They didn’t have the Internet, but old time letters did it.
Writing each other consistently, Delza de Assis Viana, Brazilian, and Jean-Claude Valognes, French, have built a friendship that has spanned more than four decades.
Delza, who had finished high school but couldn’t attend college, wished she could keep her study of languages going. Her brother Lucrécio told her about getting names of students abroad from the Casa do Estudante do Brasil, in Rio. She did.
“My first letter was not to him,” recalled Delza, 71. “I had written to his brother Jacques who had gone to serve in the Army and would be gone for two years. Jean-Claude opened my letter, liked it and wrote me back, explaining that and asking if he could be my pen pal, since his brother was gone.”
Delza was thrilled to get a response and didn’t mind. The rest is living history, still going….
She was 23, Jean-Claude, 16. She was living at her parent’s farm, he was in Paris. They talked about their families and neighborhoods, their dreams and hopes, their preferences in books and music.
“When he told me he played Airs Bohemiens (Pablo Sarazate), I bought the record with famous violinist Jasha Heiftz in concert, then considered the best in the world, and played it for days,” she recalled.
They exchanged pictures, stamps and postcards often. At some point, they even had a star to watch over them from both continents.
“He told me a lot about French history,” recalled Delza. “He asked me often about things from Brazil I didn’t know, so I tried to find pen pals in several Brazilian states in order to learn what I needed to tell him.”
Delza also subscribed to the Brazilian version of the National Geographic Magazine and collected all of them from l974 to 1991.
“I’ve always been crazy about traveling and since I couldn’t do that, I learned everything I could and talked to him about it,” she said.
All the milestones were shared and Delza says she appreciated all of the news. Or almost.
“When he told me he was getting married, I was a little sad, but I got over it,” she said, sort of shyly.
For 19 years, life for Delza was at the state capital, Belo Horizonte, where she worked at an office and also taught. After she married Jairo, she moved back to her small town of São Tiago, Minas Gerais. Jean-Claude, a teacher of mathematics, got married and had children, then grandchildren. At times, they wrote each other less, but never stopped.
When her niece Mariana was about to take her first trip to France, in 1992, Delza couldn’t help but try to live vicariously through her adventure. She encouraged Mariana to look up Jean Claude. The early resistance from the niece turned into personal interest in meeting such a nice man, after she read some of his letters. They met and Mariana came back determined to encourage her aunt to go on and visit Jean-Claude and his wife Françoise in Paris.
“Unfortunately I knew I couldn’t afford to go,” pondered Delza.
That changed in 1999 when niece Mariana called her aunt with the news of a gift of a lifetime.
“She said she was giving me a trip. She had enough frequent flyer miles to take me for 10 days in Europe and she was adamant about making it my chance to meet Jean- Claude,” said Delza, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
The connection with him wasn’t very simple. They mailed him a letter and planned to make phone calls once in Paris. While Delza, her sister Viviva and daughter Mariana Mansur found a hotel rather close to his place, Jean-Claude never called. Several calls and messages produced no connections until they eventually went to his place and realized he too, had been just as desperate to find them. Reservations with a different last name were the source of the confusion.
Emotions ran high for Delza once they met.
“I couldn’t speak much,” she said. “I realized that my fluency in writing and reading didn’t translate that well into conversation in French, especially since I was so emotional. But we did talk with the help of my sister and niece.” They saw each other twice before saying good-byes.
“I hugged him, naturally not knowing if I could be very effusive or not, but it seemed like I knew him all my life,” Delza said.
“I cried at the Notre Dame, at Les Invalides, at the Tour Eiffel, I was really emotional. After I met him, I got back to the hotel, I hugged the curtains and cried a lot with emotion,” she recalled. “I had this joy of having seen him. I thought I had gotten the impossible.
“He thanked me for having gone there and having helped him over the years to believe in himself. That meant a lot to me.”
Delza said she will be forever thankful to her niece Mariana. She has invited the Valognes to Brazil and hopes they will come.
In times when people talk on the phone and the Internet, she ponders:
“They are missing something. When I talk on the phone, even one word can distract me from my previous thoughts. But when I write, I really reveal myself. I really think people should consider writing letters.”
Esse artigo foi publicado originalmente em Agosto de 2004 no Metrowest Daily News, em Framingham, Massachusetts.