Have you lost faith in Mankind?

“Il y a plus dans les hommes des choses à admirer que des choses à mépriser »[i]

La Peste, Albert Camus [ii]

There are books that seem to be ageing in a dishonorable way—once deemed as essential reading, they nonetheless begin to show their little decadent details like a former belle that is cruelly being assaulted by the passing of time—and we nervously store them in the attic of our Subconscious mind, dismissing their tough messages. We know that they deal with resiliently pertinent issues, but we rather ignore them. La Peste, penned by the 1954 Nobel Laureate Albert Camus, is indeed one of them.

Written in 1947, right after the end of World War II, it was supposedly a tale of how a seemingly supernatural phenomenon out of the Dark Times can ravage the human communities and in its aftermath provoke little redeeming changes in Humankind; however, it had a much more profound and relevant message for the contemporaries of Camus. In a January 11, 1954 letter to Roland Barthès , the writer acknowledged the allegorical reference to the sudden Rise and Fall of Nazism, which had destroyed and traumatized the European communities. We must remember that intellectuals of the 20th century were flabbergasted that such a ghastly machine of mass extermination could have been spawned by Germany, one of the finest cultures of the Continent.

In Oran—then the second largest city of French Algeria—a physician called Rieux blew the whistle when he discovered many sick individuals in his ward consultations. The epidemic seemingly came out of nowhere and rapidly destroyed the social, economic and administrative fabric of the prosperous city port in just a few weeks. In the beginning the city inhabitants were reluctant to accept the Public Health threat as they could not face their own mortality and preferred to cling to their “normality.” Slowly but steadily all the warts of human nature begun to surface for all to see.

One sick patient paradoxically rejoiced in the sickness of others as a way to mitigate his own miserly solitude with a perverse schadenfreude [iii] that undervalued Life. A priest said in a sermon that the scourge was God’s penance for the parishioners’ sins. Many civil administration’s cadres abandoned their posts for the safety of isolation. Other individuals preferred to party before the inevitable demise would befall them. Dr. Rieux viewed the pest as “une interminable défaite” [iv] and was ready to give up.

Then there is the redeeming character of Rambert, who after trying to escape from the city in the beginning, decided to stay on to help the suffering. He reminded us of Katow, one of the central characters of La Condition Humaine [v] , who sacrificed his life for the sake of his companions. Ever since we read Malraux’s book in the Alliance Française, the train whistle—marking his cruel immolation in a cauldron by the Chinese Nationalists forces that had captured the political activist—has provoked an uncontrolled shiver from head to toe in our physique. But it also epitomized the great capacity of many people to surmount selfishness to help others.

One of the most terrifying constants in this book is the gradual yet unrelenting encroachment of the silence in places hitherto fully occupied by human activities. All the physicians still practicing in these terrible times are overcome with a sickening feeling in our stomachs when we traverse sections of hospitals that used to be bustling with patients and personnel—like children’s wards—and we only hear our steps’ echo. Moreover, when we learn that one of our colleagues has fallen due to the disease, we have mixed feelings of sadness for the loss but also pride for their sacrifices. Only in Italy, more than 100 physicians and 30 nurses have passed away recently.

Most of us have a relative, friend or neighbor that was infected while they were on duty as first responders in the police, fire stations, pharmacies, supermarkets, etc. Thanks to them, we are duly supplied with services and goods in our social isolation. Without the continued support of county, state and federal authorities, our country cannot weather this terrible calamity and recover a semblance of “normalcy” after.

In this so, so sad Easter, Pope Francis gave a mass, seated on an illuminated podium in the middle of a totally deserted Saint Peter’s square, to a TV audience on Friday. Instead of the elaborate Via Crucis [vi]—traditionally held in the Colosseum[vii] with the thirteen stations of the Cross—there was only a small procession of caregivers and jail personnel that offered a simple wooden cross to the Pope at the very end. The Pope, after all just another human being with all his frailties, stood up and accepted it with a resigned look but also a fierce resolve to keep on fighting. In his most sad homily, Pope Francis urged us not to keep wallowing in dark thoughts and dream about a better future for mankind. Will we be able to heed his recommendation? Coraggio.[viii]

The heroic example of thousands of humans should make us reconsider our lives.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

References

[i] Can be translated as : “there are more things to be admired than disdained in men.”

[ii] Alber Camus, La Peste, Paris, 1947, Editions Gallimard.

[iii] Term in the German language that means “find joy in the disgrace of others.”

[iv] Term in the French language that means “the never-ending defeat.”

[v] André Malraux, La Condition Humaine, Paris, 1933, Editions Gallimard.

[vi] The Via Crucis or the Via Dolorosa is the path taken by Jesus Christ and his tormentors through the streets of Jerusalem to reach the Golgota, the infamous hill where he was crucified by the Romans.

[vii] The name of the massive arena where the Romans had their games, ceremonies and gladiators’ encounters, located in the center of Rome.

[viii] Term in the Italian language that means “courage.”

Happy Easter to our Christian relatives and friends

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Today is Easter Sunday, one of the holiest days for us Christians, and we would like to wish a happy celebration to you and your families. We should be happy that the miracle of resurrection brought back Jesus Christ from the sacrifice he made for us at the cross. This picture of our family was taken last year in Saint Patrick’s church in Miami Beach.

Tragically this year’s Holy Week coincides with the worst ravages of a pandemic that has attacked all the nations of our planet. We might be asking ourselves the following:

Why has God abandoned us like this?

God Almighty has never let go of our hands, as she/she/sie is firmly leading us out of it.

We must continue to heed the advice of the sanitary authorities and avoid assemblies. Considering that God is everywhere, we can pray in the safety of our homes this time.

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Happy Easter!

Felices Pascuas!

Joyeux Pâques!

Buona Pasqua!

Is this pandemic a divine punishment for our sins?

1200px-Juan_Manuel_Blanes_-_Un_episodio_de_la_fiebre_amarilla_en_Buenos_Aires

“L’Historia si può veramente definire una guerra illustre contro il Tempo, perché togliendoli di mano gl’anni suoi prigionieri, anzi già fatti cadaveri, li richiama in vita, li passa in rassegna, e li schiera di nuovo in battaglia.” [i]

“I promessi Sposi” Alessandro Manzoni [2]

With those prophetic words, Alessando Manzone introduced his seminal novel titled The Betrothal in the early part of the 19th century; it is considered the first—and for many still the most important—literary work in the modern Italian Language. This novel was set in Northern Italy—where the brunt of the Coronavirus infestation is underway in the Italian peninsula—in 1628, during the Bourbon occupation of Italy. The central theme is the love story of Lucia and Renzo and their unwavering faith in the redeeming value of strong emotional bonding; after many, varied vicissitudes (spoiler alert) they eventually marry at the end. In fact our dear Pope Francis has recommended the novel to the couples that were entertaining the idea of marriage.

Lucia and Renzo were a couple living in a small Lombard village that were planning their wedding for November 8, 1628. On the eve of that ceremony the parish priest was cornered by two goons sent by Don Rodrigo—a powerful padrone padrino[3]who covets the affection of Luciathat ordered him to suspend it. Fearful of them, the priest does suspend it and recommends that the two lovers should leave the village. Agnese, Renzo’s mother, warned the couple not to return home and escorted them to a monastery; the friar gave a letter of introduction for a Milanese friar to Renzo and another one to the two women for a monastery in Monza. They fled right away.

When Renzo arrived in Milano, the city was in turmoil due to a grave famine, which was aggravated by the end of the Thirty Years War[4] as German Armies engaged in a devastating looting campaign across the peninsula. In 1630 a plague ravaged Northern Italy and three chapters of the book are dedicated to that human drama. Eventually Renzo can return to his village and meet again for his beloved bride. This love story is surrounded by the social and political mayhem of the times, especially the deep hatred of the local population against the invading armies and their puppets.

In this novel and similar ones that put a quasi-biblical catastrophe like a pandemic in their plots, the same question arises again and again: Is this God’s punishment? We must unequivocally answer that this and other pandemics were not provoked by divine intervention as a form of brutal punishment for our sins (real and imaginary) They were provoked by the ignorance and arrogance of humans in their interactions with Nature. This pandemic in particular was provoked by the negligence of Chinese officials.

In Ancient Times, the population of Central China could afford the ingestion and/or use of some abhorrent creatures like rats, serpents, bats, pangolins, etc.; if they contracted any of these diseases, the contagion was limited to their geographic area. There was not a ready access to all the points of the planet with aerial connections. And let us talk clearly: life was extremely cheap for the peasant masses at the time.

When you encroach in the natural habitat of wild animals and you put them in cages in a market located in an extremely dense city with superb connections to the World, you have to consider the real possibility that there could be a Public Health threat. Any of those isolated agents will readily jump from one animal to the other in close proximity and eventually attack the human handlers that so carelessly caged them. This human tragedy has been produced by the sheer stupidity of human traffickers and the irresponsible supervision of the sanitary authorities in the city of Wuhan.

Will the government of Premier Xi finally close down these “live animals” markets? The Chinese leadership should not pander to the superstitious beliefs of hinterland people—who use material from these creatures for amulets and the like—and do the right thing for the millions of innocent citizens that are living with proper sanitary standards.

As Italian citizens, we are very grateful for the generous sanitary help that the Chinese government has given us to combat the grave epidemic in Lombardy. Unlike the rest of Europe—that has largely ignored the Italian plight—the Chinese have sent, not only protective materials, but also Public Health experts and medical personnel in the past few days. Moreover they are sharing their epidemiological data with other governments, including the American one and its many specialized agencies. Thank you very much.

In these terrible times we must snatch our dear dead ancestors from the jaws of Time and “resuscitate them” so we can recruit them in our fight against this deadly enemy. We must listen to their experiences and how they managed to survive those terrible plagues. Strict social distancing and meticulous personal hygiene are of paramount importance.

The featured image of this article is a reproduction of the tableau La Peste by the Uruguayan painter Juan Manuel Blanes; it depicts a scene of the Yellow Fever of 1871 in the city of Buenos Aires. A police report of that time stated that the victim was an Italian woman called Ana Brisitiani that lived in a large tenement in the Balcarce street of the city center. The two depicted gentlemen that enter her room were Dr. Roque Perez, a lawyer, and Dr. Manuel Argerich, a physician. They found her long dead with her baby at her side, trying to get a response. A few weeks later these two Good Samaritans would fall victim to the plague too. In only ten months, 10% of the city population (16,000 people) died of Yellow Fever. After that pandemic, the Argentine authorities decided to modernize the city by building an efficient waste disposal system for all quarters.

That is the crux of the matter. The native ruling classes (the landed gentry, the business owners and the politicians) had found out that their relative distance from the city center (they lived mostly in the then southern suburb of Montserrat) had not spared them from the disease. Then and now the only way to protect us from this kind of Public Health tragedy is to benefit everybody in the process of modern public infrastructure. This must ring especially true for countries with a great rich-poor disparity like Brazil and India that should invest more heavily to pull more millions of people out of misery.

We salute all our Health Care professionals and First Responders that are fulfilling their great duty to take care of the population, especially in the hard-stricken Italy and USA.

Gli ringraziamo per vostro sacrificio, Thank you very much for your sacrifice.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think?

Please tell us. Don’t leave me alone.

References

[i] “History can really be defined as an enlightened war against Time, snatching from its hands all those that were taken prisoner, in fact corpses already, to reclaim them for life, pass them in review and then send them in formation to the battlefield.”

Our translation.

[2] Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi, 1840, Edita da guidaebook.com, 2010.

[3] In the Italian language “padrone” refers to an authoritarian boss and “padrino” to a godfather for the christening ceremony. Of course the latter has been extended to the chief and mastermind of a Cosa Nostra organization.

[4] https://history.com/topics/reformation/thirty-years-war