Category: History

“Quarantine Diaries,” by David Garyan (Day 19)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 19
April 2nd, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Hope

Well, the days keep on rolling—hopefully for not much longer. Sitting at home and contemplating life has broadened my perspective on what truly matters; however, not going to work, not talking to people (the general isolation from life) has at the same time built a long tunnel around my newly acquired insights. In other words, I was traveling in a tunnel and now I’m in another one; it seems like I see a tiny light at the end of it, but in the great wisdom of Metallica: “Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel / Is just a freight train coming your way.” I certainly hope that’s not the case.

Frankly, I don’t really know what I’m talking about so let’s move on to something more concrete: Apparently, yesterday Italy recorded its lowest one-day death toll; this would be more encouraging if the article didn’t mention that it was “the lowest number since March 26th.” Ah, Italy … while I don’t have any words to describe my love for you, I do have some words to describe your willingness to shower praise on yourself too quickly and these words happen to be the following: March 26th? Are you fucking kidding me?

In more precise terms, the lowest one-day death total reported yesterday was “4,782 more coronavirus cases and 727 more deaths in the past 24 hours.” Congratulations, you’ve been conditionally accepted to Harvard; that’s all very good and well but now satisfy the other requirements to get in, fucking graduate, and then we’ll buy you a Maserati.

I don’t know why I’m so high-strung lately. When people are clinging to any shred of optimism that comes their way, I find every excuse to be pessimistic. I guess when you’re sitting in a self-imposed prison, there isn’t much use for hope; as I write this, I’m thinking of The Shawshank Redemption and Red’s response to Andy’s statement about the need to have hope in jail: “Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” This paradox of seeing hope as something that causes more damage to the psyche than good has also been echoed by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Human, All too Human.

Unlike traditional Greek interpretations of Pandora’s box, which saw the only thing remaining in the box (hope) as a blessing for mankind, Nietzsche believed that hope itself was just another evil that didn’t manage to escape before Pandora closed it; thus, Zeus left this last “evil” inside to ensure that man could still exist in a tarnished world; in that sense, for Nietzsche, “Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man.” Well, it’s good to know that you can count on Germans to make good cellmates and roommates—for the former it would help if you’re serving a life sentence; for the latter, going through a quarantine is quite enough. By the way, that’s Friedrich Nietzsche telling people he’s not a misanthrope—he just likes to self-quarantine when there’s no pandemic.

Tedious though it may be, I’m not done with pessimism and Germans; my favorite in this regard is Arthur Schopenhauer. Although he didn’t use the word “pessimism” anywhere in his most famous work, The World as Will and Representation, “hope” does appear and there’s plenty of pessimism (which I thoroughly enjoy and agree with) to be found whenever that word is used to indicate a longing for something.

Unlike Kant (I’ve also talked about him), whose concept of transcendental idealism posited that humans can’t know the true essence of objects (das Ding an sich—no, this isn’t a heavy metal band) because space, time, and causality aren’t part of the outside world, Schopenhauer believed that that the thing-in-itself did exist, but that it resided within each person—the manifestation of which was the will; the inner will, thus, resembled or perhaps even symbolized the world’s essential nature. Thus, according to Schopenhauer, we can, to some extent (though not completely) experience the true essence of the world, not just “perceive” it, as Kant thought.

Sounds kind of positive, huh? Wait a minute—don’t go anywhere just yet; like anything German, I haven’t talked about the pessimistic aspect yet, which is guaranteed to be there in anything related to German excellence, especially when that excellence is Schopenhauer’s philosophy. I mean look at the guy: He’s just eaten twenty-five Thüringer Bratwürste in one sitting and he still doesn’t feel like following the quarantine.

As you can see by my idiotic happiness in the picture below, I’m a Weißwurst man myself, which is why I bought six packs of the best average quality white sausages.

Anyways, getting back to the more boring side of German excellence, Schopenhauer believed that the will was always striving for something—whether it’s for survival or in expectation of something, the will is always in a state of eternal hope and desire. He stated that even plants have a will—a desire for movement, to grow, to extend themselves, to move upwards; it’s precisely this force generated by the will which Schopenhauer believed to be the cause of torment for man; the only things which are excluded from this curse are inanimate objects.

Thus, hope, ambition, and desire are at the heart of what cause human suffering; the only way to alleviate this torment, according to Schopenhauer, was to embrace the Eastern philosophy of renunciation: “The concept of freedom is thus properly a negative concept, for its content is merely the denial of necessity.” A great piece of art can also mitigate the effects of desire by allowing the viewer to fully enter a contemplative state whereby the complete devotion of our consciousness to the artwork has the power to make the will disappear “so long as the pure aesthetic pleasure lasts.” There’s no permanent solution, however; in other words, unlike in Eastern philosophy, the “enlightenment” only lasts so long as the engagement with the artwork does.

Nevertheless, pure perception can be achieved through contemplation, which according to Schopenhauer is the mark of genius for those who can enter such an enlightened state, which is based on renunciation of the will: “Thus genius is the faculty of continuing in the state of pure perception, of losing oneself in perception, and of enlisting in this service the knowledge which originally existed only for the service of the will; that is to say, genius is the power of leaving one’s own interests, wishes, and aims entirely out of sight, thus of entirely renouncing one’s own personality for a time, so as to remain a pure knowing subject, with a clear vision of the world.” Truly, I’m fascinated, and this is all good and well; however, where do you find art in a quarantine? Well, there’s answer for that, too: Listen to music; according to Schopenhauer, that’s the purest form of art.

Are we about done with art and the Germans? No, we’re not, actually. After reading this article, I’m not sure anyone takes art more seriously than people do in Berlin. Many great cities (I won’t mention any names, or will I?) talk about their artistic legacies, claim to encourage art, and attempt to bring even more artists to their streets, but when times are tough, which one of those cities really takes care of their artists? Paris? New York? Rome? Barcelona? Of course, it’s Berlin.

What other city besides a German one would set aside 500 million Euro for artists in this tough time? Indeed, talk is cheap and unlike the other so-called cultural capitals, only Berlin has really proven their belief in art as something truly essential. It’s not difficult for Parisians—just as an example—to put a plaque in front of Les Deux Magots, stating that so-and-so famous artist was here; it’s in the benefit of the business to do that. What city, however, cares about art to such an extent that they’re not only willing to support their famous living artists, but also their living artists who aren’t famous?

I visited Berlin last summer to do a CELTA course, and, to be honest, besides the WWII history, I didn’t think much of the city at the time. Besides the touristy sights, I also visited the German-Russian Museum, where the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces occurred on May 8th, 1945.

Another interesting out-of-the-way sight is the House of the Wannsee Conference, where the SS met to discuss the so-called Final Solution. Touring the premises, I could not help but notice the extreme contrast—the peaceful setting in which the house was located  (overlooking a beautiful lake) and what was discussed there.

Here I am in front of the Reichstag, which, at the time of the Soviet entry into Berlin, hadn’t been used for twelve years; the taking of it, however, represented a symbolic victory over the Germans.

Indeed, besides the amazing history, I wasn’t too impressed with the many young “artists” I saw, who weren’t so much concerned about art itself as they were about leading the artist’s lifestyle; in other words, an excuse to be wild and reckless—like a bunch of Rimbauds or Van Goghs who had never written or painted anything and weren’t interested in doing that either.

None of the people I met had actually accomplished much as artists and it didn’t seem like (at least to me) they were interested in their own creative development. Before I go any further—in no way am I trying to be arrogant by saying that I’ve accomplished a lot (I haven’t at all), but these so-called Berlin bohemians (who were really just hipsters) didn’t strike me as particularly interesting.

However, this recent news has made me realize how wrong I was about the city and about the artists who live there. I had forgotten the oldest truth in art: It’s easy to denounce and to dismiss an artist, but how many examples do we have of such people attaining fame later on? Indeed, it was precisely people like Rimbaud and Van Gogh—mocked and derided during their own time—about whom we speak today.

Although I myself won’t be on the receiving end of a five thousand euro check issued by the city of Berlin, I’m very happy to know that there are people in government who don’t just “talk” about the importance of art, but actually consider it important. Schopenhauer would indeed be proud of his people. In addition, measures like this are encouraging for all artists, even if they’re not directly benefitting from them. Someone has to care about art for people to make it; I hope I can continue doing that here.

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 16)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 16
March 30th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

I Believe

Today my brother and I went to the bank in order to sign some documents, but ever since March 24th, they’ve been seeing clients only with an appointment, so that particular piece of business didn’t get done; in a quarantine, however, things like this are never perceived negatively because you always get a free walk out of it—at least if that’s what you’re after.

Back in the US, my brother and I would take walks almost every night, discussing current events, sports, history, and other things that were on our minds. Before the quarantine, every time I had the chance to visit him in Trento, we would resume our tradition; now that I’ll be in this great city for the foreseeable future, we take any movement that comes our way.

I don’t really know how long the government expects us to observe this quarantine with a straight face—and a straight body, no less. So much sitting is bad for your health—in fact, it might be more dangerous than smoking, according to a professor of medicine at Harvard. What kind of risk are you really taking by trying to avoid the coronavirus? If 1,300 people die of smoking a day and sitting might be more dangerous than smoking, what’s the real risk in this equation? Your Honor, I rest my case. God, I would’ve been a good lawyer.

In all seriousness, however, there aren’t just psychological implications at stake if we allow this “quarantine” to go beyond what most normal people can endure. In my last entry, I discussed the nature of laws, stating that they must be possible to follow in order for them to warrant that designation, using two reputable legal scholars to defend this assertion.

Hence, doctors and the government may rightfully demand, for example, a six-month extension for the quarantine (and this might be precisely what we need to solve our problem); however, is the populace actually capable of meeting this goal if that’s truly what’s required? Suffice it to say, authorities may demand many things that the public can’t carry out, for reasons which might have nothing to do with the endurance of their bodies—people’s pockets just aren’t deep enough.

The government can’t keep placing the entire burden of its failures onto the shoulders of the populace without taking, at least, some responsibility to relieve that pressure. So … they want longer quarantines because they themselves failed to contain the virus, do they now? Fine—we’ll accept their proposition; as respectable, law-abiding citizens, we’ll grant them that favor, but they, likewise, must assume the duty to make our goal possible—to give something in return for our sacrifice.

Otherwise, these so-called leaders of the world are employing policies which are no different than those utilized by the Soviet Union under war communism—except, in this case, it’s not the Russian Civil War that’s demanding the requisitioning of grain, but the coronavirus which is demanding that citizens live without pay because the situation simply requires it.

So, where are the programs for rent freeze? Where are the free counseling services? Where are the student-loan forgiveness measures? I don’t see any concessions. The goddamn government keeps asking but giving almost nothing in return; in fact, they’re taking away your freedom of movement as well.

Indeed, throughout history, democracies have turned authoritarian very quickly when the goals they set for themselves couldn’t be achieved with democratic means. The McCarthy trials are just one example where the free world used coercion, intimidation, and propaganda to either silence its undesirable citizens or completely isolate them from society. McCarthy ruined the careers of many innocent people while never finding a genuine spy in the process.

Likewise, when it became obvious that the US couldn’t win in Vietnam, the attempt to silence anti-war protesters in the Kent State shootings also showed that democracies aren’t as comfortable with dissent and free speech as people thought they were. This iconic photo from the massacre was used as the emblem of US brutality. After fifty years, it’s still hard to believe that the US government had the audacity to shoot students on a college campus.

In more recent times, when the Occupy Wall Street movement starting becoming a little too effective in spreading their message of corruption and greed in US society, the FBI infiltrated the group to create conflict among its members, which ultimately caused the movement’s collapse.

Let’s return to the freedom of movement, however. During the Great Depression—hopeless as it was—people at least had the right to search elsewhere for better economic conditions. Like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath, most people’s circumstances weren’t improved by moving to a new place; however, at least they had the liberty to try and fix their lives that were ruined by the government’s negligence. Likewise, if the government wants us to stay put to resolve their own carelessness in handling what should’ve been a simple outbreak while paying our bills at the same time, a single check of $1,200 isn’t nearly enough of an offer to take them up on their offer.

I’ve never liked politicians—whether they’re Italian, from the US, or born in Burkina Faso; it makes no difference to me. Senators, prime ministers, presidents, and so on govern their people; however, they themselves are governed by money and money alone.

In his play, Major Barbara, George Bernard Shaw introduces a character named Andrew Undershaft, a wealthy arms dealer who returns to his family he abandoned long ago. Under the guise of Christian ideals, solidarity, and brotherhood of man, he demands a type of obedience from people that has nothing to do with respecting their wishes and more to do with bending their will to his own liking; this is exemplified by the fact that when Undershaft donates money to the Salvation Army (where his daughter works), it’s not because he wants to help her, but because he wants to influence her way of thinking. Why does all this sound all too familiar?

Likewise, when his naïve son, Stephen, tells him not to insult the government of his country, Undershaft replies, “The government of your country! I am the government of your country: I, and Lazarus [his business partner]. Do you suppose that you and half a dozen amateurs like you, sitting in a row in that foolish gabble shop, can govern Undershaft and Lazarus? No, my friend: you will do what pays US. You will make war when it suits us, and keep peace when it doesn’t. You will find out that trade requires certain measures when we have decided on those measures. When I want anything to keep my dividends up, you will discover that my want is a national need.” Although Shaw’s play is more than 113 years old, things haven’t changed much.

Someone out there is influencing the government’s decisions and it’s not the people who are going to need help (or already need help) to survive the coronavirus pandemic; that’s why, to this day, there are no rent freezes or any kind of government assistance programs to help people get through this—at least not in the US. The only thing that exists are government requests to extend quarantines in order to crush this virus quickly, but, like the motives of Undershaft, this has very little to do with the government’s concern for its own people.

My brother and I asked both our landlords whether the government has instituted any programs to help students with paying their rent and they both stated that there are no such programs. My dad wasn’t even allowed to defer the student loan payments he had incurred in the US.

No, the government doesn’t care—they’re just looking out for the corporate interests and the billionaires that fund them. If ordinary people don’t go back to work, the entire economic structure which makes their political careers possible will crumble—that’s what they care about, not your average Joe and Jane. Is it a surprise, then, that the world’s richest man and owner of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is requesting donations from the public?

Another website states that Amazon isn’t really asking for anything—the button is simply there because of technical reasons. Well, if they’re not asking, why’s the button there for technical reasons? Technicalities and technical reasons always were the basis for why the richest people in the world ask for donations—sure, it’s all technology’s fault. The billionaires are, once again, never to blame.

I’m tired of taking directives from the government—even when it’s in my best interest to do so (and I admit that in this case it is); however, ultimately, I’m going to do what’s best for my own health. Does this really sound so absurd? I don’t think so. We place so much emphasis on making sure that the government doesn’t interfere in a woman’s decision to have an abortion—to decide for herself (not doctors) what’s best for her body; however, in relation to the coronavirus, we aren’t allowed to decide what our own bodies need? What’s more important than liberty?

The time will come—I’m sure of that—when governments will use this pandemic as an opportunity to violate our basic rights (if that’s not happening already). According to a Business Insider article, Edward Snowden has already “warned that an uptick in surveillance amid the coronavirus crisis could lead to long-lasting effects on civil liberties.” Let me pause here and state for the record: I don’t like conspiracy theories.

In the spirit of Kevin Costner’s famous Bull Durham speech, I myself believe the following: That, yes, Oswald did shoot Kennedy and that he acted alone; I believe the US went to the moon and that a simple weather balloon crashed in Roswell; I believe global warming is real and that chemtrails pose no danger to humanity, although flying does harm the environment a great deal.

Well, now that I’ve got politics and history out of my system, let’s go back to something more personal. After realizing the bank was closed, we continued holding our empty shopping bags during our walk to the grocery store.

Although I posted pictures of our full fridge recently, there was no bread anywhere in it, which proved to be quite convenient. The empty shopping bags also proved useful because we passed the scene of an accident, where numerous police officers were assembled, and not having to answer questions is always a good way to start an afternoon. As I’ve said many times, it’s never a bad idea to have a reason for going out.

After buying the bread, I walked past this oddity of a sight—although it’s a quarantine, I’m glad to know that a US corporation is happy to inform Italy about the arrival of the 2020 Harley Davidson lineup. Given the obvious circumstances, it’s always good to remember that you can still live out your Easy Rider fantasies—just don’t expect Jack Nicholson to bail you out for breaking quarantine laws.

Approaching our house, I took this picture of my brother carrying the much-needed grocery harvest to our residence—in more normal times, this task never seemed to have much significance, but when you can only go out to buy bread (in its most metaphorical sense), the very food you eat and the steps you take begin to taste and feel different.

Upon arrival, I realized there’s really nothing like bringing bread home, and even better is the feeling of putting bread on the table—here’s me doing exactly that; I just hope we can do this for a lot longer because many people are starting to have trouble with acquiring that basic staple of life.

And what about those who’ve had trouble meeting their basic needs before this pandemic? I find myself asking: Did life really just begin with the outbreak of this virus? The coronavirus has made it seem like we’ve solved all the world’s problems—hunger, gun violence, racism, discrimination against women, poverty, just to name a few—this pandemic is the only one we’ve got left; if we manage to solve it, there’ll be nothing left for us to do (as if there’s anything left to do in a quarantine).

All jokes aside, however, I really do want to believe that after all this ends, we’ll return to a world without the problems I mentioned; I’m inclined not to think this is possible because there was no optimism on the shelves today, however—maybe tomorrow I’ll see it. Oh, and happy birthday, Vincent Van Gogh! You’re not missing much.

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 15)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 15
March 29th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Live Free or Die

“Live Free or Die.” That’s the motto of New Hampshire. Throughout history we can find many variations upon this theme. There’s Patrick Henry’s famous closing statement during the Second Virginia Convention: “Give me liberty or give me death.” Then Emiliano Zapata, the famous Mexican revolutionary, who said: “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” Of course, when it comes to dying for liberty, the French can’t be left out—Louis-Sebastian Mercier had this to say about our subject in his 1771 dystopian novel: “Choose then, man! Be happy or miserable; if yet it be in thy power to choose: fear tyranny, detest slavery, arm thyself, live free, or die!” A bit wordy, but we’ll take it.

However, despite the French people’s excellence in dying for liberty, the phrase can really be traced back to the Battle of Warns, which occurred in 1345. The battle cry of the Frisian was: “Better to be dead than a slave.” Well, I’m starting to get a sense that freedom is something people have valued and continue to value a great deal; all it takes is looking at a US quarter to know that I mean this literally and figuratively.

In addition, the amount of effort which the so-called free world dedicates to chastising countries like Russia and China for their authoritarian measures is substantial. Supported by the greatest modern military (which spends the combined equivalent of the next five biggest militaries in the world) makes it easier for the “free” countries to proclaim democratic values and to defend them; after all, if anyone threatens democracy, the US will send the cavalry; the French are starting to doubt it, however—ah, the French. They always have something (interesting) to say.

In any case, let’s forget about the usual scenario of militaries threatening democracy. What if there’s a threat out there that democracy can’t protect itself against? I’m talking about a peaceful threat that can bring life to a standstill, create a financial crisis, and then unleash conflict without good and bad sides. What if that threat is coronavirus? Let’s face it: This pandemic has exposed the frailty of not only western democracies, but all of society.

One of my favorite poets, Robinson Jeffers, coined the word inhumanism; the core principle of this philosophy is that humanity isn’t at the center of nature but only a part of its whole. Jeffers himself described it as “a shifting of emphasis from man to not man; the rejection of human solipsism and recognition of the transhuman magnificence.” Above all, then, it’s the need to escape from the myths and traditions which have placed humanity at the forefront of the world and thus move to worshipping a non-human deity, which is nature.

Indeed, humanity has become arrogant in believing it can control nature; Jeffers think that it’s precisely this “progress” which is destroying the world. In one of his most famous poems, “The Purse Seine,” he uses the analogy of a fishing net to describe how we—the prey—are being caught by the hands of modernity. Written in 1937, the poem is eerily relevant to our own times, especially the ending quoted here:

It’s important to remember that the coronavirus isn’t a natural thing; it’s a product of progress. Sure, we’ve enjoyed many comforts bestowed upon us by modernity, but at what cost have these things been achieved? In an effort to modernize China, for example, Mao Zedong killed—by the most conservative number—at least 18 million people, although the more correct estimate is at least twice that much. Such catastrophes can only be caused by meteorites and progress. To liberate the world from fascism and bring freedom to it, over 70 million people had to die in WWII, which ultimately did nothing but divide the globe into two spheres of influence; the effects of this are still felt today, as Russia and the US continue to revive the Cold War.

Robinson Jeffers’s opposition to WWII led to his decline in popularity. Publishers and critics who had earlier been sympathetic to his work now began to write dismissive reviews. I guess that’s the price you pay for speaking out against humanity’s barbaric nature—you get treated with human ruthlessness.

Again, I’ll ask question I’ve been posing often: What’s the point of all this? The point is that during this coronavirus pandemic I would rather choose freedom over safety any day. Back in January, when Italy only had three confirmed coronavirus cases, Giuseppe Conte, PM of Italy, boldly stated the following: “The system of prevention put into place by Italy is the most rigorous in Europe.” I guess this is why Germany and Austria today have a combined death toll of less than a thousand while Italy’s death toll is at over ten thousand.

Precisely in the spirit of sprezzatura, a concept first developed by Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier, published in 1528, the Italians are trying to handle the coronavirus in the manner of a renowned Renaissance author—that is with “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it,” in Castiglione’s own (translated) words.

In my own other words, sprezzatura is simply the art of making the difficult look effortless and the Italians have certainly employed this approach with great success in all areas (art, architecture, fashion, and film, just to name a few)—the only exception where this approach has failed them is in the area of coronavirus containment. By the way, if you want to know what Castiglione actually looked like, here’s his beard after two years of strict quarantine.

Again, what’s the point? I don’t know anymore, but I’m starting to resent the fact that it’s always the populace who must bear the fuck-ups of the government. Their inability to contain what should’ve been a minor outbreak has led to a pandemic and the need to encroach on individual freedoms. Well, to hell with that. There’s a limit at which the necessity for safety begins to demand authoritarian measures and I’m not prepared to stand for it. The restrictions are becoming increasingly harder to not only accept but also to follow.

In his sixth “Desiderata,” laid out in a book called The Morality of Law, noted legal philosopher Lon L. Fuller stated that a law must not ask something impossible; in other words an unobeyable law can’t be considered a law. Likewise, in his book Law as a Leap of Faith, John Gardner, an Oxford Professor of Law and Philosophy echoes Fuller’s statement: “All else being equal, however, a law that it is impossible for people to obey needs to have its content changed if it is to become possible for people to obey it.” I must say that Italian quarantine laws are slowly approaching Gardner’s definition. It’s been more than two weeks and I don’t know how long the government expects people to stay holed up in their apartments for what’s essentially their fault.

Likewise, I won’t sacrifice my freedoms for safety if I feel that they’re being encroached on for no reason. I really don’t see the need to ban jogging or walking in the woods. thus, I repeat: I won’t follow this quarantine if I feel that my rights are being violated in the name of safety. Like I’ve said in previous entries, the world was and continues to be a dangerous place. We take risks every day and I don’t know why this particular risk—coronavirus—demands such ever-increasing sacrifices of liberty? Let’s put it like this: In the name of liberty and the freedoms we seem to cherish here in the West, if I feel my sanity slipping away, that’s a good enough reason to go outside without a reason.

Human beings were meant to move and no government can make me “forget” that part of my evolution. This is why my brother and I went outside today and were quickly yelled at by an annoyed Italian neighbor from a balcony—ah, the Italians and their damn balconies. In the end, we just looked at the middle-aged man, greeted him, and continued going our way.

Like Jeffers, I believe that people are most at peace in nature; it’s where God is to be found; it’s where religion is. I took this picture of my brother as he was immersing himself in the sounds of the river.

After returning from his daydream, he recalled the following passage from A River Runs Through It: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” At that moment, I felt a freedom I haven’t felt in a long time; that’s when I realized that like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Gandhi, a healthy amount of civil disobedience isn’t only good—it’s necessary. Without it, we would’ve missed the chance to lift our spirits with this sight and look out for our mental health—something which everyone seems to have forgotten about. Is that a good reason or not?

In the woods, we were the furthest we could be from humanity, and thus we embodied the emblematic notion of social distancing. Laws are meant to protect people, not to harm them, and governments don’t exactly have a good track record of safeguarding their own people, or even looking out for the populace’s best interests. Ever since 1964, at least in the US, trust in the government has been declining, and things have never recovered.

Forgive me, but I like to think that I live in a free world; that’s why I value liberty more than safety. Citizens can safely walk down the street in North Korea—if they’re prepared to renounce all freedoms and retain only the right to walk down the street. I don’t want that kind of safety. I would rather move to a cabin in New Hampshire and not speak to anyone.

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 10)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 10
March 24th, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

Development

It’s day ten and we’re now into double-digits. Hopefully these diaries will become unnecessary before I have to add another zero. Who knows if I have a hundred or so of these things in me, but what I’m absolutely sure about is that I’d rather keep writing than doing nothing during this lockdown—the creativity will be there; I’m just not sure about my ability to tolerate home.

Today presented another necessity to go out and buy food. My brother decided to stay in and follow his online classes, so I went alone. Last time, the line to the big supermarket was too long; however, I decided to give it another try this afternoon. To my surprise, things were relatively calm—only two people in front of me.

It only took ten minutes just to enter the store—ah, the quick, efficient service of the western world. No more waiting for hours just to buy a loaf of bread in Soviet Ukraine—just ten minutes of patience will allow you to exploit all the benefits that the free world has to offer; after all, we’re not like these barbarians who’ve just acquainted themselves with capitalism.

Just look at them receiving the appetizer to the eventual shock therapy that Russia would have to endure as a result of the USSR’s collapse, which forced Moscow’s transition to capitalism (about one year after McDonald’s served the hors d’oeuvres to free enterprise, so to say); the transitional phase ended up becoming quite profitable for many in the US, including many luminaries from Harvard.

According to Institutional Investor, a New York City based global financial research magazine founded in 1967, “Harvard botched a historic opportunity. The failure to reform Russia’s legal system, one of the aid program’s chief goals, left a vacuum that has yet to be filled and impedes the country’s ability to confront economic and financial challenges today.” To no one’s surprise, Harvard aggressively defended its work in Russia, and why wouldn’t they? So many people associated with the university profited from the crisis that Russia was undergoing at the time.

It’s perhaps relevant here to step back and really put the situation into perspective: Russia was enduring shock therapy to make the transition from communism to capitalism—an entirely foreign paradigm of economic existence awaited 140 million people. Let’s flip the scenario, however: What if the Soviets had witnessed the collapse of the US and Washington was forced to make the transition from capitalism to communism? We would never have heard the end of it. Why is Russia always blamed for everything even when the the US is fucking things up in Russia?

And what about Russia’s influence on US elections four years ago? Well, it turns out that the US actually interfered with Russia’s elections in 1996. Quickly realizing the value of Yeltsin as a good team player (more correctly a puppet they could control as they pleased), Clinton didn’t miss a beat, telling Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott: “I want this guy to win so bad it hurts.” Of course, it helped that this guy—Yeltsin—was a raging alcoholic (while staying at the White House, he once tried to hail a cab in his underpants because he wanted a pizza) and would prove to be a disaster for his country; however, that wasn’t really a problem for the US because antics like that are exactly what they wanted—to make Russia the laughing stock of the world.

Now, Putin is in power—we don’t like him because he’s authoritarian and hard to control; however, the real reason we hate him is because he can’t be used as a puppet—the authoritarian part doesn’t bother us a bit. Indeed, Yeltsin was just as corrupt when he accepted that ten billion dollar loan from Clinton, which he fraudulently misused and distributed to his inner circle—the IMF, of course, turned a blind eye to everything.

Yeltsin’s actions aren’t so different from what Putin might do, but we’ve always liked leaders we can control, hence our support for capitalist dictators like Muboto Sese Seko and our complete willingness to overthrow democratic governments like those of Salvador Allende. Time called the former an “archetypal dictator” and he enjoyed US support while Allende was a democratically elected president who died in a coup supported by the CIA. In the interest of time, I won’t discuss Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, but his story is no different than Allende’s.

I’m rambling again—I know. What’s the point? What’s the point? The point is development and I’m taking a course on the topic, along with human rights. I’m a supporter of human rights but I don’t believe that human rights are in any way connected to development.

Vinay Lal, a respected UCLA scholar whom I quoted in a separate article, had this to say about the topic in one of his articles: “More people have been killed in the name of ‘development’ this century than have been killed by all genocides put together.” Indeed, progress and the “civilizing mission” have done their share of work; just one example of this progress is described by The Guardian as the “hidden holocaust” of King Leopold II’s colonial efforts in the Congo; that’s at least ten million people right there. I won’t bore you with the British in India, the Spanish in the Americas, and the Dutch in the East Indies. Indeed, no one cares about history anyways, especially when the pages have blood on them.

Indeed, the way Marx’s ideas sound very good on paper but were, and continue to be, almost impossible to implement in real life, so the lofty ideals outlined in Truman’s Inaugural Address, for example, have brought atrocities and crimes of their own; they won’t stop anytime soon either.

To maintain its superiority, the US must interfere in every affair and overthrow anyone or anything which doesn’t serve its interest—whether it’s dictatorships or democracies alike. “Freedom comes at a heavy price,” said every US president from George Washington to Donald Trump, and those who didn’t say it certainly behaved that way.

The truth is that the discourse of development turns history into a strictly temporal concept, almost a mechanical process; it strips the discipline of any humanity and morality, at least from the perspective of those on the receiving end of this so-called “development.” This approach leaves the recipient with nothing but time to quickly meet the goals that have been imposed on them.

In that sense, underdeveloped nations are thus charged with the duty to acquire the “traits” of developed ones—whether they like it or not. Native peoples are always living out someone else’s history under development. In the past, for example, the colonized were forced to adopt the dress and religion of white people; today, the “underdeveloped” are forced to adopt the spending habits of whites. No, colonialism isn’t over—its new name is development.

To draw a parallel: Developed nations are like wonderful parents who tell their children—the underdeveloped nations—that they can only become doctors or lawyers. Just look at Haiti; it was once the richest colony in the New World, and perhaps even the world.

In 1801 it became the first country in the New World to abolish slavery. According to Newsweek, however, “Haiti’s fortunes ebbed when the 20th century brought three decades of American occupation, multiple corrupt regimes, natural disasters, environmental devastation, and the scourge of HIV.” Yes, it’s not all the Yanks’ fault, but for some reason, the phrase “American occupation” always seems to produce a domino-effect of troubles for any country they occupy.

Like communism, capitalism and the “development” associated with it likewise are only feasible on paper. Yes, the discourse itself is quite capable of including others in a democratic way (the way communism promised to liberate workers but has yet to do so); however, both philosophies ultimately bring realities to the ground which are quite different from the ones they presented on paper; thus, neither policy is really free because it still “imposes” its philosophy on the “natives” and then destroys its populace; in the case of communism it becomes authoritarian while capitalism ends up ravaging society through massive inequalities and exploitation.

The best way, perhaps, to summarize the absurdity of capitalism is with the following picture. Take a look at these bikes on sale—in a grocery store. Is anyone really going to buy them?

I don’t know. They seem to be good ones but last time I checked, we’re in a quarantine; we’re supposed to stay at home. It’s not really the time for riding bikes; however, the (free) market doesn’t seem to disagree. The (free) market is hungry for profit; it wants to eat as well. Get yourself a bike, signore e signora! To hell with the quarantine. Be free and ride!

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 9)

Quarantine Diaries – Day 9
March 23rd, 2020

Trento, Italy

 

American Flu

“Be careful.” That’s what Spaniard José Ameal Peña—the last survivor of the 1918 flu—said about the coronavirus. In the same vein, a witness from the US, Joe Newman, said the following about our times: “There are those of us who say, well, this too shall go away. And it will. But at what cost, at what expense?” When someone is 105 and 107 years old, respectively—you listen to what they’re saying.

I’ve always downplayed the seriousness of this virus for the sake of my sanity and perhaps also insanity, but deep down, I know it’s serious. Maybe the quarantine is messing with my head but it’s all becoming much too comfortable. Sitting at home and doing nothing isn’t really so bad, and that’s what I’m afraid of. As Dostoevsky said in Crime and Punishment: “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!” People can get used to all types of adversities and ecstasies, which is good if the changes you must adapt to are permanent; however, getting used to something that’s bound to end relatively soon presents many challenges—the obvious one being: How do I shed this new skin of laziness and get back to my old state—a mobile, energetic individual?

What’s the famous quote that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon uttered? “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” According to Quote Investigator, the saying comes from a 1911 novel which no one’s ever heard of, written by an author no one’s ever heard of; the novel is called Phrynette Married and the author is named Marthe Troly-Curtin—see, told you.

What does this all mean? It means that neither Bertrand Russell nor John Lennon thought that wasting time was a good idea; only some character in Marthe Troly-Curtin’s novel thought so and whoever that character was, they were wrong.

Suffice it to say—I’ve enjoyed wasting a lot of time during this quarantine and it just came to bite me in the ass. That Geography of the Mediterranean Region exam I had today was harder than expected and my lack of serious preparation might’ve cost me a chance at a good grade; then again, even if I hadn’t enjoyed wasting my time and actually studied for it, I’m not really sure that my proactive attitude would’ve made a significant difference because the exam presented a rather curveball topic, which I really don’t want to bore you with.

Let’s come back to something more interesting, like the Spanish flu, or perhaps even German measles. Over the past few days, I’ve encountered many Facebook posts—by people who can only be Trump supporters, I assume—justifying our president’s actions in referring to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” based on the fact that other pandemics like the Spanish flu and German measles also refer to a people.

White House officials have staunchly defended their use of the term, despite warnings by the World Health Organization that stigmatizing people in such a way is not only hurtful, but can also lead to violence—something I’ve discussed in a previous entry; the crimes have gone up to such an extent that Asian American groups are starting to compile hate crime reports.

Let’s take the stupidity of our president for granted and leave him be for a second. It’s really the Facebook posts that are driving me mad, especially when they’re made by people from the US. It’s called the Spanish flu not because it originated there, but because the country reported the outbreak, which led to the belief that it did originate there, and this isn’t the case (no pun intended). The Spanish flu, in fact, originated in Fort Riley, Kansas—a fact that’s also corroborated on the official site of the US Army. I say, President Trump, it’s very tempting to call it the American flu, but I won’t stoop to your level, or will I?

I still don’t understand why the Spanish didn’t jump on the chance to insult the US, instead choosing to call it the “French flu,” according to a Time article. It really is surprising, given the brilliant propaganda manufacturing campaigns of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer (yes, the prize guy), which reported fake atrocities and crimes committed by the Spanish to sway US public opinion in favor of war. This was the birth of yellow journalism, which a hundred years ago was targeted at Spain and has now found a new recipient in Russia. As Allen Ginsberg wrote in his poem, “America,” satirizing such hysteria:

It’s probably irrelevant to mention that the newspaper campaign run by Randolph and Hearst did manage to manufacture the war and that a 1974 Rickover investigation concluded that contrary to Randolph’s and Heart’s claims, Spain was actually not responsible for sinking the USS Maine. But what else is new? The US loves war and has only been at peace for seventeen years of its 239 year history—that’s 93 percent of the time, by the way.

And how about German measles? They didn’t originate in Germany either. The name comes from the fact that in 1814 German doctors correctly identified Rubella (the more common label for the virus) as being something separate from measles or scarlet fever.

Ah, information, knowledge, facts—but who has time for any of that on Facebook? In a quarantine it’s best to sit on your ass and get drunk; indeed, it took a while, but here’s the first picture of the day. Beer or wine? What will I have tonight? To be completely frank, although I look like a 1970’s alcoholic in the photo below, I haven’t touched a single drop since this quarantine dropped on March 9th. It just feels too depressing for any kind of alcohol. Although I rarely drank in the US, Italy did make it hard to resist a glass of Sangiovese or a bottle of Ichnusa in the company of friends. Now, however, there are no friends and all the bars are closed. Good times.

Nevertheless, I keep one bottle of beer (not Ichnusa) for sanity and one bottle of wine (not Sangiovese) for insanity. In Ancient Greece, beer was considered the drink of barbarians, which is something we shall become if this quarantine doesn’t end soon. Despite the general consensus of the Ancient Greeks, it’s always nice to see the same Nelson who wrote the aforementioned book stating that: “Xenophon of Athens is remarkably complimentary about the beer he tasted in Armenia.” Then there’s the strange story of Lycurgus of Thrace, who killed the followers of Dionysus because he either thought them to be effeminate or was himself “temporarily driven mad (or made intoxicated) by Dionysus,” according to Nelson.

If to drink wine is to share in the Dionysian mysteries of madness and revelry, then what does it mean to consume beer and hence become a barbarian? Isn’t it kind of the same thing? All I know is that I don’t want to drink wine alone and I don’t want to consume beer in the presence of Lycurgus, but I’ll gladly drink beer with Xenophon and attend a symposium with Socrates. In a quarantine, however, I neither want to speed up the process of becoming a barbarian nor do I want to have a symposium by myself. I do apologize for the scant amount of pictures today, but last time I checked this was a diary, not a scrapbook.

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.