Perched on the southern tip of Uruguay, an early 20th century house is the site of one of the world's smallest "micronations," where fun is the goal and bad humor punishable by "jail."
The self-declared Republic of Parva Domus Magna Quies has an all-male "citizenry" of no more than 250 at any given time, each carefully vetted.
In the upscale Punta Carretas neighbourhood of the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, overlooking the Río de la Plata, the so-called nation has its own "president," complete with a cabinet of ministers, a flag and a micronational anthem.
Its creed: "Pleasure and friendship."
Its members, called Parvenses, get together regularly over meals: "to have a good time, tell stories, sing," explained President Bartolome Angel Grillo, an 83-year-old practicing cardiologist.
When they meet, the "citizens" come dressed as sheikhs, popes or musketeers, among other characters – an old tradition.
"Solidarity and tolerance are the most important things in life, and it is the core of [our] philosophy," said "His Excellency" Grillo.
Presidents are elected every two years.
"We don't talk about religion, politics or sports, so that there are no problems," Grillo explained of the micronational rules, such as they are.
And if someone does lose their temper, he is sent to Parvenese "prison" – a small cage jokingly erected for the purpose, though with recourse to an "attorney" and a "fair trial," of course.
The micronation's origins stretch back 143 years ago to August 25, 1878, when a group of fishermen, tired of lugging their rods and gear from different parts of the city to the beach every day, bought a tiny shack on the spot for storage purposes and gatherings – and declared a "republic" in jest.
Today, it comprises a neoclassical "presidential palace" completed in 1917, surrounded by "parks" and "avenues" on the official map – in reality a garden with a few dirt paths.
It is the house that gave the republic its name: Latin for "small house, big rest."
From its humble beginnings as a fisherman's cabin, members today are of the Uruguayan upper class – doctors, lawyers and politicians.
"The republic is only men. There are no women. Women come when there are special meetings as guests," said citizen Raul Santurio of the micronation, which is registered as a cultural association in Uruguay.
Good neighbourly ties
Despite enjoying no recognition or official international status, the micronation briefly dabbled in the realm of realpolitik in 2007, when it hosted informal talks between Argentine and Uruguayan diplomats in a pulp mill dispute.
"We have very good relations with the neighboring republic [Uruguay], although at times we have been on the point of declaring war," quipped Grillo.
Uruguay is a small country nestled between Brazil and Argentina, with a population of 3.5 million.
Every year, the "citizens" of the micronation come together to celebrate "Independence Day" on August 25, with a parade in full costume and foreign ambassadors on the guest list.
For the first time in nearly a century-and-a-half, the parades of 2020 and 2021 had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, in its stead, there was a formal dinner with a handful of esteemed Parvenses.
The president introduced a new citizen, who showed off his singing skills, followed by jokes – many of them suggestive -–as one speaker after another took the mic.
"It is a society of people of a certain age. People die, but it is renewed because people want to join," said octogenarian Arturo Sica, who himself became a citizen eight years ago.
The "presidential palace" of Parva Domus Magna Quies today is crowded by tall apartment buildings casting long shadows over the proud micronation.
The land is now worth a considerable sum, and the micronation bats away constant offers to purchase.
"This is more than just a place," said Santurio.
by Amin Guidara, AFP