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  • Writer's pictureMiguel Fernández

Speaking English

Work on the Rio Niterói Bridge began in January 1969. The three central spans are made of steel, the design, some cuts, welds and shipbuilding-type modules were made in England and assembled here by the Anglo-Brazilian consortium – Dormann & Long, Cleveland Bridge and the Brazilian, despite the name, Montreal Engenharia. I believe the funding was from Rotchild Bank. The chief manager of the construction contract for this work, although engineering, was the lawyer Jorge Pastor, an excellent person and an excellent professional. I remember well a meeting with the British, in 1969, to resolve various aspects of the consortium, including common accounting. As an intern at Montreal, I was asked to write a report and became the official writer. The Doctor. Pastor was guiding what was to write. What a rare opportunity to learn what is not taught in universities. There was disagreement about which currency to adopt. Montreal preferred the US dollar and the British the Pound Sterling. At some point, an impasse was created. It was clear to me that what the Montreal accountant, Zolletti, did not agree with was the non-decimal system of the English currency, but that did not seem to be an argument for the English. After an hour of conversation, without leaving the point, there was already a certain irritation on both sides by the non-convergence. I lost a lot of dialogues, due to my poor English, but I was helped by a translator available to the negotiators in the room.

In this, Dr. Pastor turns to the English leader and says: I don't understand your stubbornness, according to the news, Libra is going to become decimal soon and then it doesn't matter. Furthermore, a coin that has “half a crown” and does not have “one crown” “is a dose!” The Englishman threw his pen on the table and said: OK, let’s use American money. I believe that, in fact, a year or two later the English began to adopt the decimal system for Libra. I left there thinking about taking another English course... It was evident that English was “Esperanto” in practice and in reality and I felt insecure with what I had learned in school and in the courses. By 1962 I had made French my priority, influenced by a view that French was the diplomatic language, and English the “commercial” one, and would be forever. Result: I had better French than English. Furthermore, I had studied at a school (Application of the FNFi) with a frankly “left” environment in which the English and Americans were considered “enemy colonialists” and I, who was already “right-wing”, “lacerdista”, did not he wanted to provoke more and suffer more political bullying. Have you ever thought if I spoke good English on top of that? He would have been branded a “deliver”, etc. and such. I think I wasn't the only one who noticed the need for English, which, although it was already great, was intensified at that time. There were two traditional courses: IBEU and Cultura Inglesa. Suddenly, chains of courses appeared: Embers, Oxford, etc., everyone thinking that learning English would solve life. Speaking English became a goal, an opportunity, direct access to information, books, music, in addition to what, when it became fashionable, became “chic”. English courses have become very popular.

It should be noted that 1967-69 was a politically delicate time, globally speaking. In France, memorable marches, in the USA the hippies and Woodstock, here the Ibiúna congress, plane hijackings, the famous AI-5, in short, abundant literature on the subject. Returning to the Rio Niterói bridge and the English, the fact is that Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Rio on November 5, 1968, therefore at the age of 42 (she died in 2022 aged 97), to brighten up the signing of the bridge's financing contract. By plane to Salvador, BA, where he stayed for a couple of days and from where he came sailing on his huge yacht, in practice a small ship, called “Britannia”, which anchored in the Botafogo cove, in front of “Morro da Viúva”, having stayed on that boat for the days she spent in Rio, using the pier at the RJ Yacht Club (in Urca) for boarding and disembarking using the club's valet service. The Yacht Club prepared itself for this protagonism and, with the complex of mutts that plagues the country and the low self-esteem of a false elite, due to cronyism and heredity. Soon some “Indians” appeared wanting to show themselves as subjects of someone, in this case who was more at hand, and it was her majesty “Liz 2nd”. They laid red carpets, renovated the clubhouse, awnings and walkways in case of rain or sun, bought new uniforms for employees, intensive course with classes in etiquette, protocol, ceremonial, etc. They say that there were even incense sticks lit all the time so that, in the event that someone farted, the queen would not feel it. It got to the point of hiring an English teacher to train the employees and sailors for the inevitable contacts with the British. For three months, two hours of intensive English per day.

The queen would barely pass through the club, using the “porch pier” to board and disembark on the boat that was on the alvarenga service and go to, or come from, the “Britannia”, where she would go up or down the external stairs, which are lowered on these occasions. in which the ship does not touch the pier, hanging there at an angle, making an angle of about 300 in relation to the plane of the surface of the water. In the case there was also a horizontal platform near the sea for the rituals to which the Queen was entitled: bugle calls, greetings, anyway... Nelson (*01) must have devised the entire pajelança for himself, saying that it was for the King, but stayed until today. The sailor known as “Fumaça” (*02), around 25 years old at the time, was a good professional, focused, proactive, interested, had even taken a course and obtained an “amateur master” license. Perhaps because they saw so many qualities in him, despite his young age, he was one of those chosen for the “full” training at the Yacht Club, which had started about 3 months before. Agnaldo (nickname Mumu), a contemporary and countryman of Fumaça, who told me about these episodes, said that after two months of intensive training in protocols, ceremonials, etiquette, and the English language, the elite group of “trainings” was getting almost unbearable in front of the other employees of the club. Fumaça, for example, only answered to “smoke”, he started to have mannerisms from the etiquette classes, from the teacher (from Socila), picking up the glass and the cup with the little finger raised, repeating what he saw the sailors and soldiers doing in front of the Kings in passing films, such as shouting “God Save the Queen”: _ GODI SEIVE DE CUIN He also began to incorporate several English words into his everyday vocabulary: uáter, shirti (dangerous, they had to teach extra classes because of that word), gudimorningue, a fudi du ristoranti tuday uas OK, and so on , when finally the Queen arrived.

Everything ready, a director of the club who had ascendancy over the others, together with an Admiral in pajamas who was also a member, could not contain themselves and, when Britania dropped anchors and lowered the ladders on the side, they were already at her feet in the new breakaway boat, called Cocoroca (traditional name of the RJ Yacht for this service), bought, prepared and inaugurated there for these two or three days of comings and goings. Impeccably white hull, red carpet, bronze metals shining with polish, brand new awning so the Queen doesn't get sun for nothing in this tropical climate, with the logo of England and the Yacht, everything shining, smelling, beautiful day, perfect!

The Director and the former Admiral were so anxious that they arrived at the place almost an hour before the appointment in the hope that She would disembark earlier and wait on land for the Minister who was coming to welcome her, so that they could tell their grandchildren and great-grandchildren that the Queen had given them an hour. As befitted the traditions of punctuality, neither the security were on hand ahead of time, nor the photographers and journalists, nor the Ambassador, nor the Rotchilds, so the Queen disembarked at exactly the right time to, with the journey to the pier, where a RolsRoyce was waiting for her, there would be no delay. It was when disembarking from the Britannia, going down the external stairs, followed by her husband, one Philip, following the ceremonial so well rehearsed, at the moment that the Queen stopped on that lower landing, when the bugler played the notes that belonged there, that the Smoke thought it was time for the joint salute, and, looking up at the Queen's legs, he shouted, alone, in a loud and clear voice:


Sepulchral silence. An eternity for those who realized the problem. Pretending that nothing happened, an officer says something loudly, like “prepare to disembark” the queen goes down the 10 remaining steps and, before passing to the alvarenga, she pauses, the English salute in unison, the Smoke very seriously repeating together, now a little late, not to mention alone, and lower, sensing some “blunder” by the smile of the English sailors, who were contorting themselves not to laugh: _ Godi Sheive de Cuin! But the damage was already done. The Brazilians thought that Fumaça had made a minor mistake, just a “timing” error, “it happens”! But, inexplicably, the high-ranking Englishmen, looked very bored, the Queen and her husband with a face of scenery, pretended not to be there, the Commodore, the Director, the retired Admiral, the other “entourage”, all in casual clothes. -go-to-mass, disconsolate that the Queen and the other Englishmen wouldn't even look at them. When they arrived on land, the English Ambassador was informed of what had happened and arranged for there to be no more interaction with the natives who were not fluent in the language of the whites and the Alvarenga service was now carried out by a longboat owned by Britannia.

After comments circulated, some idiots thought it was on purpose, Fumaça, who came to be known as “Barbeiro”, was fired from the club and, as “there are evils that come for good”, luckily for him, a sailing aficionado With many possessions and a sense of humor, he heard about the case, hired him to skipper his new yacht, with some advantages. In time, the bridge was ready and opened on March 4, 1974, everyone lived happily ever after and my English continued to suffer.

(*01) Admiral Nelson the one at the Battle of Waterloo (*02) Francisco Corrêa dos Santos, known as Fumaça, born in Camamú, Bahia, where 7 out of 10 children become sailors, was a negro-negro, about 1.65 m tall, good-looking, friendly, always well good-natured, always wearing sunglasses and the kind of mustache that became Eddie Murphy's trademark.

Miguel Fernandez y Fernandez Consultant engineer and chronicler, Apr2023

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