Brazil, 1975 or thereabouts: we are in Búzios, a small resort town a few hours out from Rio De Janeiro. Up until ten years prior, the town wasn’t much more than a fishing village, but following a yuletide visit by a certain Gallic sexpot, the town had subsequently become a magnet for the jet-set, back when that term actually had some cachet. Luxurious villas proliferated as quickly as the Brazilian Miracle of 1969-1973 had put the country on the global economic map. Around this time, out on Geribá or any one of the various plaia that define the tiny peninsular, it was commonplace to encounter a companionable young surfer by the name of Marco, son of a retired Argentinean diplomat who had settled in town.
Although Marco wouldn’t describe the passage of parties and surfing that constituted his day-to-day routine as a ‘dark period’ until much later on in his life, he was by now aware that there was something beyond catching waves and hanging out with Mick Jagger. Deciding exactly what lay past the uncertain volatility of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, was still as capricious as what name the Brazilian currency would go by tomorrow, but nevertheless there was an awareness of an awareness. Friends and acquaintances who streamed through the family home presented enticing glimpses of possible futures. Artists and musicians like Caetano, Veloso, Gilberto Gil or Jobim censuring the politics of the day and its attendant boom and bust economy; stockbrokers sailing in on the profits of the recently invigorated (and soon to be emasculated) stock exchange.
Marco was aware that mathematics had something to do with it. His parent’s final tour had taken the family to Paris from 1969 to 1973. There, Marco had been imbued with the sense that intellectual pursuits led to great things. Unavoidably math had figured in this developmental period, first as an inevitable sine qua non of the French educational edifice, later as something for which the younger Marco began demonstrating more than just an emerging proclivity. The math took him to a Lycee in Rio where he attempted to teach the subject, but beyond the money, the experience hadn’t been particularly inspiring. Watching contemporaries leave for colleges and universities also stirred the desire to attain something academically, albeit without a definite goal.
Somehow, on occasion, he found himself making the two-hour bus trip to the Instituto Nacional de Matematica Pura e Aplicada. A girl had said something about someone enrolled there; IMPA was and still is the best school for Math in South America. The staff there couldn’t help but be bemused, confronted with a local hero from Armação dos Búzios; no, he did not have a college degree. He had traveled over 100 miles. He would like to study math. They would apologize to him. They explained once again if you do not possess a college degree you cannot enroll in a postgraduate course. The boy would leave. It was fairly certain he would turn up again in a few weeks, with an unchanged plea. Eventually, a well-known epistemologist from Argentina passed through IMPA. He would call on his friends the Avellanedas in Búzios during his visit, and when he did so he had some advice for one of the sons of the family. This epistemologist had heard that there was this ‘crazy guy’ who kept rolling up on the IMPA campus, asking for a place on the program despite an evident lack of qualifications. The epistemologist had a few things to say. “Stop this thing.” “Go to College!”
In 1977 Marco Avellaneda left Búzios for the University Buenos Aires.
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