Death, which is rarely kind, was its unkindest, this
beginning of year, taking away with it the cream of the Brazilian intellectuality.
They will all be sorely missed.
By Alessandra Dalevi
For death it was a rich crop of talented people. For Brazil, which became
considerably poorer, it was one heavy loss after another, after another,
after another. In a short span of a few weeks in January and February,
the country lost its most respected economist, Mário Henrique Simonsen;
one of its best novelists, Antônio Callado; its brightest polemist-journalist
Paulo Francis; world-renowned anthropologist and senator Darcy Ribeiro;
folkloric soccer team owner Vicente Matheus; hated union leader Joaquim
Santos Andrade; and promising young talent, composer Chico Science.
With the exception of Chico, who died in a car accident in the northeastern
Brazilian city of Recife, at 30, all the others were over 60. Despite their
age, however, the intellectuals in the list were still very active till
very recently or even until the very day when they died as in the case
of Paulo Francis and Darcy Ribeiro.
Loved by the Indians, with whom he lived, Darcy had Terena and Xavante
Indians paying him homage during the wake in Congress. A group of children,
women and men placed over his chest a miniature vase symbolizing plenty
in the after-life. His last girlfriend, Irene Ferraz, 38, confirmed his
fame as a womanizer: "He left thousands of widows," she exaggerated.
"He was passion-inspiring. He wasn’t a man for an only woman."
President Fernando Henrique Cardoso who attended at the wake declared a
national three-day mourning period.
The versatile PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista — Worker’s
Democratic Party) senator, who was also a member of the Brazilian Academy
of Letters, died of prostate cancer at 74 in the Sarah Kubitschek hospital,
in Brasília. He died on February 17. Only two weeks before he had
been to the senate to cast his vote against the government as the senate
chose its new president, which is also the president of Congress. His vote
was for Íris Resende, who had no chance against political powerhouse
Antônio Carlos Magalhães.
Darcy was an accomplished success under all the hats he wore: educator,
novelist, anthropologist, and politician. His contributions to the Indian
ethnology started with the publication in 1950 of Religião e
Mitologia Kadiuéu (Kadiuéu Religion and Mythology). He
loved Brazil with all its warts. "Switzerland is an almost perfect
country. That’s terrible. I prefer our country that is still being made."
About himself, he declared, "I am really vain. I really have a tendency
to despise modest people because I believe that modesty is an attitude
of those who are mediocre and satisfied with themselves and the world.
I am the only Brazilian theoretician and the only Latin-American theoretician
to provoke international discussion. My studies about the anthropology
of civilization have had 145 editions."
He also said, "I have failed everything I tried in life. I tried
to alphabetize the Brazilian children, but I didn’t succeed. I tried to
save the Indians, but I didn’t save them. I tried to build a serious university
and I failed. I tried to make Brazil develop with autonomy and I didn’t
succeed. My failures, however, are my victories. I would hate to be in
the shoes of those who won."
He was called "real life’s only Englishman" by right-wing
writer Nelson Rodrigues, who criticized, but also admired the integrity
and finesse of left-leaning novelist, playwright and journalist Antônio
Carlos Callado. He would have a place guaranteed in the Brazilian literature
even if he hadn’t published anything else besides Quarup, a novel
that he himself wasn’t that proud of.
Published in 1967, the work whose title refers to a death ceremony among
the Brazilian Indians, is the story of Nando, a priest from the Northeast
who, in search of the truth, leaves the convent and goes to live with the
natives in Xingu. There, the missionary is converted himself and discovers
sex and love. When he goes back to the Northeast he has become a guerrilla.
The author also wrote, among other novels, Bar Don Juan, a stinging
critique on the so-called festive left and the uselessness of fighting
the Brazilian military dictatorship, A Madona de Cedro (The Cedar
Madonna), Reflexos do Baile (Reflexes of the Ball), and Sempreviva
(Evergreen). During the Second World War, starting in 1941, he worked in
London with the Brazilian section of the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) in Aldenham house. Three years later he moved to Paris to work at
the Radio-Diffusion Française. In 1947 he was back in Brazil. During
the military dictatorship (1964-1983), the writer was imprisoned five times.
It was during his first period in jail in 1965 that he concocted the plot
Profoundly in love with Brazil, Antônio Callado wrote in 1993:
"Let the country live. Let poor Brazil breathe. Leave it in peace,
so it will lose its tortured manner, as if it were a stutterer, a child
always being bugged and, who for that very reason gets bad grades in his
Callado died just a few days after his 80th birthday. "To
be alive at 80 is something horrible," he declared a little before
dying. He had been fighting prostate cancer for 12 years and had two operations
in 1984 and 1989 to try to eliminate the tumor. In 1994 he was elected
to occupy seat number 8 in the ABL (Academia Brasileira de Letras — Brazilian
Academy of Letters). His bier was placed in the Academy, with the dead
writer wearing the Academy’s pompous uniform that he criticized for being
inappropriate for Rio’s hot climate.
He was a leftist of principles. "I have never joined any party,"
he declared in one of his last interviews. "I remain true, absolutely
true to what I was and I am: a man from the left who believes in socialism."
MÁRIO HENRIQUE SIMONSEN
He liked to be called professor, just professor, without anything added
to it. He became famous and was hardly criticized for his role in conducting
the Brazilian economy during the military administrations of generals Ernesto
Geisel and João Baptista Figueiredo. He was the voice of reason
in a military regime with grandiose nationalistic plans without concern
for its cost. While the generals wanted miracles, Mário Henrique
Simonsen preached moderation and belt-tightening.
Born in February 19, 1935, economist Simonsen became Geisel’s Finance
Minister in 1974. As Figueiredo’s Economy Minister, he didn’t last more
than six months, presenting personally his letter of resignation, to a
startled president, who still on his underwear. Said the general: "From
what I gather, you are saying here that my government is shit."
Few people know or remember that Simonsen was the president of the ill-fated
Mobral (Fundação Movimento Brasileiro de Alfabetização
— Foundation Brazilian Movement of Alphabetization) from 1970 to 1974.
With a college diploma in civil engineering and another in economy, he
became the proverbial sage that every administration consulted in times
From his post at Fundação Getúlio Vargas he became
the most influential man in Brazil as far as economic policies were concerned,
a guru everybody wanted to hear though not necessarily to heed. But he
had also profound knowledge of music, mathematics and chess. In his book
Ensaios Analíticos (Analytical Essays), he demonstrated how
easy it was for him to move from quanta physics to music, from philosophy
to mathematics and show the relationship and links among these disciplines.
It was at the end of 1993 that he discovered he had lung cancer caused
by a life of chain-smoking. According to his own calculations (for him
numbers could explain everything), smoking 2 or 3 packs a day for 40 years,
he puffed on 800,000 cigarettes. "To have cancer, is no cause for
shame," he said matter-of-factly. After chemotherapy left him bald
he didn’t prevent photographers from taking his pictures and he didn’t
stop smiling. For a time it seemed that the cancer was in remission. It
was a mirage. In the last few months he had been unconscious most of the
He defended until the end a monetary system similar to the one adopted
in Argentina in which the currency is linked to the dollar in a way that
the government cannot irresponsibly print more money whenever it needs
it. He dreamed with a country entirely bound by the constraints of a global
economy. He was the brightest economist of all, but he had a hard time
dealing with politics and the realities of daily life.
"The function of a University is to create elites and not to give
diplomas to down-and-outs." "I am in favor of closing the Congress
or any other of those institutions that prevent the country’s progress."
"I cannot imagine even one enemy. Nobody interests me enough for me
to hate him." These are some of the jewels left by Paulo Francis.
Journalist Franz Paulo Trannin Heilborn, who always called himself Paulo
Francis, died of a heart attack, in New York, at the age of 66. He loved
to polemicize. Extremely bright, a confessed book worm who never finished
university, the became famous practicing a journalism in which he accused
first and then (if ever) tried to show proof.
Through his one-page column published Thursdays and Sundays in O
Estado de São Paulo and O Globo and commentaries at Globo
TV, he became the most famous, most feared and best-paid Brazilian journalist.
From the 21st floor apartment at 47th St in Manhattan,
where he lived, the staunchly conservative newspaperman was a machine gun
always poised to fire. Not only with attacks, but also with praise, he
sometimes would condense his thought in one-liners about anything his keen
sense of observation and erudition saw fit, from a new Broadway show, to
a book just released, from a Brazilian friend visiting New York to an old
snippet of information he had seen three decades ago.
Born in Rio in a Jewish middle-class family he tried the stage (with
little success) and also to be a theater reviewer before finding his vocation
as a journalist. He started as a political columnist writing for Rio’s
daily Última Hora. His left leanings with a Trotskyite flavor
made him a persona non-grata among the military dictatorship and didn’t
make him too many friends among the Stalin-worshipping left-wingers. In
1969 he helped to launch O Pasquim, an underground weekly paper
that would enrage the military regime and introduce in the country a new
form of journalism.
His articles at Pasquim would land him in jail four times before he
decided to move to New York in 1971. He would never go back to live in
Brazil and "from the top of the world" as he used to say, his
Weltanschauung would little by little be drastically reformed. In his trajectory
from left to right, he would also substitute his for the poor for the ridicule
of blacks and poor people. Some of his old friends never forgave him for
what they considered high treason.
For having denounced shady dealings at Petrobrás, the Brazilian
state oil monopoly, he had been taken into court in New York by Joel Rennó,
the company’s president, who was suing Francis for damages of $100 million.
"They want to bankrupt me," he commented, knowing the costs of
the American justice. "If anybody asked me to point to one single
cause only of Paulo Francis death," said Jesus Cheda, his private
doctor, "I would say that it was the stress caused by the legal problems
that he was facing."
"The tendency of the intellectual is to be from the right,"
he wrote recently. "By definition, he is an elitist." Those who
kept his friendship were always talking about his generosity, but Francis
could be mean and was almost invariably arrogant. While interviewing American
economist John Kenneth Galbraith for TV, the journalist started to give
some lessons. Galbraith interrupted him with a "I would like to remind
you that I am the professor here." Francis wrote a dozen books, but
he didn’t have the time or the guts to put on paper the great novel he
Nobody had heard about the mangue beat four years ago. The rhythm
— a mix of Northeastern styles like ciranda, coco, and maracatu
with rock, funk and rap — was created by Francisco de Assis França,
a former employee of a computer company, who then adopted the name of Chico
(a common nickname for Francisco) Science. He called himself a "crab
with a brain" and a "mangueboy", since it was in the mangues
(swamps), favelas (shantytowns) and cheap bordéis
(whorehouses) that he found his inspiration. Among the new generation of
Northeastern composers, which includes Carlinhos Brown and Raimundos, Chico
Science was the most articulate one
Influenced by his interest in computers — he made part of a videoclip
for his firs album on his Mac — the composer baptized his new sound as
"mangue bit" to show the computer connection. But a journalist
misspelled the name and mangue beat it became. He and his band Chico
Science & Nação Zumbi had time to release only two albums:
Da Lama ao Caos (From Mud to Chaos) in 1994 and Afrociberdelia
in 1996. His international career got an impulse two years ago when
his group opened the show for singer-composer Gilberto Gil at the Central
Park in New York.
Chico Science’s life ended on the fast lane with his speeding car hitting
a pole on the road that links Recife do Olinda, in Pernambuco state. It
is not clear whether the accident was caused by another vehicle. What is
clear is that Brazil lost a very promising musical talent. Composer Arnaldo
Antunes, who had invited Chico to be part of his next album, Silêncio
(Silence) eulogized the friend: "My admiration for his work is
total. I identify myself with him. He was able to go much farther. His
death has aborted a very generous slice of the MPB’s (Música Popular
Brasileira — Brazilian Popular Music) future.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS ANDRADE
He was a bohemian, a unrepentant womanizer, a powerful though hated
union leader, but at the end, Joaquim dos Santos Andrade, better known
as Joaquinzão was taken by his family to a public clinic for old
people and left there to die. At his wake, three of his four children were
present, but neither his official wife nor his extra-official mistress
bothered to go. He was 70 when he died on February 5, of a stroke and pneumonia.
In the obituaries his name came always linked to the word "pelego"
(bosses’s worthy), a supreme insult, describing him as a sychophant and
a government’s informer during the military dictatorship.
He became the symbol of peleguismo. For 22 years, starting in
1964, backed by the military regime, he was the president of the biggest
Latin American Union, the Sindicato dos Metalúrgicos de São
Paulo (São Paulo’s Metalworkers Union). Even when the political
opening started and other leaders were encouraged to take his place, the
Christian conservative was able to keep his position first by rigging elections
and then making an unholy alliance with the PCB (Partido Comunista Brasileiro
— Brazilian Communist Party).
In 1986, he created the CGT (Central Geral dos Trabalhadores _ General
Confederation of Workers) that he presided until 1989. "At beginning
he was tainted by his connection with the military regime, but later he
became one of the leaders of the democratic transition," said Luiz
Antonio de Medeiros, president of Força Sindical, one of the three
Brazilian workers’ federations. Just before dying, Joaquinzão declared:
"I wasn’t a good husband or a good father. I wasted my life with unionism
and women." The rumors that he received big money to avoid strikes,
however, seem unfounded. He died poor, leaving to his family not more than
a modest house and a little ranch.
As NY Yankees catcher Yogi Bera, Vicente Matheus had a knack to twist
sentences and mangle grammar in a peculiar and memorable way. Among his
most famous utterings are: "Whoever goes out in the rain gets burned",
"Sócrates (a soccer player) is unsalable, unnegotiable, and
useless," and "I thank Antarctica for the braminhas it
sent us." Antarctica and Brahma are the two biggest breweries in Brazil.
Braminha means a little beer. The sentence is the equivalent to
saying, "I thank Pepsi for sending us some cokes."
Starting in 1959, on and off, Matheus, the legendary and folkloric character,
was ten times president of São Paulo’s Sport Club Corinthians, the
most popular soccer team in the country next to Rio’s Flamengo. But at
his funeral on February 10 the only player present was Neto. The present
board of directors seem to have forgotten the popular leader. It was under
his helm that the team ended a fast of 23 years for a title and became
São Paulo’s champion in 1977. It was again during his presidency
that Corinthians won in 1990 its only nationwide championship ever. Matheus,
88, he died of pneumonia at the Instituto do Coração (Heart
Institute) in São Paulo.