Sunday, May 22, 2016

Brazil's Would-be King

From the Financial Times, May 18:

Brazil’s would-be king and his two-bed rented home in São Paulo
Dom Bertrand, heir to a defunct throne, awaits the republic’s downfall after President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment 

Dom Bertrand
Dom Bertrand, or, to give his full name, Bertrand Maria José Pio Januário Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orleans e Bragança e Wittelsbach 
With bars on the windows and faint stains up its external mint-green walls, the two-bedroom rental property near São Paulo’s Pacaembu football stadium is not, it seems, fit for a king.

A Toyota Corolla sits in pride of place at the end of the driveway. Inside, piles of freshly washed dishes glisten under the fluorescent light of the narrow kitchen, where a plastic, blue water cooler sets off the orange hues of a flowery tablecloth. The bare downstairs bathroom boasts a solitary can of Airwick air freshener while, on the back patio, a man’s soggy shirts sway gently in the evening breeze.

This is not what readers of the FT want to see in an article about the illustrious “Prince Imperial of Brazil” — heir to Brazil’s defunct throne — his two elderly male assistants insist, ushering us to the front of the house.

We end up in what resembles a low-budget museum exhibit. Family portraits of monarchs alongside religious relics and a replica of Jesus’s crown of thorns fill the two reception rooms and a small adjoining dining area. The only vestige of the modern world outside is a credit card machine, ready to take donations from visiting members of Brazil’s growing monarchist movement who believe the only way to solve the nation’s current political crisis is to reinstate the royal family.

As the assistants try to interest the photographer in the garden instead, the household’s regal resident can be heard clomping down the wooden staircase.

“Your highness?” I ask. The 75-year-old does not even flinch at the grandiose address. His full name is Bertrand Maria José Pio Januário Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orleans e Bragança e Wittelsbach; but he prefers just Bertrand Maria José Pio Januário Miguel Gabriel Rafael Gonzaga de Orleans e Bragança. We settle on Dom Bertrand.

We begin by confirming his royal claim to fame. He is indeed the great-great-grandson of Pedro II, Brazil’s last emperor, whose own grandfather King João VI of Portugal (Dom Bertrand’s great-great-great-great grandfather) fled to Brazil with the rest of the Portuguese court in 1807 to escape Napoleon.

In one of history’s sweet ironies, Dom Bertrand was himself born in France after his grandfather fled there when Brazil’s monarchy was overthrown in 1889, he explains, his perfect Portuguese distorted by a thick French accent.

Brazil was ruled by royalty for almost 400 years in total, first as a Portuguese colony from 1500, then briefly as the seat of Portugal’s kingdom and finally as an independent empire from 1822....MUCH MORE