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Laughter baron

Brazil is celebrating the centenary of birth of Aparício Torelly who is better known as Barão de Itararé. Satirist by nature, neither mere hostility, poverty nor frequent imprisonment were able to break his wit or reduce the sting of his poisoned pen.

Michael Diz

His humor was a given. His penchant for critical attacks innate. Born in Rio Grande do Sul, Aparício Fernando Brinqueroff Torelly was one of Brazil's greatest satirical-political commentators, a man who could not resist a good punchline. If alive he would have been 100 years old this year and probably would have had a lot to say about the political climate.

Torelly had the rare and unusual title of Baron of Itararé, a title he bestowed upon himself at a time when society held nobility in high esteem. It was his way of ridiculing the concept. It was this rebellion and refusal to conform that made him a personality of sorts.

More than a great humorist, the Baron was a relentless critic of politicians and political activity in Brazil. He was of Italian descent, but also Uruguayan, American and Charruá Indian blood ran through his veins. Hence his claim of being a 'sort of League of Nations.' His early childhood, however, was less than happy. His mother committed suicide when he was two, and his father, due to firm political beliefs and radical activities, had lost his left arm in a political skirmish. And he ended up being raised by aunts, at the estate of his grandparents, in Uruguay.

At age seven, he was placed in a Jesuit boarding school, Ginásio Nossa Senhora da Conceição, in São Leopoldo. It was there that, as a student he began to exercise his talent for journalism and criticism. The target then was the figure of authority represented by a stern rector. The young Baron founded a newspaper entitled O Capim Seco (The Dry Grass). The year was 1909 and it was Torelly's entry into the world of journalism. He immediately created controversy by comparing the rector to Satan, painting him as the Biblical serpent. The clandestine newspaper lasted one day.

The medical years -- In 1912 he enrolled in a pharmaceutical college with the idea of switching later to the Faculty of Medicine in Porto Alegre. At the pharmacy school, the Baron entertained colleagues during examinations by speaking oddities to the professors. It was in Porto Alegre that he truly discovered journalism. In 1917 he became known for his irreverent comments in A Última Hora (The Last Hour), a Porto Alegre newspaper.

In medicine school he wasn't as brilliant a student as he was a satirist. He has never graduated. During a lesson on surgical technique, the professor asked him how he would proceed with a patient who had a cranial traumatism and hemorrhage.

"Wash the area, and seeing no fracture, sew and snip," answered Torelly.

"You did not mention the first thing you have to do," said the professor. "The first thing you have to do is clean the area, shaving the patients hair."

"Not a problem," the student replied, "it just so happens that my patient is bald!"

Other teachers who attempted to defy Torelly's insolence paid dearly. A professor once showed him a large bone and asked Torelly, which bone it was. Responding to his student's ignorance, the professor said, "Allow me to introduce you: this is a femur." He stuck the bone out.

Torelly responded in a solemn tone.

"Pleased to meet you," he said and feigned a hand shake.

In 1919 during vacations, he took the opportunity to abandon his studies. A year earlier he had founded his first humor newspaper, O Chico. In 1921 he was married to Alzira Alves, starting a three-year-long matrimony that would end with Torelly running off with a lady in the local social circle.

He subsequently founded a series of newspapers, all of which later folded. He would arrive at a city, start a newspaper, then dedicate himself completely to the humiliating of the local Mayor, and other politicians.

The middle years -- In 1925, he arrived in Rio, but in a few days, he had spent all the money he had brought. He made his way to the editorial chambers of O Globo, a recently founded newspaper. Unemployed, Torelly waited for Irineu Marinho, the paper's founder to approach. He then explained his predicament. He was told that no vacancies existed, but was asked what he could do. In his usual manner he replied, "anything from sweeping to running a newspaper. I don't believe there's a great difference."

This irreverence got him the job. A year later, once his comments had been widely read and discussed all over Rio, he switched papers to A Manha (The Baby Cry). The publication had become an independent satirical newspaper that year (1926), being used as a vehicle for political satire targeting everyone, including the president.

The Barão de Itararé became a member of the communist party and in 1947 was elected councilman of the local municipality. Here he thoroughly entertained the assembly with his asides and comments. Once a fellow assemblyman, commenting on the political situation at the time said, "I don't see things very clearly..."

Torelly couldn't resist and prescribed the colleague, "two drops for two minutes..."

Successive imprisonment, beatings and humiliations could not dissuade Torelly from exercising his wit. When asked about politician Filinto Muller's position (during interrogation) he replied, "three fingers below a dog's tail(ass)."

Old and sickly his wit could still not be broken. Prior to his death, he went with a friend to the city. Upon crossing a certain avenue, he observed an approaching fast-paced bus. His comment subsequently became a Carioca (from Rio) joke, "Watch out, he's seen us already..." He died in Laranjeiras on November 27, 1971. Like a lot of misunderstood political satirists, he was poor and lonely.

Torelly is considered the patron of satirical journals in Brazil. He was a pioneer of a style of humor, best described as anarchic. He was controversial in the extreme and extremely outspoken. Few were on par with the Baron.

"The problem with the government," he would muse, "is not failure to persist, but persisting in failure."

Famous phrases

The Baron left a legacy of expressions and phrases, a lot of which are entrenched in Carioca humor and speech. Here are some examples of his wit:

When a poor man eats chicken, one of the two is sick.

Adolescence is that age wherein the youngster refuses to believe he will become as pathetic as his father.

A bank is an institution that lends money to whomever can prove that he doesn't need it.

Amnesty is an act whereby governments resolve to forgive generously the injustices that they themselves committed.

Love should be free, of above all, expenses.

From where you least expect, that's from whence nothing comes.

It's easier to catch a liar than a cripple (Brazilian proverb). Especially if the liar is a cripple!

The pauper, when he digs into his pockets, only pulls out five fingers.

The more I learn about men, the more I love women.

The liver is very bad for your drinking.

On feminine vanity:

Women of a certain age don't have a certain age.

To women, old men exist only in two categories: the intolerable and the rich.

There are women that are like roads: they have dangerous curves.

Friendship amongst women is merely a suspension of hostilities.

There is a group of men who believe and state that women don't think. A false belief. Women think and often very well, especially when orchestrating a plan of action to obtain cash from men who think that they don't think.

A woman is more tormented with a secret than with an ailment.

A woman should marry. A man not.

Torelly as seem by others

The Baron is a character in Graciliano Ramos's Memórias do Cárcere. Ramos became acquainted with the Baron whilst in jail in 1937. The Baron was serving an 18-month sentence for Communist activities. Ramos recounts their humorous encounter in the first volume of his book. It was morning, Ramos was taking a shower. He suddenly noticed that somebody was reciting something. He realized that it was the opening lines of the Lusíadas, the epic poem written by Portuguese poet Camões: As armas e os barões assinalados...

The water gushed down furiously, men scrubbed and soaped themselves, guards spoke in the entrance. Amongst all this, the soliloquist continued and rose above the din, finally his voice dominated the shower hall. The orator continued: "And also those glorious memories, of kings that expanded our faith, the empire, the urethra..." Ramos burst into laughter. Whilst getting dry, Ramos met the Baron, whom he describes as short, bearded, with a pointy nose.

It was during their stay at Frei Caneca Presídio in 1937, that the Baron told Ramos that he intended to write his autobiography and that he had awarded himself the title of Baron of Itararé. Ramos replied that it was a good idea and that it would invoke an 'opportune social uproar.'

Sadly the autobiography was never written. The Baron's time was always consumed with starting and closing newspapers, as well as regular 'internships' in prison.

Newspapers he founded or worked in included:

O Maneca, O Chico (Porto Alegre) -- 1918

Correio do Sul, Diário do Commércio (Bagé)

Reação (San Gabriel) -- 1924

O Globo, A Manhã, A Manha, O Homem Livre -- After 1925

Jornal do Povo, A Voz do Trabalhador, A Tribuna, A Marcha (São Paulo)

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