“Shatter, heart of painted glass!”*


Fernando Pessoa

Long ago, in another country, I studied journalism with a man, who introduced me to the poetry of  Fernando Pessoa. Though I did not know it at the time, Pessoa was a B’nei Anoussim, a decendant of forcibly baptized Iberian Jews who  continued to follow Judaic practices for hundreds of years. Had I known this, I would have read a different meaning into the poems where he exposed again and again, the essential loneliness of the outsider. My teacher was also an outsider, a Leftist at a time and place that punished dissent with prison, torture, extraordinary rendition and death. He knew all this and yet he kept dreaming that he could make a difference, that he and a few others like him could change the country, make   it self-reliant and just.  He had been to Russia and when he spoke of workers attending ballet performances his eyes would light up,  his smile would grow wider and he would add, “It can be done, you see. It can be done.”

If my teacher knew of Stalin and gulags, he chose not to bring either into the conversation. He did talk about the evils of imperialism and that grasping monster, Uncle Sam. He carried in pocket, a little pamphlet that described the day of the average citizen in our country as a succession of bows to American imperialism–from the moment he shaved with a Gillette blade to the moment when put on his imported pajamas. His fervor was such one of my classmates, a blue-eyed girl from an upper middle class family, trembled and prayed for him.  When he was arrested, as Leftists tended to be back then, she visited and cosseted  him, always praying that he would stop being a godless Communist.  It did not happen. Eventually, she became a godless communist, married him and together they sought refuge in Paris where all good communists  go to refresh their souls.

As someone who believes in equal rights, it pains to say that the women Leftists I knew back then found their way to Marx through some man with whom  they were in love. No matter. All roads led to the kolkhoz. Most followed their men into exile and at least one died after being raped and torture by the military. Years and years later, the country found its way back to democracy, the exiles came home to expose the  horrors committed during the undemocratic period and to remake the country into a semblance of their cherished dreams. The tired, suffering people elected a Leftist government that thumbed its nose at evil Uncle Sam even if that meant cozying up to dictators of countries where they stone women and gays. This show of independence and national pride buoyed the hope that the huge economic gap between classes would close or in the every least  become narrower. A brief period of prosperity followed during which exports to China helped fill the national coffers. Leftist leaders announced spectacular successes in their fight against hunger and poverty. The economy continued to thrive and despite much demagoguery, few people seemed to questions the policies of such a brilliant president, such a dazzling presidential cabinet.

Alas, the bubble burst. Factors such as the Chinese tightening their purse strings, made it harder for spectacular successes to happen.  The infrastructure which had been spectacularly neglected, failed to meet the needs of a population that had grown exponentially–one of the tenets of the Left, way back then was that contraception was part of Uncle Sam’s plot to depopulate the country thus making it easier to conquer.Go figure. The gap between rich and poor did not close. This seems is the root cause of the dissatisfaction that erupted into protests, recently. News of the unrest  in the global media reflected a dismal ignorance of the culture  of the country in question. There were linguistic obstacles and that is where I thought I could do a tiny, bit to help get the world out.

Little did I know that as it stumbled toward a participatory democracy, the country in question was fraught with paranoia. Leftists suspected that  Uncle Sam hid under every bed, ready to rape and ravage–“…egorger ses filles et sem compagnes…”. Everyone was suspect but those who spoke English and lived abroad, much more so. Just as Chico Buarque sang, long ago,  the country seethed with “lies and brute force.” Machiavellian machinations, disinformation, agitprop  abounded.Rumors of a coup, baseless accusations  swirled like dirty water in a drain. I was unequipped for this sort of activity. I’d been through the lies and brute force and I’d escaped by skin of my teeth. I am old and I am too much of a realist to believe that the individual makes that much difference. So, I withdrew   from the fray. Solutions will come or not. It’s their gig, not mine. But I feel very much like good old Fernando Nogueira de Seabra Pessoa,

“I am my own landscape,
I watch myself journey—
Various, mobile, and alone.
Here where I am I can’t feel myself.”

*Fernando Pessoa


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