Category Archives: Provenance: South America

From Portuguese: The Prettiest Girl in Rio, by Artur Azevedo

(My translation of the short story A moça mais bonita do Rio de Janeiro, which was published in Contos cariocas in 1928.)


t was 1875. In a small house in the suburb of Engenho Novo lived the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, together with her parents. Because she was born on the second of May, she’d been given the name of Mafalda at the baptismal font, simply because it was the feast of St Mafalda; but no one knew her by that name – ever since she’d been little, everyone in the house had called her Fadinha, a diminutive and corruption of Mafalda, meaning Little Fairy. And those three syllables suited her well because, when she was eighteen, she possessed all the charms that the faries have, or should have; and in her extraordinary beauty there really was something supernatural and magic.

Coffee-coloured – but that sort of fluid coffee colour that only Murillo could find on his wonderful palette – with dark, twinkling eyes, dilated nostrils, big but elegantly contoured lips that opened, once in a while, to reveal the most beautiful teeth, with abundant, slightly wavy hair as dark as her eyes, always arranged in an untidy, but aesthetically pleasing way so as to give a glimpse of her little ears, which were so faultlessly designed that it would have been a crime to cover them, and with all these aspects completing each other in the oval harmony of her face, there could be no doubt that Fadinha would win first prize by the unanimous decision of the most rigorous jury if it had only occurred to someone, in those days, to run a beauty contest in Rio de Janeiro. The rest of her body was a fitting complement to her head: slim, without being tall, robust without being fat, and her figure represented an extraordinary correctness of line. Her hands and feet were exemplary.

Perhaps you’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say that, in addition to these physical gifts, her character was outstanding; but the truth is, she was good, affectionate, submissive and understanding. She had a touch of vanity, I admit, but which other woman wouldn’t, were she so pretty?

However, there were two things she regretted: having been born on the second of May and thus being called Mafalda, when she could have been born on the tenth of July and been called Amélia – and not having been born rich, very rich, so as to enhance her beauty even more. Nevertheless, she cheerfully resigned herself to the precarious situation of being the daughter of a very poor public servant. Yes, that’s how it was, because her father, Raposo, had reached the age of fifty as a simple clerk at the secretariat and found himself obliged to supplement his wages by doing the books in a bakery or a shop or a pawn brokers. And his sedentary life caused him to become enormously fat. Dr Souto, the family doctor, used to say ‘Raposo is an apoplexy waiting to happen.’

Fadinha wasn’t the only child: she had an older brother who’d got a place in business, and another who was still very young and was studying to be a doctor, because his father considered him ‘the talented one.’

Their mother was forty-five years old and didn’t look anything like her daughter. I don’t know what physiological phenomenon caused this splendid specimen, this sculptural creature, this impossible beauty, to issue forth from such an ugly couple (because Raposo, poor fellow, was another one who’d not been blessed by nature)! Note also that the two boys were equally ugly, particularly the future doctor, who was big nosed, big-eared, rickety, anaemic, insignificant.

Not content with dedicating part of her existence to the saints of her private oratory, Sra. Firmina – the name of Fadinha’s mother – would constantly be visiting churches to adore yet more saints; but, despite all that piety, she could not forgive her daughter for being beautiful and was deeply bitter about the singular monopoly the girl had received from nature, as if it were something scandalous; nevertheless, all her hopes for good luck and better times resided in her daughter. Given that a prince didn’t come into the equation, her dream was to be the mother-in-law of a rich man. If Raposo hadn’t been a proper head of family, this woman would have dominated him, usurping all domestic authority; fortunately he put his foot down and wouldn’t agree to anything he didn’t like.

But our Fadinha has a boyfriend. It’s time to introduce him to the reader.



eautiful as she was, she had no shortage of admirers, of all ages and categories. Many decamped to Engenho Novo from the city centre just for the pleasure of contemplating her, many of them out of simple curiosity, many others spurred on by the vague hope of a promise hidden in a smile or a glance. It could be said that, for a long time, Fadinha’s famous beauty contributed to the increase in the profitability of the suburban trains and to the hustle and bustle of the district, which had a much smaller population in those days. Many of those admirers got as far as speaking, declaring their intentions to be of the purest, and among them were some who really were worthy of marrying Fadinha; she, however, rebuffed them all, with the greatest delicacy and composure.

One day, Raposo invited Remígio to come to his house for dinner. Remígio was his colleague, a good lad, employed in the same section in which Raposo carried out his official functions. This Remígio was one of the stars of the secretariat, a paragon of dedication, intelligence and assiduity, an official with ‘a very promising future,’ as everyone said; but he was neither good-looking nor elegant, nor was there anything else exceptional about his exterior. But, of all those who passed in front of Fadinha’s beautiful eyes, this was the only man who merited her attention. Accredited, wealthy traders, well-placed functionaries, lawyers, doctors, officials of the Army and Navy etc. – all of them had to give way, in Fadinha’s heart, to this pallid, clumsy, badly dressed amanuensis who earned just 166.666 reais a month.

The young lady seemed anxious to let her heart speak; she immediately gave Remígio to understand that it would be he – among her numerous admirers – who would be victorious. The clerk, who was modest by nature, and had never even dreamt that he’d marry the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, was amazed by this preference that he’d never sought, and duly fell head over heels in love with Fadinha.

No sooner had the first symptoms of that love appeared than there was a commotion in the home. Sra. Firmina had seen the danger approaching and, after breakfast one day, when her husband was getting ready to leave the house and drag his obesity to the train station, she told him of her fears; but Raposo, who had a fatherly affection for Remígio, and didn’t look at all askance at the prospect of his marrying Fadinha, merely smiled and said:

‘It’s only natural they should be attracted to each other and get married.’

‘You mean that seriously?’

‘What a question! Of course I do! Who could possibly say Remígio isn’t worthy of our little girl!’

‘He’s a clerk!’

‘And what am I?.. And what was I when we went to the church?.. Fadinha will marry whoever she likes; if she prefers a clerk to a government minister, so be it! She doesn’t want to be rich, which is a good thing, because money doesn’t bring happiness. And anyway, Remígio isn’t some poor devil lugging all his possessions around in a carpetbag; his father left him a bit; he’s got two or three little houses, some insurance policies and, most importantly, lots of common sense. He’s so highly thought of in the secretariat I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not head of section in five years’ time. Even if you go looking with Diogenes’s lamp, you won’t find a better son-in-law.’

‘Don’t talk nonsense! Our daughter is very pretty and…’

‘Off you go again about how pretty our daughter is! That means nothing, absolutely nothing! She’s very pretty, that she is, but she hasn’t got two cents to rub together, and if she was forced to marry some rich fellow the marriage would look more like a business deal than anything else. Anyway, it would be embarrassing for us: we could hardly be poorer. Damn it! I don’t want to speculate with my daughter’s beauty, and I don’t want to make her unhappy by opposing her wishes. I might have expected you, being so religious, to agree with me…’

‘But we could make Fadinha see that…’

‘That’s enough! It’s clear we’re not going to see eye-to-eye about this. In my opinion, Remígio is an excellent fellow, and I don’t see any reason why our little girl should want someone else!’


‘No buts! We’ll let her decide, because – and I want you to mark my words – Fadinha won’t marry who you or me want her to marry; she’ll marry the man she chooses of her own free will, whether he’s a clerk, a tradesman, the Tsar of Russia or the Shah of Persia!..’


‘Not one word more, Firmina! You know very well this house isn’t Gonçalo’s! Under this roof, no voice will be louder than mine!’

‘But you’re talking twaddle!’

‘Twaddle?!.. Twaddle?!.. How dare you say that to me?!..’

‘Yes, I do… Twaddle! I’m sick and tired of playing second fiddle in this house.’

‘In that case, why don’t you put on my trousers and I’ll put on your skirt! Don’t be ridiculous! I’m going to tell Remígio today that our little girl is his!..’

‘But I’m telling you she can’t be! I want good fortune for my daughter!’

‘Don’t lie!.. What you want is good fortune for yourself, not for her! Don’t force me to say what I think, because if I do I’ll create such a scene as you never ever saw!’

And Raposo forced himself, with difficulty, to whisper, so as not be heard by others in the house:

‘You never thought as much of her as you should have; you never loved her, never gave her a real mother’s love!.. And now you want to sell her… That’s good!.. I’m going to tell Remígio this very day!..’

‘This is scandalous! I know I’m her mother. Can you be sure you’re her father?..’

‘Eh?!.. What do you mean?..’

Raposo squared up to Sra. Firmina, but the blood rushed up to his head, his eyes and his mouth opened unnaturally wide, he waved his arms about and fell as if hit by lightning.

By the time Dr Souto arrived, having been summoned urgently, he was already dead.

‘Didn’t I say he was an apoplexy waiting to happen!’



emígio showed himself to be a real gentleman: he asked Sra. Firmina to let him take care of the funeral, and neither she nor the children have ever found out, right up until today, how much it all cost.

This great kindness, together with the bitter tears the young man shed over his old colleague’s corpse, enhanced Fadinha’s feelings for him even more; now it wasn’t just affection, it was also gratitude that drew those two hearts together. After Raposo’s death, they both felt like orphans, and this equivalence in their situations cemented still further the mutual sympathy that had taken hold of them.

Sra. Firmina didn’t have a word of thanks for such kindness, but Remígio attributed this omission to the extremity of the widow’s grief, which she demonstrated through unending tears and groans. When the funeral took place, it needed three men to pull her away from the coffin and, seven days later, when the mass was over, she had such a violent attack of nerves in the sacristy of the church of São Francisco de Paulo that it seemed her last hour had arrived.

Nor did the boys, neither the student, nor the one employed in business, thank Remígio for arranging the funeral and the mass; it was as if everyone in the house considered it his duty.

Or rather, not everyone: Fadinha praised his generosity at every turn, but her words, to which no one replied, were heard with indifference by her mother and brothers.

The older one, Alexandre, a lad of twenty-two, who worked for Baron Moreira’s firm, felt flattered beyond words by the fact that his boss had deigned to attend the funeral personally. He could scarcely believe his eyes when, in an aisle of the church, he came across the Baron standing there, holding his hat behind his back with one hand, with his head raised, examining closely a portrait by Fragoso of one of the benefactors of the religious order. At first, the counter clerk assumed the Baron had come to attend some other mass but, despite his sadness, he felt as pleased as Punch when, once the ceremony had begun, the nobleman took his place among those who had come to pay their last respects to the deceased Raposo.

When the mass was over and the priest, accompanied by his acolyte, had returned to the sacristy, genuflecting at every altar along the way, the Baron was the first to embrace Alexandre, who was standing near his mother.

‘Courage! We all have to pass through these trials… That’s how it goes…’

‘Thank you, Baron.’

‘I don’t know your family – would you introduce me to the ladies?’

It wasn’t possible to introduce the widow, because she was shedding an ocean of tears and didn’t have time for anything except her spectacular grief; but the Baron, stupefied by Fadinha’s beauty, gave her a long handshake.

‘Young lady,’ he said, ‘your brother is an employee of my firm, and I greatly appreciate those who serve me well. Please tell your mother that Baron Moreira is at her disposal for anything at all she may wish to request.’

‘Thank you very much, Baron Sir.’

This offer surprised Alexandre, who wasn’t used to his boss being friendly – although the Baron was still young, he was humourless, severe, cold, proud of his education, his elegance, his title and his wealth; in his subordinate humility, Alexandre imagined the Baron wouldn’t even say ‘Hello’ to him, were they to meet in the street; so he was duly amazed that this rich egoist should have come all the way from Botafogo to attend mass for an obscure clerk and should show so much interest in the family. This phenomenon will be explained, for the benefit of the reader, a little later.

When all those invited had left and the Raposo family remained alone in the sacristy, the two boys took their leave of their mother and sister: the older went off to his workplace, which is where he also had lunch, and the younger to the medical school: the exams were coming up and he couldn’t afford to miss lectures; he took lunch at Rocher de Cancalle, just off Ouvidor Street.

Remígio offered to accompany the ladies to Engenho Novo, but the widow who, in the absence of spectators, no longer looked so grief-stricken, gave him an ornate refusal: ‘No, sir; I don’t want to put you to that trouble; you need to go to your workplace too.’

Fadinha interrupted:

‘One day won’t make any difference. Come and have lunch with us, Remígio.’

‘I’ve already said “No”!’

The clerk bowed and accompanied the two ladies to their tilbury: he helped them enter and closed the door.

‘Come and visit us,’ said Fadinha sadly, and she waved him a delicate little ‘Adeus.’

For her part, Sra. Firmina didn’t utter a word; but when the tilbury had drawn away, in the direction of Teatro Street, she pronounced the following, with an indescribable look of anger in her eyes:

‘What you’re going to do now is forget all about that fellow! You don’t have your soft-brained father with you anymore! I’m the one who gives the orders now, do you understand?..’



nd now for the explanation of the phenomenon:

Baron Moreira had come to the office earlier than usual and was enjoying a conversation with his friend Pimenta, who occasionally came to have a chat with him and to remember the good old days when they’d both been students at Vitório College.

Pimenta had also gone into business, but he hadn’t been as fortunate as his old colleague. Over the years, he’d worked for a large number of firms, but in none of them had he found the fortune his prodigious activity merited. Already over thirty, he still didn’t have a definitive position in business, but he’d always managed to do a bit of goods brokerage, and the resulting sales, through an intermediary, brought him a profitable return.

Fifteen years of employment in a haberdashery store in Ouvidor Street, which he’d left with his hopes and dreams unfulfilled, infuriated with his bosses, and none the richer, had at least bestowed on him unrivalled knowledge in two areas: that particular branch of business, and comings and goings in Rio de Janeiro. There was no event, scandalous or not, that Pimenta hadn’t stored away in his memory, and that he couldn’t avail himself of at an opportune moment.

He was a backbiter and, without that defect, he’d perhaps have been rich and free like Baron de Moreira, with no need to hawk samples, bills and gossip from door to door, up and down, sweating blood. Some people said: ‘Pimenta’s not a bad sort, if it wasn’t for his tongue’; others: ‘For all his being busy and clever, nothing seems to go right for him.’ But, as he was still single and didn’t have any family obligations, he put up with his ill-fortune cheerfully and contented himself with earning enough to live on without being a burden to his friends.

As I’ve already mentioned, on that day he’d appeared in Baron Moreira’s office for a bit of a chin-wag with his childhood friend and, if he was lucky, a free lunch.

They were both chatting when Alexandre entered the office to inform the Baron that he’d just received the news of his father’s sudden death and to ask for a few days of compassionate leave.

The Baron, who maintained an autocratic hauteur towards his firm’s employees, said, without lifting his eyes:

‘That’s a matter for Sr. Motta; have you spoken to him?’

‘Sr. Motta’s not in.’

‘Alright, you may go.’

And Alexandre left, without hearing a single word of condolence.

‘Do you know that employee?’ Pimenta asked the Baron.

‘No; it was my partner, Motto, who took him on; I think that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him; as you well know, I don’t generally pay much attention to the clerks.’

‘That’s why I asked if you know him.’

There was a pause.

‘In that case, you won’t have known his father, Raposo, who’s just died suddenly?’

‘No, I didn’t know him.’

‘And you don’t know that his sister’s the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro?’


‘How strange! You’ve never heard of Fadinha from Engenho Novo?’

‘I think, perhaps…’

‘Well, that’s her!’

‘And is she really pretty?’

‘What a question! She’s beautiful! She’s more than beautiful!.. Take my word for it!’

‘You’re whetting my appetite, damn it! How can I get to see her?’

‘Simple! Go to the mass of the seventh day. Because her brother works in your firm, you can use that as a pretext for offering your services to the family, right there in the church, and you’ll be able to get a close look at her.’

‘Good point. That’s the only way I could go to the mass for the father of Sr… what’s the boy’s name?’


And that’s how it came about that Baron Moreira appeared at the mass: simple sacrilegious curiosity.

When the aristocrat returned from the church, he found Pimenta waiting for him in the office.


‘She isn’t the prettiest girl in Rio de Janeiro, my friend, she’s the most beautiful woman in the world!..’



f Alexandre had been amazed to see Baron Moreira appear at the church, he was even more amazed when, from that day forward, his boss began treating him kindly and affably, which didn’t take long to turn into familiarity. He summoned him to help in all the office work, entrusted important tasks to him, let him handle large sums of money or take them to the bank and, one day when the young man was making the fair copy of a letter – a confidential letter, a very important letter –, his boss offered him one of his magnificent Havana cigars, with the words: ‘Have a puff, Alexandre.’

Motto, the Baron’s partner and his antithesis, being good company, affable, friendly towards the staff, was nonplussed and had no idea what could have caused this favouritism; but the book-keeper and the other clerks, who’d become jealous and had perhaps picked up a thing or two from Pimenta’s caustic remarks, murmured: ‘There’s nothing like having a pretty sister…’

The Baron was constantly asking for news of the family and showed great solicitousness for the widow, repeating, almost daily, his offer of help and friendship, in order to prevent, remove or resolve any difficulties resulting from old Raposo’s sudden demise. The lad couldn’t thank him enough and, when he got home, he’d tell his mother all the marks of kindness he’d received from his boss that day.

Perspicacious and crafty, Sra. Firmina soon realised it was the effect of Fadinha’s beauty that was causing the Baron to find every means he could of inveigling himself into the family; so one day she advised her son to invite him home and tell him that she, Sra. Firmina, was very grateful for all the Baron’s kindness and would be very happy if she could thank him personally.

She couldn’t have been more pleased with the result of Alexandre’s missive: the Baron wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity which, as we’ve seen, he’d been fishing for during the past two months. One fine Sunday he decided to go for lunch to Engenho Novo. To give extra solemnity to the visit, Sra. Firmina went to wait for him at the station, accompanied by her two sons, because Fadinha, knowing that the Baron was coming, had shut herself in her room on the pretext of a terrible migraine, and neither pleading nor chiding, neither kindness nor threats, could make her come out.

The girl was desperate: she hadn’t seen her dear Remígio for more than a month. Firmina and the boys were so rude to him that, understanding their wish to be rid of him, and seeing the impossibility of standing firm against that pack of ingrates, he did as they wanted, without, however, abandoning his marriage plans, because Fadinha was still the same and he considered her worthy, in all respects, of his affection and constancy.

‘They can do what they like, I’ll be yours, just yours – I promise you on the soul of my father! The more they constrain me, the more they offend you, the stronger, were it possible, will my love for you burn. I’m your betrothed!’

Uplifted by these ardent words, in which Fadinha had put all the energy of her soul, all the sincerity of her heart, Remígio waited resignedly for an opportunity to secure the rights that his love merited; but – it has to be said – his vacillating and timorous spirit didn’t have enough strength for the battle being fought against him. He really was in love, but he began silently to curse the singular beauty that turned Fadinha into an object to be coveted, a pledge of good fortune, a type of life assurance for a whole family. Notwithstanding the venerable Raposo’s last wish, his ultimate and sacred desire, Remígio was afraid that his insistence would bring disunity and disgrace to the family. Meanwhile, whenever she managed to escape her mother’s vigilance and write to him, Fadinha repeated over and over again her vehement promises of fidelity.

But let’s return to Baron Moreira who, at Engenho Novo station, in his light flannel suit, his white straw hat, his multi-coloured cravat, his bejewelled tie-pin and an enormous rose in his lapel, contrasted markedly with that matron and her two boys, who were dressed in the most severe mourning, so that even their cuffs and collars were black.



hen he entered the Baron’s office the next day, Pimenta found him in a bad mood.

‘Well? Did you go?’

‘I did. I went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Engenho Novo is Rome and Fadinha is the Pope; do you understand now?’

‘You didn’t see her?’

‘As I’ve already said. She was unwell; she didn’t make an appearance.’


‘How stupid is that? To have lunch with Sra. Firmina and her sons, and not even catch sight of her! “Have lunch” in a manner of speaking, because I didn’t eat anything. I was desperate!’

‘And what did the old woman say?’

‘She was even more annoyed than I was. I could see it in her eyes. She kept apologising for her daughter’s absence and telling me – but completely without conviction – that she really was unwell.’

‘You don’t think she was.’

‘Of course I don’t think so.’

‘You’ve got a rival.’

‘I thought as much.’

‘A serious rival. They told me everything this morning.’

And Pimenta told the Baron what the reader already knows: about the love of Remígio and Fadinha, old Raposo’s last wish, the kindness shown to the family, the opposition of Sra. Firmina and her sons, Remígio’s retreat – and he added:

‘The girl suspected they wanted to force her to marry you, and she shut herself in her room. So that’s how you went to Rome and didn’t see the Pope.’

‘What’s your advice?’

‘Before I can answer that question, I need to know, first of all, what your intentions are.’

There was a long silence.

‘Do you like her?’

‘A lot. I liked her already and, after that wretched lunch, I liked her even more!’

‘Are you prepared to be her husband?’

There was another silence, even longer than the first.

‘If you don’t want to make her a baroness,’ Pimenta continued, ‘forget about her. Devil take it! She might well be happy with that Remígio, seeing he’s an honest fellow.’

‘But who told you my intentions weren’t good?’

‘You didn’t say anything…’

‘I didn’t say anything because marriage scares me. My liberty is so deliciously complete! Yes, I admit that marriage has never figured in my plans, but were it necessary…’

‘What do you mean, “were it necessary”? You haven’t been thinking that Fadinha could belong to you without the intervention of a priest?! The family is poor, but it’s just as respectable as yours! If you want to be her husband, fight for her and – perhaps – you’ll win her; if not, abandon an idea that’s unworthy of you!’

The Baron had a good, long look at the Havana cigar he was holding between his fingers, let the ashes fall into a spittoon, stuck the cigar in his mouth, stood up and announced resolutely, amid a cloud of cigar smoke:

‘I shall fight!’

When Pimenta left the office, he met Alexandre in the store and muttered to him in passing:

‘He’s going to marry her.’


From Portuguese: The Oracle, by Machado de Assis

(My translation of the short story O oráculo by Machado de Assis, which was first published in Jornal das Famílias in 1866)

I  once knew a man who was a prime example of what bad luck can do to a mere mortal.

His name was Leonardo, and he started off as a tutor for boys. But it didn’t work out well: he lost the little he possessed, and ended up with just three students.

So, he tried the civil service. He got together the necessary testimonials and even went so far as to vote against his convictions; but just when it seemed a done deal, the political party that ran that particular ministry lost control of it, and the party Leonardo had previously always voted for took over. His recent vote now made him suspect, and he was turned down.

With the help of a family friend, he set up a business; but bad luck, combined with the dishonesty of some of his employees, soon resulted in bankruptcy. The only thing he could be thankful for was that the debtors didn’t demand immediate payment of all they were owed.

Next, he founded a literary journal. (It should be said that, even though he wasn’t unintelligent, he did this more from necessity than from literary enthusiasm.) But, given that the readers were of that substantial number who prefer to read for free, this enterprise folded after five months.

In the meantime, the party to which he’d sacrificed his conscience had got the upper hand once more. Leonardo went and reminded them that they should be grateful to him; but gratitude is not one of the principal characteristics of political parties, and Leonardo was passed over in favour of some influencial supporters of the new lot.

Despite this succession of set-backs and bad luck, Leonardo never lost his faith in Providence. Yes, he’d suffered all those blows, but he’d always bounced back, prepared to try his luck once again. This was based on an axiom he’d read somewhere or other: “Fortune, like a woman’s heart, favours the brave.”

So, he was getting ready to try his luck again, which would have involved a journey to the North, when he came across Cecília B…, daughter of the businessman Atanásio B…, for the first time. The young lady was endowed with a sympathetic face and a hundred contos in ready money. She was the apple of Atanásio’s eye. It appears she’d only been in love once, namely with a naval officer called Henrique Paes. Her father was opposed to their marriage because he didn’t like the young man; and it seems that Cecília herself wasn’t overly in love with him: she cried for one day, only to wake the next morning fresh and happy as if it were all a matter of nothing.

It wouldn’t be quite true to say that Leonardo was in love with Cecília either, and truth, in respect of both facts and feelings, is paramount for me; but, for the same reason, I have to say that she did make some impression on him.

What did greatly impress our ill-starred young man, and what immediately won his affection, was the dowry of one hundred contos – so much so, that he rejoiced in the bad luck that had eventually thrown him into the arms of such a fortune.

What impression did Leonardo make on Cecília’s father? Good, excellent, marvellous. The young lady herself received him with indifference, but Leonardo was confident that, given he already had her father on his side, he’d overcome that indifference.

At any rate, he cancelled the journey north.

Atanásio’s sympathy grew to the point where Leonardo was always being invited for dinner; and, ever hopeful, our ill-starred Leonardo was only too happy to accept every little favour.

Before long, he was like one of the family.

There came the day when Atanásio called him to his office and said, in a fatherly tone:

“You’ve justified the esteem I have for you. I can see you’re a good young man, and that, as you told me, you’ve suffered misfortune in the past.”

“That’s true,” replied Leonardo, unable to repress a triumphant smile.

“So, having considered the matter, I’ve decided to treat you as that which heaven has not granted me: my son.”


“But wait! That’s not all. You already are my son in the light of my esteem for you. Now I wish to reinforce that by the assistance you will give to our house. I’m going to employ you in my business.”

Leonardo was a little taken aback; he’d been expecting that the old man was about to offer him his daughter’s hand in marriage, instead of which it was just the offer of a job. But then it occurred to him that it was, indeed, a job that he was really after. It was no small thing, and it was quite possible that it might lead to marriage in due course.

“Oh! Thank you!”

“So, you accept?”

“Oh yes! Without a doubt!”

The old man was just about to stand up from his chair when Leonardo, on the spur of the moment, gestured to him to remain seated.

“But listen…”


“There’s something I don’t want to keep from you. You’ve been so kind to me that I can’t be other than completely frank. I accept your generous offer under one condition. I love Dona Cecília heart and soul. Every time I see her that love only increases in strength and passion. If you could see your way to allowing your generosity to admit me into your family, I would accept it. Otherwise, the suffering would be too much for a mere human.”

I should say, in appreciation of Leonardo’s perspicacity, that he only dared risk the job in this way because he’d noticed that Atanásio had a tendency to grant him whatever he wanted.

And he wasn’t wrong. On hearing these words, the old man embraced him, saying:

“Oh! I couldn’t wish for anything better!”

“Father!” replied Leonardo, as he embraced Cecília’s dad.

It was a moving scene.

“Don’t think I haven’t noticed the impression Cecília has had on you,” said Atanásio, “and I was really hoping it might lead to marriage. I think nothing stands in the way now. My daughter’s a sensible girl, and I’m sure she’ll respond to your affection. Would you like me to speak to her now, or shall we wait a bit?”

“As you wish.”

“Or rather, please be honest: are you already assured of Cecília’s love?”

“I can’t give you a positive answer, but I believe she’s not indifferent to me.”

“I’ll undertake to find out. Not forgetting that my wishes need to be taken into account: she’s an obedient girl…”

“Oh! I wouldn’t want you to compel her!”

“Compulsion my foot! She’s a sensible girl, and she’s certain to see the advantages of having such an intelligent and hard-working husband…”

“Thank you.”

They separated.

The next day, Atanásio was due to instal his new employee.

But that night the old man raised the subject of marriage with his daughter. He began by asking her if she’d like to get married. She replied that she hadn’t thought about it; but as she was smiling, her father had no hesitation in telling her that he’d had a formal request from Leonardo.

Cecília received this news in silence. After a while, still smiling, she said she’d go and consult the oracle.

Non-plussed by this talk of consulting an oracle, her father asked her what on earth she meant.

“It’s very simple,” she replied. “I’ll go and consult the oracle. I don’t do anything without consulting it; I don’t go visiting, I don’t do anything at all without consulting it. This is really important; as you can see, I just have to consult it. I’ll do what it tells me to.”

“Extraordinary! But what is this oracle?”

“That’s a secret.”

“Can I at least give the lad some hope?”

“It all depends – on the oracle.”

“Come, come! You’re making fun of me…”

“No, Father, I’m not.”

He went along with Cecília’s wishes, not because she was really so imperious, but because of the way she spoke and the way she was smiling; he was convinced she was open to the offer and was just being coquettish.

When Leonardo heard how Cecília had responded, he became worried. But Atanásio tried to calm his fears by telling him his own opinion.

The next day, Cecília was due to tell her father how the oracle had responded. He, however, had already decided what to do: if the response of the mysterious oracle was negative, he’d oblige her to marry Leonardo. The marriage would go ahead whatever3.

The first thing that happened was that two of Atanásio’s nieces turned up. They were both married and had both been supportive of Cecília when she’d wanted to marry Henrique Paes. They hadn’t been back to the house since her father put his foot down: although Cecília had reconciled herself with her father, they hadn’t.

“To what do I owe this visit?”

“We’ve come to ask forgiveness for our error.”


“You were right, Uncle. And it seems that there’s a new suitor.”

“Who told you?”

“Cecília. She sent us a message.”

“So, I suppose you’ve come to object.”

“On the contrary.”

“Thank goodness for that!”

“All we want is that Cecília should get married – to whoever. That’s the only reason why we intervened in support of the other one.”

Gratified by this reconciliation, Atanásio proceded to update his nieces on the situation, in particular how Cecília had replied. He also explained that she was due to convey the oracle’s response that very day. They all laughed at how odd it was, but were happy to wait and see.

“If it’s a No, will you support me?”

“Of course,” said both the nieces.

Soon afterwards their husbands arrived.

And soon after that, Leonardo turned up, wearing a black jacket and a white tie – very different attire from that in which the people of antiquity went to seek responses from the oracles of Delphi and Dodona. But every age and every place has its own customs.

During the whole time that the two young women and Leonardo were conversing, Cecília was in her room consulting – allegedly – the oracle.

The consultation had to do with the subject that had brought them all together.

Finally, at about eight o’clock in the evening, Cecília made her appearance.

They all gathered round her.

After they’d exchanged greetings, Atanásio – half-serious, half-smiling – put the question to his daughter:

“So, what did Mr Oracle say?”

“Oh! Father! He said No!”

“You mean to say,” replied Atanásio, “Mr Oracle is against your marrying Leonardo?”


“Well, in that case I’m sorry to say that my opinion is contrary to that of Mr Oracle; and given that everyone knows who I am and the oracle is a complete mystery, you shall do as I say, even if that is contrary to Mr Oracle.”

“Oh! No!”

“What do you mean, No? Whatever next?! I only went along with that nonsense to humour you. I never had the slightest intention of submitting to the decisions of any mumbo-jumbo oracles. Your cousins agree with me. And what is more, I want to know what this jiggery pokery is about right now… Let’s go and unmask the oracle!”

At that precise moment, a figure appeared at the door and said:

“No need.”

Everyone turned towards him. The figure advanced into the middle of the room, holding a document in his hand.

It was the above-mentioned naval officer, in his uniform.

“What are you doing here?” the old man spluttered.

“What am I doing here? I’m the oracle.”

“Don’t expect me to put up with such nonsense. What right do you have to be here?”

By way of reply, Henrique Paes handed over the document he was holding.

“What’s this?”

“It’s the reply to your question.”

Atanásio moved towards the light, took his spectacles from his pocket, put them on his nose and read the document.

During all this time, Leonardo stood there open-mouthed and dumbfounded.

When the old man got half-way through the document, he turned to Henrique and said in amazement:

“You’re my son-in-law!”

“Duly confirmed as such by all the sacraments of the Church. As you’ve just seen.”

“But what if this is a forgery?”

“Hold on!” said the husband of one of the nieces. “We were the best men, and our wives were the bridesmaids, at the wedding of our cousin Dona Cecília B… with Henrique Paes, which took place a month ago in the oratory in my house.”

“Oh!” said the old man, as he sank into an armchair.

Muttering “That’s the last straw!” Leonardo tried to slip out unnoticed.


Even though he lost his bride – and in such a ridiculous way –, Leonardo didn’t lose the job. He told the old man that it would be difficult, but that he’d stay, on account of the respect Atanásio had for him.

Unfortunately, Fate had not yet finished with the poor lad.

A fortnight later, Atanásio contracted a respiratory illness, which killed him.

His will, which had been drawn up a year before, left nothing to Leonardo.

As for the business, it went into liquidation. Leonardo received two weeks’ pay.

The ill-starred lad gave it all to a beggar and went off to drown himself in the sea, by Icaraí Beach.

Henrique and Cecília couldn’t be happier.


The following biographical details have been translated from the Academia Brasileira de Letras website.

Machado de Assis (Joaquim Maria M. de A.), a journalist, short-story writer, feuilletonist, novelist, poet and playwright, was born in Rio de Janeiro on 21 June 1839, and also died there, on 29 September 1908. He was the founder of Chair No. 23 of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. A good friend and admirer of José de Alencar, who died about twenty years before the establishment of the Academy, it was natural that Machado should choose the name of the author of O Guarani as his patron. He was President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for more than ten years, the Academy becoming known, familiarly, as ‘The House of Machado de Assis.’

He was the son of Francisco José, a labourer, and Leopoldina Machado de Assis. His mother died when he was little, but information is scarce about his early years. He was brought up on Livramento Hill and was an altar server at Lampadosa church.

Without the means to have proper schooling, he published his first literary work – a poem called Ela (She) – in the Marmota Fluminense magazine in 1855. The next year he got a job at the National Press Works as an apprentice typographer.

By 1859 he was a proof-reader and correspondent for the Correio Mercantil newspaper and in 1860 he became a member of the editorial staff of the Diário do Rio de Janeiro newspaper. He also wrote regularly for the magazine O Espelho, where he made his debut as a theatre critic, for the Semana Ilustrada – from 1860 to 1875 – and for the Jornal das Famílias, where he mainly published short stories.

His first book, Queda que as mulheres têm para os tolos (How Women are Attracted to Fools), was printed by Paula Brito in 1861, although he was described as its translator. In 1862 he became theatre censor, an unpaid role, but one which gave him free entry to performances. He also began to collaborate with O Futuro, which was produced by Faustino Xavier de Novais, the brother of his future wife.

His first book of poetry, Crisálidas (Chrysalids), was published in 1864. In 1867 he was appointed assistant director of the government bulletin Diário Oficial. Three months after Faustino Xavier de Novais’s death in 1869, he married his friend’s sister, Carolina Augusta Xavier de Novais. She was a perfect companion during the remaining 35 years of his life and introduced him to the Portuguese classics and the works of various English authors.

His first novel, Ressurreição, was published in 1872. Shortly afterwards he was appointed first official at the state secretariat of the ministry of agriculture, commerce and public works, thus embarking upon the civil service career that would be his main source of income throughout the rest of his life.

In 1874 he began to publish, in instalments in the Globo newspaper, the novel A mão e a luva (The Hand and the Glove). He also wrote feuilletons, short stories, poetry and serialised novels for newspapers and magazines such as O Cruzeiro, A Estação and Revista Brasileira.

One of his plays, Tu, só tu, puro amor (You, just You, Pure Love) was staged at the Imperial Dom Pedro II Theatre in 1880. From 1881 to 1897 he published his best feuilletons in the Gazeta de Notícias.

1881 saw the publication of the book which would give a new direction to his literary career – Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memories of Brás Cubas), which had been published in instalments in the Revista Brasileira from 1879 to 1880. He also revealed himself as an extraordinary short story writer in Papéis Avulsos (Loose Pages, 1882) and in a number of subsequent collections of short stories.

In 1889 he was promoted to director of commerce at the ministry.

He had continued to work for the Revista Brasileira in the period when it was under the direction of his great friend José Veríssimo. The group of intellectuals connected with the Revista had the idea for creating a Brazilian Academy of Letters and, when the Academy was inaugurated in 1897, he was elected President, a task he devoted himself to for the rest of his life.

His oeuvre covers practically all literary genres. His first works of poetry were the Romantic Crisálidas (1864) and Falenas (Moths, 1870); this was followed by indianism in Americanas (1875) and parnassianism in Ocidentais (Occidentals, 1901).

The Contos fluminenses (Rio Stories) were published in 1870 and the Histórias da meia-noite (Midnight Stories) in 1873; the novel Ressurreição (Resurrection) in 1872, A mão e a luva in 1874, Helena in 1876 and Iaiá Garcia in 1878, all of which were considered part of his Romantic period. From that point onwards he moved into the phase of his masterpieces, which evade literary categorisation and which make him the greatest Brazilian writer and one of the greatest authors in the Portuguese language.

During his life, his work was edited by the Livraria Garnier from 1869; in 1937, W. M. Jackson, of Rio de Janeiro, published the Obras completes (Complete Works) in 31 volumes. Raimundo Magalhães Júnior organised and published, in Civilização Brasileira, the following volumes of Machado de Assis: Contos e crônicas (Stories and Feuilletons, 1958); Contos esparsos (Random Stories, 1956); Contos esquecidos (Forgotten Stories, 1956); Contos recolhidos (Collected Stories, 1956); Contos avulsos (Separate Stories, 1956); Contos sem data (Undated Stories, 1956); Crônicas de Lélio (Lélio’s Chronicles, 1958); Diálogos e reflexões de um relojoeiro (Dialogues and Reflections of a Watchmaker, 1956). In 1975 the Machado de Assis Commission, which was established by the ministry of education and culture and was chaired by the president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, organised and published, also in Civilização Brasileira, the Edições críticas de obras de Machado de Assis (Critical Editions of the Works of Machado de Assis), in 15 volumes, comprising short stories, novels and poetry by that greatest of Brazilian writers.

Publications: Desencantos, comedy (1861); Queda que as mulheres têm para os tolos, prose satire (1861); two comic plays: O protocolo and O caminho da porta (1863); Quase ministro, comedy; Crisálidas, poetry (1864); Os deuses de casaca, comedy (1866); Falenas, poetry (1870); Contos fluminenses, short stories (1870); Ressurreição,  novel (1872); Histórias da meia-noite, short stories (1873); A mão e a luva, novel (1874); Americanas, poetry (1875); Helena, novel (1876); Iaiá Garcia, novel (1878); Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas, novel (1881); Tu, só tu, puro amor, comedy (1881); Papéis avulsos, short stories (1882); Histórias sem data, short stories (1884); Quincas Borba, novel (1891); Várias histórias, short stories (1896); Páginas recolhidas, short stories, essays, plays (1899); Dom Casmurro, novel (1899); Poesias completas (1901); Esaú e Jacó, novel (1904); Relíquias da casa velha, short stories, criticism, plays (1906); Memorial de Aires, novel (1908).

Published posthumously: Crítica (1910); Outras relíquias, short stories, criticism, theatre (1932); Crônicas, feuilletons (1937); Correspondência (1932); Crítica literária (1937); Páginas escolhidas (1921); Casa velha (1944).

To mark the centenary of Machado’s birth, in 1939, Monteiro Lobato wrote the following at the request of the Argentinian newspaper La Prensa:

‘The short stories of Machado de Assis! Where can we find stories more perfect in form, more sparkling with ideas and more permeated by philosophy? Where can you find stories more universal and more human whilst simultaneously local and individual? We’d need to go to France to find one of his brothers in the person of Anatole France. But Anatole France blossomed in the most propitious of gardens, amidst a highly developed civilisation, encouraged by all sorts of awards, and surrounded by all the finesse of comfort and art; Machado de Assis was born into poverty, amidst the squalor of colonial Rio, and received no awards other than his own auto-approval, and his monthly wage was scarcely enough to live on. Rather than having readers throughout the world, like Anatole France, Machado de Assis had just half a dozen friends as his readers. The paltry sum for which he sold the copyright for all his works to the Garnier publishing house […] shows clearly how limited was his readership.

Even so, despite all these limitations, it was his pen that produced the first masterpiece of Brazilian literature, Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas (The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas), a book that’s going to surprise the world one day. They’ll all be saying: ‘How on earth could this have appeared in such an inferior country, in a South American backwater?!’

And then he gave us Dom Casmurro (Mr Grumpy), that perfect novel, and Esaú e Jacó (Esau and Jacob) and Quincas Borba and, finally Memorial de Aires, a work that brings style and romance to emptiness, to the emptiness of old age, to the emptiness of his own almost seventy years.

In between the novels, he was producing short stories – and what stories! What marvellous stories, different from anything produced in Brazil, or in the whole of America! Stories without tricks, without stage props, without lots of landscape, everything based on the most meticulous design, like the paintings of Ingres. Human types and more human types, souls and more souls – an immense procession of figures more vivid even than their models. And with what style, with what purity of language!

There are few great heights in Brazilian literature: plenty of writers, plenty of books, plenty of printed paper, but also plenty of vain pretension and, in recent times, plenty of impostors. But all those defects have been redeemed by the appearance of works of eternal value, works that will endure as long as the language in which they were written. ‘Missa do Galo’ (Midnight Mass), ‘Uns Braços’ (A Pair of Arms), ‘Conto Alexandrino’ (An Alexandrian Tale), ‘Capitulo dos Chapeus’ (A Chapter of Hats), ‘Anedota Pecuniária’ (A Pecuniary Anecdote) [Translations of the first four are available in John Gledson’s A Chapter of Hats (2008)] – it’s difficult to choose between Machado’s stories, because they’re all drawn from the same spring. Ah! If only Portuguese wasn’t this clandestine language…

Before writing these lines, I re-read several of Machado de Assis’s works and it’s only because I promised La Prensa I would that I forced myself to speak about him, so little, so insignificant, so miserable did I feel! I felt ashamed of judgements I’d made previously in which, either out of snobbery or stupidity, I’d dared to make ironic remarks about such work. And, given that I didn’t withdraw from this undertaking, at least it gives me a chance to undergo public penance – because, in all honesty, I find it grotesque that anyone nowadays should dare to speak about Machado de Assis without removing their hat. Our attitude should be marked by complete and reverential humility. If anyone doubts that, let them re-read ‘Conto Alexandrino’ or ‘Missa do Galo.’

In your presence, Machado, we’re all bit players…

The wariness with which Machado de Assis lived his life in Rio de Janeiro was supremely felicitous in his case – a difficult case, of extreme intellectual superiority allied to extreme awareness that it wouldn’t do to flaunt it, in view of the colour of his skin and his mundane job in public administration. How many proud but empty ministers must have been his legal and social superiors – superior to him, who was, simply on his own merits, the highest of the highest in Brazil! Time’s broom has already swept the names of all those bigwigs, all those ‘superiors,’ into the bin; but the name of Machado de Assis continues to rise higher and higher.

He was oddly gregarious. He always liked literary associations and societies, going so far as to found an academy of ‘immortals’ (the Brazilian Academy of Letters), of which he was the president, and he was the only one who really became an immortal, without the quotation marks. The explanation may reside in his innate need to observe ‘the puppet show’: gathering the puppets around whatever human stupidity, he had them conveniently to hand for his study, just as, in his laboratory, an anatomist has a collection of rabbits, dogs and monkeys in cages for his experimentation.

Machado’s philosophy was permeated by melancholy: he’d studies the guinea pigs too much, he knew the human soul too well. A calmly resigned philosophy, the ultimate point of which appears in Brás Cubas, that hero of self-satisfied vulgarity, who concludes his posthumous memoirs with the balance sheet of his earthly existence, a positive balance sheet. How come, positive? ‘I didn’t have children, I didn’t pass on to any other being  the legacy of our misery.’

The life of Machado de Assis also had a positive balance. He didn’t have children and, given that he couldn’t pass on his genius, at least he didn’t pass on to any other being the colour of his skin, his stutter, his epilepsy, his disenchantment with the puppets. And there could have been nothing more generous in his life. What a terrible thing for any being – even for a being of some capacity – to carry the stupendous burden, for your whole life, of being the child of Machado de Assis!

‘Do you know who that is, the sad old crow coming out of that office?’

‘That miserable-looking mulatto, the one with the hunchback?’

‘Yes, that one. That’s the son of Machado de Assis…’

Just imagine the look of pious sympathy this piece of information would evoke!

Nature permits geniuses only one child: their work. Machado de Assis understood this better than anyone and, having given the world this most beautiful child, he walked sadly away from the madding crowd, with the tranquillity of those who’ve succeeded in the most challenging of all tasks – that of not leaving behind the merest shadow of pain.’

For his part, Lima Barreto – who was initially often referred to as the true successor of Machado – was less fulsome in his praise:

Not denying his merits as a great writer, I’ve always found a considerable aridity in Machado, a marked lack of sympathy, a lack of generous impulses, some puerile characteristics. I’ve never imitated him and he’s never been my inspiration. You can mention Maupassant, Dickens, Swift, Balzac, Daudet, perhaps, but Machado, never! You could go as far as Turgenev or Tolstoy in order to find my exemplars; but Machado, no! […] Machado wrote […] hiding what he felt so as not to be humiliated […] I’m not afraid to say what I think and what I feel, without calculating whether I’m going to be humiliated or praised. I think that’s a big difference.

(Obras Completas de Lima Barreto, Correspondências, Vol.2, 1956).

About Artists: SONIA BOYCE

About Poets: JOHN AGARD




About Artists: HEW LOCKE

From Portuguese: And the Sabiá Sings, by Aluísio Azevedo

(My translation of the short story No Maranhão, by Aluísio Azevedo, which was published in Pégadas in 1897)

When I was thirteen, up there in Maranhão, one of the families that was closest to mine was that of old Cunha. He was a good man, who’d retired after having made his money in the retail trade. His wife was Dona Mariana.

They had two children: Luís and Rosa – or Rosinha, as we called her. Luís was a year older than his sister and a few months younger than me.
You could say we were brought up together, because when I wasn’t at their place they were at ours.
The Cunhas lived in a large and beautiful colonial-style house, the back of which – as with all those houses along the shore – looked directly out to sea.
Apart from that house, Cunha had another place, where he went frequently with his family on Sundays, in their own boat.
They nearly always took me with them. The place was called “Boa Vinda” and was on the banks of the River Anil, not too far from Vinhais.
Those trips to Boa Vinda are among my fondest childhood memories. Brought up, as I was, by the seaside, I loved the water. At twelve years of age I was not only a strong swimmer but could steer a boat, take down a sail in a storm and row just as well as any fisherman on the prowl for piaba fish.
We used to leave São Luís in the small hours, arriving at Boa Vinda at dawn.
How delightful, the boating on the river! What beautiful, fresh mornings spent gliding between mango groves and scenting, on the breeze, the salty smell of the not-far-distant sea! And how pleasurable those lunches under the roof of the veranda, sitting on wooden benches around the linen-covered table, drinking new cashew wine from glazed terracotta mugs! And then… time to play! Running through the scrubland, hair blowing in the wind – foot-loose and fancy-free!
Then, in the evenings, when nature began its melancholy decline into night, we’d all sit on the terrace in front of the house and listen to the sweet, plangent song of the sururina birds, as they settled down for sleep in the surrounding bushes. Eventually, Luís would go to get his flute, Rosinha her violin, and – to their accompaniment – I’d sing some beautiful old Maranhão songs.
Dona Mariana and Cunha loved to hear me sing. At that time, my voice was still fresh and innocent – as was my soul.
Afterwards the plates and things were packed away in a large basket, which we carried on to the boat and then spread a canvas sail over it. Finally Luís, Rosinha and I sat on top of it, Cunha took up position at the helm with his wife by his side, and three slaves took the oars to row us back to the city.
Whereas the morning voyage had been cheerful and lively, the return at night always seemed slow and sad. Dona Mariana would keep dropping off to sleep, and Cunha would talk to us about what we’d be doing at school the next day. Luís would usually lie down, with his head on his sister’s lap, and I’d stretch myself out on the canvas, gazing at the stars.
On one of those nights when we were returning home, there was a beautiful moon. And the moonlight! As if it were specially for night-time voyagers on the water – conjuring up, ahead of us, white, sighing phantoms, which sped across the water, alternately appearing in their silver shrouds and then vanishing – like anguished drowned souls.
We’d already left Vinhais far behind and were gradually passing the large old properties on the Caminho Grande, which look out, on one side, on to the River Anil. Propped up with a cushion, Dona Mariana was dozing as usual, resting her head on the palm of her hand; Rosinha – with one arm over the side of the boat – was dreamily trailing the tips of her fingers in the rippling water, which sparkled at each pull of the oars; Luís was humming distractedly; old Cunha was bent over the handle of the tiller, with his big, carnaúba-palm hat pushed to the back of his head – shirt and cotton-duck coat open at the chest – while he gazed at the beaches as they slid by, as if the beauty of that northern night and the loneliness of that beautiful blue river had ensnared his bourgeois soul and miraculously carried him off to some poetic dreamworld.
But no! After a prolonged period of silence he sighed, turned to me, and said:
“What a waste of money! What utter carelessness! … Look at those overgrown ruins! It was a good forty years ago they started building. A big customs house… but they never got any further. Just like the Sagração wharf and the Mercês embankment. Scandalous!”
As I looked at those ruins, which seemed to grow in the moonlight, Cunha’s indignation continued to rumble over the lugubrious waters of the Anil, railing against all those accursed presidents of the province who’d taken so little care of our poor, beloved city.
Meanwhile, as our boat pushed sluggishly on, all that steeply sloping part of the city came opening up alongside us.
And it wasn’t long before the Praça dos Remedios came into sight in the distance, looming over the beach like a fortress from the times of war.
We could hear the leaves rustling in the casuarina trees.
“There it is!” shouted Cunha, pointing towards the shore. “Why squander money on a statue like that when there are so many things we really need but no one cares about…”
I looked in the direction he was pointing and saw – very tall, very white, and very sad-looking in the moonlight – the statue of Gonçalves Dias in the middle of the Praça dos Remedios.
I could summon up neither the spirit nor the words to protest against what old Cunha was saying. All I knew about Gonçalves Dias was that he was a poet who died tragically. Nothing more.
“Indeed!” growled Cunha. “The money it must have cost to hoist that big booby sky-high on to that humongous marble stick! A fortune! Everyone in Maranhão contributed! Whereas they couldn’t cough up even a couple of réis for the Campos Melo warehouse, which business has been crying out for for ever. A pack of idiots! I swear it makes me so angry, I almost regret taking out citizenship!”
I turned to look at the statue once more and – I don’t know why – Cunha’s words no longer filled my young mind with the respect they always used to command. Instead they upset me, like a blasphemy spat out at a sacred image. At home, all my family venerated the memory of our national poet and, at the school where I learnt to write the Portuguese language, my teacher always referred to him as “the great Gonçalves Dias.”
But I still said nothing in the poet’s defence – the poet who’d sung about the palm trees of Brazil. Instead I gazed more intently at that white, stone figure, who, in turn, was looking out, in mute glory, at that same sea that had become his sepulchre. And I thought he was so calm, so elevated, so distant from me and Cunha. So much so that I eventually blurted out:
“But Senhor Cunha, if the people made that statue for him, it must have been because the poor man deserved it!”
“Deserved?! How? What did he do? … My country has palm trees where the sabiá sings. The birds of my homeland sing sweeter by far?! That’s all he did! Write poems!”
And, beside himself with anger, off he went again, with a new tirade against the madmen who raise statues to poets instead of building the warehouses the retail trade so desperately needs.
Just at that moment, however, the boat came directly opposite the Praça dos Remedios.
The moon – lost and alone in the luminous sky – was bathing that rigid, white marble figure in its mysterious rays. And Rosinha, who’d paid no attention to our conversation, began to sing, in her high, crystalline voice, one of the most popular songs in Brazil:
If you’d like to know why
I sometimes fly
Away in my dreams
To that angel who sings
Up there in the sky,
Come with me, love,
To the heavens above
And then you’ll know why
I fly, and the sabiá sings.

In her innocence, and in sight of the statue, she’d unwittingly rebutted her father’s vituperation, paying the poet the highest compliment: reciting his words without mentioning his name.

I’m not superstitious, and I wasn’t back then, but I really did get the impression, at that moment, that the statue smiled.
A trick of the light. Of course.


Fṛm Đ Gardịn │ Joe Biden’s billions won’t stop Bolsonaro destroying the Amazon rainforest

‘Jair Bolsonaro’s government has transformed Brazil into an environmental pariah, the world’s greatest destroyer of tropical forests.’ Photograph: Brasil2/Getty Images
‘Jair Bolsonaro’z guvnmnt hz trnsformd Bṛzil intu an invîrnmntl p’raia, ɖ wrld’z gretist dstroyr v tropicl forists.’ Foṭgraf: Brasil2/Geti Iṃjz

Jo Bîdn’z biłnz w’nt stop Bolsonaro dstroyñ ɖ Aṃzn renforist

(Transcription of a Guardian article of 22 April 2021)

Fundz ofrd t pswed Brazil’z ruiṇs guvnmnt t stop dīfoṛsteśn r mnt wel, bt badli msjujd

Marina Silva n Rubens Ricupero, formr Bṛziłn invîrnmntministrz, 22 Epril 2021

Az a canddet, Jo Bîdn bilt p ɖ wrld’z hops ẃn h cmitd ɖ YS t rījônñ ɖ Paris agrīmnt, cnfruntñ ɖ clîṃt dnaylizm v hiz oponnt n sigṇlñ ɖt h wz redi t trīt ɖ clîṃtcrîsis az a stṛtījic prîoṛti. So far, ɖt hop hz bcm srtnti – n rlif fr ɖoz v s hu r strîvñ t fînd strucćṛl n globl s’luśnz t ɖ crîsis.

Fr ɖ Bṛziłn guvnmnt, prizîdd ovr bî ɖ clîṃtćenj sceptic Jair Bolsonaro, ɖ promis t rījôn ɖ Paris acordz sǎndd lîc a ʈret, īvn mor so bcz it wz foloud bî a promis md jrñ wn v ɖ dbets t moḅlîz $20bn (£14bn) in inṭnaśnl fundz fr tropicl renforists – includñ fr Bṛzil – t stop ɖ dstrux́n v ɖ Aṃzn. Bolsonaro riactd bî cōlñ ɖ planz “cawd ʈrets”.

Last yir, Bîdn me nt hv bn fŭli awer v ɖ xtnt t ẃć ɖ cuṛnt Bṛziłn guvnmnt hz trnsformd Bṛzil intu an invîrnmntl p’raia, ɖ wrld’z gretist dstroyr v tropicl forists n ɖ fōrmost ʈret t ɖ planit’s olrdi pricerịs clîṃt eqlibrịm. Bî nǎ, az Bîdn’z clîṃt sumit gts undr we, h wl hv bn fŭli informd n rpitidli wornd v ɖ risc v mcñ dīlz ɖt cd streñʈn Bolsonaro’z guvnmnt n alǎ it t frɖr advans its dstructiv poḷsiz.

Stl, ɖ Bîdn admiṇstreśn, alñ wɖ ministrz fṛm Britn n Yṛp, hz in rīsnt wīcs bn ngośietñ a dīl wɖ ɖ Bṛziłn guvnmnt. Fr ol ɖ tōc v cawdli ʈrets, Bolsonaro’z invîrnmntministr, Ricardo Salles, z ascñ fr a yirli instōlmnt v $1bn – in rtrn fr ẃć, h sz, Bṛzil’z foristcliṛns wd b rdyst bî btwn 30% n 40%. Ɖr r cnsrnz ɖt sm v ɖz fundz cd b ćanld t ɖ vri landgrabrz hu r bhnd ɖ dstrux́n v ɖ Aṃzn.

Ǎr wornñ z best on ɖ folowñ fact: dīfoṛsteśn in ɖ Bṛziłn Aṃzn z nt ɖ rzult v a lac v muni, bt a consiqns v ɖ guvnmnt’s dlibṛt fełr v cer.

Rsivñ inṭnaśnl fundz t implimnt pṛtctiv meźrz n ɖ ssteṇbl ys v ɖ forist z a norml n nesṣri trnzax́n. Ɖ Aṃzn Fund z ɖ most seḷbretd xampl: it oṗretd wɖ Jrmn n Norwījn rzorsz untl rīsntli ẃn, t ɖ horr v ɖ wrld, it wz diactvetd bî ɖ Bṛziłn invîrnmntmiṇstri. Ɖ guvnmnt md ɖ dsiźn t discntiny ɖ fund, ẃć stl hd abt $500m in fyćr dneśnz, bcz it wontd t rstrict hǎ ɖ muni wz yzd.

Rdysñ grīnhǎs-gas imiśnz hz nvr bn a prîoṛti fr ɖ Bṛziłn guvnmnt. Tec its ǒn clîṃtfund, fṛm ẃć abt $100,000 wz ćanld intu saṇteśnmeźrz rɖr ɖn ɖ mitgeśn v naśnl carbn imiśnz. V cors, saṇteśn z isnśl t hlʈ n welbiyñ in ǎr sitiz, bt it z far fṛm a sgnificnt sors v imiśnz. Ɖ guvnmnt olso slaśt ɖ bujit v ɖ Insttyt v ɖ Invîrnmnt n Rnywbl Naćṛl Rzorsz (Ibama), ɖ dpartmnt wɖn ɖ invîrnmntmiṇstri rsponsbl fr moniṭrñ dīfoṛsteśn. In ɖ frst haf v 2019, £2.2m wz aḷcetd fr inspx́nz; last yir, ɖ figr wz £700,000.

Ẃt ɖ guvnmnt z misñ z nt caś, bt a cmitmnt t ɖ truʈ. It dnaid ɖ xistns v fîrz in ɖ Aṃzn az ɖ flemz wr brnñ. Bṛziłn nyz z sać̣retd wɖ scandlz ɖt śo psistnt guvnmnt ax́n t wìcn invîrnmntl bodiz, rol bac lejsleśn, n ignor inṭnaśnl agrīmnts. Tū yirz ago, it dsmist ɖ hed v ɖ INPE – ɖ Naśnl Insttyt v Spes Rsrć – fr ɖ simpl fact ɖt ɖ insttyśn hd cmpîld deta on ɖ rîz v dīfoṛsteśn. Last wīc, it dsmist ɖ hed v ɖ ofis v ɖ fedṛl p’līs, hu hd léd ɖ larjist invstgeśn intu ɖ ilīgl xtrax́n v wŭd in ɖ hisṭri v ɖ Aṃzn. It hz rplest xpirịnst sivl srvnts wɖ indivijlz wɖt eni foṛstri xṗtīz in sevṛl dpartmnts, n it intndz t ifctivli śut dǎn ICMBio, Bṛzil’z fōrmost insttyśn dedcetd t ɖ pṛtx́n v naćṛl rzrvz.

T rīć a biłn-dolr agrīmnt wɖ Bolsonaro’z guvnmnt at ɖs crūśl momnt wl onli streñʈn its rzolv: it wl b a būn fr ɖ farmrz n landgrabrz hu hv ilīġli okpaid public forists n indijṇs land n snd ɖ prisîsli oṗzit mesij t ɖt ẃć z nīdd in ɖs crūśl yir fr ɖ clîṃt.


• Marina Silva srvd az Bṛzil’z ministr fr ɖ invîrnmnt, 2003-8. Rubens Ricupero srvd az ministr fr ɖ invîrnmnt, 1993-4


Instroduction to Ñspel