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Barăo de Itararé’s poison pen

Brazil is celebrating the centenary of birth of
Aparício Torelly who is better known as Barăo 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 Conceiçăo, in Săo 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 Barăo 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 Camőes:
As armas e os barőes 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)

Reaçăo (San Gabriel) — 1924

O Globo, A Manhă, A Manha, O Homem Livre — After 1925

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

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In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. 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A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? 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Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. 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