Policemen, Top Model and Paper Flower

June 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the legacies of Brazil’s brutal military dictatorship (1964-1988) is that most ordinary citizens have become political and politicized individuals. Another legacy is that even the smallest daily acts can turn into heroic gestures of resistance.

I was once stopped by two policemen while driving through São Paulo’s mysterious dawn with Virginia, my girlfriend at the time. She was a model. I was a young bohemian, high on the night’s urban poetry. We were interrogated brusquely, and duly searched. My hand-crafted key-holder chain, at one end of which was a Victorinox Swiss army knife, was mistaken for an improvised lethal weapon.

The police officers wanted to know why I was carrying such a device. I had to tell them the truth: origami. Their puzzlement was palpable. It was clear to me that they were unacquainted with the millenary art of paper-folding. To illustrate my point, I took a white paper square from the car and, using my knife to sharpen the creases, folded it into a snowy lily. They looked embarrassed and amused when I offered it to one of them, telling him to give it to his wife, who would always love him for it. And then they let us go. We drove off into São Paulo’s almost empty streets.

Some time later, a philosopher friend told me that the incident reminded her of the ‘60s, when protesters opposed to the Vietnam war would put flowers into the barrels of policemen’s rifles. Except, she added, that my own encounter sounded decidedly more bizarre.

I remember some of the pictures taken in 1967 at the multitudinous Pentagon demonstrations. The most famous of them, of young student Jan Rose Kasmir, was snapped by the photographer Marc Riboud. In another, a floppy-haired, turtle-necked youth calmly puts daisies into the rifles held threateningly by military police.

That connection to the ‘60s, it seems to me now, is more relevant than I realized at the time of the origami episode. While those American kids were protesting in the streets of Washington, young men and women were being rounded up by the army in the streets of Rio and São Paulo. Things would get much worse in 1968.

Although born in the ‘70s, I am, in some ways, a child of that time. My parents, after all, embodied the age’s spirit of resistance to convention better than most people I have known. One proof is in the way they decided to bring me into the world.

Above all, the unlikely outcome of that brief encounter –that strange dawn meeting of police officers, a fashion model and a folded paper flower—is a reminder that our acts always speak more eloquently than so many lofty flights of rhetoric.

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