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Brazzil - Places - February 2004

Razing History in Brazil

I come back to reality. The dwelling inhabited by the famous writer
Clarice Lispector is blowing in the wind. The building itself is a
furniture shop nowadays. The square is a paradise of oddjobbers,
homeless and social outcasts. That is part of Brazil's history.
In Recife, when we enlarge streets, we can be narrowing minds.

Carlos Jatobá

When I am walking at Maciel Pinheiro Square, in downtown Recife, I observe the buildings remaining of the many that existed. Some were commercially used, few are still preserved. Finally, they were solid constructions that sheltered, until the sixties, many Jews.

In the first third of last century, thanks to the Brazilian government's good will and the tenacity of the Jewish Colonization Association (JCA), founded by philanthropist Jews from Central Europe, large amounts of Jews persecuted by pogroms in Eastern Europe could come to South America, where the lands were promising.

Brazil, particularly, received many groups, which all had something in common: The city of Recife was the road of natural passage for the center-south and the rest of the country. Many of the ones that landed here, stayed here.

Before such a landscape I feel like a navigator, transcending the time and the space, subverting, in certain way, the chronology.

I seem to spy, among the people seated on one of the benches of the square, meditating, Mr. Pedro Lispector. We had marked a visit to his home. We are, therefore, on Thursday, 1st of October of 1931. The revolution of the Liberal Alliance is in full gear and completing its first year on 3rd of the following month. It is quite easy for me to distinguish him.

In spite of the ten years of Brazil, he still uses a suit of "seven-eighth" jacket with a skirted and wooly hat, both black. He had the calm features of a Rabbi (ordained Jewish religious teacher and leader) or a Chazan (a kind of Deacon = the Cantor, the leader in prayer), on the eve of a Shabbos (Jewish sabbath) or Yom Tov (Holiday).

Greeting me, he invites me to sit down. When removing the hat, I could see his Kippah (a Yamulke = skullcap worn by him underneath the hat) equally dark with the embroidered illustration, clearly, of Mogen David (the Star of David, with six tips) in the center. He asks me, in the presence of the pedestrians' curiosity, if I were not inconvenienced. I answer him no and make a joke using the theme. I ask him: —Is it true that a Jew only answers a question with another one? He quickly asks me: —And did you believe that?

We were talking about his small village named Tchetchelnik, in a shtetl (community) of farmers, artisans and small merchants imbedded in the boundaries of distant Ukraine. I also ask about his arrival in Brazil in 1921, the persecution of the Czarist Empire and his adaptation to Recife. 

I thought he was being nostalgic. However, quickly he speaks to me: —Here we savored the sionisnic (pumpkin pit toasted) a lot. Ah!... The pumpkins here are very good! The klops (meat cake or roasted chicken) also satisfies us. The kosher cooking (food in according to the dietary precepts to the Torah = The holy writing of the Jews. It is made up of the first five books of the Bible contained the early history of the Jews) here is rich.

Certain times we were invited, here in Recife, to go for the "Cachimbo" like good arrivals to a newly born goy (non Jew) baby and it reminded me of our Shalom Zachor (a special "meal," on the first Friday night of a newborn boy's life). By the way, do you want to go to my house, now?

For a few steps, we are crossing place to number 387 on the corner with Veras' Alley near here. We entered the nice and simple Lispector's residence. In the hall, attached to the door jamb, to the right side of the doorway, in the upper third. is a symbol of the Jewish faith and worthy of great respect: the Mezuzah, a case containing a small portion of Deuteronomy in 22 lines, handwritten on parchment and are part of Shemah (prayer affirming belief of the one-ness of G-d). I find everything very ritualistic, beautiful, respectful, and different. I also encounter a big Brazilian flag and a picture representing the bird Solovei (the nightingale symbol of Ukraine).

Mr. Lispector calls his three daughters: Elisa, Tânia and Clarice. His wife Marieta had died some time ago. He takes care to tell me that as good Ashkenasim Jews, they speak Yiddish (medieval Jewish dialect of Germanic origin transposed to Eastern Europe) amongst themselves; but, that they would make an effort to speak to me a good Portuguese. To be courteous, in present German language (Hohes Deutsch), I reply: —Ich Bin so glücklich für dies! (I am quite happy about this!).

Quickly, I disentangle myself of the giving of gifts. For the girls Elisa and Tânia, books by José de Alencar and Machado de Assis, respectively. However, for the little girl Clarice, the book As Reinações de Narizinho (Narizinho's Pranks) by Monteiro Lobato is providential, because I know that she is about to take the entrance exam to the Ginásio Pernambuco (a kind of junior high school).

Along the visit, I am invited to taste a borsht (Russian-Polish food made with beets, cream of milk, potato and meat) with colbeis (kosher salami). To drink we have a great wine, similar to the Arba Kossot (the four cups of wine) served in Seder (ceremony of Pessach = Hebrew for Passover, the festival that reminds Jews of how G-d rescued them from slavery in Egypt and the identity as people and appearance of a nation).

We talked plenty about Brazil, and our hopes for everything to work fine on that new political moment. However, it is getting late and I have to leave.

In that, I leave that unnameable "trance" when I am being questioned by a girl in rags: —"Uncle" would you like to buy a "vale transporte" (city-bus pass)? I have "A", "B" and "C" types at your service! I answer her I don't want to buy anything, and I follow my road bound to Santa Cruz' Place, proceeding by Aragão Street.

Only there do I come back to reality. I am in the year 2003. The dwelling inhabited by the famous writer Clarice Lispector is blowing in the wind. The building itself is a furniture shop nowadays. The square is a paradise of oddjobbers, homeless and social outcasts. That is part of the history.

Then I sense that, in our city, when we enlarge streets, we can be narrowing minds. We are poor in the preservation of the historical memory; but, we are rich in the assimilation of the virtual one.

I keep on walking. Already in the middle of the place and when passing one of those small vans, I feel crossing—originating from the vehicle—over my head, a consumed yogurt pot that spreads remains all over the place..

When turning, I still see the protagonist of the rudeness, moving away; and, with a irreverent smile, screaming: "Take your head off my way!. Mané! (Silly man) …"

Carlos Jatobá is a Brazilian freelance writer and web-designer/web-master. He lives in Recife, state of Pernambuco, Brazil. You can access the original web-page, in Portuguese, named "Crônicas do Recife" (Recife's Chronicles) http://www.cronicasdorecife.falai.net to learn more about this topic. You can also reach him at carjat@hotmail.com

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