Porto Alegre

The ashtray and the peacock

Vitor Ramil

“Because time is an invention of death: life does not know it – the true one – in which just a moment of poetry suffices to give us all of eternity”, wrote the poet on the margin of the newspaper Correio do Povo which he kept folded on a corner of the table. The smoke of his cigarette was spreading through Café dos Cataventos, creating whorls over the head of the only other visitor of the place at that time, a composer who, at the next table, sipped his cognac with no hurry and wrote on a napkin: “Your place here at my table. Your seat is still empty.” “Ghosts do not smoke because they might end up smoking themselves”, wrote the poet, watching the smoky composer and trying not to laugh.

That which has never let me go: Porto Alegre.”

The composer, sensing the joke, took a matchbook from his pocket and tapping it, intoned softly, “I knew you would look for me one day in search of peace. Very remorseful, very homesick. But ultimately what brings you?” The poet tried the quindim [1] that waited for him in a plate next to a freshly served coffee. Then, he replied to the composer, “That which has never let me go: Porto Alegre.” The composer dropped the matchbox on the table, took one more sip of his cognac and said, “Go, come back, stay … It’s all the same thing. I’m only intrigued by the disappearance of my peacock. The rainbow ended in him, he was the pot of gold of my ranch at Cavalhada contest. How could it disappear without a trace?

“Me, I’m intrigued by the disappearance of an ashtray that was next door at the front desk of the Majestic Hotel,” said the poet. “I have sought my peacock everywhere. I started on the beaches to the south: Itapuã , Belém Novo, Ipanema, lots of sand and water, beautiful shadows, lots of birds, maybe even other peacocks. I climbed Morro do Osso so as to have a view from above, and decided to ask the Indians living there if they had seen him”,  said the composer. “Have you seen any multicolored crest …?”,  joked the poet.

Rio Guaíba

“Fortunately not. The only feather there was my own. I kept on searching. Remember when I made deliveries for our dear Globe Bookstore , don’t you? I would run to and from. Before that I had pushed trolley wheels, manufactured screws, sold candies at Cine Garibaldi. I worked hard. I have not always been a bohemian. Therefore I am prepared to face long journeys. So I went down to Guaíba, I looked in the windjammers, I walked on the margin towards Iberê Camargo Museum, just in case they had made an installation with the poor peacock. Well, it would not be absurd: he was a work of art.  Spool stacks were going to collapse and cyclists would rush out the door if he were to be exposed on one of those white walls. But he was not there, my Matisse. I went to Ilha da Pólvora, where I wrote some explosive verses. Then I took a ride on the Cisne Branco (White Swan) – my pet would like to strut on a vessel of that name – up to the Marinha do Brasil and Harmonia parks. In the first one, I took a nap under a tree and hugged my peacock in a dream, in the second there was a camping of gaúchos[2]. I pulled a stool and joined them. In a circle that was formed, I improvised some verses: “Happiness has gone away. And in my heart the longing still lives. And that’s why I like it out there. Because I know that falsehood does not hold”.  Gaúchos were thrilled, thinking of their homes far away. But I confess that my thought was there at the Cavalhada ranch, in my peacock. Happiness was gone; I took some mate teas and went up Santa Teresa hill. Usina do Gasômetro In the belvedere up there I got to forget the peacock for a moment. I saw the Ponte da Pedra (Stone Bridge) at the Praça dos Açorianos (Azorian Square), surrounded by modern buildings and cars, and imagined those little white houses of blue windows of the couples that came from Azores, the first settlers of this town now as lush and colorful as my … peacock! I remembered. And there I went. I glanced at the Gigante do Beira-Rio, stadium of the Internacional soccer team. I did not get in to waste no time. With all due respect, if the Peacock wanted to go to a soccer field, he would not choose that one. Knowing my bird’s good taste, I went straight to the birthplace of glory that will soon disappear from Azenha and resurge in another neighborhood in the form of a futuristic arena: the Olympic Stadium, of my beloved Grêmio soccer team. But another disappointment awaited me. Not a shadow of the peacock, which seemed fated to disappear before the stadium. Still, as the Olympic was the last place I would droop, I trod the lawn singing: ‘Even walking we will go, come what may, but the fact is that we are with Grêmio wherever it may be’. But was I really treading? I felt like floating. And I let myself go floating on the breeze until Usina do Gasômetro. The sun was going down the horizon, emblazing everything: the muddy waters of Guaíba, the chimney, the islands, the warehouses of the Port, the Getúlio Vargas Bridge in the distance. It would come as no surprise finding the peacock in the outcome of that light. But he was not there, my “pot of gold”.

The ashtray could be in the Metropolitan Cathedral or the Nossa Senhora das Dores Church.”

“Oh, how many times have I set fire to that  ashtray …”, amended the poet. “It was an ashtray with the self-esteem of a luminaire. It would stand, full of arrogance and ash, beside the leather chair where I liked to escape from the world. In what places of its height might it be now? Maybe in the foyer of São Pedro Theater. Does Mrs. Eva Sopher smoke? She does not seem to. Although the priests, for example, do not either… I believe in Dona Eva, but how can I believe in the priests? They want us to take the long way to God! They smell smoke, have you noticed? I bet they always carry the packs attached to their underpants, under the cassock. The ashtray could be in the Metropolitan Cathedral or the Nossa Senhora das Dores Church.  Beautiful places. Too bad it could not exert its arrogance there, either because it would be hidden in the priest’s room, or because the priest would condemn it for vanity even if suspicious of its art deco light soul – and then the poor little ashtray would never go to heaven”.

“Mário, you called me John?”

“Ashtrays in heaven …”, mused the composer, drumming again on the matchbox. “Certainly”, replied the poet, “otherwise ashes would fall on our heads. After all, there are so many who do not quit smoking even dead! Look at Júlio de Castilhos, maragatos [3] smoker, I mean, mata-ratos [4] smoker, who died of cancer in the larynx. The ashtray could very well be with him, bathed in bronze in the monument to the positivist smoker at Praça da Matriz. Maybe even at the man’s house, around the corner, which became the Museum of Júlio de Castilhos. In this case, the best place for it would be among the exhibits, more precisely, beside the giant pair of boots that in pristine ages belonged to a rural worker of suggestive surname: Warrior. Palácio Piratini Who has never wanted to flick his cigarette ash into those boots? Do they have a bottom? What will be there where the boots lost its devil? I have always stood up for the idea that death is the total liberation, that death is when we may eventually be lying with shoes on. But would I think the same if I were a warrior and was buried with those boots? I have chosen the right occupation: I do not relinquish my poet feet. The duck got a shoe, was soon to take a picture … My shoes could go right after the ashtray, as you went after your peacock. But I have always been too lazy. I prefer to find it mentally and ask Globo Bookstore delivery to be kind enough to bring it to me … Besides, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it near the bookstore, in places like Salão Mourisco  (Moorish Lounge) – where your peacock might as well be – the Public Library, the Club of Trade. Perhaps at the Art Museum of Rio Grande do Sul, under a painting of Pedro Weingärtner, showing off to young female students? Or maybe outside, among the trinkets of some vendor, covered by the flowers of the rosewood trees at Praça da Alfândega? Lago Negro, Gramado (RS) If it was time for the Book Fair, it would sell quickly. Writers are heavy smokers. But it could also be on sale in Caminho dos Antiquários or at Brique da Redenção. It is a true relic, older than my grandmother’s earphone hairstyle. If I were sure of finding it at Redenção, I would go with pleasure. What a beautiful park! To the Public Market as well, would I go without hesitation. I would take the opportunity and have a fruit salad with cream and coffee. But, going around aimlessly, without any concrete clue, only if in the softest, bluest of the afternoons, so calm that it could only have been in those times of the good United kingdom of Portugal, Brazil & Algarve … Remember those afternoons, Dom João VI?”

So I was talking to himself … would I call you John,  Lupicínio?”

“Mário, you called me John?” asked the composer, visibly absent-minded. “So I was talking to himself … would I call you John,  Lupicínio?, the poet complained. “Sorry,buddy, at a time you put ashtrays in heaven, then you went deep in the giant’s boots … I was thinking things. I even jotted down this image: “Millions of imps pounding my poor heart””, the composer justified. “Yeah”, the poet said coldly, without hiding the annoyance. The two were quiet. On the other side of the windowpanes of the Café, the little street was asleep. On the opposite sidewalk the wind curled like a dog. There was nothing. “I feel an infinite pain for the streets of Porto Alegre I will never tread down”, finally said the poet, stretching his legs on another chair. The composer sat up and smiled sweetly to his friend. Then, tapping lightly on the matchbox, sang until dawn.


[1] A brazilian cake made with yolk, sugar and coconut.
[2] Natives of the State of Rio Grande do Sul.
[3] Maragatos: revolu­tion­ary of 1893 fighting the politics of Júlio de Castilhos.
[4] Mata-ratos: cigarrete of cheap and inferior quality.

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