DANTE, CARIOCA STYLE
One of the more touching sonnets in Dante's La Vita Nuova expresses the poet's thoughts as he witnesses the fashion of the way his elusive "mia donna" makes her way, gracefully and independently, down the street before him:
Tanto gentile e tanto onesta pare
La donna mia quand'ella altrui saluta
Ch'ogne lingua deven tremando muta,
E li occhi no l'ardiscon di guardare.
Ella si va, sentendosi laudare,
Benignamente d'umiltà vestuta;
E par che sia una cosa venuta
Da cielo in terra a miracol mostrare.
Mostrasi sì piacente a chi la mira,
Che dà per li occhi una dolcezza al core,
Che entender no la può chi no la prova;
E par che de la sua labbia si mova
Un spirito soave pien d'amore;
Che va dicendo a l'anima: "Sospira."
My point is simple, but for those who know the twentieth-century Brazilian poet-songwriter Vinicius de Moraes only as a popular songwriter, and not the cultured, learned, modernist poet that he was in the earlier phase of his artistic career, it may come as a surprise. Dante's 1265 lyric-the poet's soulful take on his "donna mia" as she moves before him-is a prototype for two lyrics by Vinícius-a less-than-sweetly-depressive samba "Quando tu passas por mim" and the celebrated song "A Garota de Ipanema." In all three lyrics-Vinicius' two and the Dantean prototype-the image of the woman (whose own story remains a mystery to us) as she passes before the man serves as an emblem to each poet of the passage of time itself.
"Quando tu passas por mim" (1953), Vinicius' first samba, written with Antonio Maria, runs:
Quando tu passas por mim
Por mim passam saudades cruéis
Passam saudades de um tempo
Em que a vida eu vivia à teus pés
Quando tu passas por mim
Passa o tempo e me leva para trás
Leva-me a um tempo sem fim
A um amar onde o amor foi demais
E eu que só fiz te adorar
E de tanto te amar penei mágoas sem fim
Hoje nem olho para trás
Quando tu passas por mim
It is possible, I think, at least in retrospect, to entertain the idea that the vengeful lyrics of this first samba morphed into Vinicius' more delicately mournful song "A Garota de Ipanema" (1962).
The original lyrics of this enormously popular song, written with Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim (1927-94), read:
Olha, que coisa mais linda,
Mais cheia de graça
É ela, a menina
Que vem e que passa
Num doce balanço
Caminho do mar...
Moça do corpo dourado,
Do sol de Ipanema,
O seu balançado
É mais que um poema
É a coisa mais linda
Que eu já vi passar...
Ah, porque estou tão sozinho
Ah, por que tudo é tão triste
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha
Que também passa sozinha...
Ah, se ela soubesse
Que quando ela passa,
O mundo sorrindo
Se enche de graça
E fica mais lindo
Por causa do amor...[i]
It is pleasing to think that Vinicius himself was aware of the Dantean predecessor to his own tender tribute to the lovely girl who so touches him as she walks to the beach.[ii]
[i] O Operário em Construção e Outros Poemas, ed. Sérgio Buarque de Holanda [Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1979], p. 108.
[ii] In Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and After: A Poetic Career Transformed (Jefferson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland, 2012), I discuss how Bishop's "Pink Dog," a posthumously published poem critical of Rio de Janeiro, can be traced back to Dante by way of Vinícius' "A Garota de Ipanema" (pp. 79-80).
Foto 2. - Nesta esquina e neste bar nasceu a Garota de Ipanema. Hoje,rua Vinicius de Moraes.
George Monteiro is Professor Emeritus of English and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, Brown University, and he continues as Adjunct Professor of Portuguese Studies at the same university. He served as Fulbright lecturer in American Literature in Brazil--Sao Paulo and Bahia--Ecuador and Argentina; and as Visiting Professor in UFMG in Belo Horizonte. In 2007 he served as Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation Professor of Portuguese, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Among his recent books are Stephen Crane's Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Among his translations are Iberian Poems by Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face by José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems by Fernando Pessoa, and In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems by Jorge de Sena. He has also published two collections of poems, The Coffee Exchange and Double Weaver's Knot.
This posting was first published here on February 15, 2013.
Scenes from an unpublished novel
"You gotta say it fast. Real fast. Or it isn't funny."
Meeting in mid-row, the three girls have converged on their hapless victim. Their eyes bright with mockery, their faces soiled with a good deal more than malice. Their fingers are stained red with currant juice and their knees bound with pads of quilting to cushion them against the sun-baked earth. Knotted at all four corners, red bandanas offer scant protection from the intense sun. Or the perpetual rain of sulfur with which the currant bushes have been dusted against the mildew and now cakes in every sweaty crease to form a yellow paste. He knows only one of them by name. Geraldine Freitas. The other two, Spaniards, live in hovels somewhere out near the salt flats.
"Tell me why it's funny."
"Say it faster an' you'll see."
"African nigger, African nigger, African -"
"Africanigger, a fuckinigger -"
Bent over, doubled with glee, the girls scream with laughter.
Squinting through tear-blurred eyes, the ten-year-old Arab Ramos, né Vasco, studies them. He knows full well they are trying to make a fool of him, and what is worse, more than likely succeeding.
"I still don't get it." He is prepared to compound his shame as the price for knowledge. "What's so funny?"
So he tries again, his tongue moving so fast the words slur meaninglessly:
"Africanigger, a fuckinigger, a fuckin -"
Disaster hounds him. With all the surprise of a Jack-in-the-box, his father's head pops up from behind the next row, a craggy menace to more than himself. Ducking and scampering among the currant bushes, the three girls vanish in a cloud of sulfur.
His blush convicts him before he can even find his voice.
"I got almost a crateful." He holds up the crimson evidence for his defense like a casket of rubies glittering in the blinding June sunlight. Currants always seem to ripen the hottest week of the year and he hates picking them more than he hates any of the other task forced upon him by his stern mother, who is determined to teach him and his brother "the value of a dollar." As though it were one of life's immutable absolutes. The key to survival and the crowning proof of every success.
"And they aren't mashed either."
He has taken recently to pronouncing the final word with a hard "i" for the very good reason no one else in San Oriel pronounces it that way. In the present circumstances the affectation assumes the guise of insolence, which further incenses his father.
"Get yourself home." There is menace in the voice, an undeniable threat in the eyes. "And you'll not leave till I get there. Hear?"
"Good!" He sniffs back a rush of tears. Though "home," as far as he is concerned is now with his
recently-widowed grandmother, he knows that is not the home his father means. "I'm sick'n'tired
of picking these stinking old currants anyway."
He ducks before the sudden rush of his father's hand. He might have spared himself the effort. Gruff as he is, his father seldom hits him. But when he does the act is sudden, violent and painful.
Halted in mid-swing the hand hovering over him is large and ominously thick. It fascinates Arab like no other part of his father's anatomy and he studies it now with hypnotic intensity. Despite appearances to the contrary, it is capable of the most delicate workmanship. Far finer than anything his mother has ever accomplished with her needle. Tying minuscule knots on the rigging of the ship models that are his passion and his chief refuge from all familial concerns, and which, his son fully understands (and oddly without resentment) play a far more important role in his father's affections than his children. Especially since the death of his own father, the management of whose estate has now burdened the hapless history professor with two jobs, neither of which is particularly remunerative.
"One more word out of you, young man, and you'll get slapped. Right here. In front of everyone."
The young boy bristles at the affront. He cannot bear to lose face before these - since he is forbidden to call them "peasants," as they so clearly are (for the Ramoses are New Deal Democrats and believers in a literal democracy of social equality) he must content himself with "morons." And they are morons. Cruddy, lice-covered morons. Though he knows well enough not at the present moment (still within striking distance of that all-powerful hand) to give voice to his indignation.
It is the mystery that infuriates him far more than the injustice. He wouldn't even mind, sometimes, being punished, if they would only explain why he is being punished. A spanking is a small price to pay for knowledge. And more than anything else, he longs for knowledge. To know just about everything there is to know. While here, hidden only from him, there is a great conspiracy of secrets which everyone else in the entire world seems to be in on. Even stupid old Geraldine Freitas, who can barely spell her own name. And that is insufferable.
"What kinda nigger?" A softly taunting voice rises from behind a sulfurous bush.
He sticks out his tongue as far as it will go and gives a noisy raspberry.
"A Spanish nigger. That's what kind."
"Black Portagee," comes the instant reply.
He sniffs, head held high like the prince he knows himself to be, as he too is now lost in a cloud of sulfur wafting westerly in the direction of his home. And his waiting mother.
"I don't understand."
His mother is speaking. Olive-skinned, she has the face of a Renaissance Madonna, an almost perfect oval filled now with the ineffable suffering of Our Lady of Sorrows. A corsage of silver swords might more properly have sprouted from her left breast than the damp, stained apron fashioned from the cheapest cotton print that presently adorns it.
"I just don't understand. From your brother, yes. From Tony we might have expected as much. But you!"
It is the attack of all attacks he most hates - this setting him up on some kind of pedestal only so that he can then be deftly knocked off. The would-be saint toppled from his marble perch and garroted with his own halo. For, like every good Catholic, he fully intends someday to become a saint. But unlike most he also intends to become a priest. Possibly, even, one day, Pope. The first American Pope. Vasco the First he'll be, since he'll obviously have to use his real name in such a contingency. And for once he likes the sound of it as well as the prospective glory. Vasco the First in full regalia with crown and crosier, borne aloft amidst the cheering throngs on the hefty shoulders of four of the handsomest of his very own Swiss guards. Every one of them well over six feet tall and as beautiful as a god.
"You! You! You!" The word reverberates like the parodied vocative of a Victor Herbert operetta: "You! You! No one but yoooooo!"
"But you!" Our Lady of Sorrows is all trembling anguish, a vibrating tuning fork, "You!"
He would much rather, after all, she slap him and get this prolonged scene over with. Quickly. Instead, to his consternation, she paces the room, wringing her hands, shaming him with her shocked incredulity. Far more baffled than repentant, he can only, with bowed head and flushed face, stare dumbly at the tips of his scuffed and dusty shoes.
Sometimes and, oh, with such baffling unpredictability! These minor offenses have a way of swelling into major crimes. He can always tell when she is really angry, when he has truly overstepped the outermost boundaries of her very limited indulgence. For the unpardonable he is never spanked. Never offered so simple an out as a momentary sting of his cheeks, upper or lower. Flushed eyes and a hurt far more personal than physical. At such moments she treats him as though he were guilty of some offense so filthy she can scarcely any longer bear to touch him for fear she may contaminate herself. For such crimes the only fit punishment is ostracism. From all family activities, and worse, far worse, from her good graces. It is she, then, who is usually closer to tears than he.
"But from you," she continues, her voice limpid with betrayed trust, "we'd been led to expect so much more. And now you've shown us just how wrong we were...how wrong we were...how wrong we were..." Her voice seems to go on like a record stuck in its own groove.
"If it's such an awful word," he humbly asks Our Lady of Sorrows, lifting his head just high enough to rest his gaze upon the corsage of quivering silver daggers - until the decisive moment, "why does Grandpa use it all the time?"
Gotcha! He thinks as his eyes rise to confront hers full on.
"Oh!" The shock registers like a slap on his mother's face. "When? When have you ever heard your grandfather use that word? When?"
"Lots of times." He pinches his lips tight into a prim little purse, holding her gaze without flinching. He knows the crisis is over. As far as he is concerned, anyway. His grandfather is another matter; but his grandfather, as just about everyone who knows him already knows, can very well take care of himself.
"Lots and lots of times." It is a good as well as an honest defense.
His mother is clearly stunned."In front of you?"
His nod is ponderously solemn.
She goes pale with anger. For her son, she knows, despite his many and infuriating faults, is quite incapable of such a lie. Even to save his own skin.
"Well, I don't care who uses it." Her righteous stance crumbles before his questioning gaze into so many mite-size shards. "Even your grandfather. If he's ever said it, then it was very wrong of him. Very, very wrong. Do you hear? And I shall certainly tell him so. This very afternoon. You can be sure of that."
She is the Avenging Angel now, armored in righteousness. "But that's no excuse for you, ever, ever again to use it. Do you hear me? Is that quite unmistakably clear? If I ever hear that that word has crossed your lips, I'll - well, you can be sure you'll get something you'll never forget. Is that perfectly clear?"
"Yes." His voice no more than a whisper as he nods his acknowledgment of her ultimatum. His
grandfather's depravity has got him off lighter than he could ever have hoped.
Sins are to confess and shame for repentance, but poor Gramps. Yet he has long since got used to the idea that his Grandfather Woods is destined for hell. If nothing else his worldly success has doomed him. Riches and damnation, the Bible tells us, are long established partners. So hell must be peopled with Republicans. For Republicans are invariably rich and at the same time contemptuous of God's starving millions. If it is wrong to call those dirty, scruffy, lice-covered Spaniards in their shanty town out near the salt flats peasants, how much worse, then, is it to call those whose very skin advertises a former shame so great.
Julian Silva is a fourth-generation Portuguese-American whose Azorean ancestors first settled in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1870s. His novel, The Gunnysack Castle, was first published by Ohio Universiy Press in 1983. The second section of the Death of Mae Ramos, "Vasco and the Other" was originally published in 1979 in Writer's Forum 6, University of Colorado.
In 2007, Distant Music Two novels: Gunnysack Castle and The Death of Mae Ramos was published by Portuguese in the Americas Series, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth . Distant Music is the story of the Woods (anglicized Portuguese) and Ramos families and their descendants in California. In these narratives Julian Silva "celebrates not only the resilience of men and women confronted with failure but, even more important, he exposes the compromised morality of their achievement" (Portuguese in the Americas Series).
This blog was launched on February 25, 2007.
Este blogue é sobre a perspectiva da distância, o olhar de quem vive os Açores radicado na América do Norte, na Europa, no Brasil, ou em qualquer outra região. É escrito por personalidades de referência das nossas comunidades com ligações intensas ao arquipélago dos Açores (25.02.2007).
Irene Maria F. Blayer was born in the Azores, and lives in Canada. She holds a Ph.D. in Romance Linguistics and is a Full Professor at Brock University, Ontario.
Nascida em Velas, S. Jorge, Açores, vive no Canadá onde seguiu estudos universitários -Licenciatura, Mestrado, Doutoramento- e é Professora Catedrática, com agregação, na Universidade Brock.
Neste espaço procura-se a colaboração de colegas e amigos cujos textos, depoimentos, e outros -em Inglês, Português, Francês, ou Castelhano- sejam vozes que testemunhem a nossa 'narrativa' diaspórica, ou se remetam a uma pluralidade de encontros onde se enquadra um universo que contempla uma íntima proximidade e cumplicidade com o nosso imaginário cultural e identitário.
Lélia Pereira da Silva Nunes - Brasil
Nasceu em Tubarão, vive em Florianópolis, Ilha de Santa Catarina. Socióloga, Professora da Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, aposentada. Titular do Conselho Estadual de Cultura atuando nas Câmaras de Letras e Patrimônio Cultural. Pertence a Academia Catarinense de Letras, Cadeira 26. Iinvestigadora do Patrimônio Cultural Imaterial (experts/UNESCO,Mercosul), escritora e, sobretudo, uma apaixonada pelos Açores. Este é um espaço, sem limites nem fronteiras, aberto ao diálogo plural sobre as nossas comunidades. Um espaço que, aproximando geografias, reflete mundivivências a partir do "olhar distante e olhar de casa," alicerçado no vínculo afetivo e intelectual com os Açores. Vozes açorianas, onde quer que vivam, espalhadas pelo mundo e, aqui reunidas num grande abraço fraterno, se fazem ouvir. Azorean descent.-- Born in Tubarão(SC) and lives in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina Island,Brasil. She holds postgraduate degreees in Public Administration, and is an Associate Professor at Federal University of Santa Catarina.
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