Looking back to bits in the post-COVID myriad of human divisions

PARIS – Musical notes emanating from the apartment window, the fast-paced fingers of the accordion player dining in the restaurant below.

For years, wandering minstrels have been a part of the décor in Montmartre, the bohemian Paris neighborhood where Edith Piaf battled and Pablo Picasso kept a pet mouse in the cluttered studio where he revolutionized art.

And the crazy thing: In a world where there is so little more than it used to be, his repertoire – note-for-note – is exactly what it was.

“Incredible,” says Nathalie Sartor, hanging out the window of her Montmartre apartment on a June evening, humming along with the wheeze of her tunes. “He’s been playing under our window for 10 years, and in 10 years, his music. T changed a quota.”

In a world demolished, derailed, and disoriented by a viral storm, few things that have survived perfectly are both comforting and painful, a reminder of what was but what has been lost: millions of lives, Livelihood, certainty.

“When things start again you realize how hard it was,” says teacher Sartore, 57.


As a study of how people are trying to get through it all, the Associated Press honed in on Sartor and his family in Montmartre and a couple in Brazil. Why them? Because his pandemic, on the whole, has been unremarkable – if one can say the world is changing. It didn’t kill them or the people they love. But it turned their lives upside down, and still is: they are all of us.

Viruses, such a small part of disease, have proved to be both a great scourge of humanity and a great divider. Capable of accessing the cells of all of Earth’s 7.8 billion inhabitants, no matter who or where they are, it has also been the biggest stress-test of unity since World War II. It has forced mass changes in behavior and has broken innumerable old and new divisions.

Macro-vaccinated countries, leaving billions behind and unvaccinated, are vulnerable to variants that pose new threats. The micro-neighbors applaud the medical workers, but also leave them a “you spread disease” note. The friends both went ahead and ignored each other. They socialized on virtual networks, but were socialized during the months off.

It has been an epidemic of “it’s all in this together” and “to each his own”, needlessly shared an experience that left many people completely alone.

Sartor’s husband, Joo Luiz Bulcao, who is a photographer, finds it awkward to talk about what they are doing, even though his experience speaks for billions.

“Others have suffered more, haven’t they?” He says. “Everyone has their own reality, their own stories. “


Rebuilding a post-pandemic world will be a huge humanitarian effort. People have to have the courage to plan again, take risks again, spend money again, have children again. Love again, laugh again, be human again. But some of those things will be unattainable to the untold millions who will emerge with even less than they were before the pandemic.

In the 15 months when the Montmartre accordionist was silent, the pre-pandemic world of cavernous inequalities was further shattered, which would be a post-pandemic mosaic of an even deeper gulf between the rich and the deprived.

Many worlds – some with rich support networks and opportunities, others largely devoid of them – are emerging from the vortex that made billionaires rich and gave birth to new ones, but which made poverty worse, an additional 100 With a million workers bringing existence to life on a little more than $3 a day.

And in the groove of inequality – across wealth, caste and gender gaps – the coronavirus sowed deadly seeds and reaped its richest harvest. In wealthy countries, vaccination is reducing deaths, bringing life back and pulling families out of the crises of lockdown. Many people are grieving, suffering, emotionally battered and mentally hurt, but they are also beginning to rebuild and imagine the future.

Sarter literally has to force himself to be friendly again.

“COVID separates people from their friendship. There are friends who live nearby that we haven’t seen, people from Montmartre who are within walking distance,” she says. “I’ve told myself not to fall into the trap of being locked inside, let alone the habits of home. of people. “

Now fully vaccinated, Bulacao is hoping that the reopening of France’s tourism will bring back commissions from the Romantics, who hire him for artistic photographs in Paris, to be created in the City of Light. May their memories be immortalized.

But Brazil, where Bulaçao was born and raised, is still in the grip of its own epidemic.

Just over a third of Brazilians have had injections before; In France this figure has just halved. After losing 111,000 people – a quarter less than Brazil per capita – to three infection waves, France is defrosting after months of restrictions and privatization. In the summer time, restaurants, museums and precincts reopen. Left as a potential kiss of death at the height of the plague, France’s customary double-cheeked throat is also coming back, as vaccinations make cheek-to-cheek intimacy feel secure again.

But as Brazil enters winter, it is still adding more than 1,500 additional deaths per day, taking its total to more than 515,000 lives. There is a possibility of a third increase in infections. Normalcy is still far away.

With roots in both countries, Bulco, Sartor and their two daughters measure up to their good fortune.

“If we were in Brazil,” Sartor says, “it would have been difficult to survive.”


Gail for a boy, or Carolina for a girl. They are currently topping the list of names that Celso Franco Jr. and his wife Juliana are doing for a child they are too scared to conceive. Because making a new life seems too risky when so many people are still losing beyond the walls of their tiny apartments that raft their lives in a storm of Brazil’s deaths and infections.

Juliana Franco, 35, would prefer to wait until she gets vaccinated, even though her turn is unlikely before September. Her father survived with COVID-19 in intensive care. His mother and one of his brothers also fell ill. And both knew people, acquaintances, who died.

Celso Franco Jr.’s job at a bank also gives him a front-line view of the devastation wrought by the pandemic on Brazilian families, with, if any, welfare protections and businesses largely left to fend for themselves. He looks at how customers deplete their cash reserves, the jobs they’ve lost and eliminated, and how they no longer jump on their credit offers.

“Now I only get calls to refinance loans, to postpone investments,” he says. “The first time I saw some stores reopen, even for a while, I was very emotional. It’s very hard to do business.”

The couple have built their nest in Suzano, a commuter town near So Paulo, with trinkets that recall the time when Brazil became a no-go zone for foreign travel, due to the infectious version of the internationally red-reddant Listed, which previously devastated the city of Amazon. Manaus. Magnets from Europe adorn the couple’s fridge. She has drawn pictures from her trip to Paris in October 2019. He hired Bulcao to freeze-frame the moment Celso Franco Jr. got down on his knee and proposed marriage with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.

They yearn to go back to Paris—with Gail, Carolina, or whatever name they settle for the baby. But they have to feel secure enough again first to actually make it.

“We want to get pregnant before the end of the year, but we’re a little scared,” she says. “My understanding is that the vaccine is not far away, so maybe we should wait until we get our shots.”


Epidemic ambiguity with infection rates that rise and fall with the seasons and policies has made humans in sync with each other.

Rarely has the geography lottery felt so influential, having shattered the experience of a global pandemic. Death is increasing here, decreasing there. Restrictions loosened or tightened. Even across countries, cities, streets and homes, there has been a battle to keep track of what is doable and what is not. Phrases that will not be mourned: “Do we need a mask?” “Kids, have you got to school today?”

When Bulacao saw the Brazilian couple on the Eiffel Tower before the pandemic winds down the human trajectory, everyone present there shared those universal goals of the pursuit of love, life and happiness.

And then life simply became existence.

Juliana texted Bulko after the photoshoot, thanking her.

“Today was a very important day in our lives,” she wrote. “Sensational.”

But Bulc Eo hasn’t returned to the Eiffel Tower since the pandemic began. As someone who jumped suddenly on a plane, he was thrown off the ground.

“Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do in the near future,” he says. “That’s what worries me: the lack of immediate perspective.”


Time, perhaps, will heal some wounds and bring some clarity.

Bulko’s youngest daughter Anas says the darkest days of the pandemic in France are already becoming a hazy memory for her. Eligible to be vaccinated, the 17-year-old is out and nearly impossible again to take to the streets of Montmartre in her black and white striped soccer jersey, the colors of her father’s favorite Rio de Janeiro team, the Botafogo.

“Looking back, it looks like the lockdown lasted only one day,” says Anas.

Her older sister Livia is also moving on. She was in Australia, traveling, searching for herself when the coronavirus hit. Returning home on a government flight, she found herself back in class one, at Mom and Dad’s house, sharing a room with Anas. From there, the 23-year-old began to piece together again.

After sweeping work from day one, and before heading out again to have a meal with friends, she announced that she wanted to resume her studies.

“It suddenly dawned on me,” she says.

Sartor replied with a squeak – “Yeeiah!” – and clenched a fist of joy.

“It’s great news,” Bulko says.

When France began relaxing lockdown in May, Livia and her friends went straight back to their Montmartre watering hole, “Le Chinon,” where they had left before the pandemic “as if nothing had changed.”

“I can live my life as I might have had the pandemic not happened, with minor inconveniences compared to other countries,” she says. “I am privileged.”


Mauricio Savaris reported from Suzano, Brazil.


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