bed. Hades was away, amusing himself in New York.
When I answered the phone Sandra said, “Anastasia,
your mother…” Noticing the alarm in her voice I said, “What about my mother?”
“She is dead Anna, lying on my bed”.
I started crying, and poor six year old little Xena quickly understood the situation and exclaimed, “Oh vovó!” and also started crying.
It took me a few days to organise my trip to Belo Horizonte with the children and by the time I got there they had already buried my mother, with not a thought for me. The only thing I could do was to arrange a Mass to be said in homage to her, to which a
few relations came, but not my brother, sister or father.
My mother had in her final year moved from our Chacara to a house in Mangabeiras
that belonged to my sister while our old home underwent necessary refurbishment. The Chacara was still full of furniture and all the trappings of our lives so I spent the next month packing my own things into boxes and putting them into storage in the empty
loft above my cousin’s Sandra house. Then I started on my mother’s things by sorting through what I thought that none of us would want and that could be given away.
Finally, I started to separate the rest of my mother’s possessions into groups such as special table-ware, silver cutlery, crystal and other types of glasses, ornaments, paintings, Persian carpets, and so on, and left the furniture in place. I soon developed
a sore throat because of the dust I inhaled while I sorted through unused objects long stored away. I could see my mother everywhere I looked and in my mind I travelled through our past in that house.
Lastly, I told my brother and sister that the time had come for them to come over so that we could share out our mother’s things among us. My sister eventually deigned to turn up with Gerda, my brother’s wife, for the allocation of the items, which
included all the furniture throughout the house. And as I no longer had a home there, I asked Sandra to keep my furniture in her loft where it stayed for the next three years. After the necessary meetings with my brother and sister to oversee other details
and paperwork, I went to our family flat in Rio with my children where I could at last grieve in peace. As it was already May I only went back to Europe in the middle of the year to my other type of hell.
However, I soon informed Hades that I would have to go back to Brazil for a number of months again the following year to prepare, together with my brother and sister, for the legal battles
that we knew would erupt sooner or later over my father’s will. Faced with this news Hades bluntly announced that he would not just be there waiting for me each time I chose to go away. This for me was really a relief, and so we at last decided that
we must part.
I had already known for some time that my father had many children by other women who by law would inherit
part of his estate. The time had come for us to start preparations for the legal wrangling that this would cause, for we wanted to make sure that we would not at any time become partners with strangers. Though my father was still alive, the three of
us decided first of all to sign a shareholders’ agreement with which when the time came we would present a united front.
So it was that after only six months in London, in January 1988 I took the children with me to Rio and enrolled them in the British School of Rio, where they studied until the middle of the year. Founded in 1924, this is an excellent
school which offers a curriculum for British and other expatriate children, as well as for Brazilian students, from Pre-Nursery to University entrance.
Being now based in Rio, during the ensuing six months I could go back and forth to Belo Horizonte when necessary. However, in December we went back to England so that the children could return to their usual schools, and soon afterwards Hades moved out of
his own property to live with his New York Chinese girlfriend. For the next year my life in London continued much as it had before, but I knew this was a temporary arrangement and did not yet know yet how it would be resolved. For years Hades and Persephone
would disagree about absolutely everything.
‘When these indomitable foes at last found themselves crossing swords, Heaven
and Earth shook with the impact of their struggle as they fought for what was most precious to them - control over the lives of their children. Nothing else mattered. Thus, armed with weapons gained from her powerful father, the daughter of
Zeus and her Hades battled for years. They attacked each other - advanced, retreated, thrust and parried, twisted and turned ceaselessly in a devilish dance, which only time could resolve.’
Life always waits for a moment of crisis
to reveal its magic side.
- Paulo Coelho