Located in the middle of the Uruguayan territory, surrounding it on all four sides, the microscopic republic of Parva Domus Magna Quies maintains an unblemished democracy, where bad humor is outlawed and banquets are mandatory. (This article was originally published in 1970 in Sete Dias Illustrated.)
Just 200 kilometers from Buenos Aires the smallest and most exclusive nation in the world is located: the Republic of Parva Domus. With 250 inhabitants, and a democratic-representative government, limited in its four borders by its protector and neighbor, the Republic of Uruguay. Founded in 1878, Parva Domus Magna Quies (which in Latin means: small house, great rest) is “a Republic free and independent of all social concerns, made up of people willing to give themselves to the most frank expansions of friendship.”
The parvenses, a clan of imagineers of inexhaustible creativity, affirm that their country is not a social club, but a sovereign State, a claim that somehow resembles the ineffable citizens of the republics of La Boca or San Telmo, two of the most notable experiences of this type approved in this margin of the Plata. They are probably right: at least to date, the Uruguayan government has not claimed any kind of sovereignty over the ancient palace and its gardens, which extend a few steps from the Montevideo boardwalk, at the aristocratic southern end of Boulevard Artigas. According to them, any violation of their sovereignty must be judged by international law, a premise that is linked to another no less boastful: that, with the exception of Parva Domus, the rest of the world is mad as hell.
Protected by article 13 of its constitution, which authorizes the entry of foreigners “exceptionally and as a duty of international courtesy”, a special envoy from the magazine Sete Dias managed to pass through the heavy gates that isolate Parva Domus from the outside world. A circumstance that allowed him to tour the dominions of the republic, alternate with the full Governing Board, interview illustrious parvenses and participate in the most transcendental collective rite of the nation: a gargantuan banquet that, for four hours, put the good humor and hospitality that encourages in all its citizens.
“Our republic offers an indispensable therapy for the nerves of citizens, subjected to the overwhelming pressure of the outside world”, justified the Minister of Government and Foreign Relations of Parva Domus, Juan Sciandro (56, married, notary).
Businessmen, military, landowners and bureaucrats (some members of its select citizenship) shed their clothes and prejudices as they enter the baroque palace, surrounded by gardens and statues. By wearing outlandish uniforms, they accept the angular principle of the republic: there are no other differences between Parvenians than those derived from the joviality, appetite and the creativity that each one demonstrates.
At the first look, Parva Domus differs little from a madhouse; It is necessary to understand the Parvenian spirit to understand that the case in fact it’s exactly the opposite: citizens want to get out of alignment and to do this they break down the barriers that society forces them to raise five or six days a week. On the seventh day they enlist in a delirious show business where they free themselves from all inhibitions, in an innocent but fun marathon of creativity.
Only in this way can it be explained that the severe Colonel Oscar Zaffaroni (56, married), director of the Uruguayan Penal Institutes, becomes the loud and apocryphal ambassador of Ghana on Sundays and wears the garb of the Cuban guerrillas. Or that the multimillionaire Saturnino Fernández (75, two children, eight grandchildren, president of the FUNSA tire company and the Frigorífico Modelo, two giant companies in the country) plays the drum in the Palacio band.
DEFLATE THE INFLATED
“They obey the rules because they are a tradition of 92 years of history” says the majestic president of the republic, Luis Julio Demicheri (50, three children, landowner), wearing a loose yellow guayabera. To verify it, it is enough to go through the National History, which each of the Parvenian knows.
On a rainy Sunday in 1878, Juan Zuchelli (director of the Customs protections service of Uruguay), a man with a “cheerful and fun spirit”, gathered several of his friends in his fishing hut, on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, to read a passage from Jack, the novel by the French Alphonse Daudet. The writer tells in his book the story of an ambitious individual who enslaved himself to obtain wealth, until, mistreated by years and disappointments, he realized that he had never really lived. Then he retired to a small house by the forest and stamped on the door this ironic phrase: “Parva Domus Magna Quies”.
The story plunged those present into meditation. José Achinelli, who according to the revisionist historians of Parva Domus is the true founder of the republic, improvised a memorable speech: “The advantages of life are friendship, joy and peace of mind. What do we get out of this mess of business and rivalries that is called normal life? Only concerns, envies and tricks. We are so busy deceiving each other that we forget our true desires. We are under a tyranny: that of our wrong way of living. And in the face of any tyranny, the answer must be: rebellion”.
An ovation shook the fishing house when an enthusiastic rebel fired his shotgun towards the then distant Montevideo: it symbolized a declaration of independence and the birth of Parva Domus. “Since then”, says an excited Demicheri “each conspiracy became an agent of the republic and the list of revolutionaries reached 250, the top set by the constitution.”
The nation believes that its longevity derives from fundamental law, which prohibits talking about politics, business, religion, and the importance of one’s own person. “We are the first democracy in the world,” boasted the president. “Also the most civilized,” Sciandro completed. “A communist revolution will never reach Parva Domus because there are no social classes here,” said another Parvense.
No wonder, then, that the essential activity of the republic is “deflating the inflated.” Old citizens still remember the decade of the twenties, when the then president of the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, His Excellency Juan Campisteguy, served the table in the “Sundays” (thus the weekly banquets were baptized), voluntarily fulfilling his role as parvenian. The “Tenida Magna” is also cited in honor of the poet Rubén Darío, who tried to glorify the agape with these words: “I don’t know what the banquets of the Olympian gods were like because they forgot to invite me, but I’m sure they don’t compare with these”. That said—legend has it—he received, as a punishment for his solemnity, a superb panazo on the head that returned him to his seat.
More recently, in 1966, the authoritarian Montevideo police chief, Colonel Ventura Rodríguez, was arrested by the Parva Domus Palace Guard on the charge of robbery: two silver spoons were found in one of his pockets, which a stealthy parvenian had slipped seconds before into the surprised colonel’s jacket.
UNCORCH … FIRE!
“Whoever arrives late at the table pays a bottle of brandy,” Sciandro hurries, while explaining that the second commandment from Parve imposes “sanctifying Sunday banquets.” This obliges not only to attend the sessions assiduously, but also to prevent the entry of women within the limits of Parva Domus. “We are not misogynistic, but their presence would inhibit citizens,” they clarify. A jealous attitude that, weeks ago, provoked the ire of journalist Lila González, Uruguayan TV announcer: upon being expelled from Parvense territory, she accused the clan of “segregation”.
The humorous aggressiveness of the Parvenians also presides over all the acts of Parva Domus’ foreign policy: “We have a weapon much more powerful than atomic bombs: mockery”, as the cheerful Parva residents point out. Periodically, the president of Parva Domus, flanked by his hostesses, arrives at the Government House of Uruguay to invite his Uruguayan colleague to participate in one of the famous banquets. “We never asked for an audience and until now we had no problems because the presidents got our message: solemn and smiling at the same time” they boast. They proudly say that in 1965 Uruguayan President Washington Beltrán received his colleague from Parve with honors to the astonishment of ministers and officials.
But sitting at the huge horseshoe-shaped table in the vast second-floor banquet room is often an exercise unfit for “puffers”. There, under a coat of arms that bears the legend “Glory to the Parva and long live to the joy” take place the most notable tradition of the Parvenians, Sunday to Sunday. Usually the feast begins with a heavy artillery fire: fifty bottles of champagne (imported from Uruguay), uncorked at the same time, violently expel their caps on the favorite target of the citizens: the president, his acolytes and your guests located at the head of the horseshoe. The objective of such an unusual execution is to test the fidelity of the diners to the ninth commandment of Parve: “Do not bother with jokes at the table”, a precept that, in general, is usually initiated with blows of bread.
THE COUP OF 1895
But democracy would not be perfect if discrepancy was not authorized in the republic. The Minister of War and Navy, Enrique Gascue (63, married, owner of a brewery chain), self-styled leader of the opposition, often harshly criticizes the conduct of the banquets.
Beyond the jokes of Gascue, head of a sort of “legalized opposition,” Sete Dias Illustrated found some unease among some citizens. “Three generations gave impetus to the nation, but now there is very little that is done to integrate the youngest and ensure their permanence,” apostrophized a conspirator. “Old age and gerontocracy as a system threaten to bring down the republic.”
Parva Domus, like any other country in the world, sometimes has economic crises, so far avoided through donations from citizens or with an extreme resource: the sale of their domains, a file that reduced the original five to one square kilometer. But Parvenians prefer to forget all these problems.
Of course there are exceptions: in 1895 General Chippara staged a bloodless coup, seizing the government of the republic. The Parvenians did not forget such an outburst of seriousness: the name of Chiappara was erased from the official texts and any mention of this ignominious stage in his history was strictly forbidden.
THE GREAT REPUBLIC OF THE SANES
Jokes aside, the republic watches over the well-being of its citizens even outside the country. A good example is provided by the case of Juan Emilkanián (26, violin soloist), who at the end of last year graduated as a doctor and in whose honor one of the loudest Sundays in recent times was celebrated. While the doctor-violinist was playing Schubert and Bach, in the community auditorium, surrounded by keels of ships, rusted arquebuses, embalmed beasts and paintings by Quinquela Martín, the parvenses conspired to finance the installation of the young graduate in a central office .
For dessert, the mocking and supposed ambassador of Brazil, Emilio Barberousse (65, two children, three grandchildren, landowner), promised to recommend the new doctor to his friends, the “magantos”. Asked for clarification, the ambassador (picking up the plastic banana that invariably hangs from his neck) indicated that “maganto” is equivalent to “escolimado or cacoquimio”.
After the session was adjourned, and under the canopy of a flowery gazebo in the gardens of Parva Domus, ambassador Barberousse substituted the synonyms for an accessible word –sick–, which he defines as follows: “Sick is the one who lives in the sordid outside world and that will never understand the meaning of the friendship and joy that are only cultivated in this great and unique republic of sane people”. A rousing exercise in language that was not the product of atrocious digestion, but of the two fundamental ingredients that prevail in the group: imagination and good humor. Something that in Parva Domus they have plenty.
Translated by Francisco Bustamante from an article by the journalist Antonio Mercader that was published on February 2, 1970 in Sete Dias Illustrated(Argentina). Francisco Bustamante is a law student from Quillota, Chile.