A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 102

Born in the U.S.A.

Thursday, June 25

In Mexico during the 1980s, I encountered other travelers from a variety of places—England, New Orleans, you name it. Among them were two women who seemed a bit withdrawn, prickly, even unfriendly. They spoke English, but with an accent that I couldn’t easily place. After a while it came out: They were South African.

They could have had any number of reasons for staying a bit apart. But I believed that they were embarrassed by their country’s policy of racial oppression, apartheid. Maybe they were secret supporters of the liberation struggle. Maybe Nelson Mandela was a family friend. Who knows? But I think they felt that non-South Africans would regard them as something like neo-Nazis. They probably felt themselves to be pariahs—people who others would shun once their nationality became known.

This could be the fate facing Americans if we ever travel again. 

The European Union is preparing to ban American travelers when it reopens its borders on July 1, lumping the U.S. in with Russia and Brazil in terms of countries that have failed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. First, the U.S. banned EU tourists in mid-March, angering political leaders. Now, Europe has largely contained COVID-19, while new cases in the U.S. are increasing in number. Sweet revenge will prevail, as John Prine once sang.

The EU is considering two draft lists of permissible travelers, and U.S. tourists are included on neither, according to The New York Times.

Moreover, Trump’s disgraceful behavior, and that of his yobbish fans, is sufficient reason for non-Americans to regard us warily. Oh, they may well think: You are the type of people who automatically regard Mexicans as rapists and Central Americans as diseased. Maybe you too hate Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau while admiring Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un.

We were in Scotland a few years ago, and we rushed to make it clear to our B&B hosts and others that we were non-fans of the Orange man. I think they accepted what we said, and quickly changed the subject to an explanation of Scottish ways and a discussion of places we might like to visit. Oh, are you golfers? We had to make it clear that we weren’t—another reason to find us objectionable.

So, compatriots, steel yourselves for Ugly American status.  Maybe you could wear a Black Lives Matter T-shirt or attach a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker onto your rental car. Or maybe COVID-19 will prevent you from ever again traveling abroad.

Tonight’s dinner: Black beans and rice, lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: Concluding episodes of season two of Broadchurch.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 82

A New York police car on fire in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Sunday, May 31

It seems we’ve been missing all the action.

A set of Marella Gayla photos on The New Yorker website shows intense protests at Union Square—right outside our apartment window on 4th Avenue at 14th Street.

Where hundreds of demonstrators confronted uniformed cops on Thursday, you can see Zeckendorff Towers looming in the background. Another photographer’s work shows demonstrations a block away at 5th Avenue. In the background of photos there, you can see a telltale CVS Pharmacy.

The cause of the protests is, of course, the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, where there have been five nights of fierce protest. In over three dozen cities across the U.S.—from New York to Detroit, Atlanta, and San Francisco—there have been mass demonstrations, looting, and even the burning of buildings. In Brooklyn, one woman was arrested for throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police vehicle. In Washington, protests compelled police to cordon off several blocks around the White House. Curfews were imposed in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago.

I have been amazed, perplexed, and outraged for years about the police killings of black youth–and the cops’ seeming impunity.

But there’s not much I can do about it out here. So, I just had a nice walk out in the sunshine. One worry is that our new little rabbit pal is being bullied by the territorial squirrels. Oh, there is also incessant noise from the neighbor’s crew of lawn-cutters and leaf-blowers.

I’m not sorry to miss the city protests. I’m too old to run from baton-wielding police. And it’s one thing to go to demonstrations of your own volition, and another to have protests taking place right at your doorstep, with no exit. 

According to reports I’ve gotten from an NYC neighbor, the building scene is weird. At times, people wait in the lobby so they can go onto an elevator one at a time. We have a rented parking space in the lot below the building, but it’s not clear that the parking lot is even open. No one answers the phone when you call. Yet on the parking service’s website, that particular lot isn’t listed as being closed. Should I pay the bill? I am of course paying rent on our apartment upstairs, where we have not been since early March.

A modest dinner tonight: Progresso canned soup, roasted potatoes, and a salad.

Entertainment: final episodes of the Britbox video A Confession.