A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 49

Darkness in the city of light.

Sunday, April 26

If Sunday is a day of rest what was yesterday? For that matter, what is Monday?

During the stay-at-home order, writing this blog and cooking have become my primary work. Sometimes I take a walk or run the vacuum cleaner, but mostly I just laze around. I also put a bit of effort into worrying.

The East Hampton Star’s daily newsletter says that during the 24-hour period ending late yesterday, there were 934 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Suffolk County. There have been 32,454 confirmed cases in the area since March 18. But the paper also suggests that the East End has less than half the number of cases in the rest of Suffolk.

The Times has a haunting article about an all-but-empty Paris. Closed down brasseries, empty squares, the Champs-Élysées with nary a pedestrian. It’s the conceit of the article that longtime Paris residents can almost imagine the city as it was decades back,  half-empty and sans the waves of tourists. Or even the city as it was in the 1940s under German occupation. 

That’s a period I have become fascinated by thanks to the work of Nobel-winning author Patrick Modiano. Many of his stories and novels focus on a group of small-time crooks and Nazi collaborators that included his father.  The settings are often crummy bars or shady hotels, places characterized by “insipid luxury” and a sickly-sweet smell that is “the very odor of anxiety, of instability, of exile, of phoniness.” (Villa Triste

Memory and dreams also figure prominently in Modiano’s writing: “He lacked the courage to go into the house. He preferred that it should remain for him one of those places that have been familiar to you and which you occasionally happen to visit in dreams.” (From So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood

Also: “Sometimes I dream that I am with her, in the middle of the reception lobby. The night porter is wearing a threadbare stationmaster’s uniform. He comes over to hand us our key. The elevator no longer works and we climb up a marble staircase…. We end up in an old waiting room lit by a single naked bulb in the ceiling. We sit on the only surviving bench. The station is no longer operational, but you never know: the train for Rome might pass through, by mistake, and stop for a few seconds, just long enough for us to climb aboard.” (From After the Circus)

It could be this Fellini-like preoccupation with dreams and the past that draws me to Modiano. In one novel entitled Missing Person, it turns out that the missing one is the writer himself, who has lost his memory and is searching for his identity. The clues seem to stop during the Second World War. 

Today once again, it is cloudy but one can imagine the sun burning through. The weather is supposed to be like this, with off and on periods of rain, over the next several days. The next fully sunny day will supposedly be Saturday.

Every year, I am surprised at just how long winter lasts in the East. For some reason, I have a distinct memory of my first year in graduate school, at Stony Brook. A fellow history student showed up at a house that I shared with others, out on a jaunt with some pal in a fancy sports car. Even though it was mid-May, it wasn’t really the balmy day suited to cruising about in a convertible. In the South, May temps are often suited to short sleeves. April and May in New York, much like the Democratic Party, never fail to disappoint.

Tonight’s dinner: In spite of the cool weather, we’re having cold soba noodles with sesame sauce and a salad of lettuce, avocado, and tomatoes.

Entertainment: I think I have had it with Bordertown, so three episodes of The Hunters.