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3:AM in Lockdown 20: Julian Hanna

Santa Luzia
By Julian Hanna.

‘Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.’
– Albert Camus, The Plague

This is a serious time, and I am taking it very seriously, reading all the recommended articles and having all the concerns about family and friends and people more vulnerable than myself and what the future might hold for us all. Still the absurdity of the situation cannot be ignored. I think (vainly) of Samuel Beckett and Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil hiding from the Nazis in Roussillon. But when I pass the police checkpoint for groceries they only smile.

Some of us are locked down with others, some of us are alone. Some are with friends or roommates or lovers, some with family. If you are locked down with others, you have probably seen more of them than at any point in your entire lives. This may be a good or bad thing. You may see so much of them that it seems disingenuous to leave them out of the picture. From this unprecedented state of things might arise a new honesty — about how we do things and with whom, how we fail or fall short, what it really feels like to be us.

I am locked down on a quinta in Madeira. The archipelago, normally connected by air to the mainland, is now all but cut off from the outside world. Admittedly things could be worse. After more than two weeks of isolation from other people we are going a bit feral, but we know we are fortunate. Confirmed cases here are still in the dozens. We are a bookish and misanthropic crew, happy in our solitary pursuits; rarely bored or restless, though occasionally anxious or moody. Time has become elastic; the Zone has the power to alter time and space, dragging a minute out for days and then jumping to next week in the blink of an eye. By the second day we were cutting each other’s hair. Am I washing too much, or not enough? It is hard to tell.

I wish I could say I was reading or writing in heroic quantities, but that has not happened (yet). If I write anything these days it is only a sparsely kept diary tapped into my phone. I find some books resonate deeply with the times, while others are unbearably out of tune. Humour must be as broad as Trump’s wall or as dry as toast. Tragedy had better be properly grim. The act of making content feels ambivalent at best.

My diary begins on March 7th in biblical fashion, with an earthquake that shook the island and let loose a lot of plaster dust. During those unsettling seconds something changed; will it ever return to normal? (Was 2019 normal?) The cynics are saying everything will snap back as before, or might even get worse. They are probably right. Nevertheless I hold onto a sliver of hope that we will come out of this wiser, at least for a time. The ebb and flow.

All the cruise ships have vanished from the bay. Planes have stopped flying overhead. Rather than steady traffic at certain times of day there is now just the occasional roar of a revving engine down our empty street. Hotels are being used for quarantine or prepared as makeshift hospitals.

Sometimes I talk to my mother on her island halfway across the world. We compare tallies of new cases, new restrictive measures, the weather and what we can see from our windows. I listen for a cough.

I try to put work and news aside sometimes and remember that there are still birds in the sky and that nature, heedless of our trials, carries on around us. Emotions pass swiftly like clouds, sadness and fear followed by irrepressible joy.

Let us take a walk outside!

‘The only hope was that the outbreak would die a natural death.’


First posted: Monday, April 6th, 2020.

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