A Journal of the Plague Year 2022—chapter 279

White Power, anyone?

January 18

And now an announcement: Time magazine’s Man of the Year… George Santos!

Think about it: Santos encapsulates the many elements of the Zeitgeist. According to a resume he submitted to Long Island Republicans, he is an astounding success: a New York University MBA who more than doubled revenues while serving as a project manager at Goldman Sachs, among other triumphs. And, moreover, he has campaigned as… a victim!!! A gay Latino Ukrainian Jew-ish casualty of the Holocaust.

Like Trump, he is an unabashed fabulist. Santos may even believe his own lies— Trump certainly did (the winner of the greatest electoral landslide in American history, the greatest president since Lincoln, perhaps even greater than George Washington).

Now, we’re told that Santos is hanging out with the Marjorie Taylor Greene crowd in Congress. He’ll fit right in as a would-be target of the puppet-mastering cabal who really pull the strings—and who conspire to deny the rightful positions of those like Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Greene. Santos has appeared on Stephen Bannon’s podcast, “Bannon’s War Room,” a platform for election deniers and conspiracy-spinners. And he may join the House’s wacko Freedom Caucus.

A Latino signaler of White Power salutes? Hey, only Bolshie-Democrat feminist-Nazi woke types could find fault with that.

If you ask me, too many people have spent too much time watching the Ali G show on YouTube. And the distinction between truth and satire has entirely eluded them.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022—chapter 278

January 11

At Rockefeller Center.

We’re back in New York City, taking care of various business. After lunch with a friend today, I went to a Chase Bank location to visit my safe deposit box and remove various stuff. The box said it was lonely—that I hadn’t visited since 2017. So I closed the account and took everything away. Inside were a variety of “important” documents that should provide a full day’s worth of memories…whenever I get around to examining them. (I immediately noticed a letter from my mother, probably written in the 1980s, regarding her pre-paid cemetery plot.)

Institutions in the city seem to fall into two extreme categories: 1) wow, that place hasn’t changed a bit, and 2) that joint has undergone a radical transformation.

So far, I have visited Zabar’s, the legendary upper west side food and kitchen-implements store (an absolute category 1); Astor Liquors (a near category 1); the former McGraw-Hill Building (category 2, right down to its no-nonsense new name of 1221 Avenue of the Americas); the Strand Bookstore (a category 2, for sure: where it once mostly sold used books, its wares today are generally the same spanking-new editions you’d find at Barnes & Noble); Grand Central Terminal (cleaned-up and tourist-ready, but otherwise a category 1); the mezzanine floor of the building adjacent to Grand Central (category 2, since every one of its once-bustling restaurants is now gone); and Joe’s Pizza, 14th Street location (brand-new to me, and so a category 2).

I walked back from Astor Liquors, past the Public Theater, Cooper Union, a building still bearing the name “Amalgamated Insurance,” and the Mud Coffee stand. The experience made me realize that, yes, I have experienced some history right here in lower Manhattan. 

Sitting out-of-doors with my Mud Coffee cappuccino, I began to puzzle just which building had once been the headquarters of the radical-ish District 65 labor union. Oh yeah, it’s the building next to the one that long ago housed a Wanamaker’s department store—and where the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union lived when I was briefly on staff back in the early 1980s. 

I can recall going to meetings at District 65 and listening that that union’s second-in-command, Cleveland Robinson, denounce some injustice (South Africa, maybe?) in his profoundly resonant, Caribbean-accented voice. I attended performances of the Mabou Mines theater troupe–featuring my college friend Ellen McElduff–at the Public Theater.

Another memory: No sooner had I taken a job, in 1980, with the Amalgamated than I found myself on strike against the union! So, there we were, the 20-odd members of the union’s “professional staff,” marching around in a small picket-line circle outside of the Wanamaker Building. They left us out there for two weeks, just to teach us who was boss, then giving us a small pay hike to bring everyone back inside.

I attended socialist meetings at NYU and Cooper Union—and of course the occasional demonstration at Union Square.

Memories seem to be particularly haunting me during this trip. I’m sure I will come up with more.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022—chapter 277

December 12

Last night came the first snow of the year—a light dusting that will largely melt away by midday. 

For the past six days, Emily has been suffering from a virus—but it’s not COVID, according to the Binax NOW test. Initially, she thought she just had a cold, then the symptoms turned to nausea, and finally other, explosive gastric distress. Her diet nowadays is pretty restricted to bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast…with the possibly transgressive addition of a little dark chocolate.

The truly mysterious aspect is precisely how she contracted the illness. She hasn’t gone out of the house, so I must have brought it back from a physical therapy session. But I myself had no symptoms.

As a result, we postponed a planned trip to New York City, along with a doctor’s appointment for me. Em’s a bit on the mend already, so we’ll probably travel to the city next weekend and I will likely see the doc next week.

Out here on Long Island, it grows ever darker and colder, so I have an excuse for setting aside the lengthy Orhan Pamuk novel Nights of Plague and seeking out some lighter fare.

Thanks to a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore, I’ve been enjoying a series of British spy novels by Mick Herron—also an Apple TV adaptation of some of these. They’re quite clearly a bit derivative of John Le Carre. But while Herron seems to imitate a certain waggish Le Carre argot—like that in The Honorable Schoolboy, I think—he aims more insistently for the funny bone.

Le Carre’s British spies, particularly George Smiley, were upper-class social misfits and so physically innocuous that you’d never notice them. Herron has two stables of spies: the denizens of MI-5’s sleek, central headquarters (Regent’s Park) and those exiled to a seedy redoubt (Slough House) as a result of fouling up assignments. At the latter location, the agents are encouraged (like the cops in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown) to do as little as possible lest they fuck up again. But circumstances (the kidnapping of a well-connected Pakistani student, say, or the terroristic activities of a North Korea-inspired group) regularly intervene and require action from the exiles. 

Ricky Gervais’ British TV series The Office makes similar reference to Slough, an actual town in England as well as a memorable reference point in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. But the Slough House regulars wouldn’t fit in either work. Instead, they are occasionally functional drunks and drug addicts, led by an unwashed chain-smoking dipsomaniac named Jackson Lamb. Lamb’s most characteristic gesture is the fart.

Slough House’s location on London’s Aldersgate Street is behind “a black door dusty with neglect, sandwiched between a newsagent’s and a Chinese takeaway; its façade is distempered, its guttering a mess, and the local pigeons have shown their contempt for it in the traditional manner. …The building is a bad tooth set in a failing mouth. Here is where nothing happens: nothing to see here.”

Still, Slough House fits perfectly into post-Brexit, post-Boris Johnson and -Liz Truss England: unglamorous, dysfunctional, repellent, and oblivious. Where James Bond was and remains as glitzy and cosmopolitan as Cary Grant, the Slough House regulars are more fit for a charity mental ward.

Did I make that sound unappealing? No—if you can put up with the insistent, screwball-comedy-like banter of the Slough House regulars, Herron’s books are worth a look. 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 276

City life isn’t healthy for birds and other living things.

November 3

The 72-year-old British actor Bill Nighy recently told The Guardian that he thinks about death some 35 times a day.

“Wow” I thought—“only 35 times!”

It’s autumn, and we’ve just passed another Day of the Dead, an occasion for everyone to dwell on the end of life. Out here on Long Island, the brown and withered tree leaves are falling thick and fast, days get shorter and shorter, and nights are long, quiet, and dark.

What better time to turn to Simone de Beauvoir’s meditation on old age and its accompanying drawbacks, The Coming of Age? I have previously dipped into this 584-page disquisition and found it surprisingly engrossing. The author looks at the inevitable human process with a dispassionate glance: She considers aging from the perspective of biology, ethnology, history, and sociology. She quotes reflections on age delivered by everyone from Aristotle and Hippocrates to a U.S. National Health Survey administered in the 1950s. 

And like the historian Eric Hobsbawm, she piles on the fascinating trivia. Here is some:

*The idea that illness results from an imbalance in the four humours—blood, phlegm, choler, and black choler—dates from the ancient Greeks and was respected in Europe well into the 19th century. (You may have encountered this idea in Chaucer, but Pythagoras was actually to blame.) For centuries there was very little progress in medicine and science. The one exception was in anatomy, where advances began in the 15th century, largely as a result of the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

*Physiological changes related to age include the whitening of hair (for reasons unknown), the loss of teeth accompanied by a shortening of the lower part of the face, a thickening of the eyelids along with an increase of the size of the earlobe, muscular atrophy, and an “involution” of the sexual organs.

*As with wild apes, in many human communities the aged are kicked out, starved, isolated, and abandoned to die on their own. They are viewed as an unproductive burden. For example, among the Hopi, the Creek, and the Crow Indians, and the Bushmen of South Africa, it is customary to take old people to specially built huts away from the villages, where they are left with little in the way of sustenance. Among some Greenland native peoples, the aged kill themselves when they feel they have become a drain on the community.

*The coming of post-scarcity, modern society meant a lessening of such brutal treatment of the aged—although, de Beauvoir notes, “it is almost tautological to say ‘old and poor’ [as] most exceedingly poor people are old.” The bourgeois revolution meant that the key social division was no longer between young and old, but between rich and poor. And as the privileged few included elderly folk, it was they and not others who decided just who was superfluous to society.

I have only scratched the surface here of de Beauvoir’s massive work. Meanwhile, the latest MIT Technology Review looks at a related matter: the possibility of reversing the aging process. “How to Become Young Again” considers the medical rejuvenation research at such places as the richly financed Altos Labs. There, scientists are looking at how to reset the epigenome—“chemical marks on DNA that control which genes are turned on or off in a cell.” Comments one Harvard researcher: “There is no reason we couldn’t live 200 years.”

Dinner tonight: turkey chili and a kale, cheddar, and almonds salad.

Tonight’s entertainment: more episodes of the silly Britcom “Lovesick” along with the 1946 noir film The Blue Dahlia.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 275

The Democrats’ best hope for 2024?

September 22

Here is the true meaning of Trump: The citizenry is done with politicians.

Between our dysfunctional schools and a distraction-oriented entertainment industry, the average person understands very little. They do not know the source of the few safety-net benefits that they may receive: social security, Medicare/Medicaid, the earned-income tax credit, and so forth. All of these seem to have come from a merciful god and not via the political process. 

The Democrats’ much-trumpeted accomplishments—a 1.2 trillion infrastructure package, a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief deal, climate-change measures, a revived economy that has shrunken unemployment, and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan—are all taken for granted.

Many Americans feel that Washington has done nothing for them. And they are waiting to be entertained.

Neither the pundits nor the pols understand this—not even Fox News, a source and a beneficiary of the phenomenon. So when Ron DeSantis or Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris or Nikki Haley, panders to a perceived public prejudice, it has little effect. The public has tuned out. They are ready for something else.

This is a global phenomenon. Did you think Celebrity Apprentice host Trump was a singular phenomenon? Check out Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine and former star of the hit TV series Servant of the People. In Italy, there’s Giuseppe Piero “Beppe” Grillo, a comedian and the founder of the right-wing Five Star Movement. 

Al Franken, former Saturday Night Live comedian and former U.S. Senator, became a victim of politician envy when he was purged from the Senate over an alleged sexual-harassment episode. His true crime: He was more popular, more commanding of the public spotlight than New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Now, Franken is reduced to hosting a podcast—and awaiting a political comeback.

A sign in the window of a Lower East Side bar in Manhattan.

Perhaps Franken should run for President. (Neither Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah nor Last Week Tonight star John Oliver qualifies, since neither is a “natural-born” American, as the Constitution requires.) At least Franken would have a chance against the GOP team—which I hereby predict to be DeSantis paired with Fox News shock jock Tucker Carlson (that is provided Carlson doesn’t shove DeSantis aside and take the top spot himself).

Franken has kept his hand in the political game. On his podcast, he has discussed a range of political issues and interviewed a variety of political figures, from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar to Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin. And he remains a very entertaining fellow: In his book Giant of the Senate, Franken called Ted Cruz the Dwight Schrute of the Senate. “He’s the guy in your office who snitches to corporate about your March Madness pool and microwaves fish in the office kitchen…He’s a toxic co-worker.”

But he wouldn’t be running against Cruz, who nationally is about as popular as a cockroach. Anyway, Franken can hold his own in a debate against any of the likely GOP insects.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 274

Greenery at Astor Place in lower Manhattan.

September 14

What is it about the British royal family that seems to provoke festivals of public grief? When Lady Diana Spencer died back in 1997, the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments could be heard all across the globe. One critical wag took note of the vast public turnout and termed it “recreational grieving”—but it was all the same a mass phenomenon. Now, Queen Elizabeth has passed, and one cannot pick up a newspaper or switch on the television without being absolutely drenched in the lamentations of commentators and public figures.

Meanwhile, as the day-after-day, drawn out parade of the royal corpse proceeds, others have passed from the scene, including Clinton persecutor Ken Starr and pathbreaking French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard.

So if Godard is dead, who will write our epigrams?

Godard was a filmmaker, of course. He was also a critic of everyday life—the quotidian, in the mode of heavyweight French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, author of the multi-volume Critique de la vie quotidienne. Godard, though, was much pithier.

“Adultery is the last adventure remaining to the middle class,” he once declared.

Godard’s love-hate relationships were innumerable: the prosperous middle class, city life, America, television, film itself.

“Europe has memories,” he once announced. “America has t-shirts.”

Then there was: “My aesthetic is that of the sniper on the roof.”

Not that many snipers have come equipped with hand-held film cameras, ever-present sunglasses, and an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema history. Having already made multiple masterpieces, in the late 1960s Godard abandoned commercial movies and joined a collective of filmmakers dubbed the Dziga Vertov Group, named for the largely forgotten, pioneering Soviet documentarian who made the dazzling The Man With the Movie Camera (filmed, incidentally, in Ukraine). Vertov was an advocate of filming “life caught unawares.” He wished to follow a path “towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world, [to] decipher a world that you do not know.”

Godard’s works certainly fulfilled that function too. 

The ceaseless, eye-glazing pomp surrounding the Queen’s funeral, and the accompanying vacuous commentary, would have been all too familiar to Godard, who once denounced the older tradition of French cinema as unimaginative and oversimplified. It is somehow fitting that these two—representatives of opposite worlds—should die within days of each other.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 273

An 1893 version of “The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

September 3

Here’s how my thoughts have often been going lately:

I think of something that needs doing. I feel that I must go do that thing immediately, but I don’t want to. If it’s food preparation, that means I will have to wash the dishes afterwards—and I really, really don’t want to have to do that. Or maybe it’s something related to the house or the yard. Oh, but that’s so much trouble, maybe even physically taxing. I better just lie down and take a nap.

Yesterday I forced myself to move various clutter—a small spade, a large bag of potting soil, some plant food, and such like—into a living room cabinet or down to the basement. I vacuumed and dusted a bit here and there. All the while I felt headachy and slightly dizzy. Then, afterwards, I lay down for a bit.

Is this depression? There’s also anxiety—if I don’t do such and such a thing, there will be HIGHLY negative consequences.

I DO take lots of naps. Having just written a blog post about my father’s nap-taking, I wonder: perhaps HE was depressed. Or was he just following the habits of the older, more rural society in which he grew up? He was, after all, born in 1908…

The Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen, whose novel A World of Love I have just completed, was born in 1899. I turn to the past to get away from the present, so unpleasant largely thanks to Trump and his deluded, fascist followers. I have come to loathe, despise, and fear a lot of the American citizenry. But the past contained the seeds of all that is wrong today. We simply may not have seen those seeds.

One of Trump’s gifts to us: a tendency to exaggerate or inflate things. For him, his “accomplishments” were always “huge” and fantastic. His followers were “very special.” And those who criticized or opposed him were ugly, horrible, evil, etc.

So now everything around us seems so intense, so severe, so huge. Trump, clearly mentally ill, has left many of the rest of us emotionally rattled.

I made a very simple dinner yesterday—pasta e ceci, consisting of ditalini, tomatoes, chickpeas, and chard. It was very simple and took at most an hour to make. But beforehand I worried about how difficult, time-consuming, and stressful this bit of cooking was going to be. 

Will these frequent, pandemic-related episodes of anxiety pass? Who can say?

Dinner: a cheese omelette, baked potato, and green salad.

Entertainment: Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan–a quartet of ghost stories.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 272

My sister and I goofing around in my father’s boat, circa 1955. Its winter quarters were our side yard.

Wednesday, August 31

There was a line in a television documentary we just viewed that went something like: That particular eventful afternoon in your childhood—how many more times in your life will you remember it? Perhaps five?

Actually, there are several childhood afternoons, and mornings for that matter, that I think of frequently, even though they weren’t always eventful: That Christmas morning when I woke before my parents and, as they dozed on, I went to check out the loot awaiting me below the Christmas tree. Or that day when the oppressive summer heat finally broke and I went out to ride my tricycle in the crisp, sunny morning. I had on a red-and-black checked plaid overshirt—and, at my mother’s insistence, a cap with Rocky-and-Bullwinkle-style earflaps, which I considered mortifyingly unstylish. (I was already eager for the J.F.K.-inspired, hatless decade of the 1960s.)

My father always took afternoon naps. His job at C.E. Thompson Lumber Co. was apparently not so demanding that he couldn’t come home for lunch—often a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich on white bread—and a half-hour snooze. I marveled at how he could fall asleep—apparently even then I was a restless sleeper—and how he could wake up after only a half-hour. So I remember one particular day as I went into his bedroom just as he was stirring: the slightly funky smell of his sweaty sheets. The orange, late afternoon light as it came in through the Venetian blinds. His boxer shorts and white T-shirt. And how he always put his shoes on first, then slipped into his baggy-legged gabardine trousers. Were those really still in style in the 1950s…or had he somehow retained such pants from the Big Band-era 1940s?

And speaking of gabardine…does it no longer exist? He had lots of things—non-button-down, luxurious feeling shirts, pants with copious pleats—made of the material. Now, most everything is just cotton (or perhaps a cotton-polyester blend), which must be just too plentiful and cheap for manufacturers to resist. The consuming public knows no better.

My disparate memories are often bound up with clothes: the rolled-cuff blue jeans that I’d wear in cooler weather. Several green-corduroy winter coats—always dark green. The high-top sneakers (we called all such shoes, regardless of their style, “tennis shoes”) that I got new versions of every spring. I remember sitting in Miss Jones’ sixth-grade class, proud of my then-spanking-clean, thick-soled shoes, and looking out the window at the big oak tree that graced the playground. I couldn’t wait for recess and the inevitable softball game. Then, I’d be able to wear my navy blue felt baseball cap. That’s another fabric missing today: felt. 

I have dozens of such memories. Lately, the summer heat has made me think of our Sunday, after-church dinners, when we’d often have fried filets of fish. (My father was an avid fisherman; I seldom had the patience to sit for sweltering hours in the boat, waiting for Mr. Smallmouth Bass to grab the artificial lure.) My poor mother didn’t even like fish—but because he’d caught it, she’d have to fry it up in her small, airless kitchen. More than the fish, I miss the stinky, farm-raised tomatoes (5¢ a pound at the local farmers market) and the tiny field peas (“lady peas” she called them) that she served on the side. The peas didn’t have much flavor but they were a Southern staple, just as much as the more famous black-eyed peas. Was there dessert? I don’t remember any. Maybe that came later in the day.

My sister died in the polio epidemic of 1956, age 12. She’d had one of the Salk vaccine jabs, but got the disease anyway in the late fall of the year.

Was that timing unusual? Polio epidemics seemed to arrive in the summer months–so much so that some people called polio “the summer illness.” The Salk vaccine was chosen for use throughout the U.S. in 1955. By 1957, following mass immunizations promoted by the March of Dimes, the annual number of U.S. polio cases fell from a peak of nearly 58,000 cases to 5,600 cases. But, as I recall, it was Albert Sabin’s oral vaccine, which came around in the early 1960s, that really conquered the illness. After a wave of oral-vaccine immunization, by 1961 only 161 cases were reported in this country.

Tonight’s dinner: coconut chicken curry and cucumber raita.

Entertainment: The Mubi music video Ryuichi Sakamoto: Async at the Park Avenue Armory.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 271

Tuesday, August 9

Today is my birthday. I am 74. No great celebrations here, but I did get fresh beets at the store.

Beets are really tasty but can be a pain to prepare, particularly on the stovetop. But I will cook ‘em up in our Instant Pot, where preparation only takes about 30 minutes and doesn’t heat the kitchen even more on a day when temps may hit 90 degrees.

Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant cookbook has a recipe for cold sliced beets with a dressing of olive oil, yogurt, lime juice, and dill. It’s great in hot weather. 

I also got some fresh basil and will use it in pesto later in the week. If the weatherman is to be trusted—and why would you?—it should turn cooler tomorrow or Thursday.

Emily is laboring away, reading case after court case on the issue of Congressional redistricting and partisan gerrymandering. If courts have no say over the matter and everything is left up to state legislatures—as the “independent state legislature” theory and constitutional “textualists” hold—then we are certainly screwed. In many states, Republican-dominated legislatures will simply make it impossible for Democrats to ever win elections. What happened to all those smug people like George Will who once blabbed on and on about the genius of our constitutional “framers”? Democracy in the U.S. was always pretty limited, and now it seems to be withering away—even as it continues to exist in places like Japan and Europe, where the U.S.A. helped to create it in the post-World War II period.

And speaking of Japan, we have watched a series of films by the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Most of the flicks that we have seen—including Tokyo Story, Late Spring, Late Autumn, Equinox Flower, and An Autumn Afternoon—focus on the evolution of the Japanese family in the years after World War II. And specifically, they concern the slow move away from arranged marriages and toward allowing young people to make their own choices. 

Filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu.

In more than one such film, there are young adults still living with their aging parents and often resisting the very idea of marriage. In Late Spring, a twenty-something daughter played by Setsuko Hara feels she should stay with her widowed father, played by Ozu regular Chishu Ryu. HE is the one pushing her to live her own life. In Tokyo Story, an aging couple travel from a remote area to visit their grownup kids in Tokyo—but the young people are too busy with jobs and work to spend much time with the parents. So, before long the old folks turn around and go home—and by the movie’s end, the mother has died and father is left all alone. But he seems to be happy enough with his lot; Ozu seems to be saying don’t worry, all will be ok.

A bit of wishful thinking there. Ozu seems to favor the end of the old ways in which patriarchal and feudal customs still ruled the day. But is Japan today characterized by the same sort of loneliness and atomization that exists in America? I know that Japan has an aging population—but is there a similar crisis around the matter of living arrangements for the very old?

In An Autumn Afternoon, a group of successful, middle-aged men spend hours scheming about a suitable marriage match for one man’s daughter. Ultimately, they arrange a marriage for her. If this is a timeworn custom, no longer appropriate under late capitalism, at least it means that, however oppressive some may have found it, a sort of caring community still existed in the immediate postwar years. 

In The Communist Manifesto, Frederich Engels and Karl Marx wrote that capitalism had “torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.” Ozu shows that this was yet a bit of an overstatement.

Dinner: black beans and rice, along with a kale and apple salad. 

Entertainment: Ozu’s 1959 remake Floating Weeds.

A Journal of the Plague Year–chapter 270

Sunny times.

Wednesday, July 20

The days are hot…and empty.

Here, there’s nothing like the heat in Britain or parts of France, where temps are soaring above 100F. But it is supposed to be 90 degrees on Long Island this afternoon and in the 80s for the rest of the week.

Meanwhile, as befits such weather, there’s little to do other than get a haircut and go to a farm stand. Alarmingly, no tomatoes at the stand in Amagansett!

We’ve been watching a fascinating series of films by the Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, who died in 1996 but not before making some of the most heralded films ever. His 1994 Three Colors: Red (which features a late-career performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant) is at times puzzling but never less than engrossing. And viewers of Camera Buff (1979), one of Kieslowski’s earliest non-documentary offerings, will find themselves duplicating the main character’s predicament—they will be unable to turn away.

The shattering No End (1985) captures the depressed public mood of General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s martial-law era, during which the astounding, path-breaking Solidarność labor union seemed to have been tamed and become part of the establishment. At the film’s end, we watch as one of the primary characters gives in to despair and commits suicide.

I also hope to watch A Short Film About Killing (1988), which considers many forms of societal violence, and the much admired The Double Life of Veronique (1991), in which two characters (both played by the same actress, Irene Jacob) “share an emotional bond,” in the words of Criterion Channel.

What would we watch without Criterion? Most of the offerings on BritBox are either silly or dramatically flawed. Netflix, too, is largely junk; that said, we are occasionally tuning in to the suspenseful (but probably formulaic) Behind Her Eyes, in which several characters seem to have dark secrets but everyone lives in upper-middle-class splendor. We also subscribe to Mubi (very, very fringe independent features) and Topic (Euro TV, often very gory). But not to HBO—enough is, after all, enough.

Dinner: A small steak salad and pasta with basil pesto.