Very rarely do my blogs require a sequel. Actually, this is the first.
Dad read the previous post about Rodrigo Santoro’s movie – Heleno – and wrote me a two-part email in response. He doesn’t write many long letters, good engineer he is. He is in the business of numbers. Calculations. Complex equations I will never be able to read let alone comprehend. But Heleno de Freitas made him write two emails. Now that’s a powerful character.
A hero in my dad’s childhood, in his own words. A fleeting one, as Dad grew to understand human nature and came to admire Heleno for the incredible soccer player he was. Only. A soccer player like he had never seen before. In case I had forgotten, Dad reminded me, Grandpa Joao Ibanez (Dad and Grandpa share bits of DNA and the same name) always took the family to Rio in July, running away from the cold weather in South Brazil (nothing remotely close to the mildest of Pennsylvania winters), bad for his asthma.
Before this gets confusing for those who read the previous blog – Soccer’s Best Loved Villain – the grandpa I mentioned back then (the judge) is actually my mom’s dad, therefore Dad’s father-in-law. That grandfather was of Portuguese descent. The one vacationing in Rio is from Spain. I never met him for he passed when Dad was very young. Not a judge this one, but a business owner in the jewelry industry.
The Ibanez clan’s July trips to Rio were also used as research and purchasing ventures into Rio’s jewelry suppliers. Back then Rio was the country’s main urban center. The most glamorous for sure, until Sao Paulo emerged as the power house it still is today. Brazil’s industrial heart and soul, powerful and impressive, but, begging your pardon, proud Sao Paulo natives (Paulistas), never half as gorgeous as Rio.
In my dad’s email, it is July 1946. Joao Ibanez, Sr. takes Joao Ibanez, Jr. to a soccer match: Botafogo vs. Fluminense. Joao Ibanez, Jr. is ten years old. Final score: Botafogo 2, Fluminense 1. Thanks to Heleno de Freitas, Jr. is smitten, becoming a Botafogo fan on the spot. Not only was Heleno a superb athlete, Dad recalls, he was also highly educated; he held a law degree. People called him Dr. Heleno as “doctor” in Portuguese (doutor) is commonly used to refer to attorneys as well as to physicians; a sign of respect.
Naturally, Heleno was always surrounded by high society ladies, good looking guy he was, despite the irritability Santoro’s movie so vividly depicted. Irascible, in my dad’s words. Irrationally temperamental. Such a bad temper was perhaps a harbinger of the schizophrenia that would take hold of his brain in not so distant a future. They called him Gilda, Dad recounts, just like the movie showed; Rita Hayworth’s diva-like character in the famous motion picture. Here Dad paused and said he was going to write more the next day.
And so he did. Dad wrote about Heleno’s hiring by the Argentine team Boca Juniors as, he added, the Argentine people always had a knack for drama; after all, Buenos Aires is the cradle of Tango – can you think of a more dramatic and intense type of dancing? – and in the 1980’s home of another convoluted soccer star, Diego Maradona. But even for drama kings of such magnitude, Heleno proved too much (Soccer differences apart, I have lovely memories of vacations in Buenos Aires, a great city; and the frozen beauty of ski areas and resorts in the Argentine Andes, south of South America).
Back in Rio, hired by Vasco da Gama (favorite team of the Portuguese community), due to his poor health condition already, Heleno was scratched off the list of players who would represent the country in the 1950 World Cup, in Brazil. A Brazilian fiasco, Dad interjected. Maybe a tale for another blog. The last time Dad saw Heleno play was in our town, Porto Alegre, in 1949, against a local team extinct before I was born – Renner.
Dad ended his second email comparing Heleno to Poe, “talentoso na literatura e na poesia, mas de vida curta e infeliz, quase miserável.” Talented in literature and poetry but of a short and unhappy, almost miserable life. Heleno could have been soccer’s best poet ever, had his life not turned so tragic. This is why, Dad closed, he never cared to watch Rodrigo Santoro in Heleno. The story of everything a man could have been. It hurts.