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Ipanema’s daughter who didn’t want to see the Covid-19

Laura V. is a real « Garota de Ipanama ». As the song says: “The girl from Ipanema grows on the shore and the whole beach – Fact Ah! «  Laura V. has presented the news for five years. It is appreciated by viewers, receives hundreds of messages every day. Let her not read. She feels no obligation to these people. She studied a lot to get there. Alone or almost. His assistant Vítoria gives him a brief summary once a week. She listens without much attention and interrupts him after ten minutes with the same sentence: « I am paid to inform, that is my job! Not to listen to one or two compliments, nor to all the misfortunes of the world! « 

She leaves with her head held high, often with her sports bag under her arm, she needs to be in good shape to ensure the daily live. There is a lot of news and viewers are waiting for it. Its audience is important. The boss sends her flowers every Monday morning to thank or flatter her. Laura V. finds it ridiculous, she doesn’t even feel them, barely looks at them. She asks her secretary to put them at the reception. The director of the national channel does not take offense and continues, every Monday, his little ritual. He cares about her. Laura V. knows it.

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A great journalist tells the truth. O povo, the people, as she calls her, send her letters of all kinds: Alice lives alone with her ten-year-old daughter and cannot buy school supplies for her. Ricardo found himself disabled after a car accident, he so badly needs support for the purchase of a roulette chair which would allow him to continue working to support his wife and their three children. Isadora at sixteen, she asked for an autographed photo because she wanted to become a journalist. Ana-Julia is looking for work, any job, she can read, count and even speak English but does not have a diploma. Heitor no longer knows how to end up paying for his house and avoiding eviction, his wife is pregnant with their first child. Daniel dreams of being a doctor but does not have enough money to enroll in university.

Lara is seven years old and dreams of meeting her, she finds her very beautiful. Leonardo is twenty, a musician, dreams of opening a music school in his neighborhood, an optimistic favela, but he does not have the means. He feels capable of teaching, he specifies. Luiza is fourteen and a special request, she lives with her grandfather in a small village in the north of Brazil, he died suddenly, she has no means to organize the burial, asks for help so that he flies away with dignity and asks him a question: Why do you never talk about the virus that prevents good breathing, gives fever and coughs, and kills people?

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Luiza’s message challenges Vítoria. She too has heard of a virus that would attack China. Same symptoms, same respiratory problems, cough and fever. The situation looks serious, the entire Chinese people are in containment. There have already been many deaths. Laura’s assistant worries. There is so little information on this in his country. Everything is a political question. But the two women never talk about annoying subjects and then the sentence falls: « Help them … I don’t have to do that! « 

The journalist recently met the President in place, finally, it was he who came to her, asked her? A few days ago, they kissed, laughed together. He slipped words into her ear. Laura smiled and nodded. She never talks to Vítoria about what they said to each other.

The assistant is not fooled. The President may have even negotiated paid for the benefit of television news. Laura V. accepts her choice, she voted for him. He’s a soldier. And the army is right, just. Vítoria hates him, finds him incapable and dangerous for his country. It divides people, categories, and ridicules them abroad. She is saturated and would like to leave Brazil. Part of his family is in France. Her adored aunt encourages her. She would help him, house her. She takes French lessons and dreams of working on a French television set. Vítoria doesn’t tell Laura about it, she wouldn’t understand. Being the assistant of a star is not for everyone! The assistant loves her job, but celebrity doesn’t interest her.

Annie, his French aunt, is a doctor. In her last message she did not want to worry him but explained to him: the disease has arrived in France, we will no doubt soon be in containment. If you want to change your life, don’t delay too long. There will be no more planes for France. The coronavirus will arrive in Brazil. There is already a first case, in the north, an elderly man, he died. Vítoria already knows, he’s Luiza’s grandfather.

Laura will not inform about the virus. The President asked him

Since this last message, she has been worried and stunned. France too, such a sophisticated country! But she understands, this virus does not choose its prey. He is international. And no one has found the cure yet. The Chinese react quickly, they are disciplined, obedient, but they too have not found the cure. The assistant journalist worries about Brazil, it would be a disaster, in a country where infrastructure has such a hard time functioning. For the moment the new military president does not speak about it or so little. The country’s economy would stop, unthinkable for him. Its fi nancial interests come first.

Vítoria says that she has an important mission towards her country. She cares about hers and sincerely loves people. When she was younger, she hesitated between journalism and medicine. Her French aunt explained to her that the virus would be more contagious on people over sixty, but not only. She is determined, she will speak seriously to Laura V. It is important to inform, it is important. There are precautions to be taken, to be observed. In Brazil it’s summer, people congregate in large numbers on the beaches.

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Television remains the most effective means of communication. His aunt said to him: wash his hands, wash them very often, distance himself, if possible cover his face. And above all, you should really stay at home.

Tonight Laura is in a hurry, she has a date in a luxurious restaurant in Ipanema. She will do the job as quickly as possible in front of thousands of people but will not inform about the virus. The President asked him to. He is afraid. Fear of povo. Little people unable to understand. He imagines rushes in stores, thefts, brutality. Economy first. For the possible dead, well it doesn’t concern him, the hospital system has only to fend for itself. He says he was a top athlete. Covid-19 wouldn’t dare approach it.

The latest news has just fallen, Laura announces with empty eyes: her President has been in contact in the United States with a carrier of the virus. He will be tested. The presenter does not give more details. His assistant thinks it’s the right time. After the intervention of her boss on the air, she insists: the virus will take on immense proportions and that Brazil will not be spared. Talk about it, prevent it, anticipate it!

Vítoria hands him a glass of water. Laura is exasperated, swings her file of the day and slams the door of her office. It changes after each live and tonight we expect it. She is not married, would like to find a man who can afford it, to go around the world, to stay in luxury hotels. The luxury she cares about, she rubs shoulders with it every day. Children? She doesn’t even think about it, it would damage her body which she maintains with passion. Vítoria starts, knocks on the door and goes inside.

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Laura is ready for her date, her plunging neckline, she is elegant perched on her black pumps. The assistant starts, explains for the call of her aunt doctor in France and the letter from the little girl from the north of Brazil who lost her grandfather. It just makes her smile, nothing hits her. She looks at her watch, lets out a little cry,  » I’ve got to go ! He is very punctual, normal with his driver who drives him! « . Laura also has a driver, Brazil likes these privileges.

Vítoria earns a good living but prefers to mix with people, walk or take transport. She is not afraid, she just stays alert. She was born in Rio de Janeiro, she deeply loves this city and her country. Now is the time for her to leave him.

Back home, she calls her aunt, her decision is made, she will take the first flight to Paris. Just enough time to warn his parents and his brother who support his project. She is afraid of being a carrier and daring to travel, talking to her aunt who reassures her right away, she will be tested at the airport when she arrives.

For Laura, she is thinking. How to tell her. All the same, she is keen on this position, which she will quickly leave, it does not look like her, but she has done so much for this channel, unpaid overtime, no recognition. Laura never invited her to have a drink, they never really talked about anything. The great journalist has a heart of stone. We are Thursday evening, his flight is scheduled for Monday and will arrive in Paris Tuesday morning.

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The next morning, Vítoria is faithful to the post. She always arrives before Laura. Everything is ready, his file with the news of the day is well placed on his desk, as well as his glass of water and his two pills for these perpetual headaches. The assistant takes a look at the papers. No news on the President’s screening, no announcement to protect himself from covid-19. Vítoria confirms its choice. She’s good to go. It’s not cowardice, she tried to warn Laura, the situation will worsen, there will be many deaths.

Her beloved Brazil will have a hard time coping with this new storm, but she is confident and has heard on the radio that ministers are starting to take matters into their own hands. The city of São Paulo announces the containment, with or without the approval of the Military President. Vítoria rejoices and feels less alone, less guilty for leaving A cidade maravilhosa, the marvelous city.

« I’m sick, I find it hard to breathe »

Laura V. arrives, always equal to herself, she never says hello to the staff, just a quick greeting to Vítoria. She goes quickly with a meeting, she is the only one to speak. She asks the questions and answers them at the same time. She has a bad character, she’s the boss, everyone is silent. On the set, she stands straight, the makeup artist is on the forehead. She is ready, perfect and starts with her most beautiful smile. Bom dia Brasil!

The news is neither good nor bad. The country seems to be advancing at its own pace. No news of the President and his screening, nor of the virus that attacks the world. Brazil advances with closed eyes. There’s only Vítoria in the shadow of this plateau to worry about. Her colleagues, with whom she discreetly shares her information, do not speak out, for fear of being fired. End of the morning news. There will be two more. She will announce his departure to him this evening. She feels ready and determined.

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(Françoise Durand)

(Françoise Durand)

At the end of the day, Laura slams the door of her office to change. No gallant date tonight, she puts on sportswear. Vítoria is tired of waiting and come in! Laura’s cell phone rings, her face lights up. It’s her adored grandmother! The one who lives in Brasilia. A tall woman with an exceptional career, lawyer, lawyer and deputy. It is thanks to her, and her connections, that Laura was able to have this position of presenter at the Rio de Janeiro newspaper, so quickly and so easily. She was the one who supported and encouraged her to finish her studies. She owes him everything. Rebeca V. has a name, it will be part of the history of her country. She has just put in place a law that will protect street children. Over three million in Brazil. Laura answers him as usual with a little girl’s voice:

– Avozinha darling, how are you?

– I’m sick, I have trouble breathing, I cough and I have a fever. I will soon be hospitalized.

Laura turns pale. Her eyes misted up with tears.

– I haven’t heard of Covid-19. You have to do it is important. Your job is to inform people of all dangers. Never forget that. This virus has no borders, we are all concerned. We must alert! Protect yourself and stay at home!

Rebecca V.’s voice becomes less clear, Laura hears her tired breath. A fit of cough ends the conversation.

In the footsteps of Jorge Amado, in « the house of the red river »Our thanks to illustrator Françoise Durand for her collaboration.

Nathalie Maranelli, bio express

Born in Paris in 1971, to a Brazilian mother and a French father, great granddaughter of a tribal shaman, Nathalie Maranelli currently lives in Paris. She is the author of a first novel, « De miel et de sake » (Lazare and Capucine editions), and of an autobiographical story, « Parfums d´infancia » (L’Harmattan). His personal website is here: http://nathaliemaranelli.com


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