‘Feeling bored? Here are the tracks to get you dancing in the times of the epidemic.’
Yesterday Kenny Rogers died.
Yesterday Uderzo died of a cardiac arrest.
‘Rio de Janeiro favelas lacking basic resources to face coronavirus’.
‘What the stars are telling us in the time of the pandemic’.
I remember Asterix the legionary.
Obelix was insistent: the military uniform for him was to be medium-sized.
Medium, going the middle way.
The people out on the street go the middle way.
Keeping their distance from the cars, the buildings.
The middle way, trying to touch nothing.
In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the colours of the Italian flag appeared.
In Toronto the Italian flag’s colours appeared.
In Rio de Janeiro, on Christ the Redeemer, the colours of the Italian flag appeared.
Putting on shoes in the morning to pretend you’re going to walk out somewhere.
A doctor in overalls, inside the hospital, talks via a loudspeaker to lift her colleagues’ spirits.
Surrounded by stretchers, sick people and doctors.
She puts on the Italian anthem.
Italy is proud of you!
Shouts the doctor in her overalls and mask.
Like a football trainer – but in the middle of a tragedy, not a game.
Drones in Paris tell people to get back home.
Angela Merkel goes into quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who was infected.
Trump says Americans’ real drive just won’t allow them to stay home.
Ford, instead of making cars, is making machines for emergency medicine.
Instead of machines for speed, machines for salvation.
Imagining a car engine by a sick man’s bedside.
Two incompatible worlds.
A speed that is not asked for.
A wrong engine.
I don’t need this speed, says a sick man.
I have a black jacket, zipped right up to the top, protecting my throat.
In the background, an insistent lemon tree, yellow, bitter fruits.
Yellow should be protected.
Happy colours protected by the constitution.
We need to straighten out the bed, pretend we’ve gone somewhere very far during the day.
The bed doesn’t understand we’re deceiving it.
We’re right there all day long, a few metres away.
Deceiving the furniture, the door.
Pretending we’re going out, opening and closing the door.
A naïve door, it will believe anything.
In China the state monitors each citizen’s temperature.
More than thirty-seven degrees: a dangerous citizen.
Betrayal has gone out of the language, and into biology.
Being sick is a threat to the State.
Any sick person becomes immediately a foreigner.
If you are a healthy person you are of my nation; if you are sick you speak another language.
The language of the healthy, the language of the sick.
Ultimately, the sick getting shot for treason.
The criteria change, the law changes.
A president of the Italian chamber puts his hands together to ask people not to leave their homes.
He looks like he’s praying, asking for pity and giving an order – all at the same time.
An Italian doctor says he can’t understand why hairdressers are going to ladies’ homes to do their hair.
He says the coffins are kept shut, no one’s going to see their hair all nicely combed.
It’s violent, the way he says this.
I fall silent.
And remain silent.
The Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow has been empty for several days.
Pope Francis tested negative for coronavirus.
I imagine in some churches the recordings of the mass going back to Latin.
It is necessary, going back.
In Europe, people are leaving their language at the door, outside.
They abdicate their previous language and start to speak another.
Latin is an option.
We can scream too.
A woman of ninety-six has recovered and I’m sure she promised she is not going to die.
In the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow they will surely have to shift the piano from off the stage.
In the house next-door, Manu Chao: ‘I like planes, I like you.’
‘I like to travel, I like you.’
It’s possible for a head to be frightened, but not feet.
Bolsonaro says that churches like supermarkets should remain open.
Soldiers are disinfecting retirement homes.
There are old men all over Europe being transported in military trucks.
You need to open the window from time to time because when the air stops it gets too heavy and solid.
Apparently some useless parties have been cancelled.
Manu Chao: ‘I like marijuana, I like you.’
I spin on my heels to pretend I’m moving a lot.
In the papers, the number of pages of advertisements for sexual encounters has been reduced.
All the photos of aroused bodies are old.
We have two months to update what’s important.
That should be the warning.
They say that online ordering of beauty products has greatly increased.
There’s news that appears in my head.
Moscow closes restaurants, shops and parks.
One-hundred-fifty-seven dead in Iran.
Spain exceeds four thousand dead.
I teach my bitch Roma to just stand there and look.
She seems to be saying to me: you’re a fool.
Elias Canetti: ‘everything I learn, I transform into fear’.
Learning to wait as if waiting were doing something.
I open the online pages of newspapers that explain how to disinfect boots that go outside.
Spain 498, France 365, Iran 157, Italy 712.
‘Man executes rival with two gunshots on bar patio’.
Bullets are not obsolete.
‘New York Stock Exchange climbs’.
During the French revolution many people started to shoot at clocks.
I get up from my chair, I take a bath.
A shot to the back of a clock’s neck.
A shot in a clock’s face.
Jeri, the golden retriever, has melancholy eyes.
Roma, the Belgian shepherd, has dumbfounded eyes.
She is always astonished.
‘Don’t forget to reset your watches. The clocks go forward this Sunday.’
The men on the street have dumbfounded eyes.
We are all astonished.
I imagine civil servants starting to shoot at public clocks.
A bullet perfectly aimed to stop time.
As if time were an animal for hunting.
‘Maracanã will be converted into a hospital to take in sick people.’
USA 116, Germany 33, Portugal 17, United Kingdom 115.
A friend on the phone tells me: I need to shoot at someone.
I tell her the story of the clocks.
The generation of humans with dumbfounded eyes.
A new generation of humans.
The twenty-first century split in two by a virus.
It has two centuries, this century.
‘Salvation holds onto the small crack in the continuous catastrophe,’ wrote Walter Benjamin.
Salvation must happen in the brief intervals, in the pauses.
When the devil is distracted for a moment, there’s a crack.
And it’s there that salvation comes in.
The twenty-sixth of March, ‘on the fourth floor, in room 429 of the Hospital del Mar’.
In the Hospital del Mar a nurse picks up her own cell phone and makes a call to a sick man’s son.
Fourth floor, room 429.
She makes a video call, she picks up the cell phone, she points it toward the sick man’s face.
‘He’s breathing well, that’s right, without the machine,’ she tells the bedridden sick man’s son.
And she repeats, smiling: ‘Can’t you see? Can’t you see?’
She wants to show that his father is not so sick, that he’s gotten better.
She repeats: he’s breathing without the machine, he’s just got a mask on!
She talks as if announcing to a father that his son has just been born.
But that’s not it.
She’s announcing to a son that his father is still alive.
The sick man raises his hand toward the picture of his son.
The nurse brings the cell phone closer.
His hand is a few centimetres from the screen.
Touching his son’s face on the screen is, nowadays, touching his son’s face.
Almost touching the screen is almost touching the body.
Hi!, I’m Susana, says the nurse happily to the son on the other side of the screen.
We need to get happiness infiltrating the cracks.
As if happiness were a kind of medical material.
Almost a material of salvation.
There are some nurses who use this material.
How lovely, José, the nurse says. You’ve seen your son.
The person who is filming all this is the sick man José’s roommate.
The person who was filming, another sick man, ends the recording with the words, in a tired voice:
‘A lot of happiness for everyone.’
Somebody who is sick is talking about other people’s happiness.
Somebody who is sick is able to change the subject.
I’m not the subject, says – from a hospital bed – the man who wishes happiness on others.
There are cracks that are obvious and even beautiful in continuous catastrophe.
Benjamin talks about a necessary investigation. Understanding whether or not the limits of salvation have two names: too early and too late.
Salvation is what is in-between too early and too late.
Salvation only exists as the effect of the perfect aim at time.
Hitting time like a moving target that has two outer limits: too early / too late.
We’ve already seen that the plague is not a crack, it is not something easily mended.
Happiness is not enough, but it is necessary.
Happiness might save, might be a machine that allows somebody who is starting not to be able to breathe to breathe.
A machine cannot give happiness.
Or perhaps it can, but not directly.
A machine whose function is to install into the crack of the illness a great or at least a minimal happiness.
Ordering machines that don’t exist from factories that don’t yet exist.
I read La Repubblica and I shudder.
I say the words out loud.
Repeating words out loud until they dissolve in the air, as if they had never existed.
Repeating words one-hundred times for them to disappear.
As if repeated use were a way of destroying words and things.
In La Repubblica they’re saying that in Lombardy there are no longer any grandparents.
Those are the words.
They must be repeated until they disappear into the air.
Hide them under the floorboards or otherwise repeat them till they disappear into the air.
In La Repubblica they’re saying that in Lombardy there are no longer any grandparents.
A Greek friend sends me an email.
ΠΑΤΕΡΑΣ is father in Greek.
She says: in Greece, ‘to go out, we need to send a text to 13033 with the purpose of our outing.’
Something like: ‘4 Athena Spyri address’
Athena Spyri is her name.
She explains the meaning of the numbers at the start.
Each number represents a reason to go out.
1. To go to the chemist or the doctor.
2. To buy absolutely essential goods, food etc., when home delivery is not possible.
3. To go to the bank, for those for whom e-banking is not possible.
4. To attend to people with specific needs.
5. To attend a ceremony (funeral, wedding, baptism), always under restrictions.
5. Also means: for divorced or separated parents to visit their children.
6. For physical exercise in the open air or to walk a pet. Under restrictions, i.e.: in the vicinity of your home.
Yesterday, my Greek friend sent this text to the Greek government:
4 Αθηνά Σπύρη Αλκμάνος 12 Αθήνα
The number 4 means that she’s going out to help somebody.
4 Αθηνά Σπύρη Αλκμάνος 12 Αθήνα
The number 4, in this case, means her father.
Her father is included in the number 4.
It is a number 4 with several possibilities within it.
She then received a text giving authorization.
This was it:
METAKINHΣH 4 AΘHNA ΣΠΥΡΗ ΑΛΚΜΑΝΟΣ 12 ΑΘΗΝΑ
You can visit your father, reason 4 is authorized.
There’s no need to say that things in Europe have changed.
Things have changed without seeking permission.
The Greek language is lovely to look at.
Languages are also positions of letters, drawings.
A terrible phrase can be beautiful to look at.
That is the danger of a language we don’t understand.
Sometimes beauty does the same as dust and doesn’t allow us to see.
‘Hungary strengthens Prime Minister’s powers.’
‘Austria will compel citizens to wear masks to the supermarket.’
I still haven’t heard the new Dylan song.
Animals, bunkers and icebergs.
There are a lot of things you can investigate.
A synthesis, reasons for leaving the house.
Six reasons: health (1), food (2), money (3), compassion (4), divorce and children in another house (5), attending a ceremony (5), walking the dog (6).
The Greeks are still teaching us.
Talking quickly as if you had only seconds before being struck dumb:
‘If you don’t need a doctor, and you aren’t hungry, if you have money and don’t have anyone dependent on you, if you haven’t been divorced and don’t have children someplace else, if there is no wedding or funeral that concerns you and if you don’t have a dog, why are you going out?’
There are also the postcards in which people tell their secrets, from Frank Warren:
‘Number of times I let him mistreat me, 3’
I imagine a woman making marks on the wall each time she is abused.
Hundreds of marks, like prisoners counting the days.
And the marks at a certain point are in their thousands and they start to connect.
And what used to be small marks become lines, stains.
You’ve messed up the whole wall, he says.
We are missing, then, reason 7.
Leaving the house to escape from someone who is in the house.
It is always possible to improve slightly on the Greeks. But only slightly.
Another 812 dead in Spain.
66 in Germany.
The virus storms into Mexico.
In the state of New York there are already a thousand dead.
Pope Francis has met the President of Italy.
Zimbabwe goes into quarantine for three weeks.
Disney theme parks are going to be closed.
A line of poetry from Drummond de Andrade:
‘the electricity struck the resigned things’.
A Van Gogh painting has been stolen from a museum in Holland.
The police in Portugal broke up a mass with eleven people.
I look around me, people are now resigned to things.
In the evening, Athena sends me a message:
I’m going out, reason 2.
I too am going out, reason 6.
I’m taking my bitch Roma to the vet’s.
I’m going with a dog and a few words.
‘The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.’
The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in.
Published by arrangement with Literarische Agentur Mertin Witt. This text, by Gonçalo M. Tavares, was originally published in Portuguese in the Expresso. All rights reserved by the author and translator, Daniel Hahn.
Image © Jorge Franganillo