Today I had some time with V. We had arranged a day in his library situated on the second floor above his house. Henrique drove me to the house in his cab. The traffic was light, possibly due to the bank workers strike and little money in the street. We got there early, just after 8:30. Henrique split and I sat on a low cement wall reading my GRE book for thirty minutes waiting for nine A.M.
I was lead into the living room, greeted Mrs. and given some cool water to drink. He came in shortly afterwords and we spoke briefly. He shared the Sunday food section with me and then he probed me for details. “Did I realize that I would need to have an adequate bibliography of Brazilian Culinary Books to begin my work with? I could supplement it with titles of similar significance from Portugal or Africa.”
He cautioned me about the delicacy of his health and stamina. “Now we can begin.”
We discussed regionality in Brazilian cooking and I made the error of paraphrasing a previous statement, substituting “typical” for regional. I quickly learned the etymology of typical, type, to typos from the Greek. I also realized how tiptoeing through word mine fields might become a necessity. Tread lightly, but with assurance.
We ran between an old fashioned apprenticeship, light banter, questions of intent, rootedness and jazz. He adored Chet Baker, among others. We both had a strong taste for Opera, Blues and African music. Some of that would unfold later.
The library was accessed by an external wrap around stair. There were windows on two sides. Full bookcases, mostly the gunmetal painted steel jobs seen in supply offices and medical equipment closets filled every wall. More books were stacked across three wooden tables. Within in moments of putting down his cane, he was picking up book after book and detailing key aspects of the story offered in each.
I was bringing my chair closer to his, looking over titles from Senegal to Goa. New stacks were growing. I wished then that I had taped this time. He moved so quickly for someone who truly did not seem as well as he could be, so animated, in the zone that I was taken aback when he stood up and suddenly seemed wounded.
I checked myself for a moment, had I miss stepped, spoken out of turn…?.Hmm. No. Now he barked about medicine and pain. I needed to have more empathy, for him in his situation. He got me with a low blow. I could be accused of being so high from the previous moments that I had pushed his limits. I was quite anxious now, since I really did not know him more than a few hours. As he turned in the doorway, I called out that I could understand, my father was his age. I didn’t speak of my mom.
It might be the vagaries of ego, too. We all need to be stroked. And as most elders and wise people I have met, academic or otherwise it can be a thorny vine to navigate egos and agendas. Pull it back a little. “Desce!”He called me to descend, and I didn’t want to. It seemed like going downstairs now, might set me into a characterization that was not mine. I asked if I could stay a bit, before I finished he told me, “Fica vontage se voce quiser, eu vou pra meus remedios agora.” Ok, I agreed to stay.
Alone I began to feel guilty. I understood the concept, but I did not truly know the nature or extent of his pain. Thinking that this might be the first and only time with these books, I decided to write notes for ten minutes and leave. Writing,now scribbling scrawl, fast, faster. My eyes darted up and down shelves to locate the gems he had referred to moments earlier. I think I retrieved most of them. I had some remorse. I put down my pad, went to the doorway and found that he had left his cane. I grabbed it and went downstairs.
He didn’t want the cane now. Male patterning; gotta do it myself-I’m ok, I don’t need any help. He reiterated that I could stay alone upstairs. I returned and took a little more time to recount which books required notation. I found him in his library 15 minutes later. He was studying quietly.
He motioned for me to sit, and then handed me an open book. Read this, if you can. It was a well written overview of Afro-Brazilian food written by him years earlier. It put things in order nicely. Once I had finished he told me that soon he would be leaving to run errands and see the doctor. Now is when he described his medical issues in depth. When he finished, I asked if I could call Henrique to come get me.
He thought that I was foolish to take a cab. I concurred and added that I had wanted to make sure that I was prompt for the meetings. I also needed to find where the bus stop was and which buses came closest to his home. He agreed to take me. I said that if he didn’t mind, I could get out at the bus stop. He insisted on driving me home. And also that at our next meeting, I should stay for lunch, planning to work into the afternoon. He gave me a slim volume with a concise history of the cuisine to take home. He also suggested that he could Xerox some articles that were no longer in print for me to keep.
We got up and went into the sitting room. I swear he had transplanted Perry & Nedie Sloane juju all over his sitting room. The art, color schemes, the same coziness, all of it. Just with a Brazilian flair, no Waterbury here. We discussed music in greater depth and we looked through some of the African ethno-musical series he had been an advisor for.
Barbara came in to ask if we needed a drink. I said that I was fine, and he stared at me from the bottom of his glasses. “Pois, se voce quis…-” I trailed off. Yes, he was thirsty. How do I like my Scotch? The eleven A. M. drink should always be neat so you really see right away where you are going. He apologized for not offering me Bourbon. I truly did prefer Scotch. I was happy, considering. Our talk became more jocular and rambly. The bell rang but he wasn’t ready to leave. We did have our Scotches, and he was showing me some of his music. The driver waited outside until we were through several minutes later.
We dropped him at a shopping center to run his errands. I was ferried home by Edger. I learned that he had two eight year olds, Junior and Matilda. “Ibeji; -twins I asked?” He mentioned a word I didn’t know. I looked puzzled. He explained that they were two months apart born from different mothers. “Oh..did they know, that you had to bellies pregnant at the same time in 2000?” “Nao, mais tarde. Eu ses disse mais tarde. E agora sim elas falam. Todo e tranquilo.” It was all good now. “Whew that’s a load to bear. But, I guess you know that you are fertile” I said. He smiled, as I opened the car door to leave. We had arrived in front of our building on Joao Ponde.