Andreja Brulc's Blog

Day 15 [30 March 2020]: COVID-19 Lockdown: Politics/Restriction of movement [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Covid-19/Lockdown Diary by andrejabrulc on 30/03/2020

As of today, people in Slovenia have to follow the official rule on a restriction of movement between municipalities. For someone, who has spent all adulthood among the population of nearly 10 million people – in 2018 the population of London (the City of London + Greater London) was estimated at 8,908,081 and concentrated in the area of 1,572 sq km, with a density of 14,670 inhabitants per sq km [Wikipedia] –, this new governmental imposition will be a huge challenge how to breathe within the confined borders! I am, now, ‘stuck’ in a tinny municipality of Komenda (the map on the left and the image below of me at the western point of the border) with 6,354 inhabitants – or a total of 6,712 which includes temporary residents at the beginning of March 2020 [the municipality’s official site] – spreading over 15 villages. During my time of growing up in the 80s, Komenda – the village, the seat of the municipality, in the centre of the map – had less than 500 inhabitants. But it has grown massively in the last decade due to a new housing redevelopment and to its proximity to the capital city of Ljubljana, as young families moved to the countryside because housing costs became too high in towns, like elsewhere in Europe. The area of the village equates to 2.40 sq km, while that of the municipality to 24.1 sq km, and has a population density of 240 people per sq km (the fact is from 2013 when a total population was 5,788 [Wikipedia]).

If I only think of nearly 1 million people in North London, estimated at 911,000 with a population density of 7,900 per sq km in 2018 [Plumplot] – or, even, specifically of my area with 15,989 inhabitants, according to the last census of 2011 [Wikipedia] –, the population of North London equates to nearly half of the population of Slovenia (currently a total of 2,078,880 living on the land of 20,140 sq km with a population density of 130 per sq km [Worldometers]). North London is not defined here as the area lying north of the River Thames but how it is officially defined as a sub-region, consisting of 3 boroughs (Barnet, Enfield, Haringey), and used for the purpose of the London Plan since 2011 [Wikipedia]). Such statistics would normally make me feel being mentally confined into a shoebox of village life – in many ways just like the ‘packed like sardines’ syndrome of the London underground!

But, in view of all the suffering and losses of so many lives in areas with such a high population density, being ‘stuck’ in a small village is right now an utter privilege for ‘a Londoner’ – so, by no means, a complaint as the above statistics is only for comparison to understand how lucky I actually am! And, above all, if I was in London, I would be immensely worried about my elderly parents – are they doing everything ‘right’ to protect themselves, from the list of these extra precautions that have even for me become an utter bore!

My ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’ has been a daily routine of self-employment working from home since 2007 – as I had to compromise fun for projects many times due to deadlines or I had to work when a job was available, something most of my closed friends and family took for granted, so the aspect of the lockdown has never really worried me in all honesty. In fact, I have imposed the social distancing deliberately since mid-February when horrid stories started to come out of northern Italy. And, as I sit nearly next door to the epicentre of European pandemic, I really wanted this nightmare of the fast-spreading virus to finish from the start and will keep on going ‘staying at home’ so that we can protect vulnerable loved ones, those who save lives and other key workers like food suppliers, so that hopefully, our working lives can go back to normal as fast as possible! Also, even if I did not have a project to get on, I would not be worried about getting bored as boredom like fear is self-constructed as a human condition. But for now, I imagine the quarantine as what would the life of a nun be like within the confined walls of a nunnery – if only our time was less stressful!

Yet, the idea of the restriction of movement, imposed by the new Slovene government, will be a huge psychological test for me. This – imposed all because of some selfish people who could not stay at home and treated the quarantine time as a kind of holiday! On the other hand, critics believe that people did not flock to tourists’ spots en mass as web cameras did show social distancing being observed! Who does one believe in? But one thing is certain: we live in dangerous times, and I fear that the coronavirus, causing so much uncertainty in our daily lives, may get exploited for the wrong kind of political ideology – as already discussed by Anne Applebaum in relation to Italy’s response to the coronavirus (see my blog post on Albert Camus’s The Plague) – that may curtail many aspects of our lives which we have become so accustomed to and have taken them too often for granted! And I am saying this, as someone who had lived for 20 or so years under communism, where, in Yugoslavia, there was never a restriction of movement, like in Eastern Europe, at least in my time of growing up, as people could freely travel around the world if they had money! Of course, most did not!

I really do hope this strict measurement – which I believe was absolutely essential to prevent a further spread of the coronavirus – is only temporary! If only we can come out of the lockdown as humane as the good and intelligent apes from the Planet of the Apes, but I fear I am not far from thinking that the idea of state control, under the surveillance, based on misinformation and propaganda, is too close to the dystopian and post-apocalyptic world, known from science fiction books and movies! Perhaps we may soon become the inhabitants of Panem from The Hunger Games, or of Chicago from The Divergent Series, and, heavens forbid, of Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale!

At least for the time being, I feel like a Bird on The Wire – like the picture of myself on a bike (above), with an excellent 80s bird’s nest hairdo and with the village at the background, taken sometime in autumn 1986, 5 years before I permanently moved to London – or, more precisely, a Bird on The ‘London‘ Bike – like the picture (below) taken recently at more or less the same spot nearly 34 years later!

 

Day 12 [27 March 2020]: COVID-19 Lockdown: Politics/National Identity/Dual Citizenship [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Covid-19/Lockdown Diary by andrejabrulc on 27/03/2020

Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places. – Italo Calvino, The Invisible Cities

With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else. – Italo Calvino, The Invisible Cities

I have always loved maps – and especially those imaginary maps with no borders. How silly of me – when global citizenship falls prey to the COVID-19, borders become like walls!

How really convenient of Facebook to have reminded me today of a fine memory from 5 years ago – ​a plan ​how to get back home from my parents’ house by walking — now very useful to know since no commercial flights are available between Ljubljana and London! But would I take a flight if one was available since I have been deliberately avoiding flying for over a month now! I even decided to give up on the idea of attending the London Book Fair, as the visit was not worthy of taking a risk – which then, eventually or inconveniently, got cancelled in the last minute!

Now reflecting upon the memory of the past, I could potentially cycle considering that my London bike ‘exiled’ to my parents’ ​village last summer after it had been collecting dust while being stored in my parents-in-law’s garage for over 15 years. I used the bike only 5 times since I bought it in early 2002, but decided that London was just too aggressive for cyclists. Last summer it needed to be moved out of their garage – my mother-in-law died in March 2019 (her husband in April 2013) – in order to make space for new stories of the new owners!

But there is now an additional trick – how to overcome the hurdle since the EU borders are now being closed: I might be called an ‘illegal border transgressor’ by Schengen countries, or even an ‘illegal migrant’ by the UK Border Agency. Who knows.

Yet – where on earth do dual nationals, legally speaking, belong in such situations under the current circumstances as mine, when ‘stuck’ outside the country (i.e. UK) to which they economically contribute most (i.e. pay taxes from world income), as, to me, it does feel a bit like that I am ‘stuck’ in ‘no man’s land’ – not in the true sense of the word as used in literature to describe the good and the bad of the trenches during the WWI – but more in the sense of being a Citizen of Nowhere. How convenient, or ironical at best, as we, Remainers, have recently been pointed out as such by the ex-Prime Minister of the UK. Perhaps, after all, she was right, how dare she, really!

Now I am sitting on the terrace 10 km​s​ away from the airport observing the plane arriving and leaving the airport, waving ‘welcomes’ and ‘goodbyes’, as Slovenia and the UK are doing the repatriation flight of their nationals!

It is utterly surreal – in the UK, I am called “immigrant”, while in Slovenia, I am “British”! All I know, and what I feel most, is that I am European, but that’s about it!

Perhaps the only solution is — to follow the British attitude ‘keep calm and carry on’ and the Slovene official warning ‘stay at home’! Perfect – so there you are, all sorted! Inhale, exhale, inner peace!

Day 6 [21 March 2020]: COVID-19 Lockdown: Survival kits/Home-made Remedy [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Covid-19/Lockdown Diary by andrejabrulc on 21/03/2020

I thought it may be useful to share this extract from my diary, as I have just made a second batch of home-remedy this morning – to boost the immune system. My parents and I have been ‘on it’ for the last two weeks!

Prevention is better than cure.

If you are a “gingerholic”, “lemonholic” or “honeyholic” – this is it! According to BBC – under the section of ‘Will honey, lemon and ginger ger rid of a cold?’ – “for those of us keen to keep our cold cures natural and delicious, a hot drink containing honey, lemon and ginger has to be top of the list.” The common cold weakens the function of the immune system – and one needs to keep it up now more than at any other times!

1. Ingredients

If you fancy doing it, all you need is:
– fresh ginger
– lemons
– honey

My proportions can be seen from the picture above: I do not follow a recipe – it is a word-of-mouth recipe – and I balance the proportions based on what I have available. This time I had approx half a kg (a pound) of ginger, 3 and a half large lemons, and there were about 7 large spoons of honey left in the jar. One could add more lemons and honey!

For the final result, I got out two smaller jars and a bit leftover, which I mixed into the honey jar.

2. Method

1. Peel the ginger with a potato peeler.

2. Use the grater – not for lemon (left-hand side in the picture) but for parmesan (my London one does not have the parmesan option, but I have a separate one for that – if not available, use the side you do Chedder grating. It will come out in bigger bits like my first attempt some years ago, but it was drinkable).

3. Grate lemon peel, and then squeeze the lemon.

4. Add honey to the mixture.

5. Put the mixture into jars, and store them in the fridge (the last time I did this stuff was 5 years ago and it was fine in the fridge for a month, by which time we drank it all).

3. Use

1. A teaspoon or two – depending on how strong you like it, as ginger has a burning sensation like horseradish – mixed with a glass of water.

2. We do one glass at breakfast time!

[P.S.]

And when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

My morning drink is matched by my mum’s home-made remedy (see below) every morning: a ration of one teaspoon of the ‘stuff’ as a leftover from 2 years ago, while she is preparing a new batch as an emergency relief! My parents and I started ‘this habit’ two weeks ago – at 10 am – but every day it gradually became earlier and earlier – today it was 8 am! It is a lockdown after all!

Such types of home-made remedies are prepared over the summer months – so that they are ready for consumption when colder weather comes in later on in the autumn! The ‘stuff’ is actually based on schnapps – the Germanic and Central European alcoholic beverage made out of different fruits as many people distil it at home! It is what people have been doing for generations! My parents buy schnapps from a local farm, but then they turn it into various medicinal liqueurs by soaking other ingredients in it, such as herbs, meadow flowers, fruits (blueberries), nuts (walnuts) or honey and so on. As in this one (below) – flowers and leaves of wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) are soaked in and exposed to the sun for a while before being ready. One makes anise-flavoured spirits out of this flower, like the French absinthe, but, in these parts of the Alps, it is very popular to produce home-made pelinkovec. Unlike the absinthe, schnapps and pelinkovec do not get beyond 40% alcohol (I think!), but the mixture, with wormwood leaves, is used as a home remedy for various medicinal uses, including indigestion and for infectious diseases!

 

 

Day 3 [18 March 2020]: COVID-19 Lockdown: Design/Why Fonts Matter [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Books, Covid-19/Lockdown Diary, Graphic Design, Workshops by andrejabrulc on 18/03/2020

I finally did some useful work today as I wrote a short review of Sarah Hyndman’s Why Fonts Matter for Amazon — this book is for everyone, for design professionals and those who are interested in visual culture and want to learn in a fun way ‘why fonts matter’!

I had purchased the book so that it could join other art material that travelled from London (just on time) by the kind help of my ex-colleague Marko – with the intention to have a sneak-peek into Sarah’s work while I was getting ready for my type-led workshops based on poetry in association with the International Day of Poetry (21 March), which was meant to take place today. Hopefully, we can find another slot, should I happen to be in Slovenia then!

Sarah Hyndman’s book is amazing! I’ve known about Sarah’s passion for and knowledge of typography since attending her Experimental Typography classes at the London College of Communication in the mid-2000s, and as I have recently been preparing two sessions of lectures and workshops on hand-made typography-based on poetry for school and university students, so I thought it was high time I got hold of a copy of this book.

I was more than eager to find out more about Sarah’s extensive research by experiment on how type can set the mood, reveal one’s personality and appeal to our senses. I was especially intrigued by Sarah’s innovative approach of looking at the type ‘sideways’, which is similarly how people respond emotionally to works of art through sensory perceptions without knowing the context. Who would have thought that type can cry, laugh, shout, smell, and can be sad or happy, or even aggressive or calm?

I love in particular the section on the edible type, as that is exactly the kind of idea my two workshops will emphasise: the importance of bringing life skills from all areas into the design process. I often hear kids asking, ‘why do I need to learn this or that, it’s of no use, it’s so boring, whatever!’ With such an excellent book on hand that shows everything from the punk and grunge to the neat and tidy, they may perhaps believe me when I say that design is important!

Day 1 [16 March 2020]: COVID-19 Lockdown: First Day of No School/Happy Doodling/My nephew [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Covid-19/Lockdown Diary, Sketchbook by andrejabrulc on 16/03/2020

A doodle is when you’re making something intuitively and you’re not quite sure what it’s going to be, but you feel good about what it is you’re doing. – Jon Burgerman, The Art of Doodling

It is the first day of the lockdown. My 14-year-old nephew Luka said that he would never ever have expected his school to be totally closed due to something like ‘a’ virus — of course, he honestly added, and I do not blame him, that he often wished the school to have been shut for other (fun) reasons! I reminded him of our time during 10 days of the war for independence in June 1991, when our lives came to a total standstill, and, in particular, how badly university students, including myself, were effected as the conflict happened in the middle of the examination period! The exams were all postponed — but I told him that in that period 7 students (official statistics, as one will never forget that!) at the University of Ljubljana committed suicide due to this enormous extra external pressure that was put upon us. I know, a very morbid discussion with a teenager, but the comparison was the closest to what I imagined he has been going through now in his immediate environment — he took this onboard very well indeed as the war is part of his national history.

Children at that age are emotionally vulnerable as they are trying to fit in with their mates as searching for their place in society, but they need to be gradually prepared for such life disruptions, of which we have no control of, as they are bound to happen now even more often! Such disruptions can happen overnight as Brits have experienced with Brexit, as they can turn one’s life upside down. So adults ought to prepare kids now more how to learn to cope with stress, as they are bound to be more exposed to the news because of social media, then our generation ever was when we were growing up! One needs to remember that panic is stress and that stress leads to lowering one’s immune system, and, therefore, a bigger risk to fall prey to our common enemy: COVID-19!

At least we both agreed, even if not ideal, that now his friends can communicate via social media for free (not in our time) — and parents should NOT stop them from doing so, given the current situation as these are exceptional times! And that they can carry on with their school work conducted via long-distance learning, the practice of which is an experiment for many European countries and only the time will tell whether it works or not for that age group.

And — he departed as a happy boy, with a bag of 80 colour markers for his doodling plus fineliners, which arrived with my other art material from London last week JUST ON TIME! Who knows — in my case — when and how I will be able to return! The markers were going to be a present for his Confirmation at Easter, now cancelled, but I thought why not gift him prematurely as so much time now to keep his passion growing! He told me that he kept thinking about the markers ever since they arrived last Thursday! So, this made me very happy, too!

The time of social distancing may well prove to be the best time to think about one’s personal growth — the luxury most of us, adults, can not afford in our normal hectic lives — as one can concentrate on improving one’s existing skills or learn something new while keeping oneself occupied at home!

Happy doodling time for him! He has been doodling for a few years now, creating all sorts of weird robotic and fantastic characters – he loves the fantasy world of Hobbits and Harry Potter as well as science fiction world of Avengers to name a few. This time he has been following Instagram tutorials on how to use colour by markers. But it may now be sometime before he can get a Sketchbook delivered.

[PS: He received the Sketchbook a few days later – and has since sent me some examples of his doodling.]

Day 0 [14 March 2020]: 2 Days before COVID-19 Lockdown: Art Material Delivery/Work At Home [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Children's, Covid-19/Lockdown Diary, Workshops by andrejabrulc on 14/03/2020

Thanks to my ex-colleague Marko from Slovenia and his brave trip to London last week, I was delivered extra art supply​ on Thursday​ — for a now already cancelled two sessions of lectures/workshops ​next Wednesday, ​as the country is ​preparing for a lockdown starting on Monday​ due to the Covid-19, and for my ​(first) ​children’s book project, ​as ​very handy to get on with while in self-isolation!

I am in Slovenia since Christmas — I arrived with 3 suitcases full of art material needed to complete the children’s book — a book of poetry​ on 4 seasons, which​ I wrote in 2011 as part of a sketchbook projectfor the Brooklyn Art Library, NY.​ I have a better workspace in my parents’ house, as my London ‘office’ at home does feel a bit claustrophobic for art-making!

​Some areas of the country ​have already been in a pre-lockdown mode​ since Thursday, when the first two patients, a doctor and a teacher from two different places, tested positive for the coronavirus after their return from a skiing holiday to Italy! Like all other EU countries, Slovenia is also two weeks behind in having made up an official decision to shut down the country, as the government should have stopped people travelling to the already badly affected areas of northern Italy during the half-term!

As it were – I am stuck, deliberately or not deliberately depending on from which perspective, in no man’s land. I do hope that my travel insurance covers me in case of the most black scenario!

In the meantime, I have, in fact, been self-isolating​/social distancing​ ​since mid-Feb, when bad news started to come from Italy, which, in all honestly, felt like next door! It became increasingly impossible to turn left (​go skiing) or right (return home) – so I decided to stay put and to carry on! It is a real fortunate that I did not take a short trip to London due to the uncertainty of the London Book Fair, as there would have been higher chances that I could have got stuck at home while all my art material was at my parents’ in Slovenia!

Day 0 [12 March 2020]: 4 Days before COVID-19 Lockdown: Football/Team Spirit/My Niece [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Books, Covid-19/Lockdown Diary, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 12/03/2020

This post is dedicated to my niece Živa, a 16-year old and a half teenager (the photo from her last birthday in July 2019). She LOVES football, and — as a goalkeeper for her club (U17) — football has been her life outside school since she was bearly 10. 3 to 5 training sessions per week, plus 2 matches at the weekend when the football season takes place for the 1st youth and women’s leagues. She is also the second goalkeeper for women’s team in her club as of last September, plus, the second goalkeeper for the national team (U17). What a lovely achievement at her age due to her dedication and, needless to say, many sacrifices that she had to make during all these years! 

Slovenia where I am currently ‘stuck’ at my parents’ house – is getting ready for the lockdown. IMHO it is two weeks too late, if not more, considering that the country borders with Italy, and skiers, who were the first tested positive for COVID-19, were/are still holidaying in the Italian Dolomites. As of today, two schools in two different places have already closed down as a teacher and a pupil in each of them tested positive – both went skiing to Italy during the half-term!

On the other hand, the UK is still being extremely and worryingly ‘slow’ in making any coherent decision how to protect its citizens, despite the warning of some European leaders to take Italy as an example, and, above all, ignoring the fact that the country has such a dense population per small area! As reported on Monday, around 25,000 Brits were in Italy last weekend (some tried to travel back to the UK via Slovenia as the airport is still open) and around 20,000 Brits are in the French Alps! And, even scarier, UK football stadiums are still full of people!

My niece who is currently staying in my parents’ house as she is doing her work experience in the local kindergarten as part of her school curriculum – asked me while we were watching evening TV news how come English football was still allowed to go on, while her international UEFA competition was cancelled. Thanks to a fast decision of the President of UEFA from Slovenia, Aleksander Čeferin, who placed the well-being of players FIRST. He said that UEFA had plenty of money in its reserve to cover its losses! Not being biased, but I have such high respect for him, as, according to the Wikipedia, “the investment in grassroots and women’s football has been at the core of Čeferin’s mandate and while record grants for the development of football were announced at the 42nd UEFA Ordinary Congress in February 2018, UEFA also pledged to increase the funding of women’s football development projects by 50% in October 2018. He also oversaw the signing of UEFA’s first-ever sponsorship deal dedicated entirely to women’s football in December 2018.” His dedication to women’s football really proved when he had decided that the UEFA 2019 Super Cup between Chelsea and Liverpool would be in charge of the French referee, Stephanie Frappart, who became the first female to officiate in a major men’s European match. My niece’s generation is literally the pioneering generation of female youth in Slovenia, as the interest in playing football among young girls have started to grow significantly in the last decade – and it is fairly obvious how he influenced this new trend!

Early on during the day, she had learnt about the sad news that her team was not going to travel to Portugal in two weeks time to play matches against the host country, Spain and Turkey in the next stage of qualifications. She had so looked forward to attending this competition for months – she had even treated herself to a new pair of professional goalkeeper’s gloves which came by post from Germany today. Of course, her family and, even herself, is relieved now, as it has become increasingly obvious that her health and that of her team and opposing teams come first. The matches are postponed to 2021, but she will no longer qualify for that age. It breaks my heart to see such a personal loss for youth at that age, where her dream, built on hard work of training of many years, can disappear over the night by something as mundane as ‘a’ virus! And, of course, having a place as a goalkeeper in a national team is even more difficult than in the case of other players as not many goalkeepers are needed in such teams!

In difficult times as ours, I thought I would dedicate a post to her to give her emotional support through this crisis as I am sure it is very disappointing for her. I remembered our time together from around the same time 10 years ago how supportive she was – I had to design a series of 10 book covers for Pocket Beletrina in such a short time with a tight deadline. The series was for the World Literatures – Fabula Festival 2010, the central event of Ljubljana’s time as UNESCO World Book Capital 2010, in conjunction with the project called A Book for Everybody. While I was really struggling to get ideas together on time, she, then as a 6-year old and a half, was sitting for hours at my desk while making her own drawings. This was the time that she kept on saying “perhaps I will be a book designer like my aunty when I grow up”. She loved using my Faber Castell Pitt Pens! It was also the time in her age that drawing HEARTS in school notebooks was a popular thing! And bingo – her HEARTS became a leitmotiv for one of the book covers, LJ kot LJubezen: Pesmi o LJubljani [Eng. transl. LO as LOve: Poems about LJubljana (Ljubljana as a place cannot translate but one can see the point from the original or from the cover below)]. I do hope her resilience will help her get through this global humanitarian health crisis, as now she will have to put the time to her training by herself, and although guided by her trainer, training in quarantine will never be the same – football is, after all, a team spirit. Therefore, she needs plenty of HEARTS, in hope that one day “she will become a professional goalkeeper when she grows up”, or, even, as she dreams, a medical doctor. HEARTS. HEARTS.HEARTS. And more HEARTS.

Day 0 [3 March 2020]: 13 Days before COVID-19 Lockdown: Albert Camus/The Plague/Human Behaviour [an extract from the diary]

Posted in Books, Covid-19/Lockdown Diary by andrejabrulc on 03/03/2020

There have been many plagues in the world as there have been wars, yet plagues and wars always find people equally unprepared. […] When a war breaks out people say: ‘It won’t last, it’s too stupid.’ And war is certainly too stupid, but that doesn’t prevent it from lasting. Stupidity always carries doggedly on, as people would notice if they were not always thinking about themselves. In this respect, the citizens of Oran were like the rest of the world, they thought about themselves, in other words, they were humanists: they did not believe in pestilence. A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream which will end. But it does not always end and, from one bad dream to the next, it is people who end, humanists first of all because they have not prepared themselves. – Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)

When the Covid-19 was starting to come closer and closer to ‘home’ – as the epicentre moved from China to Italy in February – I must admit I started to panic! As of today – when I read this interesting article on Italy’s response to the coronavirus, titled “Epidemics Reveal the Truth About the Societies They Hit”, written by Anne Applebaum, and published in The Atlantic yesterday – the coronavirus is still being classified as an epidemic by the WHO [PS: the WHO declared it pandemic on 11 March]. Applebaum takes Albert Camus’s good and evil characters from The Plague and compares them to the current context of the coronavirus crisis:

‘A pestilence does not have human dimensions, so people tell themselves that it is unreal, that it is a bad dream that will end,’ Albert Camus wrote in The Plague. This, of course, very much describes the current situation: Many people cannot bear the idea that something invisible can change their plans. Published in 1947, The Plague has often been read as an allegory, a book that is really about the occupation of France, say, or the human condition. But it’s also a very good book about plagues, and about how people react to them—a whole category of human behaviour that we have forgotten.

The novel – the image (above) of the cover from Vintage edition of 1991 – is believed, according to Wikipedia, to be based on the cholera epidemic that killed a large percentage of Oran’s population, a small town in Algeria, in 1849, following French colonization, but the novel is placed in France in the 1940s.

The Plague is considered as an existentialist classic, similar to Kafka’s work, in particular, The Trial, where “individual sentences have multiple meanings, the material often pointedly resonating as a stark allegory of phenomenal consciousness and the human condition [Wikipedia].” Not only has The Plague been read as an allegorical treatment of the French resistance to Nazi occupation during WWII, but also how the world deals with the philosophical notion of the Absurd.

Camus wrote the novel about everyday life under quarantine for the inhabitants of Oran. It takes the reader through various questions related to the nature of destiny and human conditions. The book is a perfect display of characters as ‘human types’ – from politicians to doctors and holidaymakers to fugitives – all showing the effects the plague has on their psychology and how they respond.

Villains – like a priest – exploit the uncertainty of the humanitarian crisis as a tool for manipulation to enforce through their ideological agenda, where, for instance, the priest uses the plaque to increase his flock. As Applebaum says: “He tells his congregation that the epidemic is God’s way of punishing unbelievers.” She adds: “In modern Italy, the first person to seek to manipulate the anxiety created by the coronavirus was Matteo Salvini, the Italian far-right leader who immediately called for the government to shut the country’s borders, stop all public meetings and keep people home.”

Heroes, on the other hand, are, however, not the kind of heroes – superheroes or role models one finds in other fiction or movies – but are the doctors and the volunteers who help them, or even, as Applebaum says: “a civil servant, Monsieur Grand, who seeks to deal with the plague by recording it, measuring it, and keeping track of what has happened: ‘This insignificant and self-effacing hero who had nothing to recommend him but a little goodness in his heart and apparently a ridiculous ideal. This would be to give the truth its due, to give the sum of two and two as four.’ Grand, Dr Rieux, and a few others try to use science, transparency, and accuracy to contain and control the disease and to save as many people as possible, without giving in to hysteria or despair: ‘It may seem a ridiculous idea, but the only way to fight the plague is with decency’.”

I agree with Applebaum, who adds:

These are the kinds of people who will be the heroes in our era, too. The scientists and public-health scholars who immediately put out information about numbers and cases; the research teams that immediately began to work on vaccines; the nurses and doctors who immediately decide to remain inside quarantined regions, as many did in Italy, as well as in Wuhan, China. Not all of their judgments will be correct, and they will not always agree with one another: There is no precise way to determine which quarantines and cancellations are prudent and which are unreasonable, given the potential economic effects on the one hand, and the real desire to slow the spread of the epidemic on the other. In Italy, there have already been a few public squabbles among virologists who have different estimates of how bad the disease will be. … But at least they have the public’s interest at heart.

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