The Thrill of Eating


The Thrill of Eating

The cascade of demises begins after Daniel meets Lucídio,
 a man of apparent refinement who
tells Daniel of a secret
society that eats fugu fish, which can kill within minutes
By
Bondo Wyszpolski

The Club of Angels, by
Luis Fernando Verissimo, trans. by Margaret Jull Costa
 (New Directions, 135 pp., $21.95)

What greater thrill is there than knowing that your next meal could kill you?

For over two decades the ten members of the Beef Stew Club (so named "in
honor of our past lives as ignorant gourmands") have been meeting monthly from
March to December, rotating from one home to another, where each member in turn
becomes responsible for providing dinner.

In the early days, the appetite displayed by the participants at these
suppers was assumed to represent the voracious appetite they had for the world
at large. But none of the men (childhood friends, mostly) would ever amount to
much, and with the death of Ramos a couple of years earlier a lack of enthusiasm
has threatened to dissolve the group.

There’s no surprise ending here, or is there? We know at the beginning of
The Club of Angels, a literary soufflé of a book that is economically
written, seasoned with humor and wit, solemnity and reflection, that all of the
members of The Beef Stew Club have died—with the exception of our narrator, Dr.
Daniel: "I’m not, in fact, a doctor, but I am rich, which is why they
deferentially call me `Doctor.’" The cascade of startling demises begins shortly
after Daniel makes the acquaintance of the enigmatic Lucídio, a man of apparent
refinement who tells Daniel of the secret society he belongs to that eats fugu
fish, which can, if improperly prepared, kill within minutes:

"There is nothing in the world that can compare with the taste of raw fugu,
Daniel." And why is that? "The prospect of dying at any moment, in seconds,
produces a chemical reaction that heightens the flavor of the fugu."

Daniel is impressed, and more so after Lucídio prepares him "an omelet the
like of which I had not tasted in a long time." Despite his name (hint:
Lucifer), Lucídio seems to be a godsend. With the inert Beef Stew Club in mind,
Daniel thinks: "Yes, a man who would risk his life for the taste of a deadly
fish was precisely what we needed to restore our sense of unity and to haul us
out of that spiral of bitterness and mutual recrimination into which Ramos’
death had plunged us."

Lucídio proves to be an exquisite chef. He manages to breathe life into the
group, and yet at the same time…
The Club of Angels can be regarded in part as a meditation on death, a
jaunty exploration of the acceptance of fate, as possibly "a treatise or perhaps
a novel about suicide," or even as a gastronomical caper along the lines of
And Then There Were None. There are ominous quotations from
King Lear, spoken at the end of each meal, and yet a grin in the
exposition (the dialogue between Daniel and Lucídio, for instance) that recalls
the wry, at times even corny prose of Jô Soares, the Rio-based author of
A Samba for Sherlock and Twelve Fingers.

Luis Fernando Verissimo, born in 1936, is the son of writer Érico Verissimo,
whose
Brazilian Literature—to pull but one volume from the shelf—remains highly
readable even after nearly sixty years. Like father, like son? It appears so.
The Club of Angels, in its balance of levity and gravity, is a tasty
morsel to be consumed with pleasure. The risk factor? For better or for worse,
it’s unlikely to kill you.

An excerpt from The Club of Angels:

After the funeral, we went back to my apartment, where we gathered in the
study. The full complement of the surviving Beef Stew Club membership: all five
of us. At the funeral, Lívia kept saying: "This is madness, Zi, madness. You
must stop holding these suppers." The matter to be discussed was, should we stop
holding the suppers or not? The next host would be Pedro. In alphabetical
order—Since Saulo had chosen to die out of order—Paulo should be the next to
die.

"So, do we cancel the supper?" I asked.

"No," said Paulo without a moment’s hesitation.

"I think we should take a vote," said Samuel.

"I’m the main interested party," said Paulo. "The supper will go ahead."


Pedro suggested that he, rather than Lucídio, should choose the menu. Paulo
disagreed. Lucídio would decide what to make. I suggested that we supervise
the making of the meal, especially the last fateful portion. Paulo vetoed
that too. Lucídio must have full freedom in which to do his work.

"Be honest," said Paulo, "the deaths aside, have you ever eaten so well in
your entire life as at Lucídio’s suppers?"

"No, but…"

"And there’s another thing. If we start interfering in his work, he’ll
disappear. He’ll go away. He’ll leave us."

"We’re the ones who are disappearing," said Tiago. "One by one. One a month.
The Beef Stew Club will come to an end not for lack of a cook, but for lack of
members. We’re all dying!"

And then Paulo leaned back on the sofa—beneath one of Marcos’ paintings
which, according to the artist, depicted the struggle of the One Being to free
itself from the duality of body and spirit—and said:

"Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t really care."

Bondo Wyszpolski also heads up the arts and entertainment
section of the
Easy Reader, a weekly newspaper based in the South Bay of southern
California. He can be reached at
bwyszpolski@earthlink.net
 

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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. 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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In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. 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? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. 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. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. 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