Friday, March 13, 2020

Notebook: State of Siege

Major disasters, natural or otherwise, have a way of forcing one not only out of one's routines but out of mental patterns as well. They can reveal a great deal about human character, or (to put it less judgmentally) about human behavior. Camus famously explored this in The Plague, which was the book I instinctively turned to when the first stirrings of the current epidemic (now officially a pandemic) were heard in China. I re-read about a third of the novel, then put it aside for something unrelated I wanted to read, but by the time I was free to get back to it its theme felt too close to home. So instead I went back to fundamentals, first re-reading The Juniper Tree, the superb volume of tales from the Brothers Grimm translated by Lore Segal (and Randall Jarrell), featuring some of Maurice Sendak's most evocative illustrations, and then to Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the Odyssey. Neither of these splendid works has much relevance to the present situation (which is, in part, the point), but if matters of life and death bring one back to essentials, then these are about as essential to me as any books I can think of.

In the meantime, I avoid public places, keep an eye on the food supply (holding up so far), and take walks in the woods, which are now (unlike the forest of folk tales) probably the safest place to be.

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