#1. Mar 29 - Are We Going Stir Crazy? or
Do Androids Dream in Quarantine?
(sub-title: in memory of Philip K. Dick (1928–1982) one of the most creative writers in English-language fiction.)
I see that one woman celeb is overcoming the isolation of not being fawned over by redecorating her hamster's little house. I think that lady can pretty much kiss my little hamster. We're all trying to cope. Germans, who know all about angst (that's the German word for angst) now have a fear-free news service, angst-frei.news, which twice a day publishes a short news report with no corona virus horror stories.
Italian TV news and on-line papers are nothing but corona virus stories: how many new "positives", number of dead vs "cures" (about half and half). The only corona-free items are the once hated ads. Now you wait for them; they're all that shows people enjoying themselves, either eating chocolate and driving cars (possibly eating cars and driving chocolate, but it doesn't matter -- they're having a good time. But, ominously (with this latest extension of the lockdown to April 14) features have started to appear on the dangers of isolation, also called quarantine, lockdown, and solitary confinement, a condition in which one has little or no meaningful contact with others. As a punitive measure,
such isolation is universally condemned by psychologists because it is ferociously cruel, and it is universally feared by prisoners because it can drive you insane and is worse than death. It's like your own The Day After movie, except it's not a movie and there is no one else in the cinema watching it with you. You will go stir crazy.
I read that 9,000 psychologists in Italy are involved in an on-line service to help callers, through phone or video calls, counter the daily death toll, warlike scenes, and risk of infection. Italians are entitled to this free online service from the health ministry. It has warned of a “psychological emergency,” saying people risk being overwhelmed by fear in a situation that has banned them from hugging or even being close to others. Sara Raginelli, a psychologist in Ancona, has said “...Our mental health is being challenged.” In a survey during the first week of Italy’s confinement (two weeks ago), 93% of respondents said they felt at least a little anxious, while 42% described a distinct drop in their mood and 28% reported that they were not sleeping well. So I have mixed feelings about this extension of the quarantine.
Photos taken 10 seconds apart at noon on Saturday. (Left) to the east (right) to the west
from the same spot on the Corso V.E. a street with normally heavy, even intense, traffic.
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Things You Don't Think About
Maybe I was too harsh on that vain celebrity, or at least on her hamster. After all, the little guy needs a decent roof over his endlessly spinning tread mill. Others, as well, have had to skip their yoga lessons or had to climb stairs at home instead of jogging out into the sunlit uplands (uplit sunlands?) of good green health. (Or unlit sunlamps?) Woe is you. Need an extra bag for all that self-pity you're lugging around? I got this note yesterday:
"My personal personal concern about the quarantine of people is for those, especially children, who live with abusers. For some of them, school was the only safe place. Now they don’t have that. It weighs on my heart to know it’s happening, but that doesn’t help anyone."It might help if it gets you thinking. This lockdown is potentially a field day for domestic bullies. As the lady said (in the entry above this one), "Our mental health is being challenged." But what if your mental health wasn't too good to begin with? If you thought a family was dysfunctional before, wait till they're all locked in the same rooms together for a few weeks. It's a recipe for more child abuse and spouse abuse. A number of articles have already appeared, and they express the same general message: "Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Will Rise During Quarantines. So Will Neglect of At-Risk People." Social Workers are scrambling to address the fallout of corona virus restrictions." Who are most at risk? Beyond the children and spouses at the mercy of domestic sadists and bullies, there are the elderly, the sick, the disabled — those who live on the margins of society. They depend on consistent, face-to-face support, and they are now faced with this secondary crisis growing out of the global pandemic. They are behind doors, kept shut to keep the virus out, and now they need the skill of social services.
Like many nations Italy has had for decades social services that respond to "traditional" (God Almighty!) or "normal" (God Almighty!) cases of domestic abuse, commonly involving a "battered" wife. The standard tactic was to wait for the old man to leave, then make the call. They'll have someone there quickly. However effective that ploy was, it is much less effective now. The anti-violence hot-lines are still active but now report much less traffic under the quarantine for the simple reason that women are locked in with their jailers (husbands), who can't leave, either, so they stay in and terrorize their families and will beat their wives if he sees them near the phone. This is not trivial and indeed becomes self-perpetuating and cyclical: the women are afraid to call the hot-lines, but those hot-line social services are funded based on their traffic — their case loads, how many calls they handle, so their money dries up and they become less able to do their jobs. It is insidious and will not be an easy task.
note 1: My thanks to Suzanne Toll for suggesting this topic to me.
note 2: My thanks to Selene Salvi for explaining enough to me so I could I write the last paragraph.
note : That Lovecraftian monster in the image sneaking up on the Villa Donn'Anna at the beginning of the Posillipo coast is whatever your darkest nightmares want it to be, I suppose. It just seemed to fit the topic. The masterful image, itself, is from the Facebook page of Naples Fairy Tales. I cropped the image a bit at the bottom, where the artist's name appears as "A. Wallin".
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#3. Mar 31 -
The Siren, the Volcano, and the Bay
I should provide something a little lighter today. I was overdosing on the grim and gloomy. It worked. I got totally depressed. So here.
The newspaper La Repubblica ran this yesterday. They resorted, as I did (image in the entry above), to the fanciful world of Naples Fairy Tales with this picture and text:
The Covid-19 health crisis poses profound questions for all of us as to how we must remake our natural environment, one long violated by industrialization and rash urban expansion. The current reduction in human activity [because of the quarantine] has already caused the return of some wildlife, and air quality in some places has improved to what it was 50 years ago. In the Facebook pages of Naples Fairy Tales, the 41-year-old graphic designer, Andrea Barionovi, has imagined a magical Naples, inhabited by mythological creatures from fantasy and science fiction film and literature. He shows here the siren Parthenope emerging from the still waters of the Gulf with the profile of Vesuvius in the background. It's a symbolic reminder that when the crisis is over we shall be called upon to approach our culture and the natural world around us quite differently.There. I feel better. Cleaner somehow. That reminds me to go wash my hands.
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#4. April 1Forget Chinese Fire Drill
or - The Garden of Neapolitan Quarantines
We used to have that expression, you know. Something was as mixed up as a "Chinese Fire Drill." Racist? Yes. True? I have no idea, but they can now replace it with "a Neapolitan Quarantine." I have stayed indoors for two weeks, washed my hands twice, done all that. This morning I look at the on-line papers:
And this:"... number of positives down." Good. "Cures using a combination of drugs about even with deaths." Promising.
There are 1500 places open in Naples, counting newsstands, delicatessens, markets, banks, post-offices... [where you can pay your utility bills]... tobacco shops... [that sell tobacco products, paper goods, detergents, general household products, everything else, and where you can also pay your utility bills]. So it's confusing. Everyone stay home, but you can go out to pay your bills. Why can't you just forget about your bills until this is over?! Could they do that? Of course. I am now informed (after I just limped a block to a tobacco shop to pay my bills) that the city is about to (!) "issue a decree" that utility payments have been suspended for the duration (at least weeks, maybe months). That decree is really late —closing the barn door after the horse has already paid his utility bill. Strange notices have appeared on some establishments: These are good: "We are closed because we are closed. We shall open again when we open" or "If you are reading this notice, it's because you don't quite get it that you have to stay home! The sooner we all do that, the sooner we all can open again Go home!"
There is one "Angles with dirty faces" item. Kids from a local rugby team (not soccer or American football — real rugby) have volunteered to run (yes, they run!) groceries to the elderly. Also, the Association of Family Doctors has plastered the city with posters that say: "If you have any symptoms of influenza, keep calm. Call these numbers". (Important word choice: not "DON'T PANIC!, just a calm "Keep ho-hum calm." Those are good signs, so now I'm stuck between very confused and not-quite euphoric. That's a lot of space.
I so wanted to return to my wonted gloom and tell you of...
...The sense that every struggle brings defeat
Because fate holds no prize to crown success;
That all the oracles are dumb or cheat
Because they have no secret to express:
That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain
Because there is no light beyond the curtain;
That all is vanity and nothingness.
and then yell "APRIL FOOL!" because that's what today is, right? (Oh, those lines are from the most depressing poem
ever written: The City of Dreadful Night by James Thompson (1834-1882). Don't ever read that thing. Ever!
Anyway, there is no real tradition of April Fool in Naples (see this link). But they have just started another, and it's as confusing as a Neapolitan Quarantine (which was the original title of The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch, image at top).
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#5. April 2 -
I think this is called a holding pattern. You know:
"Naples tower. Naples tower. This is Still Here 4220. On Final Approach."
"Uh...negative, Still Here 4220. I repeat, negative. Sorry guys, you'll have to go around again."
"What? Again? ...(garbled text)...
"You say something, Still Here 4220?
"No. I guess not . Wilco. Will comply...going around again."
I wanted to have a cool title, maybe "Goodnight Mrs. Coronabash, Wherever you Are" just to show we're on top of this thing. I mean, look at this photo. That is Simona Ficuciello. She works up in the hospital area of Naples and spends her day sewing protective masks to give to "anyone who needs one." She then writes verse of poetry on them. The one you're looking at is a verse from Dante, the final line of the Inferno: E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle (Inferno XXXIV, 139), ("and thus we went up and saw the stars again"). That is, we are out of this hell. (No, I don't know if the masks are sterile. Who cares. It's a sign of hope. (That verse is used here and, in general, in Italian in other circumstances, as an expression of hope.)
There are others. Marius K. sends me from London (which is having terrible problems) an article entitled "The Italian COVID-19 hospital where no medics have been infected." It's about the Cotugno Hospital in the High Vomero section of Naples,
a specialist infectious diseases facility that now only treats COVID-19 patients. Armed guards patrol the corridors. The staff treating the sickest patients are wearing super advanced masks - much nearer to a gas mask than we normally see our hospital staff wearing. We were taken, fully clothed in our protective layers and goggles, into one of their Intensive Care Units (ICU). This was a whole different level to anything we have seen before.And this: some success with an arthritis drug, Tocilizumab. 19 patients released on an average of 13.5 days of treatment with no side effects. News "less than good" says that yesterday the Campania region still has 2,233 "positives" and that the quarantine restrictions are still in place until 14 April.
So, WILCO... I guess.
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#6. April 3
Citizens of Earth!
Relax. I got this.
I am in my secret location, high in the Tarantulan Alps, not far from Mt. Sayonara. It's so secret, I have no real idea where I am, but rest unassured, I am surrounded by a lowly trained team, one representative each from the Women's Agnostic Temperance Union, the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Brotherhood of Sisters, and Lots of Others. So with the confidence hypnotized into me by the Crazed Maestro on my home planet, I repeat, I got this. I are here!!
First, the profile of Campania (below) looks good. That is, the curve is flattening, but I don't know much confidence to place
in anything Silvio Berlusconi says ("We have started the decline"), who has wound up as the Italian Minister for "Higher Health" —whatever that is. The profile covers the last few days of February, all of March and the beginning of April. The number of deaths is the vertical scale on the left. Note the decline at the end of March.
Italy will continue in its quarantine until 13 April and has recorded its lowest death toll in more than a week, reinforcing indications that the corona virus epidemic may be reaching a plateau. “Experts say we are on the right track and the drastic measures we have taken are starting to yield results,” according to health minister, Roberto Speranza. He warned, though, that it would be “unforgivable to assume this was a definitive defeat” of Covid-19 and that it would be “a long battle”... “That doesn't mean that it’s over, but that we must start the descent by applying the measures in force.” I even went out and got this silly mask. I got tired of people muttering, shunning me, and throwing cloves (even sprigs) of garlic and wolfbane at me.
Related to the entry above (for March 30), "Things You Don't Notice", comes this sad but predictable message:
-NICOSIA, Cyprus — A domestic abuse association in Cyprus says forced seclusion because of the corona virus
pandemic has resulted in a nearly 50% spike in family violence reports in March. The Association for the Prevention
and Handling of Violence in the Family says of the nearly 2,100 calls to its helpline through March, more than half
went unanswered because staff were overwhelmed. (Thanks to Annemarie for that message.)
So, we shall see.
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#7. April 4 -
What's in a Name?
or - That which we call a rose / By any other name would still smell like beer.
or - The original title: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty we are...
[animated chat with the news intern] What? Oh, but doesn't this mean that we've won? We are free again to wander the green green grass of home amidst the uplit sunglasses of... huh? Wow. You sure? OK. But I'm going to tell it, anyway. [clearing my throat — oh, God, that doesn't look good at all...]I regret to report that the Mexican brewer behind Corona beer is halting production owing to the corona virus pandemic. (I know grown men who wept openly at that news!) Sales had dropped significantly, but the decision to stop brewing Corona has nothing to do with its name. (And if you believe that, you will also believe that North Korea is coming clean that it has no cases of Covid-19. I mean look at the guy's haircut, for Pete's sake!] But, alas, Grupo Modelo, which produces the beer, has been declared a non-essential business by the Mexican government. This means its work has been suspended until 30 April as part of measures intended to stop the virus from spreading. The brewing group will stop producing Corona, which is exported to 180 countries, from Sunday. "But don't worry," warned the CEO, Bill Z. Bubb, hastily hiding his forked tail under his cape, "we'll be back."
But there is hope. There are 193 member countries of the United Nations, and as of 2 April, 18 countries had not reported a Covid-19 case. The 18 countries without Covid-19 are Comoros; Kiribati; Lesotho; Marshall Islands; Micronesia; Nauru; North Korea; Palau; Samoa; Sao Tome and Principe; Solomon Islands; South Sudan; Tajikistan; Tonga; Turkmenistan; Tuvalu; Vanuatu, Yemen. Not counting the ones that don't know or are lying, that still leaves a few and most of them are very self-isolating. They're islands. If you know where any of those islands are, you're too educated for your own good, but just jump in your boat and ... forget it. They know you're coming and have unleashed schools (I think they're really called 'pods') of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca). It is a mammal, feeds mostly on anything but prefers animals, vegetables and minerals. It loves dolphins (also a mammal). (I remind you that so are you.) Oh, they are "apex predators" (meaning nothing feeds on them, they have no natural enemies). And they are highly social (which means you might have had an outside chance of talking one out of his din-din) but most zoologists now agree that in spite of their superior intelligence, they don't understand 'social distance."
In local news, the governor of the Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca, said yesterday, "There are too many people in the streets, like no one really wants a return to normalcy. Easter is coming up, but let's be careful with assemblies for religious festivals. We had a couple of marriages over in Cilento the other day and now there are new hot spots all over the place." He thanked Cardinal Sepe, the arch-bishop of Naples, who agreed to celebrate mass with no congregation in the cathedral of Naples. And so, for the first time ever (!) the procession of the relics of San Gennaro, set for May 2, has been canceled.
And this is Massimo Osanna (image, right), the director of the archaeological site of Pompeii (after the Colosseum in Rome, the second most visited site in Italy) out for a stroll. Stay tuned.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -#8. April 5 -
What does a killer pandemic have to do with saving art? Think about it. Everything. Or maybe neurons just start
linking up and what seem like coincidences turn out to be more than that. Maybe everything is connected to everything else (and it is beyond my competence to explain that — but I do furrow my brow and say, hmmmmmm, look at that!)
That happened just a few hours ago, when I read that the Van Gogh painting The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen (extracted portion, image, left) was stolen the other night. The painting had been in the collection of the Groninger Museum and was then on loan to the Singer Laren museum in Laren, North Holland, Netherlands, where the theft took place. The museum had been closed to prevent crowds of people from gathering at close quarters — closed to foil the spread of the corona virus. Thus the painting becomes another addition to the Interpol list of stolen art. It is a very long list that, sad to say, will never be cleared. Some of it, certainly — maybe a few items here and there, but most of it is likely gone forever, at least from public view. (A lot of it probably in the hands of private owners —evil Bond-villain scum— who gloat over their "private" possessions while they chuckle and wring their hands. Wierdos, every last one of them. The pandemic has forced the closure of many or most public venues where paintings are displayed, where music is played, where humans gather together. This is one of the most anti-social things in centuries to happen to us, to our species, to our planet, to you and me. The denial of public space to our gregarious species is a threat to all of us —not just to the artists or the musicians, but to all of us— to you and me. If you want to destroy the human race, this is a "good" way to do it.
As an aside, only about art galleries in Italy I mention the Wikipedia site here, which notes that Italy has been particularly hard hit:
"As the worst hit country in Europe during February and March, national closures in Italy were announced on the 23rd of February with an initial reopening date of 1 March. Museums outside the "red zone" of highly infected areas in the North were then permitted to re-open as long as visitors stayed 1 meter apart, this was later rescinded and all institution were closed until at least 3 April."All of that occurred to me —like a slap in the face with a wet noodle, a big cognitive wet noodle— when I saw
I have no further information beyond that.
the resemblance of the lone figure in the Van Gogh to the image of the lone director of the Pompeii archaeological site
displayed in the entry directly above this one.
I then thought of Selene Salvi and the association she belongs to: Opus Continuum (logo shown). Big Art show planned with lots of culture vultures milling about, looking at paintings and breathing on one another( !), sitting cheek by jowl in rooms and breathing on one another (!) and then they all go to the drink-winky room, where they not only breath on one another but do that thing where they kiss on both cheeks (not at the same time, so you get two wet slobbers for the price of one. Lucky you). All of that is cancelled and it is uncertain when that exhibit will happen.
You want to fight back? Enter their Art Contest. It's free and you might win a prize. The biggest prize is the knowledge that you are doing something, the importance of which cannot be overstated. You are fighting back. This is not trivial. Fight back. Their call for entries to the art contest is on their Facebook page at this link.
It's ok if you're not a great artist. Do what I do (well, no, you can't copy me or you will be disqualified). The challenge is to describe your inner self, what drives you. I am going to submit a large white canvas (tissue paper on laminated poplar wood), totally empty, entitled Usually Nothing. If you rip me off, I'll find you.
Other than that, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, and some good soul has been leaving olive branches in front of supermarkets where "socially distanced" and tired shoppers are waiting their turn to get in, one by one. And the authorities keep saying "keep off the streets — stay home unless it is absolutely necessary." So I run outside and look, and there is no one out there. Really. No one.
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#9. April 6
Bad and Good
Yes, in that order because I want to get to the good news so you can end with a song in your heart and a smile on your lips, though a smile in your heart and a song on your lips would also work. (Consult your family quack.) It's not hard to find bad news. It's all about the corona virus, but then so is some of the good news. The bad news is what it is — bad. The good news is not necessarily good, but it's not bad, which in this crisis counts as good. So let's see.
One of the saddest and most moving items is about a cop. It's not a big deal, except to his family and friends.The name doesn't matter. He was typical of the many men and women doing their best to "serve and protect" us in the crisis. OK, and also to give you a traffic ticket once in a while, but look where you were parked! On that little boy's wheel chair! (He was in it, you bastard!) And yet...and yet, the cop usually let you talk him out of the ticket, right? Especially when you told him you had just gone in for money for the ticket to Lourdes for your little girl who is deathly ill. (You lying lizard, you make me sick!) He was a member of the Naples city police (polizia municipale) with 30 years on the force, about ready to retire. Call him Giuseppe Ognisbirro — Joe Everycop. Joe wanted to help out the people who needed it most. He volunteered to go north for a tour of duty, so he went way up to Bergamo, now world-infamous. In this crisis, that is walking into the jaws of Hell. He caught the virus and he died a few days ago. They brought him home to Naples in a box and laid him to Rest in Peace. He deserves that much.
Irritating news, but not really bad is an item that shows them handing out free masks to people in Venice and noting that no one is doing that in Naples. I paid €4 for mine in a local shop. News sad to see is that church services here and elsewhere in Italy are empty today, Palm Sunday, and they will be empty next week on Easter Sunday.
On to the good news. The number of corona virus intensive care patients in Italy has dropped slightly, that's good. It was the lowest daily increase in weeks. And Ukraine sent doctors to Italy on Saturday to assist their Italian colleagues and "to gain field experience." They know what's coming. I have not seen them in Naples. Also, in the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital, food stamps have started to arrive. Over 3,000 persons filed on-line for "buoni per la spesa" (shopping vouchers). You say that, for example, you are out of work or are only occasionally employed and haven't got enough money to feed your family. There have been very few attempts to "game" the system ("I have 12 kids and haven't worked since 1987").
Now on to the good news —and weird. But it's not bad. They have digitally converted the covid-19 virus into musical sounds. The spike-like protein that pokes from the surface of the virus helps it latch onto unsuspecting cells. Like all proteins, the spikes are made of combinations of amino acids. Using a new technique called sonification, scientists at MIT assigned each amino acid a unique note in a musical scale, converting the entire protein into a preliminary musical score (image, right). Every spike vibrates at a different frequency. Then you play the score. The point is to study the vibrations (the "music") and look for a weak spot, some way in, so you can go in and kill the virus. Researchers can choose the sounds. The sample I heard used gongs, bells and oriental plucked string instruments like the zither. The results sound like Indonesian gamelan music. Very boring gamelan music. I might have chosen western brass horns and given John Philip Virusousa a run for his money. So that is a good idea, but why do we need this when we already have the bagpipes? And I note with dismay that there is no mention of "covidmusick" in Thomas Mace's authoritative Musick's Monunent; or, a Remembrancer of the Best Practical Musick, both Divine and Civil, that has ever been known to have existed in the World (1676). Authoritative? I think not.
[Just had a note from a piper of bags. He says he is insulted: "A single note from my pipes will kill any virus even from a great distance. Bring it on! We do not need masks, ventilators and vaccines! We need everyone out on the streets, playing the bag-pipes. Hmmmm. Hard to argue with that.]The really good news is that around the world the air is visibly and breathably cleaner and the water clearer than just a few weeks ago. This is because — ready?— Earth is vibrating much less because there's so little activity right now! Yes, our planet vibrates, even trembles in places, and in some upstairs apartments just flat-out bounces up and down. Look at the wheeled and tracked vehicles that aren't moving, the trains that aren't running, etc. Most things that move or shake, rattle and roll have stopped. If you're an optimist, you may find that refreshing. Pessimists warn us, however, that our planet may just be getting ready to "go gently into that good night." Oh. I see that my goal of leaving you with a song in your heart didn't quite work out. Sorry.
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#10. April 7 -
That number, once again, (for those playing at home) is:
as in €'s (about 610 million dollars)
The Security Blanket
That's what Linus called it. Most sociologists and western European social democracies (all nations in Europe) call it a "social safety net"; reactionary cowboys in the USA call in "more confounded meddlin' from them Deep State commies and Senator Bernie Sanders tryin' to infringe on my right to destroy my planet the way I see fit"; and you can just call it "a whole lot of money" if you want. Because it is, for sure, some big-time scratch. What can you buy for 600 super-duper large like that. I don't know, but get me two while you're up.
(My thanks to Selene Salvi for the information that follows.)
The sum of 605 XXL is the "Socio-Economic Plan of the Campania Region to Combat the Crisis". It is extensive. In
a nutshell: (1) if you needed money before to get by on food, rent, household necessities, etc. and were receiving aid for that before, that aid will continue and (2) if you were making money at anything (legal), you will receive money based on the money you were making. That is (as an easy example), if your salary was 1000€ per month, whether you were an employee or independent (self-employed) or, say, even a waiter living mostly from tips —anything— don't worry. You will continue to get that money in the form of a check for 2 or 3 months at a time (implied is "for the duration of the crisis"). The coverage is comprehensive. Pensions for the elderly, covered; businesses, large and small, covered; barbers, computer shops, farmers, fishermen, cab drivers, travel agencies, dry cleaners, journalists, etc., covered. The goal, of course, is to simulate "normalcy" even though real normalcy is, realistically, months, even years, away.
The standard objection to all of this is: "If no one is working, where does the state get tax revenue to pay for all this? Just print money? That causes inflation." It's a combination of regional and national resources. That is, there is money from the top, but even at the local level, the banks, businesses, and individuals who still have money chip in because it's in their own long-term interest to do so. Perhaps the best answer is, "The alternative is worse." A destitute nation? How long do you think an impoverished populace will survive before it resorts to violence, crime, and anarchy. The people have to see a future and have hope. Give them that hope and they will make it. It's ambitious, but it's what a nation does in order to be a nation. It is not clear to me, but I don't think this a one-shot deal, the end of the largesse. When it runs out, the region can say, "Yummy! That was good. May I have more, please?"
If you want to read the nitty-gritty economic details in Italian: you can try this or this one.
In more human news, yesterday, Palm Sunday, was gloriously sunny at the beach and a lot of gloriously stupid people went down there.
"Aw, come on, officer. We're being healthy! Out in the sun and fresh air!"
"Look. Our team of hot-spot seekers now have to come down here and go over this place again. Shall I turn you over them? Or do you just want to sign this ticket? It says I gave it to you and you agree to pay the fine. You can appeal it, but you'll lose."
This is no Joe Everycop, like in the item above this one. You will not sweet-talk him. He is upset. You sign the ticket.
And medical reports say that deaths are down and cures are up. That's good.
You have sand all over. Wash your hands, jerk.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -#11. April 8 -Run-of-the-mill Stories
Just a few from today's on-line edition of la Repubblica-Corona virus- first case on the island of Procida. Port closed. Everyone has to stay home. The mayor: "Mild symptoms. Situation under control." Gloves and face-mask required in stores.
-Monaldi hospital (image)- "Nurses at the end of shift, hugging one another. They're exhausted and coming down off the adrenalin rush. Tomorrow, they'll do it all again." Here are three of them embracing at the exit of the Covid-2 emergency room. "We're not heroes," said one. "We're doing what we've always done. This is the part we play in this whole thing. And if it is your part to stay home and not spread this thing, then please do it. Please."
-Corona virus -a message from Faouzi Ghoulam [prominent soccer player]: "I miss playing my sport —everything about it— the smell of the grass, the fans, the adrenalin—all of it. I play offense and defence. Now, I'm staying home. You, too. We're all on defence here... Don't worry. I'll be back, better looking than ever!"
-Corona virus - On Easter Sunday and and Easter Monday these train lines will be closed: the Cicumvesuviana, Circumflegrea, the Cumana and northeastern section of the Campania Metropolitana. [The closure is clearly to stop people from doing what they always do —on Sunday, go to your relatives and eat like crazy, and on Monday, go anywhere like crazy —make the Pasquetta ("little Easter") pilgrimage to nowhere. (see this link)
- Stay in shape at home! This is not as silly as it sounds. On the front page, some more sports! The trainers of the big-league "Serie A" soccer team have prepared 6 videos of the training regime they give to their team members to keep in shape at home while in the lockdown. Just like the pro athletes do at home, you not particularly athletic types who just sort of (maybe if it's not too hard) want to stay in shape now have no excuse. You can log on to the team website and download the tapes. The are graded from easy to you must be kidding.
- Right below that, there are tapes for those preparing for the Paralymics, that is, for athletes afflicted with a wide range of disabilities.
-Sunrise over Vesuvius seen from Bacoli. Just this photo with a brief note about a local who says: I live here. It's beautiful, and now, under quarantine, I can't go out. I think of all the times I've run out right past this view and never noticed it because I was in a mad dash to get to work.
- Diverse & sundry, some covid, some not: the U.S. Band at Capodichino (the airport) singing 'O solo mio; Aligida donating their ice-cream (with a photo of a guy running alongside the truck tossing ice-cream bars at people; Naples Theater Festival postponed; a mayor giving away chocolate Easter eggs to kids; and this tear-jerker (and it is) of a 40-year-old woman with cancer. She is homeless and lives in her cardboard box in the large open-air Galleria Umberto. What does this have to do with covid-19? She insists that she is "keeping the quarantine". She won't leave until the restrictions are lifted. And I think, right along with you, come on, this can't be true! I don't know.
both photos by Pasquale Raicaldo, la RepubblicaFrom these items, la Repubblica, which these items are taken from, is doing what it does best, doing its part, to just give readers some run-of-the-mill stuff. I know. There must something wrong with our mill.
#12. April 9 -
What's so funny?
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven...
A time to be born, and a time to die... A time to weep, and a time to laugh...
They had both just watched the same Ukrainian news program. It showed workers digging holes in the ground, some small, some large. They were graves. Some of them for a lot of people —so-called "mass graves", some for almost any number of occupants. Depends on what's needed. The springboard to laughter was when the reporter asked the foreman at the site how things were going. Fine, fine. "Why, I can put you in this little baby here for only...oh, excuse me. I mean, we're prepared. Bring it on." They were all ready for the flood of corpses that would be arriving in a while. But they were ready. Gentle Aunt Vera, a medical professional, an obstetrician, who cries her heart out if they lose a single little newborn had said, "Isn't this grand?! In other places they build hospitals to save lives and, here, we start digging graves. Sure. We're prepared." Then they both started to laugh. Maybe you had to be there. Thanks to Annemarie Brown for reminding me of what anthropologist Laura Bohannan had to say about this:Late yesterday afternoon I noticed that Luba, my housekeeper, was on the wi-fi, video-chatting to her aunt back in the old country, Ukraine. Then I see that Luba is laughing. On her screen (that I am deftly eyesdropping on) I see that aunt Vera is laughing too. They both think that something is very, very funny. They eventually hang up and I casually ask Luba, "What's so funny?"
These people know the reality and laugh at it. Such laughter has little concern with what is funny. It is often bitter and sometimes a little mad, for it is the laugh under the mask of tragedy, and also the laughter that masks tears. They are the same. It is the laughter of people who value love and friendship and plenty, who have lived with terror and death and hate." Return to Laughter (1954)
https://ncov2019.live/ is the most helpful website for worldwide statistics on the pandemic. On a global scale, most people will recover from covid-19. The fatality is 6%. The status of Italy as I write this (1650 Italian time on April 8, 2020 is this:
If you are reading this page, it is some hours after I pasted in that screenshot. Please go directly to the website. If you are a philanthropist, give the kid responsible for the site some money. (On this screenshot, pay attention to the arrows. "Changes today" shows an increase in covid cases in Italy as a whole.) This is not over.
There's a lot of ambiguity going around. My emails reflect that.
"Hey, why all the lighthearted stuff? Who cares if some overpaid jock sits at home while he makes too much money?!
"I wanted to show that the newspaper...yeah, you're right. Sorry."
"What's the thing about the marriage?"
"They're trying to a lead a normal life."
"Ask me if I give a rat's ass."
"Can you tell me when the Angevin Fortress at the port was built?"
"Yes, of course I can, and how would you like a punch in the nose?!"
The local papers seem to be marking time. Don't go out. Stay at home. Reports on a relatively light (but felt) "seismic event" in Pozzuoli (called an "earthquake" by the frightened and elderly living alone under quarantine in a pandemic), a really gorgeous full moon last night. (If it looks like that tonight, it means that the moon has stopped.) The brush fire near Camaldoli is out, and for free food call these numbers. For truly bad news about Italy in general and Naples, in particular, go to the New York Times. There are a couple of major bad news items plus hundred of letters to the editor, some of which claim that the benefits mentioned in "Security Blanket" (two entries above this one on this page) leave out a lot of people. They still have nothing.
So, yes — ambiguous, confusing — irritatingly so.
cartoon: obviously, the inimitable George Booth
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#13. April 10 -
Forget Apples of the Sun
And pluck till time and times are done
the Golden Apples of Discord*
Eris (image,left) is the Greek goddess of strife and discord. Her Roman equivalent is Discordia. Eris's Greek opposite is Harmonia, whose Roman counterpart is Concordia. Eris appears in Homer and many later works. Eris is the one who threw the Golden Apple of Discord into a beauty contest and caused the Parisian War (or something like that.)
Eris had no temples in ancient Greece. But in Rome, Concordia/Harmonia had one and now it looks pretty shabby. They say that no one had a temple to Eris/Discord. After all, who would build a — well, I don't know — but if that is true, may I offer the supermarket near my home, where these days you can find people slugging it out or otherwise discording the hell out of one another over a face-mask. Eris also counts as the Goddess of Confusion. I rest my case and again offer my supermarket — or maybe the entire city. Note that Eris is smiling. She was also the goddess of laughter. (She was one sick puppy, that's for sure.)
Yea, just as the eyes are the windows of the soul, thus is my balcony a good place to look out on the world and
figure out what counts as "normal" today. Not "these days". Just today, this 24-hour slice of life. That is, What
are today's rules? I want to be normal and play by the rules. Then I turn on the TV to see if I got anything right.
A lot of it looks normal. They're playing soccer, basketball, volleyball. At first you think, oh, that's practice. There's no one in the stands. No, that's normal. The stadiums are empty. No crowds permitted at all. That is normal for today. Also, a big-time weather report: there is a high pressure system all over the central Med. Temps above average at 20-25°C./60-70°F./ in many areas. Degrees Kelvin? Don't worry about it. That's absolute zero. OK, maybe worry a little bit. So I had a last look at the TV before lunch, and a woman was saying "There is something evil going on. Something or someone does not want this harmony of Europe to exist. We can't let that happen."
Go in peace with some normal news. The first birth of 2020 on the island of Capri was at 02.25 yesterday. Middle of the night.The doctors and nurses were overjoyed. With this agonizingly drawn-out pandemic, they were expecting you know what, and here they have a normal, healthy newborn child! Smiles all around except for the kid. She was bawling like crazy —but that's normal. Her parents named her Gaia, in Greek mythology the personification of the Earth and the ancestral mother of all life, the primal Mother Earth goddess.
*[my title is adapted and perverted from the original verse of W.B. Yeats]
Though I am old with wandering / Through hollow lands and hilly lands,#14. April 11 -
I will find out where she has gone, / And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass, / And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun.
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What about OUR Resurrection?!I'll get to the image later.
Is this almost over? Come on, you said Easter. Symbolism, get it? Resurrection. We're dying. I don't think they get it. But you'll like this: The mayor of Messina (Sicily) has taken a novel approach to encourage residents to stay indoors during the corona virus crisis. He uses a drone with speakers. (He's probably standing across the street from their position.) When he sees, say, a couple of joggers he guides his drone over them and gently screams, "HEY, YOU A-HOLES! This is the eff-ing mayor! Where the eff do you think you're going?! Do you want to go to effing jail?! That's where you're going if you don't get your sorry asses off this effing street! That's a squad car right in front of you. Ask nicely and they'll let you jog to jail! Now GET HOME! NOW! Hey, nice legs, honey." And this from a friend in London: "They're all over the place, walking, jogging, as if none of this has anything to do with them. It offends their innate sense of civil disobedience. Brilliant. Gandhi and Thoreau out for a jog, sweating all over us war- mongers. My little girl in the hospital is not amused."
Ah, the release from quarantine. Up front, now, without turning on the boob-tube, I don't think it's going to happen. The
endemic ambiguity of all Italian politics has tied the tentacles of their hydra-head in knots. They don't agree. It might be fun to watch under different circumstances. Our circumstances are.......ok, I have to know. Turn on the tube. Click.
I think I got it. They have stopped their incessant jabber about the corona virus and, except for the ads, are talking a lot about economics. Italy has taken a beating. This means we are going to start up again, but not suddenly. I was right and wrong, mostly wrong, but a little right about "endemic ambiguity." Crucial businesses and factories will open slowly, and those who go to work may do so only if they test negative for the virus. It makes sense. So it's moving!
That's what Galileo said: eppur si muove ("It still moves.") (I said I would get to the image.) Beaten, tired, and under threat of torture unless he recanted his blasphemy that the earth moves around the sun, Galileo said, "I was wrong." Then, on leaving and out of ear-shot of his tormentors, he said "It still moves." How did I get to Galileo? Kind Suzanne Toll, who translates Latin for me whenever I need it (always) sent me the top photo with this explanation:
The last time I was in Italy, I visited a palazzo in the Veneto where Galileo had lived in a large room while he taught in Venice. When several of the palazzi in the area were built, they had a series of tunnels connecting them to areas underground where mushrooms were grown. Cold air moved through these tunnels and in this particular palazzo, the air flowed into a small, circular room under the one where Galileo lived. The small room, in fact, had inscriptions of the names of the winds in Classical times, and Aeolus ["Keeper of the winds" in The Aeneid] was the master of this room. The air rose from the lower room and entered Galileo's chamber via a metal grate in the floor. He lay on this grate in hot weather to cool himself. Because of this, he developed arthritis or lumbago, or something of that sort. It plagued him for the rest of his life.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -#15. April 12
Getting around the Quarantine
There are a few ways. Some Neapolitans have figured them out, and some have not. Those who have not include the 68-year-old gentleman who simply said 'screw it' and went down to the beach yesterday (a warm, sunny Saturday in April) for a swim. He was spotted by a drone, the cops showed up; he took his fine stoically, half-smiled and said, "It was worth it." A better way is to take your dog for a walk. Since your mutt has to "go walkies" a few times a day, you thus have a legitimate reason to leave the house and smirk at your poochless and housebound neighbors. Some of them, however, may know the really best way (image, left): get a fake dog, one that may pass for the real thing to a mentally impaired artificially stupid drone.The dog doesn't even need wheels. Indeed, some persons just tie a rope around a toy dog (no wheels) and drag it along, in which case, however, that same drone may get you for cruelty to animals.
Easter Sunday is really about something else. Joy. In the Western Christian church that day is today. For the Eastern churches (Orthodox, and even Eastern Roman Catholics, it's next Sunday. That difference is due to what theologians, scholars, and scientists call "something to do with all those calendars.") It is the joy of generosity. At Easter you give something. The generosity in Naples is noteworthy. Commercially, Gay Odin, the best-known makers of chocolate in Naples, is giving away chocolate Easter eggs to a clinic for children with cancer. (In many creation myths, going back even well beyond the Egyptians, the egg is a symbol of new life. The cosmic egg cracked open and the universe came out. If that is a quantum flux in the nothingness producing the universe or multiverse, ok. I don't think, know, or believe that but I'm prepared to accept it.) Privately, yes: friend M.K. from London reminds me of the other basket and rope trick (the first one is where you lower your empty basket to haul up items from a delivery service (image above). The other, generous version is when those at home, with food and drink, lower their gifts down to offer them to those who have nothing. Here, take this. There are also sources that seem unusual (but are not): inmates of the Poggioreale prison have given 1,600 euros to the Cotugno hospital for the "sanitary personnel" for what they do — putting their lives on the line, putting it out there, day after day, no questions asked. And some have paid dearly.
The large congregations normally present at Easter are absent this year. St. Peter's square in Rome is normally packed, and every square in every city in every Christian nation in the world runneth over with celebrants, the faithful, the curious, and those who just love crowds. That is all missing. No crowds. Nothing. It is eerie to watch the Pope celebrate Easter in the midst of nothingness. Cardinal Sepe (image, left) in Naples is doing the same thing. In Naples it matches recent weather. The mornings have been unusual. Not fog but mist, a cold haze, the stuff that usually has mysterious shadows in it, stalking the unwary. The atmosphere lacks enthusiasm, but the spirit of generosity is remarkable, and I willingly acknowledge it.
The virus nitty-gritty continues. On Saturday, the Italian government extended the quarantine to 4 May before any attempt to "open the economy" as described in entry #10, above. There are still new "positives" — not a lot, but some (most recently, 75 new positives out of 2,036 tests). New masks are arriving and will be obligatory. (I thought they already were, from the number of people wearing them. Apparently not.) Good news if you're a dolphin. The waters around Naples are now so clean that dolphins are "taking back the bay." Schools, pods, or whatever they're called are all over. Not to fear. They don't eat humans, at least not yet. If you're a fish (dolphins are cetaceans, mammals) you're dolphin din-din, unless you are that rarest of all wonderful creatures, the siren mermaid (image). She has a special place in our life and lore and will be fine.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -#16. April 12
And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus…and they talked together of these things which had happened…[and] Jesus himself drew near and went with them… (Luke 24:13-15)Technically, the Monday after Easter is called "Monday of the Angel" in Italian, but, more commonly, "Pasquetta" —a diminutive of "Pasqua"— Easter; thus, my "Little Easter." (No one says that!) ("Pasqua" is from Hebrew Pesah or Pesakh, of uncertain origin, the Jewish holiday of Passover). It commemorates the meeting (recounted in the Bible, above) of the risen Christ with his disciples in Emmaus, a village near Jerusalem, on the Monday after the Resurrection. To recall that event it is still customary in many parts of Italy for people, especially young people, to go on an outing. Today is that day. What I know about it is here, my original entry.
[note: The modern English term Easter, cognate with modern Dutch ooster and German Ostern, developed from an Old English word that usually appears in the form Ēastrun. The Benedictine monk, Bede (672– 735) provides the only documentary source for the etymology. In his Reckoning of Time. He wrote that Ēosturmōnaþ (the Old English 'Month of Ēostre') corresponded to April, which he says "was once called after a goddess of theirs named Ēostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month". It is not related to the compass direction "east". In most of the non-English speaking world, the feast is known by names derived from usage in Greek and Latin of Pascha, from Hebrew.]The outing on Pasquetta is still strong — or was until this year. Obviously, this year is very different. No one is going anywhere. They are not kidding with the fines. On Saturday, they pulled over a family of 6 in a van driving out of the city. They explained to the police that they had to get to their "other home" near Avellino for Easter. They weren't going anywhere. They were fined 600 euros each (about US$ 650) and accompanied back to their house AND placed under 14-day quarantine! Do NOT leave your home ... maybe if there's a fire. Do NOT set fire to your home. Got that? So they are serious about this quarantine. The Prime Minster of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, came on TV the other morning and said (as he extended the quarantine), "Look, what's the use of going through all of this if we just throw it all away by being hasty and careless? Does anyone really want to have to do this again?!"
He's actually right. We don't yet know a lot about this virus because it has not been fully sequenced. Can you get it twice? What kind of immunity, if any, does it confer on the victims? (Some conditions you can "catch" more than once —strep throat more, for example.) How likely is it to go "endemic" — that is, become embedded in a population in asymptomatic carriers, who can still infect others? There are still a number of questions of that nature that have to be answered.
I remember Pasquetta as a "moveable feast" with kids wandering around all day and having herds and herds of fun. There was an interesting change a few years back (image, right). It got quieter. For the very young, when I wrote of "obnoxious very loud music toys," I meant Stone Age portable radios, CD players and even (gasp!) cassette tape players, all of which had one very important thing in common —a loudspeaker, phylogenetically linking modern kids to pre-historic scenes of Pasquetta, when teenagers marched around with wind-up Edison Victrolas, those things with cranks on the side and the large megaphone speakers. It was a bonding experience; the boy would carry the thing and the girl would trot alongside, carrying the extra cylinders and cranking... and later?...well, you never know. That's what bonding was all about. So the moveable feast had changed even then. All the kids were texting and moving silently along. Texting like zombies, slowly moving towards mental, spiritual oblivion. But this year, 2020, the eerie has become something unimaginable. It's silent because there is no one on the road. No one.
photo above by Selene SalviEnd of Miscellany #76