Category: Films

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 18)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 18
April 1st, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Risk

It’s April Fool’s Day but unfortunately I don’t have any pranks for you. Turkmenistan has banned use of the word “coronavirus,” which regrettably doesn’t fit the criteria of a prank; meanwhile, the Italians have stopped singing from balconies, and on top of all that, the country has extended the lockdown until Easter—cases are falling, however, which is the best news so far.

Unlike Chaucer, who began The Canterbury Tales by using April’s sweetness and grace to describe its liberating force from the harshness of winter, T.S. Eliot started his own poem, “The Waste Land,” like this: “April is the cruelest month….”

There are many speculations one can make about Eliot’s aesthetic choice: He didn’t like Chaucer; he liked Chaucer but not his poem; he liked Chaucer’s poem but felt that his own world wasn’t the same as the one described in that good medieval poem; he was a modernist and thus disillusioned with everything, not just Chaucer’s world and Chaucer himself; he simply wanted to make fun of Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Chaucer. Last, but not least, he was from St. Louis, which is enough to drive anyone insane, even in April, and perhaps even Chaucer. I don’t know and I don’t care—leave it to the French literary critics who believe the author is dead because both of them are anyways, including the guy who believed the author was dead.

Despite how much my own first day of April actually resembles April, I have to go with Eliot’s opinion on this one—it’s definitely the cruelest month.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe this is really happening (not the fact that Italians have stopped singing from balconies or that Turkmenistan has banned the use of a word—these things are quite believable, for some strange reason). What’s, in fact, difficult to perceive is that in 2020 we’re talking about things like plagues (what a medieval word), quarantines (this sounds like WWI), outbreaks (that’s a little more modern), and epidemics (ah, there’s the scientific word I was looking for).

There’s something funny about the word quarantine; it doesn’t have quite the bombastic, apocalyptic immediacy of plague, but there’s a certain historicity associated with it—a distance in the sense of a past that’s so far we no longer have to worry about it; that’s what I meant by the difficulty in believing that this is really going on in the present. Quarantena. Καραντίνα. Карантин. Կարանտին. Karantæne.

Every bet is off and all niceties are put on hold. If I see you walking down the street, it’s no longer a personal insult to step off the sidewalk, maintain some distance, and then resume my journey to the supermarket. Of course, why else would you be outside?

Ah, yes, I do enjoy staying in and writing these diaries but I hope this thing will come to an end soon; nevertheless, I don’t just want that to happen so I can move on to other writing projects that interest me or because of my own selfish desire to go outside (I do anyways), but because I can’t imagine how hard it is for others—I don’t really have it that tough.

My brother’s presence, online classes, this diary, and my guitar are just some of the things that make going through the day pretty easy. It seems like there’s nothing to do, but apart from going outside, there’s still much to accomplish—emails that I still haven’t answered, classes that I’ve yet to study for, articles that I’ve got to put on Interlitq, cook, buy food; no, modern life doesn’t stop in a quarantine—like I mentioned in my last entry: There’s too much technology keeping it going.

Speaking of technology, I had a presentation for one of my classes (Migration and Human Rights) today. My job was to summarize a World Development Report from 2014, issued by the World Bank. The main topic of the report was that, as a society, we must see risk in a positive way because it can help us improve our conditions; in other words, we must embrace taking responsible risks which can bring greater security and progress to developing countries. The goal of risk management, thus, isn’t to eliminate risk, but rather to decrease losses and increase benefits while also building resilience to cope with adversity.

Theory, however, rarely works well in the real world. As I said in another entry, the miracles of the free market and the camraderie of communism only exist in libraries. Risk, likewise, is a romance novel that’s not based on real life; it makes a lot of sense for the rich because even when they lose, they don’t lose much, but how do you gamble when you don’t have any chips?

Uncertainty is such a relevant topic right now, isn’t it? As I’ve stated before, this virus has made us forget about all the other risks that we were dealing with before. Eating junk food, drinking alcohol, driving a car, even the simple act of going outside (antevirus) posed dangers, which have all but been forgotten because life is on hold.

Burger Kings are closed, drinking alone is no fun, and you can’t go anywhere—for God’s sake, you can’t even go outside. Even the risks that have some positive rewards (besides just releasing dopamine and making us feel good) have been put on hold. No new marriages are conducted that can end happily or in divorce; there are no family reunions that will conclude in laughter or conflict; dates that might go nowhere or will lead to marriage are definitely off the table. Stopping a stranger and getting to know a good friend or your worst enemy is also postponed for the future.

I miss the risk of going on dates that may end well or badly, family reunions that could be good or bad, speaking with strangers that might become friends or enemies—all those risks no longer exist; there’s only the coronavirus and we risk making that our only risk worth being afraid of. In the midst of everything, the planet continues going to hell; wars are still being fought; people remain hungry; but all of this isn’t really a problem. So long as you don’t go outside, there’s nothing to worry about, at least for now. You’re safe—the coronavirus can’t touch you and if the coronavirus can’t touch you, then the world can’t either. Poor people have been victims of social distancing way before any pandemic because society considers them a virus.

Indeed, the invention of houses has made the outside world obsolete—that’s why they’re so damn expensive. Not everyone can afford to run away from the society. Secretely, many people are enjoying this lockdown because it gives them a convenient excuse not to focus on the real problems that do and will continue to persist after all this.

And who could’ve thought—even the ability to quarantine is a luxury for the middle class; it’s something you must be able to afford, as many poor people living in India know all too well. What kind of risks are they facing just by keeping the quarantine when they have no clean toilets or even soap? There’s not much room for social distancing either.

Risk has always been a topic that’s interested me; even antevirus, there were many dimensions to it besides just danger. One of the best Twilight Zone episodes, “A Nice Place to Visit,” provides one of the most compelling artistic arguments—in my humble opinion—for why humanity can’t live without risk and loss; people need it like water and bread. Living in a world that’s completely predictable is equivalent to being in hell; at least that’s the message we get at the end of the episode.

Pretty strong point on my part, you might say; well, let me defend it. In the episode, a petty criminal, Henry Francis “Rocky” Valentine, robs a pawn shop and is shot by the police. He lies there for a while but eventually wakes up and meets a man named Pip, who promises to give him everything he wants.

Since Pip is dressed in all white, Rocky assumes he has died and that Pip is his guardian angel. Subsequently, Rocky’s every wish is granted: He receives a lavish apartment, all the money he asks for, and his commands are obeyed.

When Rocky asks to visit the casino, however, the perfect world in which all his wishes are granted starts to affect him negatively—he can no longer “gamble” because the ideal world which he inhabits is devoid of all risk; this is just one aspect of “A Nice Place to Visit,” and for me it symbolizes the height of Rod Serling’s genius.

After watching the episode, I never looked at risk and uncertainty in quite the same optimistic—almost redeeming—way again. For me, it’s become less of an uncertainty and more of a guarantee that sanity can’t really exist without risk.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 14)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 14
March 28th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Freedom

I don’t know if today was an anomaly day, but it seems like more Italians are getting sick of the quarantine. I saw someone jogging (which has been banned) along the riverfront on Lungadige Marco Apuleio; then I came across four elderly people sitting on the sidewalk eating cans of tuna (also a very good reason to be outside), and another humorous sight (which didn’t actually break quarantine laws); since I’m not a big fan of internet shaming, I’ll only share the last thing I witnessed.

The fury of some Italian mayors over their citizens’ inability to stay at home has been all the rage on the internet recently, but from what I’ve personally been seeing on the streets, it’s not doing too much good.

All this naturally begs the question: Why was I outside? In full and partial disclosure, my brother and I went shopping again. I know—I know: How much shopping can two people do? Well, we’re law-abiding citizens and when we want to break quarantine, we do so legally. Here’s me—yet again—standing in front of the supermarket.

Don’t worry, dear reader—today we also carried a ton of groceries and didn’t enjoy our walk back home; we’re following the law as best we can. The only problem is that we can no longer break the quarantine rules; now we don’t just no longer don’t need groceries—at this point we don’t have any space left for them. As this picture clearly demonstrates, I guess we’ll have to take walks the old-fashioned, illegal way.

Nevertheless, I don’t think pictures of our fridge are very interesting, so I’ll move right along to that amusing sight I’d been promising to show you. On our way back from the supermarket, I happened to look up for some reason—and good thing I did because below you’ll find my reward.

Such sights, as the one you’re about to witness, are quite common in the suburbs of Glendale, where barbeque-loving Armenians constitute forty-five percent of the population; however, I didn’t think that Italians were experts at balcony cookouts. Singing from balconies is something I can believe—cooking kebabs on balconies, however, smells like a byproduct of the quarantine, I guess. You do what you must to stay sane.

Well, that was the highlight of our entire quarantine day, and I would now like to continue the discussion I started in yesterday’s entry. The injustices endured by Native Americans at the hands of white colonizers have been substantial. One of the most brutal incidents during this period was the Wounded Knee Massacre, where approximately three hundred Lakota were killed—two hundred of them were women and children.

Twenty US soldiers were awarded Medals of Honor for partaking in the battle—a designation that the US itself changed to a massacre one hundred years after the event, along with issuing an official statement of apology to the Lakota people. “So it goes,” said Billy Pilgrim.

The Lakota have been campaigning to have those medals rescinded, but so far the effort has been unsuccessful.

It seems like every attempt made by Native Americans to repel the whites has been a failure, whether it’s lost battles, forced relocations, or the inability to secure justice; however, that’s not entirely true. The indigenous population has shown great resilience, resourcefulness, and dedication to protecting their cultural identity.

In 1791, for example, about one thousand Native Americans from Ohio defeated General Arthur St. Clair in a battle which to this day has no name. The account is described by Colin Calloway in his book, The Victory With No Name. Although they couldn’t enjoy the spoils of war for too long, the victory was both the biggest which Native Americans had ever won and in terms of proportion the biggest military disaster the United States had incurred.

The fact that this victory has no name while every victory by the US is properly designated, shows precisely the attitude of this country towards Native Americans—the only thing they deserve is loss because this land was meant for the white colonizer; with this in mind, I was completely shocked to find out that Native Americans have served in the US Army—and continue to serve—in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, and this has been true ever since the American Revolution.

This is a fact that doesn’t manage to escape Calloway’s attention either, as he mentions it at the end of his book. And many Native Americans didn’t just serve—they did so with distinction. In WWI, the Native American Code Talkers transmitted messages in their tribal language to help the US win several battles. In WWII, the US once again relied on their skills to create unbreakable codes; the program was so top-secret that their existence wasn’t declassified until 1968.

One of the first Native Americans to enlist was Carl Gorman, who said the following: “This whole land was Indian country and we still think it’s our land so we fight for it. I am very proud to serve my country sir.” A major Hollywood movie, Windtalkers, was even made in 2002 to honor the Native Americans’ efforts in the war, but reviews for it weren’t positive because it didn’t focus on the Native Americans enough.

Besides military victories, activism has also brought degrees of success. For example, the Native American Occupation of Alcatraz, from 1969 to 1971, helped bring national attention to the plight of Indians. The majority of Native American activism, such as the 1973 Wounded Knee Occupation (which I’ll discuss), can be traced back to this event.

Although public opinion and support from the public began to decline as a result of a fire on the island, along with the collision of two supertankers (unrelated incidents), the occupation of Alcatraz and other activities by the American Indian Movement helped end the Indian Termination Policy (an attempt to erase Native culture by abolishing tribes and promoting assimilation into urban society), ushering in the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975.

Below are some pictures from the time I visited Alcatraz Island in 2013. The only evidence remaining from the Native American presence is the graffiti, which is more than enough, I guess. The government could’ve whitewashed that as well.

I don’t know how they got up onto that water tower, but the graffiti there reads: “Peace and Freedom. Welcome. Home of the Free Indian Land.” This graffiti isn’t original—to the government’s credit, however, it’s a restoration kindly carried out by the National Park Service.

The original graffiti looked like this picture and has been restored, according to the aformentioned article, more or less true to the original.

The Wounded Knee Occupation likewise had a significant impact in bringing attention to the Native American struggle. Apart from a few minor clashes some years later, the massacre at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890 represented the conclusion of the Indian Wars.

It symbolized the fact that Native Americans would never be able to recover the land they had lost and, thus, the life they knew. As Black Elk said after Wounded Knee: “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream.” The significance that Wounded Knee has on the psyche of Native Americans is precisely the reason why it was chosen as the site of the 1973 occupation.

That occupation also inspired Marlon Brando’s act of solidarity the very same year. Protesting the portrayal of Native Americans in film, along with voicing support for their activism, Sacheen Littlefeather rejected the award on Brando’s behalf (not without a few boos from the audience), which brought more attention to Native American issues.

Truly, Hollywood movies often did depict Native Americans in ways that made them seem like they were all the same, lacking any kind of depth or complexity; besides the lack of heterogeneity, more problematic was the portrayal of Natives as savages.

According to an article by Beverly R. Singer, a filmmaker and director of the Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies at the University of New Mexico, “The view of Indians as savage and uncivilized was repeated in early films and crystallized the image of ‘Indians’ as dangerous and unacceptable to the normative lives of European immigrants whose lives appeared in films to be more valuable than those of the indigenous people they were colonizing. Mainstream films featuring Indians have been glacially slow in changing any part of this running narrative of conquest.” Indeed, things have been moving too slowly in this respect.

A recent Time article by Brian Young, a Navajo filmmaker, shows how Native Americans continue to be viewed in a stereotypical fashion, denying them any kind of complexity besides just the so-called bow and arrow identity. Young argues, thus, argues that while many things have improved in terms of how Native Americans are portrayed, mainstream movies still have a long way to go in this respect.

Looking back now, I realize that the most unique part of living in the US was having received the privilege of seeing and walking on this land. There still exists this unique sense of freedom that I haven’t quite felt here in Europe; you notice it driving down a desolate section of the 10 Freeway in Arizona; you feel it in the midnight silence of Death Valley; you see it standing on top of any peak in the Sierra range; it’s the feeling of being freed from society—that enigmatic realization: Something existed here that never did in the Old World.

All the way from quarantined Italy: I may seem crazy now, but in a month everyone here will be no different.

Until next time.

 

About David Garyan

David Garyan has published three chapbooks with Main Street Rag, along with a full collection, (DISS)INFORMATION, with the same publisher. He holds an MA and MFA from Cal State Long Beach, where he associated himself with the Stand Up Poets. He is currently studying International Cooperation on Human Rights and Intercultural Heritage at the University of Bologna. He lives in Ravenna.

 

 

 

 

 

Video/ David Tennant as Richard Hoggart in The Chatterley Affair

Video/ David Tennant as Richard Hoggart in The Chatterley Affair.

David Tennant’s scene as Richard Hoggart in “The Chatterley Affair” (2006), a film portraying the obscenity trial over the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” In this scene, he argues that the profanity and graphic sexual content in Lawrence’s work are actually “Puritanical” in the true sense of the word, to the amazement of the courtroom. He proceeds to eloquently explain why.