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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 27)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 27 April 10th, 2020

Trento, Italy


Ancient cultures such as the Egyptians, Aztecs, and Incas used masks to cover the faces of their deceased to protect them against evil spirits. The ancient Greeks and Romans, meanwhile, put on hideously looking war masks to frighten the enemy; however, they also served an important theatrical purpose in those societies, allowing actors “to play many different, contradictory, complementary and deeply interrelated roles, involving moves between extreme dichotomies.” The mask enabled the actor “transform into the role,” making it possible for him to become one with the character he portrayed.

Unlike the modern performer who expresses himself by bringing his emotions into the external world and thus onto the stage, the ancient thespian’s very being underwent a metamorphosis during the performance. The mask itself only had one expression; however, the actor’s changing movement and tone altered the “experience of the mask.” The mask both resisted and was in dialogue with the text. It became a “screen on which the text is projected for the audience.” Above all, it was theatrical in the purest sense of the word. Besides theater, it was also popular to create the so-called death masks for people until the 19th century; their main purpose was to help future sculptors fashion busts of the deceased person.

In Venice, however, people covered their faces for different reasons—concealing one’s identity was particularly popular and was mainly done to “hide any differences of class or status.” This approach allowed people to partake in activities they wouldn’t normally engage in, such as gambling and clandestine affairs.

An Italian author by the name of Torquato Accetto even penned an entire book on the art of dissimulation; in it he argued that the act of hiding the truth isn’t a form of deceit but in many cases the only defense which truth has. In his book, Venice Incognito, James H. Johnson states that in Accetto’s day “dissembling was not just about masking the truth. For many, it was about finding a way to do that was both ethical (or at least not unethical) and protective.” Basically, the act of hiding something served the purpose of delaying the truth until an opportune moment to speak it would present itself. For Accetto, thus, there was a clear distinction between simulation, which, according to him, was the “art of pretending,” while dissimulation was simply based on silence and omission; in that sense, simulation couldn’t be honest because the person was pretending to be someone else, whereas dissimulation was less about deceiving someone and more about protecting one’s self—avoiding conflict rather than provoking it. Accetto himself defined dissimulation as “a veil of honest obscurity and violent propriety.” Ah, yes, there’s nothing like putting on a mask to hide from something, and doing so honestly.

I’m not sure if we still associate masks with anything good these days. Except for Halloween and stuff, we see them as symbols of deception, concealment, and dishonesty—until, of course, we have a pandemic in which covering one’s face outweighs every negative thing associated with elements of the hidden.

The problem is that masks simply don’t fucking work; they’re neither good at concealing identity (sooner or later someone is bound to recognize you by the things you say and the way you act) and they’re equally ineffective at protecting you from pandemics. Pretty much everyone wore masks during the great influenza outbreak of 1918 and they were useless, although not wearing these useless masks was illegal at the time.

Likewise, countries like Scotland are advising residents not to wear them because they simply are ineffective. The National Clinical Director of Scotland, Jason Leitch, said the following in a BBC article: “The global evidence is masks in the general population don’t work.” Since the virus is spread by droplets rather than through the air, “hand-washing and social distancing were more effective” measures than masks. So, why the fuck am I required to wear one when entering a grocery store? I’ve already railed against this in a previous entry; thinking about it now, however, it may have something to do with the fact that they offer people “a false sense of protection,” according to Dr. Deborah Birx, Coronavirus Response Coordinator for the US.

Indeed, not long ago, the same message was emphasized by the Italian authorities: Keep at least one meter of distance and only wear a fucking mask if you have the damn virus; well, not that informally, but the content is genuine. Now, masks are required when entering supermarkets and I wonder where else they’ll decide to make them obligatory. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on this, lest I impose a fine.

I’m not fond of masks because unlike Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It, all the world isn’t a fucking a stage. Yes, we do have our entrances and exits, but a play that never ends—except for you—isn’t a play, it’s a dress rehearsal for death.

These face coverings do nothing except serve a theatrical purpose in offering some “relief” from the world; however, this performance is neither entertaining nor instructive—like the warrior masks worn by the Greeks, they simply instill fear in the person who sees them and thus the “victory” over this virus is achieved. Comforted by the fact that the masks “protect” us, we can safely face the enemy despite the fact that neither the ancient war gear nor these medical accouterments make any difference whatsoever; it’s purely psychological.

Nevertheless, we’ll win this battle against the coronavirus and we’ll do it by playing tennis outside. Again, I’m not a big fan of internet shaming and thus these pictures were taken from a distance, but these people are probably the ones who put on five masks and use a gallon of hand sanitizer before walking into a supermarket. When no one else is outside, however, playing tennis is just fine. Again, I don’t care, because I break quarantine every chance I get.

The funny thing is that on our way home from the grocery store today, we realized that even the mechanics are getting restless. How is an auto repair shop considered essential business? It’s a quarantine—you’re not supposed to drive anywhere; these mechanics, however, are busy fixing cars; that’s why I love this country. Now listen, prime minster; we’ve sat in quarantine for a month and we’ll tolerate no more. This here Ford needs to be fixed, along with that other unrecognizable piece of shit. We don’t care what you say; we’re going to fix these cars, come Dante’s Inferno or Italian high water.

Ah, yes, life goes on, even when the authorities tell it not to. The Mafia, likewise, has put on the mask of goodwill and is starting to masquerade as a legitimate branch of government, distributing food to Italy’s struggling residents.

An article from La Stampa detailing how the Mafia is using this as a ploy to further infiltrate government would be nice at this point, since they were especially effective with such lines of argument in the case of Russia; in the case of the latter, we really have no conclusive proof that this was in fact true; with the former, however, despite the intricate masks, we know what that thing of theirs is really up to. Nicola Gratteri, an antimafia investigator and head of the prosecutor’s office in Catanzaro, told The Guardian: “The bosses know very well that in order to govern, they need to take care of the people in their territory. And they do it by exploiting the situation to their advantage.” However, newspapers only cover what’s convenient and the convenient thing is to bash Russia over and over under the guise of free speech. In all fairness, however, various Italian newspapers, including La Repubblica, have done articles criticizing the mafia’s attempt to gain favor with the public.

As I’ve said before, this country isn’t perfect, but I love living here; if given the opportunity to stay and work, I would take it without thinking twice. Too long have I wasted my time searching for perfection; I’ll never find it. The smartest thing to do is take the best thing for yourself and hold on to it for as long as you can. In the end, all I can offer you is a great view; last time it was from Ponte S. Giorgio and this time it’ll be from my second favorite lookout in this city, Ponte S. Lorenzo, where I stood today.

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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