The airplane pierced the ugly clouds that obscured the sky of Guanabara on this damp, winter evening. Somewhat tired from the affairs of the day, I prepared to nap in the tepid warmth of the airplane until our arrival in Congonhas. To my side, a happily unoccupied seat provided the most delightful of companions.
Unexpectedly, from the back of the plane I heard the sound of the sonorous voice of Gogo, who was telling someone: “Look, there’s Plinio! I need to go over a matter with him. Excuse me, if you will.” And another voice, less sonorous, solicitously replied, “But of course. By all means.” I felt a flicker of agitation toward the speaker whom Gogo was thus abandoning. But there was not time for this sentiment to take deep root in me, for Gogo was already approaching. And, as he eased himself into the chair at my side, I remembered the promise that I had made that morning: “Let us continue our skirmish.” Once seated, he proffered a little smile that wanly illuminated his coin-shaped face.
A promise is an obligation. That morning, upon arriving in Rio, I had invited Gogo – in the heat of our discussion – to a new debate on the return flight. Now, it only remained for me to accept the second round. I turned toward Gogo with an expression that I believed to be perfectly affable. And Gogo began:
Gogo: “Well, then, shall we return to the subject of the ‘TPF’?”
I: “TFP, Gogo.”
Gogo: “Why is it, after all, that you don’t like to be called, ‘TPF’?”
I: “Come now! Would you like to be called Ogog instead of Gogo?”
Gogo: “Actually, it makes little difference to me whether you call me Ogog or Gogo. I hate this nickname, which, because of some smart-aleck schoolmates, has been following me through life, like an ugly tail that an animal drags around behind itself.”
I felt sorry for Gogo. I, however, had nothing for which I need accuse myself, for I had had no part in dubbing him that, nor had I ever given a nickname to anyone.
At any rate, I continued:
I: “Well, Gogo, it is a different matter with TFP. We bear our name with the pride of a warrior raising his standard. And we pronounce its letters with the enthusiasm of heralds who launch their cries of victory. Because of this, any change in the order of the letters that make up our name is not acceptable to us. To say ‘TPF’ is the maneuver of a toad.1 Are you a toad, Gogo?”
Gogo: “My sister Maria always says that she is a toad, even when she was a nun. And she calls her children little toads. Her husband also calls her a toad. Poor, lazy Telesphorus! I don’t know if he is a toad or whatever. But Maria says that he is. And he goes along with her. As for me, I follow the example of Maria – and am also a toad,” Gogo ended with a little smile.
I: “This is because it is to your advantage to be a toad. A toad doesn’t have a long tail, does it?”
Gogo: “If I’m a toad, then you’re a medieval fanatic. You are always thinking about the Middle Ages. Even here, traveling on this modern airplane, you speak of heralds, warriors and standards just as naturally as if you were a Christian warrior mounted on your charger on some dusty road of the Holy Land.”
I: “And what would you like me to do? To refrain from speaking of these things merely because I am on an airplane?”
Gogo: “I wish that you would just not speak. For it is easy to see that the whole idea you have of tradition is a certain nostalgia for the Middle Ages. What the whole TFP wants, at all costs, is to preserve everything that remains from it. It would even like to resurrect many other things that Luther, the French Revolution and the twentieth century have buried forever.”
Gogo ended this tirade indignantly.
I: “You are right, Gogo, in that we think that everything handed down to us as our legacy from the Middle ages should be preserved. I no longer speak only of our eyeglasses, our buttons and our watches, which I mentioned in our last conversation. I also refer to the hospitals, which, as you know, took their form and substance in the Middle Ages, as well as the universities. To this age we also owe the Gothic cathedrals and castles that tourists the world over travel to Europe to visit. And I could cite many other things like this. Would you like to see all these things destroyed?”
Gogo: “Nothing of the sort! The Middle Ages was a time of gross illiteracy, which ended only when Gutenberg invented the printing press. Then the written word, which hit Europe like a bolt of lightning, put an end to medieval ignorance.”
I: “I am surprised that you do not see the contradiction in this so often-repeated myth. How could the written word travel like lightening through a continent of illiterates? This would be like affirming the success of the radio in a country of deaf people.”
Gogo: “You TFP people are always trying to go backward. Yet everything in today’s world is advancing!”
I: “And what do you call ‘advancement”? Today’s decadence of the written word, which is being increasingly replaced by pictures and cartoons? Isn’t this really a return to illiteracy? In that case, since you imagine the Middle Ages to be illiterate, you should conclude that the world is turning back to the Middle Ages. However, to my way of thinking, it is returning even further – to the invasions by the barbarian hordes.”
Gogo: “What I find medieval are your young men in their suits and ties carrying their standards. Today’s youth like more relaxed clothing, uninhibited manners and disheveled hair.”
I: “The barbarians who invaded the Roman Empire fulfilled your idea most perfectly, Gogo. They had no
inhibitions. Their hair was in complete disarray. They wore no trace of a coat or tie. They were, in this respect, somewhat like the hippies. Only even more an avant-garde than the latter.”
Gogo: “Why don’t you just stop wearing those jackets and ties?”
I: “Oh, Gogo, do you really think they date from the Middle Ages?”
Gogo: “Like I said, why don’t you just finish with them?”
I: “And why should we not wear them? If one wears a jacket and tie to lend seriousness to his work, why should one not also wear them to lend seriousness to the interior life?”
Gogo: “Don’t make me laugh! Seriousness in the interior life! Look, my fellow, what we need today is to know how to laugh, to enjoy ourselves, to sing, to be happy.”
I: “Yes, in the times appropriate for these things. But the greater part of the day we should pray, think, work and fulfill our duties.”
Gogo: “No, all this is what needs to go! All this mystical or metaphysical seriousness of the man of past times. This is what formed the foundation for the sacral, disciplined and hierarchical world of the Middle Ages. I want to topple the remains of this world and build the opposite kind of world. And there are legions of people who think like I do.”
I: “Gogo, while I detest your philosophy, I like your frankness. You want to destroy a world in order to demolish the moral conceptions upon which it is founded. Just as the TFP wants to preserve and apply these same moral conceptions to their very fullest extent. In final analysis, the TFP wants a Christian civilization. And you want a hippie, nudist, anarchist and materialistic, fun-loving world.”
Gogo: “You praise my frankness. My sister Maria always tells me that I talk too much, that one shouldn’t tell everyone all that he is thinking. She would be furious if she knew that I told you all this.”
I: “Thank you. Then I am one of those who shouldn’t be told everything?”
Gogo: “No, worse than that. You are the head of the TFP.”
I: “Gogo, Christian civilization is in ruins and barbarism is entering through every breach in the walls. For it to rise again, it is necessary to reconstruct the principles and moral virtues upon which it was based.”
Gogo: “To reconstruct the Middle Ages, then?”
I: “Certainly these virtues of the Middle Ages had a radiating force that at times penetrated into the centuries that followed. But these virtues, as such, are not only for the Middle Ages. They are for all times. Because of their decline, we have the present-day catastrophe. And it is only by restoring them that a new Christian era can be born!”
Gogo: “That is just what you would expect from a TFP-style rationale. Backwardness and narrow-mindedness.”
I: “Look, I have clipped here for you this passage written by a modern journalist, Walter Lippmann. He had nothing in common with the TFP. Read what he had to say: ‘Our civilization can only be maintained and restored by the remembrance and rediscovery of past truths, and by the reestablishment of the virtuous habits upon which it was founded.’ ”
Gogo was nervous. He hastily read the lines from the text. Then, instead of responding, he began to gather up his things. The airplane was descending. He explained: “Maria told Telesphorus to be in the lobby waiting for me at 5 o’clock. I don’t want to make him wait any longer.” I looked at my watch. It was 8:30 p.m.
And I sadly thought, “Poor Telesphorus!’ For I realized that Maria Gondola had sent him because she did not want the bother of waiting for her brother. Yet, at the same time, I breathed a sigh of relief. After arguing with Gogo during the whole trip, to be forced to make small talk with Maria Gondola would be too much!
To reassure my readers, I have to say that Gogo and Maria Gondola do not really exist. They are products of my imagination.
But I believe that there are many Gogos and many Maria Gondolas roaming about the world today saying bad things about the TFP.
- The term “toad” has been used by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in previous articles to signify those mediocre defeatists businessmen who are by no means hostile to communism and very hostile to anticommunism.