One of the most astonishing things about America is that just when you think it has reached the limits of its own excess, that the hullabaloo and brouhaha have escalated to the ultimate crescendo and the tomfoolery has plumbed the lowest depths, it manages to surpass even itself. It’s a living embodiment of the saying, “Well, if you’re going to do something, you might as well go too far.”
This week I’ve been gobsmacked by news reports about Americans gathering to protest the quarantine. Here in Spain, which has the strictest lockdown in Europe, possibly the world, we're all jealous of the freedoms currently enjoyed by those in the US. For the past forty days we’ve been home 24/7 except for short walks to buy essentials like food and medicine. We cannot, as we see Americans doing on TV, visit marijuana dispensaries, gun shops, tattoo parlors, and take-out restaurants; we no longer stroll or drive for pleasure, or gather in public places. If you tried to stage a mass protest, the police would instantly arrest you and slap you with a fine that would make your head spin.
As drastic as all that is, the Spanish quarantine makes sense to me. I am very clear about its survival value when pestilence is abroad in the land. And while Sevillanos certainly do their fair share of grumbling, most are compliant. A quick glance at the past may explain why. During the Great Plague of 1647 to 1652 the city was rife with scoffers, deniers, and corrupt officials, and “quarantine measures were evaded, ignored, unproposed and/or unenforced.” As a result, while 5% of Spaniards perished in the pandemic, in Seville the fatality rate was 25%.
Quarantine wasn’t an attractive option in 1647, before God gave us Netflix and Zoom, and we still struggle with it in 2020. This just arrived from a friend.
My Self-Isolation Quarantine Diary
Day 1 – I Can Do This!! Got enough food and wine to last a month!
Day 2 – Opening my 8th bottle of wine. I fear wine supplies might not last!
Day 3 – Strawberries: Some have 210 seeds, some have 235 seeds. Who knew??
Day 4 – 8:00pm. Removed my Day Pajamas and put on my Night Pajamas.
Day 5 – Today, I tried to make hand sanitizer. It came out as Jello shots!!
Day 6 – I get to take the garbage out. I’m so excited, I can’t decide what to wear.
Day 7 – Laughing way too much at my own jokes!!
Day 8 – Went to a new restaurant called “The Kitchen.” You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have no clue how this place is still in business.
Day 9 – I put liquor bottles in every room. Tonight, I’m getting all dressed up and going bar hopping.
Day 10 – Struck up a conversation with a spider today. Seems nice. He’s a web designer.
Day 11 – Isolation is hard. I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want now?”
Day 12 – I realized why dogs get so excited about something moving outside, going for walks or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.
Day 13 – If you keep a glass of wine in each hand, you can’t accidently touch your face.
Day 14 – Watched the birds fight over a worm. The Cardinals lead the Blue Jays 3–1.
Day 15 – Anybody else feel like they’ve cooked dinner about 395 times this month?
This week my sister-in-law Deb wrote, “What do you do in an Airbnb in Sevilla during lockdown ... well, at Day 38, you carve veggies.” The result? Frankenspud. When I asked where she got the idea, Deb replied, “I just looked at the potato for inspiration. You know, like Michelangelo said, ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.’”
Yes, we all have far too much time on our hands. One of the ways I’m spending my days is doing random bits of research. For instance, did you know the so-called Spanish Influenza actually started in America? Patient Zero was Private Albert Gitchell in Fort Riley, Kansas, who fell ill in March of 1918. As Gitchell’s fellow soldiers carried contagion across the battlefields of Europe, wartime governments suppressed the story, feeling it was bad for morale. Being neutral, Spain had no such compunctions and filled its newspapers with gory details, giving people the false impression it was the epicenter of the pandemic. The Spanish, on equally erroneous evidence, called it “French Flu.”
On the home front, US officials insisted this was ordinary flu, but as death tolls skyrocketed, medical experts finally convinced lawmakers to deal with the public health issue. Milwaukee got the message and jumped on containment early, closing businesses, sending people home, urging them to wear masks; they had the lowest death toll in the nation. Philadelphia, on the other hand, simply advised residents not to spit, cough, or sneeze on each other, then held a long-planned Liberty Loan Parade designed to raise money to cover war costs. I probably don’t need to tell you — although some of the liberty-or-death types may need to hear this — after the mass gathering, cases of the flu spiked horribly, making Philly’s fatality rate the worst in the US, triple that of Milwaukee.
In any pandemic, one of the first casualties is common sense. In 1918 word went around that the flu “didn’t like” the color red. Other “cures” included noxious fumes, sliced onions, quinine, and bloodletting. All of which proved as effective as wearing red. It’s easy to scoff at such foolishness, yet our own health experts have to post warnings not to attempt to ward off COVID-19 by spraying your body with chlorine, eating garlic, avoiding ice cream, or drinking bleach. Snorting cocaine won’t help with the virus either, although it might take your anxiety down a notch.
2020's "infodemic" includes a myth that we may have to trade human lives for faster economic recovery. You’ll be glad to know this is not true. Just this month a study by MIT and the Federal Reserve found that in 1918 “taking care of public health first is precisely what generates a stronger economic rebound later… Indeed, cities that implemented social-distancing and other public health interventions just 10 days earlier than their counterparts saw a 5 percent relative increase in manufacturing employment after the pandemic ended.”
Myths, misconceptions, and conspiracy theories spread faster than the coronavirus. For instance, it’s not true, as Jimmy Kimmel jokingly suggested, that the virus was started by Netflix. Nor is it a government science experiment run amok; it passed to humans naturally in China’s quasi-legal wild animal market, and has nothing to do with 5G technology, GMOs, or a sinister plot by Bill Gates and/or Dr. Anthony Fauci. It’s not a fake. And you can’t make it go away by announcing an end date, as if it were Daylight Savings Time.
Whenever I’m overwhelmed by loony cures, farfetched conspiracy theories, and the furious clamor of those who want the freedom to spread more coronavirus across America, I like to visit reality-based resources such as Snopes, BBC News Reality Check, FactCheck.org, CDC, and WHO. And here’s what I’ve learned.
The science community has figured out that the spread of coronavirus is based solely on two things:
1. How dense the population is
2. How dense the population is
UPDATE! Deb's sister, Cyndie, has carved this wonderful Frida Kahlo parody potato, with licorice eyebrows and a radish rose in her hair. Marvelous! Just had to share it with you all.
I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
My weekly updates contain tips for keeping our mental equilibrium and living more authentically during these turbulent times.