There Will Be No Return to the Same Normal

And That’s Not Necessarily Bad

I am not only thinking about Covid-19, but also four years of egregiously bad government and a badly divided populace that has replaced reason with gonzo conspiracy theories.

There will be a lot of fast growth once the plague tocsin has stopped ringing, but the economy is not the only thing that needs to be rebuilt. For one thing, the younger generation (whatever we choose to call it) must have more to look forward to than ill-paid temporary gigs while a college loan Sword of Damocles hangs over its head. This is just one of several things that have to change.

I strongly suspect that one change will be a continuing diminution of the influence of Christianity on our lives. And very soon, we have to come to our senses about the fact that the weather is changing. Maybe not permanently, but remember we have come out of a mini ice age that began in the 18th century. And the earth will, for the time being, continue to warm up.

Look for It To Re-Open Soon

Will we continue to be a beef and potatoes nation? I don’t think so. I think we are headed toward plant-based substances that are a substitute for red meat.

The one thing we can depend on is change. Edmund Spenser had it right when he wrote:

Mutability

 When I bethink me on that speech whilere,
 Of Mutability, and well it weigh:
 Me seems,that though she all unworthy were
 Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet very sooth to say,
 In all things else she bears the greatest sway.
 Which makes me loathe this state of life so tickle,
 And love of things so vain to cast away;
 Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,
 Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle.
 
Then gin I think on that which Nature said.
 Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
 But steadfast rest of all things firmly stayed
 Upon the pillars of Eternity,
 That is contrare to Mutability:
 For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight:
 But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
 With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
 O that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight.

Masque of the Red Death

Death Is Stalking the Land in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death

I cannot help but feel that Covid-19 is inching ever closer. The son of one of my friends probably has it; and all the holiday socializing that has been going on is leading to a crisis in Los Angeles. Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times had a headline in which paramedics can refuse to pick up a patient if he or she appears to be near death in their judgment. Emergency rooms and intensive care units are packed to overflowing such that local hospitals are casting about for hallways, chapels, and other rooms in which to deposit patients. And hospital morgues are overflowing with the dead.

Tomorrow, I was planning to ride the train downtown to return some library books. With the coronavirus news becoming worse day by day, I will wait two or three weeks until the maskless fools who have been socializing during the Christmas and New Years holidays come down with the virus and isolate themselves.

Because of their behavior during this outbreak, I am becoming reluctant to associate with young people in any capacity. I have numerous preexisting conditions that make me a prime target for the Red Death. Thankfully, all the young people in my family live out of town.

Instead of going downtown, I’ll take a walk to Bay City Imports in Santa Monica to get ingredients for a Calabrian Chile Pasta dish that looks interesting. As long as this outbreak lasts, I will be intent on working on my cooking skills. I know I’ll never catch up to my brother in this regard, so I’ll just have to reconcile myself with accepting second place in a family of two.

A Streetcar Named Canal

The Canal Street Streetcar Line in New Orleans

Although most of the South doesn’t interest me very much, I would love to visit New Orleans during the two or three weeks of the year when the weather isn’t too oppressive. And I would be delighted to skip the crowds of Mardi Gras.

New Orleans started out under the French flag from 1718 to 1763, then under Spain from 1763 to 1802. It returned to France briefly in 1802 until First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte decided to sell it to the fledgling United States of America in 1803 for $15 million, along with a whole lot of other land totaling 828,000 square miles. The only other flag that flew over the Big Easy were the “Stars and Bars” of the Confederate States of America (1861-1862).

Camelback House in New Orleans

What interests me about the city is its rich cultural (and culinary) history. (How many cities in our country have their own cuisine?)

Close to the city are the Cajun parishes of Louisiana, with their own transplanted French Canadian culture. Martine and I have visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada, from where the Cajuns (Acadians) hailed after they were deported following the French and Indian War. In preparation for some future visit to Louisiana, I have been reading the Dave Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke. And I am currently in the middle of George Washington Cable’s The Grandissimes.

Until the coronavirus quarantine becomes a thing of the past, I won’t be doing much traveling—though I might go to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to celebrate my brother’s 70th birthday in April. (That, too, is contingent on the virus.)

14 Diamonds in the Rough

Marie NDiaye, Franco-Senegalese Writer and Playwright

In this year of the quarantine, I have found particular solace in reading writers that most people have never heard of before—and some that were new to me as well. The list is alphabetical by author, followed by the name of the book(s) I read in 2020:

  • Algren, Nelson (1909-1981). The Man with the Golden Arm. This novelist had a years-long relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, who is also on this list.
  • Bakewell, Sarah. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails. A wonderful nonfiction book primarily about the French and German Existentialist philosophers from Husserl to Sartre.
  • Beauvoir, Simone de (1908-1986). The Mandarins. A powerful novel about the French postwar existentialists.
  • Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889). No Name and A Rogue’s Life. Not as well known as Dickens, but I think a better writer. His best novel is The Woman in White.
  • Dourado, Autran (1926-2012). Pattern for a Tapestry. This Brazilian writer from Minas Gerais is a real find.
  • Hrabal, Bohumil (1914-1997). I Served the King of England. I wonder why this great Czech novelist never won the Nobel Prize. Consistently great.
  • Marra, Anthony. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. The youngest writer (only 36) on the list, but shows promise of great things to come.
  • Modiano, Patrick. Dora Bruder. Winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is one of my favorite living novelists.
  • NDiaye, Marie. The Cheffe and My Heart Hemmed In. Winner of the Prix Goncourt in France. Clearly deserves the Nobel as well.
  • Neruda, Jan (1834-1891). Prague Tales. The Czech writer whose last name Pablo Neruda hijacked for himself.
  • Portis, Charles (1933-2020). Gringos. I really admire this Arkansas novelist’s work. Best known for True Grit, which is also worth reading.
  • Stasiuk, Andrzej. Fado. Hurry up and translate more of this great Polish writer’s work!
  • Westover, Tara. Educated. A nonfiction autobiographical book about growing up in an Idaho survivalist household.
  • Wright, Austin Tappan (1883-1931). Islandia. A novel in a genre by itself: A realistic fantasy novel set in a nonexistent Southern Hemisphere country.

As you can see, this list skips around the world and across two centuries.

How to Survive the ’Rona

Kind of Looks Like Mines Intended to Explode on Contact with Ships

Since March 15, I have maintained strict quarantine—with a sole exception. Late in October, I visited my brother in the Coachella Valley. Although I have maintained telephone contact with my friends, I have not seen any of them for many months.

So how does one survive the dreaded ’Rona?

Very simple: Take yourself out of circulation. To the maximum extent possible, restrict your contact with friends and family to the telephone, e-mail, and—if you are so inclined—letters.

Let’s face it: There will be many more deaths and illnesses before this thing mutates or dies off.

This is a great time to see all the great movies you’ve missed (on TV and your computer), and to read great books. It’s also a good time to learn how to cook for yourself. Food that is delivered to your home is usually tepid at best.

Wear a mask when there is any chance of talking to someone in person, whether a neighbor or a grocery cashier. If you feel that the requirement to wear a mask is an infringement on your liberty, be ready to kill off your friends, acquaintances, family, and possibly yourself. Because there is a very real possibility that you might wind up a mass murderer through sheer idiocy.

And, if you see Jacob Marley’s face on your door knocker, run like hell!

Just Before the Quarantine

Martine Sitting in a Corvette at the Automobile Driving Museum

I was looking at the last photographs I took before the coronavirus quarantine slammed the door on our whole way of life. It was on February 7 that I returned from Mexico, having heard from the news on Al Jazeera about the strange flu in Wuhan, China.

Between February 7 and March 15, when the quarantine was fully in place, Martine and I visited the Andrés Pico Adobe in the San Fernando Valley, Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs, Descanso Gardens in La Cañada-Flintridge, the Automobile Driving Museum in El Segundo (see photo above), and finally, just as the iron virus curtain was descending, a folk dance concert at the Magyar Ház given by the Karpatók Hungarian Folk Dance Ensemble. That last event was on March 15. I knew we were taking a chance by attending what could easily have become a “super spreader” event, but fortunately didn’t. It was, like all their events, top notch.

The Oak Forest at Descanso Gardens

The quarantine has taken a particular toll on Martine. Although I am a flaming Libtard, Martine listens to right-wing talk radio and complains incessantly about having to wear a mask. She does so whenever she enters a public building, but refuses to wear them on her daily walks to nowhere. She has been hurt by our inability to go anywhere because restaurants, parks, and museums are closed, and it becomes difficult to find a public bathroom that is still open.

Sometimes, I think many of the restrictions regarding Covid-19 are imposed because there are so many scofflaws who think that wearing a mask at all is an imposition on what they feel are their rights (pronounced “rats” with a Southern drawl). Such as the right to scream “Fire!” in a crowded theater or take a loaded AR-15 to Sunday School. In the end, we all suffer because of a hardcore cadre of jerks with which our country is so amply provided.

10 Years Ago…

Sarah Silverman at the L.A. Festival of Books April 2010

One of the events I miss the most during this grey endless quarantine is the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, particularly when it was held at the nearby UCLA Campus. Hell, I wouldn’t even mind going again to the USC Campus, where it’s always considerably warmer than Westwood.

I always liked Sarah Silverman’s comedy. I even thought she was pretty sexy—as well as uproariously funny.

Of course, now we all have to stay away from one another because of this ghastly coronavirus outbreak, which seems to be getting worse all the time. With luck, I will survive a couple of years of a monastic existence; but in going back over old photographs, I deeply miss events like the Festival of Books.

I even miss going to the library and walking through the stacks looking for books to read.

Eventually, the world will open up again. But I will have wasted two whole years in disgruntled loneliness.

A Long Flight to … Where?

This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.

The Coronavirus Quarantine Is Sort of Like Jet Lag

I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.

So what do I do?

  • First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
  • Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
  • When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.

When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.

So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.

A Nook of My Library Circa 2002

I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.

So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)

I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.

There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:

“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”

Karma Is a B*tch

Both Trump and Melania Have Come Down with Coronavirus

The new has gotten around that both the President and his First Lady have contracted the Covid-19 virus. Although my contempt for Trump remains at high levels, I do not wish this type of evil upon him or his family—well, maybe for Don Junior.

I see our President as a man wracked by fear and uncertainty, but afraid of acknowledging that, as a human being, he can take sick and die. In his book, that would be considered “losing.” Hey, we are all losers one way or the other. The real measure of a person is how he or she rebounds from it.

Just today I was reading a fifty-year-old Japanese sci-fi novel by Kobo Abe entitled Inter Ice Age 4. In it, I found this wise quote: “I do not know how many props support the world, but three of them at least are obtuseness, ignorance, and stupidity.” How true!

I realize that the President’s illness throws all kinds of monkey wrenches into the upcoming election, particularly if his illness becomes threatening. If, as a result of this, Americans begin taking the coronavirus threat more seriously, it will save lives.

One thing for sure, the dialogue about the virus can be expected the change suddenly and markedly.

Worse Than Al-Qaida

Morgue Overflow Into Hospital Corridor

Today we commemorate the nineteenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, in which some 3,000 Americans lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC.

We are fighting another enemy now that has killed 200,000 Americans this year to date, and infected 6.5 million of our countrymen with a virulent disease which we are just beginning to understand. Many thousands of those dead from coronavirus died needlessly, and millions of those afflicted with the virus need not have suffered from it.

Solidly to blame is our leadership in the White House. President Trump persistently downplayed the seriousness of the outbreak (though now he claims he knew back then the danger). Millions of Americans did not know what to think. Many Trump voters now claim there was no pandemic, and that all this is false news. They refuse to wear face masks—largely because their President has sent mixed messages, frequently at variance with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Even people think less of Trump than I do (there must be some, somewhere) are confused as to what to do in the face of the outbreak.

I hold Trump responsible for thousands of deaths and millions of sickened Americans. One of the responsibilities of those in power is to make sure the right information gets to the people. It didn’t, with horrendous results.

Very few other countries had an experience as bad as ours, with so many needless casualties due to misinformation. To cover his ass, Trump lied that we had done better than any other country.

Why do people still believe his lies? I guess it’s a case of misplaced faith, as Mr. Spock explains below:

I’ll Go Along With That