Adriano and Fernanda - New Love, Age-Old Tale

Winter had a hard time letting go in southeastern Brazil, but spring has finally arrived - which may explain why the story of Adriano and Fernanda commanded such attention there last week.

There are probably other reasons as well - the relief it provided from endless talk of a financial crisis, from elections that never seem to quit. And then there is the simple universality of this adolescent tale.

Adriano Scaglia and Maria Fernanda Mota Campos are two average youths - he is 14, she a squeak ahead at 15 - from the high-rise condominiums west of Rio de Janeiro in Barra.

They go to school, listen to music, meet friends at the mall. They are global kids, aware of the same music and dressed in the same functional jeans and big sweaters that kids favor around the world.

Ah, but what made them different, or so they thought - just as we all might have thought once at that same age - is that they are in love. Not just infatuated, but in love in a way that no one else seemed to understand.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Tony and Maria, and a hundred other spring-time-love couples we have known, the two promised they would never let anything come between them.

In an age of broken marriage, growing solitude, and a cavalier approach to commitments, their youthful but somehow admirable vow was to never part.

The rest of us would have never had any reason to know about Adriano and Fernanda - Rio newspapers would have never filled pages with the tale of their three-day odyssey - had it not been for one thing: Adriano's mother decided to move her family back to her native city of Londrina, 500 miles away in the farm state of Paran. She wanted out of the urban violence of Rio.

But for Adriano and Fernanda, it was tragic. Such a separation could not be.

So the two made their own decision: Together they would run away.

With a little money and their dreams, they set off one morning this month for Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third largest city, one state away in Minas Gerais. They looked briefly for work, then headed south to Sao Paulo, a mammoth city bigger than many countries, where even Paulistas can get lost. Where better to hide from one world while getting by in a new?

But when their bus arrived in the early morning it was raining and cold; the dry places where the homeless go were already taken. It was at this point that, back in Rio, the media first got wind of the story.

Some people call the area made up by the states of Rio de Janeiro, So Paulo, and Minas Gerais the "Bermuda triangle," for its concentration of everything: commerce, power, wealth, poverty, violence, ruthlessness.

But in So Paulo, Adriano and Fernanda fell upon a sympathetic man who believed their tale of how they were siblings who'd lost their family in a tragedy. He took them in, offered work, even talked of adopting them.

But that is not what the two sought. They wanted jobs to get by, but most of all they just wanted to be together. They called their parents, reassuring everyone they were fine, but demanding the right to get married in exchange for coming home.

In the end no deals were made, but by the evening of the third day of their adventure Adriano and Fernanda were back home. Family, friends, and journalists marveled that nothing had befallen them during a flight that took in three of Brazil's most dangerous cities. All of which failed to dissuade Adriano's mother from her plans to move away from Rio.

At last public glimpse, Adriano and Fernanda were back in the safe shadows of their condominiums, vowing that someday they would be married. How foolish adolescents can be!

And yet, in a day when "relationships" - and often short ones at that - have replaced love, when passion often is reduced to its destructive sense, there was something reassuring - even edifying - about the commitment of these two kids.

Who knows how often the same timeless tale is repeated somewhere around this world?

For a few days last week, it was the people of Rio who held front-row seats.

In a busy sidewalk cafe, a woman read the full-page story over a man's shoulder, probably her husband's.

She read some detail deep in the lengthy piece, pointed it out, and then caressed his waist, making them both smile.

Had they once been Adriano and Fernanda?

Were they still?

* Howard LaFranchi is the Monitor's Latin America correspondent. He is based in Mexico City.

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