Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Lost Samba – Chapter 14 – Binge gone bad in Teresópolis

Part20Teresópolis was an hour and a half away from Rio in the mountains and many of my parents’ friends had country houses there. When I was a toddler, we used to spend the summer in those hills and during one of our stays, an opportunity to buy an affordable plot of land in a remote place called Jardim Salaco came up. We went to see the empty empty terrain in a horse-driven chariot that took at least two hours to get there on dirt tracks. The trip was picturesque, we passed by farms and fields and went up hills covered with trees feeling the fresh country breeze under their shade and the hot sun while in the open. Meanwhile the driver kept whipping the poor smelly horse, which had vents on its eyes and sweat all over its body.

Dad could not resist the bargain and bought the land with a friend, a short, bald, lanky and slightly aggressive French ex-freedom fighter. After that, it took him more than a decade to decide what to do with that white elephant. However, in the meantime, his friend built a house there and, perhaps expecting that Dad would sell him his part, he invaded our side. By the time we woke up to what was going on, his family was using the entire plot as their own and this drew Dad’s attention to the situation.

We went up to evaluate how much the plot could sell for, but the result was the opposite. Despite the neighbour’s ugly house and his psychopathic German Shepard, Dayan, the beauty of the place convinced them to build a house and, who knew, retire there someday.

Sarah and I did not welcome that surprise decision, for us Teresópolis was a boring weekend destination where many Jewish people had houses. To make things worse the few houses that some friends had were miles away. To attract us, our parents went as far as putting in a pool, but we were past the stage of being content with splashing around in the water. In fact, things turned out quite differently: I was 14 and Sarah was 19, and when my parents went up on weekends, we would stay back at home unsupervised, with the dangerous freedom to do anything we chose.

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The country house in Teresopolis

Sarah and I did not welcome that surprise decision, for us Teresópolis was a boring weekend destination where many Jewish people had houses. To make things worse the few houses that some friends had were miles away. To attract us, our parents went as far as putting in a pool, but we were past the stage of being content with splashing around in the water. In fact, things turned out quite differently: I was 14 and Sarah was 19, and when my parents went up on weekends, we would stay back at home unsupervised, with the dangerous freedom to do anything we chose.

Bizarrely, it turned out that Fred, the leader of my pot-smoking ring at the Escola Americana, had a country house close by. My parents were terrified of his folks after they said that they themselves supplied him with weed in order to avoid his contacting drug dealers. Nevertheless, they tolerated the friendship, as he was a neighbour who could make me decide to go up to Teresópolis more often. Also as his dad was a famous architect, the boy may come to grow out of his habits and become a valuable contact for my future.

One weekend, I went up knowing that he and the rest of the gang would be there. On the Saturday afternoon, I visited them and ended up getting so drunk that they had to call my parents. Drinking was something unseen in the family and they had taken a lot of care not to expose us to this vice, to the extent that, in my entire life, I never saw Dad even slightly drunk. When they saw me there, 15 or 16 years old, absolutely paralytic, they were shocked. The blame fell on Fred, with the suspicion that he had put something in my drink.

For them, this was a serious incident that affected profoundly the image that they had of me. My parents were not only immigrants to a new country they were also foreign to modern life, especially Dad. The contrast between that incident and the stoic 19th century-like atmosphere at home could not have been greater.

Dinners, for example, seemed to jump out of a Bela Lugosi film. When we sat down in the large dining room, at its centre was a big, dark, handmade, wooden table where there was always a Chinese bowl waiting for us filled with, sometimes not so fresh, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes and mangoes. This was because we began meals with fruit, as it was healthier to fill oneself up with them before moving on to the heavier food. Right above that still life scene, was a macabre chandelier lighting the room while we ate on the uncomfortable, posh looking chairs. The dining cupboards around us were also made of dark wood and the free parts of the walls held large classical paintings of Biblical scenes, with heavy, fake antique, golden frames around them.

Once everyone had finished with the fruit, they would ask me to step on the buzzer under my foot that made an annoying and loud noise in the kitchen. Dona Isabel would then come in with her awkward walk carrying a tray to clear the table and would then return with the main course. While we were eating, nothing was supposed to disturb the pomp: there was no television, no radio and no answering of the phone. When we were finished, there would be another foot buzz for the desert. After that, Sarah and I returned to Planet Earth while Mum and Dad would go to the living room to spend the rest of the evening in silence reading and listening to classical music.

It was during one of these dinners that they told me that a cinema college in the US or in the UK would be unaffordable. Despite the disappointment, the news was predictable. There were questions about the seriousness of my career choice: the ideas of advertising and of cinema were too alien for them, and my attitude at large did not help much. Maybe it would be better if I chose a proper profession such as engineering, law or medicine. My sister had chosen dentistry and was doing well at her university course, so why shouldn’t I do the same, seeing that I was effortlessly a good student?

Who needed an expensive American School with drunk pot smoking punks if I was not going to study cinema anyway? They put me back in the Brazilian system, the fifth school change in my short academic career. They had to do this as soon as possible because in order to get into a good Brazilian university, I had to pass a tough entry examination, the vestibular, for which the EA did not prepare.

The outcome wasn’t that bad: I could subvert their plans and study cinema in São Paulo later on. Of course, the Brazilian film industry did not come close to the British and the American ones but the subjects were the same and, with some talent and some effort, I could make everything work out.

Their approach to the new situation differed: the sermons about the importance of financial success became more and more pressurized. The conversations were conflictual and came down to two mature people with an agenda against one who was struggling to structure his own. They were trying to convince me about things that they did not understand but, the more I tried to explain my views, the worse the situation got. They were right to be worried – after all, that’s what parents do – but were wrong in their assumptions, at least with relation to advertising: this was a booming profession that paid very well.

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