Life under quarantine is an interesting new challenge for a world-traveler/digital nomad. It takes a moment to set in, but realizing I couldn’t go back to the United States even if I wanted to still makes me feel a bit like I’ve just untied the ropes and cast off from a jetty, manning a raft with neither oar nor sail. The second realization you have in these peculiar circumstances is that it’s merely luck, fate, or coincidence that you didn’t choose to go to China, Russia, Japan, Korea, or any of the corona-hit countries that either A, consist of almost entirely dense metropolitan areas, or B, possess a certain heavy-handedness of public policy that allows for easy application of tyrannical procedure. I heard it through the grapevine that, like in the recent economic crisis in Venezuela where the government made it illegal to record starvation as a cause of death, an announcement that you have the coronavirus in Russia means that you will soon vanish from society under mysterious circumstances.
Italy is the second-most rampant playground for the novel COVID-19 after China, spreading here after two Chinese tourists decided to visit Milan or Venice, I can’t remember which. Attitudes here are mixed, with some saying that the average age of death from COVID-19 patients is 81, and that the average age of death in Italy is 82, so no big deal. Others are saying that since it can kill anyone of any age with any weakness in their immune, pulmonary, or respiratory systems, it’s incredibly dangerous and something to wear a mask about. I’m certain anyone living in a COVID-19-positive society has had their own thoughts one way or the other about the strangeness of our civilization when viewed through the lens of a murderous virus. I, as a traveler with limited access to medical care, have become more and more aware of the miracle that these kinds of outbreaks don’t occur more often. We are constantly forced into close contact with each other, while most country’s working trends prioritize getting shit done, hustling, grinding, and all that stuff I don’t do anymore, even when we are sick and tired, sleeping little and eating less. Garbage sits on the roadside in big barrels inviting vermin of all sorts, and massive landfills contain the household waste of every family in the developed world with all their weird slimes and byproducts fermenting together on rotting food and decaying wood.
Personally I think it’s an escaped bio-weapon, since the International Atomic Energy Agency and the ever-sniffing schnozz of the U.S. intelligence agencies, part of the American empire still stuck in the 1920s worrying about “the Yellow Menace,” are constantly keeping track of the nuclear stockpiles of any power trying to catch up to the US and Russia. Under this kind of surveillance, it would behoove them to have terribly destructive weapons that don’t give off radiation, hence why the last two decades have featured massively contagious viruses, SARS and COVID-19, that both attack the respiratory system, and that both came from China.
It is very much the case that human beings, in the West particularly, feel we have stepped beyond nature. It’s mostly true that we can do whatever we want and invent our way out of any problems that arise. From my work as a journalist, I believe that we will not only invent our way out of all the significant problems facing our civilization today, but that we are already doing so and that it won’t be long until climate change becomes another “Peak oil” prediction, and that plastic in the ocean will also go the way of the 2012 Mayan prophecy. Yet COVID-19 is not just a reminder that we aren’t beyond all of nature’s machinations, but that we ignore them to our detriment. Our pride prevents us from wearing masks, staying inside, abandoning that particular trip to the supermarket, skipping work because you feel a tickling in your throat. I know because I, and everyone in my adopted Italian family feel these exact feelings and it’s almost hard to try and fight against the sensation that everything is going to be fine and that nothing bad will happen to me. As the virus targets the members of our society that are the weakest, with compromised respiratory, pulmonary, and immune system capabilities, it may seem like a blight that wipes out the weakest among a group of wildebeest – a positive in some ways. However our society has allowed those compromised members of our society to live long and healthy lives, to pursue their dreams and aspirations, totally free from the need to run up hills, dig in the dirt, labor in agonizing heat or chilling cold, and remain loving members of their families for decades longer than they might in the natural state of mankind.
Life under quarantine is almost no different than life as it is normally, other than the fact that Giorgio, Mara, Lella, and I can’t go to our favorite bio cafe across the river into Piemonte for breakfast and capuccini Sunday morning. There are no curfews or armed guards on street corners, things are progressing quite normally. For me the most meaningful difference is that I’m a little bit sadder most times, and more aware of the surfaces my hands have touched.