Memoirs of a Militia Captain

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

The Usurper's Giro d'Italia of the Planalto Palace

Of all the accumulated gaffes of the Usurper of the Palacio do Planalto in Europe – from his self-satisfied solitude to the mention of the Pizza Tower – none impressed me as much as the one about the stepping on Angela Merkel's foot.

Her phrase – “it could only be you” – was a slap he didn't hear; or if he heard, he did not listen; if he listened, he did not evaluate. Because, in the sequence, came the biggest gaffe.

He said, back in Brazil, that he was impressed by Merkel's good humor, and that he would have liked to have danced with her. This is how he interpreted the episode of the stepping on the foot of the projected Dulcinea.

At the time I remembered the novel by Manuel Antonio de Almeida, Memorias de um sargento de milicias, published in 1852.

In the novel, the protagonist, who some critics consider a rogue, is the son of a bailiff, Leonardo Pataca, and Maria da Hortaliça, an inhabitant of a saloia, who live in the outskirts of Lisbon, who come to Rio de Janeiro, “in the time of the King ”.

The courtship of these two began on the ship on which they were coming from Portugal to Brazil, when the Pataca stepped on the foot of Hortaliça. In the novel, it appears that the stepping was intentional. In Rome, it would have been the result of chance, as the Usurper walked with his back to the footstep. Better: Freud explains the slippery act that does not fail. Merkel turned the banal and awkward episode into what is said in German to be a fate, a destiny: “it could only be you”.

I suspect that it was this phrase that awakened the dancing instinct in the Usurper. If, on the one hand, it points out clumsiness, on the other, it opens up interpretation to the clumsiness. In the novel, there was no other: when stepping on the foot of Hortaliça, Pataca started a chain of events that, between betrayals, disagreements, persecutions, misfortunes, happiness and a lot of favor, would lead to a happy ending: his son's wedding , Leonardinho, the militia sergeant, with the beautiful Luizinha.

The same must have crossed the mind of the hapless-happy Usurper at the Rome meeting. After so much misfortune, disconsolation, loneliness, rejection, suffered contempt, he found a foothold, which earned him half an hour of conversation and a further dancing fantasy. Better, impossible. He laughs best who dances last.

Words are a weight in people's lives. For the fact is, the Usurper danced in Rome. At the expense of taxes paid by the Brazilian people, but who cares? He did nothing useful there, except being out of the country when one breathes, though I feel the shame he is incapable of feeling. He received the title of honorary citizen of Italian neo-fascism. He honored the absent soldiers at the Pistoia cemetery, in the company of the leader of the Italian neo-fascists. He honored them by spitting on their memory, smearing them, however absent, with his distaste for democracy. He ate salami on the street because he can't go into restaurants.

In the face of all this, what is stepping on someone else's foot? A hope, even more at the foot of the Grande Dame of the European Union that still recognized, I insist: "it could only be you". Let's face it: for an unhappy candidate for Romeo and disinherited by luck, Juliet would do no better good.

I would give a finger – it doesn't even need to be stepped on – to know what Merkel is thinking about all this. Besides probably getting arnica on your big toe.

* 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).

 

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