Old North, ancient repose of troopers(1) , silently rolling out its waters
and its burden of nostalgia.
Nostalgia for the times of plenty, for creepers where, having a ball, the kids
stuffed themselves with fruit.
Nostalgia for the shade of the gameleira(2), that welcomed the retirante(3),
the adventurous puaia-picker(4) of the woods.
Today, its banks stripped, its sides collapsed by furrows of erosion, its mouth
wanting to scream.
It wants to know where the foliage has gone, and the protective roots that shored
up the sides and embankments.
But the scream is caught in the river's throat, where the powerful smelt dances
sovereign in the sand, dotted with broken glass, defying time, since it alone
And the North is asking:
"Where are the troopers in the inns, and the fish that lent variety to
What became of the kids that dared to cross my waters in the floods of March?
What became of the washer-women that pour out their verses, intoning old songs
to the rhythm of their clothes beating against stone, and coloured them with
Saint Caetano juice(5) and washing soap(6)
in the green fields?
Where are the trees that protected the land, the rivers and the air?
All is but memory on the banks of the Old North.
All is but nostalgia for all that protected the quality of human life.
1 Editor's notes: Troopers or caravan-drivers: in the large,
mountainous state of Minas Gerais, these people drove trains of mules and horses
that carried in large panniers the products coming from the farms for the
capital and other large cities. Their importance in the cultural history of the
state is seen in the cuisine, as they were the ones responsible for the
traditional feijão tropeiro (trooper's beans) of Minas, in which
they mixed the products they carried, such as beans, meat,
linguiça, dried fat, manioc flour.
2 Editor's note: Gameleira: a leafy tree that grows on
river-banks, whose strong roots protect the banks from erosion. In the north of
Minas, it was also a meeting-place for washerwomen and the tropeiros.
3 Editor's note: retirante/migrant: the people of the arid
sertão region in the Brazilian northeast, who migrated to other states in
Brazil, especially those in the south, passing through Minas, the state
geographically located between the northeast and São Paulo, where they
were usually going.
4 Editor's note: puaia: a medicinal root much used in the
Mucuri and Jequitinhonha river valleys (in the north of Minas Gerais) for its
blood-purifying effects. As the puaia for exportation was a large source of
income, its gathering caused great deforestation at the turn of the last
5 Editor's note: Sap of São Caetano: a plant that coils around
the fences and the brush, used as a natural bleach by washerwomen in the place
of chlorine or indigo.
6 Editor's note: strained-soap: natural product taken from the ashes
of certain trees or bean-husks as a substitute for caustic soda in the washing
of clothes. The ash is put in a bamboo basket and hot water is poured over it:
what is strained is the soap.