Shakespeare in Sao Paulo – Part 1

February 1st, 2011 § 1 comment

Verona had its star-crossed couple. The modern megacity of São Paulo (population: almost 12 million) also had its two young lovers once. They were fugitives of the Federal Police and unwitting players in a kidnap that never really occurred.

She was the daughter of a wealthy family. Her father was part of a powerful dynasty, enriched by the profits of sugar-cane plantations in the country’s wild northeast. (Which is not to say he didn’t believe in culture: his library was lined with books, bought by the yard and with their spines intact.) Theirs was a model family: his discontented wife stayed at home, he was discreet in his visits to the local brothel, and had already found a suitably rich suitor for his only daughter, who was expected to remain as pure as freshly refined sugar until her wedding night.

I was a seventeen-year-old boy from the wrong side of the cultural tracks. In her father’s eyes, my family was of the worst sort –artists. Painters. Auctioneers. Riff-raff.

We met where most boys meet most girls –at school. Walking home after class one day, she pointed out an infamous house of assignation. “My father spends a lot of his time there,” she said. “My mother knows all about it and says nothing.” That, I concluded, must be how they do things in the northeast.

Of course, I was not in the father’s plans for his daughter. Not rich. Not from an old, catholic north-eastern family. Not good enough.

Had her father read Shakespeare, he would have known that nothing (or almost nothing) can derail the course of young love. But he hadn’t, so he didn’t. One day he took me out to lunch and made me an offer he assumed I couldn’t refuse. Fifty thousand dollars to leave his daughter alone.

Fifty thousand dollars. More money than any seventeen-year-old could imagine what to do with. I made it clear, however, that I was immune to such barbarous bribery. So he raised the stakes. He hinted that I could benefit from an open account at his favourite brothel, as long as this kept me from corrupting his daughter. “Back home,” he said, “I would have asked someone to deal with you for the price of a crate of beers. I’m making you a very generous offer. Take it.”

I did not. Instead, in a time-honoured tradition, his daughter and I eloped. What followed was part Rom-Com, part Keystone Cops, part courtroom drama. It involved police chases, secret hideaways, the complicity of friends and family, and an arrest warrant for alleged kidnap. When I was finally dragged before a judge, my accuser presented dozens of letters I had written to his daughter as evidence of my depravity.

The judge –a middle-aged woman—read them all in silence. A faint smile appeared on her face as she did so. Her fingers stroked the paper, hand-made in my grand father’s studio. Her nostrils flared almost imperceptibly as she caught a whiff of the perfumed billets-doux and the dried flowers pressed within them. Her sentence, when it came, seemed irrevocable. “I have never seen anything so beautiful. These two are meant to be together.”

So her parents relented. They even went away for a weekend, leaving us un-chaperoned for the first time. That was when she announced it was over between us. Just like that.

Which was a shame. She had always been such a sweet girl.

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