Living Between Cities in Corona Times

The Political Atmosphere in Rio

Christ, the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro. Adobe Stock Images.

For Marina Lemle, a science journalist in Rio de Janeiro, her routine was also affected by rules set by her homeowners’ association. Its rules include elevator use, for example: only those who live in the same apartment can travel together. Marina says that visiting the playground to exercise brings strange looks from judgmental windows overhead. Going out became something to be ashamed of. Food and medicine deliveries can only use the second floor garage.

Marina’s teenage daughter has a boyfriend in the same building. They spent time in each other’s apartments, but with the new rules and because the boyfriend shares his apartment with a large family, Marina decided that he should stay with either her family or his – going back and forth was not an option.

Marina Lemle, a science journalist in Rio, via Zoom meeting.

For Marina, it is difficult to talk to the doorman at the front desk of the foyer. The minimum wage in Brazil is the equivalent of $200. As she goes out to buy groceries, she asks him how he is doing, and the answer is short – “fine.”

He can’t be fine. He can’t work from home. He probably shares his apartment with 8 people, in a dense building or favela, where each person works in a neighborhood and takes crowded public transit every day just to come back home and share the same space. Over and over. Staying home is a rule that applies to only a minority in Brazil. As the virus begins to arrive in the favelas, health professionals and epidemiologists predict a disturbing future. It is also difficult to measure precisely how many are being affected in a dense community without tests and information.

The Sound

As I spoke with friends and colleague through Zoom conferences, I realized how Rio’s sound was part of the city. Rio is extremely loud. Sirens, constant traffic, people talking and singing, music coming from the next corner, soccer team fans yelling, birds and so forth. These days only pigeons fly over the beaches and miss their share of Biscoito Globo (the quintessential Carioca beach snack). I asked my friend Daniela Araujo to film a short video from her window at night, and the silence made me feel sad.

Silence in Daniela Araujo’s apartment in Laranjeiras, a busy neighborhood in Rio.

For Eder Targino, an architect who lives in Santa Teresa (an old Rio neighborhood), there is no silence. His typical evening in Santa Teresa starts with the panelaco at 8:30pm. When the noise is over, a neighbor plays a Chico Buarque song, Calice (a symbol of the movement against the military dictatorship of the late 60’s). Someone then responds with the Brazilian national anthem – which was confiscated by the right movement – to what a woman walking the dog down the street yells “this anthem is my anthem, too,” followed by a round of applauses from all over. A man goes uphill yelling “myth, Bolsonaro is a myth!” to what another man responds in a loud and threatening voice with all sorts of profanities.  The first man then yelps “Our Father in heaven…” in one breath, like who is asking for help.

View from Targino’s apartment in Santa Teresa. 04/20/2020

Outside Rio

Brazil has been politically split for a few years. The 2016 elections deepened the distance between left and right, and the coronavirus aggravated this gap. To this day, president Bolsonaro denies the gravity of the pandemic, calling it “exaggerated.” On Friday March 27 he said in a television interview “I’m sorry, some people will die, they will die, that’s life.” He said that in São Paulo State, Brazil’s economic powerhouse — which has the most cases and deaths so far — the death toll seemed “too large.” Days before, on March 25, he demanded an end to lockdowns imposed in the country’s biggest cities – like Rio and Sao Paulo. In his opinion, the mayors who took their own initiative are “criminals who are trying to destroy Brazil.”

The Guardian, 03/24/2020.

Glenn Greenwald's tweet shows Bolsonaro having a cough attack during a meeting.
Glenn Greenwald's tweet shows Bolsonaro having a cough attack during a meeting.

The cities maintained the lockdown, and the president’s words caused a furious reaction among Brazilians. Some panelacos (loud pan-banging) were taking place since the week of March 16 due to a disputed bill to be voted in Congress.

The panelacos have a long history in Brazil, but since 2016 they had been a tool confiscated by the political right. In the current situation, however, the left and those who wish to express dissatisfaction took over the command of the movement. The pan-banging continues to happen every night at 8:45.

Bolsonaro praises Olavo de Carvalho, a Brazilian who lives in Miami and maintains a popular YouTube channel (Carvalho is known as “Bolsonaro’s guru”). Carvalho published a video March 21 affirming that “no one had died of coronavirus.” On Monday, March 23, YouTube removed the video from the platform, declaring that its content violated the guidelines of the community, as reported on the Brazilian edition of The Intercept.

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