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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 18)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 18 April 1st, 2020

Trento, Italy


It’s April Fool’s Day but unfortunately I don’t have any pranks for you. Turkmenistan has banned use of the word “coronavirus,” which regrettably doesn’t fit the criteria of a prank; meanwhile, the Italians have stopped singing from balconies, and on top of all that, the country has extended the lockdown until Easter—cases are falling, however, which is the best news so far.

Unlike Chaucer, who began The Canterbury Tales by using April’s sweetness and grace to describe its liberating force from the harshness of winter, T.S. Eliot started his own poem, “The Waste Land,” like this: “April is the cruelest month….”

There are many speculations one can make about Eliot’s aesthetic choice: He didn’t like Chaucer; he liked Chaucer but not his poem; he liked Chaucer’s poem but felt that his own world wasn’t the same as the one described in that good medieval poem; he was a modernist and thus disillusioned with everything, not just Chaucer’s world and Chaucer himself; he simply wanted to make fun of Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Last, but not least, he was from St. Louis, which is enough to drive anyone insane, even in April, and perhaps even Chaucer. I don’t know and I don’t care—leave it to the French literary critics who believe the author is dead because both of them are anyways, including the guy who believed the author was dead.

Despite how much my own first day of April actually resembles April, I have to go with Eliot’s opinion on this one—it’s definitely the cruelest month.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is really happening (not the fact that Italians have stopped singing from balconies or that Turkmenistan has banned the use of a word—these things are quite believable, for some strange reason). What’s, in fact, difficult to perceive is that in 2020 we’re talking about things like plagues (what a medieval word), quarantines (this sounds like WWI), outbreaks (that’s a little more modern), and epidemics (ah, there’s the scientific word I was looking for).

There’s something funny about the word quarantine; it doesn’t have quite the bombastic, apocalyptic immediacy of plague, but there’s a certain historicity associated with it—a distance in the sense of a past that’s so far we no longer have to worry about it; that’s what I meant by the difficulty in believing that this is really going on in the present. Quarantena. Καραντίνα. Карантин. Կարանտին. Karantæne.

Every bet is off and all niceties are put on hold. If I see you walking down the street, it’s no longer a personal insult to step off the sidewalk, maintain some distance, and then resume my journey to the supermarket. Of course, why else would you be outside?

Ah, yes, I do enjoy staying in and writing these diaries but I hope this thing will come to an end soon; nevertheless, I don’t just want that to happen so I can move on to other writing projects that interest me or because of my own selfish desire to go outside (I do anyways), but because I can’t imagine how hard it is for others—I don’t really have it that tough.

My brother’s presence, online classes, this diary, and my guitar are just some of the things that make going through the day pretty easy. It seems like there’s nothing to do, but apart from going outside, there’s still much to accomplish—emails that I still haven’t answered, classes that I’ve yet to study for, articles that I’ve got to put on Interlitq, cook, buy food; no, modern life doesn’t stop in a quarantine—like I mentioned in my last entry: There’s too much technology keeping it going.

Speaking of technology, I had a presentation for one of my classes (Migration and Human Rights) today. My job was to summarize a World Development Report from 2014, issued by the World Bank. The main topic of the report was that, as a society, we must see risk in a positive way because it can help us improve our conditions; in other words, we must embrace taking responsible risks which can bring greater security and progress to developing countries. The goal of risk management, thus, isn’t to eliminate risk, but rather to decrease losses and increase benefits while also building resilience to cope with adversity.

Theory, however, rarely works well in the real world. As I said in another entry, the miracles of the free market and the camaraderie of communism only exist in libraries. Risk, likewise, is a romance novel that’s not based on real life; it makes a lot of sense for the rich because even when they lose, they don’t lose much, but how do you gamble when you don’t have any chips?

Uncertainty is such a relevant topic right now, isn’t it? As I’ve stated before, this virus has made us forget about all the other risks that we were dealing with before. Eating junk food, drinking alcohol, driving a car, even the simple act of going outside (antevirus) posed dangers, which have all but been forgotten because life is on hold.

Burger Kings are closed, drinking alone is no fun, and you can’t go anywhere—for God’s sake, you can’t even go outside. Even the risks that have some positive rewards (besides just releasing dopamine and making us feel good) have been put on hold. No new marriages are conducted that can end happily or in divorce; there are no family reunions that will conclude in laughter or conflict; dates that might go nowhere or will lead to marriage are definitely off the table. Stopping a stranger and getting to know a good friend or your worst enemy is also postponed for the future.

I miss the risk of going on dates that may end well or badly, family reunions that could be good or bad, speaking with strangers that might become friends or enemies—all those risks no longer exist; there’s only the coronavirus and we risk making that our only risk worth being afraid of. In the midst of everything, the planet continues going to hell; wars are still being fought; people remain hungry; but all of this isn’t really a problem. So long as you don’t go outside, there’s nothing to worry about, at least for now. You’re safe—the coronavirus can’t touch you and if the coronavirus can’t touch you, then the world can’t either. Poor people have been victims of social distancing way before any pandemic because society considers them a virus.

Indeed, the invention of houses has made the outside world obsolete—that’s why they’re so damn expensive. Not everyone can afford to run away from the society. Secretely, many people are enjoying this lockdown because it gives them a convenient excuse not to focus on the real problems that do and will continue to persist after all this.

And who could’ve thought—even the ability to quarantine is a luxury for the middle class; it’s something you must be able to afford, as many poor people living in India know all too well. What kind of risks are they facing just by keeping the quarantine when they have no clean toilets or even soap? There’s not much room for social distancing either.

Risk has always been a topic that’s interested me; even antevirus, there were many dimensions to it besides just danger. One of the best Twilight Zone episodes, “A Nice Place to Visit,” provides one of the most compelling artistic arguments—in my humble opinion—for why humanity can’t live without risk and loss; people need it like water and bread. Living in a world that’s completely predictable is equivalent to being in hell; at least that’s the message we get at the end of the episode.

Pretty strong point on my part, you might say; well, let me defend it. In the episode, a petty criminal, Henry Francis “Rocky” Valentine, robs a pawn shop and is shot by the police. He lies there for a while but eventually wakes up and meets a man named Pip, who promises to give him everything he wants.

Since Pip is dressed in all white, Rocky assumes he has died and that Pip is his guardian angel. Subsequently, Rocky’s every wish is granted: He receives a lavish apartment, all the money he asks for, and his commands are obeyed.

When Rocky asks to visit the casino, however, the perfect world in which all his wishes are granted starts to affect him negatively—he can no longer “gamble” because the ideal world which he inhabits is devoid of all risk; this is just one aspect of “A Nice Place to Visit,” and for me it symbolizes the height of Rod Serling’s genius.

After watching the episode, I never looked at risk and uncertainty in quite the same optimistic—almost redeeming—way again. For me, it’s become less of an uncertainty and more of a guarantee that sanity can’t really exist without risk.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.


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