The story of the “O” with a glass

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Untitled - 162x130
Untitled – 162×130

The 70s, the military dictatorship, and Brazil in the era of the “economic miracle”, the militias are calling the shots as feudal lords. The minister of education, colonel Passarinho, speaks of eradicating illiteracy and creates the Mobral program, Brazilian Literacy Movement, the great project of the moment. On the radio was constantly playing the music of Ravel and Tom, two popular singers:

” …My hands are greedy for knowledge, please teach me to write … ”

The emotion was general, and everyone was listening with a pious heart, ready to teach B-A-BA.

The day was falling, the night was at the gate. Chico Duro, João Preto, Joaquim, Toizinho da Sá Jóve, Manuelão, João Roxo, Miquelino and I were gathered in front of Mane Barrado’s houe, a peasant hardened by the life of the field, old farmer, arched, graying beard.

The conversation was animated, and suddenly I began to think about how it would be good to teach these people how to write or at least to sign their name, which would give them the status of elector with the right to vote (of course not for the presidential, because for this only the military voted).

And the conversation continued, speaking of everything and nothing. Mane Barrado, crouched, was blowing the smoke of his cigarette of Goiãs, it was good, good taste, the good smell of smoke in the air. I thought about the subject and I started to speak, slowly, explaining. “My friends, we must build a school, we can build a house right here, the government gives us the equipment, they do not want illiterate persons, they want everybody to know how to read and write, I will go into town to speak to the mayor and he will give me what we need, a blackboard, chalk, books, pencils, workbooks”.
Mane Barrado then moved, looking into my eyes, and solemnly said to me:

Poema de Despedida - 162x97
Farewell Poem- 162×97

– I know how to write an “O” with a glass…

I looked at the man and I saw dignity in his eyes. I thought about it, sitting on a stump of rosewood, and I watched Mane Barrado, crouched in front of me, who was expecting my words. Then I looked at Mane Barrado in the eyes and I said to him:

– Good, so write an “O” with a glass!

Mane Barrado turned to the kitchen, tightened his lips by blowing very hard and shouted at his daughter:

– Maria das Dores, bring a glass, sweetheart.

From the inside I heard the voice of a child answering ‘Right away Papa … ”

And arrives Maria das Dores, beautiful child, bouncing, happy, wiping a glass with the edge of her dress. It was the only glass of the house, used by Mane Barrado to drink the Januaria, a good brandy. Mane Barrado loved to watch the light reflected in the glass, he took the glass and looked through it the last rays of the afternoon sun. Then he reversed it on the ground, took a piece of charcoal next to him and, with much effort, he began to draw a line by following the edge of the glass, with trembling, uncertain hands, stumbling, with so much difficulties to hold the charcoal, his “O” took shape. The workers gathered around him, staring at him with admiration. After a certain time, Mane Barrado raised the glass from the ground, showed me the letter “O” written by his hand and looked at me with pride and triumph.

Festa Brava III - 140x90
Festa Brava III – 140×90

I thought calmly about this drawing of the man, about his message, and I thought, “this peasant has never held a pencil in his hand, he has never had a sheet of paper or any education”. I stood up solemnly, I looked at him again and said:

– You see, Mane Barrado, you can write an “O” with a glass, that’s your heritage, nobody can take that away from you. When you shall die, you will be buried with this heritage…
I saw that he was moved, I saw that he was happy. And how good I had done well to speak to him in this way.

Time goes by, the clouds pass away, the carcará passes by, the jaburu, the birds flying in clouds in the sky, just as my life also, fulfilling his destiny. After some time, I went to live in Rio de Janeiro, to work in advertising agencies.

I worked hard and every day I wanted to learn; I worked in advertising drawing only to develop my painting and I painted with passion.

The more I developped in painting, the more I depreciated the advertising drawing; I earned my salary and spent everything in books and painting material, just saving a little for rainy days.

But the new civilian Government of Brazil, in the middle of an economic crisis, took an unexpected decision and froze the savings of the people, thus following the authoritarian tradition, leaving me without this hard-earned money. I was left only with my inner heritage, I collect my belongings and left for Lisbon as I could.

I arrived there bringing only my “O” with a galsse because, because this heritage, our knowledge, as I had said to Mane Barrado that afternoon, nobody can take it away from us. Nothing is more valuable than to know how to make an “O” with a glass.

Art is a continuous process of learning and a spiritual development.


Saulo Silveira