Clara Pinto Correia: Just the two of us And the Benzene ring
First of all, my father wasn't Pinto Correia, my father was the Professor. Students, employees, family, all of us at home - when we said "The Professor", it could only be Prof. Pinto Correia. Stern, demanding, amusing, ahead of his time, and caring to a point that it was half of the healing process for all his patients, bed by bed, name by name. The family's village was called Tremês, and every weekend in Tremês people lined up, literally around the block, carrying the best their little yards had to give, waiting their turn to receive the magical touch of the Thaumaturgist - and be healed. Even in the den of those bands of glorious machos that populated the '80s, and that I, at the age of twenty, was fortunate enough to have as masters, I may have been called many names besides Clara, such as Clarinha, Little Worm, Blackie, Gypsie, Agatha Christie... But at first, when they did not know me very well, in the first two or three weeks, when they still did not know for sure what to expect of the girl who was studying Biology and called everyone "Fossils,", what they really called me was "The Professor's Daughter”.
For example, Assis Pacheco and Manuel Múrias would, during lunch time, take a look into the newsroom where I would write alone, and say to one another, loud enough for me to hear: “"You see man, you see? The Professor's daughter is going places!"?”
I did not even think of the part that should have been a compliment to me. For me, this credit implicitly attributed to Dad was always, at the time, a huge pride.
This was the story of my Father, as a public figure, a set of stories that we all know, and that marked us to the point where we want to get together today and pay tribute. But behind that in one way or another had the privilege to live together. We all had our stories, which were just ours.
This one is mine.
Our constant battles are very clear in my memory as if they happened yesterday "BIOLOGY vs MEDICINE”, which started when I was still in High School and went on until after I had finished my degree. Doctor, son of a doctor, married to a doctor, Dad carried a sort of romantic side with which he couldn't make peace. He had three daughters, all good students. And he couldn't accept the fact that neither of us seemed interested in following in his footsteps to keep the flame burning. But my sisters spoke of impossible plans to overlap, like Economy, Geology, or Theatre. Now, at least me, who announced wanting to become a Biologist at the age of six, and that even showed early signs of liking to teach and being good at it, ended up feeding him with hope. I walked into my adult life with that hope of his. While still alive, every day, that hope kept me on my feet.
Our discussions were becoming more complex and heated, but usually started with something like:
"Dad, I choose Biology to study all the animal species of the Savannah."
Ah, what does that matter – don't you see that I picked Medicine to study The Species?"
“Maria Clara, don't you see that it is thanks to the people who went into Medicine, like me, that so many people like you, don't die?
You're right dad, it's horrible. All you do when you go into Medicine is study death. And I want to go into Biology to study Life..”
And there were even some exquisite ones, like the time he peeked over my shoulder to see what I was studying. Still in that infernal phase of all of my first year, in which a lot of Biology is promised for the following year – but, before that, if we want to get there, we must get through Physics, Chemistry and even two semesters of Calculus.
“So, are you enjoying Organic Chemistry?
At least I like what I'm studying for the exam. But I never talked you about Organic Chemistry or the exam.
You were biting your nails and writing a page full of rings, Benzene rings. It is a fantastic structure isn't it, the Benzene ring?
Then you understand the rest better.
It allows us to see that the secret to good cellular operation is based on the simplest possibility.
What I realized immediately was that there was a time in European History in which the secret to everything had to be a circle.
Well dad, the Benzene ring looks exactly like when you start dancing waltzes in Vienna. And, if we investigated more, other coincidences would surely appear.”
This was hacked from one of the readings of my time, which incidentally even mentioned more coincidences but I did not know what they were. Dad looked at me so impressed that I felt superlatively victorious. And later, many years later, with degrees, publications and Biology classes, I did not rest until I started studying Science History – clinging to the tail of a comet in the shape of a Benzene ring.
These battles of ours never had witnesses, and had their own hiding place. My father inherited an old orchard from my grandparents, and of course, he did what Father did, or rather, he did what the Professor did: He remodelled the entire orchard in the most modern style of that time, with young apple trees flattened by wires, so they could to be picked up, or treated, with one passage of the tractor. Anyway, something never seen before. On the weekends in Tremês, dad always put on his hat, gloves and pruning shears to go inspect the orchard closely. Sometimes, he would put his thumb and forefinger around my neck and say, “Come on, Tim",” (Tim was the dog in the Famous Five stories.). I would go with him, already full of ideas and arguments that weren't present in the minutes before, both very quiet until we were hidden by the apple trees.
Not giving value to the best things we have in every moment of our lives is a cliché, and losing our material milestones is a must in History. At least I know, frame by frame, that each step I took in my life followed, with no detours, the silent path to the orchard. Just the two of us and the birds in the beautiful morning shimmering in the winter sun.
Clara Pinto Correia