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Book Review

Carlos Gracie: O Criador de uma Dinastia

Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2008

By Reila Gracie

Reviewed by Roberto Pedreira  

Posted 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 anti-social behavior.

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 saying.

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

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