Editor-at-large Ednilson writes...
Sometimes I imagine the meeting in 1836 between a young Giuseppe Garibaldi, just 28 years of age and living in exile in Rio de Janeiro on account of a Genoese death sentence in absentia for his involvement in a failed Mazzinian insurrection, and Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, a gaúcho farmboy in his early 20s newly arrived from the breakaway state of Rio Grande do Sul and working under the wing of British businessman and importer Richard Carruthers.
It was Irineu who would eventually facilitate the introduction of the not yet famous Italian to Bento Gonçalves, the leader of the ongoing Farroupilha rebellion in his home state in the south of the country, while imprisoned on Rio's bay island of Forte da Laje. This meeting would set in motion Garibaldi’s formative years cutting his teeth as a guerrilla and pirate at the head of the rebellion's navy with orders to attack and capture ships of the Brazilian Imperial navy along the Atlantic coast. Meanwhile, Irineu Evangelista de Sousa would grow up to become the Barão de Mauá - the Brazilian Rothschild and the nation's first industrial tycoon who would introduce railways across the country and illuminate Rio de Janeiro with electricity.
Perhaps Irineu and Giuseppe, both not yet thirty, would first meet in a botequim in a less salubrious corner of the Lapa neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, in an era when whale oil still lit up the malaria ridden city on Guanabara bay. The clean shaven and earnest looking young gaúcho, brimming with entrepreneurial ambition and British affectations would appear an odd drinking companion next to the broad shouldered and bearded sailor wearing his hair alla nazzarena. As they drank their way through glass after glass of cachaça, the young men would loosen with the distilled sugarcane.
The pair would bond over their shared love for Childe Harold and would recite their favourite passages to each other, communicating in broken French as was customary in those days. They would also find common ground in their enjoyment of coffee, an appreciation that would eventually lead to the construction of a Brazilian engineering marvel (the Santos to Jundiaí railway line) and a pre-battle ritual (Garibaldi would never go into action without having his morning cup) respectively.
In a steaming sub-tropical port city replete with sailors and chancers from across the globe, one could imagine Irineu's foppish garb and well groomed face fixing the attention of a nearby listing reprobate - a Nantucket whaler, perhaps, with the smell of boiled blubber still on his whiskers. He would come about with a swing to his shoulders and his legs spread unwittingly, as if the level floors were tilting up and sinking down to the heave and lunge of the ocean. He would have worn rough clothes that smacked of the sea. The wide room seeming too narrow for his rolling gait. His heavy arms hanging loosely at his side.
With aguardiente on his breath, it is easy to imagine the heavy set protestant man taking issue with Irineu's presence. In vain, the young Brazilian would attempt to calm the thick necked man down by urging for reason to prevail. Meanwhile, his Italian drinking companion would sit, undisturbed, for a few moments more as he enjoyed the last of his pinga. He would stand up and calmly slide his way around the table to where the yankee was remonstrating with his new Brazilian friend.
Without warning, he would proceed to slam his forehead into the bridge of the nose of the belligerent American. With a spurt of blood, the room would erupt in a melee of fists and bar stools, a harbinger of the audacity the general would become renowned for as he lead Brazilians, Uruguayans and Italians towards emancipation over the next 50 years of his eventful life. Through an unmarked back door, the pair of new friends would spill out of the tavern as the brawl raged on and slip off wincing and cackling into one of those warm Goeldi stained Carioca nights.
Or, perhaps, Irineu and Giuseppe would have met in some other manner. It is difficult to know for certain.