It's time!

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

José Cardoso Pires and the 25th of April

"It's the time!" (Fernando Pessoa, in Message).

1.

In mid-1975, the new Portuguese government sent a mission of writers to Brazil to “explain” what the Carnation Revolution was, on April 25th. There were five or six writers who visited universities and other Brazilian cultural institutions.

They also went to the USP Literature course, which was then located in the “old” CRUSP, as an occupation force to prevent students from returning to their residential complex. Furthermore, there was another idea underlying that “occupation”: that of creating an Institute of Letters, an idea at that time sponsored mainly by a group of right-wing professors, the so-called “Bando da Lua”.

This idea had been sinking since an assembly of professors, held the previous year, in which the proposal to remain in what was left of the Faculty of Philosophy, dismembered by the 1970 reform, had narrowly won. But it had not disappeared from the horizon. It would even be reborn later, under the aegis of other debates. But this is another story. Let's return to the Portuguese.

Of the group, I was most attached, for different reasons, to Ernesto de Melo e Castro, tall, elegantly thin, bearded, who, thanks to emotional reasons, would remain in Brazil; and above all to José Cardoso Pires, short, with a strong and stocky physique, a great lover of cognacs and the like.

José Cardoso was then 50 years old. He would still live to be 75, succumbing to a stroke shortly after his birthday, celebrated in July. He was already a famous writer; he had been persecuted during the Salazar dictatorship for his connections with the Communist Party, from which he would soon distance himself.

In Letters, the writers fulfilled their mission in the morning. I went to watch your lecture with my students. I was 28 years old and completing my master's degree on the theater of Qorpo-Santo. He was part of the faculty at the Faculty since 1972, at the invitation of professor Décio de Almeida Prado, to share classes with him on Brazilian dramaturgy.

Due to elective affinities and on the recommendation of mutual friends, in the afternoon I went to meet José Cardoso in a bar in the center of São Paulo. We stayed sipping cognacs until dusk and he, with prose of fine flavor, narrated to me his participation in the events of April 25th in Lisbon, the previous year.

Without being able to reproduce his Portuguese accent, I will rely on what remains of his curious narrative in my memory, opening quotation marks and remembering with emotion the friendship that brought us together.

2.

He told me:

“On the night of the 24th, I was at home when, at around ten o'clock, the phone rang. I answered, and heard the voice of an old friend from the Communist Party, who had been living underground for some time. She said to me: 'Are you there, José'? 'I am,' I replied. She then said to me: 'José, the time has come!' And she hung up!

Stunned, I told Maria Edite, my wife, what had happened. She asked me: 'what did she mean by this: the time has come?'. 'I don't know', I replied, 'you'll see they'll come and arrest me'.

I continued: 'Maria, please prepare a suitcase for me: some socks, a toothbrush, a shirt, that sort of thing.' So she did, and we waited, unable to sleep. After midnight, they knocked on the door, directly inside the building. 'The time has come!', I said to Maria, and opened the door. I came face to face with two soldiers, a sergeant with the chevrons and a soldier with a rifle on his shoulder, behind him. I repeated to Maria: 'the time has come'!

To my surprise, the sergeant came in and gave me a hug, saying: 'yes, comrade, the time has come! This is a democratic revolution, and we came to get you to take you to television to make a statement'. I was banned from going on radio and television and giving interviews. I was suspicious, but I went. After all, they were armed. I said goodbye to Maria Edite and went down to the street with the two of them. An Army truck was waiting for us and when I climbed into its body I recognized some comrades who were there among other soldiers. I asked one of them what was happening. 'I don't know', he told me, 'I just know that the time has come!'. And off we went to the television station.

There they took us – there were about ten or twelve of us – to a room, with a table in the center and a bottle of whiskey on top of it. And we stayed there for hours, talking and not knowing what was happening. Until at dawn, I pretended to go to the bath room and managed to escape from the building.

I looked for a phone booth and called my wife. 'Look'. She told him, 'I'm going to take a walk downtown to find out what's going on and I'll come home. I should get there around ten o'clock.'

It was crazy. I was next to Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho when he arrived at the political police building, PIDE, to release the prisoners and arrest the prison guards, who had shot at the crowd. They killed some people and injured others. They were the only victims in the revolution'.

I only returned home three days later. And my daughter hasn’t come back to this day.”

We still talk about Brazil and the hope that the Carnation Revolution gave us. We said goodbye emotionally.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/48UDikx]


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