Tribute to a journalist

Image: Anderson Antonangelo
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By REMY J. FONTANA*

Renan Antunes de Oliveira, one year later.

"Give me the obituary…” With the verve that characterized him and with the comforting certainty that he was just making a joke, it was with this expression that Renan Antunes opened his comment on one of my writings. It was a text, presented in the form of a statement at the Florianópolis City Council, on March 6, 2017, in honor of the former mayor of the city, Sérgio Grando, my old friend from the PCB – Brazilian Communist Party, on the occasion of 1 year of his death. Renan continued his comment, “Great text. He deserves. And I want you to write my epitaph!”

Jokes between friends aside, deep down both he and I knew the uncomfortable truth, or at least we intuited a real possibility, still banned from our own thoughts, that we were not very far from the day when I should face that request of his as something to be effectively addressed.

A first indication of this possible sinister development occurred during a dinner at which I gathered some friends, Renan among them, in August 2015. When offering him a drink, one of those slightly stronger ones that precede wine or beer with meals, he refused. , to my surprise, saying that I couldn't drink any more as I had a condition, by then already diagnosed as relatively serious, diabetes or something like that, much to my dismay.

In any case, in terms of sociability and animation, Renan was the type who needed no stimulants, no drink to become one of the liveliest, shrewdest, most amusing characters in a gathering of friends.

In another episode, when I turned 70, in May 2017, which he was unable to attend, he wrote justifying himself, “I didn't go to your party because I was facing a serious crisis… The kind that might prevent me from reaching 70… Maybe stay at 67 and a half. I have to have a complicated surgery in the next few days. If I get past her, we'll talk. ABS”.

Unfortunately, his witty “compelling” for me to write his obituary left the scope of humor, a bit dark one might say, for the domain of the realities that it would be up to me to confront. Although I wrote a small note when he died, I have since then set myself the task of registering something that could help outline his profile, as a last tribute.

Renan's two deaths.

The first he described in a Facebook post on March 21, 2020: “I died today around eight. It's my fifth death, but it was the most complete: I was going to have breakfast and it falls on the kitchen floor like an old plate. My heart stopped. I had dark skin, a curled tongue and hands contracted as if in a seizure – according to my mother-in-law, with 40 years of nursing experience in Mexico. I woke up minutes later with cardiac massages. …. I didn't see or hear anything, just total darkness. Cause: my blood pressure changes with the kidney transplant. It got so low – sometimes less than 80 by 50. When it drops like that, paft.

When I realize it, I run (or rather, drag myself) to a sofa with pillows already ready to raise my feet well and lower my head, like a bat – then the blood comes from the legs to the head and, with a little help, the heart starts beating again. If you're alone, it's gone……

I tried to get up half an hour later and woke up again with my mother-in-law jumping on top of me and slapping me in the face, punching my heart and screaming "Breathe Renan!" Chorus from my wife as she lifted her legs: ”Renaaannnn breathe, breathe…” My mother-in-law only let me off the kitchen floor at half past twelve, when she declared me stabilized. When I got up I was already in clean clothes and full of talcum powder.

So, how's your Saturday going? I bet it's common and uninteresting.

I'm sure it doesn't have the strong emotions and shows like mine...

Until the next death!!!

His second death, on April 19, 2020, he cannot describe, as this time it was real and final. On February 16, 2020 he had a kidney transplant which was apparently working; on March 27th and 28th I had a last contact with him. On April 3, a virus was detected in his lung; antibiotic prescription and 14 days of isolation. He was hospitalized on April 15, with suspicion of covid, which was not confirmed. He came home with an unbelievable prescription, chloroquine. Despite being critical of this medication, which at that point was already heavily questioned, he ironically ended up taking it, which days later led to a fatal cardiac arrest.

The last time we were with him, my son Renan and I, was on December 18, 2019, at the launch of his book, “Reportagens em carne viva com chocolate syrup”. He autographed my copy, “For Professor [as he liked to call me] Remy Fontana, Renan's fighting and writing partner”.

On the Amazon website, the work and the author are presented as follows: “The book is a collection of reports by the great Brazilian journalist Renan Antunes de Oliveira. In addition to the reports, the book brings a little of his professional trajectory and biographical data. The journalist has worked for many print and web media outlets for large and small companies including Jornal Já, Estadão, Diarinho de Itajaí, Folha, Globo, JB, Istoé, Veja, Jornal de Brasília, Gazeta do Povo (PR), Diário Catarinense (SC), Correio do Povo (RS), Coojornal, Brio Stories, Agência Pública, DCM. One of the most important awards in national journalism, the Esso Award, he received for a report made for a small newspaper in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul. The author responds to anyone who finds the title strange: – “Where did I get the title from? Angelina, my 11-year-old daughter, read the script and said that she only had disgrace, death, murder, blood. I stopped to think. Then I put in some less dramatic stuff. The result: it remains raw, but at least with chocolate sauce”.

Many journalists, his peers, wrote about what characterized him in the exercise of his profession, which made him a unique figure as a reporter of the old breed. About how he wrote, he produced texts and told stories that “stayed with us for the rest of our lives” (Adriana Baldissarelli).

In fact, he was a rare example as a journalist, but he was also a unique personality as a human being, volcanic, charismatic, telluric, figuratively and existentially down-to-earth, of those people who fill a space, mark a time, circumscribe a period, they give contour to a context, a meaning to a relationship, a meaning to a friendship.

I allow myself here some personal memories to explore some elements that help build a profile, outline a personality, or show your way of being.

We met in the second half of the 70s, when we lived in Lagoa da Conceição. We were among the first waves of “urbanites”, young adults with a university education (teachers, lawyers, journalists, architects, writers, etc.) who moved from the center and neighborhoods of Florianópolis towards the interior of the island. We made up a group of generally progressive people, united in active or presumed resistance to the dictatorship, some “alternatives” from the 60s, with ecological concerns, which drove us to sparsely populated spaces on the way to Costa da Lagoa, mainly, inhabiting somewhat precarious housing , either because they were old colonial houses, or half-improvised houses bought or rented from native manezinhos. Renan lived next to the little church in Lagoa da Conceição, where my first wife also had an “old-fashioned” house.

In November 1979 Gal. João Figueiredo, the last dictator of the 64 regime, on a visit to Florianópolis intended to carry out the “slow, gradual and safe transition” of his predecessor, Gal. Geisel, remodeling his image, from the frowning head of the feared SNI with his sinister dark glasses to the friendly “João, president of conciliation”. Such a fake political marketing strategy did not resist some protests, in the square in front of the Palace of the local Government, which, when it became denser as a reaction to Figueiredo's disastrous conduct, led to an incident of serious proportions, ending the attempt to popularize the president and legitimize the regime's distension strategy. This episode became known in the political chronicle of the end of the authoritarian regime as the “Novembrada” (see in https://aterraeredonda.com.br/a-novembrada/).

I cite this episode because Renan did a wide hot article about it, glued to the events that unfolded in Santa Catarina over several days, for Coojornal, in Porto Alegre, in which there was an interview with me, as a science teacher UFSC policy.

Hence, from this period and possibly from this reporting, our continuous relationship of friendship and some political-journalistic skirmishes over the course of 40 years. I already anticipate that my friendship for him was already combined with admiration, to the point of giving my son, who was born in 1983, the same name as his friend.

In the 1982 general elections, the first direct elections for governors, I was intensely involved with the PMDB candidacy of Jaison Barreto, as one of the coordinators of the pre-campaign committee and the government program. Renan was the first person I remembered to invite to give visibility to the candidacy, disseminate political orientation to supporters, disseminate news, information and topics for public debate, providing activists and militants, through its own newspaper. With meager resources, precarious means, somewhat inconsistent and intermittent support from the party leadership, only Renan's uncontained energy, work capacity and daring gave rise to “A Muda”, the campaign newspaper.

He mobilized journalist friends, graphic talents, illustrators (such as the brothers Ige and Lengo, Edgar Vasques, at the time one of the most celebrated cartoonists in the country), who gave political impetus and editorial quality to the publication, working for the love of art, say, to the political art of the democratic struggles of the period. In the same vein of the political struggle, we will find him at the head, in 1985, of another combative publication, “Fights of the majority”, with which we inveighed both the Santa Catarina oligarchy, and the laxity of those who fought it within the supposedly opposition parties.

After a hiatus of a few decades, when he launched himself around the world, from China to the USA, in recent years he returned to Florianópolis, where he worked as a correspondent for vehicles and digital platforms.

Always on

On October 5, 2014 he had asked us to meet as he had an issue that needed something I could address. He ended up canceling, according to his words “let's leave it for another day… intense rush”. This small record gives an indication of his sense of work, always demanding some urgency; with him there was no slow time, dead time, always looking to fulfill an agenda, investigating facts, following clues to unravel an episode, assembling pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to clarify events, noting with ethnographic accuracy details of what he observed, to finally write his subject, framing it in the proper contexts.

Always in the fight, but without losing the mood

In early January 2019, when the genocidal militiaman took office, I was on a cruise around Cape Horn - Ushuaia, and I commented on the internet that according to the actions of the government of the retired captain, I would really stay in Patagonia, to which Renan replied " Fleeing in the first skirmish!!! I stay to face Bozo, his children, Onix and that herd of generals…”

Journalism without friends.

There is a certain common sense that says that only good things should be said of the dead; of the misfortunes that befall the unfortunate, death being the greatest of these, it follows that we should reflect more on their merits. However, I think that Renan himself would approve of some reservations that could be made to some of his articles, when he invested with some fury, impropriety or disrespect either with the behavior he presumed of some characters, or with the pertinence of some of his invectives.

A believer in what is attributed to Paulo Francis, that a journalist has no friends, in whose company he should not have been very comfortable, given that Francis had shifted to the right, Renan often fell out with friends, when they became protagonists of something that could become a journalistic article, which received treatment without concessions from him. And he really did make these friends upset from time to time, thinking that they had been victims, in their articles, of a wrong treatment, embarrassing, or something like that.

Some friends had him for an irascible personality, whose need to attack someone he didn't like, confront something that displeased him and exercise an uncontainable rage, did not always have adequate destinations, nor justified motivations, which, if it did not affect the quality of his text, could compromise the terms of what was on the agenda.

I joked that because of this it would end up being persona non grata for some friends, thinking that he would no longer be invited to festive meetings, weekend lunches, or tables at the bar. Anyway, if as a journalist he intended not to have friends, he certainly always had a side, which is consistent with the most respectable epistemologies regarding the vain presumptions of neutrality, impartiality or absolute impartiality, whether in journalism or in any other field of human affairs. This position, which was basically correct in the social, political or structural sphere, did not entirely exempt him from any possible slips, mistakes or ambiguities in dealing with one or another article or report, in fact, what happens to any journalist.

the last barbecue.

In the first weeks of July 2017, Renan began to spread an invitation to “LAST CHURRAS” among his friends. As she wrote, “Friends inbox ask why last barbecue. I explain my little fear: I'm going to have a difficult operation and a bad biopsy. So lots of meat in the parrilla! Let's start Saturday around noon, with the brazier open all day, until nightfall. BYOB, because I can't know what everyone wants to drink. Animation and party. If all else fails, it'll be a good way out of the picture... If I survive, I'll make a fool of myself! Let's go BBQ! Two sheep, for starters!!!!

PS – The weak have already written: they want aubergine, veggies, light stuff. Okay, there will be a section on softer foods – the kind that don't give you cancer…”

The friends he gathered at his house in Rio Vermelho (Red River, as in the anti-colonialist joke with which he referred to the neighborhood where he lived), for what this last barbecue would be – if the medical procedure he was going to undergo went very wrong -, they were alerted, in a tone of joking gravity, of a possible death, which was duly staged by Renan, as he walked around with an improvised cross, made with twigs collected from the grass, next to the dunes.

*Remy J. Fontana, sociologist, is a retired professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC).

 

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