clandestine friendship

LEDA CATUNDA, A Cachoeira, 1985, acrylic on plastics and fabric, 700x400 x 600cm


The story of a quasi-case, of a quasi-tale

In memory of Patrizia Piozzi

It was in a bar on the corner of Rua Joaquim Gustavo and Praça da República that we met for the last time. Nearby, on Rua Aurora, was the Avanço bookstore, a place that was frequented by students and left-wing intellectuals who went there in search of the latest publishing novelties, including and mainly Marxist books in Spanish from Latin American countries.

Some of those countries still breathed democracy or even rehearsed an experience of peaceful transition to socialism, as occurred in Allende's Chile, before the coup. In addition to being close to the bookshop, the bar was also a discreet place where you could talk in peace.

For about three years now, we had met periodically there or elsewhere, once a week or every fortnight to talk about our classes at Mobral, exchange books and discuss politics. That day I needed to tell her that it would no longer be possible to continue our meetings; the organization had ordered me to stop the meetings, the friendship. But how to tell him that? How to interrupt an old connection marked by so much empathy and affection?

A few days ago, at a meeting in a house in Praia Grande, he had asked the management of the organization he had just joined. I knew that my friend had connections with another Trotskyist group and, therefore, I could not fail to inform the leadership of the newly born group that I maintained a friendly relationship with her, that we met with some frequency.

My organization (or group) was of a bias; hers was from another. Both had a common origin in Trotskyism and professed themselves as such. But each group claimed only Trotskyist orthodoxy for itself, as, incidentally, usually happens to all of them. We were therefore political opponents; and that, as the leadership claimed, made it impossible for us to continue our meetings, our friendship.

The newly created group in which I had joined had arisen as a result of a split, a split in another organization, of similar tendency and of which I was not yet formally a part, although I was actively campaigning under its influence.

I had been active in the student movement for over a year and had been an avid reader of Trotsky for much longer. I realized that among my student militancy companions, especially those who showed more skill and perspicacity, assuming leadership roles, something was not going well. It wasn't obvious at all, but you could tell there was tension in the air, something latent between the lines of the arguments. It all became clear to me when, just like that, one of them offered me a ride.

He wasn't one of those easy friendship people, who just wanted to talk pleasantries, strengthen friendship. Besides, we lived on almost opposite sides of town. I thought to myself, there's something! I accepted the ride and, still not campus from the university, he stopped the car to give a ride to another militant who, it seemed to me, was already waiting for him. It was a colleague I knew by sight at student meetings; he was a person of presence, let's say, remarkable, at events and student meetings.

During our journey, talking about pleasantries, both were melting with sympathy towards me, which until then did not seem to be a common attitude in either of them. I was even more embarrassed than I already was.

We leave the university town towards Praça Panamericana, go up Rua São Gualter and turn right at Praça Valdir Azevedo, where we park.

The first of them, the one who had offered the ride, then told me that they would both like to talk to me, which is why we stopped there. He then asked me if I knew there was an organization behind those student activities. He told him no, but he sensed that there was something else I didn't know.

At this point, the two would take turns talking and informing me about the existence of a Trotskyist organization, of which they were a part. They also told me that they had observed my role in the student movement, my affinity with the positions of their organization; and, therefore, they thought that I had full conditions to participate in it as an organized militant. And that the purpose of that conversation with me was to invite me to join that organization.

They explained to me, then, the conditions and requirements to be a member of the same and if I agreed… They gave me some time, not much, to think before giving an answer, which turned out to be positive.

So, a few days and a few meetings after joining that organization, I was in the position of telling my friend that our meetings could not continue. But I didn't have to say much because, in addition to being understanding, she understood the subject more than I did.

After all, through her I got to know Trotsky, his books; she began to lend me the texts of the Russian revolutionary, when she realized my internationalist perception of social struggles during a conversation we had on the occasion of the coup in Chile and the consequent death of Salvador Allende.

The first text she lent me was a xeroxed copy of The Permanent Revolution – in Castilian, a language with which I was not familiar. But she soon told me that for someone who knew Portuguese it wasn't difficult; in fact, it was even easier for me than Italian, my mother tongue. To start with, I just needed to know how to identify some keywords that were different from their Portuguese counterparts. As strike, for example, which means strike. Besides, it was only for me to start reading that in a short time I would familiarize myself with Castilian and I would feel at ease.

And so it was; from the second or third text, I read with some aplomb.

Since that day of almost farewell, therefore, our encounters became, for a long time, just casual. At the end of our student days, both graduated, professional life took us to different places. We didn't see each other for over a decade.

Until one day, by chance, we met at the university. Coincidence: we were both working at the same university as professors, albeit in different units. We talked a lot that day, had a few coffees. We talk about the past, old memories.

We remember how we met during a Mobral coordination meeting, in a warehouse near Avenida Dr. Arnaldo, on Rua Galeno de Almeida. During the meeting, a conversation arose about workers and unions, in which we both participated. Her accent caught my attention and after the meeting I struck up a conversation with her. I asked where she was from. “Italy”, she answered me. She was studying Philosophy at USP; I was preparing for the economics entrance exam.

As she lived in Perdizes and I was going to visit some friends who lived in those parts, we walked together, and during the journey we talked about politics and about our classes in Mobral, how we prepared them, until we were close to her house. In our classes, we both tried to awaken the students' critical conscience.

She told me how she used newspaper articles to teach them to read and to discuss the country's political situation; I told her how I taught them arithmetic, using the minimum wage to show how insufficient it was to meet the essential needs of a family. Since that day, we have been friends.

On one occasion, a bizarre episode occurred in connection with our meetings that is worth remembering. We set up a meeting at Parque da Água Branca to discuss a text. Arriving there, we didn't find a free bench where we could sit; so we decided to sit on the grass. We sat there for a while, discussing the text; then we said goodbye and I went straight back to my house. When I got there, everyone knew that I had been to Parque da Água Branca: “laying on the grass with a blonde”. Whoever saw us there had a fertile imagination…

I also reminded her that it was with her that I went to a Chinese restaurant for the first time. One day we met for our now regular political-pedagogical conversations and she told me that she hadn't had lunch yet and asked me if I liked Chinese food. I didn't know, I told him. Then she invited me to have lunch together, but I told her I couldn't because she didn't have any money. And she offered to pay the bill. So we went to a restaurant on Rua Fernão Dias, near Largo de Pinheiros; there we eat chess chicken with peanuts. I thought the combination was weird, but I liked it. The only Chinese food I knew at that time were pastries, because I had worked in a pastry shop in Lapa when I was a teenager. Since that chess chicken I became a fan of Chinese cuisine.

In this reunion we also talked a lot about politics. The situation had changed, the country was redemocratized; and, at least in part, our political positions have also changed. But our friendship remained the same, there was still a lot of mutual empathy. Until his death in 2016.

I close this narrative by remembering a sentence that her mother, elderly but still strong, pronounced next to her coffin, while caressing her face: “My genius piccolo!".

* Joshua Pereira da Silva is a retired professor at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Critical Sociology and the Crisis of the Left (intermediate).

Originally published in the book Almost tales, almost cases.

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