There was a time when money was just given to me without anything in return! It was 1971 and I was living in Brazil.
The first incident happened when I placed a small advert in a newspaper in Rio that I would give English lessons. I was staying in a flat in Copacabana and had rented a room through my protector Gerry Maretzski. She lived in an interesting flat and was at that time in a cast iron bodice because she had curvature of the spine. Every Sunday she would give a Salon. She had been a ballet dancer with the Royal Festival Ballet when she was younger and was German Brazilian. Gerry knew everyone on the culture scene and it was her seamstress that I was living with.
I only placed one advert and got one reply.
A man phoned to say he wanted conversation in English because he went to America to gamble. We, of course, spoke in Portuguese and arranged for him to come and pick me up for a talk. I forget his name. Mr X, an older very unattractive man, turned up and slobbered over my hand as he “kissed” it. We then went in his chauffeur driven Bentley to the Copacabana Palace Hotel on the sea front for lunch. I recall we had fillet steak toasted sandwiches with beer. He then produced, like a rabbit from a hat, a fan of mint consecutively numbered bank notes and explained that he wanted to pay me for seven days having lessons between 1-3 pm. As he didn’t know which day he would be free and wanted lessons for four of the days, he would pay to “reserve” me saying that he would phone at 1.00 the day before to tell me if he would be coming the next day. He prepaid me for a month and said I was the ONLY English teacher for him.
I NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN!
Mr X would ring me every day for a chat, always in Portuguese and to say he was busy. After three weeks of this scenario when I preferred to go to the beach and he had me cornered in the flat waiting for the phone to ring, the next time he phoned I said that I wasn’t available. He then began the scenario all over again that he had just seen the advert in the newspaper. Not so, I had only put it in once. He eventually stopped ringing. Some months later, I somehow found out that he was an eccentric aristocrat.
Next I flew to Recife where I had good artistic connections including the ceramist and sculptor Francisco Brennan. I was staying in a fleapit of a hotel somewhere downtown, which I had found out of the Frommer’s Guide to South America, only $5 a day – those were the days!
At his home I met a middle aged non-descript man called Antero Paiva, who asked me politely where I was staying. When I eventually got back I found a note from him saying he would like to show me around the city as his guest. Antero had the contract for supplying all the desks and chairs for all the schools in Recife, in fact anything connected with wood. He was married and had never set foot outside Recife. He only knew my name was Jilliana and that I came from England, nothing more.
I was living in the exotic Afro Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia where, during the sugar cane trade industry, one million Africans from Dahomey were shipped off to Brazil. Consequently there were two cultures in the city. Those who followed Candomble worshipping the African Gods that were linked to the Catholics and the European Brazilians who were white and who followed the Catholic religion. It was also the centre for Capoeira the dance of defence from Angola. As well as hearing the constant throbbing of the Batucada throughout the city, it was a centre for artists, homosexuals, anthropologists and photographers. However “works of art” were not paintings, but cross stitch tapestries. Genaro the doyen of tapestry had studied in Paris in the 50s with Jean Lucart, and brought the craft back to Salvador, his home city.
One Saturday morning a black driver arrived at the private house where I rented a room in the district of Gracia, close by to where the famous singer Guitano Velloso lived. It was a quiet a middle class suburb. The man told me he worked for a top class hotel in town. Senor Antero had driven 18 hours from Recife in his chauffeur driven car in search of an English girl called Jilliana, in a city with one million people! However, one clue. He knew that Jilliana knew Genaro. He had been well paid no doubt, and had been instructed to go at night to Genaro’s house and find out where she resided. The driver explained that as it was the weekend and the house servant told him that Genaro was at his home in the interior of the State. So the poor man had to drive through the night to that dwelling place, not knowing if Genero indeed knew where Jilliana was living. As luck would have it, Genaro knew that the painter Mario Cravo had found her a room in Gracia in the house of another. My God what a story. I will always remember Genaro asking little me what colour I thought he was, to which I replied he looked Brazilian! Brazilians are obsessed by what is known as Brancezza (the whitening of the skin through generations).
I was taken to a five star hotel and met Antero dressed in a silk paisley dressing gown. He immediately asked me if I would deitar (literally lie with him). “Oh no Antero” I said calmly,” I don’t think of you in that way”. With that he got dressed and we went for breakfast. He asked me what I would like to do and I expressed an interest to go to the local ceramics market. “Buy anything you want” he said. I did! I was into artisan ceramics in those years and had to have them all shipped back to the UK six months later which he paid for of course.
When we went for lunch he noticed that I appeared stressed. He asked me what the problem was and so I burst into tears. I had an account with BOLSA (The Bank of London and South America) and as there was a big two month postal strike in England and so my allowance had not come through and I was very low on cash. Also there was no way I could contact or write to my parents. This was a time of telexes and to make a long distance call from Latin America was a drawn out hassle and a fortune. No problem at all for Antero. We went down to the telephone exchange and within a period of time, I called Liverpool. My father answered and I will never forget his stunned words. “WHO IS PAYING FOR THIS CALL?” as I had not reversed the charges as one did in those days. Anyhow somehow a telex was going to be arranged via his Millionaire best friend who supplied M&S with all their lingerie and who had banking connections worldwide. With that settled, Antero announced that he must drive back to Recife and invited me there for Carnival in February. I agreed and he said he would find the accommodation for me and pay for the flight. Then he opened my handbag, which was on the table and flung in a wodge of Cruzeros.
I spent Carnaval in Recife and got cold water thrown over me late in the afternoon. That is the tradition there plus driving around without car doors. I don’t remember much else except he took me to the airport and said he was in love with me, there again opening my bag and filling it with money. I counted it on the plane and it was enough for the rent at the women’s pension in Ladera di Barra, where I was staying.
One day I was walking down the Ladera to get the bus to my tapestry class when a silver cloud Rolls Royce glided down the road. I couldn’t believe my eyes because I had had an English boyfriend who went around in a Rolls and used to drive them over to Milan. I had even been to Bunty Scott Moncrief’s collection in Leek, Staffordshire and seen the yellow original that had been loaned for the film The Yellow Rolls Royce. I stopped and hitched a lift. He came to a halt of course and introduced himself as Gileno, owner of a garage and a collector of vintage cars. After that meeting, he called for me every afternoon to drive me to the college. It was December and Gileno said he’d like to give me some money so I could buy something for my forthcoming birthday. However, for some reason I had to go to the doctor and he demanded money upfront. When I next saw him, he was furious and promised to come that evening to the pension and give me more money. Up to that point I had only seen Gileno driving behind the big wheel of the Rolls. When he came to visit me, he was pint size. Little man, big heart with a gracious big car. I don’t remember how much he gave me but it was a generous amount. I contacted the hotel driver that Antero had used and together we went up to the prison where the prisoners were allowed to sell their beautiful hand carved crafts and keep the money for when they were released. I remember the sounds just like in the American movies of doors being locked and the sounds of keys being turned. I bought a lovely cluster of hand carved maracuja wood tropical fruits that would grace a side board back in England. I never saw Gileno again.
Finally the married man I really fell for. Mario Cravo Jr. who I see on the internet, is still alive. I had an introduction to the artist, sculptor and photographer. A wonderful man who befriended me. I had been told by my Bolivian Quichua Indian boyfriend in Rio of a room in a house on the famous Largo di Pelorinho. Roman had lived there a while and described the famous street. I arrived and immediately went there. I met the lovely woman who owned the house and remember her all dressed in flowing white robes with her hair also covered in spiritual white. There were cross breezes and the room was cheap and cool. I said I would be back. I should have stayed because my life in Salvador would have been different but I was meeting Mario and told him about the room. Being white and middle class, he was horrified and said no way could a single white foreign woman stay in that area as it was too dangerous. He then took it upon himself to put me into a hotel while he made some inquiries. Then he took me to the private house in Graca where he knew the owner. He paid her a month in advance by cheque. When he left, she looked disapprovingly at the name as apparently she was in some way related to Mario’s wife and probably thought I was his mistress. I spent a few romantic hours with him in his car at the tropical beach of Itapoa and he took me to a few museums but I was never invited to his home. I found out later that he too, gave salons. I never saw him again but I never forgot the man. On the last day of my time in Salvador three months later, I telephoned him to say goodbye. He had no idea I had even stayed. I pleaded with him to come to the pension to say a final goodbye. He said he would but he never came. By coincidence, I saw his wife saying goodbye to people at the airport.