A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 113

The storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Tuesday, July 14

On this Bastille Day, one can make good use of lockdown time by reading historian Robert Darnton’s penetrating essay on the French Revolution, provided via The New York Review of Books. Consider these words, suddenly more apt than ever: “We take the world as it comes and cannot imagine it organized differently, unless we have experienced moments when things fall apart.” In such periods, engulfed in chaos, we face “seemingly limitless possibilities, both for good and for evil, for raising a utopia and for falling back into tyranny.”

This seems like such a moment, and we can now reimagine American society—but do we have the will and material resources to reconstruct it? Out of the chaos of Trumpian ignorance (‘shine a light in the body”) and dysfunction, a new society can be born. But first, as last night’s dreams inform me, we will have to confront a wasteland of vacant storefronts, abandoned cities, overstocked graveyards, and a disintegrating economy. Mad Max-land in living color.

Darnton also warns us of a possible danger. Along with its inspiring slogans and a will to recreate everything, including not only government and social relations but also time and space (in France, there was a reimagined calendar, new names for streets and buildings, and the sudden adoption of the more rational metric system), “the Revolution unleashed a new force, nationalism, which would mobilize millions and topple governments for the next two hundred years.”

Nationalism, fanatical xenophobia that seeks to rid a land of “impure blood,” remains the potentially most destructive impulse experienced by humankind. Republicans will certainly seek to stir that hornets’ nest in the coming months, in the service of MAGA man and his plutocratic backers. We’re likely to experience a scenario that not even the most imaginative of science-fiction writers would be able to conjure.

Right here and now, we’re imagining yet another Peapod delivery, scheduled for between 3 and 5 p.m. It’s like waiting for a sleigh-load brought by a forgetful or very inefficient Santa: You might get that bike you asked for, maybe even two bikes, but he could easily omit the pants you’ll need if you’re going outside. You have to do a little planning ahead before you can place an order—but once the order comes, those plans may have to be abandoned and new ones made. Yes, bread crumbs but no mushrooms; sure, here’s the pasta but no Parmesan to go with it. What dreams may come?

Dinner: spaghetti with fried eggs and coleslaw.

Entertainment: three episodes of Netflix’ Belgian courtroom drama The Twelve.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 108

Spooky times.

Friday, July 3

Independent journalist I.F. Stone called them “the Haunted Fifties.” True enough, the decade at the middle of the 20th century was haunted by the bruising previous eras of The Great Depression and World War II.  The 1950s, of course, were a time when Americans longed for calm, for prosperity, and to get back to something like “normalcy.” By public acclamation, then, the ‘50s were desired to be a transitional time.

Stone saw little to be calm about. To him, the specter of nuclear annihilation loomed over everything. “How free are men who can be blown off the map at any moment without their permission?” he asked.

Ours is surely another transitional time. Call it, then, the Haunted 2020s.

If the presidential polls are to be believed, a considerable majority of Americans want to get back to calmer times—free of Trumpian name-calling and vacuity, released from the threat of death by pandemic or by police brutality. A CNN poll shows Biden leading trump by 55% to 41%.

If Trump called out to “Make America Great Again,” surely Biden’s appeal is merely to “Make America Calm Again.”

New York Times writer Thomas Friedman recently suggested that Biden’s bumper sticker should be: “Respect science, respect nature, respect each other.”

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—with a bit of Teddy Roosevelt-like nature worship and Jonas Salk-like respecting of science. If that’s not true conservatism, I don’t know what it is.

Unfortunately, neither science nor nature is likely to allow us to go backwards. We face a future of more coronaviruses, rising ethnic strife, and an unwillingness by police to loosen their grip on local budgets and/or brute power.

The haunting of the 2020s may lead to a haunting of the remainder of the 21st century.

I believe that Trump would lose an election—so therefore he’s unlikely to allow one to happen. He may at last recognize the existence of the pandemic…when it can benefit him. The Department of Homeland security is likely to say that, under the current infectious conditions, no election can take place. Besides, mail-in ballots or electronic voting only lead to election fraud. We had better put off any kind of balloting.

Meanwhile, Bill Barr might announce that his department has found the Democrats in general and Joe Biden in particular are engaged in a monstrous, dark conspiracy to rig the voting. Biden will be indicted. A show trial will proceed, followed by large-scale incarceration.

Who would stop it? The beleaguered and generally pissed-off police? Why would they? Trump is on their side.

Dinner: eggplant with tomato sauce and parmesan, potato salad, and a lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: Episodes from season three of Broadchurch.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 38

That obscure object of desire, No. 3: A pangolin in Pakistan

Wednesday, April 15

Not every day can be taken up with anxiety about the pandemic. The global sickness is exhausting.  Statistics, inflated or deflated, are exhausting. (New York City has raised its death count past 10,000 by adding 3,700 more dead who were never actually tested for COVID-19.) Trump, Fauci, Cuomo, and so forth are exhausting, just as Trump, Schiff, Mueller, Pelosi, and those now-forgotten impeachment actors were once exhausting. Could Biden win an election just because people of all political stripes are beyond sick to death of that raspy, hollering, Mar-A-Lago-located larynx? Wouldn’t the MAGA types rather attend a Klan rally than bother to go to the polls?

Yesterday on Twitter, some dissenting soul posted a satirical, Establishment-mocking bumper sticker: BIDEN/Clinton. I almost hurled my Mac Powerbook against the wall.

Did our current troubles really begin with someone eating a bat or a pangolin? Or is it politically incorrect to ask this question? According to the website dawn.com (https://www.dawn.com/news/1485298) the pangolin is the most trafficked animal in the world: Many Chinese like to eat its meat, and its ground-up scales are valued for alleged aphrodisiac properties and as cures for muscular and joint pain. Just how many other animals are out there posing both dietary temptation and the potential extinction of the human race? And how does one prepare pangolin—stir-fried with garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce? Pangolin with pomegranate molasses? Pangolin marinaded in palm oil and pistachios?

The Times food writers are trying their best, but to quote the Four Tops, their best just ain’t good enough. Today’s culinary treat: “5 Fast Pastas for Long Days.” I know some folks out there have all of the needed ingredients on hand—and the writers say one should feel free to make substitutions. But…pecorino and mint? Chorizo and kale? Garlicky spinach and buttered pistachios? At this point, we’re lucky to have butter alone, and our supply of pecorino was never so very huge.

Yesterday afternoon, Emily and I discovered a silly, edge-of-the-seat thriller on Kanopy, The Night My Number Came Up featuring Michael Redgrave, Denholm Elliott, and several now-forgotten Ealing Studios veterans. A guy has a dream about a plane with eight passengers flying into trouble over Japan. He tells a couple of people about it. Then, of course, the dream begins to come true, as one detail after another falls into place. The plane is lost over sea, the radio fails, fuel runs short, it gets dark and stormy, one obnoxious passenger begins shouting, and…

…and we forgot all our troubles, being absorbed in the passengers’ phony ones.

…and then it was time for dinner!

Dinner tonight: corkscrew pasta with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and charred walnuts, plus the inevitable green salad with cucumber and the remains of an avocado.

Entertainment: Jazz at Lincoln Center’s streaming video of a Worldwide Concert for Our Culture: musicians from across the planet perform, many from their living rooms. Then another, increasingly unsatisfying episode of Bordertown.