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.
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 crossingoriginating from
the vehicleover my head, a consumed yogurt pot that spreads
remains all over the place..
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
to learn more about this topic. You can also reach him at email@example.com