On Wednesday evening Neia skilfully negotiated her taxi through the evening traffic, in from the Rio de Janeiro international airport, around Lagoa and on to Sāo Conrado. We arrived in the warmth of a tropical evening, 11 hours out of England, 4 hours behind British Summer Time.
We metaphorically fell out of the taxi as Celina’s mother came down the steps to unlock the gate and let us in; the number of suitcases suggested we were staying for a month ( I wish!). Gradually we carried them inside the house ….. and took a breath. Something, someone, I sensed, was very definitely missing. After quickly unpacking the essentials, for bed beckoned, it wasn’t until I was actually in bed I realised what it was that I craved – the reassuring presence of Celina’s father, now departed from this world some nine months. Not that we normally saw him when we had arrived in the evening in the past, as it was way past his bedtime; a man of habit if ever there was one but you sensed his presence.
Carlos with his first Grandchild Tiago
It was only in the morning we met him, at breakfast around the small table in the kitchen with Ze the green parakeet squawking his raucous calls from the cage outside. The first time, back in April 2012, it was a rather amusing meeting, him in his rather large GAP hoodie feeling the cool of a Brazilian autumn, me in a T shirt sweating in the warmth of a tropical morning – takes a while to get acclimatised huh! He loved his Oxford Coopers vintage marmalade and would be grateful for exports from England.
That visit we drove to their house in Buzios, three hours out of Rio, a small seaside town made famous by Bridgette Bardot and others of that ilk. Carlos and I walked along the sand and he told me of his life’s work, his fascination with what goes on inside our brains. He was a Professor of Neurology and well respected in his field. At times he lost me with his descriptions of experiments using animals, particularly Possums, for dissection, such was his grasp of the technical English of his trade. Around the lunch table he delighted in bringing out a Conde, a fruit that I hadn’t seen and one that I was invited to try.
And now he’s not here! We had sat down just after his 80th birthday, and talked through the new iPad that Celina had given him. “No! he’ll never use that …..” his son had suggested but step by step he mastered it just like he had any new technology that had come along. Interesting how slowly some grapple with the ‘swipe’ and ‘touch’ interfaces and then get it; in no time it’s old hat. Within six months he’d upgraded his phone to be constantly connected to the internet. But he had that old world charm, and if we were out at dinner, would abhor other diners using their phones rather than talking with those around them. The strength and continuity of the internet is not the greatest here, just as in some parts of the UK (!) and we often sat in his office, almost on top of the router, to download emails. Additionally being Brazil, we had to cope with the power cuts which are a regular feature of living here.
In September last year he showed me his rowing machine, something he used regularly to augment his time in the local gym; he seemed fit and took care of himself. Despite his career in science, which nowadays has a relevant and understandable explanation of how the world was formed, Carlos was a deeply religious man. For those of us who are not, it was a slightly unnerving sensation to be in his presence when he described his fervent beliefs in the power of the Christian message and of the omnipresence of God. The bookshelves in his study are lined with books such as ‘Monastery without Wall’, the spiritual letters of the Benedictine monk John Mann and a few on Padre Pio, an Italian priest who became St Pio of Pietreleina after his death in 1968. Carlos admitted reading few novels in his whole life, preferring the worlds of scientific facts and religion. He and Celina’s mother would meditate in the evening every day and he was convinced of the power of prayer.
When we first met he was already in his late 70s. He had lived in Paris, Boston and Washington, working on research projects, but was now content to stay at home, read, meditate and stay fit; a wonderfully warm and special man. And he’s not here. And I was not his son, had not known him for 65 years of my life, a time when he became a famous neuroscientist, but in those short weeks and months we stayed here in Iposeria, in this lovely house under the shadow of Pedro de Gavea, I felt very close. And get this! He even allowed me to load the dishwasher! You know how it is, everything has a place, and everything in its place. So why couldn’t others learn from him the ‘right’ way to do it. Me? I just observed, understood the importance (to him) and suddenly he says I could load his dishwasher, the only person given permission! Mind you, he was not a domesticated man at all, so it was funny to see how he had made this kitchen labour- saving device his own.
And he’s not here! But his presence is very powerful. Everyone struggles I guess with getting rid of the clothes of the recent departed and, after an initial clear out, the house still contains his possessions, still oozes his personality and character. And life moves on, thoughts turn to the future, and the ‘What?’ and the ‘Where?’ and the ‘Why/why not?’
In October last year, the last time we saw each other when we were both compos mentis (well, in my case that’s a debatable state!), we loaded up the taxi in the rain, another stay here at an end. Carlos was again wearing his GAP hoodie and we hugged and did all those things that you do when you say “Goodbye”, only this time neither of us thought it would be the last time.
And he’s not here! Actually, I think that’s bollocks. He’s here just as he believed his God was here, all around us, still guiding us, still loving us.
From a warm evening in Rio de Janeiro
Richard 16th September 2016