Chapter 9 - Academia

Anastasia at Rosemont - 1963-4

Academia

Anastasia at Rosemont - 1963.

Chapter 9 - Academia

“It is the mark of an educated mind

to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

- Aristotle

 

“The function of education is to teach one to think

intensively and to think critically.

Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

“University's like this little world, a bubble of time separate

from everything before and everything after.”
- Mhairi McFarlane, You Had Me at Hello.

Period of time, from 1960 to 1964

Location: Belo Horizonte and USA. 

            In general, a school is an organisation for educating children, but it is also any institute at which instruction is given. The word school derives originally from the Greek word ‘skholē’, meaning leisure, philosophy and a place for lectures. The term went into Old English as ‘scōl’ or ‘scolu’ and later it was reinforced, via Latin, into Middle English by the Old French form ‘escole’.

            A college is an educational institution or establishment providing higher education but offering a limited curriculum, or teaching only to a bachelor's degree. The term college originated from the Latin collegium - from ‘col’ for together plus ‘legare’ for to depute.

            A university is a high-level educational institution, in which pupils study for undergraduate and for graduate degrees, and where academic research is done. The origin of the word is from the early Latin ‘universitas’ - implying the whole, which came to signify, in Late Latin a society or a guild. The terms college and university are used interchangeably in the United States.

            The word academia, however, implies the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education and scholarship. The Latin word Academia derived from the Ancient Greek -  ‘Ἀκαδημία (Akadēmía)’, which was originally a grove of trees and gymnasium outside Athens, where Plato taught; the name of this location is thought to have derived from the name of a former owner of that estate, the Attic hero Akademos. Meanwhile Attica is a historical region that encompasses the city of Athens, centred on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea.

            The word gymnasium derives from the Ancient Greek ‘γυμνάσιον’ or ‘gumnásion’, meaning exercise or school, and from ‘γυμνός’ or ‘gumnós’ meaning naked. This is because Greek athletes trained naked. In ancient Greek communities, a gymnasium was at first merely an open space, which later developed into locations with extensive facilities, including for the training of the mind as well as the body. In German, from the 15th century, it came to mean a high school, but in English it remained purely associated with athletic activities. And in 1950s Brazil the word gymnasium meant an establishment specialising in secondary education, as well as a place of physical exercise, but nowadays only the second meaning prevails.

            In my childhood home in Belo Horizonte we had a cinema where films were shown six times a week immediately after dinner. The reason for our easy access to new films, both national and international, before their release on cinemas, was that my father owned a large chain of cinemas in town. The regular frequenters of these home movie sessions in the early days were my mother, my maternal grandmother and her son, my uncle Lauro, Mme Marguerite who was my mother’s Godmother, and myself. My brother sometimes came down too, but he would always fall asleep before the end and had to be carried upstairs to his bed, and my sister was still too young. The people who worked and actually lived at our house were also welcome and most often watched the films, and occasionally a few other people came, especially at weekends.

            I used to love movies showing students at American universities. There was a film with Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in which girls wore Bermuda shorts and knee socks in summer. I thought it was wonderful and longed to have a wardrobe like that and to frequent a college like the one I saw in the film. My eyes and my dreams, therefore, were turned mostly towards schools and studies, and not to marriage and children like as most of the girls of my generation.  

Before the age of fourteen I do not remember ever having gone to a friend’s house as my only companions were my cousins. And for a large part of my childhood I was at the same schools as my cousins Sandra Giffoni, Helena Tunes L Pereira and her sister Maria Clara, and Marcia Nelson de Senna, among a few others, older or younger than us.

Helena and I were the firstborn in our families, and we both had very strong personalities, but in every other way we were very different. At Sacré Coeur, she was talkative and made friends, while I silently shied away from everyone. I remember being surprised when Mother Zuzuneg, the nun I feared more than all the others, actually smiled at Helena ― something she had certainly never done at me. I spent most of my time in school in a state of tension, which caused me constant headaches, and I could hardly wait to go home. I was therefore astonished when my cousin Marcia said that she actually liked school! But then again, Marcia enjoyed the strangest things, like Spiritual Retirement days, which I thought were a waste of time. In these boring occasions we were supposed only to pray the whole day long, and only read about the lives of saints.

            My cousin Helena and her family always spent the weekends in their country house known as the Fazendinha, or little farm. It was a lovely property about an hour’s drive from town in the direction of the mountains to the south-east, and off the road that led to Rio de Janeiro. I enjoyed the Fazendinha very much because I was very fond of my relations. Having cousins is much better than having a brother and sister because you can choose with whom you wish to develop a special friendship. They are normally of the same sex and of about the same age, more likely to share the same interests.

            This happy life among cousins that we shared from our earliest childhood lasted for years on end, but was unfortunately after the death of my father turned into discord and distance. I still miss the happy convivial that we had, the sharing of life and of memories.  Thus year after year this large group of relations repeated the happy and orderly sequence of events such as school and holidays and travel. But in accordance with the southern hemisphere seasons and contrary to the northern hemisphere order of things. In very ancient times, before the discovery that the earth is round, some very early explorers came back to Europe saying that there was a land where everything was upside down. This turned out to be true, in a manner of speaking. Our school year started in March and ended at the beginning of December, with a month’s winter break in July.

As my mother was a person of regular habits we always spent July, the winter holiday, in Rio de Janeiro. Mother loved this because she had many cousins in Rio, and we adored going to the beach. The temperature there at that time of the year is most pleasant, still warm enough, but not as hot as it is at the end of the year. In December we stayed at home for a summery Christmas, and right after New Year we usually flew south to Carrasco in Uruguay, for part of the summer holidays, accompanied by many relations. The month of February was spent in our country houses back in Brazil.

As my father wanted me to learn English, when I was fourteen he suggested that I go on an English course in America during my holidays. This was a programme in which a group of students from various parts of Brazil would study for four weeks and then tour the nearby region for a week before returning home. I was at first unsure about the idea, as this would be my first trip away from my mother and I did not know anyone who would also be going, but in the end decided to brave the adventure. Meanwhile, my father was careful to recommend my care to the daughters of acquaintances of his who were going on the trip and that is how I met Maria Theresa Pinheiro.

 

We flew from Rio to Miami, and from there we went by Greyhound bus to the Alabama College in Montevallo, Alabama, where we attended an English course for foreign students. We were housed in student dormitories, duly supervised by chaperones, and segregated from the boys who were in the same group, as was the norm.

This trip was in January 1958, when the southern part of the United States still practised racial segregation. This was very shocking to us, students from Brazil, as we never seen anything like it. Just having to use segregated lavatories felt to me as if I was participating in something I abhorred, and I did not know what to do with myself. But I was afraid that if I did not use of whites-only and sections and went into the ‘coloured’ areas they would think I was intruding. I could not wait to get away from there. But on that trip, in Burlington Alabama, I saw snow for the first time, and that was very exciting.

The next outing I went back to America with both my cousins, Helena and Marcia, to St Michael’s College, in Winooski Vermont. It was extremely cold there in winter, but everything was fun and exhilarating for us at that age. I thought that American boys were very handsome and I enjoyed chatting to them at the school cafeteria and listening to music in a juke-box.

As the years went by and I very often persuaded my parents to send me on other short language courses abroad, as there were also French courses in Paris. I loved studying at the Institut Catholic, at the rue d’Assas, in the mornings, which was only walking distance from the Hotel Trianon, where we were staying. And I also much enjoyed the shopping in the afternoons at the Galleries Lafayette buying clothe and 45 rotation records of the latest French hits. Maria Helena Pinheiro was also on this trip, and our weekly treat was to go dancing at a little night-club run by the students.  It was during these holidays that she met her future husband Percy Hatchbach, who was from the south of Brazil. 

 

Every other year I joined the family on the month-long trip to Carrasco in Uruguay, along with my cousins. This is a most enchanting and peaceful resort. In the mornings we usually joined a group of youngsters at the beach and played various sports. Apart from us Brazilians there were Argentines and Uruguayans also there for the summer, and this was an opportunity to practise my Spanish.

The rest of the time during those summers, we strolled about or rode bicycles in the surrounding streets, something I was never allowed to do in Brazil, where I could not leave home except when driven by a chauffeur. After dinner at the hotel we went to sleep, while our parents went to the hotel casino. On two occasions we returned to Brazil by boat on a beautiful transatlantic Moore McCormick liner, which was an adventure in itself. My father would sometimes meet us in Santos where we docked.

            At the age of eighteen I attended my second course in Paris, and stayed at the same hotel, just off the Boulevard St Michel. I did not know anyone going on this trip,  and I shared a room with a girl from Belo Horizonte by the name of Beatriz Ferreira Leite, whom I had also never met before. After a while we became friendly, and then she told me that when her friends had heard that I was going with this group, they told her to keep an eye on me so that they could tell stories about me to the others afterwards. She also said that she had not liked me at all before. When I asked her why, considering that she had never met me, she told me that when she used to see me passing by in the car she thought I looked rather ‘antipathique’, or disagreeable. But now that she knew me she realised I realise she had been wrong. She actually found me to be very tranquil.  I remember clearly her choice of word. Tranquil! And I wondered then why should I not have been.

 

Judgement

 

Judge me just by what you see, and

Hate me not for what I am not, I plead.

I hurt in the face of your condemnation,

Without guilt, for I have never sinned.

I am no more than meets the eye, just

A little girl upright and firm, but shy.

 

I had courage to guide my life, to make

My choices, but I cannot withstand the

Burden of guilt when I stand innocent.

 I must depart to where I have some peace

And am not misjudged, as you have done

Relentlessly throughout my life.

 

Travel is the food of knowledge. The whole

World is an open book for us to learn from.

The exploration of both sights and thoughts

Bring so much reward. This is the wealth I

Have acquired, which I will express in words

To all who care to read. This is my gift to you.

 

And this is what I am, not the horrid sordid

Image that was painted of me. But you do not

Believe me, and prefer to make of calumny

Your truth. Birth land, you have been a cruel

Site in which to live, so I departed and yet,

I am not forgotten. Give me peace!

 

But if you don’t, as I know you won’t 

I will survive, as I learned to do while young.

I was born strong I am proud to say, and a

Warrior from the start. You’ll not weary me,

As no one ever could. And yet I am just like

You, I hurt and cry in moments unseen.

 

© ALP Gouthier, 2015

 

In December 1961 I completed with honours the Gymnasium and in March 1962 embarked on the Scientific Programme at the Isabella Hendrix School. But I after a year and a half there I was concerned as I saw no progress in the preparations for my enrolment in an American university. It was not that my parents were against the idea, but they really knew nothing about foreign academia and the only advice we could find at the time was from my mother’s relation, Abgar Renault, who had been the Brazilian Minister of Culture. Dr Abgar thought I should apply for a Liberal Arts course at an Ivy League girls’ college such as Vassar, but I would not hear of it as I was determined to study Business Administration.

 In June 1963 at the age of nineteen I decided go to Philadelphia to attend to a two month English course where I would learn how the American educational system worked and take the necessary steps to realise my ambition. I planned my trip carefully with the help of a friend Ronaldo, Laura Ciruffo’s brother, who had previously studied in the US. He also helped me to enrol in Summer School at the University of Pennsylvania, where I would be a boarder in a girls only dormitory.

My father, recognising my determination, supplied me with ample funds, while my mother took me to Rio from where I flew to New York, where I was to be met by an American friend of Ronaldo Ciruffo. I was booked into the Barbizon Hotel for women for one night to rest from my trip, and on the following day this American acquaintance kindly took me to a train station to board the train to Philadelphia.

            Life was very different in those days for most females like me. We remained virgins into our twenties, and I had no reason to believe that it was any different for my peers. All the schools I attended were girls only schools, and later the dormitories of universities were also carefully segregated. We girls, even at university, were under curfew, which as I recall was about ten in the evening, and eleven at weekends. We were not allowed to move out of the dormitories until our junior year, which was the third year. I always thought these rules were wise as I had no desire to stay up late.

For women who did not wish to spend much money, or indeed could not, an easily available choice for segregated protection was the Young Women Christian Association (YMCA). This organisation was founded in London by George Williams in 1844 in the early days of the Industrial Revolution when women were moving into the cities to work. And YWs, as they were called, were offered safe housing for women concerned about the risks in a new and strange land.

 

But in New York City I was fond of The Barbizon Hotel for Women. It was rather reassuring to know that boys, or men, could not prowl around the corridors of the hotel, and invade our privacy. The Barbizon, located at 140 East 63rd Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, was an elegant haven for women coming to New York. It was built in 1927 and for most of its existence operated as a residential hotel, with no men allowed above the ground floor, and with strict dress and conduct rules. Some famous erstwhile residents I found listed were Lauren Bacall, Candice Bergen, Joan Crawford, Grace Kelly, Liza Minnelli and Sylvia Plath.

On a warm June day, dragging my two suitcases, I got out of a taxi at the University of Pennsylvania. I had come straight from the railway station and I always travelled heavy! Soon enough I found someone to help me to the dormitory reception. From there I was directed to a room, which I would share with another girl who had not yet arrived.

This was a handsome building with a central atrium from which one could see down to a large cafeteria in the basement floor, open to all students, resident or not. The front half of the upper floors of this large building housed girls, and the separated rear half housed boys. It had the most exhilarating atmosphere, peopled by youngsters of my own age, exactly as I had imagined it would be, and yet I felt rather shy. However, I finally forced myself to venture downstairs to eat something. My Advanced English classes for foreign students started the day after, which was a Monday.

There were many full time students at the university doing Summer School to catch up with credits lost during the school year. And there were students from all over the world, especially from the Spanish speaking countries of the American Continent. On learning that I was from Brazil they tried to befriend me, speaking in Spanish but I decided to pretend not to understand them well and answered them in English when they spoke to me. The real reason for this was that I was absolutely determined to improve my English as much as possible before the next school term, and for this I had to speak only English and not Spanish. I remember once meeting a Cuban priest in my class, who on hearing that I apparently could not understand Spanish said to me, “That’s strange. I once had a Brazilian friend and we communicated very well, each one speaking his own language…” I felt rather embarrassed at that, but I could not let on that I actually spoke Spanish fluently.

I was once at the school cafeteria when someone asked me what I thought of Afro-Brazilians. I told him that I liked them very much because it was due to their contribution that we had lovely rhythm and music, and were not listening lamenting ‘Fados’ as the Portuguese. For an answer I was given a rude racial retort that left me speechless. It was only the kind words of a stranger, sitting at the next table, that restored my peace of mind.

It was during that Summer that I met Chris Mitchum, who was there catching up lost credits missed in the previous school term. He was the son of the Hollywood actor Robert Mitchum and I thought that he was very good looking. But the friend I made that helped me the most was a Venezuelan student who went out of his way of teaching me what I was supposed to do to be accepted as a regular university student.

One day I was invited by a new friend from San Salvador, Marymer Echeverria, to go with her and her mother to a school where she was to study in the Autumn. That was the first time I went to Rosemont College. Marymer was already enrolled there, and while the two of them were speaking to the head nun with whom I asked if I could speak privately. As soon as their business was finished she drew me aside to talk.

I told her how I had come to America without knowing that I had to apply to university a year ahead, and that consequently I did not yet know where I would study at the beginning of the September term. I was quite frank with her, explaining that I wished to study Business Administration, which was not in their curriculum but that I would be very happy if I could study there for a year and later try to transfer to an institution that had business courses.

She asked me about my grades in Brazil and I told her they were of the highest level, as I had graduated with marks of about 94%. Then she asked me who would pay my fees and I told her that I would, as my father gave me money for all my requirements. So it was quickly arranged that I should request my records from Brazil, and if all was in order I should return to pay the first term fees and start college in the second week of September.

Remembering how my parents were slow in getting anything done, I wrote to my school friend Laura Ciruffo, who had also graduated from the Colégio Sao Paulo in the Cidade Jardim of Belo Horizonte, requesting her to go in person to school to obtain my records. I forwarded her the questionnaire given me by Rosemont College, which was to be filled in by the nuns at the Sao Paulo, and was to include their evaluation of my character and overall behaviour.

Everything I asked for came back promptly, as Laura was very efficient, but when I looked at the evaluation of me given by the Brazilian nuns I was shocked. Everything was answered ‘Excellent’, with not one  alternative choice of ‘Very Good’, or just ‘Good’. I almost cried! It sounded so absurd that I phoned Laura and exclaimed, “How could you do this to me. No one is going to believe all those excellents. You have ruined my life. They could have used more variety in their answers.”

“But Anastasia,” she retorted, when at last I gave her a chance to speak, “I told them to do so, but they absolutely refused. They said you were excellent in everything.”

“This is much too ridiculous, but I suppose there is nothing we can do about it now. I’ll have to take it to Rosemont as it is,” I moaned.

            So, I took the train back to Rosemont, taking the paperwork I had received and the money to pay for tuition, hoping for the best. The nuns examined the records and accepted me into the Freshman Year without the slightest mention of an examination to test the quality of my written English. That day, I went back to Philadelphia feeing triumphant, and it was only then that I phoned my parents to announce that I had been accepted into university for the coming fall term.

Rosemont is a very high standard institution for girls only, run by nuns, and situated about an hour’s train ride from Philadelphia. The College buildings are surrounded by beautiful and carefully tended gardens that change dramatically every season of the year. I was allotted a room all to myself in one of the dormitories, which even had a bathroom that I had to share with only one other student, an American girl in her junior year. And as this was my first year of study entirely in English I felt under a lot of pressure to compete with my American colleagues, so I did nothing but study from morning to night, including weekends.

 

It was the practice in the evenings in the dormitory to share out telephone answering duty among all the girls, as there was one phone booth per floor. But I soon had to be excused from this because I could not understand the surnames. In the beginning a few other things in the American way of life baffled me. For instance I wondered if a blind-date meant going out with someone who was blind, a perfectly normal misconception for someone from a part of the world did the idea of an arrangement of socialising with a stranger was unheard of.  

 I was in Rosemont, on that fateful November day, when class was interrupted by the announcement that President Kennedy had just been shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. This was Friday the 22th of November of 1963 and I recall that the day of his burial was my birthday, but I thought it best not to mention it because it was not a day to celebrate.

            I finished that year in Rosemont with a very high grade, which I am told was almost ‘cum laude’, and was surprised to learn that I was the only foreign freshman who did not fail any exam. But I was very anxious because I had not yet heard from Boston University whether my transfer application had been accepted. One of the Rosemont nuns, noticing my crestfallen expression, asked me what the matter was, and then offered to phone Boston University to get news for me. When she told me that I had been accepted that day became one of the happiest of my life.

            Even though I was not yet studying what I wanted to, Rosemont was an excellent institution academically speaking, and I was very flattered to hear from them that I was the type of student they really wanted.

 

Rosemont

 

Rolling hills covered with green grass,

And the remains of Summer blooms,

Greet the start of a new year of studies,

Effort and purpose that gives no respite

In days of ceaseless intellectual labour.

 

But soon enough autumn colours tint all

Nature to make the Rosemont hills praise

Their rosy name, in splendid rosy hues

And browning shades of leaves, while we

Struggle on, ceaselessly, with our books.

 

Later yet a blanket made of the purest

White descends, such an immaculate sight,

Upon the ground. While we work on,

Ceaselessly studying and striving

To realise our dreams and succeed.

 

At last burst of light green shoots peep

Through, yet fail to distract our

Minds from our serious concentration.

Such splendid blooms of beauty, are met

Only by our brief and casual glances.

 

Reward for effort is the aim,

It will be savoured and carried through

Life to other sites, to other hills and

Plains, to further fields of studies, to

Other dreams of learning yet to come.

 

© ALP Gouthier, 2015

 

            Having recently read that the battle against the patronising rules of sex segregation of the times had to be fought for at great cost left me completely astonished because I loved it being so at the times. It gave me a feeling of security, which I felt I needed being away from home, and I did not desire to have any more freedom.

             In June 1964 I began my Business studies at Boston University, doing Summer School to catch up with credits I could not transfer from my first year of Liberal Arts. I was very happy to have at last achieved my goal, and I was as usual happy to go my girls-only dormitory, where I could do what I had gone there to do, study in peace, for hours and days on end. Study had become a habit, as well as a pleasure. Once captivated by its allure one can never stop, as there is always something else to entice us into fresh studies. Now writing is for me the continuation of this same process, as I am presently striving to master the very elusive subject of literary style. 

There is simply no substitute for hard work

when it comes to achieving success.

- Heather Bresch

Anastasia at Boston University - 1965

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23.06 | 23:47

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