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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 2)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 2 March 16th, 2020

Trento, Italy


It’s only day two and already I have nothing to say. What do you talk about when you’ve chosen to stay home and that choice has been forced on you? It’s strange: There’s now all the time in the world to shave, but yet I’ve managed to grow a beard, as has my brother; the only thing we’re missing now is black robes to make this a true monastic experience.

Cleaning has also become less of a priority. Take a look at our place. My brother and I have everything, but nothing is really in the right spot. And who cares? What does it matter if my brother didn’t graduate from Cal, but from UCLA? What’s the point of anything if life has literally stopped? No, we didn’t have guests—the dishes just haven’t been done in a while.

Weddings are cancelled, along with concerts, family reunions, getting drunk at bars (which are all closed) and puking on the sidewalks of Italy (which are now empty); that’s about it, I guess—everything that sums up my life in a nutshell. Or, then again, perhaps, not—what do they say, after all, about writers? Don’t believe everything they say.

What you can believe is that at this very moment, everything in Italy revolves around the concept of distance. “Keep at least one meter of distance between yourself and others,” as you walk into a supermarket or pharmacy—the only two remnants of capitalism still running at full speed in the old country. Everything has been discovered and built—just look at me opening a window to Italy.

Then there’s distance learning, or what the Italians call online classes—truly a new frontier. The (supposedly) technologically incapable Italians have, in a matter of weeks, figured out that an enterprise such as running a university online can exist. Welcome to the University of Bologna DeVry Campus—where all you need is a computer and some free time; the former we can’t guarantee but the latter will be available at no charge for as long as there’s a quarantine.

Indeed, quite contrary to my thinking that Italians were way behind in this technological craze of distance education (one of the things I loved about this country), they stumbled upon it quite by chance—or more correctly by virus, I should state. In quite a short time, the Italians have realized how good they really are (sometimes) at distance education. “Coronavirus is the mother of invention,” as Confucius famously uttered.

Modernity has truly fucked everything up—or so Gandhi said in Hind Swaraj, albeit not in those terms: “Railways, lawyers and doctors have impoverished the country so much so that, if we do not wake up in time, we shall be ruined.” Although referring specifically to India here, Gandhi held the belief that such “advancements” are destined to ruin every society: Railways because they spread disease, doctors because they cure many of the ills that come from leading irresponsible lives, which further encourages individuals to lead them, and lawyers because they’ve replaced people’s natural ability to arbitrate matters on their own with leeches “that suck the blood of poor people.”

Ah, modernity. People want distance, but distance is no longer possible in modern times; it doesn’t matter if you have a pandemic or not—everything is connected. Professors no longer leave work when they go home because they must answer emails, and students no longer leave school during an outbreak because the internet can also bring class home. Social media has reduced the distance between ourselves and our friends, but there’s a bigger gap in communication than there has ever been. Only physical distance is still possible and people now have an excuse to move even further away from humanity. What would Gandhi say about that?

And then there’s aesthetic distance—we’ve moved on to art, I guess; however, since it’s highly unlikely that very many French people are reading this insanity, why talk about it? Well, I’m going to write about it anyways—for the sake of my own well-being and because the rest of the world will soon have nothing to do either.

Moving right along, aesthetic distance is measured by how engaged a person is with a particular piece of art; when people are completely engrossed in an excellent movie or book and have lost the perception that they’re in fact reading a book or watching a movie, then they’ve truly begun contemplating the work—the artist’s ultimate goal, I would imagine. Let’s forget about those who purposely want to break the “fourth wall” for a second.

Why am I talking about this? I don’t really know, but in 1912 a man no one has ever heard of called Edward Bullough—an English aesthetician (which has nothing to do with medicine) who later attained the Serena Professorship in Italian at Cambridge University—gave an example of a passenger onboard a ship looking at the distant fog at sea. He believed that if the passenger interpreted the fog as dangerous, the experience of perceiving it was not aesthetic; however, if the passenger looked at the fog with wonder and imagination, the beauty of the scene would truly reveal itself; in other blue collar words, contemplation is only possible if you remove the object from your own practical concerns, needs, and judgments of value. I know—not very blue collar, but, hey, I tried.

Again, why am I saying all this? For God’s sake, I don’t know. Blame it on the coronavirus; it’s like a terrible book you’re forced to read or sailing on the Titanic. No matter how beautifully that iceberg rises in front of you, the knowledge that you’re bound to collide with it only furthers the aesthetic distance between yourself and the object. The only difference between a beautiful iceberg you’ll smash into and the coronavirus that you might be lucky to avoid is that the iceberg is, at the very least, beautiful.

Ah, to hell with everything. Alea iacta est.

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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