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Nº 78 – Curtains up!

Saturday 13 of March 2021

A few days ago I witnessed a very interesting spectacle. One of the reasons for participating in a videoconference with 67 people was to learn how the situation of the forests in Portugal might be improved, but also to present my idea of the Botanic Forest Garden in Monchique. However, all of a sudden the Internet started to take on a life of its own. Someone was stuttering and uttering load animal groans from the dark recess of the World Wide Web, seemingly trying to take part in the discussion, however in their very own eclectic way. This would turn out to be a comedy. I found out that the protagonist, who didn’t want to reveal his identity, was male. In the background you could hear children play-fighting noisily. A woman could be heard too. The surprise guest, possibly an out-of-work comedian, had most probably not grasped the script. The discussion was only scheduled to take place after four presentations.

One of the reasons it was so interesting was that we are always told that ZOOM is very safe, so safe that you may trust the American operator when they say their platform has an absolutely safe data-protection protocol. The man without a face kept calling out from off-stage, “caralho” when he probably really wanted to say “carvalho” (oak), but somehow he was unable to spit the word out. We have to plant more oaks. So right, oaks instead of eucalyptus!!! Then he pulled out a pen from the depths of the Web to draw a tree on the PowerPoint presentation of the first speaker that looked like a penis. This tree had two testicles though a tree is supposedly not male, but rather female. And women don’t really own testicles. Or do they? It’s not for nothing people talk about mother trees, which the visitor from the Darknet got mixed up with „filha da puta“. An amusing piece of theatre? Well, it somehow managed to last for half an hour. We switched off the ZOOM session and logged back in. However, the comedy had a sequel and just did not want to end. The comedian kidnapped the accounts of other participants in the ZOOM call, taking on different identities and painting the fantasies about his forest onto the screens. True Orwellian theatre.

I leant back in my seat and noted that the faces of many participants started to show a certain consternation and perplexity. Silence. The actor called himself Christiano Silva. This was a screen name as it were. He was using a pseudonym, changing it quickly just as I sometimes do in my journalism. Everything was happening in the style of the very well known CEO of a company listed on the PSI20 index. Everybody present was insulted with interesting epithets. I was asking myself how much fear a bad actor must feel to hide in such a way? This of course is not the first time that business leaders reveal a secret talent for choleric dramaturgy when something happens they cannot control, when something slips, even if it’s only their own mask. A forest burns down and nothing happens. Then people secretly start pulling out the secretly planted eucalyptus from the soil. Is there a different way to do things? Personally I might also at start to shout and scream if I was being rubbed up the wrong way. However, at some point Christiano Silva aka Alexandre aka Beta Veiga was excluded from the ZOOM chat. The director in Porto had finally found the plug, which was duly pulled.

It should be said by the way that Tourette’s Syndrome is a congenital pathology of the nervous system. Its main symptoms are involuntary movements and tic-like sounds or utterances. Simple motor tics may manifest as blinking, nose twitching, head throwing or making faces. Christiano Silva has drawn everybody’s attention to a problem of this pandemic, which has held us captive for a year now: there is a lack of opportunities for performance. He must really have enjoyed the ZOOM stage, giving us examples of simple vocal tics, including the uttering of meaningless sounds and the imitation of animal sounds. More complex tics at motor level involve making faces, imitating others and imitating the actions of others. Complex vocal tics then consist of imitating words or hurling obscene and aggressive abuse at others. So far so good. But don’t talented actors want to step into the limelight and show us their faces, or at the least their mask?

Talking to a psychiatrist reveals that Tourette’s Syndrome is considered a motor disease affecting the central nervous system. Primary tics may not be cured nor really treated beyond symptomatic level. The only treatment available are psychopharmaceuticals to alleviate the symptoms. Lalala. Tourette’s Syndrome is named after the French neurologist and psychiatrist Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who in 1884/1885 was the first to describe the disease pattern, encouraged by his teacher Jean Martin Charcot. The question I’m thinking about now is: Should Zoom Video Communications, Inc. not start giving serious thought about advising its paying customers how to adequately deal with Tourette’s Syndrome? In its terms and conditions ZOOM writes: It is our duty to protect your privacy and to ensure a positive user experience when you use our videoconferencing and communication services, visit our websites, interact via social media… As for me, I can recommend ZOOM as a platform for comedians. You can always Expect the Unexpected.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, Tim Coombs, João Medronho
Fotos: Stefanie Kreutzer

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