A slave that acknowledges its enslavement is halfway to liberation.
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
To understand the reasons you must first look at the origins.
― Anthony T. Hincks
For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards,
for there you have been and there you will long to return.
- Leonardo da Vinci
Approximate period of time covered: 1989 to 1992.
Location: London to Belo Horizonte, Singapore, Bali, India.
For the last 14 years in the Northern Hemisphere my life had revolved around my relationship with Hades, which had never been ideal but had
turned especially tense since we started cohabiting. If anything, our final separation at the beginning of 1989 at least took away the tension in my daily routine. But there remained the problem that I and the children were living in the flat that he had inherited
from his parents, which was therefore his birth right and he had free access, a situation which I could not fail to find unpleasant. So alternative accommodation had to be arranged for me and the children.
I had by then already sold my flat in Lowndes Square and the funds remaining from this transaction would not be sufficient for the larger property we required as I had also been using
this capital for my living expenses, though my tickets to Brazil were supplied by my father. But all of a sudden, in May 1989, I was informed that my father was fatally ill. I had to go back to Brazil, and as I no longer had anyone to take care of my own affairs
I needed to stay there for a longer period than I would otherwise have wished.
It was only over just two years since
my mother had died, and now it was happening all over again. Once more I had to rush down to the place that had become so remote and even unfriendly to me. As my children were far too small to leave either in boarding schools or in the care of Hades, I had
to face him again with the decision of our departure. After a great deal of histrionics we negotiated an agreement by which the children would live away from the UK for a maximum of three years, during which time they would come back to England twice a year
to spend most of their holidays with him. Additionally, I was to enrol them in Brazil in an English-speaking school.
I prepared for the move and also I surreptitiously took absolutely everything that was mine from his flat and put it in storage, as I had no desire to have to fight for the return of my own possessions. Despite being apprehensive about going to live in Belo
Horizonte again, I was also relieved that for the time being I was putting as much distance between myself and Hades as possible. I planned to be away for as long necessary to receive my share of the inheritance, but I had no idea how long this would take.
‘Night after night Hades raved at the idea of being distanced from his progeny for longer than an extended spring. And for
the next two weeks a merciless wind blew in the land making the leaves of the trees tremble as it twisted their branches, while the windowpanes of Persephone’s abode shuddered in the storm. All this in a desperate attempt to raise her from her
slumber and invade her peace. Persephone, however, slept peacefully as the impending move south would be beneficial, not only because she would be far removed from his centre of power while she was financially weaker, but also because in time it would allow
her to go back north in her own terms. Persephone was ready to endure any torment including the absence of her mother Clara Demeter which deprived her of her customary welcome in hearth and home.’
Indeed, now that my mother was dead I no longer had a home to go back to in Brazil as our old residence had been closed down. How sad it was for me to arrive at the airport and not find
my mother waiting there as she always used to, ready to take me home where I would go to my old room that I had always loved so much. There was nothing to go back to in town and nothing would ever be as it had been during her lifetime.
My father did not own anything suitable for me to live in with the children as since my sister’s wedding he had lived in a flat above his office
- in the Fayal Building in the city-centre. This was the building that he had constructed in 1949, which also housed the Fayal Hotel, a place I had always detested. Therefore, we had to be housed in the main suite of our other hotel, then named the Real Palace,
in rooms no way large enough for a mother with two small children. So I soon set myself the task of buying, decorating and furnishing a property as fast as I possibly could, but all this took almost seven months.
What followed was the most difficult phase of my life, as the battle over our inheritance had started even before my father’s death. The first salvo was an attempt by Polemos, the most
belligerent of his heirs outside our family, to try to declare my father no longer responsible for his acts as the poor man was undergoing bouts of chemotherapy which left him at times very weak. Meanwhile his usual office staff was on duty, and now the three
of us were also present and supervising the day to day operations.
The eventual evaluation of my father’s mental capacity
was one of the most humiliating things I have ever witnessed and I felt so sorry that he had to go through it. Fortunately, on the day he was in one of his better phases and was able to answer questions posed by a panel of three judges. As his three children
by his marriage, we looked on in silent support and he emerged with flying colours.
My own children were in Europe enjoying their
summer holidays. They had gone to a summer camp in Gstaad run by an America called Janna Spark whom we had met in London. In mid-September they arrived in Belo Horizonte to begin their studies at the local American School, the only one available locally to
prepare them to finish their education later in the UK.
The American School was then the only English-speaking school in town, and
in spite of Hades’s constant criticism of it, the American system of education, which does not have exams at the end of each term, proved particularly suitable to Perseus whose hyper-activity made it difficult to concentrate and thus to compete with
other children in a European school. Xena, with her sharp level of intelligence, would have done well anywhere.
I bought a large
and beautiful apartment in Rua Tomaz Gonzaga in Lourdes, a very pleasant part of town, into which we finally moved. We each had our own room and bathroom where we could enjoy comfort and privacy.
About a year after I arrived in the city, our driver, who had long worked for my father’s real estate company, showed me an area that belonged to our company with a large number of fruit trees in it. It was near Lake Pampulha and a place
called Ouro Preto, not to be confused with the colonial town of the same name some 140km away. It must once have been someone’s country home, and although it had not been in my plans at all, I bought the area solely because of its abundance of fruit
I was soon heavily reproached by members of my family for choosing that location with phrases like, “She is such
a fool and has no idea how things should be done here.” I suppose they did not realise, much less believe, how temporary our stay in town would be. In spite of all their criticism our weekend retreat was first walled round and then landscaped to perfection.
Eventually, the house which I built there was named ‘The Basatrice’ and itwas a most enchanting place reminiscent of an English Polo-Club that I had seen in India. Just down the hill there were a great many of ancient jabuticaba
and mango trees which flowered towards the end of each year. They enhanced an enchanted grove where stood a little old stone house which I had reroofed and restored and then surrounded it with flowers.
Left: The Basatrice, in Belo Horizonte. Right: A jaboticaba tree.
To the original old orchard we added many other fruit trees so that we
could pick fruit and enjoy the various types of flowers that bloomed throughout the year. This gave us immense pleasure and I will never forget the happiness we enjoyed in that bewitching place. Perseus especially loved it, and I delighted in our Sundays
there with our three Labradors for the seven years that we owned it.
While my little family lived in protected and beautiful surroundings,
my brother and sister and I were being constantly prosecuted by some of the other heirs who suspected everything we did was an assault on their inheritance claims. And in June 1990 my father finally succumbed to cancer, this private war among two groups of
opposing beneficiaries continued as if nothing had really happened. But the truth was that we had nothing in common with them, we never had had and we certainly never would.
One of their most devastating tactics was a highly pernicious and denigrating campaign dished up to the national press which portrayed my father as a licentious person, probably in an attempt to imply that we had grown up in a morally improper household. This
was very far from the truth. We had actually lived very safe and protected lives, cared by our mother, those outsiders knew nothing about our actual circumstances. I suppose they thought that the sordid picture they painted of us best suited their purpose
of discrediting our characters.
Throughout this period we had one group of solicitors and a separate group of specially hired administrators
all working on a plan to pay these other heirs as quickly as possible. We met weekly with each of these two groups to hear about the latest judicial unpleasantness, or about the dim financial position of most of my father’s businesses.
Eventually, the business that could not be fractioned off, the sugar-refinery and alcohol distillery along with its extensive plantations, was professionally
valued, as everything else had been, especially all the real estate, and these were soon made available to those who qualified as heirs through DNA testing. They could make their preferred choices up to the value of their individual share.
Those years in Minas Gerais were very different from my previous life there, not only because my parents were dead, but also as a result of the distancing
of the cousins of my father’s family with whom I had shared a happy life. I am not sure what their expectations were of the value of their shares in the businesses which my father had given them, but all of a sudden, instead of grieving with us in the
torment we were living through, they also became angry and resentful.
Meanwhile, my brother and sister made little effort to involve
my children in their lives, and during all the time we were there they received few invitations from their first cousins to children’s parties and other social occasions. So I had to create a new life for them with their school friends or the children
of a few friends I had who were of a similar age. But as I had lost most of my closest ties to that city, this was a time of solitude.
Enforced return in invisible
chains led me
To a world of solitude, where I had to make
New life, new
friends where now there were so few
Remaining family attachments to occupy
space that others left loveless and void.
Why had old allies withdrawn
They left me friendless with nowhere to turn,
times of fear I was alone,
As siblings led their separate lives unchanged,
emerged at meetings, cool, detached.
In time new friends were made
who now became
Precious and only allies in former home.
They now do remain
the priceless gift and
Recompense I have from the time of torment,
When I was bound by unseen, cruel chains.
© ALP Gouthier,
In life we will always have reason to love or
to hate and we must strive to distance ourselves in mind and body from what we cannot appreciate. If we do not do so, odium will poison our lives. As the alternative to hate is love, we must strive to devote our attention to objects of love. I know that it
is not always easy, but as life is indeed the most precious gift and we have only one we must make a great effort to live it as best we can and avoid hatred.
People are born innocent and blameless. Seeds do not in the main sprout already rotten, but rather grow into beautiful flowers, which in the cycle of nature become fruit. But some fruits rot before their prime, as do people. Rotten humans are not able to content
themselves with self-development and personal realisation but are instead constantly envious of the lives of others. The best we can do is to remain as far from these people as possible. Twenty years earlier, in attempting to escape Belo Horizonte because
I was persecuted there, I became distant also from my parents whom I loved. But this for me was the price of peace.
After two decades
I was back in an infinitely more hostile environment than before, and with less protection. The best I could do was to escape from it intermittently by travelling far away during the children’s school holidays. So each year, at the very beginning of
the Christmas holidays, I would fly off with them for a week to somewhere they would enjoy before taking them to join their father. During those first years in Brazil, Disneyland in Orlando was the best choice. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves there, while
I reverted to childhood with them. After a week of sheer pleasure we flew to England, where I spent the season with friends before going back to work in Belo Horizonte.
During their mid-year holidays we would travel together for about ten days to places as far as possible from Hades so that he could not barge into my share of the holidays with them. We visited South Africa and sites along the Pacific Ocean, and after I took
or I sent the children off to their father in England I would go off to one of my favourite parts of the world to regain my peace.
In 1990, not long after my father had died, I went with my dear cousin Sandra Giffoni to South-East Asia. There is no better place to forget the worries of the world than the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, which is for me the most wonderful hotel in the whole
world. There, surrounded by exquisite beauty and order, I could easily imagine or pretend that there was no strife elsewhere.
Left: Map of Singapore. Right: The Raffles Hotel
The Republic of Singapore is a city-state on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula where in 1819 Stamford Raffles first set up a trading
post, later ceded to the British Raj. During the Second World War the region was occupied by Japan, but eventually gained its independence and in 1965 become a sovereign nation. Nowadays the city of Singapore is one of the worlds most cared for and perfectly
gardened tropical havens, and it is also the location of the Raffles Hotel. This is a colonial-style luxury establishment first set up in 1887 by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers. As most enterprises periodically do, it fell on hard times and closed
down for at least twenty years. Having read about its romantic past, whenever I went to Singapore I first made sure it was up and running and chose to stay there whenever possible.
As for my trip with Sandra, after a few days in heavenly Singapore we went to Bali, an island where time appears to stand still. On arrival at a beautiful Aman Hotel Sandra asked,
time do we have to wake up?”
“At the time we wake up,” I said.
Then she said, “I hope I do not disturb you as
I sleep rather badly.”
“You will not disturb me Sandra. I sleep like a rock.”
The next morning I woke up, got myself
ready and went for breakfast while Sandra slept on. She arrived in the restaurant hurried and concerned, asking what had happened.
“Nothing Sandra, nothing happened. You just slept very well.”
“That is very strange”, she said. “I never sleep that much.”
“Well here you do because we are in the land of make-believe
where everything is perfect and beautiful, and nothing is wrong with the whole world. So, like me, you have left your worries at home.”
Bali is part of Indonesia and it is also its only island with a mostly a Hindu population. It is informally administered by a confederation of royal Balinese houses, each overseeing a specific area. They came into operation prior to the years of Dutch colonisation.
The Dutch presence in the area lasted at least three hundred years and ended with the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. Bali is famous for the beauty of its terraced rice plantations covering every slope along most roads into the island, as
well for the arts and crafts of its people. All this had absolutely enchanted me from my first visit in the early seventies when the island was starting to become more widely known.
Map of the Island of Bali. Centre: Bali scenery. Right: Tanah Lot Temple
The following year, 1991, I took Sandra on a more adventurous trip starting in Chennai, previously known as Madras, on the east coast of India.
Originally a land divided into separate kingdoms,
India is a vast country with very diversified terrain, from Himalayan peaks to Indian Ocean coastlines, and with a history reaching back five thousand years. It was unified in the 17th century by the Mughal Empire, only to come one hundred
years later under the Maratha Empire, and in the 19th century to fall under British rule until its independence in 1947.
Chenai is the capital city of the State of Tamil Nadu where the official language, Tamil, is one of the longest-surviving classical languages. In this corner of the world, down the millennia, the rock-cut architecture, still in evidence, was replaced
by structural monuments built in brick and stone such as the ones in Kanchipuram, and now the state is home to many historic Hindu and Tamil buildings and religious sites, as well as colonial architecture such as the lovely English hill stations.
From Chenai we hired a car to drive us south to Pondicherry, itself a memorable experience, along a narrow and twisting road mostly through
forested areas. Sandra, who did not know what to expect, was often terrified as the little car negotiated the what was sometimes little more than a track with oncoming elephants carrying huge bundles of hay, or at the sight of the occasional dancing bear or
snake charmers playing at the road side.
‘While Anastasia appeared to have found her place, relaxing with tranquillity
or beaming with amusement at all the typical Indian sights as if she had been born to it, Sandra was alarmed at each unexpected event. A few hours later, shortly after six in the afternoon, as they were driving by a cluster of houses with people standing outside
enjoying a moment of peace at the end of their day’s work, Anastasia said to the driver, “Please stop.”
To which Sandra exclaimed, “What happened?” “Nothing,”
“I just want to go to the bathroom.” “But where?” Sandra asked.
Anastasia spoke to the driver. “Please ask that girl over there,” and she pointed to a young woman standing by a nearby gate, “if I can go to the bathroom in her house.” The driver spoke to the girl who smiled at Anastasia, indicating
that she should go through the gate. To this Sandra said in Portuguese, “You are not going in there”, “Yes I am” Anastasia replied and followed the girl through the gate.’
Following the Indian girl, I walked into the house, crossed the living room where a number of her relations were sitting, greeted them with a smile and a nod of the head, and was led
to a privy at the back of the house. The girl then gave me some paper and stood outside. When I came out she poured some water from a pitch to wash my fingers and walked me back through the gate, where I thanked her for her kindness. Upon my return Sandra
exclaimed again, “You are out of your mind. I would never have gone in there.”
“Terribly nice family.” I retorted. “I met the parents, the grandparents and a number
of other people. Very pleasant home.”
About two hours later we drove into Pondicherry and our driver dropped us off at our
hotel. Pondicherry was part of French India from 1674 to 1954, when it was incorporated into the Indian Union. It consisted of two distinct quarters separated by a canal. The French Quarter is built in the French style of architecture, including an Arc de
Triomphe, Alliance Française, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and other churches.
Left: Arc de Triomphe; Centre: French Style Villa; Right: Sacred Heart Church.
The Indian Quarter is built in the Indian style with its Indian institutions such as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a well-known meditation and yoga centre.
I decided to visit the Aurobindo Ashram, not knowing what to expect, and one
of the facilities open to the public was a walkabout inside the dome. There we queued up amid signs requesting absolute silence and entered the golden dome in a single line of people walking round and round, and as the sun light that entered through the walls
became diffuse we came into an amorphous world coloured by translucent pale shades. And right on cue, as soon as we were in that strange arena, Sandra whispered to me in alarm “What on earth is this Anastasia?” But I aloofly shushed her into silence.
From Pondicherry we continued south to Tiruchirappalli where I enjoyed myself thoroughly, to Sandra’s dismay, chatting and sipping tea
in the work area of a very pleasant stone cutter. I even asked him to cut off the extra arms of one of his statues as I found them a little strange! And so the days passed, visiting sites and buying more brass statues which I dragged with me for the rest of
the trip all the way to Madurai.
Left: Temple in Madurai, India. Right: Temple in the region of Madurai.
From Madurai we flew to Delhi where we stayed at my favourite hotel, Claridge’s, built in 1952, and graced with pleasant front lawns on which we could relax after the heat of the
day. As I had been to New Delhi a number of times before, I spent most of my time buying textiles and handicrafts, while Sandra visited the major sites. On one of these occasions while she bravely climbed all the way up a tall tower I stayed below in a peaceful
nearby square, only for her to find me when she returned, fast asleep on a bench.
Left: The Red Fort, in Delhi. Centre:The Qutb Minar.
Right:The Claridges Hotel, Delhi.
From Delhi Sandra flew straight back home, and the next day I took a different route to London. I took a taxi to the airport with a driver who was very
much into talking. He started asking me how old I was, and upon hiding my shock at being asked such a question, I lied to him by at least a decade. To which he said, “ It is amazing how you western women look so young. My wife, who is younger than you,
looks much older.” Had I not been in such grumpy mood that day I would have thanked him for the compliment. After a week in London I went back to my hellish life in Brazil.
Life is a succession of lessons enforced by immediate reward,
or, more often, by immediate
- Ernest Dimnet