VINCENT CATALA / SEEN FOR M THE MAGAZINE OF THE WORLD
ReportageAll the ingredients were there to make the famous district of Rio de Janeiro a breeding ground for the coronavirus pandemic. The imperiousness of Jair Bolsonaro’s government has further accelerated the situation. And the once glamorous streets have turned into the epicenter of the health crisis. Like a parable of the situation in Brazil.
In September 2019, I moved to Copacabana to live there. I did not expect, in just a few months, to see this neighborhood die. Living in this legendary place in Rio de Janeiro, for me, Franco-Brazilian, was first of all a coincidence. The arduous quest for an apartment through the marvelous city had led me to this little two-room apartment on rue Santa-Clara. It felt good, close to the post 3 from the beach and very close to the bucolic Bairro Peixoto garden, where it is so good to daydream in the shade of almond and flamboyant trees.
But Copacabana, this “Arc of love”, dear to Vinicius de Moraes, sweet father of bossa-nova, it also remained for me a dream, an object of desire. However, in this month of June, when the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping over Brazil, would the poet recognize his beloved beach? With nearly 200 victims and 1,700 officially registered cases, Copacabana is today the district of Rio most affected by the epidemic, with the highest death and contamination rates in the city.
The beach, unrecognizable
After Sao Paulo, its eternal rival, Rio has become the second epicenter of Covid-19 in Brazil. Nearly 5,000 deaths and 40,000 positive cases have been recorded there (for 40,000 dead and 800,000 sick in Brazil, which has become one of the main centers of the pandemic in the world). Faced with the tragedy in progress, the local authorities reacted belatedly and above all partially, shutting down cultural places, churches, gardens and non-essential businesses … but refusing to make the confinement of the population compulsory.
So here is Copacabana. Welcome to “Copacorona”. Let’s start with the obvious: the beach. During our last visit, at the end of May, it was unrecognizable. The town hall banned weeks during access to water and sand, closed kiosks and shops, prohibited parking cars, expelled street vendors. Under the beautiful sun, the “princess of the sea” looks like a desert. “A cemetery itself!” “, depresses Alonso Igual, 62, an old sea wolf who has been holding a castle carved out of sand for tourists on the waterfront for more than a decade.
Washed cap, mustard beard, sun-tanned skin, Alonso squirms his Marlboro in silence, his eyes lost on the sidewalk mosaic paved with black and white, in the shape of a wave. In the past (just three months ago), the All-Rio strutted slowly, imperial in minislip red swim. Now, worried-looking Cariocas quickly trace their route there, mouths and nostrils masked closely. “It’s sad to see that. No one dares to stop for my castle. I do zero reais a day! Everyone is afraid… ”, ruminates Alonso before throwing a spit on the promenade.
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