Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia
Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008
by Roberto Pedreira
March 8, 2013
Chapter 2. Belém Do Pará
Gastão Gracie moved from Rio to Belém for
several reasons. He thought it was a likely place to get rich quick. His father,
Pedro, feared for the family's reputation if Gastão's intimate relations with
married women became public, especially if Gastão (who did not train jiu-jitsu)
should become the victim of an enraged husband, But the main reason was
Cesalina Vasconcelos Pessoa, the most beautiful young girl in Belém. The first
time he saw her, Gastão promised himself that he would conquer her heart and
win her family's approval. It wasn't easy, but he finally succeeded. Cesalina
was a naive girl from a conservative family. One day Gastão tried to
"steal a kiss". She was so offended by his cheekiness that she
broke off the engagement, but later relented. Like all nice girls, she knew
nothing about reproduction or nocturnal matrimonial matters. As she later
told her grand-daughters, it was only after four months that she would allow
Gastão to "consummate" the marriage, as people used to say. That was
before the sexual revolution. It was an age of modesty. People knew what
was expected of them and kept their pants on. Well, usually, Most people anyway.
Gastão and Cesalina, and Cesalina's
plain-Jane, spinster sister Lindom, lived at Number 4, Rua Tiradentes. The
couple eventually had eight surviving children: Carlos (1902), Oswaldo (1904),
Gastão Jr., (1906), Helena (1909), George (1911), Helio 1913) Mary (1915) and
the second Ilka (1917, the first Ilka, died soon after her birth in 1908).
The remainder of the chapter deals with
Carlos's childhood up to 1916. At this point, it is relevant to ask where Reyla
obtained her information. Some of it came from stories that Carlos liked to tell
when he was advanced in age, when possibly his recall of the past was less than
perfect, or perhaps his veridical memories had become inextricably mixed with
the many tall tales he had concocted over the years. Gastão Jr. also shared some
recollections of some notable incidents. But most of her information came from a
comic book titled A Verdade sobre os Gracie [The Truth about the Gracies]
written in 1958 by the journalist Jose Geraldo. Later we learn that Geraldo got
his own information from Carlos, so essentially the story is the story that
Carlos choose to tell. This is doubly relevant because so much of his later
history comes from the same source (himself via Jose Geraldo). When Reyla has
independent sources of information, she generally mentions them. Otherwise, we
have to assume that the story is Carlos 's version of events.
Carlos 's version in "Belém do Pará"
is not the stuff of myths or legends. It reads pretty much like the life of a
typical hyper-active male kid, which is how he characterized himself in
adulthood as a well, Reyla says.
Carlos was the oldest, but also the
skinniest of his brothers. He was restless, stubborn, agitated,
aggressive, incorrigible, disoriented, and nervous. His father beat him almost daily but Carlos simply sucked it up and
continued his pattern of deviancy and borderline delinquency (p. 40). He enjoyed throwing rocks at
people. One time he claimed ownership of a bunch of mango trees and threatened
to break the heads of anyone who tried to take a mango.
Carlos had the soul of a leader [alma de
lider], and his younger brothers tagged along, as younger brothers tend to
do. Cesalina tried to lock the boys in to keep them off the streets. The
only way out was through the backyard, but a neighbor's ferocious dog was a
problem. Carlos resolved to learn how to kick in order to be able to confront
the dog. He practiced kicking cans, tree branches, and rocks, and anything else,
to improve the accuracy and power of his kicks. His brothers thought he was
crazy. But the training paid off. One day, Carlos faced the dog and gave him
such a powerful and well-aimed kick in the middle of his chest that the dog went
flying and landed laid out in agony on the lawn. Carlos felt bad about hurting
the dog but came to the realization that training could provide a powerful tool
that would be useful in brawls [ele se viu de posse de uma poderosa arma para
impor nas brigas].
Carlos terrorized the business people of
the city and apparently, anyone who got in his way. In fact, he went out of his
way to find victims, and made enemies for no logical reason. A few examples must
suffice (please refer to the book for details). Carlos liked to throw heavy
mangos at Chinese people (chineses de lavanderia]. Understandably, they
didn't appreciate that and ran after Carlos shouting, "I will kill your
punk-ass!" Gastão apologized to the Chinese gentlemen and then gave
Carlos another beating, which as usual served no purpose in modifying Carlos's
Another time Gastão Jr. returned home in
tears complaining that a Portuguese business man had pulled his ear. Carlos was
infuriated. He led his brother to the businessman's shop and broke a window. A
customer in the shop said, "Hey man, why don't you do something about
it?" The Portuguese business man replied, "you don't know this kind.
If I do anything, it will be even worse" [tu não conhece este menino!
Se eu fizer qualquer coisa, será muito pior].
Carlos had no use for schools. He was
kicked out of a few. One time a priest touched Carlos' leg, Carlos alleged. Carlos left
furiously and, over-generalizing from a single, perhaps ambiguous experience,
condemned all priests.
When the First World War broke out Carlos
assumed that his father would be pro-Germany (because he went to school in
Germany), so he declared his personal war against France and went to the French
Consulate in Belém, stood outside and shouted with all the force of his lungs,
"Viva Germany, death to France". The French diplomats ignored him so
he threw a can filled with mud through the window. The diplomats visited the
Gracie home. Gastão took Carlos by the ear and asked him, "son, are you
stupid?" Reyla does not indicate whether Carlos received another
beating. Maybe Gastão had given up by that time, or maybe it just goes without
The chapter continues with similar stories
and then segues into the family life. Gastão was, according to Reyla, an
adventurer and dreamer [aventureiro e sonhador]. He was constantly
involved in get-rich-quick schemes and fantastic projects [projetos
mirabolantes]. Family life oscillated between highs and lows. Sometimes Gastão
hit the jackpot. But the flush times didn't last long and the family had to pull
up stakes every two years and move to a more modest house in a less ritzy
neighborhood. No two of the Gracie kids were born at the same address. Gastão
tried his hand at the dynamite business (he had studied chemistry in Germany),
but that didn't work out well. Gastão apparently sold his dynamite to bandits,
which the local police didn't take kindly to. He also bombed the electricity
company when they had the nerve to cut off service just because he didn't pay
his bill. But it worked. The next day the electricity was restored.
Most germanely, he somehow came into
possession of a circus (The American Circus), and that is how a certain Japanese
master of the ancient art of "jiu-jitsu" enters the story.
Chpater 3. Do Japão Para O Brasil
(c), 2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.