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“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 9)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 9 March 23rd, 2020

Trento, Italy

American Flu

“Be careful.” That’s what Spaniard José Ameal Peña—the last survivor of the 1918 flu—said about the coronavirus. In the same vein, a witness from the US, Joe Newman, said the following about our times: “There are those of us who say, well, this too shall go away. And it will. But at what cost, at what expense?” When someone is 105 and 107 years old, respectively—you listen to what they’re saying.

I’ve always downplayed the seriousness of this virus for the sake of my sanity and perhaps also insanity, but deep down, I know it’s serious. Maybe the quarantine is messing with my head but it’s all becoming much too comfortable. Sitting at home and doing nothing isn’t really so bad, and that’s what I’m afraid of. As Dostoevsky said in Crime and Punishment: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!”

People can get used to all types of adversities and ecstasies, which is good if the changes you must adapt to are permanent; however, getting used to something that’s bound to end relatively soon presents many challenges—the obvious one being: How do I shed this new skin of laziness and get back to my old state—a mobile, energetic individual?

What’s the famous quote that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon uttered? “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” According to Quote Investigator, the saying comes from a 1911 novel which no one’s ever heard of, written by an author no one’s ever heard of; the novel is called Phrynette Married and the author is named Marthe Troly-Curtin—see, told you.

What does this all mean? It means that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon thought that wasting time was a good idea; only some character in Marthe Troly-Curtin’s novel thought so and whoever that character was, they were wrong.

Suffice it to say—I’ve enjoyed wasting a lot of time during this quarantine and it just came to bite me in the ass. That Geography of the Mediterranean Region exam I had today was harder than expected and my lack of serious preparation might’ve cost me a chance at a good grade; then again, even if I hadn’t enjoyed wasting my time and actually studied for it, I’m not really sure that my proactive attitude would’ve made a significant difference because the exam presented a rather curveball topic, which I really don’t want to bore you with.

Let’s come back to something more interesting, like the Spanish flu, or perhaps even German measles. Over the past few days, I’ve encountered many Facebook posts—by people who can only be Trump supporters, I assume—justifying our president’s actions in referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” based on the fact that other pandemics like the Spanish flu and German measles also refer to a people.

White House officials have staunchly defended their use of the term, despite warnings by the World Health Organization that stigmatizing people in such a way is not only hurtful, but can also lead to violence—something I’ve discussed in a previous entry; the crimes have gone up to such an extent that Asian American groups are starting to compile hate crime reports.

Let’s take the stupidity of our president for granted and leave him be for a second. It’s really the Facebook posts that are driving me mad, especially when they’re made by people from the US. It’s called the Spanish flu not because it originated there, but because the country reported the outbreak, which led to the belief that it did originate there, and this isn’t the case (no pun intended). The Spanish flu, in fact, originated in Fort Riley, Kansas—a fact that’s also corroborated on the official site of the US Army. I say, President Trump, it’s very tempting to call it the American flu, but I won’t stoop to your level, or will I?

I still don’t understand why the Spanish didn’t jump on the chance to insult the US, instead choosing to call it the “French flu,” according to a Time article. It really is surprising, given the brilliant propaganda manufacturing campaigns of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (yes, the prize guy), which reported fake atrocities and crimes committed by the Spanish to sway US public opinion in favor of war. This was the birth of yellow journalism, which a hundred years ago was targeted at Spain and has now found a new recipient in Russia. As Allen Ginsberg wrote in his poem, “America,” satirizing such hysteria:

It’s probably irrelevant to mention that the newspaper campaign run by Randolph and Hearst did manage to manufacture the war and that a 1974 Rickover investigation concluded that contrary to Randolph’s and Heart’s claims, Spain was actually not responsible for sinking the USS Maine. But what else is new? The US loves war and has only been at peace for seventeen years of its 239 year history—that’s 93 percent of the time, by the way.

And how about German measles? They didn’t originate in Germany either. The name comes from the fact that in 1814 German doctors correctly identified Rubella (the more common label for the virus) as being something separate from measles or scarlet fever.

Ah, information, knowledge, facts—but who has time for any of that on Facebook? In a quarantine it’s best to sit on your ass and get drunk; indeed, it took a while, but here’s the first picture of the day. Beer or wine? What will I have tonight? To be completely frank, although I look like a 1970’s alcoholic in the photo below, I haven’t touched a single drop since this quarantine dropped on March 9th. It just feels too depressing for any kind of alcohol. Although I rarely drank in the US, Italy did make it hard to resist a glass of Sangiovese or a bottle of Ichnusa in the company of friends. Now, however, there are no friends and all the bars are closed. Good times.

Nevertheless, I keep one bottle of beer (not Ichnusa) for sanity and one bottle of wine (not Sangiovese) for insanity. In Ancient Greece, beer was considered the drink of barbarians, which is something we shall become if this quarantine doesn’t end soon. Despite the general consensus of the Ancient Greeks, it’s always nice to see the same Nelson who wrote the aforementioned book stating that: “Xenophon of Athens is remarkably complimentary about the beer he tasted in Armenia.” Then there’s the strange story of Lycurgus of Thrace, who killed the followers of Dionysus because he either thought them to be effeminate or was himself “temporarily driven mad (or made intoxicated) by Dionysus,” according to Nelson.

If to drink wine is to share in the Dionysian mysteries of madness and revelry, then what does it mean to consume beer and hence become a barbarian? Isn’t it kind of the same thing? All I know is that I don’t want to drink wine alone and I don’t want to consume beer in the presence of Lycurgus, but I’ll gladly drink beer with Xenophon and attend a symposium with Socrates. In a quarantine, however, I neither want to speed up the process of becoming a barbarian nor do I want to have a symposium by myself. I do apologize for the scant amount of pictures today, but last time I checked this was a diary, not a scrapbook.

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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