Other Plagues

This is not the first time obviously, nor will it be the last so let me remind you that epidemics have always been a potent inspiration for interesting and sometimes great, art. Let’s start with my least favourite in this moment. Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” published in 1772 but purporting to be an eyewitness account of London’s great plague of 1665….though of course it wasn’t as our Dan was only 5 years old at the time! But there you are , poets’ licence I guess,a narrative cobbled together using old documents and eyewitness accounts. Apparently he did a very similar thing when he wrote his more famous “Robinson Crusoe”.

“Love in the time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Now is this just a sentimental, absurdly romantic love story? Certainly not a story of “true” love! And what IS this love? Is it a disease just like the plague? Colera is certainly passion in some languages (even in English we have choleric) so not just an epidemic. Which of the two diseases do we want to eradicate? It’s also striking in its treatment of love at advanced age, pretty unusual for a best seller. And what about the film? It got quite critical reviews for its tone, swinging as it does from a great, life-long unrequited love with Bardem gazing eternally at his love with big moist doggy eyes, to hilarious sex scenes of the eternally “faithful” lover. But there you are , it whiles away a few hours.

La Peste” by Albert Camus, and here we are on firmer literary ground with the description of the effect of the epidemic on a town in Algeria, perhaps based on an actual plague in 1849.But is that what Camus is really writing about? What resonates with a reader in our current situation is the uncovering of “paltriness and generosity” and “small heroism and large cowardice” (Marina Waldner). It is almost impossible not to notice the similarities with today’s news items which literally steamroll us with similar information of caring generosiy as well as me-first idiots and virulent loathsome uninformed criticism.. What IS receding is possibly the historical memory or even the desire, to see Camus’s chef-d’oeuvre as a comment on advancing Nazism and even there I’m afraid, there are parallels

And lastly I can’t avoid talking about my favourite film “Nosferatu”by Werner Herzog with Klaus Kinski in the title role absolutely perfect, and underlined by a score performed by Popul Vu a German group as far as I know underestimated in the AngloSaxon world and of course, as Jonathan Harker rides out to meet Nosferatu the glorious breath -stopping prelude by Wagner. Herzog’s masterly market place scenes of wild abandon of the people who knew they were on the Grim Reaper’s list reminded me of the Danses Macabres that you can find on walls all around Italy. “the scene in the town square is brilliant: moving because of the wonderful music and important to the understanding of why this too could be linked to Nazism. Anyone who has ever seen Ani-Jewish Nazi propaganda will immediately make the link. I do realise that it might be difficult to watch as we who live in Italy are having to deal with images of coffins almost every day.”

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