When my grandfather traveled to the stars, I was no more than a teenager. I remember spending weekends with his other grandchildren at the house on Curuzu Street, in São Cristóvão, a working class neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, where he lived. On the same street, across the pavement, was his small jewellery factory. They say he was a goldsmith of rare talent, but my memory is limited to the running we used to do between the machines and the gallons of acid in the workshop, while he, worried, warned us about the dangers of an accident. I remember the guava tree at the back of the yard, with its sweet, pink-fleshed fruit, the lunches my grandmother used to make, and the games common to those of us who were children in the 1960s. At a certain point, he sold the house and the workshop and retired to a small mountain town. For various reasons, we saw little of each other until the news came that he had ended his cycle. After the funeral, my aunt gathered the eight grandchildren to make the division of the possessions left by her father. There was no money or properties. Just a few objects of personal use that he had used or collected throughout his life.
To make things easier and avoid possible disagreements, she divided the objects into eight lots. Each grandchild would be entitled to one. There would be a draw to determine the order of choice. She, a very dedicated and cultured teacher, explained that the word Sorteio (Portuguese for draw) originated in Greek. The suffix teo means god, and the prefix sor means choice. For the Greeks, lottery was like asking the gods to make the best decision. Satisfied with the method and the explanation, the grandchildren, all of us still teenagers, agreed.
The eight lots were thus distributed: an expensive Rolex watch; a gold ring, finely crafted by my grandfather, studded with a ruby; a box of precision instruments for goldsmiths, made in Switzerland; a portrait of my grandfather, the size of a notebook sheet, done in ink and signed by Pablo Picasso, a painter he had met on a trip to Barcelona; a rare pistol used in World War II; a millenary katana, traditional sword used by the legendary samurais of feudal Japan; a Super 8 camera, much used at the time by the Cinema Novo people, a cultural movement that revealed fabulous artists, based on a very simple concept, as all that was needed was “a camera in the hand and an idea in the head” to make a good film. The Super 8, being portable, was the machine they referred to. The last batch was a dozen vinyl records, or LPs, as we called them at the time, all by “out of fashion” singers. My generation “loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones”(as the popular song by the Italian Gianni Morandi said). I loved rock and listened to jazz hidden from my friends. We would spend evenings discussing the new bands and their varied styles. Those records of my grandfather’s were not part of the musical universe that I knew. Therefore, they were useless. No one in their right mind would take pleasure in listening to those boring, outdated songs. However, none of the grandchildren disagreed with the division of the lots. No one believed that they would be the last one drawn or whom the gods would leave behind.
I couldn’t believe it when I looked at those LPs on my lap, sitting inside a bus returning from Copacabana, where my aunt lived, to the house I resided in Estácio. The gods had abandoned me. Seven out of eight possibilities allowed a good financial return. However, to be the eighth choice out of eight possibilities, the one that was worth nothing, was the perfect representation of the tragedy so sung about in Ancient Greece. I cursed at the gods and lamented every second, until I got off in the middle of the journey, in the city centre. In Largo da Carioca there was a record store. Without a doubt, it was the best solution. I would rather have some money than a pile of rubbish. I was attended by a grumpy man with little inclination to conversation. He examined the records with disdain and offered me such a derisory sum that it annoyed me. I saw that in the same shop similar records were sold for ten times the amount he proposed. I refused to do business, more out of outrage than choice.
In Estácio, while walking alone in the street where I lived, I thought it would be more useful if I gave the records to those who appreciated that musical style. Not knowing to whom to offer them and ashamed for being something I didn’t want to do myself, I left the LPs on top of a trash bin on the other side of the pavement, where mister Manolo’s shop used to be. I left them neat and tidy, in case someone passing by would be interested in them. At home, I went to my little bedroom, put Charlie Parker on the record player, lay down on the bed and closed my eyes. I just wanted to forget a bad day.
Before long, my mother knocked on the bedroom door. Upon opening, she handed me the records and said, “Mister Manolo came to deliver them. He said they are yours”. Then she added: “Ah, he also told you to pay more attention”. She spun on her heels and went back to her many errands. I could not believe what was happening, the tragedy had become a curse. I even laughed at what, at that moment, I classified as an irony of fate.
Resigned, I put the records in the back of the closet, in a place where I couldn’t see them. For me, the inheritance left by my grandfather would be the happy days spent on Curuzu Street. This was very rich and it was enough for me. I considered it case closed and the days went on.
Little by little the news about how the other grandchildren had obtained good money by selling the legacies left by my grandfather arrived. I said nothing, but I was bitter at having been abandoned by fate. After some time, no one else spoke about it and the facts began to fade in my memory.
At that time my parents divorced. Disoriented, they went their separate ways and I found myself alone in the world, without direction. I still had a house, but I no longer had a family. I had a roof, but no shelter; I had bread, but no guidance. It took months to understand that I was lost. In this world there is the appearance and there is the truth.
I talked to friends, however, despite the good will of some, they had no words that could guide me, comfort me and pull me out of the darkness that I was. When we are lost our dreams are hidden. This is very bad and one must find them again at any cost. Dreams are worth lives.
Existential avalanches, although unwanted, are important because they show us all the strength that is in us and the immeasurable power of life. Avalanches do not destroy dreams, they only tear us away from the illusory dreams we follow and lead us to the real dream; to our life purpose, to dharma. Then the gifts are revealed and a new path presents itself. However, it takes willpower; it takes knocking on the door for it to open. Some allow themselves to be buried under the weight of misunderstanding, anger and regrets.
I spent days locked in my room listening to all the records I liked. All the pain in the world seemed to fit in me. In the depths of suffering, I remembered a photograph kept in the wardrobe, in which I was next to my parents. I had the urge to tear it up. Who knows, maybe it would help dissolve the suffering I was feeling? When I went to pick up the photo, it slipped through my fingers and fell to the bottom of the closet, among those discs left as an inheritance. For the first time it made me want to examine them more closely. Nothing had changed my initial impression; they were boring songs made by outdated artists. I went through them one by one. With the arrogance typical of those who don’t know the truth, I decided to give a chance to a singer whose cover photo showed a young man that I had heard of but had never been interested in. He had the name of a saint, not an artist; his name was Francisco. His surname reminded me of the invaders from the north, I said to myself: “Buarque de Holanda”. I put the LP in the record player. It was the beginning of an existential revolution.
I listened to the record until the needle of the record player ran out. Then I went in search of other works by this composer. I discovered that each song was equivalent to a novel of five hundred pages, such is the complexity hidden in simple stories, like, for example, Quem te viu, quem te vê. Or a philosophical and humanist treatise portrayed in Geni e o Zepelim, because of its beauty and depth, alerting us that we should not look at anyone as something, but as someone.
But after Francisco, I began to have contact with the spiritualist compositions of Gilberto Gil, when he said that to talk to God it is necessary to “untie the knots”. What can I say when I discovered, in the voice of Milton Nascimento, that I was also a “hunter of myself”? A range of Brazilian composers, as well as their wonderful interpreters, only a little older than me, emerged as planets and suns of a philosophical universe. In the soul there are many places to go to become enlightened.
The study of Philosophy and Metaphysics entered my life many years later, but the foundations of my own way of thinking were laid by this generation of fantastic artists, in the noblest sense of the word. It would take a book for me to be able to relate the beauty and the infinite possibilities offered by the music of this generation of singers and composers in my evolutionary process. In a very dark moment of my life, they were the map and the compass for me to rediscover the light and move on.
It was the greatest artistic movement in the history of humanity. Without undervaluing the greatness of the Renaissance or the importance of Impressionism, but if art is worth its transforming force, what can be said of Mestre-sala dos mares, Como os nossos pais, Olhos nos olhos, Refazenda, Anima and Quereres, just to mention a few of the thousand sacred songs. Yes, sacred is everything that makes us better.
An intangible heritage which deserves its due Louvre. One day they will have to pay the fair tribute. In my case, it all began with Francisco, whom I dare place alongside Shakespeare for portraying with incomparable mastery the conflicts and misunderstandings of the soul, in a simple and brilliant way. I know that many will disagree and will present their motives. Exposing myself to polemic, I remember another wonderful artist of this generation, the alchemist of the Recôncavo, Caetano Veloso and his non-linear poetry in the album Outras palavras: “it’s just a way of body, no one needs to accompany me”.
My grandfather’s inheritance is another one of the many stories I believed I had forgotten and, more seriously, without giving it the value it deserved for what it represented. I remembered it when, many years later, I was studying with Li Tzu, the Taoist master. In third poem of the Tao Te Ching, there is a verse in which Lao Tzu warns us about the apparent and true value of all things. Understanding the difference between them or perceiving truth beyond appearance is angular to the next steps on the Way.
Li Tzu asked me a rhetorical question, “Which is more valuable, gold or wood?” I didn’t have to say a word, he explained in poetry:
“A small wooden oar and
a gold necklace with precious stones
are at everyone’s disposal.
The people prefer the necklace;
They like the feeling of power it gives them.
The wise men choose the wooden oar;
then they can cross the river.”
Those LPs had an intrinsic and true value far beyond the extrinsic, apparent and financial value of the possessions inherited by the other grandchildren, since, like valuable oars, they helped me cross a stormy stretch of the river as no other of those possessions would allow me to. I am not sure if the ancient Greeks were right when they claimed that a lottery represents the choice of the gods. Today, I only know that the gods did not abandon me by leaving that last lot to me, precisely the one that nobody wanted.
Anyway, to understand the difference between the appearance and the truth contained in all things, there remains the advice left by mister Manolo from the shop when he gave me back the discs thrown in the rubbish: “You have to pay attention”.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.