Km 63

El Lissitzky (November 23, 1890 – December 30, 1941), Sketch for a poster, 1920.
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By AFRANIO CATANI*

Commentary on Geraldo Ferraz's book of short stories.

I made my debut as a columnist in the earth is round on Oct 17, 2019, writing about romance doramundo (1956), by Geraldo Ferraz (1905-1979), former journalist, socialist, art critic, writer, activist, companion of Patrícia Galvão (1910-1962), to Pagu. On that occasion, he stated that, since he was young, he had worked in typography and started revising books and newspapers, joining in 1927 in the Night Diary. “In addition to being a reporter, he was involved in the dissemination of modernist ideas and became secretary of the Anthropophagy Journal in its second phase, in 1929, living closely with Oswald de Andrade, Raul Bopp, Tarsila do Amaral and Pagu”.

Geraldo Ferraz worked for several newspapers and magazines in São Paulo, Santos and Rio de Janeiro, writing about politics and culture and intensifying “his activity as an art critic, participating in selection and award juries, in addition to being part of the international jury of São Paulo Biennials”. From 1956 to 1971 he was a critic of the newspaper The State of S. Paul and founder of the Union of Professional Journalists of the State of São Paulo. Author, too, of After all (1983) Retrospective. Figures, roots and problems of contemporary art (1975), from a fabulous study on the engraver Lívio Abramo (1955), from Warchavchik, Introduction to Modern Architecture in Brazil (1925 to 1940), free wega in art (1954-1974), about the work of the designer Wega Nery Gomes Pinto (1912-2007), his partner in recent years.

In 1979 Geraldo Ferraz published Km 63, gathering some of his short stories. I don't know exactly what day the little book came out, but the fact is that he died that same year; perhaps he has not even seen the final product of his effort which, it is no secret to those who knew him, resulted from exhaustive writing and rewriting.

Geraldo Ferraz, in “Justificativa & Acreditamento”, expresses himself as sincerely as possible, which was one of his recognized characteristics, about the nine stories: “irregular, uneven, invented, sometimes mortared into true landscapes of place and time, they diverge some in substance, others in form, these works by km 63”. He goes on, speaking of the title of the volume, saying that it “remained symbolic, the mark of the stage that represented an obedience to the continuity of life”. He says that some of the stories “came from the journalistic chronicle, from the everyday conversation, expanding into disparate stories – some almost left themselves in the told document, naked episodes, without further treatment to lengthen them.

Many were abandoned along the way and maybe one day they will return to revision, if they don't fall into oblivion”. However, he concludes that this kind of preface is not intended to be “self-criticism, but a necessary self-justification, given the sheer number of pages; after all, if there is inequality, nothing to explain, there is inequality because there really is”, as anyone can verify this, since “there are some narrated attempts here, mostly inexcusable” (quotes from p. 4).

Geraldo Ferraz's language is sophisticated, erudite, arriving in several passages not owing much to the good textures of baroque origins. The first story is “Memories of the family, document” (p. 7-21); the second, “Appendix to the Summary” (p. 22-29), followed by “Yellow Kitten” (p. 30-35), “Ilinx” (p. 36-44), “Waiting Compass” (p. 45-50) and my favorite, “Faithful Transfer of Water and Hunger” (p. 51-56). The work “Fisherman's story” (p. 57-75), “Remo, the fugitive” (p. 76-88) and “Soldier's story” (p. 89-109) are completed.

Given the impossibility of exploring the delicious and creative inequalities present in all reports, I will focus on the wonderful “Faithful translation of water and hunger”. There are only four pages and 10 more lines, as the tale, like the others, includes a drawing by Wega. The writer responds to a wish of a northeastern migrant from Paulista, Pernambuco, Zeca, so that he, a storyteller, “if he had time”, “put this tale into words”. What is the central object of this narrative? It is Zeca himself who answers: “that thing about lack of restraint when you drink a lot of water after a lot of need for water, and that other thing about hunger that you can't eat too much, because men burst” (p. 56).

But I think I got a little ahead of myself. Geraldo Ferraz goes on to say, in the words of Zeca de Paulista, that these stories “only happen to those without a threshing floor or on the brink who throw themselves from one end of the world to another end of the world wanting to live, like me, Mingote. It is, after all, something that only happens to people like us, unimportant people” (p. 56).

Zeca says he did his military service and the lieutenant “didn't even look like a person”, due to the way he imposed physical exercises on the “recolutas”. Everyone “put their tongues out”, “nobody has spit for a long time”, because thirst made their tongues stick to the roof of their mouths, and they went up the hill and ran, for five hours. That's when the lieutenant remembered that they could stop for refreshments. “But the order he gave was severe: 'No one can drink more than a finger of water' (…) The lieutenant said that all of us were obeyed. Then he counted minutes on the clock. Water finger had already dried in the mouth, right? Some water finger didn't even reach the throat. then, after five minutes, the lieutenant orders; 'You can drink two fingers of water'. Oh joy. He's already wet the gogó inside. But it was still little, if it was little. Lieutenant continued harrassing people. Another five minutes, the lieutenant orders us to drink half a glass of water. So we were already enjoying that thirst quenching by intervals. Another five minutes go by and the lieutenant: 'Everyone can drink as much water as they want!'” (p. 52).

Zeca said that he took “that thing with sips of water on and I never rushed”. He said he remembered the lieutenant's order. This is where his friend Mingote enters the story, mentioned two paragraphs earlier: “If Mingote had had this proof, he would certainly still be alive” (p. 52). Both worked together in a foundry in São Paulo, under the most terrible conditions: “That was the same as dying” (p. 52-53). Zeca left Pernambuco, his mother and sister, sold what little he had there, closed an account at the foundry, took a ship, worked on it – “I did run away” (p. 53). He got a job, got married, had a little daughter, couldn't go to his beloved mother's funeral and said he cried a lot when Mingote died, “but it was a different pain” (p. 54).

I won't say more, otherwise it loses the fun. But the stories of Mingote and Zeca ended up, in another record, being confirmed for me by an Italian gentleman who was a boy during the Second World War. On a long road trip, he told me about the famine he experienced during five harsh years, in contrast to the abundance he experienced with the arrival of the Allied forces in his country. I think this could be the subject of another article...

I would like to add, before concluding, a curious fact: Geraldo Ferraz wrote the presentation of Km 63 in “Guarujá, Ilhaverde”, which was the house he and Wega lived in on Praia de Pernambuco, on the coast of São Paulo, with the architecture signed by Gregori Warchavchik (1896-1971), in an allusion to one of the texts by Victor Hugo (1802- 1885). The house continues to exist and, in July 2022, when I was there, it was being renovated.

*Afranio Catani, a retired full professor at the Faculty of Education at USP, is currently a senior professor at the same institution. Visiting professor at UERJ, Duque de Caxias campus.

Reference


Geraldo Ferraz. Km 63: 9 uneven tales. São Paulo: Ática (with 9 drawings by Wega), 110 pages, 1979 (https://amzn.to/3QWCpSb).

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