was working at one of the several small new colleges popping up all over Brazil at the time. That day Father Mello, the Dean, President, and general top banana told me to keep watch on a group of people taking an entrance test.
Why were there so many new colleges at the time, why was I working at one of them, why should a 20-year old petite brunette then called Vera Maria Conti be taking the entrance test? These are things that can be explained in a logical manner if one has the time and inclination; why Vera and I should meet then and there has no explanation except that it was the force of destiny.
I was stunned. Not by her beauty, because I was simply too stunned to notice how beautiful she was. I was stunned by her. If you have ever been in love, you don't need further explanation.
After the test, I stammered into a lame conversation with her and was glad to learn we had to ride the same train back home, because I already knew I wanted to spend every moment of my life near her. So I said it would be dangerous to ride the train alone at that late hour and offered to keep her company, an offer she gratefully accepted. Years later, she told me she too wanted to stay near me, so she pretended to believe my lie. One calls that mutual love at first sight.
Wooing girls has never been my specialty, but we were soon dating and got married in December 1967. According to Brazilian tradition, my family was to buy her wedding gown but, to my mother's chagrin, Vera rejected the traditional models in favor of a very simple dress on the grounds she did not feel comfortable parading down the aisle dressed as a wedding cake. That is the way she was.
It was a stormy relationship. We disagreed on manynot to say mostfundamental issues. But love always won and even in the last time we went out together, in early January of this year, we walked close together, her left arm around my waist, my right hand resting on her shoulder, as we did the first time we dated, more than 40 years before and ever after.
Vera was not happy about the college and dropped out before the end of the first term, but went back to school three years after we got married and earned her BA from a different institution. She never enjoyed translating. However, she was a great translation editor and proofreader and took great satisfaction in improving my work as well as in editing and proofreading other people's translations. We had endless discussions about contrastive grammar. And even when having one of our conjugal arguments, we often suspended the discussion to discuss a fine point of Portuguese usage, discussions she always won.
Can you see the smile in the picture above? The picture was taken by our friend and colleague Giovanna Lester during a social gathering after a session of the First Brazilian Translator's Conference in Rio, in 2003. People had been asked to introduce themselves and she had just said My name is Vera and I am the one who makes Danilo's translations so good. And she was right about that. Even after she became too ill to edit my work, I kept remembering her admonishments, often given in a sing-song voice I found infuriating. I hope I will not forget her remarks.
She was very happy that day in Rio. It was her first visit to the city and she loved it. She had an interest in 19th Century Brazilian literature and was charmed by the old buildings in the downtown area. We had a great time visiting the former Presidential Palace, now a museum.
In addition to editing and proofreading, she also managed the office and became more and more involved with domestic chores. When we got married, she thought "woman's work" was degrading and kept it to the barest minimum, a problem because I am a past master of incompetence in things manual. She was under the impression the only way to earn my respect was to make more money than I possibly could. Once she began to understand I loved her and respected her regardless of how much money she could make, she began to change.
First, she decided to improve her cooking skills. In her slow, methodical, plodding way, she read cookbook after cookbook, tried recipe after recipeand became an outstanding cook. Then she decided (thank God!) we wanted children and in 1980 we adopted André, bringing him home when he was 12 days old. She also dabbled in painting and gardening and did a thousand and one other things, such as driving the family car, since I do not even know how to start the beast. Her energy seemed endless.
One of the reasons she was so happy the day Giovanna caught that radiant smile is she believed she was free from cancer forever. She had had a hysterectomy two months before, was doing very well, and we expected no further trouble. Cancer however returned for a second visit. Once more we shooed it away, but the third visit was final and fatal. On May 30, 2008, Vera left me at five in the morning. Her suffering ended then and there; mine will keep me company forever.
She was very proud that at sixty-plus she could still wear clothes bought when she was twenty. When my daughter-in-law and I were emptying her wardrobes, which were chockfull of clothes old and new, we found the salt-and-pepper sleeveless sweater she was wearing on February 4, 1965 when I first met her. I took the sweater in my hands and cried, as I am crying now.
Época, a Brazilian news weekly, publishes interviews that always end with the same question: if heaven exists, what would you like to hear when you arrive there? Well, what I would like to hear is "Vera will be here in a second."
My heartfelt thanks to Gabe Bokor for inviting me to write this farewell note and to Giovanna Lester for taking the picture that has been our favorite since the day we saw it for the first time..