Sunday, March 7, 2010

Chapter 8


"Forgive me, the days were like this."
- Vitor Martins
(Aos nossos filhos - To Our Children)

At the beginning of '77, Elis became pregnant for the third time. She took Falso Brilhante out of circulation and bought a new house. She went to live in the heights of Cantareira (1), São Paulo, far from the pollution, close to the countryside, without a telephone, with her husband, her two sons and a Saint Bernard dog. Peace in the mountains. But down below, in the city, the other side of Elis' family was at war.

Elis had formed a company, Trama, for the production of her shows. It had three partners. Rogério was executive director. Romeu worked in the company, but was not a partner. In fact, Elis and Rogério were their father's boss. It was clear that this wouldn't work out. Rogério:

- I started to clash with him. Something to do with the father being the son's employee. I was the boss and he wouldn't obey me, doing things his own way. He didn't have the slightest respect for me. I had to dismiss him. Elis wasn't able to secure his position. They never spoke again.

Never again indeed. Elis could be really cold when she wanted. When she moved to Cantareira, she stopped paying the rent of her parents' house and Romeu became unemployed. With the money earned from the sale of one of Elis' apartments, Romeu bought a bar in the Indianópolis district, the same area he lived in until he died, in 1984. The same one where dona Ercy works until today.

In Cantareira, Elis took great pleasure in cooking for her friends, in receiving well, showing off her little latifúndio (2), three square kilometres with a pre-fabricated house below street-level. Elis loved to plant things, play with the dog, swim in the pool. She enjoyed the pregnancy for Maria Rita, shuttling between home and work. With the pregnancy and the tiredness accumulated from Falso Brilhante, she didn't think about getting back up on stage. She convinced her husband to do a show with just him and the musicians. Elis would work as assistant director. The chosen director was Oswaldo Mendes, journalist, actor and theatre director. By the end of the run of Falso Brilhante, César Mariano had composed several songs and themes related to São Paulo. Elis convinced César to use this material in a show. She wanted him to show off his personal work.

Not only hers. Oswaldo Mendes recalls:

- She respected the hierarchy very well. Like a musician respects the maestro. She noted everything, attended all the rehearsals. She was very disciplined. One day, she sent me a note:

"Forgive me, but there isn't anything left in the house and I have to go to the supermarket".

At the end of the rehearsals, Elis went from assistant to director, because Oswaldo Mendes was forced to replace the actress Lígia de Paula in the interpretation of the texts that he had written for the show São Paulo - Brasil. Few people went to the immense Bandeirantes Theatre, the same one where the couple had previously beaten all ticket sales records. Falso Brilhante had played for a year and two months.

Seven months pregnant, Elis played a single show in São Paulo. It was at the Anhembi Theatre, a promotion for the show O Fino da Música (The Best Of Music), of Jovem Pan Radio, a show directed by José Eduardo Homem de Mello, also known as Zuza. He told me that Elis had donated her salary to the new artists that participated in the show.

Maria Rita was born in September 1977. Two months later, Elis out on a new show in Porto Alegre. She had a contract with the Leopoldina Theatre and went there to carry out her obligations. She didn't want to just put on a recital, but wanted to invent something. And, as always, she picked partners suited to her inventions. This time, she didn't go looking for them in the theatre world, but in the world of music: the lyricists Aldir Blanc and Maurício Tapajós.

The show Transversal Do Tempo (Time Transversal) was pretentious. Elis told me in an interview published in the magazine Veja, in October 1978 - when the show finally began in São Paulo - that the idea had come to her in a taxi, in the Anhangabaú Valley, during a student manifestation.

In the confusion, cars weren't moving. And she was there, pregnant, locked up in a taxi, waiting:

- You imagine a way out, but the traffic light didn't turn green, what could we do? We were sitting in a taxi, during a time transversal, waiting. No one to ask you anything, no one to give you otheir opinions... The anxiety, the claustrophobia, and also the various escapes are in the repertory.

The alienation that one can live through during the goings-on of any day of the week. As a matter of fact, it isn't a show made for dancing. I warn the dancers that they will feel very singled out, but that they won't be able to sue me. If they want to attend, they have been warned. Also, I'm not saying that the whole show will be that way, or that all other shows will be of the same format.

But I ask forgiveness, using the words of Vitor Martins: "Forgive me, the days were like this" (3). From the moment I realized that my art had to be linked to the reality that I live in, minimal as it may be, I lament immensely the stern face, the lack of space, the lack of friends (4). I was also not prepared for that, and what had been given to me to digest. I would have liked it to have been different. But like the majority of people, I am also waiting for the policeman to change the colour of the traffic light. Meanwhile, I am singing a warning... the political party, the MDB (5) - with which you say that you are in opposition, chicken-out, and forty-one leave the room, hide under the carpet or in the bathroom. That is hogwash when you are at the eve of November 15th (6) and have to vote for that party again. Now, am I going to vote for the other? No, you vote for the same and it's the same old thing again. That is the impasse, the lack of choice, the lack of space, of air, of trust, of relaxation.

Elis was very articulate. She knew how to present and defend her ideas. Sometimes, she could pass as a profound expert on subjects that she had barely heard other people talk about. But she always seemed to have her feelers out. The following day, she was quite capable of teaching to the master what she had learned from him the day before, and with a disconcerting lack of shame. People would think: could it be that she really believes this? Today, I am quite certain that Elis believed her own stories and fantasies. The people who gravitated around her recognized her power of seduction. It was quite disconcerting to hear different facts and truths every five minutes.

Our interview took place in the house of Walter and Orfila Negrão, in the Perdizes district. It was a sort of second home for Elis. With no telephone at Cantareira, it was in the house of friends that she would receive messages and telephone calls. At that time, Orfila was changing assignments, but continued working with Elis. Now it was her that took care of her friend's personal business. It was her that sold the house in Brooklin (7), who bought the apartment on Paulista Avenue - where Trama set up their office - and who invested Elis' money.

And Elis occupied so much space in that house, that she provoked the jealousy of the couple's oldest daughter, besides perturbing her routine. She put on parties, barbecues, meetings of the recording company, collective interviews, and would forget to advise the owners of the house.

Although very much disturbed, because he was working out of his home, Walter Negrão was delighted with his guest. He adored talking with her and, in a way, felt himself gratified with the pleasure of being part of her intimate company.

During the interview, I asked Elis something which intrigued me: what were the impositions from top to bottom that she complained so much about. She said:

- I say that because when I arrived on the scene I was twenty years old and was not allowed, at that decisive time, to do the mischievous things normal for an adolescent. I was already saddled with an extremely violent overload, which I can maybe bear today, at thirty-three, because I can impose some conditions. It was a violence, but if I was committed, it was because I allowed it.

In the end, one hand washes the other. And the different phases through which I passed were obviously determined by a ripening process and by occasional difficult times. I started with the principle that one cannot organize lucid acts with a mixed-up head. Then again I think that I cast my fate to the wind at a determining period of my life. But today, when I am in action, agitated, feeling the need to grow, to create, to recapture and initiate a series of things, it's impossible to make judgments. I heard people saying that Chico Buarque was already burned out by the time he was twenty-five.

One of the most interesting things that she told me that day was about that phase during which she fell in love with her own voice:

- I mean, an cross-eyed person, short, a little chubby, nothing going for her, and suddenly becomes Cinderella. And Cinderella with a pumpkin at midnight and a fairy godmother - which was TV Record. O Fino da Bossa. But people don't wait and see, don't forgive childishness. That is a real shame. I saw myself, from one hour to the next, in the living-room with the prince, and it could even be that the crystal slipper would fit my foot. And a complaint that I have is that they didn't even leave me the time to enjoy that wonderful moment. There started a strong polemic around me - on things that I had really done or that I was said to have done. And I curled up into a ball, confused, and to organize everything again took five, six years. If the pressure hadn't been so strong, maybe I could have passed through that phase in a year and a half instead of five. Very young people, when they feel greatly pressured, seem to insist on repeating the error in order to show they are the ones who are right. And I was like that not only with my career, but with my personal life as well. Until I grew up, became a mother, matured. Then I didn't have a mother any more, I was a mother. Then and there I gave myself the right to administer my life and do whatever I wanted to, from sleeping with whoever I felt like, to working with whoever I chose. And until very recently, to control myself, professionally-speaking, to be my own boss. I think that this process, even if slow, is a chance that should be given to everyone and anyone. Because, in the end, who hasn't given in to their blunders?

The blunders of Elis. In 1972, during the Semana da Pátria (Patriot Week) (8), Elis was invited - or compelled - to sing at the Olimpíadas do Exército (Army Olympics). She sang.

She sang the national anthem. She was criticized by the Left, but only one person manifested publicly against her: the cartoonist Henfil (9). In Pasquim (10), Henfil buried Elis twice in the cemetery of the living dead of Caboco Mamadô (11).

According to Ronaldo Bôscoli's testimony, Elis was forced to sing at that olympiad under threat of prison. She had said, in an interview in Holland, that Brazil was governed by "gorillas".

The same Elis told me that story, augmented, romanticized, where she assumed the role of a heroine dominated by the armed forces. When she saw her name in Henfil's cemetery of the living dead, she became cross. In an interview in Jornal do Brasil, she scolded Henfil and other cartoonists. Years after the argument, Henfil tells his version of the story:

- It was somewhat like today. Suddenly, artists are rounded up by the government, only that - I didn't know - under orders, threats, to do a campaign during the Olympics week. What I saw, in fact, was the television commercial. I saw Roberto Carlos saying: "Let's all go there, people, and sing the national anthem". And suddenly, Elis appeared directing a mountain of singers, dressed like a maestro, directing the national anthem. At that time we were at Pasquim and I, more than the others, counterattacked anyone who espoused the dictatorship, or the dictator on duty.

And I returned twice to the subject, since she had talked about me in the Jornal do Brasil. I only regretted having buried two people - Clarice Lispector (12) and Elis Regina. Some tried to force me to exhume Carlos Drummond de Andrade. But I didn't regret that. At that time, for me, famous people were pictures in magazines, photographs. And I was criticizing that. I didn't realize the weight of my hand. I know that I had a very heavy hand, but I didn't realize that the type of criticism that I did was like sticking the finger in the wound. When we met years later, through Ione Cirillo, we went to eat in a café near the Bandeirantes Theatre and she made a point to sit in front of me. All the musicians were there and all of a sudden she started to talk: "Hey, man, I love you so much, man, I like you so much".

I didn't like this thing about 'man', because I didn't like the way she talked, I never liked it. I was therefore irritated and said: "Elis, what is it that you are trying to say?" Then she started to cry. Everyone at the table stared into their plate, because they all knew what I had done, and I was the only one who didn't. She said: "Hey, man, you buried me", and she started to scold me saying that that had been a cowardly act, that she had been threatened. Well, there were two messages there. One of them was the explanation that she was giving me as to why she was crying. The underlying message was: "Gee, I like you so much, I identify myself so much with what you do, with the Fradinho (13) ".

Here was a person who was declaring a profound friendship for me. I didn't say anything. I never went to tell Elis that I didn't have to know the particulars of her life to justify her attitude at that moment. Elis never asked me if I was attacking her because she was defending a military regime that wanted to kill my brother. No journalist in the world had to ask Mengele if he had a toothache when he ordered millions of jews to be killed. This material can come out in the second notebook, after. I decided to swallow it. She stopped talking, understanding my underlying message: "Ok, Elis, I concede".

In fact, I used affectionate sweet talk in a complicated language, but she understood and we started to talk. The rest of the table, César Mariano, Ione Cirillo, the musicians, lifted their eyes from their plates and dined together. She started to talk only with me. She talked about a bunch of things and from time to time would change the subject. Then I listened with a frown and she changed. I know that many people who lived through that story of the Army Olympics did so independently of motives and of military pressure placed on them from behind. Of course, the military were putting pressure on the whole country. I knew that, the military had previously censored my newspaper, a physical presence, every day.

By the way, it was the military who censured the cartoon of Elis where it was written 'virundum, virundum, virundum'. The reference to the music couldn't be published. And it was exactly this that I was criticizing: if people didn't resist to the pressure, how were we ever going to secure this country? So, I was one of those that were confronting. Then I had every right to criticize a person who gave herself to television. I didn't change in any way and she perceived that. But she made me interested in a friendship from then on. And, even before, why should I stop liking a person just because she was frank? So, we re-inaugurated the relationship and I was curious. There was an affectionate thing at work in all of this. And since I've been a child, I disassemble watches. Curiosity is a brutal thing with me. I was curious with her, but at the same time, I was very afraid, because I knew that she was an affectionate volcano, and that whoever entered would be smothered. I realized that those people were taken in by her volcano, and they were also weak persons. I started to get closer to her. With great care. And she started to call me a lot to help her plan something or another in the show, her television show, on Bandeirantes. I planned a portion of things, but Guga (14) ordered everything to be taken out. We worked together talking about the strikes, we had made up a code language in order to talk about elections and such things. Finally, I started to participate and she seemed to want a greater relationship than I wanted.

She wanted me to be able to rationalize with her on specific things. Incidentally, on the day that the show on Bandeirantes went on the air, she went to my sister's house to watch it. And surprised, my sister called me to tell me that Elis was there. She became extremely timid, shrunk in her chair. She looked like a little rat under a blanket. From then on, we started to have a quasiprofessional relationship from time to time. I would give her tips, but she never gave me the chance to show my ideas. And then we lived this dual life: conversing in the most open and creative way possible, and feeling incapable to bring these things forward. And she - I noted, still had a noticeable preoccupation with the burial incident - tried to prove to me that she had changed. That she continued to be an ideologically trustworthy person. And she was using me in this way, without ever having come close and saying: "Henfil, what side are you on?"

As if I was some kind of inspector who determined who is not from the Left, she wanted to prove to me that her behaviour continued to be on the Left. Then she gave me money: including from the show that she did at the Canecão Theatre, so that I could deliver it to strikers in São Bernardo. She did this to me on two other occasions. And many times I had to leave Rio de Janeiro and find a way to get to São Bernardo. To avoid something, I asked for a receipt. She overheard that a petition was circulating, and asked me to arrange for her to sign. But I don't like petitions.

"In fact, I realized that Elis didn't want to have an affair with me. She wanted a true affectionate relationship with me. It was her desire to have a brother, whom she could trust, and to whom she could say what she would normally say to a female friend, but as it seems that there isn't much fidelity between women... When someone starts to give you a certain superiority, it's because they don't really want to have a romantic relationship with you. And she wanted this with me: someone with whom she could talk about any subject. I have to talk so much about myself because she chose me to be something that she wanted. She wanted many brothers. As far as dating, she dated people from the northern zone. She dated anyone who represented a certain risk, who wasn't from the same kind of makeup as she was. Moreover, she wanted many brothers who could help her at the times when the people from the north zone would come on strong. In addition, who could invent things with her that she couldn't invent with people from the northern zone. Various men built a very paternal relationship with her. Ademar Guerra was like that. She wanted to get in trouble in the street in order that we would later come and save her. One had to be much older, much more easy-going, in order to shelter her in one's home when she got beat up by her lover.

"She called me at home every day, to talk about different subjects. From a certain moment, I didn't have any more reasons to answer the phone. We were on the phone three, four hours. I started to do my cartoons with her on the telephone, and the quality started to go down. Then I began to stay far away from telephone calls. One day, she called, I picked up the telephone and said: 'Oh, how sad, I want to see you, could we get together tomorrow?' She set a meeting for the following day. She didn't go. She died two months later."

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Copyright Regina Echeverria – Robert St-Louis

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